Friday, August 26, 2011

Book Reviews by Carl Brookins

Today I'm happy to present three book reviews by Carl Brookins, a noted author and reviewer. Enjoy!

Invisible Path
By Marilyn Meredith
ISBN: 978-1-60659-239-7
Ebook ISBN: 978-1-60659-238-0
2010 Release from
Mundania Press. 224 pages

This charming story from a veteran author is the ninth in her series of Tempe Crabtree crime novels. Tempe is a deputy sheriff in the small town of Bear Creek near an Indian reservation in the mountains of central California.

A young man named Daniel Tofoya is sadly murdered and it develops that while he was a talented and often charming athlete, he could be a nasty bully if the mood took him. There are several possible perpetrators, but as often happens, most attention focuses on a stranger who has come to live on the reservation. The story is complicated by the appearance in town of a small separatist movement, stockpiling supplies in anticipation of a coming explosion of what could be racial and class warfare.

All of this gets sorted out by the patient and wise Deputy Crabtree. With help from her long-suffering pastor husband and exuberant son, Tempe is able to avert several disasters and calm some difficult situations.

The novel is in the classic traditional mystery mode with a lot of emphasis on character development and setting. Relations between members of different races and religious beliefs are very well handled with insight and care. This is another enjoyable and satisfying adventure with Deputy Tempe Crabtree.

The Innocent Woman
By Parnell Hall

A Steve Winslow zinger.
Here's an author who can write! He has enough novels out you'd expect that, right? This was my first Steve Winslow mystery. It won't be my last. Fine, distinct interesting characters. Limited cast. A creative defense attorney hard at work for a surprisingly uncooperative client. First she's fired after accusations of theft from her employer, then one of the owners of the firm is shot to death and Winslow's client is arrested. Watching this lawyer both in and out of court is a real treat. The dialog crackles, the pace is next to pell mell and the explanations are precise. There is a good deal of detail, especially at the end. I would have preferred a more succinct closing to the novel with less sniping between attorneys, but it was a small price to pay for a fast, well done story.

Devil’s Plaything
By Matt Richtel
ISBN: 978-1-59058-887-1
Released, 2011, 324 pgs,
Hard Cover.

This is a novel born of the twenty-first century. It is technology-rich, abrupt, punchy, and filled with first-person pithy observations. It has a modern complicated plot and some dark conspiracies worthy of flat-worlders and those who still appear to believe the landings on the moon were merely another government scam.

Blogger Nat Idle is drifting through life as a medical reporter and occasionally paying attention to his rapidly aging grandmother, the only member of his family in close proximity. When he and Grandma Lane are on a casual outing in a San Francisco park, a mysterious stranger, apparently driving a Prius, shoots at him, or her, or them. How could this gentle, rapidly aging woman, with no apparent enemies attract an assassin? Not possible so it must be Nat who was the target. After all, he was engaged in a controversy with some San Francisco cops about Porta Potty corruption.

The novel uses a criminal conspiracy of immense possibilities and proportions to raise questions about the rising dependence on technology to replace our individual memories, and to sermonize about American society’s eagerness to shuttle its older generations into places where they can die out of sight and mostly out of mind. Those shortcomings aside, the novel develops and carries along an inventive idea that is highly fraught with tension and believability.

Carl Brookins Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky

Friday, August 5, 2011

Improving Your Story with Self-Editing

I recently completed some revisions on two short stories I'll be placing on Amazon soon. THE CASEBOOK OF CAROLINE RHODES will feature the main character in my "Rhodes To Murder" series, first in The Case of the Fugitive Farmer, a cold case concerning a farmer/soldier who went missing during World War I, and then in The Case of the Extra Ingredient, a present day puzzle in which Caroline witnesses a man die unexpectedly while on a whale-watching tour in Maine.

I was pleased with the stories when I first finished them. Then, while cleaning out some files, I came across a hand-out authored by Kathleen Nance, a piece on self-editing she'd written and distributed at a mystery conference. After reading the 8-page article, I decided to re-read my stories to see if I couldn't make them even better using Kathleen's advice.

Well, I could. And I did. Now all I have to do is format them for Kindle and they'll be up at Amazon in a couple of weeks. In the meantime, I thought that other writers might want to take advantage of Kathleen's advice. Yes, you've probably heard all this before from writing instructors, or at conferences featuring speeches by best-selling authors. But I think most of us can benefit from hearing it again; definitely one of the biggest reasons manuscripts are turned down by agents or publishers is because they're poorly edited.

So what does Kathleen say about improving your work? She advises writers to make their stories more concise, more accurate, more precise, more logical, more dramatic, more memorable, more vivid, and more harmonious. Does the plot make sense with a logical flow of events and clear causes and effects? Do things happen because a plot needs it, not because it's a natural outcome?

Speaking to that point, I recently read a story where a man set out one afternoon to find a certain house in a village. Darkness fell while he was walking and he switched on his flashlight. The author hadn't mentioned the man having a flashlight previous to this, so to explain its presence, she wrote -- and I won't quote her exactly -- ("He'd stopped at a store and bought one before setting out for the house."). And yes, the author did put the sentence in parentheses. This is clearly a sign of a writer making something happen because the plot needed it rather than it being a natural thing for the character to do.

Continuing with plot, Kathleen asks if the writer has avoided coincidences, contrivances, conveniences. With characters, do they over-react or under-react to situations? Do they grow or change? Does each scene have a purpose? Does the scene advance the internal or external tension of the plot? Does the writer establish sufficient motivation for the characters' actions? Is there too much or too little backstory, and should it be broken up or trimmed? Has the writer planted information that will become important to the reader later on? Does the writer show, not tell when it comes to establishing a character's personality, physical description, motivation, goals? Does the dialogue sound natural when read aloud?

And of course, has the writer obeyed the basic rules of grammar and punctuation? Used adverbs and adjectives sparingly and precisely? Resisted overuse of words, passive construction, cliches, negative phrasing, and redundancies?

As Kathleen admits, it may take several read throughs to catch all the little problems in a manuscript. But self-editing and revising gets easier with time and will undoubtedly improve your story.

I know it improved mine. :)