Wrapping up Shadow of the Sun

As I mentioned previously, I picked up Shadow of the Sun by Laura Kreitzer for free as the first Kindle book I loaded onto my shiny new iPad. Her goal, I’m sure, is to get people to read the first volume and subsequently pay for the following volumes.

While I found the story interesting, I will not be one of those to pony up for the sequels. The pity is that some of the flaws in this volume could easily have been avoided. Others are more systemic.

I marked more than twenty errors of grammar or editing while I read. That’s not very good, but for very long passages that I read while working out, I was not able to mark the errors I found. It would not surprise me if there were fifty errors in this volume that a good proofreader would have found. A misspelling on the first page, for crying out loud, and the horrific offense of using setup as a verb happened somewhere in there.

The other way strong editorial guidance could have helped is with a long stretch of story that went: “I was so sad I thought I would die! Then I got SADDER and I really thought I was going to die from the sheer weight of sorrow. Then I got EVEN SADDER…”

All this piling of sadness on sadness, punctuated with backstory, got pretty old. Then the action begins! And ends! After a long action sequence earlier, this climactic one at the end of the book was over in a flash, and seemed like it was just to get us moved on past the parade of pathos and into the next book.

Ah, the next book. This volume actually did feel like something was concluded: Act One. We get a real sense that the main character is moving on (after a heartbreaking funeral scene). Considering how open-ended the ending was, It did provide some closure on what had gone before.

Meanwhile, there was an extra dude in this book, whose only purpose was to fulfill the rule that spunky female leads must have more than one alpha male hot for them. This character did absolutely zero in this book but be a nice guy who miraculously survives shit that blows away supernatural beings. In the teaser for the next book, we see he will play a much larger role. Note to Ms. Kreitzer: you could have just waited and introduced him in book two and no one would have thought twice about it. I think a good editor would have suggested that Nice Guy not be there the whole time.

Having said all that, I didn’t dislike the book. With more action (not just violence–nudge, nudge) and less moping it would have been a fun read and I might have been tempted to pony up for the next episode. As it is, there are just too many other more-tightly-written spunky heroines with multiple suitors, and some of them aren’t even Chosen Ones.

Note: if you use the above link to somehow pay for this free book (or a Kindle, or a new car), I get a kickback.

Overqualified

It all started here. Joey Comeau needed a job. Somewhere along the way he began to exercise a little more creativity than perhaps is optimum in job application cover letters. Some are hilarious, some are poignant, some are just plain odd. None of them are bound by any sort of requirement to tell the truth.

He didn’t get any of those jobs.

After the police showed up on his doorstep one morning, he stopped actually sending the cover letters in. He continued to compose them, however, and post them on his Web site. He didn’t really want any of those jobs, anyway. Somewhere along the way he got the idea that he could use this form to tell an actual story. Each letter would in itself be significant, but when strung end-to-end they would reveal a larger story, at first hinted at and subsequently revealed.

Put another way, it’s “take what you’re doing already and repackage it in a way that you can sell.” And thus, Overqualified was born.

It is a book of moments, beads on a string that form a larger pattern. Some of those moments are pretty powerful. Some of them aren’t. They go by quickly and before you know it you’re at the end of a brief autobiography told in nuggets of nonsense.

I was a little disappointed, I guess, that many of the supposed cover letters in the book had no ties to the job being applied for. One of the fun things about the letters I linked to above is the cleverness with which he twists the job descriptions, and the decidedly odd ways he represents himself as a candidate. While it does happen occasionally in the book, I missed that cleverness much of the time.

Of course, before there was a larger story to tell, the letters were all about cleverness. The book has a larger purpose and I suppose that means trade-offs.

Comeau certainly has a gift with language. The words he chooses are often evocative as well as descriptive, and a sense of tragedy grows as we move along. He’s at his best when he’s both funny and poignant, as near the end when he applies to be a tour guide, revisiting the scenes of past failures. That bit alone is probably worth the cost of admission.

