October 2019

The first book in the Alex Cross thriller/mystery series.

Publication year: 1995
Format: Print
Page count: 355
Finnish publisher: WSOY
Finnish translator: Jorma-Veikko Sappinen

This story starts with the villain who is fixated on the kidnapping of Charles Lindbergh’s infant son in 1932. He wants to be as famous as the man who did that, Bruno Hauptmann. We find out a lot about the villain during the story.

But the main character is a homicide detective Alex Cross from New York. He’s a psychologist and currently works for the NYPD. He and his partner Sampson are investigating a series of vicious murders of a prostitute, her teenaged daughter, and her infant son. But because the victims are poor and black, those cases aren’t news. He and Sampson are pulled off the case and pressured to investigate the kidnappings of two children of famous white people. Michael Goldberg’s dad is a minister and Maggie Rose Dunne’s mother is a famous actress. They go to the same school for the children of the wealthy and famous. They were kidnapped the from school and the investigation quickly points to their math teacher who has disappeared. Alex and Sampson are disgusted because they were feel that nobody cares about the killer who is murdering black people. However, Alex quickly develops a bond with Maggie and her mother, because of his own children.

The kidnapper sedates the kids (who are just nine) and buries them. One of the FBI agents gets too much air time, taking the media’s attention away from the kidnapper, so he kills the agent. Then he demands ten million dollars in ransom.

Alex is a widow with two young children. He lives in a bad neighborhood with his grandmother and the two kids. Her wife was shot and the killer was never found. He and his partner also help at the local soup kitchen. He’s a likable character who is constantly in trouble with his superiors who want to do things differently because of political reasons.

The story features a lot of rivalry between different police agencies. Right from the start, Alex and Sampson don’t trust the FBI and they’re right. The Secret Service is also involved because they were supposed to be watching the kids. The head of SS’s child detail is Jezzie Flanagan. She’s worked hard to get to her position and is determined to get the kidnapper. She’s very beautiful with troubled past.

This is a fast-paced story with many POV characters, a couple of whom are seen only once. Alex’s POV is in first person and the others are in third person. The plot has a lot of twists and even a courtship romance. However, I guessed the twist with the love interest. I didn’t like it and was hoping I’d be wrong. But this being the first book in the series, only three things could have happened to her. That’s why I don’t really like reading romantic subplots; they feel pointless.

It did have couple of surprises. I was surprised that the whole book wasn’t about getting the kidnapper. Most of the last half of the book is a courtroom drama and about the whole media circus around Maggie and the kidnapper. The time skips also surprised me.

This was a quick, mostly satisfying read although it left a few things open at the end.

The second book in the SF series Lock in. This one centers on an imaginary sport. It can be read as a stand-alone but I recommend reading the first book, Lock In, first.

Publication year: 2018
Format: Audio
Running time: 7 hours 36 minutes
Narrator: Wil Wheaton

I thoroughly enjoyed the first book in this series, Lock In. It introduced us to a world where a significant minority of people suffers from Haden’s Syndrome where the affected are fully conscious but can’t move or respond to any stimulus. So, they’ve been fitted with neural implants and they operate robot bodies called threeps. They can also interact with each other in a virtual world.

Chris Shane in an FBI agent and a Haden. They (we never learn their biological sex) are also the daughter of a huge NBA star and his very business smart wife. When a sport star, who is a Haden, dies during a very high-profile game, Chris is just the right person to investigate.

The sports in question is hilketa where all the players use the robot bodies. They attack each other with swords and hammers and the aim is to rip off the head of one of the opposing players, called a goat, and take it to the goal posts. The robot bodies also means that the operators can be male or female in the same game. Hilketa is hugely popular not just in the States but all over the world.

Chris and their sarcastic partner Leslie Vann are plunged into the world of professional sports, trying to find out if the death of Duane Chapman is an accident or murder. And if it is murder who did it and why.

I really enjoyed this one, too. It’s got witty dialogue with Leslie chewing out pretty much everyone, and lots of humor. I sort of think that we all need a Leslie in our lives, to remind us that we don’t need to take crap from anyone.
I also enjoyed Chris’ roommates some of whom are hilketa fans and also fellow Haden sufferers. It also comments on disability and gender, although not as much as the first book.

It’s a fast-paced book with lot of twists which make it hard to put down (or in my case, stop listening). I also like Wheaton’s narrator style a lot.

A collection of six Modesty Blaise short stories.

