Chelsea Mansions by Barry Maitland

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Chelsea Mansions (Brock & Kolla, #11)Chelsea Mansions by Barry Maitland

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Do guys who were born and raised in Montreal really say “Fancy a cup of tea?”

Maybe they do. I wouldn’t know. It just seems a very English thing to say, from a guy who grew up in Quebec. But maybe I’m wrong.

2.5 stars for this, because it was well-structured but also sort of inert. There was no momentum, little urgency, and not much at stake. It’s one of those mysteries where everything anyone says–and everything anyone reveals as part of their personal history–turns out to be part of the solution to the mystery.

Which is fine. As a craft issue, it’s an admirable way to create a mystery, but without truly engaging characterization or a sense of momentum, it feels very rote. I realize I’m jumping into a long-running series, but it was hard to feel much interest in the characters’ dilemmas.

Did I mention that everything tied into the final mystery? Well, one thing didn’t. One of the two stars of the series catches the Marburg virus and goes into the hospital for much of the book. There’s no real reason to do this except to leave the junior partner, a woman, in charge of the investigation for a while. And of course she makes an error that gets her whole unit disbanded.

Meh. I wasn’t feeling it.

Oh! I forgot to mention that there’s a whole lot of talk about some old cases involving a deadly criminal by the name “Spider Roach.”

Now, maybe that is the greatest villain since Prof. Moriarity, but nothing about “Spider Roach” sounds promising to me.



Get your own copy of Chelsea Mansions: A Brock and Kolla Mystery (Brock and Kolla Mysteries)

A Darkness More Than Night by Michael Connelly

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A Darkness More Than Night (Harry Bosch, #7; Terry McCaleb, #2)A Darkness More Than Night by Michael Connelly

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Unsurprising and a little disappointing.

There isn’t a lot of mystery to this mystery; obviously, the star of a long-running detective series is not going to suddenly turn out to be a secret serial killer, and the B plot makes it obvious what’s really going on. It’s creepy as hell in places, but the the only real question is where they’ll find the clues to the inevitable solution.

I’d give up on these books if people didn’t keep recommending them so highly.



Buy a copy for yourself.

9 Dragons by Michael Connelly

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Nine Dragons (Harry Bosch, #15)Nine Dragons by Michael Connelly

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This isn’t what I was looking for, either.

Anyway, I read the first three Harry Bosch novels in omnibus form, having snatched the massive hardback for them off the front table at now-defunct Tower Books in Queen Anne. The police procedural plot was a bit predictable but clearly well-researched and the tone was perfect: a sort of morose, cynical inevitability of ruined lives and terrible grief. Yeah, the lead character smoked alone in his little house at night while jazz saxophone music played, but the cliches were effective.

I love that shit. I enjoyed the books so much, I wanted to do my own version.

In the years since, I haven’t kept up with the series, but I have occassionally bought a copy for the giant to-read pile, and I returned to the author now for another taste of that perfect tone.

Sadly, it all gets pissed away partway through the book. What starts as another police procedural about a murdered man with a family suddenly turns into the movie TAKEN, with Bosch in the Liam Neeson role (sans karate).

I can forgive the clunky prose, although this was much clunkier than I remember. I can forgive the tenuous string of clues that lets the Bosch track his daughter all over Hong Kong. I’m less forgiving about the way the Chinese characters are treated, although I guess that’s hard to avoid in a crime novel. Same again for the fridged ex-wife.

By the time the characters return to L.A., I knew the big twist was going to be that the obvious killer was obvious, and I’d lost momentum.

Still, it reads like a thriller, and I worked my way to the end.

I can’t pretend it wasn’t disappointing, but I have A DARKNESS MORE THAN NIGHT here in my pocket, so maybe that will be a return to that bleak, sorrowful tone.



Pick up a copy of 9 Dragons for yourself

A Drop of the Hard Stuff by Lawrence Block

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A Drop of the Hard Stuff (Matthew Scudder, #17)A Drop of the Hard Stuff by Lawrence Block

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After seeing A WALK AMONG TOMBSTONES at the theater, I was looking for a novel that would make me feel as sad and as bleak as the movie did, without the unfortunate elements that I had to forgive in the theater. This was the closest option and I grabbed it.

It doesn’t have the same punch as the film, but it is very nicely done, as private investigator books go. As in most of these books, it’s primarily dialog but it’s very good dialog.

The plot is pretty straightforward: Matt Scudder, former corrupt NYPD detective and struggling alcoholic, tells a story from decades before when he was an unlicensed private investigator. He does favors for friends, and they give him gifts in return, all very under the table.

In this case, a guy that Matt knew as a kid grows up to be a career criminal. After a stint in prison, he and Matt both end up in AA, trying to stay sober and put their lives back together. Part of the AA recovery process involves contacting people you’ve hurt in the past and making amends and while in the midst of this step, the poor guy gets murdered. Matt gets “hired” to look into the list of people the victim wronged to see if any of them might be the killer.

It’s a sad book, but it’s not as bleak as the film, and that’s what I was looking for. That’s not fair, I know, but I’m still laying out 4 stars for a solid crime story where the most pressing question is whether the protagonist will make it to his one-year sobriety anniversary.

Anyway, if you like private eye mysteries set in NYC of the recent past, this is the book for you.



A Drop of the Hard Stuff by Lawrence Block

The Health Benefits of Reading

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The WSJ has an interesting article on “reading parties,” (skip the comments). People are getting together to read in silence, which is fine, I guess?

The really interesting thing is the list of health benefits to reading, which is included in this handy graphic.

