Book review: The Hunted by Elmore Leonard

The HuntedThe Hunted by Elmore Leonard

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When hiding, try not to get your photo in the newspaper.

Al Rosen is living the dream. He has retired early, he has money, he’s charming and ladies love him, and he’s hiding in Israel from the Detroit mob. An evening with a woman he has just met ends in a hotel fire and his picture in the paper. By the end of the week, a hit team are in the country. But he can’t leave yet, not without his lawyer handing over his money, and his lady friend returning his passport. To survive he’ll need all the help he can get, like the marine Davis.

I don’t think there is any argument that Elmore Leonard was an amazing writer. Pick up anything he wrote and you’ll see it. The writing just flows. The dialogue, to quote one of those stupid pull quotes they stick on the covers of books, just snaps. The Hunted is no exception. I breezed through the book… when I was reading it.

And this is what has left me confused. I’m not exactly sure why I could read this story so easily and yet not find myself compelled to pick it back up. I’ve held off on writing this review because I’ve been expecting an opinion to form at some point.

That leaves me with speculation. I suspect that Leonard’s writing in The Hunted hid a largely uninteresting story. Kinda like a master artist giving your walls a coat of paint. Or maybe my interrupted reading time has pulled me out of the book too often and I’m just not appreciating the story.

To be clear, I’m not saying this is bad or unenjoyable, far from it. I was just expecting more from Leonard, especially considering his skills were on display here.

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Book review: Thirteen by Richard K Morgan

ThirteenThirteen by Richard K. Morgan

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When society stops being violent someone will try to genetically re-engineer violence.

Carl Marsalis is a specialist bounty hunter. Genetically engineered and indoctrinated from birth to be a dangerous weapon, he now hunts others like him. After landing in prison in the wrong part of the former USA – Jesusland – he is seconded to track down someone who is killing his way across the former USA after eating his way through the crew of a Mars-to-Earth flight. But the cannibal seems to be a step ahead of the game and not picking targets at random. It’s as though he has help and is possibly working for someone as their hitman.

After recently finishing the Altered Carbon series, I decided to see what other Morgan novels I could get my hands on. Thirteen promised to be similar to Altered Carbon. The setting was similarly cyber-punk, the mystery/detective narrative is front and centre, and Marsalis likes to get violent and have sex with any and all female characters.

But where Altered Carbon used those elements in a compelling way, Thirteen was too indulgent with them. The novel feels padded out and runs far too long. This leads to pacing problems, with some sections really bogging down. The charisma of Kovacs is not present in Marsalis, despite their similarities, so you don’t feel the same thrill from him dispatching a bad guy or having the love interest* throw herself at him.

I think I could have forgiven those aspects a bit more if it weren’t for the “conversations” between characters about genetics. These were long discussions that bashed the reader with the point. I’d have had less of a problem with them if they weren’t quite so wrong on the science. The “conversations” amounted to telling us that we are essentially only our genetics. That’s not only nonsense (GxExM is how we discuss genetics in science) but is pretty much spouting modern-day scientific racism.**

That point is particularly ironic given the obvious analogies for racism and backward thinking being drawn. “Look at how backward these religious bigots are. Look at how badly they treat black people. Hey, check out my thinly veiled racism disguised as science!” I don’t know if I missed something, but this really did read to me as admonishing racism whilst justifying it as not something we can get over. If that was Morgan’s point, then it would have been great if he could have done it in about 150 pages less.

With all that said, this was still enjoyable and I am looking forward to reading more from Morgan.

* I’m being overly flippant and critical here. Sevgi Ertekin is a fairly well-developed character but her role does appear to be just the love interest and character motivation.

** Yes, scientific racism is back. Modern-day phrenology comes in many forms. Often it is IQ studies and hereditarianism, sometimes it is labelled Human Biodiversity (HBD), other times it will be straight up eugenicists and white nationalists. Reading about its insidious creep into academia and mainstream discourse is sickening.

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Book review: Whispering Death by Garry Disher

Whispering Death (Inspector Challis, #6)Whispering Death by Garry Disher

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Cat burglary seems like a career that should involve more standing near open doors deciding whether to go out.

