Book Review: Condition Book Two by Alec Birri

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Title: Condition Book Two
Series: The Condition Trilogy
Author: Alec Birri
Narrator: Jonathan Keeble
Publication Date: January 17, 2018
Genre: Science Fiction, Dystopian

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Purchase Links:
Audible // iTunes // Amazon

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Condition Book Two
The Curing Begins…
The Condition Trilogy
Alec Birri
Narrated by Jonathan Keeble
Essential Music Limited, January 2018
Downloaded Unabridged Audiobook

From the publisher—

Discovering an infamous Nazi doctor conducted abortions in Argentina after the Second World War may not come as a surprise, but why was the twisted eugenicist not only allowed to continue his evil experiments but encouraged to do so? And what has that got to do with a respected neurologist in 2027? Surely, the invention of a cure for nearly all the world’s ailments can’t possibly have its roots buried in the horrors of Auschwitz?

The unacceptable is about to become the disturbingly bizarre. What has the treatment’s “correction” of pedophiles got to do with the president of the United States, the pope, and even the UK’s Green Party?

As if the Condition trilogy wasn’t unsettling enough….

The medical experiments that took place during the Nazi regime are, to this day, horrifying and a look at just how evil humanity can be in the name of science. A young Argentinian police officer, Emiliano—who becomes unrealistically entangled in a romance with Maria—is not prepared, though, to find evidence of continuing work being done in an orphanage, leading to a hunt for the former Nazi who’s involved.

That hunt goes on for years until we find ourselves in the year 2026 and back among some of the characters from the first book including Professor Savage and Nurse Tracy. Tracy is still just as unlikeable as before and still just a foil for sexual fantasies but we learn much more about what the professor is really up to. I’m looking forward to getting the true story with Book Three, The Final Correction (an ominous subtitle if there ever was one).

Jonathan Keeble continues to be an excellent narrator in this second book of the trilogy; he has a wonderful tone to his voice and his interpretation of various characters is quite good albeit with some limitations with the Argentinians.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, March 2018.

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About the Author

Alec Birri served thirty years with the UK Armed Forces. He commanded an operational unit that experimented in new military capabilities classified at the highest level (Top Secret Strap 3) and it is this that forms the basis of his novels. Although semi-autobiographical, for national security and personal liberty reasons, the events and individuals portrayed have to be fiction but are still nonetheless in keeping with his experiences.

Website
Twitter
Facebook

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About the Narrator

If you regularly enjoy listening to audiobooks then this Shakespearean actor will need no introduction. Winner of a 2016 SOVAS award, Jonathan’s voice is rightly recognized as being one of the best, and his narration of The Condition Trilogy is no exception.

LinkedIn
IMDB

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Play an excerpt here.

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Follow the tour here.

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Book Review: Bad Girl Gone by Temple Mathews

Bad Girl Gone
Temple Mathews
St. Martin’s Griffin, August 2017
ISBN 978-1-250-05881-2
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Sixteen year-old Echo Stone awakens in a cold sweat in a dark room, having no idea where she is or how she got there. But she soon finds out she’s in Middle House, an orphanage filled with mysteriously troubled kids.

There’s just one problem: she’s not an orphan. Her parents are very much alive.

She explains this to everyone, but no one will listen. After befriending a sympathetic (and handsome) boy, Echo is able to escape Middle House and rush home, only to discover it sealed off by crime scene tape and covered in the evidence of a terrible and violent crime. As Echo grapples with this world-shattering information, she spots her parents driving by and rushes to flag them down. Standing in the middle of street, waving her arms to get their attention, her parents’ car drives right through her.

She was right. Her parents are alive―but she’s not.

