Monday, March 17, 2014

Little Demon in The City of Light

Paris was an exciting place in 1889. The new Eiffel Tower was a visible reminder that the city itself was one of the marvels of the modern world. Science and culture thrived in the new and fragile Third Republic. The scientific community was exploring new and fascinating fields. Among these fields was the new fad of hypnotism. In France two main schools of thought struggled for dominance. One of the main points of contention concerned the amount of free will that the subject under hypnosis retained. The Paris school argued that subjects under hypnosis could not be compelled to act against their own moral code. The rival school in Nancy claimed that subjects had no free will at all. This academic debate would soon be put to the test in a sensational murder trial.

Gabrielle Bompard was a young, free spirited girl who came to Paris to escape her father and step-mother. She soon became the mistress of Michel Eyraud. Eyraud was a shady business man who spent most of his time cheating people out of their money. Together with Gabrielle he murdered an acquaintance of his. After disposing of the body they fled to America. The police case for the missing friend ended up in the hands of Surete chief Marie-Francios Goron. Goron was able to discover the identity of the murdered man’s body, and was eventually able to connect the murder to Eyraud and Bompard.

Bompard fled Eyraud in America and returned to France. She claimed that she was not guilty of any crime because she had be forced under hypnosis to help in the murder. Eyraud was captured in Cuba and returned to France. The case would fascinate the Parisians and would be the first time that hypnosis was used as a murder defense.

The Little Demon In The City of Light is a fascinating book. The story itself almost seems like a convoluted murder mystery. Steven Levingston keeps this true story of crime moving along at a wonderful pace. The dogged Goron chasing down every clue, refusing to be stopped by inept police work in other parts of France. The shifty, murderous Eyraud with his manipulations. Most of all there is the character of Bompard. The young woman was an enigma. Was she a clever seductress, the “LIttle Demon?” Was she a simple minded victim of the stronger Eyraud? Like all real history the truth is often unknowable. We have to decide for ourselves about this young woman.

This is a fascinating story and deserves to be known. Levingston is an excellent writer and really brings this story to life. If you like history, true crime, or mystery novels, do yourself a favor and get this book.

Monday, March 3, 2014

The Chase by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg

Stolen art, an avaricious former government official, a lot of junk food, and loads of sexual tension. These are the main themes in The Chase the new novel in the Fox and O'Hare series by bestselling authors Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg. This time around the team have a new mission and a tight deadline. A valuable artifact is about to be returned to China from the Smithsonian Museum. There is only one problem: it is a fake. The real item had been stolen years earlier and instead of admitting the loss the government covered it up by displaying a forgery. Now Special Agent Kate O'Hare of the FBI has to team up again with her secret partner, international criminal Nick Fox. Their job is to find out who stole the item and retrieve it before the Smithsonian hands the fake over to the Chinese government.

Fox thinks he knows who stole the item so he hunts down an old "business" partner. That leads him to the identity of the person who now owns the artifact. That's where the real trouble begins. It is in the very private collection of Carter Grove, former White House Chief of Staff. Grove is retired from government service and now runs an international security firm. Grove loves two things: power and art. With the resources of his firm Grove can build and tear down governments in third world nations. His employees are cold blooded killers. With his resources Grove will be the most dangerous opponent that Fox and O'Hare have faced yet.

The Chase is a fun, cute novel. The plot seems to be secondary to the book. The story only seems to exist in order to form a loose narrative for the interaction between Fox and O'Hare. More importantly in this novel it exists to discuss two things: Kate O'Hare's complete lack of femininity and her crush on Nick Fox. Her lack of anything feminine is driven home time and again. In fact it becomes a rather tedious theme. She dresses poorly, she has a sparsely furnished apartment with a punching bag, and most of all there is her diet. Her diet is enough to make even the strongest stomach feel nauseous. The similarities to the Sandra Bullock film Miss Congeniality are unavoidable. On the other hand is her almost girlish crush on Nick Fox. When she is not eating some form of lousy food she is fantasizing about Fox. The contrast between the two sides of her character do not give her depth, they simply appear to be two different cardboard cutouts that are pasted together. This appears to be a fairly standard motif in "tough girl" literature and film.

The cardboard cutout characters abound in the book. There is Nick Fox, the international thief, who is also brilliant, and cunning, and, most of all, beautiful. The rest of the team are fun if predictable. There is Willie, the Driver. She loves to drive anything with an engine. Cars, boats, planes, it doesn't matter. Give her an instruction manual and she can fly an unfamiliar plane with no trouble. Of course her large, surgically modified bust is also an important character in the story. It makes an appearance when an easy distraction is needed. There is Boyd Campbell, the actor who only lives for his art. More than once his new career in commercials is interrupted for the good of the team. Poor Boyd doesn't appear to have much a future. No one seems interested in the deep emotional depth he keeps trying to bring to mouthwash and pancake commercials. Then there is our villain, Carter Grove. He is rich and ruthless. Not only is he a thinly veiled member of the Bush team, but he is also rich. How can a villain be more predictable, or two dimensional.

