The Last Detective- Brian Cohn

The Last Detective

Mixed genre- well put together; no, very well put together. Those that love murder mystery will find themselves comfortably stationed within a science fiction world and vice versa. I love writing that can shatter walls between genres, between readers fixed ideas of like, and this book does that well.

We are in a recently invaded world by a civilisation of ‘slicks’ that mankind is still far short of understanding. Human society is in a state of decay, if not quite chaotic dissolution, as the alien culture imposes certain disciplines whilst leaving humans with a veneer of independence. Any independence is apparently dependent on an absence of resistance. Regular mass deportations to destinations unknown, are ‘accepted’ by the human administrations. One can’t help but make comparisons between the slicks as quasi Nazi or Starlin’s cabal. Perhaps those born in this century would relate better to comparison with the current, alien to humanitarian values, regime of Kim Jong-Un.

When an alien is apparently murdered the aliens find cause for an investigation by what remains of a human police force. Painstakingly Adrian, the last pre-invasion trained detective, puts the pieces of the case together despite the lack of resources and technologies still at his disposal.

The principle human characters are well drawn, and the unfolding of the crime is crafted in a very compelling way. This is a case for an old-time sleuth, not a ‘slick’ crime lab. Um: pun intended.

As an independent writer and a strong advocate of my peers, I am delighted to be able to report this book as being a good example of the quality achievable outside of the traditional publishing empires. Pandamoon are one of many new small publishers. I’m certainly not in any position to endorse them, but I can say that they have at least one good writer aboard.

Well written and, apart from a few lapses, well edited.

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Coyote Sunrise- Nikki Broadwell

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Provided one can suspend all logic to the point of accepting the idea of ‘shape-shifting’, meaning the metamorphosis of one species of creature into another, there is plenty to enjoy in this book. The concept is found in a vast repertoire of paranormal writing, so obviously, a great many readers embrace the concept. Alas, I don’t. However, illogically perhaps when I can’t abide the idea of species shifting, I love writing that ‘humanises’ the world of animals. And surely it is this augmentation of the animal world to point out our cruelties, our savagery, that is the point of this book.

I like the way that Broadwell uses animalistic mythologies to bring together a wealth of political, cultural and social concepts, which generally enfold ideas of individual liberty and equal rights. The humanising of animals, and the animalistic tendencies of humans are explored in depth, if rather repetitively. Some of the plot elements were certainly over used, to the degree that the read would have far more punch if reduced by a third in length.

The page to page reading experience is very good, with first class character development, and Broadwell’s storytelling and writing crafts bring out deep, individualistic, emotional currents. I haven’t read the first part of the saga, but felt no penalties from that. There are no hanging story lines that aren’t properly explained.

I was particularly drawn to the script by the fact that the author clearly feels that we live in a world which has become too much the environment of mankind, to the detriment of nearly all other creatures. A return to native cultures living in harmony with nature, away from those that simply steal from nature whatever they desire, may be utopian; but at least it can exist in a world of books, a world of imagination, and if it can be imagined then just perhaps it is somehow possible. Broadwell is a little soft on the main predator species, but hopefully book three will get down to the business of removing men from the cayotes world, or at least those mentally sick killers that don’t respect the idea of, and reach out for, a fair balance of nature.

Those humans that see sport in the hunt should be the sport of the hunt.

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Finding Freedom- Brittany Nicole Lewis

Finding Freedom

I was expecting a book full of violence, both physical and psychological, with layers of cruel malevolence driving its agenda. This read isn’t like that. This is a quiet pastiche, a sensitive unravelling of years of mental mind-washing, the story of well-planned escape and months of gradual adjustment to life outside of a closed, controlling community.

Those that expect to read about physical violence and a dangerous escape from it, will be disappointed, unless like me they find something ‘spiritually’ rewarding. This is a book that deals with the evils of abusive control and the immense difficulty victims of such authority have adjusting to the freedoms of liberal society. The subject matter is all North American, but the psychology of it applies wherever individuals struggle to escape constraining ‘walls’. Many of the issues raised are as applicable to whole populations, nations, as they are to individual humans.