She’s a ghost, just like all the other denizens of Middle House. Desperate to somehow get her life back and reconnect with her still-alive boyfriend, Echo embarks on a quest to solve her own murder. As the list of suspects grows, the quest evolves into a journey of self-discovery in which she learns she wasn’t quite the girl she thought she was. In a twist of fate, she’s presented with one last chance to reclaim her life and must make a decision which will either haunt her or bless her forever.­­­­

The premise of a dead person having to solve her own murder is not new but, to me, it’s intriguing and I really looked forward to seeing what Mr. Mathews would do with the idea. For the most part, I thought it was entertaining if not quite fabulous.

OK, so Echo is a ghost and is in an orphanage of sorts with a bunch of other dead kids, all murdered, and they need to solve their murders before they can move on. Some have superpowers that help them do this and Echo’s is kind of weird but ultimately useful. Along with investigating her demise, Echo will learn quite a lot about herself and how her opinions about her living self don’t exactly square with others’ views. That’s a good thing because, well, Echo isn’t the most likeable girl I’ve encountered.

This story would have been 50% better without the silly, awkward love triangle. Young adult fiction is rife with love triangles—hormones, I guess—but, as much as I dislike them, at least they’re usually normal, meaning all parties are breathing. Here we have two ghosts and a living boy. Uh-uh, doesn’t work and is not appealing. For the most part, I just sort of skimmed over the romantic parts as much as I could

Bottomline, I think the writing is a bit juvenile even with some rough language (or maybe because of it) and the story had promise that wasn’t quite delivered but I still enjoyed it to a degree. Certainly, Bad Girl Gone was not a waste of my time but I hope Mr. Mathews’ next YA novel will fit a little better in this genre.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2017.

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An Excerpt from Bad Girl Gone

Awakening

When I tried to remember exactly how I came to be lying in the cold black room, my mind couldn’t focus.

I could feel myself slowly climbing upward, clawing my way out of the clutches of a nightmare. This was usually a good feeling, because you knew you were just dreaming, and the nightmare was over. Except this time it wasn’t. My hands felt clammy. I gripped the sheets until I knew my knuckles must be white. Help me, I thought. Somebody please help me.

I had no idea where I was, and for a terrifying second I couldn’t even remember who I was. But then I remembered my name. Echo. Echo Stone. My real name is Eileen. When I was a toddler, I waddled around repeating everything my parents said and they called me “Echo,” and it just stuck.

Remembering my name and how I got it kick-started my brain. I knew who I was. I remembered that I was sixteen years old and lived in Kirkland, Washington, with my mom and dad. It was all coming back to me. Mom was a dentist and Dad taught middle school English. Good, I could remember parts of my life. But I was still in a dark, cold room and had no idea how I got there. I held back a scream, my chest tightening. Don’t lose it, Echo, keep it together, I told myself. Calm down, think good thoughts.

I pictured Andy, my boyfriend. Six feet tall, broad shoul- ders, blue eyes, and long golden-brown hair. He loved to feed me cookie bites and called me his rabbit. I called him Wolfie. Sometimes he got the hiccups for no reason at all and usually laughed them away. Thinking of Andy momentarily made me feel warm inside, even though the room was freezing.

Where was I? I was shivering and yet also bathed in sweat, my skin slick with it. I clutched for my trusty Saint Christopher necklace. But it wasn’t there. Mom gave it to me to protect me when I traveled. Would it protect me now? I would never have lost it. The chain must have broken. And then I had an ugly thought. What if someone had ripped it from my neck? I shuddered. Where are you, Andy? I need you!

I opened my eyes as wide as I could. It was pitch black. My pounding heart told me, This isn’t some nightmare—it’s real. I hugged myself and breathed deeply, trying to calm my nerves. My shoulders were tight. I rubbed the sheets beneath me. The ones at home in my bed were soft. These were stiff and coarse. I was somewhere completely and painfully foreign. In my head I was talking to myself in a rapid voice, my fear voice: What is this?—what is this?—what is this?

