The Collection

The Collection_TKLasser_18513437

 

GOOD PREMISE, ROUGH EXECUTION

3 STARS

This is T. K. Lasser’s debut novel. Unfortunately, it reads like the typical first novel because of its overly ambitious plot line. First, Lasser attempts to write a paranormal story line with two distinctly different paranormal abilities involved – one mortal, one immortal. Secondly, she creates not two, but three main protagonists – one female, two male. Thirdly, she makes the two male protagonists identical twins.

Next, she makes the two paranormal abilities psychologically incompatible. Jane, our 20-year-old mortal art student, has the unexplained and un-researched ability to detect lies, either spoken or in physical forms such as art forgeries. Lucien and Cicero, our twins, are 700 years old due to a genetic anomaly that has made them immortal, yet kills every other genetically related male by the age of three. They heal immediately from inflicted wounds or illnesses, but have no special bodily strength. And they are art thieves, running an international art restoration conglomerate whose employees also forge multiple art forms, securely vaulting away the originals and using the profits to fund genetic research. So, we have one protagonist who is a lie detector and two protagonists who are consummate liars, and opposites really do not attract regardless of pheromones.

Finally, Lasser creates not one, but two unrelated murderous psychopaths. And, as if this were not enough in the villain department, she creates a saboteur within the art forgery business.

Now, add in Jane’s meddling best friend and Jane’s mother who has advanced Alzheimer’s and the plot thickens beyond palatability. There is no doubt in my mind that a paranormal genre author like Kim Harrison or Jeaniene Frost could pull this complicated mess off. However, I feel that Lasser bit off more than her level of experience could possibly masticate successfully.

In actuality, the first five chapters are quite good. The major protagonists and their abilities have been introduced slowly but naturally. By the sixth chapter, the first murderous psychopath has entered Jane’s life because of Lucien. And then it all starts to fall apart.

By the time the sixth chapter is complete, we have been exposed to several aberrations in the time line and these time-related ambiguities continue for the remainder of the book. Then, Jane and Lucien have a public argument in a museum that prompts our first psychopath, Raleigh Harris, to believe they are romantically involved. However, as the story progresses, we realize that this argument was just an artistic device inserted by the author in order to introduce the thriller part of the novel. As the author expands on Lucien’s personality later in the book, she creates a character in Lucien who would never behave that way in public.

Once Raleigh Harris is introduced, Lasser shifts Jane’s character also. Jane goes from being a jaded individual who suffers from the ramifications of all the lies to which she is exposed to a naïve little twit who thinks that presenting the truth, without proof, to the cops will solve all her problems. Lasser even shifts Lucien from his 700-year-old perspective into human nature into a person who thinks that Harris, who kills people just for breathing wrong, will simply walk away satisfied after Lucien compensates him for his forgery. These inconsistencies in character development significantly detract and cause more than one “Huh?” moment.

Near the middle of the book, one situation created by the author totally ruined the credibility of the storyline for me. In that situation, Jane encounters Cicero without knowing that Lucien has a twin. Cicero treats Jane like the hooker he thinks she is and Jane flees, thinking that those horrible words have come from Lucien. Lucien, knowing what Cicero has done, then sends her flowers with a card that in no way acknowledges the mistake and the card is definitely not an apology. The next day, they are back to dealing with Harris but do not ever discuss the hooker bit – not one word, not one question, not even the slightest explanation about there being a twin. It is clear from the internal monologues expressed by the twins that secrecy is paramount to the success of their business ventures, but this set of scenes just jumped the shark. Really, just how many women do you think would let themselves be called a whore and then not have a few questions and a few remarks to say about it when no apology is forthcoming?

By the end of the novel, you do not know if this is a paranormal romantic suspense or a paranormal psychological thriller. Not one single plot thread is resolved. But neither is there a cliffhanger. The book just stops. Frankly, it feels as if you have been watching a television daytime drama that breaks for a commercial and just doesn’t come back on.

