18 November 2017

Maybe the Accounting is Right, but the Plot? Fuhgeddaboudit...

Exit Strategy - Colleen Cross

Every day a list of books shows up in my email inbox from a place called BookBub. Most of these ebooks are available at fire sale prices; a couple a week are even free. I have to admit that I try to avoid any titles accompanies by a blurb bragging about the number of five-star reviews at GoodReads, but every once in a while I pick up one of the freebies just to see if the rest of the series is worth buying (or borrowing from the library).

That’s why I have a copy of Exit Strategy, subtitled “Katerina Carter Fraud Thriller Series 1”: I got it free. And I’m here to tell you, it was worth every penny…

I’ll attempt to summarize the story in simple terms – if I can… Katerina “Kat” Carter’s hired by a Canadian diamond company to perform a little forensic accounting. Seems they’re missing a corporate officer and five billion bucks (Canadian, I assume, so more like four billion US, and no pennies). Kat, smarter than the average bear, accidentally learns that for a couple of years, the company’s been reporting diamond output that doesn’t make mathematical sense (if you don’t understand, google Benford’s Law). Seems someone’s been using the company to “launder” conflict diamonds.

Yeah, right. And that nasty person is head of the “Mafia” in Argentina, not to mention a worldwide arms dealer and an importer of drugs. Right…

So Kat stumbles over a murder or three, almost gets murdered herself a couple of times, runs into an uncooperative cop, and in general acts about as stupid as Stephanie Plum. Oh, well, at least she doesn’t find herself trapped in a Vancouver landmark with a dead cell phone a la Alex Cooper…
On the whole, the first in this series written by Colleen Cross is pretty much forgettable. The protagonist – Kat – is not particularly likeable, mainly because for someone so supposedly smart she’s pretty stupid. But, then, Cross doesn’t seem to think through a lot of her plot points, either. Take, for instance, the erstwhile chief geologist of the diamond company: he has a box of kimberlite samples sitting on his porch, one of which has diamonds in it? Yeah, sure…

…and Carter’s bosom buddy Cindy is an undercover cop, yet when they two meet under “criminal circumstances” Kat thinks she’s part of a criminal gang? Or a native of Argentina can just dye her hair blonde and pass herself off as “Susan Sullivan?” without an accent? Oh, sure…

     No, Cross did a lousy job with continuity and plotting. Take, for instance, the line (chapter 16), “A wooden box on a small table caught Kat’s eye. It was the same box of rocks Ken had shown her on her previous visit.”  Umm, sorry, Colleen, but during Kat’s visit with Takahashi, he didn’t show her a box of rocks (not even the one she’s dumber than…)

Sloppy plotting, lots of idiot plots, and some completely unrealistic plot twists… I’ll be generous and give it 1½ stars (and don’t even ask me about the geology, huh?)
copyright © 2017 scmrak

01 October 2017

This Geek Girl Adventure Reads More Like Stephanie Plum

No One Lives Twice - Julie Moffet

If you listen to the news at all, you probably know that women are underrepresented in the tech sector (not to mention often subjected to unpleasant working environments). In the literary world, however, a few “geek girls” have made their appearance. One that recently came across my e-reader was Lexi Carmichael, whose first adventure was 2010’s No One Lives Twice.

Lexi, who works for the NSA, first realizes she’s embroiled in something strange when not one but two suspicious dudes demand that she fork over the papers her best friend Basia sent her. "What papers?" she wonders... Well, it turns out that Basia had sent her the papers, she just hadn’t gotten ‘em yet. But all the papers are is a generic contract with a little coded message at the bottom of one page, the word “Acheron” in a simplistic code. Which, of course, geeky Lexi figures out immediately. Those papers start Lexi on a hunt for Basia and her Polish-born cousin that will take her across the Atlantic and force her boyish (i.e., flat-chested) body up against those of not one, not two, but three different hotties.

13 September 2017

Capri's Homage to Reacher is a Bit of a Reach

Diane Capri - Don't Know Jack

    For Special Agent Kim Otto, the hunt begins with a phone call in the wee small hours of the morning. Actually, it began earlier with the delivery of a “burner” cell phone and a slim file on her target… but the real action starts with that phone call. She’s ordered onto a flight from Detroit to Atlanta, where she wll meet her “second,” Special Agent Carlos Gaspar out of Miami. Their orders are to head to the town of Margrave, Georgia, to pick up the long-cold trail of their target… Jack (no middle) Reacher.
Just why the two are looking for Reacher isn’t readily apparent. As far as Otto can tell, he’s a paranoid killer who’s been off the grid for fifteen years now, and her unnamed “boss” has decided it’s time to bring him to justice. The notion that he’s a bad guy just goes to show you that these two feebs Don’t Know Jack.

Otto and Gaspar stumble into a bizarre murder scene and cryptic clues about counterfeiting and a high-level DC coverup involving hookers, mistresses, or both. They’re helped, albeit reluctantly, by superfox MILF Chief of Police Beverly Roscoe Trent, who just happens to have a gorgeous – and tall – 15-year-old daughter named Jacqueline, or Jack for short.

The “boss” continues to send them willy-nilly around the mid-Atlantic region to talk to people, and – for some unknown reason – they end up in Washington’s most renowned brothel where Otto – for some unknown reason – has an unstated relationship with the madam.

