Thursday, June 26, 2014

Consider Phlebas - Iain M. Banks



   1987; 514 pages. Book One (of 9) of the “Culture” series.  New Author? : No.  Genre : Sci-Fi; Space Opera.  Overall Rating : 8½*/10.

    A Mind is a terrible thing to waste.  Particularly when it’s a Culture-developed, self-aware, sentient super computer that’s capable of running everything on a starship all by itself.

    Due to unforeseen circumstances, one of these Minds has crash landed on the remote planet called Schar’s World, and the Culture’s bitter enemies, the Idirans, would very much like to get their hands on it.  But Schar’s World is a Dra’Azon planet of the dead, and neither the Idirans or the Culture wants to mess with those folks.

    But the Idirans have an agent, a “Changer” human named Bora Horza Gobuchul, who once spent some time on Schar’s World.  Perhaps he should be sent there to retrieve the Mind.  Hey, it’s a planet of the dead, so there’s hardly anyone there.  “Easy in, easy out”.

    Of course, if that were the case, there wouldn’t be much of a story to tell.

What’s To Like...
     Consider Phlebas is the first novel in Iain M. Banks’ space opera “Culture” setting.  He doesn’t just create a mere ET world or two; he fashions an entire galaxy, and populates it with a slew of races, empires, worlds (including the way-kewl Orbitals), and otherworldly astrophysics (spaceships with Minds).  Then he throws in a bunch of well-developed characters, including a drone with a ‘tude and a decidedly unheroic protagonist.  And fleshes the universe out with a timeline history and reality-building details such as a card game called “Damage”.

    The writing is excellent and Banks has a wit about him that will make you chuckle a number of times while turning the pages.  At times, said wit is even macabre, such as when one character showboats by deliberately ‘falling’ off a building, only to realize too late that his anti-gravity suit doesn’t work in this particular setting.  Splat.

    But don’t be fooled, Banks also tackles some serious themes to give the reader things to think about.  In Consider Phlebas, the showcased topic is “Faith vs. Reason”, and the author skillfully takes a middle-of-the-road stance, showing the self-destructive tendencies both sides have if taken to the extreme.  The Idirans are religious zealots, and it is refreshing to see the universe presented from their POV.  OTOH, the Culture’s elitism (superior technology means superior human beings) is pernicious, and Banks deftly allows the reader to decide which is the worse – being assimilated by the Idirans or by the Culture.  “None of the above” is not an option.

Excerpts...
    “Break out of orbit at once and make full speed for the fleet.”
    “Querl, I must point out –“ said a small, steady voice from the helmet on the table.
    “Captain,” Xoralundra said briskly, “in this war there have to date been fourteen single-duel engagements between Type 5 light cruisers and Mountain class General Contact Units.  All have ended in victory for the enemy.  Have you ever seen what is left of a light cruiser after a GCU has finished with it?”
    “No, Querl.”
    “Neither have I, and I have no intention of seeing it for the first time from the inside.  Proceed at once.”  (pg. 21)

    “I still think the best thing to do is to head back for The Ends of Invention and lay the whole thing before the authorities.”  The drone rose fractionally above the surface of the table and looked round at them all.  Horza leaned forward and rapped its casing.  It faced him.
    “Machine,” he said, “we’re going to Schar’s World.  If you want to go back to the GSV I’ll gladly put you in a vactube and let you make your own way back.  But you mention returning a getting a fair trial one more time and I’m going to blast your synthetic fucking brains out, understand?”  (pg. 289)

And us? Just another belch in the darkness.  Sound, but not a word, noise without meaning.  (pg.  368)
    With all of the universe-building going on in Consider Phlebas, the thing that takes the back burner is the plotline.  The reader will struggle for the first 75% of the book wondering what the main storyline is (retrieving the Mind), and what relevance, if any, the numerous and drawn-out tangents have (none whatsoever).

    However, if you persist and make it to the last quarter of the book, you will find a superb, focused, action-packed ending, with a (for me, at least) totally unexpected resolution to the story.  And since this is my fourth Iain M. Banks book, I can say this is the norm for his sci-fi epics.

    So sit back and enjoy the bizarre worlds, beasts, sentient beings, and lifestyles of the rich and alien.  And trust that Banks will eventually get around to telling, and even completing his story.  It’s worth the wait.

