Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Blood Will Out, In the End

While it’s virtually impossible to argue with the literal meaning of the saying “blood is thicker than water”, the figurative meaning is another matter entirely... for it’s wholly up to the individual, whether or not he/she would be more apt to side with kin, or with friends, in the event it came down to an either-or decision.
Me? I’m a firm believer in the notion that true “family” is made up of those we love best (which, as far as I’m concerned, has nothing whatsoever to do with the likes of shared great-uncles on a family tree or any of those dreaded annual get-togethers). Call it modern thinking, or perhaps simply pragmatism, but there you have it.
Of course, I realize that probably isn’t the norm. Family is the be-all, end-all for an awful lot of people out there; it’s a kind of invisible bond which inextricably links them together -- regardless of whether they have anything (aside from genetics) in common, or whether they even like each other or not. For such people, it’s the condition which shapes their identities and forges their characters, more than any other.
But what happens when someone finds out that he/she has a less-than-desirable relative -- not just the annoying one who laughs too loudly at his own jokes or who insists on gossiping for hours on end about her neighbors, but one guilty of doing some very, very bad things? Might having such unpleasant knowledge of one’s relative be the tipping point, when blood ties cease to matter... or would it tend to cause the person to cling that much more tightly to the traditional definition of “family”?
Award-nominated thriller author Mark Billingham delves into these complex issues in his latest tour de force, Bloodline...
~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~
Fifteen years ago, London was rocked by a series of brutal murders which left seven young women dead before it was all over, and the man responsible -- Raymond Garvey -- was captured, tried, and sentenced to life in prison for the crimes. 
At the time, Murder Squad Detective Tom Thorne was just a relative newbie, one whose part in the case consisted solely of knocking on a few doors and making some routine telephone inquiries. Still, the very nature of the murders made up the sort of horrible crime spree that neither he nor any of the other officers working the case -- nor the public, for that matter -- would soon forget. 
And now, fifteen years later, history seems to be repeating itself.
When the first body is found, no one thinks much of it; the case initially appears to be a run-of-the-mill domestic squabble gone tragically wrong. But, when a second body turns up -- with scene-of-crime details nearly identical to the first case -- Thorne realizes that nothing is going to be simple about this situation at all. Not only must these two murders be related, but the marked similarities between them and the earlier Garvey killings is simply impossible to ignore.
There’s just one minor problem, though: Garvey isn’t out of prison, so it certainly can’t be him, recreating his previous crimes. In fact, Garvey isn’t even alive; he died in prison three years ago, from complications during a surgery. 
That leaves a copycat killer, obviously... except that for this particular criminal, it’s clearly a bit more personal. This time, the killer isn’t just targeting women... he’s killing the offspring of Garvey’s original victims.
This time, it’s about family.
As Thorne works to juggle the demands of his own increasingly-complicated domestic problems with the mounting sense of urgency engendered by the rising body count -- while frantically trying to ensure that the remaining children don’t become victims, themselves -- we can only watch with growing horror as each piece of the puzzle falls slowly, irrevocably into place. 
Decisions -- and mistakes -- will be made; no one is precisely what he or she seems to be, and the killer isn’t exactly going to wait for the police to catch up.  
The seeds of evil and revenge were sown long ago... and this is the time a bitter killer has chosen for the harvest.

 ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~
With Bloodline now the eighth book in the series (or at least, the eighth one in the U.S.; as European readers are no doubt already aware, Billingham will actually be up to book number ten when his latest entry releases in the U.K. in August), I’ve been a huge fan of Billingham -- and his Tom Thorne character -- from the very start. (He’s one of those authors whose complete works have a permanent home on my bookshelves, if that gives you any indication.) His plots are consistently intriguing, his writing is smooth and effortless, and he never fails to offer up a host of compelling characters worthy of following through to the end.
Anchoring it all, of course, is Thorne... the work-weary, perpetually-melancholy, habitually-introspective, and always-prickly chap who has seen, perhaps, a bit too much of the worst that humanity has to offer. He is unforgettable in his quiet solitude, touching in his sadness and guilt, charming when his sense of humor peeks out, and endlessly fascinating when getting to the crux of whatever matter is at hand... and he achieves a sort of perfection in his very imperfection.
If you’re a fan of thrillers and mysteries but haven’t read Billingham, you could certainly do worse than starting with Bloodline... but I would urge you to go all the way back to his first Thorne book, Sleepy Head. My bet is that you’ll be hooked. :) 

GlamKitty Catnip Mousie Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Mousies!

