Category: Book Review

Graphic Novel Review: The Prisoner: The Uncertainty Machine

The Prisioner, Volume 1:The Uncertainity Machine collects Titan’s four-issue Prisoner mini-series . Set in modern times, an MI-5 agent resigns in disgust when his partner (and romantic interest) is left behind on a mission in the Middle East and he finds himself captured and taken to the Village.

There’s some good things to say about the book and most of it has to do with the art. The art is pretty good throughout, with some really nice high points. The big two-page spread when our hero wakes up in the Village is spectacular. The writing isn’t bad. Each individual chapter throws our hero and the readers for a new loop, so there’s cleverness behind these stories.

What doesn’t work is  the big picture stuff. What writer Peter Milligan really fails to capture with the Village is the dissonance of it. In the TV show, it was a place that appeared to be the most pleasant place you can imagine, but it was contrasted by a sinister secret. In addition, the nice feel of the Village is designed to make it easy and comfortable to turn traitor. In this book, the Village never tries to make itself seem alluring. Instead, it’s full of people who do nasty things while wearing 50-year-old clothes for no good reason.

In addition, the book’s explanation of who is Number 1 is not only nihilistic, it’s also a bit daft. Overall, if you’re looking for a psychological spy thriller comic, this is not a bad one to read. However, as a comic book take on the Prisoner, it leaves a lot to be desired.

Rating: 3.0 out of 5.0

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Book Review: Body Under the Bridge


Paul McCusker’s Father Gilbert was the lead character in a series of radio plays for Focus on the Family’s Radio Theater. McCusker brings the character back in the novel, “Body Under the Bridge.”

“Body Under the Bridge” has a stunning opening as Father Gilbert confronts a man who’s about to jump off the roof of Gilbert’s church. The man jumps, leaving an object behind. However, Gilbert finds out no one saw the man in the church, and he was committing suicide by another method somewhere else. However, Gilbert still has the object. At the same time, a long-dead body is found at the site of a contentious construction project.

Overall, McCusker’s written a strong mystery. He’s woven an intricate narrative going back hundreds of years, with a complicated web of dark secrets that’s ensnared many of the town’s  inhabitants. The story has a lot of well-done atmospheric moments that increase the tension.

We introduced to a slew of characters, most of whom are likely suspects, and we never quite know who to trust besides Gilbert. The story has several great twists and never drags for a moment. Gilbert is well-written and is believable both as an ex-cop and as a priest.

The reader should be aware this story leans more to the supernatural stories Father Gilbert appeared in such as, “Dead Air,” and does have some disturbing sequences. However, it does mostly steer clear of the melodrama around Gilbert’s family life that  hurt later episodes of the series.

For fans of the original series, this book is a much-welcomed addition to the Father Gilbert canon. If you like detective stories with a supernatural twist, you can also enjoy the book even if you’ve never heard the radio series.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

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Audiobook Review: Black Mask 2: Murder is Bad Luck and Other Stories

This second audiobook of the Black Mask books features five stories from the legendary pulp detective magazine.

“Ten Carats of Lead” by Stewart Sterling

A cop on the pawnshop detail tries to solve the murder of a fellow officer in the same department while keeping things from the homicide boys. It gives the story an emotional angle. The story’s helped by Alan Sklar’s deep resonant narration. There are a couple plot twists that don’t quite work, but it’s an enjoyable ride.

“Murder is Bad Luck” by Wyatt Blassingame

An ex-Jockey turned race track cop is caught in the middle of a murder investigation. The story is set in New Orleans and has a good sense of atmosphere. The weird thing about this one is our hero’s obsession with the exact ingredients of any drink mentioned.

“Her Dagger Before Me” by Talmadge Powell

Private investigator Lloyd Carter stumbles into a murder in Tampa. The story is very well-told and moves at a solid pace with a surprising solution.

“One Shot” by Charles Booth

A man enters a house in search of a collectible he wanted to buy. Instead, he finds the seller dead. The only suspect is the man’s beautiful niece. This tale is a true short story as opposed to the others, which feel like Novella-length. The romance that develops between Booth’s hero and the female suspect is more abrupt than most musicals. However, he has to find out if she’s killer, and if not, how can they explain her uncle’s death.

“The Dancing Hats” by Richard Sale.

In this World War II story, the doctor of a Hawaiian leper colony is summoned to the military base by an officer. The officer warns they have 48 hours to save the island from a disaster that will wipe out most of the inhabitants. This great story combines espionage with a medical thriller wrapped in a typical detective story. Narrator Jeff Gurner does a great job bringing all the characters to life. The conclusion of the story was sad but well reflected the hard decisions people had to make during the war.

Before each story we get a short mini-bio of the writer, which adds value to a strong collection.

Overall, this audiobook is outstanding. We get five different stories with five different styles. Three of the stories are set outside of the main cities that dominated the Golden Age. This is a well-curated series that manages to offer samples of some talented, yet mostly forgotten writers of the era. The narrators are generally solid and two or three were superb. If you like mysteries from this era and want to discover a few new gems, this collection is for you.

Rating: 4.25 out of 5

The twelve existing episodes of the Johnson’s Wax program are available for free online here.

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Book Review: Tickets for Death


In Tickets for Death, Michael Shayne is called in to investigate counterfeit race track tickets at a small town outside of Miami. He and his wife Phyllis drive to a hotel. Before he can even get started investigating, he has to kill two thugs in self-defense.

This is a generally solid early Michael Shayne story. The story moves at a great pace, and we are given quite a bit of two-fisted action and a complex mystery with many clues as well as quite a few red herrings.

The only negative is that this novel continues his over-the-top playing fast and loose with the police and evidence. I  thought that writer Brett Halliday had reached the point of reigning in how irresponsible he wrote Shayne as being until the last couple chapters, where he does the most egregious thing I’ve ever read Shayne do.

Despite that, this is a fun read. By no means is it a great novel, but if you’re looking for a detective story from the 1940s with a hard-boiled bent, this one will certainly do the trick.

Rating:3.5 out of 5

 

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Book Review: The Rivers Run Dry


FBI Agent Raleigh Harmon has been re-assigned to the bureau’s Seattle office as punishment for almost getting herself killed while not following orders on the case she solved in Stones Cry Out.

She finds herself a constant target for work no one else wants, including performing the unpleasant task of informing the well-connected family of a missing woman that the FBI can do nothing about the disappearance of her daughter and that the case belongs in the hands of local police until it’s clear a kidnapping has occurred. As new evidence emerges, Raleigh begins an investigation to find the missing young woman and rescue her from the hands of a dangerous kidnapper.

After a strong story, in Stones Cry Out, Sibell Giorello’s second Raleigh Harmon book is if anything, stronger than the first. Sibella is effective at capturing the quirkiness of Seattle and the beauty of Eastern Washington in this story, as she was at conjuring up the rich history and atmosphere of Richmond.

The characters are well-written and believable. Raleigh’s personal life takes a turn as her mother follows her to Seattle, with Raleigh still trying to hide the fact she works for the FBI from her mom. Both move in with Raleigh’s new agey Aunt Charlotte who tries to help Raleigh keep her secret while creating complications like trying to enlist a psychic to help Raleigh with her case.

The mystery is solidly structured, with a realistic procedural feel to most of the story. Raleigh’s background in geology and soil analysis is used frequently without becoming dry. There’s a good suspense throughout and a lot of different suspects as well as a few red herrings. If I had any complaint, it was about how the identity of the kidnapper was uncovered as it’s a bit weak as Raleigh does not get to catch him.

Still, I enjoyed this second book and will definitely read the third.

Rating: 4.25 out of 5

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