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Category Archives: Mystery

Virus Thirteen by Joshua Alan Parry

Virus ThirteenPremise: In a future suffering from global warming storms and government-mandated health requirements, scientists James Logan and his wife, Linda, work at GeneFirm, the world’s leading biotech company. It is there that so much of the world’s vaccines are developed and where genetic research has essentially eliminated most diseases.

When a bioterrorist attack spreads a super-flu virus around the world, GeneFirm is tapped to come up with a vaccine. The problem is that Linda is the head of the research team developing the vaccine and her team ends up in lockdown in the underground labs at GeneFirm.

After he collapses from a supposed brain tumor, James goes looking for answers. He is supposed to be immune to cancer because of the preventative genetic alterations most people have done to themselves, but in his search he learns the flu virus attack is more than it seems. When he discovers the reasons for the attack, his life and those he loves are in danger, but the worldwide ramifications are much greater.

Themes: Current scientific issues are the primary theme of Virus Thirteen. We are shown one idea of the after-effects of global warming. Most diseases are eliminated through vaccines and genetic manipulation. The ramifications of curing some of those diseases are what is really at issue. What happens when curing a disease is worse than letting it continue to exist?

Government-controlled health care is an issue that is covered. Because most diseases have a cure in Virus Thirteen, vaccines and genetic alterations are mandated, though some people shirk the government and have free births. Heart disease prevention is enforced through government agencies who track down overweight people and force them into grueling and controlled exercise and eating programs.

Pros: Virus Thirteen has a quick tempo with short chapters, making it pretty readable and easy to consume. The premise is interesting as a future pandemic postulation in spite of the rough execution. The highly-technical scientific subjects are made surprisingly easy to understand thanks to a knowledgeable author.

Cons: One major problem with Virus Thirteen is the lack of setting. It is set in the future, but with no explanation of exactly when or where these events are taking place apart from a couple mentions of Austin, Texas. The metaphor and simile use is awful, and that’s not the worst part of the prose. With the amount of flippant profanity, sex, and inane humor I felt like I was reading the polished work of a high school student, complete with insults about overweight people with fat and poop jokes. On top of this, I sensed a political agenda with the focus on global warming and genetic manipulation, with an antagonism toward children because of a perceived overpopulation on the planet.

Recommendations: If you have a juvenile sense of humor and are looking for a quick read about the near future that touches on scientific ethics, politics, and genetic manipulation, by all means give Virus Thirteen a shot. These also happen to be its biggest faults, trying too hard to be unsuccessfully funny in places and with a disregard to giving the reader a true sense of setting. This lack of place or time made the global warming and genetic science of Virus Thirteen weaker, to the point where the story suffers from a lack in believability or plausible objectivity. Virus Thirteen is fast-paced and about as lighthearted as a global pandemic can be, but there are also so many other better executed post-apocalyptic novels out there.

Virus Thirteen on Goodreads
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I received a copy from the publisher to write this honest review.

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Posted by on March 31, 2013 in Mystery, Science Fiction

 

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Legion by Brandon Sanderson

LegionPremise: Stephen Leeds has developed his mental condition into a lucrative business where he solves problems using his many skills. Those skills really come through his many hallucinations, giving one man the abilities of a legion of people. It is for this reason that Stephen is nicknamed Legion.

Legion’s new job comes about when someone shows him photographs of past events that are impossibilities. Someone has developed a camera that can take pictures of the past, but the creator has gone missing with the camera. Stephen’s role is to track down the creator and bring back the camera. His search takes him around the world on a crazy ride along with some of his personae.

Themes: Faith is the ultimate struggle for the religious and non-religious, for it is here where the wrestling happens with purpose, existence, and more. For the non-religious, disbelief is the barrier between a person and the unseen. For the religious, the lack of evidence makes faith essential. Without evidence, such as with the potential evidence a camera that can see into the past can bring, the only thing left for belief is faith.

Another theme that Legion explores is the idea of new technologies and their potential for more harm than good. When the existence of a camera that sees into the past is revealed, the potential to prove or disprove events is sought out by terrorists. The potential for invading privacy is considered, along with blackmail and solving crimes.

Pros: Sanderson is skilled with character voice and using plot devices, and Legion does not let down in those areas. In such a short book he is able to form multiple characters in the mind of Leeds along with a few others. With Legion, Sanderson has laid the groundwork for something that he could turn into an entire series. He plays with some interesting concepts with having a protagonist with a mental condition using it to his benefit. Sanderson fills his story appropriately with humor even characters are in dire circumstances.