Friday, June 24, 2011

When Nothing is What it Seems: Lady Julia's Return

When it comes to fictional detective couples--at least, in the romantic sense--it’s pretty slim pickings, isn’t it? There’s Agatha Christie’s Tommy and Tuppence, Dashiell Hammett’s Nick and Nora Charles, and... well, that pretty much exhausts the list of familiar suspects.   
Television offers up a few more examples. There were bonafide couples Jonathan and Jennifer Hart (“Hart to Hart”) and Stewart and Sally McMillan (“McMillan and Wife”), along with those will-they-or-won’t-they, did-they-or-didn't-they pairings of Laura Holt and Remington Steele (“Remington Steele”), Amanda King and Lee Stetson (“Scarecrow and Mrs. King”), David Addison and Maddie Hayes (“Moonlighting”), and currently, Kate Beckett and Richard Castle (“Castle”).
It’s a tricky proposition, and one which shouldn’t be that surprising, when you think about it. Unless a writer starts with an already-existing couple--two characters in a relationship which comes with built-in expectations of certain behaviors, plus a high degree of familiarity (in all senses of the word)--he or she runs the risk of ruining a vital element that causes the readership to clamor for the next book, or the viewers to continue to tune in like clockwork each week: that delicious, perpetually-unfulfilled sexual tension between the characters, which we find so mesmerizing.
The hard truth is that no matter how much we might claim to want an end to all that unrealized longing--that sense of “Do it, already!”--there isn’t, necessarily, much further for the characters (or their relationship) to go, once the deed has been done. (As the best example of such coupling ruining the whole feel of a story/show, I offer up "Moonlighting", again; once David and Maddie did away with the perpetual yearning, the magic pretty much died right along with it.) 
Such thoughts were, therefore, skipping around my mind when I picked up Deanna Raybourn’s The Dark Enquiry, featuring recently-married sleuths Nicholas Brisbane and Lady Julia Brisbane. As the fifth entry in her fine Lady Julia series, Raybourn faced the unenviable task of returning the Brisbanes to normal life, following their meeting and courtship (in the first three books), and their honeymoon (in the fourth). Would she be able to keep the spark--such a big part of her earlier books--alive... or would the spark prove to have exhausted itself? Would the playfulness and charm still be there, or would everything be sort of flat? Clearly, nothing short of diving feet-first into the book would do, if I wanted to find the answers to my questions...
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Freshly arrived back in London in 1889 after a triumphant return from their honeymoon/latest case in India, finds the Brisbanes attempting to settle into some sort of “normal” married life. They’ve taken a house of their own, which Julia is trying--somewhat unsuccessfully--to staff (having brought only Aquinas, her long-time butler from her previous marriage, and Morag, her rather-unpleasant, ex-prostitute-cum-ladies‘ maid, with her). 
Brisbane, meanwhile, has opted to keep his former digs, and is in the process of turning them into a place of business for his--well, make that, “their”--private detective practice. Julia has finally managed, it seems, to persuade him of her invaluableness to his profession, and insists he consider her his partner in business, as well as marriage.
Naturally, Brisbane is reluctant about the whole arrangement... but somewhat helpless, as always, to Julia’s methods of persuasion (not the least of which is her absolute refusal to take “no” for an answer). So, while she muddles through some of the peskier domestic issues, he works at setting up their offices (including the addition of a darkroom, for Julia’s particular use). 
They haven’t long to wait for their first client, though. After Julia happens to spot her elder brother, Lord Bellmont, furtively leaving the offices as she’s approaching them one day--a visit which Brisbane blithely denies when she questions him somewhat obliquely later that same day--her suspicions and insatiable curiosity are aroused.
What follows comes as no surprise to anyone who’s followed the vivacious Lady Julia’s antics; she (of course) simply dons another of her masculine costumes and trails Brisbane when he goes out that evening. His (their) destination? The private Ghost Club, in which a French madame holds forth each night, conducting by-invitation-only seances for an exclusive, all-male clientele.
Perhaps Brisbane is attempting to prove the woman a fake, Julia guesses. After all, he is half-Romany, blessed (or cursed, as he would have it) with the sight, himself. Bellmont, she assumes, probably wishes to have the woman exposed after she defrauded either him or his wife. Pleased that she has figured things out on her own, a mustachioed Julia settles in for an evening’s enlightenment.
The reality, as you may have guessed, is nothing of the sort. (Julia is quite bright... but also rather prone to jump on the first feasible--even if utterly wrong-headed--solution, and then to hang onto it for dear life, until the point at which she’s figuratively dragged kicking and screaming from the idea.)
No, when Brisbane finds her out, while at the Club, and the pair of them proceed to witness an accidental death--which is far more likely to be a murder, given the circumstances--Julia (and we) realize that something much more serious than phony messages from the beyond is afoot... and that someone with deadly intentions is playing for keeps. The problem, of course, is figuring out just game, precisely, is being played... before it's too late, and someone else dies.
As the intrepid, newly-married duo hare all over London and the surrounding countryside--bickering and fighting just like always (before making up in suitably-rewarding fashion)--we can do little more than watch with bated breath as they meet up with sundry scallawags, curmudgeons, spies, charmers, a camp of gypsies, and (as always) several of Julia’s many siblings... never quite knowing from what direction the latest surprise--or danger--might come.
✵ ~ ✵ ~ ✵ ~ ✵ ~ ✵

