Review: Bruno, Chief of Police

Bruno, Chief of Police
Martin Walker
Vintage Books, 2010
Originally published in the UK in 2008 by Quercus Books

Suddenly Bruno noticed something odd. After every previous parade, whether it was for the eighth of May, or the eighteenth of June, when de Gaulle launched Free France, or the fourteenth of July, when France celebrated her Revolution, or the eleventh of November, when the Great War ended, Jean-Pierre and Bachelot would turn away from each other without so much as a nod and walk back separately to the Mairie to store the flags they carried. But this time they were standing still, staring fixedly at one another. Not talking, but somehow communicating. Amazing what one bugle can do, thought Bruno. Maybe if I can get some Americans into the parade next year they might even start talking. But now it was thirty minutes after midday and, like every good Frenchman, Bruno turned his thoughts to lunch.

In the village of St. Denis, in the Périgord region of France, Bosnian war veteran and police chief Benoît “Bruno” Courrèges keeps the peace. Continue reading


Review: Cryoburn

Lois McMaster Bujold
Baen Books, November 2010
New hardcover

“Within the last few months,” [Miles went on,] “as the flagship facility we saw in Wing’s vid was nearing completion, WhiteChrys began collecting contracts on future customers. Not unnaturally, they targeted Solstice upper-class elderly women’s clubs. At the same time, another sales team made some limited strategic stock offerings to certain wealthy and influential Komarrans, to give the local powers-that-be a stake in the future success of their operations. I expect the two sales teams didn’t compare hit lists, nor realize that some wealthy old ladies are retired Komarran traders who can read a balance sheet to a gnat’s eyebrow.

“And one of those little old ladies looked at the two proposals before her and said, ‘This smells, but I don’t see how,’ so she took it to her beloved great-niece, who said, ‘You’re right, Auntie, this smells, but I don’t see how,’ who took the problem in turn to her devoted husband, better known as Emperor Gregor Vorbarra. Who handed it to his loyal Imperial Auditor, saying, and I quote here, ‘Here, Miles, you’re better at diving into the privy and coming up with the gold ring than anyone I know. Have a go.’ And I said, ‘Thank you, Sire,’ and took ship for Kibou-daini.”

Cryoburn, the latest installment in Lois McMaster Bujold’s brilliant Vorkosigan saga, has Barrayaran Imperial Auditor Miles Vorkosigan investigating possible shady dealings in the cryonics industry on Kibou-daini, a world heretofore unexplored in the series. The story, which opens with a drugged and hallucinating Miles wandering through a warren of underground cryocombs – a storage facility holding thousands of cryonically frozen bodies – after escaping a botched kidnapping attempt, unfolds through the eyes of three narrators: Miles, his bodyguard Roic, and Jin Sato, a young Kibou boy with a personal stake in cryonics.

Continue reading

Review: When Christ and his Saints Slept

When Christ and his Saints Slept
Sharon Kay Penman
Ballantine Books, 2009 (1995)
Purchased new trade paperback

The hall was a scene of chaos. The other women had not been as punctilious about propriety as Maude, and had hastened downstairs in various stages of undress. Everywhere she looked, she saw unbound hair, bare feet, husbands and wives entwined in joyful, welcoming embraces. Her entrance went almost unnoticed in the confusion, and it was several moments before Robert disentangled himself from Amabel’s arms and shoved his way through to her side. Maude reached out, taking his hand in hers. “Thank you,” she said, “for winning back my throne.”

I do not know where to begin in describing how utterly disappointed I am in this book, the first in Penman’s trilogy about Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine. I have to praise Penman for her thorough research and the way she brought twelfth-century France and England to life; as a historical novel, When Christ and his Saints Slept succeeds. As a work of fiction, however, it is a mess.

Continue reading

Double Review: Say You’re One of Them and Things Fall Apart

Say You’re One of Them
Uwem Akpan
Back Bay Books, 2009 (2008)

Say You’re One of Them is a collection of five stories by Nigerian author Uwem Akpan, each of them about the lives and experiences of children in Africa (Nigeria, Kenya, Rwanda, among others).

The stories are not easy to read. Despite (or perhaps because of) the youth and innocence of their central characters, they harshly illuminate the conflicts that have inflicted such terrible and frequently violent suffering on Africa in recent decades. In “My Parents’ Bedroom,” for example, nine-year-old Monique witnesses first-hand the genocidal war that seemed to erupt overnight in Rwanda, a war that literally enters her home when her Hutu father butchers her Tutsi mother before her. “Luxurious Hearses” tells of Jubril’s efforts to flee to his father’s homeland in southern Nigeria – a flight that requires the teenager to conceal his Muslim faith, including the stump of an arm that marks him as a thief convicted under sharia, on a bus overcrowded with Christians driven from the north by sectarian violence. “Fattening for Gabon” is a story about a brother and sister sold by their uncle into slavery for a motorbike, while “What Language Is That?” shows two Ethiopian girls perplexed to learn one morning that they can never play together again because one is Muslim and the other Christian. Lastly, “An Ex-Mas Feast” depicts one Christmas celebration for a family living in a shack in Nairobi, their most precious gift a can of shoe glue they take turns sniffing at to stave off hunger pangs.

