November 2005 Same Vein


Big Over Easy by Jasper Fforde

Hodder Healine

When Humperdinck Jehoshaphat van Dumpty, better known as Humpty Dumpty, falls off the wall once too often and is shattered beyond repair, Detective Inspector Jack Spratt and his partner Mary Mary of the Nursery Crime Division of the city of Reading are assigned the investigation. The case turns from accidental death to one of murder. Dumpty was a womanizer and con man who had been involved in a lot of shady dealings and who had lots of enemies. Jack is still stinging from not being able to bring the three little pigs to justice for their wanton murder of Mr. Wolff. He wants to shake his reputation for having a poor solve rate for his cases, so cracking the Dumpty case is important to him. How can he solve this high-profile case and prevent the maligned Nursery Crimes Division from being disbanded? How can he keep superstar Detective Friedland Chymes from stealing the investigation from him? Why was Dumpty buying up all the shares of Spongg's Footcare stock before his untimely death? And most important of all, how can the resolution of this case make good copy for a future issue of Amazing Crime Stories magazine?

Author Jasper Fforde has switched gears from his Thursday Next series to begin a new series of hard-boiled police procedurals based on Nursery Crime cases. "The Big Over Easy" has many funny moments as Fforde places familiar nursery rhyme characters in unusual situations. There are puns galore, and humorous character names such as Hercule Porridge, Miss Maple, Lord Peter Flimsey, and Winsum & Loosum. Each chapter is prefaced with an excerpt from an imaginary book that covers a literary topic in this topsy-turvy world. Examples include the Ugly Stepsisters suing fairy tale publications for defamation of character, the testing of a transmutation device that worked temporarily when it turned a pumpkin into a coach, and the banning of the use of twins as plot devices in crime stories.

Whether the concept of satirizing a mix of nursery rhymes and detective stories will quickly become tedious or not remains to be seen (the next in the series will feature Jack and Mary in the case of "The Fourth Bear"). But in the meanwhile, this is an entertaining literary spoof.


The Innocent by Harlan Coben

Allen & Unwin

Those familiar with Harlan Coben's series featuring sports agent sometimes detective Myron Bolitar will delight in this gifted author's latest book, The Innocent.

Matt Hunter is 20 years old when during a vacation from a college vacation, he is involved in a brawl and accidentally kills a college student. Although he had little do with instigating the fight and merely was trying to help a friend, Matt is found at the scene while others scurry away and he stands trial for the death of another college student.

While this most likely was an accident and he may be innocent he is found guilty by a jury and is sentenced to spend several years in prison. Needless to say, as a young suburban man, Matt is less than prepared for prison life but manages to stay alive. When he leaves prison four years later he is taken under the wing of his older brother,a laywer with a prestigious NJ firm which eventually hire Matt as a paralegal. But life for Matt as a convicted felon will never be the same.

Now it is nine years later, Matt's brother is dead from a brain aneurysm and his father is also gone. Matt's mother and sister live far away but he still helps out his sister in law and his two nephews. Matt also continues to work for the same law firm as before but he is now married to a wonderful woman, Olivia and they are expecting their first child. He is also about to close on a home in his old neighborhhod and Matt can't help but think that life is good. But when his wife convinces him to buy two cell phones which can send pictures, this sets in motion a series of events which have Matt wondering who Olivia really is and why is his life spiraling downwards.

The Innocent is another terrific Coben read, probably better than his last two books, No Second Chance and Just One Look. The characters are fully developed and we are privy to not only what is happening now but what happened to them in the past as well. Readers are able to feel all of the emotions as this story takes off and doesn't let go. Matt Hunter isn't quite as sarcastic as other characters found in this author's other books, ie Myron Bolitar. This fact makes Matt a much more believable and vulnearble character. And as hardened as Matt may seem from prison life, underneath we know that he can't believe the world he has made with Olivia is unraveling before his eyes.

Excellent reading.