EDIT YEARS LATER: I still think about this book. Possibly you will, too.

Note: if you use the above link to buy this book (or a Kindle, or a new car), I get a kickback.

3

Escapement

There is a vibrant subgenre of science fiction that goes by the moniker steampunk. A steampunk world is filled with gears and gizmos, crazy clockwork inventions that in a broad sense answer the question “what if the information age started without electricity?” Escapement by Jay Lake takes the steampunk idea one step further: rather than filling the world with crazy mechanisms, the world itself is a piece of clockwork machinery. The Universe is a functioning machine.

What would the effect be in the inhabitants of such a world? Theology would certainly be changed dramatically, as evidence of intelligent design is right there in the brass gears that move the planets in their tracks. On this Earth there is a wall around the equator, miles and miles high, that fits into the track that defines the Earth’s orbit. (Gravity still seems to function, and the Earth is the same size as our home planet, so I’m not sure how regular orbital mechanics interact with the mechanical orbital mechanism. But anyway…)

The inhabitants of the flat parts of the Earth are similar in temperament and technology to those of Victorian era. (Steampunk loves the victorian age.) England never lost her colonies, despite an abortive rebellion in the US led by Lincoln and Lee, and now rules Europe as well. China is rivaling England’s dominance of North Earth. South of the wall… who knows? No one has managed to get there and back again. There are tensions between the two powers, and both nations are trying to reach South Earth. There are also international secret societies with their own agendas.

It’s a volatile situation. You know what could be disastrous at a time like that? A genius, that’s what. Adding Paolina Barthes to that situation is like adding an atomic bomb to gasoline.

Paolina was born in a dying village at the foot of the wall, way out in the Atlantic. The wall is a vertical continent filled with all kinds of strange creatures and intelligences, including robots. (Since Čapek has yet to be born, they are called Brass Men.) Events and Stupid People drive her from her home, and she sets out along the wall to find distant Africa, to travel from there to England, where the great wizards create the machines that can change destiny. Paolina has also built a clock — only it’s more than a clock, it’s a device that is in tune with the mechanisms that drive the world. Once it is tuned to resonate with something in the world, it can be used to alter that thing. Some folks on the wall call it a gleam.

In her travels she meets a Brass Man. He is a machine, identical to all the others but for the memories in the crystals in his head that have not been shared yet. There is a code word, he tells Paolina, a word that he himself does not know, that would break the seal that ties him to Authority. Naturally Paolina resolves to find that code to free him.

There are two other main characters as well, but they are less interesting. Perhaps this is partly because of the way we meet them. More on that shortly. Angus al-Wazir is a big, Scottish (with a bit of Arab) military man, formerly of an airship that went down while exploring the wall. He’s made it back to England but now finds himself part of a project to drill a hole through the wall to get to the other side. Emily Childress is a librarian and a member of one of the aforementioned secret societies. She’s been dragged from her library and is about to become a political sacrifice when Events intervene, and she finds herself prisoner on a Chinese submarine.

This was a fun book, but I want to talk for a little bit about the first couple of chapters. Each chapter starts with Paolina, then comes Angus, then comes Emily. Paolina lives on al Muralha; it shapes her life. As something that’s always been there, it’s not something she considers directly that often. I, on the other hand, had no idea what the hell al Muralha was. The village is small, and dying, and everyone besides her is really quite stupid. Only gradually do I start to discover what everyone in the story already knows — that the wall is truly, stupendously, mind-bogglingly tall. In the meantime, I was confused.