Hot-linked Pseudo-Venn Diagram of the Benefits of Reading

“Reduces stress” is vital, and “Improves listening” makes me think I should have my son read three or four times a day.

But I’m still stymied by the idea of reading parties. I get that it can be pleasant to meet new people doing the thing you love (especially if you’re the type to bring “impressive” books so everyone could see how smart you are) but it still seems like putting yourself in a position where the people around you will, with your permission, police your own behavior. “I’d never stay off Twitter for 30 minutes if I were alone, but if I have all these people watching me…”

I’m not saying there’s something wrong with it, but it’s not a choice I would make. If I realize the book I’m reading can’t keep me so absorbed that I stay off Twitter, I put the book away. Then again, I’ve never been the sort who tried to impress people with my reading choices.

ADDED LATER: I took the speed reading test. While my comprehension was perfect (partly because I knew I’d be tested) my wpm was 261, slightly above average. That surprises me, because I’ve always believed I was slower than average. I guess I’m just slower than everyone I know.

The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith

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The Cuckoo's Calling (Cormoran Strike, #1)The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

3.5 stars for a book that started poorly but became compulsive reading as the story went on.

This book flies straight down the center of the genre, in that everything anyone talks about is somehow related to the main plot, it’s a long series of conversations (interrogations, really) one after another, with clues hidden in the details that don’t line up, and a crime as improbable as any.

Not that I care about a whodunit. I never try to follow the clue by clue, guessing the real killer or whatever. I just enjoy the characters and their secrets.

How *have* private eye novels been doing? I have been under the impression that they’re out of favor, and that maybe “Galbraith” is keen on resurrecting another moribund genre. It doesn’t really matter, because this book, despite a few rough patches, was great fun (once you read beyond the unpromising first few chapters). I’ll be grabbing the sequel.



Buy a copy.

Gaudy Night, by Dorothy L. Sayers

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Gaudy NightGaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’m reading these books all out of order.

Harriet Vane is my favorite Mary Sue in all of literature, largely because she’s so complicated and difficult, for herself and for everyone around her. Lord Peter Whimsey (and I don’t care what anyone says, but that’s the best/worst character name ever) is brilliant, super-rich, heroic, funny, well-educated, and completely in love with her. She loves him back but won’t marry him because he saved her from the gallows the first time they met, and she hates the imbalance between them. She can’t bear to marry someone she’s supposed to feel grateful toward.

I kept expecting this to turn into a murder mystery, but really it’s about doxing a particularly vicious pre-internet troll. That makes it the most interesting murderless mystery I’ve ever heard of.

Anyway, I suppose I should have fallen in love with Oxford–the text certainly wanted me to–but it didn’t happen. I did have to employ Fantasy Reading Protocols for the allusions the extremely well-educated characters employed, but that was part of what makes it fun. Also fun was seeing Harriet grapple with a new level of psychological depth in her novel-in-progress while Sayers herself populates the book with a whole platoon of wonderful characters.

I don’t think of this as the sort of book I enjoy. It’s not dark, it’s not violent, it’s not full of grief… Still, I stayed up all hours to finish, and whatever I read next will suffer by comparison.

Good book.



Buy your own copy.

City of Stairs, by Robert Jackson Bennett

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City of StairsCity of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Like any detective novel, City of Stairs starts off with a doubled narrative. The first is the story of the investigation itself; the second is the story that is uncovered–a story of secret jealousies, agendas, and betrayals that led to the murder in question. The first narrative is the uncovering of the second.

But while City of Stairs starts off like any detective novel, the second narrative quickly transitions away from the murder toward the history of the ruined city that comprises the setting of the story.

This city was once the capital of a world-spanning empire, backed by the might of mysterious and powerful Divinities. Then, one of their conquered slave states developed a weapon against the gods and, upon their deaths, the empire was not just overthrown but also physically ruined.

Who murdered the beloved old professor looking into the forbidden history of those Divinities? What are the former conquerors plotting to overthrow their new masters? Why did the gods help one people but not the others?

Into this mess comes a bookish, brilliant, bespectacled woman, Shara, who is the preeminent spy in her young empire, along with her secretary, a huge, ass-kicking nihilist named Sigurd.

Sigurd will be a fan favorite, I predict; he nicely fulfills Jim-Butcher-like levels of Exaggeration (reference: http://jimbutcher.livejournal.com/1698.html ) but it’s Shara who carries things. Her voice–analytical, disillusioned, detached emotionally except when she’s not–makes the book work.

However, this is a book about stories, and they’re stories that the characters tell each other. While there are some action scenes, much of the text is taken up with puzzling over old myths and secret history, so it’s talky. In a good way, but still.

Anyway, this is the first of Robert Jackson Bennett’s books I’ve read, and it’s terrific. You should read it, too.



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California Bones by Greg Van Eekhout (Goodreads review)

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California BonesCalifornia Bones by Greg Van Eekhout

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Tremendous fun for fans of heists and magic, set in a modern day Los Angeles unlike the LA in our world. It’s twisty, creepy, and I’m off to take a shower after reading about people dunking themselves in nasty canal water.

First in a series.

Recommended.


Grab a copy right now.

Amazon news that might actually be true

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New reports suggest that Amazon is considering launching an Oyster-like “Kindle Unlimited” service that would allow readers, for $9.99 a month, unlimited access to hundreds of thousands of titles.

The really exciting thing about this for Amazon fans is that it appears that they’ll include audiobooks, too. That’s pretty cool.

This is something I’d be very interested in, depending on the contract terms. A Kindle Unlimited program would be a great way to introduce readers to my work; the real issue is how often those readers would venture outside the program for their books.