Book Reviews: X Files, Sherlock, and Serial Killers

In honor of absolutely nothing, there will be no opening joke in this review. You’re welcome.

The Complete X-Files : Revised and Updated Edition
No doubt done just after the nick of time of the series’ return, this retrospective is a nice trip down memory lane, but not much more than that.
It starts out with tons of photos, and carries on throughout. They don’t look all that great in digital, but they get the job done. The best part is that every episode gets at least a paragraph, though nothing in-depth. There’s really nothing wrong with this book, but it pales in comparison to similar ones on Twin Peaks, Back to the Future, and so on that I’ve read recently.

The Whole Art of Detection
This book is a series of short stories set in the Sherlock Holmes universe, and trying very hard to read like Arthur Conan Doyle.
Holmes and Watson take turns in the first two chapters telling each other stories to get them out of the doldrums; the buddy vibe is well done. At other times this writer overdoes it, putting in extra stuff not needed; doesn’t have the economy of Doyle. Most were good mysteries, but the one about the twin brother was woefully obvious. The last one had Sherlock narrating, and just like Doyle’s version, it’s the weakest.

In this sequel to Insider—as you might guess from the title—the Exodus End tour continues, this time with the emphasis on Reagan, the new rhythm guitarist, and her relationship between not one but two men: the guy who plays rhythm for the opening act and her bodyguard.
Enjoyed the first one so much I was looking forward to this one, and was so glad to find Toni, the main character from the first, is in this one too. This story takes place concurrently with the other, particularly the big plot twist involving Toni.
This one is slower to get going, as the start is all long talks and three-way sex; nothing wrong with that, just wished there was more to it. Eventually it does pick up, with scandals and misunderstandings and families and a lot of soul-searching between the three. It is an unusual romance, with unusual sex scenes, but like the first its draws are the humor and the behind the scenes look at a rock tour. Don’t think it was quite as good as the first one, but still enjoyed it a lot. And as before, eagerly awaiting the next one.

Bitter Moon
The fourth in the series featuring FBI profiler Roarke and serial avenger Cara, though this one is quite different from the previous three. It almost felt like an interlude in the main plot, with Cara’s origin story featured and better explained, showing how she became a protector, or revenger.
As with the previous books, it switches chapters between the two protagonists, in this case between Cara as a teen—suspected of more murder—and Roarke looking into that cold case. So with that there’s a lot of new characters, the most intriguing being the nun; never thought I would like a religious Batman dresser, but this is no ordinary bride of Christ.
At the end of each book I wonder where the next one is going to go, and I’m always surprised when I read it, doubly so in this case, as adult Cara doesn’t show up at all. Neither does Roarke’s team, though that’s to be expected, as he’s on leave. There’s a few calls to Singh and the techie, but that’s it.


Book Reviews: X Files, Paris, and Genre Fiction

“Ever have sex on a leather blanket? It’s very. . . interesting. . .”

Hit and Nun
Third in a series featuring an accidental detective, a woman who volunteers at a church where she comes across a dead pizza owner and is talked into investigating with her midlife-crisis semi-crazy best friend.
This is my first entry into this series, and it had a weird vibe to start, but I kept going. The weird vibe grew more enjoyable and by the end I was fully into it, though it was difficult sympathizing with the main character. In addition to not being the smartest person in town—and therefore easily manipulated—every once in a while she would spout some religious nonsense that had me rolling my eyes. The best part is the subtle touches of humor, especially the “caveman” diet. Thinking of two women in their mid-50s fist bumping has ruined it for me. There are also touches of not-so-subtle humor, which don’t work as well individually but fit into the weird vibe I was pontificating on earlier.
I’ll never forget the mental image of the out-of-control fire truck ladder, with or without the middle-aged semi-naked nun-dressed amateur detective on it. . .

X-Files: Season 11 Volume 1
I really hope I don’t have to explain the premise. . .
Though I’ve of course seen the 9 seasons of the TV show, plus the movies, there’s apparently one season of comics I’ve missed, which as I read this figured to be important, because things were far more confusing than they needed to be.
Really awkward exposition, one person telling everyone things they obviously already know to inform the reader; sloppy. I didn’t recognize Mulder with the mustache, which I guess I wasn’t supposed to, but worse, I couldn’t tell if the redhead was Scully; turned out she wasn’t.
Hey, Lone Gunmen!
At the end of one of the individual comics Mulder is falling off a tower, but since this is a collection you don’t have to wait for the next edition to come out. Go to the next page and find out. . . nothing. The story continues with no explanation as to how Mulder survived the fall. Even Scully asks him and gets no answer. That crap alone deserves a lowered grade.
The last story goes back to the main villain’s—not Cancer Man—story, but because I barely remember the character from the series eighth season, I couldn’t get into it. The whole thing was simply too confusing for its own good.