I received a free electronic copy of this book from the publisher. That fact in no way affected my opinion of the book.

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Trouble On Reserve

Trouble On Reserve_KimHarrison_16133377

 

VERY SHORT, VERY TENSE

4 STARS

This entry in the Rachel Morgan/Hollows series is a 20-page short story. The two scenes in this story take place an unspecified time after the conclusion of Ever After, the eleventh book in the series.

The author’s blurb lists this item as #10.5 in the series, before Ever After, but I do not agree. The second scene clearly references the kisses shared by Rachel and Trent, which occurred in the very last pages of Ever After. Hence, I would call this #11.5, and I feel it would be better understood if read at that point.

Because the story is so short, almost any discussion of the plot thread would be a spoiler. Suffice it to say that Trent is still at odds with Rachel on how to communicate with her honestly – about her job with him and about their personal situation. However, Rachel has no qualms about calling him on it.

Most of all, Kim Harrison, in 20 short pages, shows us a new aspect of Trent’s business and legal situation. The plotline, while complete in the two scenes, is tense and unhappy. It is basically a teaser setting us up for the next full book in the series.  And the title, to me, does not correlate with the plot thread.

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Ethan Justice: Incendiary

Ethan Justice Incendiary_SimonJenner_20553089

SIMON JENNER KNOWS HOW TO WRITE A PSYCHOPATH

5 STARS

The storyline for this novel begins a little over one week following the conclusion of the second novel in the Ethan Justice series, Relentless. This story also begins only a little over a month since we first met Ethan Justice in the first book, Origins

Obviously and thankfully, Simon Jenner does not intend to let any grass grow under the proverbial feet of his main characters, Ethan Justice and Savannah Jones. In the first book they met and became a team, personally and professionally. In the second book, Ethan’s character was explored in greater detail and their teamwork with Herb Johnson and Earthguard was advanced. In this third novel, circumstances require that Ethan and Savannah work certain scenarios separately, rather than as a team, with Herb Johnson guiding them more by telephone than in person.

Our story opens with a prologue, set in Madrid, where Nick Nelson, a British mobster currently working out of Spain, meets with Faruq Saeed, an Islamic fundamentalist and highly successful international terrorist. By the time the prologue is finished, we know that there will be a bombing the next day in Malaga and that Faruq Saeed is a veritable angel compared to Nelson. 

And, by the end of the book, we will have been exposed to the inner thoughts of Nelson at great depth. There will be no doubt in the reader’s mind that Simon Jenner knows how to write a 3-dimensional psychopath, a character that is insane, cruel and homicidal in one breath but compelling and sympathetic in the next. And Jenner maintains a consistent characterization of Nelson throughout the book – no surprises, no miracles, no suspension of disbelief required.

This depth of characterization is not limited to Nelson, however. We spend a great deal of time in Savannah’s head this time around. Since the first novel, we have known that she has had several serious setbacks in her short life, including the death of her mother. Throughout this novel, Jenner puts Savannah into situations that involve fists, knives, guns and rape. These situations are graphically described, tense, visually realistic and not for the feint of heart. And, situation by situation, Savannah is forced to deal with her victim complex and her flight responses in order to have the slightest chance of survival. Again, Jenner maintains a consistent characterization – no previously unknown abilities surface, no deus ex machina materializes.

From the first page, the plotline is executed logically and realistically. Right after being introduced to Nelson, we find our protagonists’ flight home from a Caribbean vacation diverted to that same town of Malaga where the bomb is supposed to explode. This is not “coincidence;” they are diverted because of an Earthguard training exercise, not because anyone in law enforcement knows about the INCENDIARY plans. Then we learn that Ethan’s sister, Rachel, is also in Malaga and is the girlfriend of Nelson’s stepson, Carl. Now, this feels “coincidental,” both the relationship and the venue. However, Jenner defends it quite logically: their relationship is long term; Carl owns a business there; he despises his stepfather and he is not part of Nelson’s organization. 