Inspector Hal Challis is reaching the end of a chapter in his life. A new relationship, a career he’s frustrated with, a dying car, and a finished hobby. But the town of Waterloo has become the scene of a series of sexual assaults by a man disguised as a copper, a bank robber is making the rounds, and a cat burglar is making her presence felt. A great time to tell the local press exactly what you think about budget cuts.

If I’m remembering correctly, this is my third Garry Disher novel and second Challis story. Disher is to Australian crime writing what Ian Rankin is to the UK and Michael Connelly is to the US. He is respected, consistent, and knows how to tell a tale. Whispering Death is one of those solid and consistent crime novels.

I’m writing this review a few days after having finished reading Whispering Death. And I think my characterisation of this novel as “solid and consistent” is also partially a criticism as well as praise. It’s an entertaining read and I think many will want to read more about Grace the cat burglar in a future instalment (or spinoff). But I’m also noticing that even though it has only been a few days, I can’t really think of anything that memorable about the book to mention here.*

That said, Disher continues to entertain and I look forward to reading more of his Challis (and Wyatt) series.

* As my wife pointed out to me, this could be a factor of my age. I’m no longer a twenty or thirty-something. A solid book has plenty of other solid books to blend in with in my increasingly fuzzy memory (having kids ruins your brain) compared with a decade or more ago. So as I age and read more, the harder it will be to entertain me. The fewer thrills I will receive from even great authors with great books. Until finally, no longer able to find joy in the simple pleasure of reading, I commit suicide by Dan Brown.

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Book review: Altered Carbon by Richard K Morgan

Altered Carbon (Takeshi Kovacs, #1)Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Invent technology to make interstellar travel possible. Use it to make rich people immortal.

Takeshi Kovacs is a former elite soldier – Envoy – who becomes a criminal on Harlan’s World and has his body killed. Thanks to the technology of stored consciousness – via cortical stacks – he is revived on Earth to solve the body death of one of the richest men on the planet. The police think Bancroft committed suicide, the evidence suggests suicide, but Bancroft is convinced he wouldn’t kill himself after centuries of living. Kovacs starts treading through the underbelly of Earth and tries to discover if it was suicide or murder.

Altered Carbon has been on my TBR pile for almost a decade. My uncle recommended it again a few years ago, which got it bumped up the list. But, as with all TBR piles, it took a TV adaptation to get the novel read. I enjoyed the TV series, particularly on a second viewing. I’d say I enjoyed the book a similar amount but in a different way.

I commented in a blog post about the show that I enjoyed the themes even if the aesthetic was borrowed from Blade Runner. Kovacs in the show is a grumpier and more adept character than the novel. The show also has a more personal feel to many of the characters and makes the female characters feel less like a description of sexy body parts. Pretty amazing given the amount of nudity in the show.

What I think I liked most about the novel was one of the themes. Morgan expressed it like this:

“Society is, always has been and always will be a structure for the exploitation and oppression of the majority through systems of political force dictated by an élite, enforced by thugs, uniformed or not, and upheld by a wilful ignorance and stupidity on the part of the majority whom the system oppresses.” Source.

This resonated with me given the sorts of non-fiction I’ve been reading lately. Not to mention some of the things happening in the world these days… It made this hard-boiled cyberpunk novel very entertaining.

Well worth reading before or after watching the TV show.*

A couple of quotes related to that theme:

“Kristin, nothing ever does change.” I jerked a thumb back at the crowd outside. “You’ll always have morons like that, swallowing belief patterns whole so they don’t have to think for themselves. You’ll always have people like Kawahara and the Bancrofts to push their buttons and cash in on the program. People like you to make sure the game runs smoothly and the rules don’t get broken too often. And when the Meths want to break the rules themselves, they’ll send people like Trepp and me to do it. That’s the truth, Kristin. It’s been the truth since I was born a hundred and fifty years ago and from what I read in the history books, it’s never been any different. Better get used to it.”

“You live that long, things start happening to you. You get too impressed with yourself. Ends up, you think you’re God. Suddenly the little people, thirty, maybe forty years old, well, they don’t really matter anymore. You’ve seen whole societies rise and fall, and you start to feel you’re standing outside it all, and none of it really matters to you. And maybe you’ll start snuffing those little people, just like picking daisies, if they get under your feet.”

