Tuesday, January 29, 2013

"The Savage Web" by Sharon Whitby

Ellen Farrell inherits a country cottage from the godmother she never really knew. The will stipulates that Ellen be single and that she live in the cottage for three months. She arrives in the small town of Mortcombe and quickly makes friends with a few of the locals.

Her attention is drawn to the stained glass window in the church of three women - described as the Three Marys. She decides to create a tapestry recreation of the window. Meanwhile, she discovers a strange scrapbook in the house. She eventually learns that the scrapbook wields the strange power to grant wishes or destroy lives. It appears that she is in line to become part of a long-standing evil legacy.

The teen horror novels of the late 80s and early 90s had more plot complications than this undercooked supernatural story. Not a lot really happens as Ellen goes about meeting the people in her new neighbourhood and learning about its history. The idea of a scrapbook with the power to bring good fortune or instant death to others is an intriguing one, but not explored well enough in this 190-page novel. The book was half over before the proceedings really started to kick into gear.

Playing a lot like a minor supernatural morality play, The Savage Web isn't too objectionable as it barely takes any time to read, but there's no scares or suspense to really make it worthwhile. Heck, even R.L. Stine can conjure up a more thrilling tale than this.

"Night Of Error" by Desmond Bagley

Mike Trevelyan is an oceanographer shocked to learn that his younger brother Mark has been killed overseas. He comes into possession of some of Mark's belongings, including a coded diary and some seabed rocks called Manganese nodules. When he is promptly burgled and attacked, he realises something fishy is going on.

Firsty, Mark's death certificate cites complications from appendicitis as the reason for death - but Mark had his appendix out years earlier. Secondly, one of the manganese nodules (which are usually worthless) contains a high percentage of cobalt and other minerals, which actually makes it very valuable. Along with his father's friend Geordie Walters, he convinces millionaire Jonathan Campbell to fund a voyage to find where these highly valuable nodules may be located.

However, it involves decoding Mark's diary. And staying one step ahead of Ernesto Ramirez, who has previously sabotaged Campbell's ventures, and is aware that Mark was onto something big.

Night Of Error reminded me a lot of one of those 1960s adventure movies you might see on television on a weekend afternoon. There is perhaps more talk than action here, and I was able to anticipate most of the plot twists, but it was diverting and managed to keep me reading. Although set in 1962, I didn't get much of a feel for the period, but that wasn't much of a drama. There was a refreshing absence of sex - the romance between Mike and Campbell's daughter Clare is very quaint. Author Bagley is actually more interested in making sure his facts are correct and that the plot is moving forward, and he manages to do this without proceedings getting too dull.

This genre isn't quite my cup of tea, and I prefer thrillers with a little more action, but I enjoyed the opportunity to once again read something a little different to what I usually do.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

"Morningstar" by Peter Atkins

Journalist Donovan Moon is contacted by wealthy businessman Jonathan Frost, who claims that he is the feared Morningstar Killer. Several people have been brutally murdered by this killer. However, Frost reveals he killed them because they were vampires. He recounts the events that led him to this life.

Shelley Masterton is a young woman whose close friend Chris Tempest becomes a victim of the Morningstar Killer, though her death was largely collateral damage. Chris then visits Shelley in a dream and reveals to Shelley that she will be a vital part of events that will end Jonathan Frost's reign of terror.

Yes, another horror novel. At the moment I am simply pulling a book off the shelf in the order they are stacked, as otherwise it can take me a long time to pick a book from the many I haven't read. So this was the one I wound up with. I'm getting the distinct impression from the few horror novels I've read that the author feels the need to overcompensate for the genre they're writing in by going over the top with their literary style. Not a lot really happens in Morningstar, and by the end of it I came away with the overwhelming opinion that it was wanky nonsense.

