Owlcat’s #CBR 5 Review #11 : Alex Cross, Run by James Patterson

I have read all of James Patterson’s Alex Cross detective novels, some of which have been disappointing and appeared to be written by a committee, or phoned in, or written specifically to make it as a movie, which is true of two of his novels.  This most recent Alex Cross crime thriller is one of his better ones.

As usual, his primary character is Alex Cross himself, a Washington, DC, police detective (and incidentally a psychologist, but that gets mentioned only once in this novel).  Around him are his usual secondary characters, his second wife Bree (his first was murdered), his Nana (the grandmother who raised him and now helps raise his three children), the children (one in college and two younger ones), and in this case, a fourth child, a teenager named Ava, whom the family is currently fostering and hoping to adopt, despite the emotional traumas and resulting damage to her psyche that prevents her from trusting this family or any adult who might help her, and making her particularly vulnerable to repeating past experiences.

Patterson uses an interesting technique when writing, using the first person narration when it is Alex Cross but third person when it is the supporting characters.  Sometimes this gets in the way of following the story lines but other times, such as in this book, I think it enhances the perspectives.

As usual, the crimes he investigates are horrific and there have been times in the past when I have found them more gory than necessary.  This time, Patterson seems to have reigned himself in somewhat, describing the brutality clearly but not dwelling on the scenes, which was a relief.

In this novel, there at first appears to be four story lines:  one involves the murders of young blonde women, all similarly killed and posed;  the other involves young gay men, again all similarly killed and similarly disposed of; another involves a man who is apparently stalking Cross, intent on revenge for his perception that Cross had taken from him his daughter who was killed in a crossfire in the past; and Ava’s story. Very quickly we learn that the first two story lines are really one, that the two perpetrators of the murders of the young blonde women and the young gay men are feeding each others fantasies and have been doing so since college (and this is a good 40 years-plus later).  The stalker story begins separately from Ava’s story, but there is a point where we begin to realize that his narrative is going to become wrapped up in Ava’s.  All of these stories feel like jigsaw puzzle pieces until Cross slowly begins to manipulate and recognize the pieces, and even once that occurs, there is the intensity and anxiety of his not having done so quickly enough.  At one point in the novel, because he knows one of the characters is goading him and trying to undermine him by blogging with implications and innuendos about him, and he reacts unprofessionally by physically attacking the man, that thread of the stalker/Ava story becomes entangled by Cross’s temporarily being relieved of duty and possibly facing criminal charges.  In that way, he becomes another separate part of the novel.  Eventually, of course, it all comes together, although not exactly as we would expect it to – parts of it do, parts of it don’t.  Rather like life itself.

Patterson very clearly manipulates the reader with suspense and plot and with his characters, particularly the perpetrators. Cross is an old “friend” for me so I already have a well-established idea of who he is and what he looks like, etc.  I do think my one criticism of this book would be that someone unfamiliar with the character might not understand where he is coming from nor the depth of his development.  That said, however, I did like the fact that a bit more than usual, Patterson involved Cross more within his family, so we got to see his interactions there and his own vulnerabilities as a result.

I did enjoy this book, obviously.  It was a thriller full of suspense and his writing flowed well from scene to scene and character to character.  I think it helps to have read some of his other Cross novels but it isn’t necessary, either, because it’s so well developed.

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Sophia’s #CBR5 Review #24: The Last Victim by Karen Robards

The Last VictimI’ve read a lot of Karen Robards because she writes romantic suspense, and romantic suspense is some of my favorite escapist literature. Feeling the need for some escape, and seeing that Robard’s latest book was available at the library with no wait, I decided it was time to read it. I’ve usually liked most of Robard’s contemporary stuff. However, when I read the blurb, I felt some premonition of doubt. The heroine, Dr. Charlotte Stone (Charlie), could see and sometimes communicate with ghosts. I’ve never been a fan of mixing ghosts into my romance novels. The romance requires enough suspension of disbelief as it is, so when you throw ghosts into the mix, it’s a little too much for me. But since Robards had been pretty grounded in the past, I hoped the ghosts bit would just be a small part of the story that I could mostly ignore. That turned out to be wishful thinking.

To read more, click here.

narfna’s #CBR5 Review #39: Gun Machine by Warren Ellis

14739231A naked old man holding a gun shoots and kills NYPD Detective John Tallow’s partner of five years, and that murder — aside from being devastating and emotionally traumatic for Tallow — leads to the discovery of an apartment full of nothing but guns. Two hundred plus guns, adorning the walls, the floors, all in some mysterious pattern, and each and every one is linked to an unsolved Manhattan murder within the last twenty years. John Tallow is stuck with this career ending case when he should be home grieving for his partner.

I really, really liked this book, even though it was a little bit more violent and bleak than my usual tastes. Also, I say it was bleak, which is technically true, but Ellis is such a good writer it doesn’t even matter. Plus, it’s funny as hell. Tallow himself is a bit of a killjoy, but Ellis’s narration, and his creation of inspired CSU characters Bat and Scarly (who become Tallow’s de facto partners in solving the case), is just fun. He also does something right by letting us inside the mind of the killer, who we meet really early on. Very early on this transforms the central question of the narrative from Who killed all these people? to Who is this man and why does he do what he does? Tallow figures it out as we do. The nice thing about Tallow is that the story frames this murder investigation as a wake-up call for Tallow’s psyche, which has been deep underwater for what seems like decades. As the case becomes more complicated, Tallow just gets smarter.

