The third book in the Ashraf Bey series started well, but left me feeling unsatisfied at the end. The narrative structure is similar to the first two books, with flashbacks providing deep background to the primary plot, and with multiple viewpoint characters exposing different sides of the story. The central mystery concerns an attempt to assassinate the Emir of Tunis, Ashraf’s father. Ashraf goes on a mission to Tunis to investigate this, and also to dig around in his own past. Although both mysteries are partly resolved in the closing chapters, there is a lot of unnecessary running around to get to that point, and some of the plot lines are wrapped up without much explanation at all. It lacks the drive and focus of Pashazade and Effendi. Still, it’s a worthwhile read if you’ve read the first two books. (Maybe not such a good introduction to El-Iskandryia and its characters, though.)
If you take this for what it is, an add-on novel in a shared universe, rather than an actual new Amber book by Zelazny, then it’s actually quite entertaining. If you’ve played the Amber RPG at all, then it will all seem very familiar: new relatives springing from the woodwork, the world or universe is in danger, intrigue and treachery yada yada. There’s nothing here that hasn’t already been done in dozens of Amber RPG scenarios. But nevertheless, it’s not bad at all. The plot moves along quickly, there are some exciting moments, and the scene is set for further adventure. Think of it as fan fiction done by a professional writer, and you won’t be disappointed.
As with most collections, this one has some excellent stories in it, and some throwaway rubbish. They range from traditional mysteries, through folksy con jobs, to character sketches without even a hint of crime, with even a few tales of psychological horror tossed in along the way. The bulk of the stories are one-offs, and that’s where most of the variability occurs. It’s the ones about Block’s series characters (Bernie Rhodenbarr, Matt Scudder, Keller) that are the really worthwhile nuggets, though.
A hacker acquaintance of Kidd’s is killed under suspicious circumstances, and his sister asks Kidd to investigate. He pokes around, and finds the signs of a bigger mystery, with threads leading to another murder, the NSA, and a mysterious hacker group called “Firewall”. The story sprawls a bit, and the plot isn’t as tight as the first two Kidd books–too much of the action seems to be going on in places other than the main narrative. And there are only a few instances where Kidd’s character gets stretched beyond a thumbnail sketch, which is a shame.
It’s got all the usual Spenser banter and wisecracks, but no character development for any of the regulars this time. A rich man is murdered, and Spenser is hired to clear his wife. As soon as he starts nosing around in their backgrounds, more people start getting killed. A well-plotted, quick read.
Police chief Lucas Davenport hunts down another serial killer in a comfortably familiar episode of the Prey series. Perhaps a little too comfortable. Nice thriller, but Sandford was on cruise control for this one.