I'll readily admit that I don't have high-brow tastes in fiction. I don't read books for the joy of prose. I likely never will. I like books with fleshed-out characters interacting within an interesting cohesive, plot. An author with a wide-ranging vocabulary doesn't impress me. Being able to toss out metaphors, similes and long, descriptive phrases is similarly lost on me. Morningstar didn't so much feel like a novel than it did an exercise in fancy writing. I wasn't scared. I was bored. Not a lot happened. There was no suspense. A couple of gruesome moments. If anything, this felt like a handful of short stories woven together to make a book. There are a couple of wanky chapters called "interludes", one of which is not much more than a 17-page dream sequence.

Once again, perhaps I'm not the intended audience for this sort of book. Who knows? All I know is that I didn't enjoy it, and ended up skipping large parts so I could finish it. I think I was also expecting more from the person who wrote the screenplays for such wonderful B-grade exercises in over-the-top gruesome horror like Hellraiser 2, Hellraiser 3 and Wishmaster. I liked those movies. But I didn't like this.

"Full Moon Rising" by Keri Arthur

Riley Jenson is a Guardian Liaison for the Directorate of Other Races, a government organisation that overlooks the supernatural element of the city of Melbourne. She is mostly werewolf, but she also has vampire ancestry, so she has several of their abilities as well. Her boss Jack Parnell wants her to become a full Guardian, but she is reluctant, as she doesn't think it will suit her - a lot of Guardian work involves assassination.

When her twin brother Rhoan goes missing, it couldn't come at a worse time. She keeps crossing paths with a mysterious vampire called Quinn O'Conor, a friend of her brother. It is also the week known as "moon heat", during which she becomes incredibly horny and compelled to have sex with every werewolf or nonhuman in sight. Also, mysterious clones of her colleague Henri Gautier, and strange nonhuman crossbreeds, keep popping up and trying to kill her. She must try to find her brother and figure out what is going on whilst fighting the urge to bang like a rabbit.

Although I'm a huge fan of horror movies, it has never transferred across to horror novels. I don't know why. Then again, this one can't really be labelled as a horror novel. It has supernatural elements, and a couple of action sequences, but the focus is squarely on the sex. Despite being told from the first person viewpoint of Riley, I didn't get to know a whole lot about her other than that she likes to have sex. A lot of it. She also isn't particularly bright. When she has a glass of champagne, and then wakes up to find her lover Talon having sex with her - and is then informed they've been having sex for eight hours, none of which she can remember - she simply thinks that one glass of champagne has gone to her head. If your heroine is too stupid and sex-obsessed to realise she's been drugged and raped, it's kind of hard to get on side with her.

Every time Riley has some sort of task ahead of her, she is constantly thinking about banging someone. It never ends. If the book isn't describing some sort of torrid sex scene, it's a brief fight scene or action sequence in which Riley gets injured and experiences "white-hot pain". That's how the author describes it every single time Riley is hurt. However, we don't need to worry if she gets hurt. She can just change into a werewolf and speed up the healing process. Never feeling like your heroine is in any sort of danger doesn't help too much when it comes to building suspense.

Sex, sex, sex. That's what you get here. Even the sequence in which Riley and Quinn go to break Rhoan out of the facility he's captive in doesn't bother to actually tell us how they manage the feat. Riley mindwarps two of the male guards into having sex with each other, and Quinn simply shows up with a rescued Quinn. There is no continuity over who Riley can mindread, either. Some foes can conveniently be read, whilst others can't. It only seems to depend on where the author wants to take the narrative at that particular time.

Keep in mind I'm probably not the target audience for this type of book. I suspect a lot of paranormal "action" series focus strongly on sex, and this is no exception. There are plenty of plot strands left dangling at the end of this one. They might have been resolved if everybody wasn't having sex every five pages. As it is, I can't say they'll compel me to pick up any further entries in this series.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

"Fear" by Jeff Abbott

Miles Kendrick is a mob informant currently in Witness Protection, haunted by scattered memories in which he believes he shot and killed his best friend Andy in an FBI sting. He suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and keeps seeing Andy's ghost wherever he goes. His life only gets more complicated when he receives a mysterious note from his psychiatrist, Dr. Allison Vance, requesting his help, and asking him to meet her.

