Friday, November 28, 2008

Hollywood Crows - Joseph Wambaugh

Hollywood Crows
Joseph Wambaugh
Little, Brown and Company

Mystery/Police Procedural

This follow-up to HOLLYWOOD STATION picks up the lives of various Hollywood police officers and the daily insanity that comprises their working lives. The Crows are the Community Relations Officers. They take calls about anything that has to do with the community’s “quality of life,” and run outreach meetings for every conceivable group, sometimes spending more time in meeting rooms than on the streets.

Ali Aziz runs the Leopard Lounge, a topless dance club, in the area. He’s currently involved in the most bitter of custody battles with his ex-wife and ex-dancer, Margot, for their son. Both Ali and Margot have plans to end that dispute, and the Hollywood cops are going to be in the middle of it no matter which way it shakes out.

The Ali/Margot situation provides the lynchpin of this novel, but most of it is devoted to the bizarre situations that could only happen in Hollywood. The cops are a wildly-varied bunch, but each one of them seems realistic. From the surfer dude cops, Flotsam and Jetsam, to Hollywood Nate – who desperately wants to make it in the movies – they have have distinct personalities and histories.

It’s crystal clear that the author knows whereof he writes. The stress and frustration of cops on the job is palpable. The federal consent decree has all but tied their hands, the media is ready to pounce on any perceived infraction; I can’t imagine the level of anxiety that creates for a group of people who put their lives in danger to protect the public. Every comedic moment here is leavened by the harsh truth: life isn’t fair, and there may not be a happy ending.

Rating: 8
May 2008
ISBN# 978-0-316-02528-7 (hardcover)

Thursday, November 27, 2008

The Flame And The Shadow - Denise Rossetti

The Flame And The Shadow
Denise Rossetti

Fantasy/Paranormal Romance

Readers of fantasy should note that, in this case, the term ‘fantasy’ does not adequately describe the content of the book. There’s fantasy, scifi, and a very heavy concentration on explicit sexual encounters. For what it’s worth, the author has established herself as a writer of erotica. This novel might be better read as erotica in a fantasy setting, rather than as a fantasy with a lot of sex. Ultimately, that’s pretty disappointing, because I found the actual plot to be quite interesting and I wish there had been more of it.

Grayson (Gray) of Concordia, professionally known as the Duke of Ombra is traveling from world to world as a musician. In truth, he has a darker purpose. For most of his childhood, Gray thought everyone’s shadow was a separate being capable of holding conversations and physical interaction. Now he believes that Shad is the worst part of himself and desperately wishes to be rid of it. Deiter, a wizard, has promised to sever the two; his price is that Gray must kidnap the only known fire witch and bring her to Deiter. He’s promised the same thing to the Technomage Primus. Someone is going to be angry.

Cenda lives on Sybaris, a tourist mecca that also supports an enclave of Magick users. Until the recent death of her toddler daughter, Cenda was a witch of indifferent powers. Since the child’s death, Cenda has become a fire witch. Her powers, once harnessed, could be incredible, but she’s barely scratched the surface of their use. Since the death of her daughter, Cenda has lived a mostly emotionless life, so she’s very surprised when the handsome musician shows an interest in her. Letting down her guard should have been much more difficult.

Cenda and Gray (and Shad, a character in his own right) are interestingly flawed characters with histories that make sense. Neither is young or hopeful. Both are doing what they believe necessary just to live. Their relationship evolves in a warped way. Gray bent on seducing her in order to further his kidnapping plot; Shad with his own motivations and will to live; Cenda mistaking sex for love.

Everything really blows up when Cenda learns the truth of the plot(s) against her. At that point, she’s become a much more emotionally mature person, and is more able to deal with realities. In contrast, Gray has become more sentimental and actually feels some guilt about essentially trading Cenda for his own peace of mind. The author has built an internally logical world, populated by fascinating characters. A little less emphasis on the purely sexual would only give the intriguing plot and emotional evolution of the characters more deserved attention.

Rating: 7
November 2008
ISBN# 978-0-441-01634-1 (trade paperback)

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Wish You Were Here - Lani Diane Rich

Wish You Were Here
Lani Diane Rich

Contemporary Romance

According to the author’s note at the end, the characters and events of this novel were set up in the previous book, CRAZY IN LOVE. Those of us who didn’t read CRAZY IN LOVE are at a disadvantage here. It’s clear, for example, that the author assumes readers already know and sympathize with Freya Daly. For newbies meeting her for the first time, that’s not so easy.

