Tour’s Books Blog

April 1, 2014

Not so April Fool!

Filed under: Caper,Mystery review,Western Mystery — toursbooks @ 4:20 pm
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april-fool-22v

 

OMG, it’s April already and not single sign of buds on the trees or even the forsythia.  Damn.  While the winter has been long and cold here, it’s still active in places like Minnesota where they’re still dealing with new snow.  I’d be ready to kill the weatherman or myself at this point.  At least this past weekend was just torrential rain for us.

Yeah, it’s April Fools Day.  While I do enjoy some of the elaborate and clever tricks people play, I was never one for April Fool jokes.  So relax, they won’t start here.  No, April 1 was always my personal start date for Spring.  Some years it would come early and some years, like this year, it seems very, very late.

Spring is when every day we look out and the world looks different.  Flowers peek out of the ground, trees bud, shrubs seem to erupt into bright colors almost overnight.  Daffodils that just sprung up a few days ago all seem to suddenly pop open.  Every day my SIL gives me the ‘crocus report’!  Spring is colorful, cheerful, and much needed after a long winter of dreary days.  We start getting restless to get outside and do things.  Where I used to live, I’d take a week’s vacation from work to get the gardens ready – clean out all the leaves, fertilize, correct the pH, dig in soil modifiers and lots of dried manure.  We had a lot of garden space and it took a lot of time between spring when we’d get ready and fall when we prepped it for winter.

I’m no longer able to do that kind of heavy work and I miss it, and I miss my gardens, but life changes and we move on.  I still enjoy looking at all the beautiful gardens folks create – and relax knowing I won’t have to do the digging and the weeding and ………… well, the million other things all gardeners do.  I do love watching the annual parade of colors as one after the other ornamental trees and shrubs do their once a year beautification show.  The are a welcome sight.

Another welcome sight is the brightly color mysteries that arrived today.  But before I settle in for the latest Cupcake Bakery mystery by Jenn McKinley, I need to review a a couple books, mysteries that are as alike as chalk and cheese.

Stone Cold

C.J. Box writes both the Joe Pickett mysteries and stand alone thriller/suspense type books.  Here in Stone Cold we have Joe, the ultimate straight arrow, chasing his friend Nate Romanowski, a man with a past.  Nate, a complex man, a good friend, and a lethal killer, finds himself questioning a path he chose and now doubts.

At the end of Breaking Point, the previous Joe Picket book, Joe quit thanks to the new Director who is a ‘bambi hugger’ and willing to lay down for political gain and throw Joe under the bus while doing it.  But Joe has a friend in high places, namely the governor, who gives him a special job and now that marker has come due.  Of course the governor threw him under the bus years back too, so it’s not like they’re close friends.  Much to Joe’s everlasting disgust, he’s to fly to Cheyenne in the morning for a ‘special assignment’, one that will have him helping the FBI with what looks like an elaborate murder for higher scheme, and it also looks like Nate may be involved.

Woven into the action packed story of a rich, successful man who disappears into near anonymity, and is rumored to run an assassination business, is the more basic tales of Joe’s adopted daughter wanting to run off with a rodeo star with a history of abusing women,  his eldest daughter worrying about a student on her dorm floor displaying all the signs of being a potential ‘lone gunman’, including obsessively playing first person shooter games, and Joe again trying to save Nate, not just the man, but his soul as well.

Box writes a layered, complex, interesting story that moves at a breakneck pace from the opening scenes with Nate hunting and killing a parasite of a businessman to a literally explosive ending with creepy results, and a tragic, but seemingly inevitable conclusion to the isolated college student who in the end, was not what they thought.  The various plot elements weave in and out at always at the nexus is Joe Pickett, a Game Warden with a gift for finding trouble and the tenacity and strong moral code of an old time lawman.

Stone Cold is a really good read.  Maybe not his best, but his most nuanced.  The one drawback is the really bad guy escapes and likely will not be made to answer for his crimes.  The more obvious theme is is all about things never being quite what they seem, but they are in mysteries.  They rarely are in the best mysteries.  Stone Cold remains a very satisfying, engaging read in one of the most solid series currently in print.  It is highly recommended to hardcore mystery fans, especially followers of Craig Johnson’s Longmire books, Steve Hamilton’s Alex McKnight books, or Willim Kent Krueger’s books.

Stone Cold gets a B+ (4.3*) and recommended read.  I got this book thru an online book swap site and I will pass it on.  It is currently just under$20 on Amazon, so try and get this through your library.

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The Chase

It’s hard to even put a book like The Chase into the same set of reviews as a C.J. Box book.  It’s like reviewing McDonald’s after discussing haute cuisine.  The Chase could not be more different, and other than sharing the same general genre of Mystery and Thriller, they have exactly ZILCH in common.

Book 2 in the Fox and O’Hare series is, if possible, even lighter and less substantial than The Heist, which is saying something given the fluff level of The Heist.  One thing you have to remember is Goldberg is a scriptwriter and Evanovich has reverted to her ‘humorous romance’ roots, so substance is in short supply.  It’s fun, fluffy, superficial, the plot is on the level of a ‘made for TV’ movie, or maybe just a one hour episode in a series.  So is the dialogue and the cast of characters.  The Chase is another caper style mystery in the same vein as ‘White Collar’, which it shamelessly copies.  Not one of the great caper books that has more twists and turns than hedge maze, nor is it Dortmunder, or Bernie Rhodenbarr, or one of Ross Thomas’ many wonderful books, no this is just some harmless fun caper story.  A bagatelle.  Short, fast, and don’t look too closely or you’ll see the flaws book.

