Sunday, May 30, 2010

Book Review of "The Camel Club" David Baldacci

I always find Baldacci a bit over the top when it comes to writing plot and structure - his books are a lot like throwing noodles at a refrigerator and they all stick. But I liked this book - unbelievable as much of it was - I liked the characters, I liked their fallibility in the face of very big villains. It moved and I didn't get impatient with it as I often do. I thought the bit at the end with Oliver Stone's daughter really weak and stupid. But then I usually fault Baldacci for some unbelievable plotting.

This was a page turner. If he'd ever figure out that he could still tell a good story with half the number of characters and a more straight lined plot he would be a great writer. I think he's a great seller but I don't think he's a great writer.

However this book is worth buying.

Live Free or Die Hard Review

For me this was an exercise in excellent writing and that's always an important beginning. Contrary to most belief in Hollywood, excellent scripts are needed for good movies.

As in the first Die Hard, the whole movie is about getting two people who have become estranged back together. In the Die Hard they blew up a building to get Holly and John together. In this Die Hard they take down all the electronic systems (banks, electricity, etc) in order to get John together with his daughter - who hates her father so much she uses her mothers maiden name as her own last name.

The first Die Hard used that estrangement as the outcome of all the mayhem, the second Die Hard and third Die Hards had to do something else and they weren't nearly as good.... this one goes back to what worked the first time - even making references to the first movie that were hilarious then and remain hilarious now. It's a fascinating continuum.

The other writing rule that this movie carries off spectacularly is: "What happens when your lead character can't grow?" John McClain is already as strong and tough and invincible as he can get. So they bring in a character who can grow, who moves from utterly powerless geek to superhero under John's tutelage. It's an interesting writing trick and I thought they did it well.

Some of the special effects were outrageous and it was hard to suspend disbelief even as it was hard not to enjoy them. The villains were delightful. The humor under the carnage is fun. It was a good movie.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Book Review of "The First Family" David Baldacci

Review of First Family – David Baldacci

It starts with a birthday party at Camp David which turns into the kidnapping of the President’s niece. It is a Sean King / Michelle Maxwell mystery. The former Secret Service agents turned private investigators have been featured in Baldacci books before. They track the improbable story to its violent and TOTALLY off the charts unbelievable ending. Its got a few parts that move well. A few character moments that work, but on the whole this is not a well written story.

I didn't like First Family very much, but it moved well enough so that I didn’t put it down in the middle. Baldacci is very spotty for a best selling author, often because he doesn't write structure well and depends on lots and lots of confusion instead of a fluid well constructed track. The plot is definitely convoluted although given some of the strange things that have been happening in America in the last decade or so not totally unbelievable. I like the main characters although they weren't as compelling in this book as they have been in the past. It's something to read if there isn't anything else available. This is definitely not one of his better books.

How I came to write my novel Tranquillity Initiative.

I came to write Tranquillity Initiative, my novel that is coming out this fall, because I picked up a fascinating little book on Techno-Terrorism. At the time I wanted to write an action movie. I was a few years out of Paramedic training and fascinated by emergency medicine, so I decided to write about an anthrax attack on New York. This was well before 2001. I wanted my villains to drop a bomb containing anthrax off a building where the germs would spread in the worst configuration possible – so I chose the World Trade Center. The twin towers were still standing at the time and were perfect for my requirements.

Several drafts later I showed it to a friend. “You can’t have the worst possible thing happen at the beginning of the book,” he said. “The whole script goes downhill from there. I went back to the drawing boards.

How would I structure the release of the Anthrax so that everyone in the city would know it was there, and still have something to be scared would happen at the end? The answer was two bombs. One opened by mistake and distributed into the city at the beginning, one to be properly deployed from a tall building at the end – with everyone painfully aware of the consequences. To point out some of the things I didn’t approve of that were going on politically, I made the bombs American issue, stolen off one of our bases.

