Tuesday, June 25, 2013

"The future is not as loud as war, but it is relentless. It has a terrible fury all its own."

Harper Curtis is a killer. He's also an opportunist. On the run from a bunch of thug vigilantes in Depression-era Chicago, he stumbles across a blind woman with a nice coat. Harper wants the coat, but it's what the woman says that sticks in his mind. “Are you Bartek?” As the woman becomes hysterical at his refusal, Harper kills her. And takes the coat as he planned. And finds the key. The key which leads him to the House. Where he finds his Shining Girls and realizes he's been a serial killer all along. You might think this would be the beginning of a rather standard serial killer thriller, if it weren't for the fact that the House also travels through time. It can't go further back in the past beyond the day Harper finds it, nor further into the future beyond 1993, and to no other place but that neighborhood in Chicago, but beyond those limitations, the House can take Harper to any day in any year he desires.

And then there's Kirby, Kirby Mazrachi. One of Harper's victims whom he attacked in 1989 after visiting her in 1974. Who survives and starts hunting him... in 1992. Fun, right? And that's just the beginning of the chase through time for these two. As Harper and Kirby play cat and mouse with each through the years, we see the story play out through various P.O.V.s., and not just those of the main characters. The use of differing P.O.V.s might be off-putting to some, seen as either a too-clever move or a distraction from the story. Instead, these shifting views allow us to get to know these characters intimately, even the one-offs (aka the victims), so that we can see their pain, their desires, their motivations (yes, even for the villain, Harper, despite what some reviewers have said; we get flashbacks to his youth, and we see how he became the monster we see in the novel). In this way, the story unfolds like a budding flower, exquisitely layered while remaining action-packed and swiftly-moving.

Beukes touches on several important moments and issues thanks to the time travel aspect. From issues like the Depression and “Hoovervilles,” to abortions and the Jane Collective (the underground abortion service); from moments in time such as the Radium Girls, the riots of the 1968 Democratic Convention, to the “Rosie the Riveters” of WWII, Beukes brings each of these to life through her character sketches, showing us the living, breathing side of these moments in history, not just what we've seen in books and film strips. And it is these characters that make the novel sing. Even the one-offs, the single-chapter sketches, illuminate living, breathing people. People with flaws and quirks, with dreams and aspirations. People with personalities from every slice of the spectrum. (The character of Alice is simply heart-breaking.) Even the main “heroic” characters of Kirby and Dan (Velasquez, the ex-homicide detective turned sports reporter who Kirby interns for) transcend their potentially cliched roles – plucky ex-victim, world-weary older man/father figure – to become actual human beings. Kirby is plucky, yes, but she's also a pain in the ass: prickly, difficult to deal with, snarky, with a drive that belies her punk exterior and a soft heart. I think what most awes me about Beukes's writing, though, is how utterly despicable she's made Harper. He is the epitome of evil, yet he's no black hat-wearing caricature of a villain. He has dimension. At times in the story, you get the feeling he knows what he's doing is wrong, that perhaps he wants to stop, and is willing to try. But something always pulls him back to murder. Maybe it's the House, maybe it's his inner demons. And the flashback scenes to his childhood are nicely ambiguous. His actions as a child raise questions. Was Harper born evil? Was he destined to become a serial killer? It would've been so easy for Beukes to take the easy way out and write Harper as a simple bad guy. Instead, she makes him just as human as Kirby and the other characters in the book. And that's the mark of a very talented writer.

I've never before read anything written by Lauren Beukes. I've read a sample of one of her previous books, Zoo City, and found it interesting enough to put on my Wish List, but that's it. Now, though, I'll be buying Zoo City ASAP as well as a copy of Moxyland and would suggest that anyone reading this review do the same. Not to sound like some sort of NY Times book review wannabe, but Beukes is most definitely an author to watch.

