Archive for the ‘Mystery/Horror/Suspense’ Category.

The Woods by Harlan Coben

The Woods is the second book I’ve read by Harlan Coben.  This one was just as entertaining but had fewer implausible coincidences so I enjoyed it even more.  The story centers around a crime that occurred 20 years in the past and a current day rape trial that is causing the past to resurface.  The rape trial, which starts the book, gets shuffled a little too much to the side for a while, but all the threads come together in the end.

See Them Die by Ed McBain

See Them Die is one of McBain’s more artistic works.  There’s no mystery, just a series of events that play out over the course of a hot morning and afternoon in the city.  It examines themes of racism in the context of how juveline delinquents are inevitably created in certain environments.

When my friend Sheila gave me a nice hardcover edition for Christmas, I thought I hadn’t read it, but once I started it did become familiar.  Maybe there aren’t any unread McBain’s out there for me.  But this was a great one to re-read and the edition is a big upgrade from my tattered paperback.

Havana Bay by Martin Cruz Smith

Havana Bay is by the author of Gorky Park, which I’d read before, and features the same Russian detective. In this story, he travels to Cuba. I guess since communism is gone in Russia, the author had to move his story line. Politically based mysteries aren’t really my favorite but as a spy story, Havana Bay is not high in convoluted plotting. As a novel, the characters are interesting and the story unfurls at an unrushed but attention-keeping pace. When finished, you remember the detective’s inner drama more than whodunit, which is more satisfying (and allows you to read the book again some day).

Hold Tight by Harlan Coben

Hold Tight was a fast-paced good read. It starts with the question of whether parents are right to spy on their teenage son who appears to be going bad. It ends up all over the place with one unlikely coincidence/event leading to another, yet it hung together and kept my interest. I liked the twist at the end. The characters were multi-dimensional and yet still sympathetic.

My father lent me this one while I was visiting and now he’s passed on another one to me, so I’ll be reading more by this author.

Re-reads of "in Death" books by J.D. Robb

After reading the latest “in Death” installment, I remembered that I did used to enjoy these books and decided to re-read a couple of the originals to recapture that feeling. I read the first, Naked in Death, all the way through and did really enjoy it. It’s an excellent romance. You can’t help wishing that you’d meet Roarke and get to marry a fantastically rich man who’s also handsome, smart, suave, and devoted to you for no clear reason. Glory in Death, the second book, wasn’t quite as good. Already the sex scenes seem repetitious. I guess woman like variety as much as men. After those two, it felt like enough.

Promises in Death by J.D. Robb

I haven’t been keeping up with the “in Death” series by J.D. Robb (aka Nora Roberts) but I was traveling and finished the book I was reading so Promises in Death was an easy choice of what to grab at the airport. I had expected there to be a baby by now, or at least a pregnancy, but Eve and Roarke are still married, still childless, still rich, and she’s still fighting crime–all of which crimes, it seems, still somehow relate to her, her husband, or her friends. Makes you wonder if they could end crime in New York City simply by eliminating Eve Dallas and her circle.

Eclipse and stuff I didn’t finish

When I got Eclipse, the third book in the Twilight series, in the mail I was in the middle of reading various other things. I tried to hold off. I really did. But after it sat there calling to me for about a week I gave in and devoured it in two days, then spent the usual next two days re-reading parts of it. I’ve stowed it away on the bookshelf now in an attempt to stop re-reading it before I have it memorized.

This one started slowly and I thought perhaps the series was losing steam, but it got plenty steamy. I regretted the lack of Edward in the last book but it was worth it to set up the Edward/Bella/Jacob triangle which is so deliciously drawn in this book. I anticipate even better things to come in the fourth book, which is already on the way.

The Twilight series is compelling. When I’m reading one of these books, I’m actively reading it. It doesn’t sit on the end table next to me night after night while I watch TV or do crossword puzzles or go for a walk. It floats into my hands as soon as I get within gravitational pull.

“Good for you” books can be compelling too. They can also be good without being compelling by being interesting, thought provoking, beautiful, informative, or revolutionary Unfortunately, many of them aren’t any of those things. Not everything with footnotes or an introduction by some literary critic I’ve never heard of is actually worth reading. For that matter, not every trashy novel is even minimally entertaining.

To wit:

The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens: OK, this isn’t horrible and I’ll finish it, but I’ve seen it ballyhooed as Dickens’ best work and it’s nothing but silliness. A Tale of Two Cities, now that’s good stuff: moving, compelling, interesting, heart-breaking. The Pickwick Papers are a disjointed series of humorous sketches sometimes connected by a plot string no thicker than “let me tell you a story.” It was originally published serially, which is exactly how it reads. This was the sitcom of its day. Not that The Simpsons can’t be genius, but will it ever become the sort of “classic” that gets taught in school?

The Top Ten: Writers Pick Their Favorite Books: Guess I thought I’d get some insight from this one, either about what might be interesting to read or what might inspire me to do some good writing. I didn’t get either. I got lists. Literally, lists. This book is interesting only if . . . never mind. It’s not.