Someone nearby was crying. I had a knot in my stomach and my throat hurt, like I’d screamed for hours. My head hurt, too, and I guessed I must have fallen, or maybe something heavy fell on me. I explored my scalp, gently at first, then more bravely, moving my fingers, searching for a lump. I found nothing . . . no lump, no holes. My skull was intact, though my long auburn hair felt tangled and greasy. I inhaled through my nose, searching for familiar scents. Mom’s cinnamon rolls, Dad’s after- shave. But nothing smelled even vaguely familiar, and the odors that did find my nose were horrible. Smoke. Vinegar. Sulfur.

I reached for my bedside lamp—but my fingers touched something damp and stringy. Oh god. The knot in my stomach tightened and I yanked my hand back. I willed my eyes to ad- just to the dark, but as I blinked, strange pulsing figures leapt out at me. It must have been my mind playing tricks. Right?

I took five good, long breaths, sucking in through my nose and exhaling through my pursed lips, just like my grandma Tilly taught me years ago. But five breaths weren’t enough. So I took ten, and finally my heart rate slowed from a galloping panic to a steady, cautious thudding. Soon I was able to distin- guish shapes. Was that a girl in a bed next to mine? Her hair was impossibly thick and long, spilling down her back. Her sweaty hair. That’s what I must have reached out and touched. My heart returned to its punishing rhythm, a fist clenching and unclenching in my chest. The nearby crying stopped. But then it was replaced by something worse, a ripping sound, like bone being cut by a rusty saw. And then a gurgling . . . followed by a low, feral growling noise. Faraway cackling laughter. What the hell was going on?

About the Author

Author Temple Matthews is already well versed in the world of screenwriting, with such children’s films under his belt as Disney’s Return to Neverland, The Little Mermaid 2: Return to the Sea, and Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas. He wrote Aloha Scooby Doo for Warner Brothers and Picture This for MGM. He is also the author of the The New Kid trilogy. Matthews has now turned to a different kind of story telling with his young adult novel BAD GIRL GONE. With a spunky main character, this novel explores the aftermath of tragedy, and whether what we think about ourselves matches with how the world sees us because, as we all know, right and wrong is sometimes grey when thrown into the madness of high school.

Book Review: The Fiddler’s Gun by A.S. Peterson

The Fiddler's GunThe Fiddler’s Gun
Fin’s Revolution: Book One
A.S Peterson
Rabbit Room Press, December 2009
ISBN: 978-0-615-32542-2
Trade Paperback

Phinea Button was born a girl, which was unfortunate since her father was convinced she would be a boy. Unwilling to provide for yet another female, he leaves her at the local orphanage where she has spent the last 17 years. Smart, tough and determined to live her own life, she is the bane of all those around her. It seems inevitable then that she will end up in the biggest adventure of her life, and all because of a fiddler’s gun. Will she ever make it home to the life she has dreamed of and the man she loves?

I loved this book from start to finish right from the descriptions of daily life in the orphanage to the last swash-buckling swish. That’s right folks, there’s the high seas among those pages. Phinea, or Fin as she’s affectionately called is intelligent and brave but spends most of her time fighting against stereotypes and other’s prejudices. Her daily battle with Hilde is wonderful but ultimately, it’s the relationships between characters that are the real gems, Bartimaeus being my favourite. For once, it was nice to read a female title character that defied all expectations. Yes, she falls in love but that’s not far into the story and is almost an afterthought. She still goes off and has her adventure on the high seas and battles with the best and worst of men. She works just as hard as them, is savvier than most and earns her place amongst the roughest, kindest and cruellest alike. She saves and is saved and you can’t help but love her for it.

Let’s just say, as soon as I finished this book, I was immediately looking for the second title. Unfortunately for me, I was sitting in a coffee shop in Nuremberg at the time so a download was not forthcoming. I have however, managed to buy a copy when I returned home and am desperately trying to find a minute to sit down and devour it.

Authors take note, when writing female characters, take a leaf out of Peterson’s book. Not all women are happy shopping, obsessing about the colour pink, their looks, children and knowing their ‘place’. We also have dreams, hopes, desires, ambition and a wish for a life better than this. Fin carves out her path with aplomb, makes many mistakes along the way and fights for what is right. She’s a darn sight closer to what women are really like than the usual chick lit offerings and it’s about time we see more of them in books. Now, where’s me cutlass? Garrr!

