Saturday, October 31, 2020
by Naomi Novik
Recommended Ages: 13+
But now they have to circle back to a place they've already visited – Capetown, Africa – in search of the cure for a disease that threatens to wipe out all of Britain's dragons. Thanks to whatever it was, Temeraire got over his sniffles pretty quickly, during his first trip around the world. Figuring out what it was proves easier than finding more of it, enough to dose his squadron and then the rest of the corps. At first, it seems this is because this life-saving medicine is a rare fungus that the colonists and cattle-hearding tribesmen near the coast have almost eradicated, because it makes cows sick. But the real reason these strange mushrooms are hard to get proves much more dangerous to know.
It's related to the real reason, which no one has correctly guessed, that colonists, missionaries and explorers have never gone deep into the dark continent and returned to tell about it. Everyone thinks it has to do with wild beasts and feral dragons ruling the African interior. But actually, it's due to a great civilization so powerful that it has managed to keep its existence secret from the outside world. Once again, like when they visited China, Temeraire and company bear witness to an entirely different way to order the relationship between men and dragons – only this time, the knowledge brings danger and disaster.
I wish I could go on in more detail about what happens in this book, but I'm already afraid I may have spoiled too much of it. There's a lot more to it, though – including the full range of dramatic scope, from characters telling each other off to colossal battles, over the morality of slavery. This book revises history more radically than the previous installments in the series. For example, the implications of Nelson surviving the battle of Trafalgar begin to hit home. Also, there's all the stuff I said about the interior of Africa, and why it has never been colonized like in our reality; modern African history swerves even more sharply at the climax of this book. But at the very end of the book, something happens that will make you question whether that was really the climax – something that leaves matters so radically changed that as I closed this book, I inwardly kicked myself for not having pre-ordered the next installment.
This fourth of nine Temeraire novels comes between Black Powder War and Victory of Eagles. It only took me one book to get hooked; I plan to work my way through the whole set, if only I can manage my impatience until my next book order arrives. When an unread Naomi Novik book is on my hands, I find, other books that I've started to read lie neglected. Less than halfway through the series, I'm already dreading reaching the end and wonder whether she'll write more of them. It's got just about everything that a fan of Patrick O'Brian or C.S. Forester could wish for, plus dragons – and if you're not convinced that dragons are a plus, just try His Majesty's Dragon (alternate title, Temeraire) and see if you don't get hooked, too.
Wednesday, October 28, 2020
by Naomi Novik
Recommended Ages: 13+
Part 1 of this book concerns the perilous journey of a man, a dragon and their crew across the vast width of Asia, including some serious desert trekking where the margin between life and death is very slim. They acquire a Chinese chef, a guide – an enigmatic, contradictory man named Tharkay, who has grown just a bit cynical after being snubbed by society due to the irregular circumstances of his birth – and even, for a spell, a pack of feral dragons from a mountain range in Central Asia, who mostly come along on the promise of beef. The situation changes suddenly when they arrive in Istanbul and find that the British ambassador has been killed, his secretary has disappeared with a million pounds, and the Sultan doesn't want to let them go – with or without the promised eggs.
Of course, Lien shows up again, vowing revenge against Laurence and Temeraire over the death of the Chinese prince who was her whole world. Thanks to Lien's strategems, the Temeraires (if you'll pardon me for calling the crew that) are already caught in a trap, and it continues to close around them more tightly. As time runs out for their escape, they must run the dangerous gauntlet of a sultan's harem where any man who enters, other than the eunuch guards, must surely die. But collecting the eggs and escaping are only one moment of danger in an adventure that proceeds, in Part 3, to reimagine Napoleon's 1806-07 Prussian campaign with dragons. More or less conscripted into the aerial defenses of the doomed Prussian side, the Temeraires witness and, indeed, take part in the crushing defeats at Saalfeld, Jena and Auerstedt, before finding themselves boxed in by the seige of Danzig.
