The Apprentice by Tess Gerritson

I definitely enjoyed the Tess Gerritson’s first novel, The Surgeon, in the Rizzoli and Isles book series, so I was looking forward to the second installment, The Apprentice. In the latter book, Jane Rizzoli becomes the main character while Maura Isles is introduced only as a significant minor character. So even in the book two, the Rizzoli and Isles series really isn’t about Rizzoli and Isles yet.

Another big misconception that I had from occasional glimpses of the TV show of the same name was that the cop and the pathologist were fast friends; at best they could be considered work acquaintances. Yes, yes, I am aware that TV shows are not books and books are not TV shows, but I thought it was a deviation I should point out.

Before delving into The Apprentice, one should have read The Surgeon prior to it; not because the reader would be lost, but only because of spoilers regarding The Surgeon that are sprinkled liberally throughout The Apprentice. I will try to keep the spoilers of The Surgeon at a minimum in this review of The Apprentice.

Rizzoli finds herself overwhelmed at work; the murders are literally piling up. Naturally, the Newton Police contact Rizzoli to have her come out to see another murder outside her jurisdiction. It turns out Rizzoli is definitely interested as this murder and missing person case is almost an exact copy of the work by the Surgeon who happens to be behind bars. Rizzoli is now off to find the killer as she battles with her peers in Boston, new cops in Newton, and an FBI agent who may or may not be freelancing. And the hunt begins.

The Apprentice like its predecessor is a fun and entertaining read. There is nothing wrong with that. And, by the way, the books are much better than the TV show — much, much better.


The Surgeon by Tess Gerritsen

I was putting together a list of mystery books to read, specifically looking for mystery authors that were not white men – those are kind of easy to find. One of the authors that came up in various lists to read was Tess Gerritsen, best known for her book series Rizzoli and Isles. If you have happened to seen a bit or two or even all the episodes of the TV show Rizzoli and Isles, the books are nothing like the show.

The first book in Gerritsen’s popular series is The Surgeon. There are a few caveats with this. First the character Maura Isles never appears in the first book of the Rizzoli and Isles series. Second, as Gerritsen explained in an interview,  Rizzoli was supposed to be a minor character in the first book.  An odd start for a very successful book franchise.

The Surgeon begins from the point of view of the killer, “Today they will find her body.” The story jumps ahead one year and there is a new murder,  but now we are getting the cops point of view especially that of Detectives Thomas Moore and Jane Rizzoli. Moore looks at Rizzoli in the autopsy room:

She was the only woman in the homicide unit, and already there had been problems between her and another detective, charges of sexual harassment, countercharges of unrelenting bitchiness. Moore was not sure he liked Rizzoli, or she him. So far they had kept their interactions strictly business, and he thought she preferred it that way.

One of the issues I have with mystery/crime novels is the silliness that occurs when a character goes off on their own and puts themselves in danger. There is this issue as Rizzoli heads off alone to find to track down the serial killer but other than the rather bad use of this horrible plot device, I found Gerrisen’s The Surgeon well done.


The Scarecrow by Michael Connelly

The Scarecrow by Michael ConnellyI do enjoy reading Michael Connelly’s novels and it will be a sad day when I finally catch-up to Connelly’s newest release. I have got a ways to go. In the meantime I finished reading Connelly’s The Scarecrow.

Jack McEvoy, who appeared as a main character in The Poet is a police reporter for the Los Angeles Time. The book open with McEvoy being laid off. In great capitalistic form, McEvoy even gets to train his younger and cheaper replacement.

The novel is told from two points of view: McEvoy and the criminal, Wesley Carver aka The Scarecrow. Carver, who runs a server farm, has a very peculiar taste in women as well as a partner. Carver and McEvoy’s worlds collide, and without giving anything away with the plot, Connelly does another wonderful job. Connelly has the ability to effectively keep the reader guessing, always changing things up, and always surprising the reader.


Feed by Mira Grant

Mira Grant’s Feed is the first book in her Newsflesh series. Sadly, it will be the last I read from this zombie series. I get that, when reading a zombie novel, one must suspend disbelief considering that zombies are not real. But Grant’s novel, set in the mid-21st century, seemed implausible on so many levels.

