Book Review- A Girl and Her Cat: Honey West and T.H.E. Cat by Win Scott Eckert and Matthew Baugh

Title: A Girl and Her Cat: Honey West and T.H.E. Cat

Authors: Win Scott Eckert and Matthew Baugh

Format: Hardcover edition, Moonstone Books

Published: 2013

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As stated previously and likely to be stated many more times, I love mysteries.  And a special sort of mystery I love happens to be the tv tie-in.  When authors are able to take tv characters that I’ve liked or even loved and weave wonderful prose tales of them, I’m always happy.  Now, I’ve tripped over a few that were average or even awful as well, but still even those stay on my shelf just because it’s a tv tie-in.

“A Girl and Her Cat: Honey West and T.H.E. Cat” by Win Scott Eckert and Matthew Baugh qualifies not only as a tv tie-in novel, but it’s a simply told, well presented tale of intrigue and action that hits almost every note exactly right.

Now, before I continue, let me clarify. Moonstone published this novel and I do have a position with Moonstone.  I normally don’t review books from my own company, Pro Se Productions.  I also don’t normally review books from other companies that I had anything to do with, either as a writer, editor, or any other capacity. Yes, Moonstone published this. Yes, I work for Moonstone. No, I had nothing at all to do with this book and therefore feel okay giving my thoughts on it.

“A Girl and Her Cat” features two characters, each leads in their own 1960s television series- Honey West and Thomas Edward Hewitt Cat, better known as T.H.E. Cat.  As a matter of fact, prior to the series starring Anne Francis, Honey West, a female private eye following in the footsteps of her murdered father, actually debuted in a series of novels.  T.H.E. Cat, a master thief turned bodyguard for hire, first appeared on the scene in his series of the same name, played by Robbert Loggia.

In ‘A Girl and Her Cat’, Honey is hired by an Asian scientist to help recover a potentially deadly virus that has fallen into the hands of an evil terrorist type.  Almost immediately, Honey is attacked and the case turns on its ear, as a past lover of Honey’s who works for the CIA shows up.  It turns out that there’s more to the case, the Asian scientist, and even Johnny Doom, the well named lover, than Honey was led to believe, all of that carrying to a point where she is forced to actually attempt to steal the virus for a criminal organization. Enter another friend from Honey’s past, T.H.E. Cat, who teams up with the buxom PI to not only try to save the CIA agent being held captive, but also potentially the world from dying from a horrible plague.

This novel has everything a fan of these series or even just fans of 1960s type spy mysteries would look for.  Great leads, fantastically wild supporting characters, and a plot that involves world devastation or domination, depending on how one looks at it, and even teases its way into other fantastic things beyond that.  The authors didn’t go out of their way to make the story over complicated and that makes it that much better.  It’s an easy read and one that is paced exactly as it should be.  Also, the characterizations of Honey and Cat are dead on perfect, actually allowing me to hear Francis’ and Loggia’s voices as I read it.

There are other characters who make cameos and veiled appearances in ‘A Girl and Her Cat’, characters that are featured in other books, television series, even in films.  This is something I love in stories usually and enjoyed it immensely in this one, recognizing the nods to several other favorite characters of mine.  In this book, though, I felt a little overwhelmed by this in some way as well.  I don’t know if it was that there was more than one or two such appearances, or if when they were introduced in the story was just to close together, but something made that affectation seem a little too much for ‘A Girl and Her Cat.’  Not so much so that it made it a bad book, it’s quite a great book actually, but I did find myself more than once distracted from the story by wondering if a name was used because it was an Easter egg.  Again, this is something I do enjoy, it just felt a little… I don’t know, forced maybe this time around.

‘ A Girl and Her Cat’ rates four out of five pages. Aside from being a slightly overfilled easter basket, this book delivers a fast, action packed, and fun read all the way around.

Five out of six bullets goes to this one, using my personal scale. The authors capture Honey and Cat perfectly and the interactions between the two sing just like a groovy jazz tune.

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Book Review: Tanner’s Twelve Swingers by Lawrence Block

Title:Tanner’s Twelve Swingers

Author: Lawrence Block

Format: Paperback edition by Jove Books

Published: 1985

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Lawrence Block is a name of legend, at least for a guy like me who reads mysteries and the like voraciously.  Matt Scudder, Block’s possibly best known Private Detective character, ranks in the top ten of best fictional PIs of all time.  I have only recently, however, discovered another one of Block’s fantastic characters- Evan Michael Tanner, quite literally the most unlikely and accidental spy probably ever created in fiction.

Unable to actually sleep due to a rather strange physical condition, Evan Michael Tanner is a man of many unique attributes and distinct interests, one of the most prominent being that he is a fan and oftentimes supporter of lost causes around the world, the more obscure the better.  He is also a voracious reader, a man who, spongelike, absorbs information wherever he can.  In Tanner’s Twelve Swingers, Tanner promises an acquaintance of his, one he has made association with through one of his various lost causes, that he will retrieve the man’s one true love.  From the Soviet Union. Himself. And that he will bring her back to the United States.

