Category: 2 Barrels

“Gerald’s Game” by Stephen King Review

Gerald's Game

Gerald’s Game

Author:  Stephen King

Released:  1992

I’m going through these Stephen King books pretty close to in order of publication, so reading Gerald’s Game felt a lot like Misery: Part Deux. Unfortunately that’s not a compliment as that book was a particularly unpleasant reading experience. With both books, our protagonist is stuck in a bed and unable to get out for most of the book. I know at some point Stephen King was struck by a car and bedridden for a period of time, but whatever the inspiration for revisiting the motif I was thoroughly over it by the end of this one.

Here the reason for the bed is that Jessie and Gerald are preparing to have sex at a secluded cabin, with Gerald preferring Jessie handcuffed to a bed to increase his experience. Jessie decides against it and tells Gerald she does not want to go forward and to untie her, but he pretends that it’s part of the game and refused. When Gerald tries to go ahead and continue Jessie ends up kicking him in the groin. As Gerald pulls away, he has a heart attack and dies at the base of the bed, leaving Jessie stuck in handcuffs miles away from another person.

The bulk of the suspense of the book is delivered via two separate events. The main storyline is Jessie stuck on the bed, weak from wanting water and trying to brainstorm her way out. In addition to the physical pain of being stuck, Jessie begins to hallucinate and believe there is a man visiting her at night that intends to kill her soon. As readers, we are as unaware of whether the man is real, imagined or paranormal as Jessie is and these scenes were some of the most suspenseful in the book.

The other storyline is a set of flashbacks Jessie is reliving involving an afternoon where she was molested by her father during an eclipse as a child. Why is this important for her to relive? In one aspect, it’s relevant because of her current sexual predicament that she is dealing with. However the big reveal for why she is actually remembering it is pretty lame as it’s something that seemingly she could have thought of based on a hundred other offhand comments and experiences she would have had throughout her life.

This book definitely felt more padded in terms of page count than what the story merited. Perhaps had it been a short story I would have enjoyed it more. As it stands though this was lesser Stephen King and one I understand not being listed as one of his best.

2-star

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“Rogue Lawyer” by John Grisham Review

Rogue Lawyer

Rogue Lawyer

Author:  John Grisham

Released:  2015

I was loaned this book by another attorney, and I’ve already given him a hard time for overlooking some of the problems I had with this book. Rogue Lawyer is about a defense attorney named Sebastian Rudd who works out of a van because his office has been firebombed. Who firebombed his office? Who knows. Rudd has so many enemies it could have been an angry client, and the cops don’t seem too interested in solving it because maybe they did it themselves? Why is Rudd so hated?

Well, he’s a defense attorney, and that’s enough reason for some of us. (I kid.) In particular though, he’s a defense attorney that specializes in getting his guilty guys off by any means necessary, and exposing the corrupt practices of police officers. Over the course of this book, he’ll represent individuals in several high profile cases. Included among those is an obviously innocent goth druggie accused of murdering two children, an obviously innocent man whose wife was killed when Swat officers raid the wrong house (he is charged for firing a gun back in self defense), and an obviously guilty guy who snaps after losing a cage fight and who beats the referee to death.

In addition to the legal cases, there is also extensive drama in the form of Rudd’s ex-wife who is now a lesbian with a beautiful girlfriend intent on terminating Rudd’s parental rights, a mob boss on the run after escaping death row, and a mystery surrounding a high ranking officer’s pregnant daughter who was abducted from a parking garage. Grisham keeps multiple plot threads going throughout the book, giving a payoff for each one though not necessarily tying them all together. My favorite of the storylines was the case involving the wrongdoing by the SWAT team as it was the sort of event that dealt accurately with the law and was definitely cribbed from real life tragedies. It also lacked most of the problems that I had with the other stories, in that Rudd could actually do something good as a character and help his client out. The attorney on the other side was also handled somewhat sympathetically. (I didn’t think it was realistic that the man would be brought to trial in this case, but if it were brought to trial I thought it was handled realistically.)

