Remember When

Remember When_NoraRoberts_6485473

“HOT ROCKS” AND “BIG JACK”

5 STARS

The book “Remember When,” originally published in 2003, is listed as a work by Nora Roberts. It actually contains two novellas, whose titles are fonts of great originality: Part One and Part Two. Part One is written by Nora Roberts and contains a romantic suspense that takes place in 2003. Part Two of the omnibus picks up the story fifty-six years later, in 2059, as a novella written by Roberts using her pseudonym, J. D. Robb. Robb takes the conclusion of Part One and has its consequences fall upon the lives and jobs of Eve Dallas and Roarke, the main protagonists of Robb’s In Death series.

And then, in 2010, Roberts/Robb’s publisher separated “Remember When” into two independently published stories. When separated, Part One became “Hot Rocks,” published under the author Nora Roberts; Part Two became “Big Jack,” published under the author J. D. Robb. And suddenly, confusion reigned in reader-land, a confusion that still exists today.

The first level of confusion is the construction of “Remember When” itself. Part One can be read by anyone who enjoys contemporary romantic suspense at any time they choose. It is complete, in and of itself. However, the same cannot be said for Part Two. The events in that part fall almost in the middle of Robb’s well-established In Death series. In fact, it falls chronologically, in storyline, right after Robb’s seventeenth book, “Imitation in Death,” as it picks up barely a day after Peabody makes detective. Thus, a great deal of backstory and character inter-dynamics are already in play and they are essential to understanding events that occur within this plotline. To read Part Two independently would likely be a mistake.

The second level of confusion occurs when a reader likes one of the author’s pseudonyms better than the other, or really doesn’t care for one of them at all. For instance, I am not a heavy reader of Nora Roberts’ books, not like I am with her J. D. Robb pseudonym. However, whether I like Nora Roberts or not, Part One contains the entire circumstances that lead to Part Two. So, if you don’t read Nora Roberts’ part of the omnibus, you will not understand the intimate connection of the murderer in Part Two to the original crime in Part One. Nor will you truly understand the correlation Robb makes, in Part Two, between Eve and the murderer in regards to Eve’s ongoing question of nature versus nurture, genetics versus choice. In other words, Part Two is not the place to start if you have never read J. D. Robb before.

Finally, a third level of confusion exists that has nothing to do with storylines and everything to do with publisher misrepresentation and with poor personal responsibility. When the omnibus was split into two separate stories, that omnibus was not taken off the market nor was there clear truth-in-advertising about the two stories not being new products. Hence, readers with poor tracking systems for documenting what they have or have not read have become and still do become incensed when they purchase “Hot Rocks” and “Big Jack,” only to realize that they have already read both when they read “Remember When.” And the usual outcome of that realization is that the reader angrily gives one or all three of the books a one-star review, while still saying how great they are, instead of taking responsibility for their own decision to buy a book they have already read.

Now, the set-up for Nora Roberts’ Part One:

By the age of ten, Elaine O’Hara was already an accomplished pickpocket and a well-trained beard for her con-man father, Big Jack O’Hara. Realizing that Elaine was on the same path to prison as her husband, her mother divorces Big Jack and flees. It takes years, but Elaine’s mother finally gets their lives straight.

 

Elaine, now legally known as Laine Tavish, is the owner of an antique shop called “Remember When,” Laine likes what she does, likes where she lives and doesn’t want her friends in her new small hometown of Angel’s Gap to know who she used to be.

As you can imagine, this whole new-start idea falls apart. And it begins unraveling when her father’s best friend of thirty years visits her at the shop and is immediately killed when he steps out the door, dying in Laine’s arms. Enter Max Gannon, an adept PI from New York. It seems that Big Jack and his friend helped steal $28M in diamonds, and the company that insured those gems, to recover them, has retained Max. When Max’s background investigation on Laine Tavish turns up the facts of her parentage, the story really takes off.

At first glance, this set-up is superficially formulaic, based on the idea of “I’ve-Got-A-Secret-And-My-Life-Will-Be-Over-If-It’s-Found-Out.” But under that well-worn and oft-used premise lies a tense thriller and an engaging romance. And it comes without the incessant whining and the hair shirt that many authors believe must accompany such a plot line.