But, I'm sure you're asking, what of the end result of Lady Julia and Brisbane’s first official case as partners (aside from catching the baddies, of course)? Have they--and has Ms. Raybourn--successfully overcome the bugaboo of seeing a relationship that moves into permanent territory also turn into the death knell for a series? As far as I’m concerned, The Dark Enquiry absolutely ensures that they’ve escaped that dreadful fate; the duo are as much fun as ever, with Julia’s snappy/sarcastic banter and Brisbane’s long-suffering impatience in fine fettle, here. These two aren’t the sort to settle peaceably into yawn-inducing domestic bliss, or to fawn over each other with any of that awful saccharine-sweetness. Their humor, intelligence, quirkiness, and prickliness continue to rule the day, and I’m already looking forward to seeing what their next outing brings... certain that it will be another delightfully-cheeky romp.

GlamKitty Catnip Mousie Rating: 4 out of 5 Mousies!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Father's Day (A Day Late... but Worth It)

For Dad...

I love that you never once told me I “couldn’t” do something... only that I “could”. 

That you never made me feel as though I was anything less than wonderful in your eyes.

That you bragged about all my accomplishments, however great or small, to your friends.

That you took me to pick out my first CAT... just the two of us! >^.,.^<

That you were kind and generous to everyone you met.

That you happily ate every Easy-Bake cake I placed in front of you. :)

That you loved to read, and to discuss books with me (even if I was just waxing ecstatic about Nancy Drew).

That you taught me self-reliance.

That when I look in a mirror, the features reflected back at me are yours. 
It’s been almost thirteen years now, but not a single day has gone by without my thinking of you... and missing you.
So, here’s to you, Dad.  xoxo  

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Grrrr... (Father's Day Placeholder)

Due to unforeseen circumstances-- a forgetful mother? (well, perhaps that shouldn't come as such a surprise)... the vagaries of the postal system? (a likely suspect, given the "quality" of mail service out in the boonies, where my mom lives)... bad luck (well, obviously, right?)-- the Father's Day post I've had planned all week will now be delayed (until such time as I receive the photographic accompaniment without which said post just wouldn't be complete).

