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review 2018-09-05 13:08
A reluctant hero and an old-fashioned mystery in a world of small-town politics and corruption
The Mountain Man's Badge (The Mountain Man Mysteries Book 3) - Gary Corbin

I was provided an ARC copy of this book by the publisher and I freely chose to review it.

I am always in two minds about reading books in a series, especially when I do not catch it right at the beginning, but when I was offered the opportunity of reading and reviewing this book, I was intrigued and could not let it pass. It was, I guess, a combination of the unusual protagonist (a mountain man, as the series title proclaims), the details of the case (who can resist a good dose of local politics and corruption these days?), and the details about the author, who is an experienced and well-respected writer who has written for a variety of media, including the stage.  This is the third book in the series, though, but I was reassured that it could be read independently from the other books. So, what did I think?

Gary Corbin is a skilled writer, with a talent for creating unforgettable characters and settings and convoluted plots. Clarkesville, Oregon, is not one of those enchanted little towns we find in some heart-warming books, but quite the opposite. The descriptions of the mountains and the surrounding area are compelling and appealing, but this is a town with a terrible coffee house, sleazy strip clubs,  ignorant and prejudiced inhabitants, and rampant corruption (from low-level civil servants all the way to the top). The novel follows on from the adventures described in the two previous novels (from what I gathered while I read the book), and the main protagonist, Lehigh Carter, is one of those mythical American literary (and film) figures, the reluctant hero.  In the two previous books he became involved in several mysteries that ended up in the removal of the long-term sheriff and, after things don’t work well for the replacement (I’m trying to avoid spoilers, in case people want to read the three novels in order), he is asked to step in. But he is a lumberjack (with his own business) and not a professional sheriff —as he keeps being reminded by the elected assistant DA, the media, and plenty of others. And he has not been elected either. His job is further complicated when there is a new murder (in a town where such crimes are almost unknown), and the evidence accumulates against his fairly recent father-in-law (and their relationship was anything but friendly even before that). His relationship with his wife suffers, he is kicked out of the marital home, and he is pushed and pulled in all directions, pestered by those who should be working with him, and enmeshed in a spider web of lies and deception. There are enemies and betrayers all around him and he has his own doubts and insecurities to fight against as well. He has no qualifications to show for the job, makes beginner mistakes at times, lacks modern equipment and technical skills, and is being taunted by the commissioners for not having been voted into the job and being an amateur, even when they were the ones signing his appointment.

Although I lacked the background into the protagonist and other important characters in the novel (that I guess would give a more rounded pictures of the relationships between them and the motivations for their actions), I still liked his honesty, his humility, his self-doubt, and his willingness to put everything on the line to do the right thing and to protect his constituency, no matter how much it might cost him. This is not one of those action heroes who never miss a shot or put a foot wrong. He feels real and by the end of the novel, I thought I would happily have voted for him as the new sheriff.  I also liked his collaborators, Wadsworth, in his mentor-like role, and especially Ruby Mac (she is fabulous!). His wife is caught up in a difficult situation but eventually, I got to understand and empathise with her and her predicament (and I think she is one of the characters that have grown over the series, so I missed much of that). The politicians, the rest of the sheriff department, other inhabitants of the town, and Bailey —the TV news anchor— are all well-drawn and distinct, and they run the whole gamut of human emotions, qualities, and vices. Some have bigger roles than others, but they give a bit of variety to a place that is portrayed as mostly stuck in its traditions and not very tolerant or diverse.

The plot reminded me of the old-fashioned mystery books and series we all know and love, and, in my opinion, it works better as such than as a detailed police-procedural investigation. As mentioned, Lehigh is an amateur and does not always follow due procedure. He has a good nose and intuition but sometimes misses things and is let down at times by his insecurity and his lack of knowledge. Although the book is set in the present, the sheriff department seems to be stuck in the past, and other than using his mobile for taking pictures, very little technology is in evidence or regularly used; even the computers are ancient and keep malfunctioning, so this is not a story for those fascinated by the latest techniques and the most accurate point-by-point investigations. Much of the police work consists of walking around, interrogating people, and setting up traps to catch suspects and double-crossing staff. There is also an overreliance on evidence that has been overheard and later reported by witnesses. This requires regular readers of detective novels and thrillers to suspend their disbelief to a certain extent, as baddies are overconfident and reckless, and the witnesses never seem to think about taking pictures or recording anybody’s conversations, which is unusual in this day and age, when everything anybody does is recorded and shared, but it gives the mystery a timeless feel, and there are plenty of plot twists and red herrings to keep readers turning the pages at good speed.