It has become a theme in my rambling reviews of late to discuss the way a novel interacts with others of a series. The other two characters in this story (and the wall) were introduced in a previous book. When we are introduced to Angus and Emily there is a whole ton of backstory to deal with, especially with Emily. We are told about Emily’s role in sending some other guy off on a mission with the White Birds, her secret society. We are told about the theological differences between her society an the others they are at odds with. The thing is, all that backstory could have waited. I was starving for information, but given a bunch of blah-blah-blah instead. What I was waiting for was for someone to look at the damn sky. More than once there are passing references to brass in the sky, and even phrases like, “one had only to look at the sky to see the hand of the creator.” I thought at first that the writer was being coy, teasing me along with references to the strange clockwork universe, but in the end that wasn’t it. I think the wall and the sky were made clear in the previous book and he didn’t feel the need to go into the details again. I can’t say for sure as I haven’t read the previous one. I just needed Paolina to spend an evening estimating the width of the track the Earth follows (later she mentions that she has done this), perhaps calculating the stresses on it or speculating on the motive force behind it, to not only appreciate the clockwork world but Paolina as well. It would have been interesting and could have focussed on details of the world not touched on in the previous book, to make it interesting to newbies and returning fans as well.

So we begin with a lot of information, but it’s the wrong information. All that other backstory that we did get is also handled when it is actually needed, so overall chapter one, when we should be getting to know the people and the world, is more about getting to know a different and not terribly relevant story.

After we get through the blah-blah-blah (which is pretty quick) we get on with the story and it’s a pretty good adventure. Just how much power Paolina’s gleam holds is revealed gradually and interestingly, and her struggle to find a place in a sexist society is excellent. Eventually she has to come to grips with the fact that she is an atomic bomb in an ocean of gasoline, and figure out what to do about it. Angus is all right, a tough and sensible guy with an honorable streak. Emily never really picked up a third dimension. The three converge for the big finish, but in the end Emily doesn’t matter much, except to provide a vehicle to tell us, the readers, what the Chinese are up to. Angus has several sub-adventures along the way that add flavor but not substance to the narrative. Somewhere along the wall he foments a Coup d’Etat, then drives away unaffected. Huh. I guess the author needed something for him to do to preserve the structure of the chapters.

Overall, this was an entertaining read, and I’m glad it was in my goody bag at the World Fantasy Convention last November. Had I read this review beforehand, I would have enjoyed it even more. I would have had the right backstory. Now you can go in prepared.

Note: if you use the above link to buy this book (or a Kindle, or a new car), I get a kickback.

Maledicte

Note: On review lo these years later I have to admit that this is one of my less-coherent reviews. Which is too bad, because the book really is good.

I met Lane Robins a couple of years ago in a writing workshop. I was strongly encouraged by others there that I should read Maledicte, but someone else in the workshop bought the last copy from the university book store, so I had to wait. It’s been a while now but I finally got around to ordering the book through Amazon and reading it.

I’m not going to give this book a great review because I know the author; I’m going to give this book a great review because I genuinely liked it. Not everyone may be comfortable with this book, but it’s a really rewarding read. (My bias toward the author is manifested in that If I didn’t like the book I just wouldn’t review it.)

First, hats off for the publisher, who created a striking volume with great cover art and a substantial feel. I’ll be ordering a Kindle in the near future, but this book’s physical presence adds to the experience. It’s a pleasure to hold.

At the heart of this story is a love triangle. It’s a very complicated love triangle, between very dangerous people. Maledicte is a beautiful young man in blind pursuit of vengeance against one of the most powerful people in the land. Maledicte is also a young woman from the slums of the city who will do anything to be reunited with her childhood sweetheart. Toward both ends Maledicte has been granted power from a god long thought dead, manifested in a black-bladed rapier — ever sharp, ever quick to hand, ready to spill blood. When his vengeance is complete, Maledicte will have a price to pay.

In his pursuit of vengeance Maladicte finds a powerful ally, and the servant of the lecherous old man forms the second point on the triangle. For a while as their relationship developed I found it difficult to understand why Gilly put up with Maledicte at all. “Here we go again,” I thought to myself, “another petulant rage by Maledicte.” Gilly is thoroughly convinced that Maledicte is male, and he’s a damn unpleasant person to be around most of the time. There is a moment when that changes, a brief, candid conversation that provides a glimpse into the human being behind the horrible mask. After that things made a lot more sense. Just in time, too, because the body count is about to start climbing.

