Monday, August 15, 2011
Welcome to Hell-o-Stone
Review of Back of Beyond, a thriller by C.J. Box, read by Holter Graham
First, I look for a character to follow or empathize with, then try to figure out what trouble he or she is in.
This book starts out with an ex-alkie, nicotine-jonesing cop named Cody Hoyt banging around the backwoods in Montana, plowing into an elk, and then getting to a rain-soaked, burned up cabin containing the crisped remains of his AA sponsor. Naturally, Hoyt sits in his car and slurps some booze he stole from a witness, which irks his partner Larry no end.
Hmmm, this is my protag? (He also helps himself to phones and equipment from the property room as if it were Walmart in there.)
With some alcohol-infused detection, he develops the notion that his teenage son and his wife’s intended second husband are on a pack trip into Yellowstone with the killer. Whoa—quite a leap there.
We cut to two teenage girls who are on the trip with their dear old Dad. One is a cheerleader type and the other is a commonsense, observant youngster, who soon notes that Dad might just have known a single woman named Rachel, who is also on the trip. Hey, they didn’t just meet, she deduces. Very good, Gracie!
Back to the crime, remember that? There is a school of red herrings coursing through the park. Everyone did it! There, I solved it.
But no…pretty soon, the unhappy campers start falling—their remains immediately set upon by ravening wolves or grizzlies. The wildlife is wild in this!
I can’t say much more without spoilers. Let’s just say screenwriters are only allowed one coincidence per script and this book grabbed several.
I did like some of the writing quite a bit—phrases like “sudsy stars” appearing. I have been to Yellowstone and the stars are so visible they look like foam. I am leery of woods, personally, and descriptions of wolves as 175-lb dogs with red bloody teeth hunched over a corpse tended to stick with me. The reader Holter Graham also had a pleasant tenor voice and didn’t ham it up.
Some scenes went on too long (hint, the peeping Tom scene at the latrine). And would Cody really frisk every corpse he found for cigs? Well, on that one—yes. He is quite the protag. I bet he also kept the satellite phone he “found” in the evidence room.
Monday, March 28, 2011
Run away to Alaska--think first
The last frontier of relationships? A review of Caribou Island, by David Vann, read by Bronson Pinchot, and reviewed by Star Lawrence
In the interest of TMI, let me reveal that I spent a decade of my life with a man who was a “dreamer” with limited follow-though. I also tended to martyr out from time to time and still do.
Maybe this is why I can’t get David Vann’s Caribou Island out of my mind, but I tend to think it’s more because this is good story telling—if you define that as making the reader always wonder what comes next, what will happen, then what.
But by good story telling, I don’t mean easy to take. In loosely wandering between the stories of a couple who had settled into the icy wilds of Alaska decades before and now are picking at the remains of their relationship, along with their two grown children and two tourists—Caribou Island is a study in endurance, missed connections, stunted emotional growth, and escapism. And violence.
A friend once chided me for recommending a book in which animals suffered, so fair warning—the people do most of the suffering in this one, but there is mention of a starved dog and many, many salmon have a bad time of it.
Did I “enjoy” this book? I can’t get it out of my mind. Is that the same?
One more thing. I can’t read novels anymore and listened to Bronson Pinchot read this. He does a perfect job—perfect! You might want to take a flyer on audio with this one.
Star Lawrence owns two blogs— http://HEALTHSass.blogspot.com
and a recession site called http://HopeyCopey.blogspot.com. She is a long-time reporter.
Thursday, August 12, 2010
THE GLASS RAINBOW
Review of THE GLASS RAINBOW, Dave Robicheaux and Clete Purcell together forever? Written by James Lee Burke, read by Will Patton.
This is the 18th Robicheaux/Purcell caper—is it the last? I will get to that in a moment.
Dave, as the legions of fans know, is a mercurial cop-family man guy, who was tossed off the New Orleans cops and landed in the New Iberia, Louisiana, Sheriff’s Department. Clete is his bigger-than-life brawler of a pal, late of the NO cops, never at the Sheriff’s Department, and now sort of a freewheeling PI and world-class drinker.
These two are low-life Velcro. They find every reptilian, old-money, new-money, pimp and scoundrel rattling around Louisiana, In The Glass Rainbow, they are entangled with a creepy old oil man and his dilettante son, Kermit. Added to the mix are some young women tossed into landfills like trash and one of those celebrity criminals. You know, the kind celebrities lionize.
About then, Dave starts spotting the phantom steam paddlewheeler on his beloved Bayou Teche outside his house. And the guys in the black SUVs start to show up.
Amidst the trademark Burke nature lore, the bruised skies, the tink of raindrops, the great grand-daughter of New Orleans famed voodoo queen glances at Dave and remarks that he is “disappearin’, thinnin' out.”
