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Friday, December 19, 2014

A Darkness More Than Night

A darkness more than night : a novelReview of Michael Connelly’s 
“A Darkness More Than Night”
Review by Gerti

I have read more Michael Connelly books than I can count, but this one is special, because he brings both of my favorite characters into it. The first book I ever read of his had as its protagonist former FBI detective Terrell “Terry” McCaleb, who got a heart transplant from a woman killed in a convenience store robbery. Her sister, Graciela Rivers, eventually marries McCaleb after he solves that murder for her, and the pair now have a child of their own, a little girl, and live on Catalina Island. McCaleb is now supposedly retired, but a former colleague asks him to help with a murder investigation, and against his wife’s wishes, he does.

McCaleb of course finds clues other investigators have missed, and hits upon the paintings of Hieronymous Bosch as the motif for the New Year’s Eve killing of a low-life named Eddie Gunn. Ironically, there is a famous homicide detective who also has the name Bosch, who is very familiar to Connelly fans, and is a friend of McCaleb, Instead of thinking that his buddy is being set up, as I did reading the book, McCaleb begins to suspect Bosch of the horrific crime. Bosch is in the middle of testifying for the prosecution in the trial of a powerful Hollywood producer, but once again, McCaleb fails to see that makes Bosch a prime target for a set-up.

The book twists and turns around these two powerful male characters, McCaleb and Bosch, both brilliant but not infallible investigators. It is a delight to see them work, and delightful to see how Connelly differentiates between two of his more popular protagonists. Eventually, McCaleb sees the connection between the two cases, and puts himself in danger, as the real killer of Eddie Gunn comes a-calling. Bosch saves his life, and in turn is able to guarantee that the puppet master behind the murder of Gunn also goes to prison for life.

Kirkus Reviews says of this book, “Bosch fan or McCaleb fan, you can’t lose with the chilling tour-de-force,” and I wholeheartedly agree. It was wonderful to see those two heroes working together, even though they are sometimes at odds. If only Mickey Haller had been the defense attorney for the producer, all three of Connelly’s greatest characters could have appeared together, but I guess Connelly didn’t want him to lose the case. This book is very good, but probably a lot more fun to read for those who have read enough Connelly to know both of these leading men.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Drop

The drop : a novelMichael Connelly’s “The Drop”

Review by Gerti

In this novel, Michael Connelly again puts the spotlight on his LA homicide detective and favorite protagonist, Harry Bosch. Bosch retired from the police force, but then returned under a program that only gives him a limited time to catch cold-case killers. That program is called “DROP”, and at the beginning of the story, Bosch was given 3 years to continue with the LAPD. But the two cases he is called upon to solve in this book test him to the point where he wants to retire immediately.

His partner in this book is David Chu, and the two do not work as well together as some of Bosch’s previous partners, including Kiz Rider, who is now working for the Chief of Police’s office. As a result, she is able to keep Bosch informed when another former cop and current city councilman’s son dies. Despite the fact that Councilman Irving and Bosch hate each other, Irving has asked for him to find out whether his son killed himself or was murdered at the Chateau Marmont. He knows that Bosch will try his best to solve the case, no matter his feelings about the boy’s father. And Bosch does pursue it, even though it’s a case filled with political implications. Irving has been squeezing police funding as a member of the city council, and there is pressure on Bosch from all sides to solve the case quickly and in a way that pleases Irving, so that the money rolls back in.

Bosch’s heart, however, is in another case he’s working on - the cold case of a 19-year-old girl, killed in the late ‘80s. The new Regional Crime Lab has matched DNA from her to a convicted rapist who is seeking treatment in a local program. Seems like the perfect suspect, but he was only 8 years old when the crime happened, so Bosch needs to see if the lab (or other homicide cops) have made a mistake, and that could have legal implications on a ton of other cases. He’s supposed to be putting all his energy into the Irving case, but he sneaks in a pretty thorough investigation of this one, and realizes that the rapist’s blood was on the victim because HE had been assaulted by the girl’s true killer.

