Suspect By Robert Crais

imgres“She snapped at the raining debris, and barked at the metal birds now circling the distant buildings like terrible wasps. There were more explosions, then a sudden silence filled the desert, and the clatter of running Marines approached . . .”

Best known for his series of Elvis Cole and Joe Pike novels, Robert Crais, on this occasion, chose to depart from the much-loved, much-debated characters of Cole and Pike, and instead penned a standalone book. His previous non-series release, discounting the Joe Pike spin-offs, was The Two Minute Rule.

Suspect is the story of police officer Scott James, who happens across a dangerous diamond heist in the early hours of the morning — and soon everything turns bloody: bullets flying and people dying (including his partner, Stephanie). Luckily, Scott makes it out alive . . . barely . . . with multiple gunshot wounds. Zap forward a number of months and Scott is mostly rehabilitated, although the psychological scars still remain. He sees a psychiatrist to help overcome the guilt of his partner’s death, and also, with the aid of hypnotherapy, he tries to remember any pertinent details that could push the police towards capturing the killers. 

Aside from this, Scott has just joined the K9 team — a special dogs unit — and is quickly enamoured by Maggie, a dog who has suffered her own pain (and bullet wounds) and whom he instantly relates to and bonds with. And from there, it’s a story filled with mystery, intrigue, guns, death, and canine-human bonding, all wrapped in a generically plotted bow.

The story isn’t the strongest (or most original, especially considering some of Crais’s past work); the detective angle, for the most part, is meagre and reactive; the twists are rare and obvious, although sufficiently executed; and the main meat of the story relies heavily on a chance encounter and a dog with a sharp nose. Yet, minor flaws notwithstanding, there’s enough here to sustain the reader’s attention, and although the plot ultimately follows a much-treaded ground by Crais, the dog angle at least gives it a fresh spin. And the crux relationship between dog and human is expertly handled, bringing a warmth and depth to the story that it might otherwise have lacked.

Its main downfall, however, is the ending. It seems rushed and a little too easy, as if Crais wanted to finish the book, or had to finish the book, in time for his deadline, and didn’t put much thought into how to end it. It’s not a terrible ending as such; it merely feels glossed over and raced through. The lovely, slow, simmering build-up of friendship and loyalty between dog and hero is smashed apart in twenty pages by a speedy dénouement and a tacked on ending.

In conclusion: Suspect is not one of Crais’s best . . . but even an average Crais novel is better than a great novel by many others in his field. 

Read it and enjoy it if you already know his work.

Start with LA Requiem if you don’t.


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The First Five Pages By Noah Lukeman

imgres“This, simply, is the focus of this book: to learn how to identify and avoid bad writing.”

The First Five Pages is a little different than the usual writing guides: it’s written by a successful literary agent and is more about what you shouldn’t do, not what you should do. Noah Lukeman points out the potholes to avoid, the common mistakes that authors make, and the principles of BAD WRITING. He covers everything from dialogue, to characters, to pacing and plotting, to the actual presentation of the manuscript once it’s completed. He also explains the reasons your work may be overlooked by jaded, cynical literary agents such as himself.

It’s a comprehensive, fresh twist on the usual, and the writing is strong enough to hold the reader’s interest. However, it’s not without flaws. The hyperbolic examples of bad writing, for instance, detract from some of the points the author was making. It would have been more beneficial if he deconstructed true-life examples of bad writing, rather than concoct his own ostentatious version of something terribly written. The examples might help amateurs to notice poor writing, but were useless for the more competent writers. If Noah Lukeman picked apart a piece of work that was less obviously badly written — something that, on the surface, seems fine — it would have added more value to his advice. 

Aside from that, there’s still enough insight offered for even the mediocre (or great) writer to gain something from.

And it’s especially helpful to see things from a literary agent’s point of view; to see what common problems an agent looks out for as soon as he or she picks up a manuscript. So if you’re a writer trying to break in the door, or smash through the window of the literary world, check this one out.

On top of that, check out Noah Lukeman’s free downloads:

How To Land (And Keep) A Literary Agent 

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How To Write A Great Query Letter 

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Will Grayson Will Grayson By John Green/David Levithan

imgres“Tiny Cooper is not the world’s gayest person, and he is not the world’s largest person, but I believe he may be the world’s largest person who is really, really gay, and also the world’s gayest person who is really, really large . . .”

When I first started reading this I wasn’t aware of the central concept: there are two different characters, both called Will Grayson, both similar in age and personality, and both are written in first person by different authors (John Green and David Levithan) in alternating chapters.

Once I realised the book was split into two separate worlds (which eventually collide), the distinction between the Will Graysons became clear; it’s hard to see how I didn’t notice earlier. One chapter is written normally and grammatically, the other chapter is written with a lack of punctuation and proper grammar. I read the book on my Kindle and for some reason just assumed the bad grammar/punctuation was a glitch with my file, not a stylistic decision.

My stupidity aside, Will Grayson Will Grayson is a delight: a comedic novel filled with funny scenes, witty dialogue, engaging prose, a fast-moving plot, and an array of bright interesting characters, especially Tiny and the two Will Graysons. And although it’s tagged in various places as a Young Adult novel, it doesn’t read like a typical teen novel; a lot of the content, themes, and language are of an adult nature.

In short: if you like quick and quirky books, check it out. It’s overflowing with charm and wonder. 


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Live By Night By Dennis Lehane

imgres“The word was out — choose a side or choose a headstone . . .”

Dennis Lehane is one of the greatest authors ever — past or present — and no one else’s opinion on the matter is valid. It’s the truth. The man is a beast with a pen. He wields his words like weapons of mass destruction.

Live by Night carries on from The Given Day (as the second in a now-completed trilogy), albeit with a different cast of characters and set many years later. It’s the story of Joe Coughlin — a small-time outlaw — and the novel follows his life as he falls in love, commits crimes, messes up, and struggles to come to terms with the type of person he is and the type of life he’s leading. The events take place over a number of years, primarily during The Prohibition Era, and chronicle Coughlin’s rise to the top as he moves deeper into the gangster lifestyle. Predictably, he soon runs into trouble — and those troubles gradually swell and grow and eventually converge in a satisfying and bloody climax.

Overall it’s a strong novel, as was The Given Day, with likeable and authentic characters, an engaging plot, page upon page of witty and realistic dialogue, and a powerful conclusion. You can read this without having read The Given Day, but I’d suggest starting from the beginning and reading the trilogy in order. It’s worth the effort. 


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