It also comes written in third person and primarily from the viewpoint of Laine, although quite a few scenes are told from Max’s standpoint. To ratchet up the tension, we are also given glimpses into the thoughts and actions of Big Jack O’Hara, Laine’s fugitive thief of a father. And then Roberts slips in a few snippets from the standpoint of Alex Crew, the psychopathic homicidal thief who sets all the events of the novella in motion. And believe me, these bare snippets into Alex Crew’s thoughts are all we need to fuel our fears and ratchet that level of tension right through the roof.

 At over 220 pages, this “novella” is of sufficient length to make virtually all the fine points and literary devices believable. The main characters are fleshed out and well grounded, mature and realistic in both speech and action. And the action rarely flags. While there is no cliffhanger at the end and an HEA is clearly in the picture, a few loose ends remain – and Nora Roberts meant it to be that way. Let’s just say that Roberts’ alter ego, J. D. Robb, is very interested in those loose ends.

So, now we enter J. D. Robb’s Part Two:

Fifty-six years after the diamond heist, one-fourth of the “hot rocks” have never been recovered. Samantha Gannon, the granddaughter of Laine Tavish and Max Gannon, writes a book about the heist, called, confusingly, “Hot Rocks.” Shortly after its publication, it becomes a “hot ticket,” and Samantha goes on tour all over the U.S. The day she returns from that tour, she finds her house sitter with her throat slit. The next day, her maid is found immolated in a vacant lot. Someone apparently thinks Samantha knows a whole lot more about the missing diamonds than she has published in the book.

Eve Dallas is the primary on the house sitter’s murder while Baxter is the primary for the maid. When they make the connection between the victims and then the book, the hunt for a human connection to one of the original thieves is mounted. And the hunt is conducted by all our regular In Death characters – Eve, Roarke, Peabody, McNab, Feeney, Baxter and Trueheart.

As I said earlier, I am not a heavy reader of Nora Roberts’ books, not like I am with J. D. Robb’s works. But reading this particular crossover package was not only intriguing, it was necessary for me to continue the In Death series with the best understanding.

However, I did have one problem with the writing style. It appears that the two parts were written back-to-back and that it took the author a bit of time to get out of the “Nora Roberts” mode of Part One and into the persona of J. D. Robb for Part Two. But once the transition was made, the 287-page long novella called Part Two was just as strong an entry for the In Death series as any standalone book with those two words in its title.

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Big Jack

Big Jack_JDRobb_6699948

MUST READ NORA ROBERTS’ “HOT ROCKS” FIRST

4 STARS

Even though its title does not contain the words “In Death,” “Big Jack” is definitely a legitimate issue in that series. It falls chronologically in story line right after Robb’s seventeenth book, “Imitation in Death,” as it picks up barely a day after Peabody makes detective.

Most serious readers are aware of the importance of reading series books in their proper order. However, this book has a triple whammy attached to it in that regard. First, “Big Jack” falls almost in the middle of a well-established series. Thus, a great deal of backstory and character inter-dynamics are already in play and essential to understanding events that occur within this plotline. To read it independently would likely be a mistake.

Secondly, and more importantly, this entry was originally published in 2003 as the second part of an omnibus titled “Remember When.” The first part of that omnibus was written by Robb’s alter ego, Nora Roberts, and contains the entire circumstances that lead to this novella. So again, if you have not read Part One of the omnibus, you will not understand the intimate connection of this murderer to the original crime. Nor will you truly understand the correlation Robb makes between Eve and the murderer in regards to Eve’s ongoing question of nature versus nurture, genetics versus choice.

And thirdly, in 2010, Roberts/Robb’s publisher separated the omnibus into two independently published stories. In the omnibus, the sections are only titled “Part One” and “Part Two.” When separated, Part One became “Hot Rocks,” published under the author Nora Roberts; Part Two became “Big Jack,” published under the author J. D. Robb. Thus, between the title changes and the seven-year difference in publication dates, many readers can be confused as to when to read what.

