Book Reviews

Review: The Closers

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The Closers (Harry Bosch Series #11)The Closers by Michael Connelly

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Harry Bosch is the hero of this mystery series that progresses in character development and personal plot points through time. But though this book is #11, which normally means feeling lost in this kind of series if you’re coming to it as a new reader (which I was), Michael Connelly draws Bosch with such detail and gives enough background info here and there in ways that feel natural — not the usual oh-yeah-here’s-where-I’ll-tell-you-the-backstory way — that Bosch comes alive as a 3D character, and you can follow along no prob. Sure there are nuances missed, but it doesn’t affect the overall appreciation of the book.

It is not an escapist read. It has emotion and action, suspense and tragedy. And ultimately justice. And so it is an engrossing read, and I like how Connelly wraps up all the loose ends, even the ones you may have forgotten about. Overall, a good read.

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Review: The Golden Spiders

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The Golden Spiders (Crime Line)The Golden Spiders by Rex Stout

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What can I say? I love Rex Stout books. They’re my go-to when I need something light, easy to read, but with engaging characters, a realistic plot, and a good mystery. The Golden Spiders fills the bill just as well as other Stout books that I’ve read. Nero Wolfe is in all his massive glory; the food is as important as ever; Archie Goodwin is his usual irreverent self. But there is one difference from previous books I’ve read in this series: a scene of violence.

Like with Robert B. Parker, Stout describes the scene in detail but not with graphics of squirting blood and mutilated flesh. Since Archie is the narrator, he can also allude to some of the goings on — for Archie would know what it means and expects the reader to as well (not me!) — which forces the reader to use their imagination. A good thing, I think. I’m not too in love with the current idea that all must be shown, none left to the imagination; that the writer/filmmaker must do all the imaginative work, and the reader just sits back and takes in the words.

Since this was my first time reading The Golden Spiders, I did not read the introduction. I usually peruse those on my second or third reads. I did however check out the back piece, from the Rex Stout library. This one has reproductions of foreign language covers. They were so much of their time!

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Review: A Catskill Eagle

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A Catskill Eagle (Spenser, #12)A Catskill Eagle by Robert B. Parker

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Robert Parker is a good writer, though you wouldn’t think so with the kind of formulaic books that he writes. In the first sentence, I already had a sense of the narrator Spenser, plus the sentence itself wasn’t formula writing. By the end of the first page, I had a good handle on what kind of character Spenser is and a glimmer of the mystery to be solved. Even so, the glimmer didn’t give it all away; the mystery or problems to be solved unfolded as each part was dealt with and thus more revealed. It kept me hooked.

This book was published in 1985, but it very much reminded me of the 70s, the way people were, the old ways of communicating (payphones), but most particularly the violence. I watched the Spenser series in its original run (never read the books till now, this is my second), and it was like most shows of the genre back then: violent. The only diff between violence back then and now was in the amount of actual gore shown on the screen. Not so much back then, too much now. Parker’s book is like that — the violence is matter of fact, no added or numerous details and adjectives of how the blood splattered, no trying to drag the reader in emotionally so as to make them recoil. Perhaps that’s why we the reader can focus more on the plot and characters and not get overwhelmed by the sheer amount of shooting and hitting and knocking out.

Enjoyable escapist reading.

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Review: Cradle and All

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Cradle and AllCradle and All by James Patterson

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Boy, does James Patterson write short chapters. That was my first thought, this from someone who writes short chapters herself, but not quite that brief. This style of writing moves the story along rapidly and doesn’t require the author to put in transitions in between scenes or even mid-scene. But it doesn’t create suspense. The plot itself is suspenseful — for about a third of the way in. Then we know what the mystery is about. Still, the main story is engaging enough to keep one reading to find out who is whom, but Patterson resorts to predictable techniques to create suspense, which don’t work too well because they are predictable. My objection to his style of writing is it’s loose and has rather a feel of being dashed off. It’s OK to zip through the writing as long as it doesn’t feel like you did. Also things happen and then everything goes back to normal and you’re left hanging, wondering what happened to so-and-so.

The romance was OK but it didn’t move me. I wasn’t rooting for the couple. Perhaps the rapid shifts in point of view kind of broke that spell. The revelation in the final chapters is unexpected, so it has that going for it, but there’s no sense of “oh yeah!” to it, which IMHO, a good mystery or thriller ought to have especially when you absolutely don’t see the solution coming. And the very ending at the very end was truly disappointing. It’s supposed to make you hear that doo-doo doo-doo music. But it is unbelievable. And it is such a cliche, the eyes roll heavenward.

It’s too bad Goodreads doesn’t have half stars, otherwise I’d give it 2.5 stars. I did give it 3, but then on reflecting back that I didn’t look forward to reading it like I do an Agatha Christie, I downgraded it to 2.

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Review: Double for Death

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Double for DeathDouble for Death by Rex Stout

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I borrowed Double for Death eBook from the Toronto Public Library, virtual branch, thinking it was a Nero Wolfe mystery, not knowing Rex Stout had written another series starring a different kind of detective called “Tecumseh Fox.” A bit of a surprise when I read the Introduction and discovered not Nero Wolfe. But I had been looking for a new series to try, so this was rather serendipitous!

