Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Wreckage, Caterpillar Cop

Two fairly "meh" books.  I was particularly disappointed by James McClure's Caterpillar Cop, since I think Gooseberry Fool is a fantastic mystery novel and The Artful Egg has some funny views of South Africa.  But Caterpillar Cop is a by-the-novels procedural.  Zondi has a bit part, which certainly doesn't help matters; his and Kramer's different approach are part of what makes the series work.

The Wreckage didn't really do anything for me either.  It seems to be one of those books that's less than the sum of its parts.  Decent characters, decent writing, a good (believable) conspiracy plot, but the whole just didn't cohere for me.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Polar Star

Martin Cruz Smith's follow up to Gorky Park is the excellent Polar Star.  I mostly liked the former novel, but felt like it was aiming for a take on international espionage that it didn't quite pull off.  This novel isn't really focused on the espionage angle so much, which is a plus, but, more importantly, Cruz uses the setting of a fishing factory boat to brilliant effect.

As the novel starts, Arkady Renko is hiding out on the eponymous "Polar Star," a huge Soviet factory ship taking in the fish trawled by some American fishing vessels in a joint American/Soviet venture.  When one of the fish-cleaners on the ship dies mysteriously, Arkady is briefly rehabilitated so that he can find out who killed her.

The story takes place almost entirely on the titular "Polar Star," a claustrophobic environment that Smith uses to great effect in a few cat-and-mouse sequences.  Smith's writing is spare but evocative -- one can almost feel the cold while reading this novel.  His cast of villains is various and impressive, from the smug Communist official Volovoi to an old criminal from Arkady's past.  It's also a nice touch that, although these various bad guys are sometimes allied, they each have their own agendas and none of them really knows the full story of what's going on.

All in all, I very much enjoyed this novel, and am looking forward to reading the third Renko novel.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Ghost Story

Ghost Story is the 13th Harry Dresden novel, and it shows a striking self-awareness.  Up until now, it's been easy to see Harry as a sort of Gary Stu, fighting his way through a lot of bad guys and walloping them with his more-impressive fire-power.  But here, Harry confronts the idea that maybe discretion would have been the better course -- he's ended up causing a lot of problems, even as defeats the bad guys.  We can see that Harry's hot-headedness has caused a chain of events starting way back (to book 3 or 4, I think), leading to the war against the Red Court, the death of his friends, the crippling of Michael, and so on.

Having said all that, the emphasis on the book is not on soul-searching, it's still on action.  So it'll be interesting to see if Butcher has Harry turn over a new more restrained leaf, or whether book 14 goes back to business as usual.