The Dispatcher by John Scalzi

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆
Date read: May 15 to 20, 2017

This is an interesting police procedural with an interesting hook that you don’t find out until somewhat later in the story. Or at least I didn’t find out until it happened. That caught me of guard and, at the same time, pulled me further into the plot. Best way to get into this story, or any short form fiction, is to not know anything about it.

Since it’s so short there’s not much to say without giving the hook away, but I’ll try anyway.

Set in present time Chicago and it actually feels like Chicago and not, say, New York or some other generic urban sprawl. The writing is short, to the point, and what we come to expect from John Scalzi. He doesn’t mince words or beat a morally gray topic to death. He has a minimalist style that I like.

We’re introduced to Tony Valdez just as he’s about to enter the OR, not as a patient or doctor, but a dispatcher. He’s there as insurance, so to speak, to make sure everything goes “smoothly.” What he is and what his job entails is the hook.

Shortly after the operation, Tony finds out that a friend and colleague has gone missing, and he’s pressured by a detective to help her solve the case. She thinks the job has something to do with the his disappearance. The investigation reveals all the gray areas of what dispatchers do off the books and all the ways in which life and death could be just a game.

And I admit I’m hooked. I hope this is just the beginning and that Scalzi has long term plans because there’s still so much left to explore. Crime statistics, law enforcement, religion, politics, the tenuous definition of homicide in this new age of mortality–an endless trove of gray topics to take on. 

I’m not a fan of short form fiction, so this novella feels somewhat incomplete even though loose ends are tied up and most questions are answered. But if this becomes a procedural series and each book an episode, I could totally get behind that.

Review: Afterparty by Daryl Gregory

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Date Read: March 11 to 26, 2015
Read Count: twice in a year, which is unheard of for me*
Recommended by: Tor
Recommended to: people who like smart sci-fi thrillers

This is one of those rare books I wouldn’t mind if there’s a sequel. Actually, I would love it if there’s a sequel, but currently there’s nothing planned. But how do you know that? you might ask. It’s because I’ve asked and the answer is no. Well, it’s actually “I don’t know yet” which looks promising but it usually means no. “Good news” though, the book has been optioned by HBO. Normally I’m indifferent to book adaptations, but this time I’m sort of interested in what HBO will do with the source material.

I’ve been trying to write about this book for months now, but couldn’t figure out how without giving too much away. So I went back with the intention of skimming it, but ended up plowing through half the book in one sitting. It’s just as good as I remember, maybe even better this time around because I know how the story ends. It’s more than just a good book. It’s unlike any I’ve read in the genre because it’s the kind of book you come to expect from Daryl Gregory if you’ve read him before. He’s one of the few writers today who can spin a fascinating genre-blending tale that plays with tropes while challenging them, and there are so many things he gets right that any story in his hands is sure to be great.

So what is this book about? Kinda hard to sum up, but simply put: it’s a parable set in the not-so-distant future about a road trip, faith, belief, and drugs. A wild combination which makes for a wild ride with lots of action and a great cast of memorable characters, but it’s not all fun and games though. Dark subject matter, such as addiction and PTSD, are explored with some depth throughout the story, but despite the seriousness of these things, the story is a fast and easy read because the writing is in no way preachy or weighed down–it’s actually a lot of fun with quite a few funny moments in between the action. What I like most about the direction Gregory took with this book is it’s never too serious or takes itself too seriously, but the execution is always clear and poignant with just enough ambiguity to leave you thinking about a host of things long after the journey is over.

The story opens with a nameless teenager joining a cult and taking a drug called Numinous which lets her communicate with a higher power–God, or what she imagines as God. It’s an enlightening experience unlike any she’s ever had. God not only listens to her, but he also responds. It’s a relationship, one that quickly becomes addicting. Then she is institutionalized. With her connection to God cut off, she commits suicide. Lyda Rose, one of the original creators of Numinous, is also institutionalized in the same facility. When she hears about Numinous, she suspects someone from her old research group has been illegally distributing the drug again. So she and her girlfriend Ollie break out of the ward to stop the production. The trip takes them from Toronto to New York and all over the US, tracking down the person or people behind Numinous’ untimely resurrection.

