Tag Archives: mystery

Spartan Gold (Fargo Adventure #1)

Title: Spartan Gold

Author: Clive Cussler with Grant Blackwood

Series: Fargo Adventure #1

A lost mystery discovered by Napoleon Bonaparte leads to a treasure hunt two hundred years later. Sam and Remi Fargo were tracking down a different mystery when a glass bottle and an old German U-Boat give them their first lead to something much bigger than they anticipated. Because Napoleon’s secrets have also captured the attention of a much more dangerous man, who will stop at nothing to get there first.

This isn’t typically my genre, but I read this for a book club.

The book as a whole made for a somewhat frustrating read because most of the strong parts are balanced out by weaker parts. The history, the clues, the treasure, and the various links to locations around the world were well thought-out, and the various exotic locales helped with the sense of adventure. The plot never flags, and the occasional switch to the villain’s point of view helps to heighten the tension. It’s easy to visualize the whole thing as a movie.

On the other hand, I found the characters only believable about half the time. I usually like competence, but this is the first book I can remember where I kept thinking they pushed it too far. In the first half of the book especially, it felt like every time they came up against another situation, either Sam or Remi had a degree/hobby in exactly that area, and of course they were experts in various wildly diverging fields. Their extreme abilities took a lot of the fun out of most of the situations they got into, as I didn’t really feel the tension until the scope got much further out of their control.

The beginning also felt like it pushed very hard to make them “good guys” which to my mind the story as a whole doesn’t support. Technically, Sam and Remi go a step farther than the actual villain in several areas, particularly in how they acquired one bottle’s riddle and what they ultimately did in the caves at the end. I fully support that kind of ending for most bad guys, but the way it happened left me wondering why I was supposed to cheer for this. In a way it was almost amusing to compare the way both sides were breaking a lot of the same laws. For more amoral characters this would be less problematic, but again, it felt like the story was setting them up as complete contrasts to the villain, when in reality they’re not all that different.

I also didn’t buy the fact that the home base was secure enough to make even a man with those kinds of connections back off. Unless they’ve physically fortified the structure, all an alarm system is going to do is ensure the police arrive in time to take people to the hospital. If they did fortify the structure, why not just bomb it? A quick and dirty bomb is ridiculously easy to rig together (as events like the Boston Marathon unfortunately proved). Even just as a warning, perhaps with the aim of taking out a bodyguard or two, if he really needs them to keep hunting down the treasure he can’t quite get to himself.

I did like the fact that the lead couple being married meant a complete lack of romantic shenanigans to distract from the action. This left the focus on the action and not on some flimsy relationship likely to be completely discarded by a sequel. Having other people back home to help with the research also eased a lot of the logistical problems.

All in all, I suppose it was a good choice for a book club since there will be a lot to talk about, but I’m not convinced I want to read another one. As a historical mystery it works just fine, but I had a lot more problems with the present-day side of things. I rate this book Neutral.

Orca (Vlad Taltos #7)

Title: Orca

Author: Steven Brust

Series: Vlad Taltos #7

All Vlad is trying to do is repay his debt to Savn, who was injured in the process of saving Vlad’s life. But the healer he finds doesn’t want money—she wants the right to continue living in her own home, which the failing bank is trying to foreclose. So Vlad reluctantly puts himself on the case. Murder is so much more his specialty . . .

I liked this a great deal. Kiera the Thief shares the narration with Vlad this time, and shows something of a different side to the sorts of activities Vlad usually gets himself into. Vlad finds himself, this time, not as the assassin but as the detective, trying to work backwards from a death. Trying to untangle the whole sordid story that led to one little old woman being kicked out of her home.

As a mystery, it flows differently than the other books in the series, but I liked it as a change of pace. That also made some of the revelations near the end both unexpected and satisfying. Vlad’s a different person after everything he’s gone through—though still a sarcastic, hard-bitten criminal in many ways. But in the little snippets of Kiera’s retelling Cawti’s side starts to open up some too. And maybe a little of why she’s been acting the way she has comes out.