Fox and O’Hare are after really big game this time, a corrupt former White House chief of staff who runs a virtual private army mostly on government contracts.  And buys stolen art with his less than clean money.  He’s also like all massive egoists, anxious to be feted as hugely successful and noteworthy.  The entree is making his elaborate Florida mansion the feature of a TV show.  A show that gives Nick the cover he needs to grab the bronze the Chinese government is demanding be returned by the Smithsonian.  You’d think stealing an art treasure from a paranoid man who has his own army would be enough, but no, that’s too easy.  Finding out the one on display is a fake was a bummer.  Even worse, some well meaning museum official gave it to the Chinese billionaire before Fox and O’Hare could switch it out for the real one, and it’s locked up in a nearly uncrackable safe in the secure belly of the Chinese billionaire’s A380 that’s hard.

It’s shallow, devoid of deeper meaning, character growth, or any over-arcing qualities.  It reads at a grade school level and has as much substance as cotton candy.  But it is amusing, largely harmless, and is over with in record time.   The Chase gets a C- (2.8*) and a strong recommendation you get it FOR FREE SOMEHOW, because seriously, it’s not worth more than $2-$3.  I got The Chase thru a book swap site and it will move on the same way.  If you miss it, your life will still be complete.

 

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March 15, 2009

BOOK REVIEW: Playing With Fire by Katie MacAlister

Katie MacAlister writes contemporary romance, and the urban fantasy paranormal Aisling Grey books.  Aisling makes a brief appearance here, but Playing With Fire is the first book of the Silver Dragons series.  MacAlister’s urban fantasy has creatures both mythical and magical living with humans and includes frequent popular TV and film pop culture references.  Her style is an interesting mix of humor and drama and quite entertaining.  The opening lines, “Good Twin calling evil twin.  The weasel crows at midnight. How Copy?”, sets the stage for this urban fantasy romantic suspense story that reminds me somewhat of Harry Dresden on a smaller stage.

May Northcott, a doppelganger thief that is owned by a demon lord, Magoth, thanks to her ‘twin’ sister, Cyrene,a ditzy naiad with a penchant for public trouble.  May was ‘created’ from Cyrene by Magoth during a time when Cyrere was enthralled by him.  At his request, she bound May to him.  Like all dopplegangers, her original twin had to surrender a part of herself to her ‘twin’.  Cyrene chose to give her common sense.  (The fact that Cyrene is enthralled with a demon lord does leave me wondering if she had much common sense to begin with.)  The sign of a doppelganger is the lack of a shadow when in light.

Magoth makes good use of May’s unusual ability to ‘shadow walk’ – disappear into the shadows thereby avoiding most security.  Magoth’s very vain, handsome, bad tempered, sexy, greedy, willful, spoiled, – and he wants to seduce May.  May is finding it harder and harder to resist his advances.  His latest order to steal the Liquor Hepatis from a mage has May dealing with her well meaning, but flakey twin during a difficult robbery.  Affectionately called Mayling by Cyrene, is ‘trying to be helpful’ by keeping watch from a tree – sort of. (more…)

February 16, 2009

BOOK REVIEW: The Gun Seller by Hugh Laurie

Long before House became a popular TV series, before actor Hugh Laurie was well know in the US, he wrote a book. A very good book. The Gun Seller.

“Imagine that you have to break someone’s arm.

Right or left, it doesn’t matter. The point is you have to break it, because if you don’t …… well, that doesn’t matter either. Let’s say bad things will happen if you don’t.

Now, my question goes like this: do you break the arm quickly – snap, whoops, sorry, here let me help you with that improvised splint – or, do you drag the whole business out for a good eight minutes, every now and then increasing the pressure in the tiniest increments, until the pain becomes pink and green and hot and cold and altogether howlingly unbearable.

Well exactly. Of course. The right thing to do, the only thing to do, is to get it over with as quickly as possible. Break the arm, ply the brandy, be a good citizen. There can be no other answer.

Unless.

Unless, unless, unless.”

The arm being broken – and very, very slowly, is Thomas Lang’s, ex-para and minor thug for hire. But he does have scruples. Not many, but some. He doesn’t kill people. OK, he doesn’t kill people for money and the guy trying to break his arm doesn’t count. What follows is a caper thriller novel in the best tradition of Ross Thomas or Donald E Westlake. Blackmailed by threats to do something he really doesn’t want any part of, he never stops looking for the edge that will get him out alive.  Clever, witty dialogue and lots of plot twists keeps things moving.  No one is who they seem, not even Thomas Lang, who might just have a shade more good guy in him than he likes to admit. Written in the first person, with verve and character, Lang is an observant, sarcastic, sanguine about his circumstances, and morally flexible about most things when it comes to his own survival and that of the woman he’s become attached to. When the dust settles, he knows he has to ‘do the right thing’. And he does.

This book was a surprise and a very pleasant one. Settle in and go for a ride.

My Grade: A-

Who would like this book: Fans of caper novels by Donald E Westlake, Ross Thomas, Lawrence Block’s burglar series and those who like Blackadder TV series.  My rating would be PG-17

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