In his 2012 novel “Alpha” Greg Rucka engaged in some amazing and utterly believable world building by transporting readers to a fictional Disney World style amusement park that was under siege by terrorists. He also populated that world with compelling characters like Master Sergeant Jonathan “Jad” Bell an undercover Special Forces operator tasked with ending the siege and his ex-wife and daughter who show up on the park on the fateful day of the take over. You can find my review of it here.
Rucka’s new novel “Bravo” is a follow up to “Alpha” and instead of throwing Jad into a similar situation the writer does something much cooler and more satisfying. He gives readers something new, but equally fascinating that continues the story that began in “Alpha” and takes it in a number of new and exciting directions.
“Bravo” picks up 72 hours after the end of “Alpha” with Jad and his team of operators on a mission to capture one of the men behind the attack on the Wilsonville amusement park. So when we catch up with Jad he’s tired, physically and emotionally battered, and suddenly thrust into a world of double dealings and espionage. As he says multiple times in the book, “he’s just a shooter” and he’s up against a number of powerful and cunning enemies that are experts at manipulation and staying hidden. He doesn’t lie down and give up though. He and his team continue to push themselves and valiantly pursue the leads in the mystery they’re dealing with. That makes Jad both a great hero to follow and a nice tribute to to the real world men and women who sacrifice so much and push themselves so hard to keep their country and the world safe.
Jad isn’t the only returning character in “Bravo” we also get to spend some time with his ex-wife Amy and his deaf daughter, Athena, who is an identifiable, and realistic teen. We also get to know Jad’s commanding officer General Ruiz a bit more and some of his team mates as well.
The book is also full of incredibly interesting new characters as well,my favorite being Chief Warrant Officer Petra Nessuno, an undercover Army Intelligence officer that Jad and his team encounter in the book’s opening mission. She returns to the states with Jad and his team and we get to see what it’s like for her to come back to real life. The scenes with Petra where she comes to terms with the emotional damage she endured while under cover are haunting and poignant. So Petra is hurting, but she’s just like Jad in that she realizes she has a job to do and is unwilling to give up. Watching her struggle with her personal demons and the villainous cabal threatening to launch another terrorist attack on America is a lot of fun. From my perspective she’s as much the hero of the book as Jad is.
My favorite scenes are the ones where Jad and Petra are interacting. They’re such noble and damaged souls that you root for them to triumph over their terrorist enemies and find comfort in each others company. The chemistry between both characters when they’re together is fantastic.
“Bravo”isn’t just about heroes. In the book you also walk with a number of insidious villains like a traitorous general and a network of wealthy and powerful men trying to broker a devastating terrorist attack on American soil. Those men are engaging the services of an enigmatic individual known as “The Architect,” who is the chief villain of “Bravo.” We get to know the Architect first by reputation and then we get to see that reputation is well deserved in a number of chapters told from his point of view. We also get to meet his lover Jordan, a dangerous woman who is as cunning as she is deadly.
These villains and heroes clash in perfectly paced chapters that play with perspective and timing. So “Bravo” is a thriller that’s exiting, poignant, and a hell of a lot of fun. In the book Rucka once again shows that the best way to tell a sequel is to trust the strength of your characters and immerse them in new situations where they bounce off new and equally fascinating characters.
I discovered Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files series right around the release of the fifth book, “Death Masks,” in 2003. So I’ve been reading the series for over a decade now and while some entries have been better than others I’ve always been entertained. There hasn’t been an adventure of Chicago’s only Wizard for hire, Harry Dresden that I’ve not had fun with and that’s a big feat for a series that’s been around so long.
The usual plot recipe of a Dresden Files book is a blend of private detective fiction and fantasy that reads like an episode of Joss Whedon’s “Angel” series meets Harry Potter. So more often than not Harry Dresden is out investigating some strange mystery in Chicago that leads to an apocalyptic threat, but what makes the books so interesting is the character of Harry and the complex cast of enemies and allies that Butcher has built up around him over the years. So sure the weird and action packed mysteries are fun frosting, but the cake of the series and what keeps me coming back are the characters and the long term plot threads that Butcher has weaved around them.
