Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Review: Kill or be Killed, Vol. 4

Kill or be Killed, Vol. 4 Kill or be Killed, Vol. 4 by Ed Brubaker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A young man who puts on a mask and kills criminals because he thinks he’s been cursed by a demon ends up in a psychiatric hospital. Who could have seen that coming?

After Dylan has a meltdown in his personal life he’s been locked up and doped enough to keep him foggy, and it also seems like someone has taken his place on the outside as a masked vigilante killer getting headlines for murder. However, Dylan is still haunted by the idea of the demon who drove his killing spree because whether it was real or not he’s got plenty of evidence that the world is steaming pile of garbage and that maybe somebody should do something. And just because he’s locked up doesn’t mean that there’s not bad guys around he could do something about it….

If this was a Marvel or DC creations we’d go through an endless continuation of Dylan including revelation after revelation about his past and he’d probably die at some point and come back. With a story by Brubaker and Phillips we get an actual ending, and that’s part of what makes their stuff so great. With a conclusion we have consequences and themes, not just an infinite and increasingly pointless character.

I also admire how this story threads a tricky needle. It certainly isn’t a ridiculous Death Wish style fantasy about how one determined man with a gun can clean up the streets, but it’s also not a simplistic morality tale about how murder is wrong either. Dylan’s world view gets increasingly complex as he goes from a guy who thinks he’s killing to avoid his own death at the hands of demon to someone who is increasingly disgusted by a world that seems to get progressively worse by the minute thanks to the corruption of the basic systems that are supposed to protect us.

It’s a comic with a near perfect ending.

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Monday, October 22, 2018

Review: Charlesgate Confidential

Charlesgate Confidential Charlesgate Confidential by Scott Von Doviak
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

If you’re looking for murder and mayhem in temporary lodgings then the Charlesgate should be mentioned along with the Overlook and Bates Motel.

The Charlesgate was once the swankiest hotel in Boston, but by 1946 it’s become a wretched hive of scum and villainy. After a poker night for gangsters gets robbed the guy running the game wants revenge. By 1986 the Charlesgate is student housing for a local college when one of the residents begins looking into the building’s history for a series of articles in the school paper, and he gets a very juicy story from a man recently released from prison. Cut to 2014 and the Charlesgate has been renovated into high priced condos, and a murder in one of these apartment seems to be linked to paintings worth millions that were stolen back in 1946 and never recovered.

This is a very solid debut novel from Scott Von Doviak who lived in the actual Charlesgate as a student in the ‘80s. He mixes in some of its real history with the spooky stories that surrounded it along with a famous Boston museum heist (Although he’s used creative license to move that from 1990 to 1946.) to create an intriguing puzzle box of a book. We shift through the three different time frames with the narratives eventually combining into one large story. It’s very well written and has a good page turning quality to it. There’s also some nice work done to establish the tone of each time period and the characters in it.

At just under 400 pages it’s a shade too long, and while I liked the ultimate resolution and theme the ending seems a little anti-climactic. The book also suffers from a common problem when the author is a Red Sox fan in that they think that the rest of us are just as interested in reliving their tales of woe over the years as they are. Yeah, yeah. You had it tough for a long time, but since Boston has won about 417 championships in various sports including baseball in the 21st century I don’t have a lot of patience or sympathy for it anymore. (However, I will be glad to talk to about the ups and downs of being a Kansas City Royals fan.)

Overall, it was still a good piece of crime fiction, and I’d like to see more from Von Doviak. I’d call it 3.5 stars if Goodreads gave us the option, but since they don’t I’m going with 3.

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Thursday, October 18, 2018

Review: Kill or be Killed, Vol. 3

Kill or be Killed, Vol. 3 Kill or be Killed, Vol. 3 by Ed Brubaker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Has a college student become a masked vigilante killer because he’s been cursed by a demon or because he’s mentally ill? Maybe a little Column A and a little Column B?

The third volume finds Dylan coping with revelations indicating that the whole demon thing might be all in his head which leads to him trying to put down the shotgun and try to get back to some kind of normal life. Which actually kinda works for a while, but it’s hard to just quit being a vigilante when you’ve got the Russian mob looking for you.

The team of Brubaker and Phillips is probably the best working in comics right now, and as always the writing and art combine to create a great story. I continue to admire how this takes the air out of the fantasy of a good-guy-with-a-gun cleaning up the streets. It’s all brutal and messy and ugly, and they manage to make Dylan sympathetic while still also seeming like a danger to himself and everyone around him. There’s a gritty realism to the way that it’s all handled that is very different then what you usually get in a story of this type.

I absolutely loved this, and I’m extremely glad I’ve got Vol. 4 on deck right now to keep reading.

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Friday, October 5, 2018

Review: Holy Ghost

Holy Ghost Holy Ghost by John Sandford
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I received a free copy of this from NetGalley for review.

This book asks the ultimate question: How long can a man live eating only frozen chicken pot pies?

Wheatfield, Minnesota, is a dying small town until several apparitions of the Virgin Mary in an old church are captured on video by multiple people and posted on social media. Now Wheatfield is booming thanks to an influx of visitors hoping to see the vision for themselves. However, when a sniper wounds two people outside the church at different times it puts the brakes on the new tourism trade. State investigator Virgil Flowers arrives and tries to figure out why someone would be randomly shooting folks who are just hoping to catch a glimpse of Mary. Virgil begins pulling on multiple threads involving various townsfolk, and things quickly escalate.

Can Virgil track down the sniper before he finds himself in the crosshairs? Or will he starve to death first since he can’t get a decent meal anywhere in town and has to subsist on chicken pot pies from the convenience store?

This is a pretty typical Virgil Flowers novel, and as a John Sandford fan that’s good enough for me. Once again we’ve got Virgil going to a small town to solve a mystery, and he relies on tapping into local gossip more than forensics or Sherlock Holmes style deduction to do it. There’s a lot of fun characters, and we get a welcome dose of Sandford regulars Shrake and Jenkins. Virgil also continues to see his personal life change and grow with a big event on the horizon.

The difference in this one is that it’s much more of a whodunit than most of Sandford’s other thrillers. Usually we get a lot from the villain’s perspective even if Sandford masks their identity in the writing, and the mystery usually comes from withholding a critical piece that turns out to be the way that Virgil or Lucas Davenport find the bad guy when they figure that out. This time we are completely in the dark as to who is doing the shooting and why until near the end except for one brief chapter in the middle which gives nothing away. When the answers come it’s the kind of logical and satisfying solution that I’d expect from the tight plotting that Sandford does.

The only really negative thing I can say about this is that it may have ruined pot pies for me. At least for a little while...

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