Monthly Archives: March 2005

Christopher Brookmyre – Quite Ugly One Morning

First of the Jack Parlabane novels. Brookmyre is still finding his feet with this one: the opening scene is one of the funniest I have ever read, but later parts of the book drag a bit, and the computer hacking sequence didn’t work for me at all. Still, a good satirical comedy thriller, and a great introduction to the characters of the series.

(This quick review is part of my September 2005 “clearing the decks” exercise.)

Robert Crais – The Forgotten Man

It doesn’t scale the emotional heights of L.A. Requiem, and it doesn’t have the same cocky swagger of the early Elvis Cole books, but The Forgotten Man is still a fine detective novel. An unidentified man is shot dead in an alleyway, and with his dying words he claims he was looking for his son Elvis Cole. Elvis never knew his father, and he finds himself drawn to the case like a moth to a flame. But he is not the only one…

The Last Shot

FBI agent Joe Devine (Alec Baldwin) hits on the idea of posing as a movie producer to mount a sting operation against a mafia racket. Under false pretenses, he recruits Hollywood hopeful writer Steven Schats (Matthew Broderick), and then gets so wrapped up in the process of actually making the film, that he almost fogets about catching the bad guys. It’s a great cast (Tony Shalhoub, Tim Blake Nelson, Toni Collette, Ray Liotta, and more) but they’re all wasted on a poor screenplay. It doesn’t really work as a comedy, because it’s not very funny. And as a touching film about hope and ambitious movie-loving spirit, it doesn’t have enough heart.

Peter F. Hamilton – Pandora’s Star

In a Peter F. Hamilton novel of this size, nothing is going to happen for the first two hundred pages, so I was happy enough to write them off as expected.

By page 500 I was thinking that there were way too many characters and parallel stories going on, and that the book could have used some serious editing. The plot lines were interesting, but every time one would threaten to really come alive, Hamilton would switch to someplace dull instead, and spend time warming up another thread.

By page 700, I was having serious doubts about him being able to wrap everything up neatly by the end of the book, and I had a quick glimpse at the last page. To my horror, the last sentences, printed in bold, were “The End of Pandora’s Star. The Commonwealth Saga will be concluded in Judas Unchained“.

Well bugger me sideways with a rusty pitchfork, it’s a two-parter. A quick check on Amazon showed that the second part isn’t due out until October. Does the cover blurb give any indication that this is only the first volume of a set? Does it heck.

I got pissed off by 900-page doorstops in 2003, and I still haven’t recovered. I only started Pandora’s Star because I generally like Hamilton’s stuff, and I was looking forward to immersing myself in this one for a while. Had I known that even after spending three weeks on it, I still wouldn’t know how it ends for another six months, I wouldn’t even have started it.

John Scalzi – Old Man’s War

Old Man’s War is a refreshingly old-skool space opera, with echoes of Heinlein’s Starship Troopers and Haldeman’s The Forever War. In a hostile universe, humans are forced to fight for every inch of territory. Their soldiers: geriatrics who are promised a new life in the military. It follows a fairly standard recruitment-training-fighting-reflection story arc, but that doesn’t detract from the sheer energy and fun bursting off the pages. It may not have the same emotional depth as The Forever War, but it plays with some cool ideas, raises some interesting questions, and has restored my faith in science fiction as a genre to read for entertaininment.

Richard Morgan – Market Forces

Market Forces is very different from Richard Morgan’s first two books. It’s set in the relatively near future (50 years or so), where vast corporations dominate the economic and social landscape, and executives duel each other for promotions in souped-up cars, on deserted and neglected motorways (cars and fuel being far too expensive for the vast majority of the population). Like Altered Carbon and Broken Angels, it’s a very aggressive, testosterone-heavy story, but with the more familiar setting Morgan is free to riff on some more political themes. It’s also much bleaker and cynical book than you would think. Given the number of shots at personal redemption Chris Faulkner, the main character, is given, you’d think he’d take at least one of them. But the book is much stronger for not choosing the happy ending and the easy way out. It makes a poweful emotional impact.

Sue Grafton – R is for Ricochet

Much of the latest Kinsey Millhone mystery is summed up by the very last paragraph of the book: “So here’s what I’ve learned. In the passing drama of life, I’m usually the heroine, but occasionally I’m simply a minor character in someone else’s play.”

Kinsey hooks up with Cheney Phillips, and gets to have some fun in the romantic arena. Henry’s love life is up in the air. And there’s a big money laundering fraud going on, but that’s mostly taken care of by Reba Laffery, a kind of agressive, risk-happy anti-Kinsey. Kinsey is supposed to be shepherding Reba after her release from prison, but she finds herself caught up in Reba’s tangle of loves and lies.

Reba, however, is quite capable of taking care of herself, and she does just so, leaving Kinsey to get on with her own personal issues. It’s a lightweight, as Graftons go, but it’s plenty of fun. And it’s nice to see Kinsey getting a slice of happiness for a change.