Gilly is troubled that he is attracted to a man, but there’s not much he can do about it, except run away to distant shores and start over. He’s not ready to resort to that, yet, though as time passes he finds himself getting drawn deeper into the web of death and intrigue, his own hands getting bloodied even as he recoils in horror.

The third point on the triangle is Janus, Maledicte’s old flame, also from the slums and every bit as dangerous as Maledicte. He is the bastard child of the man Maledicte wants to kill; Janus just wants to make sure that death furthers his own goals. Where Maledicte kills to further his plans for vengeance, Janus is driven by ambition. He is subtle, seemingly an easygoing young man, only slowly revealing the depths and intricacies of his plotting. Calling him evil would miss the point; his affection for Maledicte is genuine, and he will sacrifice for her. But if that sacrifice means killing people and becoming one of the most powerful men in the land, well, you have to break a few eggs to make an omelette.

In this story Robins asks us to like some pretty unlikeable folks. There are no angels between these pages, and good people die. Also, bad people die. I was unable to sympathize with Maledicte at all for a while; to the point where it started to get in the way. Once I got the glimmer of light from Maledicte’s soul, I was completely on board. Heinous acts and atrocities begin to pile up (the royal court is not a pleasant place), and because we can see Maledicte through Gilly’s eyes, and we see that the victims are rarely innocent themselves, we can still pull for our heroes.

All three of the characters are able to surprise us, and all are realistic — if in twisted ways — as are the supporting cast. The machinations of the court are laid out so naturally that thinking back I’m surprised to realize how complex it all was. There were a couple of background issues that didn’t help the story (Antimachinists, for instance), that are probably there to set up another story but got in the way here. That’s a quibble, though.

Love, hate, revenge, duty, despair, jealousy, and downright crazy all take their turns pulling on the strings of the characters, and what’s really great about this book is that you feel it – even the crazy. This book is both atmospheric and visceral, and doesn’t pull it’s punches. You are right there with everyone else. It’s a good ride.

Note: if you use the above link to buy this excellent book (or a Kindle, or a new car), I get a kickback.

Jailbait Zombie

This was another in the pile of freebies I got at the World Fantasy Convention last fall. I pulled it out of the ‘to read’ pile when I was in the mood for some light reading, and light reading is what I got. That said, just because you don’t plan to win the Nobel Prize for Literature doesn’t mean you can abandon sense when writing a story. Even a story called Jailbait Zombie.

What do you expect from a book with a title like that, combined with a cover that has a silhouette of a slender female in a graveyard, carrying handcuffs? You expect a pulpy romp with some racy bits, a tongue-in-cheek attitude, a feeling that you’re on an amusement park ride and the conductor is having a wonderful time. There’s some of that here, but I get the feeling that our guide in this weird world, Mario Acevedo, pulled his punches. This is not the sort of narrative that benefits from subtlety.

The protagonist, Felix Gomez, is a vampire. He’s a newbie, quite naïve about many elements in the vampire world, yet for some reason he’s an enforcer – it’s like hiring a 12-year-old on a bike to be a sheriff’s deputy. Anyway, we join Felix as he’s being treated for a zombie bite. Apparently he and his buddy have already cornered the zombie in a construction site; we were not treated to that action. Another vampire comes along, is an asshole, burns himself to death, and that’s it for that character. Huh.

Gomez is charged with finding out who is behind the zombies, and while he’s at it, find the source of some crazy psychic disturbances in rural Colorado. There are some interesting parts as he does his detective work — strange things happen, he gets mixed up with some unsavory characters, some of those characters disappear, and he winds up in the company of a young, distraught, dying girl who wants to become a vampire, and who also happens to have some amazing psychic mojo.

There is chasing, vampire mayhem, zombie dismemberment, tough scrapes, old friendships renewed, and quite a bit of good storytelling. It just seems that at key moments the author could go a little farther. Like with the sex. There’s sex in there, but it’s not visceral. It seems wedged in to allow the publisher to check off ‘racy’ on the marketing form. There’s not enough passion to it, no sweat and desperation and futility and hope. It’s just mechanics. Pulp fiction can’t be afraid of making a mess.

