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Showing posts from 2011

CR3 #99: But I Trusted You: Ann Rule's Crime Files #14 by Ann Rule

I really wish I hadn't read three of these Ann Rule books in a row. They're a major pain to try and blog about, because frankly they are all basically the same. As with the others, this book includes one novella length story and then several very short cases.

The main story in this volume is about a man who was murdered by his estranged wife, mostly over money and child custody. She was under the impression that her rich boyfriend in Hawaii was going to take care of her, if only she could get her husband out of the way. Unfortunately, she wasn't nearly as clever as she thought she was and got caught. It's an all right story, but for some reason doesn't feel nearly as well fleshed out as much of her previous work.

The other shorter stories are all pretty good, though rather old. Two of them are unresolved, and remain mysterious to this day.  One of the unsolved cases involves a tragic family boat trip with not one but two mysterious deaths. The rest of the tales are…

CR3 #98: Titanic's Last Secrets: The Further Adventures of Shadow Divers John Chatterton and Richie Kohler by Bradford Matsen

This is the most recently written book I've read about Titanic, and it frankly blows up all previous theories of how and why the great ship sank.

In the mid-2000s, Richie Kohler and John Chatterton--known for their previous wreck diving work and their television show exploring underwater wrecks--were contacted by a man who had been on a recent journey to the Titanic's wreckage. He claimed that he had seen some interesting debris--"ribbons of steel" on the sea floor that might provide new information about how the ocean liner sank the way it did. The divers arranged for an expedition out to the remains with a Russian group of submersibles. What they found revolutionized the way that they thought about the way the sinking occurred.

Basically, they found large intact pieces from the bottom of the ship. When closely examined, the way these pieces were broken suggest that instead of the ship breaking in two because it was tilted 45 degrees up out of the water, it may have…

CR3 #97: The Bone Lady: Life as a Forensic Anthropologist by Mary H. Manhein

Since nothing says "holiday season" like books about rotting skeletons and murder most foul, here's another about my latest obsession, forensic anthropology.

Mary Manhein has written a book similar to my last review, Dr. William Maples's Dead Men Do Tell Tales. It is part memoir, part collection of cases she has worked on. She discusses her work with identifying historic remains as well as assisting law enforcement with victims of violent crime. She also tells stories about how she entered her career, and how she handled it in the early days.

The book is mostly made up of short vignettes, many between two to three pages long. They are brief snippets from her past, all put together somewhat randomly. Frankly, while her mini-stories are all very interesting (some are funny, some sad, some spooky, some bizarre) they aren't organized in a particularly coherent fashion. She leaps around in time, neither using chronological nor thematic organization, which made this a …

CR3 #96: Dead Men Do Tell Tales: The Strange and Fascinating Cases of a Forensic Anthropologist by Dr. William Maples

This book is partly case studies and partly a memoir of Dr. Maples's journey to becoming one of the world's preeminent forensic anthropologists. Maples gives history of both himself and of the field of forensic anthropology, explaining how and why it developed. He also explains how and why he became interested in it. He goes on to detail some of the cases he's worked on, including some famous ones like investigating whether President Zachary Taylor was actually poisoned, whether the bones in a chapel in South America really belonged to Francisco Pizarro, and whether the bones found in a mass grave in Russia did in fact belong to the assassinated Romanov family. He also discusses more mundane cases, using them to illustrate various aspects of the forensic anthropology field; burned bones, chopped bones, buried bones, and hidden bones--all have their own stories to tell if they're read properly.

This book reflects Dr. Maples's scholarly nature (his "day job"…

CR3 #95: The Cases That Haunt Us by John Douglas and Mark Olshaker

John Douglas is widely recognized as one of the earliest criminal profilers. He worked for the FBI for years, and has had a great effect on both the world of crime solving and the world of pop culture. In this book, he collaborates with filmmaker Olshaker to analyze some of history's most puzzling crimes, using his modern methods of profiling. He's careful to point out that these are merely his own observations, based on whatever evidence he's been able to access along with his years of profiling experience.

Douglas goes through some of the best known crimes in recent history--Jack the Ripper, Lizzie Borden, the Black Dahlia murder, the Zodiac Killer, up to the murder of JonBenet Ramsay. He lays out all the available evidence and then tries to understand what the killers might have been like. He makes his case for why he thinks Jack the Ripper never actually wrote the letters that gave him his famous name, why he believes no one but Lizzie Borden could have killed her fath…

CR3 #94: A Rage to Kill and Other True Cases by Ann Rule

I am a fiend for true crime. Particularly now, when I am a little burned out with CR3 and brainwork in general. True crime is an easy and quick read for me. It's fascinating to me what humans are capable of doing to one another. It's also fascinating to follow the path of those who solve these mysteries.