On a side note: Leonardo DiCaprio's production company, Appian Way, has optioned The Shining Girls and is developing it for television. Now that I've read the book, there's no way they'll ever be able to do the story justice. Nope, sorry, uh-uh, it can't be done. And now I'm sad.

Read June 1-June 7, 2013
Reviewed for the Amazon Vine Program June 25, 2013

Monday, June 10, 2013

"The times change, but the nature of men does not."

2.5 out of 5 stars

I really wish I could like this book more than I did. After all, considering the amount of time (ten years!) and effort Michael Ennis put into writing it, to not like seems like a supremely douche-y move on my part. Yet I can't help myself. Now before I break down what it was about the novel which made me dislike it, let me list some things about the book I liked.

First off, those ten years of work clearly shows. This particular period of Italian history hasn't necessarily been brought to life (there's not much focus on anything or anyone beyond that which impacts the plot), but it has been rendered with a depth of detail that creates a passable simulacrum. Part of this might be because all the events used as the backbone of the plot actually occurred; the only fictional bits are the murders and the reactions of the players to those murders. Now, I tend to have mixed feelings about novels which blend real, historically-based figures and/or events with fictional storylines as, frankly, the results can be a mixed-bag, ranging from imaginative to god-awful dreck. It takes real skill to weave a murder-mystery or romance or whatever into an established timeline of events and make that whatever not stick out like a sore thumb. This is a skill Ennis has in spades: He managed to fit a series of gruesome murders seamlessly into an already violent background and make it seem believable that the novel's players, in addition to actions which are on historical record, scampered around the Italian countryside in order to solve those murders. Plus, despite its problems, the story does move along at a nice clip, keeping the reader involved without bogging them down in endless exposition or info dumps.

There's no argument that Ennis is a fine storyteller who is able to create a vivid and compelling tale, and is skilled in the craft of writing. I have no issue with that. If you look at the bare bones of the novel, it's got everything needed to be an engrossing murder-mystery: well-drawn characters (I can say that even while not liking the way they were drawn), action, some gruesome murders, a bit of romance, intrigue, a conspiracy or two, and interesting locations where all this takes place. The problem is, I can't get behind the story Ennis has created or the motivations and characterizations he's given the players, especially after some new research and reading which throws the regurgitated history of the Borgia family right out the window, and (I think) deservedly so. Even without this new information, I still couldn't get behind Ennis's take on Cesare/Valentino's motivations or mental processes, and his depiction of Machiavelli as some sort of love-sick puppy dog who's only motivation seems to be following Damiata around the country so he can crawl back into her bed is grating and a disservice to the real Machiavelli. Even Leonardo da Vinci occasionally came off as more of a caricature: though he's portrayed as eerily prescient about certain technologies and obsessed about discovering the workings of the natural world, which fits in with historical record, there were times when instead he came off more like Doc Brown from the Back to the Future movie franchise. Damiata was the only reasonable, sympathetic voice of the novel and we lose her a third of the way in; the novel starts out with her narrating events in a letter to her son, who is being held captive by Pope Alexander VI until she finds out who murdered Alexander's son, Juan, Duke of Gandia. She ends the letter, believing herself to be near death, and lets Machiavelli pick up the narration, (view spoiler) So my question has to be, why? Why get rid of her as a narrator and use Machiavelli in her place? I understand that Machiavelli is close to both da Vinci and Valentino in the story and, as such, can provide us some insight, I guess, but if it were me, I would've found a way for Damiata to have had a similar closeness in order to keep her as narrator; through her, the story flowed with more action, more intimacy, and more immediacy.

In the end, while I appreciate all the work Ennis put into the novel and can honestly say he's a skilled writer, I just can't agree with the story he put together. Perhaps someone with less knowledge of the Borgias or less interest in a truthful representation of historical figures might, but that's not me.

One minor note: Though others have complained about the Italian sprinkled throughout the book and the lack of translation (which isn't quite accurate as Ennis usually writes the English translation right after the Italian), I didn't have a problem with it. It's not that I speak Italian, and not to be smug, but I took Latin in high school, so it was easy for me to extrapolate what the words meant from their Latin bases.

