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Tag: Mysteries (11-20 of 21)

I hate the 'Dragon Tattoo' books. Now I know I'm not alone.

girl-with-dragonI hate the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo series. To many, that is the equivalent of saying “I kick puppies,” or “I choke babies,” or “American Idol is the best show in the history of television.” Swedish author Stieg Larsson’s crime trilogy about crusading journalist Mikael Blomkvist and his hacker lover/pal Lisbeth, in my view, is poorly written, ridiculously plotted, and (yawn!) incredibly tedious. (This is coming from someone who spent seven years working at Fortune magazine and has more than a passing knowledge of the financial arcaneness that dominates the end of the first book.) Today, I realized I’m not alone. A few brave resistance fighters are speaking out, most notably Joan Acocella in this week’s New Yorker, who tries to understand “Why People Love Stieg Larsson novels.”

Her best passage is below: READ FULL STORY

'The Osiris Ritual': Anyone else excited to read it?

osiris-ritual-mannEarlier this Summer, I picked up a book called The Affinity Bridge by George Mann that was lying around the EW offices. It had a nice cover, and it said something about “steampunk,” “automatons,” and a “glowing police officer” on the back. I wasn’t quite sure what any of those terms meant, but they sounded pretty cool, and I liked the idea of reading a Sherlock Holmes-y mystery tinged with sci-fi elements. To my delight, The Affinity Bridge ended up being a completely fun summer read. Was it the most well-written piece of literature? No. But was it exciting and creative? Absolutely! Mann brought industrial London to life with mysteries, fight scenes, zombies, robots, criminals, red herrings, and some major flirtation between the two protagonists. It was sort of like a Jerry Bruckheimer movie in book form.

Imagine my excitement, then, when I went to check if a sequel had been released yet, only to find that the latest Newbury and Hobbes Investigation, The Osiris Ritual comes out today. Even better, it looks to me just as wonderfully over-the-top as it its predecessor. The cover features a sarcophagus (which means there will certainly be walking mummies involved), and the product description includes the phrase: “his villainous predecessor, who is hell-bent on achieving immortality.” Um, yes please! I can’t wait to head to the book store this afternoon and pick up the latest edition of this goofy series, in which I hope to see even more dastardly villains, fast-paced fights, and blossoming romance between Maurice and Veronica. But what about you, Shelf Life readers? Do you like George Mann? Are you looking forward to reading The Osiris Ritual?

Nancy Drew: She's just turned 80

Nancy-DrewI have Nancy Drew to thank for a lot of my childhood quirks. It’s because of her I grew up tapping on walls, hoping to find a hidden passageway; was convinced that all attics had secrets stored inside; and eyed any suspicious-looking character who came my way.

Oh, who am I kidding? I still do all that.

It was 80 years ago yesterday that the world was first introduced to the intrepid, titian-haired girl detective. On April 28, 1930, the first three Nancy Drew books — The Secret of the Old Clock, The Hidden Staircase and The Bungalow Mystery — were released, opening up a world where girls could — and did — do anything. Nancy wasn’t relegated to the sidelines; she was the one leading the charge, usually in her cool roadster.

She wasn’t alone, though. By her side during most cases were her best chums, cousins Bess Marvin and George Fayne. She also had a caring father, lawyer Carson Drew, and doting housekeeper Hannah Gruen. Last but certainly not least was her “special friend,” the dreamy Ned Nickerson. Any man who isn’t afraid to let his girlfriend take the reins gets an A+ in my book. READ FULL STORY

Questions for Linda Fairstein

If it seems like crime novelist Linda Fairstein has intimate knowledge of the world she writes about, it’s because she lived it. For 30 years, Fairstein worked at the Manhattan District Attorney’s office, serving as head of the sex crimes unit. Her Alex Cooper series is based on the time she spent there; its 12th volume, Hell Gate, out now and on the New York Times Bestseller List. She spoke with about the writing process, using New York City as a character and what it ‘s like being a Law & Order: SVU inspiration.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Tell us a little bit about Hell Gate.
LINDA FAIRSTEIN: Alex Cooper is a young prosecutor, and has the job that I had for 30 years. I always try to take my reader into a world that explores some aspect of New York City’s history or current events. Two years ago, the idea for this was political scandals, [sparked by] two events. One was [former New York governor] Eliot Spitzer’s fall from grace. He had been a colleague of mine in the Manhattan D.A.’s office. I was just shocked because I knew him to be a brilliant lawyer and have a lovely family. Shortly after that happened, there was a New York City congressman from Staten Island named Vito Fossella. He had a wife and kids on Staten Island…and it turned out he had a child by his mistress in D.C. Before John Edwards, before Gov. Sanford, I thought about exploring political scandals and the duplicity of people we think have integrity and we’ve elected to public office and how it impacts things.

