Wednesday, September 17, 2014

AUTHORITY BY JEFF VANDERMEER (SOUTHERN REACH TRILOGY #2)

Authority (Southern Reach Trilogy, #2)Authority by Jeff VanderMeer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

”In the black water with the sun shining at midnight, those fruit shall come ripe and in the darkness of that which is golden shall split open to reveal the revelation of the fatal softness in the earth.”

 photo AreaX_zps424bf064.jpg

John A.K.A. Control has been made director of The Southern Reach Facility. The last director finagled her way onto the last expedition into Area X and has never been seen or heard from again. The assistant director doesn’t only dislike him, but is working actively to undermine him. I’ve been in a similar circumstances before with a job. It is time consuming winning everybody over so that the work environment can settle into a new normal.

As it turns out Control doesn’t have months to convince anyone of anything.

There is something wrong with the building...it smells like rotting honey.

Some of “the twelfth” expedition which were all women have returned, remembering next to nothing, scattered thoughts. Soon he is focused on The Biologist, the main character from Annihilation, whose answers are not...quite...right. There is blue sky in the amnesia that makes Control suspicious that she remembers more than she is letting on.

”They were beginning to exist in some transitional space between interrogation and conversation, something for which he could not quite find a name.”

She is bemused by him.

He discovers notes by the original director about The Biologist that he hopes will offer some clarification, but they only create more questions.

”Not a very good biologist. In a traditional sense. Empathic more toward environments than people. Forgets the reasons she went, who is paying her salary. But becomes embedded to an extraordinary extent. Would know Area X better than I do from almost the first moment sets foot there. Experience with similar settings. Self-sufficient. Unburdened. Connection through her husband. What would she be in Area X? A signal? A flare? Or invisible? Exploit.

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Control has been resurrected from what should have been a career ending disastrous string of decisions on his last assigning. The type of judgment calls that haunts your career for the rest of your life. His mother, Severance, currently works for Central in some nebulous position deemed Classified. His grandfather also used to work for Central as well and filled Control’s head with all kinds of platitudes.

”So long as you don’t tell people you don’t know something, they’ll probably think you know it.”

Gramps didn’t pass along anything original, but as his situation becomes more and more tenuous Control finds his grandfather’s voice in his head very reassuring.

”Is your house in order?” the Voice asked. “Is it in order?”

That voice is not grandfather, but his contact at Central. The entity that is supposed to be running interference for him at Central and buy him time to work his way through this puzzle. But why does he always feel so damn funny after talking to him?

Then there is the plant in his desk drawer; the plant that won’t die. It is obviously from Area X. Somebody gave it a dead mouse to eat.

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Rabbits will do what rabbits do best, but what will Rabbits do best in Area X?

And then there is Whitby talking about the terror, the terroir. The French word meaning the set of special characteristics that the geography, geology and climate of a certain place possess and how it is interacting with plant genetics.

Area X=TERROIR!

Why don’t we agitate it? Make it do something.

Will it bring him ”closer to the truth about Area X, and even if the truth was a fucking maw, a fanged maw that stank like a cave full of putrefying corpses, that was still closer than he was now.”

Control is opening that door that defies the first rule of every horror film…DON’T OPEN THE DOOR.

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Control would have been so much more focused if he’d had Dana Scully licking his face.

This was such a surprise after reading book one. I was expecting to be up to my armpits in malicious people eating foliage, attempting to keep my brain from going completely Gonzo, and hopefully finding answers to some lingering questions about Area X. Jeff Vandermeer switches gears on us and puts us in the middle of an X-File with a Fox Mulder without the steadying influence of a Dana Scully. The suspense builds beautifully with many moments of...that was odd...until finally it reaches a crescendo with Control on the run not only from Area X, but also from the people at Central. And now I MUST read Acceptance.

ANNIHILATION review Book one of the Southern Reach Trilogy



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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

An American in England

Notes From a Small Island by Bill Bryson
1995
Reviewed by Diane K.M.
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars


This book combines several of my favorite things: travelogues, England, and the charm of Bill Bryson.

It is the book version of comfort food.

So you can understand why I instinctively reached for this audiobook on the the first day of my new job. I wanted something comforting. And humorous. And British.

