Book Reviews: Two Mysteries, Two Drawings

“You need to chill. Try a one-night stand.”
“I’ve TRIED to have one-night stands, but they always turn into relationships!”

Dead List
Recently reviewed the second in this series, with this being the third, so it read a little easier even though I still haven’t done the first. This is one of those rare books I read in one sitting on a lazy afternoon off.
As it should be, the plot is simple: a dying lady has a kill bucket list, using such oldies-but-goodies like the blade-in-cane trick; I usta have one of those during my spinal surgery rehab, but I only used it to slice cheese.
Did I say the plot was simple? Technically it is, but there’s also a lot on the various detectives’ personal lives, not the least the lead, who is not only still with the woman he left his previous girlfriend for, but now finds someone else entirely. I almost feel sorry for the reporter gal, but the author writes her with such a horrible personality that it’s almost a relief when he cheats on her. Back to the main point, there’s a spot where the detective makes the intuitive leap, in this case killing with fire, but I couldn’t help wondering if was genuinely excellent police work or a little too convenient for the plot.
But don’t let those minor quibbles put you off; this is still a worthy addition to the pantheon of British police procedurals. Looking forward to the next in the series just so I can find out more about Officer Imogen. . .

Zen Pencils #2
In a nutty shell, the author, or rather the illustrator, takes short stories or passages written by famous people and turns then into visual narrative. A lot of hits, some misses.
The Amy Pohler piece was particularly well done, and turning Robert Kennedy’s speech into a dragonrider parable was inspired. The tomboy who wants to be a wrestler is also well presented, and this version of Shakespeare’s “All the world’s a stage” from “As You Like It” should be shown to all those struggling to understand what The Bard meant.
Some didn’t work at all; even when the original words were potent, the artwork didn’t seem to match, or simply laid there. My favorite poem, Oxymondius, is here in a very literal adaption that doesn’t add anything to the original, but on the other hand Phenomenal Woman, by Maya Angelou, is as powerful as its words, and hits harder with the added visuals.
The overwhelming theme here is that only by facing your fears will you defeat them.
There’s a small summary at the end of each person whose story is used. Some were new to me, and therefore a delight, especially Margaret E. Knight. . . bonus points for the accidental rhyme.

Oh, Brother! Brat Attack!
I’ve been finding a lot of comic strips I’m unfamiliar with lately, but if they’re anything like their book collections, I will be following them daily.
As the title says, the main character is indeed a brat, and though his shenanigans are often funny, you can’t help but feel for his long-suffering sister. Which is not to say she’s helpless, as she gets her own digs and practical jokes in—I find myself enjoying when she gets the best of him the most—but of course not nearly as much as her little brother. I found this funnier than most, which is saying a lot. My favorite has to be at the amusement park, where the brat thinks, “The longer the line, the better the ride!” only to be told this was the line for the ladies’ room.
As might be expected from a comic strip rather than a graphic novel, the artwork is not meant to impress with its beauty; it does its job, which is to compliment the humor, especially the reaction shots in the last panel. Despite everyday words and situations, it comes across as smarter than most, which may explain why I like it so much.

The Missing and the Dead
I’m a strong proponent of writers giving the reader a chance to solve the mystery—or as Larry Niven put it, outwit the author—before it’s explained at the end. That means you can’t pull out a secret tunnel in a locked room mystery, or have your detective use a clue to solve the mystery without it having been mentioned before. In this book most readers would have forgotten the prologue by the time they get to the meat of the mystery, but including it is exactly why this author didn’t cheat.
Former Seattle reporter now a PI in San Fran hunts for a missing man, partly because he’s got an inheritance coming to him, and party. . . well, he’s missing. This is another in a series where I’ve read two entries, but this one goes back to near-beginning, being the second. I think I liked this entry a little less than the others, but because it happened earlier in the author’s career it doesn’t bear much thinking. It was a little weird seeing characters, like his soon-to-be-girlfriend, who are new here when I feel like I already know them. But already so early on the author had a knack for entertaining plotting while giving his protagonist just enough of a sense of humor without becoming cloying.
I will say I’ve learned a lot about the San Francisco area, mostly its surroundings, from these books. Next time I go to Napa I may take the scenic route. . .



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