Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Solitude Creek

by Jeffery Deaver
452 pgs  (Kathryn Dance series #5)

In Jeffery Deaver’s latest book featuring kinesics expert Kathryn Dance, someone is intentionally causing panics in large crowds, and watching as people are injured or killed, crushed or stampeded by the crowd.

As a kinesics expert, Dance is trained to identify when people are telling lies. She works for the California Bureau of Investigations, interviewing suspects and witnesses in order to assist police departments in their investigations. When an interrogation she’s involved in goes terribly wrong, she’s reassigned to the Civil Division of the CBI and demoted to checking business permits and liquor licenses.

One of her first assignments takes her to the local dive-bar called Solitude Creek, where several people recently died or were injured when the crowd believed a fire had started in the kitchen. When they tried to get out the emergency exits, they found them all blocked by a large truck parked up against the back of the building.

Dance quickly learns that there never was a fire at Solitude Creek, but that someone had intentionally led the crowd to believe there was one, and drove them towards the blocked exits. While she’s investigating the non-fire, panic once again breaks out at a crowded event. It quickly becomes evident that this wasn’t an isolated event, and that the perpetrator isn’t planning to stop.

Solitude Creek is trademark Deaver. It's a smart and compelling story. He's a master at making you think you know everything that's going on, only to find out by the end that you were wrong on so many points. Even though this is the fifth book featuring Dance, Deaver writes each book in such a way that you really don't need to read the books in order. This would be a good one to try if you've never read one before.


Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The City of Mirrors

by Justin Cronin
598 pgs  (The Passage trilogy #3)

There have been a lot of books written in recent years featuring vampires as characters. Many of them are pretty good. They're suspenseful, frightening, creepy, and even original. Some of them—even though I’ve never read them, nor seen the movies based on them—I’m sure are terrible, and don’t deserve to occupy space on a bookshelf or memory on an e-reader. Justin Cronin’s apocalyptic vampire trilogy is one of the best I’ve ever read. First of all, the vampires, or virals as they're called, since they began as 12 individuals infected by a government-modified bat virus, are what they should be. They’re ruthless killing creatures with an insatiable appetite for blood. They’re not sparkly teenagers full of angst and emotional turmoil.

But where the books really separate themselves from the rest of the genre, is in Cronin’s writing ability and style. He’s a Harvard-educated man who previously wrote a couple of literary novels, so the books don't have the feel for most horror books. They read like fine literature. Each of the books is masterfully crafted and the series as a whole comes in at around 1500 pages, covering about 1,000 years of history, beginning with those first Twelve. The scope of the story as a whole is enormous.

After getting off to a great start in the first book, things get a little bogged down in book two. But this third, and final book, is the best of the three, and more than makes up for the faults of its predecessor. As the story begins, it's believed that all of the virals have been destroyed. The humans that have survived are ready to start picking up the pieces and rebuilding the civilization that is essentially non-existent. 

But obviously, there wouldn't be a need for this book, if the virals were truly eliminated in the last one. Fortunately--for us--they're only biding their time, waiting for the right time to return and finish off the survivors once and for all.

The series as a whole deserves all the hype it's received, and this book, itself was well worth the four-year wait it took to come out. 

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆  

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

The Maze Runner

by James Dashner
374 pgs  (The Maze Runner series #1)

I know I’ve said this before, but one of the reasons I’m a big fan of good science fiction stories is I enjoy the sense of disorientation I usually experience as they begin. Oftentimes it takes a while to figure out, or get a sense for several key aspects of the story: When and where is it taking place? Is it here on earth? Or another world? Is it happening in the present time on some faraway planet? Or is it happening here on earth, but at some point in the distant future? Many of the really good stories in the genre prolong that sense of disorientation almost indefinitely. So after watching the movie adaptation of the first book in the series, and having questions throughout about what was going on and why, I decided the series might be worth reading.

I wasn’t disappointed. The premise is pretty solid. A group of teenage boys live in a place called the Glade, surrounded by an enormous maze of concrete walls a mile high. The boys arrived in the Glade one at a time, with no memory of their life to that point and no idea why they’re there and how to escape through the maze. About once a week an elevator box surfaces in the Glade containing necessities like food and tools, and about once a month, a new boy arrives in the box as well.
The story begins with Thomas’s arrival in the Glade. Like the others before him, Thomas doesn’t know who he is, or how he got to the Glade, he just woke up in the elevator box as it was surfacing. He quickly learns that the Glade is run by Alby and Newt, two boys who arrived a couple years ago. He learns that ever since boys started finding themselves in the Glade, they’ve been trying to discover why they’re there and how they can escape. They’ve assigned certain boys to be “runners,” assigned to enter the maze every morning and try to find a way through. The problem is that strange and deadly creatures known as Grievers patrol the interior of the maze, and every night, the entrance to the maze closes, and the interior walls of the maze move into different positions.

But Thomas’s arrival seems to indicate that things are about to change in the Glade. One day after his arrival the box appears again, this time there’s a teenage girl in the box along with a message that she’s the last one. Thomas recognizes the girl, but can’t remember her name. She’s in a coma, but begins communicating with him telepathically in his head. A short time later, the sun disappears, the deliveries of supplies stop coming, and the entrance to the maze stays open overnight.

It’s clear to Thomas that he and the girl Teresa are different from the rest of the boys and they’re somehow meant to lead the rest of the group safely through the maze to whatever lies beyond.

I enjoyed the book, more so than the movie. It’s written for young adults, but it’s not dumbed down, which sometimes authors in the genre tend to do. It poses many more questions than it answers, in fact I’m not sure any questions were ever answered. But that’s what the first book in a series like this is meant to do, hook you into wondering what’s going on, and getting you willing to wait for the next book to see what happens next. 


Sunday, June 5, 2016

Crimson Shore

by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child
337 pgs  (Pendergast series #15)

Agent Pendergast and his enigmatic "ward" Constance Green are summoned to a small coastal Massachusetts town by sculptor Percival Lake to investigate the theft of his valuable wine collection. While investigating, Pendergast  and Constance discover the skeleton of a man who had been walled up in Percival's wine cellar alive more than 150 years ago. They learn that the man had been a crew member aboard a ship carrying the Pride of Africa, a collection of flawless rubies. Back in the 1880s the townspeople had extinguished the lighthouse, confusing the ships crew, and causing it to wreck along the rocky shore. They then stole the rubies and committed atrocities that have shadowed the town ever since.

Pendergast's investigation into both crimes takes a disturbing turn when the bodies of two fresh murder victims turn up, with strange symbols carved into the skin of each body.

From there the story takes several bizarre and, unfortunately, ridiculous twists and turns. I think Preston and Child have lost sense of how much reason their readers want to suspend. I like a good thriller with a supernatural element, and Preston and Child have definitely written some good ones, but this one felt like they lost a bet to someone. There were elements to the story that had me shaking my head and rolling my eyes, and I'm going to give them the benefit of the doubt with that surprise ending. Hopefully they thought that through completely and they haven't "jumped the shark." Otherwise, I'm afraid they've lost their way.

★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