Cons: Some of the things that Leeds’ personalities enable him to do seem absurd, such as one hallucination holding his hand to make him fire a gun accurately or another perusing a foreign language dictionary to learn the “structure” of the language allowing Leeds to create a hallucination that can translate that language perfectly. If it were magic I would understand that some things can be explained away, but this novella is different in that it’s barely a science fiction book with no magic. There were a lot of threads left hanging at the end with this being a novella and not having much space to tie them all up that gave Legion the feeling of a sort of unfinished tinkering with ideas.

Recommendations: Legion takes everything that Brandon Sanderson is good at: creating cool plot devices, adding twists, and then infusing them with interesting characters. Each hallucination ran the risk of becoming a caricature, and I think a couple of them did, but there was enough to them to make a mostly complete story. Sanderson could have made Legion into a full novel, if not a series, but in it he plays with some interesting concepts. I purchased the limited edition from Subterranean Press and it came with a free ebook, both of which were perfectly edited and formatted. If you are on the fence, the ebookis fairly inexpensive and is a fun, quick read. The limited edition is probably more for devoted Brandon Sanderson fans.

Brandon Sanderson’s website
Legion on Goodreads
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Posted by on March 14, 2013 in Fantasy, Mystery, Science Fiction

 

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The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters

The Last PolicemanPremise: When asteroid 2011GV1 came into view, the likelihood of its impact with the Earth eventually grew to a certainty. From that point on, people reacted in different ways. Some cashed in their retirements and moved to exotic locations to spend the rest of their lives (six months) to the fullest or to indulge themselves into dangerous or illegal behavior, while some turned to God or sought other meaning. Others fell into despair and gave up, beating the asteroid to the punch by committing suicide. Concord, New Hampshire has become one of those places rife with suicides, and Peter Zell is just another on the list when he is found dangling from a belt in a McDonald’s bathroom. Hank Palace doesn’t think it’s a suicide. The real problem is no one else cares, including the cops he works with.

Due to a lack of personnel, Hank Palace has been put on the fast track from beat cop to detective. Since being a detective is always what he wanted to be, he takes his job seriously, even with the limited amount of time he has left to do it. He is about the only one who still wants to do his job, so he follows the Peter Zell trail to those who last knew of his whereabouts. As he pieces the clues together, he believes more and more this was a murder, even when the medical examiner also rules it a suicide.

In a world that is about to end, with people committing suicide left and right, why bother investigating it as a murder? Everyone is trying to cope in their own way, and maybe this is just Hank’s way of coping. Or maybe he just wants to do his job right. Whatever reasons he has for investigating the death or reasons someone would have to kill a man this close to the end, Hank Palace knows that even if he does find a killer, it might not even ultimately matter.

Themes: A mystery presents itself and new detective Hank Palace wants to take it seriously, even though no one else does. Seeking justice for a dead man doesn’t make sense when the world is probably coming to an end, but that is exactly what Hank plans on doing. Hank goes on a trail for clues to solve the mystery and digs up just what he needs piece by piece. He knows he must be on the right trail when his own life is threatened.

With the survival (or lack of survival) scenario, The Last Policeman presents a “how would you respond?” question to all readers. It gives a macro level look at the human race and the vast range of responses to such a scenario.

The Last Policeman also zooms in on what people are willing to do for their family, even in the worst circumstances, such as putting their jobs in danger, risking their own lives, or even committing crimes including murder. It looks at what people will do to help their family through tough times and also what people are willing to do to protect those they love.

Pros: The pacing of The Last Policeman was wonderful, plodding along in despair at times, and spinning out of control at others. I enjoyed the characters and the dialogue, especially in the face of the Earth’s demise. Clues are doled out right when they are needed with nothing wasted or overdone. The first person present tense punctuates the immediacy of the situation and the urgency of every moment. It poses valid questions with realistic answers under the worst of scenarios and exemplifies the vast array of human reactions to those circumstances. I think it is this display of humanity that had the most impact on me.

Cons: This was difficult for me since I liked The Last Policeman so much. Some readers might find the story somewhat depressing, though there are glimpses of hope throughout. There is some language and violence you will find in most cop novels. The story might start too slow for impatient readers who give up too easily and stop reading, but the reward is great for those who persevere in finishing.

