Jake Wood plans to visit his cousin, Jana, in Los Angeles. He hasn’t seen her in over 10 years, and he’s hoping the visit will help snap him out of the guilt he’s feeling after being the sole survivor of a workplace shooting. But when he arrives in LA, Jana fails to meet him or return his phone calls. He’s not worried at first, since he knows that she just got an exciting job working for the renowned scientific researcher Dr. Gregory Mirek. When he drops by Jana’s house and finds her best friend, Laurie, who hasn’t heard from her in days either, he starts suspecting she’s missing, and it might have something to do with Dr. Mirek.
I like a good mystery, and the description and cover of this book gave it a bit of a noir feel, so I was excited to see what twists on the noir mystery genre the book could bring. Unfortunately, a potentially interesting plot was held back by both some awkward writing and portions of the book that just left a bad taste in my mouth.
The plot is interesting and different enough from other mysteries to keep the reader engaged and intrigued. I personally have not seen a modern mystery revolving around a missing cousin, and I liked how different this felt. The inclusion of a mystery about Dr. Mirek and just what he’s researching into what happened to Jana, who is working for him, gave it another level of interesting information and twists that keeps the reader reading. On the other hand, the inclusion of Jake’s past trauma being the sole survivor of a work-place shooting felt tacked on and did not add much to the plot. If anything, at the beginning of the book, I was wondering if this book was the second in the series, since it felt like I was supposed to already know what had happened to Jake.
The writing really doesn’t support the plot very well, however. There is quite a bit of showing instead of telling as well as passages that just read awkwardly, instead of building the suspense they were supposed to. The quote below is an example of this.
After a long pause she said, “Yes, sacrifices,” in a faraway voice. At the time, I didn’t realize that she was referring to issues much more meaningful than gridlock. (loc 673)
There were also passages that just felt out of touch with modern life, particularly for the age of Jake, the main character, who sometimes reads like an old man. For instance, when Jana first doesn’t show up he googles her for the first time ever and looks at her Facebook page for the first time ever. There is no way cousins that got back in touch after a decade of low contact would wait that long to google each other or look at each other’s Facebook pages. Even people in this age-range who don’t use Facebook themselves will still google a new contact. Jake’s lack of technological and social media savvy just felt really wrong for his demographic.
As far as the characterizations of the main characters goes, Jake is moderately well-rounded but he also isn’t much of a noir hero. He’s clumsy, bad at appearing bad-ass, and hesitant, and yet simultaneously he’s good at fist-fighting (thanks to wrestling moves from high school), and he keeps being asked to be in porn by random people on the street (or if he is in porn). When his character isn’t thrust into noir-style encounters, it is well-rounded and interesting. When his character is, however, it feels awkward and unnatural. Laurie is relatively well-rounded and interesting, as is her boyfriend. We don’t see anybody else enough for them to be more than a passing two-dimensional character, and these are handled well.
The book does, however, put a bad taste into my mouth both in how it deals with fatness and how it deals with bisexuality. The book comes across as fatphobic. Any overweight character is also bad, and Jake judges them for being fat. I’m not saying an overweight person can’t be bad, but when every single overweight character is bad and the “good guy” main character judges them for it, it comes across as fatphobic.
Dr. Mirek is revealed to be bisexual, and the reveal is in the most insensitive way possible. Jake is pretending to be a journalist who had a tough interview with Dr. Mirek. He’s talking to an undergrad journalist student who previously interviewed Dr. Mirekto under the guise of getting more information on him from her than he could himself. She states that he was really creepy toward her in her interview and then reveals that she thinks he might be bisexual in a tone that implies that this is just as bad as creeping on her during her interview. To this Jake responds,
I don’t think my editor wants me writing that Dr. Mirek is a bi-sexual creep with a gambling problem. (loc 1594)
First, bisexual is spelled wrong, and it is never spelled correctly in the book. Second, this entire conversation implies that bisexuality is just as bad as being addicted to gambling or engaging in inappropriate come-ons. Just as with the fatphobia, there is nothing wrong with a bad guy character being bisexual, but equating his bisexuality with his badness, implying that it is part of what makes him bad, is a problem, and it is biphobic.
