Wednesday, December 26, 2018

THE PASSAGE by Justin Cronin

I have read a number of post-apocalyptic novels, and this one does not break any new ground.  It borrows from The Stand (mental telepathy and derelict machinery), The Dog Stars (tracking radio signals), and The Road (storehouses of expired canned goods), plus a dash of The Handmaid’s Tale and Game of Thrones.  Yes, there’s a wall to keep out the vampires in this case, rather than zombies, and a team of Watchers to guard the wall.  Also, this book is painfully long, and I didn’t find it compelling at all until about page 500.  The early pages seem to be just setting the stage for the journeys, adventures, and battles to come.  A manmade virus intended for making people heal more easily and live longer falls into the hands of the military, who envision an invincible army.  Death row criminals are used as guinea pigs, and, of course, things go horribly wrong, resulting in a growing population of vampires and a diminishing supply of humans and animals for them to prey on.  One group of humans has formed a colony that is surviving but running out of battery power to keep the lights on at night and therefore the vampires at bay.  A girl named Amy seems to have the ability to fend them off to some degree and joins a small expedition that leaves the colony in search of other survivors.  This is where the real adventure begins.  This author is not as bold as George R. R. Martin about killing off important characters, but a few do get taken to the dark side, and one that I kept expecting to reappear never does.  Perhaps the author is saving him for a later book in the trilogy.  The whole thing is basically preposterous, but I didn’t expect realism from this book.  The writing is good enough, but I don’t know if I’ll make it through the series.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

FORCE OF NATURE by Jane Harper

A company team-building trek into the Australian bush goes horribly wrong, and only four of the original five women make it out.  The fifth woman, Alice, apparently struck out on her own after the party got lost and quarreled about what to do next.  A search party is launched into the wilderness, and the likelihood of Alice’s survival dwindles with each passing day.  Meanwhile, Federal Police Agent Aaron Falk and his partner, Carmen Cooper, have joined the effort, as they were depending on Alice to obtain incriminating documents from the company.  Two of the women in the group are sisters, Beth and Bree, and two of the women, Alice and Lauren, have troubled teenage daughters.  Jill, the fifth woman, is a member of the family who owns the company and may be implicated in the company’s transgressions.  I thought the subplot involving the daughters was an unnecessary distraction.  I would have preferred that the author had delved a little more deeply into the relationships between the women, particularly Lauren and Alice, who have known each other many years and are completely opposite in nature.  One thing I really liked about this book was the structure.  The narrative alternates between what is happening after the hike and an account of what happens to the women during the hike.  It’s very nifty, so that as the search for Alice is progressing, we are also discovering how the women got off course and how they reacted to their dilemma.  As for Agent Falk, one of the more telling scenes is one in which he explains to Carmen why he has an empty magazine rack.  She must be pretty good at her investigative job, because it takes her no time at all to deduce, from looking at Falk’s furniture arrangement, that he once had a live-in girlfriend.  Sometimes you can figure out more from what’s missing than from what is present.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

NETHERLAND by Joseph O'Neill

Hans, our narrator, is a Dutchman who marries an Englishwoman, Rachel.  They leave London for her new job in New York and then move to the Chelsea Hotel with their young son Jake after 9/11 renders their apartment uninhabitable.  Much to Hans’s surprise, Rachel returns to London with Jake to live temporarily with her parents as a very long-distance trial separation.  Hans’s job as a market analyst affords him the financial means to visit them every other weekend, but his alternate weekends are lonely and depressing, until he discovers a group of immigrants who play cricket on Staten Island.  He becomes friends with cricket umpire Chuck Ramkissoon from Trinidad, who takes Hans under his wing but also uses him for some possibly shady activities, under the guise of getting him ready for his driving test.  Nonetheless, Chuck keeps Hans from wallowing in misery and introduces him to areas of the city that Hans would never have experienced otherwise.  At one point, Hans mentions that he and Chuck have nothing in common except cricket, but that seems to be enough, as one of Chuck’s many projects is to build a cricket venue that will attract TV coverage in India and the Caribbean.  We learn early on that Chuck’s body eventually will be found in a canal, probably due to foul play, but while he’s alive, he is vibrant and ambitious, in contrast with Hans’s buttoned-up persona. This novel is beautifully written and very introspective, bringing into focus Hans’s melancholy, solitary, and stoic existence in a foreign country.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

WORLD GONE BY by Dennis Lehane

Joe Coughlin is a conflicted gangster in the 1940s.  He’s killed a lot of people, broken a lot of laws, and spent time in prison, but, despite all that, he has a moral compass of sorts.  He also has a nine-year-old son, Tomas, whom he will protect at any cost.  The boy’s mother is dead, and keeping Tomas out of harm’s way is a challenge for a father whose “thing” is mob-like, especially when Joe learns that someone has ordered a hit on him.  No one in Joe’s circle of baddies can imagine why anyone would do this, much less who would want him dead.  This novel is very violent, but it has a soul in its own way, but I was disappointed in the ending.  Also, Joe has taken to seeing a ghost of his childhood self, and I did not understand that at all.  Is the ghost supposed to represent his innocence before he got caught up in the underworld?  Certainly Joe does not reminisce about his childhood, which was far less happy than his precarious and exciting adulthood.  I get that Joe is honorable in his own way and remorseful about some of the things he’s done in the past for the sake of his corrupt empire.  He makes some difficult decisions that have devastating ramifications, and his rationalizations make a distorted kind of sense.  He has to weigh his loyalties to longtime friends and associates against what is most important to him—Tomas.  The plot held my attention, but this novel is just too dark and depressing for me.  I like Lehane’s PI duo, Patrick and Angela, much better.

Sunday, December 2, 2018


I’ve finally read Dennis Lehane’s first novel after having been a fan for some time.  Despite the inherent violence in this novel, the dialog between private investigators Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennaro is sometimes witty, sort of like Nelson DeMille. However, the plot is gritty, taking place in some not-so-savory Boston neighborhoods, where a gang war is going on.  A couple of state senators have hired our PI duo to recover some pilfered documents, but their quest leads them into some dark and dirty places.  Angie has a husband who routinely beats her, and her professional life is even more dangerous.  Kenzie provides the comic relief and has a bunch of well-placed friends who will go to bat for him when the going gets tough.  Together they are a very winning combination.  I read Gone Baby Gone years ago, but now I’m going to be on a mission to see if all of the books in this series are as good as this one.  Sometimes I think authors get a little lazy after enjoying some success, or they abandon the type of novel that earned them success in the first place.  That may be the case with Lehane, as this book was so much fresher and more engrossing than some of his more ponderous later stuff.  Or maybe writers just become bored with the same old characters and same old formula.  Or maybe they don’t want to be pigeonholed.  In any case, I’m glad there are several more Kenzie/Gennaro books for me to relish in the not-too-distant future.