The book is written in the third person by a limited omniscient narrator, a technique that works well to allow readers to learn more about the characters, their feelings, and motivations (and some are not nice at all), while at the same time keeping the information necessary to solve the case under wraps, and helping to maintain the suspense and keep us guessing. There is an effective use of description and credible and lively dialogue that add to the characterisation. The book flows well, and there is sufficient information about the previous events to fill in the gaps and allow a reader starting here to follow the plot, although I have the feeling that those who have read the previous books will enjoy it more fully. (I am never sure how much information about previous books might be enough for new readers but not too much for those already familiar with the books. My experience reading series is that, unless you read all the books in quick succession, you need reminders of the previous plot, no matter how well you think you remember it, but different readers will be different on that respect). Although there is some violence, it is not extreme or shown in detail, and there is a good mix of intriguing, creepy, and light-hearted and humorous moments to suit most readers.

I enjoyed the book and feel curious, both about what had happened before and about what the future will bring Lehigh and his team. I was also intrigued by the samples of some of the author’s other books included at the end. I recommend this book (perhaps the whole series, but I cannot comment on the previous books) to readers who like mysteries in non-standard settings, with a good mix of characters and plots, and with a background into small-town politics and corruption that feels eerily relevant.

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review 2018-08-01 22:30
THE HOLY GHOST SPEAKEASY AND REVIVAL by Terry Roberts
The Holy Ghost Speakeasy and Revival - Terry Roberts

 

The American South in the 1920's was an interesting region. With religious folk preaching against the sins of drinking alcohol, and prohibition making it a prominent job option for those looking to make some money, here comes Jedidiah Robbins on his gospel train. With his team selling bibles, (and bottles out the back), he is a man full of contradiction. He is what made this book so compulsively readable.

 

Jed and his group tour mostly in Appalachia and find themselves in trouble there from time to time. With local lawman trying to keep law and order, with the KKK, (unhappy with the colorful nature of Jed's team), and the additional appearance of H.L. Mencken trying to unveil a scam, it seems there is never a dull moment.

 

I myself am not a religious type and I usually do not appreciate novels that attempt to preach at me, however stealthily that attempt may be. I do think some of that was going on here. It was my fascination with Jed Robbins that kept me going. I admit there were a few other characters that interested me as well-oddly enough-one of them was God himself.

 

I think if Jed were a through and through man of the cloth this book would have been boring. But Jed was a man of the world, and even if it wasn't he himself that was distributing that bootleg liquor, it was his team doing so, and it was with his full knowledge. They did some other things that many would deem ungodly as well. Yet somehow Jed walked the walk of a true believer and he was sometimes so sweet and kind, he brought a tear to my eye.

 

A quick note about the writing-Terry Roberts has a deft hand with language and that's another reason this book was so difficult to put down. I have several highlighted passages that I thought were just beautiful, but I can't quote them here until the book is released. (August 21, 2018, people! Mark your calendars!) A few times I just had to marvel over sentences that flowed like a mountain stream through my mind and emptied into the river of my heart. I may not be a religious person, but I am a spiritual person and the language here touched my spirit.

 

THE HOLY GHOST SPEAKEASY AND REVIVAL is worthy of your time. Even if you're not religious, even if historical fiction isn't your true thing, (I'm not and it isn't, but the title sucked me in), this is a wonderfully written book that will lead you down through the paths of Appalachia into an America that is long gone, but fondly remembered here.

 

Highly recommended!

 

*Thanks to Edelweiss and Turner Publishing for the e-ARC of this book in exchange for my honest feedback. This is it.*

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review 2018-07-11 18:45
THE MOORE HOUSE by Tony Tremblay
The Moore House - Tony Tremblay

 

When I read Tony Tremblay's THE SEEDS OF NIGHTMARES, I knew that I had discovered a very special author. THE MOORE HOUSE only serves to prove that I was right!

 

In Goffstown, New Hampshire there stands a house-a house with a history. After a particularly gruesome occurrence there, Father MacLeod and his team of 3 excommunicated nuns, (specialists in identifying demonic possessions), are called in to evaluate the home. They came, did their thing, and it looked like the house was fine. But after Father MacLeod left, the door of the Moore House opened on its own and soon? What the house really is becomes clear to them all. Will they escape the machinations of the house? Will they survive at all? You'll have to read this to find out!

 

This story has a distinct New England feel to it that I recognized instantly. I don't know how to explain it unless you live here. It's the perfect setting for stories like this and Mr. Tremblay takes full advantage of the location. (The fact that many character names used are actually those of New England dark fiction writers also contributed to that feel.)

