Posted in Male Author, Novel

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!

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


Posted in Male Author, Novel

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.

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

Posted in Female Author, Novella

Review ~ Blackwater Lake

Cover via Goodreads

Blackwater Lake by Maggie James

Matthew Stanyer fears the worst when he reports his parents missing. His father, Joseph Stanyer, has been struggling to cope with his wife Evie, whose dementia is rapidly worsening. When their bodies are found close to Blackwater Lake, a local beauty spot, the inquest rules the deaths as a murder-suicide. A conclusion that’s supported by the note Joseph leaves for his son.

Grief-stricken, Matthew begins to clear his parents’ house of decades of compulsive hoarding, only to discover the dark enigmas hidden within its walls. Ones that lead Matthew to ask: why did his father choose Blackwater Lake to end his life? What other secrets do its waters conceal? (via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?
Picked it up free from Amazon in November 2015; wanted to read more self-pubbed authors especially in the horror and thriller genre. Read it now because I wanted something short for Bout of Book that would be a contrast to Moby-Dick.

What Worked
Good pacing and short chapters kept the story moving along.

What Didn’t Work
I don’t read many thrillers, so maybe what didn’t work for me is a function of the genre rather than a deficit on the writer’s part. In a mystery, I feel like there should be a balance between the gathering of clues (the reveal of information) and the characters working to construct a narrative from those clues. In Blackwater Lake, Matthew’s only job is to uncover the clues in his mother’s hoard of stuff. The clues are presented in rather neat narrative order. Instead of a puzzle to be solved, this story is more like train tracks being revealed on a sunny day after a light snow. Is the reveal of information more important in thrillers than the puzzle is in mysteries?

Pet Peeve Alert: There was also the use of “(for really no good reason) I can’t go to the police,” which was only used as a later stumbling block.

Publishing info, my copy: Kindle, Orelia Publishing, September 27, 2015
Acquired: November 17, 2015, Amazon
Genre: suspense

wintercoyer-16-17More #COYER Reviews
Generator Points Earned: .5 (only a novella)
Generator Points Total: 3

Posted in Male Author, Novel

Review ~ Last Winter We Parted

This book was provided to me by Soho Press via NetGalley.

Last Winter We Parted by Fuminori Nakamura, translated by Allison Markin Powell

Cover via Goodreads

A young writer arrives at a prison to interview a man arrested for homicide. He has been commissioned to write a full account of the case, from its bizarre and grisly details to the nature of the man behind the crime. The suspect, while world-renowned as a photographer, has a deeply unsettling portfolio—lurking beneath the surface of each photograph is an acutely obsessive fascination with his subject.

He stands accused of murdering two women—both burned alive—and will likely face the death penalty. But something isn’t quite right, and as the young writer probes further, his doubts about this man as a killer intensify. He soon discovers the desperate, twisted nature of all who are connected to the case, struggling to maintain his sense of reason and justice. What could possibly have motivated this man to use fire as a torturous murder weapon? Is he truly guilty, or will he die to protect someone else?

The suspect has a secret—it may involve his sister, who willfully leads men to their destruction, or the “puppeteer,” an enigmatic figure who draws in those who have suffered the loss of someone close to them. As the madness at the heart of the case spins out of control, the confusion surrounding it only deepens. What terrifying secrets will this impromptu investigator unearth as he seeks the truth behind these murders? (via Goodreads)

My expectation when reading a mystery is that I am going along with the investigator as he/she solves the case. Sometimes, as a reader, I know more than the sleuth. The enjoyment of that situation is in seeing how the investigator will catch up, or how they’ll avoid the peril I see coming. Generally, when reading a mystery, I believe I shouldn’t know substantially less than the protagonist. I should have seen what they’ve seen, heard what they’ve heard. If the fictional investigator makes a leap of logic, it should always be based on what has been shown to the reader.

Last Winter We Parted is told in the form of first person narration by the young writer and through the archived documents surrounding the murder case. Unfortunately, these archives have no context for the reader. If it’s a letter, we don’t know who it’s from or to, information that is presumably available to the narrator. There is even one archive written in first person, not by our narrator, with no context other than “archive.” At least, I think this is the case. Honestly, the structure was a little confusing and obfuscatory. The matter wasn’t helped by a pretty poor Kindle version of the ARC. By the end, the vague pieces are put together for the reader, allowing for no sense that I could have ever figured it out without it being told to me.

And all this is a shame. The labyrinth of photos, fires, philosophy, and doll fetishist that Nakamura leads the reader through is genuinely unnerving. The crux of the tale relies on a tension between beauty and grotesque, but the narrative itself gets in the way.

Publisher: Soho Press
Publication date: September 21, 2014
Genre: Horror thriller


Posted in Female Author, Short Story

Deal Me In, Week 37 ~ “Indigo Moon”


Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis

“Indigo Moon” by Janet Berliner

Card picked: Three of Spades

From: David Copperfield’s Tales of the Impossible, edited by David Copperfield & Janet Berliner

Review: This story has a 90s TV movie feel. I can imagine very big hair and shoulder pads. It’s a thriller that takes a supernatural turn, a very 80s-90s thing to do. And maybe this nostalgia is also because I associate movies and fiction about Carlos the Jackal with that time period. The Jackal is one of our main characters and the target of some transformation magic. My one objection is that Berliner draws some direct supernatural lines between Carlos the Jackal and Jack the Ripper. These are two very different types of killers. Perhaps some other terrorist would have been a better fit?

(Quick review this week. I am enjoying some crisp fall weather away from my computer.)