How would you react to watching someone you really don’t like burn to death? Probably a really weird mix of conflicting emotions, right? His screams making your hair stand on end even as some dark thing inside you prevents you from helping? The stench of his flesh turning your stomach. The reminder that even if you’re a vampire you’re not immortal. Seems like a great chance to really get inside the head of the main character. Only, in Jailbait Zombie this scene seems to be constructed only to demonstrate that our main man has no feelings at all — which makes him a lot less interesting. We learn soon after — and several times after that — that Gomez is guilt-ridden over something he did in the past, and that’s a start, but the author flashes back to that one event over and over, while passing up fresh opportunities right in the narrative flow.

There is, however, one totally awesome plot twist. “Wow!” I said when I read it. “Never saw that coming!” I’m willing to forgive a lot for a good surprise like that.

My biggest gripe from a storytelling standpoint is the complete idiocy of the mysterious organization that sent Gomez on his mission. Am I to believe that they simply forgot to tell him the crucial information that made his job harder and led to disaster, or is it that they chose to withhold that information? Either way, Gomez’s bosses (I forget what their mysterious cabal was named) are repeatedly guilty of being really bad at their jobs. Bad enough that I simply couldn’t accept that they would ever be bosses.

Maybe that becomes clearer as the series progresses.

Ah, yes, the series. The main reason I’m writing this review is so I can discuss series with all of you. You don’t have to thank me, it’s what I do.

Remember how I said it seemed like a significant chunk of action had already happened when I started the story? That’s because for all practical purposes, this book began on chapter two. Whither the erstwhile chapter one? At the end of the previous book. And guess what happens at the end of this book? Yep, Everything is wrapped up, Gomez relaxes, and then we are treated to chapter one of the next book. It’s like they dropped the proofs at the printer’s and got the covers in the wrong places when they put everything back together.

Sure, the cliffhanger has been a staple of series since the dawn of time (I imagine Homer wrapping up an evening of oration with Odysseus in some terrible bind), but if you’re going to put chapter one in the previous book, at least have the decency to mark it as such and also put it in the next book, as chapter one, where it belongs. There were enough flashbacks in this thing without also having to explain what had just happened before the story started. (Homer’s hypothetical cliffhangers would have occurred within a story told over episodes; no one in the audience thought they were going to hear the end of the Odyssey that night, and he could count on people being up to speed when he began his next performance.)

This is not to be confused with the honest “here’s the first chapter of the next book” sections that many series use. Those pages come after the current episode has been wrapped up and the reader already knows that what they are reading belongs to the next story. And if anyone picks up the second book without reading the first, they get to read the whole thing. The last two books I read that were parts of series did an excellent job making sure the covers of each volume contained an entire story. I consider it a contract with the publisher that I will get an entire story between the covers of a book unless otherwise noted.

None of those gimmicks are going to work anyway, unless we’re already nearly sold on reading the second volume based on the power of the first.

You may have already heard me rant about books marketed as a series when in fact there’s only one story that spans all the volumes. It is a series of one, split into many pieces. This is especially common in high fantasy, where “epic” now means “no pretense whatsoever at putting a complete story between the covers of each volume.” To me it also means “wait until all the volumes are published before you start reading.” Only then can you read a full, satisfying story from beginning to end (and you know ahead of time what you’re getting into).

Done properly a series is a good thing, giving a skilled writer an easy sell on subsequent books, and giving a reader a chance to explore more deeply characters that develop over an extended time. Everybody wins. Just make sure that within the series each episode can stand on its own.

Back, then, to Jailbait Zombie. It wasn’t bad, misplaced covers aside. It could have been better. It needs to more fully embrace what it is to really shine, and it needs fewer really stupid people in it.

Note: if you use the above link to buy this book (or a Kindle, or a new car), I get a kickback.

