Monday, January 23, 2012

Plan Bee - Hannah Reed

Plan Bee
A Queen Bee Mystery
Hannah Reed
Berkley Prime Crime
It’s time for the Harmony Festival in tiny Moraine, WI, but life is hardly harmonious.  Story Fischer, who owns The Wild Clover grocery store, is coming to realize that employing your family members brings its own set of complications.  Her friend, neophyte beekeeper Stanley Peck, has his twelve-year-old grandson, Noel, staying for a visit.  Noel is rocking the town, far too literally.  He just might be a genius.  Unfortunately for everyone else, his current obsession is with explosive devices of his own design.  And Story has a new neighbor who just took up residence in her ex-husband’s house.  Ordinarily, that might be a good thing.  But the new guy, Ford, looks more than a little sketchy.  He’s moved in with a bedroll and camp chair and says he’s only there for the weekend.
After a long day, Story is taking a shortcut through the cemetery when she stumbles over a body.  This is shocking because the body in question is above-ground.  Story leaves the cemetery and calls the police, but neglects to remove the garbage bag obscuring the face.  When the police chief, Johnny Jay, arrives, the body is gone.  Johnny Jay and Story, like just about everyone else in town, have history stretching back to childhood.  In this case, it’s not pleasant.  Johnny Jay doesn’t believe Story and, due to this and previous events, declares that no emergency response will be dispatched when Story calls in the future.  This hardly seems fair (or legal) to Story, but small towns run in their own ways.  It’s also unfortunate, since, not long after, Story discovers what she assumes is the same dead body.  It’s Ford.  This time, in her ex-husband’s house.  Stuffed in the fireplace, no less. 

This is the third in an ongoing series that started with BUZZ OFF and continued in MIND YOUR OWN BEESWAX.  New readers will have no problems jumping in at this point, as the author is quite good at encapsulating characters and previous events.  This time, the bees don’t really enter things much, but that doesn’t stop Story from launching her own investigation.  She has a very good reason: the main suspect is dating her widowed mother, so finding the killer matters to her, on a very personal level.
The eccentric – and possibly unbalanced – neighbor, Patti is given a much larger role in this installment.  That’s not really a good thing, from my point of view.  Patti is a woman who openly uses a telescope to follow the comings and goings in the town.  My personal tolerance for ‘zany’ is quite low, so bear that in mind as you continue reading.  She tags along for parts of Story’s investigation, going so far as to kidnap and beat a suspect while asking questions.  The fact that Story goes along with this bizarre behavior is odd, to say the least.  I’m hoping this is not a new character arc for Story. 

The plot is interesting, and there’s an interesting twist, but the outcome isn’t a huge surprise.  The problem inherent in writing a series of mysteries set in a small town, I suppose, is that it’s the ‘outside’ people who make for the most likely victims and suspects.  An author can’t just go through the town, knocking off each character in turn and sending another one to prison for the crime.  Still, fans of cozies and amateur sleuths will find a lot to enjoy here.  Tips and recipes for honey concoctions round out the book.
Rating: 6 ½
January 2012
ISBN# 978-0-425-24621-4 (paperback)

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Earthbound - Joe Haldeman

Joe Haldeman
Science Fiction

This is the third in a series that began with MARSBOUND and STARBOUND.  If you haven’t read the first two novels, you’ve missed some great scifi.  And you’re also going to be unavoidably spoiled by this review.

This novel begins directly after the events of STARBOUND.  Carmen Dula and her pilot husband Paul, are back on Earth after a unique trip to the stars where they met and spoke with a race called the Others.  The Others are completely alien to us.  Their motivations and goals are virtually unknowable.  Possibly immortal, the Others set plans for centuries or millennia into the future.  They’ve told the humans, in no uncertain terms, to stop space exploration; to stop interstellar travel or face dire consequences. 
Predictably, the military begins to construct a defensive space fleet.  During a launch, the Others make good on their threat.  They turn off the power, worldwide.  Nothing electrical or better works.  The Others effectively return Earth to a nineteenth-century existence.  This means that billions will die.  Most of them will die from starvation when food cannot be grown, harvested, and transported (gas-powered vehicles are a rarity) to them.  Many more will die off when life-saving technology simply stops working. 
Carmen, Paul, and the rest of the participants in the journey to meet the Others are stranded on Earth with little to no food, water, or weapons to survive the coming years.  Survival from day to day is paramount; after that, planning for a future no one expected. 
Their struggles on the ground seem pretty realistic.  They each bring a certain amount of scientific or local or psychological knowledge to the table.  There are other groups of people roaming the land (the world, one assumes) who are of the ‘kill the competition and take their resources’ mind-set.  The story becomes an almost post-apocalypse type of road trip.  It could be read that way, if the reader is starting with this volume.  But that’s really selling the story – and the characters – short.  Due to space travel and time relativity, these people have spent decades together, for better or worse.  Their collective background adds a real resonance to their current situation.   My only real quibble is that the ending feels a bit rushed. But that’s probably because I would have been happy to read another three novels with these characters. 
This is a great series for fans of scifi, and also for newcomers to the genre.  It’s a story that clearly spans Earth, Mars, and what lies beyond our own galaxy; but the story and events are truly driven by the characters and how they interact over time.  Highly recommended.
Rating: 9
December 2012
ISBN# 978-0-441-02095-9 (hardcover)