Read January 6-March 1, 2013
Reviewed for the Amazon Vine Program March 28, 2013

Whatever you may think of the story, the cover rocks!

This is the first Star Wars novel I've read, apart from the novelizations based on the screenplays of the first three movies (Star Wars: A New Hope [personally I refuse to refer to it as 'A New Hope' because I'm a stubborn old fart], Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, Star Wars: Return of the Jedi). I picked Scoundrels because it fell between the action in Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back, figuring it would be better to pick a tie-in novel involving a time-frame and characters with whom I'm both familiar and comfortable. After all, what with the sheer number of Star Wars novels out there, the idea of just picking a title at random and jumping in is rather intimidating, so having a book that lets you ease in through the shallow end is much more pleasant. Or so I thought. Once I began reading, I reconsidered my notion that this book would be an easy introduction to the Star Wars novels: Even though the story centered around Han Solo and Chewbacca, with an appearance by Lando Calrissian, Jabba the Hutt, and even Boba Fett, it also involved other characters and settings completely unfamiliar to anyone who'd only ever watched the movies and had no knowledge of the Expanded Universe. Maybe it's just me, but I like to have at least a passing knowledge of what's going on, and to have so many new and unfamiliar planets and characters and species and organizations thrown at me is discomfiting.

Most of the reviews for Scoundrels throw out the Ocean's 11 comparison and as much as I hate to follow the herd, I'm going to in this instance for the main fact that the comparison is completely spot on. As others have pointed out, there are even 11 players in the Solo crew, so who am I to buck the trend? The problem with this comparison is that Ocean's 11 (the original or remake, dealer's choice) is an entertaining, fast-paced movie, whereas “Solo's 11” (my apologies to anyone I plagiarize by using this) involves a whole lotta nothing with a little bit of action in between. And I think this is due to the inherent nature of the heist plot. In a movie, if it's done well, even in those scenes involving the planning, which is basically just a bunch of people hanging out and doing a lot of talking, the story stays tight and moves along at a nice clip: the reason for the heist is explained, a plan is hatched, the steps required to enact said plan are laid out, usually with funny and/or exciting scenes demonstrating a few of those steps interspersed with the talking scenes, and then the talking ends and the action begins. This kind of plot should also work in book format, but again, only if it's done well, and with Scoundrels, I really can't say that happened.

The story takes place right after the Death Star has been destroyed (the first time around). Han has lost the reward money he garnered for lending a helping hand with that endeavor and since he's walking around with a bounty on his head thanks to the massive debt he owes to the gelatinous and vicious crime lord, Jabba the Hutt, Han needs to come up with a transport-load of credits and right now. His salvation seems to come in the form of a mysterious man who offers Han those credits in exchange for Han pulling a job stealing data disks from a gangster's stronghold. It's a job that's not only incredibly risky and potentially lethal, it's also completely out of Han's wheelhouse. But the roguish smuggler is desperate and the payoff is too tempting, so he accepts and sets about recruiting the perfect crew to help him carry out the caper. However, as the crew begins to work out exactly how they'll get into the fortified mansion of a Black Sun syndicate lieutenant and break into the man's virtually impregnable safe to get the goods, the situation starts looking a lot more complicated and a lot less profitable than first imagined. In the end, this job may cost Han and the gang more than they ever bargained for.

