|Posted by Gilbert Stack on January 22, 2022 at 3:15 PM|
The Second Confession by Rex Stout
Nero Wolfe is at it again in this excellent mystery and it’s a pleasure to watch him maneuver with clients, lawmen, and criminals alike. Hired essentially to discredit the suiter of a millionaire’s daughter, things get complicated when a criminal mastermind threatens Wolfe off the case by machinegunning Wolfe’s prized plant rooms. This gets Wolfe out of his beloved house to try and resolve matters, only to have the unwanted suiter murdered with Wolfe’s car. The client wants to know who the killer is, but then changes his mind making Wolfe pursue the investigation without him.
It's a great mystery and I enjoyed every page. The eventual solution was ingenious. But make no mistake Rex Stout is not writing Ellery Queen mysteries. The reader knows there is a piece of evidence that Wolfe is keeping to himself, but we don’t get to see it in time to solve this crime ourselves. But then, it’s watching Wolfe draw out the criminal that is the ultimate pleasure in these stories, and this one was simply great.
|Posted by Gilbert Stack on January 21, 2022 at 10:10 PM|
Executioner 271 Cyberhunt by Don Pendleton
I read The Executioner series pretty consistently for about four years. I enjoyed them. When I moved and needed to downsize a rather massive personal library, this book was one of only two of those volumes that I decided to keep. After having just reread it, I’m not sure why I held onto it.
On the positive side, it’s fast paced and very focused in its action. Once the shooting starts, the Executioner pretty much goes from battle to battle without much difficulty until the end of the book. On the negative side, there’s a supporting cast member, a female Mossad agent, who starts out looking quite competent, but falls into “hostage” mode two times during the novel. Two times seemed like overkill to me.
I suppose the most negative thing I could say about it is that it wasn’t memorable. Unlike the vast majority of books I reread, I didn’t remember anything specific about this novel. It was fun, but that’s all.
|Posted by Gilbert Stack on January 19, 2022 at 5:30 PM|
Origins of a D-List Supervillain by Jim Bernheimer
If I had known this was a prequel novel to Bernheimer’s D-List Supervillain series, I wouldn’t have started with it, but would have started with book 1, Confessions of a D-List Supervillain. Prequels that try to explain how events got to where a series starts (as opposed to simply telling a good story) are challenging and I don’t think Bernheimer was totally successful in this book. The tale is enjoyable, but not quite as magical as I was expecting. The problem is that the plot is more focused on explaining how Cal became a supervillain instead of on a suitable challenge for him. (By contrast, the cliffhanger at the end of the book is very exciting and makes me very hopeful for Confessions.)
On the positive side, Cal’s backstory is engaging. Having invented the force blaster that makes the hero, Ultraweapon, so dangerous, he is outraged when he isn’t publicly credited with his invention. What’s worse, he’s blacklisted for insisting on credit as a warning to other employees and his company then sets about making him unemployable anywhere. Finally, in desperation, he turns to crime and is pathetic at it. I suspect this was supposed to be somewhat humorous, but it didn’t make me laugh. The rest of the novel is dedicated to Cal trying to get his supervillain career going.
Why supervillains are not successful is an obvious underlying theme of the story which I suspect will continue throughout the series. I’m definitely interested in reading the next book, but quite frankly this first one is not the one you should start with.
|Posted by Gilbert Stack on January 18, 2022 at 7:05 PM|
The Werewolf Meets His Match by Kristin Painter
In The Vampire’s Mail Order Bride (the first Nocturne Falls novel), Painter created a sweet and genuinely enjoyable romance that incidentally had a non-vampiric vampire as one of the destined lovers. I enjoyed the story, but I thought that the vampire aspects of the story were so weak as to be almost non-important. That’s not the case in The Werewolf Meets His Match in which pack politics, the moon, and the need to shift into another shape, form critical parts of the novel. What’s more, Painter does all of this without losing the sweet, light-hearted tone that made the first book so entertaining.
At the heart of this story is an arranged marriage which is technically supposed to bring peace between two werewolf packs, but which is actually a plan to insult the pack that resides in Nocturne Falls. The early action is highly predictable as heroine, Ivy, who is coerced into the marriage by her abusive father/pack leader learns that the hero, Hank, is actually a decent man who can be trusted. Most of the “action” comes in the form of problems from Ivy’s pack and her father, many resolving around her young son who is the “insult” intended for the Nocturne Fall’s pack.
