Archive for October, 2011

19
Oct
11

CR3 #82: Houses Without Doors by Peter Straub

Houses Without Doors is a collection of short stories by Peter Straub. Some of them are tied to his Blue Rose trilogy, but most are unrelated. I was not a fan of this book–it was simply too dark for me, and not in a fun way. The stories were technically quite good, but I just found them unpleasant. Topics include fraternal abuse, molestation, infantilization, murder…It’s all too much, even for a morbid person like me. The characters were all right, but the short story format doesn’t necessarily allow the amount of depth a novel does. Besides, some of the characters (the main character from “The Buffalo Hunter” for example) were people I wanted to get to know anyway. I thought some of the short vignettes between longer stories were interesting and thoughtful, but the full-length stories really put me off.

For those who like short stories, I’d say skip this collection and read Stephen King’s short stories instead. He manages to make them both well-written AND fascinating.

13
Oct
11

CR3 #81: Moonlight Mile (Kenzie & Gennaro #6) by Dennis Lehane

Twelve years ago, Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennaro got involved in tracking down Amanda McCready, a missing child from the tough Boston neighborhood of Dorchester. The case was a moral quandary, and nearly destroyed their relationship. Both of them still have doubts about how the girl’s problems were solved, and whether returning her to her substance addled mother was the right decision. Now, time has passed, Patrick and Angie are married with a daughter of their own, they’ve both grown dissatisfied with the private eye business, and Amanda is missing again. Patrick sets out to find her, perhaps to quiet his long restless conscience.

The plot on this is good and interesting, though rather far-fetched. My problems had more to do with the characters. Although the characters of Patrick and Angie were more or less believable, everyone else was a cartoon. Amanda was too smart, the adults around her too stupid. The eastern European gangsters were stereotypes. It’s almost as if Lehane were revisiting his old characters not because he wanted to or felt particularly inspired, but because he thought that’s what his fans want–a book to tie up the series and leave Patrick and Angie to live happily ever after. The writing was funny and clever, and for the most part I enjoyed it. However, it felt like there was no soul there–the previous books are so firmly set in time and place, full of the little details that evoke those special parts of Boston, and this one was adrift. It could have taken place anywhere.

On the whole, not a bad book, and one to check out for those who have followed the series. However, there’s no point in reading it unless you have at least read Gone, Baby, Gone.

05
Oct
11

CR3 #80: Floating Dragon by Peter Straub

Floating Dragon is the story of a town that isn’t quite right, and has never BEEN quite right. From its earliest beginnings, the town has been off-kilter, and every thirty years or so, really bad things seem to happen. Unfortunately, this time not only is the evil back, but it has help from a man-made toxic agent. The people in the small town are going mad, there’s a serial killer on the loose, and the only people who can stop it are a former child star, an old man, a teenager, and a battered wife.

This story has a lot in common with the work of Stephen King, which is probably part of the reason I like it so much. In some ways, it’s a lot like IT, and also shares some traits with the TV show Haven*, in that evil has come to rest in a small town and has been devouring the people who live there for centuries. I will say that Straub moves his plot along better than King usually does, and he also manages to put together an ending that doesn’t make me want to kick the wall out of sheer frustration with the nonsense. However, although his characters were detailed and distinct, I didn’t necessarily feel them very clearly. For example, although Richard Albee was one of the main characters of the story–of the four of them, he was focused on the most–I still only have a vague impression of him. To compare, in The Stand, there are probably at least twenty featured players, but I can see each and every one quite clearly in my head, and I understand their motivations. Straub often explains a character’s motivations to the reader, but doesn’t do a good enough job showing the character’s motives in motion. I guess that’s why the two authors did such good work together–they’re both very talented, and their strengths and weaknesses complement each other perfectly.

I’d definitely recommend this book to anyone who’s a fan of the genre. It’s well-written and fairly exciting. I’ve seen that some reviewers found it too long, but I think it actually suffered from being a little too short. I really liked finding out the history of the town, and would have loved to see even more of that.

*Did anyone else watch Haven this summer? What a great show! Aside from my obvious pleasure in the multitude of Stephen King references, the actors are doing a fantastic job with their characters, and the over-arching mystery is taking shape without completely swamping the show. I’m really excited to see where they’re going to with the “Troubled” vs. “Normal” showdown in Haven, and which sides the main characters will fall toward. Plus, the love triangle between Audrey, Nathan, and Duke is enticing. They’ve used guest stars judiciously–brought them in for actual arcs, rather than stunt casting (I was pleasantly surprised by how WWE’s Edge was used, and also by his not-at-all-terrible acting)–and have also slowly worked in some other town regulars. It’s so disappointing that I have to wait almost an entire year to find out the next chapter in the story! On the whole, I think that SyFy has done some great things with their original programming (Warehouse 13 is also a lot of fun), though I refuse to stop pointing out how stupid the whole “SyFy” branding is.

05
Oct
11

CR3 #79: Gone South by Robert McCammon

Dan Lambert is a Vietnam vet whose whole life is falling apart around him. He’s broke, unemployed, and dying slowly from a combat-related disease. Just when he thinks that things can’t possibly get any worse, they do. In a moment of rage and panic, he accidentally kills a man. Alone and on the run, he isn’t sure what to do. Along the way, he meets up with a disfigured young girl who is searching for a mythical healer. Dan finds himself unwillingly helping her in her quest, all while trying to figure out what his next step should be. The situation is further confused by the advent of two very, very unusual bounty hunters.

This was a really great read. The main characters are all quirky and interesting without being over the top. Even bounty-hunters Flint and Pelvis–who could definitely come off as cartoonish–are drawn in such a way that they are totally believable. I was deeply interested in the characters and rooting for all of them. The plot moved along quickly, and I never found myself bored or skipping ahead. McCammon’s writing style is engaging and he moves between pathos and humor with equal skill. The scenes at the beginning with Dan explaining his situation are gut-wrenching, and some of the scenes between Flint and Pelvis had me giggling aloud.

I definitely recommend this book to anyone who enjoys an odd caper now and then.