Saturday, November 14, 2015

"Pop Goes The Weasel" by M.J. Arlidge

Detective Inspector Helen Grace is still haunted by the events of the previous book "Eeny Meeny", in which she had to shoot dead her serial killer sister. Now she's head of a new investigation, as men are turning up murdered, with their hearts removed, and the hearts later delivered to either their home or work. It is soon established that the men all visited prostitutes, so the team must figure out if they have a violent, vigilante prostitute on their hands.

Meanwhile, Helen must face off against a new chief who (of course) wants her head on a platter, and a journalist who has some sort of bizarre obsession with bringing her down. She is also following around a young man named Robert Stonehill, determined to keep watch over him.

I read "Eeny Meeny" and thought it was cliched and silly. It was gross just for the sake of it, and came with a ridiculous Cop-With-A-Haunted-Past subplot that resulted in one of the stupidest twists I've come across in a while. Quite similar, in fact, to "Taboo" by Casey Hill, even further rendering it unoriginal. It also had the distinction of giving us a heroine who enjoyed participating in S&M as a way to release tension and escape demons. Yes, really.

Most books end with some sort of hope on the horizon for its main character, along with personal growth etc. "Eeny Meeny" was no exception. I can't say I was terribly surprised that Helen Grace had regressed entirely by the start of this second book, but I was still disappointed. She's still going to see Jake, her "dom", and getting whipped whenever the stress gets to be too much, despite the first book suggesting she was ready to move on from this.

Sorry, I just can't get on board with the main character being into S&M. It's such an obvious, see-through ploy to try and make our heroine tough and gritty, when it's simply not needed. The fact that Helen had not grown at all since "Eeny Meeny" and we were once again back to this ridiculous subplot started this book on the negative.

Not much improved from there. Although the James Patterson-style short chapters enable faster reading, it can't hide the pointless extraneous material. We get lots of chapters that simply don't need to be there. Points of view from characters who are largely superfluous to the plot. In particular, we get a chapter from an unnamed "thief" as he breaks into a tenement. We already know his only point of existence is to find a dead body - except he doesn't. He opens the door to the room where the body is, and that's where the chapter ends.

The person-who-finds-a-dead-body trope is one I can't stand, and this is a particularly asinine example of it.


Cliches fly thick and fast from there. Helen has a new boss, who also happens to be out for glory and has a grudge against Helen. Her reason? I think simply because she can.

And if Helen's misery wasn't enough, we learn the sad backstory of her colleague Tony Bridges, whose young wife is confined to bed thanks to locked-in syndrome after a stroke.

Arlidge just lays it all on so thick.

While this isn't as ridiculous as "Eeny Meeny", it's all rather flat and boring. Lots of internal angst amongst the main characters - and a few minor ones as well - but not enough twists and turns in the plot. Much like the first novel, Helen conveniently notices an important fact, and our killer is uncovered. I'm not sure I get her reasoning, either. She figures it out because the first heart was delivered to the family, and the other hearts were delivered to work. No, not quite. Simon Brooks' heart was delivered personally to his own poor son. So the book doesn't even have its own internal logic.

The less said about the journalist subplot the better. It irked me from start to finish.

Why did I read this? Well, it was on special offer on Kindle, and I'd already read the first one, and thought this might be a step up.

Sigh. I never learn. Maybe that's why the characters in these books never do, either.

Monday, November 9, 2015

"Citizen Vince" by Jess Walter

Vince Camden works at a donut shop in Spokane, Washington. What the people in Spokane don't know about him is that he is in the witness protection program after testifying against members of the mob. Even with his new identity, he hasn't changed his ways much, running a credit card scam, and gambling.

When he receives a card to say he's registered to vote, it ignites within him a desire to go straight and turn his life around.

However, the arrival in town of Ray throws a spanner in the works. Vince recognises Ray from his days in the mob - and Ray is a well-known hitman. While in town, Ray soon hooks up with Lenny to muscle Vince out of the credit card scam. Vince must go to New York to find out if Ray has been sent to kill him, or whether this was just a coincidence. While there, he sets about righting some of the wrongs from his past.

Vince also winds up in the sights of Det. Alan Dupree after the murder of Doug, another member of his credit card scam.

Set against the backdrop of the 1980 presidential election, Citizen Vince is a highly entertaining hybrid of droll comedy and tough noir crime. You genuinely find yourself on side with Vince as he strives for something better in his life, such as opening his own restaurant and settling down with Beth, his sort-of girlfriend. He sees his right to vote as an indication that his thoughts and beliefs actually matter, and that one vote can make a difference.