This is the sixth of Ann Rule's "Crime Files" series, and it consists of one longer story and several short ones. The main story is of Silas Cool, a man who climbed on a city bus in Seattle, shot the driver, and managed to send the bus careening off a bridge. The police who worked the case had little to go on because they couldn't figure out WHY this had happened. Through all their research, they still only have a few clues as to what might have gone wrong. It's fascinating to see how the detectives try to solve the case, and all the various avenues they travel to find information.

The rest of the stories in the collection are also for the most part about…

CR3 #93: A Broken Vessel by Kate Ross

Oh man, I am SO CLOSE to reaching my goal for the year, but I simply do NOT want to write these reviews. However, I am going to battle through it, just so I can say I managed to complete a double Cannonball in a year. (Also, speaking of, if any of you are interested in joining the Cannonball Read this year, you can find the information here. It's a lot of fun, and there are a lot of cool people involved.)

A Broken Vessel is the second book in Kate Moss's Julian Kestral series, and the British dandy once again finds himself embroiled in a mystery. This time, the action starts with Julian's valet Dipper's sister. Sally is a prostitute, and while stealing from her johns one evening, she discovers a letter from an anonymous woman begging for help. Unfortunately, it's impossible to know who the woman is, and Sally isn't sure which of the three men she saw that evening had been carrying the letter. When she runs into her brother Dipper, he gets Julian involved. Soon…

CR3 #92: Crackpot: The Obsessions of John Waters by John Waters

The works of John Waters are not for everyone. Most people can figure out whether they are fans or not after a mere ten minutes of one of his films. I find his gleeful devotion to raunch, camp, and blatant bad taste hilarious, but even I find it a bit overwhelming at times. I think the thing I most enjoy about John Waters is the sense that underneath the determinedly trashy exterior, he's actually a very sweet person. He can say things that--coming from anyone else--would probably be horrifying.

This book is a collection of essays he wrote over the years for various publications, and this particular edition has some extras that he wrote later on. He discusses his love for the National Enquirer, Baltimore public television, Christmas, and things that hates. My favorite essays were "Going to Jail", "John Waters's Tour of LA," and one he wrote about bringing "Hairspray!" to Broadway. "Going to Jail" is about time he spent teaching classes i…

CR3 #91: Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson

This book happens to be one of those very, very rare cases in which the movie is actually better.

The basic story is that Miss Pettigrew--a middle-aged spinster--receives a new post as a governess in 1930s London. When she arrives, however, she finds no children. Instead, she meets beautiful young nightclub singer Delysia LaFosse. Delysia is trying to juggle three men and a burgeoning social calendar, and things are beginning to get too difficult. Decisions have to be made, and Delysia isn't sure she's up for it. Luckily, Miss Pettigrew finds that she can be of help.

The book is quite clearly a fantasy, something of a Cinderella story. Miss Pettigrew makes new friends, gets a makeover, and finds a happy ending. Nothing too difficult happens, and nearly everyone goes away better off. It's an adorable story, but frankly a bit light.

The movie, on the other hand, is stellar. Frances McDormand stars as Miss Pettigrew, and Amy Adams plays Delysia. They're supported by an ex…

CR3 #90: The Restless Sleep: Inside New York City's Cold Case Squad by Stacy Horn

I was always a big fan of 'Cold Case Files' on Discovery (back when the Discovery channel wasn't entirely populated by strange reality shows about creepy diseases and truck drivers). It was fascinating to see what a determined detective could do with scientific advancement and sheer perseverance. Cases that seemed unsolvable were closed, and people who had spent years thinking they'd gotten away with murder found themselves behind bars.

This book by Stacy Horn illustrates that these cases can take years to solve, if they are ever solved at all. And all the while, the detectives have to fight both the public and their own administration, pinching every penny and defending their unit's existence to all-comers.

The author spent a few years checking in on several detectives in New York City's cold case squad. She follows the progress of four cold cases, the earliest committed in 1951, the most recent in 1996. As the detectives backtrack, retest, and rethink their c…

CR3 #89: In the Night Room by Peter Straub

Up until now, I've mostly enjoyed Peter Straub's books. I found the plots interesting and the characters compelling. I also enjoyed the way they were all slightly related to one another, by either plot or character. However, this book seems to be where he went down the rabbit hole.