By and large, the course of history isn't much changed by the participation of dragons. But we view those historic battlefields with a certain thrilling sweep that they might lack (as if!) by not having dragons flying overhead. But besides adding aerial views and thrilling, dragon-on-dragon action, the draconic revision also casts the personality of Laurence up against such real-life characters as Napoleon, Queen Louise, King Friedrich Wilhelm III, Generals Blücher, L'Estocq, Hohenlohe and Kalkreuth, and Marshal Lefebvre.
Throw in the ticking time-bomb of two unhatched dragon eggs, a vendetta between two dragons, swift-moving battles, surprise reunions and aerial warfare tactics that put everything Laurence has yet learned in the shade, and you have something much more thrilling than just a bit of military history dramatized for novel-reading audiences. It's a simmering, spicy stew of suspense, a grim depiction of what war is like, a thought-provoking tangle of personalities and ideologies (such as Temeraire's dream of improving conditions for British dragons), a rich picture of the manners and lifestyles of that time, and a series of thrilling battles and narrow escapes, all knit together in flawless style and pacing. I was totally entertained.
A beautiful piece of writing all around, this is the third of nine Temeraire novels, coming between Throne of Jade and Empire of Ivory.
Tuesday, October 27, 2020
As I ran for it, I gradually realized that my initial guess was closer to the truth, and my pursuer was really more of a kind of hollow tumbleweed. It outwardly seemed to be just rolling around, but it really was following me everywhere I went and even seemed to be trying to head me off. It had intelligence and intent. Somehow I realized that allowing it to touch me would be disaster.
I don't know what would have happened when it caught me – whether it was trying to bite me or snag on my clothing or steal my car keys or what – but I woke up pretty freaked out. I also remember that my chase covered some interesting dream terrain.
Well, sweet dreams, y'all!
Sunday, October 25, 2020
by Naomi Novik
Recommended Ages: 13+
In the current book, Capt. Will Laurence of H.M. Aerial Corps and his remarkable companion, the dragon Temeraire, have just saved the United Kingdom from invasion by Napoleon's forces when they are called on the carpet by an ungrateful Admiralty, who want to break up their partnership and give Temeraire back to the Chinese. A delegation from that country, including the Emperor's brother, reveals that Temeraire belongs to a rare, sacred breed that must never be harnessed or put to hazardous service – a Celestial, the highest order of dragons, bred as companions to emperors and their families. Because Temeraire refuses to give up Laurence, and Laurence refuses to lie to the dragon and say he wants him to, the only way out of the diplomatic impasse is to ship dragon, man and all to China and see what the Emperor has to say about it.
Their journey around the Horn of Africa is fraught with challenges, including clashes of culture with the Chinese passengers, a nighttime attack by enemy forces, a couple attempts on Laurence's life and Temeraire's dawning realization that British dragons live in conditions just this side of slavery. This last concern weighs most heavily on Laurence after they arrive in Peking and Temeraire meets others of his kind. They witness a society where humans and dragons live among each other as equals, where dragons can move about freely and aspire to a variety of careers, where they read and write, earn and spend money. To be sure, he meets a villainous Celestial, but he also bonds with his mother and enjoys a little romance with a pretty Imperial. And the Prince presents him with a little boy meant to be a more suitable companion than Laurence.
Worrying about whether he will lose Temeraire is trouble enough, but Laurence hasn't left behind the threat of assassination as a guest of the Chinese. The book balances desperate battles with a scenic tableau that seamlessly blends historic culture and manners with fantasy world-building. It's a thrilling adventure whose style and literary merit approach that of the authors mentioned above. Beneath all, it is charged with a strange kind of love that perhaps doesn't resemble any relationship we know of, but that nevertheless, touches the reader's heart.