First, I should set the stage for you: the zombie uprising has occurred, but civilization still thrives. If I remember correctly, the zombiefication of most of the world happened a few years prior to 2016. The book places us in 2040 and there is a presidential election underway. Our story focuses on a trio of bloggers who are following one candidate. The trio is made up of a newsie, a fictional and an Irwin. The Irwin goes out a pokes zombies for a living. The writing, the style of speaking was straight out of today rather than something else, something different, something change due to, say, a zombie uprising.

In this world that is half zombie and half civilization, most people do not like to gather in groups as people can spontaneously turn into zombies without being bit. And yet, manufacturing of cars and computers continues as well as gasoline production and electricity is plentiful. There are no shortages. People continue on with their lives in their fortified cocoons with the only inconvenience being a myriad of blood tests and, well, zombies. They still have that problem. Otherwise, no explanation of how life continues with out a hitch.

The story moved along well, but the reader should be able to easily guess who is behind all of the intrigue and subterfuge. And then the ending of Feed is pure B-movie action with plenty of B-movie plot holes.

I am still looking for a good zombie novel to read.


The Brass Verdict by Michael Connelly

I do not remember how I came across Michael Connelly, but I suppose it probably has to do with the 2011 Matthew McConaughey movie The Lincoln Lawyer. Though I didn’t see the movie until several years later.

The Brass Verdict is Connelly’s second “Lincoln Lawyer” (or Mickey Haller) novel which is major part of Connelly’s fictional universe that takes place mainly in Los Angeles. You might be more familiar with Connelly’s original character, a police detective named Harry Bosch. There are other minor series featuring the characters Jack McEvoy, Terry McCaleb, and Cassie Black. Not surprisingly, Connelly’s website has a chronology of his books. When reading a mystery series, chronology is somewhat important.

At my count, The Brass Verdict is the nineteenth Connelly novel I’ve read. Though this a Mickey Haller book, The Brass Verdict features Harry Bosch in several chapters as well as the newspaper reporter Jack McEvoy. Like The Lincoln Lawyer before it, this book is told in the first person by Mickey Haller. To say that Haller has his demons would be a understatment, but the reader roots for him nonetheless.

One of the exercises I run through will reading a mystery novel is that I try to guess how the story will unfold. As in all good mystery writers, Connelly is able to place red herrings through book which are quite deceiving and even though The Brass Verdict ended in a logical way I was unable to guess the ending.

Connelly’s books are well researched, rather, they appear to be well researched. Though I am not a lawyer (or even a police detective), Connelly’s fictional world seems real and filled with plenty of ridiculous policies and procedures that the characters must jump through in their professional world. How believable? The wife and I were watching an episode Suits the other night and based on my reading of Connelly’s Mickey Haller’s series I was befuddled by apparent court-room histrionics that seemed driven by an implausible plot rather than real life. Yeah, yeah, I know, it’s only TV, but those shows, movies and books that have a basis in reality are always just that much better.


Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

While reading the Halloween chapter in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, I came across this line while Oliver Wood was describing Quidditch to Harry, “He handed Harry a small club, a bit like a short baseball bat.” Baseball bat? I know that Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry is a magical place, but I assumed, rightly so, that the Harry Potter Universe takes place in England. So what is a baseball-bat-like club doing in Harry’s hand?

As many know, the UK version of Rowling’s first Harry Potter book is called Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, while in the US, Scholastic Books changed the name to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. As Rowling wrote on a BBC wechat back in 2001:

They changed the first title, but with my consent. To be honest, I wish I hadn’t agreed now, but it was my first book, and I was so grateful that anyone was publishing me I wanted to keep them happy…

The general consensus, but one I could not find any documentation for, is that the American publisher thought that US children would be uninterested in reading a book with philosopher in the title. A philosopher’s stone is a real thing, actually, a thing people sought in their study of alchemy.

Robert Scholes points out the difference between a philosopher’s stone and a sorcerer’s stone is that the first is true and the latter is false.

Or, to put it more circumspectly, that word “philosopher,” in the English edition, connects the magic stone to the actual history of human thought in a way that the word “sorcerer” in the American edition does not. Before the attempt to gain power over nature fragmented, in the seventeenth century, into the empirical sciences, on the one hand, and fruitless magic, on the other, the study of alchemy was a kind of magical science. It was the ancestor of modern chemistry and the physical sciences in general, which were called “natural philosophy” for some time before being given their modern names.

