review of The Gay Detective by Kenneth Michaels

TheGayDetective

★★★★★

reviewed by Cy Wyss

The Gay Detective is the story of Nick, a Chicago police detective and host of the television talk show The Gay Detective. The show is a big hit but its guests have the unfortunate habit of being murdered, as well as the director. More and more bodies pile up around the show until Nick and his partner, Norm, finally solve the case and figure out whodunit. The narrator, Nick, is a sympathetic figure who early on loses his partner. Nick seems almost too urbane at points for being a detective. Norm, on the other hand, is fairly stereotypically the fat, cynical older detective. The pair makes a nice couple (not romantic) and play off each other well.

I liked The Gay Detective a lot. I ended up reading it in one day because the prose was so smooth and easy to read. The plot isn’t overly involved but had a lot of action and carried me through the book. The supporting characters are solid, not too cardboard but not so thoroughly drawn as to detract from Nick and Norm. And, as I mentioned, Nick and Norm are a treat, they compliment each other well. All in all a good read for a cold winter’s day. Looking forward to book two!

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review of Dancing with Mortality by Mark McKay

DancingWithMortality

★★★★☆

reviewed by Cy Wyss

Dancing with Mortality is the story of Harry and Michael. When we first meet Harry, he is a grad student in Dublin, a linguist with a specialty in the Irish language. He is a part-time translator for the British intelligence service (SIS). On the opposing side there is Michael, an IRA man and the only survivor of a special ops raid during a gunrunning mission. Harry and Michael meet twice, both times fleetingly, during the first half of Dancing with Mortality. Once is simply two ships passing in the night; the second time, Harry is gunning for Michael. During the second half, their relationship is quite different.

I liked Dancing with Mortality. The pace is slow but steady and we get to see into Harry’s life in England as well as Dublin. The only problem I had with the book is that the actual action (gunfights, murders) takes place offstage and we only hear about it. This is a relatively minor complaint. The prose is eminently readable, no-nonsense and to-the-point. The characters are well drawn, even relatively minor ones. The settings and descriptions are good, some are even great, such as the descriptions of winter above the arctic circle. All in all, a good read.

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review of The Writing’s On the Wall by Philip Mordue

WritingsOnTheWall

★★★★☆

reviewed by Cy Wyss

There comes a point in any good book where the characters start to have a life of their own in my imagination and they become like friends, so I’m concerned what happens to them and where they’re going. For the Writing’s on the Wall, this point happened for me at about 40%. I wanted Detective Sergeant Victor Trimm to win and find the serial killer terrorizing his town. Trimm is a conflicted cop with a sad past and a drinking problem. His partner, DC Elizabeth Briggs is a long-suffering lady cop often tasked with covering for Trimm. Aside from the serial killer, Trimm and Briggs have organized crime (drug dealers) to wrangle as well as a kidnapped child. All the cases were interesting and I was happy to see Trimm’s solutions.

I liked the Writing’s on the Wall. The editing is impeccable and the writing is unembellished and to the point. The characters did seem to come alive, including Trimm’s obnoxious supervisor, Cash. You’ll find a good solid story here, with most of the characteristics that should be there: stolid yet colorful characters, a plot with the usual amount of twists and turns to make it interesting, and well-drawn settings. There was nothing particularly unique about this offering, but it was still a fun read and made for reasonable entertainment.

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review of Contact Us by Al Macy

ContactUs

★★★★★

reviewed by Cy Wyss

Contact Us is a fun story. Jake Corby is the world’s number one problem solver (according to a newspaper article written by presidential advisor Charli). He has a whopper of a problem to solve as an alien in a sphere has contacted Earth and informed us that he’s taking over. There are signs that the alien is very serious, if unbalanced. He appears as Walter Cronkite on broadcasts to Earth, using alien technology to make himself a perfect replica.