Before he can, Allison is killed by a bomb planted in her office. Miles vows to uncover the reasons behind her death, and soon has all manner of shady characters on his tail. Chief among them is former FBI agent Dennis Groote, and the mysterious James Sorenson. Miles discovers that Allison visited the home of former reality TV star Celeste Brent and borrowed her computer. When he meets up with Celeste, they discover she uploaded secret files to a hidden server. These files relate to a wonder drug called Frost, not yet approved by the FDA, which can cure PTSD.

Frost has a sketchy development history, and it appears it is currently being illegally tested. Miles and Celeste are soon joined by young Iraq vet Nathan Ruiz, an unstable young man who has undergone extensive testing. They must figure out the motives of the various dangerous people who are chasing them.

From an action standpoint, Fear is a solid example of the genre. The plot zips by, with one confrontation or chase after another. Unfortunately, action sequences need a solid context to exist within, and Fear is way too convoluted to ultimately succeed.

First and foremost, Miles Kendrick only gets himself into the mess because he feels it is his duty to avenge Allison, as he "failed to do right by her". Huh? He didn't even trust her enough to reveal his full history. Now he's fiercely determined to risk life and limb over her memory. His continued anguish over Andy, of which everybody can clearly see he shouldn't feel guilty about, sends his character veering dangerously close to martyrdom. Plus, for a PTSD sufferer who is constantly visited by the vision of his dead friend, he's awfully clear-headed when the need arises to get out of a difficult situation.

Secondly, we have the character of Dennis Groote. He's gone a bit mad in his quest for vengeance over the death of his wife, which consequenly caused his daughter Amanda to also suffer severe PTSD. Several chapters are needed to constantly explain away why Groote is even in the story. He blindingly accepts Frost's validity in curing his daughter. Doesn't ask a single question. He tangentially connects Miles to the people who murdered his wife. He thinks one person is doing one thing. He thinks another person is doing another thing. It becomes increasingly difficult to keep track of what exactly his current motiviation is.

This back and forth over motivation eventually extends to the rest of the novel as it gets more-and-more convoluted as more players with their own motivations are introduced. Proceedings get further murkier trying to figure out who wants to do what to whom, and whether the theories or motives expressed by characters are fact or speculation. Basically, by the end of the novel, it's all a bit of a mess.

I really liked the character of Nathan Ruiz. I actually found his fidgety, snappy manner quite humourous, though it will undoubtedly annoy others. His unpredictable nature was one of the more successful subplots to be found here. He also came across as a more believable sufferer of PTSD.

I read and really enjoyed Abbott's novel Panic. This outing isn't boring, with the action sequences all perfectly handled and realised. But I prefer my action to be grounded in a more coherent plot. Fear would make a heck of a movie (provided the screenwriter can have it make a little more sense). I will certainly be picking up further novels by Abbott, as it is fun to read a book focused on action and excitement as opposed to dry police procedural.

Monday, January 21, 2013

"Dark Lady" by Richard North Patterson

Stella Marz is the Assistant County Prosecutor, with a firm eye on landing the role of County Prosecutor should her boss Arthur Bright be elected Mayor. He's opposed to the construction of Steelton, a ballpark stadium that the current Mayor is assuring people will bring money back into their depressed city.

When she is assigned the homicide of high-profile lawyer Jack Novak, who represented known drug users and pushers, she is determined that there will not be a conflict of interest because of the fact she had an intense sexual relationship with him over a decade earlier when she worked for him. But even after all this time, the relationship has left its mark on her, and the nature of his murder is especially gruesome and kinky. Her other case involves the suspicious drug overdose of clean-cut Tommy Fielding, who was a project manager on the Steelton construction.

Stella begins digging into Jack's old cases to see if there are any potential enemies who wanted him dead. She stumbles across several cases that were never successfully prosecuted - evidence went missing, witnesses were murdered - and suspects that Jack was involved in some sort of conspiracy headed by mob kingpin Vincent Moro. Even worse, it seems that there could be a connection between Jack and Tommy's deaths. Her investigation puts her own life in peril.