From this point, the novel explodes, moving systematically back and forth between Ethan, Savannah and Nelson – what each is doing, thinking and planning in the same exact time frame. The plans made by both Nelson and Justice/Jones/Johnson come together, fall apart, shift to a new reality and move forward again with believability. The fight scenes and physical confrontations are easily visualized and capable of being followed logically with the mental eye. The tension mounts page by page until you just want to skim the scenes and get to the heart of the matter. But you don’t, because you know Jenner buries plot devices and clues to further developments in what seems like the most innocuous of paragraphs. 

Over the four days that the novel encompasses, Jenner takes us from the first INCENDIARY device in the prologue to the final INCENDIARY device that, on the last page of the book, blows the series storyline up in our faces. No, he does not split up our protagonists nor does he end the book on a cliffhanger, but he does provide us with one hellacious set-up for the next novel. I do so look forward to that one.

I received a free electronic ARC copy of this novel from the author. While there were typos in that e-copy, they were mostly instances of missing punctuation and did not distract from the story. And since it was an ARC, those typos may well have been corrected in the final version. The fact that my copy was free did not in any way affect my opinion of the book. 

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Forget You

Forget You_ParkerBlue_17788643

 

“BECAUSE I SAY SO” IS NEVER THE RIGHT ANSWER

5 STARS

This entry in the Demon Underground series is a 31-page short story that serves as a prequel to the series. While it was chronologically written between the fourth and fifth books of the series, its action takes place approximately 5 years prior to the opening of the first book.

Since this prequel was offered free and I was just beginning the series, I chose to read it first, rather than in chronological order. After reading it, I believe that choice is going to help me appreciate the character of Shade far more in those first four books than I might have otherwise.

The prequel consists of 3 scenes, covering a time period of approximately one week. In those scenes we are introduced to Shawn, who is only 16 years old, along with his twin sister, Sharra, and their father. And in those few short pages, we witness two of the three events in his life that change Shawn into Shade and forever alter who he is into who he becomes.

Parker Blue has written this short story in a prose that is clear, crisp, dramatic and intense. It brought tears to my eyes and further enforced a tenet that I have always believed: “Because I say so” is NEVER the right answer.

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God Save The Child

God Save The Child_RobertBParker_69652

 

DON’T THINK THINGS THAT DON’T HELP

4 STARS

This second entry in Robert B. Parker’s Spenser series is quite different from the first. The novel is still written in the early 1970’s about a group of people living in that same time frame. However, this time the story centers on a crime involving a child.

The 15-year-old son of an affluent building contractor has disappeared and Spenser is hired by the parents to locate him. The father is a hard-working soul that is saddled with an angry, promiscuous and narcissistic wife and Spenser’s early findings lead to a run-away situation. Then a ransom note, in the form of a comic strip, arrives and the situation takes on an entirely different urgency 

Spenser is one of the most hilarious – and honest – protagonists that I have encountered in the mysteries and thrillers genre. His command of quick repartee, innuendo, sarcasm and snark is absolutely marvelous. Add in the fact that the story is from his first person POV and you can quickly forget that this is not a spoof or a cozy, but a card-carrying entry in the hard-boiled genre.

And his encounters with women, whether from a point of observation only, in person, or on a date don’t help with the genre image either. In today’s vernacular, Spenser would be described by the phrase, “He is such a guy!”

For example, when Spenser’s first date with Susan Silverman slips into the “hot and heavy” stage, Susan slows things down, promising a different ending on their next date. Now remembering that Spenser is 37 years old in this novel, the reader is treated with the following exchange as Spenser closes the door behind Susan: “I breathed as much air as I could into my lungs and let it out very slowly. Next time, I thought. Tuesday night. Dinner at her house. Hot dog!”

And if you think that, by the time Spenser is saying, “Hot diggity-dog!” that Parker is going to write a sweep-her-off-her-feet, hot, steamy, sophisticated seduction scene, just think again. By the time Spenser and Susan hit the sheets, you will be rolling your eyes, shaking your head and remembering every embarrassing moment of like kind you have ever had. And the scene is that way, not because Parker can’t write a romantic interlude, but because that just wouldn’t be Spenser.