* Is it accurate to call them TV shows now? We watch them on TV, but would it be more accurate to call them streaming shows since they aren’t made for TV networks?

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Book review: Old Scores by David Whish-Wilson

Old Scores (Frank Swann, #3)Old Scores by David Whish-Wilson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

New tourism campaign: Come to Perth, where you can grift in peace.

Former Detective, Frank Swann, is starting a job with the new Western Australian Premier. The exact nature of his job is unclear. The exact motives of those around him are even less clear. Power players are moving to get their slice of the development and mining booms that are starting. The “facilitators” have their hands out. The usual underworld players – from bikies to bank robbers – see their chance as well. And the target is painted on Frank as he’s caught in the thick of it.

Back in 2016, I was lucky enough to attend the book launch for Old Scores. As a long time fan of David’s, it surprised me to realise that over two years had elapsed since getting my signed copy. If I’m honest, I feel pretty guilty for not having read it immediately. I got there… eventually.*

David is a fantastic writer and Old Scores is another great crime novel from him. He delivers with a gritty and evocative style that us crime fans love. Set in Perth, you not only get the feel of the city, but you have a sense of the underbelly that shaped it. I was too young to really understand WA Inc, but David capitalises on those, and other, events to craft his own tale. In many ways, it is often hard to spot what is a fictionalised historical event and what is actual fiction.

Old Scores is a must for any crime fiction fan and for anyone who wants to get a sense of what Perth and Western Australia were like in the 1980s.

*I promise I’ll read the next one sooner, David.

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Book review: Choke by Stuart Woods

ChokeChoke by Stuart Woods

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Given the title, you’d think at least one person would be strangled in this story.

Former Wimbledon contender and now tennis club pro, Chuck Chandler, has moved to Key West after sleeping with the wrong person’s wife. Learning from his recent lesson, he starts sleeping with someone else’s wife. This does not end well and he’s soon in the frame for murder. A retired NYC homicide detective, Tommy Sculley, is seeing out his days as the Key West detective training a local rookie. He thinks there is more to this murder than Chuck’s philandering would suggest. A lot more.

In my efforts to explore my local library’s offerings, I came across NYT Bestselling Author Stuart Woods. I didn’t really have any expectations and was rewarded with as much. The twist was something I figured out before the first murder. Admittedly, I didn’t pick the entirety of the finale, but those extra details were window dressing. Figuring out the twist that early would have been fine if the rest of the novel was more compelling, but it just wasn’t. An example of this is that the two main characters – Chuck and Tommy – aren’t particularly interesting. How can you make a philandering tennis pro boring?

To summarise, Choke was only okay. It was just interesting enough to keep you reading but once you’ve finished you can’t think of anything noteworthy about it. Well, except that the local tennis pro is probably trying to have sex with your wife.

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Book review: Stone Cold by Robert B Parker

Stone Cold (Jesse Stone, #4)Stone Cold by Robert B. Parker

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I wonder if new sex partners actually enjoy being told how much you love your ex?

In the affluent town of Paradise, someone has decided to start killing people. Two shots to the chest. The victims are unconnected and there are no clues for Jesse Stone to investigate. As the pressure mounts, he has to balance the murder investigation against getting justice for the rape of a high school girl, and his love life. Especially when one of Jesse’s sex partners becomes a victim of the serial killer.

I’ve been meaning to read some of Robert B Parker’s novels for quite some time. Parker was regarded as one of the best detective crime novelists in contemporary (American*) fiction, like Michael Connelly or James Lee Burke. I can see the similarities between Parker and Connelly, both having a relatively bleak and realism to their investigative tales. The life of an investigation is important to Parker and Connelly’s narratives, which often involves waiting on the lab results, or going home without having solved the crime, or going on a drive to chase a dead-end – a Connelly staple. Parker tends to pare back the prose, however, which made this feel like quite a short and fast-paced novel.

I’m not sure if Stone Cold is a good representation of Parker’s writing or not, but this was only a serviceable crime novel. Nothing really elevated it above okay to my mind.

*An important caveat that is often left out of these accolades for American authors.

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Book review: Torment by Hank Janson

TormentTorment by Hank Janson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Dames: amiright?!

