Tag Archives: fiction

Sara Paretsky — Shell Game

I enjoyed this book, but I’m not quite sure why.

The characters were not very likeable, even the protagonist, V.I. (Vic) Warshawski, PI and lawyer. If I had read the numerous previous novels about her, maybe I would have connected more with her. She grew on me as the story progressed, but she was scattered, running around acting without thinking, almost always angry at the world and at most people. Many of her questions could have been answered by her “friends” in law enforcement instead of illegally breaking into homes or business offices.

The plot was helter-skelter. Vic had two clients—a friend’s nephew who was a person of interest in a murder because his name and phone number were found on the victim and Vic’s ex-husband’s niece who was looking for her missing sister. Even though the cases appeared to have nothing to do with each other, they became offshoots of the same crime.

Spoiler alert. I’m disappointedwith the ending. Vic’s ex, whom she despised, was one of the bad guys, but she didn’t turn him in.

Preston & Child — The Pharaoh Key

Gideon Crew and Manuel Garza have been dumped by their boss as he shuts down his company without notice. On their way out the door, they discover a computer has solved the translation to an ancient disk. But the translation is in code. When they finally break the code, it turns out to be a map to a remote corner of the Egyptian desert. With only a few months to live, Gideon has nothing to lose, and Garza is hoping to find lost treasure as payment for the years he has given his employer. A lack of guides who are willing to travel to the prohibited region forces them to join a camel caravan with archeologist/geologist/Egyptologist Imogen Blackburn.

Their journey is full of pitfalls and perils, from escaping a sinking ferry in the Red Sea, to being abandoned in the desert without supplies or camels, to the threat of beheading by a tribe of natives…

Reading this made me feel like I was living through an Indiana Jones movie. A true action/adventure book.

John Grisham — The Rooster Bar

Four students in their last year at a for-profit law school are in debt to the tune of approximately $200,000 each. One of the student’s does extensive research on the school and finds that not only do half the students fail the bar after graduation, but even less find jobs in the legal profession. He also finds that one person, through various shell corporations, owns several law schools plus interest in financial institutions holding student loans and a corrupt bank. Unstable and seeing no way out of his dilemma, he commits suicide. The remaining three in the group drop out of law school and proceed to find ways to scam the scammers.

This makes it seem to be a depressing story, but it’s not. It’s an entertaining tale about young people trying to beat the system that’s stacked against them.

If you want to know more about the real law school rip-offs, read this story from The Atlantic: The Law-School Scam.

This was a much better story than The Reckoning, which was the last Grisham novel I read.

Jude Deveraux — A Willing Murder

This novel is a cozy murder mystery with a dash of chick flick, some romance, some humor, some family saga, and a lot of small town gossip and rumor. Realtor Kate Medlar moves to Lachlan, Florida and stays in an old mansion with her aunt Sara Medlar, romance novelist, and Sara’s friend Jake Wyatt, builder. When a tree falls over in the back yard of a house Jake is remodeling, the unlikely trio of sleuths find the bones of two women in the roots of the tree.

I did figure out the villains in the story long before the end. And I could see that Deveraux left relationships to be explored in the next book.

The novel is a well-written, quick and easy read with believable, lively characters and small town dynamics.

Walter Mosley — Charcoal Joe

Mosley writes classic hard-boiled PI fiction. We ride along with Easy Rawlins as he tries to prove a young black man’s innocence who was in the wrong place at the wrong time and to help others solve their problems along the way. One of those problems is to hide an African king who has married Easy’s ex-girlfriend in order to immigrate to the States and escape those from his home country who want to kill him.

The excellent writing pulls you into the dark side of LA and the characters are interesting and believable. Charcoal Joe is one of those books that kept me up into the middle of the night.

Jonathan and Jesse Kellerman — A Measure of Darkness

Often when two writers collaborate, I can feel the change of voice between scenes and/or characters. But this father and son team work together so seamlessly, the novel reads as if there is only one author.

A Measure of Darkness is a police procedural with Deputy Coroner Clay Edison following up on the victims of a wild party gone awry. Gunshots killed three people, one a child sleeping in a house across the street from the party. A car trying to escape the chaos runs over and kills a fourth victim. When searching the property, Edison and Detective Nwodo find a woman strangled and stuffed into a gardening shed. The story follows Edison and Nwodo as they try to track down the family of the woman killed by the car and to find the identity of the woman in the shed (and of course, who killed her).

