Book Review: “Side Jobs” by Jim Butcher
Book Reviews / May 27, 2014

Here’s what you want to know about these stories in general: Their writing was spread out over most of the years Butcher has been working on the Dresden Files. They fill cracks in the canon between the Dresden novels and blanks in the background of Harry and his friends. They spotlight a rich variety of themes, tones, and secondary characters. They cover a range of moods between deep cold terror and urgent panicky thrills, between laughter and tragedy, between light detective jobs with a side of magic and crises that shake the fabric of creation. Two of them are told from the point of view of characters other than Harry, while he himself remains in the background. And yet all of them are charged with the unmistakable energy of fun that we have come to associate with a certain wisecracking, tough-as-nails wizard.

Book Review: “Hot Lead, Cold Iron” by Ari Marmell
Book Reviews / May 23, 2014

Give a Chicago private eye a magic wand, and what do you get? Well, Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files, mostly. But Harry Dresden is a wizard of our time—a little rusty with high-tech gadgetry, to be sure, but also a VW Beetle-driving, pop-culture-riffing, very human wizard. One reviewer frequently quoted in jacket blurbs of the Dresden novels likens him to a mash-up of Philip Marlowe and Merlin. But actually, he’s a lot more like Richard Castle combined with Harry Potter. If you really want your wand-wielding detective hard boiled, you should try Mick Oberon. He has the period for it: the 1930s, the age of bootleggers and Chicago gangsters like Bugs Moran and Al Capone. He also has a shoulder holster in which he packs a high-caliber wand, best used for giving and taking luck and maybe spinning the occasional glamour. He talks in a clipped voice loaded with period slang, like “flivver” for “automobile” and “gink” for “man.” He could almost have stepped out of a pulp novel by James M. Cain or Raymond Chandler. Only, he isn’t human.

Book Review: “Bite Me (A Love Story)” by Christopher Moore
Book Reviews / May 8, 2014

The opening chapter of this book was so insanely fast-paced that I thought, “There’s no way the author can keep this up; and even if he does, I’m not going to like it.” Fortunately, this turned out to be because this is the third book of a trilogy, and there was a lot of background from the previous two books to catch up on. Leave it to me to start a trilogy with the third book! Now I’m going to have to go back and read “Bloodsucking Fiends” and “You Suck”, both subtitled “A Love Story.” One could seriously apply the title “Love Story” to this entire trilogy (as one website actually does). But that wouldn’t do justice to a series of hilarious, raunchy, and sometimes touching books that give a refreshing shakedown to an all-too-earnest genre: the vampire novel.

Book Review: “The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove” by Christopher Moore
Book Reviews / May 5, 2014

The off-season is usually a sleepy time in the scenic coastal town of Pine Cove, California. This fall, however, events conspire to make it a madcap emergency, combining crime, craziness, a man-eating monster from the depths of the ocean, and an epic wave of horniness. Fasten your Adult Content Advisory: It’s going to be a raunchy comedy from the author of “Practical Demonkeeping”, which shares this book’s setting and some of its characters.

Book Review: “The Cuckoo’s Calling” by Robert Galbraith
Book Reviews / May 2, 2014

Here is a most satisfying recent example of the classic type of private-eye novel. The detective is the whimsically named Cormoran Strike, an ex-military policeman whose career in the army ended when a roadside bomb took away half a leg. His name has nothing to do with his father, a philandering superstar rock musician with whom he has no relationship whatever, and a lot to do with his “supergroupie” mother, who was flaky and impractical and died with a heroin needle stuck in her arm. He is 35 years old, up to his ears in debt, picking up the pieces after the end of a stormy 15-year relationship with a beautiful woman called Charlotte, and struggling to keep his business afloat while sleeping on a camp-bed in his office. Yet, perhaps surprisingly, he is a very determined, methodical investigator. He has a special gift for drawing answers out of people who don’t want to be questioned. And when he looks at the evidence of a celebrity death that the police declared to be suicide, he sees a different picture emerge.

Book Review: “The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes” by Arthur Conan Doyle
Book Reviews / April 12, 2014

Already in the table of contents of this book, we encounter a mystery. The Kindle edition that I read includes 11 Sherlock Holmes adventures in this book, as do most American editions and some British editions of this book. The very first edition, however, contained 12 stories. Fear not; “The Adventure of the Cardboard Box” will eventually turn up, most likely in “His Last Bow,” where it has been added to most American editions. The reason for this has something to do with censorship and public morals, but I won’t go into that here. What you want to know about this book is that it is the second set of short stories featuring Holmes, collected from the monthly installments that Conan Doyle published in “The Strand Magazine” between 1892 and 1893.

Book Review: “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes” by Arthur Conan Doyle
Book Reviews / March 29, 2014

Sherlock Holmes had already appeared in two novels, but his popularity did not really take off until the brief “adventures” collected in this book began to appear in monthly issues of “The Strand Magazine”, from 1891 to 1892. And though there are two novels and three volumes of short stories still to come, these 12 mysteries include some of Holmes’s most memorable and celebrated cases. Few of them are concerned with actual murder or even actionable crimes, and Holmes doesn’t always get his man (or woman). But they are Holmes all over, the Sherlock you sure love, fascinating us (even when his cases don’t) by his keen observation, quick deduction, and encyclopedic recall of the history of crime—so that he can often solve in moments a case that keeps Scotland Yard guessing for days.

Book Review: “The Sign of (the) Four” by Arthur Conan Doyle
Book Reviews / March 17, 2014

The second book of the Sherlock Holmes canon was first published in 1890 under the five-word title “The Sign of the Four”. Since then, it has often been republished under the four-word title “The Sign of Four”. The confusion actually originates in the book itself, in which both phrases are used interchangeably. Although Holmes did not really become a hit until Conan Doyle followed up with a series of short stories (later collected in such books as “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes”), this book is an important step in the development of a great cultural icon. This is the one in which Dr. Watson meets his beloved wife Mary. It marks the first time Holmes enunciates his famous dictum, “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” In this novel, the sleuth’s craving for a seven-percent solution of cocaine is first mentioned, as is the name of the Baker Street Irregulars, those dirty-faced junior detectives of his. Viewers of TV’s “Elementary” will be thrilled to find Holmes here saying, for the first time: “You can… never foretell what any one man will do, but you can say with precision what an average number will be up to.” And fans of the late Holmes film featuring a bare-knuckled boxing Holmes may be delighted to spot the first mention of his pugilistic talents, already in his second recorded case.

Book Review: “A Study in Scarlet” by Arthur Conan Doyle
Book Reviews / March 13, 2014

When detective fiction was still in its infancy, in the year 1887, this novel first appeared in an issue of “Beeton’s Christmas Annual”. Just imagine: It was the first anyone had ever heard of Sherlock Holmes! Then a young physician, just starting to stretch his literary muscles, Arthur Conan Doyle here created a character who has become one of the most enduring figures in the popular imagination. The “Holmes” canon now includes four novels and 56 short stories, written over a period of 40 years, but it all began here.

Book review: “Seawitch” by Kat Richardson
Book Reviews / December 1, 2013

In the first six books of the Greywalker series, Seattle-based private eye Harper Blaine uses her unique abilities to interact with such paranormal beings as vampires, ghosts, poltergeists, necromancers, zombies, Chinese demons, Native American monsters, Egyptian gods, and Thames riverspawn. Her cases have taken her underground, into the ivory tower of academics, back in time (sort of), into the wilds of “Twilight” country, and back from the dead. Now, finally, in Book 7 she fulfills the possibility inherent in a series by an author who lives on a boat, in a magical mystery involving the paranormal sea-life of Puget Sound.