There were a couple of small surprises in the end which I kicked myself for not predicting. That’s obviously all to the good. The novel also reintroduces characters from the first book and sets up individuals who will probably be the stars of their own romances in future stories.
|Posted by Gilbert Stack on January 17, 2022 at 6:50 PM|
Gotrek and Felix 9 Manslayer by Nathan Long
I think this title was ingenious for this series. We’ve had eight monsters in the title so far (Trolls, Dragons, Daemons, Orcs, Giants, Vampires, Beasts, and Skaven) and in book 9 Nathan reminds us that man can be quite the monster as well.
The plot revolves around Gotrek and Felix’s efforts to get to the front in the new war against Chaos. Their journey takes them through Nuln and for the first time in twenty years, Felix sees his brother who has (unknown to Felix) been publishing his journals as adventure stories which no one believes are true. As the reader can imagine, everyone’s going to have a chance to learn how real they are.
The plot revolves around the theft of a barge-load of black powder needed for cannon at the front. Gotrek and Felix seem to be the only ones making progress in finding it, which angers the watch into castigating them for all of the damage caused in their battles. The watch is a conundrum throughout the story. Are they just protecting their turf or are they actually aiding the chaos cults trying to burn down Nuln and its gunnery school?
This book is packed with fights and the return of characters from when William King wrote the series. The most important of these is Felix’s former lover (now turned into a vampire), Ulrika. I thought Long handled this obviously painful reunion very well and it added a lot to the story. In addition, the threat is very well drawn and I was totally satisfied with the ending which actually makes the reader think about what life must be like in the world of Warhammer.
I do have one complaint, but it’s of the Warhammer universe, not of Nathan Long’s book. Chaos causes mutations. They pop up in tons of the novels. I find it difficult to believe that a world in this serious of a struggle doesn’t routinely make people strip down to be examined for mutation since such mutations always lead to the mutant joining the side of chaos.
|Posted by Gilbert Stack on January 16, 2022 at 6:55 PM|
Trail of the Hana K’ilo by Channing Whitaker
The second book in Whitaker’s Skeptic Detective series takes a very different tone than the first, but still offers the reader an excellent mystery that will have them flirting with possible supernatural explanations for events. Where the first book revolved around a haunted house, this one goes into the remote regions of Alaska as Harlan Holt reluctantly agrees to look into the disappearance of a colleague whose “academic” specialty he despised. The missing man was obsessed with proving that cryptids exist and goes missing in Alaska while trying to find a water beast known in legend as the Hana K’ilo. A local blog insists that several disappearances in the region are the result of the Hana K’ilo hunting. Harlan doesn’t want to be involved, but can’t turn away from the mystery. So he changes his plans to take his girlfriend to Hawaii over the winter break and instead brings her to remote Alaska without telling her why they are really going there.
There are tons of good elements to this story. One of the things Whitaker does best is introduce many legends (all with different names) that could be inspired by the same cryptid—the Hana K’ilo—but could also just be simple “scare kids away from the water” style tales. He also has a group of tourists and staff at this lodge who all make you wonder what’s really going on with them. Finally, he is very convincing in his details of the danger of winter in Alaska, and it is easy to imagine that this rough and freezing terrain is going to be very important to the conclusion of the story.
At the heart of the novel are a series of very complex secrets and relationships that Harlan has to navigate—including the one with his girlfriend. I have to admit that the clues were all there, but I was shocked by how they all fit together. It was a very satisfying—if sometimes slow moving—mystery. I’m looking forward to the next book.
|Posted by Gilbert Stack on January 14, 2022 at 8:20 PM|
The Last Airship by Christopher Cartwright
This is a novel that reminds me a lot of Clive Cussler. It starts with an “historic” flight—the last airship trying to escape from Nazi Germany with two super wealthy Jewish families and a very high-ranking Nazi with something critical to the war effort in his briefcase—something he doesn’t want Hitler to have. The ship is damaged by machinegun fire as it lifts off and it crashes in the Alps not to be seen again for 75 years. Let me just say now that the crash and why the airship had remained hidden from the many people who searched for it, was absolutely outstanding—just brilliantly thought out by Cartwright.
