Saturday, May 31

Dearly Devoted Dexter - Jeff Lindsay

Miami has a new serial killer, one whose technique quickens the pulse of Dexter's Dark Passenger, and who has a connection with Dexter';s nemesis, Sergeant Doakes. Despite this, Doakes' attention is falling heavier on Dexter and, to deflect suspicion, he not only has to delay gratifying his Dark Passenger but also increase his intimacy with girlfriend Rita. This has the unexpected result of them getting engaged, a prospect neither reassuring nor attractive to Dexter. When Dexter discovers that Rita's son Cody and he may have more in common that he thought, though, Dexter sees an advantage beyond that of protective colouring - he can help Cody the way his foster-father helped him.
This sequel to Darkly Dreaming Dexter retains the humorous, sardonic voice of Dexter, who manages to combine a realistic outlook with a dry self-pity and interesting insights into the way people operate when seen from without - after the car he's in, alongside his cop sister, turns upside down and sinks in a lake, Dexter surfaces and truly appreciates air. It takes him a moment to think of Deborah: "A real human being might have thought of his drowning sister much sooner, but really, let's be fair, one can only expect so much from an imitation after what I had been through. And I did actually think of her now, possibly still in time to do something meaningful. But although I was not really reluctant to rush to the rescue, I couldn't help thinking that we were asking a bit much of Dutifully Dashing Dexter this evening, weren't we?"
In Dearly Devoted Dexter we also get to see more of Deborah, who unexpectedly falls in love, and learn a little more about how Dexter's mind works. It's a little disconcerting to find oneself barracking for the psychopath but Lindsay manages to create a hero who is unquestionably sociopathic and inhuman yet still somehow sympathetic. Some of this is due to his personal code, but most of it has to do with Dexter's voice. I'm going straight on to the sequel! - Alex

Friday, May 30

Phil Rickman: December

When a group of psychic musicians come together to record an album at a newly converted abbey they awaken an uneasy ghost determined to have the truth of its passing known, which in turn stirs an ancient evil lurking at the very heart of the abbey. The resultant chaos forces them to scatter.
But each carries with them a legacy from that disastrous night and fourteen years later they are back to set the spirits of the place at rest. Though their powers have grown and they have uncovered a number of the abbey’s secrets it is still doubtful that they will be a match for it and now they all have so much more to lose than they did all those years ago.
Set in the same world as previous novels Crybbe and The Man in the Moss, this novel mentions characters from both yet is a sequel to neither. Being one of his earlier novels, December introduces a number of characters that feature in the later Merrily Watkins series and I enjoyed learning about these characters’ pasts. It has made me want to go back and reread the series in light of what I now know about these characters. (Though I won’t at this point because my 'to be read' pile has several new books from the series I’m itching to get to.)
If you have ever thought about reading the Merrily Watkins series but haven’t started yet, I would recommend that you read this book first. It is not at all necessary form a plot perspective, but when the characters from here start to pop up there you will have a fuller picture of who they are and what they’re doing.
I did have a little difficulty believing the development of a romance between two of the characters but then this doesn’t claim to be a romance. So while I was a bit disappointed in that I can overlook it since the rest of the story is satisfyingly eerie and has more than enough to keep a reader interested.
Rickman weaves several apparently unrelated plot threads together to form a coherent, enjoyable whole.-Lynn

Thursday, May 29

Singled Out - Simon Brett

Laura Fisher, newly divorced from her overpowering husband, still recovering from an abusive childhood, and successful in her career as a television producer, sets out to get the one thing she can't achieve on her own - a child. The one-night stand does get Laura pregnant, but the man involved did not leave happily, and Laura is horrified to read the next day that a young woman who looked a lot like her was brutally strangled - in the same area Laura's tryst took place, and that the father of her child has been charged with the murder. Fearful that her baby will now be tainted by bad blood on both sides - her mother was also strangled, by her father - she resolves to never tell her son the truth about his origins. Twenty years later, despite all her best efforts, Laura's son Tom is something of an apathetic disappointment - at least until his girlfriend, a Laura lookalike, spurs him on. When Emily, too, is strangled, Laura fears the worst - does bad blood out?
The front blurb says Singled Out is "erotic, tense and chilling" - I must have missed a hell of a lot of subtext, because I found it unconvincing, overly dramatic and unrealistic. In particular I'd like to know which part was allegedly 'erotic' - there's a clinical scene at the beginning, where Laura gets pregnant, and a somewhat well written reunion between Laura and her long-lost lover, but neither were anything like erotic in my opinion.
I didn't engage with any of the characters - from the unsympathetic Laura, her protective cop brother Kent, her gay best friend Rob, her ex-husband Michael, her boss Dennis, the uppity girlfriend Emily, or her distant son Tom. I only completed Singled Out because I was out and didn't have anything else to read. The dénouement, clearly intended to be a cunning twist, was obvious from very early on, the ending of the novel was flat and uninteresting. Give this a miss - Alex

Wednesday, May 28

A Cure for All Diseases - Reginald Hill

Recovering from his recent near death experience, Dalziel is reluctantly recuperating at the holistic Avalon clinic in the seaside village of Sandytown, where the focus is on alternative and integrated therapies. Dalziel's been issued with a miniature disc recorder and is encouraged to talk through his feelings, for nobody's ears but his own. The development of Sandytown is a little contentious, and it comes as no surprise when one of the stakeholders dies. Pascoe's called in on the case, but he couldn't really expected Dalziel to take a back seat...
A departure from his usual style, A Cure for All Diseases combines the voices of several characters - Charlie's, in the form of emails to her sister in South Africa, Dalziel's recorded self-directed therapy, and more traditional third person narration from the perspectives of Pascoe and of Franny Roote, a nemesis from novels past. The pastiche is evidently a tribute to Jane Austen's unfinished novel Sanditon (it's dedicated to "Janeites everywhere"), and perhaps read in that light the style works, but I found the email components (which wholly lack punctuation and are even more liberal with dashes than I) annoying:
The Great Philosophical Question occupying Sandytopnians isnt the meaning of life - or even - can England ever win the World Cup again? - any world cup! - but wholl inherit Lady Ds lolly?!
Despite this irritation, Hill has once again created an engrossing and interesting novel. The characters are well drawn and have a clear and individual voice. For those familiar with the series, the interplay between the central characters, and particularly the tension between Pascoe and Dalziel created by the latter's (presumably temporary) seniority over the latter, and how Dalziel's absence affects Pascoe's management style, are richly rewarding.
The form of A Cure for All Diseases does take a little getting used to, and I had to suspend my disbelief a little more than usual, because - while very amusing and certainly contributing to the conent and enjoyment of the text - I found it hard to believe Dalziel would happily chat away to a dictaphone.
There are Hill's trademark sly humerous asides -
Dalziel let out a sighing groan, or a groaning sigh, the kind of a sound that might well up from the soul of a tone-deaf man who has just realised the second act of Götterdämmerung is not the last.

