Tag Archives: misery

Misery

Misery Bay (nook book)

Misery Bay delivers the goods.

Misery Bay: An Alex McNight Novel by Steve Hamilton (Minotaur Books, $14.99, 320 pages).

“Now I wish I could give Brother Bill his great thrill/ I would set him in chains at the top of the hill/ Then send out for some pillars and Cecil B. DeMille/ He could die happily ever after.” Bob Dylan, “Tombstone Blues,” Highway 61 Revisited

Steve Hamilton’s Misery Bay is in some ways a typical crime novel. In many ways, however, it is far from typical or cliche. The characters have some moxie and they intrigue the reader and the plot, which is the key to stories of this genre, is far from being formulaic. Hamilton is adept at providing subtle twists and turns just at the point when the reader thinks they finally are on track to reach a satisfying conclusion to the story.

In this novel, a continuation of the Alex McNight mysteries, the former cop and current private investigator, ever the hero, crosses many lines in pursuit of a serial killer. In the process he teams up with police chief Roy Mavens, an unlikely pairing, to jointly face treacherous circumstances at virtually every turn.

The novel takes place primarily in the solitary terrain of the Upper Peninsula, Michigan, creating a perfect backdrop to the tenor of the tale and the characters who inhabit it. And, for the true cop-lovers among us, there are cops everywhere: old ones, current ones, dead ones — they’re everywhere!

About a third of the way through, each chapter is introduced with director comments on film scenes. At first, one can see that they generally relate to the story, but they don’t truly make sense until much further into the story. This tactic is a bit annoying initially, but it does spark the reader’s curiousity, and in the end, it clearly works as the story reaches its intriguing climax and ultimate resolution.

If one suspends disbelief just a bit (hey, this is a novel after all), and tolerates a few minor leaps of faith, there is little to quibble with. Mystery Bay satisfies.

Purists might argue with minor specific aspects of the dialogue, details of the police interactions, or the reality of the film scenes or script references, but none of that gets in the way of the reader’s overall enjoyment of the story.

Well recommended.

Dave Moyer

A review copy was provided by the publisher. “A wonderful book. A wonderful series.” Harlan Coben, author of Six Years.

Dave Moyer is an education administrator and the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel.

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What Went Wrong with Tomorrow?

The News Where You Are by Catherine O’Flynn (Holt Paperbacks; $15.00; 250 pages)

“The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is to love and be loved in return.”

This is an interesting and slyly engaging novel built around the theme that people never quite get what they want  out of life.   The story tells the tale of Frank Allcroft, a TV news anchorman working in his home town of Birmingham, England.   Frank appears to have everything possible in life – a great and glamorous job (one that makes people want to buy him his drinks), a beautiful and intelligent wife, and a bright, inquisitive and strangely optimistic daughter.   But things are unraveling at the seams.   His idol Phil, his predecessor in the anchor chair has died under mysterious circumstances; his late architect father’s buildings are being torn down; and his mother wants to be left alone to die in an assisted-living facility.

It seems that Frank will only be able to shake his malaise if he manages to figure out the details of Phil’s death.   Was it an accident, a suicide or something else?   Phil was always a positive extrovert but in the weeks before his death he was tearful and gloomy, drinking too much and telling his co-workers how much he loved them.   Something just doesn’t add up.

Frank likely saw Phil as a second father, one whose death brings back all of his memories of his father’s passing only a month after a professional setback.   Frank’s now seeing that nothing in life lasts, and the promise of a better future appears to be quickly diminishing in line with his own aging (he can no longer see to drive at night).   Yet, just when the reader sees that he or she has this one all figured out, O’Flynn puts in some sharp curves on what’s been an otherwise straight drive.   We learn the shocking truth behind Phil’s death as we see that, for some, life offers new rewards, gifts.

The reader receives the message from O’Flynn that some people never recover from a death; it’s a harsh fact of life.   “He’s never once felt Elsie’s presence since she died.   He watched the last breath leave her body and then the world changed.   She was gone.   He feels her presence all the time…  He understands now.   Our absence is what remains of us.”

O’Flynn has provided her audience with a beautifully balanced treatise on the things that life provides and the things that life takes away from us.   It is a quietly stunning work.

Well recommended.

This review was written by Joseph Arellano.   A review copy was received from the publisher.

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Do Not Enter

Based Upon Availability: A Novel by Alix Strauss (Harper Paperbacks, 340 pages, $13.99)

“Living with a ghost is easier than living alone.”

If the idea of reading about the fictional lives of eight highly dysfunctional and miserable women makes you giddy with excitement, you might like Based Upon Availability.   This novel by Alix Strauss (The Joy of Funerals, Death Becomes Them) allows one to wallow in misery.   The chief protagonist Morgan, the manager at the Four Seasons Hotel in Manhattan, would seem to have it made.   But she’s never gotten over the loss of her younger sister, so she does some very strange things – like having sex with the lowest paid males who work for her and entering the rooms of guests while they’re away.

Oh, yes, we meet the other women – all of whom have big troubles – when Morgan goes inside their room.   That’s the signal that another sad story is about to play out.   It is actually quite a shame because Strauss can write well, “Bernie sounds like a beagle that never comes when you call…  (a man) wearing a golf hat who plays cards with his cronies in Florida.”   But the sex scenes are beyond redemption.   Morgan whispers to her latest conquest so that she can pretend “like (she’s) in a porn video.”

All in all, this is a sad collection of stories which portray life as nothing more than simple torture.

Reprinted courtesy of Sacramento Book Review.

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