Friday, August 15, 2014

The Dead Room

The Dead Room
by Robert Ellis

Publisher's Blurb:
A young woman has been found, brutally murdered and left on gruesome display in the "safety" of her own home. The atrocity kicks off an investigation into a bizarre string of increasingly disturbing murders, all believed to be perpetrated by someone of unprecedented savagery and cunning.

As the city's panic rises, civil attorney Teddy Mack is thrown headlong into the grisly homicide case—and into a world of dirty politics and corrupt justice, where deceptions are as deadly as a killer's twisted secrets. Now, another woman is about to meet the same horrific fate as the others. To end a madman's reign, Teddy must enter his maze—a place of unimaginable terror…and shocking revelations.

With his second thriller, and more than 375 FIVE STAR Amazon reviews, L.A. Times bestselling author Robert Ellis delivers an explosive read with full-blown characters, a world stacked with twists and turns, and an emotional intensity that burns white hot.

My Reaction: 

This is one of those books that I find difficult to judge.  On one hand, it certainly wasn't one of the worst books I'd ever read.  Competently written.  Not a ton of typos.  Everything more or less makes sense-- or, well, is explained-- by the end of the book.  It even goes beyond the "usual fare" of the genre and tries to make you think.  But... I simply didn't really enjoy the reading-- not to the point that I'd recommend it to a random reader.  (For someone who can't get enough of legal thrillers, yes, I'd recommend it.)  For whatever reason, I never particularly liked the main character, and it felt like it took me forever to make any progress in the book.  I wanted to finish it, but I didn't want to read it, if you know what I mean.

Specific Comments (with SPOILERS):
--In his foreword, the author indicates that he selected Philadelphia as his setting because it's just sooo schmancy-- "the style of the city, its relationship with art and history and its European feel"-- even though (according to him), "of all the cities that could have been chosen, Philadelphia is perhaps the least likely place this story could have occurred".    ...Now, my question is this: What, exactly, is so unlikely to have happened in Philadelphia?  I assume he means the corruption in the DA's office/law enforcement/politicians?  Honestly, I'm not sure.  Is Philadelphia supposed to be especially uncorrupted?  No offense, but I doubt it's entirely without corruption, just like any other place.  In any case, the foreword felt odd.

--Our "hero's" name is Teddy Mack.  Teddy?  I always feel obliged to make excuses for myself when I-- of all people-- dare to nit-pick over character names, but "Teddy"?  The only other Teddy I can think of at the moment (beyond Teddy Ruxpin) is Teddy Kent (from L.M. Montgomery's Emily series).  Teddy Kent is one of the milquetoastiest, wishy-washiest, unheroic romantic heroes ever.  Such a disappointment.

--And the serial killer's name is Eddie Trisco!  Incidentally, Eddie is another name I dislike.  (I knew an Eddie in school.  The less said about him, the better.)  But the odd part (imho) is "Trisco".  Is that an actual surname? (Looked it up.  It's rare, but there are "dozens" in the U.S.)  Anyway, the name makes me think of Nabisco Triscuits.  ...Probably just me.

--For 2002, Teddy Mack does an awful lot of smoking.  Which, I mean, that's his business, but it's mentioned very frequently.  Also, on at least a few occasions, he flicks a cigarette butt out into his surroundings.  As I understand it, that's littering.  And yet this is a character who is so obnoxiously self-righteous regarding suburban sprawl and the destruction of the natural beauty of the landscape.  An odd contradiction, imho.

--"He looked across the street [from the farmhouse home he shares with his mother] where the open fields had been eaten up by one housing development after the next just as his father had said they would.  The big houses were set down in haphazard clusters as if the result of a tornado, the architecture cheap and grotesque.  Even worse, none of the people who lived in these homes believed in planting trees.  Instead they preferred the open look, marring the once pastoral setting with a show of money and turning the rolling hills into a garish eyesore.  To Teddy, the layout reminded him of a graveyard."

