Monday, September 23, 2013

My problem with writing reviews. Except this one.

I have a problem: I don't like writing book reviews.

It's not a huge problem, I agree, as far as problems go. But as a writer, and as someone who maintains a blog, it's there nonetheless.

First, I have a hard time imagining anyone cares whether I like a book or not. If I'm right about that, then I'm wasting my time writing a review. I don't like wasting my own time. I do hope my opinion counts just a little, to a few people, and if nothing else my posting a book's cover and synopsis might allow people to check the book out for themselves.

Second, I don't like trying to find nice things to say about a book if I didn't really like it. I can do so if necessary, but I don't want to because it's misleading (assuming point one, above, doesn't apply and someone's paying attention). Now, this is a problem only when I feel obliged to write a book review (say if the President or the Dalai Lama asked me to) so I've pretty much eliminated it by writing only reviews when I want, and about books I like. Put another way, if I read a book and don't like it, you won't see it here.

And a book review is why we're all here today. This one's a little funny because under normal circumstances I might not actually have read this book, let alone liked it. It's set in Texas (get plenty of that already) and is sort of a "cozy" mystery (traditional definition would be something along the liens of  "‘gentle’ books… no graphic violence, no profanity, and no explicit sex"), although somehow it doesn't fit entirely into that slot. Nothing wrong with those things, I've just been leaning towards international spy stories lately.

[Quick disclaimed: the author, Terry Shames, has become a friend because her book is published by Seventh Street Press, my own publisher. But see aforementioned discussion about my policy of simply not reviewing a book if I don't like it. Additionally, Terry didn't ask for this review, I'm posting it because I loved her book. So there.]

So, here's the book cover, which I think is very cool:

Synopsis of the book (taken from Amazon):

The chief of police of Jarrett Creek, Texas, doubles as the town drunk. So when Dora Lee Parjeter is murdered, her old friend and former police chief Samuel Craddock steps in.

He discovers that a lot of people had it in for Dora Lee. The conniving rascals on the farm next door want her land for nefarious purposes; her estranged daughter could be seeking vengeance; her grandson wants money for art school; and then there's that stranger Dora Lee claimed was spying on her.

Does Craddock still have what it takes to find the killer?

In this debut novel, the strong, compelling voice of Samuel Craddock illuminates the grandeur and loneliness of the central Texas landscape and reveals the human foibles of the residents in a small Texas town-their pettiness and generosity, their secret vices and true virtues.

My opinion:

I read this book in three days, over a very busy weekend. I chose to read it rather than watch sports yesterday, just so I could finish it and find out whodunnit.

So, yes, it's a good mystery, the kind that even half-way through you're thinking, "I have no clue who the killer is." Additionally, all suspects seem equally plausible, I didn't feel like any were thrown in just to confuse the reader and that takes some pretty nifty writing. And you read on, because you really do want to know what happened and why.

Which brings me to the writing style: it's so easy, so flowing, that you will hit that half-way point before you know it. The plot is easy to follow, she doesn't get bogged down with narrative description, and the dialogue is spot on.

Best of all, for me, was the cast of characters. The central figure, Samuel Craddock, is utterly original and immensely likeable, which is key for a mystery. And Terry has done a great job with all her characters, who are real, interesting, original, and layered. It's absolutely, the kind of book that cries out to be a series, which it will be (this was the first). A really, really, good book and I highly recommend it.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Kind words

I try not to post too much about my writing life because I assume most people who come here are interested in things criminal.  But, as I often say, it's my blog so I can post what I like and every now and again something pops up that I want to share.

I received this message at my Facebook Author Page:

I'm 74 and never wrote an author before.. just finished The Bookseller. Loved it! My favorite kind of novel, one that drags me into 2am to finish it because it's too hard to put down. First thought was this would make a great series, then I looked at the cover again - sub title "The first...." duh. I think Hugo will rank up there with Alan Gregory, Harry Bosch, "Oliver Stone" and Jack Reacher! Looking forward to reading The Crypt Thief and many more Parisian, or other European cities, adventures. 

Now, I get messages there, and emails via my website, pretty much every week. But this one really made me smile and, as I'm sure you can guess, it was because this gentleman is 74 years old, and contacted an author for the first time.  That tells me he can really relate to Hugo Marston, my main character, and it tells me I succeeded in my quest to create a central, identifiable hero that readers will want to get to know, to hear more from. One reader, anyway.

That's just, plain fantastic. And let's hope he's right about Hugo's longevity and popularity!

Taking a wider view, it did remind me how important kind words are. This chap had no idea whether I would be giddy with pleasure or shrug at another reader email, but he took the time to say a few nice things to a stranger.  I try to live my life that way, though it's more likely to be a joke than anything, but still.

So there's your reminder on a Friday, and you have all weekend to go out and make a complete stranger a little bit happier.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Human Trafficking in Austin and Amsterdam

I've made some good friends in the Austin Police Department, thanks to my ride-alongs. Because they are patrol officers, they're usually at or near the lower rungs of their career ladder, which means that sooner or later they move up and on. Which is great for them, but sucks for me because I don't see them any more!

One of those friends is a sergeant, somewhat further along in his career, and he's one of the nicest human beings I know, and a fantastic cop. One of the best things about him is his intelligence and the way he works with his officers. He loves training them, getting them to think about why they do what they do. He and I talk about the law, about the best ways to apply it in the field, and one of his greatest achievements (from my perspective) has been to show his guys how to write a clear, concise offense report. Bless you for that.

Anyway, he's moving on to head a human trafficking group within APD. I've seen myself, even working in our juvenile division, that there are victims of human trafficking right here in Austin. This is noble work for a noble cop, and I know he'll do a great job there.

It's fitting that I post this video. It's less than 2 minutes long, and is fairly safe for work (no nudity, but there is scantily clad dancing).

It's shot in Amsterdam's Red Light District. A crowd gathers to watch what appears to be a planned dance routine by the ladies working in an establishment. There are hoots and hollers, and everyone's having fun until the end, when the real message is made clear.

Good luck in your new job, Sarge, you're saving lives.