and though long at 535 pages, the pay off is fantastic. This is not my favourite of Hill's novels, but it was well worth the ride. - Alex

Tuesday, May 27

Darkly Dreaming Dexter - Jeff Lindsay

Dexter Morgan's a blood spatter analyst in Miami. Since his foster parents, a homemaker mother and a cop father, have died, his only family is their daughter Deb, a vice cop. Dexter has a normal enough life - a nice but unremarkable apartment, a girlfriend who has two kids, and he enjoys his work. What sets Dexter apart from most people is his lack of emotion. Well, that and his Need, the Dark Passenger who spurs him on to kill.
A sociopath, Dexter was redeemed by his perceptive foster father, who taught him to channel his desires into a socially beneficially direction - he can kill people, but only those who deserve to die. And so Dexter tracks down and kills serial killers, then meticulously covers his tracks. So when Deb brings his attention to the work of a new killer - three prostitutes, drained of blood, dismembered, and meticulously wrapped, it would seems as though he has another candidate to track down. Only that's Dexter's methodology, with a beautifully bewitching refinement, and Dexter's started having dreams about the killings. Are they dreams? Or has Dexter's subconscious started to take over?
The first is what is, so far, three books, Darkly Dreaming Dexter has sired a TV series, which I have on DVD but haven't yet watched. This is wholly unsurprising - Dexter's a fascinating new addiction to a genre saturated with serial killers and pathologists. Not only is he the first to combine the two, in Dexter Lindsay has created a truly unique and absorbing character. Autistic-like in his attempts to decode human behaviour, a predator with principles, an intelligent and self-aware monster who helps improve society while violating it's mores, Dexter is layered and surprising, even to himself.
The writing is so deft, the character so compelling, and the plotting so germane that I was even happy with Lindsay committing two of my least favourite crimes in this genre - involving the protagonist personally in the investigation, and a cliff hanger ending. I want to see what happens next! - Alex

Monday, May 26

The Sacred Art of Stealing - Christopher Brookmyre

Harry's stuck in a small Mexican town, a hitman for the Estobal family, now led by Alessandro, a guy too dumb to know he's dumb. Angelique de Xavier's an Aberdeen detective, workaholic, different from her colleagues and holding her ground. Mr Jarry's the mastermind behind one of the most daring and outrageous burglaries in British history - and he has his own agenda.
The plot is intricate and deft, and though there's much more to it I can't really describe anything without diminishing the power of the book - I did finish it and want to go back and re-read it just to pick up plot points and subtle touches I know I missed on the first read through. Unlike anything I've read before, Brookmyre masterfully establishes a variety of strands, dynamically culminating each separate plot line into a cohesive, spectacular and satisfying whole. And he manages to convey, which I had never before even dreamt of, the complex importance of football supporters in Scotland - who you barrack for partly articulates who you are and what you believe, or at least what others think you are and believe.
I've seen Brookmyre's books around for several years but, for some reason, have avoided reading any until my eye was caught by this one on the library shelf last week. Now I'm conflicted - what a waste, but what a joy I now have them to look forward to! Funny, filthy, breathtaking and clever, if The Sacred Art of Stealing is anything like the rest of his writing I'm going to have to pace myself. - Alex

Sunday, May 25

Victoria Laurie: Demons are a Ghoul's Best Friend

When a ghost hunter is called in to rid an exclusive boarding school of a nasty spirit, she gets more than she bargained for. The ghost is that of a particularly nasty serial killer and it is terrorizing the ghosts of its victims, as well as the current student body and her business partner.
In the process of setting the victims’ spirits free and sending their tormentor to hell for good she uncovers a thirty year old secret that changes the lives of those concerned for ever.
I feel compelled to admit upfront that this great premise was let down, for me, by the author’s voice and character choice.
Let’s start with the gay best-friend/business partner. (Yes, Helen Fielding has a lot to answer for on this front.) I really don’t believe that this particular relationship dynamic exists widely outside of chic lit. I can speak only from my own experience of course but the gay people I know, both male and female, generally don’t have opposite sex ‘best friends’. Friends yes, but best-friends in the sense that most women understand it, no. So, for me, this wasn’t working from the start but add in the fact that he was the embodiment of all the worst clichés of the gay man (flirted with everyone with a penis, felt free to comment on women’s clothes, hair, make-up, anatomy, was an out and out coward, minced rather than walked) and this was more of a caricature than a character
The ‘love interest’ (and I use the term advisedly) was multi-lingual with English being his fifth language. The author chose to demonstrate his language difficulties, and possibly tried to add a little humour, by having him constantly get colloquialisms wrong by a word or two. It got old very quickly. Thankfully he disappears for about a third of the novel.
The main character herself seemed to have a bit of a chip upon her shoulder about her abilities. In fact, to me, she had a boarder line victim mentality about them. Nobody understood what she did (not surprising given that rather than use a simple phrase they would understand she insisted on going the whole pseudo scientific jargon explanation first) and once they did they immediately thought she was some sort of charlatan. She would then wow them with her amazing abilities and they would go from die hard sceptic to believer in a matter of moments. I’ve no doubt a professional psychic will come across more than their share of sceptics but surely that wouldn’t be everyone they meet and from my understanding it is a gift that can’t be turned on and off like a tap when needed. In any case most sceptics require a lot more convincing than she had to offer.
Apart from this she didn’t behave in a way that I thought logical for someone hunting ghosts. For example at no point does she attempt to discover the full legend behind the ghost, surely that would be a place to start when she had no other leads as to who it might be.
In spite of my perceived flaws, the storyline was good enough to have me persevere on to the end and I can quite understand how others might enjoy this series but it is not for me.-Lynn

