Monday, June 27, 2011

The Amateurs

The Amateurs
by Marcus Sakey

A financial trader, a travel agent, a hotel doorman, and a bartender walk into a bar to steal some money... Sounds like a joke, right? In Marcus Sakey's “The Amatuers,” there are no laughs when a 'game' turns serious.

Alex – Bartender at a restaurant. Has an ex and a daughter. Barely making ends meet. He and Jenn have a sexual relationship.

Ian – Financial trader, snorts cocaine, gambles.

Mitch – Doorman for a hotel. Has a crush on Jenn. Feels ignored by the public and, somewhat by his friends.

Jenn – Travel agent, has more male friends than women, trying to find what's missing in her life.

Four people, each with their own quirks and personal problems, somehow have become friends, meeting a couple times per week for drinks or brunch. During their time together, they play a variety of 'games,' such as “What if you suddenly came into a half million dollars, what would you do?”

When they learn that Alex's boss, a former drug dealer and still a shady businessman, has a load of cash stored in the restaurant's safe, they slowly come around to the idea of stealing it. They soon find their lives thrown into a chaos they never expected.

Alex – Bartender with an ex and a daughter. Barely making ends meet. He and Jenn have a sexual relationship

Ian – Financial trader, snorts cocaine, gambles

Mitch – Doorman for a hotel, has a crush on Jenn. Feels ignored by the public and, somewhat by his friends

Jenn – Travel agent, has more male friends than women

John 'Johnny Love' Loverin – Owner of several businesses. Alex's boss. Made his money selling drugs back in the eighties. Suave, wears expensive clothing. Still into some shady deals.

The characters are defined with a nice mix of personalities. Sakey does a fine job of providing a balance on allowing the reader insight into everyone's lives without over emphasizing one or ignoring another.

Fairly consistent with each character. You can tell the difference in speech patterns. Conversation, however, is basic, limited to what is going on and what needs to be done.

The story is character based. The action is swift, and efficient without much graphic detail. I could have done with about half the profanity because being character driven and not action or plot driven, most of the foul language wasn't necessary to complete the story.

Still, the reader understood each character, from the friends to the bad guys. The story flows well, without bogging down on the internal thoughts or too much back story.

My ranking

Blue Belt

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Candle Maker's Son

Plot: A powerful patriarch hires a scientist to investigate a rare swatch of fabric. Muslim terrorists in Mexico vie for plates to counterfeit American one hundred dollar bills to fund their jihad. A thief steals a priceless flag (from where the swatch was obtained) from a Mexican museum only to discover his girlfriend (the patriarch's granddaughter) has been kidnapped by the Mexicans who want the plates they think he stole from the Arabs they killed in a double cross.

Sound convoluted? I thought so, too. The cover looked interesting and the title drew me in. However, what I thought might be another take on "The Da Vinci Code" turned out to be a messy plot and weak writing. The story is a bunch of loosely tied together scenes that leave you wondering about their importance and why the author spent as much time detailing them only to move onto something else.

Garlon Puckett: Wealthy patriarch, influential in many circles. Interested in obtaining a flag from a Mexican museum and hires a scientist to authenticate a piece of the flag. (How the swatch got taken from the flag is not known). He also has an employee tracking down his granddaughter. (No reason given.) No real background of where he obtained his money or his powerbase.

Conner Hockaday: An ex Navy officer in the Special Forces in Iraq (Yes, I know Special Forces is Army, I'm just telling you what was written), boyfriend of Kalee, and thief. His naval background and skills are barely touched upon and you don't learn what he's been up to except stealing a flag.

Kalee: Granddaughter of Garlon. Touring Mexico with her friends (who never enter the picture). Comes across as sassy and defiant and though creative in an escape attempt, is unbelievable when in dire straits.

Escobar: Bad guy Mexican.

Speicher: Hired by Puckett to report on Kalee. Don't really know too much about him.

Basically, 'don't know too much' says it all about each character. The descriptions are surface. You don't really get to know the inner person, their emotions, desires, dreams. You have a few terrorists who seem important, until they die early on. The reader doesn't really care about any character's fate.

They also act incorrectly. Kidnappers will not give a deadline of a week to receive a ransom. It is too much time to A. care for the person kidnapped, and B. allow the authorities or the hero to intervene.

Weak. Trite. No depth. Standard playbook phrasing. No real emotion felt.

I think this is the major downfall of the book and what really set me against it. I know many books contain punctuation and spelling errors the editor(s) somehow missed, but there are way too many obvious mistakes in this book, including incorrect punctuation at the end of sentences and dialogue, and misuse of commas and ellipses. However, beyond this, there are problems with sentence structure. Some of the sentences don't make sense to the topic being discussed or the language and phrasing are weak. There are a lot of unnecessary wording in many sentences. The author tries to put too much information into one sentence and ends up confusing the reader. The action is passive. He uses incorrect dialogue tags. Example: The next morning Carlos Mendoza, and two of his men were eating breakfast, when he said to one of them, "Get me a newspaper. I want to see what is written about the terrible event of yesterday," he sarcastically said, guiding the food-laden fork to his mouth.