Hank Janson spots an old friend who has a new mentalist act they claim is really clairvoyance. He offers to promote the friend and his female assistants’ act via a test. Meanwhile, a woman approaches Janson about helping her find her sister’s killer. Also meanwhile, another woman approaches Janson about helping her brother with a pornography conviction. Then finally, the police contact Janson about covering a gruesome suicide – no women needing help with this one, so he was a bit disappointed. How are all of these things linked? Janson intends to find out.

A friend from my writers’ group recommended the Hank Janson novels to me last year. Janson was the pseudonym of Stephen D Frances and was used as the main character in a series of highly successful pulp crime novels in the 40s and 50s. It is immediately obvious why these novels were popular: fast-paced, women wanting Janson, intriguing plot, women wanting Janson, noir sensibilities, and women wanting Janson.

Noir, particularly crime noir, doesn’t date as badly as some other genres. Even with the dated attitudes and ideas, Torment didn’t make you start shaking your finger in admonishment of the -isms on display. For example, a subplot about going to prison for possessing (run-of-the-mill) porn might seem ridiculous today, but it doesn’t feel odd here.

These re-released 50th Anniversary Janson novels by Telos Publishing are worth a read for anyone chasing a crime noir or great pulp crime novels from yesteryear.

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Book review: The Wanted by Robert Crais

The Wanted (Elvis Cole, #17; Joe Pike, #6)The Wanted by Robert Crais

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There’s a question at the end of this book: “Is your name really Elvis?” The response should have been, “♪ Uh-hu-hu-huh. ♪”

Elvis Cole is called in to figure out how a worried mother’s son came by a luxury watch. Elvis and Joe Pike proceed to investigate a series of high-end burglaries, a spate of murders, and why two professional cleaners are looking for the teen boy. They even get to shoot people for a change.

I do enjoy picking up the occasional Robert Crais novel. They are entertaining and well paced, and offer up a slightly different take on the crime-thriller novel. Admittedly, I actually prefer Crais’ earlier books in the series as they had more humour, but his later novels are worth a read too.

What stops me recommending this novel more than the 4 stars I’ve given it is that, like any long-running series, there is a paint-by-numbers feel to the story. It is actually impressive that Crais hasn’t resorted to a more obvious formula yet, but that could be a reflection of my not reading every Cole and Pike novel.

The Wanted is another solid Cole and Pike novel, and highly enjoyable.

I received an Advanced Review Copy in exchange for an honest review.

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Book Review: Raw Wounds by Matt Hilton

Raw Wounds (Tess Grey & Po Villere, #3)Raw Wounds by Matt Hilton

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Blood is thicker than water, unless you stab a relative, then it needs to be washed off with water.

Tess and Po have stumbled upon a potential murder victim and are all set to investigate this puzzling crime when Po receives a call. His dying mother wants to see him. His mother’s husband swore an oath to kill him. The rest of the family is ready to help. Except his sister, who has just gone missing near a new oil pipeline development, who Po has just been tasked to find.

Having been a long time fan of the Joe Hunter series by Matt Hilton, I was keen to read this new series from Matt. Much like the Hunter series, Matt has given us a solid crime thriller with plenty of action. The hard moulded Po is a lived in character, and Tess feeling like someone who is still trying to adjust to her new life as an ex-cop. They feel like good characters to follow for more adventures.

I received a review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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Who Reads?

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Us readers know how awesome we are. And if we ever socially interacted with people everyone would realise that. We also want to know that we’re not alone. In a holistic sense. Obviously alone in the physical sense because otherwise, someone would try to interrupt our reading.

Sensing our need for connection to a nationwide community of book nerds, The Australian Arts Council commissioned a report to figure out who was reading books. The report surveyed 2,944 people to see who read, how much, how they found books, and whether they preferred waiting for the movie adaptation. Let’s see what they found.

Firstly they wanted to establish how often people read and how that compared to other leisure activities. Reading was obviously less popular than dicking around on the internet and watching TV, but apparently beat out exercise. Although they excluded sport, and Aussies have a funny definition of sport. But this finding is similar to 2006 ABS figures that suggest Aussies spend 23 minutes per day reading, versus 21 minutes for sport and outdoor activities, and 138 minutes for Audio/Visual Media (Table 3.3).