With a nod to the “who shot first” kerfuffle in Star Wars, the novel gets off to a promising start. There's some smuggling, some action, some comedy, and some intrigue as we meet the various characters in their native habitats and the heist starts coming together. But that's where things start losing steam as the story get bogged down in explaining the politics of the Empire and the exploits of Black Sun and why the mysterious man is stealing from them, not to mention the endless planning and plotting and replotting of the actual heist. There's so much setup and reconnaissance for each step along with seemingly endless discussions about how it's to be done, interspersed with background exploration as each character is given a chance to converse with another character as to how they got to this point, why they're fighting for whatever side they're fighting for, along with their motivations for joinging the heist. Honestly, for a supposed 'action' novel, there's a hell of a lot of navel gazing in it. And not a lot of either Han or Chewbacca, which is rather disappointing. Yeah, they're basically the center around which the crew revolves, but other than at the beginning of the novel, you don't really see the Dynamic Duo working on their own.

In the third act, things finally get going and there's a nice, action-packed showdown at the end, along with a surprise reveal which was fun, but it seemed to take a hell of a long time to get to that point, not to mention you have to work through a lot of confusing explanations and secondary motivations, involving so many people that eventually you lose track of who's doing what for whom and why. Which brings me back to the point I made earlier about working a heist plot in a novel. I'm sure there are a lot of exciting and tightly-paced heist novels out there, but, if Scoundrels is anything to go by, I don't think Timothy Zahn has the chops to pull it off in his novels. Most of the story is so bloated and bulky--like Jabba the Hutt in novel form--it loses any sense of excitement or urgency or momentum.

Which is why the comparison to Ocean's 11 works only in spirit, but not in form. The fun of the book never reaches the level of fun in the movie thanks to too much exposition and introspection and not enough action. Though I was mildly entertained by the book, as an introduction to the Expanded Universe of Star Wars, Scoundrels is rather disappointing.

Read December 24, 2012-January 5, 2013
Reviewed for the Amazon Vine Program February 24, 2013

'"A green girl in the woods just kissed me, " he announced furiously. "What is wrong with the world?"'

4.5 out of 5 stars

I love this book, I really do, but my first thought upon finishing the first chapter was: Are teenagers today really so well-acquainted with such ready wit and pert comebacks? Because I know I sure as hell wasn't when I was that age. Wit would come slouching over to me, fifteen minutes or more after I needed it, and grudgingly provide me with a spot-on reply, though, of course, by that time I no longer needed one. Wit and I were not the greatest of friends; we were barely acquaintances. My second thought upon finishing the first chapter was: Unspoken will appeal to fans of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Oh, not because Unspoken contains vampires, demons, or any other such things (though there are sorcerers), but because of the dialog, that wit I mentioned above, and the interplay between the characters. Kami and her compatriots are the new Scooby gang.

I've had a hard time putting my thoughts into words for this review. (A really hard time: I read this book back in September and I'm finally putting the finishing touches to this review here in January.) So I'm going to resort to my old “what I liked, what I didn't like” method.

What I Liked:
Kami – She's lived with the voice of a boy in her head since she was a baby. She could've easily been a very melodramatic, swoony character, or bland and spineless, much like other female PNR YA heroines. Instead Kami was awesome. She didn't care that she was an outcast and the fact that she spoke to a voice in her head didn't keep her from making friends, running the school newspaper, and generally behaving as though she's perfectly normal – it's everyone else who suffers from the lack of a voice in their head. As a character, Kami's a cross between Buffy (I swear, I don't mean to keep bringing Buffy up, but, believe me, she works!) and Lois Lane: She's so determined to solve the mystery behind the Lynburn family and their history with Sorry-in-the-Vale, she's sometimes runs straight into danger, confident that her wit and intellect will let her get out of any peril.

The Scooby gang – Kami's best friend, Angela, is a sarcastic, lazy individual, who will sprawl out on any flat surface (or even not-so-flat) in order to take a nap. In fact, she prefers napping to any kind of action. Yet, when Kami needs her, Angela is there to help, usually unwillingly, usually with a smart-aleck comment, yet, regardless, she shows up. Angela's older brother, Rusty, acts rather like Kami's older brother as well. Just as lazy as Angela, and just as unwilling to fly into action, he's also just as ready to defend Kami should she need a knight in shining armor... even though Kami is perfectly willing to act as her own knight in shining armor and fusses under Rusty's protection.

