Review ~ The Moving Blade

This book was provided to me by the author (and NetGalley) for review consideration.

Cover via Goodreads

The Moving Blade by Michael Pronko

When the top American diplomat in Tokyo, Bernard Mattson, is killed, he leaves more than a lifetime of successful Japan-American negotiations. He leaves a missing manuscript, boxes of research, a lost keynote speech and a tangled web of relations.

When his alluring daughter, Jamie, returns from America wanting answers, finding only threats, Detective Hiroshi Shimizu is dragged from the safe confines of his office into the street-level realities of Pacific Rim politics.

With help from ex-sumo wrestler Sakaguchi, Hiroshi searches for the killer from back alley bars to government offices, through anti-nuke protests to military conspiracies. When two more bodies turn up, Hiroshi must choose between desire and duty, violence or procedure, before the killer silences his next victim. (via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?
This is the second book in the Detective Hiroshi series.  I read the first book The Last Train in May of 2017 and enjoyed it. The Moving Blade picks up in the aftermath of the first, but a new reader wouldn’t be lost picking up this book.

A moving blade is unseen, hidden in the blur of motion, felt but not perceived.

What Worked
While Pronko’s Tokyo is still very vivid, I enjoyed the characters more than the setting this time around. I really like that Hiroshi’s forte is sorting through data. It’s office-bound work that doesn’t get a lot of play in detective novels for maybe obvious reasons. Here, though, it works narratively. Hiroshi is always trying to balance his preferred work with the necessity of leaving the office. My two favorite supporting characters from the first book—ex-sumo Sakaguchi and assistant Akiko—are both given expanded roles because one man can’t do everything. The slightly beyond-the-law Takamatsu, who annoyed me a little in The Last Train, has been suspended from the police force, and given a lesser role which probably works better for the character.

Something that is possibly endearing to only me: the characters eat often. Characters meet and talk at bars and restaurants, which people do. To recuse myself, I probably have an affinity for this because it’s something characters do in my writings.

The plot held together really well. While The Moving Blade goes bigger in terms of socio-politics, it’s still at heart a murder mystery. The story never loses sight of that. I enjoyed the bigger scope without this becoming an out-and-out thriller.

What Didn’t Work
I had a couple minor quibbles (like a porter on a train not smelling and being suspicious of a man who had been pepper sprayed), but one major one. At a couple times during the story, characters turn off cellphones or do not return messages…for reasons. These instances aren’t entirely used to drive plot (thank goodness), but they are obstacles that could easily be avoided and therefore kind of chafe. The reasons given later for the behaviors are okay, but we’re in the middle of a murder investigation—return your calls!

Overall
Despite the above, I really enjoyed The Moving Blade. Pronko again brought Tokyo (at least a version of it) to life for me and peopled it with good characters doing interesting things. That’s pretty much a trifecta for me.

Publishing info, my copy: Kindle, Raked Gravel Press, on sale Sept. 30, 2018
Acquired: copy provided by the author, 8/17/18
Genre: mystery, thriller

 

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Mini Reviews, Vol. 14

The Black Dove cover The Black Dove by Steve Hockensmith

Holmes On the Range Mystery #3 – I know, look at me reading all the series!

Big Red and Old Red Amlingmeyer end up “deducifying” in Gold Rush San Francisco, looking to solve the mystery of Dr. Chan’s death. Hockensmith does a good job of keeping these mysteries fresh; changing up the settings while staying true to the Old West. I listened to this on audio; the dialog shines with William Dufris.

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea cover Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne

Think of every ocean/undersea adventure ever. Toothy whales? Check. Giant squids? Check. Antarctic sailing? Check. Atlantis? Check. Island of savages? Well, check. Generally, I really enjoyed this book. Published in 1870 (1872 in English), Verne revels in science. The submarine, the underwater breathing apparatuses, the natural classifications of so much aquatic life—all of it gets good press. Honestly, the only bits I glazed over during were discussions of where the Nautilus was and where it was going. Seaman, I ain’t.

alt text Lizzie: The Letters of Elizabeth Chester Fisk 1864-1893, edited by Rex C. Myers

I bought this last summer at The Old Sage Bookshop in Prescott.