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Next are the reader categories. Non-readers were actually a small group, mostly male and more likely to have less education (although I wouldn’t read too much into that last detail). Occasional readers made up half the population and were defined as reading 1 to 10 books in the last 12 months. Frequent readers were a surprisingly large segment, were defined as reading more than 10 books in a year, and were mostly female, older, better educated, and clearly better looking with tonnes of charisma.

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Reading is to intellectuals what the bench press is to lifters. On the surface, they might appear to be a good representation, but most exaggerate how much to appear better than they really are. Oh, and they generally aren’t fooling anyone… So I’m a little suspicious of the popularity of reading suggested by the above figures.

For one, only 34% of Aussies have visited a library in the last 12 months (2009-2010 ABS data) and 70% of them attended at least 5 times. Yet this new survey suggests 39% of people borrowed one or more books from a library in the last month. That’s roughly comparative figures of 24% from the ABS and 39% from this survey.

I’m suspicious. This survey might not be as representative as claimed. Or reading may have suddenly risen in popularity since 2010… Doubtful given that both the ABS and this survey suggest otherwise. ABS suggested the amount of time spent reading had decreased by 2 hours between 1997 and 2006, whilst this survey suggested the book reading times were roughly the same as 5 years ago (Figure 8 – not presented).

The next figure of average reading rates either suggests Aussies are reading quite a bit, or inflating their numbers like an “all you” bench press. The average Aussie is reading 7 hours a week (5 of those for pleasure) and getting through 3 books a month (36 a year: not bad). Occasional readers are reading one book a month from 5 hours a week, compared to the Frequent readers who are reading 6 books a month from 11 hours per week (72 books a year: nice).

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But I’m not sure how accurate these claims are. I cited ABS figures above that suggested Aussies spend 23 minutes per day reading, or 2hrs 41mins (161 minutes) per week. So either one of these two samples is unrepresentative, or some people just love to inflate how much they read. I’m leaning toward the latter.* But you can trust me on my bench press numbers. Totally accurate and “all me”.

The final figure I found interesting was of favourite reading genre. When you included non-fiction and fiction genres there were two clear winners: Crime/Mystery/Thrillers; and Science Fiction/Fantasy.

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These are our favourites yet our bookstores would suggest that Sci-fi and Fantasy are niche and only deserving of a shelf at the back of the store. Cookbooks, memoirs, literature, and the latest contemporary thing that isn’t quite literature but isn’t exciting enough to be genre, are typically dominating shelves in stores. This would annoy me more if I wasn’t already suspicious of how representative this survey was, or how honest the respondents were being.

It could well be that people enjoy reading Thrillers and Fantasy but feel compelled to read other things. Maybe people are brow-beaten by the literary snobs to read only the worthy stuff and not the guilty pleasures. Maybe the snobs in Fort Literature have successfully turned favour against the invading Lesser Works. This might not be the case though, as 51% in this survey say they are interested in literary fiction but only 15% actually read it.

It could be that people are borrowing books from libraries or friends. Borrowing books is popular with 41% borrowing one or more books per month, mostly from friends (43%) and libraries (39%). But 39.5% bought at least one book in the last month (92% of 43% buying for themselves). So the tiny niche sections in bookstores for the most enjoyed genres still doesn’t make much sense.

I’m not sure what to make of all this. I mean, aside from Yay, Reading!

For comparison, the USA Pew Research’s 2016 annual survey of readers data is presented below. This suggests that Aussies read more than Americans. Assuming people are being honest.

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“Key” insights from the Aussie research:

•  We value and enjoy reading and would like to do it more – 95% of Australians enjoy reading books for pleasure or interest; 68% would like to read more, with relaxation and stress release the most common reason for reading; and almost three-quarters believe books make a contribution to their life that goes beyond their cost. Over 80% of Australians with children encourage them to read.

• Most of us still turn pages but many are swiping too –  While print books still dominate our reading, over half of all readers in-clude e-books in the mix, and 12% audio books. Most Australians (71%) continue to buy books from bricks-and-mortar shops, while half (52%) are purchasing online. Word of mouth recommendations and browsing in a bricks and mortar bookshop are our preferred ways to find out what to read next. At the same time, nearly a third of us interact with books and reading through social media and online platforms.

