White Corridor by Christopher Fowler


White Corridor

It’s always a gamble to pick up books by unknown authors. And I seem to do a bad job of it at Christmas every year. Each year we spend some time in the car, so we grab audio books. This year’s selection was a mixed bag of known authors and unknown authors. We listened to this title and it was definitely a mixed bag.

The story revolves around two older gentlemen who run a Peculiar Crimes Unit in London. They are quirky, cranky, and odd. Which of course makes them fun. They can get away saying and doing things that a younger detective would be fired over. In this story, the two detectives are stranded out in a snow storm miles from anywhere with a killer, the killer’s intended victim, and plenty of innocent people. A blizzard trapped many cars on a busy bypass through the English countryside in subzero temperatures. This situation becomes a race for personal survival in the cold and an effort to rescue the victim from killer.

Meanwhile, back at the PCU, their staff has a mystery on its hands that could eventually give their political enemies the leverage to shut them down. The two older detectives attempt to help solve that crime as well using their cell phones while stranded out in the cold.

All in all, it makes for a great setup. There are a few downsides to the book though. First, two of the characters have an affair. (I have no idea how descriptive it was as I skipped it.) The author uses this as a plot device as the girl believes she is now psychically bonded to the man.

Update: From the author’s comments below: “My romantic scenes are chaste; imagination is better.”

Second, there is profanity in the book. Third, the author is very anti-God and anti-religion. The lead spends much of his time supporting, encouraging, and getting assistance from witches, warlocks, and all sorts of cultic groups. (They were traveling to a cultist convention when they were stranded.)

I can ignore the cultist things. What I have less trouble accepting is the affair and the language.

I did find one other thing disturbing. Despite the modern setting, so much of the described English life could have been pulled right from an Agatha Christie novel that I found the modern technology jolting. It’s not the author’s fault; most of my experience with English detectives come from Christie and books set in the early to mid 20th century. So, I often dropped back into that mental picture until a cell phone appeared again. Whoops….

Have you ever had that experience?

Wizardry Compiled by Rick Cook


Find it Amazon

This sequel to Wizard’s Bane raised my hopes for a great discussion about the decentralization of power. Sadly, Cook passed on that opportunity.

In book one, Wiz shook up the world by creating basic spells as one creates computer programs. previously to his appearance in this unfamiliar place, only a select few could control magic. Now Wiz had granted magic to all people through the use of “magic programs.”

What happens when a society with no power is suddenly granted the power to be equal with their overseers? Chaos for one thing. The people began moving into the dark places and destroying every magical item in their path. Wiz created a spell for the people (called DDT) that granted a defense against magic. Someone hacked the program to destroy magic.

At the same time, Wiz, now elevated to the Wizardry Council, is playing politics and attempting to teach other students about “programming magic.” He is failing miserably and tearing up his marriage in the process. Ergo, Wiz heads out into the woods in a huff and is promptly kidnapped and transported to a far off continent by the remnants of the evil wizards he had banished. Wiz escapes, but is being hunted by a vicious creature created to sniff out his brand of magic and slaughter the one casting it. Now Wiz spends the majority of the book fleeing for his life and unable to use his magic.

Back on the farm, the people’s destruction of all things magic is creating a war between the magical people and humans. Since Wiz and his magic are the only things who can stop the coming war (and Wiz is missing), the wizards seek alternate solutions for defense. They send Wiz’s wife Moira back to Earth to retrieve some of Wiz’s friends. And here is where the book shines. Moira’s presence in the real world, her efforts to bring back programmers, and the responses of these geeks to this other life creates endless scenarios of fun.

The downsides: more profanity, crass situations and one adult situation. The last was really annoying as the only purpose was to create a situation that would setup book three. Seriously, there were other options. I couldn’t tell you how graphic it was as I skipped ahead. Just be aware.

Overall, if you read book one (and that is fun regardless of whether you continue in the series), then book two might make sense. I didn’t like book two enough (combined with the problematic material) to move on to book three.

Thoughts?

The Society, by Micheal Palmer M.D.


