the Little Red Reviewer

Posts Tagged ‘thriller

Burning Midnight McIntoshBurning Midnight, by Will McIntosh

published February 2016

Where I got it: Received ARC (thanks!)
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What if, for a very small fee, you could be better at math? Or could fall asleep easier at night? Or could digest anything? Or had better eyesight? Or could hold your breath a little bit longer? Or any one of a hundred other things that could make your life just the smallest bit easier? Wouldn’t that just be the best?
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Thanks to mysterious marble sized orbs that fell from the sky, everyone’s life is a little easier. All you have to do to reap their benefits is find a matching pair and burn them. Burn the slate gray ones for a beautiful singing voice, forest green for enhanced senses, copper to become ambidextrous, chocolate for enhanced strength, and so on. The rarer colors are of course, more expensive, but anyone can afford a common color, or even find the common ones in their own backyards and randomly all over the city. Orbs can only be used once, but the skills they impart last a lifetime.
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Teenager David Sullivan, who goes by Sully, had his fifteen minutes of fame when he found a Cherry Red, one of the rarest and most valuable orbs. Young and naive, he was talked into selling it to a famous collector. And then a team of lawyers cheated Sully out of the money. Well, the collector, Alex Holliday, says it was done fair and square. It’s not Holliday’s fault Sully didn’t read the contract through.  It’s an event that’s come to define Sully’s life.
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Is there such a thing as a free lunch? Some people feel the orbs are evil, that they are harmful. Some people refuse burn them, yet still buying and selling them to make a living. Sully and his working class friends often burn only the commonest, cheapest orbs. As it is, the little bit of money Sully makes at the flea market barely makes up for the family’s lost income when his mother loses her job. Sully feels protective of his Mom, he’s all she’s got.

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But what are the orbs, really? Should we be burning them, willy nilly, with no thought of what it could do to us, long term? Holliday continues to brag about all the colors he’s burned, making speeches and putting his prized orbs on display in his department stores. He reminds me a little of Zachary Quinto’s character in the first season of Heroes, “collecting” every talent he can. Ugggh, I want to punch Holliday in the face.

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annihilation scoreThe Annihilation Score, by Charles Stross (A Laundry Novel)

published 2015

where I got it: borrowed from a friend

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This is the sixth Laundry novel, but in a way, it’s the first of its kind (By the way, Start Here).  Laundry novels have always starred Bob Howard, IT programmer turned computational demonologist. No matter how shitty his day is at work, he can usually come home to his wife Mo. She works for the Laundry too, and sometimes it’s her coming home from a crappy trip to be soothed by her well meaning husband. Bob might be an apprentice (and possibly heir) to The Eater of Souls, but Mo has him beat. You see, she is the handler for what is known as the Pale Violin.  the “This violin kills demons” sticker on the violin case is no joke.

I rushed through The Rhesus Chart, the Laundry novel that comes right before this one. I really, really wanted to get to The Annihilation Score,  because this book is told from Mo’s point of view. Yup.  Barely any Bob in this baby, this novel is all Mo, all the time. Oh, and let’s not forget the semi-sentient violin that creeps into her dreams and wants to kill her husband.  can’t forget that.

 

For those of you just joining us, Mo’s instrument is made of human bone, her fingers bleed when she plays it, and she can’t let it out of her sight because it gets very lonely, and very, very hungry. Remember Elric’s Arioch?  You’re on the right track,  just crank the demon eating darkness up to eleven.  Mo calls her violin Lecter, and if you listen very closely, you can hear his whisper. He doesn’t want much from you, yet, but if you’d only listen to his voice ….