By the end, Bosch has solved both cases, and justice is served, despite a last ditch effort from another victim to kill the killer before he goes to trial. Bosch does not put the wrong person in jail, despite evidence that a former cop was the last person to see Irving’s son alive. And he finds a serial killer who’s been actively killing for decades. On top of that, he finds a new girlfriend - the only part of the story I feel uncomfortable with, as Bosch frequently leave his teenaged daughter alone while those two drink and chat. It’s bad enough for him to abandon his kid while investigating murders, but to date? It almost tarnishes his hero status.

I love Connelly as a writer, and I love reading about Harry Bosch, his best protagonist. But “The Drop” is not my favorite Bosch novel, as Harry let’s a lot of people down in this book, including Irving, the new girlfriend, and his daughter. Unlike other books in which Bosch dominates, here he’s all action and little heart.

Monday, December 15, 2014

The Black Box

The black box : a novelMichael Connelly’s “The Black Box”

Reviewed by Gerti

This is a crime novel that will make you cry. Author Michael Connelly is a former LA crime reporter who is a compelling storyteller with a consistently good, clear style of writing, but in this novel, he seems to rise above even his unusually high skill level. This story involves his frequent protagonist Harry Bosch, an LA homicide detective who, like Connelly himself, rises above his colleagues because of the level of emotion and sacrifice he invests in each case he solves.

In this book, Bosch is trying to solve a murder that took place during the LA riots following the Rodney King verdict in 1992. The victim was an international reporter named Anneke Jespersen, who freelanced for a Danish newspaper, and who had covered other conflicts around the world, including Operation Desert Storm. There were so many crimes committed during those days of violence in 1992, the case remained unsolved by the Riot Crimes Task Force, and has now gone to the Open-Unsolved Unit. But with the anniversary approaching, Bosch’s boss wants him to shelve this case, because the reporter was white.

But Bosch can’t let it go because he was one of the cops at the original crime scene, and something about it always bothered him. Under his blotter at his desk, he has a collection of pictures from cases which have gotten under his skin, and Anneke’s is one of those. Using his own memories from the night her body was discovered, as well as the evidence collected from the original crime scene, he methodically works the case, coming up with clue after clue that had been missed at the time, including the gun that killed her.

He ends up uncovering a conspiracy that involving several California National Guardsmen who helped keep order during the riots, but who were also involved in Desert Storm. Turns out they had drugged and raped Anneke on an R & R ship back in the day. Now one is a wealthy business owner, another is a county sheriff running for Congress, so they will do anything to hide the truth, including kidnapping Bosch and executing several former war buddies. Lucky for Bosch, he is being investigated, and the detective tailing him ends up saving his life.

That’s the story. But what makes this book special among Connelly novels for me is that he does more than simply tell a good tale. He goes under Bosch’s skin and reveals his emotions, which are what makes Bosch a better cop than his partner or his boss, who are primarily worried about solving cases to make quotas. Bosch cares when he’s talking to Anneke’s family, and the scene in which he tells her brother that he’s finally caught her murderer is heartbreaking in its emotional intensity. The brother’s anger over what happened to his sister all those years ago is mirrored by Bosch’s own, and that makes Harry Bosch my hero, and a champion for all those who’ve been waiting years for justice to be served. This book elevates Connelly from a good crime writer to a great one.

Friday, December 12, 2014

The Brass Verdict

The brass verdict : a novelReview of Michael Connelly’s “The Brass Verdict”

Review by Gerti

Now I’m Michael Connelly’s biggest fan. And I love his protagonists Mickey Haller and Harry Bosch. But five-hundred and forty-seven pages is just too much for me to tell one story. And that’s the only problem I have with “The Brass Verdict.”

Connelly is a master storyteller, and this story combines his two favorite storylines – Haller defending a guilty man who claims to be innocent, and Bosch tracking down the truth behind a high profile LA crime. Perhaps Connelly and his editors felt that one-two punch justified the book’s length, as there were two stories that needed telling. But maybe it was just overly ambitious to try to combine two strong but flawed heroes in one colossal novel.

