Monthly Archives: March 2014
by Nicole Wolverton
Lela White works for a sleep study center in Houston. Part of her study involves the psychological condition of astronauts for upcoming shuttle missions. Not part of her study is her enigmatic compulsion to break in to the astronauts’ homes for a closer study on how they sleep…and to possibly kill them if she suspects they will be a danger to the mission. However, when she meets cosmonaut Zory Korchagin, who quotes poetry and speaks of his grandmother, her plans go awry as her attraction to him grows. Also messing with her plans are: a pesky librarian, a coworker and unwanted roommate and a janitor with whom she trades sexual favors for information. How does solve her dilemma of whether Zory will be an asset or a liability to the upcoming space flight? Find a way to put him in mortal danger.
This is a weird plot. No other word for it. I’ve never read anything quite like it. Part mystery, part romance, distinctly surreal. I had read a summary of the book before I read it and hesitated a long while before starting. This is definitely not one I would have picked up from the bookstore.
Lela White: 32, polysomnographic technician at a sleep study center, volunteers at local library, dad dead over a year, mom gone from life, owns a cat with which she ‘converses’, lives in her childhood home, wears glasses, consciously focuses on breathing techniques, paranoia tendencies, tiny feet, wears glasses
Zory Pavlovich Korchagin: Cosmonaut, broad shoulders, brown goatee and mustache, elfin ears, gray eyes, bushy eyebrows, single, grandmother had bipolar disease, attended Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology and trained at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center
Three other characters feature in the story (not including the sleeping astronaut at the beginning). The librarian, the janitor and the roommate. I suppose one could include the Lela’s cat as a character. Not too much physical description for Lela and Zory. Lela relies on her hatred for her mother and shared wisdom of her deceased father to get her through the days.
Bland. Not boring but on an even keel. Even Trina, the roommate’ brusqueness isn’t overpowering. Actually, I considered the most interesting conversations to be between Lela and her cat.
First person from Lela’s POV. Each chapter is titled. The problem I had with this book is that I didn’t understand it. I’m sure there is some hidden depth that I’m not comprehending. As I mentioned, it’s a surreal type of book that rolls along on a flat road with little tension. Constantly I tried to catch what was going on underneath, but couldn’t.
Part of problem is that I don’t see any emotion from Lela throughout most of the story. Her expressed feelings on death and sex are virtually the same. Maybe this was intentional by the author, but because of it, I feel I’m missing something vital. There is a definite shredding of her outer core because of the paranoia that brings out some emotion, but even then, in one sense it was still veiled if thinly.
I thought a long time what rank to give this and even when I made the decision, wasn’t sure it was correct. I will admit, part of the rank I give books includes not just the four aspects I discuss, but whether I enjoyed the book. I didn’t dislike this book, but wasn’t too enthused about it. I’m not saying it wasn’t a worthwhile read…for some people. For instance, I didn’t like Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter when I read it in high school. Ditto Romeo and Juliet although I didn’t mind MacBeth. Death of a Salesman was another one I didn’t care for. Am I putting Trajectory of Dreams in the same category as these classics? No. I’m trying to explain how just because I find no grammar/punctuation/spelling errors or the characters aren’t unbelievable and the plot is okay I can still give a lower than expected ranking for the simple reason I found the story not to my liking. Some people would and probably might give it a better review. Maybe others can comprehend the undertones or possible ‘meaning’ to the book. So, in this rare case, I wouldn’t let my ranking sway your decision to read it. Read the summary and take a chance.
by Jackson Burnett
In a bustling Oklahoma city, attorney Chester Morgan enjoys his law practice, treats his clients better than other attorneys would, and just wants to see justice done. Weeks after finding the corpse of a prosperous and honest-as-the-day-is-long oilman in the YMCA pool, Morgan is caught up in another enigmatic case, the death of a stripper/hooker in the desperate side of town. The problem: nobody in authority will tell him anything about the death. So, Morgan starts investigating and discovers the sleazy side of life, from dirty cops to a mother who pimps her daughter. And what do the tenuous connections to the oilman’s death mean?
I like the plot. I thought it an interesting mystery with several layers. I wished for more action, more tension, more danger. Burnett provided the clues in a tantalizing manner and I was intrigued enough to want to read the solution.
Chester Morgan: attorney in Vivia, OK, divorced, graduated University of Oklahoma law, has a slew of catch phrases, doesn’t use a computer, has a sister
Alan Kinman: 24, owns a lawn mowing service, gaunt, acne, muddy water colored hair, sunburned, wears glasses, tattoo on his right hand, squeaky voice
Jeff McNally: police officer
Tamar White: drives a white Lincoln, overweight, bleached blonde hair, translucent skin, dark blue cold eyes, smokes, light freckles on face, pimped out her daughter
A lot of interesting characters. Each has his/her uniqueness. Burnett has put a lot of ‘character’ into his characters…sometimes…sometimes a bit too much. Not too much, but just a little over the top but it’s not too bad. The problem I find with these characters is because of that extra ‘little bit’ they seem off, not quite 100% believable. Close, but…just off and that bothered me. Plus, I wanted to see more of some and less of others.