Recommendations: The Last Policeman is one of those books that just grabbed me from the beginning and got better as it progressed. Everything about it seemed to work, from the dialogue to the gradual reveals in the mystery all the way to the foreshadowed revelations when Hank finally solves the mystery. Ben H. Winters has set out a police mystery in an apocalyptic setting that manages to display optimism under gloomy circumstances. As a mystery, cop drama, or as a post-apocalyptic science fiction novel, The Last Policeman has something to offer for everyone. With its exploration of human nature, The Last Policeman poses thoughtful questions everyone should ask themselves. Plus it’s just plain good writing. It’s also the first in a trilogy, for which I am not angry.

Ben H. Winters’ website
The Last Policeman on Goodreads
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Posted by on September 20, 2012 in Mystery, Science Fiction

 

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Camera Obscura by Rosanne Dingli

Camera Obscura Premise: Bart Zacharin is an Australian photographer whose life is turned upside-down while sitting outside a cafe when the building collapses and a woman he doesn’t know almost dies. Minnie Cuff is intriguing and mysterious, and Bart follows her around Europe to get to know her. His biggest problem is she is aloof and her attention is fleeting.

Minnie claims to be a computer programmer, but Bart soon learns that there is more to her that she isn’t telling him. They discover there is a man following them wherever they go, perhaps after the secret package she is carrying. When it turns physical, both with fighting the man following them and with Minnie in the bedroom, Bart must decide how deep he is willing to go to pursue a meaningful relationship with Minnie.

While chasing Minnie around Europe, Bart learns that his father who he hadn’t known his entire life has died. Bart’s father was in Malta, where he met a woman who he lived with after leaving his family behind years ago. From the dozens of journals that his father wrote, Bart learns about this man, including that he was also a photographer like himself. If only Minnie could be as open a book as his dead father.

Themes: Camera Obscura is as much a whodunnit art theft mystery as it is a mystery about people on a personal level. Even when we think we know somebody, we sometimes learn new things that shatter our beliefs about them. After believing that his father was either dead or left his family at a young age, Bart learns more about his father as a person and grows fonder about him. Bart also learns more and more about Minnie that only brings him to the realization that he really doesn’t know her at all.

Bart’s interest in Minnie is apparent from the moment he sees her in that cafe. She is nothing like his girlfriend and everything about her makes him want her more. Trusting in her actions goes hand in hand with her intrigue, and we are given the opportunity to learn the difference between love and infatuation.

Camera Obscura is also a story about the impact a father has on a person’s life, for better or worse. Bart learns about his father, who left him and his mother when he was a child, through journals he wrote later in life. We also begin to learn how much influence a father has on his children, and to what extent those children will go to make their father proud.

Pros: Rosanne Dingli either has a lot of knowledge about art and collecting or she did her research because this book is packed full of painters, camera types, composers, stamps, and European architecture. It was like I was being taught about the subject as I was reading. Camera Obscura really hits its stride in the second half of the novel, as Bart finds his father’s respite in Malta and the woman he lived with in his last years.

Cons: About halfway through reading Camera Obscura I started getting bored with Minnie’s constant disappearing and reappearing. She became so unlikeable I wanted her to lose and didn’t care about her anymore. At times Bart agonized in his worrying about what to do, and it became agonizing for me to have to read so much of it. Probably some of the comings and goings of Minnie could have been left out.

Recommendations: Though I struggled around the midpoint of the novel, I am glad I powered through and kept reading. Some new themes opened up that made Camera Obscura more meaningful and quite profound. The ending was somewhat unexpected, though my suspicions about Minnie were verified in not liking her. I suppose that’s why the title is appropriate in that what is shown isn’t necessarily reality. Camera Obscura moves quickly at times and slows to a crawl at others, though it is a solid mystery by someone who put a lot of thought into researching the subject. Give it a go if you like your mysteries mixed with art and romance.

Rosanne Dingli’s website
Camera Obscura on Goodreads
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Posted by on July 29, 2012 in Fiction, Mystery

 

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The Blight Way by Patrick F. McManus

The Blight Way (Sheriff Bo Tully, #1)Premise: Bo Tully is the sheriff of the rural Blight County, Idaho, where nothing hardly ever happens and everyone knows each other. When Sheriff Tully is called out to a murder scene in Famine, he brings along Pap, his seventy-five year old father and previous sheriff, as a birthday present. The scene turns out to be more of a gift than he could have even dreamed.