The book is well enough written, in a simple non-intrusive style, with ‘christian’ belief strongly emblazoned by Lewis’s words. The read is gentle and rewarding, quietly preaching the author’s private convictions. I feel most comfortable describing this as Christian social drama. I feel that those that have escaped, or are contemplating escape from the dominion of other’s, whether to find their own space with God, or to the most secular of lives, will find this a rewarding read. The cult isn’t defeated but, by the end, its effects on the minds of some are ameliorated. The main lesson is that it isn’t easy to take responsibility for one’s future from a long-term suppressing evil, to risk escape, but that the light at the end of the tunnel can be reached, and is worth reaching for.

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One Sip at a Time- Keith Van Sickle

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This is a series of anecdotes, penned by an English-speaking American dabbling in life in France. It is an easy to read, short book with the capacity to raise a smile, if not to add a great deal to one’s own understanding of the entente cordiale. The author’s joie de vivre is infectious, even if one is sometimes left a little nonplussed about quite why.

As the author points out himself, his and his wife’s, um- no actually, his, difficulties with a very different culture and language, provides the colour to this book. Note well, that the author declares himself as anything but some bilingual Québécoise superhuman. Van Sickle is the average, and more usually male, voyager who struggles in anything but a native lingo. Well, that’s the picture he paints. I suspect that in reality, he is the sort of person that brings enough of himself to any social situations to compensate for those that make little positive impact, whatever language is being manipulated. He certainly has the confidence to point out his insufficiencies to his reading audience, which does help draw one into his ‘sips’.

In the connections that make up the thin thread of connective story we see the couple dip in and out of ‘francophone’ culture, in varying, if generally geographically close, locations. The book is not so very different from a couple of dozen books written by British and Irish individuals that have tried escaping the perpetual grey for the nicer bits of France. So this doesn’t add much in the way of knowledge to anyone that has read any of these, nevertheless, this book is well worth a read if one has any sort of interest in ‘French-English’ détente. This is lightweight draft, from a bonhomme raconteur that can only appeal to the many Anglophones that have faced the torture of trying to use school level French for real communication. So yes, definitely, this reviewer is amongst its natural audience.

Van Sickle seems to be particularly keen on making the Swiss, the people of my adopted nation, the butt of several stories. He, and of course his misses, his linguistic enabler, lived for a while in the Swiss Romande Canton of Neuchâtel. While en Suisse, we are more inclined to find the butt of humour amongst the people of the ‘Hexagone’ that is truly French, and particular amongst thsoe fine residents of Paris that feel only they can speak la langue française. Certainly, in that superior capital, not even the people of the once officially independent province of Provence are recognised as speakers of anything close to acceptable French.

Worth a read during the bon voyage.

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Sherlock Holmes and the Nine-Dragon Sigil- Tim Symonds

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Firstly, I’m not a raving fan of the fictitious Sherlock Holmes, though I’m certainly an admirer of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I read several Sherlock books in my younger years enjoying their adventure and appreciated their cleverly weaved plots, even if it was other works of Doyle that really grabbed me. Professor Challenger, who first appeared in ‘The Lost World’ has always been my favourite character. So a weak amateur fan of the original books though I am, I couldn’t but enjoy how genuine this read felt. I could have easily been fooled into thinking that this was the writing of the great man himself, even though this is as much historical fiction as the team once of Baker Street. Further, once embroiled in unmasking the sinister, even the plot was worthy of the Sherlock Holmes stamp.

This book is not only brilliantly written, it is exceedingly well researched. I enjoyed the detail in the history every bit as much as the story itself. The historical fiction is as clever as the stylistically accurate incorporation of by far the two most famous characters of Doyle’s huge imagination—two characters as famous as any in literary fiction.

