Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Fifth Heart

by Dan Simmons
617 pgs

Once again Dan Simmons has shown just how versatile an author he is. His latest book, The Fifth Heart, is a Sherlock Holmes story that fits in nicely with the chronology of Doyle's original books. The story takes place in America in between the time Doyle tried to kill Sherlock off in The Final Problem by having him go over Reichenbach Falls and then succumbing to pressure and bringing him back in The Adventure of the Empty House with the explanation that he had faked his death to fool Moriarty, his arch enemy.

It's the 1890's and Holmes has traveled to America to investigate the death of a prominent socialite in Washington D.C.. Her death occurred seven years ago and had originally been ruled a suicide, but every year on the anniversary of her death, her widower and closest friends all receive a typed letter in the mail containing only one sentence, "She was murdered."

Simmons does a masterful job of incorporating historical figures from that era into his story, Samuel Clemens and Henry James both play central roles. He also incorporates one of the largest events that took place in the country during that time--the Chicago World's Fair. Simmons is an author who has always impressed me with the apparent research he puts into each of his books, and this one is no exception. He does an excellent job of bringing to light many aspects of Holmes's life that aren't so commonly known.

I'm a big fan of Dan Simmons' books. They're never real quick reads, but that's one of the things I like about them. Simmons takes his time constructing his stories and fleshing out his central characters. By the time the pace starts to quicken and you're heading for the climax of the story, you're intimately familiar with the characters involved, and you feel emotionally connected to them and truly care what happens.

The Fifth Heart is a must-read for fans of both Dan Simmons and for those of the iconic detective he borrows. Neither will be disappointed.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Monday, April 20, 2015

The Turnaround

by George Pelecanos
294 pgs

The Turnaround begins with an incident that takes place in Washington D.C. in 1972. The incident involved six teenage boys--three white and three black--and forever altered the course of their lives.

The three white boys were stoned and driving around the streets of D.C. late one night when the driver decides to drive through a black neighborhood and yell a racial slur at three black boys hanging out on the side of the road. As they speed away laughing, they soon learn that the road they're on is a dead end, and that they'll have to turn around and pass those same boys again in order to leave. When all is said and done, one of the boys is able to jump out of the car and escape, the driver is shot and killed, and Alex Pappas, who had been sitting in the back of the car and hadn't said anything as they initially drove past the boys, is brutally beaten and left with a facial disfigurement that he'll carry with him the rest of his life.

The black teenagers are two brothers: Raymond and James Monroe, and Charles Baker. Charles, who was the one who brutally beat Alex, ends up spending a year in prison, while James is convicted of murder and is locked up for many years. Raymond is never charged with anything.

Part two of the story takes place 35 years later. Alex and Andrew have had no contact with each other since the events of that night, but now in their fifties, they share much in common. Alex ended up taking over running his father's Greek diner. He had a son that was killed in the war in Iraq and he now makes regular donations of pies and other sweets from his diner to the injured veterans at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Andrew is now a physical therapist at Walter Reed who one day recognizes Alex when they bump into each other during one of Alex's deliveries.

Pelecanos is a great storyteller, and his strength is in his characters and his ability to show how one event in the lives of his characters can cast a very long shadow over the rest of their lives. Most of his books are part of a group of three or four books that follow a group of characters through their lives. But The Turnaround is a stand-alone book, and therefore a great "gateway" book for the uninitiated to discover this fantastic author.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Monday, April 13, 2015

Blue Labyrinth

by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child
403 pgs  (Pendergast series #14)

Blue Labyrinth is Preston and Child's 14th book featuring FBI Special Agent Aloysius Pendergast. I'll admit that some of their more recent books hadn't been living up to the expectations I had for the series, but they righted the ship nicely with the most recent one: White Fire, and Blue Labyrinth keeps the series on track.

The book begins with the death of Pendergast's son. Alban, who was a psychopathic serial killer, was killed himself and left on the front porch of Pendergast's Manhattan residence. A one-of-a-kind turquoise was discovered in Alban's stomach that leads Pendergast on a hunt for Alban's killer. Pendergast soon learns that Alban's killer has a personal vendetta against Pendergast and his family, and that killing Alban was a way of drawing Pendergast into a trap. The trap leaves Pendergast poisoned and fighting for his life, relying on Constance and Margo Green to discover the antidote before his time runs out.

The rest of the book involves one man being strangled with a shoelace, and another man committing suicide by biting off his big toe and chocking on it. I mentioned before that the series is back on track, and both these deaths should sufficiently justify my opinion.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Thursday, April 9, 2015

The Rise of Ransom City

by Felix Gilman
370 pgs

The Rise of Ransom City is "sort of" a sequel to Gilman's The Half-Made World, a book about just that, a world still in the process of coming into being, or focus. As Gilman returns to that half-made world, he does so from the perspective of Harry Ransom, a na├»ve and conceited inventor who sets out into the world at a young age in pursuit of fame and glory. He's so convinced that he'll obtain both that he writes pieces of his autobiography as he goes, describing the cities he passes through, the people he meets, and the experiences he has, and he mails them randomly out into the world, sure that eventually the world will want to gather these pieces together to chronicle the life of the man that changed their world.

As he begins to tell his story, Harry addresses us, his readers, and speaks to us of the great battle of Jasper City, which we are obviously very familiar with, as it forever changed the landscape of our world and brought about the end of the war between the Line and the Gun. He tells us that things were much different before that battle, and that he is almost single-handedly responsible for its outcome. Now that he's piqued our curiosity, he goes back and tells us of the circumstances of his life, and his brilliant invention that ended the war.

Gilman's storytelling method was a big part of this book's appeal for me. He makes you believe that you're reading about events that shaped the history of a world that is both similar to our own wild west era as well as fantastically different. It's a world that possesses a spirit, a spirit that took hold of the technology brought about by man, and used it for it's own design. It's a world where the spirits of the old gods now inhabit steam locomotives, battling each other and using mankind as their soldiers.

I've enjoyed every one of the books by Gilman that I've read. They're unique, genre-bending, and impossible to adequately describe, but I wouldn't want them to be any other way.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