Category Archives: Fiction

The hersir’s new clothes

I mentioned a while back that we’re going to bring out another paperback edition of The Year of the Warrior. Baen Books continues to publish the e-book version, but we’ll be doing it in dead tree. Our talented friend Jeremiah Humphries has come up with a cover I’ve approved, and I’m over the moon with it.

The Year of the Warrior (paper)

We don’t have a definite date for the book release yet, but you can be sure we’ll let you know.

‘The Killing Season,’ by Mason Cross

The Killing Season

Carter Blake, the continuing hero of a thriller series authored by Mason Cross, is a sort of special investigative contractor. Even the FBI will call him in from time to time, because of his unique gifts. That’s what happens in The Killing Season, the first of the books.

Caleb Wardell is a convicted serial killer, nearing his execution date. He’s supposed to be under top security, but somehow a van transporting him gets hijacked by Russian gangsters. Wardell is not slow to take advantage of the situation. The Russians die and Wardell is in the wind.

Carter Blake has met Wardell briefly once, a long time ago. He has a gift for reading criminals, getting into their heads and anticipating their next moves. One moment was enough for him to know that his best move would be to kill Wardell before he could do any more harm, but he missed the opportunity. Now he’s determined to remedy that mistake.

He’s teamed up with a female FBI agent, Elaine Banner, an ambitious single mother. Then – for no reason they can understand – they are pulled from the case. But that doesn’t put them off the trail. Wardell has threatened people each of them care about, and they’re going to stop him – preferably with extreme prejudice.

The Killing Season is an exciting book. The writing was good and the characters intriguing – though I found Carter Blake’s skill set a little implausible. I also found the surprise final revelation unconvincing. And it hinted (to me) at political bias.

Still, an entertaining novel. Moderately recommended, with cautions for adult stuff, but not extreme.

‘The Fractured,’ by Brett Battles

The Fractured

When I discovered there was a new entry in Brett Battles’ enjoyable Jonathan Quinn series, it was the work of but a moment for me to download it for my Kindle. The Fractured is an enjoyable thriller, like all its predecessors.

When The Fractured begins, our hero, Jonathan Quinn, and his wife Orlando are still recovering from the disaster that occurred in the last book – where an important member of their team died. Not only did they lose that person, but there was a rupture with Quinn’s old protégé, Nate, who has vanished.

But the bills need to be paid, and they’re delighted when they’re contacted by an old friend, who is trying to revitalize the secret semi-government office that used to employ them as “cleaners” (removers of evidence after “wet ops”). There’s a chance to get inside the compound of a white nationalist militia. This job gets done successfully.

But there’s a bonus. What they find in the compound gives them a chance to nail the money man who’s been funding the group. And not only can they get him, but they might also get a mysterious international arms merchant, a man who keeps his identity so secret that few have ever seen his face.

But one of the few who has is the missing Nate.

If they can locate Nate and persuade him to cooperate, they may be able to prevent an apocalyptic disaster in the United States.

The Jonathan Quinn novels are neither deep nor fancy. But they’re fun and they move fast. Recommended. Cautions for language and violence, but not as bad as many.

‘The Crooked Staircase,’ by Dean Koontz

The Crooked Staircase

…In this world of rapid change, there were few things to which you could hold fast. Wisdom acquired through centuries of experience, traditions, and beloved neighborhoods eroded and washed away and with them went the people who found solace and meaning in those things, who once would have been part of your life for most of your life. Now a rootless population, believing in nothing but the style and fashion of the moment, produced a culture of surface conformity under which the reality was a loveless realm in which soon everyone would live as a stranger in a strange land.

Oh man. I thought this one would kill me. Dean Koontz’s Jane Hawk novels are tours de force in the thriller genre, and The Crooked Staircase just ups the stakes and speeds the pace.

This time out, Jane Hawk, former FBI agent and now a wanted fugitive, framed because she knows too much about a horrific conspiracy in high places, is hunting for the remaining top conspirator whose identity she knows. Finding him and “breaking” him are easy, compared to the fresh mysteries his information generates.

Meanwhile, an oddly matched, ruthless team of government agents are hunting for Jane’s son, whom she has hidden away with people who (she hopes) they can’t identify. But the agents have access to an infinite amount of information, and they are patient. And they’re getting closer.

The tension and suspense just never let up in The Crooked Staircase. Koontz’s skill in creating characters you really like and care about just makes it more nail-biting. Sometimes you’ll want to laugh, and sometimes you’ll want to cry. But you won’t be able to put it down.

Highly recommended. Cautions for language, violence, and adult themes, jolting in their effect but fairly mild by the standards of the genre.