Reviewed by Laura McLaughlin, April 2013.

Book Reviews: The Killing Song by P.J. Parrish, Buried By the Roan by Mark Stevens, Iron House by John Hart, The Woodcutter by Reginald Hill, and Robert B. Parker’s Killing the Blues by Michael Brandman

The Killing Song
P.J. Parrish
Gallery Books, August 2011
ISBN: 978-1-4516-5135-5
Trade Paperback

A diversion from the long-standing Louis Kincaid series for which this sister-writing-team is well known, this standalone features a hard-drinking investigative reporter headquartered in Miami, Matt Owen, who is confronted with his younger sister’s sudden disappearance and subsequent murder.  When he suddenly discovers her Ipod with a Stone’s song on it, he realizes he may have found something of a clue, and flies to Paris.

In the City of Light, aided by an old newspaper friend and a female French Inspector, he begins to track the murderer, first in Paris and then London and Scotland and back to Paris again, developing, step by step, a picture of the culprit and his past crimes, leading to an interesting chase.

It is quite a story, with well-developed characters, especially that of the villain, and an intensive investigation to find him.  Whether or not the reader can accept Matt as an alcoholic ne’er-do-well or a talented, tenacious reporter attempting to redeem himself, is a question that can only be answered by the reader.  But, then, we’ll always have Paris.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, December 2011.

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Buried By the Roan
Mark Stevens
People’s Press, August 2011
ISBN: 978-0-9817810-9-9
Trade Paperback

The second Allison Coil Mystery begins with a hunting party Allison and her guides are heading in Colorado.  Among the participants is the owner of a ranch who supposedly is in the forefront in the community of “striking it rich” by collecting gas royalties as the controversy swirls about ruining the environment by fracturing underground sources of hydrocarbons.  Unfortunately he dies up on the mountain, apparently in an accident.  But was it?

From that point, the convoluted plot progresses and the reader has to work doubly hard to reach the end.  The writing is uneven, with spurts of excellent descriptive material, especially with regard to elk-hunting and the environment in which the activity takes place. But it is confusion that greets the reader on the topic, pro or con, concerning environmentalism.

The mystery surrounding this novel is why the first 100 pages were not cut before publication.  It is only when the reader plows through one-third of the book that a plot of a sort begins to emerge.  And then, it is just frequently confusing.  Apparently, the theme is supposed to be pro-environmental in nature, a controversy similar to the protests against the proposed pipeline from Canada south.  Or the natural gas fracturing taking place throughout the country.  But it is hard to tell.  That said, fans of western mysteries should be pleased.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, December 2011.

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Iron House
John Hart
St. Martin’s Press/Thomas Dunne Books, August 2011
ISBN: 978-0-312-38034-2
Hardcover

Iron House was originally built in the Western North Carolina mountains as a psychiatric facility for Civil War veterans, later to be converted into an orphan asylum, one that was poorly supervised and maintained.  Into the home came Michael and Julian as babies.  Through the next decade Michael, the stronger brother, sought to protect his younger sibling who was continually victimized by five bullies.  Then Julian reached the breaking point, stabbing the leader of his tormenters.  Knowing his brother couldn’t hack it, Michael removed the knife from the dead boy’s neck and ran away, “accepting” blame for the murder.

Ironically on that same day, a young woman, wife of a very rich and powerful U.S. Senator, arrived at Iron House specifically to adopt Michael and Julian.  And so it came to be that the weaker brother grew up in luxury, developing into a gifted author of children’s books, while the stronger one arrived in New York, drifting to Harlem as the leader of a gang of boys, soon to be “adopted” by a notorious mob leader and developed into an enforcer and killer.  Then Michael falls in love and wants out of the mob life so he can lead a “normal” life.