We’re told that she was, at one time, a hard-driving businesswoman who lived for her work at her father’s real estate development company. But some unknown (to new readers) event has created what Freya calls a “condition” that causes her to cry. A lot. At inconvenient times. It’s especially inconvenient as this book begins, because Freya is at a shabby campground in nowhere, Idaho, to negotiate the sale that will secure her promotion when her father retires. Why he wants this particular piece of land so very badly, Freya neither knows nor cares. It’s simply the last hurdle to heading up her father’s company.

Of course, there’s a snag or two. Nate Brody, the owner, refuses to sell, even for an insanely inflated price. Nate’s ten-year-old daughter, Piper, desperately needs a friend and bonds with Freya almost immediately. The bond between Freya and Nate is different, but just as strong. Then Nate’s ne’er-do-well Uncle Malcolm and his ex-wife, Nikkie, who abandoned Piper as an infant, turn up and start making demands for an item Nate hasn’t got. In fact, Nate promised his dying father that he would find the item, but hasn’t yet. Arson is just the beginning of what Malcolm and Nikkie are willing to do to get what they want.

It’s hard to envision Freya as a flinty negotiator, having just met her in this book. She’s a mess, to put it mildly, but to her credit, she realizes that fact. She lost my sympathy early on when Piper confides a first crush to her and Freya responds by telling this ten-year-old child that any boy who isn’t stupid just wants to get into her pants. Nate, a protective single father, overhears this, yet still continues to indulge his physical attraction for Freya.

The mystery of what everyone is trying to get their hands on is tied nicely to the relationship between Nate and Freya. The ‘why’ of it all is more complicated and adds an extra layer to this part of the story. The author has a light and breezy style that keep the pages turning quickly. I can’t help but think that I might have liked this much more had I read the first book.

Rating: 7
November 2008
ISBN# 0-446-416825-X

Monday, November 24, 2008

Pane Of Death - Sarah Atwell

Pane Of Death
A Glassblowing Mystery
Sarah Atwell
Berkley Prime Crime


Emmeline (Em) Dowell doesn’t regret for a moment leaving the world of a New York stockbroker. She’s happy in Tucson, running her glass shop, Shards, making her own glass pieces and teaching students. When retired software millionaire Peter Ferguson asks for her help in placing several large stained glass windows in his new home, she’s delighted, but a bit confused. Confused, because fellow artisan/competitor Maddy Sheffield actually does the asking, and Maddy and Em have never been friendly before this.

Regardless, seeing window-sized pieces of glass art by renowned masters up close quickly overrides all other concerns as Em enthusiastically joins the project. When the last panel is delivered, Peter invites Em to his home again to see it. As she’s done before, she drives through his high tech security to the house. Arriving at the front door, though, she’s surprised to see that it’s open. Inside, Peter lies dead on the floor, stabbed with a piece of glass. And all the art pieces are gone. It would have taken more than one person quite a while to properly pack and transport that much glasswork. So was the motive robbery or murder?

Em is seeing the chief of police at the time of the crime. He wants to run the investigation by the book, to avoid the look of any impropriety. Of course, there’d be no story if Em were able to stay out of it entirely, but it’s odd that a forty-something woman would be unable to understand his priorities and wage a running battle over it. There’s some nice misdirection during the middle part of the novel, but, ultimately, I was able to guess the outcome with little difficulty. The information presented here about glass as art is fascinating. Much of this is woven into the narrative, and some is presented in a separate section at the end of the story. It’s well worth reading, and adds an interesting dimension to a murder mystery.

Rating: 7
November 2008
ISBN# 978-0-425-22501-1 (paperback)

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Wait Till Your Vampire Gets Home - Michelle Bardsley

Wait Till Your Vampire Gets Home
Michele Bardsley
Signet Eclipse

Paranormal Romance

When you’ve spent your entire life moving from town to town so that your parents can continue their paranormal investigations, you understand early that life can be unpredictable. Nothing, though, could prepare Libby Monroe for the little town of Broken Heart, OK. It was supposed to be just a stopover from one investigation to the next. Rumors abound about the town, but no one was taking them terribly seriously.