    8½ Stars.  Subtract 1 star if ¾ of a book is just too big of a tangent for your reading enjoyment.  Subtract another ½ star if scatological scenes make you feel icky.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Twisted Tales - Marlin Williams



   2013; 217 pages.  New Author? : No.  Genre : Short Stories; Anthology; Horror-Thriller.  Overall Rating : 8*/10.

    Do you like your stories logical and, straightforward?  Do surprises in the plotline disconcert you and disrupt your reading pleasure?  Then you probably should avoid the eight offerings in Twisted Tales, where nothing turns out quite as expected.

    OTOH, if you like to feel your protagonists’ terror as they tiptoe through the tombstones (I lie; there are no graveyards here, although there is a mausoleum), but sometimes like to savor it in short, quick doses (50 page maximum), then this collection of suspense stories may be just what you’re dying to read.

Table of Contents (spoiler-free)...
01)  The Killing Kind – Need a lift?
02)  Life Form – Lost in space.
03)  Lint – Is it washday again?
04)  The Same Old Nightmare – Is it Monday again?
05)  The Agency – Who’s hitting who?
06)  Them – How do you know she’s an alien?
07)  Cracked – Old sayings ring true.
08)  Boucherie – Haunted?  Ha.

What’s To Like...
    I cringe a little whenever I pick up a book of short stories all written by the same author, because there's the chance that the tales will all turn out sounding the same.  But here, the settings are varied (in both time and place); the lengths of the tales are varied (from 3 to 50 pages); and none of the themes/critters repeat themselves.

    Some of the stories are “light” in tone (Cracked, Them); others are much darker (The Killing Kind, Life Form, Boucherie).  Some involve the “natural” world; others invoke the supernatural.  Some entail the mundane things in life (Lint, Cracked); others deal with the “out-of-the ordinary”.  In each case, I enjoyed trying to guess the twist that Marlin Williams was going to give the tale.  I failed every time.  That’s a real plus.

    My personal favorites were 02, 03, 06, and 08.  These also happen to be the four longest stories, which is probably an indication of my reading preference for full-length novels.   Your favorites will most likely be different from mine. The other four tales are still good, just short.

Excerpts...
    “Are you a linguist?”
    His smile broadened.  “More like a writer.”
    Gracie laughed.
    “What’s so funny?”
    “I don’t know.”  She shook her head.  “I guess I’ve always pictured a writer as looking like a mole, squinting through a thick pair of glasses, and smoking a pipe.”
    He laughed and nodded.  “Yeah, that’s the successful ones.  Then there are the ones like me.”  (pg. 4)

    “They could still be here,” Corky replied.  “Just because the mother ship is gone, don’t mean some of them ain’t still here walkin’ around.”
    Ben’s expression soured.  “Don’t be stupid.  Even I know they’re supposed to be little, skinny, grey critters with big eyes.”  He looked around the room.  “I don’t see anyone here that fits that description.”
    The front door opened.
    Fran shrank back in her chair and gasped, “Oh my God!”  (pg. 137)

Kindle Details...
    The Kindle version of Twisted Tales sells for $4.99 at Amazon.  If you want to “try out” this collection, Marlin Williams offers each story individually for the Kindle at $0.99 apiece.

“Why would a monster post signs on the dryers?”  (pg.  73)
    The usual caveats about short stories apply. (*)  To wit, don’t expect a lot of depth-of-character.  Don’t expect a complex plotline.  Do expect to be drawn into the story within a page or so, or even within the first couple paragraphs.  Do expect the events and action to be fast-paced.  And regardless of genre, do expect something unexpected to occur.

    By those criteria, Twisted Tales succeeds admirably.  It’s always hard to rate a collection of short stories, because inevitably some of them will resonate with the reader more than others.  Here, all the tales kept my interest, and that’s all you ask for from an anthology.  So let’s give Twisted Tales 8 Stars.  There’s nothing epic, but there’s plenty entertaining.

     (*) :  Apparently, the two ultra-short tales (The Same Old Nightmare and Cracked) are properly called Flash Fiction, not Short Stories.  The Wikipedia article on FF is here.  You learn something new every day.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Diggers - Terry Pratchett




    1990; 224 pages.  New Author? : No.  Book #2 of the Bromeliad Trilogy.  Genre : Comedic Fantasy.  Overall Rating : 8*/10.

    The Bromeliad saga continues.  The nomes have survived their Book 1 exodus from The Store, taking their God (“Arnold Bros., Est. 1905”) with them.  They have relocated in an abandoned quarry and are living happily there, with even the “Inside” nomes adjusting comfortably.