I was instantly gratified. Bryson begins his book about touring England by describing how intensely Brits will argue about distance and driving routes:

"If you mention in the pub that you intend to drive from, say, Surrey to Cornwall, a distance that most Americans would happily go to get a taco, your companions will puff their cheeks, look knowingly at each other, and blow out air as if to say, 'Well, now, that's a bit of a tall order,' and then they'll launch into a lively and protracted discussion of whether it's better to take the A30 to Stockbridge and then the A303 to Ilchester, or the A361 to Glastonbury via Shepton Mallet. Within minutes the conversation will plunge off into a level of detail that leaves you, as a foreigner, swiveling your head in quiet wonderment ... Give two or more men in a pub the names of any two places in Britain and they can happily fill hours. Wherever it is you want to go, the consensus is generally that it's just about possible as long as you scrupulously avoid Okehampton, the North Circular in London, and the Severn Bridge westbound between the hours of 3 p.m. on Friday and 10 a.m. on Monday, except bank holidays when you shouldn't go anywhere at all."

The whole book was immensely enjoyable. The plan was for Bryson to take a last tour of England before he and his family moved to America for a few years. (Bryson is from the States, but his wife is British.) He was going to travel mostly by public transportation, because his wife wouldn't let him have the car. (HA!) There did not seem to be a logic to his journey -- instead he went hither and thither as he desired, sometimes jumping on a bus or train if it happened to arrive while he was standing there. A few times he broke down and rented a car or took a cab, but he always gave a good reason.

As someone who has not visited England in more than 15 years (and what a sad realization it was to do the math), I could only relate to a few stops on his journey. But I still loved his meanderings and his musings. And I will continue to find more Bill Bryson audiobooks because they are just so delightful.

Some favorite quotes:

"I can never understand why Londoners fail to see that they live in the most wonderful city in the world. It is, if you ask me, far more beautiful and interesting than Paris and more lively than anywhere but New York -- and even New York can't touch it in lots of important ways. It has more history, finer parks, a livelier and more varied press, better theaters, more numerous orchestras and museums, leafier squares, safer streets, and more courteous inhabitants than any other large city in the world."

"I spent two days driving through the Cotswolds and didn't like it at all -- not because the Cotswolds were unlovely but because the car was. You are so sealed off from the world in a moving vehicle, and the pace is all wrong. I had grown used to moving about at walking speed or at least British Rail speed, which is often of course much the same thing."

"I have a small, tattered clipping that I sometimes carry with me and pull out for purposes of private amusement. It's a weather forecast from the Western Daily Mail and it says, in toto, 'Outlook: Dry and warm, but cooler and with some rain.' There you have in a single pithy sentence the English weather captured to perfection: dry but rainy with some warm/cool spells. The Western Daily Mail could run that forecast every day -- for all I know, it may -- and scarcely ever be wrong."

And They Called Her Spider

And They Called Her Spider (Bartleby and James Adventures - Galvanic Century - Book 1)And They Called Her Spider by Michael Coorlim
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

An assassin called The Spider strikes her targets at will and it's up to consulting detectives Wainwright and Bartleby to stop her. Can the scientist and the fop stop her before she ruins Queen Victoria's platinum jubilee?

This was a kindle freebie. How could I resist a Holmeseque mystery featuring an assassin dressed as a Jester?

And They Called Her Spider is a short steampunk mystery set in an alternate London with all the usual steampunk trappings. However, unlike a lot of steampunk that uses goggles and boilers as set dressing, the steampunk elements are actually important to the tale! How refreshing!

Wainwright, the reclusive inventor, and Bartleby, his social butterfly partner, aren't Holmes and Watson but the y make a good team. The Spider was a capable threat and the way they discovered her origins was very Holmesian. It was an enjoyable little morsel.

The only issues I have with this book is that it was too short. I wanted more of everything! More Wainwright and Bartleby! More Spider! And more of the world they all inhabit! This was just some cheese fries when what I was really wanting was a mountainous brisket sandwich! 3.5 out of 5 stars. I'll be on the lookout for more of Michael Coorlim's tales of the Galvanic Century.

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You Are Sloth!