She’s hidden (she thinks) in a cemetery, watching some poor man put flowers at this wife’s gravesite when she meets, in quick succession, two snarling wolves, a shambling zombie, and a really pissed-off vampire. The guy at the gravesite, Ralph sort of saves her from most of the threats. The two are running away when the manic vampire and the zombie – who, apparently, was also trying to save Libby from the angry vampire – get dive-bombed by a couple of dragons. All in a night’s work for a paranormal investigator, right? Not so much.

The dragons are clearly having some issues among themselves. One is trying to kill the other. When the red dragon hits the ground, Libby sees a charred and scale-covered woman. The woman is dying and asks Libby to kiss her. Before Libby can effectively protest that she’s not that kind of girl, the woman gives her, a kiss that erupts into flames. When Ralph touches Libby, he’s engulfed, too. The two emerge unscathed and very unclear about what just happened. What just happened is going to change Libby’s life forever. And wait until per parents get a load of this place.

In this follow-up to BECAUSE YOUR VAMPIRE SAID SO, there are a lot of plotlines at work. Probably the weakest of these threads is the relationship between Libby and Ralph. They love each other because we’re told they do. I never really got a sense that they even knew each other well, and the whole thing seemed to be confined to their basic level of physical attraction. In fact, they’ve only known each other for a couple of days by the end of the novel.

The more interesting plotlines involve continuing strife between the paranormal folk who populate the town, and some of the Ancients, who began the lines. Dragons continue to attack, and Libby and those responsible for her (the queen, Patsy, and her inner circle, who keep Libby from leaving town) are in a race to discover exactly what kind of creature Libby has become. I think the novel would have been served better by concentrating on these storylines, but that might have detracted from the frothy tone. It still maintains the super-fast pace of the previous book, and it’s more than interesting enough to remain glued to the pages.

Rating: 6
November 2008
ISBN# 978-0-451-22550-4 (paperback)

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Black Ship - Diana Pharaoh Francis

The Black Ship
A Novel Of Crosspointe
Diana Pharaoh Francis


Pilot Thorn has gone by many names in his life. He was born eldest son to the high chancellor. He left his family home when it became clear that his parents’ ambition overrode their concern for their sons. He lived for years as a street kid, doing what he had to do. Then he got work on a ship. Finally, he became a Pilot, one of those few individuals who can interact with a ship’s compass and steer it through the myriad dangers of the Inland Sea.

But Thorn, known as Sylbrac to his guild mates, is a loner. A loner who insists on sailing with his cat, Fitch. And whistling. Sailors everywhere consider the whistling and the cat bad luck. So far, he’s gotten away with it, due to the shortage of Pilots. Then he steps a bit too far over the line and finds himself without a ship for the coming season. Being dirt-bound is like death for a man whose reason for living is the sea. Complications continue when he’s crimped (kidnapped) by a bunch of bad-luck sailors and taken to a black ship.

The whole crew is composed of people who couldn’t get seafaring work on a legal ship. The captain just might be insane. And there’s a part of the cargo that’s been warded by strong majick. The money is just a little too good for this whole thing to be legal. But, like the rest of the crew, Thorn has nowhere else to go. And the ship’s owner, a powerful and mysterious user of majick, dangled the one carrot she knew Thorn wouldn’t refuse: Pilot this ship and find out the truth about the death of your younger brother, Jordan.

Ms. Francis has created a unique and compelling world here. This is the second in a series. I haven’t read the first, but that diminished my enjoyment not at all. I would like to go back and read the first book, though, since it largely concerns other characters and situations. Once you understand his history, and that’s presented fairly early on, it’s easy to sympathize with Thorn and the life he’s led. Who he is and how he got here is expressed succinctly but with great insight.

This novel is part fairy tale and part high seas adventure. The two work together exceptionally well. For those unfamiliar with various terms particular to this world, the author provides a very thorough glossary; and there are maps to aid in visualizing the characters’ travels. The language and descriptions of people and places is very evocative, yet somehow never slows the pace of the story. This is a great find for any fantasy reader.

Rating: 8
November 2008
ISBN# 978-0-451-46242-8 (paperback)

Monday, November 17, 2008

Magic To The Bone - Devon Monk

Magic To The Bone
Devon Monk

Urban Fantasy

In the thirty or so years since magic’s discovery, man has learned to collect it, store it, and use it. Of course, this has opened whole new areas of business and crime. Because any time someone uses magic, there’s a price to pay for it. Some users have discovered that they can Offload the consequences of magic use; some use hired Proxies, some use unsuspecting victims.