    But the quarry was created by humans.  And though they may be absent for now, humans never abandon things forever.  Sooner or later, they will return.  And judging from the activity and posting of signs on the quarry’s gate, it is going to be sooner.

What’s To Like...
    Although it’s the sequel to Truckers(reviewed here), Diggers has a markedly different tone.  Where they were once slow and benignly stupid, humans are now a relentless threat.  The nomes have changed as well.  If they resembled cuddly Ewoks in Book 1, they are now more akin to tenacious Ewok warriors.  They can and will fight back if their livelihood is threatened, and at one point even contemplate killing a captured human.

    Masklin, the hero of Book 1, along with Angalo, Abbot Gurder, and The Thing, are all gone for most of the book.  So different nomes step into the spotlight.  Dorcas and Grimma become the main characters, but there are several other new and fascinating ‘faces’ to meet – Nooty, Sacco, and even the rabble-rousing Nisodemus.  Oh yes, and Big John, the dragon in the hill.

    The target audience may be juvenile to YA, but again, Terry Pratchett laces the storyline with some ‘adult’ themes – blind faith, proving/disproving the existence of God, and weighing the options of fightng or fleeing.  So just about any reader is going to be entertained, regardless of his/her age.  And you will learn why Pratchett calls this series “The Bromeliad Trilogy”.  Hint : Wikipedia won’t be of any help, although the upper left image on the book cover will.

    The witty Footnotes and handled deftly – an easy link to it and then back to the story.  Unfortunately, they are only present at the very beginning.  I’m not sure if the Pratchett simply eschewed using them after adding a couple, or if the Kindle transcribers decided they were too much trouble.  Diggers starts with a synopsis of Book 1, but really, this isn’t a standalone novel.

Excerpts...
    He stared at his feet.  “I’m still very ignorant,” he said, “but at least I’m ignorant about really important things.  Like what the sun is, and why it rains.  That’s what you’re talking about.”
    She sniffed and smiled a bit, but not too much, because if there is one thing worse than someone who doesn’t understand you, it’s someone who understands perfectly, before you’ve had a chance to have a good pout about not being understood.  (loc. 759)

    There was a fox looking down at them.
    It was one of those moments when Time itself freezes solid.  Grimma could see the yellow-green glow in the fox’s eyes and the cloud on its breath.  Its tongue lolled out.
    (. . .)
    The nomes stood rooted in terror.  There was no sense in trying to run away.  A fox had twice as many legs to run after you.  You’d end up dead anyway, but at least you wouldn’t end up dead and out of breath as well.  (loc. 1680)

Kindle Details...
    Diggers sells for $5.69 at Amazon, as does the third book in this trilogy, Wings.  But I borrowed this book through my local library for free.

”If you think everything’s going right, something’s going wrong that you haven’t heard about yet.”  (loc. 125)
    Whether the “darkening” of the plotline in Diggers is a plus or a minus is a matter of taste.  I preferred the lightheartedness of Book 1, but that’s just me.

    Less debatable is the abrupt and unsatisfying ending.  First of all, it’s a cliffhanger, which is most uncharacteristic of a Terry Pratchett novel.  Second, it involves a deus ex machina, and totally cops out on resolving the humans-vs-nomes dilemma.

    In a larger sense though, Diggers suffers from the inherent “middle book of a trilogy” malaise.  It neither starts the tale nor completes it.  If you’re intending to read all three books of the Bromeliad Series one right after the other, this is of small consequence.  But if, like me, you like a change in genre after completing any given book, then cliffhangers are a PITA, and forced endings are a literary letdown.

    8 Stars.  Hey, it’s still a Terry Pratchett book, and that means you will be entertained up until the very end.  And since all three Kindle books of this series seem to be available almost all the time from my library, it probably won’t be too long before I borrow Wings and finish things up.  I have no doubt that it will end on a much more satisfying note.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Curse of the Spellmans - Lisa Lutz



   2008; 405 pages.  Book Two (out of six) in the “Spellman Files” series.  Laurels : Nominated for a 2009 Edgar Award by the Mystery Writers of America.  New Author? : No.  Genre : Dysfunctional Comedy.  Overall Rating : 8*/10.

    Izzy Spellman, Private Investigator in the family-owned & -operated Spellman Investigations, has been busy lately.  First, there’s the family mysteries.  Her dad has inexplicably turned into a fitness freak.  OTOH, her ultra-perfect brother, David, has morphed into an unkempt couch potato.  And her mom seems to enjoy vandalizing a miles-away motorcycle in the wee hours of the morning.