You Are Sloth!You Are Sloth! by Steve Lowe
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

You click on a spam email and wake up a sloth after an all night bender. When people start acting strangely, you team up with Randy the Retard and Cross the Asshole, your friends/neighbors, and start getting to the bottom of things. Can you save the city?

You are Sloth! is a tale of spammers, brainwashing, and drunken debauchery, told in the second person point of view by you, the hapless apartment dweller transformed into a sloth. It's kind of like Kafka's the Metamorphosis, only instead of being transformed into insectoid vermin, you're transformed into a sloth, and instead of being an exploration of the alienation and isolation, it's a collection of dick jokes. Okay, so it's not very much like The Metamorphosis but it is pretty entertaining.

Steve Lowe delivers the chuckles in this slim book. While the situations are funny, dialogue is Steve Lowe's forte. Sloth, Randy, and Cross all have great dialogue that sounds like it's out of a Judd Apatow movie. The spammer's broken English is really authentic if you've every opened one of their ineptly crafted missives.

So yeah, I enjoyed it but I didn't enjoy the shit out it. It wore a little thin after a while and the ending went a little long. Other than that, it was a fun read. How many books have you read that have the phrase "death by bukkake" in them? 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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Monday, September 15, 2014

An Entertaining Romp from Tom Kakonis






















Reviewed by James L. Thane
Four out of five stars

In the late 1980s and early '90s, Tom Kakonis established himself as a writer who created very good plots but who was especially gifted at populating each of his books with a cast of eccentric, interesting characters and then setting them into motion with sometimes truly inspired results. Now twenty years later, he returns with Treasure Coast, a book which clearly demonstrates that he hasn't lost a step in his time away.

The book is set on Florida's Treasure Coast, basically the Palm Beach area along the Atlantic. It opens as Jim Merriman, a compulsive gambler whose luck has turned so bad that he's now barely eking out a living as a bookstore clerk, travels cross country to visit his sister who is near death. Jim and his sister have not been particularly close for years, but as she expires she makes him promise to watch after her son, Leon.

Leon is twenty-one but appears to be much younger. His mother has left him $25,000, and so Merriman figures that the kid should be in pretty good shape, at least until Leon reluctantly confesses that he owes $45,000 to a loan shark. The debt is long overdue and even as Leon outlines his problem, two particularly nasty enforcers are on their way to collect. It was Uncle Jim who taught the kid how to gamble in the first place and that, along with the promise he made to Leon's mom, persuades Jim that he can't abandon his nephew in this time of crisis.

On the brighter side, while sneaking a cigarette outside the medical center, Jim encounters the very beautiful and sexy Billie Swett. Like Jim, Billie hails from the Dakotas and has had an "interesting" past, culminating in a job where she gave manicures at a place called Get Nailed. There she fortunately met a client named Lonnie Swett. Lonnie is an older, gross, pig of a man, but he's also enormously wealthy and when he offers make Billie the fifth Mrs. Swett, she readily agrees to swap her nail files for a huge diamond wedding set. Jim and Billie are clearly attracted to each other, though, and probably no good will come of that.

Kakonis adds to the cast a "preacher" with a mail order degree who, with a young female assistant, is selling mail order tombstones and helping bereaved and gullible rubes send and receive messages to and from their loved ones in the Great Beyond. Kakonis then turns all of these people loose in pursuit of their various objectives, most of which involve a quick score of one sort or another. As all of their paths intersect, the plot becomes increasingly roiled but Kakonis has a great deal of fun with these characters, and so does the reader.

The characters are all very well defined, and, with perhaps one exception, each is sympathetic in his or her own way. The story is very engaging and often hilariously funny. As another Michigan writer, Kakonis has often been favorably compared to Elmore Leonard and, on the strength of his earlier series featuring Timothy Waverly, I thought it was a very fair comparison. With Treasure Coast, Kakonis demonstrates that he clearly deserves to be considered in the same league as Leonard, certainly in the quality of his output if not in the quantity. Set in Florida, Treasure Coast also evokes comparisons to Carl Hiaasen, and fans of either author are sure to enjoy this book very much.

Collected Genius

Collected FictionsCollected Fictions by Jorge Luis Borges
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Reading Jorge Luis Borges's Collected Fictions is like being thrown into the ring with a merciless prize fighter, getting the shit kicked out of you, and loving every minute of it.

