Review ~ Club Deception

This book was provided to me by Grand Central Publishing via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Cover via Goodreads

Club Deception by Sarah Skilton

A glamorous romp through the scandals and secrets of LA’s most exclusive fictional magician’s society, CLUB DECEPTION.

Claire Fredericksson is the beating heart of CLUB DECEPTION, LA’s most exclusive magician’s society. She’s the Queen Bee of Magician WAGs (Wives and Girlfriends), and the genius behind her philandering husband Jonathan’s award-winning magic show. Claire’s life is upended by the arrival of two new women to the closed group of wives-Jessica, a young trophy wife with a secret, and Kaimi, an art expert looking for the long-lost Erdnase papers by posing as a girlfriend. When a magician rivalry erupts into murder, the women must uncover the truth and set things right for the men they love. With a cast of endurance experts, Vegas stage stars, and close-up card handlers, this novel weaves a tale of murder, fame, and many, many illusions. (via Goodreads)

Note: I did not finish this book.

Why was I interested in this book?
The magic/magician aspect of this book was the big draw for me. I was a bit hesitant though. Many of the books I’ve read with magic aspects get those things wrong, or (maybe worse) just use them as a light flavoring to the plot.

What Worked
Skilton does a great job with the magic. It’s not just “Houdini, yeah, he was a magician, right?” There’s references to tons of historical magicians and allusions to some modern ones. One of the plot points revolves around lost/stolen original drawings from Erdnase’s The Expert at the Card Table which is an excellent idea. From a magic standpoint: this was totally the book for me…

What Didn’t Work
…but otherwise, it’s not at all the book for me. Truly, I think this is a case of “it’s not you, it’s me.” I’ve never connected well with noir, which Club Deception shares some aspects of. I’m also not a fan of the heightened drama that goes along with Dynasty-like storytelling. It was hard for me to stay engaged with the story when most of the characters are scheming wives and unfaithful husbands. I stopped reading at the 32% mark because I really wasn’t enjoying my time with this book.

Overall
Despite the magic, I’m not the audience for Club Deception. Now, if you grew up with Dynasty and/or rather enjoyed Revenge (the 2011-2015 TV series) give this book a try.

Publishing info, my copy: Kindle ARC, Grand Central Publishing, July 25, 2017
Acquired: NetGalley, 5/22/17
Genre: mystery

This is 4/10 Books of Summer!

Review ~ The Last Train

This book was provided to me by the author in exchange for an honest review.

Cover via Goodreads

The Last Train by Michael Pronko

Detective Hiroshi Shimizu investigates white collar crime in Tokyo. He’s lost his girlfriend and still dreams of his time studying in America, but with a stable job, his own office and a half-empty apartment, he’s settled in.

When an American businessman turns up dead, his mentor Takamatsu calls him out to the site of a grisly murder. A glimpse from a security camera video suggests the killer was a woman, but in Japan, that seems unlikely. Hiroshi quickly learns how close homicide and suicide can appear in a city full of high-speed trains just a step—or a push—away. (via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?
About two years back, I reviewed Michael Pronko’s Beauty and Chaos, his first collection of essays about Tokyo. A few months back, via a fellow blogger, I saw that Pronko was planning to release a series of Tokyo-based mysteries. I was definitely interest and excited when offered The Last Train to review.

What Worked
The big thing for me: The Last Train has a great sense of place. Considering Beauty and Chaos I expected no less. There are aspects of Tokyo that I was unfamiliar with, like hostess clubs, that got me Googling.

Hiroshi is solid character. Pronko has lived and taught in Tokyo for 20 years, but I was a little concerned about his main character being Japanese. Would a Western guy be able to pull that off? (And can I, not being Japanese myself, even be able to judge that?) From my point of view, Hiroshi’s education and background give him reason to look at the culture around him from a point slightly removed. It’s a little like when I go back to Nebraska after living in Arizona for 17 years—I suddenly remember that college football is a *very big deal* and that the afternoon news includes the prices for hogs and corn.

The key to a good mystery is how well information is revealed to the characters and readers as the story unfolds. It’s no spoiler to mention that Michiko, an ex-hostess, is the antagonist of The Last Train. Chapters are written from her point of view. Doing that and not revealing all of the character’s motivations is a tricky thing to do. Pronko handles it well. The ending of The Last Train felt a little abrupt, but it wasn’t unsatisfying.

What Didn’t Work
A minor thing: Hiroshi’s position within the police force was a little muddled. Though he works white-collar fraud cases, he’s currently under the umbrella of homicide. That is explained by it being a reorganization happenstance, but I think I would have like to have seen Hiroshi even more settled as a pencil-pusher. The circumstances of the case could have brought him in even without the homicide division (mis)connection.

