Monday, January 30, 2012

"Blind Instinct" by Fiona Brand

Sara Fischer is a librarian who discovers a Nazi codebook in her late father's attic. This coincides with the return of dreams in which she was Sara Weiss, a spy for the French Resistance. These memories of her past life enable her to unravel the code and inadvertently puts her life in danger. Also involved is childhood friend and unrequited love Marc Bayard, who works for National Intelligence. He's still tracking down Alex Lopez, head of a brutal cartel that is in a war with a Nazi-based cabal over diamonds looted from a sunken ship, the sinking of which involved some sort of murder cover-up.

I think.

To be honest, I had no idea what the hell was going on in this book. It wasn't until I hopped onto the Internet and did a little research that I discovered this was book number three in a trilogy! However, absolutely nowhere on the cover, or on the back-cover blurb did it mention this book was part of a trilogy. No, you have to flick through the book and read the author's acknowledgements to get any sort of idea that two books came before this one. Pretty shifty, considering the asking price for this thing is $15.95! I can't really complain because I bought it for $2 from an op shop. Nevertheless, tactics like this to sell more books really tick me off. I was expecting a fairly brainless romantic action thriller. Instead, I kept getting tons and tons and tons of complicated back-story dumped on me.

Ironically enough, this is what scores the book points. "Blind Instinct" isn't some by-the-numbers romantic thriller churned out by an author operating on autopilot. It's a reasonably complex conclusion to what is obviously a well-researched thriller series. I'm not sure I was intrigued enough to hunt down the previous two books (I know how it all ends, after all), but "Blind Instinct" shows off an author with a little talent to spare. And - despite having trouble following events - I read it all the way to the end. That's REALLY saying something.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

"The Guilty" by Jason Pinter

Henry Parker is a journalist who comes across the story of a lifetime when an unknown assassin begins picking off famous people - including a popular actress and a media magnate. Journalism being the cut-throat world it is, he wants to find a unique angle. He gets it when he realises the assassin is using a very unlikely weapon - a Winchester. This was a rifle used by Billy The Kid. His investigation uncovers secrets from the past, which could possibly change history. Unfortunately, his knack for the facts brings him to the assassin's attention.

"The Guilty" is mildly diverting, and the history regarding Billy The Kid is quite intriguing. Events cap off with a slam-bang finale. So why isn't it ultimately successful? The main fault would have to be levelled at the characters. Unfortunately, Henry Parker himself is the worst offender. He wonders whether he'll have to live a solitary existence because his profession brings too much danger into his life and could threaten the life of his girlfriend Alison, whom he loves dearly. Is he for real? Journalism is only dangerous because journalists actively chase the danger! There are actual noble jobs out there like police officers and video store clerks who don't ask for the danger but get it anyway. So I found Henry to be a deluded, arrogant buffoon. The rest of the characters don't fare much better.

The other issue I found here was with the portrayal of journalism itself. I'm not a journalist, but the rest of my family is, so I have some passing familiarity with the profession. The journalism presented here did not really seem to connect with reality. Apparently reporters are allowed to print wildly biased opinion pieces on topical stories. The subplot involving rival journalist Paulina Cole and her quest to ruin Henry professionally is just ludicrous. One article she writes in particular would never even have made it to press.

The final nail in the coffin is the motive of the killer. Sadly, it just doesn't make much sense. He believes his targets are corrupting society, or something random like that. Pinter doesn't make any effort in exploring this opinion or why the killer follows his belief so devoutly. He's spending too much time trying to show how Henry faces the difficult decision over whether or not to break up with Alison because of the danger his job brings into his life. Give me a break. I'm tempted to cap off with some clever comment regarding what "The Guilty" is guilty of, but I won't.

"Watch Me" by Brenda Novak

Sheridan Kohl returns to the town of Whiterock twelves years after she was nearly killed by a gunman who murdered the boy she was with. There's been a development in the case and she wants to lay the past to rest. However, her arrival is met with another attack that nearly kills her. She is saved by Cain Granger, stepbrother of the boy Sheridan was with twelve years ago, and the man she has been in love with ever since a teenager. However, Cain is pinpointed by chief of police Ned Smith and his own stepfather John Wyatt as the prime suspect in both crimes - they happened on or near his property. Another murder makes things very difficult for Cain, and he struggles with his feelings for Sheridan while trying to prove his own innocence and keep her safe.

