THE SILENT CORNER by Dean Koontz (A Review)

At long last, Dean Koontz wrote another good novel.

In the late 70s, through the 80s and 90s, Koontz was delivering the goods, book after book. Starting with Night Chills in 1976, and with the Leigh Nichols pen name, Koontz delivered several books (The Key To Midnight, The House of Thunder, Servants of the Twilight), that set the template for his success, taunt, suspenseful novels that were part horror, part sci-fi, and all out pageturners. Then in the 80s he hit his mega-selling stride – Whispers, Phantoms, Darkfall, Strangers, Watchers, Lightning, Midnight,  The Bad Place, Hideaway, etc …). All of these above books I heartily recommend to anyone who is looking for high-quality mainstream fiction.

silent corner

However, during the 21st century, many of the Koontz novels have been hit-or-miss, some entertaining, some unabashedly maudlin, and other just out-and-out unreadable. Here however, with The Silent Corner, Koontz has returned to classic form, creating a page-turner paranoid thriller with overtones of sci-fi and horrific circumstances.

Jane Hawk is a classic Koontz heroine, a women forced into circumstances of righteous vengeance who uncovers a horrific plot of “culling the human herd.” Against a faceless, and seemingly almost omnipotent enemy, Jane finds allies along the from some of the most unlikely sources.

A definite read!

 

4 palmettos

Lullaby, a Spenser Novel (A Review)

I’m not a fan of other writers taking over popular series after the death of the originating author. It always looks like a greedy grab by the author’s family. As a fan of the original Spenser novels by Robert B. Parker (well, the first 20 at least) and as a huge fan of Ace Atkins, I decided to give this one a try.

My first hope was that Atkins was smart enough to realize that the major problem with the later Spenser novels was the every-growing role of the most annoying character in crime fiction history, Susan Silverman. Another issue was that Hawk had been reduced to a walk-on caricature of his former brilliant presence.

13269092Too bad, Atkins stayed with the formula of the latter Spenser books. Spenser meets a client. Spenser has dinner or sex (both) with Susan where she uses her “brilliance as a therapist” to ask Spenser questions in which he impart his fears/concerns etc … Oh God … how tedious. I’m guessing that since Susan is obviously a romanticized version of Parker’s wife, Joan, that maybe Atkins was contractually obligated to make sure Susan has a large role. Any other reason makes no sense whatsoever.

I can safely say that I will not read any of the other Atkins-written Spenser novels. If I ever do read another Spenser novel, I’ll go back to the original 20. Here’s hoping Atkins gets creative and Susan Silverman gets killed in some creative way, which will jump start Spenser and Hawk back into their former selves and seek righteous retribution.

Not holding my breath.

2 palmettos

 

Fortunate Son: A Review

The saga of Creedence Clearwater Revival (CCR) is heartbreaking – a talented, yet business-naïve songwriter and musician becomes a national icon and gets screwed by a soulless sleazy CEO of a record company. This is a story that we have heard a hundred times, but the sad saga of John Fogerty and CCR IS the most agregious.  

ccr13

CCR: John Fogerty, Stu Cook, Doug Clifford, Tom Fogerty.

I’ve hear this story through the years – in bits and pieces. Some of the bits were told by former (and self-serving) band members. While other pieces showed up in news stories about trials and accusations. But now, the man who was not only the creative force of CCR, but also the man who persistently fought against this soul-sucking injustice finally tells his side of the story!

As a teenager, John Fogerty (with his brother Tom, Stu Cook and Doug Clifford) signed away most of their money and copyrights to Saul Zaents and Fantasy Records. John has spent much of his life and energy fighting the injustice. Fogerty hit rock bottom in the late 70s and 80s but with a new wife who gave him new perspective and energy, he returned.

ccr51

CCR on stage.

We’re all familiar with CCR. Some of rock and roll’s most iconic songs were written by Fogerty (most within a 2 year period!) like “Proud Mary,” “Run Through The Jungle,” “Fortunate Son,” Green River” and “Who’ll Stop The Rain?”

The book often comes across as bitter and vindictive, but when you hear Fogerty’s side, no one could hold that against him. His relationships with former band members of CCR were almost always strained, due to Fogerty’s ambition and impatience. He was the one with the most talent; he also had the vision and the drive.   But in Fortunate Son Fogerty is pretty much a straight shooter.  He is very critical of himself.

forunate sonThe section of the book which details the madness of 1967-70, when CCR turned out classic LPs and dozens of great singles is worth the price of the book for anyone who loves music. Fogerty is quite egotistical about his musical skills, and bit of a control freak. He often goes out of his way to bad-mouth former band members.

The theft of Fogerty’s royalties was only the “tip of the iceberg” of the evil machinations of Saul Zaentz. At his advice, the band members agreed that their share of revenue be placed in an offshore bank to avoid paying taxes and lost most of the money completely. During this time Fogerty’s fell into alcoholism and despair, but managed to recoup and start a successful solo career with the LP “Centerfield’. 

The next part of the book was the most compelling, – Fogerty suing Fantasy Records all the way to the US Supreme Court. The scene where Fogerty sits in the court room with his guitar and describes how he wrote this song, versus this other song … is priceless.

For music lovers … this is a must read!

