Thursday, September 22, 2016

Hell is Empty

by Craig Johnson
309 pgs  (Longmire series #7)

Craig Johnson borrowed from both Shakespeare and Dante for his seventh book featuring Wyoming Sheriff Walt Longmire. The book's title comes from the famous line in The Tempest: "Hell is empty and all the devils are here." It's a fantastic line, and a very appropriate title for Johnson's story.

The story itself was heavily influenced by Dante's Inferno. In the poem, Dante is guided by the poet Virgil through the nine circles of hell. In Johnson's story, Longmire is guided by the giant Indian Virgil White Buffalo as he travels through his own various levels of hell.

It's early spring and Walt is assisting with a prisoner transport. Raynoud Shade is a Canadian Indian convicted of killing a young boy who is on his way to prison for the rest of his life. Shade is also a psychotic schizophrenic who sees visions and hears voices.

While traveling through the Bighorn Mountains, a fierce storm arrives and Shade manages to escape. Now it's up to Walt to track him down before Shade decides to kill again. But Walt's primary concern quickly becomes his own survival, as the mountains and the storm threaten to take his life, or at a minimum, his sanity.

I've heard Craig Johnson speak in person a couple of times over the past few years and it's very apparent that regardless of the fact that he lives in rural Wyoming, in a town with a population in the double digits, that he's a highly-intelligent and well-read man. So the fact that he used classical literature as the inspiration for his story came as no surprise. What was a bit of a pleasant surprise though was the fact that seven books into his series, the books continue to get better and better.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Monday, September 19, 2016

The Glittering World

by Robert Levy
338 pgs

Michael "Blue" Whitley is a New York chef and restaurant owner. Despite his seemingly innate ability to create delicious food at his restaurant, he and his restaurant are struggling financially. He's heavily in debt and in desperate need for an influx of cash. Fortunately, one is within reach. Blue's grandmother recently passed away and left him her house in Nova Scotia.

Ignoring his mother's objections to him traveling to Canada to see the property he grew up in and overseeing its sale, Blue decides to drive up there with three of his closest friends. Blue hasn't been there since his mother took him and moved to the United States when he was five years old.

Arriving in the small community of Starling Cove where his new property is located, Blue and his friends quickly learn that there is something inexplicably different about the town. They learn that Starling Cove is an old hippie commune. One to which artists and social outcasts have flocked to for generations. There have been numerous instances of children who have gone missing from Starling Cove over the years. Some of whom never returned, but others did. Some of them walked out of the woods years later, naked and speaking incoherently about the "Other Kind," strange life forms that live under the mountain and the lake.

Blue learns that he was one of those children who returned, and he soon begins to feel drawn back to the woods.

The Glittering World is the debut novel by Robert Levy. It's strength is its creativity. The "Other Kind" are a unique variation of the mystical fae creatures present in fairy tales and other stories. But overall the book falls short. The story itself never struck a chord with me. I might check out whatever Levy writes next out of curiosity, but if it's more of the same, I'll be moving on.

★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Saturday, September 10, 2016

The Empathy Problem

by Gavin Extence
403 pgs

The Empathy Problem is Gavin Extence's third book. He's not well known, but he has quickly become one of my favorite authors. It follows The Universe Versus Alex Woods and The Mirror World of Melody Black; two fantastic books that I can't recommend strongly enough. This one is another great one.

Gabriel Vaughn is a 32-year-old hedge fund manager in London. He makes millions of pounds every year, drives a Ferrari, cares about no one but himself, and he just found out he has an inoperable brain tumor and has only a few months left to live. He has no intentions of telling anyone of his condition, and with the exception of his boss and coworkers, there's no one in his life to tell.

But either the tumor or the realization of his own mortality begins to change Gabriel. He starts to feel emotions for the first time in his life. He begins to feel empathy and a disturbing sense of compassion for those he previously considered with a sense of revulsion--if he even considered them at all.