"Watch Me" is a surprisingly decent mystery that doesn't overplay the romantic angst and keeps the identity of the villian neatly hidden. Everybody has a plausible motive for murder. Sure, that means it could have been anybody, but I prefer that to Scooby-Doo surprise baddies with ridiculous motives. The only real complaint here is the way every single female character in the story is completely and totally in love with Cain Granger. One is obsessed with him. It's hard to figure out why. He doesn't seem like a bad guy, but other than that he's kind of dull. Not the best of its genre, but far from the worst.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

"Senseless" by Mary Burton

Eva Rayburn is six months out of prison after serving ten years for the manslaughter of Josiah Cross, a sicko who raped her and branded her with a four-point star. Josiah was from a rich family, the patriarch of which basically railroaded her and the police into making her admit to the death. In actuality, Eva cannot remember killing Josiah.

The past comes back to haunt her when the sorority sisters who testified against her all that time ago begin to start dying, their bodies discovered with four-point star brands. Detective Deacon Garrison is on the case, and eventually discovers the link between the current murders and Eva's past. Of course, this being a romantic suspense novel, he begins to fall for the woman he's not sure he can trust.

While Mary Burton does tick off a lot of the requisite cliches for a romantic suspense novel, there's more here to enjoy than to pick apart. She has a good handle on plotting, suspense and characterisation. Both our leads have tortured pasts - Eva with the whole convicted felon thing and Deacon with his guilt over being unable to "save" his sister or his wife (his sister had cystic fibrosis and his wife committed suicide). Deacon does threaten to become the dreaded melodramatic alpha-male, but he's likeable enough and at least has two brain cells to rub together. Eva's "I don't need your charity" attitude gets quite grating at times, but she comes across as a believable representation of somebody who has had to weather a lot of heavy stuff in a short life span.

There's no denying a few pages could be shorn off this thing, but that's more to do with a couple of unnecessary subplots - for example, a petty thief who witnesses one of the crimes. I prefer that to Karen Rose-style endless navel-gazing about falling in love with the wrong man/woman. Eva and Deacon fancy each other, but don't go on and on about it. The plot is surprisingly complex for a romantic thriller of this sort, and delivers some genuinely clever plot twists late in the proceedings. I'm not familiar with much of Burton's work, but if this novel is any indication, she's sitting at the front of the romantic suspense pack.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

"Think Of A Number" by John Verdon

Dave Gurney is a retired homicide detective who is contacted by an old college friend (from some twenty-five years ago) about some weird letters he has been receiving. The letter asks him to think of a number, and when he opens a smaller envelope - there is that number! More letters follow, until the point where the friend winds up dead in a bizarre crime scene.

Despite his wife Madeleine not being too happy about him being pulled back into the world of homicide, Gurney finds that this is a puzzle he just has to solve. His previous good reputation gets him onto the team as an investigator for the district attorney, where he is given almost free reign to follow the clues. Sure enough, another similar murder eventually occurs. How can this killer know what number his victims will think of? What connects all of the victims?

Unfortunately, the answer isn't as interesting or exciting as what is set up by the plot. "Think Of A Number" is a disappointinly slow and routine story. For me, the intrigue was behind what made the killer sure that his victims would think of a particular number. But the author seems far more focused on explaining the ins and outs of how the killer set up his bizarre crime scenes. It made for very dry reading and really not that far removed from countless other novels in this genre that put emphasis on forensic accuracy. The solution to the "think of a number" scenario is disappoiningly obvious and dull (and randomly figured out by the characters during a single brain-storming session late in the novel).

Characterisation is another major flaw here. Navel-gazing, thy name is Dave Gurney. Get over yourself, buddy. If we're going to spend all our time with a character, make him at least a little interesting. Being haunted by a dead son, and nagged by a wife who doesn't like his job, is something seen far too often in this genre, and Verdon doesn't do anything new with it here. Wife Madeleine may seem to provide some arbitrary inspirations for Dave to solve a particular clue, but other than that her sole function is to make Dave feel bad for doing something he genuinely enjoys. Great character! Similarly, the people who make up the police teams that Dave works with are all strident, arrogant and prickly, with huge chips on their shoulders. Almost all of the dialogue in the novel is adversary in nature. It gets tiresome.

The novel is refreshingly well-plotted in that the clues are all there to be figured out if you're paying attention. No arbitrary Unfortunately, because the pace was so stifling and the characters so unappealing, I wasn't really paying as much attention as I should. I'm surprised by the number of raving reviews this has received - intelligent plotting still needs suspense, decent pacing and interesting characters. Think of another book to read.