Although Tanner continually regrets this commitment, he tries to be a man of his word always, so he undertakes the mission. The path he has to travel isn’t strange to him, as he has been in that part of the world, even responsible for a small rebellion in a country over there in his first adventure.  What occurs along the way, however, is that Tanner ends up not only having to deal with his friend’s lover, but her sister, as well as the ten other members of the gymnastics team the girls are a part of.  Oh, and then there’s an old gentleman who tags along wanting to defect and a young girl, who Tanner liberates from being held prisoner by her subjects.  Why? Because they are convinced she is the heir to the throne of Lithuania and want to hold her prisoner until the right time to return her to power.  She’s six by the way.

Tanner’s Twelve Swingers is definitely a raucous, fun ride.  The situations that Block puts Tanner in are definitely crafted only for someone of Tanner’s rather singular being to survive and to do so with such aplomb that other mostly positive things happen as a result of him not dying.  This being Block, the voice of the novel is solid and consistent and moves along at a decent pace.

My issues with this book, though, have to do with having read the first Tanner adventure before this one, the third in the series.  In The Thief Who Couldn’t Sleep, Block wrote Tanner as a rather interesting conundrum of a man, one who somehow stumbled into situations accidentally, then rode victoriously out of them.  The Tanner in Tanner’s Twelve Swingers doesn’t really seem to be that particular version until nearly the end of the book.  This Tanner seems easily frustrated and constantly considering walking away from the duty he has undertaken. And although the curmudgeonly aspects of Tanner were almost charming in the first book, they get in the way in Tanner’s Twelve Swingers of appreciating the character, almost like some of the moments move too quickly, not enough time being taken to let Tanner shine.

Tanner’s Twelve Swingers rates a good four out of five pages. Even with the less than likable version of the character showing up this time around, it is still a rollicking and exciting time, one replete with neat little character moments.

By my standard, Tanner’s Twelve Swingers is definitely five out of six bullets, the sights only being off slightly where the lead is concerned.

Book Review – Operation Saladin by Roger Croft

Title: Operation Saladin
Author: Roger Croft
Format: Paperback
Published: May 2, 2013

In Operation Saladin Michael Vaux is a British expat journalist working in Cairo for a Damascus newspaper.  His lies from the previous novel The Wayward Spy catch up to him after eight years, and he’s warned to flee the country.  A section of MI6 called B3 which Vaux had worked for and abandoned eight years earlier decides to take advantage of his situation and recruit him for a new mission.

If you loved how The Wayward Spy ended, you probably shouldn’t read this book, and if you haven’t read The Wayward Spy, then I can’t image why you would want to read this book.  If you love to read about divorced, alcoholic, middle-aged men living out spy fantasies with (a) significantly younger mistress(es) and aren’t a fan of all that silly action and characterization stuff, then you might like this.

I must admit my knowledge of the Middle East is sketchy, and there’s quite possibly a lot of good research and British spy novel in-jokes that I’m failing to appreciate.  If so, I apologize; I must stick to reviewing things I am familiar with like plot, pacing, and characterization.  To my knowledge, there was nothing wrong with the research other than my deepest hope that the professionals in British intelligence organizations are not actually this stupid.

First the plusses, most of the sentences are coherent, and the formatting is well done.  The profanity is moderate, and the sex is not explicit.  (Personal preferences, but I appreciate the light touch.) There was the occasional droll chuckle, and some characters who might have been interesting if they had been better written.

But frankly this was the most boring novel I’ve ever read.  (The Old Man and the Sea is a novella.)  There are other novels I abandoned that may be worse, but I kept hoping this one would pick up the pace.  Argh, the pace!  To give you an idea, a man is murdered, and then a week later B3 has an emergency meeting about it.  Two weeks later, Vaux starts to think about something doing something he should have done about a minute after the murder occurs…and then he puts off actually doing it for another week or two.

Eighty percent of this book was either meetings or Vaux going from safe house to safe house or meetings about Vaux going to a safe house.  Chapter two seems to mainly be a recap of The Wayward Spy with notes that probably would have been less confusing if I had read The Wayward Spy first, but I suspect chapter two covers most of the plot.  However I doubt it would have seemed less artificial.  The characters kept kicking off paragraphs with phrases like “Do you remember?” for things that obviously they do and should remember and are just saying for the readers’ benefit.  While chapter two is the worst offender, this continues at odd points for much of the novel, and even plot points that are covered in this book and not from the last get restated half-a-dozen times as though the author does not trust the reader’s memory to reach beyond a couple of chapters.

The author is also a former journalist, and I expect the repetition is one of those things that works well in journalism but not so well in a novel.  Most of the action is very short and/or summarized and in only one scene does our protagonist sort of take part…though without really affecting anything.  The little bit of actual espionage work he does is also summarized and rushed, and he has a handler to lead him through every step.

Supposedly there’s an eight year gap between the two books, but it doesn’t feel like anyone’s been doing eight year’s worth of stuff in that time.  Alena and Vaux don’t act like two people who’ve known each other for eight years, B3 seems to have worked no cases in that eight year gap, and everyone in England acts like Vaux has only been away for a few months.

There’s a lot of alcohol consumption.  Nearly every page someone is having a drink or thinking about having a drink.  Most of the time it’s Vaux drinking (but never showing any signs of drunkenness other than a generally dull mind), but it’s also a lot of official folk drinking on the job.  Maybe this was normal in Britain in the year 2000, but personally I hope the Special Forces soldier guarding my safe house isn’t drinking vodka while on duty.

A generous 2/5.

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