If you can stick with it, Dark Lady is a fairly involving political conspiracy thriller. Unfortunately, you have to wade through a lot of city history and plot exposition to get to the good bits. The opening chapters are especially dull. Patterson spends waaaaaay too much time describing history (how the city was founded, who founded it, how it's changed etc) rather than jacking up the intensity of the plot. For far too long, I didn't feel any sense of urgency or suspense to the proceedings. Patterson also goes into lengthy details about finances, dummy corporations, political ploys, character motivations, without tagging them to an exciting, fast-paced storyline.

The other big drawback is the fact that no secret is made over Vincent Moro somehow being involved in the conspiracy, yet he is conspicuously absent from pretty much the entire novel. How are we supposed to be in fear of a character we are barely ever introduced to and never get to know? The story becomes more of a "how-dunnit", as there is a surprisingly small number of characters populating the novel. This also results in few plot surprises as the true culprits and the extent of their collusion are revealed.

Nevertheless, Dark Lady is a bit of a welcome departure from dry police procedurals and dopey romantic thrillers. The plot, despite the lack of true suspense or surprises, is complex and well-constructed. Events all tie up reasonably well at the end. Despite the excess of exposition and history, I kept going back to it to find out how it all finished.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

"Blindman's Bluff" by Faye Kellerman

Lt. Peter Decker is called to the scene of a mass shooting in wich billionaire Guy Kaffee and his wife Gilliam have been murdered. Other dead victims include a maid and two security guards. His son Gil is also shot, but survives. It looks a lot like an inside job, so Decker and his team focus their attention on Kaffee's family and employees. Making things risky is the fact that Kaffee was very much into the idea of rehabilitating criminals, so much of his staff and security comprises of Latino gang members.

Meanwhile, Decker's wife Rina has been called on for jury duty. By chance, she becomes acquainted with blind courtroom translator Brett Harriman. He has just overheard two people in the courtroom discussing the murders. After meeting with Decker, it becomes apparent that these people know things only those who were present at the murders would know. Decker is worried that Rina has now been dragged into the mess, since she can potentially identify some of the killers.

I'm not sure what to say about Blindman's Bluff. It is well-written and reasonably well-plotted. The characters aren't explored terribly deeply, but they're all fairly likeable and don't do groan-inducingly stupid things. But this is a very dry police procedural, with limited surprises and not a lot of suspense. It was boring enough that I had no trouble putting it down when I felt like doing something else, yet interesting enough that I kept picking it up again to find out how it finished. It had a very Law & Order-style feel to it, with detectives tracking people down and questioning them, with the final chapters devoted to sessions with the main culprits and tricking them into confessing.

That's all well-and-good for an hour-long television show, but for 400-odd page novel, I like something a little more than lots of travelling around and questioning people. The plot should be more gripping. A few near-misses with a trigger-happy gang member isn't really enough. Faye Kellerman's husband is author Jonathan Kellerman, and while his novels are a formula of their own, they still provide lots of plot twists and psychological intrigue. Little of that is to be found here. The only thing worse than a bad novel is a boring one, and unfortunately, Blindman's Bluff mostly belongs in that latter category.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

"Someone To Watch Over Me" by Judith McNaught

Leigh Manning is a Broadway star who is accidentally run off the road during a snowstorm while on the way to see her husband Logan for a romantic getaway at his new cabin. She barely escapes with her life. She wakes up in hospital with the news that her husband is missing.

As the search for him gets underway, Leigh finds her life continually invaded by business tycoon Michael Valente, a man she doesn't trust, yet is strangely drawn to. He has a mysterious, shady past and Leigh's conflicted feelings for him confuse her.

When it turns out that Logan has been murdered, Leigh and Michael both become suspects. A homicide team led by Lt. Mitchell McCord dig into their pasts in an effort to nail them. Meanwhile, Leigh and Michael's relationship gets more and more intimate.