These pieces felt more like punches than short stories. Borges jabs to your head, jarring your brain with damning conversations with his future self, invented libraries of the Universe and stories that make you feel like a lost kid on your way to Algebra class but accidentally ending up in Trigonometry. Then he switches his stance and digs at your body with primal blows. Petty gangsters, simplistic machismo, knife fights, all with such savage bravado that you can taste the cheap liquor and cheaper blood.

I said at the top, "loving every minute of it" and perhaps that needs to be tempered. There were times, in certain stories, where my head spun and I wanted to drop to the canvas and not get up. It seemed to be all too much. But I knew if I stayed on my feet and in the ring for the whole 12 rounds I would be rewarded richly. I was. Get in the ring and you will be too.



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A Less Than Heavenly Hemingway

The Garden of EdenThe Garden of Eden by Ernest Hemingway
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Hemingway knows how to draw up a batshit crazy lady...but to be honest, I'm not even sure this is a genuine Ernest Hemingway novel. It might be a forgery. But we'll get to that later.

The Garden of Eden puts a newlywed couple's relationship under the microscope. David and Catherine are honeymooning in the Mediterranean. David is a writer. Catherine is a crazy bitch. David needs a security, time to write and support in his pursuits. Catherine needs occupation. She has too much time on her hands to allow her off-kilter mind to wander where it will, and it wanders down strange, dark and spiteful paths.

The Eden aspect comes in when Catherine can't leave well-enough alone. (David even nicknames her "Devil" least the metaphor should go over your head.) Everything was fine, yet she had to tamper with the creation of man and woman, what that means, who holds what role and then reversing it.

Hemingway has been criticized for his use of repetitious dialogue, but here it works well to create an aura of crazy. Catherine repeats her insane pleas, her cloying begging, her bizarre demands, and it drives you nuts. So, well done! Hemingway has also been criticized for, well, just being boring. He writes about people doing virtually nothing. As they say, write what you know, and after a while Hemingway did nothing but write, lounge about, eat and drink. So that's what he writes about and honestly, I don't need to know what kind of drink you had, because buddy, you drink inconsequentially ALL the time.

The posthumously released The Garden of Eden reads like a repeat. He worked on it about 20 years later, but it feels so very much like The Sun Also Rises that one wonders why Hemingway would write the same novel over again and try to pass it off as something new. Well, maybe he'd run out of ideas.

Where it diverges is in the sheer nakedness with which Hemingway approaches the transgender subject. Sure, he created manly women in the past, but this is flat out ambiguous and explicit sexuality. I find it strange that he should delve into the topic considering he all but abandoned his son Gregory after he came out to him as a transgender person. The idea apparently seemed abhorrent to Ernest, so why would he write an entire novel about it? Well, maybe he'd run out of ideas. Yes, running out of ideas has become a theme here. I think it's a fair criticism. I mean, if nothing else, you know you've been at it too long if you find that yourself as a writer writing a novel about a writer writing a novel.

Gregory had aspirations to be a writer, after a fashion. In the '70s he wrote a generally well-received biography on his dad. Then this book mysteriously appeared in the '80s. Perhaps the Hemingway family estate was running a bit low on funds and thought, hey, why not refill the coffers with a "new" Hemingway novel. Fans would go gaga over a newly unearthed book by Papa.

I'm jumping to conclusions like taking a leap off a cliff, but stranger things have happened. I don't doubt that there was an unfinished Hemingway manuscript laying about (apparently there was more than one), but there are so many things about this one that lead me to believe that in the very least it was tampered with to a great degree. Here are a few of those things:


The aforementioned deep look into a subject Hemingway seemed to be repulsed by.

At one point the character talks about writing "in dad's style." It's like Gregory giving the reader a cheeky wink-wink. And, whoever the writer is, he does it more than once.

Copying Papa's style is not impossible. In fact, reviewers making fun of Hemingway do it all the time here on Goodreads.

The story David is writing deals heavily with "daddy" issues, which - from what I've read - Gregory suffered severely from.

The big game hunter in David's story is Hemingway and the hunter's son sounds just like Gregory.