Tuesday, October 20, 2020
by Cynthia Voigt
Recommended Ages: 11+
While he struggles to understand what he can do for his parents, Max carries on solutioneering – first helping a little boy who's worried about his father, then a father worried about his son and finally, a young man who wants to know if he can do anything to help a beautiful young woman with whatever she's worried about. Between all these cases, I mean jobs, comes one from the Mayor of Queensbridge that puts Max in the most danger he's faced yet. Someone is vandalizing and setting fires to businesses all over town, and the more Max understands what's going on, the more he becomes a target for the people behind it.
But Max's biggest worry isn't the secrets other people are keeping, but how to keep his own. What he wants most of all is independence, and if anyone finds out about his living situation, he could lose that. So he gets a little snippy with the girl who has appointed herself his assistant. He gets evasive with a schoolmate who sees through his disguises. And at a couple of moments, this need to keep secrets puts him in an awful dilemma – such as whether to ask for, and accept, the help that he really needs.
Max's adventures are both written and illustrated in a quirky, original way that puts emphasis on the theatrical home in which he grew up. The unique way he thinks, the solutions he arrives at for other people's problems, the way he almost disappears into a role and even (once or twice) holds debates between different characters he is dancing between, his amazing strengths and abilities are a lot of fun in and of themselves. But then you see his vulnerability, his weaknesses, the things he simply can't do – from painting anything but a watercolor sky to saving his family without help – and he becomes a living person you would like to know.
This is the middle book of the "Mister Max" trilogy by the Newbery Medal winning author of Dicey's Song and six other "Tillerman Cycle" books, Jackaroo and five other "Tales of the Kingdom," The Bad Girls and five sequels, The Callender Papers, The Vandemark Mummy, and somewhere around 15 other novels for young adult readers. The other "Mister Max" titles are The Book of Lost Things and The Book of Kings.
Tuesday, October 13, 2020
As brief and deceptively simple as this hymn is, I've been brooding over it for months. It finally hatched today; hooray! Intended especially for Christian youth and young adults, it takes its ideas from Romans 12:2, 2 Corinthians 3:18 and Philippians 3:20-21. As I wrote it, I had no particular tune in mind, but right now it seems to go nicely in my head to the tune REX CHRISTE, FACTOR OMNIUM (below), which I previously paired with this hymn.Beloved, be not pressed into
The mold this world designs for you;
But be transformed, your mind restored
To what is pleasing to the Lord.
Thus we, with unveiled face, may view
The image He'll transform us to:
His glory overwriting ours,
According to the Spirit's powers.
For heaven is our proper state,
Upon whose King we keenly wait;
He will our body form anew
And all things to Himself subdue.
The idea behind this hymn is a letter of encouragement to a younger member of the congregation who has moved away for college and may or may not be going to church. The only tune I know of that fits this hymn (though not ideally, from a stanza structure point of view) is SINGEN WIR AUS HERZENS GRUND (a.k.a. IN NATALI DOMINI), a 1544 Bohemian Brethren chorale, illustrated here as set to the German text "Auf den Nebel folgt die Sonn" in an 1895 Liederbuch. (See also LHy 110.)Child of God, abide in faith:
Call to mind your solemn pledge
All to risk, yes, even death,
Lest the foe, with wily wedge,
Sheer you off the narrow path.
Let your Father's teaching serve
As your guide at every curve.
Child of God, abide in Christ:
Know His truth; absorb His word.
Let His body sacrificed,
Let His blood, in mercy poured,
Feed you, like a scion spliced
In the rootstock of the vine,
Burgeoning with choicest wine.
Child of God, abide in love:
Seek the fellowship of grace.
Share the comfort of His Dove,
Heartened by the saints' embrace.
Strive with us for things above,
For the things that make for peace,
Till all din and discord cease.
Child of God, abide in hope:
Looking toward the eastern sky;
Toward the dawning light we grope,
Watching as the hour grows nigh.
Then, no more in figured trope,
Plain to every weary eye,
Christ will beckon us on high.
Sunday, October 11, 2020
by Gary Jonas
Recommended Ages: 15+
Understandably, our Brett isn't happy about this. It can't be fun to discover that the band you've been playing gigs with for the past year has recorded a hit album with the other you just in the last month. Or that the house you lived in was sold. Or that all your friends like the other you better. It's almost enough to make you question whether you're the real you.