The story is also a lot of fun. Cartwright has two characters—Sam and Tom—that just make great heroes. They are daring, smart, but still capable of being fooled in ways that didn’t upset me as utterly stupid. The action is fast and furious, and I was happily turning pages (actually listening, but you know what I mean) from beginning to end.
If you’re looking for an actually thrilling “thriller” you should read this novel.
|Posted by Gilbert Stack on January 13, 2022 at 9:00 PM|
Spiderman: The Darkest Hours by Jim Butcher
I love Spiderman. I’ve read his comics off and on since the summer between third and fourth grade. I watched the original cartoon series and many that have come after. I’ve seen most of the movies and read at least two dozen novels (probably many more) focused on the character. So it’s with some authority that I say Jim Butcher’s The Darkest Hours is one of the best Spiderman books out there.
First off, Butcher gets the key Spiderman elements right—action, banter, and sense of responsibility. His Spiderman feels like Spiderman from moment one. He’s selfless, he’s heroic, and he’s smart.
Second, Butcher utilizes Peter Parker very well by giving him a problem that Spiderman can’t solve for him. Then he gives Mary Jane a similar problem—something Peter wants to assist with, but can’t solve by spinning webs or climbing walls. These problems distract Spiderman at critical times to the good of the story.
Butcher also does more with the Rhino than any author I’ve yet encountered. I’ve always like the villain, but Butcher made me like the man behind the villain even more. Add to that, he doesn’t ignore the fact that NYC is full of superheroes who might be expected to help Spiderman with his problems.
Finally, and I think most importantly in a superhero novel, Butcher presents a trio of supervillains who are truly fearsome—an excellent threat for Spiderman from start to finish.
|Posted by Gilbert Stack on January 12, 2022 at 6:05 PM|
The American West by Patrick N. Allitt
This Great Courses text on The American West remembers something many people forget when thinking about the past. The American West did not star with cowboys herding cattle in the mid 19th century. It began with the original British colonies as they moved inland from the coast and Allitt focuses on this moving boundary in the first three-quarters of his book. He charts wars, politics, changes in the economy and technology, discoveries like gold, the challenges of desert, plain and wilderness, the quest for religious freedom, and of course, the impact on the people already inhabiting those lands.
That was actually more of the history than I wanted. Anyone conversant with American history is already familiar with most of what Allitt talks about in this first section. Where the book really shines is when the author focuses thematically on issues like homesteading, or cattle ranching, or mining, or women, or the western myths that shape and remain in our society. It was this last idea that interested me the most and I would have been glad to see many more chapters devoted to it. Those issues aside, this book remains a great introduction to an important aspect of the history of America.
|Posted by Gilbert Stack on January 11, 2022 at 7:00 PM|
December Park by Ronald Malfi
There are two parts to a great horror story—the buildup and the monster that is causing all of the trouble. In December Park, the buildup—the characters, the problem, the slowly increasing tension and sense of danger—is all great. Unfortunately, the big bad monster causing the problems did not satisfy the expectations that the excellent build up had created in me.
The problem is that kids are disappearing in a small town and originally the police don’t even want to admit that there is anything wrong. It seems clear they knew there was trouble—early on the first body is uncovered—but they don’t know what to do about it and so they do pretty much nothing. Our heroes, a young boy and his friends, work themselves into a game of investigation in which they seem to be making much more progress toward uncovering the villain (nicknamed the Piper as in Pied Piper fame) than the authorities are. Interspersed along the way are the sorts of problems school aged kids have including older bullies.
I thought this part of the novel ran a little long, but there is no question that it kept my attention and had me flipping pages to learn what would happen next. Unfortunately, the resolution—i.e. the Piper—just didn’t make any sense to me. It came out of left field and I just couldn’t figure the motivations. It bothered me so much that I almost reread the book to see if I had missed something when I realized it just wouldn’t have mattered. Nothing the author could have told me earlier would have made this resolution of the book sit well with me.
It's a shame. This novel was well on its way to earning five stars, but it lost its way in the last few chapters leaving me disappointed.