The Arabian Nights: Tales from a Thousand and One Nights: This is one of those classics that’s best not read at all. We have a cultural understanding of what it entails: Aladdin and the lamp, genies, flying carpets, Scheherazade telling stories to stay alive. The reality is a misogynistic, racist cesspool of hate and stereotypes. Women can’t be trusted and will cheat if left alone for five minutes. (Men get to have unlimited numbers of wives and concubines, so their faithlessness doesn’t come up.) Not only that, but given half a chance they’ll have sex with a black man, and apparently having one of your hundreds of wives cheat on you with a black man is so unimaginably horrible (despite the fact that it seems to happen almost constantly), that it entitles you to lay mayhem on him, her, and all the women and black men you can reach. This is a thoroughly disgusting, unreadable compendium of vaguely familiar stories.

Imperial Ascent: Mountaineering, Masculinity, and Empire: Although I don’t climb mountains, most of the climbing literature I read is about mountain climbing. Rock climbing doesn’t seem to make for good stories. Too short for one thing, and we don’t die nearly as often for another. The focus of this book is on the amazing adventures white men have had in conquering the mountains and far off reaches of the world. This being 2009 and not 1909, I’ll assume there was some deeper purpose to focusing so excessively on what white men were doing and why. I couldn’t make myself read the overly scholarly text closely enough to figure out what that purpose was. All I know is that the word “masculinity” appeared approximately once per paragraph in the introduction. So I skipped forward to where I hoped the real stories would begin and found a continuation of overly quoted and footnoted text and yes, the word “masculinity.” So I quit. You don’t need to read this book. In case you’ve been wondering, I’m going to explain why our early adventurers are all white men: they were the ones with the freedom to go climb mountains. Give women and minorities permission to leave the house and the time and money to do it and guess what? We like to climb mountains too. I’ll bet we like to do it in exactly the same proportions as white men. Mystery solved. 200 pages saved.

Ten Thousand Islands: So I’m leaving on a jet plane and I ask my friend Sheila for something to take with me. She has more books than can fit in a single room if you stack that room from floor to ceiling all the way around, and I mean that literally. So she picked out a good beach book (well, forest book in my case but it seems like the same thing), only I couldn’t get more than a few chapters in before I started just not giving a damn. It’s supposed to be a mystery but things weren’t moving along and the characters were supposed to be endearingly quirky but they just seemed overdrawn and the setting was supposed to be exotic but it’s only exotic to people in their living rooms. Perhaps I’d have done better with this on the beach. Somehow having people screaming “Bear!” outside your tent while you’re reading undermines the suspense of how the intrepid PI’s fist fight is going to come out.

I say all of this because my blog would suggest that I’ve been reading nothing but vampire porn lately, which isn’t true. I just haven’t been enjoying anything but vampire porn lately.

Dark Horse by Tami Hoag

I’ve read two others of hers, one unexpectedly a sequel to the other. The first one had a romantic sub-plot that was surprisingly captivating. The other, I don’t recall. Dark Horse also had a romantic sub-plot, one you could see coming from a mile away but that was ultimately touching. It had a complicated plot-plot and a complicated detective-protagonist.

The protagonist was torn up about a decision she’d made in the past that had caused someone’s death, but the decision wasn’t convincingly the cause of that death. And then at the end of the book she chose to make the same decision again, only this time without causing a death. So . . . lesson learned? Guilt resolved? Seemed like a push. Other than that quibble, I enjoyed the book.

In Pursuit of the Proper Sinner by Elizabeth George

Elizabeth George writes an erudite mystery. Her vocabulary is impressive and her willingness to believe you share it is unmatched, even in more literary works. Her paragraphs are pleasantly long and the criminals don’t go after the detectives because “this time it’s personal.” She’s low on police procedure and legal process–once you’ve been a McBain fan, you’ll never buy into a unilateral search warrant again–but then they’re in Britain. Maybe the rules are different there.

The thing is, she’s depressing as hell. Her principal characters are realistically multidimensional, but they’re depressing (and depressed). I don’t want to be these people. I don’t even want to know these people. They live in a drab, unhappy world–a world I’m trying to escape when I read–where loved ones, even the good guys, aren’t always kind to each other, a truism I know too well.

I’m not insulted by George’s works, but I can’t bring myself to seek them out either. In Pursuit of the Proper Sinner was a long read without ever being a slow one, but I’m not sorry it’s over.

I Heard That Song Before by Mary Higgins Clark

At some bookstores at the airport they have a display of books you can buy now and sell back later for half the price at some future airport. It looks like a limited display of exclusively hard cover books, but perhaps the offer applies to any book. Browsing such a bookstore, I found a wire rack hidden at the back with the results of that offer: used books, presumably at something like half price. There were lots of paperbacks there, though mostly the nicer trade editions.

So I picked up I Heard That Song Before, an MHC I hadn’t read before from the used rack and read it at breakneck speed on the plane and in the airport and on the plane back, and then added it to the box of books I keep for Sheila who eBays things. On my next trip, I happened to notice the same book, this time as a new mass market paperback, at the same price. In other words, if you’re buying it to read it, not to own it, just start with the mass market paperback. Same diff.

About the book I have not much to say except that I’m going to have to add MHC to that list of authors I just can’t read anymore, even when I read them really, really fast.