Your books are very New York centric — the city is like a character. How do you decide what parts of New York make it into the story?
Usually there’s a theme in the book. [Take] Lethal Legacy. I’ve always been fascinated by rare book collectors and rare maps, so I used the New York Public Library as the backdrop for it. It’s such a magnificent building rich with history and treasures. READ FULL STORY

New Year's resolutions for readers: For me, it's Jane Austen (hold the zombies)

A new year is fast approaching, and it’s a good time for me to take a good, hard look at my leisure reading and resolve to do better. Or at least to be a little more ambitious in my reading choices (even if it’s only to finally tackle that daunting pile of books accumulating on my nightstand that I really, truly do intend to get to someday). It’s rather embarrassing for a guy who regularly reviews books to admit to some of the glaring gaps in his reading, I admit, but I’m hoping that a public confession will spur me to action. So I hereby resolve that in 2010 I will read:

1. More poetry. I love poetry and find that I don’t make nearly enough time for it. First up: Amy Gerstler’s Dearest Creatures, which sounds brilliant in this review in the New York Times Book Review.

2. The zombie-free oeuvre of Jane Austen. (Yes, I was an English major in college. No, I never did read an Austen novel.)

3. Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. I’ve never been a comic-book guy, and I think that that aspect of this Pulitzer-winning novel always put me off. But I loved Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, which boasts a comics-fixated hero, so I’m willing to take a chance.

There are other items on my to-read list (I want to chase down the acclaimed locked-room mysteries of John Dixon Carr, for instance, and go back to Lee Child’s early Jack Reacher thrillers), but that should be enough to get me started. The biggest challenge — for me, anyway — will be carving out time for already-published books when I’m so busy reviewing new titles. But what about you, Shelf Lifers? What books do you resolve to read in the new year?

Poetry you need to read: Robert Polito's 'Hollywood & God' and Amy Gerstler's 'Dearest Creature'

hollywood-and-god_lRobert Polito is the editor of the exciting new collection of Manny Farber movie criticism, Farber On Film. But Polito is also an important poet. He’s not, however, self-important: his recent collection Hollywood & God (University of Chicago Press), is frequently like a series of scenes in a thriller, and you, not the poet, discover all the clues. His mysteries can be comic-profound ones.

For example, in the poem “What A Friend,” “your Aunt Barbara” is driving home one night. Her car gets a flat tire. It’s raining. She has a spare but no jack. No one will stop to help her. That is, no one except…

“That’s when Jesus showed up/He lifted up the back of the car, and she changed the tire.”

The poem concludes: “Imagine/Jesus Christ traipsing around like that, helping people get home.”

Polito makes poetry out of pop-culture in a way that deepens, not cheapens, either the poem or the pop. Elvis Presley, the Edgar G. Ulmer thriller Detour, and Dunkin Donuts all put in appearances in poems whose lines snake across the page, wrapping themselves around rhythms that surprise and hypnotize. READ FULL STORY

Leonardo DiCaprio as Travis McGee: Good idea, or a deep blue good-bye?

The Variety report this morning that Leonardo DiCaprio is attached to star in a film adaptation of John D. MacDonald’s The Deep Blue Good-Bye probably has some readers saying, “Leo playing Travis McGee?” and others saying, “Who’s Travis McGee?”

The Deep Blue Good-Bye, from 1964, was the first of MacDonald’s many books about Travis McGee, a tough-guy amateur detective (a “salvage consultant” is his preferred euphemism) who lives on a Florida houseboat called The Busted Flush. The McGee series is written in the first person, and the tone is hard-boiled and knowing. MacDonald put McGee through a lot of tough scrapes, and Stephen King is among MacDoanld’s many admirers, referring to the author as “the great entertainer of our age, a mesmerizing storyteller.”

Thing is, most people nowadays probably have no idea who this character is. Which probably works in DiCaprio’s favor, since the slim, sensitive-looking actor is not at all what most of us think about when we read a Travis McGee novel. Although MacDonald was smart about almost never describing what McGee looked like, I always pictured a brawny guy who could simultaneously pilot a boat and cuff a bad guy over the side into the ocean with ease.

In 1970, a blocky Rod Taylor played McGee in an adaptation of another novel, Darker Than Amber:

But Taylor didn’t quite have the magnetism that DiCaprio has. There was also a TV version of McGee, played by dolorous, mustached Sam Elliott in 1983, who had the laid-back part down, but not the man-of-action. (This McGee never made it past the TV-movie stage.)