Saturday, May 24

The L-Shaped Room - Lynne Reid Banks

Jane Graham is twenty-eight, a former actress with a travelling company, personal assistant for one of the managers at upscale hotel Drummond's, single, and five weeks pregnant. In 1950's England that's scandalous; her relationship with her father, already tense and disapproving, can't withstand the extra pressure and Jane's on her own. She has to decide if she wants to keep the baby and, with few possessions and less money, find a place to live. Jane finds a lodging in a run-down boarding house on a seedy part of town - at the top of five flights of stairs, sharing walls with another lodgers room, dingy, dark and oppressive, Jane believes she deserves no better. But as the weeks pass Jane, and the friends she makes in her new home, begins to transform the space into a haven, and she becomes attached to her little L-shaped room.
This classic of modern literature is a triumph - published in 1960, it captures the sentiments and prejudices of the time, and manages to overturn them. The racism, anti-Semetisism, homophobia, sexism and double standards are skillfully wover into the plot, all the more compelling for the fact that the novel was written contemporaneously with the era it portrays.
Jane is lively and believable, realistic but in some ways naïve to modern eyes, and her evolution is beautiful to watch. I felt a particular engagement with the novel for family reasons - though this is my first reading, The L-Shaped Room is one of my mother's favourite books, and I know my sisters have also enjoyed it.
One of the highlights of Jane's confinement is her aunt Addy, the kind of aunt I hope to be, and the description of her home was so close to my vision of my home when my nephews and nieces are a little older, spoke as though it had been written for me.
A decade after The L-Shaped Room was published I spent my earliest years only a suburb or two away from Fulham, the site of Jane's new home, and one of my sisters lives in Fulham now - I found the contrast between perceptions of the area then (remore, grimy, lower-class, run-down and seedy) and now (expensive, desirable, central) is striking, perhaps more so than the changes in community attitudes. I was also struck by how much more materialistic we are today. I don't know many people who would be happy with a tiny room, communal washing facilities, and a five-storey climb, for a holiday, let alone to live.
This is a beautiful, profound, absorbing and meticulously crafted book that I wholeheartedly recommend. - Alex

Friday, May 23

Among the Barbarians - Paul Sheehan

Subtitled The Dividing of Australia, this treatise by journalist Sheehan was a controversial best-seller on its release a decade ago. Inspired by an article he wrote two years earlier ("The Multicultural Myth" in the Sydney Herald Sun), and by the vituperant response that article received, Sheehan aims to support two interwoven claims about modern day Australia - first that unrestricted multiculturalism is a force that will destroy Australia; and second that anyone (or at least anyone white) who questions any aspect of immigration, multiculturalism or social services for non-Australian born inhabitants, or who discusses any ethnic aspect of anything relating to crime, unemployment or other social unworthy act or behaviour, is denounced as a racist. According to Sheehan, in modern Australian culture the term 'racist' is synonymous with ignorant, uninformed and/or erroneous, and anything a racist person says may be dismissed on the face of it, without anyone evaluating the truth of the statement or claim.
Woven through the text are discussions about the nature of the Australian landscape, focusing in particular on eucalypts - both the way they're particularly well adapted to arid Aussie conditions (they became the dominant tree species by knocking out other species competing for their various niches) and (which I didn't previously know) that indigenous colonisation of Australia dramatically altered environmental conditions 60 - 80,000 years ago, primarily through the use of fire.
Along the way Sheehan discusses the evolution of (white) Australian culture and identity, including the well known cultural cringe. He links this, and leftist ideology, to what he says is the marginalising of white/Australian/Anglo-European culture in favour of rampant multiculturalism. It is this marginalising, and the almost (I believe he wouldn't concede the 'almost') mandatory colour blindness of governmental and media reports, that led to the rise of Pauline Hanson's One Nation party.
I was very conflicted reading Among the Barbarians - on one hand I do have a degree of white guilt and the leftward-leaning, pro-multiculturalism ideology typical of my age, race, class and level of education, and many of the statements and arguments Sheehan makes seem poorly and/or selectively supported - for a more educated criticism see Anne Henderson's review. On the other hand I believe he's justified in claiming that the word 'racist' is an epithet in modern Australian society, that branding something or someone instantly marginalises and disempowers it, and that Western multicultural countries are comfortable ignoring the blatant anti-white racism of other countries (most notably China).
Sheehan makes some very interesting points - I was particularly interested in the opening section about indigenous law vs white law, using the story of Warlpiri member Stephen Jungarrayi, and his analysis of some of the issues around negotiating between indigenous and white cultures (including whether banning alcohol in indigenous groups is paternalistic, even if decided by the tribes' elders) was realistic in its inability to find a simple solution to what is a Gordian knot of complexity.
However, though he oftentimes acknowledges the contributions to Australia that immigrants have made in the past, there is little reflection or acknowledgement that, at the time of those migrations, similar concerns were raised - foreign ideologies incompatible with (undefined) Australian values, disease, enclaves of unassimilated migrants speaking their own language and not contributing to our society. In my life time this has included Greek, Italian and Turkish migrants ('60s + '70s), Vietnamese, Chinese, Thai and other Asian migrants ('80s + '90s), and Indonesian and Middle Eastern/Islamic migrants (the last decade, particularly post September 11. More troubling, Sheehan makes some broad claims without support - though he provides a bibliography, and on occasion statistics are referenced, this is often not the case. For example: "Are we importing criminals as some would have us believe? Yes. Check the prison statistics." That's the full response.
On other occasions statistics are presented misleadingly: "The truth is that all migrants undergo character checks before they get a visa. Fantasy. According to figures in the 1996 NSW Inmate Census, twenty eight percent of the non-Aboriginal prison population of New South Wales is foreign-born, not exactly a bargain for tax payers. Somehow the Department of Immigration also did not notice that career criminals were arriving among the refugee intake in large numbers."
Although precise figures for twelve years ago are time consuming to gather, in 1996 30.9% of Sydney's population was born overseas; as the majority of NSW's population lives in its capital city, if Sheehan's percentage is accurate (he does not explain why the indigenous inmates were excluded from the data), this reflects a roughly proportional percentage of overseas born inmates.
Granted, this is not an academic text, and perhaps it should not be criticised for these omissions. But if one writes about a controversial topic, presents oneself as a professional journalist, and writes with the intent of informing the general public, I think it behooves one to support one's position as robustly as possible.
Migration is the foundation of Australian society - Australia is one of the most ethnically diverse countries on the planet, and it cannot be coincidence that, despite our small population size, we are over represented in the international arenas of sport, entertainment and literature. I'm not saying there's a direct link to the composition of the population, but there's definitely a connection between that level of achievement and the national identity - a fundamental part of which includes respect for and appreciation of diversity.
Thanks to immigration the increase in aging across the population has slowed; a 1995 report showed that the cost of immigration is neutral (Williams, L., 1995, Understanding the economics of immigration, Canberra : Australian Govt. Pub. Service p. 25 - as cited here); and UK statistics from 2002 show that migrants contribute 10% to the GDP.
Many things have changed on the migration landscape in the last decade. Of course the most significant change since Sheehan's book was released is the aftermath of September 11 - globally there are tighter restrictions on travel in general, and particularly with immigration, which is often conflated with refugee intake. A month after the attacks the Howard government, in the throes of an election campaign, took advantage of public panic about terrorists hiding in refugee groups to demonise "asylum seekers" and, with mandatory detention of refugees/asylum seekers, introduce some of the most draconian legislation in the world.
The book is a somewhat light-weight, populist attempt to address real issues around multiculturalism and population size and composition in Australia. While some aspects are no long relevant, the topic is far from resolved. I agree with much of what Sheehan wrote. That Australia cannot sustain indefinite growth (through any combination of immigration and birth rate) is without question - though geographically immense, the soil quality and aridity of much of the continent precludes agriculture and large scale living, even without taking preservation of native flora, fauna and ecosystems in to account.
It's also true that policies that reduce migration, and even talk of them, are quickly branded racist - in no small part because it's rarely directed at Western white migration (from the UK, the US, Canada and New Zealand, for example), but also in general. And there are enclaves of non-assimilating migrants, though their children usually assimilate significantly. And there are groups of criminals, both organised and otherwise, from non-Anglo backgrounds; some of these have, without question, taken advantage of immigration policies and/or the small range of names in some Asian countries in order to enter under another identity. I believe this is a strong basis on which to review immigration screening procedures, but not for changing policy, and I believe it is this that Sheehan had an eye to when he wrote Among the Barbarians. - Alex