Publication year: 1972
Format: Print
Page count: 214
Publisher: Souvenir Press

I thoroughly enjoyed these short stories; O’Donnell is in excellent form here. If you’ve read any previous Modesty books or comics, you pretty much know what to expect. Like almost all of the MB stories, they’re stand-alone and don’t require any previous knowledge about the characters. The stories are set in 1960s. Both Modesty and Willie are very competent fighters with various weapons and in hand-to-hand combat. They’re best friends for life and can always depend on each other. But they’re not lovers; in fact they often have other lovers.

In “A Better Day to Die”, Modesty and Willie are going to see a dying man who used to be part of Modesty’s criminal organization. However, their car breaks down. Willie stays in a small village to repair it together with the local men, but Modesty chooses to ride in an old bus. The bus is full of young women whom a priest it taking to city to work there. But the priest, Jimson, has heard of Modesty and her skills in violence. Jimson is a fervent believer in pacifism to the point that he think it’s better to die than to defend oneself. He lectures Modesty about the evils of every kind of violence. When a group of guerrillas stop the bus and take the passengers, Modesty is practically unarmed and must adapt to the situation.

“The Giggle-Wrecker” is set mostly in East Germany during the Cold War. Tarrant asks Modesty and Willie to smuggle out a defector – who is Japanese and therefore very easy to spot. The duo must think their way very carefully. Also, they get to do some of my favorite stuff: disguises.

“I Had a Date with Lady Janet” is remarkable because it’s the only MB story told in first person, Willie’s. He’s on a date with his sometime girlfriend Lady Janet when a killer tries to kidnap him. Willie manages to turn the tables and finds out that an old enemy has returned. He already has Modesty but wants Willie, so that he can see her die brutally. This time it’s up to Willie to save her.

“A Perfect Night to Break Your Neck” features two recurring characters from the book “I, Lucifer”: Steven Collier who is a paranormal investigator and his wife Dinah. Dinah is blind but she’s loyal, tough, and has even has a supernatural power or two. Modesty, Willie, Steven, and Dinah are vacationing when they hear about a series of robberies. During a party, they’re also robbed.

In “Salamander Four”, Modesty’s long time millionaire boyfriend John Dall wants a wooden statue of Modesty. To do that, he hires an eccentric Hungarian artist who is living in Northern Finland. When Modesty is modeling for the artist, Alex, a wounded and half-frozen man staggers in. Modesty helps him but Alex, who has suffered in war, doesn’t want to get involved. However, the wounded man turns out to be an industrial spy who has info with him. A very dangerous organization called the Salamander Four are after him. Modesty decides to help him over the border to Russia.

The final story, “The Soo Girl Charity”, is the shortest. It begins very lightheartedly but turns out to be the most disturbing of them. Modesty has been coerced into selling flags for a charity. One man turns out to be too grabby and he seems to be a really nasty man in other ways, so Willie and Modesty decide to break into his house and steal some money to give to the charity. They find out a lot more than they expected.

While these all feel pretty straightforward adventure stories, they all have some sort of twist. They were written in the 1960s, so they show the attitudes of that time, casual racism and sexism. O’Donnell tries to do better but his attitudes are dated. For example, in the first story several men rape a teenaged, sheltered girl who seems to get over it quickly. Of course, she’s a side character and this is an action story, but the attitude is still too casual. Of course, neither Modesty nor O’Donnell condone it.

Two of the stories have disabled female characters who are shown in very positive light. Both are very good in their own jobs, bright, loyal, and have partners who clearly appreciate them. Dinah was born blind and Janet lost one of her legs in a car accident. Both are recurring characters in the comics.

Overall, I really enjoyed these despite the attitudes of the times. I love Modesty and Willie and their adventure and their great camaraderie. They have good villains and a great cast of supporting characters. I was thrilled to see one of the stories set in my native Finland, although we didn’t get to see Finnish people much. I also enjoyed the humor in the stories.

November is going to be SciFiMonth! Imyril’s post has suggestions on what to post about. It has both daily prompts and Top Ten List topics. I have already gathered a preliminary list of AI characters and favorite alien species.

Imyril and the other hosts will also have a read-along of Becky Chambers’ Record of a Spaceborn Few. I’ve already read it so I’m very curious to see what other people think about it. The structure is different so I’m sure some people won’t like it. The page has also a sign-up link.

