Book Reviews: German Serial Killers, Cursed Places, and Snoopy

The sign said European citizens get in free, but others have to pay 3 Euros, so I told the girl I was a citizen of the world; she grinned and told me to cough up the 3 Euros.

Shunned
A college student OD’s on pills prescribed by his university’s doctor. His mom protests a local drug company, gets put in jail, and is instantly hated and shunned–hence the title–by everyone, because they’re the lifeblood of the town. Seems amazing that all these supposedly religious people don’t give a damn that this kid died; all they care about is the money.
There’s a Sharyn McCrumb line about a kid having the soul of an aging Baptist minister; not this guy here. He’s the husband of the woman who went to jail, obsessed with hell. That’s all I’m gonna say about that, as I’m allergic to religion. But that’s not what the story’s about either. Those interesting topics of cultural shame, big pharma mischief, and the nature of evil were trotted out but weren’t followed up on. In the end it turned out to basically be a straightforward murder mystery where a minor character who doesn’t show up till halfway is revealed to be the bad guy.
At the beginning the writing was simplistic, with my pet peeve of far too many unneeded “began” and “start.” It got better, but there was never any smoothness to it. In addition to the hanging plots, I was not happy with the way her “vision” told her who did it, or how the villain cracked. Not horrible for a first effort, but plenty of room for improvement.
2/5

Last Date
A particularly brutal serial killer hunts victims on dating websites in the vicinity of Kassel, Germany. . . and I have to chuckle at the fact that I have a friend who lives there, who shares the name of one of the characters.
Okay, moment over. If you look at the master list of plots, this quickly becomes the one where the innocent man has to prove he’s not the bad guy. The serial killer is an expert hacker that not only toys with his victims but does a great frame job with emails and such. Everything is going against the protagonist; with him on the run, there really isn’t much room for character development, and with most of the scenes taking place in apartments and gyms, there wasn’t much that told me this was Germany instead of Britain or the US or even Sweden, which I think is a wasted opportunity. Some of the twists seemed a little too coincidental, and weren’t really needed, since the cops already thought it was him, but no doubt the author wanted to show even his friends were doubting his innocence. In general I liked it, but the ending left something to be desired.
3.5 pushed up to 4/5

Atlas of Cursed Places
Hard to resist a title like that, right? But there are two problems right off the bat, no future pun intended. The first is the writing style, which is overwrought and often more decorative than descriptive, like someone trying to impress with their vocabulary.
The other problem is with the title. How does one define “cursed?” If it’s meant to be literal—which is silly in itself—a lot of these entries lack a legend, someone’s death for example, to show why they’re cursed. If it’s meant metaphorically, then there must be millions of similar places in the world; why these? For instance, one of the entries is a place in Africa with tons of bats. . . this is cursed how? And what makes it more special than the similar place in Austin Texas, or Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico, or Thailand? And that’s just the ones I know about.
Some of these places are intriguing in that I’ve never heard of them, yet still have only tenuous links to the topic. Princess Joanna did not wed as a child; seems like the stories are merely repeated and not researched. On the plus side, I did learn a new word I wish I hadn’t: tophet.
A lot of these supposedly cursed places are simply manmade environmental disasters: the slums of Nairobi, the islands of trash in the Maldives, the coal mines of India. Listed is a graveyard of old Soviet nuclear subs that’s stated to have 20 times the radioactive power of Chernobyl, but it doesn’t mention the spots in the old Soviet Union that are even worse. If you’re gonna say a part of Australia is cursed because it has crocodiles, then why not Florida and Louisiana and everywhere in between, as well as South America?
Pirates, really? The Nevada Triangle having 2000 planes missing in the last 50 years is intriguing, so of course you have to include the more famous one in Bermuda too. . . and yet the author mentions the now-accepted theory that there’s nothing special about the case, that statistically there haven’t been more disappearances than anywhere else. So where’s the curse?
As though the writing isn’t bad enough, the maps are useless, a case of style—not even much of that—over substance. So despite some great info and a few mysteries, like the Eilean Mor lighthouse, this was pretty damned disappointing.
1.5 pushed up to 2/5

Snoopy: Contact!
As one might expect, this is a collection of comic strips—all Sunday editions—featuring the dog who thinks he’s a WW1 pilot trying to shoot down the Red Baron.
I probably saw all these as a kid, but I still laughed again. More than that, I was intrigued by all the research put into the situations; there were mentions of cities, battles, even going on leave, from the time period that more often than not helped the jokes.
It’s hard to imagine there are many people who haven’t heard of this comic strip, even if it was just through the holiday specials. That makes it hard to say much about the characters, the artwork, and so on. Everything here is as it should be.
4/5

;o)

Book Reviews: Heinlein comic, Serial Killers, and Capri

She sighed. “I will never understand the male obsession with sports.”
“And I’ll never understand nails and hair and makeup and clothes and accessories and especially high heels. You really want to get into this?”
“So, how’d your Bruins do today?”