The Society

Unraveling the Mystery section, part 2.

A gritty crime procedural set in Chicago, this book is all about a new character, Willard “Will” Grant. He’s nice, he’s caring, he’s the face of the anti-insurance-company movement in Chicago, and he’s the suspect in a serial killer case: a killer who targets head health executives. The plot is extremely complicated, to the point that even the back cover summary is somewhat misleading. The main point to remember: the author is out to make managed care look bad, in every way, so don’t expect any sympathy for the insurance bureaucracy that has to deal with all the laws and legal ramifications.

The good: from a writing perspective, this book is the best yet (and its #5 that I’ve *started* reading. The rest were put down before page 10, in case you were wondering where all those reviews are). The romantic relationship is at least acknowledged to be full of mistakes, and there are few major plot holes. The pacing and action are right one track, with enough humor and clues mixed in to make each scene worth its page space. The details are handled deftly but subtly, and even the gristly parts are toned down enough that you need a good imagination to get anywhere bad.

The Bad: I have a good imagination, for one thing. For another , Mr. Savage is a really liberal person, and the worldview gets annoying to hear about after awhile. The man can really write well, and its easy while reading to skip over these inappropriate parts at first, but as you will see, it really adds up. A sprinkle of foul language (largely contextually understandable), two torture scenes, six detailed deaths, three or so detailed planned deaths, countless ugly surgical procedures gone wrong, heart rending stories of death by bureaucracy, four extra martial affairs (not detailed but still), and seven instances of leering/harassment. By the end, the cumulative effect made me sit back in surprise at how much foul content I had just ingested.

Overall:
Skip Micheal Savage. Its a real let down at the end. Anyone know of a good medical/big city mystery writer? I’m coming up real short on this series….

Through the Fray, by G.A. Henty


Through the Fray

This particular Henty begins in the early years of our hero, Ned’s, life. We watch him go through school, get in trouble for breaking his nasty teacher’s shoulder (he’s acquitted of punishment for good reasons), cry as his father passes away and meet a young lad who will be his life long friend.

After Ned breaks his nasty teachers shoulder, the man is sent away from cruelty to boys. The new teacher, unlike the other, is kind and firm. He prefers not to beat the boys unless it is absolutely necessary, and obedience out of respect rather than fear. It is to this teacher that Ned depends on for advice and guidance after the passing of his beloved father.

Ned’s father dies saving a young girl from getting run over by a carriage, this event leads to his mothers second marriage less than a year later. The step-father is cruel, but is able to hide it from those he is cozying up to. (Ned hates him)

Because of his cruelty, Ned and him fight every now and again. One time the step-father beats on Ned horribly and then goes off into the night, Ned following half awake to go walk in the country. Ned’s step-father is murdered and Ned is blamed ….will he be able to prove his innocence? You’ll need to read it to find out!

Positive: Though Ned’s mother is unkind to him almost every time they meet, and accuses him of his step fathers murder, refusing to see Ned for over a year. In the end, Ned and his mother are reconciled.

Ned’s father is a strong figure, and this book shows the value of friendship, overcoming fiery tempers, perseverance in the face of great adversity and how you shouldn’t judge too quickly.

Negative: Ned’s mother is a very poor example to her children, and is shown as very lazy, strong-headed and a gossip. Thankfully in the end these unwanted traits, except for her gossiping, reverse themselves.

Overall: Another great G.A. Henty, though our hero does not actually go into the army as is his original wish, he does great good where he is at. I strongly recommend this Henty book. 🙂

The Supernaturalists by Eion Colfer


The Supernaturalists

Cosmo Hill, an boy abandoned and found on the hill he is named after. Quite the boy, in this futuristic world, Cosmo is subject whatever the boys home people do to him, simply because he is a no-sponsor. (a.k.a no friends/relatives to pay for his upkeep) To feed all these no-sponsor orphans, the orphanage allows various companies to perform chemical tests on the boys. Of course because of all this chemical stuff flowing through them, and the processed foods they get, the longest life anyone has is fifteen. Cosmo is fourteen and dreams of escape.