Not fluid. Morgan wants to wax philosophical or get poetic about the law at times and it’s not natural. Other voices are fine, distinctive.
Not sure what year this is set in but in one scene it mentions the World Trade Center buildings still standing. Varying lengths of chapters. At times the phrasing and the flow tries to harken back to detective stories of the forties or fifties but can’t sustain that atmosphere. It sounds forced. It tries too hard. Burnett unnecessarily uses both names or a title with the name sometimes after introducing a character. Or repeating a location to remind you of the location. Or repeating a personality trait. Doing this only adds words and it detracts from the story. For instance the landlord yells a lot. Okay, fine, but once the reader knows this, the author doesn’t need to keep inserting reminders. Unnecessary tag lines and confusing add ons. (…she said, argued. Or …he asked, stated). Occasional profanity. Misspelled names or words. (Burnett constantly talks about statutes of people instead of statues. This is just a miss by both author and editor.) Punctuation errors.
The plot was good. The rest I found wanting. The foundation was solid but the layers on top were too shaky and only the interesting characters barely kept this from falling below:
1977. Bored with training truckers in Alaska how to fight, Lew Brady, ex Green Beret and mercenary, accepts a job from his old buddy Frank Lanigan to steal a train full of coffee in Uganda bound for shipment to Brazil. With his girlfriend, Ellen, and an ex Ugandan Asian businessman, Lew starts putting together the operation. However, there are other forces at work: Idi Amin, the oppressive Ugandan dictator; Baron Chase, the originator of the coffee theft; as well as other people’s agendas and maybe most devastating of all, sex.
This story was conceived after Westlake heard about an actual incident where Ugandan coffee was stolen. There are shades of Westlake’s Parker stories (written as Richard Stark) in the planning parts but this book encompasses so many more characters and subplots. I was expecting more Dortmunder type antics but was disappointed by not finding them. However, the plot is enticing and with the various aspects actually became a very engrossing story.
Lewis Brady: Green Beret, former African mercenary, drives a Chevy Impala, lives in a mobile home
Ellen Gillespie: 28, works for the Alaskan pipeline, Brady’s girlfriend, tall, slender, short and dark blonde hair, pretty, father was a commercial pilot, learned to fly planes as a teenager
Baron Chase: 49, smokes cigars, Born in Canada but now a Ugandan citizen, adviser to Idi Amin as Deputy Chief of Protocol, yellow teeth, self entitled Captain, torso scarred
Mazar Balim: merchant, 53, round body, short legs, Asian but born in Uganda, large soft brown eyes, attended Eton
Frank Lanigan: 42, big man, heavy-jawed, employed by Balim as a troubleshooter, drives a Land Rover, enjoys history
Denis Lambsmith: 61, titled Sir, negotiator with the International Coffee Board, maintains a voluminous journal, white-haired, stoop shouldered, widower, has a daughter, was a spy for British intelligence during World War II in America, lives in Brazil
Idi Amin Dada: president of Uganda, black, former Uganda boxing champion, 6’4’”large man, wide mouth, heavy eyes, a score plus of children by five wives
Vivid characters. Each gets adequate time in the spotlight. Even some of the minor characters shine and are more important as the story goes along. I enjoyed how the personalities reflected inner thoughts and history and current predicaments. For many characters, at times, it seemed as if they were all in a melting pot of similar philosophies and emotions and inner battles.
Distinctive voices. Conversations range from the political to the sexual. They don’t wander but do include various topics.
Books separated in to Parts. Intricate writing. Lots of details but not too much to make it drag. There are some explicit sexual scenes and a bit of profanity. Details are enough to provide good imagery. Some humor, but the story has more serious overtones. There is an introduction in the version I read that reminds the reader the story is set in Amin’s Uganda and Amin was a cruel dictator and slaughterer of men and women. I thought the story would settle mainly on Lew and Ellen but there are sideline stories connected. Very solid and expressive writing. Lots of history to make the locations interesting. Many times the style is to have a short scene, then go back and lead up to it. Westlake is an excellent writer and Kahawa shows just how unique he can be. This is a very different story than his Parker and Dortmunder books. Similar is the complex heist, but different in all the subplots and the extended detailed setting up of the operation. I enjoy both Parker and Dortmunder stories and was intrigued by this one.
by Martin Caidin
1930. A billion dollars worth of diamonds is stolen from a South African train, then hijacked en route to Germany by a force operating a fantastic flying machine. Included in the heist was an enigmatic cube rumored to be ancient. However, the cube is all part of a plan put together, in part, by Indiana Jones, famed archeologist and adventurer. Together, with his band of assistants, Indy is off on another world-wide chase to discover the identity of the pirates of the sky.