‘The Whispering Room,’ by Dean Koontz

The Whispering Room

Those chosen for elimination were on what the conspirators called “the Hamlet list,” a fact Jane had learned from one of the two men she’d killed in self-defense the previous week. With the self-righteous air of a politician justifying graft as a form of social justice, he had explained that if someone had killed Hamlet in the first act of Shakespeare’s play, more people would have been alive at the end. They seemed really to believe that this ignorant literary interpretation justified the murder of 8,400 people a year.

I haven’t made a secret of my dislike for “Rambette” stories, where tiny little women run around beating up big, bad guys in the manner of Sly Stallone. However, I’m willing to cut Dean Koontz some slack, because he’s Dean Koontz and his work delights me. I enjoyed the first book in the Jane Hawk series, The Silent Corner, and The Whispering Room is equally good.

In a Minnesota town, a sweet, beloved teacher of children with learning disabilities kills herself in a horrific act of terrorism. The town sheriff, Luther Tillman, grows suspicious when federal agents sweep in to handle the investigation and put out information he knows to be false. His decision to investigate further will put him – and his family – in mortal danger. And worse.

Meanwhile Jane Hawk, our heroine, a former FBI agent and now the FBI’s most wanted fugitive, continues her quest to find and unmask the leaders of a nation-wide conspiracy aiming to kill off people who might alter history in the “wrong” way, and to create an army of brain-controlled automatons. She must travel in disguise, deal with criminals, and keep on the move to retain her freedom and her hope – and to protect her son, who is in the conspiracy’s sights.

I can find nothing to criticize in the storytelling in The Whispering Room. The tension is almost unbearable, the action (generally) plausible, the characters interesting. I particularly love how author Koontz finds ways to remind us that, even in the most perilous times, there is still goodness in the world.

Cautions for violence and language. Highly recommended.

‘Wrongly Convicted,’ by P. F. Ford

Wrongly Accused

P. F. Ford’s Slater and Norman series has been reading candy for me for some time now. The books are not demanding, but they’re cheerful and likable. The previous book in the series showed signs of a rushed release. Wrongly Convicted was better.

Former police detective Dave Slater comes back to England from a vacation in Thailand and decides to join his friend Norman Norman in his private detective agency. Business isn’t quite booming, so they’re happy to be approached by a woman whose husband was convicted ten years before of murdering another woman. She is convinced he’s innocent, but her source of information is dead. Now she asks them to find the real murderer.

It’s a feature (or bug) of this series that secondary characters tend to change in serious ways between books. This time out, Slater’s girlfriend “Watson,” who went with him to Thailand, turns out to be something he never suspected. The police come to question him after the car he loaned her turns up demolished by a bomb.

Wrongly Convicted isn’t top-tier fiction, but I liked it and always enjoy a new release in the series. I thought the conclusion was a little artificial, but not enough to complain about in terms of the genre. Only minor cautions for adult themes.

Reading report: ‘Macbeth,’ by Jo Nesbo

Macbeth

My feelings about “Scandinavian Noir” are pretty well established. With rare exceptions, I dislike the genre. I find it nihilistic and depressing.

But I’ve read a couple of Jo Nesbø’s Harry Hole books all the way through. And when I saw that he’d written an updated version of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, set in the police force of a fictional Scottish city, I thought it was an interesting concept, and bought the book.

Alas.

I’d only gotten a fifth of the way through when I noticed I was approaching my reading with dread. This was a journey I didn’t really want to take.

The pleasure of Shakespeare’s “Scottish play,” (as we “actors” call it), is largely in being able to hate Macbeth almost from the start. He’s pretty one-dimensional, and you look forward to seeing MacDuff lay on against him.

Macbeth here is the leader of a SWAT team when the book starts, a pretty admirable guy. He has a couple serious flaws, though, and it’s easy to see how he could be corrupted.

I felt like I knew what was going to happen, and I didn’t think there’d be much enjoyment in it. There was no pleasure here. No moments of lightness. So I put it aside.

It’s well written, and if this is your cup of tea, you’re likely to enjoy it. Cautions for adult material.

‘A Man Too Old For a Place Too Far,’ by Mark W. Sasse

A Man Too Old For a Place Too Far

“Are you real or am I hallucinating?”

She laughed hysterically at that question. “I could ask you the same question. You’ve lived your life like a fictitious person.”

A sort of a cross between A Christmas Carol and Winter’s Tale. That’s what comes to mind in trying to describe Mark W. Sasse’s A Man Too Old For a Place Too Far. The book is more complicated than Dickens’ book, and less brilliant than Helprin’s (but what isn’t?). But it’s that sort of thing. Kind of.