Thursday, May 22

Best of Three - Alissa Andrews

Holly's in love, and this time it's for real - even if it has only been for six weeks. Brett's the perfect guy for her, except for one thing - he's about to enter The Lab, a Big-Brother-like reality TV campus in Queensland. Holly doesn't know how she'll cope without him, and she can't even share her misery with her family - her perfect, podiatrist old sister's about to get married, her parents have never liked her boyfriends and certainly won't be impressed by this. She's going for a promotion at work, along with the swottily perfect Antonia, and she doesn't really like her two best friends, left-overs from high school who refuse to be left behind. This debut try-hard chick lit manages to give fashion (except for a reference to Chapel Street, an icon of Melbourne's trendy fashionistas) and shoes a miss, but otherwise includes all of my least favourite elements, chief of which is the clueless, self-obsessed heroine. At the novel's half-way mark Holly does realise that she's burying herself deeper and that she's been obsessed about Brett, a "normal guy who, if I'm honest, I pinned some high expectations on, and his only crime is failing to live up to them."
Excellent, I thought - now we'll see something different and interesting. Sadly no - Holly continues to lie and manoeuvre and be generally dishonest and unlikable and shallow. I only continued because I was stuck without anything else to read on the way to and from work. There was potential, and possibly Ms Andrews will be able to create characters with more depth, and plots with more substance and originality, when her writing matures. However, as nothing on her crops up on Google, and Best of Three was published in 2004, I doubt we'll have the chance to see. - Alex

Wednesday, May 21

No Way to Treat a First Lady - Christopher Buckley

The media never liked First Lady Beth MacMann (dubbed "Lady Beth Mac" in the press). When husband Ken is found dead next in their bed, a bruise on his forehead from the Paul Revere silver spitoon she (allegedly) threw at him in the early hours of that morning, there's no question - she done it. Charged with assasination, Beth - herself a lawyer - turns to the best defence counsel in the land, Boyce Baylor. A former fellow student, and lover, they've barely spoken since she ended it in order to take up with the man who would be President.
The characters are adequately developed and the plot unfurls smoothly in this combination of equal parts mystery and legal thriller. There are a number of twists, though none breathtakingly surprising. Buckley is billed as one of America's funniest modern writers. While I enjoyed reading No Way to Treat a First Lady, and even chuckled a couple of times, I think that's a bit of a stretch. It was enjoyable enough, and I'd probably try another of Buckley's books if I came across it, but I won't go out of my way. - Alex

Tuesday, May 20

Sandra Schwab: The Lily Brand

Brought up by her perverted step-mother all a young woman wants to do is escape her tortured existence. When a soldier captured during the Napoleonic war is sold into slavery and given to her as a gift she can’t think of a way to set him free which won’t jeopardise her own escape plans. Eventually an opportunity presents itself and she flees, letting him loose in the process.
Later, safely back on English soil, the former slave and mistress unexpectedly cross paths. He is determined to make her pay for his humiliation, not realizing that from their shared pain will spring a love so strong it can wipe away a life time of hurt.
Dark romance is very hard to find and this historical fits the bill nicely.
There were a couple of points that I didn’t understand, such as: why does the hero, once re-established in his old aristocratic life, not go back to France to seek revenge against the woman who wronged him? Why does he set his sights on his fellow victim, the only person who ever showed him an inkling of kindness during his enslavement and eventually not only set him free but gave him all she had to improve his chances of escape?
But if you can overlook these things the story was reasonably enjoyable. Not a bad first novel. I will be looking out for more of this author’s works.-Lynn

Monday, May 19

Skin Privilege - Karin Slaughter

Lena Adams has struggled her whole life - with the shame and anger of her childhood, raised by a drug-addicted uncle, who blinded her twin sister when he hit her with his car; with the grief of the mother she lost at birth, a mother who would have cared; and with the loss of her beloved twin, first when she was seduced by an older woman, and then when she was murdered by a serial killer. She created a new life for herself as a police officer in a town a hundred miles away from where she grew up, but she never really put it behind her.
When her boss, Heartsdale police chief Jeffrey Tolliver, hears that Lena has returned to Reece, and has been arrested after being discovered next to a burned out car containing a charred body, he doesn't hesitate. Taking his pediatrician wife, Sara Linton - only too glad to leave the heartbreak of a wrongful death suit - with him, Tolliver heads to Reece. He has no idea what they'll discover there, or the violence that will threaten everyone he holds dear.
This is the sixth Tolliver/Linton novel, and so a little formulaic writing is to be expected. For those who haven't read the previous novels a little background is woven, and quite well integrated, in to the text, especially around Lena's background.
That said, to get the most out of Skin Privilege (the title relates to one of the main themes, white supremacy) you really need to read the preceding novels, because one of the most striking elements Slaughter included was a sequence of events that make Lena question many of her fundamental beliefs, beliefs that have profoundly shaped the woman she became. The effect is very powerful and particularly well done.
Of course there's also character development for the other main players (Jeffrey and Sara), an intricate plot and two interwoven timelines (Jeffrey's perspective, running chronologically from when he hears about the burned out car and arrest, and Lena's, leading up to the car), and a particularly startling cliff-hanger of an ending that comes out of the blue.
I'm not usually a fan of cliff hanger endings that almost force the reader to continue to the next book, which is particularly prevalent in a lot of FSF writing, and I certainly felt some of that resigned irritation here, but less than I would usually expect. All in all, not a bad addition to the series but, like I wrote earlier, not where I'd suggest new readers start with Slaughter. - Alex

