Book Review: Dust by Patricia Cornwell

Dust (Kay Scarpetta #21)

Massachusetts Chief Medical Examiner Kay Scarpetta has just returned from working one of the worst mass murders in U.S. history when she’s awakened at an early hour by Detective Pete Marino.

A body, oddly draped in an unusual cloth, has just been discovered inside the sheltered gates of MIT and it’s suspected the identity is that of missing computer engineer Gail Shipton, last seen the night before at a trendy Cambridge bar. It appears she’s been murdered, mere weeks before the trial of her $100 million lawsuit against her former financial managers, and Scarpetta doubts it’s a coincidence. She also fears the case may have a connection with her computer genius niece, Lucy.

At a glance there is no sign of what killed Gail Shipton, but she’s covered with a fine dust that under ultraviolet light fluoresces brilliantly in three vivid colors, what Scarpetta calls a mineral fingerprint. Clearly the body has been posed with chilling premeditation that is symbolic and meant to shock, and Scarpetta has reason to worry that the person responsible is the Capital Murderer, whose most recent sexual homicides have terrorized Washington, D.C. Stunningly, Scarpetta will discover that her FBI profiler husband, Benton Wesley, is convinced that certain people in the government, including his boss, don’t want the killer caught.

In Dust, Scarpetta and her colleagues are up against a force far more sinister than a sexual predator who fits the criminal classification of a “spectacle killer.” The murder of Gail Shipton soon leads deep into the dark world of designer drugs, drone technology, organized crime, and shocking corruption at the highest levels.

With unparalleled high-tension suspense and the latest in forensic technology, Patricia Cornwell once again proves her exceptional ability to surprise—and to thrill.

Review:
This is my first time reading a novel my Patricia Cornwell and I was excited because I’d heard great things about the Kay Scarpetta series. Unfortunately, this book was a let down for me.
The characters are all well established, have a history with each other, and a pattern of behaviour, which is fine. Old tensions and rivalries are brought in quite a bit.
This novel takes place over the course of one day and yet there is very little actual action. Scarpetta spends a lot of time going over things in her head, so much time that things get very repetitive. And I mean really repetitive. I almost didn’t make it through the book. She explains old rivalries between the characters several times, she looks at the evidence, figures it out, talks about it, explains it, then thinks about it again.
And, I have to say, that it bugged me that Scarpetta was hungry all the time but barely ever ate. And that they were sometimes in a hurry, but it would take two chapters of thoughts and contemplation before they actually left the room.
Right from the start, Scarpetta’s husband and FBI profiler, Benton, seems to know there’s a cover up and who’s doing it and much of the rest of the book is finding ways to use the evidence against him.
It is obvious that the author knows a lot about forensic science and all of the techniques and gadgets and that was interesting, however, the story was so slow and repetitive that author knowledge couldn’t compensate.
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Book Review: The Bone Labyrinth

The Bone Labyrinth (Sigma Force #11)

A war is coming, a battle that will stretch from the prehistoric forests of the ancient past to the cutting-edge research labs of today, all to reveal a true mystery buried deep within our DNA, a mystery that will leave readers changed forever . . .

In this groundbreaking masterpiece of ingenuity and intrigue that spans 50,000 years in human history, New York Times bestselling author James Rollins takes us to mankind’s next great leap.

But will it mark a new chapter in our development . . . or our extinction?

In the remote mountains of Croatia, an archaeologist makes a strange discovery:  a subterranean Catholic chapel, hidden for centuries, holds the bones of a Neanderthal woman. In the same cavern system, elaborate primitive paintings tell the story of an immense battle between tribes of Neanderthals and monstrous shadowy figures. Who is this mysterious enemy depicted in these ancient drawings and what do the paintings mean?

Before any answers could be made, the investigative team is attacked, while at the same time, a bloody assault is made upon a primate research center outside of Atlanta. How are these events connected? Who is behind these attacks?  The search for the truth will take Commander Gray Pierce of Sigma Force 50,000 years into the past. As he and Sigma trace the evolution of human intelligence to its true source, they will be plunged into a cataclysmic battle for the future of humanity that stretches across the globe . . . and beyond.

With the fate of our future at stake, Sigma embarks on its most harrowing odyssey ever—a breathtaking quest that will take them from ancient tunnels in Ecuador that span the breadth of South America to a millennia-old necropolis holding the bones of our ancestors. Along the way, revelations involving the lost continent of Atlantis will reveal true mysteries tied to mankind’s first steps on the moon. In the end, Gray Pierce and his team will face to their greatest threat: an ancient evil, resurrected by modern genetic science, strong enough to bring about the end of man’s dominance on this planet.

Only this time, Sigma will falter—and the world we know will change forever.