That is the background from which the book develops.  The remainder is the chase of Michael and his woman by the mobsters who fear he would betray them, and his attempts to protect his brother and his lover from them.  At the same time, other complications develop to keep the reader’s interest at a peak.  While on the whole this is a gripping tale, one could view it as a potboiler, full of cliché-ish overtones. Nevertheless, it is a very well-plotted, interesting read and is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, December 2011.

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The Woodcutter
Reginald Hill
Harper, August 2011
ISBN: 978-0-06-206074-7
Hardcover

The son of a woodcutter on an estate where a young girl has attracted his attention, Wilfred (“Wolf”) Hadda sets his sights on marrying her. She challenges him to refine himself and become rich.  He goes away for seven years and performs many mysterious functions, eventually returning with the necessary social graces and a small fortune.  So they get married, and Wolf leads a charmed life in the City, amassing more money and a title.  Then the fairy tale ends.

A police raid one early morning results in the discovery that Wolf’s computer contains porn.  He’s arrested and charged, and it goes downhill from there.  Of course, the current financial crisis forces the collapse of his empire, and the loss of his fortune.  Financial fraud is added to the original charges.  He spends the next seven years in prison, gaining parole only when he acknowledges his crime to a psychiatrist, convincing her of his repentance.

Then comes the twist.

The intricate plot is a study of double-crosses and the uncovering of the plot which sent him to jail, evolving into a quiet study of revenge and retribution.  The characters are well-drawn, and the writing tight.  A well-told tale, and one that is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, January 2012.

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Robert B. Parker’s Killing the Blues
Michael Brandman
Putnam, September 2011
ISBN: 978-0-3991-5784-4
Hardcover

It is quite a challenge to be asked to pick up where a master like Robert B. Parker left off.  But that is exactly the dare the author faced when the publisher asked him to continue writing the popular Jesse Stone series.  Mr. Brandman was no stranger to Parker:  they were friends for many years and collaborated on several Spenser and Stone movies on television.   Still it was a formidable task.

So let us begin by noting that we will not compare this work with any of Parker’s oeuvre, simply because it would not be fair to either. Instead, let us judge the work on its own merits.  To begin with, it is constructed like a Jesse Stone novel, with many of the elements that have made them so popular, with good plotting and short dialogue and witty Stone comments.

It involves three separate story lines, both of which affect Jesse as a Chief of Police and as an individual.  They take place just as the summer tourist season is about to begin in Paradise, MA.  One involves carjackings, another something out of Jesse’s past, and the last a serious situation involving a young girl holding a school principal at gunpoint.  Each requires Jesse to solve it in his own inimitable fashion.

With that, the conclusion is that an assessment lets us accept the book, as it is presented, favorably.  It is possibly unfortunate that the publisher chose the title to ride the coattails of the late, esteemed Grand Master, somewhat like the producers of the current “Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess” renamed an opera that has stood the test of time for eight or more decades.  A book should stand on its own, and this one does.

Enough with comparisons already:  Just read it and you’ll recommend it, as I do.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, January 2012.

Book Reviews: The Killing Song by P.J. Parrish, Buried By the Roan by Mark Stevens, Iron House by John Hart, The Woodcutter by Reginald Hill, and Robert B. Parker's Killing the Blues by Michael Brandman

The Killing Song
P.J. Parrish
Gallery Books, August 2011
ISBN: 978-1-4516-5135-5
Trade Paperback

A diversion from the long-standing Louis Kincaid series for which this sister-writing-team is well known, this standalone features a hard-drinking investigative reporter headquartered in Miami, Matt Owen, who is confronted with his younger sister’s sudden disappearance and subsequent murder.  When he suddenly discovers her Ipod with a Stone’s song on it, he realizes he may have found something of a clue, and flies to Paris.

In the City of Light, aided by an old newspaper friend and a female French Inspector, he begins to track the murderer, first in Paris and then London and Scotland and back to Paris again, developing, step by step, a picture of the culprit and his past crimes, leading to an interesting chase.