In the Night Room features Tim Underhill, who has previously appeared in Koko and The Throat. Underhill is living in NYC, working on his latest novel, when he begins to have a problem. The ghost of his nine-year-old sister April (whose murder was unraveled in The Throat) has started appearing to him, trying to communicate a very important message he can't quite figure out. He's also started receiving emails from dead people, which is disconcerting, to say the least. He's not sure what's going on, and when his "guide" turns up, he's not nearly as helpful as one would hope. Meanwhile, in New Jersey, a woman named Willy Bryce Patrick has been losing chunks of time, she sus…

CR3 #88: Dead Famous by Carol O'Connell

(I received this book for free from the publisher through a Goodreads.com give-away. Don't worry, I'll still be honest.)

Dead Famous is apparently the seventh in Carol O'Connell's Kathleen Mallory series. I haven't read any of the others, so I can't comment on how this fits in to the series. However, I will say that I did enjoy the book quite a bit.

At the heart of the story is a serial murderer--he's been hunting down and murdering the members of a jury who let a killer go free. The tale is told mostly from the perspective of Riker, a former-cop who has turned to crime-scene cleaning work. There's also the view of his employee Johanna, a hunch-backed but beautiful mystery. In addition, there's Mallory, who is a brilliant and devoted--if slightly sociopathic--police detective. She is trying to get Riker to return to the police department, but he's got other plans. She hopes perhaps this new murderer will help convince him. Complicating matters is…

CR3 #87: The Intern Blues by Dr. Robert Marion

As many of you may know (or have guessed by now), I work in the hospital system. I'm not a medical professional by any stretch of the imagination--I am strictly administrative--but I work with physicians, and occasionally I wonder how some of them managed to get through medical school. After reading The Intern Blues I am still wondering how they managed to get through, but this time it's because I'm not sure how ANYONE could make it through that insanity.

Dr. Robert Marion worked with a group of interns (first year of medical residency out of medical school) who were going to spend a year rotating through two pediatric hospitals in the Bronx. The year was 1985, and on top of all the normal childhood ailments, AIDS infections, crack-addicted babies, and domestic violence were on the rise. Dr. Marion asked three of his interns to record their experiences over the course of the year, which--along with his own observations--are what he used to put together this book. The inter…

CR3 #86: Cut to the Quick by Kate Ross

It's a real shame that Kate Ross passed away after writing only four Julian Kestrel mysteries. Her hero is an 1820s-era English dandy, possessed of a keen fashion sense and an even keener set of wits. He's a fascinating and well-drawn character, and I could probably read about fifty more books about him quite happily. Unfortunately, it looks like I'll have to settle for four.

In this novel Kestrel finds himself at a country home inhabited by the Fontclairs, a high-class and very proud family. Having provided a much-needed service to young Hugh Fontclair, Julian is invited to be a groomsman in Hugh's wedding. It turns out that things are murkier than expected--the wedding is based on secrets and blackmail, the families are at each others' throats, and then a beautiful dead woman turns up in Kestrel's bed. His valet Dipper (a former pickpocket) is suspected, and this (aside from the fact that the girl was apparently murdered in his bedroom) drives him to involve …

CR3 #85: Swan Song by Robert McCammon

My favorite books and some of my favorite movies involve groups of very different people who are thrown together by circumstance and must work together to accomplish a goal (IT, 'Salem's Lot, The Stand, The Westing Game). It's particularly effective in post-apocalyptic scenarios, since it's up to the survivors to try and recreate society.

Swan Song has drawn many comparisons to The Stand, and it's easy to see why. Due to a world-wide catastrophe (nuclear holocaust, basically) society has collapsed. The climate has changed and nearly all the plants are dead. Those who survive are left wounded and sickened, some with hideous, tumorous growths. People will do anything to survive, including form large armies that travel across the country, pillaging and stealing anything they can. In this mess we find our main characters, which include Sister Creep, a homeless woman from New York city, Roland, a boy whose survivalist parents perish early in the process, Colonel Macklin…

CR3 #84: The Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse by Robert Rankin

I think I've mentioned here before that I draw a very fine line between "quirky and whimsical" and "desperate and over-the-top." Sometimes that line is tough to define, and many people disagree with me--Sacred Cow and I have very different feelings about Terry Pratchett. Many of my friends love Christopher Moore and I am not a fan. Robert Rankin's The Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse falls just to the side of the line where I like to place Douglas Adams and Neil Gaiman.