I’ve read a few memoirs and collections of letters by 19th century pioneer women. Usually, they are from the prairie or southwest. In this case, Lizzie Fisk lived in Helena, Montana. Instead of a farmer or a rancher, her husband was a newspaper man. Many of her letters are about the Herald, her husband’s, newspaper and the politics of the city and the state. Fisk was an abolitionist and a suffragette, but she was also terribly judgemental and, as a woman of her time, selectively racist. In all, her letters filled out my notion of the American frontier, but honestly, Fisk isn’t someone I would have liked to spend time with. (And I doubt she would have thought much of me either…)

hosted by Nick @ One Catholic Life

20 15 Books of Summer, hosted by Cathy @ 746 Books

Review ~ World of Trouble

World of Trouble cover

World of Trouble by Ben H. Winters

There are just 14 days until a deadly asteroid hits the planet, and America has fallen into chaos. Citizens have barricaded themselves inside basements, emergency shelters, and big-box retail stores. Cash is worthless; bottled water is valuable beyond measure. All over the world, everyone is bracing for the end.

But Detective Hank Palace still has one last case to solve. His beloved sister Nico was last seen in the company of suspicious radicals, armed with heavy artillery and a plan to save humanity. Hank’s search for Nico takes him from Massachusetts to Ohio, from abandoned zoos and fast food restaurants to a deserted police station where he uncovers evidence of a brutal crime. With time running out, Hank follows the clues to a series of earth-shattering revelations.

The third novel in the Last Policeman trilogy, World of Trouble presents one final pre-apocalyptic mystery—and Hank Palace confronts questions way beyond whodunit: How far would you go to protect a loved one? And how would you choose to spend your last days on Earth? (via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?
This is the third book in the trilogy. I enjoyed the first two and I was interested in how Winters was going to wrap up a story set at the end of the world.

What Worked
There are a lot of post-apocalypse stories, but there aren’t many pre-apocalypse stories. I’d argue that’s because the end of the world is the least interesting part of the whole deal. Therefore, if you’re going to set a story at the apocalypse, the story itself has to be solid. Winters does a great job telling a story that would have been good even without an asteroid hurtling toward earth.

The feel of this installment reminded me of the movie Looper. The characters in both act in the inevitable way they should. Both are noir, but take off into a rural setting. I like that juxtaposition. Both also have a speculative fiction future setting that isn’t the story itself.

I’ve said it before but I like Hank Palace. I like his dogged determination and his loyalty. Which is why it’s pretty heartbreaking when he’s wrong about a few things. I’m going to avoid spoilers, but Hank is a little dense at times in this book. It’s understandable, but weirdly disappointing.

What Didn’t Work
The characters in this book take beatings. And stabbings. And burnings. Sometimes, I had a hard time believing that anyone could survive such abuse. I suppose it’s not impossible, but it gives me pause.

What Worked Best
There are so many times when I thought to myself, “Winters isn’t going to pull this off. He’s going to screw up the ending.” But he doesn’t. The meanderings of plot are all justified. The ending is spot-on. I don’t read a lot of series fiction and I finish even less.

I’m going to miss Henry Palace.

Publishing info, my copy: Kindle, Quirk Books, July 15, 2014
Acquired: Amazon, 5/30/18
Genre: mystery/crime

 

20 15 Books of Summer, hosted by Cathy @ 746 Books

Review ~ The Floating Light Bulb

Floating Light Bulb cover

The Floating Light Bulb by John Gaspard

MURDER AT THE MALL OF AMERICA

When a magician is murdered in the midst of his act at the Mall of America, Eli Marks is asked to step in and take over the daily shows–while also keeping his eyes and ears open for clues about this bizarre homicide.

As Eli combs the maze-like corridors beneath the Mall of America’s massive amusement park looking for leads, he also struggles to learn and perform an entirely new magic act. Meanwhile, the long-time watering hole for Uncle Harry and his Mystics pals is closing. So in addition to the murder investigation and the new act, Eli must help the grumpy (and picky) seniors find a suitable new hang out. (via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?
This is the fifth Eli Marks Mystery. I’ve read and enjoyed the previous four; why wouldn’t I read this one?

What Worked
The Setting: Eli is back home in Minnesota after a jaunt to London in The Linking Rings. I really liked Mall of America as a setting with all its Paul Bunyan and Babe kitch. It a fun contrast to murder and mayhem of the plot. 😉

The Magic: As always, the magic is handled very well. Eli inherits (figuratively) not only a gig from the murdered magician, but a stage manager and talented assistant as well. If there are more Marks mysteries, I hope Nimisha becomes a regular character. I’m always in favor of more female magician characters.

