Friday, February 25, 2011

Treachery in Death by J.D. Robb

When Lieutenant Eve Dallas and her partner Delia Peabody are called to the scene of the death of an old man killed by three neighborhood punks, Eve makes Peabody the primary and responsible for finding the kids who killed him. This doesn't actually take all that long, since Eve trained Peabody very well, and when Peabody puts them away, she gets a solid confession out of them. But to do so, she goes into a confrontation with the kids and gets knocked around a bit. Eve commends Peabody but suggests she work out a bit more.

So after she files her report on the case, that's exactly what Peabody does. Only the new gym in the precinct is too full of buff and muscled cops, and she doesn't want to feel embarrassed by her old workout clothes and (to her) flabby body. So instead, she hauls herself down to the old gym that no one uses any more because it's ugly and the showers barely work. After an hour of working out hard, she can barely move and drags herself into the showers, going to the only one that has soap in it. After her shower, she's drying off when she hears someone enter. Two someones, arguing.

She goes back to the shower stall, because what she can hear of the talk is that the two cops are talking about something illegal and probably crooked. She cowers in the back of the stall, understanding that if she is caught, she is dead. And when the two cops leave, she calls her lover, ED Detective McNab, and he picks her up and takes her to see Eve after she tells him what she overheard. A woman, Renee Oberman, and a male detective named Garnett talking about planting evidence to make a man that has been killed, a snitch named Juicy, is taken for an OD rather than a murder, and that the ten grand he took off with, along with the drugs, are retrieved.

Oberman also tells Garland that he is forfeiting his share of the money because of his incompetence, which doesn't sit well with him. Peabody saw her face, but not the man's, and Eve, her husband Roarke, Peabody and McNab go out to find Juicy's body after using Roarke to fake a call from a supposed informant about Juicy's death which gives her call to investigate. They determine several locations where he might have gone to ground, and pair off to find the body, which they do. Once they determine that Oberman and Garland were really talking about the murdered man, Eve decides then and there that Oberman has pissed her off and must be taken down for the good of the department.

Oberman is the daughter of a man that the entire department calls "Saint Oberman", and she was raised with everything that Eve didn't have growing up. And despite being the daughter of a cop known for his rectitude and sense of justice, she has spat on everything her father stood for by becoming a crooked cop, one who works in illegals but apparently skims off some of the drugs that her officers find at busts and sells them herself, becoming rich in the process.

As soon as she can, Eve brings her Captain, Whitney, in on the case, and Whitney orders her to bring in IAB to help run the investigation.Eve doesn't like the idea, but she brings in Webster, an IAB who once wanted to be romantically involved with her, along with McNab, his boss and Eve's former tutor and partner Feeney and Dr, Mira, the psychologist who Eve goes to see for help with her cases.

From Mira, she learns that Oberman has suborned one of the Doctors in her office, who has been cooking the records of Renee and the cops that work for her, cleaning up their psych evaluations so that they pass muster at all their annual evaluations. Mira feels personally betrayed that someone in her office could do such a thing, and it probably helped that the Doctor was a man as Renee Oberman feels much more comfortable around men, manipulating them and using them with her sexuality.

But she isn't anywhere near as good a cop as Eve is, and while many of those in her department are male, she has always had a problem with the women. So when Eve goes to rattle Oberman's cage about the death of Juicy the Confidential Informant, she notices that one of the cops, Lilah Strong, doesn't seem to be too thrilled with her boss. But is that because she isn't on Oberman's side, or just female jealousy?

Eve, who doesn't think Renee Oberman deserves the title of Lieutenant, or even of "cop", takes great pleasure in pushing Oberman and her subordinates, giving her a lot to worry about, of Eve cottoning on to her little scam business and bringing it all down. She pushes until Garland snaps and tries to hit her, whereupon she writes him up for a 30-day suspension.

