Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Deadly Lies - Cynthia Eden

Deadly Lies
Cynthia Eden
Romantic Suspense
Mostly-unrelated Side Note: Computer game aficionados will understand that I must call the female lead Samantha.  Otherwise, it becomes Sam and Max, and that’s too distracting.  And a bit disturbing.

This is the third book in the series and concerns the fate of FBI Agent Samantha Kennedy.  Her story started in the first book in the series (DEADLY FEAR) when she was kidnapped by a crazed serial killer.  It’s an unavoidable spoiler to say that she survived that experience physically, but was left with some serious emotional trauma.  She works with a special group in the FBI, one tasked with taking down serial offenders.  The first time around it was a serial killer.  The second book (DEADLY HEAT) dealt with a serial arsonist. 

This time out, it’s a serial kidnapper.  It takes a while to put the pattern together, but it soon becomes clear that someone is kidnapping the college-aged sons of very wealthy families and holding them for ransom.  The first two kidnappings go off perfectly and the victims return to their families.  In the opening pages, the kidnapper finds that the family isn’t so willing to deal with a kidnapper and refuses to just pay the ransom.  In short order, that victim returns to his family, very dead.  Clearly, the kidnapper is escalating, both in terms of the time between crimes and the amount of violence used on victims.

Samantha Kennedy returned to work in the second novel, but her boss isn’t so sure she’s really ready to be in the field.  Her experience with the serial killer changed her.  When she meets a man at a bar, she’s fine with a one-night stand.  Imagine her surprise to meet him again at an upscale party.  Turns out, he’s Max Ridgeway, a self-made man and stepson to a wealthy developer.  Samantha tells herself it’s all a physical thing, but it’s clear she’s falling for him.  Being with Max accidentally makes her the inside man when Max’s stepbrother, Quinlan, goes missing and the kidnappers demand ransom.  Quinlan’s father, accustomed to getting exactly what he wants from everyone, wants to play hardball.  He won’t contact the police and he initially refuses to pay the ransom.  Max reluctantly agrees to keep her work affiliations secret, even as they race to find Quinlan before the kidnappers harm him.  

This is one fast-paced novel.  The relationship between Samantha and Max evolves quickly, absent any real reason aside from circumstance and coincidence.  If you can overlook that, and it’s not difficult, you’re in for a great read.  The case involving the kidnappers is twisty and full of possible suspects.  Coincidence aside, I appreciated that Samantha’s presence made the FBI’s involvement easier, but made her dealings with Max progressively more problematic.  As before the pages flew by; and what I meant to be a few chapters before bed, ended up being nearly half the novel before I could put it down.  The author has a great way with action sequences, criminal types, and dialogue.  Anyone looking for a great romantic suspense author should give Ms. Eden a try.
Rating: 7 ½
March 2011
ISBN# 978-0-446-55925-6 (paperback)

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Infernal Affairs - Jes Battis

Infernal Affairs
An OSI Novel
Jes Battis
Urban Fantasy

This series is frustrating for me as a reader.  The last novel in the series (INHUMAN RESOURCES) was a clear stand-out from the rest (NIGHT CHILD, A FLASH OF HEX.)  This begins with a sequence that is best opening yet in the series.  Tess Corday, an occult investigator, and her team need to get to the non-occult morgue quickly.  It seems that one of the bodies there appears to be a dead child, but is really a demon.  And it’s most likely not dead.  It’s in everyone’s best interests to make sure an autopsy never even starts.

The scenes in the morgue are fantastic, fast-paced, and full of new and unexpected things.  The ‘child’ is, in fact, a demon called Ru.  The problem is, he’s lost his recent memory and has no idea how he ended up there.  Before the OSI team can stop it, though, a normate pathologist has made the first cut.  Not only does he have to deal with a ‘child’ waking up during an autopsy, he has to survive the arrival of the OSI team and a centaur-looking, bounty-hunting demon who is gunning for Ru, claiming that Ru is a renegade criminal from his home dimension.