The one thing that keeps Brett (Mark 1) pretty sure he's the real deal is that pulling this kind of stunt – replacing his real son with a duplicate who does what he's told – is just the sort of dick move he's learned to expect from his father. The tough part is getting his friends, to whom he hasn't been very nice, to help him when his doppelganger is the best version of him. Nevertheless, Brett survives a series of magical and non-magical attacks and proves that he's grown a lot as a wizard, even if he doesn't give a BLEEP about magic. But finally, it all comes down to a magical trial where, for the prize of getting to go on living as Brett Masters ... well, let's just drop a Highlander quote ("There can be only one") and let your imagination do the rest.
Even after making some progress during his first three adventures, Brett still has a lot of growing to do. He has to work hard, not only to survive, but to earn the reader's sympathy. Amazingly, he manages to do this, achieving the astonishing goal of bringing a four-book character arc to a satisfying conclusion. Adding to the fun are pop culture and pop music references, a touch of satire on millennial cluelessness, culturally subversive and sexually juvenile humor, some knock-out magic-assisted fights and a simmering sense of danger. Adult and Occult Content Advisories are in force. Read at your own risk. But don't sweat the risk too much. It's a trifling but enjoyable literary confection that maybe, once or twice, touches a deeper chord. Maybe it's that magic guitar pick that Brett plays with.
This is the fourth and (I believe) last book in the "Half-Assed Wizard" series. Yes, I read all of them, and I won't say "in spite of the atrocious cover art" because I read them on Kindle and never saw the covers until I was putting my reviews together. Truly wince-worthy, they are; completely unlike how I pictured Brett Masters and (in this book) his doppelganger. But anyway, Gary Jonas seems to put out a lot of titles really fast, and some of them are packaged better than others – such as the Jonathan Shade books whose 12 titles include Anubis Nights, Wizard's Nocturne, and Club Eternity (to choose three at random) and his 2002 debut novel, One Way Ticket to Midnight.
by Cressida Cowell
Recommended Ages: 11+
Naturally, everything that can go wrong, does. What passes for a plan with these kids would be described, by almost any adult, as preposterous and dangerous. To start, they have to collect the last breath of a Giant in a place called Castle Death, which requires crossing a region haunted by deadly swamp creatures. Accompanied by a giant who's a dwarf compared to the one at Castle Death, some fanged furry friends, a talking raven and a collection of sprites and "hairy fairies" whose magical abilities are about equal to their foolishness, the kids travel into the unknown armed with powers they neither understand nor know how to control. Perhaps the only reason they get to Castle Death in one piece is that a sinister power is clearing the way for them, for dire reasons of its own.
Getting there is one thing; getting away is another – an adventure within an adventure in which a powerful Wizard king and an icy Warrior queen come face to face, each with an army of followers, and the only thing that can stop them from destroying each other is an enemy bent on destroying them all. Scariest of all is the reason the Kingwitch wants Wish in particular; if he gets her, it's all over.
It's a weird, warm, funny story featuring magical kids on the cusp of adulthood, people from different backgrounds and belief systems making friends, imperfect and even downright naughty youngsters trying as hard as they can to fight evil, hints about the power of forgiveness and of grief, some ridiculous adults, a hint of romance and a tantalizing puzzle about the narrator's identity. And I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Cowell's unique style of illustrations, familiar to those who love her Hiccup the Viking books – deceptively crude and scratchy drawings that somehow express a lot of personality and feelings, and that sometimes made me laugh all by themselves. My only complaint is that some of the pages with very dark shading and reverse writing were hard to read – making Cressida Cowell's handwriting even more challenging to decipher than usual.
