You can look at my home page for more information, but the short answer is that I'm a dilettante who likes thinking about a variety of subjects. I like to think of myself as a systems-level thinker, more concerned with the big picture than with the details. Current interests include politics, community formation, and social interface design. Plus books, of course.
Down Here, by Andrew Vachss
In my last Amazon order, I picked up the latest Andrew Vachss, an author whom I adore, and own all of his books. Well, maybe not all, but certainly all the Burke novels, and most of his fiction. I'm missing a couple of his graphic novel creations, things like that. Anyway. I think Burke's New York is one of the more fascinating settings out there. This isn't one of Vachss's more stellar efforts, but it's still a solid read. I put it away in one evening. Yay.
posted at: 11:08 by Eric Nehrlich | path: /books/fiction/mystery | permanent link to this entry | Comment on livejournal
Sucker Bet, by James Swain
I've liked Swain's previous books, so when I saw this one in paperback at the used book store, I picked it up. Not as entertaining as the previous entries in the series, partially because Swain doesn't spend as much time explaining various casino swindles. The centerpiece scam isn't as interesting or intricate either. Still an okay read. Not much more to say than that.
posted at: 20:26 by Eric Nehrlich | path: /books/fiction/mystery | permanent link to this entry | Comment on livejournal
Shutter Island, by Dennis Lehane
I'm a big fan of Dennis Lehane's Kenzie/Gennaro series. I didn't enjoy Mystic River as much, although the movie was well done. So I didn't know what to expect from this novel, which I picked up from the library. It was okay. Pretty standard psychological thriller. Interesting characters, breezy writing. I should have seen the ending coming, but I didn't. It's a quick read. Not much more to say than that.
posted at: 15:55 by Eric Nehrlich | path: /books/fiction/mystery | permanent link to this entry | Comment on livejournal
Funny Money, by James Swain
I picked up Grift Sense, the first book by James Swain, randomly while browsing in a bookstore a couple years ago because I liked the title. It was a story about Tony Valentine, a retired cop who worked in Atlantic City busting casino scams. The author Swain is a sleight-of-hand and gambling expert, so his details of all the cons that people pull to try to cheat the casino of money is fascinating. It's pretty much a neo-noir kind of novel. Anyway, I really liked Grift Sense, so when I saw Funny Money, the second Tony Valentine novel, at the library, I picked it up and read it last weekend. I liked this one too. I think it's the details that make it enjoyable, especially on life at the casino. Plus, there are several interesting characters floating around. All of whom have flaws - there are no superheros in this novel (Valentine gets beat up several times, for instance). Makes it more enjoyable somehow. Anyway, fun read if you're interested in casino life or hard-boiled type mysteries.
posted at: 03:06 by Eric Nehrlich | path: /books/fiction/mystery | permanent link to this entry | Comment on livejournal
To the Nines: A Stephanie Plum Novel, by Janet Evanovich
Another Stephanie Plum novel. It was at the library when I stopped by recently, and so I grabbed it and read it. Entertaining and frothy as always. A nice quick read.
posted at: 22:51 by Eric Nehrlich | path: /books/fiction/mystery | permanent link to this entry | Comment on livejournal
Hardcase and Hard Freeze, by Dan Simmons
I picked these up at the same time as Dim Sum Dead, in my failure of self restraint at the used bookstore. I like a lot of the work by Dan Simmons, and am thoroughly impressed by his exploration of so many different literary genres. These two books are apparently his attempts at hard-boiled fiction. They were decent, but not nearly as compelling as, say, Andrew Vachss. The writing wasn't nearly as distinctive, and the protagonist wasn't very well developed; he had an appallingly brutal streak, with little explanation as to the contrast between his cold-bloodedness with his enemies as opposed to his warmth with his friends. Vachss developed the character of Burke, explaining his absolute loyalty to his family, but Simmons's character of Joe Kurtz is a cypher. One of the problems I had with the book was the same problem I had with another book of Simmons that I read recently, Darwin's Blade, where the protagonist, Darwin, was actually too skilled; the book became just a shooting gallery of bad guys getting annihilated by Darwin. Kurtz did much the same thing in these books; it was mildly interesting to see the different methods used by Kurtz, but it never really felt like he was in any danger. I'm not sure I'll pick up the next book, Hard as Nails. Maybe if I see it used.