He says "fuck hunting". Hemingway would never say fuck hunting! :)



Of course all this could be Hemingway just writing about his relationship with his son, so I don't put a great deal of stock into it. Remember, this is just a loose theory.

Regardless of whether this is Ernest Hemingway's book or not, the fact is, this book is not a good read. There are some good points: the character study of a young author and that of a nutter going off the deep end. But this could've been summed up in half the time. This is not a long book, but it's too long for the very little that happens. Boredom set in for this reader at about the midway point.



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Sunday, September 14, 2014

Terminal World by Alastair Reynolds. Not terminal at all.

TERMINAL WORLD
Alastair Reynolds
Gollancz 2009

Reviewed by carol
4/5 stars


Terminal World is my first Alastair Reynolds, a science-fiction writer known for galaxy-spanning space operas, and has a plot and tone pretty much the opposite of space opera:

Meroka, meet Doctor Quillon,’ Fray said. ‘He is, as you correctly surmised, the new package. I’ve just been telling him you you’re going to do such an excellent job of getting him out of Spearpoint.’
‘Hope you told him it isn’t going to be no joyride… Looking at three hard days to get you out, if all goes to plan, which mostly it won’t. Three days of dirt and worry and less sleep than you’ve ever had in your life. Then we have to find the people Fray’s lined up to take you to Fortune’s Landing, and hope they haven’t changed their minds.’
‘You can throw in danger as well,’ Fray said. ‘Cutter’s ticked off some angels. They’ve got deep penetration agents in Neon Heights, and they’ll be aiming to stop him from leaving town.’” 

The story begins with a perspective bait and switch as we follow two employees of a morgue wagon waiting for their 9 to 5 to be over. En route home, they are diverted to pick up a body on a nearby ledge. Surprisingly, it is not just an ordinary body–it is the body of an angel, an advanced human from a more elevated and technologically superior zone. There’s a certain morgue coroner who pays a little extra for unusual specimens, so the two attendants deliver the body to Dr. Quillon. It turns out the angel is just barely alive, having made the one-way journey to warn Quillon the angels are coming for him. Quillon heads to his friend and underworld contact, Fray, a former policeman. Fray’s been expecting trouble ever since Quillon revealed who he is and strongly encourages Quillon to leave the city quickly.  Fray provides an escort, Meroka, to lead Quillon out of Spearpoint. She’s a fierce fighter with a tendency to shoot second, cuss first, and has a chip on her shoulder when it comes to anything angelic. The two leap from frying pan to fire as they try to escape Spearpoint. The only possible refuge is the Swarm, the only other large colony of people on the planet. Before they reach Swarm, they’ll have to cross a wasteland, avoiding roving bands of Skullboys and the carnivorous cyborgs, the Vorg. And from there, it gets stranger.


The setting for Terminal World is a fascinating concept. It takes the idea of microecosystems as applied to mountains and does something quite similar with technology. In ecosystems, a different biome corresponds with shifts in elevation, small ecosystems adapted to changes in atmosphere and precipitation. Lower levels in the Sierra Nevadas, you might see mixed grasslands and woodlands, mid-levels are varieties of pine forests, and at the highest alpine elevations, there will be no trees at all.  

So it is with Spearpoint, a needle-like tower extending into the upper atmosphere of the planet–only instead of environmental zones, there are technological zones.  The highest up, the closer you are to ‘angels,’ flight, and nanotechnology. Next level down, electricity and computers. Further down, the industrial age. Go further, and you descend into Horsetown, where mechanical items barely function. To complicate travel, as life crosses ‘zones,’ it is subject to ‘zone sickness’ (the world’s version of altitude sickness), particularly if the shift from one zone to the next has a steep technology curve. I was impressed with the world-building and thought zones were an extremely creative idea. While they aren’t well explained at first, the journey and careful reading elaborates on many details–except how they originated. The ending has some explanation, but I rather thought there were more fantastical overtones than science ones.