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Charles_Stross_-_The_Rhesus_ChartThe Rhesus Chart, by Charles Stross (Laundry series #5)

published in 2014

where I got it: purchased new

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If this is the first you’ve ever heard of the Laundry, I advise starting at, or at least near, the beginning. Start at the beginning with The Atrocity Archives (book 1) and then pick up Jennifer Morgue (book 2), or read book 2 and then book 1, and then you can generally hop around a bit once you’ve gotten a feel for what the hell is going on. Fanatics will disagree, but I say yes, you can hop around in this series, and read the books as you come across them.  Anyways, the premise is that Bob Howard, unassuming IT professional, saw something he shouldn’t’ve, and suddenly found himself working for a secret British Intelligence service known as The Laundry. When things go bump in the night, these are folks who bump back. And by “bump in the night”, I mean otherworldly horrors of the deep who see us as a snack, and by “bump back” I mean employ computational demonologists, zombies, and enslaved demons. It’s a good time, and you can’t tell your friends or neighbors what you do for a living, ever.  Bob’s wife Mo is also employed by The Laundry, and she is responsible for one of their most powerful weapons – a violin that screams and kills. Hard to tell if she owns the violin or if the violin owns her. It gives her nightmares and makes her fingers bleed.  I guess it comes down to what moves faster? The Laundry? Human stupidity? the hunger of Cthulhu? Or the planets and stars aligning in such  a way that none of it will matter any more.

 

I have always loved the narrative voice of this series. Bob is sarcastic and smart, and the only color his humor comes in is black. When you know the end of the world is right around the corner, gallows humor is where it’s at. But where his wife Mo is concerned? Bob is a puddle of caring, heartfelt goo for her. It’s quite adorable, actually.  Bob could read me the advertisements in the phone book, and I’d probably be happy. Actually, Bob really needs to read me the instructions of how to do my taxes. Because that would be fucking awesome.

 

To shift gears ever so slightly, all it takes is looking at formulas and certain mathematical equations in just the right way for something awful to happen.  Maybe you let a demon through. Maybe you let it take a chomp out of your brain. Maybe the side effect is a scorching allergic reaction to sunlight, and gaining an addiction to human blood. It’s really too bad, as that’s exactly what happened to a bunch of code monkeys who work for a bank. With no one to guide them, what are these baby vampires to do?

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Lock_In_CoverLock In, by John Scalzi

published 2014

where I got it: purchased new

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A near future scifi thriller, Lock In has an engrossing and compelling start.  I really loved the first few chapters of Lock In, really dug the world Scalzi built. Depending on how you look at it, he’s either being sneakishly subtle, or heavyhanded with his observations on how society in general treats anyone who is different from the norm, especially those with disabilities.  The novel takes place some 20 years after Haden’s Syndrome has left its mark on humanity. A type of encephalitis, many victims of Haden’s suffer from “lock in”, completely aware and awake, but unable to move or communicate. Thanks to neural technology, people who live their lives locked in (known as Hadens) can remotely use robots, called Threeps, to somewhat experience normal life. Even better, is the option to use an Integrator, a person who will allow a Haden to use their body for a contracted time.  For many Hadens, the only people who see their actual, physical bodies are their immediate family members and their home health care aides.

 

Chris Shane, poster boy for Haden’s and now all grown up, chose a horrible week to start his new job at the FBI.  They aren’t quite sure what to do with him, and he’s been partnered with Agent Vann, who loves antagonizing the local cops even more than she enjoys self medicating. So, right off the bat we’ve got some interesting characters. Shane is trying to get out of the shadow of his famous father, Vann has a secretive history she tries to drink away, and they’ve got a really weird murder investigation on their hands.

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superpositionSuperposition, by David Walton

published April 2015

Where I got it: received review copy from the publisher (Thanks Pyr!)

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Imagine a fast paced thriller mashed up with a quantum physics book for a layperson. Now throw in family dynamics, a suspensful murder mystery/police procedural, and an unexplainable monster.  That’s Superposition. Ignore the terrible cover art, this is a pretty good book.

 

For such a short and ultra fast book, I liked how Walton developed the characters, especially Jacob and his family. Through conversations with Jacob’s wife Elena, and their kids, we immediately know a lot about the particulars of their family situation (one of these details becomes incredibly important later). As he spends more time with his daughter Alessandra, it was fascinating to watch him realize he might not be the amazingly perfect father he always thought he was. I won’t go as far to call the book heavy on “feels”, but Walton crams a ton character development into very little space. Other characters too, are quickly given depth – his friend Jean’s marital issues, his brother in-law Marek’s deep seated morals and loyalty. This is a science driven thriller, yet it read like a character driven novel. that’s a good thing.

