Tag Archives: organized crime

Fool Moon by Jim Butcher

After having read Storm Front, the first book in the Dresden Files series, I promptly put the rest of the books on my to-read list.  I’m one of those people who isn’t happy unless she’s reading through at least one series; I think it’s because recurring characters and a familiar world is easier to lose yourself in.  Anyway, Fool Moon is the second book in the series, and it is certainly just as thrilling as the first one.

We meet up with wizard Harry Dresden six months after the end of Storm Front.  He’s healed up, but most of his business has dried up.  Chicago’s Special Investigations unit isn’t using him much anymore, since he caused all kinds of problems for them the last big case they had him work on.  So it’s not surprising when he’s willing to talk to Kim, a woman he’s been mentoring in the wizardly arts, about something she’s stumbled upon in exchange for dinner.

He recognizes the power of what she’s messing with, and warns her away.  Then Karrin Murphy, the head of SI, asks for Dresden’s help, and we’re on our way to another supernatural adventure.

This series has many good things going for it.  Butcher writes well, with a good mix of narrative and dialogue.  There’s a good amount of humor in both, which is probably the biggest draw for me.  Literary fiction, almost by definition, takes itself seriously, sometimes to the point of tedium.  Genre fiction, whether it be science fiction, fantasy, romance, or mystery, gives the author so much more room for exploring that essential part of human experience.  Butcher gives the reader plenty without overdoing it, which I really like.

I also enjoy the first-person point-of-view.  I don’t get to read many that stick with one character and also has him “narrate” his own story, and I like that.

There were some stumbling points for me with the book, however.  It felt, to me, that we missed some things in the six months between Storm Front and Fool Moon, and that’s a bit unsettling.  I like to feel like I’m getting the full story in a series like this, and dislike it when the author leaves a good amount of information out.  This is probably just me, but I would have liked a little bit more about Dresden’s life in-between the end of the evil wizard of Storm Front and the beginning of the bad werewolf of Fool Moon.

Butcher also stretched my ability to suspend disbelief with the amount of abuse Dresden is able to take.  I mean, sure, a main character can withstand more than the average person, but not even a Timex watch made of titanium and Teflon could make it through what our hero is forced to endure.  I hope future books give him a little more healing time between beatings.

Overall, I find Butcher’s writing to be fun.  Everyone needs their fiction to be something they can immerse themselves in with no hesitation, and the Dresden Files is definitely a series that I can sit back and enjoy with relish.

Rating:  4/5.

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I Am the Cheese by Robert Cormier

What a shame it is I never read anything by Robert Cormier when I was a young adult.  I am, instead, forced to read his books as an adult, and lament the fact that I didn’t have the pleasure of reading his stories a long time ago.  I Am the Cheese is an excellent story for tweens and teens that has lost none of its edge since its first publication over thirty years ago.

The first book of Cormier’s I read, The Chocolate War, was good, even if it is what I would consider a boys’ book, with a plot that is exotic in its strangeness to this woman’s brain.  I Am the Cheese has, I think, a more universal appeal.  Adam, the protagonist, faces challenges that are more compelling for a wider audience, which makes it better, in my opinion.

Cormier goes back and forth between two separate parts of Adam’s life.  One is told in straightforward prose, recounting the events of his bicycle ride through three states to visit his father and deliver a package to him.  The other is told through interview transcripts, in which an official of unknown training and origin asks and guides Adam’s exploration of his family’s past.

The lovely thing about Cormier’s telling of Adam’s story is that you feel as though you are learning about Adam slowly.  You know he has things that he is keeping hidden, and you can guess at some of them.  The really delightful thing is that I was wrong a couple of times, so I was still surprised despite my attempts to be ahead of the author’s pacing.

Adam’s story ends up being very interesting, indeed.  I don’t think it’s inappropriate to compare I Am the Cheese to something like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest of Catch-22 for both complexity and the fact that the story involves, in a very integral way, the question of the protagonist’s sanity.  Adam’s life story leads him to question who his parents are and, consequently, who he is.  Worse yet, he finds himself in a situation where he is constantly being asked questions about his family and who they truly are.  This questioning is done in an institution that does not make itself clear to Adam; he’s not sure if he’s in a mental hospital, he’s not sure whether his interrogator is a psychiatrist, and he really doesn’t know how long he’s been where he is.