Holly – Though technically part of the Scooby gang, she deserves particular mention. Initially drawn as your typical beautiful, buxom air-head, she soon puts everyone in their place, including Kami, by demonstrating that she's more aware of how people perceive her than those people might believe. She also demonstrates that she has more depths to her character than expected. Holly turns out to be one of Kami's best friends and staunchest allies.

Damn near everything else - The story, the writing, the plot, the pacing, the modern take on the Gothic theme. Even the veddy British aspect of the novel.

What I Didn't Like:
Jared's reaction to Kami – ***SPOILER ALERT***  When Jared finally meets Kami and figures out she's the voice he's been hearing in his head at the same time Kami discovers Jared is the boy she's been hearing in her head, his antagonism towards her is slightly understandable (after all, seeing in reality what you've only dealt with in your imagination has to be slightly jarring) but afterward, though he grudgingly behaves in a friendly manner towards her, he has this thing about her not touching him. Every time she does, on purpose or accidentally, he recoils away from her as though her touch burns him.  ***END SPOILER***  It's a reaction I don't particularly understand and as the novel goes on, it's a reaction which becomes rather old after a while. However, since this is just about the only thing about the book which vexes me, I really can't complain too loudly.

In the end, I truly adored this book. However, it won't be to everyone's taste, I'd imagine. Personally, between the wit, the characterizations, and the British atmosphere, I'm not sure which appeals to me more. This is one time I'm glad a recently released book is not a stand-alone but is part of a series: I can't wait for the next book!

Read September 14-18, 2012
Reviewed for the Amazon Vine Program January 5, 2013

Ah, Flavia, how I do love thee!

5 out of 5 stars

I still say I'd love to have her as my child, if it weren't for my fear that she would continually get the best of me. Her intelligence and perspicacity are terrifying.

Once again, death has come to the village of Bishop's Lacey. However, Flavia's already involved with a dead body, that of St. Tancred, whose tomb underneath the village church (which also bears the saint's name) has become the subject of an archaeological dig. Flavia has managed to insert herself into the proceedings, to no-one's surprise, so her eyes are the first to light upon the contents of St. Tancred's tomb. However, what she finds is not the moldering body of a saint, but the very recently deceased corpse of Mr. Collicutt, the church organist. As always, Flavia, with the help of her trusty 2-wheeled steed Gladys, takes it upon herself to solve the murder, though she's kind enough to leave a few clues for her frequent sparring partner, Inspector Hewitt, to solve. As Flavia unravels the convoluted web of deceit, family secrets, and greed at the heart of Mr. Collicutt's murder, an even more shocking secret is revealed, culminating in a doozy of a cliffhanger ending.

This novel, though it was still filled with Bradley's trademark wit, not to mention an engaging mystery, felt more intimate than previous entries in the series. The connections between Flavia and her family are explored in greater detail, allowing us to see the affection, hidden though it may be most of the time, which exists within the de Luce family. Don't worry, there's still plenty of hissing and sniping between Flavia and her sisters Ophelia (“Feely”) and Daphne (“Daffy”), but there are also some genuine moments of emotional bonding. And this is due to the overarching family drama running through the background of all these mysteries finally coming to a head. As we learned in the previous novels, Buckshaw, the de Luce's family home, actually belonged to Flavia's mother, Harriet. When she disappeared while mountaineering in the Himalayas, Flavia's father has struggled to maintain the large house in the years since. Now, though, those struggles have come to an end: The money's run out and all that's left is to sell Buckshaw and move the family to a smaller place. Naturally, this comes as quite a blow to everyone, none more so than Flavia, who struggles to deal with the loss of the old pile and especially her laboratory, a magnificent space kitted out with all the very best chemistry equipment by her uncle, Tarquin de Luce. Not only is it a place where Flavia carries out her chemical sleuthing, it is her sanctuary, her place of escape when she's suffered at the hands of her tormenting sisters and dreams up gruesome deaths by obscure poisons in revenge. But now, with the big reveal at the end of the novel, what will this all mean for the de Luce's and for Flavia? I can't wait to find out! Bradley has been signed by Delacorte to write five more Flavia novels, which is just fabulous news, as that means they'll be plenty more Flavia adventures to come!

