Bibi as a character is easily the center of attention, but some of the other characters are just as stellar. Pax, Bibi's fiance is honestly not in the story that much, but the pages he is on bring to light a dynamic, captivating, and thoroughly intriguing gentleman, who also happens to be a Navy SEAL. Pogo, the brother from another mother, is a great example of a kind and honest friend. I truly loved that this book was filled with so many people who seem genuinely good-natured. Often I find that books are required to have an overload of turmoil between various characters, and it was nice to see a book where all the family and friends where pulling together and had respect for each other.
The young men’s trip through America is reminiscent of Hunter Thompson’s famous trip with Oscar Acosta to Las Vegas that resulted in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Which means that the young men spend most of their time getting drunk, getting into fights, visiting prostitutes, and pulling tricks on one another. They also spend a lot of time hunting, which in that era meant killing as much wildlife as you possibly could.
Their shenanigans are often amusing, in a frat-boy sort of way, and are enhanced by Booth’s candor and wit, and he is frank in his discussion of subjects that were taboo at the time. Since this is a diary that is not all that surprising, but this work is not like the diaries of Anne Frank or Harry Truman. They are a basic commentary on food, drink, lodging and adventures, without the vision of social commentary that makes Fear and Loathing much more that an endless but entertaining debauch. Description and depth are sparse, but I expect that’s because these young men were interested in other things.
Mr. Cutsforth does an admirable job of providing a backstory and copious notes explaining and clarifying the means and mores of the times, as well as “ translating” the slang of the day, all without bogging down the story. Buffalo Bill does play a role in this tale, and Mr. Booth and the famed showman eventually became friends. I think that having his name in the title of this book is a bit of a stretch though, and more a matter of marketing than anything else. Although the prose in this book is bare-boned at best I think kudos are in order for Mr. Cutsforth for bringing use this diary.
Ms. Everly really seems to be at her best when she is looking through the eyes of her protagonist, and while the author makes several nods to the works of Ian Fleming, her creation, Eliana Havelocke, is definitely her own woman. She has all the prowess of Bond, but with more humor and an ironic sense of self-awareness that helps ground the more sensational aspects of the plot. Some of the science and technology might be questionable, but the action is well-described and realistic, and the last time I checked I don’t read thrillers for procedural accuracy and text-book dryness.
The characters are solid if unspectacular, except for Eliana, and she’s the one the matters. That her mission has a personal reason, which is hinted but not spelled-out, gives her story a bit more urgency than many spy thrillers, and Ms. Everly gives us just enough to sate us, but leaves enough mystery to make us want to come back. I got a particular kick out of Ms. Everly’s take on Treadik’s end-game, which was a real nod to the classic British spy genre, and her handling of her heroine’s sexuality, which was a reversal of the same. Ms. Everly even gives us an evil organization with a catchy names, and if this wasn’t an ARC I would quote her homage to a classic line from the Bond canon. All in all Havelock is a fast-moving clever thriller that left me me waiting for the next installment.
Nine years later a tough but conceited cop, Gordon Edmunds, is looking into the disappearance of the Bishops and he is lured into Slade House by an attractive young widow, Chloe Chetwynd. At dinner, the two witness ghosts. Once again things get decidedly surreal, and our protagonist is manipulated by their desires into becoming a victim of the strange beings who call Slade House their home. This pattern occurs again and again as we learn that the entities are Norah and Jonah Grayer, who need souls to feast upon. To go into more detail is impossible without dropping a ton of spoilers, but Mr. Mitchell rewards the patient reader, as each section of the story peels away a bit of the mystery. That’s part of the rub, though. For me, not knowing the story made the earlier sections exceptionally creepy. It was satisfying to learn more and more, but as I did I found the book to be a bit less effective.
Dreams so vivid that she makes detailed drawings of him and his life. Then one day she runs into him at a fencing match, and then all hell breaks loose, as bullets fly and Ava and Alex find themselves running for their lives as both the good guys and the bad guys are trying to find them. Oddly, in the midst of danger both find themselves acting and reacting to combat as if they had been trained for years. And when things look grim, the Black Widow shows up, and the plot kicks into high gear.
I’m not spoiling the plot, but Ms. Stohl dives into the past as the two teens and the Widow try to unfurl a passel of mysteries. This book got better and better as it went along, but there was one singular problem that I just could not overcome, and that is that the Black Widow is a secondary character in a book with her name and picture on the cover. Ava is a well-drawn, but Natasha, outside of a few surprise plot twists, is as unknowable as ever.
I can appreciate that the nature of the Black Widow’s character is that she is distant and aloof, but instead of this being her star turn she is stuck in the role of an understudy. It would be different if Alex were more compelling, but he is a YA love interest with the depth of a kiddie pool. The chapters are interspersed with faux excerpts from the transcripts of an enquiry into the events of the novel, as some nameless functionary interviews Natasha. It gives the book a bit of depth and gives Natasha a chance to dish out some good one-liners, but doesn't add much else.