In the Lake of the Woods by Tim O’Brien

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Date read: April 26 to 29, 2018

This is a deceptively angry book. It may look normal and unassuming on the outside, even boring, but on the inside, it’s a slow-building, roiling, burning rage, the kind that sucks you in and makes you burn along with it. And I could not stop reading or even look away. Finished it in 36 hours. All I did this weekend was read this book and let it burn.

Beautifully written, bitterly frustrating, angry and wholly unexpected.

Looks real black and white now–very clear–but back then everything came at you in bright colors. No sharp edges. Lots of glare. A nightmare like that, all you want is to forget. None of it ever seemed real in the first place.

[…]

Would it help to announce the problem early on? To plead for understanding? To argue that solutions only demean the grandeur of human ignorance? To point out that absolute knowledge is absolute closure? To issue a reminder that death itself dissolves into uncertainty, and that out of such uncertainty arise great temples and tales of salvation?

[…]

I have tried, of course, to be faithful to the evidence. Yet evidence is not truth. It is only evident.

[…]

The afternoon had passed to a ghostly gray. She was struck by the immensity of things, so much water and sky and forest, and after a time it occurred to her that she’d lived a life almost entirely indoors. Her memories were indoor memories, fixed by ceilings and plastered white walls. Her whole life had been locked to geometries: suburban rectangles, city squares. First the house she’d grown up in, then dorms and apartments. The open air had been nothing but a medium of transit, a place for rooms to exist.

The theme “you can’t ever go home again” prevails infuriatingly throughout the writing, cementing the fact that, here in this story, you really can’t go home again.

Normally I hate fiction that leaves the reader without closure or an ending. Why read books that imitate real life when there’s already too much real life in your own life? That has always been my reason for staying away from contemporary fiction. But it’s different with this book and its open ending and lack of closure and lack of subtlety, all because it’s Tim O’Brien (better known for his memoir of his experience in the Vietnam War, The Things They Carried). There’s a sharpness to his writing that has always spoken to me. It’s almost as though I get him and what he’s saying. No one writes about memory and pain like Tim O’Brien, and no one writes about being lost in the wilderness of post-traumatic stress quite like he does.

My heart tells me to stop right here, to offer quiet benediction and call it the end. But the truth won’t allow it. Because there is no end, happy or otherwise. Nothing is fixed, nothing solved. The facts, such as they are, finally spin off into the void of things missing, the inconclusiveness of us. Who are we? Where do we go? The ambiguity may be dissatisfying, even irritating, but this is a love story. There is no tidiness. Blame it on the human heart. One way or another, it seems, we all perform vanishing tricks, effacing history, locking up our lives and slipping day by day into the graying shadows. Our whereabouts are uncertain. All secrets lead to the dark, and beyond the dark there is only maybe.

This book found me at the right time and in the right state of mind to appreciate its infuriating complexity. In a different mood, at a different time, and I would have no doubt stopped reading somewhere about page 20. But there was something about this past weekend that made this book call out to me. Every word, every line, made sense in a way that contemporary fiction rarely does for me. Maybe it’s Tim O’Brien. Or maybe it’s simpler than that, maybe I just wanted to get lost in the woods or a lake (preferably one that’s accessible only by helicopter).

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Defending Jacob by William Landay

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Rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Date Read: January 14 to 30, 2018

This book leaves me conflicted.

On one hand, the writing is very good for a legal mystery/suspense, and I say that as someone who doesn’t like this genre and rarely reads it if I can avoid it. I much prefer to read about the nonfictional kind. However, much to my surprise, that is precisely why this book shines. It’s surprisingly realistic in its portrayals of a high profile murder trial and its effects on the #1 suspect’s family. Also, it reads like of like true crime, if true crime was told from the perspective of someone very close to the case.

Unlike true crime though, we get to see the aftermath of the murder trial and we get to see how the family attempts to return to “normal” after the trial concludes. This story unfolds like most mysteries, with clueless parents asking oblivious questions about their own kid, but half-way through the book, there’s a tonal shift and it subtly becomes a thriller. The prose takes on a more intense, but smooth, feel as the story propels toward the end. The characters become so lifelike they might as well be real, and the story, much more plausible, and the aftermath, entirely believable. But in the end, we don’t get any closure. So, not unlike true crime.