It is quite a story, with well-developed characters, especially that of the villain, and an intensive investigation to find him.  Whether or not the reader can accept Matt as an alcoholic ne’er-do-well or a talented, tenacious reporter attempting to redeem himself, is a question that can only be answered by the reader.  But, then, we’ll always have Paris.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, December 2011.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Buried By the Roan
Mark Stevens
People’s Press, August 2011
ISBN: 978-0-9817810-9-9
Trade Paperback

The second Allison Coil Mystery begins with a hunting party Allison and her guides are heading in Colorado.  Among the participants is the owner of a ranch who supposedly is in the forefront in the community of “striking it rich” by collecting gas royalties as the controversy swirls about ruining the environment by fracturing underground sources of hydrocarbons.  Unfortunately he dies up on the mountain, apparently in an accident.  But was it?

From that point, the convoluted plot progresses and the reader has to work doubly hard to reach the end.  The writing is uneven, with spurts of excellent descriptive material, especially with regard to elk-hunting and the environment in which the activity takes place. But it is confusion that greets the reader on the topic, pro or con, concerning environmentalism.

The mystery surrounding this novel is why the first 100 pages were not cut before publication.  It is only when the reader plows through one-third of the book that a plot of a sort begins to emerge.  And then, it is just frequently confusing.  Apparently, the theme is supposed to be pro-environmental in nature, a controversy similar to the protests against the proposed pipeline from Canada south.  Or the natural gas fracturing taking place throughout the country.  But it is hard to tell.  That said, fans of western mysteries should be pleased.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, December 2011.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Iron House
John Hart
St. Martin’s Press/Thomas Dunne Books, August 2011
ISBN: 978-0-312-38034-2
Hardcover

Iron House was originally built in the Western North Carolina mountains as a psychiatric facility for Civil War veterans, later to be converted into an orphan asylum, one that was poorly supervised and maintained.  Into the home came Michael and Julian as babies.  Through the next decade Michael, the stronger brother, sought to protect his younger sibling who was continually victimized by five bullies.  Then Julian reached the breaking point, stabbing the leader of his tormenters.  Knowing his brother couldn’t hack it, Michael removed the knife from the dead boy’s neck and ran away, “accepting” blame for the murder.

Ironically on that same day, a young woman, wife of a very rich and powerful U.S. Senator, arrived at Iron House specifically to adopt Michael and Julian.  And so it came to be that the weaker brother grew up in luxury, developing into a gifted author of children’s books, while the stronger one arrived in New York, drifting to Harlem as the leader of a gang of boys, soon to be “adopted” by a notorious mob leader and developed into an enforcer and killer.  Then Michael falls in love and wants out of the mob life so he can lead a “normal” life.

That is the background from which the book develops.  The remainder is the chase of Michael and his woman by the mobsters who fear he would betray them, and his attempts to protect his brother and his lover from them.  At the same time, other complications develop to keep the reader’s interest at a peak.  While on the whole this is a gripping tale, one could view it as a potboiler, full of cliché-ish overtones. Nevertheless, it is a very well-plotted, interesting read and is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, December 2011.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The Woodcutter
Reginald Hill
Harper, August 2011
ISBN: 978-0-06-206074-7
Hardcover

The son of a woodcutter on an estate where a young girl has attracted his attention, Wilfred (“Wolf”) Hadda sets his sights on marrying her. She challenges him to refine himself and become rich.  He goes away for seven years and performs many mysterious functions, eventually returning with the necessary social graces and a small fortune.  So they get married, and Wolf leads a charmed life in the City, amassing more money and a title.  Then the fairy tale ends.

A police raid one early morning results in the discovery that Wolf’s computer contains porn.  He’s arrested and charged, and it goes downhill from there.  Of course, the current financial crisis forces the collapse of his empire, and the loss of his fortune.  Financial fraud is added to the original charges.  He spends the next seven years in prison, gaining parole only when he acknowledges his crime to a psychiatrist, convincing her of his repentance.

