Sunday, January 11, 2015

Die Again by Tess Gerritsen

Description: Detective Jane Rizzoli and medical examiner Maura Isles are back—and they’re going into the wild to find a killer. Die Again is the latest heart-pounding thriller in Tess Gerritsen’s bestselling series, the inspiration behind TNT’s hit show Rizzoli & Isles.
When Boston homicide detective Jane Rizzoli and medical examiner Maura Isles are summoned to a crime scene, they find a killing worthy of the most ferocious beast—right down to the claw marks on the corpse. But only the most sinister human hands could have left renowned big-game hunter and taxidermist Leon Gott gruesomely displayed like the once-proud animals whose heads adorn his walls. Did Gott unwittingly awaken a predator more dangerous than any he’s ever hunted?

Maura fears that this isn’t the killer’s first slaughter, and that it won’t be the last. After linking the crime to a series of unsolved homicides in wilderness areas across the country, she wonders if the answers might actually be found in a remote corner of Africa.

Six years earlier, a group of tourists on safari fell prey to a killer in their midst. Marooned deep in the bush of Botswana, with no means of communication and nothing but a rifle-toting guide for protection, the terrified tourists desperately hoped for rescue before their worst instincts—or the wild animals prowling in the shadows—could tear them apart. But the deadliest predator was already among them, and within a week, he walked away with the blood of all but one of them on his hands.

Now this killer has chosen Boston as his new hunting ground, and Rizzoli and Isles must find a way to lure him out of the shadows and into a cage. Even if it means dangling the bait no hunter can resist: the one victim who got away.

Tess Gerritsen is a talented writer with a long history of success and her latest Rizzoli & Isles book, Die Again, proves she remains at the top of her game.  Die Again takes you on a ride from Boston to Botswana and keeps you guessing the entire way.

Rizzoli and Isles are established characters both in print and on television. While I’m familiar with some of Gerritsen’s stand alone work, this was my first Rizzoli and Isles story.  Gerritsen does a good job of painting her characters so that you feel like you know them whether you’ve followed them from the beginning or are meeting them for the first time.

Along with a strong cast of characters, the story really shines here.  A gruesome murder that leaves a big game hunter and taxidermist displayed like one of his own projects is the entry point to the mystery. As the investigation begins and further bodies are uncovered, ties to a safari gone horribly wrong years earlier in Botswana begin to develop. Rizzoli and Isles bring their respective skills as a detective and a pathologist to bear developing leads that seem to take one step backwards for every two steps forward.

Gerritsen does a great job of keeping both the Boston and the Botswana storylines exciting and terrifying. She also keeps the reader doubting his or her own conclusions much like the doubt that Rizzoli and Isles feel from their colleagues and each other.  Personal drama in each of their lives adds further stress to the situation. Events build steadily towards an exciting and satisfying conclusion.  Strong characters, great development and intricate and exciting storytelling all come together into a terrific book.  Die Again will please current fans as well as win new ones.  Great read.  Highly recommended.

I was fortunate to receive an advance copy of this book.

The Galaxy Game by Karen Lord

Description: On the verge of adulthood, Rafi attends the Lyceum, a school for the psionically gifted. Rafi possesses mental abilities that might benefit people . . . or control them. Some wish to help Rafi wield his powers responsibly―others see him as a threat to be contained. Rafi’s only freedom at the Lyceum is Wallrunning: a game of speed and agility played on vast vertical surfaces riddled with variable gravity fields.

Serendipity and Ntenman are also students at the Lyceum, but unlike Rafi they come from communities where such abilities are valued. Serendipity finds the Lyceum as much a prison as a school, and she yearns for a meaningful life beyond its gates. Ntenman, with his quick tongue, quicker mind, and a willingness to bend if not break the rules, has no problem fitting in. But he too has his reasons for wanting to escape.

This is a galaxy-spanning story with a fascinating cast of characters, futuristic sports and psychic powers.

The Galaxy Game by Karen Lord is a fascinating book about culture, politics, fear and a game that illustrates the intersection of all of these things.  This is a well-defined and complicated galaxy.  The interactions between the various worlds and the cultures that sprang from them are not easy to digest and the story requires a close rather than a casual reading.