From time to time those plots will pay off in big ways, but perhaps the biggest pay out was 2010’s “Changes,” which remains the high point of the series for me. Since then, there has been great moments that have added to the series and moved it along in new and interesting directions like 2012’s “Cold Days,” but I’m happy to report that the latest Dresden Files novel, “Skin Game” has some fantastic moments of character pay out for long term fans of the series that add to the ongoing narratives and push the long term plot forward in interesting ways (I’m not going to say what, but there are events in this book that I’ve been hoping to see for almost a decade) and a different and interesting plot that I’ don’t believe we’ve seen in this series. So for my money “Skin Game” is the best Dresden Files novel since “Changes.”
Like the other books in the series “Skin Game” is about the intersection between crime and the weird modern day fantasy world of Chicago, but instead of playing detective this time Harry is cast in a very different role, law breaker. That’s because in addition to being a wizard Harry also serves as the Winter Knight for Mab, the Faerie Queen of Winter, and at the beginning of the book she tasks Harry with assisting his old enemy the demonic Knight of Blackened Denarius, Nicodemus Archelone, in a heist. So “Skin Game” is part caper novel. We get to watch a heist crew come together and plot a robbery of a vault located in the mythical Greek underworld. Also because Mab has forced Harry into working with Nicodemus “Skin Game” is a con novel. You get to watch Nicodemus and Harry plot and carry out subtle moves against each other as they work for an opportunity to destroy each other.
So “Skin Game” is an exciting and action packed novel, but as expected it’s also full of great characters. You get to spend time with some old favorites like former police detective Karrin Murphy, who Harry enlists to watch his back as the planning for the heist goes down. There’s also fun stuff with a group of other established characters, but I’m not going to spoil who they are. Their entry into “Skin Game” is a pretty fun reveal.
Nicodemus’ heist crew is also full of interesting characters both new and returning. I especially liked the team’s resident shape shifter Goodmen Grey, who makes his debut in this novel. And of course Nicodemus himself is also an interesting character. I hate his guts, but that’s the point. He’s a fantastic villain and I want to see him taken down.
On top of great characters, exciting action, and twisting double crosses you also get the pay off I mentioned earlier and it involves several occurring characters. I don’t want to say too much more about those moments except they come at the perfect time. The way Butcher set up and delivered those moments of payout had me cheering.
So if you’re a long time fan of the Dresden Files series you’ll love “Skin Game.” It’s a different kind of Harry Dresden story, which makes it fresh and exciting and it’s full of payoff moments that will leave you excited for the characters and their adventures to come.
I try to keep my book reviews spoiler free, but when you’re discussing a book that takes place after the events of a feature film that can be tough. So let’s get that out of the way right now. If you haven’t seen the “Veronica Mars” feature film stop reading this review right now and rectify that mistake. It’s really good and it’ s now available on both DVD and on demand services like Amazon Instant Watch. So go on! Shoo! Come back when you’re done. You’ll be glad you did.
Okay, so everybody else left reading this has seen the movie and if you haven’t you’ve been warned. I loved the television show “Veronica Mars.” I loved it so much that I contributed $10 to the Kickstarter for the feature film (I would have contributed more but I didn’t have much to spare at the time). It was $10 well spent. I loved it. It was a love letter to the fans of the show and left the title character and her fictional hometown of Neptune, California in an interesting place. Veronica’s father had been almost killed investigating the rampant corruption in Neptune’s Sheriff Department. After being shot by Celeste Kane and framed for pulling a gun on her Eli “Weevil” Navarro seemingly returned to motorcycle gang leading ways. And Veronica had stopped fighting her destiny and decided to take over the family business.
So that set up made me very excited to read the “Thousand Dollar Tan Line” even though it’s title was a little underwhelming and suggested something more light hearted. I was also a little sad that the book wasn’t going to be told in classic first person style P.I. manner. I would have certainly bought the Kristen Bell read audio book if that was the case. Those two things turned out to be minor drawbacks though because Veronica Mars first novel turned out to be just as fun and exciting as an episode of the show or another movie.
In “The Thousand Dollar Tan Line” spring break has come to Neptune. College co-eds and tourists are flocking to the Northern California town for wild, hedonistic bacchanalia and the Sheriff’s department is content to make the Chamber of Commerce happy and turn a blind eye to the wild displays of excess. When a pretty college co-ed disappears and a cable news pundit begins crucifying the town’s inept sheriff the Chamber of Commerce is forced to act. So they hire Veronica.
