Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Murder Offstage - A Posie Parker Mystery, Book 1

Not really sure why I picked this book up. Perhaps it is because the protagonist, Posie Parker, is a transposition of a great actress (Parker Posey, in case you couldn't figure that one out); or maybe it is because I've found myself growing fond of period murder mysteries; or possibly it is because I just can't get enough of female detectives, and this one caught my eye. Well, whatever the reason, I'm glad I did.

Murder Offstage, the first Posie Parker mystery, is set in 1921 London, and Posie is an aspiring detective that just isn't getting the business she thought she would. It seems her assistant, and somewhat-sleuthing partner, Len Irving, is keeping the agency afloat, and Posie would do just about anything to change that. As with any good detective novel, fate steps in and a mystery lands right in Posie's lap.  A long-time friend of her late brother is being accused of murder - a murder that Rufus claims is the fault of his girlfriend, who has mysteriously disappeared. But that's not all that disappeared! Posie (or "Nosy" as Rufus calls her) soon finds out that the murder isn't the only crime that was committed! It seems Rufus' family stole the Maharajah diamond many years ago, and Rufus was to insure and keep the diamond safe - only now, it's missing, right along with his girlfriend.

Author L.B. Hathaway creates a convoluted but engaging mystery with lots of twists and turns that keeps the readers guessing. The characters are as fun as they are varied - - Posie, Len, and Rufus, of course, but there's also Inspector Lovelace, who treats Posie with respect and does not mind her interference now and again; there's Inspector Oats, who is so full of himself and absolutely cannot stand Posie's involvement in any manner; there's Dolly Price, the cheerful, always helpful theater costumer; there's Babe, Posie and Len's secretary who is less than diligent about doing any actual work; and there's Mr. Minks - Posie's adorable little cat who wiggles his own way into the middle of this mixed-up mystery.

One would think with all of these characters, it would get confusing and overbearing, but Hathaway manages them all quite nicely. The characterization draws readers into each character, and while the actual villain may not be so much of a surprise, the connections, the mistaken identities, and the double-crosses all keep your mind turning, trying to figure out what's going to happen next. And what I love about these period mysteries is that there is none of the modern technology that allows for quick and easy access to information. Here, Posie and the Inspector are forced to wait days to received photographs and information from a foreign government about one of their suspects, and it helps build the suspense.

And the climax, when Posie gets kidnapped, and she must face off against the culprit - well, let's just say that Hathaway handles it nicely.  I was turning page after page, unable to put it down until I knew that Posie was safe and the culprit was caught... (or was he?).  This, plus the fantastic dialogue, makes the first Posie Parker mystery a huge success in my book, and I'm heading over to Amazon to buy the rest of the books in this series that have been published so far.  Highly recommend this series to any mystery-loving fans out there!

RATING:  10 bunches of bright yellow mimosa out of 10 for starting off a new mystery series with quite a bang and creating a new female sleuth that is easy to love!

Friday, July 26, 2019

Amber Blake - an IDW mini-series

Me and my fascination with female-led comic book tales. I've always been drawn to comics that have strong female leads.  Wonder Woman. Birds of Prey. Batgirl. Supergirl. She-Hulk. Ms. Marvel (now Captain Marvel). Ms. Tree. Squirrel Girl. Power Girl. Huntress. Countless others. So, it should come as now surprise that when I saw the first IDW solicits for a new mini-series called Amber Blake, I was going to give it a try.  The fact that it has art by the magnificently talented Butch Guice, well that was simply icing on the cake.  And the cover for that first issue, with that determined young woman, all in black, carrying that gun - that pretty much solidified the deal.

What I did not expect was that the comic is not your standard comic-size; rather, it is magazine size (which means larger comic panels inside, with greater detail and more story!). What I also did not expect was a story about a young girl abandoned by her mother at an orphanage who is then taken away to study at one of the world's most prestigious schools - only to learn that the school is a smoke-screen for a man who takes advantage of his position - - and his students!

It's part spy story, part mystery story, part adventure story, part self-discovery story, part romance story - but overall, it's one heck of a great story! I enjoyed every minute of every issue. I am thankful that the writer, Jade Lagardere, did not feel the need to drag Amber's "origin" out for 6 to 12 issues to fill trade paperbacks; instead, readers get a direct, less-than-one-issue origin tale that gives readers everything they need to know about Amber, about the school, about the villain she will be chasing throughout this four-issue series, and leaves plenty of mystery to be discovered along the way (the readers learn more about Amber's past as she does throughout the adventure).