Toy City used to be a sweet place, but it's really gone down hill. Mother Goose is now Madame Goose, and she's running a brothel. Georgie Porgie is a child molester and Little Miss Muffett has a talk show. All the old fairy tales have been corrupted, and the toys of the city are getting very jaded. Into this rotten mess arrives Jack, a not-especially-bright farm boy, come to seek his fortune. At the same time, someone begins inflicting painful (and somewhat apt) deaths on t…

CR3 #83: Castaways by Brian Keene

I know, I know, it's been ages since I've popped by to babble incoherently about what I've been reading. My only excuse is that work has been madness. (Speaking of work -- word of advice to you gentlemen in the audience: If you are age 50 or above, be sure to talk to your doctor about starting to screen for prostate cancer every year. It's a simple blood test, and the earlier prostate cancer is detected, the more easily and successfully it can be treated. For you gentlemen between 17 and 50: Feel your balls. You are in the prime age group for testicular cancer, another disease that can be treated fairly simply and successfully if detected early. *Shooting star graphic* The More You Know!) Since I need to get 22 reviews in before the end of the year in order to make my Double Cannonball, I guess I'd better get cracking. I can't promise genius literary criticism, but I'll do the best I can.

Castaways by Brian Keene is the story of a group of people left on an …

CR3 #82: Houses Without Doors by Peter Straub

Houses Without Doors is a collection of short stories by Peter Straub. Some of them are tied to his Blue Rose trilogy, but most are unrelated. I was not a fan of this book--it was simply too dark for me, and not in a fun way. The stories were technically quite good, but I just found them unpleasant. Topics include fraternal abuse, molestation, infantilization, murder...It's all too much, even for a morbid person like me. The characters were all right, but the short story format doesn't necessarily allow the amount of depth a novel does. Besides, some of the characters (the main character from "The Buffalo Hunter" for example) were people I wanted to get to know anyway. I thought some of the short vignettes between longer stories were interesting and thoughtful, but the full-length stories really put me off.

For those who like short stories, I'd say skip this collection and read Stephen King's short stories instead. He manages to make them both well-written AN…

CR3 #81: Moonlight Mile (Kenzie & Gennaro #6) by Dennis Lehane

Twelve years ago, Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennaro got involved in tracking down Amanda McCready, a missing child from the tough Boston neighborhood of Dorchester. The case was a moral quandary, and nearly destroyed their relationship. Both of them still have doubts about how the girl's problems were solved, and whether returning her to her substance addled mother was the right decision. Now, time has passed, Patrick and Angie are married with a daughter of their own, they've both grown dissatisfied with the private eye business, and Amanda is missing again. Patrick sets out to find her, perhaps to quiet his long restless conscience.

The plot on this is good and interesting, though rather far-fetched. My problems had more to do with the characters. Although the characters of Patrick and Angie were more or less believable, everyone else was a cartoon. Amanda was too smart, the adults around her too stupid. The eastern European gangsters were stereotypes. It's almost as if L…

CR3 #80: Floating Dragon by Peter Straub

Floating Dragon is the story of a town that isn't quite right, and has never BEEN quite right. From its earliest beginnings, the town has been off-kilter, and every thirty years or so, really bad things seem to happen. Unfortunately, this time not only is the evil back, but it has help from a man-made toxic agent. The people in the small town are going mad, there's a serial killer on the loose, and the only people who can stop it are a former child star, an old man, a teenager, and a battered wife.

This story has a lot in common with the work of Stephen King, which is probably part of the reason I like it so much. In some ways, it's a lot like IT, and also shares some traits with the TV show Haven*, in that evil has come to rest in a small town and has been devouring the people who live there for centuries. I will say that Straub moves his plot along better than King usually does, and he also manages to put together an ending that doesn't make me want to kick the wall …

CR3 #79: Gone South by Robert McCammon

Dan Lambert is a Vietnam vet whose whole life is falling apart around him. He's broke, unemployed, and dying slowly from a combat-related disease. Just when he thinks that things can't possibly get any worse, they do. In a moment of rage and panic, he accidentally kills a man. Alone and on the run, he isn't sure what to do. Along the way, he meets up with a disfigured young girl who is searching for a mythical healer. Dan finds himself unwillingly helping her in her quest, all while trying to figure out what his next step should be. The situation is further confused by the advent of two very, very unusual bounty hunters.

This was a really great read. The main characters are all quirky and interesting without being over the top. Even bounty-hunters Flint and Pelvis--who could definitely come off as cartoonish--are drawn in such a way that they are totally believable. I was deeply interested in the characters and rooting for all of them. The plot moved along quickly, and I n…

CR3 #78: Treachery at Sharpnose Point by Jeremy Seal

The full title of this book is Treachery at Sharpnose Point: Unraveling the Mystery of the Caldonia's Final Voyage. And that is a fairly accurate description of what this book is about.

