Book Review: The Felony Squad by Michael Avallone

Title: The Felony Squad

Author: Michael Avallone

Format: Paperback edition, Popular Library

Published: 1967

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I am a sucker for TV tie-in detective/police novels.  In some cases, it’s a guilty pleasure as the quality of such books, done largely to capitalize on the success or the hopeful success of a tv property, varies dramatically.  But yeah, if You want to get my attention, dangle a tie-in novel in front of me, either an adaptation of an episode or an original. Either way, i’m liable to bite.

‘The Felony Squad’ is a novel based on the television show of the same name that ran on ABC from 1966 to 1969 for 73 episodes.  Michael Avallone, the author, made quite a name for himself as a prolific author of TV tie-ins.  From the obscure, which this show would probably qualify as, to the well known shows, like Hawaii Five-O, Avallone was the go to man for decades to turn film properties into paperback tales.  So, those hits and misses for TV tie-ins were often hits and misses for Avallone.

‘The Felony Squad’ sort of hits midway between hit and miss.

A cop killer is on the loose in the city that Sergeant Sam Stone and his partner Jim Briggs protect as a part of The Felony Squad.  But this is not just any killer.  Fascinated by western movies, this murderer targets cops in ‘high noon’ showdown quickdraw contests and wears not only a cowboy get up, but also a two gun western rig. The story follows from the first kill to the last, interchanging between the murderer’s viewpoint and the process by which The Felony Squad works desperately to find out who is targeting badges before another uniformed officer dies.

‘The Felony Squad’ is a book that seems trying too hard to be too many different things.  It wants to be a police procedural, and does a decent job at that.  It also strives to be a thriller and succeeds at that for the first half, but doesn’t maintain the pace necessary from halfway through the book to the end to build the right amount of tension all the way through.   It even tries to be a character study, laying open both the killer and Same Stone to investigation and introspection.

The latter point is probably the weakest aspect of ‘The Felony Squad’.  Avallone does a great job of setting up the police procedural aspect, then undermines it by trying to get into the psychology that drives Sam Stone to do what he does.  This is then set aside the development of the killer character in such a way that is distracting and awkward.  One character is handled methodically, almost clinically, the other smacks more of a rougher, more traditional portrayal of a crime fighter, making Sam Stone out more tough guy than the policeman set up to stop this murderer.  This makes ‘The Felony Squad’ inconsistent.

‘The Felony Squad’ rates three out of five pages.  It’s a fun read, has the nostalgic pull of being a TV tie-in, but it is incredibly uneven and won’t appeal to all readers.

This tv tie-in is an average book for me, getting three out of six bullets.  It has a great beginning and end and all the pieces for a thriller/police procedural are definitely there, but they’re just not handled consistently.

 

 

 

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Book Review – How To Talk To Girls At Parties

TITLE: How To Talk To Girls At Parties
AUTHOR: Neil Gaiman
FORMAT: eBook Original
PUBLISHED: 2013

So, I don’t normally review short stories by themselves, but I got this one as a stand alone eBook a few months ago, and was excited about it being Neil Gaiman.

The story follows a couple guys.  One dragging his friend to a party.  And of course they’re social nitwits, but the one dude is sure he knows what he’s doing and if his friend would just loosen up.

Things aren’t necessarily as they seem.

The story itself was really short and well enough written.  But about that really short thing.  I feel like I was reading chapter 1 or a prologue to an actual Neil Gaiman story.  I don’t feel like what I read had a good ending to it at all, it just kind of vignetted its way to being over and ‘good enough’.  Except that, well, no.

The story is no longer available by itself,  but it’s in this collection.  You’ve been warned.

 So I’m sure it surprises nobody that I was disappointed by it.  I love vignettes.  I love little pops of life and things going on.  But a vignette should still feel like it’s ended.

This felt more like Neil just stopped writing.  “Oh, I need a short story, so… let me stop here.”  Like he had started an idea, didn’t know where he was going with it, and just gave it over to the marketing team.

Boo.

I’m struggling with giving it a one- or a two-star rating.  The writing was good, but the story wasn’t a story, and I think that if you pick it up, you’re just wasting your time.  The only good thing about it was that it was done with in five minutes.