As in real life, not everyone is who they seem to be in this series, and Lagardere manages to pull some really good punches in the last two issues, surprising even me with a couple of very good soap opera moments and reveals (and no, I'm not going to say what they are, as it will spoil your reading of the story).  Suffice to say, it is definitely worth it for the story alone; however, the art by Butch Guice is absolutely magnificent. The man knows how to draw, that's for sure. Some amazingly detailed backgrounds, some beautifully rendered expressions, and some unbelievable movement from panel to panel. The only drawback (and it doesn't detract from the enjoyment of the books too much) is the coloring. There are some panels, which are meant to be night time scenes, but they are colored with so much dark blue and black that it is difficult to tell what exactly is going on in the scene.  But, I've seen some movies with the same problem, where the night scenes are so dark, it's impossible to see anything at all on the screen - so, as I said, it didn't take me out of the story, and I just kept going, because I HAD to know what was going to happen next!

This book has a very cinematic feel to it, and I sure hope Lagardere and Guice have plans for more future Amber Blake stories, because I would definitely get them!!

RATING:  10 unexpected returns from the dead out of 10 for a freaking great story, superb art, and a wonderfully satisfying read!

Sunday, July 21, 2019

The Devlin Quick Mysteries - Book Three, Secrets from the Deep

Not gonna lie here - this third Devlin Quick book was not up to par with the last book. Which is a shame, as I've come to like the character and her supporting cast.  After a disappointing first book, but a much better second book, I was really looking forward to this one. Sadly, author Linda Fairstein couldn't match the success of the last one...

Secrets from the Deep refers to a gold doubloon that Devlin, her best friend Booker, and his little cousin, Zee, find while vacationing at Martha's Vineyard. The plot itself is not too bad - where did the doubloon come from, is it real, who owns it, and what will certain unscrupulous people do in order to get their hands on such a valuable coin? Some definite plot-points for a great mystery!  I just wish Fairstein hadn't used the first two-thirds of the book to simply spend time having the kids recite historical, geographical, and marine facts - there were parts where I was beginning to feel as if I were reading an encyclopedia and not a mystery.

Secrets from the Deep opens with Devlin and Booker on vacation at Martha's Vineyard. Devlin is attempting to secure some water and sand that might hold some fish scales to use for her school project that is coming due. But when they come across a gold doubloon that they soon discover is the real thing, Devlin begins to suspect there is more to the doubloon than meets the eye.  And while it takes some time (meaning a LOT of chapters) before the mystery really gets going, the kids do meet some rather shady and mysterious characters who could potentially be suspects in the mystery of who is trying to get that doubloon!

There's Artie Constant, the old lighthouse keeper - he has a very insistent interest in that doubloon. There's also Cole Bagby, the father of a boy that has been bullying Zee - he claims to be a coin collector who shows an unusually keen interest in the doubloon. And there's Jenny Thaw, the descendant of the infamous Thaw family who are believed to have harbored pirates back in the day - she has some secrets that could hold the clue to the truth about the doubloon.

So, as you can see, there were some definitely interesting choices for villains.  And the final third of the book, where Devlin and Booker head off to a coin convention and ultimately come face-to-face with the villains who are after that doubloon, finally hits the mark for a good, fast-paced mystery that engages the reader and keeps the pages turning. It's just a shame that it took so long in the story to get to that point.

Not sure what to think of this series after this book.  It has its good points, and I do like the character (and the fact that her mother is the police chief); but the writing and pacing just isn't really strong enough to really keep my attention.  Don't see that there is any fourth book listed yet, so perhaps this is the last book in the series - which, if that were the case, I would not be overly disappointed.  If a fourth book does materialize, however, I just don't know whether I would get it or not (of course, saying that, the completist in me says I have to have it to ensure I have the whole series).

Only time will tell....

RATING:  5 bottles of red nail polish out of 10 for keeping the "female sleuth" genre going for the younger generations.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Jim Butcher's The Dresden Files - Brief Cases

Ah, Harry Dresden, Wizard Extraordinaire - oh, how I miss thee! It's been way too long since Jim Butcher gave us a full length novel. He's allowed a few comic book mini-series from Dynamite Entertainment to be published, and he's written a short story here and there over the past few years. Thankfully, his recent short stories have been collected into a large volume titled Brief Cases, and it has sustained my love for the character and need for more stories!

