Wednesday, October 24, 2012

"Blind Rage" by Terri Persons

FBI Agent Bernadette Saint Clare is convinced that a series of supposed suicides by drowning are actually the work of a serial killer. The victims are all psychologically troubled women. When a woman is found drowned in a tub, Bernadette believes the killer has evolved to take a more active part in his killings. With her boss Tony Garcia, the suspect pool is narrowed down to Professor Finlay Wakefielder, Dr. Luke VonHader and Luke's younger brother Matthew VonHader.

Wakefielder runs a class on Suicide in Poetry, which was attended by some of the victims. Luke is a doctor who treated some of the victims. What could be the connection between them? Which one could be a killer? Bernadette, who also has a psychic ability to allow her to see through the killer's eyes, must find the culprit before another emotionally unstable woman becomes the next victim.

The back of this book claims this is "the most unique thriller you'll read all year". If by unique they mean reading about the world's most incompetent FBI agent who can't even use her psychic ability properly to help her solve a case, then they might be on the money. Otherwise, "Blind Rage" is a completely by-the-numbers effort that would be a lot shorter if the main investigators had two brain cells to rub together.

I loved how Bernadette is told by a student in the same class as one of the victims that she never spoke to the victim, only for Bernadette to then respond: "did she ever indicate to you she was having problems with a boyfriend?" Yep, Bernadette, you're real sharp. When her limited questioning skills fail to result in a suspect confessing all and sundry, she petulantly flat-out accuses them of murder, or in one case, attempting to murder her. Great way not to show all your cards at once, Bernadette. The author should have renamed her Bernadolt.

The red herrings that abound are clumsy and obvious. I wasn't able to pick the killer through any carefully laid clues. I simply picked a person who was never a suspect and just happened to be right. While I do like it when I'm right, since it doesn't happen very often, I think I prefer it in a mystery thriller when I'm proven wrong. That's the nature of a mystery, right?

The actual circumstances of Bernadolt's second sight are flimsy. She can handle an object and then see through the killer's eyes. She can also see dead people. In fact, the dead people she associates with are able to take corporeal form and use computers and move objects. Huh? Later in the novel, any injuries that befall the killer also happen to Bernadolt. Except, conveniently, when the killer is shot. Double huh? The author is unable to maintain any sort of consistency whatsoever with the supernatural angle, which basically renders the whole enterprise as ridiculous and tedious.

I've since found out that Terri Persons - which the book cover heralds as a "new" voice in crime fiction - is actually a pseudonym for Theresa Monsour, who previously published three books featuring Detective Paris Murphy. I read the first one - "Clean Cut", which was utterly routine and I didn't bother with any further entries. By the looks of things, Persons has now vanished off the radar again, since the next entry "Blind Sight" was published in 2009 and there hasn't been anything since. And if she does pop up again with a different name, I probably won't know until it's too late, because I will have already read the thing!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

"The Memory Collector" by Meg Gardiner

Forensic psychiatrist Jo Beckett, who normally gets involved when a subject is dead, is called upon to unlock the secrets of a live specimen. His name is Ian Kanan and he is suffering from anterograde amnesia, which leaves him unable to form new memories. Basically, every five minutes he forgets everything he's just learnt. He's caused a bit of an incident after trying to disembark from a plane - while it was still in the air.

Things only get more complicated when he manages to escape, leaving Jo and Lt. Amy Tang struggling to keep up with what he might be trying to achieve - since he can't remember himself! As the story progresses, we learn that his son, Seth Kanan, has been kidnapped. We also learn about something called "Slick", an unstable biological agent formed through nanotechnology - and very likely the cause of Ian's incurable amnesia. Even worse, it's contagious, and other people on the same flight as Ian are beginning to suffer similar symptoms.

The only thing about Ian Kanan they know for sure is that he's determined to complete his mission, but they can't decide whether he might be friend or foe, or if innocent lives might be lost in the crossfire.

