July 12th, 2009

there!, Hello

An Honest to Goodness, White Knuckle Thriller and a Witty, Surprising Descent into the Dark . . .

43) China Lake by Meg Gardiner (Obsidian, 2008, 406 pages)

Ho. Ly. Crap.

I am a sucker for a good thriller. Actually, of late I've found myself suckered in by decent or even less than descent thrillers. But still I try. I keep hoping for something that's as good as Void Moon, Savage Season, Shella etc., etc. . . . .

Meg Gardiner's China Lake is an exceptional read.

Evan Delaney first gets wind of the apocalyptic, Bad Christian cult The Remnant when they protest a friend's funeral service (the Remnant, you see, has zero tolerance for lesbians and sees AIDS as God's "cure" for such a sin). Evan confronts Pastor Pete, leader of the group, and only ends up frustrated; however, she soon learns that her sister-in-law has joined up with this Wacko group. This sister-in-law walked out on her hubby and son some time ago, and now wants to regain custody to bring the boy into the fold of the righteous. A nice lead in to a nice little "Think Of The Children!" style thriller. However, this rather simple beginning is only a foundation for a deliciously complex and absolutely enthralling novel. There is nothing simple about this book.

The characters are sharp, the plotting is relentless (I might say brutal), the twists are a delight, and though the Bad Guys are pretty Bad (playing to just about every stereotype of the Eeeeeevil Zealot Army) the book did not suffer from eye-rolling-itis in the slightest. Au contraire, I could not get enough. I empathized with the protag/narrator. I shared the frustration, I cheered the victories, I hissed at the bad guys, I got suckered into the "loveable character is dead; no they aren't!" not once, not twice, but . . . Three . . . Fudging . . . Times . . . And I loved it. Absolutely loved it. Couldn't get enough.

Oh, the book is not perfect. There is a bit of an unnecessary info dump (how and why they dunnit style!) in a couple of spots, but holy hell, Meg Gardiner can write. I look forward to reading the rest of her fiction.

44) Shrink Rap by Robert B. Parker. (G.P. Putnam and Sons, 2002, 300 pages)
This one starts out unassuming enough, when Boston PI Sunny Randall gets hired to bodyguard a writer (of "high end bodice rippers") on her book signing tour. Sunny soon learns that in addition to being a stalking creep, the writer's former husband is involved in some very nasty dealings which do not fit well with the ethics of his psychiatric profession. Sunny sets her sights on taking the guy down.

I dig Parker's style. It's fast, dialogue centric, and emotionally honest. The wise cracks are actually funny, and though his books move along like breezy, beach reads the subject matter occasionally ventures down some delightfully dark paths. Of course, they don't dwell on them for terribly long, but the emotional resonance certainly lingers. This book is no exception. The crimes of the bad guys are pretty notably icky, and our heroine relies upon her own resources to solve them (something not quite true of the first novel in the series). Sunny is still growing and changing, and the characters around her are still a lot of fun to hang out with.