Sunday, February 24, 2013

Kubert's Fax From Sarajevo displays the full scope, power of the graphic novel

Book  20: Fax From Sarajevo by Joe Kubert

Published in 1996 by Dark Horse Comics, Fax From Sarajevo, written and illustrated by the great comic artist Joe Kubert, demonstrates the full scope and power of the graphic novel.

Not a novel at all, but a combination of history and biography, Fax From Sarajevo tells a complex story in a simple, linear narrative that makes the complicated comprehensible, while Kubert's artwork -- honed in drawing thousands of war comics for DC -- elevates the humble to the heroic. 

Fax From Sarajevo is the story of Ervin Rustemagic, his wife and two children who find themselves trapped in Sarajevo when war breaks out. The Rustemagic's story is terrible in and of itself, but it is made all the more horrific as it takes place among the Serbs systematic genocide of their Croatian neighbors.

Kubert, both a client and friend of Rustemagic, learned of the family's plight through a series of faxes. Those faxes ultimately became the foundation for an enduring and important graphic novel. And Kubert, who illustrated Our Men At War, featuring Sgt. Rock and Easy Company, G.I. Combat and Enemy Ace, cements his reputation as one of the all-time great comic artist.

Book 24: 38 Nooses Lincoln, Little Crow and the Beginning of the Frontier’s End by Scott W. Berg

38 Nooses is the account of an outbreak of war among a group of Dakota warriors against settlers on the Minnesota frontier in the 1860s.

In the hands of another author, 38 Nooses might have been a compelling history, but that's not the case with Berg. He's a jittery, awkward writer who never gains control of the narrative and who seems determined to expand the book by filling it with extraneous material.

Perhaps Berg would have had more success with a magazine article because with 38 Nooses, in book form, Berg's reach has exceeded his grasp. 

Sunday, February 17, 2013

A delightful trio of mysteries from Peter Robinson, Alan Bradley and Peter May

January and February have been given over to mysteries, thrillers and crime novels.

Something about the shorter days of winter, early dusk, cold winds and colder rain make these stories inviting.

Four books on which to report since last we met. Three of those books I liked a lot.

Book 19: Watching the Dark by Peter Robinson
Book 21: The Critic by Peter May
Book 22: Speaking From Among the Bones by Alan Bradley
Book 23: Edge of Dark Water by Joe R. Lansdale

Peter Robinson's last book, Before the Poison, was disappointing. Something of a ghost story set in an old English mansion, it was a departure from Robinson's police procedurals featuring Detective Chief Inspector Alan Banks.

Banks returns in Watching the Dark and is called upon to unravel a tangled mystery that begins in England and ends in Estonia.

It begins, as such books so often do, with the discovery of a body. DI Bill Quinn has been shot to death with a crossbolt.  Days later, another body surfaces, this time a Tallinn journalist who knew Quinn.

The deaths appear connected to a complex migrant labor scam. But Banks is also certain there's a connection to a young English woman who disappeared in Estonia years before.  Her disappearance, which haunted Quinn, soon comes to haunt Banks too.

As for Banks, he's given up smoking and swapped Scotch for red wine, but he's no less the driven detective, relying on instincts and intellect to solve the mysteries that elude everyone else.

Banks' reappearance is welcome as is Robinson's return to top form.  


It's taken only three novels for Peter May to become one of my favorite mystery writers.  

The Critic is the second book to feature Enzo Macleod, the Scots forensic expert living in France. This time he's out to solve the grisly murder of an influential American wine critic. The critic's murder is soon followed a series of other deaths and disappearances.

The characters, setting and plot are quite well done. Two additional factors make these novels stand out for me.  

The first is the humor that infiltrates each story. The second is the information about life in France that is conveyed to the reader. In The Critic we learn a great deal about winemaking in France's Gaillac region.


Alan Bradley's mysteries, set in the English hamlet of Bishop's Lacey, and featuring 11-year-old Flavia de Luce are delightful.  Flavia is one of the most endearing and entertaining literary characters in years.

With an eye for details and a nose for mischief, Flavia is a natural detective who basks in her flair for stumbling upon murder scenes. She uses her natural cunning, a precocious knowledge of chemistry and a shameless willingness to engage a child-like charm to coax information out of adults to solve those same murders.

And it cannot go unsaid that Flavia has an impressive knowledge, and appreciation, for poisons; fights with her sisters and has named her bicycle Gladys.

It's time Masterpiece Theater stumbled upon this series. Speaking From Among the Bones and its predecessors, like Flavia, are irresistible.


Joe Lansdale is an Edgar-award winning author, which makes Edge of Dark Water all that more disappointing.  It's a very silly book and a truly bad effort from a talented writer.

Saturday, February 02, 2013

Crais' Suspect a riveting thriller with dogs

Book 18 -- Suspect by Robert Crais

Even a fanboy might admit to harboring doubt about a Robert Crais novel that doesn't feature Elvis Cole or Joe Pike.

Those doubts don't survive the prologue of Suspect, a riveting thriller that introduces two new characters we hope Crais will return to in future books.

The characters are Maggie and Scott and both are suspect.  Not the noun referring to a person thought to have committed a crime, but the adjective -- not to be relied on or trusted, doubtful.

Maggie is an 85-pound German shepherd, a former military working dog who was shot twice by an Afghan sniper. Her handler died in the attack.

Scott is a former LAPD patrolman shot three times when he and his partner were unexpectedly caught up in attack by heavily armed gunmen on two LA businessmen. Scott's partner died in the attack.

Maggie and Scott both suffer from PTSD. Maggie has a limp and Scott is popping pain meds to control the pain from his injuries.

The two meet at the LAPD's K-9 training facility. Scott sees something in the dog, who is about to be washed out of the K-9 unit. He's given two weeks to prove Maggie belongs.

Scott has to prove he also belongs.

Together, Scott and Maggie seek to identify the masked attackers who shot Scott and killed his partner. Scott quickly learns that Maggie and her heightened sense of smell can make a valuable contribution to the investigation.

As they travel down a perilous course, the pair bond becoming an inseparable pack that are willing to sacrifice their lives for each another.

Suspect is vintage Robert Crais.  The former Hollywood scriptwriter is a master of pacing and characterization and knows how to tell a tense, satisfying story that has the reader squirming with anticipation.

Book 17 -- The Leopard by Jo Nesbo

The Leopard is the mystery R.J. Ellory wants to write.

From the opening, when an attractive policewomen is sent to Hong Kong to retrieve a traumatized Harry Hole, to the conclusion, on the slopes of an African volcano, this is a tautly scripted thriller that dishes up enough ghastly murders and unexpected plot twists to make its 600+ plus pages fly by.

Hole, a brilliant, alcoholic detective, is recalled to Oslo because it appears another serial killer is loose in Norway.

Traumatized by the Snowman investigation, Hole's life is a shambles. His lover and child have fled Oslo, his father is dying and, on his return, he's immersed in a political battle to determine who will conduct murder investigations in Norway.

Despite those obstacles, Harry begins to make headway in one of the most unusual investigations of his career.