Friday, August 11, 2017

Finished: The Prisoner of Zenda by Anthony Hope

Image: Magnum Easy Eyes Books blog.
Title: The Prisoner of Zenda
Series: None
Author: Anthony Hope
Genre: Adventure
Pages: 223
Publisher: J. W. Arrowsmith (orig.), Lancer Books (reissue)
Year pub: 1894
Rating: ★★ - 2 1/2 stars.

This is going to be a short post because there's not much to talk about this book. It was a pretty straight forward affair, with the protagonist, Rudolf Rassendyll traveling to the fictional kingdom of Ruritania and having to pose as the king, who is his double and has been captured by the Black Michael, the king's half-brother who covets the throne for himself.

While it was a straight forward adventure and a fun one at that, it had it's problems. My chief complaint was the lack of details. At 223 pages, you don't get even a bare sketch of Ruritania and its people, other than some of the population being for the king and some supporting Duke Michael. Hell, you barely even see him, with the role of antagonist being taken chiefly by Rupert of Hentzau, a rakish rogue who honestly comes off as the more interesting than the rest of the cast. Really, you don't even get a clear indication on whether or not Michael would be a better or worse king than his half-brother, who seems more interested in getting drunk than being king.

The romance between Rassendyll and the king's cousin, Princess Flavia is bland and boring. He visits her a couple of times in the course of the book and bam! they're suddenly head over heels for each other.

So just to sum it up, The Prisoner of Zenda was a good book that could have been even better had Anthony Hope added more details about Ruritania, and more depth to the principle characters and the romance between Rudolf Rassendyll and Princess Flavia.

Friday, June 30, 2017

The Mediterranean Caper by Clive Cussler (spoilers)

Title: The Mediterranean Caper
Series: Dirk Pitt
Author: Clive Cussler
Genre: Adventure
Pages: 208
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Year pub: 1973 (orig), 1990 (reissue)
Rating: ★★★ - 3 Stars

I've got the beginning of a Clive Cussler kick in me ever since I read Pacific Vortex! and quickly picked up The Mediterranean Caper from the local library. The only copy they have on the shelf is an omnibus that pairs it with another Dirk Pitt yarn, Iceberg, but I'll read that separately later on.

So anyway, The Mediterranean Caper is the first Dirk Pitt book published, but chronologically, it's the second in the series. As I noted in a previous post, Pacific Vortex! was the first written. I'm glad I read it first because The Mediterranean Caper throws a few references to the events in the former. Taking place a year after that book, TMC sees Dirk Pitt and his sidekick Al Giordino is the, you guessed it, Mediterranean Sea on a mission from the National Underwater and Marine Agency, or NUMA. The science agency has a research vessel - the First Attempt - offshore of the Greek island of Thasos hunting for what might be a major find for evolutionary science - a fish with limbs. Pitt and Giordino are there to troubleshoot some problems the expedition has been experiencing.

What they don't expect to do is having to dog fight a World War I-era biplane that's attacking a nearby United States Air Force base! Once they drive the plane off, the fun really starts. Pitt's too wired from the air battle to sleep and slips out to a nearby beach for a relaxing swim, where he meets a beautiful (of course she's beautiful, have you ever met a woman in a adventure/thriller that isn't?) woman named Teri.

Then backhands her. Seriously. I'm not kidding. When he finds out that she's been a celibate widow for eight years, Pitt just freaking snaps and delivers a slap to the face and berates her. This right here is why my two prior attempts at reading The Mediterranean Caper failed. This scene is just plain uncomfortable and badly dates the book. And to make it even more uncomfortable, Pitt has sex with her in what today could be considered at least borderline sexual assault. Yikes. I ended up just skipping this scene and continued on my way.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Killing Floor by Lee Child (Jack Reacher #1) or I think I figured out why the movies aren't as successful as the books

Title: Killing Floor
Author: Lee Child
Genre: Thriller
Pages 407
Publisher: Berkley
Year pub: 1997 (orig), 2004 (reissue)
Rating: ★★★★ - 4 Stars

And it's not because the source material is bad. I found Killing Floor, the first Jack Reacher novel, to be very enjoyable. One major take away I got while reading this is that the Jack Reacher in the two movies is not the same Jack Reacher as in the books. In the case of the former, Tom Cruise plays him as more of a typical action hero, a guy who can walk into a room and just Bruce Lee the living shit out of everyone there. Meanwhile, the latter is well, human. He has his foibles and you know, emotions. That right there is probably the biggest difference between the two Jack Reachers. Throughout Killing Floor, we see Reacher express the full range of human emotions from laughing to crying, happy to just plain pissed off.

That's not to say that book-Reacher doesn't have some badass action hero moments like his movie counterpart, but he's more tactical about it. There's one scene where he takes on a group of five guys, but rather than Walker, Texas Rangering them, he takes them down one by one. Yet, there's another scene earlier in the book where he's attacked by three very large prison inmates and he just barely wins that battle. He even admits (the book is told in first person) afterwards that they would have had him if one of the guys had been choking him differently. He also has sort of a panic attack shortly after the fight ends.

The difference between the two Jack Reachers is simply that one is more realistic and relatable, while the other is an archetype suited for the silver screen.

But that's enough about that, let's talk about the book! As I already said, Killing Floor is the first Jack Reacher novel but chronologically the fourth in the series. Reacher is a former army brat has spent his entire life in the U.S. Army, the last thirteen as an MP (military police) before being discharged six months prior to the start of the book due to post-Cold War budget cuts. He spends the next six months traveling around the country, enjoying something that he feels he's never had until now - freedom. His travels and a spur of the moment decision lands him in the tiny Georgia town of Margrave.

Bad luck lands him in jail, accused of viciously murdering a man. Reacher manages to clear his name and spends the rest of the novel unraveling a conspiracy that involves blood and money, with a murder that strikes close to home for Reacher.