Then comes the twist.

The intricate plot is a study of double-crosses and the uncovering of the plot which sent him to jail, evolving into a quiet study of revenge and retribution.  The characters are well-drawn, and the writing tight.  A well-told tale, and one that is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, January 2012.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Robert B. Parker’s Killing the Blues
Michael Brandman
Putnam, September 2011
ISBN: 978-0-3991-5784-4
Hardcover

It is quite a challenge to be asked to pick up where a master like Robert B. Parker left off.  But that is exactly the dare the author faced when the publisher asked him to continue writing the popular Jesse Stone series.  Mr. Brandman was no stranger to Parker:  they were friends for many years and collaborated on several Spenser and Stone movies on television.   Still it was a formidable task.

So let us begin by noting that we will not compare this work with any of Parker’s oeuvre, simply because it would not be fair to either. Instead, let us judge the work on its own merits.  To begin with, it is constructed like a Jesse Stone novel, with many of the elements that have made them so popular, with good plotting and short dialogue and witty Stone comments.

It involves three separate story lines, both of which affect Jesse as a Chief of Police and as an individual.  They take place just as the summer tourist season is about to begin in Paradise, MA.  One involves carjackings, another something out of Jesse’s past, and the last a serious situation involving a young girl holding a school principal at gunpoint.  Each requires Jesse to solve it in his own inimitable fashion.

With that, the conclusion is that an assessment lets us accept the book, as it is presented, favorably.  It is possibly unfortunate that the publisher chose the title to ride the coattails of the late, esteemed Grand Master, somewhat like the producers of the current “Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess” renamed an opera that has stood the test of time for eight or more decades.  A book should stand on its own, and this one does.

Enough with comparisons already:  Just read it and you’ll recommend it, as I do.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, January 2012.

Book Review: Criminal by Karin Slaughter—and a Giveaway!

Criminal
Karin Slaughter
Delacorte Press, July 2012
ISBN 978-0-345-52850-6
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Will Trent is a brilliant agent with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. Newly in love, he is beginning to put a difficult past behind him. Then a local college student goes missing, and Will is inexplicably kept off the case by his supervisor and mentor, deputy director Amanda Wagner. Will cannot fathom Amanda’s motivation until the two of them literally collide in an abandoned orphanage they have both been drawn to for different reasons. Decades before—when Will’s father was imprisoned for murder—this was his home. . . .

Flash back nearly forty years. In the summer Will Trent was born, Amanda Wagner is going to college, making Sunday dinners for her father, taking her first steps in the boys’ club that is the Atlanta Police Department. One of her first cases is to investigate a brutal crime in one of the city’s worst neighborhoods. Amanda and her partner, Evelyn, are the only ones who seem to care if an arrest is ever made.

Now the case that launched Amanda’s career has suddenly come back to life, intertwined with the long-held mystery of Will’s birth and parentage. And these two dauntless investigators will each need to face down demons from the past if they are to prevent an even greater terror from being unleashed.

Leave a comment below for a chance to win a copy of Criminal by Karin Slaughter.

Dear Reader, if you’re looking for a cozy or even a soft-boiled mystery, this is not it. In the past, Karin Slaughter‘s work has been described as “captivating”, “gruesome”, “intense”, “engrossing”, “surprising”, “searing”, “challenging”, “compelling”, and all of those adjectives fit nicely with Criminal. There are few authors who can write with such intensity and sustain it throughout the story but this author can and does.

Shifting back and forth between the mid-1970’s and present day, we see the consequences that a crime has on a small group of people at that time and continuing years into the future. The killing of a prostitute is an old story but how can it possibly be related to the disappearance of a college student more than thirty-five years later? Will Trent and his boss, Amanda Wagner, are linked in ways that go far beyond their work and both must deal with the psychological wounds of their pasts as they seek to keep it all from happening again. Along the way, the already somewhat strained relationship between the two will become tangled in unexpected emotions and Will’s incipient connection with Dr. Sara Linton may suffer irreparable damage.