All in all this is a good continuation. I’m both amused and impressed I’ve made it through this many books in the series without my enthusiasm flagging at all. And I can’t wait to finish collecting them all so I can reread them in the proper order next time. I rate this book Recommended.

07-Ghost (manga)

Title: 07-Ghost
Volumes: 1-17 (Complete)

Ten years ago, war broke out between the Barsburg Empire and the Raggs kingdom. Teito Klein, orphaned by this event, had been pressed into service as a battle sklave for Barsburg, which made him less than popular at the military academy he attends. However, one other boy, Mikage, persists in being his friend, which leads to trouble for both of them when Teito unexpectedly runs across someone from his dimmest memories . . .

It’s hard to give a decent summary of this, because so much of the story revolves around who Teito is, what he does (and doesn’t) remember and why, and how those memories influence him to make the journey he ultimately takes. I liked it a lot as a fantasy. There’s a lot to be said for a story that spans 17 volumes but knows from the beginning where it wants to go, and doesn’t detour at all along the way. As a story, the focus on playing up possibly-romantic relationships between guys unfortunately takes away from some of the more complex relationships that are trying to develop.

I liked the layers of mystery. Teito hasn’t forgotten his origins because he was very young (about four) when everything happened, but also because his memories were deliberately locked away from him. Even that young, what he knew was dangerous. Even now, remembering the wrong thing at the wrong time could ruin everything.

And the world itself has layers. On the purely human level, the Barsburg Empire has all but wiped out the kingdom of Raggs, and they’re eager to move in on what remains. But a large part of the story is also about spiritual matters. The King of Heaven allows every soul to choose three wishes for which to live its life, and once those three are fulfilled, the soul returns to him. However, evil forces offer to grant those wishes in exchange for the soul—and they are working to lay the foundation for the return of Verloren, the god of death. Seven “ghosts” were assigned from heaven to help keep Verloren imprisoned, and Verloren’s body and soul were separately sealed. But he’s working out a plan for revival.

In the beginning, when everything is just starting to unfold, it can feel a bit random. Ayanami remains a good villain, but the Black Hawks in his group struggle to feel meaningful for a long time. I liked how Mikage—and his admonition to Teito against revenge—form a key part of Teito’s struggle, up to the very end. Teito dearly wants to honor his best friend’s wishes, but at the same time, he’s human. He wants justice for all the evil that Ayanami inflicted, as well as revenge for all the pain and suffering.

I don’t really care for the hinting at homosexual relationships in the story (especially with Frau, because he’s got to be twice Teito’s age), but as the hints stay relatively subtle it didn’t subtract much from the story for me.

The ending is really good. It had a bit more epilogue than I expected, which was nice, and it tied everything up in a surprising yet satisfying way. Which is even better considering the major twist that happened not long before that which subverted a lot of my expectations for how the series was going to turn out. I liked how characters that could have been one-offs like some of the Oaks turn into crucial players. I liked the history of the seven ghosts and how Teito has to untangle some of the things that went drastically wrong for each of them.

Overall this is a pretty good fantasy that takes a few volumes to really dig in. It’s not something¬† I would consider top-tier like Fullmetal Alchemist or Kekkaishi, but it does a good job building a solid story with a number of surprises. I rate this series Recommended.

(Apologies for the glut of posts. I’ve been watching/reading some things over the past season but I don’t like to review them until I’m finished, as I would prefer to look at the overall story than just one episode or a few chapters of manga.)

Glint

Title: Glint

Author: Ann Coburn

Everyone likes Ellie’s little brother Danny. He’s such a happy, friendly kid. So when he mysteriously disappears, her life veers into a hard quest to find him again, to prove her father innocent as well as restore the life they used to have.

Argent enjoys watching dragons hatch, even though her village bears the creatures no love. Dragons radiate enough heat to engulf anything near them in flames, and when Argent witnesses a baby being kidnapped, her village is more interested in destroying the distraught mother than trying to find the baby. So she sets off on a quest to help the dragon family.