I very much enjoyed the ‘glossary’ at the end of the book, which gave depth to so much of the period detail. This additional information doesn’t add to, or subtract from, the story itself, but certainly gives readers such as I, ignorant of Chinese history, a much needed and speedy education. All the detail is self-explanatory enough in the run of the story, however, the additional information rounds off this reading experience quite delightfully.

I recommend this book to fans of Sherlock Holmes, lovers of historical fiction and to all those that like a wide variety of well-written fiction. I will be looking to read further books from Tim Symonds’ pen.

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Anya and the Power Crystal- N. A. Cauldron

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This is a really good book for the ‘between years’ reader and younger adolescents. Well, so says I, from the distance of my 60s and many years from having even the connection of children of such ages. I enjoyed delving into Cauldron’s fantasy adventure, with its traditional fight between generally righteous good and the forces of evil. The writing is exuberant, pacey, entertaining; surely a reflection of the author’s own joy in the telling. The plot is moved along without delaying information dumps, telling us just enough to paint the required pictures. I genuinely felt that Cauldron easily puts herself in young shoes.

This is the second in series, and though I haven’t read the first book I had no difficulties with the story or the interesting range of mainly adolescent major characters. The fantasy elements were a nice mix of stock-in trade fantasy and material original to the author’s mind. There is loads of potential for at very least the completing of a trilogy, with plenty of unanswered plot twists, without over-treading too many familiar paths. I see no reason why this shouldn’t build into a well followed, long series. I would have loved reading about Anya’s world as a child, and perhaps especially having it read to me as my interest in fantasy worlds lagged some way behind my reading ability.

The emphasis on a strong female heroine, sorry I’m old enough that I still struggle with the use of a non-gender specific hero, is very much the trend. That is a clear reflection of the empowerment of women throughout all the major strands of modern society and culture. Cauldron’s writing is very much of the ‘Queendom’, with the female protagonist balancing the best of, with the worst of gender. That is something of a relief, running as it does against the grain of so much modern writing, even though the negatives of gender are mainly in the form of the traditional wicked witch. I am very pleased to say that some of the boys are written with real individuality as well. In short, there is balance enough that young males will find characters to dream through rather than simply of. This is definitely a ‘Hermione Granger’ rather than a ‘Harry Potter’ story, however, Cauldron keeps a Rowlingesk balance in her Queendom. I’m sure that the greatest part of Rowling’s success is her ability to make all children, um- and grown-up child, feel that given another time and space that they could be a character in her fictitious worlds.

One thing I like about my vision of Anya is that she is ‘actually’ a realistic role model, if that makes any sense at all in a fantasy book. I mean of course, that she isn’t either impossibly beautiful or talented. She is just Anya, from the next house down the street, with typical parents, and a mixed range of friends. Wand and a bit of intuition aside, she is just one in a crowd, like just about any of us in the real world. She sometimes fails to measure up, gets her hands dirty, makes a fool of herself, fails to fit in; just like everyone else.

I will look out in the hope of reading a few reviews from the target audience, to see if Cauldron has hit the nail as well as I think she has. After all, it is children, not life-blunted old adults that are the best guide to the writing of young people’s fiction. This book perhaps needs a bit more editing in places, but yes, this is good storytelling of a fantasy kind.

What comes next out of the Cauldron?

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The Gatekeeper- Michael A. Sisti

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At first I thought my failure to keep a grip on the long cast of characters was going to sink me and at felt a few early point of view shifts were a little too sharp, however once I settled into this very fast paced book I really enjoyed it. Sisti has structured this story with very short chapters that add to the pacey feel. We are trotted through literally years in which a business grows from nothing into a large regional bank, and then collapses in the trauma field of the financial crisis started by the 2007 sub-prime mortgage collapse in the USA.