Is This Your Card?

Posted in Male Author, Novel

Review ~ Cemetery Lake

This book was provided to me by Atria Books via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Cemetery Lake by Paul Cleave

Cover via Goodreads

A fast-paced crime thriller from the author of international bestsellers The Cleaner and The Killing Hour, Cemetery Lake will keep you guessing until the last page.

What began as a routine exhumation of a suspected murder victim quickly turns complicated for private investigator Theodore Tate . . .

Theo Tate is barely coping with life since his world was turned upside down two years ago. As he stands in the cold and rainy cemetery, overseeing the exhumation, the lake opposite the graveyard begins to release its grip on the murky past. When doubts are raised about the true identity of the body found in the opened coffin, the case takes an even more sinister turn. Tate knows he should walk away and let his former colleagues in the police deal with it, but against his better judgement he takes matters into his own hands.

With time running out and a violent killer on the loose, will Tate manage to stay one step ahead of the police, or will the secrets that he thought were so deeply buried be unearthed? (via Goodreads)

Paul Cleave is from the other side of the pond. The big pond. The New Zealand author’s novels are happily getting more attention lately in the US with Atria Books’ re-release of his catalog. Cemetery Lake, Cleave’s third novel, was originally published in 2008 and is the first of three novels (thus far) that feature cop-turned-private-detective Theo Tate.

Roughly, there are three aspect to this novel which for me worked in varying degrees. I’ll address them in reverse order.

The first is the setting. All of Cleave’s novels are set in Christchurch, New Zealand. Being a native, he obviously knows the area well. It offers an interesting combination of urban, suburban, and wilderness areas. Unfortunately, when Tate laments that Christchurch is “broken,” I don’t quite believe it. Sure, there are loopholes in the justice system. There is corruption. Is it any worse than any other big city? I’m not sure that it’s shown to be. I could be jaded. It might also be that Cleave’s first two novels, also set in Christchurch, better illustrate the ideal versus the (fictional) reality of the city. Perhaps by Cemetery Lake, the idea has become more of a trope that readers of the first books understand better than a novice Cleave/Christchurch reader.

Secondly, there’s the plot. It careens along. It takes hard left turns and doubles back on itself. It goes places that have no in-roads. On one hand, I found myself vowing to take a break from reading at the end of a chapter only to find that I’d read far into the next without realizing it. On the other hand, occasionally I found myself really questioning Tate’s decisions. I had to turn a blind eye to the possibility that the character might be acting in the best interest of a plot twist. And I was willing to do this because…

Theo Tate is a great character. The man has problems, and maybe it’s to Cleave’s credit that Tate doesn’t always make the best decision. I have a soft spot for characters that are doing the best they can given their circumstances, even if they’re suffering from the consequences of their own poor judgement. I want to read more of Theo Tate. It’s been a while since I’ve encountered such a well drawn flawed hero.

Cemetery Lake will be released by Atria Books  on June 18, 2013. (Hey, that’s today!)

Genre: Mystery/Thriller
Why did I choose to read this book? By a New Zealand author.
Did I finish this book? (If not, why?) Yes. A great read.
Craft Lessons: Don’t be afraid to take a hard left, plot-wise. Just make sure it’s warranted.
Format: Kindle ebook
Procurement: NetGalley

Posted in Male Author, Novel, Other Media

Saturday Cinema / Book Review ~ Jaws


Like dinosaurs and the solar system, sharks intrigued me at an early age. In fact, I probably watched Jaws (and its sequels) at a too-early age (on TV or video) and that’s been the cause for my unease with swimming. No harm done, really, and my curiosity about sharks has endured.

Jaws, the novel by Peter Benchley, was published in 1974–the same year that I was born. I think I originally read it in high school, so it’s been a good 20 years since I’d read it the first time. Jaws, the movie, was released the next year and is credited as being one of the first summer blockbusters.

It’s a film I watch once every couple of years even though I’m not a particular fan of disaster movies, and I would contend that Jaws has much more in common with disaster flicks than any other kind of horror movie. Every aspect of Jaws is just a little better than all others of its ilk. The dialogue is sharper, shots are lined up in more novel ways, the characters are all more clearly drawn and better acted, and the music and sound design is bar none. It’s also a great lesson in film-making restraint. Bruce the mechanical shark was a bit of a non-starter and forced Steven Spielberg to be very creative with yellow barrels.

The movie is more succinct than the novel. As Benchley mentions in the introduction to the 2005 edition of the novel, he was given the opportunity to write an early screenplay treatment, but was advised that he’d need to cut the romance and Mafia subplots. The characters in the movie fit together better. The interplay between Quint, Hooper, and Brody in the movie is a joy to watch. In the book, all the relationships are more contentious. Brody is more guilt-wracked, Hooper seems more like a hobbyist, and Quint is more…monstrous and he doesn’t come into the picture until the last fourth of the book. Strangely, the movie more easily gives these characters back-stories. The screenwriting elegantly conveys Brody’s alienation from the town and Hooper’s wealthy but somewhat eccentric past. Quint is given the opportunity to put horror into perspective with his past serving on the USS Indianapolis.

The book does a better job of imperiling Amity. In the movie, the mayor comes off as a little too hysterical. The books shows us more of the town and its people. As dangerous as swimming is, closing the beaches affects many, many more lives. There’s more reality to the book, in some ways. The shark’s death, for example, is less spectacular. The ending comes very abruptly, but not unreasonably so. What else is there to say once the foe has been vanquished?