4 palmettos

 

 

 

The Casual Vacancy: A Review

Peyton Place filtered through Graham Green with a little bit of P.G. Wodehouse thrown in.

the-casual-vacancy-new-cover-paperback-fullWhen Barry Fairbrother drops dead of an aneurysm, his death sets off a chain reaction in the small English town, Pagford. First of all, it creates a vacancy (hence the book’s title) on the Council. Fairbrother had been a strong supporter of keeping a low income housing project as part of Pagford. He is opposed by a smug, controlling businessman Howard Mullison who wants to rid the village of the “undesirables.” The battle over the empty seat, and the haves and have-nots, soon engulfs everyone in Pagford, and slowly reveals the messy and not-so-pretty reality behind the pretty facade of the town. 

Very few of the characters of likeable, living almost completely in their small, self-centered world. Rowling slowly strips the town bare, revealing issues of abuse (domestic and child), marital infidelities, neglect, rape, racism, suicide, poverty and rampant hypocrisy. 

The book falls within the “black comedy” genre, with a dash of 21st century Dickensian storytelling. Rowling uses the third person omniscient viewpoint throughout the book, and though a tricky technique, pulls it off quite well. The scene during Howard Mullison’s birthday party is one of the highlights of the book, alternately hilarious and heartbreaking, seamlessly moving from one character to another to give the reader a quick snapshot of the party, very much like a roving tracking shot in movie.

Give Rowling credit for breaking out of the Harry Potter world. She takes a bold move in shucking off the YA fantasy writer mantel and pulls it off quite well.  

4 palmettos     

Murphy’s Law: A Review

In this opening novel of the Molly Murphy series, the biggest mystery is … how long will the coincidences keep occurring in Molly’s favor?

murphy's lawMolly Murphy accidentally kills a man and flees Ireland at the spur of the moment. She manages to catch a boat to England where miraculously she is taken in by an Irish woman with two small children. They are leaving tomorrow for America to join her husband.  However, the woman is unable to board the ship due to suffering from TB so … she asks Molly to take her place, pretend to be her and take the children to America for her. (Coincidence #1).

She finds herself on a boat to America caring for two children she doesn’t know. Once she reaches New York a murder happens at Ellis Island and Molly soon becomes a suspect. Realizing the NYC police will not do it, she begins to investigate in order to clear her name, before she gets arrested, or worse, shipped back to Ireland.

Molly is a fun character, fiercely independent, sassy and headstrong.  I understand that this is meant to be a “cozy-styled” mystery, with a good bit of romantic flare, but the sheer number of times that Molly meets the exact person she needs to, or happens to hear the exact information she was looking for … got to be quite humorous. The fact that the book won an Agatha Award, although the mystery is less compelling than the rest of the story, makes me wonder about the standards of the award. 

All in all, though, Murphy’s Law is a fun book. I read it in two sittings.
3 palmettos

Birds of a Feather: A Review

London, 1930. Maisie Dobbs runs small private investigation agency a professional office in Fitzroy Square with an assistant, the happy-go-lucky Billy Beale. A former nurse in the Great War, she has proven herself as a psychologist and investigator. In the spring of 1930 Maisie Dobbs is hired to find a runaway heiress. When three of the heiress’s old friends are found dead, Maisie must to discover who would want to kill these seemingly respectable young women. She discovers that the answers lie in the agony of the Great War.

birds-of-a-feather-225This is the second book in the Maise Dobbs series and there is a dramatic drop-off.  We are constantly told (by other characters) how smart Maisie is, but she never comes across that way. She is cold, arrogant and often condescending. Her method of investigating using mysticism is too much New Ageish, feels silly and is ultimately unbelievable. 

There is also the aspect of withholding information from the reader. Maisie finds clues at each murder scene, but we never know what the clue is … she tucks it away. When it is revealed, (and you realize the major clue is related to the title) the effect ham-handed and amateurish. It’s a technique you would expect from a TV show, not a novel. Even Jessica Fletcher wouldn’t stoop so low. 

There also two subplots with Maisie’s father and her assistant Billy that seem to have been added into the story just to make it novel length.

The concept of this series is interesting, but this second book is w-e-a-k.

3 palmettos

The Short Drop: A Review

This is an impressive novel – even more so because it is the author’s debut. Matthew Fitzsimmons has written an engrossing political thriller that is filled with complexity but is easy to read and follow.

short dropThe novel opens on the tenth anniversary of the disappearance of Suzanne Lombard. Her disappearance became one of those national stories that was covered 24/7 for weeks and weeks by the media, mainly due to her father – who was a U.S. Senator at the time, currently the vice president and a presidential candidate. Ten years later, when a new photo of Suzanne appears Gibson Vaughn is approached by a private investigation team to assist in a new inquiry into Suzanne’s case.

Gibson was the son of Senator Lombard’s chief political advisor and best friend to Suzanne. However, after Suzanne’s disappearance, Gibson’s father commits suicide, and soon after, the teenage Gibson is arrested for hacking into the Senator’s private computer files, releasing damaging info. Due to his age, the judge gives Gibson an alternative –go to prison for 10 years, or join the marines, and upon completion of his military career, his criminal record will be expunged.  

Even though Gibson keeps his end of the deal, when released from military service, he discovers it difficult to find more than a low-level IT job and suspects V-P Lombard still holds a grudge. Then, Gibson is shown the new photo of Suzanne and asked to join the investigation …

To say any more about the plot would be unfair. The book practically gallops along, with fascinating twists and turns. The major characters are all fascinating and the mystery of a “what happened to Suzanne” is tantalizing. Go and read. You will not be sorry.

5 palmettos