Book Review: Mildred Pierced: A Toby Peters Mystery by Stuart Kaminsky

Title: Mildred Pierced: A Toby Peters Mystery

Author: Stuart Kaminsky

Format: Hardback edition, Carroll and Graf Publishers

Published: 2003

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Followers of this column have come across a couple of reviews of Toby Peters mysteries in the past.  Not hard to tell, I’m a fan of Stuart Kaminsky and particularly of this series.  ‘Mildred Pierced’ is the 23rd book in the series, there being 24 in total.  And it is not only a fantastic entry to be so late in the series, but it’s one of the strongest books in the entire run.

‘Mildred Pierced’ opens with the arrest of Sheldon Minck, the Dentist who sublets the closet in his dental office to Toby to use as his own office.  Shelly has been arrested and charged with the murder of his wife, Mildred, a rather unlikable wench that was discovered to have been killed by a crossbow bolt in a park.  Shelly, in the park practicing his crossbow skills, is the likely candidate.  Yes, the dentist was practicing with a crossbow, primarily because he had recently become involved with a group known as Survivors of the Fittest, a group of survivalists who were certain the end of the government was coming and they would be ready for whatever 1944 held for them.  Oh, and then there’s the fact that there was an apparent witness to the murder, a lady who looked a lot like actress Joan Crawford.

‘Mildred Pierced’ has all the earmarks one looks for in a Toby Peters mystery.  Toby is at the top of his game as the rumpled, living at the end of his rope private investigator, equally intelligent and just cynical enough to be affable.  The usual oddball cast of characters, from Toby’s brother Phil to his best friend Guenther to Shelly himself are present as well, all actively involved in the shenanigans, mundane and dangerous alike.  And, as always, Kaminsky’s portrayal of Crawford as well as golden age Hollywood in general is not only dead on, but it is enchanting and engrossing, carrying the reader right into the tale.

There’s another layer, though, to ‘Mildred Pierced’.  Kaminsky tells a tale here that could definitely be written as a modern day detective story.  Though it is knee deep in World War Two, the storyline concerning the Survivors is one that could be on any front page today.  Toby uncovers not only die hard patriots gone to the extreme, but also all levels of corruption on all sides of the law possible, again something else that might find its way into any story set to match today’s calendars.

Kaminsky also undertakes a subplot that is most definitely one of the biggest character development steps he ever takes in the entire series.  The relationship between Toby and his brother has been fairly consistent for the first 22 books, only changing slightly in the titles before this one, due largely to the influence of Phil’s wife, Ruth.  What happens concerning Ruth in this book not only changes the status quo for Toby and all those involved, but it adds a gravity to the book and to the entire series that it greatly benefits from.

‘Mildred Pierced’ rates five out of five pages for sure and certain, definitely proving to be a cornerstone of the Toby Peters series.

This next to last entry by Kaminsky gets six out of six bullets for me, hitting every single target it aims at.

 

 

Book Review – Same Difference

TITLE: Same Difference
AUTHOR/ILLUSTRATOR: Derek Kirk Kim
FORMAT: Hardcover Graphic Novel
PUBLISHED: 2011

I came across this one at the library and I decided that since it was “Winner of the Eisner, Harvey, and Ignatz Awards” that I should at least give it a chance.  After all, the fact that there are more words in that sentence than in the title and author/illustrator of the book should mean something, right?

*cough*

So Same Difference starts with a group of friends but pretty much follows Simon and Nancy, who are dating.  Apparently Nancy’s been getting letters intended for some other girl…and responding to them.  Simon stupidly points out that they’re from the same town, and that leads the two of them on a quest to find the guy and come clean.

The story was…interesting.  There are some weird points – Simon ran into someone who had asked him out and there’s this thing about wishing he had dated her, or Nancy sort of flirting with the letter writing guy.  And there are some funny points – after they go to his house and don’t find him, they go to the store for ice cream…then hear his name paged and go sprinting across the store to look at him.