Now, Parker may write Spenser with a quick wit and a healthy libido, but he also writes Spenser with a quick gun hand, a strong left hook and a sense of responsibility. And before the story ends, the bad guys will go down but in a manner very unlike that of current mystery and thriller novels. Don’t forget, he’s no longer a cop and no longer has to play by those rules.

For those readers who were born during or after the 1970’s, this novel may seem dated or silly, and those readers may not be able to accept that crime scene procedures were as lax as portrayed. I mean, could you believe that a couple would be able to give a party for 65 people in their home less than 6 hours after a person was killed in their dining room? With today’s laws, that couldn’t happen. But this isn’t now, it’s then, and the laws back then were still in the stage of “make sure the body falls inside your threshold before you call the cops.”

Well, I was in my 20’s when this novel was written, and I remember those days, both legally and morally. Now, I was never upper middle class like the people in this novel, but I taught their children. I remember that they dressed just like Parker dressed them, and I remember the level of self-absorption many displayed, just like Parker detailed. I remember the same open attitudes toward sex and booze that Parker described. And just like the character of Kevin that Parker used in this novel, I remember their hurt and angry and lonely teenagers.

Robert B. Parker may not have written this novel as a social commentary at the time, but 40 years later, it most certainly is.

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The Old Fox Deceiv’d

The Old Fox Deceiv'd_MarthaGrimes_153163

 

THE CLUES ARE NOT OBVIOUS

4 STARS

This British police procedural, the second in Martha Grimes’ Richard Jury series, is not only written in the early 1980’s, it takes place in that time frame also. Therefore, no cell phones, no computers, no Internet, and no DNA testing exist to speed things up or save the day. Our protagonist and his compatriots must solve the murder the old-fashioned way with paper and pencil, personal interviews, attentive visual observation, open-mindedness, logic and cunning.

The novel begins in a rather unique way. In the first 15 pages are 5 separate scenes. The first scene details the events a few minutes prior to the murder and the murder itself from the victim’s point of view. The second and third scenes detail the exact same time frame from the viewpoints of two other residents of the village as their time lines momentarily intersect with the victim. The fourth scene is the finding of the body and a nasty, bloody find it is. The fifth scene details the arrival of the local detective inspector who will have to, unwillingly, cede control of the investigation to Scotland Yard and Detective Chief Inspector (soon to be Superintendent) Richard Jury.

While the opening scenes may be quite dramatic, the remainder of the book is quite deliberate and convoluted. It is a cerebral walk through innuendoes, lies, secrets and past lives. Late in the book, finally picking up on one discrepancy in a minor character’s story, I got my first feel toward the murderer’s identity. And while I did get that correct, I missed the motivation completely.

This novel is also a walk through a northern seacoast village whose culture and language are a far cry from those of London, not only for the reader but for Jury himself. Both the dialect and the colloquialisms of the village culture gave me a rough time throughout the book. I finally gave up on the dictionary and simply read for general effect in those areas. While the dialect was somewhat capable of being decoded, the many references tied specifically to the sport of fox hunting and the thatching of roofs were practically impenetrable. It’s almost as if the author was being deliberately heavy handed, trying to show off to the reader and/or prove the depth of her research.

Locale aside, Grimes writes novels that are character-driven. Jury is not the stereotypical cop who bullies his witnesses and suspects; he is the cop who uses patience and research to quietly trip them up. He treats his coworkers with respect and knows how to shut up and turn the other cheek when respect is not an option. He is a man who surreptitiously helps those abused by power or neglect. And he is a man who hovers just on the edge of clinical depression. Wiggins, while a hypochondriac, has a penchant for detail and organization and is thus a useful sergeant for Jury. And Plant, the earl who renounced his title and who wants to be a detective, seems destined to become Jury’s best friend.