•  We are reading more than book sales data alone suggests – each month almost as many people borrow books (41%) as those who buy them (43%) and second-hand outlets are the third most popular source for buying books (39%), after major book chains (47%) and overseas websites (40%). Those who borrow books acquire them almost as frequently from public libraries as they do by sharing among friends.

•  We value Australian stories and our book industry – 71% believe it is important for Australia children to read books set in Australia and written by Australian authors; and 60% believe it is important that books written by Australian authors be published in Australia. While there is a common perception among Australians that books are too expensive, more than half believe Australian literary fiction is important. Almost two-thirds of Australians believe books by Indigenous Australian writers are important for Australian culture.

•  We like mysteries and thrillers best – the crime/mystery/thriller genre is the most widely read and takes top spot as our favourite reading category. We also love an autobiography, biography or memoir. (Source)

* I’m biased toward the ABS survey results over the Australian Arts Council for a few reasons. The first is that the ABS data is part of a larger Time Use Survey (How Australians Use Their Time, 2006, cat. no. 4153.0), so this removes a few biases in how people would answer questions (i.e. ask people specifically about how awesome books are, you’re going to talk up your reading more). It is also the larger survey covering 3,900 households. The methodology was also more likely to produce better data since respondents were filling in a daily diary and being interviewed. The Arts Council methodology wasn’t bad, but the survey was developed by interest groups, so the questions were presuming some things.

Book review: The Water’s Edge by Karin Fossum

The Water's EdgeThe Water’s Edge by Karin Fossum

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Genre fiction is all about escapism, said no crime fiction fan ever.

A young boy’s body is found in a remote park. It is clear he has been abused and then dumped. The only lead Inspector Sejer has to go on is the man a young couple passed before discovering the boy. And then a second boy goes missing.

This was an incredibly hard book to read. There’s nothing quite like the lurid details of crimes against children to really make you squirm. Karin Fossum doesn’t just make you squirm from the crime itself, either, she seems to want you to be disgusted with humans, as she peels back the layers on all of the characters. Goal achieved.

While this was a tough read, it was still a good solid crime novel. Unlike many other crime authors, Fossum seems to be able to poke at the reader. This is both a good and a bad thing, as it makes The Water’s Edge hard to recommend to others – especially if you have kids – and to give 5 stars to. One for hardened crime fiction fans I’d say.

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Book reviews: Havana Lost by Libby Fischer Hellmann

Havana LostHavana Lost by Libby Fischer Hellmann
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

If a family saga is told about a mob family’s saga, does algebra mean it ceases to be a family saga?

Headstrong teen, Francesca Pacelli, is a mob boss’ daughter living in Havana at the dawn of the Cuban Revolution. Rather than leave for the USA, she falls in love with a revolutionary. Her father takes that news so well that he even sells arms to the rebels to get her back. Good thing she grows up to be a mob boss herself.

When I started Hellmann’s Havana Lost I had been expecting a more standard crime novel. It took me a while to realise that this was going to be a saga stretching from the 1950s in Cuba to modern day USA. Love and tragedy fill the story to the brim, making for an interesting read. But without a protagonist to follow throughout the novel, I felt a little lost. This was partly because I wasn’t prepared for the saga – should have read the blurb I suppose – and partly because there is a lot of setup to the story with Francesca’s character.

So as long as you are prepared for the Pacelli family tale of love, loss, and coltan mines, you should enjoy this.

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Book review: Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith

Child 44 (Leo Demidov, #1)Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In Russia serial killer not Russian.

Child 44 follows MGP – Russian police- security officer Leo Demidov. Leo tows the party line until circumstances force him to accept that crime does actually does exist in the Soviet Union. Leo is the only person interested in bringing a prolific serial killer to justice.

I’d heard many great things about Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith. It won a pile of awards, even being included on the Man Booker long list, and became a must read for crime fiction fans. You know there is a ‘but’ coming. I like my buts big, and I cannot lie.