Amazon Ink

One of the cool things about attending a writing convention is the big pile of free reading material one comes away with. Writers and publishers pay to put their work in the hands of influential readers, hoping to generate buzz. Some are worthy of notice, others… not so much. Amazon Ink by Lori Devoti was in my pile of goodies from last Autumn’s World Fantasy Convention, and it looked promising. My sweetie got to it before I did, and enjoyed it. So, with expectations high, I picked it up.

The Amazons in question are straight from the Ancient Greeks, a tribe of fierce and magically adept women. They have lived among humanity since the ancient times, secreting themselves in out-of-the-way places (like Wisconsin). They live a long, long time, and perhaps that’s why they’re still using swords while the rest of the world has moved on to more lethal technology. They keep to themselves and while they have a lot of rules, there is one that tops all the others: No boys allowed.

Melanippe’s first child was a son, but that was a long time ago. She has not forgotten what happened to him. She no longer lives with the rest of the Amazons. She has gone into de facto exile in the city.

Mel has a reasonably comfortable life there, raising her teenage daughter — who knows nothing of her heritage. Mel’s not looking forward to that discussion. Melanippe herself is an artisan, a skilled tattoo artist, able to apply the traditional markings to young amazons. These markings are more than decoration, they are deeply personal and bind power and kinship among the clans. Mel’s also been dabbling in sorcery on the side, and she’s been getting pretty good at it.

She’s going to need all her skill now. Someone’s killing young Amazons and leaving them on her doorstep, with their tattoos carefully cut off. Whoever is doing it knows who they are. Melanippe must juggle a teenage daughter who is a ticking time bomb, cops who think she knows more about the deaths of the young women than she’s letting on, a mother and grandmother who are not shy about providing their opinions, and on top of everything else she must deal with a lot of very angry women with swords.

In a way this story is thematically kindred to The Delicate Dependency — a superspecies of humanity, a tiny minority, has been living among us for thousands of years, but now they are coming to realize that technology is fundamentally upsetting the balance between the races. Mere mortals can use machines and science to undermine the innate superiority of the few. In the case of the vampire story, they were dependent on humanity for sustenance; in Amazon Ink the main thing they need from mortals is sperm. Melanippe’s position as an exile has allowed her to straddle the two societies and see clearly that the time has come for change, even while most of her peers are content to live tucked away from prying eyes.

There’s romance (single mom, not even 100 years old yet, very fit, seeks…), plenty of mystery, and some great plots twists, all hung on a well-drafted framework of Amazon society. Some obstacles succumb to brute force, while others require wit and craft. As the story progresses you begin to sense that something else is going on, something no one has recognized. Some people don’t quite fit in the world as it’s being painted by the narrator. Some twists I saw coming from far away, while others snuck up on me. Overall it was a lot of fun to read. My expectations were high going in, and I was not disappointed.

This book is set up to the the first in a series, but Ms. Devoti went about it the right way — putting a full and complete story between the covers. There are still unresolved issues at the end, but that’s how real life works. I’m interested to find what comes next for this four-generation all-female family and the odd assortment of characters that have become attached to it.

Note: if you use the above link to buy this book (or a Kindle, or a new car), I get a kickback. You really should. It’s a good book.

One for the Money

It was after I read this passage:

During the winter months, wind ripped up Hamilton Avenue, whining past plate-glass windows, banking trash against curbs and storefronts. During summer months, the air sat still and gauzy, leaden with humidity, saturated with hydrocarbons. It shimmered over hot cement and melted road tar. Cicadas buzzed, Dumpsters reeked, and a dusty haze hung in perpetuity over softball fields statewide. I figured it was all part of the great adventure of living in New Jersey.

that I turned to my sweetie and said, “this looks promising.”

She was glad to hear me say that, since she had recommended the book to me, and said something like, “The first ten books in the series are all really good. The next ones go downhill, but the fifteenth was the first one I really was disappointed with.” You can probably dispense with the rest of this write-up — that tells you all you need to know.