Overall
It looks like there are at least two more Hiroshi thrillers on the way and I’m up for ’em. All the pieces are in place: Hiroshi, his sometimes partner and ex-sumo wrestler Sakaguchi, already put-upon assistant Akiko, and Tokyo as the backdrop. Bring on the next case!

Publishing info, my copy: Kindle mobi, Raked Gravel Press, May 31, 2017
Genre: mystery, thriller

Review ~ Holmes on the Range

Cover via Goodreads

Holmes on the Range by Steve Hockensmith

1893 is a tough year in Montana, and any job is a good job. When brothers Big Red and Old Red Amlingmeyer sign on as ranch hands at a secretive ranch, they’re not expecting much more than hard work, bad pay, and a few free moments to enjoy their favorite pastime: reading stories about Sherlock Holmes.

When another hand turns up dead, Old Red sees the perfect opportunity to employ his Holmes-inspired “deducifyin'” skills and sets out to solve the case. Big Red, like it or not (and mostly he does not), is along for the wild ride in this clever, compelling, and completely one-of-a-kind mystery. (via Goodreads)

Earlier in the year, I had high hopes for a Western about two brothers. That one didn’t work out for me. The Sisters Brothers is a fairly literary work and, to be honest, I like my fiction more on the genre side of things.

To me, genre is a set of plot-related tropes. Story consumers of all types know the tropes, and story producers aim to create narratives that use the tropes as faithfully or creatively as needed. Genre is somewhat separate from setting, but many genre categories can be settings as well. “Western” (like “science fiction” and “fantasy”) can be either. If you put Western tropes in a science fiction setting, you end up with something like Firefly. Other genre categories are really only genres; “mystery” is one of those. Mystery has enough flexibility in its tropes to go anywhere. Holmes on the Range is a great Western set mystery.

I put Holmes on the Range on me TBR list during one of my Holmesathons. For some reason, I was under the impression that it directly features Holmes—that this books partially filled in his Great Hiatus. (I have a cover blurb mental block, I swear.) It is not.

Instead, this is the story of two brother Otto (Big Red) and Gustav (Old Red) Amlingmeyer. Big Red, despite his size and obvious physical cow-hand traits, is the educated of the two, the Watson of the story. Old Red, who has been relegated since early life to labor, is illiterate but loves hearing the stories of Sherlock Holmes. In fact, Old Red casts himself into Holmes’ mold and aims to solve the murders at the Bar VR ranch.

The relationship between the brothers isn’t always sunshine and light, but there is steadfast loyalty between them which rings true considering their backstory. Hockensmith also does a really good job with time-period slang. Slang can be distracting, but the narrative here is seamlessly in Otto’s voice. The plot is a solid mystery with pleanty of nod to Holmes stories.

I highly recommend Holmes on the Range. It’s the beginning of a series; I’m looking forward to reading the others.

Publishing info, my copy: Trade Paperback, St. Martin’s Minotaur, 2006
Acquired: Book Mooch (I believe)
Genre: Mystery

Mini #RIPXI Reviews ~ Revenge & The Accidental Alchemist

MiniReviews

Revenge

Revenge by Yoko Ogawa
Translated by Stephen Snyder
Picador, 1998, 2013 (translation), trade paperback

Revenge has been on my Want To Read list for ages, but I was only recently reminded of it by a post at Outlandish Lit. A readathon and a trip to the library converged and here I am. I finally read Revenge! And I’m kind of sad that I didn’t read it before.

Revenge is a surprisingly thin book. Eleven tales are told in only 162 pages. The eleven stories, though, are really one interconnected puzzle of narrative. It was, perhaps, the perfect 24-hour readathon book. The chapters were short; I could put it down every-so-often to do some social media things, but the stories were compelling enough that I didn’t want to stay away for long. While it isn’t full-out supernatural there is definitely a delicious Japanese horror sensibility to Revenge.

The Accidental Alchemist (An Accidental Alchemist Mystery)

The Accidental Alchemist by Gigi Pandian
Midnight Ink, 2015, Kindle ebook

This cozy-ish mystery begins so promisingly with an animated gargoyle named Dorian Robert-Houdin. His “father” was historical magician Jean Eugene Robert-Houdin. Obviously, this caught my interest. The mystery set-up is also promising: a murder and theft—and Zoe Faust has only lived in her fixer-upper for a day! Unfortunately, solving the mystery ends up somewhat overly complex with a lot of repetitive scenes. In the end, the confluence of events really wasn’t very satisfying.