Allie Beckstrom makes her living as a Hound. When an innocent is hit with an illegal Offload, she can trace the magic’s signature back to its source. Usually, it’s some corporation trying to cut corners and not caring who gets hurt. The victim (or the victim’s survivors) can sue and collect damages. When Allie discovers a five-year-old child suffering from the effects of an Offload, it infuriates her. The magic traces back to someone she cut ties with years ago: her millionaire father.

While he denies Offloading onto a kid, he admits that he’s got someone watching Allie. That someone is Zayvion Jones. Allie feels a kinship with Zayvion that she can’t explain. Before she can explore that, the news is reporting that her father is dead. The timing of his death puts it just after Allie’s visit. The visit of an angry daughter who has been estranged for years. The police want to talk to her, and there are other, more unscrupulous people who would like to get their hands on her, too. Some might even want to talk first.

This is the first novel in a new urban fantasy series, and it sets the bar fairly high. The system of magical collection and use in this world is original, strange, and strangely plausible. The balance (magic gives and takes away) also makes sense. In Allie’s case, the price is often pain. Sometimes, without rhyme or reason, though, the magic takes part of her memory. She carries a notebook that contains her name and vital statistics, and notes of her current case, against the frightening and very real possibility that magic will take these memories.

The notebook really showcases her essential vulnerability. She’s no superwoman; she’s just a person who does what she believes is right, regardless of the consequences to herself. She makes mistakes, but she learns. Since the story is told from her point of view, the reader makes the journey of discovery right along with her. In short, she’s a real and likeable heroine in the midst of magic and mayhem. The plot is fairly complex, but moves along at a great pace. The ending leaves the door open for future volumes, and I’m hoping they appear soon.

Rating: 7 ½
November 2008
ISBN# 978-0-451-46240-4 (paperback)

Friday, November 14, 2008

Cross Country - James Patterson

Cross Country
James Patterson
Little, Brown and Company


These days, when Detective Alex Cross gets called to a murder scene late on a Sunday night, he knows it’s going to be bad. This one is beyond bad. An entire family, brutally butchered in what looks like a home invasion. Getting a look at the face of the wife/mother sends Alex into shock. It’s Ellie Randall, his first love from college. Not believing this is just random violence, Alex begins working the case with a vengeance.

His search takes him, over the strenuous objections of his family, to Nigeria. Working from clues he found in an unfinished manuscript for Ellie’s latest book, Alex is on the trail of The Tiger, a mercenary who uses gangs of ruthless boys to commit his crimes. The Tiger is a native and Alex is a stranger in Africa, where everyone clearly knows he’s American. He gets some help from an elusive CIA operative, but he’s mostly on his own, thousands of miles from home.

When a new Alex Cross book comes out, I’m happy. It’s not unusual for me to have to suspend disbelief a bit, but the author is so good at this series that it’s usually not a problem. This time around, it’s a little different. It’s hard to believe that a man who is a psychologist, a former FBI agent, and a longtime detective would be so blind to cultural differences. He literally gets off the plane in Nigeria and announces that he’s an American cop, looking for a murderer. What follows is horrible, but, in retrospect, not really surprising. It’s no spoiler to tell you that Americans are not beloved the world over, as a rule.

Alex moves from Nigeria to Sierra Leone and back, on the trail of The Tiger. Along the way, he comes face to face with the appalling conditions under which so many people live and, most often, struggle simply to survive another day. It’s a story that desperately needs to be told to as wide an audience as possible. Alex endures repeated attacks, beatings, blows to the head, and worse in his search for justice. It’s nearly three-quarters of the way through the novel before someone finally tells him that he’s got absolutely no authority in Africa. It seems that he should have known that. To be fair, though, given his character, he probably would have followed the same path in any case.

All of that aside, CROSS COUNTRY (follow-up to CROSS and DOUBLE CROSS in the continuing story of Alex Cross and his family) is boilerplate Patterson. The short chapters keep you flipping pages, but it’s the action and plot that keep you reading. It’s honestly difficult to find a place to stop. So I didn’t. Read in one sitting, this is a lot of action, a lot of bloody violence, and a lot of anguish. The story of the native peoples of Africa, who are being systematically killed and exploited by their own (and others) for fun and profit, is one that deserves attention and action. I feel more than a bit guilty being so entertained when there’s so much genuine suffering going on, with no end in sight.