Francis Frick is a 72-year-old banker, and a harder man than Ebenezer Scrooge. He happily does business with arms dealers who supply some of the world’s worst despots. He has no friends, terrorizes his employees, and treats his unmarried daughter with coldness and insult.

It all begins to change one night when he discovers a small, bright, laughing creature – something like an angel or a fairy – hovering over his bed, eating a pomegranate. Her name is Bee. Francis refuses to believe in her until she transports him to a desert island. It’s beautiful there, but there’s nothing for him to eat or drink. His suffering is real enough.

This kicks off a series of transportations (some of them quite disturbing), in which he gets to see the consequences of his amoral actions in the world. A desire begins to grow in him to make up for his sins as best he can – but has no idea how. Doing good is outside his expertise. Bee, and her ominous guardian Ash, exhort him to find something “that doesn’t matter.” That’s the key. It all leads to an explosive climax.

It’s hard to evaluate an idiosyncratic book like A Man Too Old For a Place Too Far. It’s the beginning of a trilogy, so a lot of things remain unexplained. We don’t learn clearly what sort of creatures Bee and Ash are, and what their purpose is. This might even be a Christian book (Sasse is a well-known last name in American Lutheran theology), but I’m not sure.

But the book was fascinating, easy to read, and enjoyable. I look forward to reading more. Recommended.

‘Married Lies,’ by Chris Collett

Married Lies

Number five in the Detective Tom Mariner series of police procedurals by Chris Collett, set in Birmingham, England. In Married Lies, a wealthy and well-liked woman is found dead in her house, poisoned in a particularly cruel way. And another woman contacts the police about a stalker. There have been strange phone calls and unrequested packages in the mail, and she’s sure someone has been following her home at night.

Tom Mariner works the murder case, though he’s still reeling emotionally from the break-up of his relationship with a very good woman who finally ran out of patience. He assigns his subordinate Millie Khatoon to the stalking case. Both cases gradually converge, and the end of the book is a real shocker.

I enjoy the Tom Mariner books, and this may have been the best so far (though the ending was disturbing). But I’m stymied in reading the series, since books #6 and #7 are only available in dead tree form, while #8, the most recent, is available for Kindle. I don’t want to jump ahead, so I guess I’ll wait for the intervening books in ebook form, before going on to #8.

Cautions for intense situations and language.

Publishing news

The Year of the Warrior
The beloved old cover.

Had a very nice moment on Facebook today. One of my readers posted a list of novels that affected his life, and The Year of the Warrior was at the top of the list. He said, “Each of these moved me spiritually and intellectually. I connected with the characters and the story surrounding them, and finished the book feeling emotionally deeper in my understanding of the world and others.”

Mark Twain said something along the lines of “I can live a whole month off a good compliment.” I think my food budget should be covered for most of June.

In a related matter, I guess I’ll mention that I’ve decided to bring out paperback versions of some of my novels through Create Space. (Actually Ori Pomerantz is doing the real work.) I’m starting with The Year of the Warrior, because then I’ll be able to sell it along with West Oversea at Viking events and have them in sequence. Hailstone Mountain should come later.

The e-book of TYOTW is published by Baen, but it turns out I have full rights to publish a palpable version. Can’t use Baen’s cover though, so our friend Jeremiah Humphries is working on a new one.

Oh yes, don’t forget that Viking Legacy, the book I translated, is now available!

Are There No Real Quests Anymore?

In those days, I was restless without a book in my hands, without the hope of some new story around every turn to enliven my deadening senses. Unlike most of my friends, I didn’t want a truck or a job or a scholarship; I wanted a horse and a quest and a buried treasure. But there were no real quests anymore. Not in my town.

Andrew Peterson describes his love of fantasy and science fiction as a kid, how that called him out of himself, and what the Lord did with it in his life.

I looked out her window and saw crabgrass, old trucks, clouds of mosquitoes, and gravel roads, a rural slowth that drawled, “Here’s your life, son. Make do.” But my books said, “Here’s a sword, lad. Get busy.” A persistent fear sizzled in my heart, a fear that there existed no real adventure other than the one on the page, and that I was doomed never to know it.

Peterson’s website, The Rabbit Room, is a wealth of imaginative writing, talking, and singing.

‘Baby Lies,’ by Chris Collett

Baby Lies

Another novel in the Inspector Tom Mariner series, by Chris Collett.

Baby Lies begins with the heartbreaking abduction of a baby from a “creche” (that’s what the English call a day care center for very young children, as I understand it). This was the first time the mother in question had ever left her baby in anyone else’s care, and she’s understandably distraught.

