11.24.2010

Worth Dying For, by Lee Child

Worth Dying For
Worth Dying For
Worth Dying For is the second Jack Reacher novel this year. The first one ended on a cliffhanger (though we knew he would be alright because there's this book). I'm not sure what I was expecting in this book, but in the first pages, we find our hero getting pulled into yet another mystery. He doesn't even get time to recuperate from the injuries he received in the previous book. There are some familiar elements in this book: the deadline, the mysterious truck that's at the heart of everything, and the evil local guys who have the whole town under their thumbs.

The best thing about this book is the brilliant use of misunderstanding among all the bad guys. It's almost farcical the way they behave. Before I get into that, let me back up and talk about the mysterious truck. Throughout the book, we get progress updates about the truck, but are never told what's in it. The local bag guys, the Duncans, have promised the contents to some very bad men in Las Vegas. When the shipment is delayed, they blame Reacher. The Las Vegas guys (and their bosses and their bosses' bosses) send men to Nebraska to take care of Reacher. But since they also have orders to eliminate each other, things rapidly devolve into a bloody and hilarious (if you have a sick sense of humor like I do) debacle.

As Reacher methodically takes out all the henchman (an extraordinary number in this book), he also has a side project. Taking pity on the non-evil locals, Reacher starts to investigate the disappearance of a little girl twenty-five years prior to the start of the novel. Everyone is sure that the Duncans had something to do with it, but no one can prove it. Readers who pay attention to the foreshadowing and hint-dropping should be able to figure it out, too.

This secondary plot helps bulk up the book as a whole and gives it a bit of humanity, too. I say that because this is an extremely violent book. All the Reacher books are violent, but there's a level of cruelty here that surprised me. Reacher always had a reason for doing what he does, and it's fun to watch him crack skulls now and again. While he has his reasons here, I feel like Reacher is going to a new and disturbing level of violence. It seems like he's so tired of fighting people that he just wants to end fights so definitively that people will leave him the hell alone. One the one hand, I can (kind of) sympathize with that point of view. But on the other hand, I have to wonder if Reacher needs some therapy or at least a hug.

While this is not the best entry in the series, I sense that this book is a kind of turning point for Reacher. I wonder if he's starting to realize that his lifestyle (traveling around the country as a reluctant knight-errant) isn't working anymore. I'm very curious to see what future books have in store for him.

11.20.2010

Moonlight Mile, by Dennis Lehane

Moonlight Mile
Moonlight Mile
It's been a very long time since I've spent time with Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennaro, my favorite private detectives. After publishing Prayers for Rain, I read somewhere that Dennis Lehane was going to retire the characters because he was done torturing them. I was surprised and excited to hear about Moonlight Mile, the first Kenzie and Genaro book in about a decade. I missed these characters.

Moonlight Mile revisits the events of Gone, Baby, Gone, which contained one of the thorniest ethical dilemmas I've ever come across. (You can read the plot summary of the book to find out what it is. If I explain what happened, it will ruin a very good book.) In Moonlight Mile, Kenzie gets a visit from an old definitely not-friend who tells him that the kidnapped girl he tracked down in the previous book has gone missing again. The new case brings up all the unfinished business of the old one.

While they were never the greatest detectives, Kenzie and Genaro are a little rusty this time. It's not all their fault though, since nothing in this book seems to add up. There are Russian mobsters who seem awfully nice. There's the missing girl's family who seem even worse than they used to be. And then there's Kenzie's family. His four-year-old daughter keeps him from diving into the danger and taking risks. Kenzie isn't the same man he used to be. He has bills. He has ties. But most of all, the job is getting to him. He's tired of petty and ugly disputes.

Beyond everything else this book sets out to do, I think that this book is the end. Loose ties are wrapped up. Forgiveness is earned. Wrongs are righted (as much as they can be). Even with all that, the sense I got of this book was that it was another chance to visit with old friends before saying good bye. It wasn't a big adventure, but it was a fun read.

The Ghosts of Belfast, by Stuart Neville

Ghosts of Belfast
The Ghosts of Belfast
When I picked up Stuart Neville's Ghosts of Belfast I thought the ghosts described were metaphorical. After all, what former killer for the IRA doesn't have the "ghosts" of his victims following him around? We meet the protagonist, Gerry Fegan, drinking in a pub, trying to drown out the voices and sight of the quite literal ghosts that have been following him around since just before he got out of Her Majesty's Maze Prison. There are eleven of them, and they let him know that the only way to get rid of them is to get revenge on the people who caused their deaths.

