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Reviews Written by
David W. Nicholas (Van Nuys, CA USA)
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Hong Kong: A Jake Grafton Novel
Hong Kong: A Jake Grafton Novel
by Stephen Coonts
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: CDN$ 9.49
78 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Grafton in Hong Kong, Sept. 29 2003
This book is not the best entry in the Jake Grafton series (I still hold out for the first, Flight of the Intruder) but it is a very good book, if you can put up with a couple of annoyances. The plot is rather simple. Grafton goes to Hong Kong at the behest of the government. His mission is to investigate whether the American consul there is getting involved in something he shouldn't be. The reason for sending Grafton is that a lifetime ago he flew missions in Viet Nam with the guy, and they're friends. So Jake goes to Hong Kong, and takes his wife along, because he met her in that city thirty years ago.
When they arrive, things get hot pretty fast. In addition to Jake's old friend (now a dot-com billionaire) there are various spies of dubious loyalties, an even more doubtful smuggler, and the usual Communist monsters running things. Coonts' politics are rather apparent (the fictional Democrat President has been bought off by the Communist leadership, and the Communists themselves are scum) and may be offensive to some people, or at least a bit annoying. His action sequences are fun, though I will say that the bit with the combat robots was a bit much.
Overall I enjoyed the book, though, and would recommend it.

Flood Tide
Flood Tide
by Clive Cussler
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
66 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Dirk Pitt Ad Nauseum, Sept. 29 2003
This review is from: Flood Tide (Mass Market Paperback)
Maybe I'm getting jaded. I used to like these novels back some time ago, with the silly preposterous chases and the historical settings and artifacts. You get everything from a battleship turned into a monument turning its guns on the capital to the ghost of a WW1 flying ace strafing a U.S. Air Force base and getting revenge. I mean everything. The main character is a cross between Jacques Cousteau and Indiana Jones, except he has more sex appeal than James Bond. Everything's always very lurid, with the hero (Dirk Pitt) getting horribly upset and desiring revenge at the expense of the villain.
The plot doesn't make much sense, or really matter that much. In this instance, Pitt's vacationing at a lake in Oregon when a billionaire Chinese lunatic tries to use the lake as a dumping ground for useless illegal Chinese immigrants (I kid you not) and of course Pitt rescues them. It turns out that the government wants Pitt and his team to explore the billionaire's operations (by one of Cussler's patented preposterous coincidences) and so off we go.
There are many adventurous things in this book, chases involving boats, cars, submarines, ultralight gliders, and so forth. Gunfire and sex abound (though the sex is tastefully done, I will say that) and the humor is kind of lame.
If you're into this sort of thing I suppose this was fun. Somehow, I think I've reached my threshhold of disbelief.

Silent Night: The Story of the World War I Christmas Truce
Silent Night: The Story of the World War I Christmas Truce
by Stanley Weintraub
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 11.91
52 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Cultural History of a little-known Episode of the Great War, Sept. 16 2003
In the first months of World War I, while the mud was still new and disgusting to the troops in the trenches, and the killing was still novel to them, Christmas approached. Some of the soldiers on both sides (but chiefly, curiously, the Germans) crossed no-man's-land and met to exchange gifts, sing carols, play games of soccer, and socialize. This so-called Christmas truce lasted in some sectors for several days or even a couple of weeks, and was localized and generally restricted to areas where the British were facing non-Prussian units of the German army, though there were many exceptions. The Belgians and French, less friendly towards the invaders of their country, were only involved sporadically.
This book, then, is the story of this truce, and its impact on Western society, both in terms of the actual effect and the effect it could have had. The author uses diaries and later interviews with participants, newspaper articles of the time, and the few official histories which mention the events, to bring the account to life. He supplements these with versions of the event in fiction in various places, but is careful to tell you the accounts are fictional, and there's generally a reason for including them. One of the best-known British writers from the Great War, Robert Graves, apparently based a fictional account of the event on stories he heard after the fact, for instance. The book also includes a sort of mini-history of the history of the event, including everything from a British rock group in the seventies to Snoopy and his mythical duel with the Red Baron.
The book concludes with a what-if speculation, that tries to imagine the world after a Christmas truce that lasted, and forced the politicians to peace. This is somewhat clumsily handled, because the image of the French or Belgians accepting the German occupation of parts of their country at this stage isn't believable, and the Germans weren't going to give up what they'd fought so hard to capture. The author acknowledges this somewhat in the main part of the book when he recounts that the Germans often boasted that they would be defeating their enemies soon, even while they were exchanging gifts and carols with them. This speculative chapter is the weakest part of the book.
I did enjoy the book overall, though, and would recommend it.