The author, Jeremy Seal, begins by discovering an antique masthead planted in the ground at a quaint Cornish cemetery. He finds that it's a memorial to several sailors who died during a shipwreck in 1842. Seal is intrigued with the possible story behind this monument, and decided to do some research to find out who these men were, what might have happened to them, and how they came to be buried in this particular graveyard. In his research he uncovers the history of shipwrecks along the coasts of Cornwall, and the effect these wrecks had on the locals--plundering the battered wrecks of ships was a village effort, especially due to food shortages and high taxes. Seal starts to suspect that perhaps the people of Morwenstow had more to do with the wreck of the Caledonia than noted in the historica…

CR3 #77: 48 by James Herbert

James Herbert's 48 begins three years after the end of World War II. In this world, Hitler's final act before committing suicide was to release the Nazis' top secret bio-weapon over London. The weapon is a blood disease that causes most people to drop dead wherever they may be. Some take slightly longer to die, some linger for years as their blood slowly turns black and congeals in their veins. Some, it turns out, are totally immune due to a sheer fluke of genetics. One such person is an American pilot named Hoke. He's spent the past three years surviving alone in London, accompanied by a stray dog. As the book begins, he's on the run from a group of "blackshirts," a group of "slow-death" suffers lead by a mad nobleman. Hoke runs across a small band of fellow survivors, and soon all of them are fighting for their lives in a post-apocalyptic world.

This was not a bad read. The characters are a tiny bit cliched, but it is after all not a character…

CR3 #76: Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers

Gaudy Night is technically part of Dorothy L. Sayers's Lord Peter Wimsey series, but it isn't narrated by Wimsey. Instead, he is a secondary character, and the narrator is author Harriet Vane. Harriet has returned to her alma mater, Shrewsbury College at Oxford, for her "gaudy" (reunion). She finds while she is there that there is a malicious poison-pen writer stalking the current students and faculty, and what begins with childish pranks soon becomes more and more terrifying. Harriet, as a mystery novelist, is called upon by the dean to try and investigate the situation while ostensibly staying at the college to work on some academic writing. Eventually, she finds herself beyond her depth and calls upon Lord Peter Wimsey--who managed to save her from hanging a few years previous when she was accused of murder--to assist her. He brings with him his own set of difficulties, as their relationship isn't really what either of them wants. They have to work together to…

CR3 #75: Deus Ex Machina by Andrew Foster Altschul

I know that reality television is destroying our brains. I know that it's irreparably damaged the scripted television industry. I know that it is a worthless waste of time. And yet...I still love some of it.

I'm picky about the reality I watch. I don't like anything medical-related. Both Hoarders and Intervention are deeply psychologically upsetting to me. I generally avoid dating shows (with the notable exception of Rock of Love--that was trashy in ways I had previously never imagined). I feel particularly strongly about not watching reality shows featuring children (they are at the mercy of their attention-whoring parents, and thus unable to avoid the damage that comes from being exposed to the world). I try to be ethical about my reality show choices. I don't want to give my support in any way to shows that include the word "wives" in the title, nor do I want to support shows that reward people for popping out an unreasonable number of children (both that …

CR3 #74: Stand Firm Ye Boys From Maine: The 20th Maine and the Gettysburg Campaign by Thomas Desjardin

One of my peculiar enthusiasms is the Battle of Gettysburg. It's probably in the "Top Five Subjects I Know a Lot About" along with the Titanic, the Lincoln assassination, the Holocaust, and the American campaign in Europe in WWII. I've always been particularly fond of Colonel Joshua Laurence Chamberlain and the exploits of the 20th Maine regiment during the second day's battle at Little Round Top. This book details how that particular regiment arrived at that point in history, who their opposition were, why the battle turned out the way it did, and what happened to the group after that notable day.

Unfortunately, Hollywood has apparently over-dramatized slightly the impressive feat that was accomplished on July 2, 1863. Apparently the brave bayonet charge that swept the 15th Alabama down off the hill was less a brilliant strategy from Chamberlain and more something that occurred almost organically. And it might not have even worked had the Alabamians not been spl…

CR3 #73: The Crossing by Serita Ann Jakes

(I received this book from WaterBrook Press free through Goodreads.com. I appreciate their generosity, but my opinions cannot be swayed.)