This didn’t work out much like I had expected, and although I suppose that’s good, it made for somewhat frustrating reading. I kept expecting the two stories to cross over, when really the only connection between them is that Danny appears to be hallucinating Argent, and the two journeys have a somewhat parallel structure. So really you have two separate novels told in alternating chapters. One is a fiction story about a girl trying to find her kidnapped brother, and one is a fantasy about a girl trying to find a kidnapped dragon.

I liked the dragon story better, but there was a lot more that could have been done if it had been its own story. Because it’s splitting time with another tale, some of the things I was really interested in seeing more of didn’t get a lot of time. Lukos, for example, explains the process of shapechanging to Argent and pretty much says he thinks she’s capable of it, but she (perhaps understandably) shoves the idea away and wants nothing to do with it. I kept hoping the plot would circle back to that and make it happen, but it never did. Also, the worldbuilding in general could have used more fleshing out. The dragons get most of the focus, but a few other creatures come up near the end and I would’ve liked to see a bit more of them, too. Or at least seen some detail in the towns and the people that make this different from all the other fantasies set in a pre-industrial time.

Overall this isn’t bad, but the split storyline can be frustrating because they have so little to do with each other. I rate this story Neutral.

Bloodhound (Beka Cooper #2)

Title: Bloodhound

Author: Tamora Pierce

False silver coins are showing up in town, and Beka’s own friends are getting in trouble over them. Then a riot ensues over the raising prices of bread. Beka, a first-year Dog that is once more partnerless, is sent with Goodwin to Port Caynn to dig deeper into the surge of counterfeits. But the local Dogs aren’t at all worried about the problem, and Beka’s managed to offend the ruling Rogue. Together with the scent hound Achoo, Beka starts digging deep enough to uncover some truly nasty secrets.

This is a tad long, but the tension manages to stay strong throughout. The various clues about the counterfeiting ring surface slowly, and Beka’s got to play the part of stupid visitor (a role that does not suit her at all). It’s interesting to see how local corruption in the Dogs (the police force) feeds the greater corruption in the city, and how Beka functions when friends and allies are few and far between. It’s also interesting to see all the various discussions around counterfeiting, and how it debases the currency, and how that ripples out to broader impacts. And of course, this is a strong cop story, with plenty of scuffles with Rats and an unflinching look at some of the uglier sides of the Dogs.

I wasn’t as keen on the romance. Beka’s lived a rough enough life that she should’ve realized she was being played, and it’s kind of annoying how willing she is to bed someone she’s known for about two days simply because she’s got a pregnancy charm (what about diseases? or better yet, the fact that he’s still technically a SUSPECT?). So it was hard to read the romantic sections without skimming because the only reason she falls for him is that he’s good-looking and persistent about flirting with her.

The other thing I wasn’t keen on is how much page time is devoted to glorifying Okha/”Amber” as a woman in a man’s body and how beautiful that is (and the homosexual relationship is also portrayed as good, although that one is more just there, whereas the prose specifically takes time out to highlight Okha and his particular deviancy). I do not believe “feelings” define gender, because this makes as much sense as me saying I’m really a purple six-legged pony from Jupiter because I know it in my heart. (Bonus: since there’s no evidence no one can prove you wrong, and you’re just branded a hater for not going along with it.)

Anyway, I do enjoy them for the cop stories, and for a look at Tortall from a different angle. Magic certainly comes into play, but for the most part this is hardboiled detective work (and in this instance, a couple of scent-hound tracking sprees). If the rest of it doesn’t bother you, then go ahead and read it. I rate this book Recommended.

City of Stairs

Title: City of Stairs

Author: Robert Jackson Bennett

It was supposed to be nothing more than a murder investigation.

Shara Thivani, top intelligence officer of Saypur, has decided to assign herself to the case when fellow historian Dr. Efrem Pangyui turns up dead in the city of Bulikov. Bulikov—once the capital city of the world, in a way, for the people of the Continent were backed by six Divinities and soon conquered anything they set their minds upon. But Saypur’s founding father, the Kaj, murdered those Divinities and reduced the Continentals to mere men.

So it’s no simple investigation when practically the entire population of Bulikov would have been happy to see Dr. Pangyui dead for being allowed to investigate the history they themselves cannot know, for looking into the Divinities they no longer possess. But worse than that, Shara is finding disturbing signs that the Divine may not be quite as dead as Saypur would hope . . .