Things Fall Apart
Chinua Achebe
Anchor Books, 1994 (1959)

Things Fall Apart was the debut novel of Nigerian author Chinua Achebe, winner of the Man Booker International Prize in 2007 and hailed as the father of modern African literature. It tells the story of prosperous Ibo yam farmer Okonkwo’s fall from grace. Exiled for seven years for an inadvertent violation of one of his village’s sacred laws, humiliated by his son’s behavior, Okonkwo’s longed-for return to glory fails to materialize, and he is driven to commit one final desperate act.

Continue reading

Review: Burn

This review originally appeared on Buried Under Books.

Warning: This book deals with the sexual enslavement of children. While Barr does not indulge in graphic, prolonged descriptions, there are scenes near the end that leave little to the imagination. If the subject matter disturbs you, proceed with caution.

Nevada Barr
Minotaur Books, August 2010
ARC from Creatures ‘n Crooks.

In a city she was not familiar with—at least not in any but a surface, tourist sense—it would be too easy to stumble into organized crime networks and get hurt or killed. When people thought of organized crime, it was the Mafia or the tongs or, in recent years, the banks, careless of whom they destroyed in their grasping for money. The big guys were scary, but the networks most regular people ran afoul of were the small-time franchises, pimps who “owned” prostitutes and prostitutes who “owned” street corners and drug dealers who “owned” territories. The criminal equivalent of mom-and-pop stores. Every city, and a lot of small towns, were riddled with them.

Burn, Nevada Barr’s sixteenth Anna Pigeon mystery, is something of a departure from previous installments. Continue reading

Review: Savages

This review was originally posted on Buried Under Books.

Don Winslow
Simon & Schuster, July 2010
ARC from Creatures ‘n Crooks.

Every great company has an origin story, and here is Ben and Chonny’s:

They’re hanging out at the beach, Chon on extended leave between his two hitches, and they’re playing volleyball on the court next to the Hotel Laguna.

Ben and Chon are the kings of the court, and why not? Two tall, lanky, athletic guys who make a great team. Ben is the setter who thinks of the game as chess, Chon is the spiker who goes for the kill. They win a lot more often than they lose, they have a good time, and tanned chicks in bikins and suntan oil stop and watch them do it.

It’s a good life.

Savages consists of 290 chapters in just over 300 pages. The writing is staccato, aggressive, punchy, with abbreviated sentences that frequently fall into

staggered breaks

like this;

the occasional scene rendered in screenplay format as though the POV character were imagining it as a movie; the liberal use of em-dashes, acronyms and a weirdly compelling southern California version of Cockney rhyming slang; and more pop-culture references and brand-name dropping than you can swing a dead cat at.

The story is thus: Ben and Chon run a very lucrative marijuana growing and distribution business. Continue reading

Review: Persona Non Grata

Persona Non Grata (published in the UK and Australia as Ruso and the Root of All Evils)
Ruth Downie
Bloomsbury, 2010 (2009)
Giveaway from Goodreads’ First Reads

“Is it true someone’s trying to bankrupt us?”

Lucius leaned back in their father’s chair and folded his arms. “If I were to say no,” he said, “and ask you to go straight back to Deva for the good of the family, would you do it?”

“I can’t,” Ruso pointed out. “I had to wangle months of leave to get here.”

“So you can’t go back to the Legion.” Lucius managed to look even more depressed.

“Arria says somebody’s applied for a seizure order.”

Lucius let out a long breath. “There’s a law somewhere,” he said, “that says you can’t take out a seizure order against someone who’s away from home on public service.”

Ruso began to grasp the nature of the problem. “Does that apply to an ordinary man in the army?”

“The last thing I would have done, brother, was to ask you to come home.”

“So it’s true then? We have a legal problem?”

“We do now,” said Lucius.

In Persona Non Grata, the third in Ruth Downie’s Medicus series set in second-century Roman Britannia, Gaius Petreius Ruso and his British companion Tilla (also known as Darlughdacha of the Corionotatae among the Brigantes) travel to southern Gaul, summoned by an ominous letter that says only, “Lucius to Gaius. Come home, brother.” As their father’s heir and effective (if not necessarily effectual) paterfamilias, Ruso has known for some time of his family’s precarious financial situation, legacy of the massive debts their father incurred during his second marriage. Fearing the worst, Ruso arranges leave from his duties as surgeon to the XX Legion and hurries home.

Continue reading