26 April 2007

Bibliophile reviews The Search by Iris Johansen

Year of publication: 2000
Genre: Romantic thriller (with brief and mild descriptions of sex; some paranormal elements)
Setting & time: USA (mostly), S-America, Taiwan

Story: Rich and powerful John Logan forces dog trainer Sarah and her trusty search dog Monty to help him find a missing person. Unlike a previous book where the person was dead, this one is alive and has been kidnapped by Logan's arch-enemy, his former brother in law who could never forgive Logan for taking his sister away from him. There is also the small matter of having been sent to prison in a Thailand hell-hole for 15 years by Logan. (If you think this is a spoiler, think again – this all comes out early on in the story). The man is wreaking systematic revenge on Logan by destroying people and places he cares for, and once he discovers that Sarah is helping Logan, he incorporates her into his plans for total revenge.

Here is where the SPOILERS start.

Review: Reading this book feels like reading a story written to be serialised in a magazine rather than a novel. It is episodic in nature and each episode ends neatly with a mini-climax, after which another episode begins that has a slightly bigger mini-climax, all building up to the big one, and unfortunately they don't always connect well, which is why it reminds me of a serial. This is not to say that Johansen doesn't know how to write a thrilling and entertaining story. She does. But knowing that Sarah and Logan were side-characters in a previous book makes me wonder if maybe this book was written more to fulfil the wishes of readers or editors who wanted more of them rather than the author herself wanting to, because I get the feeling she doesn't quite know what to do with the characters. For example, the scene where they all of a sudden discover each other sexually and jump into bed together because a crude remark made by her estranged former lover makes them fall in lust, is not convincing at all. Apart from a couple of lustful thoughts fleetingly described earlier, there is hardly any build-up to this event, and afterwards they are suddenly in love (although trying not to be), which is even less likely considering she still thinks he is untrustworthy and selfish. The side-romance is allowed much more build-up and is a lot more entertaining.

The thriller elements are much better done than the romance and make for a good yarn. The paranormal element is interesting and done in such a way that a sceptic can interpret it logically and a believer can take it as it is written.

Rating: An entertaining thriller. 2+ stars.

22 April 2007

Mystery author #29 Robert B. Parker

Book 1:

Title: Stone Cold
Series detective: Jesse Stone
No. in series: 4
Year of publication: 2003
Type of mystery: Serial murder, rape
Type of investigator: Police
Setting & time: Massachusetts, USA, late 20th or early 21st century

Story: Two serial killers are operating in Stone's territory and when they target his former girlfriend the case turns personal. He also gives personal attention to the case of a teenage girl who has been gang-raped.

Book 2:

Title: The Judas Goat
Series detective: Spenser
No. in series: 5
Year of publication: 1978
Type of mystery: Murder, terrorism
Type of investigator: Private detective
Setting & time: USA (scene setting), England (London), Denmark (Copenhagen), The Netherlands (Amsterdam), Canada (Montreal), 1970s

Story: Tough P.I. Spenser is hired to headhunt a group of terrorists whose bombing of a London restaurant wiped out the family of an American billionaire and left him paralysed. In prison or in the morgue, the man doesn't care just if they are punished. The hunt takes Spenser to London, where he finds the first lead, and then on to Copenhagen and Amsterdam, ending at the Montreal Olympic games.

Review: Neither of the two Parker books I read is really a mystery, but rather they are detective novels with more or less known offenders – certainly known to the reader and soon to the detectives as well. Stone's investigation is more about proving that his suspects are the killers he thinks they are and Spenser's investigation is about stopping the bad guys, not finding out who they are. But since both are rather good examples of detective fiction I think I may be excused for including them. And maybe I just didn't pick the right novels – it certainly looks like the Spenser novel I have just started reading is going to be one.

Parker writes in short, concise sentences that make his narrative style clipped and fast moving, although it does slow down the action whenever Spenser starts describing people and the clothes they wear.

