Category Archives: Fiction

Auralia’s Colors by Jeffrey Overstreet

With the sequel to Auralia’s Colors coming in mid-September, I will post an overdue review of Overstreet’s first book. I keep thinking I should give a plot summary up to a point, but I won’t. I’ll give you my original loop the loop review. Perhaps you will find it readable, if not enlightening.

Many will remember that the Bible states “the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil,” but the sacred text goes further than that. “Some by longing for [money] have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs” (1 Timothy 6:10). Change that warning to the love of colorful things, and you have a fair summary of Jeffrey Overstreet’s debut fantasy, Auralia’s Colors.

The people of Abascar live in browns and grays. Many years ago they gave up every bit of color they had to please the Queen, whose idea was to collect and mature the beauty of the kingdom before returning it to the people, royally blessed by her. In this way, the whole kingdom would be glorified over the other kingdoms of the Expanse. But the Queen never returned the promised honor to her people, so anyone making or finding something beautiful is required to give it to the king for storing in the vast royal vault.

Enter an orphan with enchanting spirit and eyes for nature’s color. Continue reading Auralia’s Colors by Jeffrey Overstreet

Repost: Hunting Down Amanda, by Andrew Klavan

(And another Klavan review recycled tonight. Have a good weekend. I’ll be playing Viking for a Sons of Norway youth event at Danebo Hall in Minneapolis on Saturday. I’ll let you know how it goes, if I live.)

Hunting Down Amanda is a masterful book. It’s fascinating in its own right, as a brilliantly crafted, smart, moving thriller.

It’s also fascinating to the Christian reader as an artifact of the conversion process. Because Klavan, who was not a Christian when he wrote it, was clearly on the way, and his growing interest in matters eternal informs the whole product.

The Amanda of the title is Amanda Dodson, a five-year-old girl who, when the story begins, witnesses a terrible air crash. She wanders to the crash site, and is carried out by a man. Her mother, who has been searching for her, sees this and says, “Oh God. Oh God. Now they’ll come after her.” Continue reading Repost: Hunting Down Amanda, by Andrew Klavan

Repost: Damnation Street, by Andrew Klavan

(Tonight, another reposted Klavan review.)

One-line review of Andrew Klavan’s Damnation Street: “Woo-hoo!”

I got a Barnes & Noble gift certificate for Christmas, and Damnation Street was one of the books I chose to get with it. I don’t generally buy hardbacks, but I felt this was a special case.

It was, in fact, a more special case than I knew. Because it appears that Klavan’s Weiss and Bishop books (the previous ones are Dynamite Road and Shotgun Alley) are not going to be an ongoing series, but a trilogy (unless I read the ending wrong). Continue reading Repost: Damnation Street, by Andrew Klavan

Repost: Shotgun Alley, by Andrew Klavan

(Mark this down as a good day. I got an e-mail from somebody I’d been waiting to hear from, who’s sending me a FREE BOOK ABOUT VIKINGS [more information on that later]. I got going on a project I’ve been putting off in the library, and actually found it engrossing. Time flew. Also my doctor told me I could go off the iron supplement she’s had me on, which means I ought to have a lot less heartburn in my life. Below is another Klavan review, this one from October, 2006.)

Hard-boiled detective stories are one of my favorite genres.
So it was good news for me when I learned that Andrew Klavan, my favorite contemporary author, had begun a detective series (I love series! It’s almost like having real friends!).

And I wasn’t disappointed. If Klavan’s Weiss and Bishop series isn’t moving Hard-boiled into fertile new territory, it’s at least discovering new treasures in the old fields.

You gotcher tough-guy protagonist. You gotcher smart-guy protagonist. You gotcher psycho killers and your dangerous dames. You gotcher dead bodies and threats and violence. You gotcher subtextual deconstruction of postmodern philosophy. What’s not to like? Continue reading Repost: Shotgun Alley, by Andrew Klavan

Most Boring Book Ever?

Sherry can’t hack Walker Percy’s novel The Moviegoer. “Now I get it,” she writes. “This narrator, Binx Bolling, is nuts. But of course, he speaks truths in the midst of his madness. (Whoops, Eldest Daughter says I don’t get it at all. I’m Prufrock: ‘That is not it at all. That is not what I meant, at all.’)” Heh, heh. If I could, I’d go on a Walker Percy reading binge just to pique Sherry’s interest in reading more of his work. Probably wouldn’t work.

Fiction readers have better social skills?

Jackie Gingrich Cushman over at Townhall reports on a study from the University of Toronto which concludes that readers of fiction develop betters social skills than readers of nonfiction, because they learn vicariously about the results of various kinds of human interaction.