Shooting at Midnight
Shooting at Midnight
by Greg Rucka
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: CDN$ 9.89
44 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

3.0 out of 5 stars Weakest when he deviates from Atticus, Sept. 13 2003
Greg Rucka has been writing suspense novels for about 7 or 8 years now, up til now focusing on the curiously named Atticus Kodiak, and bodyguard and security specialist who lives and works in New York City. This fourth book isn't narrated by Atticus, except for an interlude in the middle. Instead, we're told the story by Atticus' sometime lover, Bridget Logan. We've met her in previous books, but when Rucka lets her tell her own story, it turns out that there's more to her character than Atticus has seen before, and it all comes out as this book progresses. She's a recovering heroin addict (which Atticus didn't know) and has a very checkered past, with many problems that are exacerbated by her addiction. And she also has friends, one of whom she's dedicated to helping, even at the risk of her own life.
I don't typically like books about addicts or drugs. Frankly they give me the creeps, and this book, in those sections anyway, gave me the creeps in spades. I also found the character of Bridget, once we see what's going on inside her head, to be less appealing and more appalling than she was when she was Atticus' girlfriend, through his eyes. She's stubborn, not very honest, annoyingly self-centered, and at times downright stupid. These two things detracted from what was otherwise a worthwhile book; I still enjoyed it though, and Rucka manages to make an ending to the story that surprised me, and pleased me a bit more than I thought it would.

Up Country
Up Country
by Nelson DeMille
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: CDN$ 8.55
96 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Not really a suspense novel, Sept. 13 2003
This review is from: Up Country (Mass Market Paperback)
Up Country is Nelson DeMille's second VietNam novel (Word of Honor being the first) and I think he wrote it more for himself than for his audience. It's an OK book, but it's not really the suspense novel it's billed as, though there are suspenseful elements to it. I was unsure whether I would give it three stars or four right up until I began this review, and may revise the number up there before I finish. If you want it rated as a suspense novel it's a weak three, but if you're looking for a VietNam novel it's a strong four.
Paul Brenner (the CID investigator from The General's Daughter) is called out of retirement to look into a strange case. A letter has surfaced in the posession of an American army vet, looted from a dead NVA soldier 30 years before. It details a murder that the writer of the letter (not the dead NVA soldier, but his brother) witnessed during the Tet offensive in January 1968. From details in the letter, the writer's name and home village are discerned by army investigators. During the Tet holiday, everyone in VietNam returns to their ancestral village, so if Brenner visits the village then, if the witness is still alive, he'll probably be there. Brenner's sent to interview him, masquerading as a soldier turned tourist visiting all of the places he fought in 30 years ago.
If this were a suspense novel, it'd be about half of its length. You can sustain suspense for 800 pages, but it's difficult to do, and either DeMille doesn't know how, or he's interested in other things, because this book doesn't even try. When Brenner arrives in the country, he's harrassed by the police, but we know he's not going to be killed or imprisoned because the book has 700 more pages to go. There are a few chases and that sort of thing in the middle of the book but no real suspense. By the time the book reaches its climax, if you haven't figured out the bare bones of the conspiracy, you've not thought about it much.
The book is, however, a fictionalized account of an American army vet returning to the country where he fought 30 years ago, and trying to come to terms with the country and what he did there when he was young. If you can live with this as the basis and the majority of the story, then you'll be fine. I can, mostly because DeMille's a facile and engaging writer. I was somewhat annoyed with Brenner, the main character, at times, though. He's basically interchangeable with any of DeMille's other characters (the guy in The Lion's Game, and the one in Plum Island, come to mind) and they all have a penchant for annoying and often lame humor. It's more than a bit annoying.
Given that, I enjoyed the book, and would recommend it.

SHORT VICTORIOUS WAR
SHORT VICTORIOUS WAR
by DAVID WEBER
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 10.99
33 used & new from CDN$ 3.30

4.0 out of 5 stars Honor can be fun, Sept. 6 2003
This review is from: SHORT VICTORIOUS WAR (Hardcover)
This is the third book in the Honor Harrington series by David Weber. It's a concious pastiche of the old Horatio Hornblower stories by C.S. Forester, right up to the initials of the main characters being the same. Honor is a captain the the Royal Manticore Navy, constantly competing with the decrepit but large and aggressive People's Republic of Haven.
In the first two installments of the series, the Havenites tried limited offensives to win planets from the area between the two space nations, but in this book they decide to try for the throat, more or less. The resulting confrontation, with Honor right in the middle, is very suspenseful and interesting. There are characters from previous books, and the plot is fun.
If there's a problem with the book, it's that because this story involves fleet actions, Honor's role in the story is somewhat more limited. It is interesting, however, and the characters are fun too. The author has clearly put a good deal of time into devising the space combat tactics of the age, and thinking things over. I would recommend this book.