Veronica’s initial investigation leads her to a shady, mysterious party and then when things escalate and another girl disappears a shocking figure from her past walks back into her life. Veronica’s investigation puts her up against a number of interesting and formidable adversaries including two wealthy business men with connections to Mexican drug cartel and a person who just might be her opposite number.
Dealing with these characters and the investigation of course means Veronica will interact with the members of her great supporting cast. Mac and Wallace remain her faithful confidants, and her dad Keith Mars tries to come to terms with what it means to have Veronica officially join him in the family business. Those were some of my favorite scenes Keith Mars is right up there with “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine’s” Ben Sisko as one of the greatest fictional single dads.
Logan plays a small role in the book because as the film established, he’s now in the Navy and he and Veronica are in a long distance relationship. As someone who is currently in a long distance relationship I especially appreciated those scenes. Authors Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham really captured the excitement and anxiety of those moments where you’re waiting for your significant other to come online and brighten your day.
“The Thousand Dollar Tan Line” also involves a number of other returning characters, some that appeared in the movie and some that didn’t, and watching Veronica interact with them and the book’s new cast is a lot of fun. The novel is expertly paced, full of one great dialogue, and is a genuinely great and legitimate P.I./crime novel. I’m not surprised either while I’ve not read any of their previous work both Thomas (who created “Veronica Mars”) and Graham have published other books.
So if you’re a “Veronica Mars” fan do yourself a favor and pick up “The Thousand Dollar Tan Line.” It doesn’t really touch on some of the ongoing plot lines left over from the movie, but it’s a great return to Neptune and it’s fascinating cast of characters. Plus I have hope that those elements will come more into focus in a possible sequel to the film or the next “Veronica Mars” novel “Mr. Kiss and Tell” which is set to be released in October.
Jonathan Maberry’s Joe Ledger series of novels are primarily high-stakes action thrillers that are spiced up by elements of science fiction and horror. Those elements are always handled real well, but they’re not always the primary ingredient in the genre cocktail that the writer is blending. So I sometimes how forget how chilling and effective Maberry is when his primary genre is horror. The latest Joe Ledger novel “Code Zero” reminded me of how great a horror writer Maberry is, but still features all the kick-ass action and fascinating and identifiable characters that fans of the series have come to expect.
Part of the reason I consider “Code Zero” more of a horror novel than an action thriller is because of the nemesis opposing Joe Ledger and the men and women of the Department of Military Scientists in this book, a genius high tech terrorist named Mother Night who has a connection to the DMS and whose motivation was best described by Michael Caine in “The Dark Knight” when he said, “Some men just want to watch the world burn.” So essentially Joe and the DMS are up against their version of the Joker and the gleeful carnage and mayhem she causes is pretty chilling.
Another reason “Code Zero” is pretty horrific is because Mother Night is not alone. She’s in command of an army of followers most of them mentally ill and societal outcasts and early on she dispatches them to commit terrorist attacks. We get several chapters of these attacks and they’re highly effective and quite frightening. You feel the violence and terror Mother Night’s followers are causing. Surprisingly I also felt a little bit of sympathy for some of Mother Night’s followers as well because many of them were alone and struggling with the difficulties of life when they were found by Mother Night. It felt like Maberry was effectively and rightfully pointing out that when we reject and ostracize people instead of trying to help them there’s a real danger that they could be exploited by someone with sinister motives.
Then the final reason “Code Zero” feels like a horror novel to me is the tools Mother Night and her followers use to spread terror; the bio-weapons that Ledger and the DMS confiscated in the previous installments of the series, which means the zombie virus, the genetically engineered Berserker super soldiers, and the weaponized plagues of the Ten Kings are all back. Under Mother Night’s command these weapons are used to create some chilling, gruesome and yes twistedly fun scenarios. The mayhem of the book’s final battle felt on par with the chaos and carnage caused in some of the final chapters of “Bad Moon Rising,” the concluding volume in Maberry’s epic horror trilogy about the town of Pine Deep.
So Mother Night is probably the toughest foe the DMS has faced yet, which means we get some great character moments in “Code Zero.” Joe Ledger remains as fascinating and fun as ever but here we get to see him struggling with the carnage caused by Mother Night, what fighting back against her is doing to his already scarred psyche, and trying to hold on to the one bright spot of happiness in his personal life.