A man from LA is found dead on Batim Scragg’s ranch and it is up to Sheriff Bo to figure out who the killer is and if they are still around. Batim and his sons are a prime suspect, but they seem less likely as the sheriff’s investigations proceed and more men are found dead in some sort of shootout. He calls out all his resources: his deputies, the new medical examiner, and Dave, the local tracker.

Throughout the story, Sheriff Bo Tully uses his own investigative techniques, which may lack pesky things like search warrants and Miranda rights, and may not be exactly legal. But his methods prove effective, and in the end Bo has a job to do, and he plans on getting it done.

Themes: The Blight Way is primarily a cop murder mystery novel. We follow Sheriff Bo Tully as he talks to the usual suspects and uses his unorthodox ways to draw out the perpetrators and their motives.

Surprisingly, there is a light sprinkling of romance in this story between the sheriff and Susan Parker, the attractive new medical examiner. Bo tries taking some advice from a Danielle Steele novel, but ends up just being himself, hoping that will be enough to win her over. For this, he relies on his wits and his past experiences and ex-wives.

Pros: Patrick F. McManus masterfully weaves together likeable characters with humor and style. Every character is amiable, including villains and town idiots. These characters are all unique within the limited space without becoming charicatures. I laughed at the dialogue throughout the novel, especially with the interactions between Bo and Pap. McManus really captures the small town feel with his fictional rural Idaho county.

Cons: The mystery is solved just a little too easily and with muted climax. Some additional foreshadowing might have given the reader more to hold onto while trying to determine who committed the crimes. Important information is conveniently withheld from the reader that is essential for figuring out the mystery.

Recommendations: I would recommend The Blight Way to anyone, including those who might not usually read police dramas or mystery novels. The Blight Way is also a fairly clean novel considering the plot, even cleaner than a lot of young adult or teen novels that claim to be in that category. Patrick F. McManus weaves together a story that is funny and quaint. His style is so easy to read that the chapters just fly by. If ever there were such a thing as a lighthearted murder mystery, this is it.

Patrick F. McManus’ website
The Blight Way on Goodreads
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Posted by on July 15, 2012 in Fiction, Mystery

 

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The Expats by Chris Pavone

The Expats: A NovelPremise: Kate Moore is a CIA agent with secrets she is trying to forget. The opportunity to give it all up, secrets and all, is presented to her by her husband, Dexter, when he is offered a lucrative job in banking security in another country. And so it happens that Kate quits her job as a CIA operative and becomes an expat stay at home mom in Europe.

With so many expats in Luxembourg, Kate soon begins to suspect that her new friends may not be who they claim to be. She also learns that the FBI, in connection with Interpol, might be investigating her husband for criminal activity, and she must use her skills as a CIA operative to learn what exactly his activity is. In the process, she begins to uncover secrets about her friends that lead her to suspect them of not being who they claim to be, and about Dexter, whose job to protect banks from hackers might be a cover to do more sinister things.

Kate may be rusty when it comes to being a spy, but her instincts might not be. Everyone around Kate is surrounded by secrets and lies, including herself, and she soon learns that she can’t trust anybody, perhaps even her own husband. As plots are unraveled, Kate finds herself questioning everything and everyone, and her past secrets coming back to haunt her.

Themes: The Expats is a political thriller that is more personal than international. Though it takes place between citizens of one country living in another, it is really more about the individuals than the countries they live in. While politics do play a part in them, the politics of interpersonal relationships is a more prevalent theme.

Trust becomes a huge issue for every character in The Expats. While Kate trusts her husband, she still suspects there are many things he is not telling her. Mistrust gets in the way of Kate meeting new people, trusting friends, and sometimes withholding information from her old bosses in the CIA and from Dexter. We learn very quickly that Kate’s mistrust might be considered paranoia, but her instincts are usually pretty good when it comes to reading people.

I ultimately discovered that The Expats is a redemption story. With her past secrets always in the back of her mind, Kate is worried that they could be brought back at any time, and those secrets might come with dire consequences. Will Kate be given opportunities to make right her past and present choices?

Pros: The pace of The Expats made it difficult to put down, with secrets being doled out bit by bit until I couldn’t stand to wait for the next revelation. This is a story full of vivid language and colorful metaphors. Kate was believable as a spy, and the characters worked in creating a kernel of doubt about their trustworthiness. Without giving anything away, the ending seemed to be a vapid cop-out at first, until I really thought about the point of the story as a whole. Since this is a story about Kate and no one else, in this context, it was the perfect ending for this story.