As gripping as the first chapters are, the novel too quickly degenerates into subplots.  Some of these subplots are threads picked up from previous novels, some are new.  It feels like the author is trying to do too many things.  We see Tess at home, dealing with her unusual household (one teenaged vampire Magnate and one teenager infected with the vampire virus, but holding it at bay with medication.)  We see Tess go to her shrink at work.  We see Tess and Lucien her very much on-again necromancer boyfriend.  There’s so much going on that much of what happens seems rushed and truncated.  The final showdown here consists almost entirely of a conversation that manages to wedge in a lot of information about Ru and about Tess.  The ending scene, while it fits with Tess’ character, seems like a ploy to end the book abruptly on a cliffhanger-ish note. 

There are some really great things about this series.  The world that Tess inhabits is one in which the occult types have to hide the occult from the normates.  That builds in a lot of potential problems and twists.  The paranormal beings (most of them) are interesting and unique.  Minor spoiler, but the lawyers for the occult world are talking animals and this really jolted me out of the story.  I’m not sure why, but in a novel like this I’m ready to accept demons and vampires and other dimensions; while talking animals just seem childish, not whimsical.  This one starts out very strong, but loses its way somewhere around the midpoint.  I’m still interested enough to see where Tess goes from here, though, on the strength of the last installment.

Rating: 7
June 2011
ISBN# 978-0-441-02045-4 (paperback)

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Finger Lickin' Dead - Riley Adams

Finger Lickin’ Dead
A Memphis BBQ Mystery
Riley Adams
Berkley Prime Crime

As the second-generation owner of Aunt Pat’s Barbeque, Lulu Taylor knows a lot about her regulars.  Memphis may be a big city, but the regulars make it seem like a small town.  At the moment, she’s mostly concerned about Evelyn, who’s been going out with her ex-husband, Adam.  The problem is, he’s still legally married to his current wife.  Also, as the Graces (a group of ladies who work as docents at Graceland) point out, Adam didn’t treat Evelyn well the first time around, and he hasn’t changed his tune this time, either.  He seems to be mostly interested in her money.  But Evelyn is a big girl, and it’s usually a mistake to try and intervene when it comes to love.

Talk quickly turns to a local restaurant critic, who writes under the dubious name Eppie Currian.  This anonymous critic has been making a game out of writing snarky reviews.  It might just be one critic’s opinion, but this critic has a large and loyal following.  A bad review can seriously impact, or even close down, a restaurant.  In fact, that’s exactly what happened to Oliver and Tudy, who spent years running their place, only to see it close down after a particularly nasty review.  And just the day before, a bad review appeared about Aunt Pat’s.  The regulars vociferously disagree, of course, and Lulu’s son, Ben, the cook, is especially upset about it.

When the news breaks that the infamous Eppie Currian is really the odious Adam, there are plenty of people who would like to at least smack him.  Ben being among those, since Adam is at Aunt Pat’s almost daily, wolfing down the food he claimed was so bad.  It doesn’t take long for someone to take action.  Lulu and her granddaughters find Adam’s body lying by the river.  He was shot and covered in baked beans.  Perhaps a post-mortem food commentary?  In any event, the list of suspects is quite long.  There’s Evelyn, who just found out that Adam was cheating on her with his wife and a third woman; the current wife, Ginger; anyone whose restaurant had been impacted by the mean reviews; and even the reviewer who lost his job when snarky reviews proved more popular than the more balanced type.  Lulu is positive that Evelyn and Ben couldn’t possibly be guilty.  And, since she solved one murder mystery not too long ago, she sets out to make sure the right person pays for this one.

Please look past the goofy title.  (Don’t judge a book by its cover, in other words.)  While this is a fairly light, cozy mystery, it’s not as camp as the title would suggest.  Lulu comes across as a real person with a deep and true connection to Memphis and Aunt Pat’s.  She’s a loyal friend, and a pretty smart amateur sleuth.  The rest of the supporting cast reads as a group of people who have known each other forever and don’t hesitate to jump in when one of their number needs help.  There are some eccentric characters, to be sure, but they always stop short of slapstick.  With so many viable suspects, the mystery is an interesting one, with several possible outcomes.  The second installment (DELICIOUS AND SUSPICIOUS) this should entertain any fan of cozy mysteries.
Rating: 7
June 2011
ISBN# 978-0-425-24191-2 (paperback)

