Review: The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, by Agatha Christie

A friend recommended this one to me as a good example of the classic cozy mystery, but I must say that I was very dissatisfied. The writing was reasonable, though the style was quite dated. So, I can’t fault the book on its technical merits. However, it did not play fair, and that angers me.

I don’t want to say much specifically since that would be a spoiler, but I will say this: certain facts were deliberately misrepresented to the reader. And when the investigator comes into possession of the true version of those facts, those are not shared with the reader until the final unmasking of the villain. Thus, I feel I was lied to and then expected to congratulate the author when she revealed to me that I had been duped.

No thank you. I would rather have just been flogged about the head with the book rather than be fooled in this way. Had I not been reading it on my Kindle, I would have literally flung it across the room.

Summer Writing Schedule

writing_iconI thought I’d take a few minutes to update you about what I’m working on this summer.

Hell Bent is officially in beta. I handed it off to the bulk of the beta readers in the last few days, and I’m working out a handoff for the last one today. Hopefully I’ll get all that feedback by mid/late July and then do my edits in August. If I can get it to the copy editor in the September time frame, I might manage to publish it in November.

Debts of My Fathers (the sequel to Ships of My Fathers) is still in pre-edit limbo. I have the printout ready and waiting, but I haven’t looked at it since I wrapped it up last November. I will very likely do my initial edits to it this summer with an eye towards getting it to beta readers in the early fall. Publication is targeted for around New Years, but at this point, it’s hard to nail it down.

But for now, I’m starting to draft new work. In fact, I’m planning to draft two new novels this summer, if time and brain allows. My goal is to draft two new novels this year, with some hope of stretching that to three, and here I am with the year almost half-gone and not a single one written. Time to dig in.

shattered_vaseThe first one, tentatively titled Shattered, is quite the departure for me and might actually be a throw-away novel. Why? It’s a mystery, something I’ve never written before. Then why am I writing it, especially now when I should be trying to establish a rhythm in my publishing career? A couple of reasons. First, my mother is not a sci-fi or urban fantasy fan, and she keeps asking when I’m going to write something she can read. Well, I’m going to indulge her and try to write a mystery.

But the other reason is that a number of SF writers recommend that every writer should write a mystery at some point in their career, the earlier the better. Apparently, there’s something to be learned from the way a good mystery lays everything out and yet keeps the reading from seeing the resolution until the characters wrap it up all together. I’m also going to try a few experiments with additional prep work. I won’t say I’m going as far as the dreaded outline, but I’m at least laying down a few details before I type “Chapter 1”.

The second book I hope to draft this summer is the sequel to Hell Bent, tentatively titled Stone Killer. My general goal in writing series is to draft the sequel before publishing the first, or to generalize it, draft N+1 before publishing N. I figure that improves my odds of fixing continuity problems before they go to print since it allows me to spot a problem in N+1 and fix it in N before it’s too late. So, since I hope to hand off Hell Bent to the copy editor around September, that means I’ll want to draft Stone Killer before that.

But if you do the math, you’ll see that’s drafting two full novels in the next two and a half months. Even considering that one of them is a mystery (typically a little shorter, targeting 65-75,000), the total for both novels will be in the range of 140-160,000 words. That’s about three NaNoWriMo’s worth in less than three months, while also trying to wrap up edits to Hell Bent and making my initial edits to Debts of My Fathers.

I honestly don’t know if I can do it, but that’s what I’m aiming for.

Review: My Life as a White Trash Zombie, by Diana Rowland

The title on this one really grabbed me, and I just dove in. It’s a first person account of a young Louisiana woman who wakes up in the hospital after a night of heavy drinking only to discover that she’s now a zombie. Well, she doesn’t realize it right away, but as her new job at the county morgue brings into contact with delicious brains, she starts to figure it out.

She’s not the shambling, mindless kind of zombie. Nope, as long as she gets some brains on a regular basis, she can pass for one of the living. And so she begins her new life, working at the morgue and building up a stash of, er… brain food, but she is also dealing with her old white trash life with a drunk father, and drugged-out shit of a boyfriend, and three more years left on probation for a car she didn’t actually steal in the first place.