I liked Contact Us a lot. From about 10% I couldn’t put it down. You’ll find there’s a lot here. At points it reads like a dystopian fantasy. At other points, like a straight-up thriller. Yet Macy ties everything together well. The pace is good—fast, but not too frenetic. The characters are well drawn, but not to the point of slowing down the story. Jake Corby himself is a man with a past, and a sympathetic figure from the start. It kept me awake at night, just what you want from a good story.

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review of the Serenity Stone Murder by Marianne Jones

SerenityStoneMurder

★★★★★

reviewed by Cy Wyss

The Serenity Stone Murder is the story of Margaret and Louise, two women of a certain age who are taking a break from their small town of Jackpine, Ontario, to head to the big city of Thunder Bay. The scenery of the book involves breathtaking views of the north shore of Lake Superior, descriptions which I appreciated. The book has a bit of a hokey feel to it, the same feel I associate with much of Canadian art and music, but it’s a feel that I very much enjoy. The murder takes place in a church garden, the same church where Margaret and Louise are attending a women’s creativity retreat. If that sounds too hokey, no problem, it was for Margaret and she spends most of the book in more universally appealing pursuits like eating out, walking around the area, and shopping in many great boutiques.

I liked the Serenity Stone Murder a lot. The pace is quick but not overwhelming and the writing is smooth and flowing, with just the right amount of description and character development. All of the main characters were idiosyncratic enough without being untrue to life. I laughed at Louise having to stay at Bubbles, a run-down hotel with a strip club, and especially at the fact Louise turned it into a decent vacation and made a friend. Louise’s dog was also a character in the book, a nice one for some comic relief at times, and seriousness at others. The final solution came about relatively quickly (I would have liked more build up), but in general this was a seamless read and a couple afternoons worth of good, wholesome entertainment. Great job.

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review of A Secondhand Life by Pamela Crane

ASecondhandLife

★★★★☆

reviewed by Cy Wyss

A Secondhand Life is the story of Mia, who got into a car accident when she was young. The accident killed her father and had her the recipient of a heart transplant. Along with the heart transplant, however, comes some undesirable memories of a murder. Who was the donor? How did she die? Mia becomes obsessed with answering these questions and they lead her to the trail of a serial murderer. Mia risks all to catch the killer, alienating her boyfriend and neglecting her job. And who is the shadowy man following her?

I liked A Secondhand Life. It started rather slowly for my tastes, but by about 60% I was hooked. The last 40% went fast. The writing is smooth and immersive, the descriptions are compelling but not too substantial as to get in the way of the action. I did think that Mia could have predicted who the murderer was much earlier, which was in some measure annoying. Yet there were still twists at the end that had me surprised. Overall a good book, just right for a weekend’s entertainment.

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review of What Doesn’t Kill Us by Nirina Stone

WhatDoesntKillUs

★★★★☆

reviewed by Cy Wyss

What Doesn’t Kill Us is the story of Lucy, both past and present. Lucy has suffered through an abusive childhood and is largely alone in college until a mysterious group solicits her for membership: the Seven. The Seven is a secret society of powerful women who take Lucy under their wing and give her all she needs: friendship, money, and growing confidence. The only thing which mars Lucy’s induction into the Seven is that the other woman who was a potential candidate disappeared. Only one of them could have been chosen, so it is “convenient” for Lucy (although no one suspects her). What happened to her? The answer shadows much of Lucy’s time in the Seven. Finally, however, that mystery is eclipsed by another deeper one. What is membership really based on? All of the members seems to have suffered trauma, but that is not enough. There is a deeper secret that binds these women, a horrifying one.

I liked What Doesn’t Kill Us. The pace is good and the flashbacks deepen the story without being intrusive. The final mystery is held close until the end and came as a near surprise to me, which is always nice in a book. The women of the Seven are interesting characters, all distinct and compelling. I wasn’t that impressed by Lucy’s erstwhile boyfriend, but that is a minor point. The book also lost a star for me because it is really more on the straight-up fiction side of things than a genre piece (most of the real estate is about Lucy’s life and times), whereas I was expecting more of an action-oriented thriller. This is a fairly minor qualm and I debated whether to even dock a star for it. In the end, the truth is, I liked What Doesn’t Kill Us and you will too.