When first reading the description of The Crossing, it sounded intriguing. Years ago, at a railroad crossing, a gun-wielding man got on a bus coming back from a high school football game. He shot one of the players in the arm and killed the young cheerleading coach. Many years later, the assistant DA husband of one of the girls who was on the bus, along with the football player--who has now become a police officer--reopen the case to try to get to the bottom of things. The premise sounded good...what I didn't notice was the last bit of the description: "As the Campbells and Casio teeter on the bring of losing everything, will they be able to discover that what begins at the crossing ends at the cross?"

Yes, I had somehow gotten myself involved with contemporary Christian literature by mistake. "Well," I figured, "too lat…

CR3 #72: Lights Out in Wonderland by DBC Pierre

(This book was graciously sent to me for free by W.W. Norton & Co. via Goodreads.com. I think they're going to wish they'd sent it to someone else.)

I hated Catcher in the Rye. I know it's supposed to be some kind of iconic book about about teenage angst or something, but to me Holden Caulfield was just sort of a whiny twit who created most of his problems himself. Boohooo! My parents don't understand me and my lack of effort is resulting in poor school performance and OMG SOMETIMES ADULTS LIE ABOUT THINGS! I tell you this because Lights Out in Wonderland is like all the worst things about Catcher in the Rye combined with a book Chuck Palahniuk might write after a serious head injury.

Gabriel Brockwell is twenty-five. He comes from an upper-class British family, and at the beginning of the book, finds himself in rehab. Deeply unsatisfied with his life, he decides that the best solution is to kill himself. However, before he does that, he feels that he should have …

CR3 #71: A Winter Haunting by Dan Simmons

This book is the sequel to Simmons's Summer of Night. Dale Stewart--last seen as a terrified child in Summer of Night--has grown up. He was a literature professor and writer, but now his life has begun to fall apart. He left his wife for one of his grad students, only to be unceremoniously dumped. He's taken a sabbatical from teaching and was pushed to the brink of suicide. At the beginning of the book, he makes the decision to go spend some time in his old hometown. He rents the farmhouse where his (late) friend Duane grew up, determined to work on a novel about the summer of 1960. As it turns out, that summer isn't nearly as distant as Dale would like to think, and real life (represented by a pack of skinheads who dislike Dale's ideology) isn't exactly peachy, either.

This is a ghost story, similar perhaps to Stephen King's Bag of Bones or even The Dark Half. The past dredges itself up and begins to assert itself on the "real" world. Dale's stru…

CR3 #70: The Burning by Jane Casey

(St. Martin's Minotaur press sent me this book for free through a Goodreads.com giveaway. Fear not, my opinions cannot be swayed by free books. Now, were they to send foodstuffs...)

Maeve Kerrigan is a detective in the London police department. She and the rest of her colleagues are on the hunt for a serial killer called "The Burning Man" who beats women to death and then sets them on fire in parks. The stress is building because there have been four deaths already and the murderer doesn't show any signs of slowing down. Then, late one night, another body turns up. Twenty-eight year old Rebecca Haworth is found and it looks like she's become the eighth victim. However, things don't add up for Maeve. Something about this is off, and she makes it her mission to figure out what's going on.

The story is told from both Maeve's perspective and that of Louise North, Rebecca's mousy best friend. Both women's stories entwine as they seek the truth abou…

CR3 #69: Wicked Autumn by G.M. Malliet

(St. Martin's Press was kind enough to send me an advance copy of this book via a giveaway at Goodreads.com. Fear not--my scathingly honest criticism cannot be swayed by free gifties.)

Wicked Autumn reminds me very strongly of an Agatha Christie mystery. It takes place in a small English village in the countryside, the protagonist is somewhat unlikely (a MI5 spy-turned-vicar), the murder victim is almost universally disliked, and there is no sex, no swearing, and nothing even the slightest bit provocative.

I don't mean to imply that the book was bad. On the contrary, it was a very serviceable mystery story. Max Tudor--former spy and now the vicar of Nether Monkslip--finds himself at the center of a mystery when the town's pushiest, most unpleasant society matron turns up murdered during the local harvest festival. There's no dearth of suspects, since Wanda Batton-Smythe had a wonderful way of making people hate her with very little effort. Although Max wants to stay out…

CR3 #68: The Throat

The Throat is the third novel in Straub's "Blue Rose" trilogy, and I'm still not entirely sure how I felt about it.