At the end of the book, it is revealed that Dr. Mirek had a relationship with Laurie’s boyfriend (implying the boyfriend is also bisexual, I might add), and that the boyfriend only participated in kidnapping Laurie and covering up the illegal animal experiments because of this relationship. The implication from the tone of the book is that getting into a same-sex relationship with Dr. Mirek is what brought the boyfriend down into crime. Even in the trial, the defense lawyer
conceded that Dr. Mirek and Danny Clarke had a consensual homosexual relationship. (loc 3694)
I would like to note that since this was a review copy submitted to me last November/December for review this year, I was extra offended at the biphobic content, as my review policies explicitly state that I do not wish to review anything with biphobic content. I am offended that an author who read my review policies well enough to submit properly and get accepted, who also knew one of his characters was bisexual, did not take a moment to check and see if this representation could possibly be biphobic. It is offensive to me as a person, and I feel that the author owes me an apology for putting me through reading something I very clearly stated I did not want to read. It is often impossible to know from a blurb if a book will be biphobic/homophobic/transphobic, and it is really up to the author to self-censor and not submit for review something like that to a reviewer who explicitly stated they do not wish to read that content. In all honesty, though, rather than an apology from the author, I would prefer he take some time to read up on bisexuality and biphobia to correct this biphobia in future writing.
Overall, the plot is interesting but the writing at the sentence level struggles. Additionally, the tone of the book is fatphobic and biphobic, which will both offend some readers and shows a lack of writing three-dimensional characters, since people are bad based on their bodies and sexualities and not their character. I recommend readers looking for a modern LA noir look elsewhere.
2 out of 5 stars
Source: Kindle copy from author in exchange for my honest review
Dominic Gray, ex-government worker, ex-military, and once professional jiu-jitsu fighter, is seeing a lull in his work as assistant to Professor Viktor Radek on private detective cases involving religious mysteries and the occult. He’s set up shop in New York City, teaching jiu-jitsu to inner-city youth. But when a high-ranking Satanist is murdered in front of his entire congregation by a mysterious figure who sets him on fire at a distance and then disappears himself, Dominic is quickly pulled into a new case with Viktor. High-ranking Satanists worldwide keep dying in the same, or similar, mysterious ways, and the odd thing is, it’s not the Christians doing it.
I’ve enjoyed this series from the very beginning. The combination of religious studies, private detectives, and international intrigue suck me in every time. This latest entry in the series does not fail to deliver, bringing once again the perfect combination of religious philosophy, mystery, and private detective intrigue.
This entry brings us back to the more mystical origins of the series. Rather than biomedicine as in the second book, what’s involved here is ancient occultism and what may or may not be magic tricks. I was happy to see this occult mysticism represented in the developed world this time, pointing out that it’s not just surviving in developing countries in modern times. The actual religion of Satanism is well explained and given room for both good-hearted followers and evil fanatics, just as may be seen in every religion. Green keeps an even hand when writing about religion, even when writing about Satanism, and that’s to be commended. A drop of mysticism is provided, and it’s left up to the reader to decide if it was science or magic ultimately responsible for the mysterious occurrences, which is ideal for this type of book.
The entwining of Viktor’s backstory with the mystery was well-done, and it was certainly time for the reader to learn more about Viktor. Unfortunately, I must say that Viktor’s backstory made me dislike him more than I had previously, but it certainly also helps form him into a more well-rounded character. There’s a delightful femme fatale, enshrouded in both beauty and mystery. Her ending, however, did feel a bit abrupt. Dominic goes very quickly from one opinion of her to another, and not enough known, factual information is provided for the reader to keep up with this. On the other hand, the ending was surprising and also made logical sense, and it also put the main characters in a frightful level of mortal danger. Exactly the kind of ending one looks for in this type of book.
Overall, the third entry in the series continues to deliver the private detective exploration of moral and mystical gray areas. Those who enjoyed the first entry in the series more than the second will be happy to see the return to the mysticism found in the first book. Those who enjoyed the science of the second will be glad to see the science of magic covered extensively in this entry. Recommended to fans of the series to pick it up as soon as possible.
4 out of 5 stars
Maui wedding planner, Pali Moon, wound up as a key witness against a drug ring, and now she’s been whisked into witness protection, sent to the small boring island of Lana’i, and right at the holidays no less! The feds seem to be taking their sweet time getting the case to court, and Pali is bored out of her mind, used to the hustle and bustle of wedding planning. When a small local bed and breakfast advertises looking for temporary help while they go to the main island to have their baby, it seems like the ideal situation. But when a famous guest’s fiancee turns up dead, Pali finds herself right in the thick of things again.
