Book Review: Interpretation by Dylan Callens

Interpretation
Dylan Callens
Cosmic Teapot Publishing, August 2017
ISBN 978-1-988762-12-8
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Carl Winston awakens to find his son, Liam, screaming with fear. Trying to understand why, Carl tries to soothe him. Neighbors gather in front of Carl’s apartment to help – until they see him. The crowd cowers back, afraid of this monster.

Carl runs. His life of luxury is ripped away. Forced beyond the city limits, Carl sees a land bereft of life. Traveling in search of answers, his quest comes to a sudden halt when he collapses. As darkness shrouds him, a figure hovers from above.

Traveling along the same route, Eva Thomspon finds Carl and nurtures him back to life. Together, they continue the journey, finding out that their lives have too much in common to be a coincidence. As their affection for each other deepens, an unknown nemesis attempts to remove their only source of happiness – their love for each other.

It’s just a test, right? A test that Carl has to take once a year, ordered by the Government, is intended to show that all is well with him, especially mentally, and the inkblots and questions could have many different answers, open to interpretation. Unfortunately for Carl, that interpretation bodes very ill for him and he’s soon living in his own personal nightmare. His flight from this new reality takes him straight to a truth no one wants to hear, that the government he thinks has his best interest at heart is actually focused entirely on controlling the humans that created it in the first place. It’s technology gone mad.

In an interesting stylistic approach, the author gives us Carl’s perspective and that of the different parts of the government. We see how those parts have become all-powerful and progressively more threatening without humans having any real understanding of what has happened.

There are alarming notes along the way such as “1984 Congressional hearing notes—Man does not have the right to develop his own mind” that gave this storyline an immediacy that heightened my discomfort, a feeling that the possibility of such a thing happening isn’t entirely remote. Offsetting this futuristic menace is the Roman Coliseum aspect in which rebels have to fight to the death while the crowd of citizens becomes more and more frenzied with bloodlust.

Although I enjoyed Interpretation on the whole, a few things did get in my way. There are occasional grammar and spelling missteps such as”Flexing his chest, a small crowd of women wooed in the mall’s entrance” and “lude” instead of “lewd”. An overabundance of odd phrases regarding smiles, such as “Dan pulled his lips up to his ears” and “a rubbery grin” and “smiled a rubbery grin” made me feel as though perhaps a writing habit of the author’s had escaped editorial notice. Still, despite these small annoyances, Mr. Callens has created an imaginative if fearful future that turned out to be a more than interesting read.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, October 2017.

Book Review: What the Fly Saw by Frankie Y. Bailey

What the Fly SawWhat the Fly Saw
A Detective Hannah McCabe Mystery #2
Frankie Y. Bailey
Minotaur Books, March 2015
ISBN 978-1-250-04830-1
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Albany, New York, January 2020

The morning after a blizzard that shut down the city, funeral director Kevin Novak is found dead in the basement of his funeral home. The arrow sticking out of his chest came from his own hunting bow.

A loving husband and father and an active member of a local megachurch, Novak has no known enemies. His family and friends say he was depressed because his best friend died suddenly of a heart attack and Novak blamed himself. But what does his guilt have to do with his death? Maybe nothing, maybe a lot. The minister of the megachurch and the psychiatrist who provides counseling to church members–do either of them know more than they are saying?

Detective Hannah McCabe and her partner, Mike Baxter, sort through lies and evasions to solve the riddle of Novak’s death, while unanswered questions from another high-profile case, and McCabe’s own suspicions make for a dynamite crime novel.

Frankie Y. Bailey is a favorite of mine, going back to May of 2001 when she came to my bookstore for a big mystery author event. Her second Lizzie Stuart mystery was out and I had found the series to be charming and entertaining. Frankie herself was no less charming and entertaining and, over the years, I’ve been glad to run into her at various events and conventions.

When I first heard Frankie was starting a futuristic mystery series set in an alternate universe, I admit I raised an eyebrow because, after all, she’d never shown any inclination towards the science fiction-y book world. I was delighted to find that I thoroughly enjoyed The Red Queen Dies and I liked Detectives Hannah McCabe and Mike Baxter a lot.

Now, they’re back and I’m so happy they are. I confess that the murder of a funeral home director gave me a bit of the heebie-jeebies because I’ve had such a person in my life just recently but I got over that momentary uneasiness right away. Hannah gave me a feeling of indifference at times but no more than many other sleuths, professional or amateur, and there’s no doubt she does her job well. This murder is an interesting one what with arrows, skeletons, arsenic and what not and the two investigators have quite a task ahead of them, filled with twist upon turn.