But how did she become a zombie in the first place? And what’s going on with all these strange murders in town? And OMG! What happened to my stash of brains?!!

So, it was a fun ride, and I really liked our protagonist. It was also a pretty good mystery, trying to figure out how she became a zombie and how the murders tied into it all. About the only thing I had trouble with was the rather effective descriptions of the taste and texture of human brains. Suffice it to say, I won’t be eating any tapioca soon.

There’s a sequel out, and I may give it a look as well.

Review: Real Murders, by Charlaine Harris

I thought I’d try some mysteries, and my wife recommended this one:

It was all right, but ultimately I did not find it very satisfying. It was well written, and the first-person narrator was both interesting and compelling. The crime was fairly interesting, and it was fun trying to keep track of various bits of information, hoping to track down the murderer before the narrator did, and that part was fun.

Where it failed for me was in the killer’s motivation, but that was mostly the nature of the beast for this particular crime. Someone was committing murders just for the fun of it, to commit crimes reminiscent of famous murders, from political assassination to Lizzie Borden’s famous forty whacks. So, when the killer was finally unveiled, the motivation was simply that he/she was a nut-job.

Personally, that wasn’t very satisfying to me. I wanted it to be something like, “Jane did it because she stood to inherit the family fortune,” or “Walter did it as revenge for what happened back in the war,” or something like that. There could be multiple motives for the murder, and that would be fine – even desirable. This would have filled the book with meaty motivations like jealousy, revenge, greed, and so on. Yeah, good and ugly stuff like that.

As it was, the motivation was essentially missing, and that meant it could have been any of the characters who was actually a quiet psychopath. That left me feeling like the ultimate unveiling of the killer was random. Of the dozen suspects, the dart landed on Pat, so Pat is the psychopathic killer. The evidence in support of it seemed to have been tacked on, little bits of proof sprinkled through the book to prop up the random selection.

So… it was okay, but not really good. It’s the first book in a series, and I may give another one a shot. After all, it was well written, so the author knows how to spin a yarn. I just happened to be disappointed by this particular tale.

Review: The Retrieval Artist, by K.K. Rusch

I follow Rusch’s blog on the business end of writing pretty religiously, so I figured I’d try her Retrieval Artist series:

This is subtitled “A Retrieval Artist Short Novel”, and it truly was short. I don’t know if it was all the way down into the novella range, but it wasn’t what I normally consider a full-length novel. On the whole, it was only so-so. I’ll grant you that the premise was kind of interesting, but it wasn’t enough.

Basically, in this universe of Earth, her colonies, and aliens of varying nastiness, some people need to disappear rather than face extradition to some alien demise. I suppose in today’s world, it would be a bit like going into hiding because your government had agreed to hand you over to Iran or Turkmenistan because you violated one of their laws.

Best to just disappear.

But sometimes you want to find those disappeared people again. Maybe it’s just to get them a message. Maybe it’s to let them know that the extradition order has been lifted. Or maybe it’s because someone wants to turn them in.

Miles Flint is a “retrieval artist”, someone who can find those who have gone into the interstellar equivalent of a private witness protection program. He tries to keep things clean and only goes after those who won’t be harmed by being found. He’s no assassin. He doesn’t hurt people. At least, that’s what he keeps telling himself. So he takes on this particular case to find a girl’s runaway mother, but as with all such cases, things aren’t exactly as they appear. Complications ensue, ethics are challenged, and justice is sought. Typical Sam Slade detective agency stuff – it just happens to be on the moon.

But in the end, for me, the main character wasn’t compelling enough, nor was the client. It was one of those stories where I realized I didn’t particularly like anyone, and in cases like that, it’s hard to give the rest of the story much credit. The structure of the case was interesting, and its resolution was nice, but I had a hard summoning up the interest when I didn’t care about the characters.

So, sorry Ms. Rusch, but this one gets at best a wavering thumb from me. She’s built an entire series around this character and the premise, but it didn’t work well enough for me to read any more of them. Your mileage may vary.