But here are some positives - I loved seeing Haller out of rehab and trying to get back into the law game. I also loved his interaction with Bosch, who is his half-brother, although Haller doesn’t realize it until the end of the book. But I did not like the tricks Bosch played on Haller in order to solve the headline-grabbing crime in this novel, the murder of a movie producer’s wife and her lover.

One attorney has already been killed trying to defend the Archway Studios exec who discovered the pair, and that’s before jury selection has ever started. Haller lucks into that attorney’s case load, but he’s playing catchup. His wealthy client, Walter Elliot, doesn’t want the trial delayed, even though his first defense attorney’s calendar and files on the case were stolen when he was murdered. Turns out, Elliot has bribed a juror, so he’s not worried about a guilty verdict. Haller just can’t work with a stacked deck like that, and he tells the judge about the ringer, but that sets a whole house of cards tumbling. Haller is almost killed himself until Bosch and the FBI come to his rescue.

I am however bothered by the last few chapters, which seem largely extraneous, and as the book is already running over 500 pages, I get a little restless about literary excesses. I’m glad to see Haller and Bosch becoming friends in the midst of this turmoil, but it does make me regret all the ink Connelly used to set up the relationship between Haller and his new driver. Don’t get me wrong. I love spending time with Haller and Bosch. I just don’t want to spend ALL my free time with them.

In short, while I love the characters, and am impressed by the intricate plot which involves several of Connelly’s characteristic twists and misdirection, I felt the book could have been tighter. A good editor could have cut at least 50 pages out of here and made it a more manageable 400ish pages. The title, “The Brass Verdict,” refers to street justice, where a gun is used to dispatch the guilty party. I almost wish this book had been as quick to reach its conclusion.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Mammoth Cave National Park

Product Details"Mammoth Cave National Park" by Ruth Radlauer
Reviewed by Gerti

I have never been in a cave, but was recently contemplating a trip south to visit either Boone Caverns in Indiana or Mammoth Caves in Kentucky. Therefore, I read this book as a form of research before deciding which cave system to make the focus of my planned vacation.

"Mammoth Cave National Park" by Ruth Radlauer is a quick introduction to the hundreds of miles of caves found south of Louisville. While I didn't care much for the chapters on caves were initially formed, or why watering the soil above is important to cave dwellers, I was pleased by the many pictures in the book and her use of large print. There is also a pretty cool map that shows the national park to be just off of I-65, which is pretty handy for those of us who live in Northwest Indiana! It also mentions the hiking and camping opportunities available for outdoorsy families and their young ones.

The history of the cave was more interesting to me, and I especially enjoyed hearing about Stephen Bishop, who began life as a slave of the owner of the cave, but would eventually make the first fairly accurate map of many underground miles there, and discovered many of the cave's unique features. Also fascinating is the fact that there were building down below, and even a hospital had been built there, despite the dark and damp that exist so far below the surface. hard to believe a doctor actually thought the place might cure tuberculosis and had people live there...

For children, this book would be perfect introduction to this nearby national treasure. For me, I was hoping for more specifics on the various underground rooms the author mentions, and possibly a map of the cave system. While I did enjoy learning the quick tricks the author used so kids could distinguish between stalactites (spelled with a "c" as in ceiling) and stalagmites (spelled with a "g" as in ground), I still don't think I could recall what a troglobite is. I did like her pictures of the white crayfish and blindfish who live in the very lowest level of the caves, but was pretty grossed out because many of the creatures who live their entire lives in these caves are millipedes, beetles and flatworms.

In summary, the book made me decide that visiting Mammoth Caves was not for me, mainly because of Raudlauer's realistic descriptions of many of those slimy cave dwellers! But hopefully younger readers would not be as grossed out by those things, and this slim volume would spark their interest in the topic of spelunking.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Mary, Queen of Scots... And All That

Product DetailsGerti's Review of “Mary, Queen of Scots… And All That”by Allan Burnett

Author Allan Burnett is a citizen of the United Kingdom. I gathered that from his language choice (no one in the US would call someone a “nutter”) and his ability to put an irreverent spin on the iconic tale of Mary, Queen of Scots. I’ve heard her story since I was a small child, and my son recently did a school report on her, which is why I requested the book. But since it came all the way from Missouri, his report was already done by the time the book arrived, and hence, I’m the one to read it!