Strong characters combine with a plot that delivers some nifty twists.

There were some weaknesses. We get an entire chapter from the view point of one of the presidential candidates. It adds nothing to the central story. Vince himself never reveals who he voted for, because it is largely irrelevant. It's what being able to vote symbolises for Vince that is at the crux of the book, not who he actually votes for. This particular chapter from the candidate is pointless and, frankly, dull.

Alan Dupree's interactions with Det. Donnie Charles are interesting and entertaining, but also pertain little to the central plot. If they were removed from the narrative entirely, it wouldn't make any difference. It was possibly included for length - this one only clocks in at under 300 pages.

Otherwise, it was very refreshing to read something a little different and offbeat, that doesn't throw out the same old cliches. I really enjoyed it.

Friday, November 6, 2015

"Watch The World Burn" by Leah Giarratano

Miriam Caine is having dinner with her son David at Incendie, an up-scale restaurant, when she seemingly spontaneously bursts into flames. Restaurant manager Troy Berrigan is first to assist in putting out the flames, but Miriam later dies of her injuries.

Other mysterious attacks occur. A woman is shoved off a platform in front of a train. Acid is thrown onto several teenagers at a shopping centre. And a cop is killed when a Molotov cocktail is thrown into his car and he crashes into a bus.

This cop happens to be Scotty Hutchinson, partner at work and in bed, of Sgt Jill Jackson. She has a complete meltdown at the news of his death, and is sent to a retreat to recover. She asks that Federal Agent Gabriel Delahunt keep her in the loop in regards to the case's progress.

The main suspect seems to be Troy Berrigan. An ex-cop, he's hated by the police force after turning whistleblower, and they're all eager to pin it on him, despite lack of evidence. Whilst coping with family issues of his own, he sets out to find the truth and clear his name.

Which is more than Jill Jackson can do, and she's supposed to be the main character in this story. I barely remember a thing about "Vodka Doesn't Freeze" (I read it more than six years ago), which was the first book in this series. I mentioned in that post that Jill wasn't a particularly cluey detective, and nothing seems to have changed here in book number four. (I haven't read parts two or three). There certainly isn't a thing she figures out for herself, unless you count who was stealing lollies at the private retreat. Yes, really.

What is the point of having a central protagonist in your series if said protagonist is going to sit most of the story out, behaving like a hot mess? When I read "Vodka Doesn't Freeze" I had a lot of trouble believing Jill Jackson could even get in to the police force considering she had not recovered from a horrific childhood that involved being kidnapped and raped for three days when she was twelve. Here, while in the squad room discussing Scotty's death, she begins to imagine her boss calling her a whore, at which point she starts screaming non-stop, and crawls under a desk.

She then self-destructs completely and behaves like a belligerent child when concerned friends and family try to get her psychological help.

Grief aside, this is not the sort of person you want running about the city while licenced to carry a gun.

Therefore, we have an okay mystery thriller padded out to an extreme length thanks to Jill's stay in a psychiatric retreat. It has nothing to do with the rest of the story. I'm sure it's accurate, as Giarratano is a psychologist, but it's not terribly exciting or suspenseful. It doesn't add to the main plot, and it further makes me wonder how the f*** Jill manages to remain employed when she's clearly a childish, selfish basket-case (yes, I know she suffered horrendous abuse as a child, but she knows she's behaving like a douche and just uses this past as a way to excuse it).

Don't the police require some sort of psychiatric review in order to become and remain a cop?

HOW DOES JILL PASS THESE TESTS? She flips out completely at work and nobody seems to bat an eyelid.

Troy Berrigan is a decent protagonist. He at least takes charge of his situation, and I felt bad for him trying to do the right thing all the time, and only getting in strife for it.

There aren't many suspects in the crime, the motivation given is pretty lacking, and the story doesn't offer many surprises. Probably because we spend too much time with Jill in meltdown mode, rather than beefing up the storyline. Too much time was also spent with the character of Erin Hart and, although she's not unlikeable, it should have become clearer sooner what sort of importance she had in the story. Lots of chapters about the ins-and-outs of her life with little clarification as to why I should care.

It wasn't awful (close), and was reasonably diverting. It also looks like the last of the Jill Jackson series. Giarratano (like a lot of other authors), has seemingly moved on to young adult supernatural/dystopian stories. I guess you need to go where the money is.