Therefore, the correct reading order is Robb’s “Imitation in Death,” then Roberts’ “Hot Rocks,” and finally, this entry, Robb’s “Big Jack.” Or you can just follow “Imitation in Death” with the omnibus “Remember When,” published under Nora Roberts’ name.

So, assuming you have read “Hot Rocks” or Part One of “Remember When,” the setup is as follows: Fifty-six years after the diamond heist, one-fourth of the “hot rocks” have never been recovered. Samantha Gannon, the granddaughter of Laine Tavish and Max Gannon, writes a book about the heist, called, confusingly, “Hot Rocks.” Shortly after its publication, it becomes a “hot ticket,” and Samantha goes on tour all over the U.S. The day she returns from that tour, she finds her house sitter with her throat slit. The next day, her maid is found immolated in a vacant lot. Someone apparently thinks Samantha knows a whole lot more about the missing diamonds than she has published in the book.

Eve Dallas is the primary on the house sitter’s murder while Baxter is the primary for the maid. When they make the connection between the victims and then the book, the hunt for a human connection to one of the original thieves is mounted.

I am not a heavy reader of Nora Roberts’ books, not like I am with J. D. Robb’s works. But reading this particular crossover package was not only intriguing, it was necessary for me to continue the In Death series with the best understanding. Never the less, I still had two problems with the idea.

First, it appears that the two parts were written back-to-back and that it took the author awhile to get out of the “Nora Roberts” mode and into the persona of J. D. Robb. Secondly, the title “Big Jack” only makes superficial sense. It’s true that Big Jack O’Hara was an important character in “Hot Rocks,” but he has been dead for fifteen years before the J. D. Robb entry starts. And he has virtually nothing to do with this story, dead or alive.

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Hot Rocks

Hot Rocks_NoraRoberts_8143515

ONE FOR EVERY MINUTE

5 STARS

By the age of ten, Elaine O’Hara was already an accomplished pickpocket and a well-trained beard for her con-man father, Big Jack O’Hara. Realizing that Elaine was on the same path to prison as her husband, her mother divorces Big Jack and flees. It takes years, but Elaine’s mother finally gets their lives straight.

Elaine, now legally known as Laine Tavish, has spent the last eighteen years trying to build for herself a stable and normal life, both personally and professionally. The owner of an antique shop called “Remember When,” Laine likes what she does, likes where she lives and doesn’t want her friends in her new small hometown of Angel’s Gap to know who she used to be.

As you can imagine, this whole new-start idea falls apart. And it begins unraveling when her father’s best friend of thirty years visits her at the shop and is immediately killed when he steps out the door, dying in Laine’s arms. Enter Max Gannon, an adept PI from New York. It seems that Big Jack and his friend helped steal $28M in diamonds, and the company that insured those gems, to recover them, has retained Max.

Investigating his quarry’s death, Max goes to Laine’s shop to see what might have drawn the thief there. Upon meeting Laine, he is absolutely floored, not only by her looks but also by her spirit and her intelligence. Laine is just as smitten. And when Max’s background investigation on Laine Tavish turns up the facts of her parentage, the story really takes off. At first Laine has no idea who or what Max Gannon really is and she doesn’t know that he knows who she really is. But Alex Crew, the mastermind behind the theft, knows both facts. And it will take everything Laine learned at her father’s knee about short cons and suckers to survive Alex Crew and get her life, and the love of her life, back.

At first glance, this set-up for “Hot Rocks” is superficially formulaic, based on the idea of “I’ve-Got-A-Secret-And-My-Life-Will-Be-Over-If-It’s-Found-Out.” But under that well-worn and oft-used premise lies a tense thriller and an engaging romance. And it comes without the incessant whining and the hair shirt that many authors believe must accompany such a plot line.

It also comes written in third person and primarily from the viewpoint of Laine, although quite a few scenes are told from Max’s standpoint. To ratchet up the tension, we are also given glimpses into the thoughts and actions of Big Jack O’Hara, Laine’s fugitive thief of a father. And then Roberts slips in a few snippets from the standpoint of Alex Crew, the psychopathic homicidal thief who sets all the events of the novella in motion. And believe me, these bare snippets into Alex Crew’s thoughts are all we need to fuel our fears and ratchet that level of tension right through the roof.