A little background: in this not-so-distant future, 3D printers, called chemjets, can print any kind of drug and any combination of drugs you can imagine. In theory, anyone with some knowledge of pharmacology can use these chemjets to whip up a party drug, but in the hands of a group of young mad scientists, chemjets can work miracles. They can create Numinous, a neural pathway-opening dose that lets you commune with deities. It’s addictive and destructive but in the most fulfilling way which is one of the many unexpected side-effects and consequences of Numinous that Lyda Rose and her team didn’t anticipate.

So who is cooking up Numinous again and what are they planning to use it for? The mystery will keep you guessing until the very end as Lyda and Ollie track down members from her old research group for answers.

Another thing I love about this book is the cast of characters, not only Lyda and Ollie but the characters they meet along the way are a lot of fun too. Ollie herself is a former federal agent with strange lethal abilities and questionable knowledge. There’s Bobby the emergency roommate whose soul lives in a plastic toy chest he wears around his neck. There’s Lyda’s former drug dealer, a savvy business man operating on college campuses under a frat-boy disguise. There’s Dr. G, a snarky semi-omnipotent sword-wielding avenging angel that only Lyda can see. Then there are the territorial hijab-wearing pot-dealing grandmothers and their thugs in Toronto. And of course Lyda’s old friends and their deities, all of which are too spoilery to mention in detail.

Everything about this book is a lot of fun, more fun than you’d expect from a story about mind-altering chemicals, religion, and sanity. The writing is especially a lot of fun, as evident here.

There was a scientist who did not believe in gods or fairies or supernatural creatures of any sort. But she had once known an angel, and had talked to her every day.

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A BS in any neuroscience without a master’s or PhD was a three-legged dog of a degree: pitiable, adorable, and capable of inspiring applause when it did anything for you at all.

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Fayza leaned in, squinting, as if she didn’t hear me correctly: one of the library of power moves that adults used to signal that other adults were fucking idiots.

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Love at first sight is a myth, but thundering sexual attraction at first sight is hard science.

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I’ve always been a sucker for the beautiful and the batshit crazy.

 

* I’m going through a reading slump which is nothing new. This happens at the end of every summer. I’ve come to expect it around this time of year, but it feels a little different this year, a little more prolonged. Don’t know why. Maybe it has something with N. K. Jemisin and her Inheritance trilogy, or maybe it’s The Birthgrave. These books were quite good, quite out of this world (literally), and I’m still not quite over them yet since they left me with a sort of brain-scrambling effect that makes it hard to move onto to new worlds with new characters and new adventures. So I went back to an old world and familiar characters. Don’t think they’ll cure my slump, but they got me reading again and that’s a start.

Review: Pines (Wayward Pines #1) by Blake Crouch

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Rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Date Read: April 25 to 27, 2015
Read Count: 1
Recommended by: book club’s choice
Recommended for: people who miss Twin Peaks

This is Twin Peaks with a dollop of The X-Files and a dash of The Truman Show, and the writing reflects its inspirations in that it’s fast-paced and cinematic. In another week or two, this book will become a show, which doesn’t surprise me at all because the writing is made for the screen.

The story begins on a strong note with Ethan Burke waking up in the middle of a forest with a splitting headache and not recalling much about himself or anything of his life. He makes his way into a small idyllic town hoping to find answers, but no one seems to know who he is or how he came to town. He vaguely recalls being in a car accident, and the killer headache and injuries on his body seem to confirm it, but there’s something strange about this town, Wayward Pines.