Next, I had to decide where the accidental distribution would take place. Why not Times Square? There were old buildings on the west side of the square that would do well for immigrant housing. Lots of people from all over the world travel to the Square. Later in the tale, I could still have my battle on top of the twin towers, which remained the best place from which to deploy weapons grade germ warfare armament. Actually, in one early draft I had made the germ warfare contagious, but it rapidly became clear that I could wipe out the human and animal populations of the world so I switched to a deliberate decision not to make the spores transmit human to human. Of course that discovery was made when I was still using optimal deployment off the North Tower at the beginning of the story.

The story became good enough and solid enough to transpose into novel form so I spent months expanding the film. I was now working with a movie and a novel. That’s a wonderful exercise because you learn so much about your film characters in the process. Then came 9/11 and the loss of the optimal buildings on the west side of the City. I went back to the drawing boards. I needed another ending. I needed another building. This time I had to rewrite both a novel and a movie.

I’ve always loved Grand Central Station with its whispering corners, countless entrances and exits, bookstores and junk food, the feeling of history that treats the eye with every glance. While my villain settled on the magnificent Chrysler building for his final deployment, my imagination traveled to the dark tunnels of Grand Central and the ending fairly wrote itself.

A visit to the Chrysler building was a complete surprise. I had walked past it all my life without going inside. I was unprepared for how beautiful the lobby was. A quick study of its history and the way its construction played into my plot was an unexpected bonus. I spent months and months rewriting, using the Grand Central tunnels I remembered all the years from early childhood riding the trains out of the lower level on the New Haven and Hartford line in the years before Amtrak.

And now, after a zillion changes, my novel is almost ready to be released and I’m thrilled. Look for it in your bookstores this fall. Tranquillity Initiative.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Book Review of "The Wrecker" Clive Cussler

Review of
The Wrecker
Clive Cussler and Justin Scott

At the turn of the 20th Century trains were the planes and the telegraph was email. Detective Isaac Bell takes on a brilliant, wealthy and diabolical adversary bent on destroying Osgood Hennessy, the Southern Pacific Railroad's self-made president, who is constructing a short cut through the Cascade mountains in Oregon. The stakes are high. If the ruthless and brilliant villain is successful he will be able to take over the Osgood’s national railway and become immensely wealthy and famous. If he wins he will destroy Hennessy and own his railroad. Isaac Bell, the Van Dorne Detective Agencies top agent, is pitted against a villain almost as smart and ruthless as he is. In the beginning I thought this story was for men mostly – although I love action films I’m not crazy about cars and I can take or leave trains – but once the story got going it was riveting. Cussler has a talent for description that takes the reader right into the action. He also creates characters you care about whether it’s to like them or dislike them. His villains are nasty, his heroes principled. Don’t plan to be doing anything else after you’ve hit the last third of the book.

look for my book "The Tranquillity Initiative" this fall
Joan Meijer

Book Review of "Gone" by Jonathan Kellerman

This is another Alex Delaware mystery. In this story Hollywood wannabes are showing up dead or missing. Eventually the tracks lead to an acting school and a family trio.

I kept hoping this book would get more interesting - I had started it and put it down before because it wasn't engaging. This time I was determined to finish it, but it was an effort. It's slooooooow.

I can tell you immediately what I disliked most about it. Every time you meet a new character you are subjected ad nausium to physical descriptions. I enjoy picking up one or two interesting points about physicality that crop up time and again to advance the plot, or give us more information about the character or quickly remind us who the character is if he or she hasn't shown up in awhile. Kellerman's use of description is more like name dropping than true characterization. I don't care about name dropped shoes if they aren't essential to the story. In Kellerman’s case it’s shoes, jacket, pants, hair cut….and on and on and on.

Kellerman is a good writer as far as technique is concerned but in this book he doesn't have much to work with. It's a weakly plotted book.... no real surprises, a few twists - I wasn't expecting a torture chamber at the end, the chamber was gratuitous anyway. The major problem with this book is that you don't care enough about anyone to get exercised about their demise other than in a general way, like reading about inconsequential strangers in an obituary. The villains are not very interesting, the missing people aren't all that interesting, Delaware's personal life isn't that interesting - there's some threat to his life but that is an obvious diversion rather than integral to the plot, his relationship with his detective friend is okay. I think the book is 2/3rds fill because there isn't really enough of it to have justified writing it.