Review:
I really wanted to like this book — it hit a lot of the right buttons for me. I was in the mood for a thriller, the story involves archaeology and Atlantis, there is action and adventure, and Rollins is a highly recommended, prolific author. But, despite all of my expectations, I only found the book OK.
The characters were good, the kind of tough guys you would expect in a thriller. I like that not all of the tough guys were “guys” — some were women too.
And you can’t fault Rollins on his research. It is clear from the early pages that he has researched all of the science and archaeology behind the book. That part really was interesting, thinking of the possibilities of Adam and Eve, a historical leap of intellect, and the presence of Atlantis. Great stuff.
But then there were the other things. I actually felt uncomfortable reading parts of this book. The big antagonist was basically all of China. There was no redeeming quality of anything Chinese. The whole country was depicted as inhumane, cut-throat, and immoral. I know there needs to be bad guys, but vilifying an entire country is not OK.
The writing, for the most part, was good. There did need to be more editing, however as there were a few occasions when a paragraph or description was repeated practically word for word within several pages. And much of Rollins’ research was presented in an info dump format — a character would go to the library and research then come back and tell everyone everything for several pages.
And, I couldn’t figure out from a story point of view, why Sigma Force took the people they were supposed to be protecting to Ecuador and put them in harm’s way. There needed to be a better rationale for going against their assignment of keeping these people safe than curiosity. From the book point of view, it was interesting and they learned a lot, but from a plot point of view the officers of Sigma Force were not doing their job by putting their charges in life threatening danger when there was no pressing need.
Overall, there was a lot to enjoy in The Bone Labyrinth, but I’m not sure I’ll be picking up another Sigma Force book soon.
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On Re-Watching The Commitments

I know it’s odd for me to be commenting on a movie here on my book blog, but The Commitments started off as a great book by Roddy Doyle. I have to say, though, that my first exposure to Roddy Doyle was through the movie, The Commitments. And, though not all book to movie adaptations work, this one is epic.

If you haven’t seen it, go watch it. The casting is amazing — the voices on these guy are phenomenal, and the music alone makes this a movie worth watching. It’s the story of a bunch of down-and-out Dubliners who decide to put a band together. They swear, they fight, their first gig is at the church hall for an anti drug rally. But they play music and they sing in between it all. It really is fantastic.

 

Watching this movie again has brought back some great memories. The Commitments came out in 1991 when I was broke and at university. I was fortunate enough to live in the Kitsalino area of Vancouver and we had this great, ancient theatre called, The Hollywood. You could tell that it had once been grand, with it’s huge marquis and red velvet seats. The seats, however, appeared to be original and, at the time, the velvet had been worn down, and you had to choose your seat wisely or have a spring in your leg the whole time.

However, I lived in walking distance to this place and they had the best deals on movies. I’m trying to remember now, but there was always a double feature starting at 7pm, which changed every week and it was $5 for both movies — and they even had a $2 Tuesday. These were films that had had their first runs in the mainstream theatres already, before they made their way to the B-runs. It was great.

 

One of my most vivid memories of going to this theatre was going to see The Commitments with a family friend of ours named Steve. Steve was a few years older than me, about 6’6″, and looked like someone you didn’t want to cross in a dark alley. We went to the theatre and sat at the back of the balcony — more legroom there. And, once the movie started, Steve lit up a cigarette. The theatre wasn’t crowded that night, but still, we were in a theatre. His one concession to me was to move to the side so that the smoke didn’t interfere with the film as we were right underneath the projection booth.

 

As it turned out, nothing happened and we enjoyed a fantastic movie — the music, swearing, and fighting was up both of our allies. The music really is phenomenal. I bought the CD at the time and still play it from time to time.

Here’s Mustang Sally from the movie:

 

And, after seeing this movie, I went in search of Roddy Doyle books and read all that I could get my hands on, The movie introduced me to a great author I might not otherwise have known about. I’ve enjoyed Roddy Doyle’s books for years — he writes for adults and children and works to promote literacy in Ireland. He’s got a great sense of humour and an engaging writing style. Could be time for me to pick up a new Roddy Doyle book and see what he’s been up to lately.

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Book Review: Coyote Blue

Coyote Blue

From Christopher Moore, author of Fluke, comes a quirky, irreverent novel of love, myth, metaphysics, outlaw biking, angst, and outrageous redemption.

As a boy growing up in Montana, he was Samson Hunts Alone — until a deadly misunderstanding with the law forced him to flee the Crow reservation at age fifteen. Today he is Samuel Hunter, a successful Santa Barbara insurance salesman with a Mercedes, a condo, and a hollow, invented life. Then one day, shortly after his thirty-fifth birthday, destiny offers him the dangerous gift of love — in the exquisite form of Calliope Kincaid — and a curse in the unheralded appearance of an ancient Indian god by the name of Coyote. Coyote, the trickster, has arrived to transform tranquillity into chaos, to reawaken the mystical storyteller within Sam … and to seriously screw up his existence in the process.

Review:

I love Christopher Moore’s sense of humour and Coyote Blue doesn’t disappoint. The other thing I love about Moore is that he does his research, which he certainly does in this novel. The story is about a man from the Crow nation and the details of the culture and stories feel authentic and respectful.

Coyote Blue follows the life of Sam, going back and forth from his time as an adolescent on the Crow reserve to his life in Santa Barbara as a successful insurance salesman, until the trickster god, Coyote, decides to wreck havoc through his life.

Moore takes us on a journey to imagine how the ancient gods exist in the modern world. Sam is a character we can sympathize with, just trying to live his life the best way he knows how under strange and, at times, terrible circumstances. Coyote is fabulous, an absolutely outrageous character with no moral qualms about anything.

And, like any good story, it is strewn with “truths.” Probably my favourite line in the book is when Sam is contemplating all of the upheaval in his life: “His life was back to normal, and normal wasn’t good enough anymore. He wanted real.”

Coyote Blue made me laugh, made me think, and kept me up late reading so I could see how it all ended.

 

 

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