On a side note, I have mixed emotions concerning the news that Sam Mendes has bought the rights to produce five two-hour television movies based on the series. Or, at least that's the plan. On the one hand, Mendes is good at what he does and the fact that he'll be working with a television/mini-series format as opposed to a big screen/movie series one is reassuring. It means more quality control and less chance of things falling apart. On the other hand, I cannot think of any young actress today who could embody the precociousness, the intelligence, the bull-headed, impish, shrewd nature of Flavia and actually pull it off. Not to mention the potential changes a scriptwriter or even Mendes himself might or will make to the story terrifies me. What if they think that the 1950's setting isn't exciting enough? What if they decide to update it, set it in London, or, god forbid, set it in America? Oh, man, I'm going to have nightmares!

Read November 29-December 24, 2012
Reviewed for the Amazon Vine Program February 16, 2013

'"La Malice," Thomas said, "a magic sword, another Excalibur."'

3.5 out of 5 stars

It took me a while for my attention to get drawn into this novel. Mainly because I discovered, only after I'd started reading the thing, that it's actually the fourth novel in Bernard Cornwell's Grail Quest series. Now, other people may have no problem picking up and reading a book from the middle of a series, but me? Um, yeah, that doesn't work for me. For better of worse, I tend to be rather OCD about book series: I hate reading books from the middle of one, and the idea of skipping around, reading the books out of order, positively drives me bonkers, giving me an eye twitch and the beginnings of a foamy mouth. So when I found out 1356 was number four in a series, I nearly screamed.* I also nearly stopped reading. However, I have such a backlog of ARCs I need to read and review that the notion of me trying to plow through the first three books (and that's only if I were able to find them at my local, woefully lacking, library in the first place) while still keeping up with my other ARCs just so I could be comfortable reading 1356 nearly gave me the same eye twitch as the one I was trying to develop due to reading 1356 in the first place. (Damn, that was an exhausting sentence!) So I took myself in hand (which is an idiom I've always found vaguely naughty, most likely because of my brain's permanent dwelling place in a nice and comfy gutter), gave myself a stern talking to, and soldiered on with 1356, suffering only the occasional eye spasm in the process.

I also had a rough beginning with this book as for the longest time I couldn't identify with or be sympathetic to any of the characters. It took some time for them to mean anything to me, even the main character, Sir Thomas Hookton, aka le Bâtard, leader of the Hellequin, a band of mercenaries working in France while serving under the aegis of the Earl of Northampton. Eventually, though, I warmed up to Thomas and his band, especially Brother Michael and the Irishman, Keane (the latter mainly due to his adoption of a couple of wolfhounds away from the Frenchmen who were hunting down him and Thomas; as an animal lover, it was a particularly satisfying scene).

