November 12, 2005
On Books: October
Once again, it's time for a review of stuff I read the previous month. And it looks like October was a little heavy on the crime fiction...
Stormy Weather by Carl Hiaasen
Ahh, another gonzo tale of crimes gone wrong and the not-too-bright criminals who commit them. I like Hiaasen. I don’t think his novels are laugh-out-loud funny but rarely do I read something that is. They’re amusing, though. Hiaasen does run the risk of repeating himself. His formula is straightforward and his characters are two-dimensional. My dad and I were talking about his novels not long ago and it became clear to both of us that, in retrospect, his novels are almost indistinguishable from each other aside from vague plot differences. Yet, for some reason, they’re enjoyable, compelling and very entertaining. This is not fine literature. But not everything needs to be.
Dispatch by Bentley Little
I used to really like Little. He wrote a string of horror novels – The Town, The Association and The Store – that were incredibly well done and insanely creepy. Little has the ability to take an everyday thing, like a store or homeowner’s association – and turn it into something terribly malevolent and scary. I know it sounds strange but it’s true. Little dropped the ball on his last few novels – The Policy and The Resort – so I was hoping he’d pick it back up. He didn’t. No two ways around it, Dispatch was complete crap. The only thing that really scared me was how an author as competent as Little could write something so terrible.
Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay
You have to give Lindsay credit for trying something new and different. Our hero, Dexter, is a crime lab technician who helps hunt down serial killers. Lame, and certainly nothing new there. But wait. What if Dexter is, himself, a serial killer? What if he’s somehow likable and funny? And what if he only kills people who are really pretty terrible to begin with? It sounds like a strange formula but Lindsay makes it work. Darkly Dreaming Dexter is unusual, just a tad violent, and very morbidly funny.
Seconds of Pleasure by Neil LaBute
LaBute is, supposedly, a well-known and critically acclaimed playwright. I didn’t know that but I was so informed when I took the book to the front counter at my local Borders to pay for it. I just liked the blurb on the back of the book. Here, LaBute tries his hand at short stories. If LaBute’s plays are any good, he really should stick with his day job. Seconds of Pleasure is tedious, repetitive and, above all, crap. Each story is remarkably similar to the one that preceded it. There’s conflict revolving primarily or tangentially around sex and/or a relationship. And then there’s a twist. A man and a woman fight over his infidelity. At the last possible moment in the story, we’re hit with the stunner – he was screwing his next door neighbor. A man! Duh daaa! We’re you shocked? You might be the first time but that’s LaBute’s M.O. Shake things up at the last minute and we, the readers, might overlook the fact that the stories were crap to begin with. Save yourself $12.
Secret Prey/Certain Prey by John Sandford
After reading 10 or so volumes of the Prey series not to mention all of Sandford’s other books last year, I was burned out. So, it was nice to pick up the next in the series and return to the world of Minneapolis Police Chief Lucas Davenport. Secret Prey so much, I launched right into Certain Prey. Here’s the thing – Sandford cranks them out at a relentless pace. Yet each novel is astonishingly well written. That could have something to do with the fact that Sandford is actually Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist John Camp. And Camp knows how to write. His characters are engaging, the crimes are engrossing and the back-story is compelling. And Sandford has some absolutely priceless lines. I enjoyed returning to these so much, I just cracked open another one last night.
Derailed by James Siegel
Yes, this is the book on which the movie is based. There’s a reason the movie hasn’t been well-reviewed. Derailed is a decent thriller but its obvious how it’ll play out by the time you hit page 20. I desperately wanted to be wrong. I wanted a few more twists thrown at me to keep me on my toes. But I didn’t get them. It didn’t spoil the ride – it was still a decent read – but it could have been much, much better.