This is my first story I’ve read about Indiana Jones. Of course, I’ve seen all the movies and enjoy the character. This reads, however, like one of the old Doc Savage stories from the 1930s/40s. It has the same quality of adventure.
Henry ‘Indiana’ Jones, Jr.: archeologist, professor at the University of London, widower, on sabbatical from Princeton as a professor of Medieval Literature and Studies, uses a whip
Willard ‘Madman’ Cromwell: Royal Flying Corps squadron commander in World War I, fluent in several languages, drinker, portly but muscled, scar on one arm from a friendly fire round as well as other war gotten scars, former member of the Royal Navy, expert in demolitions and weapons, excellent memory, handlebar mustache, smoker
Gale Parker: red hair, ruggedly beautiful, Ph.d in ancient cultures, mother was a Wiccan witch, expert in the ‘black arts’, real name Mirna Abi Kalil, Muslim father, athletic including expertise in jujitsu, archer, expert inweaponry
Tarkiz Belem: Kurd, former pro wrestler and bodyguard, has connections from the Vatican to the gutter dives, exudes an unattractive odor, shrewd but not overly intelligent, multilingual, wanted for crimes in several countries, gold fanatic
Rene Foulois: French, fighter pilot in World War I, tall, slender, thin mustache, wealthy, family is well known vintners, secret agent for the French Foreign Legion
Harry Henshaw: American Colonel in the U.S. Army, in technical intelligence
Jack Shannon: Indy’s long time pal, blues musician, thin, owns a nightclub in Chicago
Again, characters one might expect to see in the Doc Savage stories. Enough information about each to keep them interesting. A nice variety of personalities.
Distinctive voices which you would expect from such a unique cast. Explanatory conversations are broken up to give them a bit of flavor to keep them from being boring.
At the time of this reading, I was trudging through a few books that were okay, but not especially interesting. I was ready for something different. This is the type of adventure story I enjoy, one that helps the reader ‘escape’ into an exciting world of danger and excitement. Lots of action. Again a Doc Savage feel to it with the use of gadgetry and specialized technology. Delicious fact based detail kept me moving through to see what would come next. A well written story using a movie character.
by Henry Kane
What do you do when the dead guy in your girlfriend’s apartment disappears? Peter Chambers, New York private investigator, finds the situation thus. The other situation is his girlfriend is being hounded by a millionaire who has problems of his own with an estranged wife. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Enter another millionaire who wants Peter to enter a complex web of blackmail and untangle the threads.
I really can’t say more because this one is a hoot and besides I can’t say more without revealing too much. Kane’s mind is deliciously vicious when it comes to creating plots. This is a wild one all the way through.
Peter Chambers: private investigator, tall, smokes, drives a Chevrolet convertible
Arlene Anthony: 26, tall, attractive, heart-shaped face, high cheekbones, black eyes, red hair, long legs, crooked teeth, stage actress, smokes, real name Angelina Antoninni, from a farming family, only child, Peter’s girlfriend
Thomas Rutherford Lyons, Junior: millionaire, owns a yacht, married but separated, in love with Arlene, big muscular man, 6’3”, 36, curly blond hair, ice gray eyes, family money from plastics, co-producer on Arlene’s musical, owns Cadillacs, a Continental, and a Rolls Royce
David Holly: 47, millionaire, co-producer of Arlene’s musical, divorced because of infidelity, black hair, black eyes, black mustaches, hawk nose, baritone, slight paunch, tall, capped teeth, smokes
Stereotypical characters for this genre, but that’s all right. You expect them and enjoy them. Chambers, even though he finds himself in tough situations, doesn’t take himself too seriously. Not a comedian, but not a serious Joe either. Everybody drinks and smokes. I enjoyed the over-the-top personalities.
Conversations, for the most part are quick, clipped. A lot of back and forth.
First person from Chambers’ POV. Flowing words with repetitions every now and then. The story advances at a rapid rate because scenes are to the point. This is, of course, part of the pulp fiction crowd where the women are beautiful, the PI’s can take a punch or two but usually are knocked unconscious at least once, drink and smoke. Instances of profanity but not too many to get worked up about. Original and amusing similes. Kane has a way with words, uses some fancy ones now and then but it’s fun. I also enjoy reading a book from decades ago and reveling in the references: self-service elevators were just coming into use; answering services, and an interesting inclusion of a topic that was particularly interesting back in the day. I thought about brown belt but this is so wonderful I would read it again.