Review by: Mark Palm
One of my college writing professors told me once that her favorite kind of thrillers were ones were the writer takes a character who has not a job, but an avocation, or a calling; then the writer dumps them in a sticky situation and watches while they work their way out of it using nothing but the tools and skills of their trade. She claimed that writers as disparate as Donald Westlake and Michael Cheighton were excellent purveyors of this genre.
When I read Notorious by Allison Brennan it occurred to me that this novel fit neatly into this category. And while it isn't quite up there with the best works of the aforementioned writers it certainly is a very good thriller, and well-worth your time.
Maxine Revere is the main character, a crime reporter and True-Crime author who has managed to also anchor a television show about unsolved crimes on cable. For Max though, this is not just her job, but has become her identity, and her passion gets kick-started when she returns home to attend the funeral of Kevin, a friend who was accused, but acquitted, of killing Lindy, another friend, shortly after graduating high school. The whole circle was to the Manor born, except for Max, who ends up in the trust fund set after her mother drops her off to live with her rich parents. If this isn't enough Max is just off of the plane on the way to the funeral when an old couple accost her and asks her to look into the mysterious and unsolved murder of their grandson, which took place only weeks ago, on the grounds of Atherton Prep, where Max and all of her friends attended a few decades ago. All of this takes place early in the book, and for the rest of the ride we are in the capable hands of Ms. Brennan, who smoothly unwinds a tangled skein of a plot with care and skill.
All of the characters are solid and well drawn, but this is Max's book from stem to stern, and she carries it off; smart, funny, self-deprecating, and above all dedicated to revealing the truth no matter what, she is a wonderful lead. It's a blast to watch her as she negotiates the equally tricky terrains of Law Enforcement on one hand, and the very wealthy on the other, each with their own language and customs. Mysteries both old and new are discovered and solved, and in a very satisfying manner. Max is no super hero, but no matter if she is in mortal danger or a moral quandary she makes it through by sticking steadfastly to her guns; the truth will set you free.
My only complaint with this book is one that I have had a lot lately. There is nothing really wrong with it, but saddling a thriller with the same title as the famous Hitchcock film is tempting fate.
Review by: Mark Palm
I know that a lot of people feel otherwise, but I have to admit that I have never been a big fan of The Wizard of Oz. Now I was a big fan of Gregory McGuire's Wicked, but was disappointed with the musical. I haven't read any of the books, and the only things that grabbed me in the original film were the Wicked Witch, the flying monkeys, and the antic flexibility of Ray Bolger. So why am I interviewing Oz by Joe Brusha, Orlando Di Sessa and Miguel Mendonca, because it's a comic book.
Now you think that I would have loved this thing because the cover shows Dorothy looking like a cross between Wonder Woman and a Playboy centerfold in a pair of Daisy Dukes and a cutoff-shirt that would get you arrested unless you are Britney Spears. Most of the characters are like-wise pumped up for this re-telling, with all of the Witches looking like centerfolds, and Toto as a wolf the size of a small pony with a penchant for tearing his enemies throats out. The Lion is a sword-wielding barbarian, the Woodsman is a cyborg, and the Scarecrow is almost as scary as the flying monkeys.
Now the basic story is the same, except that Dorothy Gale is more, shall we say, proactive; on her arrival in Oz she dispatches Zinna, with a bolt of energy from a wand that basically tears the Witch to pieces. After this we discover that Dorothy has a Destiny, and that the fate of not only Oz and Earth, but many other worlds hang precariously in the balance. So we continue down the Yellow Brick Road, except every few pages they encounter a terrific battle with swords being slung, energy bolts flung, and blood spilled.
If it sounds like I am being dismissive of this adaption, I am, a bit, but the thing is that in a kind of brainless way it was a lot of fun. The story has nothing new to say, but the pencils and inks, and the colors are all very-well done, and the layouts are top-notch. There is no singing, and no dancing, and there is plenty of blood and mayhem, and did I mention that Dorothy and all of the Witches look like centerfolds? All that this story needed was a good catch-phrase, and I am sure that you would be seeing this adaptation showing up on the big screen a few years from now. So I beat the rush, checked my brain in and liked Oz. Like most works of its kind. However, I forgot most of the story five minutes later, which kind of makes me appreciate the film a little bit more, because I still can remember the flying monkeys.
