Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Maximum Bob (Leonard, Elmore)

Rating: 5/5
Year: 1991
Genre: Crime
Read again? Yes

Kathy Baker is a parole officer. One of her "projects" is a kid named Dale Crowe, 2 days out of prison for hitting a cop. He broke parole in a drunken bar fight.

Maximum Bob Gibbs is the Palm Beach County judge presiding over Dale Crowe's fighting case. Bob ignores the underage drinking and the fight altogether, focusing on the kid's prior cop-hitting instead.

He's not called "Maximum" Bob for nothing. He likes making examples of people--and since the Crowe family are a bunch of habitual offenders, he decides to send the kid back to prison on a longer sentence.

Bob's also a lecherous 57-year-old. He quickly notices Kathy Baker and starts trying to put some moves on her. Of course he's married, but his wife's a crystal-gazing, aura-reading New Ager who's gained a little extra weight. She's also slightly crazy: she believes she can channel the spirit of a long-dead 12-year-old black girl.

Bob's tired of married life and really wants the house clear so he can lure that attractive young parole officer. He pays a man to drop a dead gator in the back yard, hoping to scare her away.

Gator's not quite dead. Eats her dog. The cops get involved, and they're thinking someone's trying to kill old Bob.

Meanwhile, Dale Crowe's uncle has been offered $10,000 to kill Maximum Bob.

Leonard's writing is tight! He metes out bits of exposition as needed, but keeps it on the fly. He doesn't pause to hold your hand or tell in-depth back stories.

Each character carries a piece of the puzzle. They all stand out and they're all interesting and believable. It's clear that we're not following heroic, important people here, just regulars--some on the take, some on the make, some just wanting the work day to end, thinking of that cold beer at home. We know their motivations: lust in the old judge, revenge in the ex-con, the parole officer who's afraid to say "no" to the judge who could easily wreck her career, the cops who know something hinky is going on.

Leonard's style is clean, free of wasted words or wasted time. He takes you from A to B, gives hints about C along the way, builds things a little more, and you're expected to keep up. He won't hold your hand.

This is how writing ought to be! Make every word count. After reading a couple of really bad Star Wars books and one Lackey book, this was an unexpected pleasure.

Dresden Files 13: Ghost Story (Butcher, Jim)

Rating: 5/5
Year: 2011
Genre: Fantasy
Read again? Yes

I haven't eagerly anticipated a new book this way since the early '90s, when Roger Zelazny was writing new "Amber" books. It's been about 15 months since I finished the 12th Dresden book (note: that'd be in May of 2010, then late September 2011 for "Ghost Story"--posting the reviews hasn't been on my radar for a few months, unfortunately).

Harry Dresden is dead.

He was taken out by a sniper at the end of "Changes." How the hell do you follow that?

Dresden finds himself in a ghostly shadow of Chicago. He's escorted to the police station, where the ghost of Karrin Murphy's father outlines a mission: Dresden has to figure out who killed him or three of his closest friends will be next.

At first, he can't use magic or interact with the real world, but he quickly learns that his friends have been busy in the 6 months since his death. Things have worsened in the city: just his presence and the threat he represented to the Bad Guys was enough to keep most of them in check. With the effective destruction of the Red Court vampires at the end of "Changes," other ghosts, goblins, ghouls, and gangs have moved in to take over. The White Council of wizards is swamped, so they can't spare a Warden for Chicago.

Murphy, Butters, Bob the Skull, and other friends of Harry's have strengthened the ParaNet, and that's doing some good.

There's one threat on the streets that has all of Dresden's friends terrified, though. His apprentice went insane when he died. She's gone off on her own to fight evil things alone.

There has to be a point where Dresden meets his friends; they've dealt with his death to varying degrees, but Murphy isn't convinced he's dead. The scene where she's faced with his ghost is powerful.

Harry figures out pretty quickly who the shooter was, but the more important question is why it happened.

Then there's the bigger issue of saving the world from an enemy he's already faced once before.

Very good story; I devoured it. I liked the "It's a Wonderful Life" aspect of it, seeing how the world changed for the worse without Dresden in it. The plot moves nicely, the main characters continue to develop, and now I have to wait several more months for the next book.

Mad Hatter has a different take (might be spoilers). Since I've only read this book once, I've yet to develop as deep a reaction to the story and characters as Hatter got.

Bard's Tale 1--Castle of Deception (Lackey, Mercedes & Sherman, Josepha)

Rating: 4/5
Year: 1992
Genre: Fantasy
Read again? Maybe.

It says something about Anderson's "Darksaber" that I willingly picked up a Mercedes Lackey book back in July--for the first time in nearly 2 years. I haven't read a "Valdemar" book since October of 2009. Never did finish the series. Stopped at number 20. Staying right there.

"The Bard's Tale" series is much shorter (I've got 4) and thinner (smaller books are good) and not "Star Wars." The stories are based around 1985's Electronic Arts computer role playing game.

Kevin is apprenticed to an elderly Bard. The boy wants adventure! Nothing happens in their tiny village.

His Master sends him off on a mission. It's not much--just copying an rare old musical manuscript at Count Volmar's castle.

He quickly finds himself out of his element, a nobody among boys his age. He applies himself to his work to fill the time.

Then he meets the Count's niece, a vision with big blue eyes and golden curls, the first girl to ever pay attention to him.

Not so much. She's actually an evil fairy trying to foil Kevin's mission. When her ever-stronger advances and enchantments can't get the answers she's after, she and the Count stage a "kidnapping" of his "niece" and send Kevin off to look for her. With the boy out of the way, they can go through the library book by book until they find the one he was copying.

Too bad for them that only a Bard can see it!

Kevin's joined by a streetwise woman warrior, a wise-ass fairy, a White Elf...and a Dark Elf with the power of Death and a thirst for music.

Can they find the truth about the missing girl...and save the kingdom?

This is a safe and straightforward "quest" story once it gets rolling. A bit more melodramatic than I'd like, but still solidly done.

The characters could use some fleshing out, but they're serviceable.

There might be a few draggy points, but the story moves at a purposeful pace. I'd like to have gotten into the action a bit more quickly.