By contrast, the criminal case that opened the book had me ready to chuck this in the garbage and I never totally recovered based on that. In a small county, two children die and law enforcement picks up the first creepy guy they can and coerce lies and false evidence to rig a confession. Rudd is forced to smuggle DNA from who the real (obvious) killer is to get his guy off, because law enforcement and the judge had all been unwilling to run any DNA test due to expenses and time. Ok, so I’ve worked in small counties (and in a large one), and one thing I can say definitely is that when a huge case comes through in a small county it is handled extremely cautiously. Small counties don’t deal with a lot of murders, so when they get one they make sure every base is covered so the case doesn’t blow up in their face in the media. The judges are even more likely to be cautious, granting continuances for defense attorneys seeking evidence, as they don’t want to bungle a major case and have it come back on appeal. The only realistic aspect of this part of the book was the fact that the jurors all knew about the case and probably had their mind made up.

So needless to say I had a lot of problem with how Grisham treated the honorable profession of prosecutors in this book. Even Rudd though can’t escape Grisham’s antics of being a dishonorable, despicable character. **Spoilers follow** Late in the book, there’s a confluence of events where a terrible human being gives Rudd information that could save dozens of girls lives. Rudd makes it clear that there it no attorney client privilege in this situation. What does he do? He conditions revealing this information to law enforcement on them giving a deal to his client that is 100% guilty of murder that would basically be a slap on the wrist. I guess the readers are not supposed to care about the good person that was murdered by Rudd’s client or about the many women whose lives are being ruined in captivity, because hey, look at Rudd work his magic. Things don’t work out the way he thinks however, so maybe that’s Grisham’s way of not rewarding all of Rudd’s bad behavior. **End of spoilers**

I tend not to watch legal shows or read legal fiction because the inaccuracies end up driving me up the wall. Odds are a different reader will enjoy this book much more than I did. This was a very fast paced book with plenty of snappy dialogue and slimy characters that will fascinate readers. Just not this one.

2-star

“X-Factor Vol. 2” by Jeff Jensen and Arthur Ranson Review

X Factor vol 2X-Factor Vol. 2 1-4 (Complete Series)

Writer:  Jeff Jensen

Artist: Arthur Ranson

Colors:  Paul Mounts

Letterer: Paul Tutrone

Released:  2002

I’m continuing to go through my collection of back issues in search of series I either never read or don’t remember very well.  Much like with books, I’ve been known to sometimes buy comics at conventions or stores when they’re cheap and then forget to read them for several years.  While one of my all time favorite comic series is Peter David’s X-Factor Vol. 3, I’ve actually never sat down and read the first two volumes before.  Since Volume 1 is over 100 issues and Volume 2 is only four, I decided to continue working my backward and do the one I could read in a day.

X-Factor Volume 2 is one of those series that focuses on the normal people living in the superhero universe, much like Damage Control of Gotham Central.  Here, it follows two special government agents on a dedicated mutant task force.  Their duties seem to be in dealing with hate crimes against mutants, but the unofficial mission is more keeping tabs on extremists on both sides of the mutant agenda.  The two agents are a white male who has lost the use of his hand (though is getting a new cybernetic one) due to an incident with a mutant, and an African-American female who recently had an infant daughter whose mutation activated causing her to burn herself to death in her crib.  Needless to say, it’s not a laugh riot.

The four issues in the series tell  fairly unconnected stories, with each issue focusing on a separate case that is fairly well resolved by the end.  The first issue is the mystery of the murder of a man tied to the Hollywood sign with the word murder carved into him.  The second issue follows a baseball player who is planning to reveal to the world that he is a mutant.  The final two issues of the series focus more on the two agents finally beginning to trust one another and figure out who is pulling the strings on the anti-mutant agenda.