The reference to the title is mildly interesting, but the use of it at the end is trite and banal. The author sets up a sequel, but after reading this first book, the reader won't care.

My ranking:

White Belt

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Worst Thing

If you decide pick up the latest effort by Aaron Elkins, don't panic; it won't be the worst thing you'll read. Far from it. For an easy going conversational type narrative, combined with suspenseful and quick action, with an added touch of the inner workings of a terrified mind, “The Worst Thing” is the one to choose.

Bryan Bennett, a former kidnap victim, is now a writer of training manuals on preventing kidnappings and how to behave if kidnapped. He is hired by GlobalSeas, an international seafood marketer based in Iceland, to give a seminar to the company's management. When the CEO, who narrowly escaped a recent kidnap attempt, is subsequently taken by three members of a eco-terrorist group, Bennett assumes a former role, that of hostage negotiator. However, when he finds his wife has also been kidnapped, Bennett trades himself for her, and, forced to face an old enemy, is plunged into a nightmare he thought he would never again suffer.

Standard premise. Nothing too complex. In fact nothing about the book is complex which can be a plus and a minus depending on the situation.

Bryan Bennett – 37, former kidnap victim, suffers from panic attacks. He comes across as very clinical in his thoughts and actions. He observes and strategizes before taking action.

Lori Bennett – Bryan’s wife. Loyal.

George Henry ‘Paris’ Camano – professional kidnapper. Analytical, planner. Bennett’s opposite in nature.

There are other minor supporting characters to give the novel a bit more strength. None of the characters aren’t studied in too much depth, including Bennett (yes, he’s the protagonist, but even he doesn’t get too below the surface), but Elkins provides enough details to make them unique and interesting.

Basic, simple, easy flowing. When delving into the mental disorders, it doesn’t bog you down with medicalese. Surprising, little profanity which is nice.

Fast moving. Doesn’t bog. I would have enjoyed the action scenes to be drawn out a bit more as they tend to start and end quickly. I like the constant touching on of his panic attacks and the layman explanations he gives. There’s even a surprise ending which is interesting. Even though I enjoyed not being blasted with a lot of medical terminology, I thought when Bennett suffered through his panic attacks, more details on his feelings would have been nice. He moves through his attacks within a page and I was disappointed because I wanted more feeling. However, he does point out in the novel that for those who suffer panic attack, they understood; for those who never have, can’t.

This is a very basic book with not a lot of depth. Still enjoyable, though, especially if you’ve never read something like it before.

My ranking:

Green Belt

Monday, June 6, 2011

Night on Fire

Another legal eagle hits the shelves, and this one's a scorcher. Corleone's novel, "Night on Fire," delivers the heat and the humor in this legal thriller. It leads you down a path strewn with subtle strands of clues until the end where it twists you into a knot so fast you'll have to stop and catch your breath.

Kevin Corvelli, late of New York, spends his days in his Honolulu law firm with Jake Harper, his world weary gruff partner, and his nights drinking and seducing lady tourists at a local outdoor bar near a resort. On the fateful night, he and his companion observe an argument between newlyweds, and later, their sleep is interrupted by a fire that kills not only the bridegroom, but several other guests. Corvelli is soon hired by the widowed bride, who is arrested for arson and murder, and he soon finds his paradisiacal life going up in smoke.

I liked the fresh atmosphere setting in Hawaii. I'm used to the hero being knocked down a notch with every chapter because it makes me root for him that much more. You know he's going to win, even if the 'victory' is bittersweet.

It's a memorable if standard array of characters associated with legal novels.

Kevin Corvelli – Young lawyer with a mark in the Win column in a murder trial in Hawaii already under his belt. He likes the liquor and the ladies. He is trying to leave his New York troubles behind, but can't quite escape the long reaching shadows. He's cynical, but caring. I liked his humorous approach to situations. He shows emotion at the right times.

Erin Simms – The bride with serious issues she also cannot escape. She's a complex individual, tragic in many ways. You wonder till the end if she is really guilty of the crime.

Jake Harper – 67, alcoholic. Dealing with a failed romance. Resents Corvelli's taking of the case and nearly everything associated with it. He's loyal, but he'll bite when provoked.

Luke Maddox – The smarmy prosecuting attorney looking to make his name. He plays dirty and he's a perfect adversary for Corvelli.

Josh – Four year old Corvelli meets at the resort on the night of the fire. The kid is innocent all the way and his relationship with Corvelli excavates inner character. Not only does the kid have a connection to the case, he's the perfect addition to complete the story.

Crisp, straight, fast, to the point. Detail is not a problem. The sarcastic quips are right on the money. There are no long monologues or long back and forth at trial. Only the essential are here.

Shorter chapters make for a faster-paced story. The action is drawn out just enough you get a feel for it, but the drama doesn't keep you enmeshed. There is just enough emotion and seriousness to keep you caring. I think this is a good first novel for Corleone and I will be looking forward to further Corvelli adventures.

My ranking:

Purple Belt