All the houses are brightly colored and perfect. They sit on perfectly manicured lawns, and they all resemble each other, as though a suburban neighborhood from a 1950s sitcom has been preserved, like a little piece of Americana that didn’t change with the times. And the streets are too quiet. And the people seem like they’re willing to help, but they come off as evasive when questioned about the town. No one Ethan meets would give him a straight answer. They all seem to be in league with each other, save for one–Beverly. She tries to help as best she could because she, like Ethan, knows there’s something wrong with this place.

As he makes his way around searching for answers, Ethan slowly recalls certain things about himself. He recalls having a wife and son in Seattle and that he’s a Secret Service agent sent on a mission to find two other agents who had gone missing after being sent to Wayward Pines. He tries to get calls out to his family and SAC, but none go through. He tries to leave, but finds that there’s no way out of town. The Sheriff is adamant about getting in his way, and the nurse is adamant about keeping him in the hospital. It seems like almost everyone is working against him.

Memories come back to Ethan slowly in pieces, but the pieces don’t fit together. There are too many blank spots, and the people who run Wayward Pines are determined to keep Ethan from digging further. What is Wayward Pines really and why is no one trying to get out?

 

This book combines two of my biggest fears: kooky small towns and being stranded in kooky small towns. It’s just too bad that it turned out to be such a dud. It started out great though. The first 30% was gripping and so intense that I left a dinner early on Saturday night just so I could continue reading all through the night, but then the mystery started to unravel and lose its grip on me as soon as Ethan recalled memories from his past. There’s just something about his characterization and PTSD that I didn’t find altogether believable, and the writing took on a overly dramatic tone whenever he relived a specific painful memory. The story continued to unravel further for me when Ethan’s wife Theresa was introduced. At first, her POV was interesting and added to the intensity of the mystery, but then it fell apart rapidly. It’s supposed to heighten the suspense and ramp up the mystery, but there were too many things about it I found not at all believable, more on this further below.

I like primetime TV dramas just fine. I loved Twin Peaks and The X-Files, and I recently finished Fringe (X-Files for the new generation) and all six agonizing seasons of Lost. So I have no problem following along mind-boggling, nature-bending, physics-scoffing, over-reaching mysteries that don’t quite satisfy or end well. What those shows had, and this book lacks, is strong believable characterization–that still resonate with me to this day–and twisted but fascinatingly explained science–that I still bounce around in my head from time to time. While Pines has echoes of these things embedded in the story, they’re just that–echoes, derivatives. They don’t offer anything new to or expand on familiar themes and ideas; they just regurgitate. The last chapter of Pines, aka the huge info-dump that’s supposed to explain everything, just doesn’t pull the story together. While it does explain most of the weirdness in Wayward Pines, it doesn’t make much sense in the context of the world in which the town exists.

That said, this was an interesting mystery and I liked the beginning a lot. I think many others will like this book too, depending on what mood they’re in and what they’re looking for in a mystery. Just don’t think too hard or get caught up in the details like I did, and you’ll be fine.

 

[ETA]

So it’s been brought to my attention that this book might have started out in life as self-published (source?). If that’s really the case, then it sure does explain a lot.

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Review: The Retrieval Artist: a Short Novel (Retrieval Artist #0.5) by Kristine Kathryn Rusch

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Date Read: April 5 to 6, 2015
Read Count: 1
Recommended by: list of past Hugo Award nominees
Recommended for: fans of hardboiled sci-fi

If Hammett and Chandler were to dabble in sci-fi, the result would look something like this novella.

Miles Flint is a retrieval artist and his job is to locate the Disappeared, people who have gone into hiding and whose former existence has been permanently erased from all databases. Flint tracks them down for an exorbitant fee because he’s very good at his job. But he isn’t without scruples. Sometimes certain people need to stay disappeared. There’s lots of reasons why someone would want to disappear permanently and most of those have to do with escaping assassination attempts. In those cases, Flint is fine with letting those people be. He wants nothing to do with helping assassins locate their targets.