Sunday, May 18

Trace Evidence - Elizabeth Becka

When forensic scientist Evelyn James examines the body of a young girl fished out of Cleveland's Cyahoga River she's horrified - the poor girl, clad only in skimpy shorts and a long-sleeved shirt despite the biting cold of winter, is bound in chains that extend into the buckets of concrete that encase her feet. It doesn't take long for Evelyn to discover the body of another victim of Ohio's latest serial killer, a young girl connected with Evelyn herself.
This is Patricia Cornwell light, minus most of the pathology detail - a strong female protagonist, a younger and more vulnerable female, heavy on the thriller elements, a tracing of romance or romantic interest, and involvement of the main character as a player in the action rather than just an involved professional. I could almost feel a checklist being ticked off with the introduction of each new element. I found the writing style irritating, though I can't pinpoint precisely what it was that made is sound (to my inner ear) leaden and forced.
I borrowed Trace Evidence (a relevant piece of trace, a thread of green synthetic material, helps Evelyn identify the killer) because Becka's latest novel was on the new books display at my local library and it looked interesting. Not so much now - I think I'll pass. - Alex

Saturday, May 17

Certain Girls - Jennifer Weiner

Joy Shapiro-Krushelevansky's about to turn 13, and that means a bat mitzvah. It also means changes in her relationship with her best friends (twins Todd and Tamsin), and a new tension with her mother. Everything about her mother is wrong - her huge bust, her over protectiveness, her weird family, the way she won't let Joy grow up and do things normal girls do... all Joy wants to be is normal.
Thirteen years ago Cannie Shapiro could never have seen that her life would be so perfect - she has an amazing husband, who loves her even though she's fat and he's a fat doctor ("bariatric physician!"), a fabulous home, a relatively good relationship with her out and proud mother and with her irresponsible baby sister, a career she enjoys (pseudonomously writing a FSF series), a negotiated peace with the father of her perfect daughter... all Cannie wants is for Joy to be safe and happy.
This sequel to Weiner's debut novel Good in Bed captures many of the elements that made the original a succes, without retracing old ground. The novel alternates between Cannie and Joy's perspectives, and Weiner has done a great job of capturing the angst of adolescence, the differences perspective makes (Cannie sees her younger sister as feckless and irresponsible, Joy sees her as fun and daring), and the tensions between mothers and daughters that don't go way just because the daughter's an adult too.
Strong, powerful, warm, complex and with a devastating ending, Certain Girls is a must-read for anyone who enjoyed Good in Bed but would also be rewarding for those new to Weiner's work. - Alex

Friday, May 16

Sue Grafton: R is for Ricochet

In this instalment of the alphabet series a seemingly straight forward job of picking up a paroled woman from prison and delivering her home to her family gets complicated. The FBI ask Kinsey Millhone to convince her charge to provide the evidence they need to convict the woman’s former boss and lover of money laundering for a Colombian drug cartel.
But the pressure of the situation, coupled with the discovery that her former best friend is having an affair with the lover she did the time for in the first place, sends the woman backsliding into the world of gambling, alcohol and cons. This ethically compromises Kinsey who already has enough to worry about with the establishing of a new romantic relationship and the advanced sibling rivalry of her landlord/adopted father and his brother.
As always Grafton provides a reliable, entertaining story that doesn’t require too much effort on the part of the reader. The benefit of a series such as this is that a reader has all the comfort of revisiting well known characters in reasonably predictable circumstance without actually rereading the same story leaving space for the occasional surprise.
The unexpected development of this book was the reintroduction of a peripheral character as a love interest for Kinsey. It was nice to see a lighter, flirtier side of the character and I find myself hoping that the relationship works out for them in future stories.
I knew exactly what to expect from this book and I got it. Perfect for times when the reliable and familiar are craved.-Lynn

Thursday, May 15

The Savvy Girl's Money Book - Emily Chantiri

As you know, I'm newly on a budget and interested in learning how to save money and best utilise what I've saved so far. A few years ago Chantiri and some friends decided to take control of their finances and turned their book group into a finance and investment group, and started making money. They wrote a book(The Money Club), then followed it up with another book (Financially Fit for Life). In The Savvy Girl's Money Book Chantiri takes what she learned from the club, from her financial decision thus far, and her previous forays into writing, to create a handbook for young Australian women who're ready to take control of their financial futures.
There's some very useful information, including a number of neutral organisational URLs (for the Australian Stock Exchange and financial advisers etc), and Chantiri has laced the drier aspects with real life accounts of financial transformation, including the experiences of two of her sisters.
On the down side these accounts are printed in an irritating green that's hard to read in dim light, or even day light, particularly in contrast with the high gloss back ground. Having already read a few of these advice books now I didn't find much that was new (except the websites), but this doesn't mean it wouldn't be useful for those just starting out. That said, I'll soon be reviewing the book I've found most helpful thus far, and would certainly recommend that as a great place to start. - Alex

Wednesday, May 14

Getting Warmer - Carol Snow

Natalie Quakenbush isn't quite sure how she got to nearly thirty without really becoming a grown up - she's up to her ears in debt (from college and credit cards), teaching uninspired kids, living in the breathless heat of Arizona, and staying with her parents, a 'temporary' situation that's been the case for a year and counting. The only real highlight is her creative outlet - she and friend (and school psychologist Jo), go out on weekends and lie to strangers - it's amazing what people will believe if you're convincing.
When Natalie reluctantly agrees to a blind date she's pleasantly surprised - until she discovers the guy she's hit it off with isn't her date - and the guy who is turns out to be a previous, unsuccessful, set up. Jonathan, the not-blind-date, and Natalie really hit it off, though - but by the time she realises this might be the real deal she's already told him a bunch of lies. And when he tells her it's because of their shared experiences that he knows they're meant to be together, Natalie can't bring herself to tell him the truth - not if it means losing him.
This above-average chick lit novel was a fun and absorbing read. The characters were vibrant, the plot original and relatively unpredictable, there was a refreshing lack of shoe obsession, and the obstacles to romance were convincingly plausible and internally coherent (as opposed to the kind where it would all be clear if just one person asked an obvious question or explained an unremarkable fact - "no, the naked girl cavorting in the pool is my delinquent ward, not my secret girlfriend," for example). I related to the ennui of a life that seems to have just happened (Lynn and I say we've both taken the path of least resistance, not unlike Natalie), and enjoyed the exotic (to me) locale. I even want to see what else Snow's written! - Alex

