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Review: Desolation Mountain

Cork O’Connor and his family are back in Desolation Mountain, the newest release in the series by William Kent Kreuger. A plane carrying a senator and her family goes down in Tamarack County. Cork and son Stephen – who has had the same, recurring vision about an eagle being shot out of the sky by a young boy and an egg falling from it – end up at the crash scene. Various locals, including two tribe members who were the first to report seeing the plane go down, and Sheriff Marsha Dross and her people are at scene, but told to either go home (in the case of the locals) or back to their station (in the case of the local law enforcement). The official government entities, spooky quasi-government entities, and a private investigator known to Cork but with a hidden agenda are all present. Then the locals who were at the scene start vanishing and Cork realizes there’s more afoot than meets the eye. He, Stephen, his son-in-law Daniel, and some other men start their own investigation, racing to find the truth and the abducted locals.

I’ve noticed of late that a number of the books I’ve read seem to be written with an eye toward the big screen. I don’t know if it’s just me or that really is the case, but this seemed to be yet another one, in my eyes. A convoluted story, a bunch of characters, spooky military people: it could easily be adapted for the screen.

At stake in the book is the reopening of an iron mine in the area, with half the locals against it for the obvious environmental reasons, and the other half in favor for the obvious economic reasons. It’s clear that Very Big Interests want it opened, and that’s probably why the plane was shot down.

But none of it makes sense – except Stephen’s recurring vision, which he relates to Henry, the Ojibwe midi who is his mentor. I’m going to put the next part in spoilers.

 

HERE THERE BE SPOILERS…

 

The vision opened the book, and as soon as the plane went down, I connected the dots. It wasn’t particularly difficult to understand the egg was the flight recorder and the boy an actual boy who witnessed it. It was, as usual, nice to watch Cork & Co. run around, putting everything together, getting into run-ins with the military people, etc., but it wasn’t as an immersive experience as previous books have been.

It also strains credulity to think the media, both domestic and foreign, whouldn’t have been all over this event. But in the book, you’d think they barely existed: they weren’t crawling all over the mountains, they weren’t camped out in a situation room set up by the local SO or FBI or NTSB. Nothing. In addition, the cheesy, mean, mission-centered military guy and his equally rigid and seemingly psychopathic bitch of a second in command were just over the top.

And that bitch brings up another issue I’ve also been noticing more lately: in books like this, or Steve Hamilton’s Dead Man Running, the women are not characters in the same sense that Cork (in this instance) is: they exist to be ball-breaking parodies of their tough guy male counterparts, or victims of crimes, or to hang around and do things like cook meals or take care of people, or as a means to give information so the author doesn’t have to info dump. This book has them all. It doesn’t bother me in the sense of “I’ll never read another book by this author” way, but it does bug me. And there was no mention at all (not that I recall) of Cork’s other daughter. Not even a call after seeing the news?

I’ve been wondering when Kreuger was going to kill off Henry, and I suppose the ending of this book means that will be coming sooner rather than later. That’s too bad, as he’s become such an essential part of these stories that I’m not certain they can be as good as they are without him in them as a grounding point.

 

END OF SPOILERS…

Overall, if you’ve read to #16, you’ll read this on at #17 – it’s almost an inevitability if you’re anything like me. Perhaps you’ll like it more than I did, and I hope you do.

Moderately recommended.

Review: Dead Man Running

I’m going to be in the minority here, but I really did not enjoy this book.

It is a bit of a departure for Alex McKnight, heading out of Paradise, MN because a serial killer wants to talk to him – a serial killer unknown to him either by sight or name. Martin Livermore promises to lead the FBI and local authorities to proof of his crimes, but only if Alex McKnight is there. Once there, it’s clear that while Alex does not know Livermore, Livermore knows plenty about him, from his minor league baseball days to his work as a Detroit cop and the incident that caused him to leave the force and return to Paradise.

OK, that’s fine – sometimes you have to go along with the premise to get into the story. Sometimes it pays off. This time, however, it did not.

Probably spoilers ahead, so….

HERE BE SPOILERS

That investigators get in deep with criminals of all sorts is not a newsflash. But this one simply became more and more unbelievable as the book went along. There are also some of the usual cliches/tropes, which we’ll get into.

Livermore leads various law enforcement personnel (and Alex) into the desert in Arizona, and subsequently through what amounts to a small canyon. Alex has his doubts about the whole thing, but of course, the FBI guys say they have to go through with it, even if they are still suspicious that Alex knows something about Livermore when he says he doesn’t.

The team gets shredded by armaments Livermore has embedded into the wall of the small passageway/canyon thing. But not Alex. Just before everything fires, he’s taken to the ground by one of the FBI agents because Livermore stops, turns around, and looks at him. Said look apparently is enough for the suspicious FBI agent, who effectively saves his life, taking him out of the line of fire, while getting killed himself.