Mystery fans should not fear the setting in an alternate universe. Other than the occasional anomaly, this Albany is not all that different from the one we know and the time is only a few years ahead of our own so things feel famiilar and comfortable. The setting simply adds an element of novelty now and then and the occasional contraption or  obscure anagram.

Once again, Ms. Bailey has brought us a well-constructed mystery full of all the investigative convolutions we fans love so well but, unfortunately, we now have to wait a year or so for the next book, much to my dismay ;-).

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, March 2015.

Book Review: The Red Queen Dies by Frankie Y. Bailey—and a Giveaway!

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Title: The Red Queen Dies
Author: Frankie Y. Bailey
Published by: Minotaur Books
Publication Date: September 10, 2013
Genre: Mystery

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The Red Queen DiesThe Red Queen Dies
Frankie Y. Bailey
Minotaur Books, September 2013
ISBN 978-0-312-64175-7
Hardcover

From the publisher—

The year is 2019, and a drug used to treat soldiers for post-traumatic stress disorder, nicknamed “Lullaby,” has hit the streets. Swallowing a little pill erases traumatic memories, but what happens to a criminal trial when the star witness takes a pill and can’t remember the crime? When two women are murdered in quick succession, biracial police detective Hannah McCabe is charged with solving the case. In spite of the advanced technology, including a city-wide surveillance program, a third woman is soon killed, and the police begin to suspect that a serial killer is on the loose. But the third victim, a Broadway actress known as “The Red Queen,” doesn’t fit the pattern set by the first two murders.

With the late September heat sizzling, Detective Hannah McCabe and her colleagues on the police force have to race to find the killer in a tangled web of clues that involve Alice in Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz, and Abraham Lincoln’s assassination.

Disclaimer: I have known Frankie for years, having first met her when she came to my store in May 2001 for a mystery author event, and have thoroughly enjoyed her previous books. That has had no effect on this review.

Favorite authors surprise us sometimes by heading off in a direction we don’t expect and that’s the case with The Red Queen Dies by Frankie Y. Bailey. The beginning of a new series, it made me sit up and pay attention because it never crossed my mind that she would add a science fiction flavor to her mysteries.  Does it work? Yes, I really think it does because it’s not the least bit heavy-handed and true mystery fans are unlikely to be miffed by it.

In essence, Ms. Bailey has created an alternate universe that’s just a little different from our own world—well, except for the little detail of a UFO visit a few years ago. Mostly, we just see small technological changes that could very well happen in my lifetime. The reader doesn’t have to struggle to understand all the fancy stuff, although I would like to know what the acronym ORB (a sort of glorified smartphone) stands for.

Meanwhile, we still have a standard police procedural with detective partners Hannah McCabe and Mike Baxter investigating what appears to be a serial killer. The first two murders are rather mundane at first glance but the public’s attention is drawn to the investigation when a famous actress becomes the third victim. The public’s fear is also being heightened by the provocations of a well-known “threader” (a sort of reporter) who seems to have a very low opinion of the Albany Police Department. (It should be noted that the serial killings that take place in this book are not nearly as gruesome and lurid as can be found in other police procedurals.)

Two other crimes, both involving citizens who were the victims of assaults, are part of the story but neither has any real effect on the primary investigation, nor is the drug called “Lullaby” of any particular importance (but I suspect it will be in future books). There are some interesting and very diverse elements that come to light regarding the serial killings including the actress’ affinity for Alice in Wonderland and a summer camp that took place years ago but the real crux of the story is the workings of a police investigation that appears on more than one occasion to be heading nowhere.

Character development takes something of a backseat to the plot in this first title in the series but there is an interesting revelation about Hannah’s childhood that leads the reader to an understanding of Hannah’s personality but also to more questions. I’m looking forward to getting to know Hannah and Mike and their colleagues much better in future volumes.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2013.

About the Author

fybailey@albany.eduFRANKIE Y. BAILEY is an associate professor in the School of Criminal Justice, University at Albany (SUNY). Bailey is the author of mysteries as well as non-fiction titles that explore the intersections of crime, history, and popular culture. Bailey is a Macavity Award-winner and has been nominated for Edgar, Anthony, and Agatha awards. A past executive vice president of Mystery Writers of America and a past president of Sisters in Crime, she is on the Albany Bouchercon 2013 planning committee.

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