Funny, it never worked for me. But then my tombstone will say, “Here lies an outlier.” In fact, they’ll probably bury me across the street from the cemetery, so I can outlie some more.

It’s an interesting theory in any case.

Repost: The Uncanny, by Andrew Klavan

An Israeli newspaper somehow obtained the slip of paper that Barack Obama slipped into a crack in the Wailing Wall during his recent visit, according to this report. It’s traditional for visitors to leave such slips with prayers written on them. The newspaper printed the text of the prayer today.

I have very little time for the Democratic candidate, but that’s just beyond the pale. Shame on them.

Yesterday I panned Andrew Klavan’s The Animal Hour. Today I shall soften the blow to his ego (since I’m sure he follows this blog) by praising his horror novel, The Uncanny.

I kept thinking as I read The Uncanny, “This book is almost perfect. I wish I’d written it.”

I’d like to see it done as a movie, but only if they respected the text. Obsequiously. Because this book is like a fine Swiss watch, all its parts rotating and ratcheting together, making a small, regular “tick-tick” sound (which, by the way, is a recurring theme in the book).

The book begins with a short story called “Black Annie,” a note-perfect pastiche of a Gothic horror tale. The reader then discovers that it is being read aloud by Richard Storm, a Hollywood producer who has made a pile of money with a series of horror flicks, but has moved to England due to a personal setback.

He reads it at a London party, and when he finishes it a woman drops a glass. That brings about Storm’s first sight of Sophia Endering, a lovely, lonely, emotionally damaged heiress and art-gallery owner, with whom he falls immediately in love.

But Sophia has other things on her mind. A man spoke to her one night in the street, imploring her to watch to see who will buy a certain obscure painting at an auction. The man who buys it, he says, is the devil. He can’t do it himself, he says, because he’s going to be murdered. Which prediction comes true.

And Sophia is deeply troubled, because her own father has instructed her to buy the painting for him. “At any price.”

Richard is advised in his assault on Sophia’s romantic defenses by Harper Albright, the proprietress of a magazine devoted to supernatural phenomena. Harper is an interesting character, a resolute skeptic whose life is centered on a kind of affirmation of faith.

As he gets embroiled in Sophia’s perils, Richard finds that his own dreams—even his movies—seem to be entwined with the diabolical plot he uncovers, bit by bit. Other old stories, a ballad, and a memoir punctuate the story, and it all comes together in a climax worthy of Hollywood (as Richard can’t help noticing).

It’s a thriller and it’s a parable (a Christian book, I think, though there are no Christian characters). Women will enjoy the love story; guys will enjoy the adventure and thrills. I loved it.

Repost: The Animal Hour, by Andrew Klavan

(I’m bummed tonight. I stopped for groceries, and not only has my usual store rearranged the sections again [for the sole purpose, I’m convinced, of trying to get us to look at stuff we’ve already decided we don’t want to buy], but Banquet TV Dinners appears to have discontinued their Yankee Pot Roast meal. The things that made the Yankee Pot Roast irreplaceable were not only that it tasted surprisingly good, but it was only 210 calories. Oh yeah, and it was cheap. I’ll never stay on my diet now, and it’ll be all Banquet’s fault.

(Another Klavan review, this one from June, 2006. It has the distinction of being the only book of his that I’ve panned. It’s a stinker.)

I’ve been gushing over the books of Andrew Klavan recently (found one I hadn’t read in the store tonight—hurrah!). However, I feel obligated to warn you about one of them.

I finished The Animal Hour the other day. It’s one of Klavan’s earlier books, and I get the impression it was a kind of an experiment.

In my opinion, the experiment didn’t succeed.

It starts out with a great hook. A young woman in New York City goes in to her job and starts to settle down at her desk, when another woman comes into her office and asks her what she’s doing there. The conversation becomes a confrontation, and soon a number of employees have gathered. It quickly becomes clear that no one there has ever seen her before.

That’s a terrific start. Unfortunately, at least to my taste, the rest of the book doesn’t live up to it.

The mechanics of a great thriller are all there. Suspense mounts, and mysteries abound.

The problem is with an element that’s usually Klavan’s strong suit—the characters. There were very few characters in this book who raised my sympathy much. Most of them were creepy in one or several ways.

Also the gore level was high.

Also Christianity didn’t come off looking very good.

I’d skip this one.

Repost: The Scarred Man, by Keith Peterson (Andrew Klavan)

(My original plan was to repost all my previous Andrew Klavan reviews before addressing Empire of Lies, but I got carried away. So I’m picking up the reposts now. This is second in the series, and like the previous repost, comes from May 2006.)