So, anyhoo, the best-laid plans (and all that jazz)... [grrrrrrr...]

Until then, how about my boycat with his daddy?

(first meeting, at the breeder's)

                                               (2010, just bein' silly on Daddy's lap)  

Friday, June 17, 2011

Murder in Manhattan: Sins of a Father Revisit a Daughter

Fathers. For those of us who enjoy good relationships with them, our dads are a reliable source of strength, the invincible heroes of our youth, and the champions of our childhood dreams.
For those with somewhat-less-than desirable relationships, it’s quite another matter, of course--more like a minefield of conflicting emotions and a past strewn with less-than-stellar memories.
The reality, for most people, probably lies somewhere in between. Our heroes may be a bit worse-for-wear, bearing the odd scrapes and scars on their not-quite-shining armor. Nothing--and no one--in life is perfect... not even our dads. 
Still, aside from some very poor examples of fatherhood, most of us are happier for having them in our lives than not. So much so, in fact, that even if we feared the worst and were faced with incontrovertible evidence of a grave misdeed perpetrated by our father figures--some transgression nearly impossible to accept and forgive--there’s still a good chance that the father-child bond would hold. 
None of us really wants to contemplate having to deal with the sins of our fathers, of course... but in Alafair Burke’s new standalone novel, Long Gone, one woman is forced to do just that. 