We then go on to hit all the usual tropes: Alex goes to the scenes of the various killings, picks up on and interprets the supersmart killer’s codes or symbols, supersmart killer playing not just the long game, but the looooong game, having picked out Alex as his ultimate target years ago because of something that happened decades ago, bringing back Alex’s ex-wife into the picture to act as bait, etc.

Speaking of the ex-wife, the whole book is devoid of women except as victims in the main story. They are either already dead, killed while the supersmart killer plants clues for Alex to follow so Alex ends up either tripping a napalm(!) trap that kills one woman or sleeping in a room below where supersmart killer has merrily drilled through the floor above Alex’s hotel room so he gets covered in the woman’s blood as supersmart killer tortures and kills her, or a current victim (the ex-wife).

From the outset, it was difficult to put aside disbelief. As each woman dies, or after Alex stumbles across another clue, it got harder and harder.

Alex is also not himself in this book, compared to all the previous ones. In this one, he’s laser -focused on tracking down the killer. That’s fine, and would be completely believable if he wasn’t such a bumbler without a lick of sense at times, which is how he is in all the previous books. He does get shot at and injured a couple of times here, so at least that is somewhat in tune with the previous books, but that isn’t enough. Here, Alex is dour, and apparently able to grasp the psyche of a serial killer he’s never met and knows nothing about, unlike the FBI, who can’t seem to figure things out if he isn’t there.

The end: let’s talk about that. I know people get obsessed by things or people. But getting obsessed with a person you met, once, decades ago, barely spoke to? That’s the connection between Livermore and Alex: he’s pissed off because Alex married Jeannie, claiming Alex “stole” her because she wasn’t immediately enamored by Livermore when he spoke a few words to her when they were thirteen and she was sitting on the dock at her grandparent’s house. That’s is – that’s the “twist”, such as it is.

Livermore abducts Jeannie, ties her up n an elaborate fashion. Alex shows up, and instead of taking appropriate precautions, knowing what he’s dealing with, just walks right into the Livermore house. He gets knocked out and then handcuffed to a sink via the plumbing under it. Livermore, of course, plans all sorts of tortuous things for Jeannine when she doesn’t act the way he wants. Conveniently, he leaves Alex handcuffed to the sink and takes her down to the basement, where he stores the bodies and bones of his victims.

Naturally, Alex manages to get loose, stumbles down to the basement, and thanks to help from Jeannie, who manages, somehow, to stab Livermore in the back just as he’s about to kill Alex, strangles Livermore with the handcuff chain as he turns to Jeannine, the knife sticking out of his back.

END SPOILERS

And that’s it. That’s the end. Alex goes back to Paradise, fields a call or two from Jeannie. I suppose this means she’ll be popping up in another book. If she does, her fate will probably not be a good one.

This book had none of the humor of the previous books in this series. It started dark and got darker, and the usual characters only make an appearance in the beginning and at the end. We’re left with a completely different Alex hauling himself around chasing a serial killer who is, of course, smarter than anyone else, ever, and leaves no forensics except those he intends to leave.

Not recommended, unless you always read every book in a series.

When editors retire

And can’t quite leave their job behind. At least that’s what I’m assuming based on the pages of David Drake’s Servant of the Dragon paperback that mom and the younger bro brought back when they went to drop stuff off at the thrift store as we declutter some things around the homestead.

Now, I will not be reading this book; I’ve read some of Drake’s military SF in the past – the Hammer’s Slammers series, if you know of them – but I couldn’t get into others, for whatever reason.

So why am I talking about this book?

This is why.

The entire book is marked up this way, with pointers to pages where the current POV (point of view) character’s tale picks up again, to underlines of “like”, to the “red” markings for past tense verbs.  From time to time, I’d find a notation of “M=x” at the top of a page. It wasn’t until I happened on the third one that I realized the Nameless Editor was counting the number of times Drake used the word “mumurred”. It just so happens that this word also counts as a “red”, ending as it does in “red”. The Nameless Editor also found instances of “red” backwards – appearing as “der” in a word – and alliterative sentences

the marking for one of which looked like something from The Lord of the Rings:

Nameless Editor also picked up continuity errors:

Nameless Editor also noted repeated word use on a single page. Fittingly, this one tied into the “red” obsession, being another color.

He – I’m assuming Nameless Editor is a he – made notes of other repeated usage, like a character’s quarterstaff being “seven feet long” and another “tall thing” being seven feet tall:

He also inserted some commentary about where young, giggling girls should be put in relation to the book.

I’ll comment here and note that page 613 isn’t a page: it’s the inside of the back cover. Nameless Editor has a sense of humor.

After going through the entire book, Nameless Editor had this to say:

I’m not wading through the verify that count, but based on the number of pages that have been marked in some fashion, I’m guessing it’s pretty accurate.

I have no idea who Nameless Editor is, but he surely amused me by doing this.

Until next time, peeps: be well.