"Someone To Watch Over Me" is perfectly acceptable on a potboiler level, but at 550 pages it is waaaaaay too long for the simple storyline it presents. I was amused by the description on the back that "Leigh herself digs into his (her husband) business affairs..." Um, she does nothing of the sort. By page 300, she's still sitting around crying and feeling sorry for herself. The homicide team do all the investigating here. Unfortunately, what we have here is yet another tiresome heroine who needs a swift kick in the backside in order to get her act together.

Maybe McNaught realised this too, and that is why there is suddenly the inclusion of a romance between no-nonsense Mitchell McCord and Det. Samantha Littleton, a member on his team, who is very new to the homicide department. Samantha is much more interesting than Leigh, and the author does a good job of demonstrating her quick wit and investigative intuition, and why a man like Mitch would be attracted to her. She is tough and take-charge, and can look after herself. None of these traits apply to Leigh, who is merely a boring wet blanket.

The male leads are typical alpha-males, though Valente does at least have a mildly interesting history and his antagonism towards the cops is well-developed. But, like any other book in this genre, neither character resembles anything from reality.

I was also mildly intrigued by the idea that the media would be fascinated by an actress who has only worked on Broadway, and never in Hollywood movies. I can't think of any Broadway actors or actresses who only appear in that medium who are household names of any sort. But to be honest, I know zip about Broadway or Broadway performers, so that was only a minor issue.

The main issue here is length. After a while I began to get bored. The murder mystery was not terribly complicated, despite the attention paid to the investigation into it. The final revelation of the killer almost feels like an afterthought, as if McNaught suddenly thought "Jeez! I'm 450 pages in, I better start wrapping this up!" The climax is clunky and not terribly exciting. If the author had whacked about 200 pages off this thing, it could have been a neat little time-passer, not the ludicrously drawn-out, thinly plotted romantic mystery it currently resembles.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

"Hell To Pay" by George P. Pelecanos

Derek Strange is an ex-cop turned private investigator. Despite a serious relationship with his secretary Janine, he still gets handjobs from a massage parlour. He is eventually called on by a friend to get some information on the high-rolling fiance of the friend's daughter.

His friend Terry Quinn, also an ex-cop and now a PI, gets involved with Sue Tracy, who has a business that pulls young prostitutes off the street and returns them to their families. She wants to save Jennifer Marshall, who has become ensnared in the world of "Worldwide" Wilson, a vicious pimp.

Meanwhile, three young gangsters set out to settle a drug debt, and the drive-by shooting results in the death of an eight-year-old boy who played on the baseball team that Derek coaches. He is contacted by the boy's gangster father to find those responsible. Derek wonders whether he should turn the culprits into the police, or exact his own kind of justice.

This book has all manner of praise plastered across its pages. It's apparently crime noir fiction of the highest order. I failed to see why. Pelecanos does address issues related to gang crime in African-American ghetto suburbs, how the education system and government fails to support them, and the overt class-based differences and prejudices between whites and blacks. But a sense of moral outrage over injustice does not make for a suspenseful or interesting novel.

Firstly, the two plot strands have nothing to do with each other. Quinn seeks justice against Wilson. Strange seeks justice against the three young drive-by shooting thugs. That's it. There are no plot twists, no suspenseful scenarios....nothing. Just a lot of description about what music everybody listens to, and where they're driving to. It does not make for an exciting, suspenseful "crime noir" novel. There is also endless description about the baseball games played by Strange's team. In fact, the drive-by shooting that so enrages Strange doesn't take place until the book is halfway through!

There is a nice sense of place and location. Dialogue is believable and realistic. Unfortunately, that doesn't mean squat to me if you're selling your material as a crime noir thriller and then fail to provide anything meaningful, exciting, suspenseful or interesting. What I had here was a grim, dull account of the hard life found in under-privileged society, and yet it still failed to enlighten me.