Renee thinks Eve has gone too far and tries to go to bat for Garland, but Eve won't relent, and soon Garland comes to her home and attacks her verbally and then physically once more. Eve lets her hit him once, and when he tries it again, she takes him down quite brutally. Garland goes for his piece and she knocks it from his hand. Everything has been caught on video recorder, and Garland knows this means losing his job.

But when he goes to Oberman and tells her she has to take care of Eve NOW, she realizes that Garland is the bigger problem and has his partner, Bix, an ex-soldier, take Garland out under the guise of Garland killing Eve. But now that Eve has caused her so many problems, Oberman is determined to bring Eve down, and all her allies among Oberman's squad. But can Eve protect the innocent and bring the guilty to justice while remaining alive herself?

I liked this book, which gave us something we've never had before: a dirty cop who was at the same level as Eve. and who'd had all the advantages Eve didn't when she was growing up, and who had chosen to game the system and set up a corrupt organization inside the police force. Not only is Renee Oberman the exact opposite of Eve, more or less, she is also the thing that Eve most hates: a corrupt cop.

Not only is Oberman the Anti-Eve, but the rest of her squad is like their own anti-versions of Eve's partner and teammates. Bix is like Anti-Peabody (he's unfailingly loyal, but mainly because he's a former soldier and he gives his loyalty to his commanding officer, and Peabody is loyal to Eve for all Eve has taught her). Garnet is like Anti-Roarke. He and Renee were lovers (and may still be occasionally, the book isn't clear on that point), but Renee uses him, controlling him through her sexuality, where Eve may be sexual, but she scarcely uses it as the weapon Oberman does, and she and Roarke are partners. Oberman even has a Dr. Mira-like analogue in a male staff Psychologist who works for Mira. But once again, Oberman controls him using her sexuality. While there are no direct analogues to McNab or Feeney, Oberman has control over people in property and several other departments.

The best part of the book is in watching Eve get angry, yet lead Renee Oberman in a dance that controls her and leads her from her current high position at the start of the book to a jail cell at the end. Eve despises her fellow Lieutenant, but controls her feelings well enough to lead the woman into damaging omissions and acts that end up bringing her to prison and disgrace. The way that Eve does this inspires wicked joy in the reader and kept my attention firmly on the book while I was reading it, to the point that I had trouble putting it down to sleep or eat.

I'd recommend this book most highly, and those who love the cast of characters that surround Eve will find themselves with lots to love in this book, from Peabody and McNab to Feeney, Mira, Summerset, Galahad the cat, Trueheart, and the return of Webster and another character from an earlier book fill the pages with tension and fun. Even though you start the main storyline knowing who the bad guy(s) is/are, the book is never less than suspenseful as Eve maneuvers her opponents in undoing all their schemes. Highly recommended!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Gotham Central: Book Three- On the Freak Beat by Greg Rucka, Ed Brubaker, Michael Lark and Stefano Gaudiano

Reneé Montoya is back on the force after being outed as a lesbian by Two Face and framed for the murder of the man who took the pictures that outed her, also done by Two Face. But her outing has made her family break ties with her, and now all she has is her partner, Daria Hernandez, and her partner, Crispus Allen.

She and Allen are on their way back from dinner at a pizza joint when they see three enforcers about to pull something. But it's a hot, steamy night, and when they call for backup, they are told that it will take five minutes for it to get there. She and Allen know that by that time, what is going down will be over, so they pull out their guns and go in. Inside the building, they see spider- shaped signs on the walls, and manage to get the drop on the three. But the man they are after shoots Montoya and Allen returns fire before the man, known as the Black Spider, real name Jimmy LaMonica, can kill Montoya with a head shot. This gets him an IAB investigation, and as it turns out, one of the crime scene techs takes a bullet from the scene and puts it up on the internet.

Back at the stationhouse, one of the enforcers accuses Allen of shooting another of the enforcers while he was handcuffed, and calls him an "Uncle Tom: Unfortunately, the bullet that the CSI tech, Jimmy Corrigan, took was the bullet that could clear Crispus of the IAB investigation, and Montoya must team up with the IAB guy who was assigned to her own case to track down Corrigan, get him to confess, and figure out who bought it on the auction site he sold it on.