Tuesday, May 13

A Perfect Evil - Alex Kava

FBI profiler Maggie O'Dell is still recovering from the trauma of a case that became entirely too personal. When she's called to assist in a Nebraskan child murder that bears all the hallmarks of a convicted killer - who was executed three months earlier - her desire to solve the crime wars with her memories of the past.
Local sheriff Nick Morelli, son of the powerful former sheriff who put serial killer Ronald Jeffries on death row, knows he's in over his head. Between the undead ghost of his father's role, his reporter sister who seems hellbent on undermining his investigation for her own ends, and his growing attraction to the married but possibly available profiler, Nick's hands are full.
A friend recommended A Perfect Evil, the first in a series by best seller Kava that she's enjoyed. I'm going to give her the benefit of the doubt and give the second book a shot, because A Perfect Evil didn't do it for me - I found the sexual tension unconvincing, the plot relatively unoriginal and not particularly suspenseful, and the characters undeveloped, though not for lack of trying - between them they had unresolved psychological trauma, a troubled marriage to a neglectful but demanding spouse, an alcoholic parent, rivalry with a parent, unexplored parental issues, unexplored sibling issues, and work related drama. And yet - didn't really care. Joy of the library - no investment but time. I'll give it a good month of more, then try the sequel, Split Second. Watch this spot. - Alex

Monday, May 12

"Labyrinth" - Lois McMaster Bujold

Miles takes the Dendarii cruiser Ariel on a mission to Jackson's Whole, a plantet where genetic manipulation is the norm and anything can be sold, for the right price. Miles' cover story is arms purchase but his real mission is to smuggle an arrogant geneticist off world and to Barrayar. Dr Canaba refuses to leave without some of his prize creations, chief among which is an enginnered super-soldier, created from a cross of wolf, equine and human DNA. To complicate matters the creature has been sold to Ryoval by the House that employed Canaba; the same paranoid, sadistic Baron Byoval recently offended by Miles.
Bujold manages to pack an enormous amound into a small space - in "Labyrinth" she fleshes out the world of Jackson's Whole, sets the groundwork for another novel set there, introduces a spectacular new character, adds dimensions to Miles that complement his character, force questions about the nature of humanity and of consent, raise other issues (highly relevant to us today) about genetic manipulation and ownership of the results, and throws in a spectacular plot. - Alex

Sunday, May 11

The Double Life of Anna Day - Louise Candlish

Just into her thirties, and having waited all that time for love, Anna's finally met the perfect guy. Charlie's warm, funny, faithful, employed, and they've been together just over a year. There's only one problem - his mother. Widowed just before Charlie and Anna met, and already estranged from her older son (he married a highly unsuitable Spanish woman), Charlie's waiting for the right time to tell Meredith about Anna. And though Anna set a deadline, Charlie's going to America for the summer. Which gives Anna three months to get to know Meredith on her own, three months to present an Anna prefect for Charlie, that Meredith will have to approve of. Anna's new, secret deadline is Meredith's 60th birthday party - if she can get Meredith to invite her, introduce her to Charlie, then their relationship will have her seal of approval, and everything really will be perfect. As long as neither Meredith nor Charlie find out.
This is an interesting approach to a well-explored field, and Candlish carries it off well. In contrast to many lesser contributors to the genre, she has created a strong and sympathetic heroine, three-dimensional supporting characters, a plausible secondary romance, and all the relationship hurdles and realistic and rooted in to the plot (rather than grafted on for the sake of having a hurdle). Within the context and set up of the plot there are no "but if you just said she was your niece" moments, and though I could see the twist near the end coming from a chapter or so ahead, it was believable that the heroine couldn't, and it still had power.
The Double Life of Anna Day is quintessentially English, particularly the articulation of class structure. Set in London, the outer London area of Dulwich, and Spain, and Candlish does a superb job of creating separate atmospheres and histories for each location without leaving the reader recovering from an info dump. This is the first of Candlish's novels that I've read, but I very much enjoyed it, and look forward to the next one, which is already waiting in my stack of library books. - Alex

Saturday, May 10

Ethan of Athos - Lois McMaster Bujold

Ethan Urquhart, Chief of Biology at the Severin District's Reproductive Centre, is at a cross-roads. Well-respected in his field, his career is progressing perfectly. Well, except for the small matter of faulty, aging germ lines. Unfortunately, his personal life is a mess - the way his Designated Alternative Janos (son of Ethan's own father's DA) has been carrying on, Ethan will never accumulate enough social duty credits to allow the son he so desperately wants. When the chair of the Population Council outlines the attributes needed for an ambassador, a brave soul who must leave the security of Athos for Out There to uncover what happened to a precious cargo order, Ethan is the only appropriate candidate.
Unlike the rest of the series, Ethan of Athos does not feature Miles Vorkosigan, though former shipmate Elli Quinn plays a significant role in this highly enjoyable romp. Yes, I said it! This is a romp in the truest sense of the world - a pure, escapist, enjoyable delight of a novel that is unpredictable but coherent. This by no means indicates that Ethan of Athos is purely fluffy - the plot is substantive, the protagonist undergoes significant change, and a number of philosophically interesting questions are raised. However, such is the strength and skill of McMaster's writing that she can combine these more serious elements with light ones to create an overwhelmingly joyous novel. - Alex