"A Dark Love" by Margaret Carroll

Caroline Hughes decides to escape from her highly abusive husband, Dr. Porter Moross, who has quite the impressive list of high-powered clientele. She hotfoots it to Storm Pass in Colorado where she passes herself off as Alice Stevens and takes a job as a housekeeper for elderly local Nan Birmingham. Nan and the other locals, particularly Ken Kincaid, take a real shine to her (although God only knows why), and Caroline fears breaking their hearts because she will inevitably have to move on, thanks to the fact Porter will hunt her down and kill her rather than let her live a life free of him.

The plot of A Dark Love is quite similar to Don't Tell by Karen Rose, which I recently read. There's no doubt that A Dark Love is the better novel, with a faster-paced and more streamlined plot. The main problem - yet again - is with the main character. I couldn't help but feel that Caroline Hughes really dug her own hole in this case. Before I get anybody worked up - I worked for a long time in Restraining Orders at the law courts, and talked a lot with Victim Support workers, and learnt a lot about the behaviours involved in abusive relationships.

While I understand that every domestic abuse scenario comes with its own set of circumstances, what was going on here? Most abusers are Prince Charming whilst reeling their victim in, before cutting off the channels for help and showing their true colours. Here, Porter is a described as a freak from the get-go. Not only is he presented as a near-albino with purple pustules dotting his chin, he behaves like a total freak during his first dates with Caroline - berating her for being late, acting like a child and refusing to talk to her, crying at random moments, putting her down....the list goes on. The fact she didn't run for the hills made it very difficult to feel sorry for her. Instead she just wanted to "fix" him. Yeah, right.

The novel makes a few references to her history as an abused child....but really? Anybody in their right mind would pick Porter for the psychotic freak he is and hotfoot it out of there. Nevertheless, Carroll has a good handle on pacing and suspense, and I appreciated the fact that Caroline stepped up to the plate when Ken Kincaid came into the line of fire.

As for Ken, he was a refreshing change of pace from the usual romantic suspense hero you find in this sort of novel. He's very laid-back, patient and understanding. In fact, probably a bit too much. But I didn't mind. It was a nice difference from the melodramatic alpha-male you usually get. He takes things as they come and I even struggled to understand why such a down-to-earth decent guy would expend so much effort in trying to land such a fidgety, stand-offish woman like Caroline, no matter how abused she was.

I also liked the fact that Porter didn't waste any time in tracking down Caroline, and made a bee-line for the man he thought was taking his place. In fact, the novel does a good job in getting into Porter's mindset to let us understand his attitude to Caroline and women in general. The benefit here would be to give us a greater understanding as to why Caroline accepted Porter's psycho bullshit in the first place and hooked up with him.

As far as Sleeping With The Enemy-style knock-offs go, this is a quick, effortless read that draws you in despite its lapses in logic.

"Goodnight Kiss" by R.L. Stine

April Blair isn't too happy that her boyfriend Matt is spending their summer at the beach playing video games and watching horror movies. This makes her the perfect target for brooding vampire Gabriel "Gabri" Martins, who has just placed a bet with another vampire, Jessica, over who can 'turn' a person first. It involves three nips of 'nectar' from the intended victim to turn them into a vampire. While Gabri has his sights on April, Jessica has placed her sights on Matt's nerdy friend Todd.

Thanks to his knowledge of horror movies, Matt begins to suspect what might be going on with April and Todd when they lack energy and look so pale. The presence of lots of bats also help. He'd better start being a better boyfriend to April if he doesn't want her to take off with the handsome vampire and become one of the undead.

Goodnight Kiss is a Super Chiller from the Fear Street series, and not too bad for what it is. And by "Super Chiller" I mean it's only about 60 pages longer than your typical 160-page Fear Street novel. But it sets up a couple of neat surprises - particularly early on when we find out that Jessica is actually a vampire and not a helpless would-be victim of Gabri. Matt is a sympathetic lead and April is likeable enough to make us believe Matt would fight for her. Of course, I'm not talking deep characterisation here, but it was pleasantly diverting fare for the hour-or-so it took me to read it. Also, I'm pre-disposed to liking Fear Street books because I grew up with them and sadly nostalgiac. They're silly and empty, but they're also quickly-paced, very tame and blandly enjoyable.

