Category: Book Review

Graphic Novel Review: Jazz Age Chronicles, Volume 1

This black and white comic book collection features two stories set in the 1920s. Both feature Private Detective Ace Mifflin, a Boston-based Private Detective. He has many of the same vices as Sam Spade, but isn’t quite as good as Spade. Though he is good enough to get the job done in most cases.

In the first case, “The Case of the Beguiling Baroness,” Mifflin is hired to keep tabs on a baroness. A secret society is interested in her because of her dabbling in the black arts. When she dies, it’s just the start of the case. This one’s an intriguing mystery and a bit of a genre mash-up between a traditional private detective story and the strange tales featured in the Doc Savage and the Shadow pulp magazines. This one works okay, but Mifflin’s role in this is a bit confused. He’s out of his element, and the hero is supposed to be Clifton Jennings, who hired him. This one could have worked better.

The second case is, “Vote Early, Vote Often.” Mifflin gets in trouble, gets his license suspended, and runs into a whole lot of political corruption. All as he tries to help a friend get free of a murder charge. It’s a good noirish story with a neat mystery to unravel. Mifflin works far better in this story and he is in his element. Of the two tales in the book, I preferred this one more.

Overall, this is a decent graphic novel collection and a nice read if you’re a fan of 1920s’ detective and pulp fiction stories.

Rating: 3.75 out of 5

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A Look at Time Bomb with the Hardy Boys and Tom Swift

The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew have teamed up numerous times on television and in books. In 1992, the Hardy Boys crossed over with another long-time long-running literary franchise, Tom Swift. I read the first of these two crossovers, Time Bomb when it was first released. Recently, I spotted it in a thrift store and decided to give it another read to see if it lived up to my fond childhood memories.

Background:

The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew literary properties began to be published by Simon and Schuster in the late 1970s. In the late 1980s, the company launched the Nancy Drew files, and the Hardy Boys case files which offered readers a new book every month.

These were written for what the modern publishing world calls the young adult market. The original books were written for kids. The new series’ plotlines were clean but a bit more intense. For example, in the first Hardy Boys case file, Joe Hardy’s girlfriend killed in a terrorist car bombing.

This led the Hardy Boys, in addition to their typical mysteries, to serve as freelance operatives for the top-secret government organization known as the Network.

The books were successful, each series running for eleven years. In 1991, Simon and Schuster decided to launch another well-known juvenile fiction from a past generation in a similar series, Tom Swift.

In the 1990s series, Tom Swift Jr. was an eighteen-year-old inventor and the son of the founder of Swift Enterprises. He was constantly discovering and dealing with cutting-edge technology and facing a recurring enemy, the Black Dragon.

The Plot:

The Swift corporation tracks down the notes of a scientist who disappeared in the 1960s. Meanwhile, on an investigation with their father, they run into the scientist, alive and well, having traveled back in time from the 1960s.

However, both the Swifts and the Hardys are targeted by the Tom Swift, Jr.’s archenemy, the Black Dragon. He steals the Swifts’ nascent time-travel technology and tries to kidnap the scientist, and the Hardy boys’ father, Fenton, disappears. The Hardys mistakenly believe the Swifts are behind it. However, once the obligatory misunderstanding is sorted out, the Hardy Boys and Tom Swift join forces.

The Black Dragon plans to hold America hostage, giving the President a chance to either serve as a puppet ruler for the Black Dragon. If the President refuses, the Black Dragon will take an entire American city back in time so it lands on top of itself, destroying the city. And the only thing that can stop him? Three teenage boys.

The book feels much more like a Tom Swift book guest starring the Hardy Boys. Swift’s supporting cast plays a much more prominent role and the plot is very much science fiction with very little detective work to be done.

It’s a good time travel yarn with some interesting theoretical ideas and plot twists, but also a good deal of adventure. Swift and his talking robot, Rob, journey back to prehistoric times as part of their efforts to stop the Black Dragon, It’s easy to see why it was such a fun read for me when I was twelve. There’s a lot of really cool stuff in there.

That said, the story’s not without its flaws. Some of the dialogue is a bit cheesy. Like many books from this era, it was updated to connect with readers of this era, and now the book is a bit dated. In addition, the plot can be too cute for its own good.

For example, one character gets trapped back in time and writes a story about what happened in a pulp fiction magazine. He also writes a message to other characters that he has delivered to them in the 1990s, advising them to get a copy of the magazine. The Black Dragon finds out and is having every copy of the magazine stolen and sends his goons back in time to eliminate the character. This raises the question of why our time-stranded hero didn’t include a copy of the article in the envelope or just write them in the letter about what happened so he would be rescued without letting the bad guys know.

Still, despite the weaker plot points, this book was still fun to re-read. It offers 1990s nostalgia and a good time-travel story. If you like Tom Swift, or are curious to see the Hardy Boys in a different type of adventure, this book will be a worthwhile read.

Ratings: 3.5 out of 5.0

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Book Review: The Stones Cry Out


The Stones Cry Out by Sibella Giorello features FBI Geologist turned Rookie FBI field Agent Raleigh Harmon. She is assigned to a civil rights case in her hometown of Richmond, Virginia after a police detective and a black gym owner fall to their deaths in the middle of a rally led by the mayor. More than 200 people were present, but no one claims to have seen anything.

Her supervisor wants the case closed quickly and wants Raleigh and her over the hill partner, do the most perfunctory of investigations. Raleigh wants to get to the truth, but to do that she has to deal with a host of uncooperative witnesses and buried secrets.