Now, I don’t want to spoil this, but let’s say the ending is ambiguous. Dave boards the paddlewheeler, sees his long-dead parents, medics from Vietnam…Clete tries to pull him back down the gangplank.
Is this the end for our guys?
Star Lawrence owns two websites—one, HEALTHSass (http://healthsass.blogspot.com), contains interesting health tidbits and the other, Do the Hopey Copey (http://hopeycopey.blogspot.com) is for those seeking to stay alive in this economy.
Sunday, March 14, 2010
Dark North Woods, dark history
A review of Thunder Bay, audio book by William Kent Krueger, read by Buck Schirmer.
I first read about deliberate, thoughtful sheriff Corcoran O’Connor in Mercy Falls, and I see from Amazon, he has been treading those pineneedle-covered forest trails, running into the occasional degenerate murderer, for several books.
Thunder Bay is actually in Canada, but the story begins in Minnesota. O’Connor has resigned as sheriff of Tamarack County. His friend, an almost 100-year-old Ojibwa medicine man named Henry, is hospitalized and asks O’Connor to find his son, who would then be 73. Son? What son? O’Connor had known the old man all his life, no mention of a son.
He reluctantly agrees and at least googles the mother’s name, one of two clues the old man had. The other clue is a gold watch with a beautiful Latin woman’s picture in it. Of course, through the wonder of Inspector Google, he finds the connection right away. The son, a zillionaire industrialist, is a recluse a la Howard Hughes on an island near Thunder Bay.
Corc journeys to the place, bringing the watch. By then, he has learned the old man’s story, which we readers learn to the tune of half the book. I won’t go into it—but I cried and I am not usually a sappy mess.
The son is a wackypack, with long white hair and a closetful of clean bathrobes and surgical masks. Or is he?
I will leave it to you.
There is a second story line I won’t go into and all I can say is that the book nimbly dodges Nancy Drew World a few times, for which I was thankful.
Buck Schirmer? The reader? Wonderful base voice. My gosh, you could take a bath in his voice. I asked my daughter why I never meet anyone with a voice like that. She said it was because I never went anywhere.
Star Lawrence owns a health website called HEALTH’Sass at http://healthsass.blogspot.com and a recession site at http://hopeycopey.blogspot.com.
She can be reached at email@example.com.
Sunday, January 03, 2010
Nature tooth and claw--SWAN PEAK
A review of the audio version of SWAN PEAK by James Lee Burke, read by Will Patton.
Let me stipulate: The Rockies are beautiful, the snow-kissed peaks, the gathering purple shadows, the sound of wind in the pines and larches, cut-throat trout slowly wheeling under lime Jell-O-clear water.…If you have read rhapsodic nature-worshipping James Lee Burke, you know where I am going with this.
Burke lives in Montana and in New Orleans and is apparently a rich man longing for the old America, where men went to war, killed or were maimed, came back and toughed it out in small towns, tramping along as cops or serial killers with their demons riding their backs and peculiar moral codes thumping in their chests.
Under the endlessly gorgeous descriptions of natural sights and sounds, Burke lets us know none too subtly, beats a black heart, men who look like other men but long to burn people alive and backhoe them into premature graves while they struggle to find oxygen amongst the richly fragrant humus being tossed on top of them.
Enter Clete Purcel, the wild-living former cop and rule-shattering PI of many Burke books, and his enigmatically explosive New Iberia, Louisiana, police pal Dave Robicheaux (this is their 16th outing) This time, the duo has traveled to visit a crusading professor (Burkean?) living in one of the most idyllic places on earth.
First, thing, mayhem-magnet Clete runs afoul of some trashy body guards for two local oil barons, who have the bad judgment to run over the Clete-ster’s fly rod. Uh-oh.
It’s on, babies.
I won’t drop spoilers, but dragged into the volatile mix is a sexually conflicted prison guard, an earnest C&W singer, a gold-digging gal with pipes of her own, a rather thoughtful woman with flowers tattooed all over her tatas, some hapless college kids, and a tacky preacher man.
Will Patton, a perennial favorite reader of Burke books, mutters on in his soft, Southern voice, peeling back the beauty of a sunset to reveal the bloody and bloody-minded human pollution that lies beneath it.
Do I sound cynical? I love Burke, but seriously? This is starting to freak me out. Maybe he spends all day thinking about the only geography that counts, according to him—the hole we will lie in. But I don’t. Sometimes I watch TV, even.
I am being cremated anyhow—and after I die, too.
Sunday, November 08, 2009
All families have their quirks
Review of THE WAY HOME, an unusual family portrait, written by George Pelecanos and read by Dion Graham.