"Final Curtain" by Nicholas Adams

Jan Matthis has moved to New England with her divorced mother and is the new girl at Cresswell High. She decides to join the drama club, who have decided on "Dracula" to be their play for the year. Jan is highly attracted to school spunk Philip Devereaux, whose acting ability quickly lands him the role of Dracula.

Jan tries for the female lead of Mina, but the goes to school hottie Alyssa, despite the fact Alyssa can't act to save her life. It's probably a stroke of luck for Jan, considering the fact that anybody who tries to hold up the progress of the play winds up seriously injured or dead. Philip is really into the role of Dracula, and believes that Jan is the perfect Mina. But what are the possible consequences for plain-jane Jan if she takes on the role?

Ugh. In the early-90s hey-dey of teen thrillers, all manner of series hit the bookshelves. Final Curtain is number eight in the Horror High series, and thankfully the last. With a few exceptions, the books were largely lousy. Despite being better written than many entries in the short-lived series, Final Curtain fails to engage because Jan is a bit of a dolt. The book makes absolutely pathetic attempts at red herrings to try and convince us that Philip is not the psycho he totally appears to be, but they all fail miserably. If your female lead is so blinded by vacuous male beauty that she can't spot the freaking obvious, then she really deserves what she gets.

I'm not too bothered by the lousiness of Final Curtain because, let's face it, it barely took me a couple of hours to read it. It certainly wasn't as awful as Alex Kava's Hotwire - Kava should consider writing for teenagers, although even they would probably see through her pitiful attempts at plotting. Sorry, still angry about that one.

For me, the fun is in hunting these early-90s rarities down. They rarely live up to expectations, but hey, it's a hobby.

"Hotwire" by Alex Kava

Special Agent Maggie O'Dell still feels like she is being punished by her boss Ray Kunze when she is sent to Nebraska to investigate some mysterious animal slayings. However, she and local detectives come across a group of teenagers, a few dead, others seriously injured, by what they claim seemed like a wild animal with red eyes, although Maggie suspects a taser was involved.

Meanwhile, Maggie's potential boyfriend Col. Benjamin Platt is dragged into an investigation by Roger Bix, a chief at CDC (Centre for Disease Control) regarding schools experiencing severe outbreaks of food poisoning. They are able to track this to a national school lunch program organised by the US Department of Agriculture, who have purchased millions of chicken carcasses as the basis for those school lunches.

But what does this have to do with Maggie's case?

To be honest, I'm not really sure. It's possible that the victimised teenagers stumbled across an illicit chicken lab used to provide said chicken carcasses to the USDA, but it's never explicitly clear. In fact, NOTHING is explicitly clear in this frustratingly sparse thriller from Kava. Maggie is caught up in a government conspiracy yet AGAIN, when she's supposed to be a bloody serial killer profiler for the FBI. There is absolutely zero suspense for the majority of this tale, and Kava can't even be bothered to spend even ONE BLOODY CHAPTER on explaining what exactly the f*** has gone on in this stupid novel.

I'm actually embarrassed that I failed to fully grasp what was going on in a brief, empty thriller such as this. Despite the tenuous link I mentioned above, the novel says that the surviving teenagers - who themselves start getting knocked off - were the victim of a member of their group upset by the fact they were all moving on with their lives and leaving her behind. But how exactly did this girl orchestrate a fatal car accident whilst she was still bed-ridden in hospital? And if she was the one knocking them off, what was with all the tasering that killed some of them in the first place? Either they were being knocked off by someone who didn't want them to know the truth about their illicit activities, or they were knocked off by a psycho schoolmate. Which one? Kava doesn't seem to know. Then again, she doesn't even bother to tell us half of their names, so what does it really matter.

Another question: why am I still reading garbage by this incompetent author? She's awful. She couldn't write an exciting, competent thriller if her life depended on it and I'm tired of wasting money on the shallow rubbish she keeps putting out.