Throughout the series, the X-Men show up in brief cameos.  Jean Grey sends a mind message; Wolverine makes a threat, Nightcrawler captures a criminal.  If you’re here to read superheroes this isn’t the book for you.  Unfortunately, I can’t say the lead protagonists were particularly memorable.  The male in particular (I finished this series last night and I can’t recall either of their names) was bland, with his major character arc being the decision to be a more open-minded parent.  Likewise, the antagonists are in the shadows for most of the series so there’s not a lot of memorable moments with those guys either.

The artwork by Arthur Ranson was also inconsistent.  The bulk of the cast of characters are civilians in regular attire.  The two main characters are always easy to tell apart, but the supporting cast often melted into a shadowy white dude melange.  The superheroes that showed up don’t give me a better of idea of his ability, as Jean Grey and Wolverine were just OK, while Nightcrawler was fantastic.

Image result for x-factor ranson nightcrawlerI can’t decide if it’s just the Paul Mounts colors putting him over the top, or if Nightcrawler fits in better than the other heroes in the shadowy world of Ranson’s art.

My score indicates I didn’t enjoy this series, but really the series just felt very unnecessary and fairly forgettable.  I can’t imagine ever revisiting this book or recommending it to somebody, unless they’re just a huge fan of Sam and Twitch and are looking for a Marvel Universe watered down analog.

2-star

“The Tommyknockers” by Stephen King Review

The Tommyknockers

The Tommyknockers

Author:  Stephen King

Published:  1987

There’s a portion in Stephen King’s The Stand where he talks about all the people that died after the devastating plague in circumstances unrelated to illness. Things like accidentally electrocuting themselves or getting injured with nobody to help them or call for help. Because it’s Stephen King, the passage in question is stretched out for many pages, with each character getting some background to get an idea of what sort of person they are, so each story can become a mini-tragedy or a setup to a punch line (the “no great loss” lady has always stuck with me). Reading The Tommyknockers felt a lot like reading that portion of The Stand but stretched out to nearly 800 pages. That’s not a compliment.

The premise of The Tommyknockers is that a local writer named Bobbi and her dog Peter stumble across a metal object sticking out of the ground on her property and decide to dig it up to see what it is. Bobbi soon becomes obsessed by the object, making it her sole objective to unearth what she believes to be a gigantic flying saucer. Bobbi also begins to exhibit strange behaviors in the form of inventing strange objects while her dog begins emitting green light from his eyes and acting years younger than he had before. When Bobbi is visited by her ex-boyfriend Jim Gardner, he finds a woman who has run herself to the point of starvation. Gardner ends up sticking around to find out what’s going on and stay with the woman he loves.

Beyond that, the rest of the plot deals with the strange behavior of Bobbi spreading to the rest of the town of Haven. Out of the 750 pages, it felt like about 500 pages dealt with side stories about characters like Bobbi’s sister, or a young boy’s magic show gone wrong, or a curious reporter getting his first big scoop, or a jealous poker player, or a Constable obsessed with dolls, or a dozen other characters. By the time a pyromaniac with a plate in his head showed up near the end I had lost all interest in how this story would end. Along with The Talisman, this is the only King book I’ve read so far that I just wanted to end multiple times throughout. Unlike outright bad books like Rage or Roadwork, there’s an interesting story at the core here but King squanders any interest in the resolution by padding the pages with uninteresting non-essential characters.

Beyond that, the book is also frustrating by having its hero character be a drunkard who spends 95% of the book going along with things before pulling a miracle out on one leg at the very end. The idea of having only those with metal in their body able to resist the Tommyknocker influence was fun, but I can’t help but think this would have been a much more compelling read with either the Constable or Ev Hillman as the protagonist instead of Jim Gardner. Gardner’s story arc isn’t so much about redemption as it is cleaning up a mess he helped enable to fruition. It also doesn’t take a genius to draw similarities between King and Gardner (a poet) in this book, which further added to my impression of the story as a meandering story being sprawled by an out of his mind writer.