If there is any drawback to I Am the Cheese, it probably is the loose ends Cormier leaves in the story.  We never find out what happens to Amy, Adam’s best friend.  The story about his bike journey falls apart at the end, as well.  While this might be a case of deliberate stylistic choice on Cormier’s part, I found it a little odd and, at the end, sad.  I wasn’t quite sure what he was attempting to convey through how Adam’s trek concluded, but I didn’t find it all that satisfying.

Overall, I found Adam’s story to be one that kept my interest and kept me guessing.  I’d imagine I Am the Cheese still pleases a young adult audience quite well, despite the lack of vampires or shallow cliques — or, worse yet, the lack of shallow vampire cliques.  For the reader who likes realistic and intelligent fiction aimed at a slightly younger audience, one could do a lot worse, and not a lot better.

Rating: 4/5.

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The Dogs of Rome by Conor Fitzgerald

When I first got this book, I thought it was going to be a story about organized crime in Rome.  And it is.  I thought it was going to be about murder.  And it is.  I thought it was going to be about how the police struggle with corruption from within and powerful forces from without making investigations more difficult.  And it is.  It’s all those things, but it also goes beyond those things in surprising and delightful ways.

The first book in what appears to be a planned series about the investigations of its protagonist, Commissario Alec Blume, The Dogs of Rome is also an impressive debut into fiction by the author, Conor Fitzgerald.  I’ll be honest — I didn’t expect to enjoy it a whole lot; new author, a genre I’m not well-read in, takes place in a country that I don’t have an inordinate amount of interest in.  It had a lot of marks against it.

Then I read the first chapter.  Oh, my God, the first chapter.  Fitzgerald puts his technical skill to amazing work here; the words describe a fairly pivotal event with such realism that I was left without breath for a couple of seconds by the time I finished reading it.  It was superbly written, and, if I could, I would pay him to write a book full of little vignettes just like this first section.

The rest of the book does not disappoint.  It doesn’t quite come to the level of the opening, but it’s finely crafted.  We follow Blume through the investigation of one murder, which turns into two murders, which turns into … well, you get the idea.  Fitzgerald brings the reader into the world of Roman law enforcement, which means that he also has to bring us into Italian politics, organized crime, and international diplomacy.  It’s interesting to watch Blume, an American, try to both navigate the subtleties of communication that Italians employ while also staying true to his straightforward, blunt style.

Rome in this book provides us with a series of crimes that brings us into contact with a wide variety of people:  a national representative, the leader of an organized crime ring, a shifty geek, corrupt law enforcement workers, an American legat working for the FBI, and a man running a dog-fighting ring.  I love the variation Fitzgerald is able to give the characters; they feel both firmly settled in established character types, yet fresh and innovative enough to cause the story to rise above the average thriller.

A couple of small things were a bit distracting to me.  The first was Fitzgerald’s rush to introduce the reader to the entire cast of law enforcement characters within the book.  Many were presented before they actually made a personal appearance.  This caused me to lose track of who was who, since I had too many names to keep track of.  It got straightened out fairly quickly, but was something that could have been easily avoided.

The other problem is truly minor:  some of Fitzgerald’s information about World of Warcraft was factually incorrect.  Yes, I’m a dork.  I know it won’t bother most people, who are not dorks.  But the top level in WoW currently is eighty, not sixty.  It very well may have been sixty when he started writing the book; that was the top level for a while.  Not now, though, and that’s where Fitzgerald or a fact-checker could have easily have won points with the dork faction for getting the technical aspects of their game right, but failed to do so.

Overall, I’d say that The Dogs of Rome is far from being a dog itself.  It is a sharp tale, told in a direct manner, with good characters, an exciting plot, and enough going on to keep the reader engaged until the end.

Rating:  4/5.

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