Archive for September, 2009

Heat Wave

Tuesday, September 29th, 2009

By Richard Castle (not)

The Short Take:

This taut, engaging little mystery is what Richard Castle might have written if he were a real person and not the fictional lead character on the ABC series Castle. It was the same witty patter and gallows humor you find on that show. Best of all, it’s surprisingly good.


Let’s leave aside this book’s pedigree for a minute and treat it as a free-standing entity. It’s fast paced, fun to read, and the mystery holds up under scrutiny. Really. It’s certainly not literature for the ages, but few mysteries really are. Since it is lightly larded with current cultural references, it’s clear the author(s) just want to entertain you right now. And he/she/they succeed.

Now for the provenance of this book, in case my opening statement confused. There is a TV show called Castle. The main character is a mystery writer named Richard Castle. In the TV show he is tailing a female NYC detective as research for his next book. Heat Wave is that next book. There’s something about the pure audacity of this effort that cracks me up. The actor’s picture is even on the back cover as the author.

So, who really wrote this short, sassy detective mystery? Well, 15 minutes googling was not enough to find out. I encountered speculation it might be James Patterson or Stephen J. Cannell (who both provided book blurbs and have appeared on the TV show). I suspect the show’s actual writers deserve the honors, however.

A Little Plot:

A real estate maven falls or is pushed from his posh Manhattan apartment. Turns out anything and everything could be the cause: extra-marital affairs, major business problems, gambling debts. Detective Nikki Heat and her team chase down suspects while  celebrity journalist Jameson Rook (catch the last name) tags along to research a magazine article.

Crimes and clues accumulate. Heat and Rook irritate and attract each other. The plot is just twisty enough to keep you from being sure you’re right if you think you have it figured.

Oh, and I watched every episode of this show last season, so I can attest this is not a rehash. And the book really is for sale. The whole thing just makes me smile — a little foolishly.

Jasper Fforde Takes His Alternate Universe Literally.

Thursday, September 24th, 2009

Let me make this crystal clear: Jasper Fforde does not write science fiction. He writes highly amusing mystery books to delight people who love to read. And they take place in an alternative universe set in the 1980s.

In his alternative universe, literary creations like Miss Havisham, Heathcliff, and Falstaff have lives beyond the characters they play in books and plays. In fact, sometimes they enter the physical world, and vice versa. Sound confusing? Just accept it as fact, like knowing what a television does without having a clue as to how that is possible.

I strongly suggest starting with the first of his Thursday Next series (The Eyre Affair), because like all worlds Fforde’s universe becomes increasingly and hysterically more complex the more you learn about it. The more familiar you are with classic literature, the more “inside” jokes you will enjoy. But even if some of these sweep by you unnoticed (I sadly have a shabby classic literature history), there is still much to enjoy.

Thurday Next is a detective — a Literary Detective with SpecOps, which is where the mystery plots come in. She has a pet dodo, a disppeared husband (in every sense of the word), and a propensity for winding up in trouble in every investigation she undertakes. Her first involves finding Jane Eyre — some rascal has stolen Miss Eyre from her book and the world is aghast.

Fforde also has another mystery series that focuses on detectives in the Nursery Crime Division (The Big Over Easy is the first in that series). You don’t need to read any of the Thursday Next books to enjoy these and there’s no huge reason to read them in order, either. To give you an idea of what you’re in for — Humpty Dumpty is the focus of a murder investigation in the first one.

His Shades of Grey, which is scheduled for release in December, 2010, takes another tack entirely. I can’t wait to see what new ingenious insanity Fforde has ready to dish out next.

If you’re uncertain about whether Jasper Fforde is for you, take a trip to his website by clicking here. Personally, I feel nothing but glee anytme I open the cover to one of his books.

Dan Brown Does It Again.

Sunday, September 20th, 2009

I just finished The Lost Symbol, and once more Dan Brown has pushed my use of Google into overdrive. I kept paper and pen with me while reading just to write down the things I felt driven to learn more about — there are 19 items on the list, ranging from art works to fields of science. One thing for sure, Brown sure expands my knowledge of arcane subjects.

This is no review, by the way. What’s the point? But I did find a great article about Brown and his books in the UKs Telegraph that you might want to visit by clicking here. Among other observations, it shares his writing secrets, some of which are the same things that irritate certain critics.

The Lost Symbol is far less likely to draw the ire of the Catholic Church. I’m not so sure how the Masons will feel about it. The US Capitol Building and Washington Monument can expect tourism boosts, not that they need the publicity. Expect to see parasite books in the immediate future about Masons as well as the buildings and imagery of Washington, D.C. Expect some people to immediately call for the removal of certain public artworks that no one even paid attention to before.

Did I like the book? Anything that sends me in search of more information is a winner for me. So, yes.

Will you like it? If you liked The Da Vinci Code I can’t imagine why not.

‘Nuf said.

The Girl Who Played With Fire

Saturday, September 12th, 2009

By Stieg Larsson

The Short Take:

A real page turner. Even better than Larsson’s first book — and I really liked the first one. Plus, who wouldn’t love a heroine who knows how to take care of herself like Lisbeth Salander?


I must admit the first hundred or so pages don’t have much to do with the story — though they do give you a more naunced picture of “The Girl,” Lisbeth Salander. But after that the real tension and drama set in with a vengence and never let up until the final word. Literally.

In Salander, Larsson has developed the perfect heroine for the 21st century. Her social ineptness and prickly personality are offset by a brilliant mind. Her waif-like figure disguises a tiger’s ferocity. Every element balances just so to create a compelling character that you can’t help but root for. Good thing, too, because Salander holds the center stage in this sequel to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

The focal character of Larsson’s first book, Mikael Blomkvist, loses ground in this outing. But then, who wouldn’t look diminished next to the white-hot Salander. Trust me, you won’t mind his smaller role.

The translation (from the original Swedish) doesn’t have the issues I had with Larsson’s first outing, even though the same translator was used. This book is a much smoother read. There was none of the sometimes clunky wording of the original outing.

While you can read this book and enjoy it without reading Larsson’s first book, I don’t really recommend it. After all, why not double your pleasure?

A Little Plot:

Salander tours the world, sets herself up in a plush apartment, and wonders what to do with her life. Unfortunately, someone else has other plans. A former guardian that she humiliated — naw, she squashed him like a bug after he raped her — is out to get revenge.

Meanwhile Blomkvist and crew are getting ready to publish an expose on the Swedish sex trade and the women it exploits — naming names of important johns. When the authors are murdered, fingerprints connect Salander with the crime. Now two powerful forces are after Salander — the police, who are convinced of her guilt, and the gangsters her former guardian has recruited.

Plot surprises abound. So does danger. And the author keeps you guessing about the depth of Salander’s involvement — and her guilt.


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September 2009