I can't actually talk about it without spoiling the plot a bit, so you've been warned!

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Finished: Pacific Vortex

There's not much I can say about it that I haven't already said, other than it was very good and I can recommend it for anybody looking for a nice short adventure story or wants a point of entry for the Dirk Pitt books. The last part of the book would have made James Bond proud.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Currently reading: Pacific Vortex! by Clive Cussler

I've tried to read Clive Cussler's Dirk Pitt books before, but could never get into them (and this is despite buying damn near all of them once at a book sale!). A friend at the church I volunteer at suggested them while we were talking about books and I figured "well, if he likes them, then maybe they're worth another shot." I should point out that my friend is 85 years old. At the same time, I didn't want to tackle one of Cussler's thick tomes right off the bat and that's where Pacific Vortex! came in.

Pacific Vortex! is the sixth book published in the Dirk Pitt series, but chronologically it's the first. In a forward at the start of the book, Cussler explains that he originally wasn't going to publish this tale because he didn't think it was up to snuff compared to the rest of the series, but did so after urging from his friends, family, and fans. I like when authors admit that their early works aren't up to the standards set by their later books because they usually aren't and that's fine. That early on, the author is still finding the voice for their series and things are rougher. It's not unlike the first seasons of a popular TV show. Besides, fans are going to read those books anyways, so admitting that they're as good isn't going to hurt sales.

While I haven't read any other Dirk Pitt books yet and thus have nothing to compare Pacific Vortex! to, I think Cussler was wrong. It might not "measure up" to other entries in the series, but PV is hardly a bad book. It's not even sub-par. I'm 163 pages in and I think it's a very good adventure yarn and a good jumping off point for people looking to start the series.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Review: To Tame a Land by Louis L'Amour

So it's not a mystery or a thriller, but I'm reviewing it here anyways!

Title: To Tame a Land
Author: Louis L'Amour
Genre: Western
Pages 154
Publisher: Bantam
Year pub: 1965 (orig), 2009 (reissue)
Rating: ★★ 2.5 out of 5

To Tame a Land was the first western I have ever read. Normally I read fantasy, science fiction, and mysteries, but on a lark I decided to give the western genre a try. While I know next to nothing about it, I do know that Louis L'Amour was one of the big names in the genre, so I picked up three of his books from the public library (although one of them is a collection of sea stories and not a western). I started with TTL because I came across a thread on a subreddit about L'Amour's books and somebody recommended it as a starter.

The plot in brief: The main character is Ryan "Rye" Tyler who starts the book at age 12 and ends it at 20. His dad is killed by Native Americans after their wagon breaks down and they're left behind by the rest of the wagon train. He survives and makes it back to the wagon train and is taken under the wing of a man named Logan Pollard who teaches him the proper use of his guns and how to survive in the wild.

Now, the thing about Rye is the boy has a body count. He personally kills two of the attacking natives and claims another when he tracks them down for revenge. Did I mention he was 12 at this point? Yikes.

So anyways, after roaming and working for a while, he and Pollard settle in California with a woman from the wagon train that Rye's dad would likely going to end up marrying. She ends up marrying Pollard instead and life is good until one day Rye runs into the man he blames for his father's death. The confrontation ends with Rye shooting the man down and having to leave. From there, he travels around the West and Midwest, gets a job as a horse breaker, falls in love with a girl, leaves, then spends the rest of the book trying to find the girl again.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

A twofer: Shotgun Saturday Night & Cursed to Death by Bill Crider (Sheriff Dan Rhodes Mysteries)

A photographer I ain't.
I don't read a lot of mysteries, but occasionally one will cross my path that I'll find myself reading posthaste. In this case, it was two books that I breezed through in two days. Because they're so short, I decided to include them in the same post rather than separately.

Title: Shotgun Saturday Night
Author: Bill Crider
Series: Sheriff Dan Rhodes Mysteries
Genre: Mystery
Published: 1987 (originally), 1989 (Ivy Books reissue)
Publisher: Ivy Books
Format: Paperback
Pages: 169
Rating: ★★★★☆ 4 out of 5 stars.

The series, as the above says, centers on Dan Rhodes, the Sheriff of fictional Blacklin County, Texas. Shotgun Saturday Night is the second of the series and I started with it literally for no other reason than because none of the public libraries in my area have the first book, Too Late to Die. In any case, Blacklin is a small county of only twenty thousand and its sheriff department is even smaller, accounting only Rhodes, deputies Buddy (I don't believe his last name is ever given or if Buddy is even his real name) and Ruth Grady. I don't know if this is all of the deputies Rhodes has or not, but that seems awfully tiny for a sheriff's department. I know that Andy Taylor made do with just Barney Fife on The Andy Griffith Show, but Blacklin County isn't exactly Mayberry.

Then there's Lawton and Hack Jensen. The former works as the department's jailer and the latter as the dispatcher. They're both well past retirement age, but work for the department for very little just for the sake of having something to do. My favorite running gag of the series revolves around them reporting to Rhodes about a call in of what at first seems like a serious crime but turns out to be nothing of consequence. They string him along by slowly revealing the details until finally revealing what it actually was. For example, in Shotgun Saturday Night, someone calls in about a dead body in a ditch. It's actually an inflatable sex doll.

Another important character is Ivy Daniels, Rhodes' girlfriend/fiancee. She acts as his sounding board and helps where she can with his investigations. Their relationship is a minor plotline, with him trying to process his feelings for her and if he wants it to lead to something more permanent.

Did I mention that this book has one of my favorite opening sentences?
Sheriff Dan Rhodes knew it was going to be a bad day when Bert Ramsey brought in the arm and laid it on the desk.
It certainly hooked me.