First of all, unlike the other two books, The Throat is not a stand-alone work. Without having read both Koko and Mystery, you will be totally lost. The main character in The Throat is Tim Underhill, the free-spirited writer from Koko. He explains that the previous two books were works of fiction that he wrote based on true experiences. Therefore, you need to know the events related in the previous two novels, but they are now somewhat unreliable, since Underhill explains that he definitely changed some things. This work begins when Tim receives a call from a long-lost army buddy, whose wife has been attacked. John Ransom wants Tim to come back to their hometown of Millhaven to look into the case, since it appears to be connected with a series of murders from fifty years before. The Blue Rose murders (mentioned briefly in the other two books) are though…

CR3 #67: Koko by Peter Straub

Koko is the first book in Peter Straub's "Blue Rose" trilogy, but it stands alone quite well.

Dr. Michael Poole and three of his friends--all former members of his unit in Vietnam--travel to Washington D.C. for the opening of the Vietnam War Memorial. While there, they discuss a spree of grisly murders in East Asian cities that are reminiscent of something they witnessed during the war. They suspect that the murderer is another former member of their unit, so they decide to travel overseas to hunt him down before it's too late. Unfortunately, for some of them it's already too late. Their collective past has come back to haunt them, and it becomes a race against time to save themselves.

This was a great book. Dr. Poole and the other main characters were very well-written, and I was definitely captivated by their hunt for the killer Koko. The secondary characters were also really great, including the mystical Maggie Lah and the psychotically arrogant Henry Beevers.…

CR3 #66: Flesh Eaters by Joe McKinney

I have read a surprisingly high number of zombie books for someone who had--up until relatively recently--a fairly strong phobia about zombies. There is something about them that just bothers me. Perhaps it's the mindlessness--unlike vampires, ghosts, werewolves, and other classic literary/movie monsters, the zombie has no motivation. It has no feeling except hunger, and it can't be reasoned with, cajoled, convinced, or threatened. There's no conscious thought, only a need to feed. A zombie is more closely related to an alligator than a human, but it's nearly unstoppable. An alligator can be trapped, injured, slowed down. A zombie is like an eating machine, except it looks like your family, friends, and neighbors. I'm not sure I can think of anything more horrifying.

Unfortunately for me, I've been rather badly spoiled as far as zombie books go. World War Z may be the definitive work on the subject, and all the others I've read since have paled in compariso…

CR3 #65: Mystery by Peter Straub

This is the second book in Peter Straub's "Blue Rose"  trilogy, but I read it first and didn't find myself having any problems (the first book is Koko, which I am reading now).

Tom Pasmore is the only grandchild in one of the ruling families on a small Caribbean island. Unfortunately, that's not enough to protect him from suffering an accident that nearly kills him. He was an odd child to begin with, but his near-death experience changes him in ways he can't understand. Years later, when he's a teenager, he gets involved with a mysterious neighbor, who points him in the direction of crime-solving. Soon, Tom finds himself investigating a decades-old murder and trying to figure out how it connects to his family and to the richest family on the island, the Redwings. Tom's grandfather sends him to the family's summer compound in Wisconsin, and from there things just get more suspicious...and dangerous.

This was a long book, and it started off a bit sl…

CR3 #64: Summer of Night by Dan Simmons

Summer of Night by Dan Simmons desperately wants to be IT by Stephen King. I'm not saying that's necessarily a bad thing, but then again IT is probably one of my very favorite books of all time. However, the influence--to me--was extremely obvious, right down to some of the character descriptions, plot points, and peripheral events. I'm not saying the books are total duplicates--there aren't any clowns, thank goodness--but the similarities are enough that a Stephen King fan may find him or herself suffering a strange deja vu feeling while reading.

The plot consists of a group of boys between eight and thirteen (and later one girl), who notice that things in their small rural town aren't quite right. There are disappearances, some of the adults are acting very strange, and some of the places around town have become downright disturbing. Each boy starts to experience spooky events, and soon they realize they will need to band together to save themselves and their tow…

CR3 #63: Nightmare in Pink by John D. Macdonald

Nightmare in Pink is the sequel to Macdonald's first Travis McGee novel, The Deep Blue Good-by. In this adventure, Trav finds himself doing a favor for an old friend's sister, investigating the circumstances of a suspicious death and accusations of embezzlement. Unfortunately for Trav, it turns out the situation is significantly more complex (and more dangerous) than he ever would have guessed. He gets himself wound up with some unsavory characters while investigating the circumstances of an eccentric New York businessman, as well as finding himself forming romantic entanglements with his client.