Next, the new police commissioner has the Bat-signal on top of the station house taken down and dismantled because of how many cops died during Joker's rampage in the previous book. Like at least some of the cops, he no longer believes that Batman can be trusted to be on the side of the Police. Batman tells him he is wrong, but the new commissioner refuses to back down.

Next, Detectives Josie Mac and Marcus Driver investigate the murder of a rich televangelist. All the evidence at the scene of the crime points to Selina Kyle, aka the Catwoman, being responsible for the murder. But the evidence against her is just a little too perfect and it smells to Josie like a frame. She is shortly thereafter contacted by Catwoman, and when it comes down to a fight, Selina realizes that Josie Mac has a secret- she has a metahuman psychic power. She uses this secret to blackmail the officer into investigating the case and trying to clear her. When the case is solved, Catwoman tells Josie that secrets are something that shouldn't be kept from a partner, something that Josie realizes is the truth.

Lastly, a cop is burned trying to rescue a kid from a gang-related fight that ends up in some kind of strange chemical lab set up in a basement. But the flames do more than just burn him. Something about the chemicals is changing him on a cellular level, turning him into a metahuman freak. Montoya and Allen track down the man responsible, a costumed villain known as the Alchemist, currently in jail in Central City.

But the Alchemist is more than just a crook with a grudge, he's a man convinced of his own superiority who likes to push everyone's buttons and be in control of the situation. And he's frighteningly intelligent. More to the point, he set up the chemical lab to have just the effect it is currently having on the burned officer, and he agrees to reverse the process0 but first he will have to go there and observe the effect himself.

Montoya and Allen have him transferred to Gotham in the company of themselves and two Central City cops, but Doctor Alchemy gets free and hurts several people, including Montoya, and accelerates the process of the mutation. He is stopped by Batman, who assures the Gotham cops that he has come up with a process that can reverse the mutation. But it needs to be administered within the next twelve hours. And since Dr. Alchemy's attack freed the cop, who went on a rampage when Dr. Alchemy killed his wife before his eyes, this isn't going to be easy. Can the detectives find their fellow officer and administer the antidote to the process before the twelve hours are up? Or will all their efforts be for naught?

Another excellent volume showing what life is like for the cops in Gotham City, and the dangers that come with policing a city where Batman and his rogues gallery run rampant and free, along with the normal types of crime prevalent in any big city. The cops do the best they can, but often their private lives rise up to smack them in the face, and sometimes coming clean about the things they hide only helps them, even as it takes a personal toll.

I enjoyed every single one of the stories here, because they rang true to cop work- not necessarily on the timing- that seems to suffer from TV cop disease, where CSIs work and have answers for the cops in a few hours or days instead of the weeks or months it takes in real life (especially true in a large city where the same CSI lab has to process all the evidence from every crime). But that's done, as it is here, for dramatic license, so that's forgivable. And we also get to see more of the personalities of the cops in the squad, and come to understand what drives them.

Ed Brubaker and Greg Rucka have fleshed out the personalities of the Gotham cops, transforming them from throwaway spear carriers to actual characters that we cheer for and want to have succeed in their jobs. The braid of stories brings different characters to the fore, and lets others be temporarily out of view, turning the title into a true ensemble cast. Extremely well done and every time I come to the end of a book, I want to read more. Highly recommended.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Nancy Drew, Vampire Hunter Graphic Novel, Part 2 by Stefan Petruchka, Sarah Kinney and Sho Murasame

Nancy Drew has been investigating Gregor Coffson, a new arrival in town, who is rumored to be a vampire. In fact, it's gotten to the point where even her friends, Beth and George, and her boyfriend Ned Nickerson, think that Gregor is an actual vampire. So when Nancy broke into his house to talk to him, it seemed that her friends might believe that he was merely the victim of rumors. But when the house locked, shutting Nancy and Gregor inside, and her friends and Ned outside, they revert to believing that Gregor is a vampire, and that he wants to kill Nancy and drink her blood. Or worse turn her into a vampire like himself.