But Child 44 annoyed me. The story itself is well told. The characters are interesting. The antagonist is based on the real serial killer Andrei Chikatilo. Those points didn’t stop the nagging at the back of my brain. The premise is a great example of a nagging point. If the Soviet Union didn’t believe there was crime, let alone murder, after the revolution, then why the hell did they keep crime statistics? And there were no serial killers in… Oh wait, there are 9 acknowledged from Russia alone in the 20th Century.

The problems don’t stop there, of course. The usual Russian tropes are rolled out like an “In Russia” joke. I’m not really in a position to judge how valid any of these tropes are, nor how accurate a portrait of post-WW2 Soviet Union Tom paints. But when I’ve read Russian authors in the past their novels didn’t give the sense of place that Tom does. This really did feel like a British author’s take on what the Soviet Union was like based upon those Cold War films they watched as a kid.

Another minor problem I had with the book was the way it dragged scenes out. This was meant to be about creating tension and suspense, but all it did was annoy me. My annoyance on this point may have been driven by my heightened sense of “vodka to wash down amphetamines… really?” moments from the novel.

If you can get past the generic tropes, this is a book worth reading. I’m sure I would have rated it more highly if I hadn’t read a few Russian authors and seen a few Russian films to realise how much of a Western view of the East this novel is.

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Book review: Dexter is Dead by Jeff Lindsay

Dexter Is Dead (Dexter, #8)Dexter Is Dead by Jeff Lindsay
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

If Dexter is Dead, does that mean alliteration dies with him?

The final instalment of delightfully dismembering Dexter sees the titular protagonist in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, which really means the cops aren’t trying very hard. His friends and colleagues – the ones that are still alive at least – have abandoned him, his sister Deb thinks he is getting a dose of karma, and Detective Andrews is doing his best to frame him. Good thing he has a brother. And Brian never causes problems in Dexter’s life.

As a huge fan of the Dexter novels – the TV series: meh – I have been looking forward to reading the final Dexter adventure for some time. I’d like to say the anticipation set me up for disappointment, but I’m pretty sure it was the series running out of steam. That isn’t to say that Dexter is Dead isn’t an entertaining read, more than it doesn’t hit the normal highs I’ve enjoyed from the earlier novels in the series. Which means that finishing the adventures of Dexter now (or a book or two ago) was probably a good idea. Dexter’s luck finally running out, hammering home some of the central points that many have missed previously (yes, Dexter isn’t smart), and finally (spoiler alert…. from the title) killing Dexter, was important for the series.

I’d say this book is mainly for fans of the series who want closure. It is just a pity the end wasn’t a highpoint.

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Book review: The Dying Hours by Mark Billingham

The Dying Hours (Tom Thorne, #11)The Dying Hours by Mark Billingham
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I’ve always wondered how many professional killers like to stage suicides. Purely on an intellectual curiosity basis of course. Honest.

Mark Billingham’s The Dying Hours is another in the successful run of Tom Thorne crime novels. In the last book, Thorne was bumped back down to uniform and is loving it so much that he starts an investigation into a suicide that didn’t seem right to him. It isn’t long before he finds others that aren’t suicides but part of a hit list for a retired criminal. And that’s pretty much the novel summed up.

Therein lies my problem with the book. Crime novels are as full of tropes and cliches as any other genre and there are only so many plots to go around, it is about using the tropes in an interesting way. Billingham is highly regarded and I’ve heard good things about his work, but this story felt flat to me. There were too many well-worn steps being trod over the course of the novel and it bored me. Reading other reviews there were many long time fans who felt the same way.

If you want a standard crime novel, this will fit the bill. But it might be worth checking out the other books in the series, or other works from Billingham, instead of this one.

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Book Review: The Kill Room by Jeffery Deaver

The Kill RoomThe Kill Room by Jeffery Deaver

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Fishing is a strange sport. You sit around getting drunk for hours on end and hopefully catch some food. But red herrings are highly overrated, especially when they inspire novelists.

Lincoln Rhyme and Amelia Sachs are back with another mystery to solve. This time a sniper has killed Robert Morano, an American citizen who doesn’t like America, whilst he was in a hotel room in the Bahamas. There are suspicions this was a government authorised hit, the local police are more concerned about a missing tourist, and Morano may be the first of many targets. The investigation is lacking in evidence and cooperation, frustrating Rhyme enough that he decides to go swimming.