This story is about an interesting case that Flint couldn’t turn away even though he knew he should have. A young woman from a corporate dynasty comes seeking his help to find her mother and sister. Her father is gravely ill and once he dies, the sister stands to inherit his share of the empire and she, the young woman, could not because she’s a clone. There are laws against clones inheriting the family fortune. Flint just couldn’t resist digging further into this case. What follows is an interesting look at birthrights and legitimate heirs in the new age of space exploration.

Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s Miles Flint is a throwback to the private eyes of those early hardboiled days. Brash and candid, the character has a bluntness and directness that weed out sob stories and cut right through bullshit–so maybe more of a Hammett-type character than Chandler. Flint assesses people in a cool apathetic manner that allows him to judge their intentions and gauge whether or not they’re out to kill the Disappeared people they claim to seek. Being able to tell the difference is something he takes pride in.

Being Disappeared is a gray area. It allows actual criminals the same chance of survival as innocent people who have been similarly marked for death. I find this concept very interesting. It’s one of the few things that’s motivating me to pick up the next book because the writing, although gets the job done, is just okay. It leans more towards telling than showing, and there are quite a few long explanations nestled in between the action. But the info-dumps are necessary to introduce the setting, story, and Miles Flint’s precarious job.

All in all, a good story and solid introduction to what I hope will be an interesting series. I also hope it will be a new favorite series which I can fall back on. Rusch is currently at book #13 and she’s still writing.

Review: Foxglove Summer (Peter Grant, #5) by Ben Aaronovitch

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ½
Date Read: November 15 to 19, 2014
Read Count: 1
Recommended by:
Recommended for: people who’ve been anxiously waiting for what seems like forever

The events in this book take place a little over a month following the explosive ending in Broken Homes. Life at the Folly is back to relative normal as Peter and Nightingale settle back into their old routine, with a few minor changes. One being Nightingale now has to babysit Varvara Sidorovna and the other being too spoilery to mention. Since Nightingale can’t leave the Folly until he uncovers more about the Faceless Man and whatever plans he’s cooking up, it’s up to Peter to take on a missing children case in the village of Rushpool, a place well known for its UFO sightings.

With the help of Beverly Brook and local detective (and future sidekick?) Dominic, Peter takes the lead on this investigation.

For years there have been reports of strange things happening around Herefordshire, a rural area around Rushpool where the missing girls live, but no one paid them much attention until the girls went missing. Due to the strangeness of this case, local law enforcement have no leads, and so they’re open to any suggestions Peter might have. And Peter, true to his penchant for experiments with the unknown, takes the opportunity to explore as much of the unknown as he can, and the results he uncovers are quite…fascinating.

This book is the quintessential summer read, and for Peter, the adventure doubles as a much-needed break from the chaos and turmoil of London. In many ways, this book is lighthearted and fun and I can see why some people might have issues with it not picking up directly where Broken Homes left off, but personally, I’m glad for some summer R&R. It takes the pressure off of escalating the story arc too fast and too soon into climactic territory that might turn into melodrama. A climax and confrontation are in the works, as they’re alluded to many times, and things will build up to something even more explosive than what we’ve seen so far. But it’s gonna take time to get there, I think.

So if you jump in expecting many revelations or a continuation of the events in Broken Homes, you will be disappointed. But if you enjoy this book for what it is, another one of Peter’s adventures into the world of natural magic, then you’ll have a better time. And this adventure is chock full of creatures yet to be determined.

Are you certain you’re completely human? Would you like to find out for sure? Then come on down to Dr. Walid’s crypto-pathology lab where we put the “frank” back into Frankenstein!

Dr. Walid doesn’t get enough credit for what he does for the magical side of London law enforcement.

Peter is mostly on his own again, like in Rivers of London and Moon Over Soho, and I find that I like the story more this way, when he’s working things out all by his lonesome. For one, there’s a lot more funny quips, such as:

I sighed–policing would be so much easier if people didn’t have concerned relatives. The murder rate would be much lower, for one thing.