A significant side story involves the conditions within the Atlanta Police Department in the 1970’s, particularly the racism and the hostility of the “good old boys” towards the women infiltrating their domain. Was it really that bad? I don’t know but I do remember that there was a lot of fingerpointing and accusations of racism and lack of interest between the department and the public during the 1979-1981 depredations of serial killer Wayne Williams.

Oddly enough, there have been a few comments from other reviewers questioning the accuracy of Ms. Slaughter‘s depiction of women’s lot in the mid-70’s. I can’t speak to their experiences in law enforcement at the time but, from personal knowledge, I can attest that women were often not considered for employment positions traditionally held by men because they were believed to be less qualified. If they showed themselves to have backbones, they were called “bitchy”, and those reviewers should remember that much of this dismissal of women still goes on today.  And, yes, it WAS hard for a woman to get credit. When I divorced my husband in 1979, our joint gasoline credit card was terminated and I was denied one in my own name solely because I was no longer married (they actually put that in writing). There are a couple of passages in Criminal when 25-year-old Amanda and her partner don’t have a clear understanding of female health issues and I don’t really buy that (at their age, also in the 70’s, I certainly understood these things and I was not brought up in a forward-thinking atmosphere) but, otherwise, these sceptical reviewers should have done a little research before deciding the 1970’s could not have been this bad. They were.

Ms. Slaughter‘s writing is, as always, riveting—no, gutwrenching—and no one handles the violence and pathos of murder better than she does. Criminal is not easy to read but it’s also not easy to put down; you might as well settle down and accept the fact you won’t be getting much sleep. This is a worthy addition to the author’s bibliography and especially to the continuing story arc involving Will Trent, Sara Linton, Amanda Wagner and other characters from her two series. I wonder what the lady has in store for us next.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2012.

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You have two chances to enter the drawing for a

copy of Criminal by Karin Slaughter.

Leave a comment below and then again on

August 16th after an interview with Karin. There

will be two winners from the US or Canada and the lucky

names will be drawn on the evening of August 17th.

Book Review: Little Princes by Conor Grennan

Little Princes: One Man’s Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal
Conor Grennan
William Morrow, January 2011
ISBN 9780061930058
Hardcover

Conor Grennan signed up to work in an orphanage in Nepal so that he could, at some point, impress other people with this item on his resume.  He’s pretty up-front about this, as well as his total unpreparedness for dealing with children, especially children in Nepal.  The lack of table utensils throws him for a loop, for example.  He comes to love these kids, and promises them (against the advice of every other adult connected to the orphanage) that he WILL come back and see them.  And he does.  His life is changed by this experience.

Conor learns that these orphans are the result of child trafficking  The children have been given, along with money, to a man so that they would not be conscripted into the Maoist armies fighting in the northwest part of Nepal.  The man promises these families their children will be educated, fed, and taken care of; he then abandons them or sells them in Katmandu.   He is stunned when one of the mothers comes to Katmandu looking for, and finds, her child.

Conor decides to set up his own orphanage, along with a man he worked with at the Little Princes Children’s Home.  Their first group of children is all set to be delivered when disaster strikes.  The man who brought them to Katmandu discovers Conor’s plan and spirits the seven children away.  Conor decides he must find them all, and bring them to his orphanage.  Then he decides that he must try to find their families and, if possible, reunite them.  Can you say Don Quixote?

Fans of Three Cups of Tea will find some major similarities between these two books.  Grennan is honest, not just about himself and his flaws, but about the realities he must deal with in Nepal.  His growing relationship with a woman from New York is chronicled, mixed in with his discoveries about what he wants to do with his life.  All in all, an uplifting without being dull, amusing without belittling the overall situation, very readable book.

Reviewed by P.J. Coldren, February 2011.