Which raises the questions: Who’d make a better McGee? My colleague Thom Geier suggests Russell Crowe (he’s beefy enough) or Matthew McConaughey (excellent idea, since Matthew has the beach-bum aspect nailed). Any other suggestions?

Beyond that, are there movie stars you imagine when you read your favorite thriller writer? Have you ever imagined what leading man would make a good Jack Reacher from Lee Child’s books? Or Kay Scarpetta in Patricia Cornwell’s series? Or for that matter, Nathan Zuckerman in Philip Roth’s novels?

James Patterson: Prolific author or brand manager?

James-Patterson_lJames Patterson™, perennial mainstay of the best-seller lists, just renewed his deal with Hachette’s Little, Brown for his next 17 books. That’s right: his next 17 books. That commits the former advertising exec to the publisher until 2012, for 11 more adult books plus six books for younger readers. That’s actually a slackening of his current publishing pace. By year’s end, Patterson will have published a whopping 22 books in the last three years alone. (Many people I know haven’t read that many books in that time.)

But Patterson, of course, is more than just a proverbial book factory. He’s an actual book factory, typically using credited co-authors to compose “first drafts” from elaborate outlines that he sends (as he detailed in a 2006 Time profile). Like Patterson himself, most of his collaborators have a background in advertising: There’s Richard DiLallo on the Alex Cross thrillers, Michael Ledwidge on the Michael Bennett thrillers and the Daniel X young-adult series, Maxine Paetro on the Women’s Murder Club mysteries, and Howard Roughan on various standalone thrillers. And while there is no co-author listed on the cover of the popular Maximum Ride YA series, about a group of kids who are part bird and part human, the copyright on those books is listed not as “James Patterson” (as it is on most of his titles) but the cryptic “SueJack, Inc.”

It’s an impressive commercial operation. The question is, can James Patterson™ be considered a prolific author in the way we regard Joyce Carol Oates (nine books in the last three years, by my count) or Alexander McCall Smith (ten books in three years)? Or is he more like Carolyn Keene or Franklin W. Dixon, the credited “authors” of the comparably well-branded Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys mystery series? Are you still a writer if you subcontract out much of the actual, you know, writing?

Anthony E. Zuiker brings reading to a new 'Level' with online video extras?

Anthony E. Zuiker, a.k.a. the creator of CSI, has released a novel, Level 26. And as expected, the book follows a familiar hero: a crime scene tactician who must chase down a deadly enemy.

But Level is not quite your run-of-the-mill thriller. Zuiker, who wrote the book with Duane Swierczynski, opted to add a more interactive component to the book, allowing readers to log onto a website every five chapters to watch a “cyber bridge.” (In fact, Level is branded “the first digi-novel.”) So what exactly does that mean? In this case, Zuiker’s “cyber bridges” are short movies 2-3 minutes long, starring familiar faces like Bill Duke (Predator) and Kevin Weisman (Alias) that serve to enhance the plot for readers. (The films do not simply reenact the book’s scenes — instead, they attempt to give the reader additional, admittedly inessential information regarding the plot).

Fun or no (I’d vote “fun”), Zuiker’s experiment brings up a question: Is this kind of interactive reading the kick in the pants the publishing industry needs? With so many consumers trading in TV and the web for books, is this one way that publishers can reel their readers back in? Personally, though I think the concept is cool, I’m not sure how many readers would be willing to put down their books and hop over to their computer to watch a video.

But would you, Shelf Lifers? Do you like this concept, or do you prefer uninterrupted, old-fashioned reading?

Ian Rankin's new graphic novel: Inspector Rebus, meet John Constantine


Fans of Scottish thriller writer Ian Rankin’s bestselling Inspector Rebus series will be curious and happy, I think, with Rankin’s new foray into the graphic novel. He’s written a down-and-dirty look at reality TV in Dark Entries, published in hardcover by DC Comics’ Vertigo Crime imprint.

While Rebus doesn’t appear in Dark Entries, Rankin has tackled a similarly smart/cynical/wisecracking character here, one familiar to fans of the comic book Hellblazer: the dour, chain-smoking detective who dabbles in the occult, John Constantine. The clever plot involves Constantine hired by the producers of a hit reality show called Haunted Mansions because the set appears to be, well, haunted.

What results is a locked-room mystery that owes a little to Agatha Christie, black-and-white art by Werther Dell’Edera that is both comic-strip efficient and suitably noir. Rankin is that rare writer who can write lines like, “The mansion has been breached. Hell has broken in,” and not have them seem melodramatic, but, rather, tough-guy terse. That, plus the Scottish slang (“They can shove it up their jacksies”) makes Dark Entries a fun, frenetic read for the dark final days of summer.

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