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People shouldn’t be non-specific about where they made their money, not in front of the police.

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This is where the whole ape-descended thing reveals its worth, I thought madly. Sucks to be you, quadruped. Opposable thumbs–don’t leave home without them.

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Alas all good things must end–even if only to avoid back strains.

 

I had every intention of saving this book for Christmas break when things slow down enough for me to actually enjoy the read. But, nope, it was too tempting not to delve right in. So I devoured it a few days time. No regrets. It’s a fun read, a bit different than previous books, but still satisfying overall. I’d like to thank the people at Gollancz for sending me an e-copy to enjoy while I wait for my hard copy.

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Review: In the Woods (Dublin Murder Squad, #1) by Tana French

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Rating: ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆
Date Read: September 30 to November 06, 2014
Read Count: 1
Recommended by: a lot of people
Recommended for: people who like contemporary murder mysteries

It’s been some time since a book has given me book-review pangs[1], and up until now, this has only happened to Neil Gaiman’s books. I’ll do my best to explain why In the Woods isn’t sitting right with me.

Losing a chunk of your memory is a tricky thing, a deep-sea quake triggering shifts and upheavals too far distant from the epicenter to be easily predictable.

So begins the story of Dublin Murder Detective Rob Ryan. In 1984, he and his best friends Jamie Rowan and Peter Savage went into the woods near their houses in Knocknaree like they’ve done every day, but this time only Rob came out. Jamie and Peter remained missing, and Rob has no memory of that day or the weeks and months afterward when all of Ireland searched frantically for his friends. He did his best to forget that time in his life, and the case stays cold over twenty years later. Fast forward twenty-something years and Rob has become a detective. He lands a murder investigation that leads him back to Knocknaree and forces him to get uncomfortably close to the truth. The new murder and the missing children case have an awful lot in common, but are they related?

Tana French is a good writer and she can certainly spin a page-turning tale. I was quite impressed with everything she’s done in this book when I first finished reading, but after going through a second time, I’m no longer impressed by the nostalgic tone or narration, and moreover, the characterization of Rob Ryan is no longer sympathetic or compelling and the mystery of his childhood no longer that interesting. It’s actually really frustrating to watch him struggle to find answers, and this only highlights the fact that he’s a terrible detective, unfit for this type of work and certainly unfit to work on a case that hits so close to home, literally. And not for one moment did I believe he wanted to solve the mystery of his past. He might’ve been led to believe that he wanted answers, but not truly.

The current murder mystery of young Katy Devlin is the push Ryan needs to delve further into his past. Other than that, this case is little more than an afterthought. If you ignore the nostalgia, the nice way French has with words, and most of Ryan’s shortcomings, you might be able to figure out who killed Katy after a few chapters into the story. Ryan knows, or should have known, who the killer is, but he’s so wrapped up in his own world he fails to put the pieces together.

It usually takes a lot of persuading and convincing to get me to pick up a strictly contemporary (non-SF/F) mystery because all the books I’ve tried these past few years have been duds–Gone Girl, Defending Jacob, almost everything by Dean Koontz, everything by James Patterson, and many more, most of which were probably abandoned half-way through. While I like French’s writing, I’m lukewarm on her take on murder mysteries. This is a problem because I have 2 other books in this series on hand (The Likeness and Broken Harbour). Cassie Maddox’s story has piqued my interest, but I’m not convinced it would turn out any different than this book.

I was reading Foxglove Summer simultaneously with this book, and I think that probably influenced how much I liked it, but now that the fog has cleared and the pleasant summery feelings worn off, I can actually see this mystery for what it is and I’m disappointed. There’s a lot of potential in the set-up and events leading up to what I thought would be some sort of resolution, but the story just falls flat half-way through and fizzles out at the end. Or rather, Rob Ryan falls apart and loses his way too easily. Very unsatisfactory for such a promising backstory.

