As I mentioned Monday, some of the fun I had over the weekend was from wandering around, seeing what stores were in the area. This lead me to an outlet mall, which was sadly disappointing since there was only one store selling anything I was interested in. I suppose clothing outfitters dominating outlet malls is typical, but it was still a letdown to walk past all these stores and see nothing but clothes. When I finally spotted the bookstore, I sprinted to it, so great was my excitement. I picked up three books for 15 dollars, and here we are.
Hidden Moon, James Church - Second book in a series written under a pseudonym by a former Western intelligence agent who spent decades in Asia. I wonder if that's true, or something the publisher cooked up to sell books. It's the second book starring an Inspector O, who works for the Ministry of People's Security in North Korea. In this case, O must investigate a rare bank robbery in Pyongyang, even though he's fairly sure the government doesn't actually want them to solve it. There are dead ends, , mixed signals, interference and intermittent cooperation with other departments in the government, and the sense there are forces within the government working at very different purposes, probably out of an ideological disagreement over the direction North Korea should be going.
I bought this for the same reason I read Shinju last winter, while it's a fairly standard sort of mystery, it was in a setting I wasn't accustomed to reading about. Problem being, I've read enough detective stories set in the U.S. where various agencies try to block the cop (or private investigator's) nosing around to not be all that surprised when people from other agencies try to guide O's investigation, or abduct and beat him for information. Substitute Harry Bosch for O and Homeland Security for whoever the man in the brown suit works for, and it could be a Michael Connelly book. There was an interesting implication that new agencies are popping up all the time within the government, and even the mysterious ringmaster types can't keep track of them all. The book reads quickly, in the way most decent detective novels do, and in a couple of cases, Church switches settings abruptly, but makes O as disoriented by it as we are, which was a decent touch.
If you've read many of these types of stories, you know the investigator usually has some hobby or joy, meant to humanize them, I suppose. Harry Bosch likes jazz, Inspector O likes working with wood. He even tends to keep various types of wood in his pocket, and holds them when he needs calm, as he considers the properties of the wood. It's a little curious, but it also seems like a nice low budget hobby, which suits his unextravagant tastes. The dance between O and his boss, Min, is typical, Min being frustrated with O's constant questioning and undercutting of his authority, but Church gives them sufficient personality quirks to help it feel a little different from the norm. Not much, but a little.
Dooley's Back, Sam Reaves - Well, as you might imagine Dooley comes back. To Chicago to be precise, a town he fled eight years ago after killing a man who raped and murdered his wife, but avoided prosecution through the usual "you accepted his drunken confession and searched his apartment without Mirandizing him" tomfoolery that tends to lead to such actions. Dooley returns, has another person he cares about die, and sees the killer about to escape prosecution, and starts the whole thing over again.
Dooley and the killer of his friend, John Spanos, have the two sides of the same coin deal working, as each of them tends to break rules with their respective organizations (the cops and the Outfit, respectively), and then try to duck the consequences. It's a combination of things for both of them. Dooley seems to lack faith the law will prevail, and Spanos lacks patience that the old guys running the show will see what he feels are self-evident facts. Dooley's operating under the pressure of living up to his father and brother's reputations as great cops, Spanos is a Greek trying to move up in an organization founded and run by Italians, and so has to prove himself constantly.
Despite that, the book fell flat for me. I read it, but it never took hold of me. Dooley's plan to get Spanos, while probably effective at keeping suspicion off himself, seems overly complicated (think that whole mess with fire hydrants and parking tickets in the Thomas Jane Punisher movie), which ought to make it easier to wreck, and wrecked it gets, though partially by Dooley himself. Plus, there's the part where, when he starts the plan, he introduces himself as Frank Edmunds, but during an entire critical scene, he's called Frank Dooley by all parties. This, of course, means Spanos will have an idea who's framing him, and enable him to try and save himself, but it shouldn't have happened, if the fake name had been maintained, so it falls apart for me a bit.
I was also disappointed Dooley didn't stick with his first instinct and simply kill Spanos himself. It doesn't seem like he opts against that because he thinks it would be wrong, at least not initially, but more because he figures he'd get hauled in quick (which might not have happened if he'd kept a lower profile earlier), and because he's still trying to live up to the great cop ideal of his brother and father. It reminded me of Joaquin Phoenix' character in We Own the Night, where it felt like he turned against his crooked employers and helped his cop brother and father, not because he believed in what they were doing, but because he wanted their acceptance, because they looked down their noses at his occupation. My thought was "They're your family, if they can't accept you for you, then to hell with them." Same basic feeling here, that Dooley should do things his way, and who cares what big brother thinks?
Hunter's Run, George R.R. Martin, Gardner Dozois, Daniel Abraham - I have no idea which author is responsible for what on this book, if there can even be a division of the work in that way.
On a distant planet of Sao Paulo, a man named Ramon decides to head into the northern forests to do some prospecting. He likes the solitude up there, and he also killed an important ambassador from Europa a couple of nights before, so best to leave town. Under a mountain, he finds a hidden base, inhabited by no race of aliens he's seen. He tries to escape a craft of some kind, but doesn't. The aliens value their secrecy, and task him to help them capture a man who has learned of them and then they can kill him, maintaining their secrecy. So already these aliens have a strike against them in my book, as they've opted for the Second Foundation style strategy of "any number of losses of other folks are acceptable as long as we remain hidden". That's practically guaranteed to make me want to see you exposed and exterminated.
Ramon is connected to a member of the species named Manecks by a sahael, which can be used to discipline Ramon, and provides access to his thoughts to a limited extent. Part of the experience of his capture has left Ramon remembering his past intermittently, different memories abruptly coming on strongly, which causes Ramon to reconsider his life, which has important consequences when they catch up to the man. Ramon does escape Manecks, does reach civilization again, and then has to decide whether to sell out the aliens to another group of interested aliens, the Silver Enye.
There were certain ideas of this world that I liked. The idea that by the time humans reached the stars, they were already settled, and humans had to accept what place they could find for themselves, rather than conquering everything in sight. Apparently that place is as the species the others turn to when they need a new planet tamed. Send in the Earthlings, they'll kill all the dangerous lifeforms and strip that thing of resources lickety-split, that sort of thing. The idea that humans normally work at cross-purposes to their own needs and desires was sort of worth mulling over. That communication between worlds takes so long there is no organized interplanetary government because it simply can't work.
What I believe was supposed to be the big surprise didn't really work, as I'd figure it out almost immediately. So maybe the authors were counting on that, but if so, it means the reader doesn't necessarily share Ramon's reactions, because they're so far ahead of him. I grew tired of Ramon thinking of himself as a tough sonofabitch. I get it, you're a tough sonofabotch, you said that five pages ago! Manecks' people have that sort of typical alien hive structure, they're all part of something larger, each with a specific purpose to be served, and only that purpose, freedom or not having a purpose being completely alien to them. Not terribly interesting, or maybe their willingness to kill to maintain secrecy had soured me on them too much.
None of these books would have been worth the normal cover price, but for the reduced price I picked them up for, I'd say they were worth the money. Even Dooley's Back, since I believe that only cost me a buck. I do wish I'd bought that history book on Napoleon's exile of French soldiers to the island of Cabrera instead of one of these, though. Maybe next time.
Comic reviews tomorrow!