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Mini Reviews ~ Two Little Doses of Peril

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“The Invisible Assistant” by John Gaspard

I’ve read a few mystery short stories over the past couple of years. It seems that long-form mystery writers sometimes struggle to fit a whole mystery, nose to tail, into the form. If John Gaspard struggled with “The Invisible Assistant,” it doesn’t show. This story features Eli Marks, stage magician, amateur crime solver, and main character of three great mystery novels. Yet, no previous Eli Marks experience is required to enjoy this story! Not only do we get a solid mystery, but we get some magic which provides an excellent introduction to the character. I will say that I guessed the solution to this mystery before the end. It seems a little…improbable, but given the tone of the story, it works.

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“Flop Sweat” from Shatterday by Harlan Ellison

Harlan Ellison writes speculative fiction. I’ve always liked the designation “speculative fiction” because it embraces anything that isn’t entirely current reality: science fiction, fantasy, and even horror. I don’t generally think of horror when I think of Harlan Ellison, but “Flop Sweat” is a fine piece of tension. Set against a city on edge due to a razor blade killer, radio talk show host Theresa Ketchum’s guests are cultist Brother Darkness and psychiatrist Jacob Theiss. But neither of them are the crazy one. Just how responsible *is* Theresa for what’s going on in Los Angeles?

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RIPXI Info | Reviews

Review ~ The Seance

Cover via Goodreads

The Seance by Iain Lawrence

SCOOTER KING UNDERSTANDS illusions. In the midst of the Roaring Twenties, he performs them behind the scenes at his mother’s séances, giving the impression that Madam King communicates with the dead. Scooter also admires Harry Houdini and can hardly wait to see the famed magician escape from his razzle-dazzle Burmese Torture Tank. But when Scooter stumbles upon a dead body in the visiting Houdini’s tank, it’s no illusion. Who could the murderer be? And did he—or she—kill the right person?

As Scooter sets out to unmask the killer, the mysterious worlds of mediums, séances, and magic are revealed. No one is above suspicion, and appearances are deceiving. If Scooter doesn’t sort out the clues—and fast—he may end up as the next dead body. (via Goodreads)

The Séance is a murder mystery set in 1926 with a 13 year-old protagonist. I don’t read a lot of books with young protagonists (even when I was young) because I find it hard to believe in the proficiencies of young people. I remember being thirteen. I was pretty crap at most things. In this case though, Scooter is a boy of the 1920s who has been specifically trained with a certain set of skills. And it would have been nice if those skills would have been more intrinsic to his solving the mystery. Another problem I have with young protagonists is that they sort of require a lack of adults. In this case, there seems to be only one policeman investigating the inciting murder and he has no time for a kid’s testimony. All the other adults are pretty much buffoons, including Scooter’s mom. Houdini does make an appearance, here and there, and is a true-to-form glory hound.

I was attracted to this book due to my research into séances and I especially wanted to see how the author was going to treat the behind-the-scenes aspects. All-in-all, those details were handled fairly well. Scooter’s mother does partially believes that her psychic powers are real, but there’s nothing in the narrative that leads down a supernatural path. I was okay with Lawrence adding the fictitious spiky water tank, the Burmese Torture Tank, to Houdini’s repertoire when a unique murder weapon was needed, but there were some later details that were a little too convenient.

Publishing info, my copy: hardback, Delacorte Press, 2008
Acquired: Tempe Public Library
Genre: mystery

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Deal Me In, Week 32 ~ “The Singing Bell”

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Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis

“The Singing Bell” by Isaac Asimov

Card picked: Ace of Clubs
From: Asimov’s Mysteries

Thoughts: This being the first story in an anthology that I’ve owned for a few years, I might have read “The Singing Bell” before. I know I’ve read several of the subsequent Davenport/Dr. Urth stories and Asimov’s style doesn’t vary that much. If anything, the tone of this story was certainly familiar.

“The Singing Bell” starts with the crime from the perpetrator’s point of view. We see all the preparations taken by Louis Peyton. Peyton is sure that he’ll get away with the theft of singing bells from the Moon and the murder of his partner because he has the perfect alibi. Or rather non-alibi. Peyton spends every August sealed away in his bungalow in Colorado. Unless Det. Davenport can prove he was on the Moon, he’s good as gold. (Apparently, travel to the Moon is regulated on par with popping to the QT on a Friday night for snacks.) Furthermore, while law enforcement has an uber lie-detector, the psychoprobe, it legally can only be used to confirm near certain suspicions.

All of this leads Davenport to seek the advice of preeminent extraterrestrialist Wendell Urth to find a way to confirm that Peyton was off Earth. Which Urth, of course, does. Any guesses how one might deduce that a man has been off-world for at least a week?

Is This Your Card?