We also get great moments with the members of Echo Team, which gets three intriguing new team members, and Mister Church. Plus the DMS support staff get some time to shine in “Code Zero” as well. Bug, their lead computer expert, in particular is given some fun and cool moments.
The moments where Echo Team are in action crackle as usual, but as I mentioned there’s a lot of horrific action in “Code Zero” as well especially in the scenes where Echo Team have to deal with outbreaks of the Seif Al Din virus that transforms innocent people into flesh hungry zombies.
So for me “Code Zero” was a different, but still incredibly fun Joe Ledger novel. It was a tale of psychological and techno horror, but it was also a high stakes tale of desperate heroes. Imagine the conflict, stakes, and tone of the film “The Dark Knight” played out on a national level and featuring valiant and identifiable Spec Op Warfare heroes that are battling to stop a zombie Armageddon from happening. Yes “Code Zero” is as fun as it sounds.
I’m still relatively new to the world of Warhammer 40K fiction. I’ve gotten to know the Inquisition thanks to Dan Abnett’s novels. I’ve also done a bit of adventuring with the Imperial Guard via Sandy Mitchell’s first Ciaphas Caine omnibus. I really loved those books.
Deathwatch is my first Space Marines novel and I really did enjoy it. The characters of Talon Squad were the highlights of the book. I really enjoyed getting to know them and watching them bond via Deathwatch training and their actual mission. The book’s weakness was that it was a dual narrative that focused on the Inquisition from time to time and it tended to slow things down. The characters and action there were not as interesting. Plus the nature of Talon Squad’s mission was a little predictable.
All in all though this was a fun novel with character you cared about and some great action especially when the protagonist Karas, a Psyker Space Marine got to cut loose with his powers. I hope Mr. Parker gets a chance to tell another novel length adventure featuring Talon Squad.
In 2005 I was a huge fan of Michael Connelly’s police procedurals starring LAPD detective Harry Bosch. So I begrudgingly let the writer introduce me to a new protagonist, defense attorney Michael “Mickey” Haller, even though court room thrillers were not really my thing. I ended up liking the “Lincoln Lawyer” (the book where Mickey was introduced) though. I also enjoyed Mickey’s return appearances in the novels “The Brass Verdict” , “The Reversal” , and “The Fifth Witness” . It’s been a couple years since we’ve seen Mickey though and I didn’t realize how much I missed him until I read Connelly’s latest book “The Gods of Guilt” which is hands down the best novel in the Lincoln Lawyer series and one of the best novels he’s ever written.
When we last saw Mickey in “The Fifth Witness” it looked like he was going to turn over a new leaf and run for the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office. When we meet him in “The Gods of Guilt” though he’s still a defense attorney. We don’t find immediately find out why, but when we do it’s a pretty shocking reveal and it’s clear that Haller is a haunted and damaged man. It’s fascinating watching him deal with that damage and try to come to terms with who he is and what he does, and of course it’s also fascinating to watch him do what he does best. So “The Gods of Guilt” is a great character study of a deeply flawed, but cunning and brilliant lawyer who has to beat both his personal demons and the evidence that’s stacked against his client.
Mickey isn’t the only great character in “The Gods of Guilt.” We also get to spend some time with some great familiar characters like his imposing investigator Cisco, and his loyal driver Earl, but we also meet some interesting new new faces like young lawyer Jennifer Aronson, the newest recruit to the Michael Haller and Associates Law Firm. The antagonists of the novel, once they reveal themselves, are also quite interesting. They’re believeable and and fun to watch in love to hate them sort of way.
The case Mickey and his colleagues are up against is a labyrinthine and twisting mystery with personal stakes. That’s because a former client of Mickey’s, a prostitute he believe he helped quit the life, is dead and the Lincoln Lawyer must help acquit the man accused of her murder.
Mickey’s quest to clear his client’s name leads to an investigation with a ton of exciting twists and turns. The pacing of “The Gods ofGuilt”is phenomenal. There’s never a dull moment. Even the time jumps are handled perfectly. During those moments you’re left wondering what happened in those gaps and then you slowly find out in exciting, shocking, and poignant ways that reveal the kind of toll a murder trial can have on the accused and his defense team.