Oh, by the way,
I forgot yesterday the first Andrew Klavan novel I read (actually it was written under the Keith Peterson pseudonym)–The Scarred Man. This is a psychological thriller with one of the best hooks I’ve ever read.

I love a great “book hook.” Perhaps my favorite is the beginning of The Man Who Wasn’t There by Roderick MacLeish (a much underappreciated novelist). That book (as I recall–I don’t have a copy) began with the main character, who was something of a celebrity, being recognized by a stranger sitting beside him on a plane. Instead of admitting to his identity, he played a trick he liked to play in such situations, claiming to be his own (non-existent) non-famous twin, whose story he made up on the spot.

The next morning he got up and read in the paper that this imaginary twin brother had been killed in a plane crash.

That’s a great book hook.

But the hook in The Scarred Man is almost as good.

Michael North is a young New York reporter who accepts an invitation to spend Christmas in Connecticut with his boss. There he meets the boss’s daughter, Susannah, and falls hopelessly in love in about a nanosecond.

To entertain themselves, the party members agree to tell ghost stories (I thought of you here, Phil). Michael makes up a story on the spur of the moment, telling a tale of a murderous, undead psychopath with a scar down the center of his face.

Susannah goes hysterical, shouting “Stop it! What are you trying to do to me!” She flees back to school before he can discuss it with her.

Later, when he drives up to Susannah’s college to talk to her, he pulls into the entrance and sees, in his headlights–the scarred man. When he finds Susannah, she tells him she’s been having nightmares about this man all her life.

The great thing is, this isn’t a supernatural novel.

Empire of Lies, by Andrew Klavan

I just finished reading Empire of Lies by Andrew Klavan, and I’m still decompressing.

I have a hard time imagining how this book can ever succeed commercially. But I sure hope it does.

As the story begins, the hero/narrator, Jason Harrow, a journalist turned realtor, is sitting in the back yard of his Midwestern home, watching his children play. He’s thinking about a girl who worked at his office, who’d made a pass at him. He didn’t take her up on it, but he can’t avoid a (purely hormonal) wistful feeling. Shortly thereafter he’s joined by his wife, and it’s obvious that they have an excellent relationship. She trusts him, and he deserves her trust.

Jason is being entirely honest with the reader. And that’s sort of the point of the whole book. He’s telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, even to his cost.

From the very beginning, references and turns of phrase warn us that he’s going to go through a terrible test; that he’s going to become famous, and not necessarily in a good way.

Jason goes inside the house to answer the phone, and (as so often happens in stories of this sort) the caller is a voice from his past. It’s Lauren, the woman he lived with in another life, when he resided in Manhattan, thought he was an intellectual, and was part of a very kinky sex “scene.” Jason is a Christian today. He’s turned his back on all that.

But when he agrees to go to New York to help Lauren out with a problem with her daughter, he doesn’t tell his wife about it. He has to go anyway, because his mother recently died and he needs to empty out her house. He doesn’t plan to break his marital vows. But his motives aren’t entirely pure, and he can’t bring himself to bring it into the open.

When he sees Lauren, he’s somewhat relieved to find that she’s changed. He no longer finds her attractive. But she talks him into looking for her daughter Serena, who has disappeared.

He finds the girl, sick drunk, in a night club and takes her to his mother’s house when he finds that Lauren isn’t at home. The girl is raving, and one of the things she says is, “I didn’t know they were going to kill him.” Continue reading Empire of Lies, by Andrew Klavan

Repost: Grand Klavan

(Note: Phil has suggested that, in honor of Andrew Klavan’s new release, Empire of Lies (which I’m reading now with great pleasure), I should repost my previous reviews on his work. That sounds like a very wise and thoughtful suggestion, but–more important–it means less work for me. So herewith, from my entry for May 16, 2006 on the old blog site, is my first Klavan review. This one concentrates on his blockbusters, True Crime and Don’t Say a Word.)

Back in the 90s I discovered an excellent mystery writer named Keith Peterson. His novels about reporter John Wells were exciting and smart, but the thing I really loved about them was that Peterson created characters I could really care about. I think I’ve said this before (and I’m sure I’ll say it again) but sympathetic characters are the thing I most require in a book.

Then Peterson just disappeared. (Actually there were a couple more Peterson books, but I missed them). I looked wistfully now and then at my John Wells novels, which I’d hung on to.

Recently I did a web search on Keith Peterson and made a wonderful discovery. Keith Peterson was a nom de plume for Andrew Klavan, the big thriller writer.

That took me to the used bookstore, and… wow. I mean, wow. Continue reading Repost: Grand Klavan