Before I go further and point out what irked me, let me just say - wow! I re-read my review of "The Dirty Secrets Club", which I still remember disliking, and can't believe that a series could go from quite terrible to absolutely terrific. "The Memory Collector" is a real keeper. While the predecessor synthetically injected action sequences into its standard narrative, this effort was much more reminiscent of the Evan Delaney novels, in which the action was an integral and believable part of the proceedings. This one hardly lets up!

Gardiner does an admirable job of releasing plot information at the right time to both keep an air of mystery about the proceedings whilst not leaving the reader in a state of confusion as to what is going on. It's much easier to enjoy the action sequences when you understand why they are occurring. Towards the end, her bag of tricks begins to empty out, but it's a minor quibble - everything about this novel is designed to keep you on the edge of your seat, eagerly flicking through the pages.

Of course, the whole thing is slightly ludicrous, but it's just so entertaining. I'm sure the anterograde amnesia thing has been done before, but it's delivered so well here. Ian Kanan keeps flicking between unstable bad guy and determined good guy, so you're never sure what's going to happen next. He's a really intriguing, well-drawn character with a genuinely involving character arc. The pacing is dead on and there are some good plot twists.

Any complaints? Of course! I still don't understand how Jo's job differs from anything an every-day detective might do. She's supposed to decipher a person's life - but so do detectives! I don't think I'll ever be fully sold on her profession. Secondly, I really couldn't stand the character of Gabe Quintana, Jo's boyfriend. The same problem with "The Dirty Secrets Club" is evident here. Gabe has absolutely zero personality. He's straight out of romantic suspense central casting. While I don't think this novel would classify as romantic suspense - it's too good - Gabe belongs in some second-grade Lisa Jackson book. Get rid of him!

So, yes, this one stretches credibility, but it's just so flat-out entertaining that I didn't care. I didn't care that Jo's job description is ill-defined. I didn't care that Gabe Quintana is a personality-free bore. I was able to forgive a seemingly never-ending icky sex scene. "The Memory Collector" was well-plotted, provided non-stop action and a fascinating character in a fascinating situation (Ian Kanan). It's one of the best books I've read this year and I'll be checking out the other entries in the series.

"Kill Me If You Can" by James Patterson & Marshall Karp

Matthew Bannon is a struggling artist who finds a way to turn his fortunes around when he stumbles across a bag full of diamonds, likely worth several million dollars. Unfortunately, he has taken them from Walter Zelvas, a member of the Diamond Syndicate, who has just been murdered by top international hitman The Ghost.

By skipping off with the diamonds to start a new life with his girlfriend Katherine Sanborne, Matthew has angered the high ranking members of the Diamond Syndicate, who want him killed and the diamonds returned. Not only do they have The Ghost on his tail, they also hire Marta Krall, a hitwoman, and two crooked detectives.

Matthew must find a way to stay one step ahead of multiple assassins and assorted killers in order to get the diamonds valued and sold to the highest bidder.

I guess I was a little over-confident after enjoying Patterson's "The Beach House", as "Kill Me If You Can" is a predictable, underplotted affair, which I doubt would convince many readers to give Patterson's other works a go. I guess the biggest problem is simply the stupidity of a person taking off with a bag full of diamonds in the first place, especially when you've just witnessed the current owner's vicious assassination. Right from the get-go, I simply wasn't in Matthew Bannon's corner. He deserved the mess he brought down on him. His girlfriend Katherine wasn't developed enough for me to give two shits about her fate.

The plot twist that is delivered half way through the proceedings didn't really help either. I admit I did not see it coming, though I probably should have. I guess if you have low expectations it is easier to be surprised, but I digress. All the twist does is lower the suspense level even further, as it no longer involved the protagonist being out of their depth. Later chapters involving Bannon's mates were particularly cringeworthy.

