Monday, June 15, 2009

EARLY Review: The Crack in the Lens

Steve Hockensmith’s “Holmes on the Range” series is similar to a great sitcom. You look forward to each entry because each one is so damn entertaining. What makes this series so memorable as well is because the quality is so strong. For all of you who don’t know, this series is about two brothers (Big Red and Old Red Amlingmeyer) who are cowboys in the 1890s. They read Sherlock Holmes stories in Harper’s Weekly and figure they can “deducify” just like the great detective himself.

So in the previous three novels they solve the crimes that just happen to fall in their laps. Yet in this one they went looking for it. They travel down to Texas to solve the murder of the only woman Old Red ever loved. This entry was a lot of fun for many reasons. First off the humor was consistently strong, but I loved seeing these two try to solve a cold case in the Old West. Not only that but a cold case in a town where truly everyone hates them for a variety of reasons. Everyone ought to check this clever series out.

The Crack in the Lens comes out July 21st

Book Review: The Last Child

As evidence by this blog, I don’t read too much out of the mystery genre. I suppose I should, but this genre is too good to even abandon. So I typically get my fix of other genres from cross over books. John Hart is the type of author who writes more like traditional fiction than mysteries. In his books there is a problem or a mystery to be solved, but the core of the tension and characters comes the themes about families.

In The Last Child families continue to be in disarray. For the past year thirteen-year-old Johnny Merrimon has been searching for his presumed dead twin sister, Alyssa. He isn’t the only one obsessed with Alyssa; Detective Clyde Hunt has obviously wrecked his psyche about the case he couldn’t solve. This is basically the rest of the novel. Angst, sadness, and obsession. I kept waiting for certain themes to go deeper but everything seemed rather basic. I hate to admit this, but I never was sympathetic for these two leads. They felt too much like standard grieving characters unlike the ones in his first novel, The King of Lies.  Yet I feel book clubs and the like shall eat this one up as well. It almost seems prepped for them; I’d much prefer a subtler story.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Book Review: A Night at the Operation

This is the third Double Feature mystery and thanks to its title it had some high expectations. Yes, there’s the cliché of not judging a book by its cover but I’m stubborn. The first in the series was Some Like It Hot-Buttered, which was a play on words of Some Like It Hot which is a very funny movies. The second was It Happened One Knife/It Happened One Night. Again, very funny movie. Yet this was one A Night at the Operation/A Night at the Opera, which is Marx Brothers territory. I adore the Marx Brothers. I even like Zeppo, which not many can say.

Although there are quite a large number of Marx Brothers references here, the book is ultimately more about the Operation than the Opera. This is an odd thing to me because it seems there would be a lot of opportunities for mysteries for a man who runs a comedy movie theatre. Yet this mystery really has nothing to do with movies. Elliot Freed’s ex-wife is missing and it may or may not be connected to a medical scandal. So the whole book I’m waiting for this medical patient to be a screenwriter or a Marx Brothers historian or something to tie back to everything, but it never did. Has Cohen already grown tired of the series? I really hope not because Elliot Freed is a fun character and his theatre Comedy Tonight is a nice gathering place. (I wish I had a theatre near me that only shows classic and new comedies.) So Cohen knows how to plot and knows how to make likable characters and that is evident here, but I like my movies dangit!

Book Review: Life Sentences

The more I read of Laura Lippman’s canon, the more I am able to fully recognize her gift of creating such a variety of fully realized characters. The best example of this is her short story collection that came out last year Hardly Knew Her or the fact that she’s one of the very few people to actually give an accurate portrayal of high school as seen in To the Power of Three. In her latest stand-alone novel, Life Sentences, Lippman brings us into the mind of a memoirist who has to return home.

Now thanks to my work with The Mystery Company, Mystery Muses, Magna cum Murder, and the upcoming BoucherCon 2009 (Everyone register!), I have spent a lot of time around authors. In this book there were a lot of little stuff that I enjoyed because it was very accurate about signings and how people react to authors. A simple example is how the character signed the stock for the store. It’s just a throwaway paragraph but it was something I enjoyed.

The sad problem was I enjoyed hearing her talk about the author aspects more than the main plot of the story. In the story, Cassandra Fallows is returning home after having written two popular memoirs and one failed novel. She is working on another memoir where she looks into a former classmate and the crime she was associated with. The book in untraditional in many ways as it deals with the plot, but it still left me underwhelmed in compared to Lippman’s other work. Still Sentences is worth checking out because of Lippman’s gift as a writer.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

EARLY Review: The Twelve

I seem to be a freelance pop culture whore. I attach myself to things that I love and then I recommend them to everyone. It’s extreme to the point where people must seem to think that I am sponsored by The Wire, LOST, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Jasper Fforde, or Pixar. With Stuart Neville’s The Twelve, I am ready to whore once more.

This book is incredibly good. INCREDIBLY good. (Do they give awards for well written reviews because I think I have it in the bag this year.) The first chapter alone is so thrilling that it could have been slightly edited and repackaged as a fantastic short story. I was worried that it wouldn’t be able to keep up that momentum, but Neville appropriately knew how to play with pace and to show all the right perspectives at the right time.

I went into this book knowing absolutely nothing about it. All I knew was the title, author, and it may have something to do with Ireland. (It does.) It’s evident I’m stalling on telling you what it’s about. For I’m you to experience what I experienced: the cold realization of what the title means by the end of the first chapter. So I still won’t say anything. I’ll just say this is one of the best crafter thriller I’ve read in awhile equipped with a very compelling inner struggle. Oh yeah, this is also a first novel.

The Twelve opens in the U.K. and the Commonwealth on July 2nd

It comes out in America as The Ghosts of Belfast in October.