Visually, it’s well done.  The artwork is black and white, but done well.  The lettering is perfect.  (Hey, I’ve had some where the lettering was so bad I could barely read it.)  The story, though… Left me feeling settled but it didn’t wow me.

Like, I don’t feel like my time was wasted, but the story just was.  Apparently I’m missing what it was that wowed the judges for three different awards.

But, I don’t think it’s bad.  After careful consideration, and extra help from the visuals (it’s a graphic novel after all), I’ll give it a four.  Go ahead and read it, but I doubt it’ll be your favorite book.

Book Review: High Profile: A Jesse Stone Novel by Robert B. Parker

Title: High Profile: A Jesse Stone Novel

Author: Robert B. Parker

Format: Paperback edition, Berkley Books

Published: 2008highprofile

It is no secret that I am a reader largely of mysteries, most notably PI series.  For anyone who has followed what I do and review, it is also not hard to determine that I am a major fan of Robert B. Parker’s work.  Best known for his Spenser novels, Parker also had a few other characters who carried their own series.  Probably the second most successful after Spenser was Jesse Stone, a former California Cop and Baseball hopeful who, after drinking his career and his ex wife away (sort of), relocates to Paradise, Massachusetts to become its police chief.

Now, it is safe to assume that many people are aware of Jesse Stone because of the highly successful and still in production films starring Tom Selleck as a perfectly cast Jesse Stone.  If that’s your familiarity, then you’ve seen some good movies, but they are off on their own story telling track separate of the books.  The first two or three films stuck really close to the source material, but have gone their own direction.  What’s odd about that is I highly recommend both the books and the films, even though they carry the characters down different roads.

‘High Profile’ is the sixth book in the Jesse Stones series.  The body of a well known radio talk show host is discovered in Paradise and, just as the press descends upon the town, the host’s assistant’s corpse is also found. Jesse and his small police force must hold off not only the press, but the very government of Massachusetts itself long enough to find out who killed both people.  All of this while Jesse’s ex wife comes to him, saying she’s been assaulted, which forces Jesse to involve his current romantic interest, Sunny Randall (another Parker series character) to not only discover the identity of his ex’s stalker, but to protect her as well.

‘High Profile’ is typical Parker, and for me, that’s all a positive.  The characters are engaging, the dialogue is dead on and different enough that you can quote lines and know which character would have said that, and the setting appears in full technicolor, whether it’s Jesse’s drab office or uptown Boston.  All of the touchstones of a great Jesse Stone story are here and, as usual, Parker hits every one.

That’s also the weakest part of ‘High Profile’, however. There’s really nothing new here.  The mystery is solid and the process by which Jesse gets to the end is great, as is the secondary storyline.  But, to be honest, nothing really moves forward. There’s a resolution of sorts in the Jesse/ex wife/Sunny Randall triangle (which is really a square if you consider Sunny still being in love with her ex husband), but it’s not anything a regular reader of the series didn’t see coming.  This book is a good entry into the series, but it’s also obviously comfortable storytelling for Parker.

I say this with great confidence, having read the book that follows this one in the series.  Without giving away a whole lot, the seventh book, ‘Stranger in Paradise’ clearly shows that Parker had several tricks up his sleeve to take this series above ‘average’.  He just didn’t make it with ‘High Profile.’

‘High Profile’ is definitely worth a read, especially if You enjoy good characterization and well crafted mysteries, so I give it four out of five pages.

Parker’s sixth Stone novel gets four out of six bullets in my gun.  Definitely worth a read to Parker fans, to fans of Jesse Stone, but really not anything earth shattering, either as a stand alone or in terms of moving the series along.

 

 

Book Review – Clawed

Title: Clawed

Author: L.A. Kornestky

Format: Ebook

Year Published: 2015

I like mysteries and I like animal stories, so this series was right up my alley. Clawed is the third in the Gin and Tonic mystery series, starring Ginny Mallard and Teddy Tonica, and Ginny’s dog, Georgie, and Teddy’s non-pet cat, Penny. Together, they solve mysteries (or rather, Georgie and Penny allow their humans to think that they solve mysteries, but they know who the real detectives are).