All of those criticisms aside the novel is actually fun to read.  It is a light hearted take on what has become a very serious genre. In many ways the Fox and O'Hare novels are more like a television series. If you demand that your books be full of dark, brooding characters and intense scenes of violence and sex then you might want to pass this novel by. If you want a light, enjoyable book and enjoy fun television shows like Rizzoli and Isles or Burn Notice then you should enjoy this book as well. I know that I did.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

47 Ronin by Mike Richardson and Stan Sakai

Title: 47 Ronin
Author: Mike Richardson
Artist: Stan Sakai
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Release Date: March 4, 2014

“To know this story is to know Japan.” This statement is made on the title page of this book. According to the author Mike Richardson this is an old Japanese saying. The story of the 47 Ronin is certainly a compelling story. The true events behind the story took place in the feudal society of early eighteenth century Japan. The story itself is simple enough. A nobleman named Kira insulted a hotheaded nobleman named Asano. During the quarrel in the palace of the Shogun Asano drew his weapon on Kira. It was a crime punishable by death to draw a weapon in the house of the shogun. Lord Asano, was convicted and ordered to commit seppuko, a ritualistic suicide. Asano’s legacy was further disgraced when his family was stripped of its possessions and his samurai were cast adrift as ronin. Even though Kira should have been punished as well his influence allowed him to go free, even though he instigated the event.

After one year forty-seven of Asano’s samurai, led by his chief retainer Oishi Yoshio, banded together, attacked the residence of Kira. They killed his retainers and then killed Kira. Even though many admired them for avenging their lord they were convicted of murder and ordered to commit seppuko. They did so and have been honored by many as the embodiment of the Bushido code ever since. 

This story has spawned art, plays, books, operas, songs, poems, and film. Now it has come to the world of comic books. For Mike Richardson, founder of Dark Horse Comics,  this is a work of love. He has studied the story of the 47 Ronin for over 25 years. He finally decided to write the story. The book is well written. The pace is just right for the story. He doesn’t make the mistake of many writers and clutter up the story with a lot of historical background, rather he lets the story unfold for the reader. There are a lot a powerful moments in this book. Oishi knows that he and his men have to make everyone believe that they are broken and pose no threat. To this end they abandon loved ones, take menial jobs, pretend to be drunks.

Stan Sakai was the perfect artist to bring this story to life. Best known for his Usagi Yjimbo series, he has a wonderful grasp of the traditional look of the period. For this book he drew is inspiration from Ogata Gekko, a well known Japanese artist form the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Gekko created a well known set of prints based on this story. Even though Sakai may have used Gekko as his inspiration, his style is all his own.

This is a moving and powerful story and deserves to be treated with respect. Richardson and Sakai have done just that with this outstanding book. I recommend that you pre-order this book now. 

The Shadow, Volume 3: The Light of the World by Chris Roberson and Giovanni Timpano

Title: The Shadow, Volume 3: The Light of the World
Author: Chris Roberson
Artist: Giovanni Timpano
Publisher: Dynamite Entertainment
Release Date: March 4, 2014

Who knows what evil lurks in the the hearts of men? The Shadow of course. This time The Shadow is up against a dangerous opponent. There is a serial killer on the loose and the police have no leads. All they know is that the victims are killed with swords. The killer is a mysterious woman who calls herself The Light. The Light, is killing sinners in order to free their divine soul from their corrupt flesh. 

So now The Shadow must track down and stop The Light in order to end this killing spree. If you find that last sentence to be ironic then you are getting the point of the story. Nothing is as it seems. Chris Roberson is doing an excellent job as the writer of The Shadow. Bad pulp fiction is easy, but good pulp fiction is hard. Roberson writes excellent stories. The pacing is amazing. The story never slows down, but you feel like you have read a full book by the time you get to the end. I love the subtle ways that he brings images and ideas into the story. At one point you think that the story is going to revolve around another Seven Deadly Sins killer, but it's not that easy.

Roberson is able to to tell this story so effectively thanks to the amazing art work of Giovanni Timpano. Timpano does an excellent job of capturing the look and feel of the 1930s. There is a lush, rich look to the pages. This is pulp fiction art at its best. Together Roberson and Timpano have captured the feel of the classic Shadow stories while at the same time making the stories feel modern. 

This is a treat for any lover of classic pulp fiction. If you love great pulp fiction then get this book and enjoy.