Friday, May 9

Cetaganda - Lois McMaster Bujold

The dowager Empress of Cetaganda has died, and Miles is sent to the Imperial funeral to represent Barrayar, along with his cousin Ivan, and a small contingent of minders. Some eighty years earlier Cetaganda unsuccessfully tried to invade Barrayar, and an uneasy truce still lies between the two planets. Cetaganda is a rigidly hierarchical society composed of three tiers - the Haut lords and ladies (the latter travel in opaque bubbles and are rarely seen by off-worlders), preoccupied with creating and displaying beauty and with genetic engineering in the quest for the perfect human, are served by the ba, a genderless servant class who are also used to try out new genetic modifications, and defended by the warrior Ghem-lords who, if they're particularly outstanding, may be rewarded with a Ghem wife. When the body of a ba is found in front of the Empress's body, Miles becomes involved in a mystery which, once revealed, could critically destabilise Cetagandan society.
The descriptions of Cetagandan art, mores, etiquette and technology are a hallmark of McMaster's writing - unique, fully realised and internally coherent, even her minor characters are individualised and well developed, and glimpses of humour twinkle throughout: when asked how his egalitarian Betan mother managed to adapt to aristocratic Barrayan culture she married in to, Miles answers "No problem. She says egalitarians adjust to aristocracies just fine, as long as they get to be the aristocrats." So true.
Perhaps the reason this series retains its energy, enthusiasm and interest throughout (unlike many other series, particulalry in the genre) is that McMaster has written them out of order, picking whatever aspect of Miles' life she feels like at the time. Cetaganda was written after the next book, Ethan of Athos, and answers some of the questions chronoligical readers might have about the Cetagandan culture. Whatever the reason - and I'm reluctant to ponder it too deeply, for fear that discovering the why will, like a magician's trick, diminish my enjoyment of the experience - none of McMaster's works are disappointing on subsequent encounters, and I have to force myself to continue at a leisurely, restrained pace. - Alex

Thursday, May 8

I Never Fancied Him Anyway - Claudia Carroll

From the time she was a small child Cassandra has had flashes - strong pictures of the future that have always come true. It's not surprising that she found work as a psychic for one of Ireland's most widely read weekly magazines. But when her best friend Charlene (well, one of her three best friends) falls in love, as she does every week, with a man who'd be perfect for Cassie, everything starts to come undone. For a start, he seems to block her gift - when he's around she loses all her ability. And as he just happens to be the producer of a TV show she's guesting on, that doesn't bode well.
I didn't realise when I picked this up that it was written by the author of Remind Me Again Why I Need a Man, which I had only finished a couple of minutes earlier. Although much of I Never Fancied Him Anyway is different, there are enough similarities, especially when reading the two so close together, that each one jerked me out of the story. Once again we have four best friends - a somewhat promiscuous gay guy, our heroine, and two polar opposite women (in this case a feckless trust fund princess and a hippy 'land rights for gay whales' vegetarian), the phrase "useless as a chocolate kettle", a male character who unfavourably compares single women to a flesh eater (here man-hungry cannibals, there piranha), and a character who uses the acronym MEGO (for "my eyes glaze over" with boredom). There were also a few discrepancies with Cassie's ability - sometimes alcohol inhibits her ability but other times she's been drinking and it's fine, she can see her own future, but the gift doesn't work for her, that kind of thing.
However, the main character is interesting and unique, the plot was brisk and involving, the ending a little pat but satisfying, and though I would have enjoyed it more with less proximity to its predecessor, I'm glad I read it. - Alex

Wednesday, May 7

Remind Me Again Why I Need a Man - Claudia Carroll

TV soap producer Amelia Lockwood has it all - great friends (too fabulous actor Jamie, charmed catalogue mum-of-two Caroline, and divorced twice Rachel), enough money, and a job she (sometimes) loves. But she's tired of being single - she's tried fix ups, internet dating, speed dating to no avail. So when Rachel sees a flier for a ten week course that virtually guarantees she'll be married before the year's out she decides to go for it. She didn't realise that it would involve contacting all her past boyfriends, including He Whose Name Shall Forever Remain Unspoken (the South African rat fink who broke her heart), to find out why it didn't work. And she never expected that she'd learn so much about herself in the process.
This is an interesting and engaging novel, a little above the usual chick lit calibre and unusual in its satisfying but unconventional ending. There were a few things that jarred for me, most strongly the really uninformed and unpleasant references to South Africa on p. 56 that were almost enough to make me abandon the novel altogether. However, putting that aside I for the most part enjoyed Remind Me Again Why I Need a Man. - Alex

Tuesday, May 6

Rachel Caine: Ill Wind

Though capable of controlling even the most violent of storms a weather warden is powerless against a bureaucracy that accuses her of corruption and murder. There’s only one person who can help her and he’s the most wanted man on earth having stolen three djinn off the very people she’s on the run from. Chased by untrustworthy djinn, the warden law enforcers and an increasingly violent storm, and not knowing who to trust the question is whether or not this woman can survive long enough to clear her name.
The premise is hardly new-person on the run from false accusations is desperate to clear their name-but the supernatural slant gave the trite idea a certain freshness and the unexpected twist at the end was extremely well done. I didn’t see it coming at all.
Well written action sequences (many of which are flashbacks) and a fast pace disguises the fact that not very much actually happens in this book. I’m usually happy to overlook a thin plot and lack of character development if a story takes me on a fun enough ride but this one left me just a little flat.
I’m unsure as to whether or not I actually liked this book. Certainly I didn’t hate it. I think I’ll reserve judgement until I’ve pursued the series further.-Lynn

Click here to read Alex's review of Ill Wind

Monday, May 5

A Walk in the Dark - Gianrico Carofiglio

Lawyer Guido Guerrieri, star of Involuntary Witness, is back and this time his client is the victim of battery at the hands of her abusive boyfriend. Unfortunately Gianluca Scianatico is the son of a prominent judge, and nobody else would take the case. Guerrieri, however, likes a challenge, and is a champion for the underdog. But with the defence tarnishing the image of the witness, and intimidation around every corner, how can they succeed? Even with the help of Sister Claudia, a most unusual nun, it doesn't look good.
A slender volume, particularly compared to the legal thrillers of John Grisham and Steven Martini, A Walk in the Dark is crisp and honed - like its predecessor, it combines the basic plot (which would be pedestrian in the hands of a lesser author) with the ongoing exploration of an unusual man, set in a distinctive and compelling sense of place. I want to see the films Guerrieri enjoys (House of Games, a film I hadn't heard of, is one of his ten favourite films), and visit where he lives. In my previous review I said I was surprised by the prevalence of American elements, which I suspected had been inserted for an English-speaking readership in place of Italian originals, but I've changed my mind - for a start, the lyrics of REM's "Losing My Religion" are too tightly bound with the plot at one point to be an artifact.
The protagonist has a great voice, dry and ironic - "You could hear music, even before you got inside the villa. Wind and string instruments, remote, mystical sounds, a few strokes of the gong. The best of Vietnamese New Wave, someone explained to me some time later. The kind of music I love so much I can even listen to it for five minutes at a stretch." Not a word is wasted, and yet everything is captured. More, please! - Alex