This is the second of four "Wizards of Once" books, following The Wizards of Once and followed by Knock Three Times and the upcoming (Nov. 17, 2020) release, Never and Forever. Cressida Cowell is also the creator of the 15-book "How to Train Your Dragon" series, which is very different in book form from the movie franchise. Among her other children's books are The Seasick Viking, One Too Many Tigers, There's No Such Thing as a Ghostie and several "Emily Brown" picture books.
Friday, October 9, 2020
1I know from experience that a "free trial period" means either calling the company every month for years to ask them to reverse the charges on your bill, only to be billed again the next month for a service you tried to cancel immediately after the trial; or ignoring the bill until your account is so delinquent that they cancel it, and flame-broil your credit score in the process.
Thursday, October 8, 2020
What a year it is – or couple of years – to be a fan of the Star Trek franchise. Between early 2020 and sometime in 2021, there have been or will be five different Trek series airing in first-run broadcast (or streaming service, at least) between CBS All Access and Nickelodeon TV. Plus, there are still struggling hopes of a fourth "Kelvan timeline" original-series reboot movie being made (with rumors that the series is permanently canceled alternating on a daily basis with a director saying he still hopes to shoot it), and even some writer-director or other trying to pitch a Trek feature film headlined by an entirely new cast of characters.
But let's not lose the pie in the sky. The following series are actually confirmed to be happening between now and sometime in 2021: a third season of Star Trek: Discovery, a second season of Star Trek: Picard, a second season of the half-hour animated comedy series Star Trek: Lower Decks (whose first season I have yet to see), the new Star Trek: Strange New Worlds featuring Capt. Pike and Spock as seen in Discovery season 2, and now (just announced) a children's animated series Star Trek: Prodigy in which Kate Mulgrew is already taping a voice performance as Capt. Janeway, late of Voyager. What a time to be alive, eh, nerds?
- Star Trek: The Original Series seasons one, two, and three
- Star Trek: The Animated Series – Screw that. I watched a couple episodes and hated the show so much that I sold the DVD box set back to FYE.
- Star Trek: The Next Generation seasons one, two, three, four, five, six, and seven
- Star Trek: Deep Space Nine seasons one, two, three, four, five, six, and seven
- Star Trek: Voyager seasons one, two, three, four, five, six, and seven
- Enterprise/Star Trek: Enterprise seasons one, two, three and four – Oops, I never watched the last two episodes!
- Farscape seasons one, two, three, and four – Oops again, I watched the whole fourth season but never finished writing the review.
- Firefly (alas, only one season)
- Babylon 5 seasons one, two, three, four, and five
- Andromeda seasons 1-5 (yeah, all in one review)
- Doctor Who docs nine, ten, eleven and twelve
- Lost In Space (2018) season one (so far)
- The Orville season one and two
- Star Trek: Discovery season one and two
Like the 1970s Star Trek animated series, I tried to watch Earth: Final Conflict and Alien Nation, but gave up in disgust after only a couple episodes. It was a thing I did; I would buy a season of a TV show on DVD at my neighborhood FYE store and if I hated it so much I couldn't stand watching it any more, I sold it back as used and bought something else. Other shows I remember giving up on in mid-season were Supernatural (when I lost all sympathy for the characters a couple-three-four seasons in), Forever Knight and Buffy the Vampire Slayer (neither of which aged well). So, whether it's starship based or not, if I start to think it's crap, I don't watch any further.
Just this week, I finally got a chance to bring home Picard on DVD, binge-watching it the same day (Oct. 6) it was released. I'll hold off on reviewing it for now. I just wanted to vent my verklemptness and, since I've run out of stuff to say that you can't look up for yourself on IMDB or Wikipedia, to leave any further comment until I've seen the new shows myself. Live long and prosper, Trekkies! (or -ers, if you prefer)
Wednesday, October 7, 2020
by Gary Jonas
Recommended Ages: 15+
Brett is so lazy that he can't seem to manage this, even with Kevin making himself a pain in every way imaginable. Exhibit one: The demon wakes him up one morning by peeing on him. I should probably have bleeped that out, too. In case you haven't noticed, this book, and really the whole series, calls for a stiff Adult Content Advisory, and an Occult Content Advisory to boot. But Brett has bigger problems. A beautiful singer, actually a Siren out of Greek mythology, needs his help. The god Apollo is trying to enslave her, so that he can use her backup vocals to create a hit pop song that will convert listeners around the world into his worshipers. It's not just that he won't take no for an answer. He can actually conjure a contract out of thin air, with her signature on it.