This is almost the perfect crime thriller. It’s super smart. Ellis’s prose is witty and unique, with just the right amount of gore and cynicism, balanced nicely with pure action adrenaline, cool surprises, and humorous banter. He also has a nifty way with thematic undertones. You could read this book as a straight thriller, but he’s also got some stuff to say about memory, history, and violence. He’s also friggin’ obsessed with maps. All the characters you would expect to be here are here, but they’re also a little bit twisted, with just the right amount of character flavor. The result hits all the crime thriller pleasure spots, but also makes you think you’re reading something really unique and sort of revolutionary.

I really had only two complaints about the book. First, Warren Ellis is British. He does a nice job with New York for the most part, but take that statement with a grain of salt. I’ve never been to New York and all I know about it I know from movies and television and super catchy hybrid soul/hip-hop songs. Where it really shows is in the dialogue. Mostly the dialogue was pretty normal, but every once in a while Britishisms would just slip in, particularly when he was writing for Bat and Scarly. My other complaint is that I felt the ending was a bit short-shrifted. It built and built and built with all this lovely tension, and then it just sort of . . . ended. I got the feeling there could be sequels from the way everything in the case was downplayed, like Tallow and Bat and Scarly haven’t seen the last of each other. If that’s the case, I certainly won’t complain.

Also, Warren Ellis kind of scared me before I read this, but I’m going to check his other junk out now because I liked this so much. (I don’t think I’ll ever be reading Crooked Little Vein, though; that just sounds like too somethin’ somethin’ for me.)

Sophia’s #CBR5 Review #21: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Gone GirlNick Dunne and Amy Elliott Dunne are a couple in their thirties. Nick was raised in a small town in Missouri and Amy was raised in New York, a cherished only child. The couple had moved from New York City back to Nick’s hometown two years before when both of them lost their jobs and Nick’s mom got sick. The book starts out the morning of their fifth wedding anniversary when Amy suddenly and mysteriously disappears. The book switches perspective between Nick during the present and Amy in the past through diary entries.

This book was better than I was expecting. The writing was incredibly good, combining the suspense of a missing person’s case, the emotional roller coaster of the collapse of a marriage, and the in-depth psychology of all of the characters. I stopped reading it one night because I had to finish some stuff up for work. But after about an hour, I just picked it back up again. I couldn’t let it go. Before I read Gone Girl, I wasn’t planning on reading any more of Flynn once I got through what I considered to be her most “famous” novel, but now I think I’ll end up reading all of her books.

Click here to read my review in full.

akadoor’s #CBR5 Review #4: Did You Miss Me? by Karen Rose

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I’ve worked in a few bookstores in my life, and the best by far was the Island Bookstore in Corolla, North Carolina.  It was a small, independent bookstore that carried more than just the expected “beach books.”  It was a stone’s throw or two from the Atlantic Ocean, about half a mile from a lighthouse and another half mile from my very favourite house museum, the Whalehead Club.  But the very, very best part was the employee discount: forty-freaking-percent.  And now I’m having trouble remembering why I’m not still working there.  Anyways, needless to say, I bought a lot of books during my summer in Corolla.  Many of them were by Karen Rose.

It was during that summer that I Can See You by Rose was released.  I picked up the hardcover to read during my shift, and got so swept up in that I bought it, took it home, and spent the rest of the night reading it.  The next day, I bought every other Rose book we had in stock.  I subsequently ordered the rest of her backlist.  I’ve been a reader of Rose ever since.  Karen Rose books are exhausting, and I’m not just saying that because I’m incapable of putting them down and invariably finish them around 3 o’clock in the morning.  They’re exhausting because she writes dense, multi-layered stories which all take place in under a week.  Did You Miss Me? was no different.

Read full review here.

Popcultureboy’s #CBR5 Review #12: Kind of Cruel by Sophie Hannah

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How can saying one sentence of five words while under hypnosis lead to you being arrested for a murder of someone you didn’t even know? To fully understand how, you’ll need to read this dark thriller. To find out what I thought, read my review here

illynew’s #CBR5 Review #1 Faithful Place by Tana French

Faithful Place

A detective has to go back to the place where he grew up when belongings of his ex-girlfriend who disappeared 20 years ago are found by a construction crew. He also disappeared on the same night and hasn’t kept in touch with his family because his home life was a fucking horror show. He has to deal with them, his ex-wife, his daughter, and everything he’s been trying so hard not to deal with, but with good reason.

All of Tana French’s novels take place in Dublin, but, other than a few non-American English words, the reader would be hard pressed to know that it’s a “foreign” writer or novel. The people and their stories are universal, which is kind of an odd way to describe really intense crime novels.

I read Tana French’s first book, In the Woods, and loved it. All of her stories seem the same and, even if you know the formula and figure out the ending 5 pages in, you still can’t put them down. This book felt the most intense. Maybe it was just the story, but I know about physical abuse in the home and trying to protect siblings and what that does to everyone. I haven’t come across a book that shows it so well.

If you like the Harry Bosch series by Michael Connelly, you will definitely like Tana French’s writing. Fewer clichés and more intensity. The characters are all from the same police force, but the novels stand alone. I’ve liked each one better than the last.