It’s a refreshing change to find Shara exactly what she appears to be: a historian and an intelligence officer, not some incredibly competent fighter. That’s what Sigrud is for. Sigrud has no fear of death or danger (he much prefers them to diplomatic parties). And he’s violently ferocious when the situation calls for it.

The current mystery doesn’t take long before it unravels to a fantasy much deeper. As expected of a historian, Shara delves deep into Bulikov’s history, trying to understand what Dr. Pangyui knew or learned that made him such a danger. Each chapter begins with a snippet from various holy books, diaries, or history books. Taken together, it’s a very well-drawn world. There’s a rich depth of culture for both Saypur and the Continent.

The only thing I didn’t care for was the sheer amount of sex. Nothing is on-screen, but there were a few details provided in places that was a bit more than I wanted to know. Vohannas sleeps with men and women, and waxes quite poetic about it near the end, but the whole speech (perhaps his whole life) just seems like a desperate cry to find someone who actually loved him without the sex, only he never made the connection. I also don’t buy that Saypur’s marriages being six-year renewable contracts has actually created stability, as it seems the logical reaction to being forced to rearrange your marriage on the whims of a bad master would be to encourage lifelong unions. Despite the contract saying it’s over at six years if either party wants it over, I can’t see that going over much better than a divorce where one person wants to stay married, especially if there’s kids who suddenly lose a parent.

Overall, though, it’s certainly an interesting read with some very memorable characters. There’s an impressive amount of worldbuilding, a solid mystery with a rather surprising conclusion, and a good dose of humor along the way. I rate this book Recommended.

Hespira (Henghis Hapthorn #3)

Title: Hespira

Author: Matthew Hughes

Henghis Hapthorn is troubled by the imminent death of the rational universe and its replacement by the forces of sympathetic association (also known as magic). But, being unable to do anything about the issue, and having just started a feud between one of Olkney’s richest aristocrats and a rising criminal in the underworld, now seems like a good time for a long trip offworld. Hespira offers the perfect excuse. A woman who has lost her memories, a chance for Henghis to be the gallant detective, a case that is more than it first appears . . . well, that’s business as usual.

It’s been several years since I read The Spiral Labyrinth, but the pertinent plot details are provided as needed, and the rest of the book is a fine romp through a mostly stand-alone mystery. Set in the ten thousand worlds of The Spray, this sci-fi/fantasy is told by the decidedly anti-fantasy Henghis himself, which leads to any number of amusements (not the least of which is that he can hardly bring himself to say the word “magic”, and every time he runs into another example he’s distressed). The logical Henghis is a bit crippled for this adventure, though: his intuition has split off from him as its own person (events related in The Spiral Labyrinth), so he’s relying on logic alone to get him through this case. And he’s well aware that logic will only go so far.

I enjoy the dry humor, particularly the exchanges between Henghis and his integrator, who hasn’t quite lost all the personality it gained when it was in a living body. Or watching the ship’s integrator and his integrator squabbling for supremacy. I also enjoyed the fact that Henghis and Hespira do not have any kind of romantic relationship–he himself is puzzled why he feels so strongly to help her, but their relationship remains friendly and within professional bounds. Too many stories simply go for the romance option when such a situation presents itself, so it was nice to see something different. I was also incredibly amused by the mess poor Osk has made of himself when Henghis meets him again at the end; it seems losing his logical facilities has left Osk as bereft as Henghis, in his own way, and Henghis’s horror is beautifully understated. As is the delightful moment when Osk wakes up from his nap. . .

I did miss the interaction between Henghis and Osk from back when Osk was still inside Henghis’s head. This mystery still has pieces of a bigger story being told, but by and large most of that is simply Henghis wondering what he’s going to do with himself once the regime changes over and logic gets steamrolled by magic. And the ending is inconclusive (or at the least ambiguous) about his decision in that regard.

Still, this was an enjoyable read, and would be a decent cap on the story if it ended here, though it certainly leaves enough room not to rule out a sequel. I rate this book Recommended.