    Then there’s the new and suspiciously-acting next-door neighbor with an obviously fake name (“John Brown”).  What is he hiding?  And Mr. Peabody’s hoarding snot-rags.  What’s that all about?

    All of this is really cutting into the one PI case that she’s actually being paid to solve – someone is abusing Mrs. Chandler’s front-lawn leprechauns every time she sets them up in a holiday tableau.  And the mayhem looks creepily similar to what was done to those gnomes years ago.  Allegedly (but never proven) by Izzy Spellman.

What’s To Like...
    This is an epistolary novel – it’s all done in the form of (transcribed) tape recordings, reports, and written notes by Izzy.  This makes for James Pattersonly short “chapters”; you can find a convenient place to stop any time you want.  The writing is witty.  The footnotes are witty.  Heck, even the Appendix and Acknowledgement sections are witty.  The book made me LOL a number of times.  And you’ll learn two new acronyms, MILFO and REAFO.  Good luck trying to figure them out.  Their meanings are listed in the Comments.

    Izzy is the star of the show, and you get to see everything from her POV.  But she’s prone to draw the wrong conclusions from the clues and evidence.  I kinda like that in a protagonist.  Her missteps result in her getting arrested four times in Curse of the Spellmans.  That’s gotta be some sort of record for a leading lady in a novel.

    Lisa Lutz weaves a backstory into the first 35 pages, which was nice since it’s been 4 years since I read the first book in the series (reviewed here).  CofS is a standalone book, but the usual caveat applies – you’ll get more out of the series if you read the books in order.  Like The Simpsons, the main fun here is following the antics of one hugely dysfunctional family.  Their progress towards “functionality” is minimal so far, although Izzy does try something new (for her) at the end of this book – apologies.

Excerpts...
    “How much did you have to drink?” I asked.
    “Only five beers,” Rae replied.
    “Only five?”
    “I didn’t think it was that much.”
    This is when Henry turned around, looking disturbed.  “How can you not think five beers is a lot?”
    “I saw Isabel drink an entire six-pack during the last Super Bowl.”
    Henry shook his head in disappointment.  “First of all,” he said to Rae, “your sister has had a lot of practice.”
    “Hey!”
    “Second of all, she weighs almost forty more pounds than you.”
    “More like thirty,” I snapped back.  (pg.219)

    “I’m here to apologize,” I said.  “Please invite me inside and offer me an alcoholic beverage.  I’m going to need some help getting through this.”
    You see, as far as I could recall, this was the first time I had ever attempted an apology to my brother.  David’s agonizing perfection was always a barrier to any real apology.  My brother walked over to his bar and poured us both a drink.
    “Your godlike perfection has infuriated me for years.  I’ve watched your playboy antics with women for close to a decade and I found you to be offensive.”
    “This is an apology?” David asked.
     “I’m getting to it,” I said.
    “Hurry.”  (pg. 394)

 “I’m fine.  Just seriously deep sleprived.”  (pg.  61)
    For the first half of the book, you’ll have no idea what the main plotline is while Izzy rambles from one misadventure to another.  And if you’re reading Curse of the Spellmans for the mystery story, you’ll likely to be disappointed.  But things get more focused in the second half, and all of the threads mentioned in the above introduction are resolved nicely.

    Instead, treat this book (and this series) as a light “beach” read – to be enjoyed for its humor and entertainment value, and not for its sleuthing.  And rejoice that you’re last name isn’t Spellman.

    8 Stars.  As good as the first book, but not better.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Unfamiliar Fishes - Sarah Vowell



    2011; 238 pages.  New Author? : No.  Genre : Non-Fiction; History.  Overall Rating : 8*/10.

    Hawaii.  How the heck did it end up a US possession?  We weren’t the first Western nation to land there.  The British were.  We weren’t even the second; that was the French.  We didn’t buy it, like we did Alaska.  We didn’t even start a war to grab it from a weaker nation, like we did for the Philippines.

    But God will make a way.  It's our manifest destiny.  Send in the missionaries.

What’s To Like...
    Unfamiliar Fishes is not a complete history of Hawaii; instead it focuses on the years from 1820, when the first white people went there to settle, to 1898, when the US formally annexed it.  Those 1820 settlers were in fact missionaries, and they would have a profound and lasting impact on the history of the Hawaiian Islands.