They solve the murder, of course, but their target stays just out of reach…

Diane Capri’s first fan-fiction novel in homage to Jack Reacher, Don’t Know Jack is filled with references to Killing Floor (the first novel in Lee Child’s 22-episode Reacher series), including references to “Kliner” counterfeit C-notes and an interview with the detective who originally arrested Reacher, Lamont Finlay. Child himself wrote the afterword for the novel (at least the ePub version I read). Capri’s style is similar, although – unlike Reacher – Otto doesn't ever get around to making the beast with two backs with the male lead.

Capri’s novel progresses nicely, especially if you’re a fan of the Reacher series, for about thirty-six chapters. At that point, Otto has tracked a missing woman into Marion Wallace’s DC “party house,” where suddenly it’s as if you’ve shifted into a different book. Sure, the two are still looking for Reacher, but all of a sudden they’re referring to the mysterious voice on the telephone by his surname, instead of as “the boss.” Otto seems surprised that Wallace doesn’t seem to recognize her, even though they have some unstated history that appears to involve Otto’s ex-husband (who’d only been mentioned once or twice before). The shifts are, quite frankly, puzzling.

     As a mystery, the novel is pretty pedestrian, and seems mainly interesting for its tie-in to the Reacher series; not to mention the Tom Cruise movie that was released later in the year. The shift from an omniscient, omnipotent boss to “Cooper on the top floor of the FBI building” is unsettling, in particular because in subsequent “Hunt for Reacher” short stories the boss becomes once again anonymous. Were it not for that flaw, I’d have rated this slightly above average, but that’s too glaring for my tastes.
copyright © 2017 scmrak

07 July 2017

Graham and Land Pen a Stealth YA-SciFi-Romance-Thriller

The Rising - Heather Graham and Jon Land

Perhaps the most interesting thing about 18-year-old Alex Chin is that he’s blue-eyed and blonde, unlike his mainland Chinese parents. The official reason’s simple – he’s adopted. The real reason is a little more complicated…

…and that complication is the reason football star-slash-stone fox Alex and his tutor Sam (short for Samantha) are on the run, pursued by oily-smelling cyborgs and an ashy-gray something that just ain't quite real. Oh, yeah, and Alex has a protector guy that he never knew about with a super-neat weapon; a good thing since the pseudo-people chasing him murdered his parents and are heck-bent on taking him back. Somewhere.

Fortunately for Alex (if you can say “fortunately” about a freshly-orphaned teenager), with her dying breath his mom provided the key to his real back-story. Yup, Alex isn’t a normal red-blooded teenage boy (though his appraisal of Sam seems to suggest otherwise). Alex is – tada! an alien! He’s an alien who, his protector says, holds  the key to Earth’s survival; though just what that key might be and what it might unlock are complete mysteries. If you thought things were already complicated, an angry billionaire is also hunting for Alex, and as far as Langston Marsh is concerned, the only good alien is a dead alien – and his storm troopers are closing in.

Alex and Sam, however, are about to have a rip-roarin’ good time as they flee marauding aliens and a cadre of mercenaries – but have no fear, they’ll be fine.

They’ll be fine because 1) The Rising is a YA novel (albeit rather stealthy about it) and 2) if the kids don’t survive, authors Heather Graham and Jon Land won’t be able to attempt to spin the novel into a series. Not that it’s really worth it…

Now I’m not opposed to YA novels; I rather like them. I realize they’re supposed to appeal to people the age of my grandkids, and should be expected to touch on all the themes familiar to fans of Harry and Katniss. No doubt about it, the classic tropes about “coming of age under fire” and “recognizing her beauty once she takes off her glasses” figure prominently. Just as common these days, regardless of the target audience, is that “evil billionaire” plot thread Graham and Land shoehorn into the plot, presumably to make the kids’ flight even more perilous – it’s like the Fellowship being attacked simultaneously by Sauron and Saruman…

     Like I said, I’m OK with YA novels (see my multitudinous Pittacus Lore reviews). I’m not OK with sloppy pseudoscience – in an era when kids are pounded relentlessly with STEM, I suspect that rubbish like “It had been formed of subatomic, programmable particles based on nanotechnological principles” will make them retch like it did me - -both times it appeared. And then there’s the notion that a particle accelerator acts as a power source: “once activated, a particle accelerator of this size and magnitude [sic] would generate power on the millisecond level equal to that powering an entire city or even a state.” Geez, guys, instead of just throwing science-y words on the page, why not call the local university and ask for help?!

On a side note, it’s interesting that one author thinks the phrase is “honed in on,” while the other prefers “home in on” (for the record, it’s home…). Sloppy editing, I guess.

All in all, it’s just a YA thriller with a little young love (super-chaste – just one little kiss) and a heaping helping of pseudo-science. The thing is, in the Harry Potter stories kids know the fantastic stuff is magic. Here, they’re supposed to think it’s present-day Earth and all this stuff is based on real science and technology.

But it’s not, and that isn’t a good thing for The Rising – not at all.

copyright © 2015-2017 scmrak

29 June 2017

Johnson's Subgenre Novel may only be Interesting to her Subgenre

Cold Flash - Carrie H. Johnson

The world of mystery fiction seems to be becoming more and more fragmented. Once there were mostly police procedurals, courtroom dramas, and PI mysteries; then along came a slew of new genres like cozy, romantic, profession-based, and supernatural tales. Next came the sub-genres and sub-sub genres and maybe even sub-sub-sub-genres. It seems that somewhere out there, an author has concocted a mystery with a hero(ine) exactly like the reader – no matter whether that reader is male, female, Anglo, Latino, African-American, gay, straight, vampire, alien… you get the picture. In the rush to fill every available niche, however, quality seems to have taken a back seat to quality. I hate to say it, but Carrie H. Johnson and Cold Flash are a perfect example.