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review of House Divided by Peter G. Pollak

HouseDivided

★★★★☆

reviewed by Cy Wyss

House Divided is a story of home-grown terrorism. Someone is recruiting American college students to carry bombs to Jewish organizations. The main suspects have to do with a pro-Palestine protest group which claims its methods are purely peaceful. This larger plot is brought down to earth in the Robbins family, where Leonard (a former CIA agent) is recruited to head a task force to investigate the bombings while his daughter Courtney actually belongs to the pro-Palestine group under suspicion.

A weakness of the book is that most of the action takes place at arm’s length, seen through the workings of the taskforce Leonard Robbins is heading. This means there are many briefings, phone calls, and reports for the reader to sift through, as opposed to directly thrilling action. At about 80% we finally get into the direct action as a sub-plot involving the daughter comes to a (predictable) head. I would also say that there are too many starched shirts around, as only a couple of the task force members aside from Leonard are memorable. Yet, in spite of these weaknesses, this book warrants an overall good grade. The writing is smooth with very few errors. The philosophical discussions of the Palestine/Israel conflict alone are worth the read, and as someone not highly versed in the conflict, I appreciated Pollak’s balanced and nuanced views. Overall four stars, a book I recommend reading for its (considerable) strengths.

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review of Gravitas by Lynne Murray

Gravitas

★★★★★

reviewed by Cy Wyss

Gravitas is the story of Val-Sybil, a Valkyrie matriarch. She attends an intergalactic conference wearing Valkyrie ritual jewelry, a type of jewelry only a precious few are able to wear due to its contents: the liquid Gravitas. Gravitas is a potent aphrodisiac, a cross between pheromones and perfume. Even to wear the jewelry is to have your system set off in an uproar of horniness. Val-Sybil then has the misfortune to run into a Roggarian, literally, and the touch of skin on skin is more than he can bear. He ends up stalking Val-Sybil, with the result that they fall through a portal to a planet in the forbidden zone: Earth. Will they manage to get back to their own space? Will Val-Sybil be able to fend off the lusty Roggarian and manage her emotions over the Gravitas she carries? Find out in this fun romp.

I liked Gravitas a lot. The characters are memorable and interesting. I particularly liked that galactic space seems to be filled with all kinds of species and races from Earth mythology, but that in Gravitas it is the other way around—our mythology comes from brushes with those races and species. The fact Earth is forbidden because of its inhabitant’s propensity for overkill worship of other worlds is hilarious. There are many things about Gravitas that are equally fun and humorous. I loved the image of skinny pregnant women as having detachable “pods” for the coming invasion. The book is filled with similar jokes and images that will stick in your mind. Overall a smooth and magnetic read, I was only sorry it wasn’t longer.

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review of Digitarum by Derek Bailey

Digitarum

★★★★☆

reviewed by Cy Wyss

Digitarum is world-building of a different sort, being really more of a creation myth than anything else. Five gods emerge from a primordial egg into a dark, empty universe and they are told each has their purpose. One lights the space and becomes known as the light bringer. Others start to create: land, a tower, colors, and finally beings in their own image. One of the gods moves off from the others and is only interested in destruction, believing that’s his purpose. Will the destroyer tear down what the creators have made? Or will the fledgling beings in this new world band together with their creator gods and banish the destroyer? The answers make for a compelling story.

I liked the book. The writing is well-paced and flowing. It is, however, fairly abstract and (for example) low on specific descriptions. I found it hard to visualize the gods themselves and their people, other than imagining them as fairly generic but blue humans. Similarly for the landscape. The gods also seem to fall into the common trap of super powers which is that their extent is never clear. They seem to be as powerful (or not) as needed for the story. I realize fantasies like Digitarum require significant suspension of disbelief and perhaps it is my flaw that I find it difficult, not the book’s. I liked the ending twist. I had been thinking how anti-science the story was getting, then that got turned on its head at the very last second. That was a great moment and, overall, made for a good read.

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