The earlier novel is written in the first person, with Spenser as the narrator (as are, I think, all the books in that series), while the second is written in the third person, alternating between several characters. While the same short, clipped style is used in both, the choices of narrative angle serve to make the reader react differently to the two lead characters. The first person narrative, being more personal, tends to bring a reader closer to the main character and make him more sympathetic, which is certainly needed in the case of Spenser, and I think his preoccupation with clothes and what people are wearing is a narrative trick used to give him some human interest (although it sometimes seems it is only being used to pad the narrative…), much as his tender feeling for his girlfriend Susan are. The third person narrative that is used in the Jesse Stone story makes it possible for the reader to react to more characters, and also to separate the two series enough that no-one can confuse the two lead characters. (End of literary analysis and comparison).

It took me several months to finish the Jesse Stone novel. While I found it interesting, it somehow failed to hold my attention for long until I was well into the second half of it. Neither did I feel any need to devour the Spenser novel in one sitting, but I will say that they are both well-told stories with an interesting rather than gripping narrative style. I don't think I will start glomming Parker's books on the basis of these two, but I will certainly read more when and if they come my way.

Rating: 3 stars.

04 April 2007

A reading aphorism

Reading a newspaper's literary and cultural supplement recently, I came across this aphorism. The original is a poem, but I have translated it without keeping the poetic form:

“It takes a long time to wear out a bad book and to finish a boring one”

Amen to that.

01 April 2007

Reading report for March 2007

Another month has gone by and this time I finished reading 13 books, gave up on one and read parts of several more, some of which I expect to finish in April.
I always hate it when I have to give up on a book I had good expectations of, but sometimes even a favoured author can disappoint. This was the case with Eric Newby in his collection of short travel accounts, Departures & Arrivals. Much as I loved A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush, I was disappointed by this book. While I found some enjoyable writing in a couple of pieces, most of them were just boring and finally I decided to stop torturing myself and stop reading the book. I may come back to it later when I am in a mood to finish it, but for now it's going in the unfinished file.

As for the rest, I apologise for the scarcity of reviews lately, but with this and that I have not had much time for writing reviews, what with the bookbinding (lots of homework) and travel planning (it's still many weeks until I leave, but it's fun to speculate and make plans and read guidebooks). I have also started keeping a written journal, which takes time away from my e-journaling.

As always, if there is a book in the list you would like to see reviewed, leave me a comment and I will post a short review.

Naomi Novik: Temeraire (historical fantasy)
Dodie Smith: I capture the castle (coming of age novel)

Unreviewed: (some I may review later)
Luigi Barzani: The Italians (description of the nation)
Jennifer Crusie: Strange Bedpersons (romance)
Elizabeth David: I'll be with you in the squeezing of a lemon (culinary tidbits)
David Day & Lidia Postma (myndir): The Hobbit Companion (literary commentary)
John Douglas & Mark Olshaker: The Anatomy of Motive (popular criminology)
Jane Greenfield: The Care of Fine Books (book conservation)
Ruth Reichl: Garlic and Sapphires (foodie memoir)
Ruth Rendell: Shake hands forever (police procedural)
Ruth Rendell: Some lie and some die (police procedural)
Freya Stark: The Southern Gates of Arabia (travel)
No author given: Bókasafn barnanna (The Children's Library. (A collection of chapbooks of fairy tales that I loved as a child. I bound them together into a book and then could not resist reading them for the memories they evoked)

Some of the books I am reading now and expect to finish in April:
Holly Hughes, ed.: Best food Writing 2001
Lederer & Burkick: The Ugly American
Joe McGinniss: Going to Extremes
Robert B. Parker: The Judas Goat
Paul Theroux: Riding the Iron Rooster: By train through China
Leonard G. Winans: The Book: From manuscript to market

Additionally, there are about 20 books I started reading at some point but have not touched for months. They lie around with their bookmarks pointing at me like accusing fingers, telling me to "finish this book!"