Something between hubris and horniness propels Brett to try to help her, even though there's really no way to stop Apollo from doing whatever he wants. As punishment for his disrespect (Brett's second-best superpower, after napping), Apollo enslaves him, too, and dangles a tease of removing the vampire curse from his friend Michael in return for playing bass on his single. Together, this band of supernatural misfits (I'm using the word "band" here in the pop-music sense) puts together a hit single and an almost equally huge B-side. But being part of Apollo's entourage comes with deadly danger, as if the free will of the entire human race and Brett's drive to be a success or (more likely) failure on his own terms aren't high enough stakes. Poor Brett has to grow a spine and fast. I mean, poor us.
In his latest adventure, Brett Masters shows his usual qualities, and thus becomes a less sympathetic and attractive character than ever. He even begins to realize how very unlikable he is, how very adept at losing friends and alienating people. Perhaps waking up to this truth is an important step for him. But it still doesn't immediately translate into being able to banish the demon, save the girl or stop the god. With a smart mouth and a willful stupidity that runs parallel to his essential laziness, he goes a long way toward losing even the reader's goodwill, so that taking pleasure in his discomfort and misfortunes becomes a key to enjoying this book. Full of gross-out shtick, evil humor and mostly music-related cultural references (including a Tom Lehrer song!), it's an entertaining tale in spite of its hero, offering just a hint of hope that he may show better qualities in the future – though perhaps not as soon as his dad would like.
This is the third "Half-Assed Wizard" novel of a four-book set that I've been reading on Kindle, since I got hooked in by a free offer on the first installment. You don't think I chose it for that cover art, do you? The other titles in the series are The Half-Assed Wizard, The Big-Ass Witch and The Lame-Assed Doppelganger. Gary Jonas is also the author of the Jonathan Shade, Kelly Chan and Hitman series as well as such novels as One Way Ticket to Midnight, Night Marshal, Pirates of the Outrigger Rift and Hell Hunter.
Monday, October 5, 2020
by Tui T. Sutherland
Recommended Ages: 11+
Besides being a queen and an author, Coral is (unfortunately) an ally of Blister, one of the claimants to the SandWing throne behind the long-running conflict. She has Tsunami's fellow Dragonets of Destiny locked up until Blister can come and look at them. More bad news quickly follows. First, Tsunami now discovers that the SeaWing she was forced to kill in the SkyWing queen's arena was actually her royal father, driven insane by thirst. Second, someone in Queen Coral's court wants to kill her, Tsunami, and is trying to assassinate the other princesses either before or after they hatch. Third, a certain dragon that Tsunami fancies, turns out to be a spy for the Talons of Peace, who aren't as nice as they sound; meanwhile, two of the dragons who raised Tsunami and her friends are found near the SeaWing court, one of them dead and the other under a sentence of death – but something about their arrival suggests that the security of Queen Coral's court is at risk, and danger is coming. Finally, Tsunami herself struggles to decide where she belongs, whether her place is alongside her mother or with the diverse group of friends she brought with her, and whose fate remains uncertain.
Told from the point of view of young adult dragons in a fascinating and complex world of wing, claw, fire and gills (because, don't you know, Tsunami's folk can breathe underwater), this adventure mingles mystery, action, family drama, epic quest and just a hint of romance. Switching point of view from the previous installment's central character (Clay, the MudWing), it shows a brash, arrogant young creature being cut down to size a bit, learning to listen to others a bit instead of just bossing everybody around, and delicately juggling a bunch of dangerous secrets with the ultimate aim of making peace and saving lives. The dragon worldview is a bit scary when you look at it long enough, and even the creature who pronounced the prophecy has some pretty ruthless ideas about how to bring it to reality. But at bottom, the bond between Tsunami and her friends Clay, Glory, Sunny and Starflight looks, sounds and smells like their world's best chance for peace – if they can survive long enough.