Review by: Mark Palm
I imagine that somewhere out there is a reader who is thinking that if I say one more thing about Sherlock Homes he (or she) is going to stuff a sock down my throat...but...
Fatal Inquiry by Will Thomas begs to be compared to the work of Arthur Conan Doyle. It is the story of an Inquiry Agent, much like a private detective with some important differences, named Cyrus Barker, and his assistant, Thomas Llewelyn, a young Welshman. It is set in Victorian London. Barker is idiosyncratic character, if not eccentric. A master of oriental martial arts, with extensive ties throughout London, in places both high and low, and an arch-enemy who is brilliant and deadly, one Sebastian Nightwine.
You don't have to be a Baker Street Irregular to see the similarities, but I am more than happy to tell you all of that is superficial. Barker and Llyewelyn are not Holmes and Watson. Mr. Thomas is working in familiar territory but the differences in his work makes it quite clear that he is his own writer, and Fatal Inquiry is a taut and tense work of detective fiction.
The story starts when Barker and Llewelyn learn that the aforesaid villain, Captain Sebastian Nightwine is returning to London after a prolonged absence. He and Barker have been enemies for most of their adult lives , starting back when Nightwine arranged the death of Barker's brother during the Taiping rebellion. Apparently even a metropolis like London isn't big enough for the both of them because they immediately begin trying to arrange the others downfall, with the first battle going to Nightwine, as he frames Barker for murder, forcing him and Llewelyn do go underground and battle to uncover the truth, and Nightwine's deadly plans while trying to clear Barker's name.
The story takes off like a racehorse with a rocket on its ass from the word go, as the two Inquiry Agents use all of their considerable guile and physical prowess to unravel a complicated and nefarious plot by Nightwine that would essentially set him up as a veritable emperor in Tibet using English soldiers and money to get the job done. There are a ton of vivid characters, some from history, and a mysterious assassin that charmed this readers pants off. The outcome is always in doubt, and Mr. Thomas keeps the screws on tight, never letting you relax for a second. The only canard I have is the title, which is apt, but sounds like an awful Michael Douglas straight-to-video thriller that nobody remembers. As I have said before more than once, forget the title, and read the book.
Review by: Mark Palm
There has always been a certain gloominess attached to the Victorian era in England. I think it’s probably because of all of those black and white illustrations in the works of Doyle and Dickens more than anything. As an era it was no less colorful than any other, but with all of the fog from the Thames and the gaslight lamps I can see how a certain air of darkness has become a permanent part of our imaginations of that time and place.
If it is anything The Devil in the Corner is definitely a gloomy Victorian book. So much so that it at times it threatened to bring even me, a huge fan of the era, to a dead stop. The book is about one Maud Greenwood, a fifteen-year old governess, whom like so many women of the time, has a bit of an opium addiction, and a ton of other problems as well, like a checkered past, through no fault of her own, an uncertain present and an even worse-looking future. Fortunately she seems like she has been saved by that wonderful deus ex machina of the times, a rich relative. That her salvation turns into the biggest threat that Maud has yet to face is a wonderful touch, and at times I get the feeling that the author Patricia Elliot seems to enjoy subverting the clichés as much as she enjoys employing them. There are plenty of both to go around, as well, from the overly romantic Artist John, who becomes Maud's love interest and potential savior, to a huge manor house in the desolate countryside, and many more that I can begin to list.
For all of that the biggest problem I had was also one of the books strengths; its realism. Maud is pretty much powerless against the combined forces of class and money, and as much as I felt for her, and recognized the truth of her circumstances I wished that she would have shown a bit more fight, and drive. As it is for most of the book she is a character just waiting for the axe to fall. Heaven knows that a great portion of the women of the era felt particularly powerless, but Maud's story is so stooped in gloom that at times I felt like grabbing the bottle of laudanum and indulging in a few drops to ease the pain.
There is a fair amount of plot in the book, including the usual machinations over property and in heritance, a sinister servant, and a painting that seems to everyone the willies, but the crux of the plot consists of the burgeoning but forbidden romance between Maud and John, and what fate her patron, Julia Greenwood, has in store for Maud. Near the end of the book there are some sudden twists and turns as the police and poisonings suddenly rear their melodramatic heads. At the last moment, when things look their absolute worst the whole thing takes a sudden turn towards a happy ending, but it was bit too late for me. I just couldn't quite shake the blues. Maybe it was all that laudanum.