Grimes also writes novels that are character-based, rather than situational. The major characters of Jury, Plant and Wiggins have traveled from the first novel to this one. They are written in three-dimension, clearly drawn physically and intellectually, with more and more hints to their emotional makeup provided. Their experiences in the past novel significantly flavor their responses and interpretations in this tale, and they are appearing to become something of a team.

What Grimes does not write is action-adventure. However, this novel is not a cozy or a beach read either. The murder is violent and intricately motivated even if it is solved by brains rather than brawn. And Grimes makes the murder part of this novel a standalone situation – begun, processed and solved in one book with no major plot threads hanging on to fuel a future plot line.

However, even when cliffhangers are not involved, novels in a series are always best read in order. This series is no exception since previous situations are referenced but not explained. And, oh, by the way, when you have finished the last page of the book, go back and read those first 5 scenes again. 

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Arsenic and Old Paint

Arsenic And Old Paint_HaileyLind_8069947

 

HE DID TRY TO TELL HER!

4 STARS

This is the fourth and presumably final book in the Art Lover’s Mystery series. This book has a copyright date of 2010 and, as I write this review, it is 2014. The writing team of Hailey Lind, two sisters, has apparently disbanded. The only member of the duo seemingly still in the writing business is Juliet Blackwell, and she is actively involved in two other series.

I make note of these facts because of the manner in which the novel ends. But before the book can end, it has to begin. At the end of the previous novel, “Brush with Death,” Annie Kincaid went into the art appraisal business with Michael Johnson. It is actually a front for an ongoing FBI sting operation with Annie and Michael sharing in the rewards associated with recovering stolen art. As we begin this novel, Michael is on probation with the Feds but has been AWOL for the past week. Frank DeBenton has disassociated himself from Annie even though the FBI stopped him from following through on the threats he made in the previous novel. And Annie is repairing and duplicating the wall covering in a Nob Hill mansion that has become a misogynistic males-only private club for the uber-wealthy.

And by the second page of the first chapter, Annie has followed screams to a bedroom in that males-only club. There, in a bathtub, she finds the body of a man, a sword in his chest and posed in a tableau of Jacques Louis David’s painting, “Death of Marat.” Later that day, Annie is hired by an insurance investigator to locate an original Gauguin that had been stolen from a member of that same club where she had found the body that morning. Then, that same day, Frank breaks his silence and asks Annie to locate a century-old bronze statue called “Resting Hermes,” stolen from Frank’s club, which is located in the same area as the males-only club. Coincidence anyone?

As the reader can imagine, the “coincidences” are anything but and the remainder of the book, scene by scene, brings the relationship between the murder, the Gauguin and the Hermes into focus. But that is not all the author team brings into focus. Hailey Lind finally and pointedly focuses on the romantic relationship between Annie and Frank as well as the personal relationship between Annie and Michael – at the very end of the book.

Every rope, whether it is a plot thread or a clothesline, is composed of a minimum of three threads, braided together and meshed to form an entity greater than and stronger than any of its individual threads. The Rule of Three always applies.

By the last page of the book, Annie is left hanging by only one thread of her rope. The author duo has dramatically frayed the other two threads within millimeters of their existence. And then the series just ends, with the main character suspended in mid-air, the edge of the cliff above her and the hard surface of the ground below.

Perhaps the author team did not know that they would disband when this book was published. Maybe they were just succumbing to the trend of that time when cliffhangers seemed to be all the rage. Perhaps the writing team had not yet experienced the actual rage and the financial backlash that a significant cliffhanger ending engendered. Nevertheless, the writing team did end, the series did end and the book got thrown across the room.

I felt absolutely cheated and insulted by an author who would not only end a series with a cliffhanger but would end it with two cliffhangers. But after a few hours and in a much calmer state, I went back and read the last 30 pages again – slowly. And that’s when I realized that the novel didn’t really end with two cliffhangers. It didn’t even end in one cliffhanger. The author duo may not blatantly spell out the culminations of those two storylines – Frank and Michael – but we know how they end. We really do know.

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