A Kiss to Build a Series On

damaged and worn clockface

il tempo si è fermato by Alessandro Prada, from Flickr under the Creative Commons 2.0 licensed attribution

A Kiss Before the Apocalypse by Thomas Sniegoski, Roc trade paperback 2008.

Many detective stories open with the PI involved with surveillance on a possibly straying husband, and Remy is hanging out watching a seedy motel while his target goes in with his persaonal secretary. Gunshots ring out from the cheap motel, but is it jealous spouse or rival? Remy charges in, and his subject is midway through murder-suicide, because the straying husband has seen in visions just how close the end of the world really is.

And then the killer sees Remy, sees Remy for what he really is, an angel. Remy isn’t your garbed in glory angel, he’s a married private eye with a taste for Chandler and a dog named Marlowe. His main preoccupation is that wife is in hospice and he’s having trouble saying goodbye.

The first major harbinger of the apocalypse is that the husband and the secretary don’t die. And more people don’t die who should have. (I really don’t want to think about the trauma and cost for all the people left behind) Then like the classic noir, forces from all sides want the threaten Remy or try to coopt him for their own causes. Like the classic PIs, it’s not easy sunshine and sparkly unicorns and Remy gets beat on, but the strongest feels are for Madeline and Marlow’s scenes away from the major confrontations.

I have a fondness for cross-genre science-fiction or fantasy mysteries. I read and reread the Lord Darcy and R. Daneel Olivaw stories over and over. Other stories may have a genre feel even if they weren’t cross marked. The angel romances have their own issues. But this isn’t a romance, and it’s not a redo of “Death Takes a Holiday.” This gives a thought to what happens when Mr Black has gone AWOL. It’s not anything that simple and the final race feels a little like the end of Raiders with the race to stop the Apocalypse.

One of the deeper mysteries is why Remy is living as a mortal when he’s not really human.  I’m not sure he’s quite sure, al he knows is what triggered his decision and he tried hard not to think about it, despite all the various angels and demons who mess with his life during the tale.  I have my own suppositions that he’s on a high moral path not in spite of his doubt and abandoned position, but because of them.  Learning that the author had been involved in the old Angel series was not a surprise.  The sometimes too heavy melodrama in that world is handled with a lighter touch.  Too much angst becomes whining, and Remy’s human lofe isn’t that bad.

One of the more notable parts are how Remy relates to mortals in his life. The scenes with Madeline were very painful and touching. Death is looming issue for them and the lack of dying is not really the good thing it might appear to be. I wish we had seen more story with her in her prime. Marlowe is so very much a dog and not a fantasy magic one. The dog has his ‘squirrel’ moments. Now the mystery wasn’t that fair, but it was the start of a series, so that is a bit to be expected. But the way the mystery and Remy’s personal life fit together is very well done. Sooner or later we all have to relate with the fear and denial when someone is dying, but the world won’t let you stop to be with them. That made for a grounded and real feeling fantasy with more depth than most mysteries I’ve read in a long while.

Rating 4.5 out of five stars


Recent Reading: Ides of March edition

Wind-Blown Tree image

Wind-Bent Tree, by Garry Knight, attribution per Creative Commons without changes. https://flic.kr/p/gN2bSr

I’ve decided to change the way I comment on books I’m reading this year, simple thumbs up and down just doesn’t seem very helpful.  I want to better explain why I like or dislike a novel.  Writing a story is a bit like juggling; if you don’t know how to catch and end the pattern, the balls or clubs can end up flying in all directions and make you look unprepared at best, a fool and liable for audience injury at worst.  A story falling apart doesn’t cause injury, but it makes the reader a little more careful about the author’s juggling and if they want to throw money their way in the future…

I admit I finish a book only if I’ve enjoyed it in some way.  That is no guarantee that I will like the finished whole.  Some books just don’t click, usually because I don’t care for the lead.  Of the last few years I’ve seen too many leads in the dreaded groups ‘too-stupid-to-live’ or the lesser known ‘too-special-to-sweat.’  I’m considering a new category of ‘enough-angst-and-bad-luck-to-melt-into-goo,’ though that is too long to be snappy. (I’d be glad of any suggestions)  I start and finish more books than I’ll do longer comments on.  Any reviews for those would tend toward a bad review, but I’m not that sure why.  So thumbs up/down will remain for some.

I’ve been slightly on a mystery kick, paranormal romances (romances are my guilty pleasure) tend to be too weak for me on plot and world-building.  Regency romances seem to feature way, way too many Dukes.  Once Earls, Counts, rich commoners, and every other possible rank were in period stories.  Now it seems only Dukes deserve love.

Isn’t that special?

Then again I’ve been reading more as my work computer is still in need of replacing.  When that resolves, rec reading will slow to mostly favorite authors.  For now, here’s a recent book.

The Hanover Square Affair, Ashley Gardner (Jenifer Ashley) regency mystery series, book 1

Captain Lacey left military service under a cloud to his reputation which gives him limited prospects for income.  Still he clings to his honor in his cheap rooms.  When he agrees to look into the disappearance of the daughter of a merchant, this throws him back among people whose motives are mostly to exploit his goodwill.  Think of this as regency noir.