What Didn’t Work as Well as Other Things
The Mystery: Don’t get me wrong, the mystery is solid. The clues and connections are all there. Eli figures it out and we build to a thrilling conclusion. But sometimes the mystery takes a backseat to the characters and their interactions. And that’s okay: these are characters I want to spend time with.

Overall
The Eli Marks series features fun characters, magic (the real kind, not the fantasy kind), and great mystery plots. Still going strong after five books.

Publishing info, my copy: Kindle, Albert’s Bridge Books , June 10, 2018
Acquired: June 14, 2018, Amazon
Genre: mystery

20 15 Books of Summer, hosted by Cathy @ 746 Books

Review ~ Fall of Man in Wilmslow

Fall of Man in Wimslow cover via Goodreads

Fall of Man in Wilmslow by David Lagercrantz, trans. George Goulding

From the author of the #1 best seller The Girl in the Spider’s Web—an electrifying thriller that begins with Alan Turing’s suicide and plunges into a post-war Britain of immeasurable repression, conformity and fear

On June 8, 1954, Alan Turing is found dead in his home in the sleepy suburb of Wilmslow—an apparent suicide. Investigators assumed he purposely ate a cyanide-laced apple because he was unable to cope with the humiliation of his criminal conviction for gross indecency. But Leonard Corell, a young detective constable who once dreamed of a career in higher mathematics, suspects greater forces are involved. In the face of opposition from his superiors and in the paranoid atmosphere of the Cold War, he inches closer to the truth and to one of the most closely guarded secrets of the Second World War–what was going on at Bletchley Park. With state secrets swirling in his mind and a growing fear that he is under surveillance, Corell realizes that he has much to learn about the dangers of forbidden knowledge. (via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?
Alan Turing was an interesting guy and I’ve been wanting to read more about him since being pretty disappointed with the movie The Imitation Game. Unfortunately, I think I originally believed that this was a nonfiction work, which it isn’t.

What Worked
Lagercrantz does a good job with the setting. He needs a repressed, tattered, paranoid 1950s England, and that’s certainly what we get.

The book also slips into some rather lengthy passages about mathematics that aren’t too confusing, though I’m only assuming that the information is correct. The main character, Corell, studied mathematics in his past, and his delves into the subject seemingly give him some insight into Turing. It’s an interesting way to look into the character of Turing, though I’m not sure it was entirely satisfying for someone (me) who wanted more of a factual character sketch.

What Didn’t Work
It took the majority of the book to get to the actual plot—a noir-ish bit of spy story. Yeah, the mathematics is a great way of getting to know Turing, but it ended up being a bit long.

I also didn’t quite buy Corell’s character development. It felt too rushed, squashed into the last forty pages of the book after being in a holding pattern. As is always the case with translations, I wonder if some of the occasional clunkiness of Corell might be due to English word choice.

Overall
Regardless, this book did pull me along. If you don’t mind some digressions into mathematics (as a philosophical endeavor), give it a try.

Publishing info, my copy: trade paperback, Vintage, 2017
Acquired: Won this book from Goodreads, 3/31/17
Genre: literary fiction, mystery

20 15 Books of Summer, hosted by Cathy @ 746 Books

Review ~ The Valley of Fear

Cover via Goodreads

The Valley of Fear by Arthur Conan Doyle

A coded warning sends Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson to a country retreat, where they follow a perplexing trail of clues to unmask a murderer — and to break the stranglehold of a terrorist cult. (via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?
Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories are some of my favorites. I’m doing a reread of the stories, many of which I haven’t read in a long while, in their narratively chronological order. (This was not my idea—Noonlight Reads set this challenge at the beginning of last year. I wasn’t able to take part then, but I decided to give it a shot starting this year.)

What Worked
Like A Study in Scarlet, The Valley of Fear is split into two parts, the second of which provides background and is set in the United States. What works best is, of course, the initial Holmes mystery. It even provides some Moriarty context, although within the chronology of Doyle’s writing, this story comes over twenty years after Moriarty’s debut (I think) in “The Final Problem.”