This book does so much right. It creates a believable and relatable protagonist in Raleigh. She’s smart, dedicated to getting justice, and tenacious. She also has a complicated life. Rookie FBI agents rarely get assigned as close to home as she was but she has an ailing mother who is a bit eccentric and finds peace in regularly attending Pentecostal tent revivals.

Faith plays a role in her life and motivates her in her work, but author Sibella Giorello avoids her being preachy, pushy, or arrogant.

The book also does a very good job with its setting. There’s a clearly a great deal of appreciation and knowledge of Richmond that went into this book, but the description isn’t overwhelming as many books can be.

The investigation itself is well-handled. It shows the challenge the FBI often faces when assigned Civil Rights cases as their job is to get to the truth, yet they’re not trusted by people in the local community and they’re not welcomed by local police.

There’s also a good deal of forensic science in the book, particularly geology, being Raleigh’s specialty.

The book only has one major flaw and that is that the final third of the book really depends on Raleigh making a very stupid mistake and two random men who have nothing to do with the investigation assaulting her out of nowhere. While I suppose random things do happen, even to FBI Agents, it felt like the story slightly derailed even though it did eventually recover.

Overall, this is a well-written book with a great heroine. It’s a solid procedural with many interesting aspects to it, and this is one series I’d like to read more from.

Rating: 4.25 out of 5.0

The digital form of this book is available for free for the Kindle.

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Book Review: Mister Monk Goes to the Firehouse


Cause I think you’re gonna miss me when I’m gone.
-Lyrics from “When I’m Gone” from “Mr. Monk and the End.” by Randy Newman

True to the song, I’ve been missing Adrian Monk. Watching Elementary and it’s much more forced dynamic has made me appreciate Monk even more. It’s been nine years since his last new case aired on USA and there’s been no follow up TV movies or specials that many had hoped for, even with the proliferation of original streaming content in a world where there’s going to be a YouTube series “Kobra Kai” featuring Daniel LaRusso and Johnny Lawrence as adults. And we can’t get a Monk movie made?

However, Monk had adventures that were not on television, but rather in a series of novelizations. I reviewed one when I was first watching the series and thought it was okay, so I gladly picked up another one to get a much needed Monk fix.

The plot of this book was the basis of the TV episode, “Mr. Monk Can’t See a Thing” but this book stands on its own, particularly since the blindness plot isn’t used.

Mr. Monk’s apartment is being fumigated and he’s so OCD even 4-star hotels can’t meet his standards and a 5-star hotel is out because it’s an odd number. So desperate to end a series of embarrassing and tedious visits to hotel rooms, his assistant Natalie Teager invites Monk to stay with her and he agrees before realizing what she’s saying.

At Natalie’s house, Monk finds Natalie’s daughter Julie wants to hire him to investigate the case of firehouse dog who was murdered while the firefighters were out fighting a blaze in the neighborhood. Mr. Monk visits the scene of the fire, where an elderly woman died. The police assumed it was an accident, but Monk proves it murder. So he’s soon investigating the killing of the woman as well as the dog.

This is a pretty solid book. The mystery’s nice and involved with lots of texture, twists, and features, as well as a few nice side mysteries for Monk to solve along the way. It’s also a case that doesn’t end when Monk knows who “the guy” is as he has to put in a lot of work to prove it.

The overall story is pretty well-balanced. There’s some really good humor that captures Mr. Monk’s OCD nature, such as when he deals with Natalie’s cracked dishes by throwing them all out. Yet, it also captures the more endearing aspect of him such as Mr. Monk’s childlike joy at arriving at the firehouse. Reactions to Monk vary from kind tolerance and respect to the rude, disrespectful annoyance from impatient people in a hurry.

There are also some good side characters in the story such as the very lovable Firefighter Joe.

The book is told from Natalie’s point of view, which means we don’t get to see Monk interacting on his own with characters such as his therapist Dr. Kroger. Natalie is a very empathetic person and that helps readers connect with the story. Probably the biggest downside to Natalie as she’s written is that she editorializes everything and could go off on tangents. Thankfully there aren’t too many of those.

Overall, this is an enjoyable book for those wanting a good Monk fix.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

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Book Review: The Uncomplaining Corpses

The Uncomplaining Corpses is the third Michael Shayne novel and finds him having married the nineteen-year-old Phyllis he’d helped in the previous two novels. A rich man asks him to send a man to steal his wife’s jewel case in exchange for a thousand dollars that will be inside the case, so the rich man can keep the jewels and collect the insurance money. Shayne isn’t interested in participating in insurance fraud, but an ex-con needing money comes by. Shayne has the idea of sending the ex-con out to steal the $1000 without taking the jewel case, thus ripping off the unscrupulous rich man.

However, things go horribly wrong. The ex-con is shot by the husband who claims he found him standing over his wife’s body. Now Shayne’s license is at risk and to save it he has to find the killer.

While I thought in the first Shayne book, Halliday was trying to create a knock off of Sam Spade, this feels like a different spin on the Thin Man. Halliday is pretty effective. Phyllis is likable and precocious and willing to do what it takes to get her husband, including putting herself in harms way, perfectly consistent with the way she was written in the previous book. Shayne is perfectly relatable as a newly married man getting accustomed to married life and happy with his life. He’s not a caricature nor does he have that, “Newlywed but steadfastly refusing to be happy” feeling of Philip Marlowe in Poodle Springs. The book also has some fun moments and zaniness in the solution.

However, the book’s failing is that it’s cast of suspects are completely forgettable stock characters. The mystery is not one of Shayne’s smartest, and Shayne behaves too much like a cartoon, particularly when he’s manhandling the Miami Chief of Police Peter Painter.

Still, this is an enjoyable little mystery that, despite its failings, offers a satisfying conclusion.

Rating: 3.25 out of 5.0

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