Now I know that writing a series is somewhat different from standalone because you have to balance setting up (or continuing the series) with some kind of accomplishment or closure for each entry. This is a mystery series during the British regency of the George who will become George IV.  Now there are a plenitude of romances in that era and little general knowledge of how restricted investigation was. (The Maul and the Pear Tree, co authored by PD James is a good intro if you aren’t a history buff)  This series slides into this period.  The problem is that so much of the book is setting up the Captain and his supporting cast of mostly dangerous (to him) women that the initial mystery is not very interesting and the lead too much a patsy.

I just don’t like the female supporting characters.  I know even the wealthy ones had limited options by our standards, but these women had few of the period virtues either.  They all want something, but don’t have honor or kind of respectability or fairness.  I’m not talking the madonna/whore dichotomy, but a step above using the lead.  I might read the next book.

But then I might not.  I want my leads to accomplish something for themselves, even if they only solve the problem, earn enough to keep the dingy low rent office open for another month, and learn something for their problems. The mystery resolution here isn’t satisfying,  Period detail is okay, but some things seem a bit out of period with Bow Street almost a proto-Scotland Yard.  The world is a bit too dark and grim, I’m not at all sure why everyone is wallowing within it.  I hear emigrating to Canada might be a good idea for the lead, better than this hopeless life.

Rating 3/5.  Not hopeless writing, but not satisfying.

It Reminds Me of a Book I Once Read…

The Moon Maze Game, by Larry Niven and Steven Barnes, Tor paperback, 2012.

Writing a review like this is unpleasant, but then again so was reading the book. I kept hoping it would focus and thrill. As a fourth entry in the Dream Park series, it rates much like the fourth entry of the Indiana Jones movies. It had a few cool ideas and brief appearance of a familiar face, but it was far weaker than the original three stories. There were many poor aspects of the tale, but it just reminds this reader of stories I haven’t even reread in ten years, and I remember Alex, Tony, and Mary-em far better than anyone in the MMG a week later.

  • For the first, the cover is static and none of the people or props are anything but generic SF future. The most recent cover for Dream Park even features a white dragon, a bit out of place for a south Pacific setting. Better covers give some kind of hook into character, setting, or an action scene to draw you into the story. This cover looks like some kind of train station and no characters are particularly identifiable. One great character has a mobility pod for her handicaps and a major role in several major sections, but wasn’t on the cover. There were some very tense places, scenes that could have caught attention on a cover without spoiling the plot. Instead we get a station that says nothing about the conflict or events of the story.
    Good Dream Park Covers, with action and setting:

    Dream Park


    Barsoom Project

    With these two covers, we want to know what happens next, that’s the most important part of storytelling. The swordswoman with the men hunkering down, gives a different view from the usual cover.
    Now, I know the authors have little to no influence over the covers, unless they are selfpubbed.



  • But the cover is one of the best hooks for a new reader, but this third cover could be almost any future SF.
    Moon Maze Game

    Moon Maze Game

    The story has people of multiple ethnic, gender, ableism and what is on the cover? Just whites. The only hint of the game setting is the railing and the lamp, even though the game setting is supposed to be immersive. The cover fails on every level. Now many covers fail, but that is not a good sign.

  • Now the biggest problem is plot, all the other problems are a consequences of errors there. Like the other Dream park stories, the world-building before we get to the game is dense, but the rest of the story feels rushed and sketchy. Subplots and characters introduced are dropped and the IFGS game become nearly irrelevant to the terrorist-kidnappers plot. The GM shows more personality in flashbacks and there seems to be no Loremasters. A grudge is a chimera. A strongly implied subplot of Lunar freedom, ala Moon is a Harsh Mistress, is really wasted space that is meaningless, when almost all conflict once the game starts is related to the kidnappers. (who are only threats because of their ruthlessness and not their competence) The vanity celebrities in the story fizzle instead of adding tension or sympathy. Since characters’ goals and actions are what grab the readers’ sympathy, fear, and thrill, putting too much emphasis on world building makes a boring story. The story felt like it was only to fill in events between Dream Park and much later books in that universe. The Moon Maze Game is so ruined by the political kidnapping, that there is no setting, no immersion.
    You never get much feel for the game layer of the plot and most personal plots are staked through the heart too. The three overlapping levels of story never coalesce, unlike the earlier books.
  • The book is simply too short to do justice to all the characters and plots introduced. There were some good scenes and a very few decent characters, but reading it was like reading a detailed outline instead of a dramatic epic. The most promising characters were only in brief sequences, and several central characters never quite came to life. The game becomes so much window dressing that there is almost no awe and wonder, no immersion, no tension to solve the game as the players get extra help so they can escape the criminals. One subplot ends in a thud after not being mentioned for a couple hundred pages.

Now my review went on rather longer than I expected. If you want a kidnapping/escape story, it’s okay, but this is not really a Dream Park Novel. Read the other three: Dream Park, California Voodoo Game, and Barsoom Project. Read this one only if you want to meet Alex Griffin’s daughter in law (her sparse subplot could have carried the story better than the kidnapping).

Series relative reviews:
Dream Park 9.5 of 10
California Voodoo Game 9.0
Barsoom Project 8.5
Moon Maze Game 6.7

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