Still Life With Crows by Preston & Child (Link to Amazon Books)
“Where are you from, Mr. Pendergast? Can't quite place the accent.”
“What a coincidence! I went there for Mardi Gras once."
“How nice for you. I myself have never attended.”
Ludwig paused, the smile frozen on his face, wondering how to steer the conversation onto a more pertinent topic.”
Still Life With Crows is my favorite book by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. On the back of one edition it says, "These guys are masters at scaring the hell out of people." And oh yes, they are.
The opening scene is absolutely gripping and intense. It's one of the most memorable descriptions of a cop's reaction to a crime scene, at least that I've ever read.
The main character, Aloysius Pendergast, is the albino love child of Sherlock Holmes intellect, Hannibal Lecter's appreciation for the finer things, and a great white shark with opposable thumbs. He is by far the most interesting detective character in all of fiction. Poirot and Marple were hacks compared to Pendergast. Holmes was a wimpy and obnoxious overgrown schoolboy by contrast.
The book has its flaws. The third act is not as strong as the first act. But that's like saying chocolate fudge cake is not as awesome as white birthday cake with buttercream icing. They're still both cake.
I can say very little about the story without spoilers, so I'll just say, serial killer, eccentric detective, quirky sidekick, small town mentality, and lots and lots of corn. Still Life With Crows is a must read.
Saturday, January 25, 2014
The Stand by Stephen King (Link to Amazon Books)
“The beauty of religious mania is that it has the power to explain everything. Once God (or Satan) is accepted as the first cause of everything which happens in the mortal world, nothing is left to chance...logic can be happily tossed out the window.”
Stephen King redefined the words 'epic' and 'horror' with this brick of a novel. Huge in scope and variety, filled with an enormous cast of really interesting characters, and plenty of King's trademark creepiness, The Stand is King's best work.
Touching on themes of spirituality and religion, community and civilization, and good vs. evil, the book tells the story of the end of the world at the hands of a killer virus. The story follows the lives of dozens of people across the U.S. who survive the apocalypse and eventually meet, but not by accident.
The Stand is a one of a kind book, I've never read anything quite like it. It features King's most memorable characters and a third act that completely messed with my head. I've read it many times and I'm still finding nuances and themes I didn't know were there.
If you only ever read one book by Stephen King, make sure it's The Stand.
Friday, January 24, 2014
THE BLUE CRYSTAL
by T. D. Fuhringer
"You had one job, Spliff. And you couldn't even do that."
"Listen," said Spliff, "Just because I lost one little bounty..."
The Vorbedrox waved all six of his thin, pink arms in frustration. "You're done, Spliff. No more bounties for you, not in my sector. Now get out, or I'll throw you in the pain vat!"
Spliff shook his head. You're gonna regret this, Vorbedrox, he vowed.
Back on the ship, he checked the fuel gauges. He tapped the gauges but it didn't help. "Well Phantom, we've got enough juice to get off this rock but that's about it." The ship didn't respond. He had removed its vocal interface a while back, to pay for fuel. He sighed.
The Phantom blasted off Drox and Spliff set a course for Benemar. He made the jump to lightspeed and settled in for a nap, but few minutes later, the Phantom's alarms started flashing. "You've gotta be kidding me."
He dropped out of lightspeed and discovered the reason for the alarms. A Thurbian frigate was in the way. They seemed to be in trouble, so he docked with the frigate and offered his services.
"We don't have much use for a bounty hunter," said the Thurbian Captain, a large female with green eye-stalks.
"There must be something I can do for you?"
"Can you fix a hyperdrive?" she asked, hopefully.
Six hours later, soaked in sweat, Spliff reported that the repairs were complete.
"Do you know anything about cargo loaders?"
He frowned. "Yeah, why?"
Five hours later, Spliff reported that the frigate's cargo bay was reorganized.
"You're a miracle worker," said the Captain. "But would you be willing to do one last tiny little thing for us? It'll just take a second."
Spliff crossed his arms and waited. The Captain showed him an access hatch and explained that they'd lost a Blue Crystal down the shaft and well, Thurbians were terrified of small spaces and... Moments later, he had the crystal and started back up the shaft.
"Terrific!" said the Captain. "Here, pass me the crystal so you can climb faster." She lowered a greasy tentacle.
"I don't think so," said Spliff warily.