What Didn’t Work
So, in 1893 , Doyle writes what he hopes will be his final Holmes story, “The Final Problem.” Just to make sure, he kills Holmes off. He’s tired of the franchise and wants to move on. The public, though, has an insatiable appetite for Holmes (we still do, it seems).  Doyle eventually writes The Hound of the Baskervilles, a retro story, and then officially brings Holmes back from the dead in 1903 in “The Adventure of the Empty House.” Another decade after that, Doyle is still writing Holmes…

In the narrative chronology, the story immediately after The Valley of Fear is “A Scandal in Bohemia.” The second Holmes story published (I believe), “Scandal” is one of the most beloved Holmes mysteries and for good reason. The language and the story sparkle. In comparison, the Holmes portion of Fear feels workman-like and the melodramatic American section feels like a story Doyle would rather be telling.

Overall
End of the day, The Valley of Fear *is* Sherlock Holmes and it does add to the cannon with Moriarty tidbits. It’s a bit better than many of the secondary works that will come later when Doyle finally does write his last Holmes story.

Publishing info, my copy: Kindle, public domain, originally published 1914
Genre: mystery

Review ~ On the Wrong Track

Cover via Goodreads

On the Wrong Track by Steve Hockensmith

It might be 1893 and the modern world may in full-swing, but cowboy Gustav “Old Red” Amlingmeyer is an old-fashioned kind of guy: he prefers a long trail ride even when a train could get him where he’s going in one-tenth the time. His brother Otto (“Big Red”), on the other hand, wouldn’t mind climbing down from his horse and onto a train once in a while if it’ll give his saddle-sore rear end a rest. So when it’s Old Red who insists they sign on to protect the luxurious Pacific Express, despite a generations-old Amlingmeyer family distrust of the farm-stealin’, cattle-killin’, money-grubbin’ railroads, Big Red is flummoxed. But Old Red, tired of the cowpoke life, wants to take a stab at professional ‘detectifying’ just like his hero, Sherlock Holmes and guard jobs for the railroad are the only ones on offer.

So it is that Big Red and Old Red find themselves trapped on a thousand tons of steam-driven steel, summiting the Sierras en route to San Francisco with a crafty gang of outlaws somewhere around the next bend, a baggage car jam-packed with deadly secrets, and a vicious killer hidden somewhere amongst the colorful passengers.

On the Wrong Track, Old Red and Big Red’s much anticipated return, is filled with all of the wit, flavor, humor, and suspense that made Hockensmith’s debut, Holmes on the Range, so beloved by critics and fans alike. (via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?
I read Holmes on the Range, the first book in this series, in late 2016. Only a year between the first and the second? I amaze even myself!

What Worked
I really enjoy the set up of Hockensmith’s Holmes on the Range books: Gustav Amlingmeyer, a cowhand in the 1890’s American west, knows Doyle’s (or rather Watson’s) tales of Sherlock Holmes. He’s taken with the notion of “deducifying” and wants to be a professional detective. He is also illiterate, having worked labor-intensive jobs to keep his family afloat since he was young. His brother Otto is a big strong guy, but has been given a clerk’s education. Together, the brothers are a complementary team, even if they don’t always get along. They’re brother’s after all. Against the backdrop of the Old West, the brothers encounter and solve mysteries.

On the Wrong Track involves a mystery set aboard a train bound to San Francisco. It’s a good mystery with enough clues and events to keep the brothers and readers busy.

I read this soon after reading “The Huge Hunter: Or, the Steam Man of the Prairies” by Edward S. Ellis. The Steam Man, an giant robot man made to pull a wagon, was the subject of a series of dime novels in the latter half of the 19th century. As with a lot of late 19th century fiction, Ellis felt the need to give accents to characters of different backgrounds. The Irishman character, McSquizzle, is nearly incomprehensible. Thank goodness we’ve moved beyond that. While Hockensmith has the brothers (and others) use quite a bit of western slang, it reads easy.

What Didn’t Work
A minor annoyance: sometimes Otto (our POV brother) is a bit repetitive. I can understand wanting to get certain things solid in a reader’s mind, but I think Hockensmith can have a little more faith in his audience. This is a very minor point.

Overall
Honestly, my best reading this year has been “fun” reading. The Holmes on the Range series isn’t high art, but it’s entertainingly written and plotted. Sometimes, that’s more than enough.

Publishing info, my copy: Kindle, author published (I believe), 2016 (2007)
Acquired: Amazon, 4/19/17
Genre: mystery, western

This is my first book for the Wild West Reading Challenge!

hosted by Nick @ One Catholic Life