Book Reviews: Los Angeles, Russia, and small town mysteries

Did everyone in the magnificent City of Beautiful Angels enjoy those last few days of cloudiness and one rain shower? I sure did, as I am already dreading this coming week of 90 degrees.

When’s the last time you saw a paparazzo as a hero? Yeah, me neither, though I hesitate to use that word for him; let’s go with protagonist instead. This is a far-reaching—timewise, anyway—story about a photojournalist who burned out on shooting the ugly things in life—I can totally relate, the same thing happened to me—and reinvents himself as a celeb stalker. . . and don’t ask me if I can relate to that, because I can’t, not even close. A not-at-all-concealed expy of Princess Diana’s death leads to blackmail, which takes him into the orbit of a Hollywood star. . . at which point things change dramatically, leading into whole different genre, the chase/escape spy thriller.
At first you’re not even sure if he’s a paparazzo or an assassin, which I think is a statement by the author, considering how he wrote that part so ambiguously. And it wasn’t till Channing Tatum and Robin Williams’ death were mentioned that I knew it was present-day and not completely written as the past. I did like the settings, though, from Paris to Brazil to Germany but mostly Los Angeles; it always makes me smile when a place I know well is mentioned, such as Pepperdine University in Malibu.
It’s an intriguing choice to have the lead character be such an anti-hero from the very start, since it was difficult to muster any empathy for him. Thankfully his actions, even while doing the most despicable of photography jobs, do redeem him enough to sustain the rest of the book. And isn’t it the point of a story to see personal growth in the characters, especially the protagonist? Well done.
And I will always be grateful to anyone that can educate me on something I knew nothing about but immediately grabs my interest, in this case German dueling clubs.
So if you have intense distaste for photographic leeches like I do—I frequently say that comparing a paparazzo to a real photographer is like comparing a porn star to an Oscar-winning actress—I advise you to stick with it, you’ll be rewarded by the end. If you like the ‘razzis or don’t care either way, then just relax and enjoy it.

Guy dies and leaves his house to a cousin he didn’t like, along with a puzzle that he knows the cousin won’t be able to resist. Small-town secrets and an inevitable psycho complicate things.
I’ll be blunt: it’s just incredibly hard to enjoy a book with no, or incredibly few, likeable characters. Probably the nicest was the gas station attendant, and how often has anyone said that? Except for him and Debbie—no, not even her—everyone in this story is an asshole; Debbie, while in general being nice, does the most despicable thing of all. Even the librarian’s a bit of a jerk. The best moment for me was when the lead’s sister comes right out and calls him an asshole, and all he does is laugh it off, saying she’s right. By that point I didn’t need to be told.
From the start there was nothing outright suspenseful going on—except a dad rat—yet it was still giving me the wiggins. The plot itself is Machiavellian, if somewhat convoluted, though I’d have to say pretty much everyone got what they deserved. The thing that most annoyed me is that despite being injured and having terrible things happen to his sister, the protagonist—like above, no way am I calling him the hero, even more so here—didn’t change at all, continued being a world-class asshole. I don’t require redemption, but I can’t help but wonder what the point of the book was when the characters don’t grow.

Rise of the Enemy
Who said spy stuff in Russia was over?
I knew going in that there was another book in the series before it, but lately I’ve read a few where that didn’t matter, so I didn’t worry about it much. There was enough told here to make me understand what had happened previously by chapter six, and even piqued my interest enough to want to go back to that one later.
There are two timelines interwoven: flashbacks to the recent past, where the spy is captured and tortured by the Russians, and the present, where he’s escaped and trying to find out just what the hell is going on. Soon enough they merge.
The spy’s background is reminiscent of David Morrell’s Brotherhood of the Rose, though without the twins thing. The plot reaches the point where he doesn’t know if he can trust even his father figure, and certainly not the people around him, so that us-against-the-world mentality takes over. A lot of the story, and some of the action, takes place on trains; having been on Russian trains, which aren’t as bad as third-world trains but not quite Amtrak—not counting the spiffy tourists ones between St. Pete and Moscow—it wasn’t that hard to imagine the particular setting, though I’m not sure how most readers would fare on that. More to that point, setting it in a city no one’s ever heard of—as I’ve said, I’ve traveled through Russia and have a degree in geography—could have worked but I don’t think did here, as most of the description was generic.
Still, overall this is a well-written one-man-against-the-world thriller. However. . .
As I mentioned at the beginning, this is obviously a sequel, and just as obviously I have not read the first one, so I don’t know how that ended. I can tell you that this ends in a cliffhanger, an obvious setup for you to buy the next one if you want to find out the real ending. Since it cuts off before paying off the story just read, in my opinion it’s a particularly egregious and strictly monetary move that irritates me no end and forces me to drop this from a 4 to a 3.



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