I don’t like how my comments on books have been going lately. They’re too long and I don’t seem to have much to say. To jump-start myself I gave myself a writing challenge: A ten-minute capsule review. Here are three books in thirty minutes:
Rude Mechanicals: Kage Baker, Subterranean Press, 2007
The book is a beautiful artifact with a great cover and delightful J.K Potter illustrations. I can’t tell if they are photorealism or just very good pencil drawings but they enhance the book. This is the first Subterranean Press book I’ve purchased and it makes me anticipate my copy of “Clementine,” which I’ve pre-ordered, even more.
Unfortunately, like movies or plays, excellent production values cannot always save a performance. Rude Mechanicals is billed as a “short novel of the Company.” At 114 pages and a large font size it is more accurately described as a novella or even a long short story. People who have not read previous Company works, and who do not understand about Baker’s immortal cyborgs and their mission to go back in time, find objects of value, and hide them so they can be “discovered” in the future, should not start with this story. While I love Lewis, the Roman immortal who collects works of art and literature, and always enjoy the wily Joseph, this story is too determinedly madcap, too episodic. Baker tries to make each adventure, as Joseph attempts to retrieve a legendary lavender diamond, spring organically from the last mishap, to up the ante and heighten suspense, but it doesn’t work. By far the best part of the story is Lewis’s relationship with Max Reinhardt. Even at the end, Baker convinces us of her love for Shakespeare, but doesn’t convince us why we should love it. Baker’s trademark humor and love of the golden age of Hollywood stand out here. For people who are captivated by the “Company” books, this would round out the collection, but it’s not for the casual reader.
Split Image: Robert Parker, Putnam, 2010
The latest and probably last “pure” Parker book is a Jesse Stone novel. Jesse Stone is Parker’s flawed character, a man who wrestles with his devotion to his faithless ex-wife and his addiction to alcohol. In Split Image, Sunny Randall, another Parker series character, joins Stone in the town of Paradise and they work on parallel cases. Hers involves a pair of social climbers whose daughter has joined a religious organization, while Jesse’s has a murdered Russian mobster in the trunk of a car. Jesse’s search leads him to a pair of retired gangsters and their gorgeous identical twin wives, while Sunny and gay-guy-pal Spike break the daughter out of a draconian “de-programming” center. Appearance is not reality; Jesse uncovers some startling truths about the twins, and Sunny discovers that the religious cult is not as benign as it first seemed. Both Jesse and Sunny struggle with their feelings of attraction and their issues with the fantasy of a relationship versus the reality. I breathed a huge sigh of relief at the end of the book, because Jesse’s ex-wife Jennifer did not ever make an appearance. The book is slight, but has that great Parker dialogue and the usual “Desperate Housewives” suburban hijinks that mark the Stone novels. Since it will be the last book written entirely, solely by Parker, I was pleased to see an ending that was, at least, optimistic.
Wings to the Kingdom: Cherie Priest, Tor, 2006
This is the second in the Eden Moore trilogy. Reviewers have called the trilogy urban fantasy and Southern gothic. Take your pick.
I liked Eden better in this book than I did in Four and Twenty Blackbirds, where her callousness got a little hard to take. The book has its flaws. It is too long for the plot, and unless they exist to set things up for events in book three, several characters and events (Malachi and his crazy friend Kitty, for example) don’t need to be here. It is an axiom of writing that the stronger and smarter you make your villain, the stronger and smarter your hero becomes by comparison. This is bad news for Eden in this outing, because her villain, while probably realistic, is pathetic. Eden’s do-it-because-I-can morality gets called into question by another character, the professional ghost hunter, but nothing in the plot forces Eden to confront the logical consequences of her beliefs. There’s a scary moment for her, but then it turns out everything’s all right, so never mind.
Balancing out those problems, however, is a wonderful supernatural character called Green Eyes, and a terrifying, suspenseful run through a haunted Civil War battleground, that is as strong as Priest’s work in Boneshaker. I plan to read the third book, in spite of my irritation with this character, because I want to see if Eden Moore, gifted with virtual immortality and the ability to see ghosts, will ever put aside childish things and live up to the power of her supernatural gifts.