June 28, 2012

The Last King of Texas ****

**** The Last King of Texas, Rick Riordan, 2001

Although I think I've read everything Rick has written, to date I've only reviewed one other Tres Navarre novel, The Devil Went Down to Austin. Not for lack of love, but because when I was reading the other books, I wasn't writing reviews. I come back to The Last King of Texas pursuant to a character I'm developing for my next novel, a dealer in arcade and casino games for the greater southwest region. As it turns out, there's not a lot in common between my character, Buckworth, and Riordan's Del Brandon, carnival ride dealer down in San Antonio.

But any minute reading a Tres Navarre novel is not wasted, regardless the motivation or outcome. This is actually the first Riordan novel I ever read, having discovered it while living in Honolulu. I mean, how can you pass up a novel with this title? I immediately went back and got the first two and moved on from there.

I've had the chance to meet Riordan on three or four occasions, the first being when I took a half-day workshop he taught on writing a mystery novel, just before the first Percy Jackson book came out. Extremely nice guy.

I dare anyone to read the first chapter of this book and set it down and walk away. I can't imagine the person who could do such a thing. Well, there's my son-in-law, but nobody else. I would give you some quotable lines, but there are dozens in every chapter, so I lost track.

Look, forget all that. Just go out and get the dang book and read it. Okay?

Oh, and Rick, I know you're busy writing best-seller YA novels left and right, but hire someone to be-Kindle your Tres Navarre backlist. Just do it.

June 21, 2012

Little Dorritt **

** Little Dorrit, Charles Dickens, 1857

Bless me father, for I've been reading Dickens. It's been three years since my last novel.

Giving Dickens two stars out of four feels like cussing in church, but after looking over the review I gave Our Mutual Friend in 2009, I should have had the guts to give it two stars, also. I don't know if my tastes have changed dramatically from twenty years ago when I gave Great Expectations and David Copperfield four star reviews, or if these two more-recently-read-but-lesser-celebrated novels are that dramatically different from those two classics.

I enjoyed the BBC production of Little Dorrit so much, especially Andy Serkis's portrayal of Rigaud, that I grabbed a (free and pitifully formatted) copy of it for my Kindle last year. Clocking in at 334,000 words, it was clear that Dickens was being paid by the word and after five or ten hours of slogging through it, I was feeling every bump in the road and I was barely a third of the way through.

The book is divided into two sections, Poverty and Riches. I took a several-month break between the two to get my strength back up to finish it.

That's not to say there is no brilliance in Little Dorrit. To the contrary, there is quite a bit of it, particularly the satire of the Circumlocution office. But like the modern US welfare system, of which Dickens would doubtlessly have been a supporter, the novel seemed to suffocate under its own weight.

For example, the character of Flora Finching was humorous due to her intense case of logorrhoea, but it was illustrated through passages of borderline-indecipherable monologue that went on for pages. After a while the amusement fades and you just have to start skimming.

Mea culpa, but there it is.

June 14, 2012

Spider Dance **

** Spider Dance, Carole Nelson Douglas, 2004

In the final (as far as I know) novel of the series, Irene stays in New York on a mission to unearth the truth about her origins, particularly her mother.

On the upside, we have the full cast of characters we have come to know and love (excepting Watson), historical and fictional, and a gruesome murder in the Vanderbilt mansion to solve.

On the downside (for my reading tastes), in Irene's search for her mother, we have a seriously degraded SNR, pages and pages of interviews with various characters about what they remember, copious pages of declamation on women's rights and gender roles and social mores. And interspersed with the story we have an alternate narrative of an unnamed "dangerous woman" four of five decades earlier.

The issue for me is that I'm reading this series solely because it's an extension of the Holmes canon and involves a clever interpretation of an interesting character from that canon. As such, I'm looking for a mystery story and these other things, however well written they may be, are of no interest to me. But that is a creative decision that right belongs to the author, as it should. It just means that I am not the target audience for the last few books in the series. But I wish Ms. Douglas great continued success with her books

June 7, 2012

Femme Fatale **

** Femme Fatale, Carole Nelson Douglas, 2003

In the (to my knowledge) penultimate Irene Adler story, The Woman returns to her roots, America, drawn by a meddling Nellie Bly. People from her mostly forgotten childhood are dying by the cartloads and three people are on the case, working independently, Adler, Bly, and Holmes.

I loved the first few Irene books, but the further I go into the series, the lower the SNR (story to noise ratio) drops. By noise I mean things that don't move the story forward, such as discourses on fashion or religion or gender roles or women's rights or pages of banter between characters or back story relating what happened in previous books.

You expect some of this in the way of establishing character or sense of place or other of the little things authors do to keep a novel from turning into a screenplay. And to be sure, there is a certain amount of personal taste involved in determining the proper SNR, but I have a fairly liberal meter, as anyone who has read my novels knows.

But when you go twenty or more pages in a detective novel without anything of significance happening, the SNR is dangerously low.

So I've taken to skimming, which is practically against my religion. This saddens me because of how much I wanted to like the whole series as much as I liked the first few books. Oh well.