 

To get the story off and running, Jacob’s old co-worker Brian randomly shows up at his house one night, terrified. Trying to prove a point, Brian shoots Elena, who suffers no ill effects.  The next thing Jacob knows, he’s on trial for Brian’s murder. Brian had been alive the evening he shot Elena, found dead the next morning in his lab, was seen alive that afternoon, and then was never seen again.  Jacob’s family has also disappeared, will he soon find himself on trial for their murders too?

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infinty box wilhelmThe Infinity Box, by Kate Wilhelm

originally published in Orbit Vol 9, 1971

where I got it: purchased used as a Tor Double

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Can you believe I’ve never read a Kate Wilhelm? Famous for The Hugo award winning and Nebula nominated Where Late The Sweet Birds Sang, she’s been awarded multiple Hugo and Nebula awards, and was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 2003. Along with her husband Damon Knight, Wilhelm was instrumental in the creation and running of the Milford Writers Workship, which would grow into the Clarion workshop.

 

Nominated for a Nebula award in 1972, The Infinity Box  first appeared Orbit 9 and then again in 1975 as the titular story in a collection of Wilhelm stories. I came across the novella in a Tor Double alongside Zelazny’s He Who Shapes.  I’d like to track down the Infinity Box collection, or at least issues of Orbit that contain her work while I continue to hunt for a copy of Where Late The Sweet Birds Sang.

 

The story is told from the point of view of Eddie Laslow, happily married, father of two, owner of an electronics lab and a few patents.  When the shy and petite Christine moves in across the street, Eddie immediately feels like they’ve met before, even though she doesn’t look familiar.  He’s a little creeped out by her, but can’t avoid her company when Christine and Eddie’s wife Janet become fast friends.

 

After an evening of drinks, Christine begins to talk about her childhood and failed marriage. In and out of institutions as a child, she was diagnosed with schizophrenia, among other things. Falling in with a psychology professor, he discovered she was able to see objects and scenes in every moment, not just this moment. Almost like a long term time lapse photograph, when she looks at a tree, she sees it as it is right now, and as it was every moment since it sprouted from a seed. They end up getting married, but he died of a heart attack after abandoning his researches.  She is going through his papers, hoping to find his final documentations that involve her condition(s).

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let the right one inLet The Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist

published  in 2004

where I got it: borrowed

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I read this book because I really enjoyed the movie versions.  This novel took Sweden by storm when it first came out in 2004, quickly becoming a best seller with critics lauding Lindqvist as the country’s Stephen King.  It wasn’t long before a movie was made in 2008.    As has become a pattern with best selling Swedish thrillers, Hollywood wanted to do their version, and so an American version of the film, titled Let Me In, was released in 2010 starring Grace Moretz and Kodi Smit-McPhee.  I’d seen both movies, enjoyed them both, and so was very excited to come across a copy of the book. The films are rather loyal to the premise and the first third or so of the novel, and the final few pages. Everything else is, let us say, glossed over.

 

This is mostly spoiler free review. I will not surprise anything that isn’t already revealed on the cover copy of the novel.   the “spoiler” that I do reveal? Not the biggie, not by a long shot.

 

It’s 1981, and twelve year old Oskar is a loser. He gets beat up at school, and has a bed wetting issue and a shoplifting habit. The boys who bully him might be impressed by the shoplifting, but they still torture him mercilessly, and Oskar fantasizes about getting back at them. And he’s not the kind of boy to ask for help.  One day, he meets a girl in the courtyard of his apartment complex. Eli is confident and smart, and since she’s new to the neighborhood, she has no idea Oskar is the local loser.  She doesn’t go to his school,  but they try to see each other every day.  He confides in her, and she contemplates how much of her life she can share with him and Oskar knows better than to risk a new friendship by prying.  He doesn’t mind that she’s weird, doesn’t mind that she doesn’t wear a coat when it’s snowing, or that she only comes out at night and has thick blankets covering the windows of her apartment. All that matters is that she’s not mean to him.
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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.