November 28, 2011

Pilot Error ***

*** Pilot Error, Tosh McIntosh, 2011

I'm not much one for reading thrillers, even though I co-wrote one back in the day. But that was a one-off and not my story. I've read one Clancy (seriously in need of an editor) and two Bourne books (painfully written, but that was the model Phil gave me for his hero, Matt Cooper, so I forced my way through a couple) but that's about it for me for the thriller genre.

Tosh is a career aviator, fighter plane pilot, commercial jet pilot, and all that, so he knows whereof he speaks. Nick, the protagonist, is a NTSB crash investigator who stumbles on a conspiracy and gets cranked through a meatgrinder before he finally gets on the other end, much the worse for wear. The body count is pretty high, but that's probably typical with a thriller.

One thing about this book, it really puts you in the left seat of some pretty cool airplanes. And what Nick does with the last one, well, I don't even want to think about it.

If you're fond of thrillers, you should check this one out. He's just getting started and more are on the way. I've seen a few peeks of some early scenes of the sequel, and it looks pretty good, too.


Why ebook formatting matters.

Tosh got it right on the conversion. Edited and proofread. Full navigation. Good paragraph formatting. Scene separators. The works. He also did the cover himself.

November 24, 2011

Justice Hall ***

*** Justice Hall, Laurie R King, 2002

Justice Hall differs from the first five Mary Russell books in that there is less action and derring-do. In fact, other than an intial off-camera attack, the first bit of violence doesn't occur until halfway through the book.

The first half of the book invovles a reunion with Mahmoud and Ali from O Jerusalem, picking up right after where The Moor left off, country manor life, and some background checking and research. There's plenty of tension on just about every page, but after the non-stop action thrill ride of O Jerusalem, it was a startling pace change. Then on page 138 somebody gets shot and we're off to the races!

The crux of the story centers on the death of a soldier in WWI under questionable circumstances and the account of what the British did to keep the order during the heat of the war was both intriguing and chilling. This novel is a good tribute to those formerly unsung casualties of a global conflict.

November 21, 2011

Pattern of Wounds ***

*** Pattern of Wounds, J Mark Bertrand, 2011

It's unusual for me to read a book in the year it came out. I'm not much of a bestseller follower, and until recently I haven't really been following any contemporary series. Plus, my to-be-read shelf is long enough for me to wait for the paperback of any series of a living author I might be reading.

However, after reading Back on Murder, I knew I would be getting Pattern of Wounds quite quickly. I did, but somehow failed to review it after I read it. I remedy that failing with this post.

I had a few extremely petty quibbles with Back on Murder. But Pattern of Wounds didn't garner even one microscopic quibble. It was an excellent read from end to end. Bertrand came out of the dugout swinging for the fences and he's still connecting on all pitches and knocking it out of the park.

I'm now caught up with JM and it's on him to shove another fine story my direction. Get in on the ground floor.


Why it matters.

I'm proud to say that Bethany House also stepped up to the plate and rectified every single complaint I had with the formatting of Back on Murder. Functional TOC, proper paragraph formatting, proper scene-break glyphs, no noticeable typos. My only complaint is that the left/right buttons take you backward/forward one section at a time, not one chapter at a time. Each section covers ten chapters. If you want to find something inside that ten-chapter block, you're still reduced to paging forever or playing hide and seek. It should be a chapter-level navigation.

November 20, 2011

So you want to be a writer

What if on a Friday night someone said to you, "You have this weekend to produce 5,000 words on your latest project." What would you do?

Everyone in my family would probably shoot themselves at the thought. I would think, "Really? I get the whole weekend to write? Rock!"

Life and the day job intrude too often to allow me the luxury of a full weekend of writing, but this weekend it happened and I hit a vein and cranked out 5,000 words on Muffin Man. Pretty good words, it feels like right now. We'll find out when I read it over tomorrow.

But if that question fills you with dread instead of ecstacy, you might want to rethink that whole writer thing.

Charles Bukowski said it much better.