The first big diff between a Fox mystery and a Wolfe one was point of view (POV): it’s third person whereas it’s first person from Archie’s POV in a Wolfe book. This means Stout can write scenes in which Fox or any of his compadres does not appear. It makes for a more complicated, plot-wise, story. But it also means that it’s far, far more difficult to get a handle on this Fox character. In fact, I never did get a sense of this man. Given Stout’s command of the language, the plot, the clues, I think this is deliberate, that Stout wanted a character as mysterious as Wolfe is obvious. We get hints of who this man is, but one really has to exercise the little grey cells to see the hints from how Fox interacts with the action and the other characters. Show not tell, Stout does well here! It is essentially like meeting a new acquaintance who keeps things close to the vest, doesn’t talk much to give you ideas of what they’re thinking or feeling. It’s intriguing enough to make the reader want to read the next in the series (is there a next? how long is the series, I should look!) to find out more about Fox.

The plot itself is engaging, with enough realistic twists to keep one reading. And the clues are most certainly there, but cleverly woven into the story so that they’re not easy to pick up. Yet the dénouement doesn’t come out of nowhere, making the reader go, “huh?” Instead, it fits in nicely, and the reader goes, “ooohhhhh, of course!”

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Review: Death Loves a Messy Desk

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Death Loves a Messy Desk (Charlotte Adams, #3)Death Loves a Messy Desk by Mary Jane Maffini

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Mary Jane Maffini writes a mystery series that’s perfect for reading when life is getting a bit much and you need an escape into a story filled with non-stop movement, nice characters, clues buried in details, a story that is essentially funl My only caveat for this book, the third in the Charlotte Adams series, is that the ending seems to come out of nowhere, one of those where, in the last chapter, one character really really has to explain to the others what happened so the reader will know. Otherwise it provides a moment out of the crap of one’s own life, an essential purpose of a book like this.

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Review: The Cluttered Corpse

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The Cluttered Corpse (Charlotte Adams, #2)The Cluttered Corpse by Mary Jane Maffini

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I dove into this one right after reading the first in the series featuring Charlotte Adams, the non-stop organizer of people and things. Probably not a good idea. The protagonist’s unflagging energy and curiosity, disguised as concern, can be a bit wearing taken in big doses. Also, it felt sort of like I was still reading the first book.

But then some of the irritating aspects of book one were changed. The annoying extension of the plot through “just missed getting the answer” once-twice-thrice device, was dropped in this book. There were again the consistency errors (which a good editor would’ve picked up on, so much for traditional publishers being superior to indies), but not quite so glaring as in the first book. And though I felt that Charlotte’s constant need to talk to her estranged friend was a little forced and more like a plot device to create greater chaos and drama than an extension of her character, I did towards the end of the book start to see the character motivations for doing so.

The book does get better as it goes along, which is preferable to some books that get worse! And all in all, it’s a nice time-waster to escape the turmoil of one’s own life.

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Review: Organize Your Corpses

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Organize Your Corpses (Charlotte Adams, #1)Organize Your Corpses by Mary Jane Maffini

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is the fourth or so time of reading this fun book, and though my memory jogged me on which character to focus on, which one was fishy, the murderer reveal still came as a complete surprise to me.

This is the kind of book one reads for pure escapism when life is just a bit too hard and you need something light to take your mind off things. It’s well written in that the author details the characters so well, you can hear and see and smell them, and the plot is believable — for the most part. There were one or two plot points involving the librarian — and if memory serves, this is true in the next two books as well — that are just too contrived to be believable. A little more thought, and these points could have been humourous instead of annoyingly fake. I also wonder if publishers hire proofreaders and decent editors anymore for mass market books; but though obvious, like a sneaker turning into a slipper, the consistency errors and typos were thankfully rare.

All in all, a good way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

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Review: Dumb Witness

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Dumb Witness (Hercule Poirot Mysteries)Dumb Witness by Agatha Christie

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Agatha Christie, as usual, weaves a good tale. This one is unusual as a dog is one of the characters and even has a speaking part. For a dog lover, it’s a great addition to the normal all-human mystery plot.

I had early on in my rereading of Dumb Witness remembered who the murderer was, but I couldn’t remember the exact reason. Oh, the obvious one was there; but the underlying motivation, the driving emotion, now that continued to elude me right until the end. Knowing who the murderer was, I looked for clues all through the book. But Christie was particularly ingenious in this Poirot mystery. Nothing stood out; no detail except one clearly pointed the reader to whodunnit. Instead her clues came in the words she used, which she did with impressive skill. She would use words in crucial scenes that had two meanings, and Christie relied on context — given by the particularly dumb but entertaining narrator Captain Hastings — and the dominant meaning of the word to fool the reader. Clever. As a writer, I wonder how much work it took to get the diction just right or if she had a good instinct for it?

Light yet full of hidden meaning, Dumb Witness is one of Christie’s more enjoyable Poirot mysteries.

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