[1] Review pangs are a series of conflicted thoughts and emotions I have concerning a specific book or author that render me undecided.

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Review: The Colorado Kid by Stephen King

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆
Date Read: July 1 to 6, 2014
Read Count: 1
Recommended by:
Recommended for: fans of unsolved mysteries, and fans of the show Haven[1]

Stephen King is a summer tradition that started when I first read Carrie and The Shining one summer. Both books left an impression by scaring me quite a bit; I really shouldn’t have read them back to back. Since then summer usually meant horror, but I’ve out grown most traditional horrors. Now summer just means Stephen King. I don’t have the patience for many of his longer novels so I stick to short ones. At only 170-something pages, this was a fast read.

The story starts out as an informal lunch interview at a small town called Haven off of the coast of Maine. The editor, Dave Bowie, and founder, Vince Teague, of a local newspaper are testing their new intern, Stephanie McCann, on her knowledge of Haven and investigative writing. The conversation is mostly about life in Haven and various strange things happening in and around the town throughout the years. Dave and Vince compare notes and reminisce on the most memorable moments in their careers. Then Stephanie asks about the strangest case they’ve ever come across, and both agree that’s the Colorado Kid case, an unsolved mystery that’s been long forgotten by the townsfolk.

Two kids found a body on the beach in 1980, and the case remains a mystery until today because every lead led to a dead end, and every time new evidence surfaced, it led to more questions instead of answers. The identity of the dead man was eventually discovered several years later which led to another investigation of his life and hometown, but that too led to more questions, not answers. The dead man was from Colorado and he was last seen there, but somehow he got to Maine in just a few hours and died on a remote beach of Haven. Why he ended up in Maine and who killed him is what makes this case even more confounding. None of the evidence found made much sense, and none of the things found on his body, like a strange coin, made much sense either. So the case stayed cold.

Dave, Vince, and Stephanie go over each piece of evidence and speculate as to what could have happened to the dead man and why he ended up in Haven. The rest of the story is about these three following every lead back to its dead end and putting the evidence together as best they can. Eventually this leads to nowhere, once again. Even with new technology and investigative methods, the case yields no new answers, only more questions, and so the Colorado Kid remains the town’s biggest mystery. No other townsfolk know as much of the story as Dave and Vince do, but now there’s Stephanie to carry on the tradition at the newspaper.

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Review: Broken Homes (Peter Grant, #4) by Ben Aaronovitch

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Date read: March 24 to April 3, 2014
Read count: 2

Just pre-ordered the next book (Foxglove Summer), 3 months in advance. No book series has ever motivated me to do that before.

First off, that revelation at the end just as everything was falling to pieces, that was perfect timing. So perfect it left me a little winded tbqh. Well done, Mr. Aaronovitch. You’ve successfully made me jump out of my seat while waiting at the DMV. That’s no easy feat because it was the DMV, the whole place was packed, and I was standing.

This isn’t a review so much as just me using this space as a concept board. So onward with it already?

“Perfectly human monsters, everyone of them.”

Nightingale to Peter when asked whether or not serial killers were of the magical persuasion*. This line alone sums up the foundation of the book.

Strange things are still happening in and around London, although this time they’re stranger than the usual disturbances. The plot sort of picks up where the previous book left off, and familiar characters make brief appearances to help Peter and Lesley as they unravel a mystery that doesn’t look all that mysterious on the surface. We see the young and curious Abigail again, this time for extended periods of the plot. Sergeant Kumar of the underground turns up to hand over a crucial piece of the puzzle. The mysterious Zach also drops by to hang out with Peter and Lesley. Beverly Brook, whom I thought had been forgotten, and her River sisters make some appearances only to disappear again.

There’s a good amount of self-deprecating humor and outright hilarious moments in this book, but all of it take a back seat to the perfect timing ending mentioned above. It’s not quite a cliffhanger, though it does leave a lot up in the air.

