Friday, January 28, 2011

The First Rule by Robert Crais *****

The First Rule by Robert Crais opens with the murder of very nice family, husband Frank Meyer, wife Cindy, little Frank, 10, and Joey, 6, plus their nanny. A seemingly random murder, collateral to a home invasion burglary. The police are baffled and this incident just adds to a series of similar unsolved crime on Los Angeles.

But, in this case, Frank had a friend: Joe Pike, a retired special forces soldier with mystical and deadly super powers, to move without possible detection like a ghost, and to disarm and kill at any distance from hand-to-hand to William Tell/Robin Hood accuracy with a sniper rifle. Once Pike is involved, vengeance is assured.

In a well written plot that mixes conflicts between organizations and individuals the story twists and turns to the expected and satisfying conclusion.

What makes this book stand out from all the similar ones - if you've read this far, you must know many authors churning out similar fare?

Joe Pike, in addition to being the archetypal warrior, is also soft and affectionate. When faced with the task of caring for screaming infant, the following interaction highlights Pike's softer side.
Pike said, "You good?"
He lifted the baby out, and snuggled it to his chest. He took out the cotton plugs [previously inserted in the baby's ear in anticipation of a loud fire fight]. The crying and screaming stopped. The baby settled against him. Pike rubbed its back.
"That's it buddy. I got you."
So if you'd like a little human love and affection with your murder and mayhem, this is the book.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Revenge of the Mooncake Vixen by Marilyn Chin ****

Mei Ling and Mooncake went to Stanford and Harvard to study medicine, but beyond that they break all the stereotypes of of conservative, studious Chinese-American women. Marilyn Chin's debut novel, Revenge of the Mooncake Vixen, presents a mosaic of growing up Chinese in California - 41 tales - some fables - some contemporary - all woven together to give a deep view of a culture both insulated and integrated with American popular culture.

The view is a post-feminist world where powerful women seduce the good guys and slaughter the bad guys. This includes not only Mei Ling and Mooncake, but also their grandmothers. In a book explicitly titled "a novel," the author unfolds short stories about delivering Chinese food from the family restaurant - Double Happiness - on New Years Eve and fables of mythical ancestors who visit the girls in their dreams.

A wonderful collection of stories both unique to the Chinese-American experience and universal to the women in contemporary American culture.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Worst Case by James Patterson ****

James Patterson is an artist at producing thrillers without high body counts, excessive violence, or gratuitous sex. His stories combine the plotting of a mystery with a steady stream of conflicts and resolutions. With a minimum of ickiness, the story grabs the reader and doesn't let go until the end.

Worst Case is about a killer in New York City who abducts and murders adult children of the rich and powerful. The corpses are each marked with the black cross of Ash Wednesday. While victims are presented as a kidnappings, the end result is a dead child. Aside, from the null hypothesis that this is the work of a crazy person, nothing else seems to fit the evidence. So in true mystery fashion, the reader is driven to discover the motivation, since the identity of the killer is revealed early.

The ending is surprising and satisfying. A wonderful book for a long airplane ride or a very short vacation.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Grave Gourmet by Alexander Campion ***

"With the consummate petulance endemic to opera divas ..." The is hardly the kind of pedantic verbosity, I want to see as the first sentence of a mystery novel. However, after several pages of this writerly insecurity, Alexander Campion's first novel, The Grave Gourmet, settles down into the mystery formula: insightful detective, multiple suspects and motives, a little violence, a little sex, and a revealing summary that ties everything together (almost).

In this particular case, the detective Capucine , has become bored of financial cases, and is on her first murder. The plot twists includes the jealousies among the rarified staff of 3-star Parisian restaurants, industrial espionage, and traditional love triangles. While the story gives a fascinating view of haute cuisine, in the end this is just another mystery with little that rises above the many mysteries published each year.

This is the first novel and I imagine with time subsequent novel might be less self-conscious with fewer multisyllabic words and flights into metaphoric ecstasy. In between the beginning and the end, I found to an enjoyable read.