This book takes Ginny and Teddy out of their usual Seattle milieu and puts them in Portland, where Ginny finds herself involved in a police investigation over a dead body that – unluckily – discovers.

The book, like the others in the series, has less of the “here’s a clue in this scene to help you figure out who the killer is,” which is, admittedly, my favorite type of mystery, so I won’t say that this series if my absolute “favorite” but I love the interactions between Ginny and Teddy, and the animal perspectives, where the animals can’t figure out how to communicate what they know to their humans. (And I giggled a lot at Georgie trying to get Penny on the other end of the computer.)

By the time the murderer is truly introduced, it was easy for me peg who it was (but then again, I read a lot of mysteries). Finding out why, and what else was going on, however, kept me reading.

All in all, a solid 3.5/5 stars.

Writer Wednesday – Steven S. Long

Let’s start with the basics. Who are you?
Tell us (briefly) about you…
I’m Steven S. Long, writer and game designer. I’m in my late 40s and live in Greensboro, NC in a book-filled house along with my cat Persimmon. When I’m not busy writing or reading, I collect antique maps and travel books from the 1920s and ’30s, go for walks, birdwatch, entertain Persimmon, or watch movies in my custom-designed home theater.

…and a bit about what you’ve written…
For most of the past 20 years I’ve worked primarily as a writer/designer in the roleplaying game field — I’ve written or co-written about 200 RPGs or RPG supplements. I’m best known for my work on the HERO System/Champions, but I’ve written for many other games during my career.

In recent years I’ve branched out into writing fiction as well, and am definitely enjoying the new challenge. Fiction uses different “writing muscles” than RPGs, so “exercising” them improves my writing overall.

You can find a full list of my current fiction credits at my website, http://www.stevenslong.com/

And my Author Central page at Amazon has some of my RPG books as well: http://www.amazon.com/Steven-S.-Long/e/B00CA5HF4M

…and what you’re working on right now.
I am currently focused on my first major non-fiction work: Odin, The Viking All-Father, for Osprey Publishing’s “Myths and Legends” series. Given my life-long interest in Norse mythology (see below), it’s been a dream project to work on.

Additionally, I’m working on short stories for several anthologies I’ve been asked to participate in, stretch goal contributions I’m providing for several Kickstarters, and when I can on my major long-term project, Mythic Hero. MH is a book about world mythology for gaming; I’ve been working on it for 2½ years so far and have at least that much more to go.

What are your earliest book-related memories?
Wow, good question. I’m not sure if this is the absolute earliest one, but the most significant, I think, is my memory of pulling D’Aulaires’ Norse Gods and Giants off the bookshelf in my elementary school library and becoming captivated by it. I don’t know for sure what attracted me to it — quite possibly the art, which I still enjoy looking at today — but that led to a life-long interest in mythology, and then Fantasy and Science Fiction. In a sense you can trace my entire career back to that one book.

What are your three favorite books?
That’s a tough one! There are so many good books. I’m going to exclude genre fiction from this, because that’s really a separate discussion altogether. 😉 If I absolutely had to pick, I would say: The Yearling, by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings; King Of The Confessors, by Thomas Hoving; and The Children Of Odin, by Padraic Colum.

For a list of Fantasy fiction I like, see http://www.stevenslong.com/articles/ — though I need to update that list with some of the good stuff I’ve come across in the last couple years. It’s hard to find a Fantasy novel I truly enjoy these days, but every now and then I get lucky. 🙂

How many books to do you read at any given time? What are you reading now?
Excluding anything I’m reading for research purposes, I usually have two or three going at any given time. Often this is because while I’m in the middle of one book, another comes along that takes priority. For example, if I’m published in an anthology, I try to read the rest of the stories in that anthology ASAP in case anyone asks me about it. If a series that I like gets a new book, I often give that priority (though these days I usually wait until a series is done before reading it — saves time).

Currently I’m working my way through several collections of the early short stories of one of my most favorite Fantasy/Science Fiction authors, Jack Vance. I’m eagerly awaiting several books due out later this year, including J.R.R. Tolkien’s translation of Beowulf and the latest Deryni novel from Katherine Kurtz.

