Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Playing the Game by Simon Gould

Nutshell:  A crazed serial killer stalks pretty young college students in Los Angeles while an LAPD detective tries to catch him before he kills again.  A fast-paced thriller exhibiting nothing you haven't seen before.  Two stars.

Review:  So let's see...have we got the hard-boiled cop and his partner?  Check.  A crazed serial killer with a silly nickname toying with the cops?  Check.  A lawmaker belonging to a powerful, shadowy group that invisibly pulls the strings while staying above the law?  Check.  Yep, we've got all the cliches we need!

What should have been an entertaining romp wore out its welcome early, due to the many, many echoes of stories you've undoubtedly heard before.  It doesn't help things that Gould explicitly has a character refer to the main character (Detective Patton) and his partner as Riggs and Murtaugh, from the Lethal Weapon films--although it certainly does illuminate the inspiration for Gould.  We're also treated to dialogue à la Tarentino (two guys arguing over the merits of joining the rebels or the Empire in Star Wars), and so on and so on.  Of course, we're all inspired by others, but when there's so little originality displayed, it does get tiresome.

Gould's style is often clunky, as displayed in this dialogue--remember, this is something a character is actually saying aloud:  "We needed to ensure that we knew exactly where whoever was carrying out these actions was going to be once the actions were completed.  We can't run the risk of employing anyone to carry out these actions then being picked up somewhere down the line on an unrelated charge and having us as leverage to plead out a lesser charge."

It also doesn't help that the book is full of distractions.  These range from the many uses of British terms--"boot" instead of "trunk", "lift" instead of "elevator", "post" instead of mail, "takeaway" instead of (presumably) "takeout"; none of these would be used by the American characters in the book.  It makes me wonder why he didn't just place the action in London (oh yeah, they never filmed a Lethal Weapon movie there).  The apparent lack of copy editing was also maddening, repeatedly kicking me out of the story, although I did enjoy the line Gould wrote about Obi-wan Kenobi wandering around the "dessert".

I confess, I was tempted to stop reading after the part in which a cop knocks a door off its hinges with one kick, since we had evidently passed into fantasy land there.  However--and this is a big however--I kept reading.  Gould has some severe issues but he clearly gets some things right--the pacing is terrific and although the hooks are tired, they are often effective; I found myself wanting to read more in spite of myself.  If he were to use fresher ingredients, he'd come up with a pretty tasty concoction.  I'll be watching for his next offering.

The formatting of the text was fine, but the beginning was rough.  While I normally enjoy a story that throws you right into the action, I guess for Gould that means skipping the cover and title page and literally beginning with the first chapter.  I read this on Kindle for PC for 99 cents.

Rating:  A solid two stars.  Die-hard fans of the genre will probably enjoy it, but for fair-weather fans, it might not be worth the effort.  Keep watching Gould, however.

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Forgotten Echo by Jen Wylie

Nutshell:  Jen Wylie starts out with an interesting concept--a young woman shot in a parking lot finds herself saved by an Immortal and converted into an Echo (a being existing outside what we would call the real world)--but fails to develop it in any detail.  The hints of a larger story swirl around but fail to materialize.  Two stars.

Review:  First of all, I am a whore for fantasy.  Set up any story with magical otherworldy beings and I'll go home with it.  But this incredibly short story--I read it in less than half an hour--seems to be merely an outline, a summary in place of a story.  The story races along but with no detail, and characterization is thrown by the wayside.  Here's basically how Cassy thinks throughout: "I hate my Immortal! I'm going to find my Immortal! Why hasn't he called me?  I'm scared he'll call me!  I'm angry at him!  I want to protect him!".  It should have been called The Bipolar Echo.  The entire thing just seemed high-schoolish.

This cost me 99 cents and I read it on Kindle for PC.  The formatting was perfect, and I noted no editing errors within.  The author's section at the end was a nice touch.

Rating: I wish I could recommend this book, but there are too many other, better books out there, even for a buck.  Two stars.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Belvoir by S.A. Huggins

Nutshell:  As the shadows of the Civil War grow around the town of Belvoir, the Randolph plantation finds itself besieged by a danger of another kind:  a serial killer who is targeting the plantation's slaves.  A naturally interesting backdrop, however, struggles to overcome the slow pace and multitude of errors.  Three stars.

Review:  Oh, Belvoir.  I really wanted to love you; the product description had me expecting a thrilling...uh, thriller in the vein of The Mentalist.  A crazed serial killer targeting the slaves on a Southern plantation as the Civil War threatens to wash over the area?  Sounds fascinating!

We have a "no spoilers" policy here at BHBR, so I'm not going to give away much detail about the plot.  However, Huggins has created a vivid microcosm on the Randolph farm--the action takes place and revolves around the farm and its surroundings--which appears to be the result of a lot of research.  I could easily imagine myself wandering around the place, and the melding of a serial killer tale with a Civil War backdrop seemed like a natural winner.

The concept is fresh and original--or, at least, it seemed that way to me, and I was prepared for an exciting read.  Unfortunately, the book has some issues.  The pacing, to begin with, is slow.  We're talking glacial here.  Reading should not be such hard work, but this was a book I kept setting aside because I was tired of waiting for something to happen.  This appears to be her debut novel, and Huggins is a talented writer--there are some really beautiful turns of phrase in the book--but it could have been tightened up quite a bit.  There are also a few anachronisms--in 1863, I doubt both that somebody would be described as having "his words stuck on repeat" and that a woman would fall from a "tractor". 

Huggins also makes many, many errors that should have been cleaned up along the way:  "peaked" instead of "peeked", "agar" instead of "ajar", "canons" instead of "cannons", and others.  Describing cold air, she writes that it steals a man's "warmth and breadth".  Wow, now that's cold!  Don't even get me started on the cough that turns into a couch.

This edition was perfectly formatted; I read this on Kindle for PC, purchased for 99 cents.

Rating:  I'm gonna have to give this three stars.  I really feel as if I'd been reading the first draft--the errors were rife and distracting, and the pacing was too slow to maintain my interest.  However, Huggins appears to be a good writer and I still believe that the story could be fascinating.  I only wish that the care she'd taken to format her work had also shown up in her editing process.