Cons: There is an abundance of sentence fragments and incomplete or run-on sentences in The Expats. It sometimes works for making the narrative punchy and straightforward, but many times it has the opposite effect, making it choppy and difficult to understand. I also don’t know much about being a spy, but it seemed like a seasoned CIA agent, though out of practice she might be, would make wiser decisions than Kate made in certain situations.

Recommendations: The Expats is a nonstop ride of distrust with suspicion being placed on everyone. What Chris Pavone has done is create a spy thriller that is accessible enough that just about anyone can get into, but that diehard fans of the genre will probably enjoy even more. If you’re looking to get sucked into a mystery with the truth just out of reach, look no further.

Chris Pavone’s website
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Posted by on April 4, 2012 in Mystery

 

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Harbor by John Ajvide Lindqvist

HarborPremise: Anders and Cecilia live a happy life with their daughter, Maja, on the island of Domarö in the archipelago off the coast of Sweden. Then, on a day trip to the lighthouse, Maja disappears without a trace and their lives are turned upside down.

They can’t handle the loss and they leave the island and separate, with Anders falling into drunkenness. In an attempt to regain some sanity, he comes back to Domarö to find answers with the help of his strong-willed grandmother, Anna-Greta, and her life partner of fifty years, the magician, Simon. Anders learns that there are more strange occurrences happening that natives of the island are keeping secret, including his own grandmother.

Simon may not be a native of Domarö, but he is keeping his own secret: the fact that he is bound to a strange centipede-like insect that is actually a magical creature called a Spiritus that allows him to have a connection with water. And water is everywhere. The sea might just be the source of the strange occurrences, and the size and reach of the sea is great. But these things still might not be enough to keep a father from searching for his lost daughter.

Themes: Some events can send ripples through the lives of many people, such as the loss of a child or the choices of an entire island to make a living. They can have an effect not only on those directly involved but also for generations following. We learn that the secrets of Domarö are because of things that happened long ago, and those events might just be the reason for Maja’s disappearance.

Harbor is really a story about what lengths a father is willing to go to find his child. Can he pull himself from the pits of despair and do whatever it takes to save his little girl? Even with a crumbling marriage and downward spiral into addiction and self-loathing, Anders still can find strength through his love of Maja, and that love might also even heal the other wounds.

This is also a story of facing fears. Whether it be irrational fears of an inanimate object, the fear of committing to marriage, or the fear of having to face tragedy, Harbor brings these fears to the forefront and forces the characters to wallow in them.

Pros: Harbor is a deeply depressing story that actually brought about redemption for not just the characters, but the island of Domarö itself. It did it in such a unique and non-cliche way that the ending’s contrast to the rest of the book made me glad I finished reading it. The atmosphere on the island feels suppressing and claustrophobic and Lindqvist’s prose gives us suspense by not allowing us to escape the tension too quickly. He makes the reader sit in it and ponder it, sometimes without providing relief. This proves to be pretty effective and we are left with a tension-filled, uncomfortable story throughout.

Cons: The book could have been cut down a hundred pages and still not lost much of anything. It just dragged on at times and the cuts could have brought more of a sense of urgency in Anders finding Maja. There were a few unnecessarily graphic scenes, both violent and sexual in nature, and one that is just plain gross. They didn’t add much to the story for me, and since this book was too long anyway they could have been easily dropped.

The book is filled with strange sentence structure, many times combining multiple sentences with commas instead of semicolons or splitting them into separate sentences. These just felt like run-on sentences. I don’t know if it was from a translation from Swedish to English or just intentionally done bad structure, but it started to bother me. Just use a period and start a new sentence. Don’t combine two complete sentences with a comma. It’s annoying.

Recommendations: Harbor is a creepy story of the immensity of the sea and the power it holds. I felt uncomfortable while reading it, but in a good way because of the nature of the plot. I was expecting a defeatist story with no hope or chance of redemption, but I was pleasantly disappointed. Give it a chance if you have the time for a dark and eloquent tale of loss and despair. While being a long story that can drag at times, the payoff is worth it in the end.

John Ajvide Lindqvist’s website
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Posted by on February 20, 2012 in Fantasy, Horror, Mystery

 

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