 

The characters here are all very real. You might think because 3 of the main characters are nuns, (albeit excommunicated nuns), they would all be boring or perfect. That is not the case. Each and every character here, priest included, are altogether human-with all the faults and foibles that go along with that. This fact lent the story a credible feel, which made all of the demonic things even more easy to believe. Not every author can pull this off, but Mr. Tremblay does- and he does it with style.

 

The only problem I had with this tale, and it's a slight one, was the overuse of the phrase "pawnshop owner", or some variation thereof. That's it!

 

The story surprised me in the fact that it's not your typical haunted house tale. It's a story of demonic possession, more than one in fact, which I thought was unique. The level of tension fairly hummed throughout and I had a hard time putting it down. With short chapters and lots of action, this book flew by and I was sorry when it was over.

 

THE MOORE HOUSE is definitely worth your time. To recap: we have demons, we have layered characters that are realistic, we have a cool house with a history and we have the age old fight against evil. What more can you ask for from an excellent dark fiction writer? Nothing!

 

Highly recommended for fans of haunted house tales and/or demonic possession stories! Available for pre-order here: THE MOORE HOUSE

 

*I was sent an ARC of this book in exchange for my honest review. This is it. Further, I consider Tony Tremblay to be a friend in real life, but this did not affect the honesty or content of my review.*

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review 2018-07-04 15:10
BROKEN ON THE INSIDE by Phil Sloman
Broken on the Inside - Phil Sloman

 

BROKEN ON THE INSIDE is not only the title, but also the theme of this book. Containing 5 short tales, each featuring a person in distress, I couldn't help but feel for them all.

 

 

BROKEN ON THE INSIDE- the title story, starred a woman who's had enough of her mother. So much so that it's making her physically sick. When a doctor tells her he can cure her with nanotechnology she jumps on the chance. But just like her mother said, it wasn't all that easy. (Why are mothers always right? It's enough to drive one crazy.)

 

 

DISCOMFORT FOOD This tale is about another young woman, this one working at a fast food burger joint. One night her manager goes a little too far in his harassment of her and she is forced to react. Never again will dinner time be the same.

 

THE MAN WHO FED THE FOXES is a sad narrative about a lonely man who has let his beautiful garden go to pot. When a group of foxes take up living in his abandoned paradise, he begins to feed them a special diet, and they bring him unusual gifts in return.

 

THERE WAS AN OLD MAN In this tale John Hinklow is a gentlemen rather obsessed with having swallowed a fly. Rightfully so, it turns out.

 

VIRTUALLY FAMOUS was a weird little story about a man named Chet who became addicted to a game-The Game. In it, players can opt to be Chet, (the star), , or to be other people in the story-line. But what happens when the main player begins playing himself? In the end it becomes difficult to determine who was the real Chet and which was the Chet in the game. Whether it be gaming or drugs, addictions are dangerous.

 

These stories were all heavy hitters and combined, make up this powerful narrative as a whole. I enjoyed it as entertaining storytelling on one level, but it also caused me to think deeply about life as we know it and how we go about living that life. Every single person in this book had problems-addictions and obsessions. They were broken on the inside. This led me to thinking about the people I know and even myself. Aren't we all BROKEN ON THE INSIDE in one way or another?

 

Highly recommended for fans of extremely well written dark fiction!

 

Get your copy here: BROKEN ON THE INSIDE

 

*I received an e-copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. This is it.*

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review 2018-05-27 14:38
A dark and twisted take on the original for readers interested in morally ambiguous characters.
Macbeth (Hogarth Shakespeare) - Jo Nesbø

Thanks to NetGalley and to Vintage Digital for providing me an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

This book is part of the Hogarth’s Shakespeare project, a project designed to create novels based on some of Shakespeare’s original plays and bring them up-to-date thanks to best-selling novelists. Although I have been intrigued since I’d heard about the project (because I am a fan of some of the authors, like Margaret Atwood and Anne Tyler), this is the first of the novels to come out of the project that I’ve read. Evidently, the idea behind the series was to try and bring new readers to Shakespeare and perhaps combine people interested in the plays with followers of the novelists. My case is a bit peculiar. I love Shakespeare (I prefer his tragedies and his comedies to the rest of his work) but I can’t say I’m an authority on him, and although I’ve read some of his plays, I prefer to attend live performances or watch adaptations (I’ve watched quite a few versions of Hamlet, but not so many of the rest of his plays, by poor chance). I’ve only watched Macbeth a couple of times, so I’m not the best person to comment on how closely Nesbo’s book follows the original. On the other hand, I have not read any of the author’s novels. I’ve watched a recent movie adaptation of one of them (mea culpa, I had not checked the reviews beforehand) but, although I know of him, I cannot compare this novel to the rest of his oeuvre. So I’m poorly qualified to write this review from the perspective of the most likely audience. But, that’s never stopped me before, and this review might perhaps be more relevant to people who are not terribly familiar with either, Macbeth or Nesbo’s books.