Unlike the previous three, I thought the title for this book lacked a sense of poetic mystery. Rivers of London, Moon Over Soho, Whispers Under Ground–oddly lyrical titles for urban fantasy mysteries, wouldn’t you say? And Foxglove Summer? Sounds sweet, if a bit twee. Even Midnight Riot (the US title for Rivers of London) promises mystery and an adventure. Broken Homes, in contrast, seems sad and straight-forward. Out of character compared to the rest of the series, and then that ending busted out of the rubble and now everything makes sense. I didn’t realize how well the title tied everything together until that very moment. And what an explosive ending that was. I’m still brooding over it.

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Review: Whispers Under Ground (Peter Grant, #3) by Ben Aaronovitch

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ½
Date read: December 5, 2013 to February 12, 2014
Read count: 2

It doesn’t normally take me this long to get through urban fantasy. The book just got away from me. Literally. I lost it, along with the rest of the series, to relatives visiting over Christmas break and didn’t get around to getting another copy until last week. So I’m just making sure to say the dates read have no bearings on how much I like this book.

This is another great installment by Ben Aaronovitch and the series definitely improves with each book. All the praises I had for the previous two books also apply here. Not that it should matter, but I feel as though I’m being repetitive when I say how much I like this series and Aaronovitch’s writing.

The premise is an American international student is found dead in a subway tunnel. The cause of death is murder, of course, and quite possibly murder by magic, which is why Peter Grant is called to the scene. Now that Leslie May is made apprentice, she also joins in on the investigative work. This case introduces Peter and Leslie to a whole new world of magic, very different from what’s he’s encountered up to now, and the trail takes him under ground into the tunnels, sewers, and more rivers of London. This new world of magic is literally a whole world, a different way of living, under ground.

Once again, Aaronovitch has found interesting ways to incorporate London’s history into London’s present time and then work both into the murder mystery and magic of the week. Like the previous two books, this story is another journey into the heart of London, this time literally, and what I really like about that is you learn new things with each chapter. I spent a good part of a weekend looking up London’s messed up sewer systems, and I didn’t mind at all. Another thing I like about these mysteries is that they’re smart and smartly plotted. They’re usually one step ahead of my calculations and that’s just how I like murder mysteries.

Some highlights from the book:

How the police actually handle your personal information:

In the old days every police station used to have a collator–an officer whose job it was to maintain boxes of card files full of information of local criminals, old cases, gossip and anything else that might allow the blue-uniformed champions of justice to kick down the right door. Or at least a door in the right neighbourhood.

Introducing Sergeant Kumar of the tunnels:

“If you have to walk the tracks with the juice on, then you stay off the sleepers. They’re slippery. You slip, you fall, you put your hands out and zap.”

“Zap,” I said. “That’s the technical term for it, is it? What do you call someone who’s been zapped?”

“Mr. Crispy,” said Kumar.

“That’s the best you guys can come up with?”

Kumar shrugged. “It’s not like it’s a major priority.”

Introducing DCs Guleed and Carey of the family relations unit:

The metal was painfully cold under my hands but it took me less than five seconds to get my foot on the top bar, swing myself over and jump down. My shoes skidded on the cobbles but I managed to recover without falling over.

“What do you think,” asked Carey. “Nine point five?”

“Nine point two,” said Guleed. “He lost points for the dismount.”

[…]

Given that all three of us were Londoners, we paused a moment to carry out the ritual of the “valuation of the property.” I guessed that, given the area, it was at least a million and change.

“Million and a half easy,” said Carey.

“More,” said Guleed. “If it’s freehold.”

Introducing Molly to the guest:

“This is Molly,” I said. “Molly–this is Zach who will be staying overnight. Can he use the room next to mine?”

Molly gave me a long stare and then inclined her head at me, exactly the way Ziggy the dog had, before gliding off towards the stairs. Possibly to put fresh linen on the guest bed or possibly to sharpen her meat cleavers–it’s hard to tell with Molly.