Speaking of cringeworthy, we have a charming subplot involving Nathaniel Prince, another member of the Diamond Syndicate who is carrying on an incestuous relationship with his daughter Natalia Prince. We get plenty of smarmy, far-too-detailed accounts of their lovemaking. Yuck, yuck, yuck. Actually, the sex scenes between Matthew and Katherine were pretty yucky too, and quite frequent. If this were a movie, it would probably wind up being a soft-core porno flick.

Nevertheless, like any James Patterson offering, it moves quickly from one plot point to the next, leaving little time for the reader to get bored. Plenty of action sequences and plenty of sex. Pity the sex is so gross. I'll likely give Patterson a bit of a break, until I'm once again bored by plucky female forensic investigators, world-weary cops and brave alpha males.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

"Beach House" by James Patterson & Peter De Jonge

Jack Mullen is a law student who returns home to Montauk, near East Hampton, only to find that his younger brother Peter has been brutally beaten to death. However, the police - led by Det. Frank Volpi - refuse to see it as anything other than an accidental drowning. Jack, his family, his friends and the wider community are all outraged. When they start their own investigation into the truth, they start getting followed, find themselves out of work and even threatened with death.

Jack is certain that Peter's involvement in the wealthy world of the rich East Hampton folk (albeit as a valet) somehow lead to his death and that their endless wealth is making sure that justice isn't done. Jack himself has links to that world through his girlfriend Dana Neubauer, the daughter of Barry and Campion Neubauer, one of the wealthiest and most powerful couples in society. However, Dana is quite the sweetie-pie she initially appeared to be.

When Jack discovers that Peter had money in his account far more than what you would expect from a valet, his suspicions are outright confirmed. His fight for truth and justice only brings on an even more intense defence from the Neubauers, forcing him and his friends to take drastic action.

Back in 2002, it would seem that James Patterson wasn't writing absolute crap. These days I've come to accept him as a guilty pleasure - his books have zero depth but they move quickly and can be quite enjoyable. I've particularly liked "The Quickie" and "Now You See Her". However, "Beach House" has a more consistent plot than what you'd find in one of Patterson's current thrillers. It doesn't stray into ridiculous sub-plots or scenarios - until the final quarter, I guess. But even the silliness of the concluding chapters can't detract from this being exactly what the book cover describes it as - a summer read involving wealth, betrayal, sex and murder.

Of course, this is commercial, cheesy and manipulative as hell. I wanted to applaud the heroes and boo and hiss at the villians. The characters are all pretty one-dimensional, but what can I say? I like heroes like Jack Mullen who are honest, down-to-Earth and want to see justice done. No whiny heroines or stoic alpha-males, no world-weary cops or cluey forensic investigators. It's something of a worry that a James Patterson novel could be less cliched than most thrillers out there.

It was a fun read. Trashy, but fun. I sometimes think a lot of authors are so intent on being accurate with procedure and science of crime investigation, or legal aspects, that they forget to inject the fun. They're so often just going through the motions. Even if Patterson and his co-authors are delivering a bit of nonsense, at least they're trying to give you a bit of a buzz too. After a glut of procedural-laden by-the-numbers thrillers with exceptionally irritating main characters, "Beach House" was a welcome, if silly, change.  

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

"The Watcher" by Grace Monroe

A serial killer dubbed The Edinburgh Ripper is killing red-haired prostitutes and removing their hands and feet. One victim is found with the message "More Will Die" written on her body in lipstick.

American tourist Thomas Foster is arrested for the crimes, and his obscenely rich father organises Brodie McLennan to be his lawyer. Brodie is certain that Thomas is innocent, but Detective Inspector Duncan Bancho is equally certain of his guilt. The two frequently clash over their opinions.

Little does Brodie know, but somebody is watching her. Since she has red hair herself, it appears she could be a target. And so could her thirteen-year-old half-sister Connie.