Citizen of the Galaxy
This is a graphic novel of the Heinlein classic, which I haven’t read in decades, but the story was told so well here that my memory was quickly jogged. To make this simple, this is how adaptations should be done, though it’s interesting to note just how much could be left out of the original while still telling the complete story. The artwork is superior to most of the graphic novels I’ve reviewed—admittedly few—and I was amused to note how much better the female characters were rendered (she’s not bad, she’s just drawn that way). If you liked the original you’ll love this, and if you never read it you won’t feel like you’re missing anything with this version.
5/5

Blown
First in a new series by Chuck Barrett, this involves a covert intelligence agent/government assassin in the wrong place at the right time, saving a man from a hit squad in a restaurant and making a promise to his Marshals’ bodyguard to deliver him to safety. From there everyone—good, bad, and indifferent—is after him and his charge, who isn’t as meek as he comes across. So at its simplest it’s a chase story, though as it goes on there are other elements added to the plot.
I can’t stand watching most fight sequences in movies because they’re so unrealistic, so it’s refreshing to see them here over so quickly, as would happen in real life, especially when one of those involved is a trained assassin. The description of the dam near the beginning is also well done, as well as the various safe houses and the Italian restaurant. However, there were other settings I had problems picturing, especially the big fights in the warehouse/shipping yard, the private island, and the terrorist’s villa; this is what most likely kept me from giving the book a 5.
The characters, on the other hand, are well drawn, the secondaries as well as the mains. The author has a relatively fluid writing style that makes the reading easy, though I could have done with less reminders of how he’d sworn to the dying deputy marshal that he’d get his charge to safety. When we are first introduced to the killer-for-hire, the writer goes out of his way to be gender-neutral, enough so that I guessed it was a woman; think he could have been more subtle there. And the storming of the warehouse annoyed me, as both men should have known better than to attack a much bigger force alone, only saved by a ridiculous deux ex machina that was never hinted at; not fair.
But despite all that, there’s still much to enjoy. There’s also plenty of backstory for future novels, including threads about a woman from his past that he was on his way to hunt down when he was rudely interrupted, and a female Mossad agent he had a fling with. At first I didn’t remember the prologue, which involved a covert mission in Lebanon, but it comes full circle in the end.
4/5

A Fortress Defiled
Lately there’s been an upsurge in serial killer novels and the psychology of such, but that’s okay because for the most part they’re well-written. That’s the case here as well, in a story told in mostly first person by the cop chasing the killer, though there are occasional forays into her dreams, as well as the killer’s first person and the occasional third person omni, all in present tense.
The serial killer is relatively simplistic; though he drinks blood—more like sips it—he’s not exactly Dracula. His father taught him to hate the government, which is an important part of his psychology. More importantly, he hears the voices of the dead, probably due to his fucked up childhood. He kills animals too, just to up his serial killer cred. {What, no arson?}
Though well written with a lot of intriguing secondary characters—love the daughter—all the dream and reincarnation babble could have easily been left out to make a tighter story.
3.5 pushed to 4/5

Summer of Fire
It’s always a bit annoying for me to jump into a series somewhere other than the beginning; it turns out this is the third in a series. In this case it took a few chapters to realize there really wasn’t one main character, some of them so obviously well-established that I figured they were in the previous books, others not so much, like the Norwegian princess—not a cruise ship—that had me thinking this might be a take on Roman Holiday.
Said Norwegian princess is in love with a man quite older than her, who is one of the previously characters. The others are an archaeologist and an oceanographer, though the main scientific thrust of the story is volcanoes. The settings are well-written, and I heartily endorse the belief that Herculaneum beats Pompeii. Also loved the mention of the Royal Geographical Society, since I spent a week there a few years ago and met a lot of interesting and semi-crazy—in a good way—people. Paris, London, Iceland, and Sicily are also featured.
But the most important locale in this book is the fabled island of Capri, basically Naples’ version of Catalina Island, except for having a far longer history. It helps me tremendously to enjoy a book when it’s set in a place I’ve been to; having visited armed with books on Tiberius and The Story of San Michele—even my writing idol Harry Harrison lived there—I can say this novel will be with me on my next visit. . . though I tend to spend more time in inexpensive hotels than the fancy villas described here.
At first I was afraid there would be too many characters to keep track, but despite all the names the personalities are diverse enough that I had no problem telling them apart. I especially love how the volcanos, both in Iceland and Sicily, are just as much characters as the humans. . . and how the ditzy-seeming princess turned out to be anything but.
4.5 pushed to 5/5

;o)