    Sarah Vowell did extensive research for the book, including reading a number of journals kept by those first-generation missionaries.  The history is told from the native Hawaiians’ POV, which is to be expected.  But the author balances the positives and negatives of both sides.  The natives got shafted, but their rulers, had only recently consolidated their power, were corrupt, and invited the missionaries to land and dwell on their isles.

    Sarah Vowell employs her trademark style here; this is not a dry, boring history tome.  You will learn the meaning of lots of Hawaiian words and phrases – haole, wahine maka, palapala, mikanele (a corruption of ‘missionary’), and my personal favorite “Big Kahuna”.

    You will also become familiar with 19th-century Hawaiian culture, and will learn some neat trivia to boot.  The only palace on US soil is located here, and the first newspaper to be printed west of the Rockies started in Hawaii.  There are numerous Vowell personal “asides”, which can get distracting at times.  But she closes the book with a tribute to Bruddah Iz, so all is forgiven.  

Excerpts...
    Why is there a glop of macaroni salad next to the Japanese chicken in my plate lunch?  Because the ship Thaddeus left Boston Harbor with the first boatload of New England missionaries bound  for Hawaii in 1819.  That and it’s Saturday.  Rainbow Drive-In only serves shoyu chicken four days a week.
    A banyan tree in Waikiki is a fine spot for a sunburned tourist from New York City to sit beneath and ponder the historical implications of a lukewarm box of takeout.  Because none of us belong here – not me, not the macaroni, not the chicken soaked in soy sauce, not even the tree.”  (loc. 46, and the opening paragraphs of the book.)

    Queen Liliuokalani, now released from her palace prison, traveled to the United States to lobby against annexation once again.  On a train from California heading east, she marveled, “Here were thousands of acres of uncultivated, uninhabited, but rich and fertile lands... Colonies and colonies could be established here... And yet this great and powerful nation must go across two thousand miles of sea, and take from the poor Hawaiians their little spots in the broad Pacific.”  She had a point, but it doesn’t take a graduate of the Naval War College to notice you can’t exactly park a battleship in Denver.  (loc. 2710)

Kindle Details...
    Unfamiliar Fishes sells for $10.99 at Amazon.  Sarah Vowell has five other books available for the Kindle, ranging in price from $7.59 to $10.99.  In most cases, the paperback format is $2-$3 more than the Kindle, but since you can resell a “real” book you’ve read to a used bookstore, it might make more economic sense to go with the paperback.  Or check with your local library, since I borrowed  Unfamiliar Fishes through mine for free.

”You don’t earn the nickname “Merrie Monarch” by sticking to a budget.”  (loc. 2345)
    Here’s the formula used to subjugate Hawaii,
   
    First send in the missionaries with their Bibles, English language (the Hawaiians had no writing system), printing presses, and Western culture.  Next send in the sailors with their various killing diseases - influenza, smallpox, and measles - to decimate the population.

    Get the natives hooked on money (buying and selling were new concepts to them).  Now that they understand material wealth, have them  start growing acres and acres of sugar cane, and market it to the United States.  But cultivating sugar cane is labor-intensive, so bring in lots of foreigners, mostly from Asia.  Before you know it, the native Hawaiians are a minority, and there goes their power.

    Send in American “advisors” to sway the Royals into making new self-crippling laws.  And finally, send in the troops and stage a coup.  Voila!  It worked like a charm.

    I found Unfamiliar Fishes to be an interesting read, with only a couple of small patches where the asides became tedious.  Sarah Vowell is a gifted writer, being able to make learning History a fun experience.

    8 Stars.  Not quite as good as Vowell’s The Wordy Shipmates (reviewed here), but perhaps there was less subject matter to work with here.  Highly recommended.  Subtract 2 stars if you think it is America’s duty to foist our culture on the whole world.  Subtract another 2 stars if you happen to be a missionary.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Chromosome 6 - Robin Cook



   1997; 456 pages. New Author? : Yes.  Genre : Medical Thriller; Cri-Fi.  Overall Rating : 6½*/10.

    Why would someone brazenly steal a corpse from the New York City morgue?  There’s no doubt about the victim’s identity – he was a member of the Mafia, gunned down as he exited a restaurant.  And while we’re at it, just how did the perpetrators manage to whisk away the body?  Medical Examiners Jack Stapleton and Laurie Montgomery want to find out.

     Meanwhile, in a laboratory in the lush African jungles of Equatorial Guinea, molecular biologist Kevin Marshall looks out across the river to an uninhabited island and is once again dismayed to see a wisp of smoke rising into the air, from the same location that he previously noticed it.