I think I’m finally going to dive into Cherryh’s Foreigner series. I have the first two books. I’ve also got loads of other unread SF. I can hardly wait! 🙂

A stand-alone thriller with science fiction elements.

Publication year: 2014
Format: ebook
Page count in GoodReads: 472

Jennifer Adams a research assistant to Doctor Elias Storm at the Massachusette’s Maritime Academy. She’s separated from her husband Mark who is a computer expert. They have a twelve-year-old son Reese. When Jen’s leaving from her work, Mark calls him to tell that their son has disappeared but when she’s answering her cell she find her boss murdered, in her own car.

When the police leave, Mark reveals that the kidnappers have left a note: they have four days to find Dr. Storm’s answer. Jen is desperate to get her son back but she doesn’t know what the kidnappers mean. So, she drags Mark back to the academy to search Storm’s office. But while there, a group of British soldiers threaten them. Quickly, the solders tell that they know a lot about the kidnapping and that Jen and Mark should go with them. A little reluctant, Jen agrees. The soldiers take the couple to a submarine and head over to a underwater research station. It’s at the bottom of the sea, five miles down, and has been abandoned for thirty years.

Meanwhile, in Washington detective Craig Larson and his partner Dawson are asked to look into the kidnapping and research the mysterious eco-terrorist group which could be behind it.

I wanted to like this book more than I did. It has an interesting premise but I didn’t really care about any of the characters and some of the plot twists didn’t really work for me. For example, I find it really hard to believe that Jen and Mark would trust the British soldiers and just go on a submarine to adventure to the unknown, when their son has been kidnapped and they have a pretty tight deadline. After the end reveals, I don’t even understand why the villains wasted time kidnapping Reese at all. The underwater base was mostly great and I liked the characters exploring it, but what they found there just didn’t add up. Also, I found it very unlikely that an achievement like the underwater station was just abandoned without a pressing reason. Also, the book has lots of spelling errors.

I mostly enjoyed reading it but when I think about it, the plot just falls apart.

Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch are running a Kickstarter for
WMG Holiday Special.

It’s already funded and has some great stretch goals. The project is for three Christmas / Winter Holiday short story collections, Bloody Christmas, Winter Holidays, and Joyous Christmas. However, if you pledge at 35 dollars or more “Starting on November 28, 2019, you can get a holiday story per day sent to you automatically. 35 days, one story per day. Then next July, all of the stories will be put together in one massive compilation with all the introductions. So, you can also get that next summer.” Sounds great! A week more to go.

Collects X-Men Gold issues 7-12.

Writer: Marc Guggenheim
Artist: Ken Lashley

The adventures of the new X-Men Gold (Kitty, Kurt, Ororo, Rachel, Old Man Logan, and Peter) continue. This time we get a mix of familiar old villains and a couple of new ones.

First, a mutant killer is stalking the X-Mansion. He’s a human whose son and wife were killed by Magneto and now he wants to take it out on heroic mutants. He kills one young mutant who we didn’t get to know and has set a huge bomb inside the mansion. Also, Peter was hurt in the fight against the super sentinel in the previous story and can’t change to steel anymore.

In issue 9, Peter and Illyana find out that they have an uncle, named Anatoly. Anatoly is a member of the Russian mafia, the Bratva, and that’s why the rest of the family shunned him. However, now he needs help. He contacts Peter who wants to connect with his only living relative, except for Illyana. So, the X-Men and Illyana travel to Russia. However, Anatoly’s boss has revived Omega Red from the dead and needs Illyana’s power to keep him alive. Of course, it’s a trap.

The final issue, 12, focuses entirely on the newest member of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. He’s an alien from the Negative Zone but also a mutant among his own species. More surprisingly, he’s a despot who clawed his way almost to the top of his race, only to be humiliated. He was set free in the first issue and I’m sure we’re going to be seeing more of him in volume 4 which is called the Negative Zone War.

This is solid and familiar to us old fans. Old story lines are rehashed so much that even the characters talk about how this all feels familiar, such as Peter losing his powers after Magneto tried to heal him or Kitty trying to persuade US senators not to pass a Mutant Deportation bill. However, I also rather enjoyed Kitty getting back to her ninja skills and the rekindling of her and Peter’s romance.

Of course, it’s not perfect, but I’m looking forward to the next volume which is Mojo Mayhem.

Roderick Thorp: Nothing lasts forever
Later published as Die Hard. A stand-alone action/adventure book.

