Archive for the ‘1’ Category

Blood & Ink Promo Video

Posted: January 21, 2011 in 1

Déja Dead

Posted: February 17, 2010 in 1

Kathy Reichs

Review © 2010 G.N. Jacobs

Imagine my surprise that Dr. Temperance Brennan is not necessarily a stunning, but socially awkward genius with a state of the art lab in Washington, D.C. Yes, I do watch too much TV, but either way the character is fascinating.

In Déja Dead, Kathy Reichs gives us a Temperance Brennan that feels very autobiographical to Dr. Reichs’ own career as a forensic anthropologist. Brennan is a middle aged divorced mother going to work every day in downtown Montreal. Her main task is identify and reinter bodies from dug up church burials and to assist the medical examiners when a body is too decomposed for a traditional soft tissue autopsy.

Female bodies and skeletons roll into the lab and the trail goes cold. But, Tempe feels a connection between the bodies and surmises that a serial killer is at work among the ancient bricks and stones of Montreal. But, few in law enforcement pay her very much attention as the bodies are just different enough that they can be interpreted as the work of a serial killer learning and refining his game, or as five separate murders.

Meanwhile, Tempe is being dragged into what appears to be a completely unrelated drama with her good friend Gabrielle, an accomplished living subject anthropologist. Gabrielle is studying the hookers that live and work in Montreal’s red light district and she has picked up a stalker. Soon, someone is stalking Tempe as well…

I found the writing of this first in the series to be quite masterful in terms of balancing the routine with the elements that convert Déja Dead from a dry report into a novel of eminent readability. Kathy Reichs probably never snuck out of the lab to do her own investigating leaving such things to cops with guns. But, if Temperance Brennan doesn’t follow ten seconds behind the stormtroopers only to discover from a warm pot of spaghetti-Os that the suspect is still on the premises, we don’t read the book.

But, Tempe must then go back into the lab and call up a colleague in another city for insight concerning the saw that hacked up the bodies. Apparently, there are so few forensic anthropologists that their conventions are too small to get first billing in a fun city like Las Vegas. Reichs managed to hold my interest with the juxtaposition of the action and the lab work.

I wanted to learn a little more about Temperance Brennan the woman making use of a fabulous job offer in Montreal to start over after a wrecked marriage. Perhaps, this was because Tempe didn’t know anyone in Montreal, except for Gabrielle? That she had been fulltime in the citadel on the St. Lawrence for at least a year before the story begins suggests she needs to get out more. I didn’t get any slow moments with friends in the bar, because Gabrielle’s peril overwhelms the social interaction. Well, there are more books in the series.

The killer in this piece is like many in the real world, boring nobodies who take up killing to liven up a life of quiet desperation. These people are always brought down by a combination of solid police work that places the suspect as the common element in all the found bodies, a profile and their common need to hang onto souvenirs. This proves that even the mundane can be dangerous, which is another brilliance of this book.

I enjoyed the You-Are-There feel to this book. I ran through back alleys trying to catch up with suspect running from his hidey-hole where he kept his souvenirs of his grisly work. It was creepy to rifle through the killer’s stuff. I suspect the audience couldn’t handle the real thing. This tension propels the reader through the story to the exciting climax that begins with a dead phone line at Chez Brennan…

Déja Dead is one fine read good for keeping a reader awake on an airplane or at the beach. I wonder what will happen next.

Sherman Alexie

Review © 2009 G.N. Jacobs

What is going on? I read a collection of short stories by a Native American writer and there isn’t a single reference to a skinwalker or Wendigo. For a writer that dresses his angst and memories, however distorted, up in starkly drawn archetypes that scare, thrill and/or amuse, a mostly autobiographical collection of short stories from a segment of America that is almost as alien to me as the Barsoom culture of C.S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy seems like a stretch. But, then I read everything and worry about what sticks later.

Sherman Alexie writes of his childhood on the Spokane Indian Reservation by turns far more stark than anything that bubbles out of my mind, but maintains a love and reverence for the people in his life to whom he extended the Names Changed to Protect the Guilty status. I suppose the operative rule here is that we grow up loving our families, even if they are drunks. It takes a lot to wipe clean the psychic scars of our families.

Lone Ranger causes a an intense emotional rollercoaster for the reader as much for the shared debate about our history as for the simple power of the stories about Indians on a reservation that lived the stereotype of drunks with no hope. We write what we see around us and Alexie saw fistfights on the lawn, fathers abandoning their children and a river of alcohol. Is it stereotype or autobiography?

The best writers say F-O and make their daily page quotas. It is not the writer’s job to second-guess his life for appropriate review by people who weren’t there. Even still, I couldn’t decide if I wanted to weep for a culture destroyed by greed or simply shrug and let people figure out on-their-own that everyone has choices to make.

Alexie uses some clever shifts in narrative style to tell interlocked stories about the Spokane Reservation and the people with whom he grew up. Sometimes the narrator or focus character is Victor and sometimes Junior Polatkin. Both of these voices tell tales of alcohol-fueled stupidity mixed with echoes of the great stories of the tribe’s past and a deep all abiding passion for basketball.

We all have our booze stories and we all think ours are the greatest until we read stories like these created by professionals. I haven’t directly experienced fistfights between family members like in “Every Little Hurricane.” I only heard about them a few days later. But, even on Alexie’s reservation good things happen.