The title was subsequently changed, even the movie has the Americanized title, and Rowling regrets the change, but as I mentioned earlier this wasn’t the only change in the US version of Rowling’s first book. The baseball bat line was the first that caught my ire, but it was definitely not the first Americanized translation of the first Potter book. The website, The Harry Potter Lexicon, lists plenty of differences. In an essay published in The New York Times, Peter H. Gleick lists three types of American substitutions: spelling, common words or phrases, and “the metamorphoses of truly English experiences or objects into something different, but distinctly American”. Gleick mentions the US “English muffins” opposed to the English “crumpets”.

I got a hold of the UK version of the first Harry Potter book and restarted the Halloween chapter and got to read the following line, “He handed Harry a small club, a bit like a rounders bat.” I was off and reading.

This was my first reading of Rowling’s debut novel. It’s strange reading a book 20 years after its release and one that is so ingrained in the consciousness of the pop culture. I could not help but picturing the various film actors as the characters, but I still found the world enchanting and strange. I enjoyed the book greatly and was only disappointed in the fifteenth chapter where Harry and his cohorts, as part of their detention, are forced to go into the forbidden forest at midnight to find an injured unicorn. This was a rather dangerous punishment for young children and also very much out of character with the book. Still, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is a very important book in the history of English literature and, at the very least,  a pleasant adventure story for all to read.


The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain

This is the second or third reading for me of James M. Cain’s “The Postman Always Rings Twice”. I’ve probably seen the Nicholson/Lange movie several times as well. I am always amazed when I am re-reading a book that even a few scenes or characters have been forgotten about – not because they were unimportant or even secondary to the story, it is just that other characters and scenes stood out so much in my prior readings.

“The Postman Always Rings Twice” has now become a important American novel about adultery, forbidden love, and, quite possibly, murder. If you’ve never read the book and only seen the most recent film adaptation of the book, you should give it a read. Especially since Nicholson was absolutely the wrong choice to play the drifter and bum, Frank Chambers, read the book and let the writing and your imagination paint a picture of Chambers.

One of the things I find quite amazing about so many first novels is that some can be so damn good. Cain’s first novel is fantastic and never disappoints.


Detour by Martin M. Goldsmith

Martin M. Goldsmith’s “Detour” was written in 1939 before Vegas was a thing. Alexander Roth finds himself somewhere in New Mexico as he is hitch-hiking to Los Angeles. Except for Phoenix and Tucson, there is nothing but desert between Roth and his goal, to meet up back with his girl, Sue Harvey. Both Harvey and Roth narrate this novel in alternating chapters. Roth begins the story by getting picked up by a Mr. Haskell. Roth tells the reader his story, what he can pick up of Haskell’s story and by the end of Chapter One, life changes drastically for both Roth and Haskell.

One of the things we learn about Roth is that he’s a liar and not a bright one at that. When Haskell asks Roth where he’s from, Haskell responds with Detroit rather with New York City. “I don’t know why I said that; there really was no call to lie. Maybe I was so accustomed to lying it had become a habit, I don’t know. But that’s me all over. For the life of me, I can’t figure myself out.”

Chapter Two ushers in Harvey’s voice which I didn’t find all that believable, not in the same sense I didn’t believe Roth, rather it is Goldmsith’s plundering about that makes Harvey seem unreal. Los Angeles really isn’t working out to well for Harvey.

It seemed scarcely believable, but only a few months before I too had thought Hollywood a glamorous place. I had arrived so thoroughly read-up on the misinformation of the fan magazines that it took me a full week before I realized that the “Mecca” was no more than a jerkwater suburb which publicity had sliced from Los Angeles—a suburb peopled chiefly by out and out hicks (the kind of dumbbells who think they are being wild and sophisticated if they stay up all night) or by Minnesota farmers and Brooklyn smart alecks who think they know it all. I soon saw that there were only two classes of society: the suckers, like myself, who had come to take the town; and the slickers who had come to take the suckers. Both groups were plotters and schemers and both on the verge of starvation.

There are some plot points as well as some character behavior that I had problems with, but “Detour” ended as a pulp novel should. As Roth narrates, “Whether people’s hopes are the result of pictures or pictures are based on hopes, I can’t say. However, in real life, things rarely happen so conveniently.”