Characterization was my sticking point, the reason I was able to set it down for a week or two and pursue shinier books. It was hard to find emotional resonance with any of the characters. Given the length of the book, I didn’t have the feeling that I knew very much about the major players, even by the end. Although the narrative is largely from Quillon’s head, I found him the least interesting. Inconsistent in ideals and action, he acted more as a mouthpiece for philosophical/moral issues than a person with his own drive. Although his concerns often served to move the plot forward, I did a flashback to the old days of literary fiction and sci-fi when the story was a treatise about human nature as much as plotting. I appreciated two of the female characters, and found they interested me more than Quillon. Meroka, Quillon’s guide out of Spearpoint, is the loner guide, cynical and practical. Curtana is an airship captain, almost loyal to a fault and devoted to her ship. I enjoyed their characters and their determination. I was less enamored of a mother-daughter duo who were essentially defined in terms of their relationship.


Plot is sweeping in scope. While it initially has a feel of detective noir, a dark and dangerous night, it quickly segues into a fugitive chase, ricocheting from hazard to hazard. When Quillon and Meroka meet the airship-borne Swarm city, the prior defenders of the Spearpoint, the story shifts again. It becomes more about city politics, ethics, exploration and a potential rescue mission. The result is an amazing variety of ideas and events crammed into one book; while I found each discrete segment told well, it doesn’t quite gestalt at the end.

The ending was the really most disappointing aspect of the story. Not because there was one (I really only have so much endurance for extreme length), but because it went into a slightly mystical scenario that turned out to have little resolution. 

Overall, there’s a little bit of kitchen sink to this story that makes it a bit indescribable. It has the length and detail of Way of Kings, the action of The Iron Jackal, but without the brisk dialogue and personal characterization to propel it into five-star territory. Certainly entertaining, but as always, your mileage may vary.


cross posted at my blog at:  http://clsiewert.wordpress.com/2014/08/30/terminal-world-by-alastair-reynolds/

The Liar Society

The Liar Society
by Lisa Roecker

Reviewed by Sesana
Two out of five stars

Publisher summary:

Kate Lowry didn't think dead best friends could send e-mails. But when she gets an e-mail from Grace, she’s not so sure.

To: KateLowry@pemberlybrown.edu
Sent: Sun 9/14 11:59 PM
From: GraceLee@pemberlybrown.edu
Subject: (no subject)

Kate,
I'm here…
sort of.
Find Cameron.
He knows.
I shouldn't be writing.
Don't tell.
They'll hurt you.

Now Kate has no choice but to prove once and for all that Grace’s death was more than just a tragic accident. But secrets haunt the halls of her elite private school. Secrets people will do anything to protect. Even if it means getting rid of the girl trying to solve a murder...


My Review:

I liked the idea of a mystery set at an exclusive prep school. And it starts off strong, with an email from a dead friend. But it kind of stagnates after that.

The biggest stumbling block is our protagonist, Kate. Despite narrating the entire book, she never really emerges as more than a sketch of a character. Neither does anyone else, really. Worse, most of her girl detective stuff comes from being directed to specific places at specific times by the mysterious person emailing her from her dead friend's account. Which, incidentally, she never really considers might be anyone but, something I had a really hard time swallowing from a character of her age. It should have been her theory all along.

Like I said, the other characters are flat and interesting as cardboard. I only kept reading to find out what happened in the end. And I was disappointed. There's a lack of resolution that's really unsatisfying. The basic idea isn't bad, but it needed more interesting characters, a protagonist who doesn't need quite so much nudging, and a more satisfying ending.

Friday, September 12, 2014

The Cold Dish. Delicious.

THE COLD DISH
CRAIG JOHNSON

Viking 2004


reviewed by carol
4 out of 5 stars


I knew in the first four pages that I was going to enjoy this book. 

It begins with Sheriff Walt Longmire of Absaroka County, Wyoming, sitting in his office, watching the geese fly south. Ruby, dispatcher/receptionist, interrupts his musings to tell him he has a call from Bob Barnes,  who wants to report a dead body he discovered when he and his son went to collect their sheep.
She leaned against the doorjamb and went to shorthand, ‘Bob Barnes, dead body, line one.’
I looked at the blinking red light on my desk and wondered vaguely if there was a way I could get out of this.
‘Did he sound drunk?’
‘I am not aware that I’ve ever heard him sound sober….
‘Hey Bob. What’s up?’
‘Hey, Walt. You ain’t gonna believe this shit…’ He didn’t sound particularly drunk, but Bob’s a professional, so you never can tell.