The plot twists and turns around several characters connected through a very strange boarding school. I had no idea who murdered the Jane Doe until the end. The characters involved in the crimes and the members of Edison’s family are varied and interesting, even humorous at times. Settings are detailed and visual in and around Alameda County, California.

The book kept me reading into the wee hours of the night. I’ll look for more books by this duo.

Dean Koontz — The Crooked Staircase

Even though her cause is just and those she hunts are not, Jane Hawk is becoming as vicious and brutal as the enemy. Koontz keeps the tension and suspense high, with Jane, her son, and her friends in more and more danger. But…

This third book in the series doesn’t really advance the plot, and we need to plow through at least two more very long books to get the climax. Also, Koontz spends a lot of chapters in this one on twins who are victims of the evil, elitist cabal out to control the masses. But there is no connection to Jane and her quest to stop the cabal. I may skip the fourth book and wait for the fifth, which I hope is the last.

Carla Neggers — Keeper’s Reach

The novel has a complex and interesting plot. I didn’t figure out the bad guy until the end. This is somewhat unusual for me. A man is hit on the head and left to die in England. Later on, Emma is kidnapped and left in an old barn in Maine. There appears to be no reason for either event, except possible a package mailed from an art thief in England to Emma in Maine. A large group of suspects are considered—FBI agents, the art thief, a group who knew each other in Afghanistan and are meeting in Maine, Americans spotted in England before the first assault…. Everyone seems to be suspecting and watching someone.

Keeper’s Reach is part of a romantic suspense series. I’m not a big fan of romance, but Neggers keeps it as background noise and not the main plot of the story. Also, this novel jumps into the middle of the series, and it might be better to read the previous adventures first. The author does a reasonable job of filling us in about what happened in earlier books. It’s almost a stand-alone novel.

A few too many characters appear or are mentioned. We don’t need to know about some who aren’t part of the story. The main couple, FBI agents Emma Sharpe and Colin Donovan, were on separate tracks, even in separate countries most of the time. They barely saw each other. The secondary couple, Colin’s brother Mike and agent Naomi MacBride, have a love-hate relationship—typical romance novel stuff.

The characters are interesting and the settings detailed. I could feel the cold of Maine in the winter.

Why I Read (and Write) Fiction

Entertainment: What other medium can pull you into its world like a good book? You can visit places you’ve been or places you’ve never seen, real or imagined. You can identify with characters and experience what they are experiencing, feel what they are feeling. You can join in an adventure, fall in love, laugh, cry, try to solve a mystery, feel  fear, and maybe learn something new.

Education: Even though fiction authors are free to make up a story, the best ones research what they are writing about and venture into real subjects. I often find myself doing my own research after reading a book that talks about a subject that interests me, digging in to learn more or to check to see how much is fact. A good example is the John Grisham novel, The Rooster Bar, which I’m currently reading. It talks about bank fraud, college loans, law school scams, immigrant problems, suicide…and I’m only halfway through.

Imagination: The best books stimulate my imagination, stir my creative juices, piqué my curiosity. None of this is so readily available in a movie or even a game, which paint the pictures for you and don’t allow your brain to create its own images. Hard science fiction is the best genre for my mind. It takes current science and technology and stretches them to future possibilities. In many cases, it takes us to other worlds. Exciting, interesting, and educational.

Solving puzzles: Mysteries and thrillers are all about solving puzzles. Can you figure out “Who dun it?” before the book tells you? Can you find a way for the protagonist to escape in a good thriller?

I try to incorporate some or all the above in my writing. I wrote my first novel, The Janus Code, as science fiction, but by the time I published it, the real world had caught up. I hope it included all the reasons for reading. The second book I published, Mangrove Madness, is a mystery—entertainment and a puzzle to solve.

Go grab a good novel and enjoy the mind trip!

Steven Axelrod — Nantucket Counterfeit

The book is a cross between a cozy mystery and a police procedural. Henry Kennis, Police Chief of Nantucket, is trying to solve the murder of Horst Refn, Artistic Director of the Nantucket Theater Lab. The crime follows the plot of the play the Theater Lab is working on, so of course, the author of the play is a person of interest. But the suspects are numerous, almost everyone who knew or worked with Refn. It appears he’s been scamming half the island. Even Kennis’s girlfriend Jane is identified by a witness as leaving the scene of the crime.

Kennis is a likable, easygoing detective who leads us down several wrong paths before landing the killer. The story is told with wit and warmth, and the setting of Nantucket takes me back to my visits to the island (although it seems a lot more crowded than 30 or so years ago).

Definitely a fun read.