The story itself is interesting yet oddly forgettable. Revolving around a mythical sword said to be the sword of Saint Peter, a sword said to grant whoever bears it certain victory over his foes, both the French and English army have sent scouts to find it in order to aid their endeavors. (If the year of the book's title doesn't hold any significance for you, it was in that year the Battle of Poitiers took place, which was the second major engagement of the Hundred Years' War. Edward, also known as the Black Prince—for what reason is still debated among historians—the son of King Edward III, had raided France that year, his second chevauchée [a destructive raid designed to inflict severe economic disaster on the enemy] through that war-torn country, spurring King Jean II of France to pursue him. The two ultimately met at Poitiers, and even though the English army was outnumbered, road-weary, thirsty, and exhausted, and though the battle was long, the English came out on top, capturing around 2,000 members of the French aristocracy, including King Jean himself, whose ransom alone—six million gold écus—was equivalent to about a third of France's GNP.) So each side believes they are in the right and that this sword, la Malice, will bring God's wrath down upon their enemies. In between battle scenes and personal dramas revolving around Thomas and his band we watch as this sword gets shuffled around from place to place and from person to person as it falls into the hands of those who would hide it and those who would abuse it. Eventually it finds itself in the possession of Sculley, a wild Scotsman marginally under the control of the Lord of Douglas, on the side of King Jean. After a brief but bloody sword fight between Sculley and Thomas, the fate of la Malice was something of an anticlimax. Maybe that was the point, but it just seemed rather disappointing. And that was the overall sensation I took away from my reading experience. It just felt as though the book was missing something, as though I was only getting part of the story. Perhaps it's due to the fact that it is number four in a series. Perhaps it's better read as part of a whole, when all the pieces fit together into a larger, more detailed picture.

I also have to disagree with the blurb on the cover from George R.R. Martin in which he states “Bernard Cornwell does the best battle scenes of any writer I've ever read, past or present.” Well, I'm very sorry George, but the author who writes the best battle scenes is still, to my mind, Conn Iggulden. Cornwell writes vivid, bloody, stirring scenes, to be sure, but they're nowhere near as atmospheric and breath-taking as Iggulden's. That's not to say Cornwell's writing is flawed. I've read his Warlord Chronicles, which tackled the story of King Arthur, and like those books, 1356 is a cracking good read. The dialogue is fast-paced, accessible without being overly-anachronistic, the story moves along and keeps your attention, doling out information in just the right amount without slowing down the action, and he allows the characters to develop as the story moves along so that by the end, though they may not be complex creatures, they're far from cardboard cutouts. At least for his “good guys”; Cornwell's bad guys in this novel tend to suffer slightly from the Black Hat Syndrome in that they're after one thing or one person, their motives for going after that thing or person are narrowly drawn (i.e. revenge or greed or simply because they're a black-hearted knave who loves being bad), and as such become near-caricatures of people. Basically, they're villains because they're villains and nothing more. Thomas is the most three-dimensional character of all; he's obviously one of the good 'uns, yet he does shady, even downright criminal things, he has conflicting emotions between what he's doing and what he should be doing—basically he behaves like a human being, especially one who's often placed between a rock and a hard place and must choose the lesser of two evils in order to move. (Two clichés in one sentence, woo hoo!) That said, I suppose the goal of most writers is for you, as the reader, to empathize with the good guys and Cornwell certainly accomplishes that. Or at least for me he did. Every time one of the characters found themselves in a perilous situation, I suffered along with them, heart beating rapidly, palms sweating, lips gnawed raw as my eyes zoomed across the page, reading as fast as I could in the hope that the character would soon find an escape.

So, yeah, despite some flaws and a slow start, in the end I would recommend this book as a good read. However, I do believe it would've been even better had I gotten to it after first reading the three books that came before it.

*It doesn't help that this brought up one of my biggest pet-peeves about book publishing: Why can't publishers identify a book that's part of a series? How difficult would it be to put a small number somewhere on the spine, or place, in small typeset, a sentence somewhere on the front cover informing potential readers that the book they're holding is #__ in a series? Or, at the very least, place a page at the front of the book listing the titles, in chronological order, that belong to a particular series, allowing the person holding said book to exclaim, “Hey, this is book #4 in the series! I need to read these other books first!” Really, would it put such a huge dent in their bottom line? I think not. In fact, doing so would encourage more sales, in my not-so-humble opinion: First of all, people wouldn't get pissed off about picking up a book in the middle of a series, and secondly, in my experience, people like to buy in bulk, so when they find the first (clearly labeled) book in a series, they tend to pick up the second one at the same time.

Read October 25-November 29, 2012 
Reviewed for the Amazon Vine Program January 3, 2013