I picked this mystery up when I saw it on sale (for free) in the kindle store, in spite of it being midseries. The punny title made me think it was probably a cozy, and I know those series are totally fine to read out of order. I was right in that I never felt lost in the story due to starting mid-series, but I wasn’t right about it being a cozy. Pun-filled title aside, this is an easy-going mystery, ideal for a beach read, but missing the appendixes of add-ons such as recipes or patterns found in cozy mysteries
Pali is a three-dimensional character who jumps off the page, and the supporting characters, while not necessarily three-dimensional, each have enough different quirks and personalities that they are memorable. That said, Pali may be three-dimensional but she’s sure not likable. One example, she kisses someone on Lana’i, and then later finds out that her boyfriend may be cheating on her and flips out. But wasn’t she just cheating by kissing someone else? The hypocrisy left a really sour taste in my mouth for Pali. Characters don’t have to be likable, but in light-hearted mysteries where we’re supposed to be rooting for the non-professional PI, it really helps for them to be.
The mystery was fairly good. I certainly didn’t figure it out until right before the reveal, and the ultimate solution made sense. This is all I really look for in a mystery.
The setting was probably the best part. Bassett evokes (what I can only imagine is) the real feel of Hawaii. Each island visited has its own feel, Hawaiian culture is solidly represented with things like islanders calling all the elderly women “aunty” and locals being able to talk their way onto a ferry for free. What kept me reading the book was my desire to spend time in Hawaii, combined with a mystery I was interested in the solution to.
Overall, the rich Hawaiian setting and actually mysterious mystery make this a fun beach read. The main character is three-dimensional but could rub some readers the wrong way. Those looking for a traditional cozy should be forewarned that this book doesn’t come with any traditional cozy extras. Recommended to those looking for a light mystery set in Hawaii.
3 out of 5 stars
Rachel is a doctor in the slums outside of London. It’s not a great place to live, but it’s safer than a lot of the other options available. She’s also a Reacher with telepathic powers. Since she was a young girl, she learned to hide her abilities and always know her exits so she could run at any time. But when two brothers show up, one a wounded Reacher, and tell her a mobster sent them looking for her, she has to decide whether to run again or trust the brothers.
Near-future dystopias will never cease in their appeal to me, and so I was fairly quick to accept this one when I was choosing ARCs to read for 2014. The book offers a grim dystopia but far less running than one would imagine from the title.
The book establishes the overall dreary setting of a dystopia fairly quickly. Rachel’s work at the hospital and commuting home from it is dirty and grimy. Society is clearly barely functioning, a fact that is smoothly and clearly established. It takes a bit more time to learn more about the over-arching world, and the fact that Rachel is a “Reacher,” a person with some form of telepathic powers. For some reason, the government is seeking to eradicate all Reachers, whereas the church, which is illegal, views them as angels sent from above, metaphorically speaking. It’s an interesting world but our view into it is quite narrow, so there’s a lot of questions left unanswered.
Rachel is a good, strong character who is well-rounded in spite of knowing little of her backstory. The brothers, on the other hand, are kind of annoying and two-dimensional. They and the general crime lords/corrupt cops feel much more cookie cutter than Rachel does. In a way, they drag her down. It’s hard to root for her when she chooses to cast in lots with this bunch.
Similarly, the plot focuses in on what feels more like a standard crime thriller plot, rather than a dystopian one. It’s a good crime plot, but it’s not a dystopian one. The title implies a much more dystopian style book, such as Rachel using her powers to outwit the government and start a new colony or something like that. Instead it feels a bit more like an urban fantasy style crime plot that just so happens to be surrounded by society breaking down, somewhere out there. I think marketing it as a running game, rather than as the crime mystery plot it really is hinders the book a bit. Readers who would like an urban fantasy style futuristic crime novel might miss it, because it sounds so dystopian. The title and summary give the vibe of a Logan’s Run or Maze Runner style book, when that’s not what it is. What it is is a perfectly good futuristic crime novel, but that’s not what it sounds like.
Overall, this is a quick-moving tale of futuristic crime with a dash of telepathic powers and an easily imagined setting. Fans of near future, fantasy, and crime will enjoy seeing the three intertwine. Those looking for more of a scifi or dystopian focus should look elsewhere.