In “Hot Rocks,” Roberts crafts a tale that is hard to put down. The dialogue is snappy and witty one minute, serious the next and always psychologically on point. The main characters are fleshed out and well grounded, mature and realistic in both speech and action. And the action rarely flags.

While some readers might complain about the lust-at-first-sight turning into a stable relationship far too quickly, I feel that Roberts meshes the emotions with the protagonists’ characters in such a way that it is actually believable. In fact, at over 220 pages, this “novella” is of sufficient length to make virtually all the fine points and devices believable. And while there is no cliffhanger at the end and an HEA is clearly in the picture, a few loose ends remain – and Nora Roberts meant it to be that way. Let’s just say that Roberts’ alter ego, J. D. Robb, is very interested in those loose ends.

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Tishomingo Blues

Tishomingo Blues_ElmoreLeonard_147209

JUST A BUNCH OF GOOD OL’ BOYS

4 STARS

Dennis Lenahan is tired of running his one-man high dive show out of amusement parks in Florida. So after a lot of research and turn-downs, he negotiates a deal with the new Tishomingo Resort, a casino in Tunica, Mississippi, on the River near Memphis. While making the final adjustments to the rigging at the top of his 80-feet-tall ladder, he watches as two men approach the local rigger he had hired to help him assemble the show.

Hearing five shots below him and seeing the two men start to walk away, he knows that his rigger is dead and that he is likely to be next. Arguing over whether to shoot Dennis after he climbs down or whether to shoot him in mid-air as he tries to dive to safety, the two men are interrupted by another casino vendor, Charlie Hoke. The men walk away with Charlie and Dennis escapes by diving the 80 feet down to his tank.

Robert Taylor didn’t exactly witness the killing from the window of his suite, but he did see the two men and he did see the dive. Impressed, he intercepts Dennis on his way out of the resort and offers his assistance. Dennis accepts a ride home from this young, good-looking, well-dressed black man from Detroit, a ride in a Jaguar, no less. On the way Robert shows Dennis an old photograph of a black man hanging from a bridge and surrounded by a large crowd of whites. He tells Dennis that the dead man is his great-grandfather and that he had run afoul of his employer, the great-grandfather of one of Tunica’s more prominent businessmen, Walter Kirkbride. Robert states that he intends to discuss this matter with Walter. But before Dennis can get more particulars, they see one of the men who killed Dennis’ rigger come out of the house where Dennis rents a room.

Elmore Leonard writes social satire and parody and his characters are usually neither super-heroes nor dissociative psychopaths. For instance, our main protagonist, Dennis Lenahan, due to his occupation is not exactly Joe Average, but he does not aspire to the fame or fortune of Evel Knievel either. He is not the brightest bulb, but he knows when to listen and when to question, and he knows how to evaluate what he hears and observes. He likes who he is, and he is content to have a roof over his head, food in his belly, a little change in his pocket and a cute girl in his bed when the mood strikes. And, while minding his own business, literally, he finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Now, Robert Taylor is different, yet very much the same. About the same age as Dennis, he likes who he is and does not aspire to public notoriety either. However, fortune is another matter. And while minding his own business, watching Dennis on the top of the ladder, watching two men at the bottom of the ladder, he knows he is in the right place at the right time.

For the first 200 pages, you’re involved in a lot of smoke and mirrors, a lot of shuck and jive, a lot of Leonard’s classic use of blatant stereotypes and racial denigration. His usual use of outrageous gender bias in his characters’ dialogue is notably absent as the female characters in this novel have actually earned every descriptive adjective bestowed upon them, good or bad. So for these 200 pages, you wonder where is this going and why are you still reading this other than the fact that it is written by Elmore Leonard.

Then you find out the real reason Robert Taylor is in Tunica, Mississippi. Now you can’t read fast enough. And the fat lady doesn’t sing until the last page either.

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Angels Of Bourbon Street

Angels of Bourbon Street_DeannaChase_18108807

WHO’S YOUR DADDY?

