Sunday, February 21, 2010

#9: Dexter by Design by Jeff Lindsay

Cheery blood spatter expert for the Miami Police by day--and serial killer by night--Dexter Morgan finds himself in the middle of a string of murders that cross over from the art world to the center of Florida tourism in the fourth thriller from Jeff Lindsay, Dexter by Design.

Fans of the TV series might find the Dexter of the books a little more cold-hearted and the storytelling a bit more chilling, though the basic premise--a serial killer trained by his cop foster father to only kill bad guys--is more or less intact. But the TV series has veered away from the books, with significant changes in who lives or dies, and other plot points.

I felt the first two books in the series were pretty strong, but the third a strange misfire, moving from straight crime to a supernatural plot.

Thankfully, Dexter by Design ignores that aspect of the third book and returns to the thriller genre. Although for the first time I seemed to be able to out-think Dexter (and the plot could have used further tuning), I felt overall that this latest novel was an improvement over the last, though not as strong as the first two outings. I am sure I will continue to read the books (less avidly), and follow the television series (more closely).

I listened to a good audiobook version on loan from Morrison-Reeves Library in Richmond, Indiana.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

#8: Assignment Ankara by Edward S. Aarons

Spy Sam Durrell heads into earthquake-ravaged Turkey to check on a U.S. radar station, on the Turkish-Russian border, that has gone silent; he ends up in the company of a disparate band of survivors, all of whom are double and triple crossing each other. Their escape from Turkey by military plane is short-circuited by Russian fighters, and Durrell fights for his life on the unforgiving Black Sea.

Another sturdy spy thriller from Edward S. Aarons, part of an admirable series that Aarons wrote in the 50s-60s for the less admirable Gold Medal pulp line. Aarons pens a tight little thriller and features more nuance in characters and situations than you might expect to see. A good entry in the series.

I bought this in a big chunk of Aarons novels on ebay some time ago and have been chewing through them steadily.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

#7: Planet of Exile by Ursula K. LeGuin

Human colonists land on a remote planet, intending to learn whether the indigenous people can join the League of Worlds and fight an intergalactic menace; but the colonists lose contact with the League, and generations pass, with the colonists ending up facing a savage planetary threat instead.

Ursula LeGuin's Planet of Exile is the second in her loosely-connected series called The Hainish Cycle. It follows Rocannon's World, a robust high-fantasy/sci-fi mashup which I read and enjoyed recently. This novel shares many of the same themes as the colonists--branded witches by the local population--have to set aside their differences to band against shared enemies and relentless nature.

I am a big LeGuin fan and have been seeking out more of her work recently. I got this one from as part of a collection called Three Hainish Novels. I am sure I will read the third in this series, City of Illusions, before long.

Monday, February 8, 2010

#6: The Penultimate Truth by Philip K. Dick

In the far-flung future of 2010, the Earth has been devastated by nuclear war; below ground, humans continue to build robots to keep fighting on the surface, cheered on via video screen by the patriarchal leader Talbot Yancy. But Yancy is a robot, and the pleasant surface of the planet is now being held by a handful of clever marketing execs, in Philip K. Dick's post-apocalyptic outing The Penultimate Truth.

Longtime readers of this blog know I am a fan of Dick's trippy sci-fi; but though still worth reading, this ragged, raging story would probably be in my second tier of his work. Others fans of Philip K. Dick will find his usual interests in alternate histories, precognition, time travel, faceless corporations, belligerent robots and shrewish spouses all on display.

Dick never runs out of ideas, and The Penultimate Truth is no exception; though I don't think all of the details hang together quite as tightly as some other works. Good food for thought, as always.

I snagged this one off of and carried it with me everywhere until I finished it.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

#5: London Boulevard by Ken Bruen

Low-level thug fresh from jail lands a handyman job (of sorts) with a fading stage actress and her mysterious butler in Ken Bruen's London Boulevard.

Ken Bruen is a hard-boiled Irish crime writer whose novels about quasi-detective Jack Taylor I have enjoyed for a while; but they are so relentlessly cold-blooded I usually like to leave a little space between reading them.

In perhaps Bruen's only nod to whimsy (that I'm aware of), this stand-alone novel is based on one of my favorite films, Sunset Boulevard, recast for the hard-bitten underworld.

Strange as it sounds, it works, and allows Bruen to riff on other pop culture references from books, movies, and music, giving this noir a looser feel.

A good entry point to Ken Bruen and an enjoyable read overall. Recommended.

I checked this out from the Morrison-Reeves Library in Richmond, Indiana and read most of it in a single snowbound day.