With 12 stories, Brief Cases covered a lot of different times (at various points in Dresden's history - between books, during books, and even after the last book). This provides fans with the opportunity to see the characters at various points in their history. And I specifically say "characters" because Butcher treats us to stories of not just Dresden, but also tales from the point of view of Molly Carpenter (Dresden's apprentice) and Marcone (the mob boss) and, my personal favorite, Waldo Butters (the coroner). In addition, the final story, which, quite frankly, was the least of my favorite of the 12 short tales, features not one, not two, but three different view points...but more on that later.

First, let's discuss those three tales with bigfoot. As Butcher indicates in his introduction to the first tale, bigfoot is a character he never has touched upon in the ongoing series, so it was a nice change of pace to see him integrate the character into Dresden's world. It was also fun to see that bigfoot was not only NOT a villain by any means, but that he had an offspring by a rather imposing woman - an offspring that Dresden finds himself helping not once, not twice, but on three separate occasions throughout the young bigfoot's life. All three stories are unique and stand on their own, but when taken together, they create an amazing tale of parental love, sacrifice, and reunion. Of all the stories in this anthology, I would have to say that these three are my favorite Dresden tales.

With regard to Molly - when her character was first introduced into the series, I wasn't overly impressed. She seemed to be the stereotypical rebellious teenager. No big deal. But then she started using magic. And then she got in trouble - big time trouble! Then Dresden bailed her out and took her on as his apprentice. And then ... well, for those who may not have read all the books in the series yet, I won't spoil it. But she does manage to get two stories in this book, and both of them are quite powerful. Once is set just after Changes, when everyone is mourning Dresden's death. The other deals with Molly's new role following the unspoken change to her life mentioned (or rather, not mentioned) above. In both stories, she proves herself to be a true protege of Harry Dresden, acting just like him in so many ways. The second story, however, is a very tough pill to swallow, as Molly learns a lesson the hard way, at the cost of quite a few lives...

The story about John Marcone was interesting - we've never really seen anything from his point of view before. And to see how he deals with supernatural threats ... how he uses what he has learned from Dresden over the years ... and how he is able to discern the truth from subterfuge within the supernatural community ... well, it shows just how devious, conniving, and downright dirty he can be.

Now, my favorite of all the stories in this book has to be the story about Waldo Butters. Butcher admits in the preface to the story that Butters was originally just a throw-away character. But over the years, he has grown into something much more than that - a likable geek who has been thrown into a world he doesn't truly understand, yet one that he accepts and willingly throws himself into whenever someone is in need. And now, as the chosen keep of the Sword of Faith, he has even more responsibility than ever. In this story, Butters gets his first "call," and his faith is put to the test when he goes toe-to-toe with a deadly supernatural creature. He must have faith in himself, in his calling, and in his righteous mission in order to defeat the creature and save the soul of the man he and Michael found on the bench...

And the last story. Dresden takes a trip to the zoo. With his daughter. And his dog. And what should be an uneventful family outing turns into three separate battles! Dresden takes on a warlock with newfound powers - - Maggie takes on some ghouls in children's clothing - - and Mouse takes on a shadowy villain.  The same story, told from three different perspectives, fighting three different villains totally unbeknownst to the other two. Truly an ingenious idea, and while it was cute, it just did not have the Dresden feel that the other stories did. Maybe it was too light-hearted, or maybe it was too family oriented, I'm not sure. But, while it wasn't bad, it was not the best either.  Then again, when you have a book of 12 stories, they can't all be the best, can they?

Overall, the book is another win for Butcher in his Dresden universe and satiates the Dresden craving we fans have until he finally gets around to writing and publishing the next novel.

RATING:  10 giant oyster shell bombs out of 10 for feeding the Dresden fix for all of us fans going into withdrawals!

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Modesty Blaise, Cartoon Adventures - Book 1 of 2: In the Beginning

Okay, I will be totally honest. I have heard of Modesty Blaise many times over the years, but I've never actually read any books or stories starring the sexy spy. I just assumed she was something similar to Emma Peel from the British television show, The Avengers. So, when I happened across two books (technically graphic novels, as they are comic strip stories) at a comic convention last year, I picked them up, figuring I would give her a try.  I finally got around to reading the first book, In the Beginning, which collects two stories: "La Machine" and "The Long Lever." And quite frankly, I liked it.

Now, fair warning - there is no "origin story" for Modesty Blaise. The first story, "La Machine," jumps right into things. Modesty Blaise is on the verge of retiring - or so she hopes. But when agents of the foreign office come to her penthouse, asking for help, she has no choice but to offer her services, along with that of her partner, Willie Garvin.  It's just like old times for the dangerous pair, as they set out to infiltrate and take down the organization known as La Machine. By the end of the tale, Modesty and Garvin have faced down some very dastardly villains, Modesty is kidnapped and tortured, and Garvin is nearly killed. But, they save the day in the end, take down La Machine, and Modesty comes to the realization that retirement is simply not an option for her...