"Fine. Then rot!" The Captain closed the hatch, sealing him in. He sighed, sat down and decided to take the nap he'd missed earlier. But as he relaxed, he heard a gentle voice from the Blue Crystal say, "Speak, and be heard."
Spliff laughed. "Sister, unless you can get me outta here, I don't have anything I need to say."
The Blue Crystal flashed. Spliff was free!
"Well that's some trick." He raced for the Phantom and broke the ship away from the frigate. A thought occurred to him. "Hey blue," he said, "Any chance you could do something about our fuel situation?"
The Blue Crystal flashed. The gauges read 'FULL'.
"What about that greasy Thurbian?"
The Blue Crystal flashed. The Thurbian frigate erupted into a ball of fire and debris!
Spliff smiled. "You and me Blue, we're going places." He flew the Phantom back to Drox and landed right in the middle of the Pleasure District. He booked a room at the best hotel and ordered off the room service holo. One of everything. When the bell-bot showed him the bill, he said, "Hey Blue, can you get the tab this time?"
The Blue Crystal flashed. The bill was paid.
Spliff suddenly had a brilliant idea. "Listen Blue, any chance you could bring me the Vorbedrox' personal pleasure girl and make her, well... you know... want me instead?"
The Blue Crystal flashed. The girl appeared, wearing nothing but a smile.
"Well hello there!" said Spliff. They spent the night together and the next morning, she returned to her master. Spliff spent the day gambling, profitably, and after night fell, he asked the Blue Crystal to summon Vorbedrox' pleasure girl once more.
When she appeared, she told Spliff how pissed the Vorbedrox was. "It's making him crazy, trying to figure out where I was all night, hee hee!" They spent the night together again, and the next morning she returned to her master.
That night when she appeared, she started to tell Spliff how the Vorbedrox had gone out of his mind, vaporized people left and right, then smashed up his favorite treasures.
But before he could reply, soldiers burst into the room and grabbed them both. Spliff only had time for one thing, and he used it wisely. He slipped The Blue Crystal into his pocket. The soldiers brought him before The Vorbedrox.
Pinker than usual, the Vorbedrox screamed at him. "You stole my pleasure girl!"
"Well, yeah," said Spliff, grinning.
"You think you're smart? Well I'm smarter, I put a tracker on her this time, and it led my men straight to you. I've got you cold, Spliff. You're done."
Spliff shuffled and hemmed and hawed. "Are you gonna blast me?"
"You bet your skinny ass I'm gonna blast you! Any last requests?"
Spliff lowered his eyes. "Just one. I'd like to look at my crystal one last time."
The Vorbedrox wasn't stupid. "Search him!" The soldiers found The Blue Crystal and showed it to him. "Bah. It's just a toy. Here, look at it all you want." He threw the crystal to Spliff.
Spliff's face split into a wicked grin. "Hey Blue. Vaporize these creeps, would ya?"
The Blue Crystal Flashed. The soldiers vanished.
The Vorbedrox screamed and reached for his blaster.
Spliff said, "Blue, you know what to do."
The Vorbedrox erupted into wobbly chunks and pink mist.
"Blue, I think I love you," said Spliff. He took The Vorbedrox' lair and treasure for himself, commissioned a magnificent pedestal and security system for The Blue Crystal, and he and the pleasure girl lived happily ever...
"My name is Veronica, asshole," said the crystal. "Not 'Blue'!"
The Blue Crystal flashed.
Story copyright 2012 by T.D. Fuhringer.
Saturday, January 11, 2014
Chiefs by Stuart Woods (Link to Amazon Books)
"The boy ran for his life."
Covering fifty years and three generations of police in the small town of Delano, Georgia, Chiefs is easily the best story about law enforcement I have ever read. Part family saga, part murder mystery, part political thriller, the book also manages to deliver a powerful look at race relations in the Southern U.S. from the 40's to the 80's.
Chiefs is one of the books most directly responsible for birthing my interest in writing fiction. It's also the book that got me reading suspense novels and thrillers.
There is a scene, which I'll try not to spoil, that has stuck with me for more than two decades. The scene illustrates the tragedy of ignorance and the unintended consequences of closed-mindedness and small-town 'common sense'.
Rich in history, suspenseful, bold and even funny, Stuart Woods Chiefs is a must read for anyone who likes vivid storytelling and/or stories of law enforcement.