    A huge distance separates Kevin from Laurie and Jack, but the two events are interrelated and their paths will eventually cross.

What’s To Like...
    The story’s setting switches back and forth between Africa and New York for the most part chapter-by-chapter.  The reader  is clued in early on as to the reasons for the smoke and the cadaver caper, so the fun is watching the protagonists solve these mysteries.

     I picked up Chromosome 6 because of a keen interest in chromosome manipulation and the role that plays in “jumps” in Evolution.  The book gave me some great insight in this area, and the story doesn’t get dragged down by information dumps.  I am a geography buff, but frankly, I’ve never heard of Equatorial Guinea, and I thoroughly enjoyed Robin Cook’s portrayal of it.

    The characters are, to a certain extent, stereotyped – there are ghetto-tough NYC blacks, thuggish Italian Mafioso, and flighty women.  But Kevin is a complete nerd, which made for a refreshingly different type of hero.  Chromosome 6 is apparently part of a medical thriller series featuring Jack and Laurie, but I didn’t feel like I lost anything by not knowing the backstory.

    I’ve dubbed this genre of books “Cri-Fi” (“Crichton Fiction”) because, like Jurassic Park, the science seems plausible enough to where readers and reviewers debate whether such things could actually happen.  It’s fiction, folks, but it’s a fun read.  To boot, there’s an ethical question here, also posed half a century ago by H. Beam Piper in Little Fuzzy – when is a species sentient enough to where we try to communicate with them instead of trying to kill and/or eat them?

Kewlest New Word. . .
Chock-a-block (adj.)  :  Crammed full of people or things.

Excerpts...
    Melanie shined the light in the direction of the splash.  Two glowing slits of light reflected back from the surface of the water.  Peering at them was a large crocodile.
    “Good lord!” Candace said as she stepped back from the water.
    “It’s okay,” Kevin said.  He let go of the rope, reached down and picked up a stout stick.  He threw the stick at the croc.  With another loud splash the crocodile disappeared beneath the water.
    “Oh, great!” Candace said.  “Now we have no idea where he is.”
    “He’s gone,” Kevin said.  “They’re not dangerous unless you’re in the water or they’re very hungry.”
    “Who’s to say he’s not hungry?” Candace commented.  (pg. 124)

    Cameron’s deputy quickly relieved Jack and the others of their passports, wallets, money, and car keys.  He gave them to Siegfried, who slowly went through them.  After he looked at Jack’s passport, he raised his eyes and glowered at him.
    “I’ve been told you are a troublemaker,” Siegfried said with disdain.
    “I’d rather think of myself as a tenacious competitor,” Jack said.  (pg. 404)

 “In Africa, nothing (is) easy.”  (pg.  323)
    The first 95% of Chromosome 6 is great.  Unfortunately, as numerous Amazon reviewers have noted, it’s marred by an abysmal ending.  I’m not given to hyperbole, but this could well be the worst ending I’ve read by an established, non-self-published author.

    The problem starts with the dual settings.  It has to be a writing challenge to give them both exciting climaxes, by one or more of the protagonists, at more or less the same time.  But it can be done.  Read Steve Berry’s The Jefferson Key (reviewed here) and watch him work to have his hero, Cotton Malone, save the day (on the same day!) in both Nova Scotia and Maryland.

    Here, both endings fizzle with a thud (how’s that for a mixed metaphor?).  In Africa, our heroes inflict some significant inconvenience to the bad guys’ operation.  But they don’t put it out of commission, nor do any of the evildoers get their just desserts.  And it’s not like Robin Cook wrote himself into a corner.  Both an over-the-top resolution (“Revenge of the Doubles”) and an under-the-top resolution (“any problem can be solved by the proper application of high explosives”) suggest themselves.  Instead, our heroes slink away, deeming flight is more prudent than fight.

    The ending for the New York setting is even worse.  It happens “off-screen”, and we get a bland recounting of it in the epilogue from the good-guy police detective.  All the higher-up baddies go free, and there’s nothing to stop their nefarious enterprise from replenishing the gene-pool and replacing their genius scientist, who they were going to shoot anyway.

    It’s difficult to rate a book that did so well for so long, then implodes in the last 20 pages.  We’ll go with 6½ Stars.  Hopefully, Robin Cook was just having a bad day, ran into deadline issues, or had a page-count limit imposed upon him by the publishers.