Savage Run: A Joe Pickett Novel
Savage Run: A Joe Pickett Novel
by C. J. Box
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: CDN$ 8.54
32 used & new from CDN$ 0.88

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Game Warden Detective, Sept. 2 2003
This is an interesting series, and Open Season was an interesting first novel. One question I had then was how long the author would be able to sustain the series with some believability, given that the main character is a Game Warden in rural Wyoming. It's not every day that a Game Warden gets involved in a shootout with nasty bad guys who are out to kill someone, out in the wilderness.
This time around, Joe Pickett, Game Warden, has been lying low, dealing with his job and the aftermath of his debut book, Open Season. In the opening sequence, a radical environmentalist and his ditzy new bride are blown up by a bomb attached to a cow (sounds strange, but actually it sort of makes sense in the story) and Joe is called to help with the investigation. When it's discovered that no wildlife was killed, he goes on his way, and nothing seems to come of the explosion. Radical environmentalists aren't that well liked in the wilderness: their politics often mean unemployment and poverty for the locals. Then things go kind of sideways, when a local rancher who's a retired personal injury lawyer appears to have poached an elk. Meanwhile, there's a legendary Stock Detective, a descendant of Tom Horn, in deed if not blood, roaming the country with an assistant killing radical environmentalists, like the one he blew up with the cow. As if things aren't complicated enough, the guy blown up by the cow might not be dead, and reporters are questioning Joe Pickett's wife, because she apparently dated the guy in High School. There are other assorted characters wandering in and out of the story.
This is a good novel, though the ending is a bit anti-climactic. I enjoyed it, and would recommend it.

The Hangman's Knot: A Novel
The Hangman's Knot: A Novel
by David Wiltse
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
26 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

3.0 out of 5 stars Odd, disjointed mystery novel, Aug. 31 2003
Billy Tree is the hero of Heartland, from a couple of years ago. He's a small-town boy who joined the Secret Service, and became a hero for his actions in a shootout with a lunatic. Unknown to virtually everyone, he completely lost control of himself in the shootout and basically now is a complete coward. He's terrified of guns and confrontations, and will do anything to avoid them, so he's decided to pass his time working as a deputy sheriff in his small hometown. In this second book he goes a long way to avoid things he didn't need to, and gets himself in way over his head when things don't go the way he thinks they will.
This book is mostly about a lynching that happened over 50 years before the time the book took place, and the repercussions that result from it, through the years. It involves one whopper of a coincidence, and a lot of misconceptions, mistaken identities, and confused motives. At the end of the book you're still not entirely certain what happened, and it's apparent that the main characters aren't sure either. While the book does have an interesting plot, and some action that keeps it moving, it also can be just annoying. There's a scene where one character repeatedly refers to the "weapon" because saying anything else would give away to the reader something the author wishes to conceal, for instance. Anyway, I enjoyed the book, but not that much, and I think I'd be wary of recommending it.

The Book on the Bookshelf
The Book on the Bookshelf
by Henry Petroski
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 13.68
30 used & new from CDN$ 3.25

4.0 out of 5 stars A book for obsessive bibliophiles, Aug. 30 2003
The Book on the Bookshelf is Henry Petroski's sly look at how books are stored, and have been stored for centuries. It's sly, in part, because to tell you this he has to tell you the history of the book itself, and this of course leads him off in different directions. You learn much about not only books, and bookshelves, but scrolls, printing, various sorting systems, printing and spelling conventions over the years, and various other minutiae. If you're interested in this sort of thing, like I was, it's very interesting. I was fascinated to read, for instance, that the British publishing industry changed about a decade ago, and began printing their titles on the spines of books oriented the same way we do it. Previously they had printed the titles upside down (from our point of view) and the two books I'm referring to are old enough to display this. I'd noted it, but never knew why they were like that. Now I do. I'd recommend this book to anyone who's interested in books, publishing, and the history of those things. I will warn you that the author does tend to get into his subject, digress a bit, and run away with his topic now and again, but I generally found this characteristic charming rather than annoying.

Bad Boy Brawly Brown
Bad Boy Brawly Brown
by Walter Mosley
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
36 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars Mosley back in his old form, Aug. 28 2003
Walter Mosley appears to have written himself into a trap, or something like this. He seems to like the era and the atmosphere of post-war Los Angeles, the setting of the early Easy Rawlins novels. The era seems stark, unforgiving, and at the same time the morality plays that evolve are more black and white (if that's an acceptable turn of phrase) than now. He's done two volumes of short stories that are set in contemporary times, but the author has given them a veneer of racism and anger that at times seems forced, by comparison. In his latest series, he's returned to the forties and what he seems to enjoy. But in the meanwhile, he has to keep the Easy Rawlins fans happy (after all this is his fan base, an important constituency) and he can't keep reverting to Easy's earlier years, like he did in Gone Fishin' a couple of years ago. He needs to move forward.
The result is Bad Boy Brawly Brown, a very good entry in the series, following Easy through the streets of 1964 Watts and Compton, as he searches for the son of a friend's girlfriend. The son is a big, strong, not-very-smart young man who's been taken in by the Black Power movement of the sixties, and it seems that there's trouble brewing. A few pages into the book, looking for the boy, Easy stumbles onto a dead body, and then finds himself fleeing the police. The book then follows Easy while he delves into the affairs of the First Men, a fictional group (I believe) that looks a bit like the Black Panthers, and crossing paths with gunrunners, women of easy virtue, old friends from Texas, thieves, and working people who inhabit the black neighborhoods of Los Angeles in 1964.
I enjoyed this book a great deal, and it's well worth the wait.

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