The court room scenes are also incredibly riveting. When you hit the portion of the novel where Haller actually mounts his defense of his client I guarantee you’ll be tempted to read that portion of the novel in one sitting. I did! When a chapter break came I had to pause and catch my breath. I was that invested in the story!
So if you’re a fan of Michael Connelly’s writing, crime novels, or court room thrillers do yourself a favor and read “The Gods of Guilt.” It’s a fantastic novel that once again cements Michael Connelly’s reputation as one of the best crime writers in the business.
Years and years ago, a friend introduced me to the Harry Potter series and as we were listening to the first three books on audio (this was before “Goblet of Fire” had been released) I was struck by a few things: the quality of the characters and the world, and the fact that each of the books was a mystery. Subsequent books in the series further demonstrated author J.K. Rowling’s knack for telling mystery tales. So I thought it would be pretty cool to see what she could do with an adult crime/mystery novel.
When the news broke that she had indeed written one under the psuedonym of Robert Galbraith I was excited, what made the announcement even cooler was the fact that the description of the book, “The Cuckoo’s Calling,” made it sound like something I was going to read anyway. It was a P.I. novel and I’m a sucker for a good P.I. novel. Now having finished it I’m happy to report the book wasn’t just a good P.I. novel, it was a great one.
Of course the heart of any good Private Detective novel is it’s protagonist and with “The Cuckoo’s Calling” Rowling/Galbraith gives an interesting protagonist that you can root for in Cormoran Strike. When we meet Strike he’s haunted by several things. The first is the leg he lost while investigating a crime as a military police man in Afghanistan. The second is the dissolution of his relationship with his temperamental fiance Charlotte, and the third is the home he lost by ending things with her. On top of that his interactions with the world are also colored by the different and sometimes traumatic experiences he endured growing up with his mother. Those experience are part of some interesting character reveals later in the book though and I don’t want to spoil them.
So Strike is good hearted but emotionally battered and down on his luck when we first meet him. Our first meeting with him comes when he literally bumps into a character I really didn’t think I’d like very much, Robin, a temp worker assigned to be Strike’s secretary for a couple of weeks. At first Robin doesn’t seem like she belongs in a crime novel. It’s almost like she stepped out of a romantic comedy. She turns out to be a charismatic, caring, and capable secretary though. So by the end of the novel I was won over and enjoying Robin’s appearances; especially her interactions with her boss.
Robin comes into Strike’s life right as a gigantic case falls into his lap; A lawyer named John Bristow wants Strike to investigate the death of his sister a world famous supermodel named Lula Landry. Landry, who was hounded by paparazzi everywhere she went in London, died months earlier in a fall from the balcony of her flat. The police ruled that she jumped, but John Bristow believes that his sister was pushed and he wants Strike to find out the truth.
Strike takes the case and his investigation plunges him into the decadent, deceitful, and even dangerous world of the ultra wealthy. It also gives Rowling/Galbraith the chance to show off her flair for crafting interesting and believable characters like Landry’s family, a designer grieving her death, her drug addicted boy friend, her best friend and fellow supermodel, and an enigmatic and non-wealthy girl she met in counseling.
The most interesting character we meet and get to know though is Strike himself. Like I said earlier when we first met him he’s suffered quite a bit and he’s barely dealing with it. So watching him struggle with his woes and struggling to find justice for a woman who might have been murdered is fun. You get to cheer him on.
The insights into Strike and his investigation don’t come via the usual first person narration found in private detective novels, but that’s okay. Rowling’s prose is exciting and we still get enough of Strike’s perspective and some times we get Robin’s perspective as well.
In terms of pacing “The Cuckoo’s Calling” starts off a little slow as you wade into the investigation of Landry’s death with Strike. Once the investigation heats up though the book takes off like a rocket. It really was a struggle to put down at points, especially near the end. Best of it all, the ending suggests that Rowling/Galbraith has more plans for Cormoran Strike and I can’t wait to see what they are
So, “The Cuckoo’s Calling,” J.K. Rowling (A.K.A. Rober Galbraith)’s first detective novel was a hell of a read. It was as much fan and intriguing as I hoped it would be. If you want to see what Harry Potter’s creator can do with a real world, grounded mystery or are just craving a great detective novel pick it up.