He takes the report from Bob, verifies the information on the phone with Billy, Bob’s equally drunk son, and just as he’s about to hang up,
“‘Yes sir… Hey, Shuuriff?’ I waited. ‘Dad says for you to bring beer, we’re almost out.’

Walt tells Ruby “that if anybody else called about dead bodies, we had already filled the quota for a Friday and they should call back next week,” and heads to his car. He swings by the drive-through liquor store, and on his way out of town, passes by one of his deputies who is seriously irritated with traffic detail and delegates the job to her instead.

This is no ordinary sheriff, and this is no ordinary gunslinger book. Sheriff Walt has lived a hard fifty years, most of it in the immediate area, unless you count college in California and those years in Vietnam. His best friend is another Vietnam vet, a local Cheyenne Indian, Henry Standing Bear. Walt’s voice is dry, humorous, self-depreciating, and more than a little depressed.  He’s also more than a little obsessed with the rape of a Cheyenne girl, a case that has been bothering him for the last three years. Unlike the typical detective haunted by an unsolved case, Walt caught the guilty parties, but justice wasn’t handed out for a variety of social and political reasons. When the body Bob finds turns out to be one of the lead defendants, Walt suspects someone is out for revenge, possibly even Henry. 

Like many mystery investigators, Walt is emotionally wounded, carrying grief from his wife’s death three years earlier.  Henry has had enough and believes its time to encourage–or kick–Walt out of his rut, and Walt finds personal motivation when a beautiful local woman, Vonnie, flirts with him. As much as it is a story about a murder, it is also a story about Walt and his friendship with Henry, as well as small town dynamics and the complex relationships that hold people together. 

The characters feel human, and even brief appearances feel nicely developed. I enjoyed the acidic, opinionated Ruby, Walt’s two deputies, Vic and Turk, each going through their own challenges. The idiotic over-confident twins were enough to make Walt and me long to shoot them. The lingering sadness of the Cheyenne girl’s father, Lonnie, and his admittance of human frailty along with his laughable speech patterns made him one of the more moving characters. The prior sheriff, Lucian, comes out of retirement from assisted living to give Walt a hand, and while he adds some politically incorrect spice, he’s somewhat redeemed through his honesty and honor. I also appreciate that women appear in many different roles in this book, as friends, fellow professionals, love interests. It’s a nice change from the mysteries where women show up only as victim/love interest.


There’s nice moments of humor threaded through this book. Most of it comes from Walt’s dry law enforcement humor, the kind that is meant to keep the devils at bay more than mock others. He reflects at the death scene, where the dead body has been lying, examined and nibbled by a flock of sheep,


Yea, verily, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will live forever. If I don’t, I sure as hell won’t become an unattended death in the state of Wyoming with sheep shit all over me.”  

 Then there’s Al, providing some much-needed comic relief for the reader–and for Walt–at a particularly tense moment:


“There was a halfhearted attempt at a Tiki theme with native paintings of naked women and carved wooden sculptures as decoration. The most amazing stacks of magazines and catalogs towered against the walls; National Geographic and American Rifleman made up the visible majority. It was like being in the dead letter office on Fiji.”

Writing is pleasantly sophisticated for the genre, and nice mix of dialogue and description. While Walt and Henry may make Lone Range references, they also reference Steinbeck, Shakespeare and even throw in a little French. For those who enjoy it, there’s also a fair bit of local history mixed in, particularly relating to General Custer and the Sharps gun. Most of the violence occurs off-scene, and is not particularly gory. Thriller elements come late in the story. There’s some semi-mystical elements that I found interesting, creating a strange parallel to my most recent read, Harbinger of the Storm, about a priest and his search for killers, both corporeal and supernatural. It cemented my feeling that this case was about Walt more than Melisaa; his need for resolution, his need to move on; his need for trustworthy friends. The spiritualism added moments of moving imagery to an already emotionally complex book.

  I’m looking forward to checking out the next book and seeing where Walt is headed.


cross posted at my blog: http://clsiewert.wordpress.com/2014/09/06/the-cold-dish-by-craig-johnson/