Saturday, November 11, 2006

Book Reviews: Echo Park and Born in Death

My pleasure reading of choice has always been mysteries. While I’ll watch any genre when it comes to movies or tv, I’m all about the mysteries when I spend my time actually reading. I’m generally pretty fussy about my mysteries, they need to be well written, compelling stories and/or characters.

Easily one of my favorite mystery writers, long since passed, is Mr. Rex Stout, author of the Nero Wolfe series. The thing about the Nero Wolfe series that made it the ultimate indulgent read was the dialogue. It still ranks supreme among the mysteries I have read (heck, it ranks up there with the likes of Shakespeare, and this is in the not-so-humble opinion of a former literature teacher). The mysteries may have been thinner than the meatier fare demanded by a society bombarded with true crime 24/7, but the character development and dialog still made them by far the best of the best. No matter how far fetched the ending, Wolfe’s intellect and Archie’s street-wise, determined nature made each ending satisfactory.

Of course I read the collected works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle when I was in 8th grade, and no one can dispute the excellence that is Sherlock Holmes.

But Doyle and Stout, having left this mortal coil, leaving behind stand-in writers who carry on their characters on a lesser scale, can only be read so many times before you need something new to sink your teeth into.

Years ago, in my pursuit of new blood, I found Michael Connelly and J.D. Robb, two very different mystery writers, and authors that I now read voraciously.

These are their latest releases:

Echo Park, by Michael Connelly

Echo Park continues the work of Hieronymus (Harry) Bosch, detective in the Open-Unsolved unit of the LAPD.

Harry Bosch is a good cop and a good character. He’s flawed. Damaged. Viet Nam vet. Drinker. Relationship problems. Rule bender. Stands up for victims.

We like Harry because he has problems with authority figures, solving the case is the most important thing, he’s smart, methodical, and he’s damn good at his job. In every way that he is screwed up as a person, he’s great at figuring out the ins and outs of a crime, putting it together, and making sure justice is done.

Bosch is Connelly’s cop. Connelly has a retired FBI agent too. Flawed in different ways. Connelly writes good, flawed characters that you respect, but know you’d never get involved with.

I like Bosch. Connelly has been consistent in developing Bosch across the series of books, so you trust the character. His behavior is consistent. You trust his judgment. You know the mistakes he will make will be in his personal life, or will be in arguing with his superiors, but will never be with evidence or with solving the case. Is he always the most ethical? That’s debatable.

But while the treatment of Bosch is handled well throughout Echo Park, the rest doesn’t really jive for me. There’s something uneven about the plot – too many layers to the conspiracy – too many misdirections.

Still, the writing is solid and Bosch is done right.

AV Rating: 3.5/5 stars, there are better Bosch novels.

Born in Death, by J.D. Robb

Born in Death is the 25th installment of the “In Death” series by Nora Roberts writing as J.D. Robb.

Maybe it’s due to my recent car accident and subsequent medicated state, or maybe it’s due to the bombardment of “Nora Roberts writing as J.D. Robb” commercials on TV these days but I just want to say this: shut up.

Here’s the thing: Nora Roberts is a romance novelist, J.D. Robb, her pseudonym, is a mystery writer.

I’ve got to make the distinction, because when I hear this stupid commercials reminding me that Nora Roberts is writing as J.D. Robb, I cringe, because I don’t read romance novels. I hate them.

Before I knew that J.D. Robb was a pseudonym, I picked up the first In Death book, read it, liked it, and picked up the next one. I had probably read half the series before I figured out who the heck Nora Roberts was.

Now I know, so now every little romantic or sexual thing that happens in one of the mysteries makes me stop and think, “does this belong here?” – like is this some romance novelist playing mystery writer, or does it really fit the story? Usually I conclude that it does, but let’s be honest, it’s distracting.

As to the latest installment, Born in Death, again, I’m on a regular diet of pain meds at this point, so when I say that the book was slow, that may have just been the drugs.

Then again, when the second crime was introduced, I knew instantly that it was linked, because puh-leaze. Also, I was doing the equivalent of checking my watch by counting pages left every so often.

This was undoubtedly my least favorite of the In Death series. The plot seemed weak, the secondary storyline seemed contrived, and what seemed like a promising beginning wound up seeming very thrown together.

Again – to be fair – pain pills.

AV Rating: 2/5 stars. I would actually skip this one and read any of the others.

1 Comments:

Blogger aaron21 said...

True there are somethings that are kinda added and not all explained. Plus, it is a kinda "cliche" type of idea. To have a case that isn't solved and is haunting the main char.

But, you know there are alot of series out there and alot of them by book 12 SUCK! This one doesn't. Its the first entrance ot the Bosch world and it's awesome.

Also too while he does bring in other characters from previous books it's nothing like "wink, wink". It isn't made that big of a deal.

Also too I think he's established that this is his kinda version of LA.

7:33 PM  

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