One for the Money by Janet Evanovich is the first of fifteen (and counting) stories of Stephanie Plum, bounty hunter, and an interesting assortment of characters that surround her life. Stephanie does not wake up one morning saying “I think I’ll go be a bounty hunter and kick some ass.” Far from it. In fact, in this first installment Stephanie proves herself to be really bad at being a recovery agent. Ill-trained, ill-equipped, and unimposing of physique, she ends up with the job because she can’t find any other. Her cousin the bail bondsman doesn’t think she will succeed, but hasn’t got much to lose letting her try for a week.

Stephanie does have one advantage: She’s a local girl, and some of the kids she grew up with are still around, working as cops and storekeepers. It is this network that will allow her to survive.

Not all her friends are on the right side of the law. At the top of her list of people to apprehend: Joe Morelli. She hasn’t seen him since she hit him with her car years ago, in retaliation for his taking her virginity behind a deli counter and then never calling. You might say they have a history.

Stephanie is in way over her head, and if she were the stereotypical lone wolf hero type she would have been dead in two days. One man she tries to apprehend laughs at her, steals her stuff (including her brand-new gun), and slams his door in her face. There’s nothing she can do except call for help, and help comes. I imagine this is much more like what a real newbie bounty hunter would go through, no matter how badass they were.

What does she bring to the job that makes us care whether she succeeds or not? Well, she’s persistent, no doubt about that. And she’s courageous. She’s got grit. Moxy. A desperate need for cash. She’s willing to learn from her mistakes and it’s easy to imagine that one day she’ll be a kick-ass bounty hunter, if she lives long enough. (The release of the fourteenth novel in the series would indicate that she will live long enough.) I wonder if I’ll like her as much when she knows what she’s doing.

Meanwhile, Stephanie and Joe are driving each other crazy. She’s not good enough to capture him, but she’s persistent enough to cause him serious trouble. When she needs a car, and Joe’s is just sitting there going unused… well, what’s he going to do, call the police?

Joe is not Stephanie’s most serious problem, however; there’s a psychopathic boxer who likes to rape and torture women who has set his sights on her. He is very creepy and very scary and a real, believable threat to her life.

There are a lot of interesting characters (some of which are automobiles) in this book, and while they all have quirks, they are all believable. The reason for this is consistency – I never once thought, ‘Ramirez would never do that’. Well, actually there was one point where I thought exactly that, and in fact he hadn’t done it. Characters are consistent enough that behavioral changes are significant clues. It’s sad that we can’t take such basic craftsmanship for granted when we pick up a book to read, but let’s appreciate when it’s done well.

There’s an interesting quirk to the writing and I wonder if it’s intentional. Many times Stephanie comes home to her empty apartment (new extra deadbolt installed on the door) and we follow her through a series of mundane tasks — setting down her bag, putting away her keys, splashing water on her face or whatever. It’s the kind of thing that other books and screenplays use to slide us into the “She’s not alone!!!” moment. So trained have I been with this device that it’s more of a surprise now when she is alone. I was surprised several times in this story. Probably the author was just using these lulls for pacing, not realizing that she would be pushing my suspense button. It was pleasant all the same.

Naturally I have a couple of criticisms. The most serious is that the bad guy does the classic full-confession-before-I-kill-you-in-a-complicated-manner mistake, which really wasn’t necessary.

Overall I really enjoyed the language and the descriptions. The passage I quoted at the start uses some pretty high-falutin’ language but it reads gritty, which means the writer has mastered the language, rather than the other way around. There are lots of descriptions like this, where Evanovich finds just the right word to really put us in the scene. (OK, in the above I could quibble with shifting the scope of the description from a street to the entire state, but that’s the kind of thing you notice later, when you go back to take a closer look at a passage you particularly enjoyed.)

Will I read Two for the Dough? I don’t know. Probably, eventually. There are a lot of books on my shelf to be read first, though. While I liked this story plenty, it did not fill me with the burning desire to sit down and plow through the entire series.

Note: if you use the above link to buy this book (or a Kindle, or a new car), I get a kickback.