On the other hand, the aftermath is entirely believable and we don’t get any closure in the end and I want to set this book on fire, grind up the ashes, and launch it into space. This is a normal reaction for me though. Whenever I finish perplexing WASP-y contemporary fiction, especially when it centers on affluent families bulldozing over the law, I want to burn the book. But this book is different, mainly because of its unexpected, very un-WASP-y ending which caught me off guard and threw me off my stride. It was entirely unexpected because I didn’t think the author would take it that far, but he did. More importantly though, it worked. The ending, while lacking any sense of closure, was a fitting end to this mess. I thought the savagery was just the right note with which to end this story. So credit to the author for taking it that far. This was a solid ending to a frustrating story that leaves you with absolutely no closure. So, not unlike true crime.

I tried reading this book the year it came out for a book club, but had to quit early because reading about little rich boys getting away with murder was not how I wanted to spend my day off. But I still wanted to know how the story ended, so I decided to set it aside for a better time. Now isn’t “a better time,” but the overall reading experience was better this time around. The story still enrages me, but somehow not as much as before.

So 4 stars objectively.

But honestly? 1 star for all the rage it inspires.

* * * * some spoilers below * * * *

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Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Date Read: January 9 to 14, 2018

I first read this book in 2011 which wasn’t that long ago and normally I can recall basic story elements fairly well. Not in detail, but general things like plots, endings, and main characters.

Not with this book though. Usually it takes me about a couple of pages into the book to remember the plot and then everything else comes back to me gradually in bits and pieces, but with this book, I had to get to over 40% before I could vaguely recall the main character and the ending… but not much else. This reread was like reading for the first time.

It’s not that this book is forgettable. More like the premise has been done too many times before in contemporary mysteries. You have a troubled main character with a turbulent life who returns to her hometown and stumbles upon a mystery that’s very close to her heart. It’s strange but also familiar to her, and to no one’s surprise, it has connections to her trouble past. So she takes it upon herself to investigate this case–she’s a journalist, by the way–and chases down every twisted lead. And each lead is a major trigger for her that brings up all sorts of darkness from the past. After a series of close-calls and heart-pounding, page-turning chapters, she solves the case, although not well and gets very little closure at the end.

The one thing that sets this book apart from others like it is the voice. It’s told in Gillian Flynn’s particular style, like Gone Girl but better and more nuanced imo. The writing more disorganized and less theatrical. More unpredictable and more organic, less tightly controlled. It delves deep into the frayed psyche of a life-long cutter who has never really had a chance to work through any of her problems. There were many moments in which I wished I could have looked away, but couldn’t because the Flynn had me on the edge of my seat.

Flynn has a way of getting under a character’s skin (and my skin), and she projects her voice poignantly on a variety of issues. I don’t necessarily like her characters or even enjoy the stories she’s telling–although “enjoy” is not the right word here, feels too tacky–but I’m always interested in what she has to say and how she says it.

“It’s impossible to compete with the dead. I wished I could stop trying.”

[…]

“I just think some women aren’t made to be mothers. And some women aren’t made to be daughters.”

[…]

“Safer to be feared than loved.”

[…]

“I ached once, hard, like a period typed at the end of a sentence.”

A word of warning though. Cutting and self-harm are featured heavily in this book, in excruciating detail.

* * * * *

Rereading because I honestly don’t remember having read this book. Like at all.

It’s like

* * * * *

Just as twisted and disturbing as Gone Girl, but a lot better in terms of execution… (pun not intended?).

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.

[…]

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.

[…]

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.

[…]

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

[…]

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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* * * *  all spoilers below * * * *

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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.

[…]

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

[…]

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.

[…]

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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* * * * full spoilers ahead * * * *

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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

the-colorado-kid

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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* * * * some spoilers below * * * *

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