Deaver is one of the most respected mystery crime writers for a reason. Rhyme and Sachs are an interesting investigative team and there are plenty of other interesting characters throughout the novel. Deaver keeps the mystery intrigue running for the entire novel. But the points that I felt counted against this novel were the overuse of red herrings (in one case a double fake). It is one thing for mysteries to have dead-ends and other points of narrative tension, but it felt like Deaver was trying to fool the reader just a little too often.

To some extent this is probably because of Deaver’s success and the mystery reader fanbase. Readers are going to find plots too obvious or recycled if a writer like Deaver doesn’t mess with them a bit. I felt there were other ways he could have kept the mystery going without such blatant red herrings, but others may not mind them. A solid effort but not quite as good as earlier books in this series.

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Book Review: Personal by Lee Child

Personal (Jack Reacher, #19)Personal by Lee Child
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Jack Reacher fought a little person in 61 Hours, so definitely time he fought a giant in Personal. Oh, and some other stuff happens… like beating up a giant!

Lee Child’s continued adventures of Sherlock Homeless – Jack Reacher – have reached (boom tish) their nineteenth installment. Reacher is manipulated into searching for a former army sniper he had put away 16 years ago, a sniper who has taken a shot at the French President and is threatening to shoot some other world leaders at the G8 summit. This is the first Reacher novel that isn’t set in the US, seeing him travel to Paris and London, for his manhunt. Of course, it is never as simple as a manhunt, especially when the sniper bears a 16 year old grudge.

What I love about picking up a Lee Child novel is starting the novel and finding I’m already 50 pages into the action before I realise it. Lee effortlessly steers you through the story and keeps you entertained. He makes you appreciate just how good an author he is compared to his contemporaries. It was also refreshing to have Reacher leave behind his small town problem solving in favour of an international, high stakes, manhunt. Not that this stops Reacher beating up people and solving problems: wouldn’t be a Reacher novel without that.

Hard to find fault with the latest Reacher adventure. The only criticism would be that it feels like a “standard” Reacher adventure, despite the break in location tradition. My own observation is that since 61 Hours Lee’s writing has become taut and that he skilfully plays with the reader, making him my favourite author.

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Book Review: Criminal by Karin Slaughter

Criminal (Will Trent, #6)Criminal by Karin Slaughter
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

If you ever want to feel better about yourself and your life, there is nothing like reading a book with characters that have a litany of personal problems and struggles. I can’t think of too many people with serial killers for dads, so that has to make your lot in life look better.

Unlike the previous Will Trent story I read from Karin Slaughter, this novel novel is split into two timelines, one in the modern day with Will, the other in the 1970s focuses on the early career of Will’s boss, Amanda Wagner. Karin handles the multiple POVs and timelines seamlessly and I really enjoyed the trials and tribulations of Amanda’s first homocide investigation, and the insights it gave into equality. It is really odd to think that only 30-40 years ago that people would have been phoning the police to report women impersonating police officers, because the idea that women could actually do the job seemed too ridiculous. Check out the interview with Karin discussing this:

It’s good to know that society has come a long way in a generation, not that you’d notice on the Youtube comments section.

Despite enjoying this novel, the characterisation, the social insights, the murder mystery, I could only give it 3.5 stars. The only reason for this was that I’ve had a very busy time of late, with many things competing for my spare time, and this book wasn’t compelling me to pick it up and keep reading. I didn’t have to force myself to read the book, by any means, more that I wasn’t drawn to it in the way I am with my favourite reads.

I’d recommend this book for people who’ve already read some of the Will Trent series, as they’ll get more out of the story than someone new to the Will’s world.

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Top Suspense Hangout video

Today was the start of the Perth Writers’ Festival, the local festival for my fellow pale, short-sighted, readers and writers. Once a year we gather together to fulfil our in-person social interaction requirements for the year.

Before I left the house, Libby Hellmann, Lee Goldberg, and Paul Levine had a Top Suspense Google+ Hangout. They discussed a number of issues around writing suspense stories. Funny how the title of the group and hangout gives away the topic. It was a good session and I highly recommend my fellow writing friends to have a watch of the embedded video below.