4 STARS

About four months ago, Jade Calhoun’s soul tore in half when the Angel Council tried to remove it entirely and give it to Meri, one of their own. Since then, Jade has been physically weak, has lost her empathic ability and finds it hard to locate her white witch’s spark.

During a meeting with the seamstress and the caterer for Jade’s upcoming wedding to Kane, the resident ghost at Summer House, Camille, manages to possess Jade’s body. Because Jade’s soul is compromised, the possession is physically total. Jade essentially has the supernatural equivalent of Locked-In Syndrome; she can see and feel what the ghost is doing with her body but she cannot communicate with either the ghost or the outside world. Fortunately, Bea is able to spell away the connection this time. Bea also sends Jade to be with Meri, who has the other half of Jade’s soul. Together, they can fight off the ghost, at least temporarily.

To survive without being in constant juxtaposition to Meri, Jade needs a complete repair and healing for her soul. Without it, the ghost will eventually be able to not only possess her body but also her soul itself. The Locked-In Syndrome will become not only permanent but also emotionally unendurable. Jade will cease to exist and Camille will be “alive” again.

Unfortunately, this soul repair requires that a minute sliver of the soul of each of her biological parents be transfused into Jade. And that is unfortunate because Jade hasn’t seen her father in seventeen years and her mother refuses to tell her his whereabouts.

And thus we have the set-up for one of the tensest and most action-filled entries in this series. Deanna Chase simply does not let the reader rest. One chapter moves directly to the next, mid-action, and the only “slow” scenes are those staged in the bedroom. And the episodes in which the ghost, Camille, possesses Jade are absolutely bone-chilling.

As far as character development goes, Jade is still heavily ensconced in fight or flight, with major emphasis on “flight.” She is definitely a run-first-think-later type. And when she does decide to fight, it’s usually a selfish and emotional response, the consequences not thought out at all. And furthermore, she has absolutely no skills in following directions, particularly those intended to save her life from some enemy. You’d think the events of the last eight months would have taught Jade something, but apparently the author feels that keeping her on the edge of TSTL is the way to create sympathy and develop loyal readers.

I am currently sitting on the fence as to whether I will proceed with the series past the next novel, which is already in my library. I love Deanna Chase’s writing and the paranormal situations she pens are top-notch. I just do not know how much longer I can tolerate a main protagonist who cannot seem to get out of the “I am a victim” rut and who rarely uses her brain for much more than holding her hair on.

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Promised Land

Promised Land_RobertBParker_289111

IT’S NOT THAT SIMPLE

4 STARS

For about ten seconds this book is a mystery. After that it becomes a low-tension thriller. But, for the most part, this Edgar-winning novel is an anecdotal treatment of the societal effects caused by the formal women’s liberation movement that began ten years prior to its publication.

 It is a mystery to Harv Shepard that his wife is missing, bags and all, but no note. Harv is a fairly wealthy and successful real estate developer, living in Hyannis within sight of the ocean and a certain Presidential compound. He loves, to distraction, his wife of over twenty years and has never strayed. When the police can find no evidence of foul play, Harv hires Spenser to track her down.

When Spenser arrives at the Shepard mini-mansion to pick up copies of phone bills and credit card receipts, he finds Harv in serious conversation with an imposing black man named Hawk. Spenser and Hawk have known each other for decades, from back when both were into the professional heavyweight fighting scene. Hawk, like Spenser, is no longer engaged in professional sports, choosing to use his skills as a freelance enforcer and debt collector. And, lately, Hawk has been affiliated with King Powers, a very nasty Boston-based loan shark. So if Harv is receiving a visit from Hawk, something very ugly is in the works. Thus, the reader is led to believe the missing Pam Shepard may be collateral on a loan. 

In going through Pam’s documents, Spenser discovers a connection with a group of militant feminists. However, these women are not just concerned about women’s equality with men socially, professionally and politically. This particular group is essentially after the total elimination of the male gender as a species.

These two revelations change everything. With the appearance of Hawk in their lives, Susan begins to question everything she knows about Spenser and his occupation. And with the appearance of the feminists in their lives, Susan begins to question Spenser’s commitment to her.