I've found it interesting that Extence's books, while each very different, have each had a common element--the brain. Alex Woods was struck by a meteorite in the head, which had a significant impact on the rest of his life. Melody Black is bipolar (the same condition I believe Extence himself lives with), and Gabriel's brain is being slowly changed by the tumor.

I can't wait for whatever Extence decides to write next. I've become less and less patient with getting my hands on his books as each subsequent book has come out. I don't think this one has been published by his US publisher yet, I had to order it from a store in London, where he lives, and where I think he's more well known than he is here in the States. I hope that that changes soon, and that more people here pick up one of his books and find out just how great of an author he is.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Friday, September 9, 2016

Skin Tight

by Carl Hiaasen
319 pgs

Dr. Rudy Graveline is the director of a highly-successful surgical center in Florida. The rich and the famous come to him for tummy tucks, facelifts, boob jobs, and any other procedure they believe will keep them looking young and beautiful. He has built a reputation for himself that has made him a very wealthy, and morally corrupt man.

But Rudy has some skeletons in his closet, secrets that if discovered would mean the end of his career, and more importantly, the end of his extravagant way of life. The first is that he was never trained nor certified as a plastic surgeon. He earned his M.D. from a questionable medical school, and he was barely even able to accomplish that. After his patients are anesthetized, Rudy usually steps aside and lets someone else perform the procedure. But every once in a while his ego gets the best of him and he attempts the surgery himself--usually with disastrous results. One of those occasions led to another one of his secrets: he recently accidentally killed a young woman during a botched nose job.

When he learns that Mick Stranahan, a retired investigator for the Florida State Attorney is looking into the girl's disappearance, Rudy decides to hire someone to get rid of him.

Skin Tight is one of Hiaasen's earlier books, so when I say it's classic Hiaasen, it really is. It has everything that makes his books so fun to read. His characters are as hilarious as his plots. His villains are threatening, but absurd, and the combination results in books that are a lot of fun to read.


Friday, September 2, 2016

Child 44

by Tom Rob Smith
440 pgs  (Leo Demidov series #1)

Set primarily in 1953, Child 44 is the first novel in a series by Tom Rob Smith featuring Leo Demidov, an MGB Agent in the Soviet Union. Leo has spent years hunting dissidents and meting out punishment to any and all whom he believes have done anything, said anything, or thought anything which goes against Joseph Stalin and the Communist Party. He has risen in the ranks of the MGB to the point where he and his wife enjoy many comforts and luxuries not provided to most citizens. He believes in the Socialist cause and that his work is important to ensuring its strength and success.

He has been taught that since the government provides everything its citizens need, the only crimes that exist are acts committed by those trying to subvert the power and authority of the Party. Crimes like senseless murder just don't exist in the Soviet Union.

But someone is killing young children throughout western Russia. Their bodies have been found naked, with a string tied around their ankle, their stomach removed, and their mouth filled with dirt. Leo suspects that all the killings are the work of one man, but when he begins to investigate the cases, he's demoted and exiled to a small town hundreds of kilometers away from Moscow. As he continually tries to pursue the killer, he finds himself disgraced and hunted by the Party he served for so many years.

Child 44 is a fantastic book! Not only did Smith succeed in telling a compelling story of a serial killer-- a story inspired by the actual crimes of Andrei Chikatilo, aka the Rostov Ripper, the Red Ripper, and the Butcher of Rostov--but he does so against an extremely vivid backdrop. Smith does an incredible job of describing what life was like in the Soviet Union while Joseph Stalin was at its head. He describes the desperation and fear that were so prevalent throughout the Soviet Union during that time. Even without the mystery surrounding the killings the book would be worth reading, if only to learn what it was like for the typical citizen alive during that time to try to survive.  With the combination of the fascinating historical setting and the grizzly murders of a serial killer, Child 44 is a book I'll be recommending to family and friends enthusiastically.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★