...Oh, come on.  I don't love housing developments, either-- and I do love trees and natural beauty-- but Teddy rubs me the wrong way.  What does he propose should happen instead?  (Seriously, what is the alternative he would suggest?)  Have people live in apartment buildings?  Spread out the dwellings, so that the view is preserved, but some people have an even longer commute?  What? 

...And as for the "cheap" and "grotesque" architecture-- sorry, Teddy, but you don't get to choose what people's houses look like.  Good grief!  I don't like the way a lot of buildings look, either, but it's just a fact of life.  I also don't like the way some people dress, but in the end, as long as they're within the realm of decency, there's nothing I can do about it-- and that's as it should be.  Besides, who should get to decide the architecture of someone's home if not the person building/buying that home?! 

--There were a few technical errors.  This one was especially egregious:  "grunt and grown"!  Ha ha ha!  Yeah, that one really made me "grown".  Then someone "glanced at the Trisco's house".  No, there's not someone known as "the Trisco", so it should've been "the Triscos' house", because multiple Triscos live there.  (Multiple little animated Nabisco Triscuits with faces and stick-figure arms and legs drawn on them... Only they're EVIL Triscuits, and one of them is a serial killer.)

--"Mace had never bothered Eddie particularly.  For the life of him, he didn't know why."  Well, that's weird. 

--Nash and Teddy discover that there's a serial killer with a definite "type".  So the police haven't noticed 10+ young women going missing-- over the course of about a year-- who look similar enough to be sisters?  Seems doubtful.  Even in a large city, don't they keep photos of the missing on a wall or something where you'd see them all at one time?  If they were really so similar, it seems strange that someone wouldn't have noticed-- maybe a family member of one of the missing women.

--"Teddy had wondered why fifty works of art were on display in the main meeting room at Curran-Fromhold Prison and asked the assistant warden about it on his way out the other night.  They were part of the one percent rule maintained by the city.  ... If you were planning to build within the city limits, then one percent of your construction budget had to be designated for public art no matter what the amount.  The one percent rule had transformed the city.  Apparently, there weren't any exceptions."  ...Yay, more ugly modern sculptures plopped down in front of buildings.  Seriously, though, how many people like those things?  Forcing people to commission art... hm.

--At one point, Teddy (lawyer for the defense) and the DA/ADA observe an autopsy.  Does this really happen?  I thought the Medical Examiner (or whatever the title is) did that alone, then submitted a report-- or the lawyers/investigators could come talk with the ME after the autopsy.  But that's probably based on what I've seen in TV shows and movies; I don't know how it works in Real Life.

--Teddy's little romance/fling with Carolyn Powell... is pointless, really.  Why was it even in the book, since we learn at the end that the relationship doesn't last?  Just there to complicate things?  To add another layer?  To sex up the story, because that's how things are done?  I can't respect a character who hops into bed with someone s/he barely knows for a one-time thing.  (Or maybe it's just that I don't like Teddy...)

--Twice (I think) Teddy refers to the "scent of Carolyn Powell's sex".  I loathe that turn of phrase.  There has to be a better way to get the point across, if it must be mentioned at all.  It's just-- yuck.

--"It settled in with the subtlety of a death ray."  ...Um, what?  I didn't know that "death rays" were particularly subtle... In the old sci-fi movies, didn't death rays usually make a humming noise and look like a giant, glowing laser beam?  Never heard of a silent, invisible, or otherwise subtle death ray before.

--Good grief, author!  Yes!  YES, we GET IT!  You named the shady detective "Michael Jackson"!  So very clever and humorous of you!  And yes, we know that's who you mean when you re-introduce the character into the story.  You don't have to point out that it's Michael Jackson the detective you mean-- "not the dancer".  Augh!  ...At least three or four times we get something like this: "Michael Jackson got out, not the dancer but the detective with tired legs and an old gun who'd worked with the DA since Andrews got rolling."  Is the author trying to be funny with this whole thing? Because if so, I suggest that in future he stay away from comedy.  Also, who would define Michael Jackson as a dancer rather than a singer?  Sure, he danced, too, but wouldn't you describe him as a singer first?  Weird.

