22 July 2018

Kill Game: definitive proof that quantity is not the same thing as quality

Kill Game: A Cold Poker Gang Mystery - Dean Wesley Smith

kill game
The blurbs for Dean Wesley Smith’s Kill Game: A Cold Poker Gang Mystery include one that describes it as an “exhilarating political poker thriller.” If you know who Harriett Klausner was you’re probably laughing at her grandiose description of yet another book she'd never read (she wrote dozens of book reviews a day). If you’ve read this particular book, well, you realize that not one word of her four is actually true.

Meet the Cold Poker Gang. Or perhaps not: supposedly a group of ex-Vegas cops who solve homicide cases while playing a weekly poker game, in reality only three appear in Kill Game (aren’t poker games usually among six or more players?). Two have strong connections to the cold case they’ve chosen to work on this time, however. Former Reno cop Julia Rogers is the widow of the man killed in Sin City twenty-two years ago; Stan Rocha was now-retired cop Bayard Lott’s first-ever homicide case. His murder remains unsolved all these years later.

Rogers, Lott, and Lott’s former partner Andor Williams decide to start over. Sure, why not? And, of course, they solve the case – but not before a number of surprises. The differences from Harriett’s description, though, are that 1) no one ever plays poker; 2) politics is only tangentially involved; 3) the characters are never in danger, so you can’t call it a “thriller”; and 4) Kill Game is in no way exhilarating.

It’s not just not exhilarating, Kill Game is downright irritating. It’s irritating because Smith’s plot is dirt-stupid. The first clue that it’s stupid is that the victim’s widow and the detective who investigated the case have never met. Is Smith kidding? Even if Rogers wasn’t a suspect, at the very least she should have been called upon to identify the body. She apparently wasn’t even interviewed!

More investigatory malfeasance: the detectives (such as they are) never looked for the guy’s vehicle, never ran his fingerprints, never noticed some pretty obvious clues about the victim’s body. If you ask me, Grissom and his team are spinning in their television grave at that sort of incompetence!

Other irritants: Lott and Rogers develop the hots for each other, and the frequent descriptions of their yearning reads like something from a 13-year-old’s diary. Lott’s first name is used only once (the first time he’s mentioned), Andor’s last name appears only twice. The frequent references to certain restaurants suggest that Smith sold product placement to Wendy’s, KFC and Vegas joint the Café Bellagio (if such as place exists). Finally, the “twist” at the end is so predictable it’s almost anticlimactic.
Smith is sometimes described as “one of the most prolific writers working in modern fiction.” Perhaps he is, but that quantity has definitely come at the expense of quality. Skip this dreck.
copyright © 2018 scmrak

02 April 2018

It Ain't Carter Ross, and I Don't Care

Closer Than You Know - Brad Parks

Meet Melanie Barrick, a woman whose life is quite frankly a mess. Like many a fictional heroine, she’s been through “the system” and pulled herself up by her bootstraps. But wait, she managed to go through college on scholarship money, but combine her graduation year (2009) with her utterly ridiculous choice of major (English Lit? what good is an English Lit degree?), and yet she’s been able to work her way up from homeless Starbucks barista to dispatcher at a trucking, errr, logistics company. On top of that, Barrick was raped in her little apartment a year ago…

18 February 2018

Maybe the first Davie Richards mystery should've been the last...

Pacific Homicide - Patricia Smiley

Pacific Homicide
I happen to be someone who devours mystery-thriller novels, and if you’re going to read somewhere between fifty and 100 of them a year, you tend to have fairly loose standards. I know that not every writer can be Michael Connelly; but I certainly hope that not every writer is Tim Downs, either. My most recent read, sadly, is closer to the latter: that’s why I’m assigning a mere two stars to Pacific Homicide, the first Davie Richards mystery.

Richards, the newest detective of LAPD’s Pacific Division homicide squad, is a second-generation cop. Her dad, however, was unceremoniously drummed out of the department after he shot a teenager and paralyzed him. Unfortunately for Davie, the lawyer who lost the civil case is the newly appointed head of the police oversight board.

Not that this has anything to do with Davie’s current case, which is that of the beautiful teenaged Russian blonde whose mangled body was found in the LA sewer system. The diminutive (of course) but gorgeous (likewise) redhead with a streak of rebellion (I’m seeing a pattern here) will get the job done, though. That’s regardless of her recent officer-involved shooting (duh) while saving the life of the partner with whom she was having a fling (…). Never mind the complication of her ex's sudden reassignment to Davie's division.

You see where I’m getting to, right? Pacific Homicide is so full of tropes that it’s hard not to trip over a new one every page or so. Author Patricia Smiley (back in print seven years after the fourth Tucker Sinclair mystery) definitely didn’t go out on any creative limbs for her police procedural. Even Davie’s domicile is a trope of the female detective subgenre: she lives in a converted garage behind the house of a non-threatening older man: Kinsey Milhone, anyone?
All that derivative prose makes it hard to concentrate on the mystery aspect of Pacific Homicide, but to be truthful it’s not particularly well done, either. While the villain’s identity does come as a surprise, Smiley commits the sin of not providing clues to his identity for her readers to attempt to out-detect the detective. The bad guy’s tipoff? He’s a creep… not that being a creep is actionable in real police work.

     There's also an ancillary plot: the aforementioned lawyer bears a grudge against Richards because, after he lost the case against her dad, the foxy mama of the paralyzed kid didn't spread her luscious legs for him. Give us a break, Patty! the guy hasn't managed to get laid in the past fifteen years? and he thinks it's the hero's fault?

Smiley’s pumped out a couple more books in the series, but given the snore-fest I encountered in Pacific Homicide, I’m gonna give ‘em a pass. I’d suggest you do the same.
copyright © 2018 scmrak

09 December 2017

King's reincarnation tale needs less stitching and more plot

The Dust of 100 Dogs - A. S. King

I don’t know about you, but I don’t always check the published reviews of a book before buying it or checking it out of the library. Oh, sure, I’ll briefly scan the reviews at “the River,” but I know better than to trust most of those people, anyway. Perhaps had I should have looked more closely at Barnes & Noble’s page for The Dust of 100 Dogs (by A. S. King), though. Instead of glowing reviews from the NYT or even "People," there are blurbs from The Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star and "VOYA" (not the financial company – “Voice of Youth America” magazine). The best the site can come up with is the throwaway line from "Booklist," which calls it “An undeniably original book.” When you come right down to it, though, that description might very well have been followed by “that is unfortunately almost unreadable.”

25 November 2017

“Stop That!” I Said to Myself

Before It’s Too Late – Sara Driscoll

Ever heard the joke about the guy who goes to the doctor and tells her, “It hurts when I do this”? The punchline, of course, is that she says, “Well, stop doing that!” Ba. Dump. Bump. I could say the same thing of the Sara Driscoll F.B.I. K-9 series: “It hurts when I read this; so maybe I should stop.” But I didn’t…

I read book two, Before It’s Too Late, and I’m… not sure why. It’s probably because I didn’t have anything else to read (the latest Virgil Flowers novel wasn’t out yet), and it might be because I really, really love Labrador Retrievers and the K-9 in question is a black Lab named Hawk. More likely both. But anyway, about the book:

F.B.I. K-9 handler Meg Jennings is obviously the target of a serial whackaloon: he kidnaps women who look like her (“black Irish” features) and then sends a coded message addressed to Meg, a message that consists of cryptic clues to where he’s hidden the kidnapped woman. Oh, and the woman isn’t dead yet; he’s killing her slowly by asphyxiation. Creepy dude…