posted at: 14:28 by Eric Nehrlich | path: /books/fiction/mystery | permanent link to this entry | Comment on livejournal
Dim Sum Dead : A Madeline Bean Culinary Mystery, by Jerrilyn Farmer
I picked this up kind of randomly at the used bookstore a couple weeks ago. Why am I going to the used bookstore when I have more unread books on my floor than I have time to read? I can't explain it either. Heck, these days, I can't even keep up with my Economist subscription, let alone read books. But I was unable to resist the siren call of the bookstore as I walked by, so while I was there, I glanced at the pile of recently arrived used mysteries, and the name Dim Sum Dead just amused me. I picked it up and read the first few pages and they were tolerably engaging, so I bought the book. It's a light frothy mystery set in Los Angeles, with a protagonist, Madeline Bean, who's a caterer to private parties. In this case, she gets drawn into a mystery when an acquaintance asks for help and later dies under mysterious circumstances. Quick, fun read. I'll probably pick up the others in the series if I see them used.
posted at: 23:27 by Eric Nehrlich | path: /books/fiction/mystery | permanent link to this entry | Comment on livejournal
The Da Vinci Code, by Dan Brown
This was recommended to me by a couple co-workers. When they were describing it to me, with its plot referencing the Knights Templar and other secret societies, I said it sounded a lot like Umberto Eco's Foucault's Pendulum, dumbed down into a thriller format for an American audience. So when I was at my parents' house for Christmas, and they had a copy lying around that one of their friends had left behind, I read it. And my opinion remains unchanged. It's a reasonably well-written thriller, with several twists and turns. But I felt the background information of the secret societies was used in a self-aggrandizing way, more in the sense of "look how clever I am at having done this research" than as an integral part of the plot. The thriller plot itself was somewhat stilted, especially with the puzzles scattered throughout the book; the protagonists are set in motion by a murder, the victim of which set up a puzzle that only they can solve, whose clues lead them around Paris throughout the book.
It's interesting comparing this book to Foucault's Pendulum. It's been several years since I read that book, but it draws upon many of the same source materials as The Da Vinci Code. But the difference between the two books is remarkable. Eco is an Italian semiotician, who studies the meaning of signs, and the wide variety of meaning that can be ascribed to signs of all sorts. And this instability is evident in Foucault's Pendulum, where it's unclear whether secret societies really exist, or whether they are brought into being by the machinations of the protagonist. Everything is uncertain, and there are no easy answers. In contrast, Dan Brown is apparently a thriller writer, so his puzzles only have one answer. There's a definite path from start to end in his book, and the secret societies are treated as real entities and his research as fact, the good guys are always the good guys, and the bad guys lose. It makes for a quick read (I finished it in less than a day), but it also leaves one feeling kind of empty, and I suspect I'll forget everything about the book in a few weeks. And I'm left with a desire to re-read Foucault's Pendulum to get a better compare and contrast. But we'll see if I get motivated enough to do that.
posted at: 02:37 by Eric Nehrlich | path: /books/fiction/mystery | permanent link to this entry | Comment on livejournal
Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series.
I started reading these recently on a friend's recommendation, and have really enjoyed them. Most of the books include several moments which are laugh out loud funny as Stephanie Plum pursues her chosen career as a bounty hunter. The cast of characters that populate her New Jersey town are at once wackily eccentric and wholly believable. The best part is that I read most of these from the library, so I didn't even have to pay for them for once. I've read pretty much all of them at this point, including:
Nicole Griffith's Aud Torvingen series
I read these two novels (The Blue Place and Stay) in January after having them recommended by a friend. Aud Torvingen is an heiress and former cop who gets sucked into some bizarre and tragic circumstances. The novels were well written, with a wealth of descriptive detail, but I didn't really identify with Aud as strongly as my friend obviously did. Interesting and worth reading, but not books that I'll be taking off my shelf to read over and over again.
posted at: 15:22 by Eric Nehrlich | path: /books/fiction/mystery | permanent link to this entry | Comment on livejournal