--Someone describes the effect of an overdose of some drug (Ecstasy? Speed? can't recall) upon a person's body: "Steam would have been venting from her body.  Her internal organs would've felt hot to the touch."  Is that true?  I can easily believe that internal organs might feel hot, but steam venting from the body?

--So... Eddie Trisco is described by the profiler as an animal.  He's whacked-out on drugs half the time.  He has extreme mental illness.  A delusional druggie.  And yet he reads the papers closely and well enough that he recognizes the ADA on sight and remembers the name of the DA.  He even remembers the law firm of the attorney representing Holmes!  I guess it's possible, but it seems unlikely.  (Of course, he's also an independently wealthy artiste.  I don't think the author was going for ultimate realism, here.)

--The Crazy Glue murder?  Horrific.  The most terrifying thing in the book, I think.

--"As Eddie dug into his pocket for his wallet, he noticed the Tootsie Pops stuffed into a jar beside a cigarette display.  Even better, they weren't out of grape pops.  Eddie had read somewhere that grapes were good for the cardiovascular system.  He tried to eat at least one grape flavored Tootsie Pop a day, but they were hard to find.  The word must have gotten out, he figured."  I had to laugh.  Does that mean I have a sick sense of humor, laughing at the bizarre logic of a deranged murderer?  (See, author?  This was much more amusing than the Michael Jackson bit.)

--Trisco's family: "Most of their individual contributions went to conservative candidates running for every type of office in the nation.  But the big money, some checks written for a million dollars or more, went directly to the national committee in Washington."  Well, of course the murderer's family is conservative.  Duh!

--At one point, both Trisco and Teddy, observing Teddy's mother, think of her as resembling an angel.  Ooooh, so deep.  So meaningful.  ...What are we supposed to get from that?

--More than once, Teddy thinks about the smell of Carolyn Powell's skin.  Ick.  Skin doesn't have much of a smell, on its own, in my experience.  Unless she's been using perfume or scented lotion-- or hasn't been using deodorant-- you'd need to have your nose shoved right up against her skin to smell anything, even if she does exude some sort of mystical Woman Smell.

--Twice Eddie Trisco's father is described as having "fangs".  *eyeroll*  I can't help but think of fangs popping out à la True Blood.

--When Teddy's car sinks through the ice and descends into the lake (man-made from a dam), he sees houses still standing on the lake's bottom.  Not only that, but he can see clearly enough to observe faces at the windows.  (Trisco has arranged the bodies of his victims down there, treating them as life-size dolls.)  Teddy even recognizes the faces of a couple of the women from missing persons posters!  Aside from the horror of the scene, all I could think was... Would you really be able to see that clearly at the bottom of a lake?  I recently read Westlake's Drowned Hopes, where lake turbidity plays a major role.  Maybe this particular lake, in this particular season is crystal clear, but I find it doubtful.  Convenient, though, since Teddy needs to discover those bodies.

--So Teddy sees Eddie Trisco's initials (E.T.) and starts thinking of him as "the extraterrestrial".  *violent eyeroll*  Worse, someone in the media catches onto the same idea, and soon that's Trisco's ridiculous nickname in the news.  (Everyone knows that serial killers need a catchy nickname in the news.  Ya know... Something spooky but also a little cute-- like "the Veggie Butcher". Helps sell papers.)

--While he's creeping around ol' E.T.'s house, Teddy repeatedly listens for the sirens of approaching police (because he told someone to call it in).  If the police know they're headed for the home of a suspected serial killer, would they really go in with sirens blaring?  I thought they'd try a sneak attack-- not give him advance warning so he could escape while they're still a few minutes down the road.

--Teddy (or maybe the author speaking through Teddy) seems to have little use for the female reporters he sees, cattily judging them without knowing anything about them other than how they dress and how they have their hair and makeup done.  "Maybe life was more important than reading what she was told to read before the cameras just for the money."  ..."Just for the money"?  What does that mean?  Lots of people do their jobs "just for the money".  Ideally you also get fulfillment in the job-- take a genuine interest in the work-- but there's nothing wrong with doing an honest job just for money, Teddy.  ...Ugh, Teddy.  Can't stand that guy...

