Monday, March 9, 2015

Steve Carella Hunts for the Killer of the "Calypso King"


Reviewed by James L. Thane
Four out of five stars

George Chadderton is a musician who bills himself as the "Calypso King." Late one rainy September night, he leaves a gig with his manager and as the two are walking down the street someone comes up from behind them and shoots George to death. The killer also wounds George's manager in the shoulder. The manager falls to the ground and the killer stands over him and fires directly at his head. But the gun is empty and the killer is forced to flee, leaving the manager still alive.

A few hours later, it's still pouring rain, and a hooker who's looking for one last trick is shot to death with the same gun that killed Chadderton. Chadderton's murder took place in Isola's 87th Precinct and the case falls to veteran detectives Steve Carella and Meyer Meyer. They wake up the newly-widowed Mrs. Chadderton to give her the bad news while surreptitiously checking to see if she might have been the shooter herself. (They don't yet know that there is a second victim because the hooker was killed in another precinct and it will take a while before anyone realizes that the ballistics match.)

Mrs. Chadderton is a very attractive woman who works at a topless club. She appears to be devastated by her husband's death and has no idea who might have wanted to kill him. Sadly, there appear to be no leads at all, and in investigating the victim's background, the detectives discover nothing of interest save for the fact that Chadderton's brother, Santo, seems to have disappeared into thin air seven years earlier.

That's neither here nor there, and the case presents one of the toughest challenges to confront Carella and friends in any of the first thirty-three books in this series. This is also one of the best books in the series, and it first appeared in 1979. By then, McBain had really hit his stride and this is one that any fan of the series will not want to miss.

A Pleasure To Read Of Vietnam Horrors

MatterhornMatterhorn by Karl Marlantes
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was in the shit. Karl Marlantes put me there.

Matterhorn is a deep and penetrating look within the Vietnam War. It's the sort of horribly realistic novel that can only be reproduced by the survivor of an atrocity.

Highly decorated Vietnam War veteran Karl Marlantes had been at work on this book since the war ended. If you ever need an example of an artistic project into which the artist has poured his blood, sweat and tears, you can point to Matterhorn.

The book follows 2nd Lieutenant Mellas, a squeaky clean Ivy League kid who signs up and intentionally gets himself stuck in with the grunts, the high school flunkies who make up the front line fodder. Mellas wants to be one of the boys. He also secretly longs for medals and promotion. His desires and inexperience could get him killed. It could get a lot of boys killed and the boys don't like that.

Matterhorn is not all doom and gloom from beginning to end. I doubt I would've finished it if it were. No, Marlantes does an excellent job in building the tension. He starts things off light. There is levity through out in its proper place. Then the trouble is escalated. The tension is tightened. You feel the frustration, elation, despair...hope.

I hesitated to read this. After all, wasn't it enough that I'd seen Platoon and Full Metal Jacket? Vietnam is a sad chapter in history. Did I really want to revisit it? However, word on the street was persistent: this is great, don't miss this. I'm glad I didn't give it a miss. And neither should you.

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That Old Familiar Gauntlet...

A Clash of Kings (A Song of Ice and Fire, #2)A Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If the first book, A Game of Thrones felt to me a little like stepping into an iron maiden, its sequel A Clash of Kings felt like slipping on a well-smithied gauntlet. Ooooh yeah...feel it.

The problem with the first book was that I felt poked and prodded with a 101 different characters, all new to me and all with their own disparate agendas. It took me half the book just to get the names straight and it's a huge honkin' book! But with A Clash of Kings there aren't nearly as many new characters and new story lines to contend with, so I was able to relax and enjoy the read, rather than feel as if I was back in school cramming for a test.

Okay, and now for the twist!

I don't think A Clash of Kings is as good a book as the first. It's perfectly fine. The story is linear, the narrative flow makes sense, there's plenty of action, but there's also a lack of enchantment that the first book had in spades. Technically there is just as much and maybe more magic in the second book - it definitely leans more on fantasy elements - but the MAGICALNESS is missing. To put it another way: The first book swept me away like a pretty pretty princess! The second book bought me lunch at Mickey D's and dumped me on the curb.

In the end, I think I'll give them both the same 4 star rating, but for different reasons. A Game of Thrones evoked, entertained, confused, but enthralled. A Clash of Kings carried on the story smooth and steady.

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