November 17, 2011

Captains Outrageous ***

*** Captains Outrageous, Joe R Lansdale, 2001

Disclaimer: JLR is not for everyone

I have the Hap and Leonard series on the Elliptical and the Mary Russell series on the night stand, reading each in order. However, for H&L I skipped over the limited edition Veil's Visit because I typically resist paying $60 to $131 for a 164-page book. If anyone wants to send a copy to me, I'll take it.

Captains Outrageous has all the typical stuff you expect from a Hap and Leonard novel:

  • High action with lots of violence
  • Play-by-play choreography of fight scenes (which makes sense when you know that Lansdale is a two-time inductee into the International Martial Arts Hall of Fame)
  • Play-by-play choreography of sex scenes (no information in Lansdale's bio about being an inductee to the Sexual Arts Hall of Fame)
  • Dialog full of smart-aleck remarks, testosterone-laden blustering, and East Texas colloquialisms
  • Ruthless, deadly villains
  • Great similies (more on this later)

However, Captains Outrageous departs from the previous episodes in that it doesn't have a classic hero's journey structure. For those not steeped in writing craft issues, this means there is no clear objective set out in the beginning for the heroes to accomplish, and none of the other classic milestones in the plot. Consider the first five H&L novels:

  1. Savage Season: Find the treasure.
  2. Mucho Mojo: Solve the mystery of the body under the house.
  3. Two-Bear Mambo: Find out what happened to Florida.
  4. Bad Chili: Clear Leonard's name and find out what happened to Raul.
  5. Rumble Tumble: Rescue Brett's daughter from a brothel.

Then we get to Captains Outrageous, which has more of an episodic structure. There is no big goal, just a series of incidents in multiple locations that Hap and Leonard react to: save a girl from her attacker, take a vacation to Mexico on a crappy cruise line, get attacked by local thugs, help a local fisherman, escape from local mob violence, avenge a death. It changes as you go. The average non-writer reader might not notice this directly, but rather sense a lack of direction. There is a reason most novels and movies use some variation on the classic three act structure, even if readers don't know what it is.

Another detail I haven't mentioned before is that, with rare exceptions, every character in a H&L novel is a smart-ass. Hap, Leonard, their cop buddies, their cop enemies, the girl friends, the bad guys, the locals in whatever place they travel to, pretty much everybody. Any bit of dialog is essentially interchangeable and could be spoken by just about any character.

Despite all that, Captains Outrageous has lots of the stuff that brings me back. Here are a few examples:

  • p. 62: I read from a good Larry McMurtry book about the size of a cement block.
  • p. 63: The singers were so awful they hurt my feelings and their dancing was a bit more like contained stumbling to music.
  • p. 79. A very attractive, slightly heavy, thirtyish woman with shoulder-length hair dark as a miner's dream came onto the deck.
  • p. 106. He looked like something out of a Humphrey Bogart movie. He wore a white linen suit that looked as if he had slept in it. Scuffed black shoes run-down on the sides and a shirt that had been last washed during the Mexican Revolution, and then only because he had been caught out in the rain. He had salt-and-pepper hair and the front of it hung down on his forehead as if it were too ill to consider being combed.
  • p. 182. I felt like something made of Tinkertoys, but screwed down way too tight and somehow rotten at the center, fearing that if I turned just a little too far in one direction the whole of me might come undone.
  • p. 194. I gathered up my courage. It was like trying to gather up ten pounds of yard and poke it in a two pound basket.
  • p. 253. We flew closer to the city. A haze of pollution thick enough to wear overalls hung over everything. Mixed with the sunlight the air achieved the color of a dried wound. Buildings jumped at us and the streets below were as confused as a ball of twine.

I'm not too enamoured with Hap and Leonard to be oblivious to the flaws, but the pleasure of reading well-crafted sentences trumps the flaws, for now. I have one more H&L book on my shelf, Vanilla Ride. We'll see how it turns out.

November 14, 2011

The Girl with the Long Green Heart ***

*** The Girl with the Long Green Heart, Lawrence Block, 1994

Amazon has a thing called the Kindle Daily Deal. If you have a Kindle or read Kindle books on a PC or smartphone and you aren't getting the emails, you should sign up now. I've bought more good Kindle books in the last two months the previous ten months that I've owned the thing, all at $1.99 and under. This book was one of those.