The story centers primarily around Rafi, a psionically gifted student whose abilities are viewed variously as something to be exploited or something to be feared, both by others and by himself.  Rafi and his friends, Ntenman and Serendipity are all anxious to leave the Lyceum, the school attempting both to help Rafi understand and control his gift and to assess the danger he poses. Rafi and Ntenman sneak off planet to the world of Punartam, where Rafi must learn a whole new way of social interaction as well as develop his skills in the game of Wallrunning.

Karen Lord is obviously an extremely talented writer and The Galaxy Game is full of intriguing ideas and well-thought out political interactions with realistic consequences and developments. Wallrunning is a complex game requiring both skill and strategy.  It serves as a foil for the political games going on within this universe. I wish the game itself had been better described and illustrated.  As it is, the skills necessary for the game are fairly well-covered, but how the game is played as well as its objectives remain murky.  Perhaps that is what was intended, but it felt lacking.

The societies in The Galaxy Game are uniformly fascinating and the constant maneuvering for position both for the present and the future make for a great read. When sudden and violent upheaval occurs, the pieces that have been maneuvered into place throughout the story suddenly come to life and take the story in new and interesting directions.

This is an entertaining story filled with well-executed and complicated ideas.  There is a lot to explore in this world and it invites a close reading and rereading.  The Galaxy Game is thoughtful science fiction and well worth the read.  Highly recommended.

I was fortunate to receive an advance copy of this book.

Dead World Resurrection by Joe McKinney

Description: A decade ago, if you’d walked into a bookstore looking for a zombie novel, you would have found only two: Brian Keene’s The Rising and Joe McKinney’s Dead City. Long recognized as one of the driving voices that launched the world’s fascination with the living dead, Joe McKinney’s Dead World novels have emerged as seminal works in the Horror genre.

Now, collected for the first time in Dead World Resurrection, are all of Joe McKinney’s zombie short stories. Here you’ll not only find tales that provide invaluable links between the various Dead World novels, such as “Ethical Solution,” “Dating in Dead World,” and the award-winning story “Survivors,” but also nightmare glimpses into other post-apocalyptic worlds told in the inimitable Joe McKinney fashion. From the bleak political satire of “State of the Union” to the historical vignettes of “Starvation Army” and “Paradise of the Living Dead,” this collection features the full range of McKinney’s horrific mastery of the living dead.

The zombie has grown up since Joe McKinney first penned Dead City, yet he has continued to stand out among the throng of voices telling tales of the undead. Dead World Resurrection shows why.

I love a good zombie story told well.  I don’t read a ton of them and a lot of them are simply not very good.  The best stories recognize that it’s the other characters that are the key and zombies are just part of the background or the landscape.  Joe McKinney is a good writer and Dead World Resurrection is a great collection of short stories.  

The stories in this collection are largely set in McKinney’s Dead World.  Some are more directly tethered there and a couple are completely untethered from the setting.  I expect more unevenness from a short story collection, but Dead World Resurrection is uniformly good.  Very good. Two or three of the stories are slightly disappointing. “Bug Out or Hunker Down” is more of a musing of what you would do in a real crisis.  “Sabbatical in the Ohio Methlands” is also sort of a philosophical tale that strays a little closer to reality. “Two-and-a-Half-Graves” likewise is more of a personal tale. While these stories are a little weaker than the rest of the collection, none of them are really clunkers and all are well written.

“Jimmy Finder” is a great zombies versus robots story. “Dating in a Dead World”, “The Day the Music Died”, and “Ethical Solution” were among the standouts in the rest of a great collection.

Joe McKinney was one of the authors at the forefront of the more recent rise of zombie popularity and he remains one of the best.  He understands that you can’t tell a good zombie story without a good story.  He creates characters you care about.  His characters are challenged physically, mentally, emotionally and morally.  It’s the character journey, not just the exciting plots and action scenes, that make these stories stand out.

Not all writers are adept at both the long-form novel and the short story, but McKinney clearly proves he is a master of the latter in Dead World Resurrection.  This is a great collection both for fans of the series as well as a great entry for those unfamiliar with it.  Highly recommended.

I was fortunate to receive an advance copy of this book.