You can probably skip the smoking jacket for this edition, as I haven’t been reading anything PBS-worthy as of late.  I’ve been in this funk, see, and when I get in a funk, I like to read books about killers.  It makes me feel alive.  Just kidding.  I don’t know why I read them.  I’m just armchair-psychologying it here, folks.  So if you don’t like books about killers, you can skip to the end, where I talk about Erin Hunter’s Warriors series, or you can skip this blog altogether and do something worthwhile and productive.  Your choice!

(Note:  Every last one of these serial killer books contains unsavory subject matter and unrefined language.)

Sweetheart by Chelsea Cain

This is the sequel to Heartsick, that sick, sick, sick serial killer book that I so enjoyed on my plane ride to Vegas back in February.  Detective and certifiable basket case Archie Sheridan is still trying to get over his issues with Gretchen Lowell, the psycho b-word who held him captive and made him drink drain opener while she practiced carpentry on his torso–but he’s not having much success, unfortunately.  Meanwhile he’s got a few new murders to solve, murders which may be connected to the political scandal that journalist Susan Ward is trying to bust wide open.  And then Gretchen Lowell has to start pulling some crap from prison that I can’t get into without giving away major plot points.  You think you have problems?  Be grateful you don’t live in one of Chelsea Cain’s novels, that’s all I can say.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again–I am a big fan of Chelsea Cain’s writing, and if she wrote the Portland phone book, it would be clever and riveting.  I love the characters that she’s created, and the story is solid, but Sweetheart has an unfinished feel that Heartsick did not.  Heartsick left itself open for a sequel, but it was in itself complete.  Sweetheart just didn’t seem quite complete to me.  The murders were solved and then there was this heartbreaking denoument that left me deeply unsatisfied.  I mean, plot-wise I was satisfied, but character-wise, I was not–which I suppose means that Cain needs to write a third book, and then I can forgive her for doing to my emotions what Gretchen Lowell did to Archie’s spleen.

Last Witness by Jilliane Hoffman

Special Agent Dominick Falconetti and Assistant State Attorney C.J. Townsend (a lady state attorney–they’re sleeping together, FYI) are on the trail of a psycho killer who is murdering cops and mutilating their bodies.  On the surface it seems to be a drugs and dirty cops scandal…but one of our main characters is hiding a dark secret, which she dares not reveal–but if she doesn’t reveal it, people are just going to keep getting murdered.  What a dilemma!

Last Witness is a reasonably exciting book (albeit terribly gory–yes, even by my standards; I don’t recommend a close reading of any passage where a dead body is discovered), but as I was reading it I kept getting the sense that it might be a sequel, because the characters’ back stories seemed a heckuva lot more interesting than the story I was reading.  Turns out, it is a sequel to Retribution, which I have not read and is not available at my local library.  I’m contemplating buying a used copy for $.01 from a third-party seller at Amazon because it sounds good, but I’m also trying to decide how much I care.  I mean, there are so many serial killer books out there, so little I want to pay in postage.

On the other hand, I would certainly read other books by Jilliane Hoffman, if they fell into my lap or something.  Then again, there’s not much I won’t read, so long as it’s on my lap and all.  I think that much is clear.

Book of the Dead by Patricia Cornwell

I had never read any Patricia Cornwell prior to picking up this book.  I’d long been meaning to read some Patricia Cornwell and her Kay Scarpetta mysteries because there are few things so appealing to me as murder mysteries solved by lady pathologists, you know what I’m saying?  Well, maybe you don’t, but trust me, it’s one of my pleasures in life.  So I randomly checked this book out at the library because it was in the bulk paperback section, which is a good place to find sicko serial killer books when you’re in a hurry.  (It does no good to look in the mystery section because you have to slog through so much Agatha Christie/Mary Higgins Clark/F Is For Felony-style stuff before you find something really lurid and wrong.)

I have to say, this book didn’t do anything for me.  It might have had something to do with the fact that it’s a later Kay Scarpetta mystery, and I got the impression that Scarpetta was getting old and weary and not having met her before now, I just didn’t appreciate her angst the way I was supposed to.  I didn’t appreciate the other recurring characters’ angst, either–except for Scarpetta’s niece, Lucy, who I thought was spunky and deserved to be in her own book instead of stuck as a bit player in this middle-aged drama.  To be honest, I can’t remember for the life of me how the mystery in Book of the Dead got resolved.  More to the point, I can’t recall if it got resolved.  That usually indicates a problem, but whether it’s a fault of the book or my own middle-aged memory and the fact I’ve read so many serial killer books in the last month or so, I couldn’t tell you.

