The Alienist by Caleb Carr



Classical detection at its best…..   ****

To my chagrin, I have to admit I had never heard of Caleb Carr until I read reviews of his Surrender, New York. Several compared his newest novel to The Alienist, which prompted me to want to read it first.

The Alienest is a very interesting read. Written in 1994, it is set in 1896. This is important because it was easy to forget that I was not reading a book written in the 1890’s. That is how well-written this book is. I was transported back in time, not only from the descriptions, but also by Carr’s writing style.  This book is like reading one of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, the style and language are similar.

The story revolves around a team formed to discover who is killing young boys. In this sense, this is a classic detective story. The hook is that all the forensic science we are accustomed to in a novel, was just being discovered and was not as accepted as it is today.

The team assembled to solve the “whodunit”, consists of a psychiatrist, a journalist, two police detectives, and a female secretary from the police department. They’re all working off the books, reporting to the police commissioner, who happens to be Theodore Roosevelt.

Combining loosely historical facts, a Sherlock Holmes type of character, a little of Jeffrey Deaver’s Lincoln Rhyme, a bit of Jonathan Kellerman’s Alex Delaware, some of Thomas Harris’ Hannibal Lecter, and shades of Carolyne Keene’s Nancy Drew, Caleb Carr has written a great read.

The book was a page turner, not because of mystery or suspense, but because I wanted to follow the logic and actions of the characters. The climax and discovery of the killer were anti-climatic. The end seemed rushed compared to the depth of detail in the rest of the book.

This one gets four stars, and I now can read Surrender, New York with a more critical eye..



Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice



Better title – Old Man vs.Bad Actor: Yawn of Wake Me When It’s Over


There is so much wrong with this film, I am not sure where to start. I guess at the beginning.

Bruce Wayne speeding through Metropolis to reach the Wayne building is one of the worst “car chases” I have ever seen. The phony visual effects are laughable. This is the first look at Ben Affleck and is his hair naturally streaked with gray or was that just to make him look old?

Henry Cavill as Superman looks the part, but his acting was single note. He can scowl fairly well though. I really like Amy Adams as an actress but in this film she needed more of the hard case character she played in “American Hustle”, to pull off being the tough Lois Lane.

The most insulting part of this film for any true Superman fan, is having Lex Luther played by an actor that looked and acted as if he was about 12. No offense to Jesse Eisenberg, but he was the wrong person for the part.

The technical errors are too many to list but I will hit the biggest one. If you haven’t seen the film this is a spoiler.

The premise of the film is that Bruce Wayne decides the world would be better off without Superman. So, as Batman, he plans to fight and kill Superman. As ridiculous as this sounds, Wayne does get his hands on kryptonite to level the playing field. He makes a spear out of it which will surely kill Superman.  Before he can use it Lex Luther creates a “monster” that Batman and Superman must fight together. Without going into the whole story, Lois throws the spear in a pool of deep water. Superman needs to use it to kill the monster and dives in for it. Now here is where things fall apart. When he gets close to it, he is so weak he comes floating to the surface nearly unconscious. But then he recovers and picking it up, flies at the monster so he can ram it into the heart of this creature.

Now follow the lack of logic here. Superman when close to the spear can barely move, yet he picks it up and flies. Sorry, but that was beyond my ability to suspend belief.

This is a film that should have never been made. Bad acting, disjointed story line, laughable special effects, all causing me to not even give this a cigar, maybe just the match to light it on fire!


The Girl With the Lower Back Tattoo by Amy Schumer



Seriously not funny…..  ***


We each have a life story, how we tell it or how much we tell is up to us. Amy Schumer reveals a great deal about her life, her mistakes, her flaws, and her struggles in this compelling autobiography.

This book will make you cry, maybe even shock some, and maybe make you smile. Smile, maybe, laugh, no.  Knowing Schumer is a standup comic, I was expecting, and had heard in other reviews, that parts of this book would be funny. Not really.

Her exploits with men are more sad than funny, and her admitting to being in an abusive relationship is a wake-up call for women, not a laughing matter. She is very candid about her childhood and the choices she has made in her life. Her honesty is refreshing and makes this a story worth reading.

Her insights are interesting to read, and she does not hold back on what and why she believes in the things she does. It is sad that she has been maligned for some of her statements, and especially for her body type. She has a personal stake in gun control and when you read why, you can’t help but agree with her.

I am giving this one three stars. It is a good read, worth one’s time, just don’t expect to laugh a lot.

The Martian by Andy Weir



Where is Ray Walston when you need him……   **


The most boring movie I have ever seen was Gravity. The Martian would be in the running for the most boring book I have ever read.

