Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Book Review: Ladykiller

Authors: Lawrence Light & Meredith Anthony
Publisher: Oceanview Publishing
ISBN: 10-1-933515-05-8

NYPD detective Dave Dillon is a good cop with terrible taste in women. His last doomed love affair nearly cost him his job. As it stands now, if he doesn’t find the serial murderer known as the Ladykiller, his career will be ruined forever. Dave follows the clues to the West Side Crisis Center, where he meets an interesting assortment of social workers. When one of the center’s counselors is murdered, Dave knows that he is closing in on the killer. The story hurtles forward at a breakneck pace until a breathtaking showdown in a city park. Then, just as the reader believes the story is winding down, the authors add one more twist to the plot and the book concludes on a bone-chilling note.

Ladykiller is an engrossing story in which the momentum builds from page one and never stops. One mildly disconcerting quirk is an early, unexpected turn in plot development. The story begins as a whodunit mystery in which the reader expects to follow the detective in deciphering clues and unveiling the killer’s identity. Then, about 20% of the way into the story, the killer is revealed and the story shifts to a cat-and-mouse tale in which the killer and the detective seek to outwit each other. This plot shift briefly throws the reader off-balance but, in general, the authors manage it skillfully and the story moves forward without faltering.

Light and Anthony give their story a strong setting with their lucid portraits of city streets and neighborhoods. Their character development skills are not quite as strong, or, perhaps, not as evenly applied. Dave Dillon, the main character is fairly interesting and the authors skillfully pace their revelations of his past and personality throughout the book. The book’s other characters don’t fare as well. For example, I wish Dave’s mother had played a larger role in the book, as her story could have added an intriguing dimension to the plot. Furthermore, Nita is relentlessly domineering and Megan is nauseatingly submissive and indecisive. Most of the other characters are similarly one-dimensional and the reader gains little sense of what motivates them to act and speak as they do. In general, the characters seem to be sketched rather than filled with flesh and blood. Clearly, this story’s appeal rests on fast-paced plotting and vivid setting rather than intense or moving characters.

Ladykiller is ideal for reading on a plane or at the beach. Readers who like mysteries and suspense thrillers will find it good for a couple of hours of entertainment.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Book Review: Fish of Souls

It’s September 1999. Curt Lockes has recently purchased a tantalizing 400-year-old manuscript on e-bay. On the morning after Curt is shaken by a horrifying nightmare, Scott Seymour spies a bizarre cloud on the horizon. Following the clues divulged in the manuscript, Curt and Scott set out to uncover its secrets, as well as the meanings of the nightmare and the cloud. They will soon learn that the ultimate secret connecting all of these things is rooted in the Old Testament book of Genesis.

As Curt and Scott set out on their quest they visit some of Florida’s enticing historical venues: the Castillo de San Marcos, Fort Caroline and Fort Matanzas. Their exploration of these sites is enriched by the manuscript’s revelations and their discovery of an odd skeleton. But the skeleton’s secrets are deadly. When a friend is brutally murdered, Curt and Scott realize that sinister events are unfolding, events they must forestall if they are going to save their own, and hundreds of other, lives. To make matters worse, time is running out quickly because a hurricane is bearing down on the east coast of Florida. As family and friends evacuate the region, Scott and Curt stay behind to rid the world of the skeleton and its malicious effects.

Their adventure strains Scott’s family life but strengthens his friendship with Curt. It includes deadly encounters with sword-yielding Huguenots, a ferocious fish, and a vindictive Timucua Indian. It includes the loss of friends and the initiation of new relationships (including a love interest for Curt). And, no surprise here, it results in the dramatic triumph of good over evil.

Gary Williams, a native of Florida, has skillfully woven together disparate threads from St. Augustine’s history, biblical archaeology and contemporary hurricane tracking and evacuation procedures into a compelling suspense novel. The book’s primary weakness is that it should have been more carefully edited. There are a few (but not many) errors in grammar and word selection that should have been corrected before the book went to press. On the other hand, the book has several strong points. Williams writes graphically yet avoids gore. He provides historical and scholarly information yet avoids slipping into the styles of either a textbook or tourist brochure. His characters are flawed but likeable; in other words, they’re like real people. He discusses religious ideas yet avoids being either preachy or disdainful; in other words, he displays respect for religion without descending into fanaticism. Overall, these strengths far outweigh the editorial weakness and I found it hard to put the book down until I reached the final page. This book is the first in a series and I’m looking forward to reading the sequel. Readers who enjoy suspense stories laced with history will enjoy this book.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Book Review: The Ghosts of Guantanamo Bay

Author: K.R. Jones
Publisher: Seacay Publishing
ISBN: 978-0-9790973

It is December 1958. In just a few weeks, Fidel Castro’s takeover of Cuba will be complete. Three casino owners who grew rich by cooperating with American businessmen have devised a plan to keep their wealth out of the Communists’ hands: they will hide their treasure on the United States naval base at Guantanamo Bay.

Skip ahead to July 1997. Marine Captain Adam Claiborne and his wife, Audrey, are moving to “Gitmo,” a naval base that, having once played an enormous strategic role in the Cold War, now operates at just a fraction of its former capacity. Adam and Audrey are charmed by the island’s long white beaches and clear blue skies, but it takes them awhile to adapt to the humidity and the clouds of flies that follow them everywhere. Moreover, while they quickly make friends at Gitmo, they also acquire some vicious enemies. Their professional and social situations become precarious as the base commander and his domineering wife grow to be their chief adversaries.

As Adam and Audrey become acquainted with Gitmo’s characters and culture, they also become engrossed in its history and mysteries. They uncover and decipher clues that enable them to resolve the truth behind several suspicious deaths. The deaths, in turn, are connected to the treasure that was hidden on the base nearly forty years earlier. And the treasure is connected to the personnel problems that have hounded Adam and Audrey since their arrival.

K.R. Jones accompanied her husband when he finished his service in the United States Marine Corps with a two-year tour of duty in Guantanamo Bay. Her intimate, first-hand knowledge of the locale is obvious in her meticulous descriptions of the terrain, the architecture, the climate – even the insects. Her knowledge of the United States Marine Corps is evident in her vivid descriptions of naval life and procedures – including how it feels to wear woolen dress uniforms in a tropical climate. Details like these are difficult for even the best fiction writers to fabricate. They are second nature, however, for an author who has lived the life about which she writes. Even though The Ghosts of Guantanamo Bay is a work of fiction, it is saturated with dozens of small realistic details that render it believable.

The Ghosts of Guantanamo Bay
is a well-conceived, well-written story. Some of Jones’s characters are enchanting and others are infuriating, just like real people. Additionally, the social situations she describes are all too credible to anyone who has ever lived in a small community. A carefully constructed plot complements Jones’s deftly drawn characters. She does not leave any dangling clues or inexplicable characters stranded on the last page. When the story ends, the reader knows how all of the pieces scattered throughout the book fit into a coherent whole. My only quibble with the book is that it contains a handful of editorial errors. These can be quickly corrected, however, and I assume they will be.

Readers who enjoy whodunits will enjoy The Ghosts of Guantanamo Bay, a mystery tale that is uniquely suited to its exotic locale. Readers who enjoy this book also may want to be on the lookout for Jones’s next book, which is due to be published in the summer of 2007.