September 7, 2010 · 4:44 pm
I’d Know You Anywhere: A Novel by Laura Lippman (William Morrow)
There are writers who, like certain songwriters, can be admired more than they can be enjoyed. In the field of songwriting, the team of Walter Becker and Donald Fagen – collectively known as Steely Dan – has often been praised for their tunes steeped in irony even if their songs are more clever (more intellectual) than charmingly fun. I kept thinking of Steely Dan and, especially, the song “Reeling in the Years” as I read this latest novel from the prolific writer Laura Lippman.
Lippman’s skills are to be recognized as she persuades a reader to turn over 370 pages of a story that does not amount to a lot. There are two protagonists. There’s the now-38-year-old Eliza Benedict, who was kidnapped and raped and held for 39 days by Walter Bowman, who sits on death row in Virginia awaiting his execution. Bowman is a spree-killer convicted of two murders in two states, but he may have killed as many as eight young girls. Why he didn’t kill Eliza (then known as Elizabeth) when she was 15 is supposed to be a question that puzzles everyone. Except that Bowman was captured after a simple traffic stop. The notion that he might have killed Eliza had he not been taken into custody when he was seems to elude everyone here.
Although Lippman gives her readers a lot of twists and turns and feints, there’s not much drama in this crime drama, and not much thrill in this psychological thriller. It is interesting enough, but just enough.
Eliza never comes to life, especially as she displays no anger against Bowman. When Bowman contacts her just weeks before his scheduled death, she becomes his strangely witting accomplice without much effort. Eliza is a character that’s simply not present in her own life: “Her time with Walter – it existed in some odd space in her brain, which was neither memory or not memory. It was like a story she knew about someone else.”
A character in the book, a hack writer who wrote a “fact crime” book about Bowman, complains that he’s just simply not as interesting a criminal as, say, Ted Bundy. That’s certainly the case as we never come to know what it is that made Bowman a killer, nor how it is that this man with a said-to-be just average IQ is suddenly cunning enough to use his victim Eliza in a last-minute plan to gain his freedom. Something key is missing here as the author admits: “(Her) mother had long believed that Walter had experienced something particularly wounding in his youth.”
Since neither of the two characters ever becomes fully realized, it’s hard to care about whether Eliza will, in the end, forgive Walter and/or help him avoid execution. The reader will, however, wonder why this now happily married woman is willing to risk her contented life for someone who harmed her. Since Eliza does not know herself, she certainly will never come to know or constructively forgive her former captor.
A significant flaw in this crime drama is that the interactions with participants in the criminal justice system feel like flyovers, neither grounded nor concrete. The lawyers seem to be portrayed more as actors (attention being given to how they look and dress) than as advisors.
In the end, this reader admires Lippman’s skills, her persistence and her success. However, reading this novel was a bit like trying to listen to that Steely Dan song “Reeling in the Years” as it plays in another room, down the hall, too far removed to be heard clearly.
This review was written by Joseph Arellano. A review copy was provided by the publisher.
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May 2, 2010 · 10:35 am
Fortuna by Michael R. Stevens (Oceanview Publishing)
Jason weighed the situation for a moment, and then decided to risk jumping out of character. “Pisa isn’t in the game,” he typed. Very quickly, the voice responded. “This isn’t a game.”
Fortuna is a rollicking E-ticket ride from first-time author-musician-technology expert Michael Stevens. This is the story of Jason Lind, a computer science major at Stanford. Jason is brilliant but bored and then he discovers the web-based game of Fortuna. As in Second Life, Fortuna offers the chance for Jason to re-create himself. The digital version of Jason is a living, breathing, avatar in medieval Florence, Italy. However, playing the game has its costs – financially, time-wise and to Jason’s relationships…
The game of Fortuna eventually so absorbs Jason that he faces losing his teaching assistant position at The Farm and – quite possibly – the prospect of dropping out of school. One aspect of Fortuna is gambling; real people gamble for riches and status for their digital persona. But when the gamble is lost, debts must be paid off in true American dollars. The penalty to fail to pay one’s debts is death.
Jason’s huge debts cause him to take a job at the high-tech Silicon Valley company GPC, where his late father worked. Jason’s uncle heads the company that is rumored to have ties to organized crime. GPC provides some immediate funds and protection for Jason but he may not be safe anywhere.
Eventually, Jason must run for his life as he faces threats from both inside the game of Fortuna (“You are in danger.”), and in real life. Jason’s father – one Nicholas Fabonacci – gave 50 million dollars to Stanford before dying under mysterious and questionable circumstances. Was Fabonacci – whose name graces a newer building on the campus in Palo Alto – killed and, if so, will Jason share his fate?
Perhaps the best aspect of this computer technology-mystery-thriller is that the reader will not anticipate the ending in advance. Fortuna is about a massive struggle between good and evil – Machiavellian in nature. Which one wins in the end? You will have to read the 290 pages of Fortuna to find out the answer.
Highly recommended. Fortuna is a game worth playing and a unique tale that is well worth reading. “Wild and addicting!” Shane Gericke (Cut to the Bone)
Fortuna will be released on Monday, May 3, 2010. A review copy was provided by Oceanview Publishing.
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Tagged as alternate universe, avatar, book review, books, computer games, computer science, computers, Cut to the Bone, first novels, first-time authors, Florence, Fortuna, gambling, high-tech, Italy, Jason Lind, Joseph Arellano, Joseph's Reviews, Kindle Edition, medieval times, Michael Stevens, mystery, northern California, Oceanview Publishing, online gambling, Palo Alto, Pisa, Portola Valley, real life (RL), recommended books, Renaissance, Second Life, Shane Gericke, Stanford Mall, Stanford University, technology, The Oasis, thriller