Andy Weir can write about the technical aspects of being in space and seems to have done a great deal of research, but technical accuracy does not equate to a good novel.  Writing in first person as Mark Watney, the astronaut stranded on Mars, Weir goes into painstaking detail as to what it takes to survive on this desolate planet.  I found myself speed reading through these parts as they were not only boring but amateurish.

When the story finally switched to third person, I was hoping for a better read, seeing that this book was a best seller. I was disappointed. The other characters are clichés and caricatures of NASA stereotypes.

Weir’s attempt to provide drama by bringing in obstacles to hinder the rescue attempt and Watney’s survival fell flat for me. While meant to add suspense most of these were too easily remedied to be worrisome.

The final scenes of the rescue attempt were melodramatic and left me saying, “Okay, that was boring.”

This one gets two stars, one for Weir’s technical expertise, and one for keeping me reading, hoping something exciting might happen. It didn’t.

A Time of Torment by John Connolly



A Charlie Parker thriller, almost…..    ****


John Connolly writes novels that make me wish they would never end. His style is mesmerizing and can chill me to the bone. This one is no exception.

As with any good series, if you haven’t read the earlier books, you will not fully appreciate this one. As this is the fourteenth (fifteenth if you count his novella) Charlie Parker novel, Connolly does not spend time recapping, which is a good thing.

While this story includes Parker, and his sidekicks Angel and Louis, they are almost insignificant. The majority of the novel revolves around a group called the Cut, and Sheriff Henkel, who is determined to rid his county of this cult-like group..

This novel, more than some of Connolly’s others, has a significant amount of supernatural elements. The beauty of Connolly’s writing is that he makes these elements not only believable, but made me wish some of it were true.

Parker has two daughters. One who was killed, and one with special talents. So as not to give anything away, I will just say it is the sister’s interactions that make this novel unique.

This one gets four stars. I usually give five for Connolly’s novels but Parker’s small role caused me to drop one.  Hopefully, this is not a trend.

Breakdown by Jonathan Kellerman



Apt title, almost had one trying to finish this….  *


Jonathan Kellerman has the distinction of joining Lee Child, Michael Connelly, and James Patterson, as authors I will no longer read. His recent books have gone downhill from the intriguing earlier novels that I enjoyed. This one is at the bottom of the abyss.

There is no real mystery, no twist, no compelling reason to keep turning pages. The plot is weak and Kellerman’s usually interesting asides into psychology are absent. More time is spent telling the reader how to go from point A to B than any attempt at story development. Alex Delaware’s girlfriend, Robin, is sadly absent except for some minor scenes, and detective Milo Sturgis is so dull I almost forgot how sharp he used to be.

The solving of the supposed mystery is like a bad script from “Murder She Wrote”, or in this case Murder He Wrote.  The majority of the book revolves around Delaware and Sturgis sitting in Alex’s office, or driving around, speculating on what happened. The leaps in logic and revelations are almost laughable. It always fascinates me when information is  needed and one of them just happens to know someone to call who can help. Why anyone would call this a good mystery is beyond me.

The ending falls flat, and was so contrived it made me glad I had finished the book, so I could hopefully do something to make up for the time I have lost reading it.

This one gets one star, which is one too many.

Crime On the Fens by Joy Ellis




A good read, worthy of one’s time…..   ***

Every good detective story has the same key elements – a detective who is great at their job yet is often at odds with the higher ups, a personal life that is in disarray for whatever reason, a good team of co-workers who admire the detective and will do what is necessary to help, and sometimes a pairing with a partner that is either strained or was forced on them.

Joy Ellis has written a novel that includes all of the above with just enough differences to make Crime On the Fens a good read. The female detective, Nikki Galena, is a hard driving, focused DI bent on avenging her daughter who is lying in a hospital, and bringing those responsible to justice. She is being forced to work with DS Joseph Easter, whose reputation is as questionable as her own. The team she assembles to solve the disappearance of a young girl consists of misfits in their own right.

Ellis wove the threads of the story with just enough twists to keep me turning the page, not so much as to what was going to happen but in how she was going to bring things together. As with any good series the ending leaves a teaser that does make you want to read the next book. It also suffers from the series weakness of when the main character is in jeopardy you know she will somehow survive because there is a next book.

Ellis has been compared to writers Rachel Abbott, Mel Sherratt, and Ruth Rendell. This last one may be stretching it, but I would add Ian Rankin to the list. Her DI Galena could be the female version of John Rebus, even down to the suspicious relationship with an underworld figure. Rebus had “Big Ger” Cafferty and Galena has Archie Leonard.

This is a good book, maybe not outstanding, but an average read worthy of one’s time.

This one gets three stars.