Faithless by Karen Slaughter

Random House

Medical examiner Sara Linton has had an uneasy relationship with her ex-husband, police chief Jeffrey Tolliver, for years. In spite of their differences, Sara and Jeffrey have never stopped loving one another. Now, the two are taking tentative steps towards a reconciliation, but obstacles still remain. Lena Adams is a detective who works under Jeffrey's supervision, and she is one messed up woman. Although Lena is a good cop, much to her secret shame, she is also a human punching bag for her abusive and cruel boyfriend. Lena's personal problems have a way of interfering with her work, and Jeffrey is losing patience with her. Jeffrey, Sara, and Lena do not have the luxury of concentrating on themselves for very long. Much to his shock, Jeffrey literally stumbles on the grave of a young woman named Abby who may have been buried alive. His investigation brings him into contact with a strange family of religious fanatics who are harboring dark secrets.

"Faithless" is an uneven effort by Karin Slaughter. Readers who have been following Jeffrey, Sara, and Lena for some time, admire their complexity, sensitivity, and vulnerability. These are flawed people, who are sometimes jealous, insecure, impetuous, and unforgiving. They are also caring individuals who have compassion for others. Their imperfections, as well as their strengths, endear these characters to us, and we hope that someday they will find peace of mind.

The mystery, however, is the weakest element in the book. It involves a closely knit group of people who attend church, quote the Bible frequently, and run a prosperous soybean farm. They also routinely take in miscreants, hoping that their exposure to religion and good works will inspire them to change their ways. When a second girl disappears without a trace, Jeffrey fears that she may have met the same fate as Abby. He racks his brain for some clue that will break the case. Who killed Abby--a stranger, a member of her family, or perhaps an ex-criminal?

Unfortunately, as the book progresses, it loses some of its momentum, and the convoluted conclusion is both melodramatic and far-fetched. Still, Slaughter is not one for tying up all loose ends neatly; and she leaves some plot lines unresolved, perhaps in preparation for the next installment in the series. Although "Faithless" is not a first-rate mystery, the lead characters are so charismatic that you'll be willing to stick with them in order to find out how they resolve their problems.

Not her best, but still a good read.

Lazybones by Mark Billingham

Penguin Books

Mark Billingham continues his panache for gritty, involving and highly readable crime fiction with this latest installment in his Tom Thorne series.

Thorne is involved this time in what appears to be some kind of vigilante killing. The posed naked dead body of a released rapist is found in a seedy hotel room. The victim had just been released from prison and is found posed rather prayerfully, his neck garroted, masked, etc. Thorne also finds out that someone called the local florist to arrange for a wreath to be sent to the hotel room. Through this accidental phone call, Thorne becomes involved with Eve Bloom, the lovely florist who took the call.
Another body turns up, again a rapist recently released from prison, killed in the same method, different hotel.

Thorne and his reliable partner, Dave Holland, dig deep into the case to try and find out who is responsible for these killings. Tackling the moral issue of whether this killer should be arrested or applauded, Billingham takes us on a nerve-wracking, surprising tale that climaxes in high fashion.

Billingham gives us a little more insight into Thorne's private life, including the bittersweet relationship between Thorne and his Alzheimer-ridden father. Dave Holland is also going through an emotional crisis with the approaching birth of his first child.

Billingham knows how to write..he keeps the reader totally engrossed in his tales, and gives us red herrings and hidden clues.

One of today's best crime series. Highly Recommended.



Backwoods by Ed Lee

Leisure Books

Looking for evil is one thing. Finding is another. When Patricia White re-visits her backwoods home, an atrocious secret from her past isn’t the only thing that begins to haunt her. Creepy, erotic, and relentless, THE BACKWOODS delivers up a new kind of horror in a foreboding terrain of reclusive hillfolk, demented murder mysteries, and soul-searing horror. Has the town Patricia calls home really been cursed? No, it’s been blessed. By an unspeakable evil older than sin.