Now, inside the house, Gregor and Nancy are menaced by a woman in a cloak who also believes that Gregor is a vampire and who wants to kill Gregor to keep the people of the world, and the town, safe. But who is this woman? When she attacks Nancy and Gregor, Gregor knocks her down and knocks her out.

He tells Nancy he didn't think he hurt her, but she says that the woman looks sick. They move her to a couch, and Gregor tells Nancy more about how and where he grew up. He also had a twin sister, but they were raised apart because the village they grew up in was very backwards and believed the worst about him and his sister, and his mother feared for their lives after their father died. She attempted to get their uncle to take them in, but he would take only one child, Gregor, who was the heir. So his sister stayed with their mother. After their mother died, his uncle was sick, so he couldn't go to the funeral, and he lost touch with his sister.

Nancy notices a great resemblance between the girl who wants to kill him and Gregor himself. But is this girl truly Gregor's sister, and if so, why does she want to kill him? And Outside, Nancy's friends have tied into the house's security cameras, and are watching the action inside and putting the exact wrong construction on what is happening inside. But when they finally break in and Gregor's attacker breaks free, can they save Nancy from the right villain and have the mystery end happily?

Well, this was only the second half of the story and I haven't read the first, but I felt like this story traded way too much on myths about what Porphyria is really like. I've known people with the disease and there are ways to treat it that don't involve hiding from the light and drinking fruit and vegetable juice. The whole way he treats the disease seemed awfully behind the times. But okay, the author was ramping up the drama for drama's sake. But do kids with actual porphyria need to have some book telling them that they are vampires (or werewolves, I've seen porphyria linked to that as well) or to misinform other people about the disease. I've known people with Porphyria and that's a really hurtful comparison to make.

Not only that, but I've read books about vampires in real life, and also read the reactions of sufferers of the disease to these sorts of portrayals (American Vampires by Nancy Dresser being just one book) and suffice to say, every time stuff like this comes out, they groan and get angry, because they know that they are going to have to explain themselves yet again because some author decided to go for the dramatic over the factual abd decided to blame some fairly obscure disease for symptoms of being a vampire.

So, I can't recommend this book at all. I haven't read many of the new Nancy Drew graphic novels, but this one sure turned me off with it's cliché attitude to a disease that some people portray as being cause for being called a vampire. I'd really have to steer people away from it with the harm that it might cause people who have porphyria and the general level of fail and playing to the angst and drama end of the spectrum. Not recommended at all.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Trio of Sorcery by Mercedes Lackey

Mercedes Lackey is well-known as a fantasy writer, and for the breadth of her books, which have spanned everything from the Modern Day to slightly twisted versions of Modern Day, like the Diana Tregarde series, the Jennifer Talldeer book Sacred Ground and the Serrated Edge series, which involves Elves living in modern day New York and Las Vegas (among many other places).

Sadly, the first two series I mentioned died on the vine because of a lack of interest. Not on my part, but on all fantasy readers, who ignored the books in droves. That's sad, as I enjoyed both very much, but now, in one book, Mercedes has brought back both Diana Tregarde and Jennifer Talldeer, along with a new character, the Techno-Shaman, Ellen McBride. Hopefully, this book will revive interest in the first two series, and make her publishers clamor to publish, and for her to write, new books in the series.

Arcanum 101 is the first and longest story in the book and belongs to Diana Tregarde. With the death of her grandmother, Diana has finally left home and is about to attend college. She knows she will be a magic worker, but she also needs to pay her bills and goes to college for a folklore degree. While moving in to off-campus housing, she discovers that she isn't the only one there who is interested in magic, and goes upstairs to learn more and meets Itzhaak Meyer and Emory Sung, one of whom is into ceremonial magic and the other of whom is a theatre student with a mind that works in interesting ways.