Publication year: 1979
Format: Print
Page count: 191
Finnish publisher: Viihdeviikarit
Finnish translator: Pasi Junila

This was surprisingly similar to the movie which was based on the book. The basic premise is the same: a man alone in a huge building against a group of terrorists who have hostages, including the man’s family. And it’s Christmas.

The main character of the book is Joseph, Joe, Leland, a former police officer and currently a high paid security consultant. He already knows the leader of the attackers, Little-Tony Gruber, who is a notoriously ruthless terrorist. He’s come to LA for Christmas to see his daughter Steffie and her two children. Joe thinks about his marriage which ended in a divorce years ago and his ex-wife has died some years ago. He’s alone and barefoot when the terrorists attack and realizes that he must find out how many terrorists there are and to take them out one by one.

While Joe skulks around the building, he thinks about his life and especially his failures. He also knows how people get so desperate that they have nothing to loose and muses on that. The action is somewhat slowed by his thoughts but they also make Joe far more human and McClaine in the movie. Joe’s afraid and tired.

A couple of scenes are almost straight out of the book, but most have been changed or adapted. The attackers have different motives and the ending is quite different.

Still, this was quite an enjoyable read once I got to used to the way that Joe’s musings slowed the book down. This is a second book in the Leland series. I haven’t read the first one and based on reviews it seems to have quite a different tone.

The third book in the children’s fantasy trilogy about young troll Rollo.

Publication year: 2003
Format: Print
Page count: 170
Publisher: Atom

In the previous book, Troll Queen, the young troll Ludicra who has suddenly found Rollo to be very appealing and even lovable, left the troll town Bonespittle in search of Rollo and to become his queen. Ludicra and her band of trolls, ogres, and gnomes found Rollo. Now they’re at the bottom of the Great Chasm and trying to get back to Bonespittle through old tunnels. However, an old enemy returns in the tunnels. The enemy also has trollnapped Rollo’s father and mentor. He tries to force Rollo and his small band to surrender. But Rollo remembers a tale he heard about an old troll’s treasure. Rollo promises to give the treasure to the enemy in exchange for the hostages.

Rollo and his band withdraw to the Chasm and confer. The elves seem to know where the treasure is so Ludicra wants to ask them. But shortly, Rollo and his best friend Filbum are separated from the group, again. Ludicra and her band continue the search for the treasure.

This was a good ending to the series. The animosity that trolls and elves have for each other comes to a head and is resolved. The ending has a twist I didn’t see coming and in an adult book it would have been ludicrous, but it felt kind of fitting here. A few dragons even make brief appearances.

Collects Lady Mechanika Vol 2. issues 1-6.

Writer: M. M. Chen
Artist: Joe Benitez, Martin Montiel

This is a fun and action-packed steampunk comic, especially if your tastes run to big breasted women. However, it doesn’t continue the previous story line so the lady’s past isn’t explored at all.

The story opens with professor Thomsen and his young assistant Strassman who are on an archaeological dig in Africa, apparently near Kongo. Using a mechanical bird, they’re reporting to Strassman’s mysterious bosses. Then we return to lady Mechanika who is in the Alps with a pair of siblings who are big game hunters. However, lady Mechanika doesn’t like it. Apparently, she took the job purely for the money. The brother ends up shooting a snowman but the lady prevents him from taking down the young pups.

Some time later, the lady returns to London where she’s met with Winifred Thomsen, the professor’s pre-teen granddaughter. The professor is missing and Fred wants the lady to find him. The lady agrees and Fred tells her that her grandfather is looking for ancient alchemical tablets. Purely for the scientific and historical value, of course. They return to the professor’s house to look for clues. However, the professor’s housekeeper has been murdered and soon after men speaking German kidnap Fred. The lady pursues but can’t get the girl back. She followed the clues to a secret Rosicrucian house but she’s barred entry because she a woman. However, breaks in and a mysterious gentleman, Mr. Jabir, agrees to help her get the girl back. Together, they board his airship to fly to Africa.

This was almost like a female Indian Jones adventure! A few historical facts has been mixed up with mythology, a fast-paced action adventure, and a dash of fantasy. The lady has impeccable fighting skills and she even finds a tribe of desert Amazons! The plot has a couple of gaping holes, but they don’t really matter.

Winifred is a great character. She’s a brave and smart kid. However, she’s not action heroine yet but maybe the lady will decide to train her when she’s a bit older.

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