Gerry's ghosts and his memories take the reader on a trip through the violent history of the Troubles, while letting us know that the bad times aren't as over as they seem to be. Catholics and Protestants still hate each other, almost as much as Republicans and Unionists do. As Gerry goes after Republicans and undercover Scots, members of the provisional government and law enforcement try to hunt him down and stop him before Gerry destroys the Good Friday Agreement. This makes Gerry sound like a violent psychopath, but he's not. In spite of everything, he's a good man. He argues with his ghosts to try and spare lives, but they are relentless in getting what they want.

The writing in this book is incredible, with a wonderfully drawn cast of heroes and villains (and some characters who are a bit of both). I felt for Gerry. He's good at killing people, yes, but all he wanted was to stop and go on with his life. Neville gives you the necessary history without letting the pace of the book bog down. (Though I will admit that I spent a lot of time on Wikipedia looking things up. I couldn't help myself.) Even though I knew roughly what was going to happen, I couldn't predict where each subsequent chapter would go. I didn't even know if Gerry would live long enough to get the ghosts their revenge. This an amazing first novel by an author I hope has a long career.

11.08.2010

Android Karenina, by Ben Winters

Android Karenina
Android Karenina
About three years ago, I read Anna Karenina and I absolutely hated it. Not only was it incredibly dull, but I didn't care for most of the characters. Reading it was a long, hard slog and I blame my reading group for letting me choose the book in the first place. So, when I saw Android Karenina, I had two thoughts. First, I had no problem with Quirk Press turning it into a horror story. Second, it has freaking robots! Anna Karenina can only be improved by the inclusion of robots.

I have to say, I was not disappointed by this book. I read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and while I enjoyed it, I mostly thought it was silly. Android Karenina somehow rises above the silliness and had some interesting things to say about authority. Like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, this book stays pretty close to the book it's based on, with a lot of material cut out to make room for the wackiness. Unlike that other mashup, this book has an entirely new ending.

There are two couples in this book and the story jumps back and forth between the two. First, there are the eponymous Anna Karenina and Count Alexei Vronsky. They meet at a train station and it's love at first sight. Almost right away, they begin an affair. Second, there's Konstantin Levin and Kitty Shcherbatsky, who pursue a more traditional path to love. When I read the original, I thought that Tolstoy was showing his readers that sin leads to ruin and that virtue leads to a good life, thought more subtly than I just phrased it. Both couples have their ups and downs, but only Levin and Kitty get a genuinely happy ending.

That much remains the same in Android Karenina, but in this book more plot is packed in where Winters trimmed out Russian gentility. For one, Winters packed in a lot more action. Vronsky literally fights for promotion in a very cool weaponized exoskeleton. Anna and Vronksy survive an attack by aliens at the theater. Levin almost gets blown up a couple of times. If only Tolstoy had thought to include a few more explosions. He would have held on to my attention better that way than with petty romantic squabbles.

In the original, I felt like there was a tone of sadness to the whole thing. That feeling as been placed with one of dread. There are hints that something big is coming throughout the book, though not enough to figure out what's going on until near the end. One of things that contributes to this (and is one of the biggest changed from the original) is Anna's husband. He's just as cold and brooding as in Anna Karenina, but in this book he turns into a terrifying villain who seems intent on not only wrecking Anna and Vronsky's lives, but also on ruining the entire country. Because Karenin was part cyborg, it was a little easy to see that he would go Doc Ock eventually. What made his subplot so engaging and terrifying was that there was no one to stand up to him and stop him. Anna and the rest of the characters were too busy living their own stories to wonder what Karenin was up. Getting to know the new Karenin made reading this book absolutely worth it.

A large part of the entertainment factor of this book is seeing how the robots fit into this society. The manners are the same and I found that I could enjoy the story more knowing that these people's cozy lives weren't resting on the backs of the serfs. Some of the characters take trips to the moon and into orbit, replacing the spa trips in the original book. But by far the best part of this book, I thought, was the ending. It's very different from the depressing end to Anna Karenina, which can only be a good thing. I hate to say too much, but it involves a huge deus ex machina and a little bit of time travel. It was wonderful and I'm actually kind of looking forward to more mashups from Ben Winters.