--And then there's the end...  I don't know... I guess I give the author credit for really trying, in the plot and twist department, but what was with that ending?  Eddie Trisco was a psychotic murderer.  The DA was a total jerk who'd do practically anything to advance his political career.  And now Teddy discovers that his beloved mentor, Nash, who has just offered to make him a partner with his own cool office and everything, was pulling the strings behind the scenes-- and worse still, was responsible (in a roundabout way) for Teddy's father's murder in prison.  And then... What?  "Nash eased Teddy's wine glass across the table as an offering to their partnership.  Teddy spotted his cigarettes beside the glass.  They seemed so far away.  He wasn't sure he could move, really.  He wasn't sure he could reach them..."  And... What happens next?  Does he sell his soul to the Devil and continue working with Nash?  Does he quit?  If he quits, does Nash let him quit, or is that not an option?

*SIGH*  Are we supposed to make up an ending ourselves?  Is this an open ending?  I've always hated those...

--Not a bad book.  Just not my favorite type.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Diary of a Provincial Lady

Diary of a Provincial Lady
by E.M. Delafield

In 1930s England, an upper-middle-class "lady of the house" records the comic adventures (and misadventures) of life in "the country".  Our Provincial Lady has a taciturn husband, a son away at the English version of "public school", a young daughter in the care of a French nanny/governess, friends, an irritating neighbor or two, constant trouble with money and servants, humble literary ambitions, and the undying hope that she will someday persuade her flower bulbs to perform up to standard. 

My Reaction:
(Shared read with Donald.  We found the book for free on the Australian Project Gutenberg, I think...  There were some formatting issues and the occasional typo, but nothing too terrible.  I may have had to convert it to mobi-format, so that might have created some of the problems.)

We found the Provincial Lady's observations quite amusing and will be sure to check out her other books.  Again and again, we had to laugh and shake our heads over how some things never change.  (And then there were a few things that I think we didn't quite get, but they didn't detract from the book's overall appeal.)

One comment:  If you don't know a little French (or if, like me, the very little French you once knew has mostly mysteriously disappeared), Mademoiselle's rather frequent comments en français may feel more like a nuisance than an amusement. 

A fun read-- not quite on par with the best Wodehouse, but still a delightful read.  It's a pleasure to know that there are more of them waiting to be enjoyed!

Friday, August 1, 2014

Madam, Will You Talk?

Madam, Will You Talk?
by Mary Stewart

Publisher's Blurb:
Much of a strange and tragic drama of revenge, lust, fear, and death has already been played by the time Charity Selborne arrives at a plush resort in the South of France.

But by befriending a terrified boy and catching the attention of his enigmatic, possibly murderous father, Charity has inadvertently placed herself center stage.

My Reaction:
(Note: I listened to an audio version.  As usual, by the time I was done, some of the reader's quirks had begun to grow irritating, but overall, not a bad reading.  It was funny hearing the reader pause ever-so-slightly before the bits of French.  That said, she handled them much more smoothly than I could have...)

The story was entertaining enough, but this is not one of my favorites of Stewart's novels (so far).  I suspect that listening to her books is less enjoyable (for me, at least) than reading them myself.  Certainly, it doesn't do them any favors.  Possibly they'd also seem fresher if spaced out a bit more.

...I find that I don't have much to say about the novel, specifically.  It benefits from the author's natural talent for strong settings.  Listening, I could easily picture the scenes.  The romance was (as usual) another case of Insta-Love-- and I found it difficult to sympathize with our heroine's speedy head-over-heels routine.  (It may be that I didn't care for the reader's presentation of the hero.)  As for the mystery, it was fine, but again, not the best I've read.  Some of her other books are much better, in that respect.

Still, I can't complain.  It gave me something to think about while knitting and crocheting.