Monday, June 06, 2011

The Lost Fleet: Beyond The Frontier: Dreadnaught - Jack Campbell

The Lost Fleet: Beyond The Frontier: Dreadnaught
Jack Campbell
Military SciFi
This is the first book I’ve read in this series, and I really wish I’d read the previous six.  To be fair, this is the first installment in a new series that picks up after the century-long war of the previous series.  Clearly, the vast majority of the characters are holdovers, but the author does a fine job of introducing them for new readers.  If you haven’t read the previous books, I’m sure a lot of this review contains unavoidable spoilers, so beware.
The century-long war between the Alliance and the Syndics is finally over, and John “Black Jack” Geary finds himself somewhat unappreciated in his own time.  To the public, he’s a hero and a miracle.  To the government, he’s a bit of an inconvenience.  What do you do with the most famous military hero in the universe during peacetime?  If you don’t want him to try to take over the government, you put him in charge of the First Fleet and send him out on a mission to contact an alien species.  Humans and what they call the ‘enigma race’ met once before, unexpectedly, and it led to an all-out battle and massive destruction.  The current plan is to assess their territory and make non-aggressive contact.

A lot of the book is spent with preparations for the mission, both physical and political, with one ridiculous delay or demand after another.  It gets a bit old quickly, but I realize that this is probably exactly how it would play out in reality, with various politicians jockeying for position in the new order.  Since Geary is the guy in charge of the entire fleet, most of the action is seen from his perspective.  That is, from a distance; from his position on his flagship.  Again, it’s completely realistic since he has to keep track of the big picture, but it’s less than satisfying to hear about huge action scenes happening elsewhere via terse broadcast updates from another commander. 

It’s fairly clear that this book is setting up plotlines and characters for future installments.  With so many characters and divergent plotlines, there’s necessarily a lot of cross-talk and explanation and loose ends left dangling for upcoming novels.  There are some very interesting ideas put forth here, from sources military, political, and scientific; and these ideas are introduced in a way that is completely organic.  It will be interesting to see how they develop throughout future books. 

Rating: 7 ½
May 2011
ISBN# 978-0-441-02037-9 (hardcover)

Deadly Heat - Cynthia Eden

Deadly Heat
Cynthia Eden
Romantic Suspense
This is the second in a series that started with DEADLYFEAR.  You don’t need to read the first novel first, though, since the books are related, but not exactly continuous.  If you did read the first book, you’ll recognize some returning characters.  If you didn’t, the author does a nice job of filling in pertinent details when needed without going into information overload.

This installment concerns Lora Spade, a local firefighter.  She’s the real deal, fighting fires and pulling victims to safety because it’s her job and her calling in life.  She lived through a fire in her childhood and fights fires for partly personal reasons.  Perhaps that’s why a serial arsonist is now fixated on her.  She’s had the feeling lately that someone is watching her.  And there have been a series of strange fires.  Lora goes over the heads of her bosses to request the help of the SSD, a new and elite squad in the FBI that specializes in tracking and stopping serial offenders.
The SSD sends Kenton Lake to town as point man.  He actually meets Lora in the middle of a fire while trying to pull an informant to safety.  Since he has no idea who to trust among the locals, he’s forced to withhold some information from them.  It doesn’t endear him to the locals when he begins by investigating those closest to the fires: the cops and firefighters.  This is where the author lost me a bit.  It would be insulting, sure, but in any crime you look at the closest people first.  Professionals might not like it, but they should understand it.  Of course, there’s the usual head-butting about who’s in charge, which seemed completely realistic.

The writing moves the story along at a fast and irresistible pace.  We see scenes from the arsonist’s point of view without knowing who the arsonist is.  There are plenty of possible suspects and a few that seem more than probable.  Less probable is the instant, inexplicable attraction between Lora and Kenton.  Yes, she pulled him out of a fire (the opposite of meeting cute?) and there’s the usual verbal sparring.  But, to me, the relationship happened because the story demanded it.  There were times that I became impatient with that aspect of the story, wanting to get back to the hunt.
That quibble aside, the story of tracking the arsonist is handled very well, and is what interested me in the first place.  There are several familiar faces from the first book, and these people are brought in because they have a job to do, and they do it well.  Not for fans of cozies, there are scenes of explicit violence and the author doesn’t stint on showing the reader what fire can do to structures and bodies.  This author has a great way with an action scene, and there are lots of interesting places for this series to go.
Rating: 7
February 2011
ISBN# 978-0-446-55926-3 (paperback)