For those who are unfamiliar, Mary was the only child of the King of Scotland, James V, but was sent to France as a child to be the bride of a Prince there, who later became King Francis II. Sadly, he was no more hardy than her father, and died about a year after the couple were married, sending her back to Scotland to reclaim her crown there. If you think that’s unlucky, Mary’s life really hits the skids after returning home. While there, she married a couple of jerks, including the royally related Lord Darnley, with whom she had a son named James. Then (does this begin to sound familiar?) Darnley died in a suspicious castle explosion, and Mary quickly got married to the Earl of Bothwell, who unfortunately for her was one of the fellows suspected of planting explosives under Darnley’s castle. Whoops!

Her countrymen turned against her after all this questionable behavior, and rather than remain imprisoned in Scotland, Mary fled across the border to England, which was ruled by her cousin Elizabeth I. Sadly, Elizabeth had her own problems – her country had been torn apart by religious quarrels, and about half the citizens (and nobles!) wanted to be Catholic, and the other half preferred their queen Protestant. Elizabeth was a Protestant, but Mary was a Catholic, and that was the rub. To let Mary run free meant risking her own throne, and Elizabeth was far too clever a girl to let that happen. She kept Mary imprisoned in various castles, but eventually Mary was implicated in a plot to take the English throne, and Elizabeth was forced to cut off her head.

Now that you’ve seen some of the highlights, this book is a much better introduction than I had to Mary, which was the classic work by Antonio Fraser (not child friendly!) Burnett covers all the factual bases, and makes this an accessible intro to Scottish and British history. It is even peppered with cartoons children would find amusing, which makes this text seem contemporary, like a graphic novel. For adults like me, it’s pretty amusing to see John Knox and other historical heavy’s in cartoon form, although I imagine there are those who might be offended. Still, I think children and young teens would find this a quick but comically interesting look at a cultish Queen from way back when.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Just As Long As We're Together

Just as long as we're togetherGerti's Review of Judy Blume’s “Just As Long As We’re Together”

Judy Blume is an author that I found irresistible when I was a teenager, many, many years ago! I recently picked up one of her books at a library book sale, and realized that she kept writing even after I went to college! Her books are still designed to appeal to her traditional target audience – tweens and teens.

In this book, “Just As Long As We’re Together,” a young girl named Stephanie is getting ready to go back to school. Her best friend since second grade, Rachel, is scared about the new school year, but excited, too. Then a new girl named Alison shows up in their neighborhood, and the longtime best friends begin to drift apart. Add to that social complication the fact that Stephanie’s parents are separating, which they of course hide from her, and you’ve got a story of typically modern teenaged angst. Stephanie hates her dad’s new girlfriend, and works hard to break them up and re-introduce her mom into the love equation. Rachel has a hard time accepting Alison as Stephanie’s new friend, and the two girls have a huge fight that their parents try to mitigate. And of course, all three girls are starting to notice boys, which leads to its own problems! Oh, the drama!

More “Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret” than “Forever”, “Just As Long As We’re Together” is a book for young teens who may be going through the same sort of social upheavals. The lessons are softballs - it’s hard to insert new friends into old alliances, and it’s even harder to figure out the opposite sex! While I like the book’s well-defined main character, Stephanie, her friends seem like caricatures. Rachel is the prototypical “smart girl,” and Alison, the foreign, worldly one. Her mom is a famous actress, and as a result Alison has travelled the world and was even born abroad, which is pretty sophisticated for her group of friends.

Each girl has to solve her own crisis, but in Judy Blume world, it all turns out all right. JALAWT has little content that could be objectionable to parents. And while it still amazes me that middle-aged Judy Blume still knows about the silly things that worry teenagers, I guess that’s the nature of her creativity. It was amusing, as a parent, to spy on the pubescent conversations she presents here, and perhaps more than when I was young, this text shows me exactly how talented a writer Blume is. This book won’t change anybody’s life, but it is an entertaining and well-written effort by one of America’s favorite writers of teen fiction.