3 out of 5 stars
Source: kindle copy from author in exchange for my honest review
India Morgan Phelps, Imp to her friends, is sure that there were two different Eva Cannings who came into her life and changed her world. And one of them was a mermaid (or perhaps a siren?) and the other was a werewolf. But Imp’s ex-girlfriend, Abalyn, insists that no, there was only ever one Eva Canning, and she definitely wasn’t a mermaid or a werewolf. Dr. Ogilvy wants Imp to figure out for herself what actually happened. But that’s awfully hard when you have schizophrenia.
I’d heard that this book was a chilling mystery featuring GLBTQ characters and mental illness. When I discovered it on Audible with an appealing-sounding narrator, I knew what I was listening to next. This book is an engaging mystery that also eloquently captures the experience of having a mental illness that makes you question yourself and what you know while simultaneously giving a realistic glance into the queer community.
Imp is an unreliable first person narrator, and she fully admits this from the beginning. She calls herself a madwoman who was the daughter of a madwoman who was a daughter of a madwoman too. Mental illness runs in her family. She states that she will try not to lie, but it’s hard to know for sure when she’s lying. This is due to her schizophrenia. Imp is writing down the story of what she remembers happening in journal style on her typewriter because she is trying to figure out the mystery of what exactly happened for herself. The reader is just along for this ride. And it’s a haunting, terrifying ride. Not because of what Imp remembers happening with Eva Canning but because of being inside the mind of a person suffering from such a difficult mental illness. Experiencing what it is to not be able to trust your own memories, to not be sure what is real and is not real, is simultaneously terrifying and heart-breaking.
Imp’s schizophrenia, plus some comorbid anxiety and OCD, and how she experiences and deals with them, lead to some stunningly beautiful passages. This is particularly well seen in one portion of the book where she is more symptomatic than usual (for reasons which are spoilers, so I will leave them out):
All our thoughts are mustard seeds. Oh many days now. Many days. Many days of mustard seeds, India Phelps, daughter of madwomen, granddaughter, who doesn’t want to say a word and ergo can’t stop talking. Here is a sad sad tale, woebegone story of the girl who stopped for the two strangers who would not could not could not would not stop for me. She. She who is me. And I creep around the edges of my own life. Afraid to screw off the mayonnaise lid and spill the mustard seeds. (Part 2, loc 55:35)
The thing that’s great about the writing in the book is that it shows both the beauty and pain of mental illness. Imp’s brain is simultaneously beautiful for its artistic abilities and insight and a horrible burden in the ways that her mental illness tortures her and makes it difficult for her to live a “normal” life. This is something many people with mental illness experience but find it hard to express. It’s why many people with mental illness struggle with drug adherence. They like the ability to function in day-to-day society and pass as normal but they miss being who they are in their own minds. Kiernan eloquently demonstrates this struggle and shows the beauty and pain of mental illness.
Dr. Ogilvy and the pills she prescribes are my beeswax and the ropes that hold me fast to the main mast, just as my insanity has always been my siren. (Part 1, loc 4:08:48)
There is a lot of GLBTQ representation in the book, largely because Kiernan is clearly not just writing in a token queer character. Imp is a lesbian, and her world is the world of a real-to-life lesbian. She is not the only lesbian surrounded by straight people. People who are part of the queer community, in multiple different aspects, are a part of Imp’s life. Her girlfriend for part of the book is Abalyn, who is transwoman and has slept with both men and women both before and after her transition. She never identifies her sexuality in the book, but she states she now prefers women because the men tend to not be as interested in her now that she has had bottom surgery. The conversation where she talks about this with Imp is so realistic that I was stunned. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a conversation about both transitioning and the complicated aspects of dating for trans people that was this realistic outside of a memoir. Eva Canning is bisexual. It’s difficult to talk about Eva Canning in-depth without spoilers, so, suffice to say, Eva is out as bisexual and she is also promiscuous. However, her promiscuity is not presented in a biphobic way. Bisexual people exist on the full spectrum from abstinent to monogamous to poly to promiscuous. What makes writing a bisexual character as promiscuous biphobic is whether the promiscuity is presented as the direct result of being bi, and Kiernan definitely does not write Eva this way. Kiernan handles all of the queer characters in a realistic way that supports their three-dimensionality, as well as prevents any GLBTQphobia.