But when a policeman who knows of Diana's work contacts her about a mediumistic fraud being perpetrated by a possibly gypsy con-woman, Diana and her new friends get sucked into the case and work to help her deal with the woman before she can take the grieving mother of a kidnapped child any further into debt or send the police running in circles with her "leads". But when the conwoman turns out to not quite be a con-woman at all, it will take all of Diana's magical and physical resources to deal with the tainted magic this woman deals in, and to bring the kidnapped girl back home again...

In "Drums", Jennifer Talldeer and her boyfriend/business partner, David Spotted Horse, are approached by a native man who is having problems with the woman he loves. He thinks she is being ensorcelled by a ghost that is somehow attracted to her and her property. And the ghost has so scared the both of them that she doesn't want to see him any longer, thinking that is the only way to keep him safe. But as Jennifer probes into the background and legends of her own people, the Osage Tribe, she soon realizes that the ghost thinks that their client's girlfriend is the woman he was killed over long ago, and that he wants her to be with him always.

As her client is put into the hospital when he tries to rescue the woman from the ghost, and Jennifer herself is attacked and injured, she soon realizes that it may be beyond the powers of her or any other shaman to deal with this nasty ghost. But who can she turn to for help, and can she find that help before her client's girlfriend is sucked into the spirit world by the insistent ghost?

"Ghost in the Machine" tells the story of an MMO rather like Warcraft. The developers have just opened a new area, with a new boss monster named "The Wendigo". But for some reason, it seems to be killing the players much more successfully than any other boss, and when one of the coders, who also acts as an Admin for the game, goes there to see what is going on, it kills his admin character dead, which shouldn't be possible. Every time he attempts to see what is going on or shut the Wendigo down, it kills him effortlessly, and he can't detect any hack or virus in the system. He contacts Ellen, and when no one else is able to shut the problem down, the company authorizes her to come and troubleshoot.

What she finds is that, when the company made the Wendigo, they made it a little too well and tied it into the real legends of the Wendigo. This somehow awoke the actual spirit and part of it now inhabits the game and the server. Unfortunately for them, every time it kills a player, it siphons off a little spiritual power, and it could use that power to enter the world for real, which would cause untold havoc. But how do you remove a spiritual power from your MMO without completely shutting it down, and how can Ellen and the rest of the team prevent it from getting the items and power it needs to manifest in the real world. Can they defeat it without being killed, or must they prepare to face the Wendigo in the real world?

I liked this book. It was great seeing the old friends of Diana Tregarde and Jennifer Talldeer again, and also to be introduced to Ellen McBride. As I said above, I hope this book revives interest in the characters and I'd love to see more Diana Tregarde stories, even if they are just about her time in college. Since her time in college formed the background for her very first book in the series, Burning Water, I'd like to see more of the cases that she and her friends took on then.

I also loved seeing another Jennifer Talldeer story. The only problem I see with reviving this series and Diana Tregarde is that both series are set longer ago than 15 years, and that past seems almost like a whole other country- cellphones large as a brick (or no cellphones at all) and some young people who would otherwise be up to reading those stories might as well be seeing them as set in the dark ages as in fairly modern day, and that might turn them off as compared to stuff written in say, an obviously fantasy universe with dragons and castles and knights on horseback.

I see far more promise in the Ellen McBride universe, as it is far more up to date. Even if we don't know the character that well yet and she remains more of a cipher to readers than the characters with more established backgrounds like Diana and Jennifer. Amazing, for me, was reading those books brought it all back to me, those particular universes and characters, and I experienced such emotional flashbacks to the original books that I became very easily invested in the stories. It was like going back to when I first read the books, and i enjoyed every minute I was in those stories.

Ms. Lackey is a writer at the top of her craft, and these characters, old and new, deserve to be written about, either again in a comeback series or in a new series of their own. I can only hope that the publication of this new book sparks interest in these characters, and the dark fantasy universes they occupy. I want to see and read more, and I'm hoping the sales back me up on this. Highly recommended.