Law enforcement professionals at work:

‘I can’t believe you didn’t bring handcuffs,’ said Reynolds.
You didn’t!’ I said.
‘It’s not my jurisdiction,’ said Reynolds.
‘It’s not my jurisdiction,’ I said.
We both looked at Kumar. ‘Evidence,’ he said. ‘You said you were looking for evidence, not suspects.’
Our suspect had started shaking and making snorting noises.
‘And you can stop laughing,’ I told him. ‘This is really unprofessional.’

Adventures in the sewers:

“Stop,” I yelled. “Police.” I hoped they would, because I was getting knackered.

Our fugitive tried to pick up their pace, but my height gave me the advantage.

“Stop,” I yelled. “Or I’ll do something unpleasant.” I thought about where we were for a moment. “Even more unpleasant than what we’re doing now.”

[…]

“Oh, great,” I screamed. “Now we’re a bobsleigh team.”

“It’s the luge,” yelled Kumar. “It’s only a bobsleigh if you’ve got a bobsleigh.”

“You two are insane,” shouted Reynolds. “There’s no such thing as a triple luge.”

Between duckings I glimpsed a patch of grey. I opened my mouth to yell “Daylight” and then really wished I hadn’t when I got a mouthful of diluted sewage.

It was another intersection. I saw an alcove with a ladder and lunged–only to be swept past, with my fingers centimeters from the metal. My foot hit something underwater hard enough to pitch me over and the world’s first-ever Anglo-American Olympic sewer luge team broke up.

The scenes in the sewer had me laughing for a good hour. There plenty more hilarious moments like these, but they edge into spoilers territory so I will refrain from listing all of my favorites.

A few things I thought were interesting:

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* * * * spoilers below * * * *

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Review: Immortal in Death (In Death, #3) by J. D. Robb

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Rating: ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆
Date read: January 30 to February 1, 2014
Read count: 1

If you like the previous two books and the way J.D. Robb/Nora Roberts writes, you’ll like this one and the rest of the In Death series too, I’m assuming. The main focus of this installment is on characterization, building up and fleshing out secondary characters, and of course Eve Dallas’ dark past, which resurfaces throughout the book. The revelations of it are very dark, which surprised me because I didn’t think Roberts would take it that far.

Eve Dallas is an interesting solid main character with a violent past that she can’t shake and, worse, can’t recall clearly. She’s strong enough to carry this series. Eve’s love interest and her friends and acquaintances are also interesting in their own rights. They add interesting contrasts to her characterization and the murder mysteries. For most of the book, the writing is fine. A bit blunt at times and somewhat confusing due to shifting POVs, sometimes within the same paragraph, while two or more characters are discussing evidence and possible suspects. But the overall story is fine, sort of repetitive though since it’s similar in tone to the previous two books.

The thing that keeps me from liking this series is Nora Roberts’ distinctive writing style. She leans too much on the love lives of both main and secondary characters, which is expected since Roberts comes from a romance writing background. What’s not expected is how she seems to go out of her way to make the murder mysteries, Eve’s past, and the general world of In Death as violent and as gruesome as she can. It’s almost as if she’s over compromising with the violence because of her romance writing background…? Personally speaking, I think the focus on the romance angles is at odds with the dark nature of the murder mysteries. I find the contrast between them awkward and sometimes unsettling.

After finishing this book, I remembered why I don’t usually read serial mysteries or, when/if I do, I don’t follow a series any further than the third or fourth book because every book after this point is predictable. More often than not, the series locks itself into a pattern that puts it at a risk of becoming dull and/or formulaic if there aren’t any strong characters to carry the story. This happens to be the case for In Death. I think it has found its stride and is settling into a formulaic pattern. Which is unfortunate for me since I was sort of looking forward to this series improving with every book, but now I don’t know if I should read any further.