The City of Blood
Police force in Paris look into a time-capsule-type murder which turns into a hunt for a serial killer.
There are plenty of instances of men writing novels where the main character is a woman, but not all that many with a female author writing about a male protagonist. That is the case here, and even though I haven’t read the first two in the series, I’m confident in saying this should happen more often, if the results are as good as these.
Paris is one of my least favorite cities in the world—never enjoyed myself other than in the Louvre the times I’ve been forced to be there—but I’m liking it here; the occasional descriptions are spot on, especially the bookstore. The other highlight is in the plotting, showing off a police investigation that isn’t solved in a day like you see in most fiction, but takes its natural course, with forensics, autopsy, and interviewing all needing time to work things out.
If there’s one problem here it’s the introduction of too many characters, especially among the cops, but also later on with the suspects. Is the author assuming everyone has read the first two? Okay, one more quibble: I didn’t like the sick mother subplot, thought it muddied the pacing. No doubt it was included to humanize the protagonist, but I liked this character without it. Unlike most cops in today’s stories, he’s not dour or suffering from an existential crisis. Some of the chapters are very short, which also screws up the pacing a bit, but all that is minor. I’m looking forward to reading the others in this series.

Writing Genre Fiction: Creating Imaginary Worlds
Essentially a list of twelve rules for writers who want to delve into science fiction, fantasy, and other genres. Some of these fit all fiction writing, while others are more specific.
I enjoyed some of the tidbits, for example finding out that the phrase “suspension of disbelief” was coined by one of my favorite poets, Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
The most important point in this book is one I’ve been saying all my reviewing career: it’s fine to have surprise endings, but the author has to subtly signal it in advance—“in effect hidden them in plain sight within the text”—so the readers can think, “I should have seen that coming!” It’s amazing how often this is overlooked in both print fiction and in TV and movies; far too often we finish a work and wonder why we feel cheated.
Good little piece on things that should be obvious to writers but are sadly not.


Book Reviews: Then Four More. . .

A Thief in Venice
This is a BDSM erotica novel by Tara Crescent, set in Venice, as the title implies. The main character is a female curator at the Doge‘s Palace, whose parents were in the Thieves Guild; in tribute to their memories she steals a painting each year, though she rationalizes that she’s returning previously stolen art to their rightful owners. Caught stealing from the head of the Guild, he makes her choose between the pain of being beaten up by a couple of thugs and the pain of erotic punishment, or as the writers of the Sherlock series termed it, “recreational scolding.”
I originally picked up this book because it took place in one of my favorite cities in the world, where I’ve spent months exploring every nook and cranny, and the writings of human sexuality definitely do not offend me. But there wasn’t very much on the city, and other than a few intriguing psychological tidbits I found myself becoming bored after a while. Guess recreational scolding isn’t really my thing. . . 3/5

China A to Z
As you might expect from the title, this book by May-lee Chai and Winberg Chai is intended to explain to the foreigner some of the facets of the most populous country in the world. It is by no means encyclopedic, as there are some topics that I thought should be touched on but were not. Still, there were plenty of useful explanations about things I’d wondered about, as well as topics that had never crossed my mind. In the end I felt as though I had definitely gotten to know the culture better, even if I wasn’t utterly convinced I’d want to go back there after several not-very-enjoyable trips. 3.5/5

X-Files: Year Zero
Another 5-episode 100-page comic. This story is basically a frame to show the very first X-File in the 1940s, and even explains how it came to be called that. Mulder of course gets some funny snark; there’s one superb line about his friend in the Pacific Northwest who loves a damned fine cup of coffee.
Of the three comics I’ve read and reviewed, this is probably my least favorite. The witty repartee between the leads is always welcome, but the plot wasn’t all that great; It read like an ok episode of the series. 3/5

Rome Is Burning
A thriller by Roy A. Teel Jr.—a sequel, missed the first one—that uses the Santa Ana winds in a terrorist attack to set fire to all of Los Angeles. This is incredibly scary, because it just might be possible. Other than that, the conspiracy theories and the sheer sadism of most involved–both good and bad guys–is just too much for me, even for fiction. 2.5/5