This book is a solid mystery story, but nothing especially exciting. The character of Trav is all right, but I think the series suffers from a lack of repeat secondary characters. Some of the best series are good specifically because of quirky, interesting sidekicks, villains, or peripheral characters. After all, what would Sherlock Holmes be without Watson, Moriarty, and Mrs. Hudson?…

CR3 #62: Kings of Colorado by David E. Hilton

(Disclaimer: I received this book free from Simon & Schuster in a giveaway through Goodreads.com. My opinions are my own.)

William Sheppard is a kid from mid-60s Chicago who--in a moment of desperation--stabs his abusive stepfather with a pen-knife. Although the man survives, Will is sent away for two years to Swope Ranch, a reformatory for boys in the Colorado mountains. He makes few friends (though the ones he finds are something special) and a few (brutal) enemies. He spends time learning how to break horses, how to survive in a completely hostile environment, and trying to figure out who he will become. The majority of the staff are at best uninterested and at worst actively dangerous. Soon, Will and his friends find themselves in a situation none of them could have imagined when they arrived.

Kings of Colorado reminded me a lot of Lorenzo Carcaterra's book Sleepers, in that both take place in a prison for boys, and the circumstances vary from grim to downright deadly. Slee…

CR3 #61: Carrie by Stephen King (King REreview #3)

(Sorry people -- I've been reading just as much lately, but work has been sort of horrifying, and when combined with this ridiculous heat wave, it doesn't do a whole lot for my motivation to accomplish...anything at all, really [well, except maybe eat popsicles and drink mojitos, but neither of those things exactly counts as productivity]. I have a couple reviews to write, but I'm hoping they'll get done in the next couple days.)

Carrie is the first Stephen King book I ever read. As I share a name with the protagonist, I figured I might as well read the damn thing so I would at least get the allusions people made to the novel. Therefore, at 13, I walked into the local library and hunted down the Stephen King section, which at the time was entirely made up of paper backs crammed into one tall rotating rack. I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

The story concerns Carrie White, a teenager living in Maine. She is neither attractive nor particularly bright, and due …

CR3 #60: Think of a Number by John Verdon

(Disclaimer: I received this book for free from Crown Publishing Group in a giveaway through Goodreads.com.)

Dave Gurney was a superstar detective in NYC homicide. He was well-known for his work putting dangerous serial killers away, but now he's retired and has moved to the countryside. He fills his time with his new hobby--despised by his wife, Madeleine--of doing digitally enhanced portraits of the serial killers he's put away. Life is going along quietly until one day he receives a call from a college friend he hasn't spoken to in 25 years. The friend has been receiving some strange, threatening notes in the mail, and is more than a little worried about his own safety. As it turns out, he's right to be.

Eventually, Dave finds himself getting more and more involved in the case, both due to concern for his friend and because he misses the joy of detection. The criminal is the smartest Gurney has ever encountered, and catching him is going to take every ounce of intel…

CR3 #59: The Franchise Affair by Josephine Tey

The Franchise Affair is another well-written, classic mystery by author Josephine Tey.

The book takes place in a small British village called Milford. Robert Blair is a lawyer there, as has a member of his family for more than 150 years. He's a stodgy, forty-something who lives with a doting aunt and has his routines down so pat that he knows exactly what kind of cookies his secretary will be bringing him at tea time every day. Then, one afternoon as he's preparing to leave for the day, he receives a phone call. Two women who live on the outskirts of town need assistance--they've been accused of kidnapping a teenage girl, holding her hostage in their attic, and beating her unmercifully until she was able to escape. Robert would prefer to give the case to someone (anyone) else, since he is much more familiar with cases of probate issues and civil matters. However, the ladies will accept no one else, and he soon finds himself headed out to The Franchise--the dilapidated hous…

Sequels: Clerks II and Road House 2: Last Call

Sequels.

Sometimes they work and sometimes they do not. Recently, I ran across examples of both in the same evening. In the course of ONE EVENING, I watched both Clerks II and Road House 2: Last Call.

Actually, let's say I "watched" Clerks II and "subjected myself to" Road House 2.

Perhaps I should define for you what I think makes a good sequel, and explain why these two films do/do not qualify.

1. A good sequel is a rational extension of the original film. In this case, CII is a continuation of the lives of the characters from the first film. RH2 takes place in an entirely different place, with different people, and an almost entirely unrelated plot. There IS a bar, and there ARE some bad guys, but that's about as far as the resemblance goes. With the exception of a few mentions of Dalton and how he's the father of the main character in RH2 (as well as a few admittedly funny "I thought you'd be taller" jokes) this movie had absolutely no…