Monday, May 27, 2013

BOOK REVIEW: Angel Baby by Richard Lange

     "She empties herself out so she doesn't feel any pain when he grabs her hair, any fear when he draws his gun and jabs it into her cheek. It's just a body that he hauls into the bathroom, just a shell that he forces to the floor...Luz crawls toward him, but the old tricks aren't working tonight; she's not as far away as she should be...and that's when she sees it, a mother-of-pearl switchblade dangling unnoticed from his pants pocket, about to slip the rest of the way out and drop to the floor. Without pausing to think, she grabs it, presses the button to open it, and lays the blade across the top of his scrotum." 

     The tables turn that fast, with that grit, so dark and real you can feel and almost smell it. That is Angel Baby, the newest novel by Richard Lange, from Mulholland Books

     Luz is a beautiful Mexican woman in her early twenties. She has her every need met: a beautiful mansion to live in, clothes, drugs, an escort wherever she needs to go. But she is owned by the man that provides it all. The mansion is her prison, the drug addiction an invisible wall, the escorts her guards that will never let her out of sight. Her husband is Rolando, El Principe, The Prince, a powerful drug dealer that gets what he wants. Luz knows that an unsuccessful attempt to leave him would result in her painful and lingering death, and she plans to the last detail her escape. 
     But things don't always go as planned, and Luz finds herself relying on a broken down drunk to get her
Author Richard Lange
out of Mexico. An ex-gangster motivated by a fate worse than death sent to find her and is never far behind. And a crooked Border Patrol Officer who won't give up at the thought of stealing his fortune from the helpless immigrants he happens upon making their way across the border.

     Angel Baby is a good, but not great, thriller. The characters are motivated and dynamic, fighting for control of their lives and destinies while forces beyond their control dictate their actions. I felt a certain level of empathy for all of them at one point. But none of them were developed enough for me to care much what happened to them. Don't get me wrong, some were more likable than others, but I didn't have a strong urge for one to succeed and another to fail. 
     That said, Angel Baby is a thriller. Character development often takes a back seat to action, suspense, and page after page of excitement. And in that Angel Baby was very successful.

Lange, Richard. Angel Baby, Mulholland Books, 2013. 

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Sunday, May 5, 2013

BOOK REVIEW: Murder As A Fine Art by David Morrell

     Crime fiction. Historical fiction. Thriller. Police procedural. All can describe Murder As A Fine Art by David Morrell, author of at least  twenty-nine novels and six non-fiction books, including First Blood and Rambo. Despite his success as an author, Murder As A Fine Art is my first experience with Morrell.
     The book, set in 1854 London, was inspired by the works of author Thomas De Quincy, who is most well known for a series of essays Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, which was later published as a book. The essays are autobiographical, and tell the story of a life lived mostly while addicted to opiates. At the time, in Victorian England, a book so open about addiction and life's hardships was very rare. However, it was the essay entitled On Murder Considered as one of the Fine Arts, in which De Quincy satirically detailed a series of murders in 1811, that inspired Mr. Morrell's novel.
     Mixing the De Quincy's account in On Murder with De Quincy's experiences described in Confessions, Mr. Morrell wove an intricate web of fact and fiction to produce Murder As  A Fine Art. In it, there is a murder of a shop-keeper and his family that appear to be copies of the 1811 murders. Coincidentally, the murders occur as De Quincy, who normally lives in Edinburgh, is in London promoting his work. London Detective Inspector Ryan suspects De Quincy after learning that the crime scenes are so similar to the book written by him, particularly because of the passion, knowledge, and lightheartedness in which On Murder is written. However, Det. Inspector Ryan quickly comes to believe differently and works hard with De Quincy, his daughter Emily, and ambitious London Constable Becker to find and stop the real killer.

Author David Morrell
     Murder as a Fine Art is packed with action starting in the first chapter. Witty and humorous dialogue, even about brutal murder, was also interspersed throughout the book. The De Quincy character and his daughter are out of place in 19th Century England, before their time, and the reaction of others to them works both in their favor and against them. I enjoyed Mr. Morrell's presentation of 1854 police investigations and how although things have changed so much since then, the investigative processes, politics, importance of rank and class, and more have remained the same.

     In addition to the plot and wealth of interesting and colorful characters, I found an underlying social statement about 19th Century England: the division of the classes and the sexes; the existence of two Londons, those with wealth and those without; the influence of big business in government policy; the influence of the drug trade in England and in the Orient; pollution, mob mentality and vigilantism  and the British governments role in each.
     While the book was set in London in 1854, many parallels could be applied to similar issues today: the growing gap between the rich and poor, corporate involvement in politics and government, the drug war, global warming, and the rise of the Tea Party.

     One of many indicators of a good book to me is if I don't want it to end. Mr. Morrell achieved this in Murder As A Fine Art. I stepped out of my comfort zone when I chose it, but I'm glad I did. I think you will be, too.

Morrell, David. Murder As A Fine Art. Mulholland Books/Little, Brown & Company. May 7,       2013. ISBN-13: 9780316216791

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