From my vague memory of the play, the novel follows the plot fairly closely, although it is set in the 1970s, in a nightmarish and corrupt city (some of the reviewers say it’s a Northern city somewhere not specified. That is true, and although some of the names and settings seem to suggest Scotland, not all details match, for sure), where unemployment is a huge problem, as are drugs, where biker gangs murder at leisure and control the drug market (together with a mysterious and shady character called Hecate, that seems to pull the strings in the background. He’s not a witch here but there’s something otherworldly about him), where the train station has lost its original purpose and has become a den where homeless and people addicted to drugs hung together and try to survive. The police force takes the place of the royalty and the nobles in the original play, with murders, betrayals and everything in between going on in an attempt at climbing up the ladder and taking control of law-enforcement (with the interesting side-effect of blurring any distinction between law and crime), with the city a stand-in for the kingdom of Scotland in the original.

The story is told from many of the characters’ points of view (most of them) and there is a fair amount of head-hopping. Although as the novel advances we become familiar with the characters and their motivations, and it is not so difficult to work out who is thinking what, this is not so easy to begin with as there are many characters with very similar jobs and, at least in appearance, close motivations, so it’s necessary to pay close attention. The technique is useful to get readers inside the heads of the characters and to get insights into their motivations, even if in most cases it is not a comfortable or uplifting experience. The book is truly dark and it seems particularly apt to a moment in history when corruption, morality, and the evil use of power are as relevant as ever. (Of course, the fact that this is an adaptation of a play written centuries before our era brings home that although things might change in the surface, human nature does not change so much). The writing is at times lyrical and at others more down to earth, but it is a long book, so I’d advise readers to check a sample to see if it is something they’d enjoy for the long-haul. I’ll confess that when I started the book I wondered if it was for me, but once I got into the story and became immersed in the characters’ world, I was hooked.

The beauty of having access to the material in a novelised form is that we can get to explore the characters’ subjectivity and motivations, their psychology, in more detail than in a play. Shakespeare was great at creating characters that have had theatregoers thinking and guessing for hundreds of years, but much of it is down to the actors’ interpretation, and two or three hours are not space enough to explore the ins-and-outs and the complex relationships between the characters fully. I was particularly intrigued by Duff, who is not a particularly likeable character, to begin with, but comes into his own later. I liked Banquo, who is, with Duncan, one of the few characters readers will feel comfortable rooting for (Banquo’s son and Angus would fall into the same category, but play smaller parts), and I must warn you that there is no such as thing as feeling comfortable reading this book. I thought what Nesbo does with Lady is interesting and provides her with an easier to understand motivation and makes her more sympathetic than in the play (it is not all down to greed or ambition, although it remains a big part of it). No characters are whiter-than-white (some might be but we don’t get to know them well enough to make that call), and although the baddies might be truly bad, some remain mysterious and unknown, and they are portrayed as extreme examples of the corruption that runs rampant everywhere. Most of the rest of the characters are human, good and bad, and many come to question their lives and what moves them and take a stand that makes them more interesting than people who never deviate from the path of rightness. Macbeth is depicted as a man of contrasts, charitable and cruel, a survivor with a difficult past, perhaps easy to manipulate but driven, full of doubts but determined, addicted to drugs and ‘power’, charismatic and dependent, full of contradictions and memorable.

The ending of the novel is bittersweet. It is more hopeful than the rest of the novel would make us expect, but… (I am not sure I could talk about spoilers in this novel, but still, I’ll keep my peace). Let’s just say this couldn’t have a happy ending and be truthful to the original material.

Although I have highlighted several paragraphs, I don’t think they would provide a fair idea of the novel in isolation, and, as I said before, I recommend downloading or checking a sample to anybody considering the purchase of this novel.

Not knowing Nesbo’s other novels, I cannot address directly his fans. I’ve noticed that quite a number of reviewers who read his novels regularly were not too fond of this one. Personally, I think it works as an adaptation of the Shakespeare play and it is very dark, as dark as the plot of the original requires (and perhaps even more). It is long and it is not an easy-going read. There are no light moments, and it is demanding of the reader’s attention, challenging us to go beyond a few quotations, famous phrases and set scenes, to the moral heart of the play. If you are looking for an interesting, although perhaps a not fully successful version of Macbeth, that will make you think about power, corruption, good and evil, family, friendship, and politics, give it a try. I am curious to read more Nesbo’s novels and some of the other novels in the project.

 

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