The plot is a difficult one to follow, largely due to Imp’s schizophrenia and her attempts at figuring out exactly what happened. The convoluted plot works to both develop Imp’s character and bring out the mystery in the first two-thirds of the book. The final third, though, takes an odd turn. Imp is trying to figure out what she herself believes actually happened, and it becomes clear that what she ultimately believes happened will be a mix of reality and her schizophrenic visions. That’s not just acceptable, it’s beautiful. However, it’s hard to follow what exactly Imp chooses to believe. I started to lose the thread of what Imp believes happens right around the chapter where multiple long siren songs are recounted. It doesn’t feel like Imp is slowly figuring things out for herself and has made a story that gives her some stability in her life. Instead it feels like she is still too symptomatic to truly function. I never expected clear answers to the mystery but I did at least expect that it would be clear what Imp herself believes happened. The lack of this removed the gut-wrenching power found in the first two-thirds of the book.
The audiobook narration by Suzy Jackson is truly stellar. There are parts of Imp’s journal that must truly have been exceedingly difficult to turn into audio form, but Jackson makes them easy to understand in audio form and also keeps the flow of the story going. Her voice is perfect for Imp. She is not infantilized nor aged beyond her years. She sounds like the 20-something woman she is. I’m honestly not sure the story would have the same power reading it in print. Hearing Imp’s voice through Jackson was so incredibly moving.
Overall, this book takes the traditional mystery and changes it from something external to something internal. The mystery of what really happened exists due to Imp’s schizophrenia, which makes it a unique read for any mystery fan. Further, Imp’s mental illness is presented eloquently through her beautiful first-person narration, and multiple GLBTQ characters are present and written realistically. Recommended to mystery fans looking for something different, those seeking to understand what it is like to have a mental illness, and those looking to read a powerful book featuring GLBTQ characters whose queerness is just an aspect of who they are and not the entire point of the story.
4 out of 5 stars
When Richard’s physicist professor uncle dies tragically in a plane crash and leaves him his coin collection, he is shocked to find a brand-new dime from 2012. The only thing is, it’s 1989. A note from his uncle states that the coin is important. Richard thinks the answer to the mystery might be in his uncle’s personal diaries he also left him, but he’s not a physicist and can’t decipher them. As the year 2012 approaches, Richard increasingly wonders what the coin is all about.
I had previously reviewed a book by Glen Cadigan, Haunted (review), whose concept I really enjoyed. When he offered me this novella, I was happy to accept. This fun novella tells an old-fashioned scifi mystery story in a way that reminded me of reading similar works from the 1800s.
Richard’s first-person narration follows a style similar to that used often in older scifi; it reads as if the main character is writing everything down in his journal for longevity. It’s a cozy narration style that works well for the slow-moving mystery it tells.
This narration style also helps establish Richard into a well-rounded character quickly. The reader almost immediately feels an intimacy with Richard as he discusses his sorrow at his beloved uncle’s sudden death, why he was close to his uncle, and his thoughts on the mysterious coin. The uncle is, perhaps, less well-rounded but only in the sense that the reader comes to know him only through the eyes of a loving relative. It thus makes sense that mostly his good qualities come through.
Cadigan artfully maneuvers Richard’s handling of the mystery from the days before the internet to present. Richard first employs old-fashioned research techniques to try to figure out the mystery then loses interest. With the advent of the internet, though, he regains interest and starts researching again. This is completely realistic and reads just like what a person might have done.
Some basics physics of time-travel and time-travel theories are included. They are written at the right level for a general audience reading a scifi book, neither talking down to nor being too technical.
What really made me enjoy the book was the resolution to the mystery. I should have seen it coming, but I did not, and I always enjoy a surprise that feels logical when I think back on it.
So why four stars and not five? The novella left me wanting something more. It felt almost too short. Like there was something left out. Perhaps more time spent on Richard’s researching of the mystery or snippets from the uncle’s journals or some photos of the uncle and his airplane might have helped it feel more fully fleshed-out and real. The old-school narration style was enjoyable but some additions of some of the types of things a person might put in their journal would help it feel more complete. Even some simple sketches or perhaps a poem by Richard about his uncle, since he’s in the humanities, would have helped.
Overall, this novella is a fun new take on the storytelling method of having a character write in their journal about a mystery. The science is strong enough to be interesting but not too challenging, and the result of the mystery is surprising. Some readers might be left wanting a bit more to the story. Recommended to fans of scifi classics such as The Time Machine or The Invisible Man.
4 out of 5 stars
Source: Kindle copy from author in exchange for my honest review