Saturday, December 21, 2019

Book Review: The Fourth Courier by Timothy Jay Smith

Reviewer: Alan Chin
Publisher: Arcade (April, 2019)
Pages: 320


Set in 1992 Poland, Jay Porter, an American FBI agent, is asked to assist in a multiple-murder case in Warsaw. He teams up with a gay, African-American, CIA counterpart, Kurt Crawford to investigate three murdered Russians that may have links to stolen nukes. When a fourth Russian body is found, new clues allow Jay to piece together a complex puzzle that involves high-ranking officials, local police, and even Jay Porter’s new Polish love interest. The deeper Jay digs, the more sinister things appear, because all clues point to someone assembling a nuclear bomb capable of wiping out a city and undermining the stability of the entire region. Jay’s biggest problem: he doesn’t know who he can trust.

Smith excels at crafting a post-Cold War Warsaw. The descriptions are vivid and mesmerizing, making the location one of the main characters. The writing was crisp, the dialog spot on, and the plot has all the twists and turns to keep the reader, at least this reader, guessing what will happen next. Indeed, clues and information are doled out in a very tantalizing way.

I found some of the investigative methods and situations implausible, but they did make for an interesting read. My only serious complaint is that I didn’t find any of the characters particularly likable. I found some rather interesting, which kept me reading to the end, but my lack of attachment in the characters put me at a distance from them, and thus at a distance from the story. That said, it is a complex puzzle that I enjoyed solving.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Book Review: Willa Goodheart by Edward C. Patterson

Reviewer: Alan Chin
Publisher: Dancaster Creative (March 1, 2019)
Pages: 335


Set in San Francisco in 1995, the story follows the joys and troubles of Willa Goodheart as she balances her new administrative assistant job with her family obligations of cooking and cleaning for her father and two brothers. But as events unfold, Willa is linked to a string of recent murders. She soon finds herself sucked into mysterious events that all seemed connected to the murder investigation. Grabbing the bull by the horns, Willa undertakes her own investigation, connecting the dots in an attempt to clear her name. But she soon finds more than she bargained for, like a few family skeletons lurking in the closets, and perhaps even a love interest. 

I know I can rely on a stimulating collection of characters whenever I open a book by Edward Patterson, and Willa Goodheartis no exception. Crooked businessmen, old Chinese fortune tellers, ritualistic cults, drag queens, crazy mothers, and crazier grandmothers fill the streets of San Francisco. And of course, Willa Goodheart herself is a fascinating character who is able to engage the reader throughout the story.

I’ve read several of Patterson’s books, but this is the first mystery I’ve read by him. He handles this genre with a deft touch, keeping the reader guessing until the last few pages. And even though it is a dark mystery, with characters being murdered left and right, the author brings his special brand of humor to every page, keeping the story light and entertaining. 

Lovely prose. Snappy dialogue. Enchanting characters. Fiendishly inventive. Edward Patterson has written an utterly delightful mystery. 

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Book Review: Surviving Immortality by Alan Chin

Reviewer: Edward C. Patterson
Publisher: DSP Publications (June 2018)
Pages: 432

Powerfully fast-moving with now-relevancy

I know I can rely on a good read whenever I open a book by Alan Chin; and Surviving Immortality is no exception, except it is exceptional. With a believable spark, Mr. Chin presents us with a world devouring itself when promise has given it its greatest loss for hope. All the inchoate faults of humanity, ready today to strike our civilization to the core, leeches out when confronted by a mind shattering development and a simple, lethal condition. Surviving Immortality is masterfully rendered into a work long lingering after the last pages.
The characters are complex, each with their own demon, but honest to their convictions; so much so, there are no heroes, and those who appear villainous can be redeemed by their good intentions. The main thread of the story his told through Matt Reece’s point of view, although all the characters get their turn; but it is Matt’s intense purity, a purity despoiled by circumstances, which unfolds like a night flower in moonlight. Alan Chin crafts an action adventure and psychological political philosophical tale, if there could be such a genre, keeping the pages turning until those pages disappear and time is lost. The elements in the work, and those effecting Matt Reece, are all about us today just waiting for the spark to ignite them. Mr. Chin strikes that spark.
I am a fan of Alan Chin’s other works, but this one combines all the signature touches of them all — ranch life, storms at sea, tropical islands, police procedural, Buddhism, sexuality and a lust for travel. He even includes doffs to his latest wanderlust — Machu Picchu. The world he presents is hisworld as much as ourworld. The arguments are current ones, and I’ll not spoil your read by mentioning them, but whatever opinions you have on those topics, Surviving Immortalitywill not fail to engage you, even if you wind up talking to your night light at midnight in bed. 
Needless to say (but I will say it), I highly recommend this book if you enjoy a powerful fast-moving work with now-relevancy from a major author who contributes to our contemporary literary legacy.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

The Sparsholt Affair by Alan Hollinghurst

Reviewer: Alan Chin
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf
Pages: 417


This epic presents the arc of English gay history from the 1940s to 2012, particularly the changing attitudes of the British public toward the LGBT community during that time. The story covers three generations of friends who meet at Oxford in 1940, and the people who come into and go out of their lives. These characters have affairs with each other, go to war, marry, divorce, remarry, raise children, all within the backdrop of dealing with bigotry and intimidation.

Although the title is named for David Sparsholt, the protagonist turns out to be David’s son, Johnny Sparsholt, who shows up in part two. Much of the story is Johnny having to deal with living with the shame that his father’s affair with another man became a national news scandal. In fact, Dave Sparsholt is almost always seen through the eyes of other characters rather than being on the page himself.

The core of enjoyment for me was the gorgeous language and detailed writing style the author brings to all his works. Hollinghurst is a master of the written word, and that shows in every paragraph. 

That said, I (and several others in my book club) felt that much of the story was too slow paced, to the point of being boring. There is very little conflict throughout the story, and what there is tends to be very subtle. It was a struggle to finish it.

The Sparsholt Affair is not for the lazy reader. It is a complex story where many blanks are given for the reader to fill in. The author adroitly captures the lives of gay men, from the longing of adolescence to the acceptance of old age. It is a story beautifully told.