I don't know why I'm revealing less here than the plot description on the back of the book. The book happily states that Connie is kidnapped by the killer, but this doesn't actually happen until the 200-page mark, whilst the novel falls short of 400 pages. So, yes, half the book is mostly filler until the "big" event occurs. The book description also mentions Eastern European human traffickers and a "depraved" Internet chat room, but both of those elements are touched upon quite infrequently.

"The Watcher" was a really terrible book. It was badly written. Character actions rarely made sense. Why was everybody always slamming each other up against walls? I particularly disliked the character of Brodie. She was a strident, holier-than-thou pain in the ass. If a serial killer is breaking into your home, leaving you messages, making all sorts of personal contact, you call the police, don't you? Not Brodie. She thinks the police will only make it worse because she doesn't like Duncan. Of course, she's the only one who can handle the situation. That must be why she has a complete breakdown. Ugh. I wanted to reach into the pages of the book and throttle her. I really detested her.

There are a couple of creepy moments, but these are undermined by the ending in which (SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER) The Watcher is revealed to not really be a killer at all and kidnapped Connie to protect her from the real killer. I'm sure there are better ways to protect a person than breaking the law and making the family members go through hell. Especially since Brodie and her extended family have connections to POWERFUL, SCARY MEMBERS OF THE CRIMINAL UNDERWORLD FOR F***'S SAKE! Maybe a quick anonymous phone call to say "Hey, head's up, but I think Connie could be in danger. Get your criminal underworld mates who love her dearly to keep an extra eye on her, huh?" END OF SPOILER END OF SPOILER END OF SPOILER.

Slow-paced, unlikeable characters and non-sensical plotting. It's not hard to see why this series ended after the next book (this one was the third). Although how even four entries saw the light of day is hard to understand.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

"The Playroom" by Gloria Murphy

Victoria Louise is a beautiful woman who has just moved into a house in the town of Bradley. Little does anyone realise is that Victoria is really Rosalie Salino, the former occupant of the house, who used to be a fat, unpopular high school student. Plastic surgery has transformed her into a stunning sexpot, but she's unfortunately just a teensy bit psychotic as well. She still hasn't recovered from the tortures visited upon her during her high school years, and has developed a very special plan of revenge.

She hires Rusty Erlich to do up her house's playroom. Rusty is the one boy Victoria/Rosalie loved, and he wasn't as much of an asshole as the rest of his friends, so she spends a lot of time trying to seduce him, but he only has eyes for Rae Lemkin, another girl from high school he never really knew existed. When she isn't busy coming on to Rusty, Victoria is tracking down the remaining high school folk who bullied her, luring to them house under false pretenses, drugging them and tying them up in a separate room of the house. Once the playroom is finished, Victoria has a major party for everybody planned.

Ahhh, the treasures you can pick up at an Op Shop for 50c! I really enjoyed "The Playroom". It reminded me very much of some lost 80's movie classic rendered obsolete by the advent of DVD. Although marketed as a horror tale, this one is more of a psychological thriller. There's no sex and very limited violence. Rather, it provides a long, tasty build-up to the 'party' that Victoria has planned for everybody. As for Victoria, although she's a complete loony, she's strangely sympathetic. This kept me involved in the story. I also liked Rusty. Sure, he stood back and let the bullying happen as a high school student, but he felt bad about it, and never participated. Thankfully, he never lets his guilt make him a martyr.

"The Playroom" has just enough nastiness to give it an edge without making the proceedings unpleasant. While I did get annoyed with the sudden introduction of a character called Sally late in the novel (why did we spend so much time with her?), it was not enough to take me out of the book. This is a well-crafted suspense tale, and while a thorougly B-grade affair, it's a damn good one. It wasn't until I was doing a little research on the Internet that I found out Gloria Murphy authored the novel "A Whisper In The Attic", about a psychotic child, a book which I read a couple of years ago and really enjoyed as well.

I'll definitely be doing what I can to check out more of her work.