Finish this sentence; when I curl up with a book, I ___
…have to be careful not to get attacked by a nap.

To re-read or not to re-read that is the question.
You have to re-read good books, there’s no question about it! I re-read some light favorites pretty much every year. I think re-reading is important not only for the sheer fun of it, but because a book that appeals to you often does so on multiple levels, and you don’t always catch everything on one read-through. For example, I’ve read Gene Wolfe’s Book Of The New Sun quadrilogy at least half a dozen times, and I’m certain that I’m still missing cool things in it.

How likely are you to read a book that’s been recommended to you?
Pretty likely. If a friend whose taste I trust tells me I’ll like something, I’m willing to give it a shot. After all, if I don’t like it I can just quit reading it. There’s no law that says you have to finish a bad book.

How likely are you to recommend a book (that isn’t yours)?
Very, very likely. I’m not known for keeping my mouth shut when I dislike something, but by the same token on those (sadly rarer) occasions when I find something I really like, I don’t hesitate to recommend it. For example, just this year alone I’ve gotten a couple friends hooked on reading Patrick Rothfuss’s “Kingkiller Chronicles” novels.

What do you look for in a good book?
That’s a tough one to answer, but I’d say that what it really boils down to is that I want to be swept up in the story. I want to care about the characters, what they do, what happens to them. I want the setting to come alive. And in the case of Fantasy fiction (my usual pleasure reading), I want that sense of wonder, majesty, and awe that I think Fantasy should have. A lot of older writers (Dunsany, Tolkien, Vance, Howard, Carter…) knew how to create that and infuse their stories with it. Few writers these days do, at least for my taste.

Why do you write?
It’s my creative outlet — I’d do it even if I weren’t getting paid for it (but I’m glad that I am). That’s not a very original answer, I admit, but that’s the way it is. 😉

If you couldn’t be a writer, what would you be?
I used to be an attorney, but I don’t think I’d go back to that. If I could pick anything? Hmmm… archaeologist? architect? artist? ninja? psychiatrist? FBI agent? professor? There are so many cool things to do that it’s difficult to pick just one.

Where do you draw your inspiration from?
Everywhere and anywhere! There are story possibilities in just about every little thing you encounter or sense during the day. For example, I’m currently writing a short story inspired by the little patch of woods half a block from my house.

What has writing taught you about yourself?
Ummmm… plaid? I don’t know that it’s taught me anything about myself, really. I don’t think of it as a spiritual process.

How do the people in your life seem to view your writing career?
They’re supportive of it and curious about it. I know some of them think what I do is a little “unusual,” but that’s pretty much correct. 😉 And I think a few of them are jealous of my control over my own schedule.

Are there any stereotypes about writers that you don’t think are true?
Probably any and all of them. Writers are such a diverse bunch that I don’t think you can accurately say much about us as a group other than that we write.

What do you see as the biggest challenge today for writers starting out?
The same challenge writers have always had — getting noticed, attracting readers/customers. Self-publishing offers possibilities that never existed before, which is great, but I don’t think the odds of a starting writer succeeding via self-publishing are much different than they’ve always been via “traditional” publishing.

Have you made any writing mistakes that seem obvious in retrospect but weren’t at the time?
Oh, sure, lots of them. Little things, mostly, but looking back on my work I can see them. I like to think that every book or story I write, I learn something.

Is there a particular project you would love to be involved with?
It’s hard to name just one! There are so many things I’d love to work on. For example there are lots of licensed RPGs for favorite IPs of mine that I never got to work on. From a fiction standpoint, I’d love to be involved in creating a classic “shared world” anthology that went on to become a big success.

How do you deal with your fan base?
With as much respect and love as possible! I really appreciate my fans and am grateful for every one of them. I just wish I had a few million more. 😉

Finish this sentence; my fans would be surprised to know ___ about me.
That I’m really not that big a fan of many IPs in genre culture. Some of the biggest or most popular (e.g., Superman, Star Wars) just don’t hold that much appeal for me. I often seem to be attracted to the old and now-neglected stuff, the quirky classics, the obscure authors.

 

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