Let's face it, Lee is on everyone's top 5 favorite horror writers list, and the Backwoods proves why. This is very much an occult horror story with a sophisticated murder plot weaving through it.

Some readers may be surprised by such a "crime-style" book from Lee, but don't fret, the usual Lee blood, gore and violence are still there, just married to a far more traditional crime story. The sex is more refined that in past books too, and a lot more effective.

Lee fans don't fear, there's enough hangings, curses, rapes, whacked out autopsies, and one of the most gruelling offstage murders in fiction to keep you all more than happy.

Possibility of a sequel? Well, you never know. Excellent.


The Character Naming Sourcebook
by Sherrilyn Kenyon

Capricon Link

This book is not just for writers, but for researches or anyone who wants to know the history and meaning behind a name; their own name or that of a child soon to be born.

Beginning with The Importance of a Name you discover ways to make people care about the person simply by choosing a name. Next is the importance of Characternyms, or what does the name impart? One of the examples is Magnum from the Hawaii based TV series starring Tom Selleck. Magnum is not only a wine bottle that holds twice as much, but it is also a very powerful bullet. We are presented with a hero that is "bigger than life" but who also is effervescent, strong, and brings the ring of sex appeal that champagne, laughter and a stunning force carry with them. It was a masterful name selection.

There are names by genre, gender, country (including illusive Native American, Latin, Greek, Russian and more) as well as notes in how to use the names to create the right impression: for example "...the Norman invasion in 1066...English were referred to by occupation...Aiken the Miller or Aisley of York."

Without doubt this is one of most complete histories of names available, and is a great source for writers, or those who just want to know more about names.

The Closers by Michael Connelly

Allen & Unwin

In Connelly's previous novel, The Narrows, Harry Bosch was seriously considering coming out of "retirement" and returning to service with the LAPD, despite several misgivings, one of which was the entrenched corruption throughout the force. However a new police chief is on board with a mission to clean house. Harry's old enemy, Deputy Chief Irving, a self-serving political player, wants Harry to fail and will do anything to achieve this end. Bosch has been assigned to the Open-Unsolved Unit, (cold cases) teamed up with his old partner, Kiz Rider, a no nonsense police woman in a predominately male domain, embark on an unsolved seventeen year old murder of a young girl, shot through the chest and taken out of her bedroom and dumped in a field. Harry attacks this unsolved murder with calculated zeal, leading to possible corruption in the force, pushing the case to it limits to find the perpetrator. The Closers begins at breakneck speed and doesn't let up until the last page is turned.

As a piece of crime fiction, The Closers is by no means a character study, it is entirely plot driven, following Harry Bosch at work to every twist and turn of the case. Connelly knows how to write a crime novel and does not leave anything to the imagination.

Modern detective fiction doesn't get any better, and in the hands of Connelly, one can be sure the ride will be thoroughly entertaining; and The Closers delivers on all counts.

Countdown by Iris Johansen

Pan Macmillan

The legend of Cira and her gold intrudes once again on Jane MacGuire's life. In Blind Alley, the streetwise adopted daughter of forensic sculptor Eve Duncan and Atlanta detective Joe Quinn became a serial killer's pawn. Now she's a target for terrorists who believe she has the key to a lost treasure.

When one of Jane's childhood friends is killed, she realizes that she must find out why, especially when, as before, Scotland Yard's handsome Mark Trevor becomes involved. He has tried to keep Jane out of his latest escapade, but he swoops in to the rescue, bringing her to Scotland to keep her safe.

Never completely on the right side of the law, Jane questions Trevor's motives while trying to keep in check the sexual tension between them as they try to quell a deranged madman who is after Trevor and the lost treasure. Along the way, Jane discovers that many people are trying to find the truth about Cira, and that Jane herself is perceived as the reincarnation of that fabled Roman figure.

Johansen delivers a top-notch sequel filled with great chases, original characters, and intricate plot twists, creating a unique supernatural twist on the classic thriller.

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