Boys skip school to visit grandfathers. Friends share beer, good times and fantastic stories. Mothers make fry bread and make do with government cheese. The people endure. The stories endure, especially when told by Thomas Builds-Fire, a storyteller like Cassandra to whom no one listens. The dream-stories of Indians winning against the whites or at least gaining a more favorable place in society serve as a counterpoint to the misery and despair of reservation life. Indians steal horses and play cowboy songs and hold their own.

There were some concepts missing from Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven at least in the versions of this book that have been circulating since 1993. I thought the basketball was given short shrift in the stories that passed muster with the editor. Hoops only serves as a symbol of loss, the one good thing that goes away because Indians drink too much and wallow in their sadness most palpable.

Sure, there are a few scenes of characters picking up the rock and shooting hoops until they heal. But, mostly Alexie violates “Show don’t Tell” when it comes to the basketball. One of these stories really needed to take place on the court. Most of us have tried to play sports; we would recognize ourselves in the low post sweat running freely making a commitment that the gomer with the ball will never score on us.

But, we are only told how important basketball is for building and supporting what remains of Spokane Reservation society and culture. It’s a flaw in an otherwise beautiful book where the reader can smell the whiskey, puke and meat not even a dog would touch. I could hear the laughter of Indians trying to hold onto what remains of their dignity. I really wanted to learn more about how Victor and/or Junior stood their ground in the ninety-foot arena, but I was only told “an Indian probably was shooting hoops before Naismith invented the game.”

All in all Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven was a very good reason to learn literacy: that we get to learn new things we would never experience. So maybe their will be a better hoops story in the thirtieth anniversary version of the book.



S.J. Day

Review © 2009 G.N. Jacobs

S.J. Day infuses the first book of her Marked series, Eve of Darkness, with all the high-octane sex and action any literary thrill junky would need. Mostly, this is because the heroine, Evangeline Hollis, wipes out a dragon in the ladies room at Qualcomm Stadium during a Chargers-Seahawks football game. She wore flip-flops at the time making it seem all the more impressive.

God, or at least one of his minions, has picked Eve to bear the Mark of Cain and spend however long it takes killing demons until her sins have been worked off. Her sin, you ask? She is that one special girl that tempted the original Mark, Cain, into impossible desires of home and family, when he is so good at splashing demons. So, allowing ten years for divine justice to play out, Cain’s brother, Abel, seduces her and gives her the Mark.

It is actually excellent writing from the James Bond School of screenwriting that Eve took out the dragon in the bathroom. It is such an over the top teaser set six weeks ahead of the rest of the book that it covers up an awful necessity of first books in most Fantasy/Sci-Fi series: Exposition. Explaining how Marked sinners get that way and with what powers they have been blessed to use killing demons can eat up much of the 350 pages or so allotted by editors for a first release in mass-market paperback.

Still, for all of my indulgences concerning exposition, I still felt there was a tad much all at once. Halfway through the book, while I enjoyed Eve Hollis as a spunky, I’m-not-a-victim, reluctant heroine determined to get time off for good behavior, I was complaining that whatever the bad guys were up to wasn’t happening soon enough due to the exposition.

Let’s see, Eve shags Abel and gets the Mark and then we are treated to dueling sex scenes starring Eve and Cain: once in the present where Cain helps her through the change to Marked and one ten years before showing how Cain took Eve’s virginity. If you add in the business of explaining what Marks can do, there went the first half of the book. If it hadn’t been for the interesting twin mother figures of Eve’s Japanese mother, Miyoko Hollis, and her nice neighbor, Mrs. Basso, there would have been very little plot advancement in the first half, the Kiss of Death to a book.

However, the story picks up in the second half so the reader won’t mind the slow start. Cain and Abel both fall for Eve with the attendant Oedipal references that she bears their mother’s name and start competing to get her naked. Demons attack before Eve has gone through training almost as if she were a Bond girl frozen in the headlights. Some attacks are irritating like being peed on by a Tengu, a demon species behind the gargoyle myths, or facing her very own water demon.

Eve also begins to suspect that some of the people on the good guy side are playing their own agendas and using Eve and her exasperating triangle with Cain and Abel as a key pawn in the celestial chess game. S.J. Day leaves it up to the second and third books published almost concurrently with Eve of Darkness for us to learn whether the Archangels and God will resolve their differences.

One thing I’m curious about is to see if we hear more from Cain and Abel about what really happened in the events recorded in the Bible at least in S.J. Day’s universe. Both characters state that the recorded Scripture is some truth, some fictional embellishment and a lot of parable. It would be interesting to hear why Cain killed Abel the first time instead of having Cain clam up like a man still hurting. Or perhaps Ms. Day is sensitive to the Bible thumpers out there that speak loudly about any perceived threat to the Revealed World of God and doesn’t need to kick over that anthill.

The Marked series is loaded with all kinds of archetypal references that make for great literature and valuable psychology sessions. God, Angels, Demons and the Mark of Cain all make for a grand stage on which a female variation of Cincinnatus stands in the breach daring all comers to try their luck. Between these concepts and the flat out unashamed erotic sex and comic book action of course Eve of Darkness will read like the great book it very nearly is. A kick-ass romp of sex and violence will do nicely.