Which takes us directly into the second tale, "The Long Lever." Now, this title makes absolutely no sense to me, as it does not seem to have any connection to the story at all. In this tale, Modesty and Garvin are called upon to find a Hungarian refugee scientist who has been experimenting with a laser ray. The Hungarian government has been fighting to get him back, and it appears they might have succeeded. Modesty and Garvin must once again go undercover on the yacht of Hungarian agents, where they believe Dr. Kossuth is being held prisoner while he is being delivered to Hungary. This assignment is anything but usual, though, as Modesty soon finds out. Nothing is quite what it seems, and when she manages to get some one-on-one time with the refugee scientist, she discovers that she may not be working for the right side!

The writing is stellar, and the art is absolutely beautiful. Modesty manages to come across as both deadly and seductive, and the detail in the locales, vehicles, and weapons is amazing.  I'm not familiar with Peter O'Donnell, but after reading this, I'll have to look him up and see what other work he has done. The only complaint I have (and this has nothing to do with O'Donnell, but more to do with the publisher) is that with the mass-market paperback format, the comic panel sizes are so small, the words are extremely small and it takes a real effort to read it.  That being said, it's worth the effort, as the stories are so engaging. She is not female version of James Bond - she is a masterpiece all on her own.

I'm likely to put off reading book two for a while, as I know once I've read it, there won't be any more in my collection at this time to read...

RATING:  10 twenty-two caliber pen-guns out of 10 for making the spy business about more than just action and adventure but about character and style a well!

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

DC Comics Secret Hero Society, Book 4 - Science Fair Crisis

DC's world of young super heroes in the Secret Hero Society continues to expand with the fourth book in this children's series.  Part prose, part comic, part notes and journals, these books have been a lot of fun to read, and it's nice to see DC actually allowing their characters to be used for stories that are all dark and gloomy.  Since I've already seen that a fifth book is forthcoming, I am hoping this means the sales have been good, and DC will continue publishing the books for young readers!

Science Fair Crisis finds the students returning to Justice Preparatory Academy for an all new year of school under the new principal, James Gordon. As fate would have it, the return to school also means a new mystery for the secret hero society to solve - who is causing all of the accidents throughout the school that threaten to affect the upcoming science fair sponsored by S.T.A.R. Labs?  The book features the return of Bruce Wayne, Diana Prince, Clark Kent, Barry Allen, Oliver Queen, and Victor Stone, and introduces readers to the newest member of the SHS, Arthur Curry (better known as Aquaman!).

The story is pretty creative, as someone sabotages the science fair projects, and poor Arthur gets blamed for the damage done to the school. Arthur is forced to leave the school, and his thought-to-be-a-sure-fire-winner science project is withdrawn from the S.T.A.R. Labs contest.  While Bruce (Batman) is quick to believe Arthur is the blame, the other children (heroes) are not so quick to agree. They believe Arthur was set up, so they decide to investigate on their own - after all, isn't that what friends (and heroes) do?

It's fun to watch the kids use their own special talents to try and uncover clues that will lead them to the real culprit - and along the way, readers will meet Lois Lane, who runs the school newspaper; see Clark become a "reporter" for the school newspaper; see Diana use her lasso of truth to try and get to the bottom of things; see Ms. Waller come on board as the new guidance counselor and truancy officer; see Barry (the Flash) get some special tutoring from Professor Zoom; and see the Secret Hero Society work together to uncover the true villain behind the caper (and it's not at all who you will be expecting - quite frankly, even I didn't see this one coming, although the clues were there!).

Pamela Lovas and Shane Clester take over the art chores for this fourth volume in the series. Not sure what happened to Dustin Nguyen or why he didn't illustrate this one - but Pamela and Shane do a great job, and the variation in style really is not that noticeable.  The story flows as smoothly as previous ones did, and the characters maintain their look (making them easily distinguishable and identifiable even without their iconic costumes).

These stories are the perfect introduction for young readers who enjoy super heroes, allowing them to read about their favorite characters without having to face the continuity-heavy, down-trodden, darkness-filled stories that over-saturate the comic book market today.  Fun, simple stories that are truly enjoyable to read - even as an adult!

RATING:  10 mysterious text messages out of 10 for making super hero school fun to read!