The Birmingham police pull out all the stops in investigating, and everyone is thankful when the baby gets returned unharmed a few days later. But there’s more going on than that, as Inspector Mariner begins to realize when elements of a previous unidentified body case start intersecting with the baby snatching. What they begin to uncover is bigger and darker than they could imagine.

Meanwhile Mariner and his girlfriend Anna are planning to move to a smaller, quieter town. It’s what Anna wants, and Mariner is willing to go along to please her. But can it work for them?

I found Baby Lies suspenseful and compelling. The ending was a little disappointing, but only from an emotional perspective, not a storytelling or plot perspective.

Cautions for mild adult stuff.

‘The Fixer,’ by Joseph Finder

The Fixer

Holly’s tiny apartment was lovely, elegant, and jewel-like, like the woman herself; though also a bit cramped and impractical, like the woman herself.

I praised Joseph Finder’s Suspicion a few reviews back, but said I wouldn’t read more from the author. That was just because I identified strongly with the hero, and the high-tension story kind of raised my blood pressure. But our commenter Paul persuaded me to try Finder’s The Fixer, and I succumbed. This one wasn’t as nerve-wracking for me, mainly because I didn’t quite believe in the protagonist. The hero of The Fixer, Rick Hoffman, was – in my opinion – kind of a moron. I mean, if I discovered a couple million in cash hidden in my father’s house, I’m pretty sure I would not try to keep it secret and hope nobody would notice. I’d go straight to the police and hope to collect some kind of finder’s fee. Because if there’s one thing I know from novels and movies, it’s that money like that has to be dirty, and dirty people will be looking for it.

Rick is a former investigative journalist who traded in his principles for a high-paying job writing puff pieces for a Boston magazine. Now the magazine is going all-online, and he’s been reduced to “contributor” status. This loses him his apartment and his fiancée. Now he’s living in his father’s unheated house, left derelict since the old man had a stroke about 20 years ago. That’s how he discovers a hidden room with a big pile of money in it. Rick has suspicions about its source, as his father used to be a “fixer,” a bag man for corrupt city politicians.

And sure enough, men start following Rick around, and he gets abducted and threatened with maiming. But that only makes him more determined to learn his father’s secrets and hold on to the money (I thought the plot lost some plausibility at that point).

The Fixer was an exciting book, but I had trouble believing it. Rick is portrayed as a very bright guy, but it seemed to me he made a lot of really stupid decisions. He also got beat up and injured a lot, without being deterred in the least.

But it was gripping, and the prose was superior. The politics leaned left, but weren’t preachy. So, recommended, with the usual grownup cautions.

‘Innocent Lies,’ by Chris Collett

Innocent Lies

I’m working my way through Chris Collett’s Detective Tom Mariner series of police procedurals. Our commenter Paul revealed to me after my last review that Collett is not, as I had assumed, a man, but is in fact a woman. Kudos to her for doing an excellent job creating plausible male characters, something that – in my experience and prejudice at least – most female authors have a hard time doing.

When Innocent Lies begins, DI Mariner is working on the disappearance of a lower-class teenaged boy. He has history with the family, and so is upset when his temporary boss pulls him off that case to work on another disappearance. This one is the daughter of a well-to-do Muslim family. Mariner feels, with some justification, that there’s discrimination in the allocation of resources.

The story turns out to be baffling and complex – the missing girl had secrets from her parents, and racial tensions make themselves visible.

I didn’t enjoy Innocent Lies as much as the previous two I’ve read in the series, but it’s a compelling story. I think what I mainly missed was more of Mariner’s girlfriend Anna, who appears to be the most understanding girlfriend in history. I’m not sure I believe in her, but I like her.

One thing that troubled me was what looked like factual a reference to a hate crime in America. To the best of my knowledge, it never happened.

Oh yes, I figured out whodunnit.

Still, recommended. Cautions for the usual.

62 Novels Judged Not Funny Enough for Wodehouse Prize

The Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize is the United Kingdom’s only literary award for comic writing. Last year, it went to Bridget Jones’s Baby by Helen Fielding.  Two works tied for the prize in 2016, The Mark and the Void by Paul Murray and The Improbability of Love by Hannah Rothschild. I believe we mentioned these works and the Alexander McCall Smith’s 2015 win earlier in this space.

But the 62 novels submitted for consideration this year were only funny enough to produce “many a wry smile,” not the “unanimous, abundant laughter” the judges were hoping to have.

Judge and publisher David Campbell said, “We look forward to awarding a larger rollover prize next year to a hilariously funny book.”

“There were a lot of witty submissions, bloody good novels, but they weren’t comic novels. The alchemy was not there.” (via Prufrock News)

via GIPHY