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Book Reviews

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Peter Straub - The Floating Dragon

This one was pretty disappointing. It starts out with an accident in a top secret chemical laboratory, where a cloud of a highly poisonous gas escapes from the facility to threaten the unsuspecting inhabitants of Hampstead, Conneticut. Could this catastrophe be part of the ancient recurrent curse that hits the town once in every generation? Or was it just thrown in for good measure to make the book a bit less like King's "It"? We can only guess, because Straub doesn't tell. My opinion is that those two elements don't mix too well, and that Straub would have been more successful if he'd stuck to just one.

Given the amazingly poor storyline, Straub does a halfway fair job of keeping the reader interested by sidetracking every now and then. Still, rating "The Floating Dragon" at over 1.5 out of 5 stars would be pure hyping,

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James Ellroy - Silent Terror

Being familiar with Ellroy, I wasn't surprised to find that "Silent Terror" is about serial murder. The minor variation on the theme is in this case that we're witnessing the deeds "through the eyes of the monster". The investigative point of view and the policework involved in tracking down the killer take a second seat to the description of the evolution of a killer. We meet Marty Plunkett first as a kid in the suburbs of LA and witness his rise to gory glory as well as his self-descrutive end. His progress is tracked in grisly first-person descriptions as well as in detached newspaper clippings and police reports - style elements which can be found in later Ellroy novels, too.

In a way, this 1986 book reminds me strongly of Bret Easton Ellis' "American Psycho" as well as Truman Capote's "In Cold Blood". However, while it is still grisly reading at times, it's nowhere as graphical as Ellis' description of the slaughtering yuppie, but nearly as depressing as Capote's account of senseless violence perpetrated out of boredom. "Silent Terror" is definitely different from the Ellroy novels I'm familiar with. If you like him for his involved descriptions of police subterfuge, you're bound to be disappointed with this one. For me, it's still a 3 out of 5 stars winner.

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Sara Paretsky - Killing Orders

"Killing Orders" is the third volume in a series of currently eight books about the female private eye V. I. Warshawski. Set in the Chicago of our days, this thriller takes our resolute heroine one more through a seemingly mismatched fight against conspirators and the law alike. Can she solve the riddle of the forged stock certificates? At last, Warshawski emerges victorious: bloddied, but not beaten - and we wonder just like her if the price wasn't too high.

V. I. Warshawski is not a mere transgendered clone of classic snoops like Marlowe or Spade with a taste for fine italian pumps. Instead, Paretsky has created a convincing female detective with feelings and an attitude. And just like in "Indemnity Only" and "Tunnel Vision", the other two books by her that I've read, she manages to create a high tension plot that keeps you glued to the pages. 4 stars out of 5 for this excellent effort!

The american Web Zine Enterzone has aa article on the fascination of V.I. Warshawski written by Alice K. Boatwright.

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Dave Barry - Dave Barry's Greatest Hits

I latched onto this one the instant I saw it at a local bookstore. At long last a printed collection of Barry's gems, some of which I had encountered over the years on News. Well, the actual book turned out to be a bit disappointing for me. Up to this point, I had only consumed highly distilled Barry in homeopathical doses - and now there was an entire book, complete a cute Diuglas Adams quote on front, proclaiming that Barry was the only man who was able to make him laugh out loud at four o'clock in the morning. Well, I tried it for myself, and I found that at four o'clock in the morning, after having read Barry for four or more consecutive hours, he only made me sleepy. I concede I still chuckled at one o'clock, but that was about the latest. The problem seems to be that Barry is a newspaper columnist, so the usual mode of distribution is to deal out chapters at a time - maybe one per day or even one per week. I'd say at one chapter per day, Barry is hilarious, and at one chapter per week, he's outright brilliant. But so much Barry all in one go is just too much for my tender stomach. I'll rate Barry 3 stars out of 5 for some rather funny episodes, but I recommend that you keep the dosage slow for undiminished enjoyment.

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Clive Cussler - Sahara

To me, Clive Cussler's novels are like junk food - I soundly denounce them at every opportunity, and yet I find myself buying a new one and devour it in a few days every once in a while. And just like with McDonalds, you know well beforehand what you're getting yourself into. All of the usual Cussler plot elements are here: the Damsell in Distress, the mysterious historical shipwreck, and the rare classic car that will end up in NUMA Special Operations Director Dirk Pitt's hangar. Oh, and of course Pitt and friends are as usually barely escaping certain death every hundred pages or so. I don't think it's in any way inferior or superior to other Cussler novels - which means that Sahara is fun while it lasts, but it somehow fails to leave any particular impression. If you've read another Cussler epic lately, you might want to wait a bit more with this one, as they tend to get bland if consumed too often. I'd rate it 2.5 out of 5 for old time's sake.

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Alexander Besher - Rim

According to the praise on the back cover, this has to be one hot book. One Paul Saffo states that it even defines a new genre, cyber-noir. I care to disagree. A new genre? Maybe. But that would rather be cyber-mysticicism if anything else. I mean, it could be that this man has some wonderful visions what cyberspace could become, but he can't describe them well enough to make me as a reader believe in them. Some of his ideas and descriptions are indeed brilliant, but there's also a lot of drivel wrpping it all up. I'll prefer a decent Walter Jon Williams any day. Make it 2 1/2 stars of 5 for trying and missing the mark.

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Stephen King - Insomnia

King's latest novel takes us back to Derry again - obviously Castle Rock's in dire need of refurbishing after the last two or three catastrophes. This time, an old man is drawn into a supernatural conflict he can't quite understand, and he has to weather some fights till he can at last offer himself in a heroic sacrifice to save the life of a loved one. In comparison with some of his other works, this is a pretty tame book with an absolute minimum of blood and gore, and rather more introspection that you'd expect from King. I'd rate it 3 1/2 stars out of five for being a solid and convincing read, but nothing beyond that.

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Richard Bachmann - The Regulators

Supposedly, this novel is part of the estate of the late Richard Bachmann - but we all know that this is just another of King's pseudonyms. The story takes place in a small town out in the midwest of the 'States, where a whole block is suddenly transposed into a fantasy world, in order to kill off the inhabitants in the most grisly fashion. The source of all commotion is an autistic child with paranormal powers that is possessed by an evil spirit.

The reasons behind this as well as identity of the ghost are left unanswerd. Instead, King settles for the proven tools of the horror author: blood and gore in great detail and quantity. Unlike "Shining", this novel mostly lacks the psychological element.

Yes, I've read "The Regulators" fron to back - but only because I could not believe that King could write such a really bad book. 1/2 of a star is probably still to high a rating for such drivel.

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Thomas Bätzler, Thomas@Baetzler.de
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