This is the second of going on 14 "Wings of Fire" books, starting with The Dragonet Prophecy and continuing through the December 2020 release The Dangerous Gift. The next installment after this is The Hidden Kingdom. Other titles by children's author Tui T. Sutherland include the "Avatars" trilogy, eight "Pet Trouble" books, The "Menagerie" trilogy (co-authored with Kari Sutherland), a handful of "Wings of Fire" spinoffs, the young adult novel This Must Be Love, an installment in the multi-author "Spirit Animals" series titled Against the Tide, the non-fiction book Who Was Harry Houdini? and some kiddie picture books.
Saturday, October 3, 2020
by John Sandford
Recommended Ages: 14+
The lead Minneapolis detective on the case is at first resentful, then impressed, but pretty soon both she and Flowers are just as baffled by the overabundance of leads as she was by their previous lack. Was Quill's death connected with an apparent blackmail tape apparently involving a breach of medical research ethics? A drug deal gone wrong? Sexual intrigue? An estranged wife's chances of inheriting big money? A lawsuit against the university? A theft of some maps from an adjacent archive? A philosophical conflict with the cultural sciences department that, in a couple of recent incidents, moved past incivility to outright violence?
Red herrings everywhere. At one point, something between copyright piracy and industrial espionage seems to be on the ticket. A cultural sciences student getting beaten half to death could be just a random mugging, but signs that he was targeted suggest that a connection to the Quill case is likely. Then a stoner-dude friend of Quill's daughter turns up dead of an overdose that could equally likely be an accident, suicide or murder – but, again, seems somehow connected. Someone has a screw loose in or around the U of M, and Virgil's laid back approach, listening seriously to suggestions by people outside the investigation that most cops probably wouldn't put up with, somehow seems to cut through all the false trails and zero in on the truth.
The Flowers attitude makes for a fun ride-along, as always. The man truly has amazing resources, from fellow BCA agents Del Capslock (who can always put you in touch with the right dirtbag) and golf-obsessed thugs Jenkins and Shrake (whose scenes are reliably the funniest pages in the book), to a guy at the hotel bar who correctly predicts (based on TV crime shows) that the killer will turn out to be somebody Flowers has already met but didn't consider a suspect at the time. If memory serves, it's actually an idea the surviving victim has while he's staring at the ceiling of his hospital room that cracks the case. If by "cracks" it is possible to mean "sets Virgil and Co. on a final, perilous, high-speed chase against a homicidal loony who's been hidden in plain sight all along and now has another victim at his mercy."
This is the 12th and, to date, latest "Virgil Flowers" novel by the author of 31 "Lucas Davenport" thrillers and several more. I wouldn't have read all 12 if I didn't like that f***ing Flowers and his coterie of supporting characters. His mysteries often dip into dark, chilling scenes of death and evil, and the good guys don't always come away unscathed. But whether he brings it or simply spots it along the way, when Virgil's at the wheel, laughs and sex appeal and intelligence and interest in the outdoors and a sense of good, solid, dependable character always climb aboard for the ride.
I also don't mind that his cases also tend to showcase the charm of urban neighborhoods, small towns and rural areas that I know because I've been there myself. For example, Virgil lives in the town where I went to college, and my grandparents lived in the next neighborhood over from where much of this book takes place, and every few pages he stops somewhere I've been. He's even a Lutheran pastor's kid, like me. So, Virgil's like a friend of mine, and I wish him the best, and I hope things work out all right with him and his girlfriend Frankie and their twins on the way and the novel he's thinking about writing, etc. Just as long as it doesn't mean this is the last novel he stars in.