For the next 200 pages, Parker uses Harv and Pam Shepard’s separate crises to explore three social concepts. The first is the nature of theory versus practical application. Secondly is the exploration of long-standing customs versus independent decision-making. And thirdly is the concept of how one defines oneself – by one’s own expectations or by the expectations of others.

And within these concepts, Parker focuses specifically on the institution of marriage, particularly as to whether marriage or cohabitation should be the natural or necessary outcome of a declaration of love between two adults. But most interesting here is the fact that these discussions and explorations on sexism, self-definition and living correctly appear to parallel the relationship between Parker and his wife during this particular time period.

Now, nearly forty years since its publication, some readers might feel that “Promised Land” is more a romantic suspense than an entry in the hard-boiled detective genre. Regardless, Parker gives us a fascinating look into Spenser’s character and moral compass. And, we are introduced to the very surprising and inimitable Hawk.

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The Silence of the Library

The Silence of the Library_MirandaJames_19634660

A COLLECTION TO DIE FOR

4 STARS

For a murder mystery, even a cozy, this is a delightful entry in the series. It has been four months since the Christmas-time conclusion of the last novel. Charlie’s daughter, Laura, is planning a June wedding. Charlie’s son, Sean, is practically engaged. And Charlie and Helen Louise are still very much in love themselves. Even Charlie’s boarder, Stewart Delacort, is in a relationship serious enough to have him reading more Shakespeare than scientific journals.

With National Library Week only a short time away, Charlie and Theresa Farmer, the public library director, have decided to focus this year’s exhibits around the old juvenile detective series like Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys and Judy Belton. They also plan to include exhibits on a series featuring Veronica Thane, which rivaled Nancy Drew for some time and was written by a deceased regional Mississippi author. Now what could possibly go wrong when a library chooses to spotlight children’s mystery books?

Well, what goes wrong happens after Theresa Farmer discovers that the author of the Veronica Thane series, Electra Barnes Cartwright, is not deceased. She is quite spry for a centenarian and living only a few miles away. After the library announces on its web site that Mrs. Cartwright will appear during Library Week, rabid collectors of her books descend upon Athena. Fights actually break out among several collectors, in the library no less, and two days later one of the local collectors is dead, strangled at her home office desk. And Charlie’s telephone number is on a pad beneath her hand.

For a serious mystery reader, determining the identity of the murderer in this tale will seem too easy. Quite frankly, you feel you know who the villain is before the woman even dies, even if the book is written strictly from Charlie’s first person POV. But this is not a weakness on the author’s part. There are at least four other highly viable candidates and even the real possibility of a tag-team effort. So the obvious could really just be a well-crafted red herring.

And speaking of melodrama, Miranda James employs a second, and more rarely used, literary device to further the tale – a book within a book. From the opening page, Charlie is reading, in his spare time, the first Veronica Thane novel. We are treated to every word as he reads it, a few sections at a time. For those of us raised on Nancy Drew, the “blast into the past” makes you realize just how dramatic and unrealistic those stories were. Back then, that type of story was exciting, an I-want-to-grow-up-and-be-just-like-her type of thing. But now, along with Charlie, you read the story with a big grin, your eyes rolling back into your head so far you can see your hair follicles, and a realization that the main characters would now be classified as TSTL.

However, the absurdness of those characters and the theatrics of that plot finally trigger a memory in Charlie and the clues begin to fall in place. And for Charlie and Detective Berry, the plan to expose the murderer proves to be dangerous, complicated and ingenious.

After finishing the scene that moves the current investigation forward to its denouement, Charlie stops reading the Veronica Thane story to us – right in the middle, just when it’s getting good. Overly dramatic or not, characters in the TSTL category or not, there’s a villain afoot and a victim to save. Oh, how could Miranda James do that to us, her faithful readers?!

Well, supposedly, she doesn’t. After the murderer is unmasked, her third literary device comes into play. James states in her Afterward that the entire text of the Veronica Thane story can be found on her web site. Unfortunately, that is not true. There is a sidebar link to a page that says “Coming Soon,” but no text of the story exists as I write this review, four months after the publication date of this novel. For that misdirection, I have reduced the book’s rating in my review. The storyline is already a work of fiction; the author’s Afterward should not be.

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