The gatekeeper in the male testosterone fired world is a woman, and not one modelled on a kick-arse beauty that can floor any man with a combination of looks, intelligence and gymnastic battle crafts, the likes of which have never yet actually been witnessed in real life. All the characters are just about believable, if in many cases rather clichéd. With so many actors to follow it was as well that many were solidly familiar, stock personalities.

This book makes business acquisitions and mergers seem like exciting stuff, and as if this isn’t enough there is an interesting bit of sexual intrigue as well. This is a fun read, one that once it had me hooked had no trouble keeping me so.

Sisti is a good pulp fiction writer. I mean that with the greatest of respect. He writes in a sharp entertaining, to the point, style, that draws unrepentantly on those characters that surround us all in real life. And all this is done without any demonstrable physical violence, murder, torture, or natural disasters. I’m sure I’ll read another Sisti before very long.

For the traveller, those short chapters make this book just right for reading on a crowded train.

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Falling in Death and Love- Magnus Stanke

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This is a good suspense thriller written with an easy read style and a good deal of wit. The 1970s setting in Mallorca works very well, as do the bunch of main characters. All of who are unique enough that one has little danger of confusion. We read into a holiday romance that promises to be so much more, and then for tragic reason proves to be life changing for one and life ending for the other.

This is a plot easily ruined by knowing too much, like so many popular films one sees a week too late. Try to avoid reading the plethora of spoiler reviews. Not easy I know. As to the question of converting this book for film medias, it would make a gift of a screen script.

I don’t usually manage to read books in a sitting, however good they are, and I didn’t quite manage with this one, but not through lack of trying. Young readers for who the ‘70s are ancient history, and older readers put off by early pages of period ‘hippiness’, read on, you won’t be disappointed. This really is a good adrenaline rush read, not just another middle-aged author dreaming up a regretfully missed life of dope, speed, and sex in the sun. And yes, Sushi chefs really were moving in on Europe right back when baby-boomers were still young, even though we associate Japanese style cuisine more with western city life in the new millennium.

The book is so well written, especially when one accounts for the fact that Stanke is German, and writing in a second language, English. Correct me if I’m wrong, someone, but I don’t think this book has versions in German, Spanish, or any other language, and it certainly hasn’t been translated by anyone other than the author. Stanke has both a feel for language and the skill to weave a good yarn.

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An Aching Kind of Growing- Brittany Rowland

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This is a really engaging piece of social drama that takes us deep into the life of a marginalised and abused teenaged girl. Most of the book appears as profoundly real as any dramatic fiction I’ve been privileged to read. Sadly, I know the story is an accurate reflection on too many young lives. Natalie comes from a theoretically ‘middle-class’ home, in a middle-class street, in a normal enough town, yet her young life is for the main part anything but comfortable.

Natalie is a bright girl who is blighted by having a physically abusive father, and an emotional detached mother. She is the constant scapegoat for every wrong, for every misfortune, for every failure in her family, while being personally deprived of all but the necessities for life. No wonder then, that she ends up on the streets and as the victim of further abuses. Thankfully the author stood clear of introducing sexual abuse as well. Perhaps that on top of everything else wouldn’t have only detracted from credibility. The main thrust of the story is that Natalie is let down by the care system as much as by those close to her. That is a woefully familiar story, as cash strapped social programmes fail in almost every corner of the world.

The story is very well written from a technical point of view, and very well crafted as a story. This appears to be this author’s first real leap into fiction writing, from a non-fiction writing background. I hope there is far more of her penetrating fiction to come. This is the sort of book that encourages all right-minded people to be generous towards those that are struggling; especially the young, routinely down on their luck and short of consistent support. Natalies exist in every towns’ shadows, marginalised by systems that just about support the luckiest, but which seem only to make the lives of the emotionally and physically deprived comparatively and inexcusably more intolerable.

I recommend this book to all those with less than solidly frozen hearts, as a reminder that most street kids, usually driven by desperation to petty crime, or worse, don’t volunteer for their roles; even when that sometimes appears to be the case. This is powerful writing that, as others have said, makes this book hard to put down.

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