I've read a handful of Block novels, mostly in the Bernie Rhodenbarr series, all of which were very entertaining, so I knew this one was a sure thing.

The Girl with the Long Green Heart is a classic noir story, and a gem of the genre. The voice is perfect, the protagonist is perfect, the scheme is perfect. I didn't mind at all that because of the dictates of the genre I knew the twist way ahead of time. It was just such a joy to soak in the atmosphere of a brilliantly told noir story.

If you're a fan of noir, this is a must read.

Block was on the last segment of the Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson last week.


Why it matters.

Nicely formatted. Fully function navigation and TOC. Proper paragraph formatting and scene breaks. There are two formatting artifacts that could have been resolved:

  1. Chapter headings lose their formatting when the left/right buttons are used to navigate. This happens when the anchor tag is inside the heading tag instead of before it. Easy for a publisher to fix.
  2. The last paragraph of ten of the sixteen chapters was centered, probably because it got wrapped in the tag for the heading of the following chapter, although I didn't verify the cause by looking at the code.

These are fairly minor formatting issues, although both should have been caught during proof-reading and the first is well-known and should always be tested during production.

November 10, 2011

O Jerusalem ***

*** O Jerusalem, Laurie R King, 1999

I lost a lot of hours of sleep over this book, but the Mary Russell series has that effect on me. Just can't put it down. But one must do the day job occasionally, so it's not possible to read it straight through.

Although this is book five, the 425 pages of O Jerusalem take place in the time frame between pages 288 and 293 of book one, The Beekeeper's Apprentice. If I were coming to this series for the first time, I would read O Jerusalem second, not fifth.

Just like The Moor made me want to see Dartmoor, O Jerusalem made me want to explore the aqueducts of Jerusalem, although the 25 pages of their subterranean journey felt more like 50 pages to me.

The tension between Mahmoud, Ali, Holmes and Russell was brilliantly managed, and was maintained at various levels until the end. Once again, King weaves in actual historical figures with the fictional ones, which always amuses me, although the most clever one, Lieutenant-Colonel William Gillette was too obscure even for me.

I really wanted a little more time with the shadowy villain as compensation for the 400-page journey to uncover him, but alas, it was not to be.

So far, King is 5 for 5 with the Mary Russell books. I am confident of more good things to come.

November 3, 2011

Rumble Tumble ***

*** Rumble Tumble, Joe R. Lansdale, 1998

Disclaimer: Lansdale is not for everybody

Five books in and it's still a non-stop, insane, balls-to-the-wall thrill ride, combined with masterful writing.

Rumble Tumble features ruthless small-time mobsters, drunk Mexican bikers, working girls and a felonious midget. Hap and Leonard, joined by Hap's new girlfriend, hit two whorehouses, one in Oklahoma and one in Mexico, where they pack plenty of heat are aren't too bashful about using it.

This time around we don't get any high-drama meteorlogical cataclysms, but we have plenty high body count.

But the thing that brings me back to Lansdale is the great writing. Check these gems:

Next morning we were tooling down Highway 87 on our way into Lubbock, traveling some of the bleakest, ugliest terrain this side of the moon. It's the kind of landscape you think you'll fall off of. Every time we passed a scrubby tree - more of a bush really - I wanted to jump out of the car, hold on to the tree for dear life, lest I be sucked away into some sort of Lovecraftian cosmic vacuum.

A shaft of sunlight fell through and hit the dirt floor and gave the cigarette butts there a sort of royal glow, as if they were floating in God's own butter.

They seemed different stars from East Texas stars. They were brighter and closer. They looked sharp enough to cut your hand.

His belly heaved like a great turtle sleeping.

Man, this was something. An East Texas bouncer, a black queer, a ex-sweet potato queen, a six-foot-four overweight retired hit man and former reverend, and a redheaded midget with an attitude. The only thing we needed to top our wagon off were a couple of used-car salesmen, a monkey and an organ grinder.

I wonder how long it takes Lansdale to churn one of these out. I bet they're a blast to write.