Rating: 7 ½
November 2008
ISBN# 978-0-316-01872-2 (hardcover)

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Devil's Eye - Jack McDevitt

The Devil’s Eye
An Alex Benedict Novel
Jack McDevitt

Science Fiction/Adventure

As a dealer in interstellar antiquities, Alex Benedict is used to strange situations. His assistant, Chase, is getting used to them, too. Arriving home, they find a message left by Vicki Greene, a novelist famous for her horror stories. She looks scared, which is a lot less funny than you might think. She says she doesn’t know what to do, that everyone is dead. When they try to contact Vicki, they discover that she’s had her entire memory erased. Her memories, everything that happened, everything that made her Vicki Greene, are gone forever.

This doesn’t do much to deter Alex. He feels a sense of duty, especially since, before her mind wipe, Vicki transferred a huge sum of money into his account. Alex and Chase decide to retrace Vicki’s steps. She’d made a trip to Salud Afar, a planet just about as far as you can get from the center of civilization. Apparently, Vicki was making a tour of the many supposedly haunted and strange locations on the planet. Following her path proves difficult, but not impossible. Solving the mystery turns out to be only the beginning.

Newcomers to this series (like me) will have no problems starting here. There are clearly references and ties to previous novels, but there’s enough background provided to fill in the blanks. I admit, though, that hearing references to the previous novels makes me want to seek them out, immediately. Even readers who are not fans of scifi should enjoy this novel. Although it takes place on a distant planet in the far future, it reads much more like a mystery/adventure than pure scifi.

Chase, the narrator, and Alex clearly have a long history, and their characters and personalities really drive the story. Solving the mystery of what Vicki found is the focus of the majority of the novel, but I was pleased to find that, once that happens, there’s still plenty of plot. Without giving spoilers, what they find affects a great many people, and the aftermath is just as much a part of the story as the initial search. It makes for a much more complete and satisfying reading experience.

Rating: 9
November 2008
ISBN# 978-0-441-01635-8 (hardcover)

Monday, November 03, 2008

Vampyres Of Hollywood - Adrienne Barbeau and Michael Scott

Vampyres of Hollywood
Adrienne Barbeau and Michael Scott
Thomas Dunne Books

Paranormal Mystery

Sure, this premise has been done before, and often. But these two authors manage to put a fun new twist on it. Ovsanna Moore is Hollywood’s reigning “scream queen,” with several box office hits, and a few movies that went straight to DVD. She also owns the controlling interest in Anticipation Studios, one of the smaller dream factories. Ovsanna loves the irony of the fact that an actress/producer of horror movies is, in reality, a five hundred year old vampyre.

What she doesn’t love is the recent run of killings. Three A-listers murdered in under two weeks. And all of them killed in ways that would destroy a vampyre. Ps? Forget what you think you know about vampyre lore. It’s all disinformation, spread by the vampyres through popular entertainment. The point is, whoever killed the three actors – all of whom are connected to Ovsanna in some way – knows the truth about how vampyres can be destroyed.

Peter King, Beverly Hills Detective, is on the case. It hasn’t escaped his notice that all three of the victims had worked with Ovsanna or her studio. Meeting her, he doesn’t think she’s guilty. Or maybe it’s his libido talking. But her assistant has a record that includes a self-defense murder that maybe went a little too far. Still, it doesn’t explain the bizarre methods of death. Or the effects supervisor who was turned into something that looked like her own, gory work.

Clearly, Ms. Barbeau knows the inner workings of Hollywood, and really capitalizes on the behind-the-scenes people and the history. There’s a rich and delicious vein of snark that runs through this entire novel, beginning in the prologue, when the first dead actor is found with his newly-won Oscar “stuffed – Variety said “rammed” – into the orifice by whose name he was often called.” This kind of dark humor, combined with an interesting new take on the legends of Hollywood, make this fast-paced novel a real pleasure to read. I was honestly sorry to see it end, and I’m hoping for more in the near future.

Rating: 8
July 2008
ISBN# 978-0-312-36722-0 (hardcover)