For King junkies, there are some fun cameos in this book, including the government agency from Firestarter and Pennywise the clown from It. The book also references the events of The Dead Zone and seems to be pretty firmly in the Maine continuity of other Stephen King books (don’t let all the references to the Dallas police fool you). The first trip by Ev Hillman and a state trooper into the woods was pretty exciting, and could have been the basis for a much more exciting novel. The good parts overall were buried under too much fluff to get excited about. This feels like the type of book that King could have bottomed out writing, I can only hope he tightens up the storytelling from here on out.

2-star

“Reprisal” by F. Paul Wilson Review

Reprisal

Reprisal

Author:  F. Paul Wilson

Released:  1991

As I’m nearing the end of both the Adversary Cycle as well as the Repairman Jack series, both are currently suffering from trying to tie together a larger arc instead of telling a compelling individual story. The problem mainly stems from Rasolam, the villain figure who is just shy of all knowing and all powerful, but chooses to spend his time messing with a priest and a frumpy math teacher rather than working towards advancing his goals of turning the Earth into a haven for the forces of evil.

Reprisal is the 5th book in the Adversary Cycle, however it is just about a direct sequel to Reborn which told the story of a couple discovering that one of them was a clone and their fetus may be the anti-Christ. If you’ve read the Repairman Jack series before this, you know to be on the lookout for anagrams and fishy behavior, and Reprisal is no exception when it comes to finding the villain in the story.

Years after the events of Reborn, this book follows two main protagonists: Lisl is a math teacher who becomes involved in a torrid romance with a graduate student who begins to change her views on herself and other people. Will Ryerson is a maintenance man who has a secretive past, and spends his entire life trying to stay away from telephones. How do these two stories relate to a woman that gave birth to the embodiment of evil and a missing Jesuit priest who went by the name of Father Bill Ryan? I suspect without even reading the prequels, you can figure out who the good guy and who the bad guy are from this paragraph.

There’s also a third section of the novel that takes place as a flashback, explaining how Father Bill Ryan came to be on the run from law enforcement, and the investigation of a missing child led by a dedicated NYPD Detective. This was the most interesting portion of the book, dipping firmly into the supernatural horror genre. If you’re not a fan of bad things happening to kids in fiction, this is probably a book you should skip. Much like the events of Reborn however, the things that take place end up being so crazy that it’s hard to imagine somebody like Repairman Jack not being aware of them in his books later on.

By far the worst part about this book is the character of Lisl, a woman who makes every bad decision somebody can make with way too little resistance. I can even buy the revenge against her ex and jealousy towards a coworker, however the ease with which she dips into theft and reciting her boyfriend’s theories on Primes (exceptional people) being able to do whatever they want to other people made her a very difficult character to sympathize with.

The most interesting character in the book was another math teacher named Dr. Everett Saunders. I started off not knowing if he was a creepy psycho, a stalker, a person paralyzed by obsessive compulsive disorder or just a quirky colleague. The ultimate revelation of his secret wasn’t anything amazing, but it made him sympathetic and contributed to my vitriol towards Lisl. More interesting characters like this, instead of shoehorning Glaeken into an expository dumper role at the end would have improved this book, but as it stands this was not one of the better reads in the series. I’m finally ready for Nightworld to wrap up both series (except for the prequel novels that I’ll probably check out), and hopefully it will provide a satisfying conclusion to this sprawling series.

2-star

“Reunion” by Alan Dean Foster Review

Reunion

Reunion

A Pip & Flinx Adventure #7 Chronologically

Author:  Alan Dean Foster

Released:   2001

Reunion is the 7th book chronologically in the Pip & Flinx series. This installment finds Flinx continuing to follow every lead he can to learn more information about his biological parents. An espionage mission into a library on Earth leads to an excursion into the AAnn Empire. Foster’s worlds are always inventive, but this particular planet is by design a bit less interesting than the prior few worlds Flinx has visited. Pyrassis is primarily a rock planet, with plenty of rocks and minerals and (seemingly) nothing interesting enough to draw the attention of sentient beings. The native life forms on this planet provide a few interesting encounters, as the camouflage capabilities are unique in how deadly they function.