However, I haven’t given up on Cornwell or Scarpetta altogether.  I’m thinking I should try an earlier Scarpetta mystery before I write off an entire series of books containing psycho killers AND a lady pathologist.  It just doesn’t make sense to limit my options, right?  Then again, I’m in no hurry to rehabilitate Cornwell’s image in my eyes.  She’s on the back burner for the time being.

Kisscut and Blindsighted by Karin Slaughter

First of all, could there be a more perfect name for a serial killer book writer than Karin Slaughter?  No, there could not.

Second of all, Slaughter really does her name proud.  These are high-quality serial killer books.

I read Kisscut first, and as I read it I realized that it was a sequel to something, but it didn’t matter because the story worked perfectly well on its own.  The book opens with a standoff between two teenagers at the local skating rink; one ends up dead.  The victim is a patient of Dr. Sara Linton, the town’s pediatrician, who is also the county coroner.  Oh yes, she is!  (You see how this book can’t be anything but awesome.)  Her ex-husband, Jeffrey Tolliver, is the chief of police.  They still have feelings for each other, but there’s a crime to be solved here, kids.  Actually, several crimes.  For a small community, an awful lot of bleep goes down.  Tolliver’s top detective, Lena Adams, is back at work after a very traumatic experience that she still hasn’t dealt with emotionally, so that makes things even more complicated.  I can’t really get into more of the plot without giving stuff away; suffice it to say there’s lots of dark secrets and abuse and crime-ring stuff.  But it’s the characters that make the story worth reading (you know, assuming you don’t have a problem with lurid and degrading subject matter).

Which is why I read Blindsighted, the book that introduced these characters.  They are trying to catch a serial rapist/killer.  (Even though Dr. Linton is a pediatrician, there are no children involved in this one.)  Women are in jeopardy.  People have angst.  Even though I knew, from reading Kisscut, some of the things that would happen, it didn’t spoil the plot at all, and it was the characters that I really enjoyed reading about anyway, so there you have it.  You know the book is good because I’m not going on for several paragraphs about how much it sucked.  I will definitely read Slaughter’s other Grant County books (even though it rather strains credibility that so much horrible crime would be going on there and people wouldn’t just abandon the place en masse).

I mean, it’s a pediatrician who’s a coroner who’s got the hots for her ex-husband. How am I supposed to resist?

AND NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT

Midnight by Erin Hunter

Midnight is the first book in the New Prophecy trilogy in the Warriors series.  I first heard of the Warriors series from one of you gentle readers (TR maybe?), who suggested it for Mister Bubby after he finished Harry Potter and was looking for something new and exciting.  I have to say, I was incredulous.  I mean, it’s about cats.  Warrior cats.  That is to say, “Warrior cats?  Really?”  No offense to them, but I don’t usually think about cats caring enough about anything to become “warriors.”  No, not even feral cats.  Not that I’ve met a lot of feral cats in my day, but…you know…they’re cats.

Anyway, I filed it in the back of my mind because MB enjoys fighting and he enjoys animals, but he got interested in some other books and I didn’t think any more about the fighting kitties until MB dragged me to the school book fair and announced that he just HAD TO HAVE one of these fighting kitty books, so I bought it for him, and that’s how he got totally into this series and how he talked me into reading Midnight–which he, interestingly enough, has not read, but he had checked it out of the library and knew he wouldn’t have time to read it before it was due but thought that somebody should.  And so, wanting to share in my son’s literary interests, I agreed, even though I really thought I could go my whole life without reading a fighting kitty book and be perfectly content.

So here’s the thing about these fighting kitty books–they’re actually very entertaining.  Sort of like Watership Down meets The Incredible Journey meets…well, I don’t read a lot of animal-based literature, dig?  But though I started with limited enthusiasm, I found myself getting pretty into it.  I liked these cats.  I respected their warrior culture.  I cared about their fates.  Which is more than I can say for some of the books I’ve read this month.

So there’s a prophecy that a great calamity is coming to the forest where these four warrior cat clans live.  The clans are rivals, but they coexist peacefully, so long as everyone stays on their own territory.  They all follow Star Clan, which I guess is their kitty religion–a type of ancestor worship, from what I’ve been able to gather.  Anyway, Star Clan prophesies this calamity and they choose one cat from each of the four clans to go on this quest.  The chosen cats get these visions and they have to go on a perilous journey to fulfill their destiny and save their clans from imminent destruction.

After finishing Midnight, I thought, “I can’t believe I just read 300 pages of cats going for a walk and I liked it.”  I liked it so much, in fact, that I’m currently reading the second book in the trilogy, Moonrise–and I have this sinking feeling that when I finish reading about this generation of fighting kitties, I might have to read about the previous generation as well.  (I mean, how did Firestar go from being a household pet to being the leader among feral felines?  Inquiring minds want to know!)

I’ll try to read more stuff with redeeming qualities for the next club meeting.  But I promise nothing.

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