Friday, July 29, 2011

"Die, Lover, Die!" by the authors of the Top Suspense Group

The twelve Top Suspense authors came together to write a novelette. When I first read about this I thought it sounded like one of those "two many cooks spoil the broth" scenarios. I mean, how the heck can twelve people effectively write what amounts to something just outside the classification of a short story?

In actuality, Die, Lover, Die! is a bit of an experiment by the writers to see if they could create a cohesive thriller with each author writing two hundred and fifty words at a time, like a relay with each author passing off the story to the next. The twelve contributing authors were: Max Alan Collins, Bill Crider, Stephen Gallagher, Lee Goldberg, Joel Goldman, Ed Gorman, Libby Fischer Hellmann, Vicki Hendricks, Naomi Hirahara, Paul Levine, Harry Shannon, Dave Zeltserman. As a result, they managed to create an action-packed tale, even though the story's twists feel a bit like speed bumps.

The story begins with a beautiful woman, Lauren Blaine, speeding down a lonesome road with a quiet mystery man riding shotgun--and a carload of gunmen in pursuit. From that point on, it becomes clear the authors play a bit of one-upmanship by swerving both Lauren and the reader with an onslaught of plot twists. If the story itself feels a bit blocky, it is made palatable by an enjoyable femme fatale in Lauren Blaine and the slew of over-the-top characters with whom she crosses paths. It's an exciting story, but the constant gear-shifting gives it a bit of an incongruous feel. And when you reach the end of the story, and you look back at the beginning, you can't help but wonder: how the hell did she wind up there?

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

"The Black God's War" by Moses Siregar: a novella introducing a new epic fantasy

This was a free novella I snagged through the Amazon Kindle Store. It's epic fantasy, which is not a genre I have found much enjoyment in over the years despite my efforts. Siregar's method of promotion intrigued me, though: promote the epic novel, which is due for release in August, by offering fifteen of the early chapters for free that provide their own storyline and give a clear sense of what to expect from the longer work.

While the novel is bound to include a multitude of characters, the novella concentrate's mainly on a brother and sister, Ciao and Lucia. The story begins as Lucia, then a child, witnesses the celebration of her infant brother's birth, hoisted by their father King Vieri before an adulating and exulting crowd. Ciao is heralded as the kingdom's savior-of-sorts, literally the son King Vieri has always wanted. Though, when the story jumps ahead to Ciao's adolescence, he's a healer rather than a warrior cast as the role of the King's lead general in a long-running war against a neighboring kingdom.

For what amounts to a snippet of a larger work, the story presented holds up and has a good pace to it. Siregar's strongest suit may be the character development on display, as the royal siblings and a few other characters exude their personalities and frailties in a believable fashion. Throw in some intriguing magical elements and this is a story I might actually invest a good amount of time in by reading the eight-five chapter novel.

@#$% me, eight-five chapters?

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Osama by Lavie Tidhar

In the interest of full disclosure, I admit Lavie's someone I know and interact with online. I received an electronic review copy straight from the author himself. That said, Tidhar's new novel, Osama (PS Publishing, 2011), is a difficult novel to review without spoilers. I will do my best here. But let me just say upfront that I loved, loved this book! Sometimes when getting a book from a friend or acquaintance, there's a hesitance to review it because of the risk of hurting feelings. There was no need to hesitate reviewing this one.

On a superficial level, at least through roughly two-thirds of the novel, the story is pretty simple to explain. It is about a private investigator named Joe living in an alternative present where 9/11 and The War on Terrorism are the stuff of pulp novels. Osama bin Laden is a popular character in a series of cheap paperback thrillers detailing the lives of terrorists by an author named Mike Longshott. When removed from reality, the exploits of the terrorists make for entertaining reads in this alternative history. There are even conventions dedicated to Longshott and his Osama novels. People dress up like Osama and terrorists at these conventions and have roundtable discussions concerning the social relevance of these novels, much like at a Trekkie convention. The fictional acts of terrorism are all entertainment, nothing to fear.

Joe's story itself reads much like a paperback thriller. He's a hard-drinking, smoking private investigator searching through the seedy underworlds of Europe. Joe is hired to track down Longshott and travels around the world looking to uncover this author. In the process, he starts to learn a thing or two about himself.

The last third of the book is full of revelations. Our reality and Joe's alternate reality collide and the text grows increasingly slipstream and surreal. I won't say anymore about plot because I don't want to spoil the experience for anyone. The less one knows going into this novel, the more they will enjoy it, I believe.

Ultimately, this is a novel about identity, a novel which reflects a reality of the modern age in which we live. We choose our identities in many aspects of modern life – whether it be through a pen name as a writer, the personas we take on in differing social situations, or through online handles and avatars. As one character states in the novel:

"'You have to choose what to be. When you've been stripped of everything; a
name, a face, a love – you could be anything. You could even choose to be

A wonderfully entertaining and thought-provoking book – My six pack rating: 6 out of 6 Trader Joe's Vienna Style Lager