His chance comes when he is out with other orphans listening to music and their car crashes. Redwood, a very bad guy, tries to wrap Cosmo and his friend, Ziiplock, in the rib-breaking material for Ziplock’s smart comments. They escape, but in the process Ziplock dies and Cosmo gets very hurt.

A threesome group of Supernaturalists, teens hunting Parasites, invisible blue creatures who are believed to suck the life out of hurting people, find Cosmo. Cosmo learns that he too can see these Parasites, because of his near death experience, and so with his three new friends, embarks on a mission to kill the blue buggers before they kill them.

Negative: Not much, one of the bad guys is really mean, but he gets his just desserts. People get wrapped in stuff that breaks ribs and an orphanage mistreats all its occupants.

Overall: A good book, not quite the genius Artemis Fowl, (a series by Eion Colfer) but I enjoyed it. 🙂 Unfortunately my one of favorite character died, but be assured it wasn’t the main character. 🙂 If you’re looking for enjoyable mental junk food, with plenty of plot twists, this is it.

Double Shot, by Diane Mott Davidson


Double Shot

Unraveling the Mystery section, part 1

Ever been to one of those bookstores with shelves all the way to the ceiling? The used ones, with so many kinds of books and so many authors, it makes your head spin? Well, I was in one last week, and got overwhelmed. So I grabbed five books off a shelf at random, and decided to unravel the mystery section. Good books will get the author on the seek list, bad ones on the skip list, and any other reveiwer’s are welcome to add to the series.

In the good news section, this book is all about good food. Most of the jokes involve food, and all the recipes mentioned are given in the back (very fun idea). The main character/female detective is a caterer, so amid investigating her ex-husband’s murder, she’s baking up all these food things that inspire you to try your own hand in the kitchen. The plot involves a lot of fun twists and turns, but mostly the main detective goes from food event to food event with inspiring ideas and collecting clues with her cop husband and gossip-queen girlfriend.

In the bad news department, Davidson has a very appalling sense of place and timing. Several scenes take place in all-too-detailed backgrounds, like a gross-out kitchen or sleazy “men’s club,” all peopled by completely unacceptably described shlubs. While a lot of food comments and quips take some sting out of it, the fact is, a good five pages need to be ripped out of this copy before its acceptable reading. I skimmed a lot of the detecting parts because of these locational problems, about 100 pages worth.

Overall, Davidson goes on my skip-list. Anyone disagree? In the mystery world, are nasty locations fair play, and if so, are there limits on how they should be handled? Or should the author be able to describe what happened, without setting the book in places where offensive material is a given?

Maori and the Settler by G. A. Henty


The Shining Sword

(Another G.A. Henty I know, but I like his books, what can I say.)
Unlike most other Henty books, Maori and the Settler does not contain lots of battles and hardships for our hero to go through. Instead, Wilfred’s story, our hero, begins at his home in England.

Wilfred’s father is not an ambitious man, and spends his time studying to write books, thus forcing the house and business management on Wilfred and his mother. Because of strikes and riots, Wilfred’s family goes bankrupt with only the mother’s dowry to their name, and are thus obliged to leave their home in search of less expensive living.

Hearing of the good settling opportunities in New Zealand, they convince their father to move there. Most of the book revolves around their voyage there, the friends they meet, and the change in character several people have. Including the father, who realizes that he does not really know his family, and stops studying to spend more time with them.

A few dangerous moments occur aboard the ship they travel on, but nothing our hero and his friends cannot handle.

They reach New Zealand in one piece, and find a comfortable place to call home. Which they dub “The Glade.” Things to go smoothly, except for some Indian massacres they hear of, and the rumor that war might come their way. There is much more to tell, but I cannot without spoiling the end.

My overall reaction to the book was positive. I was surprised our hero was not as involved in wars and skirmishes, though he had his fair share. This book differs much from what I general read in Henty books, yet I really did enjoy the way Henty described the way of life a settler might have lived were he forced from England to New Zealand. It was informative and interesting, well worth the read.