More than any other book in the series, Reunion requires a reader to have read the earlier books in the series to fully enjoy it, but the constant callbacks to earlier events makes the momentum of the story suffer as a result. In all the infinite cosmos, Flinx seems to be getting drawn into some pretty convenient dramas that no other human has ever discovered. In particular, the earlier books The Tar-Aiym Krang and Orphan Star are revisited to bring in unique plot devices and characters, but they’re not the interesting parts of those books (such as the Ulru-Ujurrians or Truzenzuzex). Just writing those last two sentences is probably enough to scare non-science fiction fans away from this series, but when Foster is firing on all cylinders he has created some of the best adventure stories and original settings in the genre.

Unfortunately Reunion misses the mark more often than not. Besides the interesting alien life forms that form an interesting survival story in the middle third of the book, the rest of the action never feels like anything even kind of threatening to our hero. In addition, Flinx develops a few abilities that are beginning to make him more superman than every-man. In this installment, Flinx computers expert computer hacker, capable of breaking into space stations and develops mental abilities capable of shutting down any threat to his safety. The reveal of the other person pursuing Flinx’s parental records also didn’t totally work for me as the added connection to Flinx’s past felt cliched and unnecessary. The very ending of the book also uses a deux ex machina, however the reveal of what allowed it to take place made me chuckle.

2-star

“Quasar” #31-45 by Mark Gruenwald from Marvel Comics Review

Quasar 43

This is a review for Quasar issues number #31-45. This series has not been collected in trade beyond the first few issues.

Writer: Mark Gruenwald
Artists – Greg Capullo, Rurik Tyler, Steve Lightle, Andy Smith and Grant Miehm

The 1990’s get a lot of blame for the death of the comic industry. The speculator bubble is a big part of it, although for somebody who grew up reading the comics of that era it’s not anything I hold against the industry. Some of my favorite comics were the #1 issues from Marvel, Image and other companies that sold millions of issues to people that never had any intention of reading them. Another criticism is the over the top art and lack of good storytelling. Again, as a reader from that era, I thought the crazy art of guys like Liefeld or Dale Keown was a fun stylistic choice that made a few books stand out more on their own. The other major criticism of books from that time is that the issues took place in endless crossovers with other titles (and this is sill a criticism of Marvel and DC comics today).

This run of 15 issues of Quasar certainly had me lamenting the endless crossovers of the era. Issue 31 crosses over with the New Universe, issues 32 through 35 were parts 3,10,17 and Aftermath of the Galactic Storm crossover. At that point, we get two stand alone issues of Quasar before it ties into the Infinity War for three more issues. Once we’re clear of all those crossovers, the next few issues are dealing with a bad guy let loose in those issues by Thanos (the original Marvel Boy). Marvel Boy has the distinction of being one of the lamest designed and childish behaving characters I’ve ever read. Issue #43, picture above, features Marvel Boy and Quasar fighting in what is also in the running for the ugliest Marvel Comics cover I’ve ever seen.

What were the high points of this run of issues? A funeral for Eon hosted by a cult of interstellar beings whose purpose it is to mourn those that fall stood out to me as interesting and the type of cosmic originality I like best from Marvel. Kayla (Quasar’s secretary) continues to also be the standout character of the series, but possibly only because her story moves at a page or 2 per issue so we are always left wanting more resolution for her.

The art seemed to take a dive in this run of comics, and I’m sorry to point to Andy Smith as the culprit. If you can recognize Kayla before and after her haircut as the same character, you’re cheating. I’m on the fence regarding the change of Quasar from cosmic band wielding Green Lantern clone to generic strong superhero with Starbrand abilities. Neither is particularly original, but as I mentioned in my last review (on Goodreads under issue #25) Gruenwald was just beginning to create some rules for Quasar’s powers that gave him more depth and those have been thrown out the window. Only fifteen issues left in this series, hopefully it improves as so far it’s been a bit of a let down.

2-star