Sunday, May 4

The True Meaning of Cleavage - Mariah Fredericks

Sari and Jess have been best friends since gym class in 7th grade. Opposite in many ways, that's only brought them closer together. At least until they start tenth grade - of all the things Jess worried about, and there were many, her best friend falling "madly, psychotically in love" with half of Eldridge Alternative's perfect couple didn't figure. And if Sari's entering the world of cool, she won't want to stay friends with an SF art geek like Jess.
Though The True Meaning of Cleavage has all the ingredients for a fairly typical YA angst novel, Fredericks adds character development and plot twists that set apart. She not only captures the high drama of adolescence but also the unique nature of female relationships at that age, overwhelming power of emotion and experience, the inarticulate need for parental distance and comfort, and throws in a realistic ethical dilemma that lies at the heart of the novel.
The only flaw, and this is picky, is that the absence of mobile phones, text and internet use date this novel which, given it was published in 2003, is a shame. However this doesn't significantly intrude upon the plot. I look forward to tracking down other novels by this author. - Alex

Saturday, May 3

Lucy Crocker 2.0 – Caroline Preston

Artist and children’s librarian Lucy Crocker astonished her MIT computer programmer husband when her idea – an intricate, multi-level quest game – took the computer gaming world by storm and single-handedly saved their fledgling company. Lucy hasn’t changed since then, but the world around her has – her twin sons are more like their father every day, glued to monitors and vaguely dismissive of her and her computer illiteracy; all the old programmers have left, pushed aside by corporate mores and uncomfortable in the more restrictive, commercialised environment that was once laid back and quirky. Most of all her husband Ed’s changed – he’s distant, uncomfortable with her individuality, and he doesn’t understand how shaken Lucy’s been by a series of miscarriages. When she fails to deliver on the latest plan for Maiden’s Quest 2, Ed not only doesn’t defend her from the imperious mocking of the company management, he actually demotes her. But it takes discovering an email from Ed’s publicity director, about a Tantric massage and more, to push Lucy into action, and discovering her sons watching online porn tips her over the edge. She takes the computer potatoes to the canoeing camp she loved as a child, and retreats to the log cabin she’d loved to stay at with her father. And in the short weeks she’s there, Lucy exorcises old demons and discovers who she really is.
This is a deftly written exploration of the invisibility of wives and mothers, the discord between what we think is important and what actually is, and how the issues we don’t face continue to influence who we are and how we respond to the world. For Lucy, who has a number of unresolved issues (including her relationship with her mother, her abandonment of her father during their last summer together, and her first great love), these all come together in the space of a few weeks.
Though it deals with serious themes, I found Lucy Crocker 2.0 engaging, often light, and thoroughly enjoyable. I enjoyed the contrast between the languid, layered writing style and the relatively brisk pace, and the character development of Lucy and Ed. The twin dynamic was particularly well explored, and encompassed not only aspects of general sibling relationships but also some of the unique tensions that come from this particular bond.
There were a few coincidences that slightly stretched probability, and both Ed and Lucy have some slightly unrealistic naiveté when it comes to relationships, but all in all Lucy Crocker 2.0 is not bad at all. – Alex

Friday, May 2

The Undomestic Goddess - Sophie Kinsella

Ever since she was a child Samantha Sweeting knew she wanted to make partner at prestigious London law firm Carter Spink, and now it's so it's so close she can taste it - the hours (and hours) of hard work and devotion, her meticulous attention to detail, and the complete abandonment of anything approaching a personal life are about to pay off. The morning after her birthday (by a miracle she made it to the restaurant instead of having to cancel, but neither her barrister mother nor her high-flying brother could make it, and her hippy brother's dropped out all together), fired up by the unofficial word that the position's hers, Sam clears off her massively paper-covered desk. And finds a memo. About an insurance debenture that needs to be lodged. Five weeks ago. The deadline's passed, the firm's exposed, and when Sam discovers the company's filed for bankruptcy she realises she's left Carter Spink liable for £50 million.
In a daze Sam leaves the office and walks randomly about town until she hits Victoria station, where she sees a partner on the other side of the platform. Hiding with a family group she gets on a train and doesn't get off until it reaches its' destination, whereupon she randomly wanders again until she finds a house. She hopes they'll give her some aspirin and a glass of water, but instead Sam's offered a housekeeping position and, numb with shock, she takes it.
The underlying premise stretches incredulity but, if you can accept it the rest of The Undomestic Goddess exemplifies the best of the genre - it's satisfying, involving, not too heavy but not wholly light weight, funny (I actually laughed a couple of times) and rewarding. I've enjoyed Kinsella's Shopaholic series, but actually prefer this, even on a second read (last time was a couple of years ago). - Alex

Thursday, May 1

The Sleeping Doll - Jeffrey Deaver

When the charismatic and highly intelligent head of a cult responsible for the 1999 wholesale slaughter of a suburban family escapes from jail, Special Agent Katherine Dance launches herself into the case. After all, if she hadn't had him brought to a lower security facility so she could analyse his behaviour (a kinesic specialist, Dance is adept at interpreting small movements, changes in tone, and evasive language),or if only she'd been a little quicker at interpreting his behaviour during the interview, she might have helped prevent Daniel Pell's escape. Using all her resources, including meeting the women who once lived with Pell and carried out all his commands, Dance tracks him down and, in the process, uncovers the startling truth about the crimes that shocked the country. As the story of what happened in 1999 begins to emerge, and it's more complicated than anyone, including Pell, realised.
I decided after reading the Lincoln Rhyme novel Cold Moon that I'd had enough of Deaver, but he introduced Dance, and I was so intrigued by her character, and by a science I hadn't heard of but found fascinating, that I acknowledged I might give Deaver himself another go. I'm glad to report that a full length outing hasn't changed that. The analysis is interesting, the plot fast paced and unpredictable, though plausible, and the heroine engaging. Deaver alternates Dance's perspective with Pell's, and unfurls the plot, both current and past, in a tense and brisk manner, and though the plot is complex as it emerges, all the pieces fit weasily together, without creating a too-pat ending. The Sleeping Doll certainly has some of the elements that annoyed me in Cold Moon - in parts it's overwritten, with irritating additional detail that serves no narrative purpose (like the two paragraphs on page 186 about how Dance and her friend met, and how Martine rallied around her when Dance's husband was killed). However, the character is engaging, the plot was fast-paced, the villain was intelligent and dynamic, and the twists were plausible and unexpected. All in all not a bad addition to the genre, and I'll try Dance again on her next outing.- Alex