Some nice, hard-working middle-class parents don’t end up with the stereotypical kids who take the stereotypical road to adulthood. I didn’t, for instance. So I can identify with George Pelecanos’ latest. Although it’s set in the Washington, DC area, a Pelecanos trademark, the protag, Chris Flynn, son of the owner of a successful carpet installation company, is not African-American, a departure of sorts for this author, who has also written for THE WIRE on HBO.
The story opens on Chris in juvie—having tested and broken his parents’ hearts several times with stupid adolescent decisions. Now he’s inside the system and they are outside, confused, angry, and hurt. Chris drops his verbs, adopts some street intonations and casually informs his dad at one point that he “knows how to jail.” His Dad corrects him each time. Personally, I hate the expression “where it’s at” and correct it every time!
As their paths diverge, parents and son, they also braid back together when Chris gets out. The young man even goes to work with Dad’s company and his Dad hires some of Chris’s pals from juvie. But don’t bring out the pleasing pastels for the family portrait just yet.
One day, after installing a carpet in an empty house, Chris and a friend from jail, Ben, discover a compartment under the floor with $50,000 in it. Uh-oh.
Chris remembers some movies (“A Simple Plan” comes to mind, but was not mentioned) in which keeping found money like this comes to no good. He talks Ben into putting it back.
But fate has spun the Big Wheel. Click, click, where will it stop?
I leave it to you to read or better yet, listen to his story, one of Pelecanos’ most involving, at least for me.
Dion Graham reads it and does not overdo the street gab. His voice is quite hypnotic in fact, and like someone who speaks in low tones, draws you in and makes you listen carefully.
You are not going to want to miss a word.
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
Back from hell, what's shakin'?
Review of Audiobook
Sandman Slim written by Richard Kadrey, read by Macleod Andrews
Okay, here is the setup: A negative thinker named James Butler Stark is a naturally gifted magician in an LA group called the Sub Rosa. He ticks them off with his smart-alecky approach to magic and gets dragged into Hell, known as “Downtown,” for 11 years. Of course, being forced to fight supernatural beings in an arena in Hell for over a decade, he builds up some resentment and steals the key to everything, including Earth, and comes back for revenge.
With me so far?
Oh—and this is funny!
Stark lops off heads, makes the heads watch infomercials in a dark closet, and says when you have nothing left and are starting over on Earth, you really only care whether you own socks or not.
As he rages around looking for his old buddies, he runs afoul of Homeland Security, which is of course hooked up with angels (on the side of, get it?) and starts Stark raving about “angel hoo-doo”—he is not a fan.
None of his buds from Hell are here (only the boss Lucifer can get out), but there are angels…and some other in-between unsavories called “kissi.” Turns out these unworthies are the real bad guys—and the hellions are really just sports-minded scum. Who cares—they can’t get out anyhow.
So now Stark is after the kissi—the ones who really dragged him Downtown and killed his one-true-love Alice.
You can grab your weapon of choice and hear the rest. As Stark puts it—“This is a booty call to a massacre.” The narrator, Macleod Andrews, reads Stark as an ironic sort of hell cat, and I have to say, this audiobook is full-on groovy.
Silent type, spikey heiress--sound good?
Review of Audiobook:
The Watchman by Robert Crais, read by James Daniels
Does the concept of an ex-Marine, ex-cop dashing around LA trying to keep a hot heiress safe from South American hit men grab you? What if that Marine/ex-cop was your beloved Joe Pike of Elvis Cole./Joe Pike fame? Are you in?
Instead of his growly guest appearances in private detective Elvis Cole books, Pike takes this one over, bodyguarding the brash young Larkin Connor Barkley, who has happened into some weird action when blasting her Aston-Martin through empty LA streets at 4 am.
No matter what safe house Pike puts her in—or even finds for her himself—the scuzzies show up an hour later to blast Larkin into giblets. Someone is selling her out. Time is short to find out who the heck these people are and why they want her dead. All the people involved in the early dawn accident are already dead, except for Larkin.
Assisted by his wisecracking buddy Elvis Cole, Pike tries to second-guess everyone who knows him or Larkin—to no avail. In the front door of a safe house—and the bad guys are sneaking in the back door and are in need of some decimating.
James Daniels is the perfect reader for this, doing Pike in a slow, flat, reluctant voice—darn, I hate to use my vocal cords, how many times have I told you that? Elvis Cole comes off as the motor mouth, funny younger brother type. Larkin is no Paris Hilton, either—she is by turns scared, irritated, and a little enamored of her capable protector.
Apparently, when she is not on the run, her usual male companions don’t clean their guns every night, buy her vegan meals, or understand when she sneaks out to dance on a bar amidst shouting Armenians.
By the way—the title, The Watchman, makes no sense. Where do they get these titles sometimes?