~  *  ~  *  ~  *  ~  *  ~
To Alice Humphrey, it seems her life is at an all-time low. Sure, she lives in New York City, with access to just about anything under the sun. She has a close girlfriend who offers ready emotional support, plus an on-again/off-again relationship with a very nice guy who also lends emotional support, in addition to other types of “comfort” (during the “on-again” times, at least). 
She’s been jobless for several months now, though--another victim of budget cuts during the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s recent bout of layoffs. She has plenty of education under her belt, but no one is really hiring anyone for... well, any of the limited things which all that formal learning has left her qualified to do. She could go to her wealthy (and famous) parents for help, if absolutely necessary--but since breaking the apron strings several years ago, she’s not about to do that. (A recent scandal, during which she--and the rest of the world--found out that her Oscar-winning, movie-director father had engaged in numerous flings over the years--is still painfully fresh in her memory, and her alcoholic, former-actress mother’s willingness to put up with such behavior doesn’t help matters any.) There are long-standing issues with her older brother, an ex-addict about whom Alice always has cause to worry, as well. What she needs is a sense of purpose, outside of herself and her family, once more.
When she’s approached at a small art exhibit one evening by a compelling stranger who introduces himself as Drew Campbell--and subsequently offers her a dream job, running a small gallery of her own--it all seems like a dream come true. But, over the next few days following their conversation--days in which she doesn’t hear a word from him--she chides herself for daring to believe for even a moment that it might have been true. 
A supposedly-famous mystery client (the purported owner of this prospective gallery), whose identity she’s never to know? The owner’s (also anonymous) younger boyfriend, whose “art” the gallery would be compelled to show at regular intervals, regardless of merit or convenience? The more time Alice has to think about some of the details, the more bizarre it all seems.  
Until, that is, Drew calls, informing her that plans are underway. Casting her apprehensions aside, Alice jumps on the offer, and almost before she knows it, the Highline Gallery is open for business.
She’s thrilled with her tiny new gallery in the Meatpacking District... it looks beautiful, and the location shows great promise. Or she’s thrilled, that is, aside from the work she’s forced to display in the opening show--a group of lurid photographs, courtesy of the owner’s curiously-absent boyfriend (whom Alice finds a singularly-untalented hack).
Even that may not be quite the issue she thought, though, when the gallery--to Alice’s immense surprise--makes hundreds of internet sales from those very photos within the first few days. 
Less-fortuitous surprises soon follow, however. The first arrives in the form of religious protestors, who assemble outside the gallery, loudly claiming that the artist used minors in some of the nude photos. Everyone, from the protestors to the press, clamors for a statement from Alice, as the gallery’s manager. To her dismay, Drew is conspicuously incommunicado--thus, no help whatsoever--during the hubbub.
The second surprise--well, more of a shock, really--is much worse. After arranging to meet the prodigal Drew (who finally gets in touch with her) early at the gallery one morning, Alice arrives, only to be met with a completely cleared-out, papered-up building... and one very dead Drew, lying in a pool of his own blood on the otherwise-empty gallery floor.
And, for the coup de grace surprise? (This one’s a real humdinger.) Before long, a series of clues which Alice knows full well cannot be true lead the police to suspect her of the murder! Cleverly tying in her rich, influential father--certainly no stranger to scandals during his long professional career--and some of his friends (including the lawyer who has been Mr. Humphrey’s friend and legal adviser for more than half a century), the evidence against Alice and her family mounts.
When Alice realizes just how seriously the police are taking the evidence growing steadily against her, she feels she has no choice but to play detective, herself. She knows that someone, somewhere has to be orchestrating everything, because she’s being oh-so-ingeniously set up to take the fall... something which everyone with a badge seems curiously inclined to let her do.
What she finds, once she starts digging, scares the hell out of her. Is it true that her father was somehow behind the gallery job? And, if that is the case, what else might he have done... and why? What about those tawdry photos in the gallery--the ones supposedly created by an “artist” whom Alice never actually met, of people who were never identified... could those have something to do with her father’s own particular interest in “younger women”, as well?
Like it or not, Alice knows she’s going to have to get to the bottom of everything--every sad, depraved, disheartening thing--if she wants to stay out of prison for a crime she most definitely didn’t commit. If it takes ripping open one closet door after another, to rattle every disgusting skeleton inside, to ferret out the truth... that’s exactly what she’s going to do.
~  *  ~  *  ~  *  ~  *  ~
Long Gone is an exercise in steadily-mounting terror--with an almost Hitchcockian buildup of tension--as we watch an innocent woman wander unwittingly into an unbelievable (and seemingly-impossible) situation far beyond her wildest dreams (or nightmares). Burke gives us a very likable and sympathetic character in Alice; despite being a child of such privilege, Alice isn’t subject to the kid-glove treatment from anyone. Rather, she’s a “normal”, independent woman--one who has forsaken the trappings of wealth and prestige, choosing instead to make her own way without any help. She has the same aspirations, copes with the same types of day-to-day problems, and faces the same disappointments as do the rest of us... until, that is, she crosses paths with the wrong people and circumstances.
There were a couple of times I found myself thinking, “Oh, surely not that, too!”, when the plot twisted around on itself yet again... but then I’d flash back to the old adage, “truth is stranger than fiction”, and I’d decide that yeah, maybe things really could happen that way, after all.
As for fathers? Well, you’ll just have to pick up this book to find out about them... but if you really like suspense and some wicked plotting, reading Long Gone will hardly be a chore.

GlamKitty Catnip Mousie Rating: 4 out of 5 mousies! 

Note: Long Gone will be released June 21, 2011.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

In the End of Times, There Be Zombies

If someone asked you to make a shortlist of the very worst things that could ever happen, chances are, your list would be similar to a lot of other people’s. (Partly because we’re just not that original, but mostly because we’ve been exposed to the same TV, movies, and books as everyone else.) We have some pretty vivid images embedded in our brains of the Bad Stuff that lies in wait for us--images we share.
Natural disasters would no doubt place highly on the list--tornadoes, hurricanes, and earthquakes strike terror into the bravest among us. Fire is another truly fearsome, destructive force. And of course, the thought of all sorts of transportation accidents--something like a horrible high-speed car crash or the dreaded mid-air disaster--hit most of us in the gut. 
Illness and disease would likewise find their way onto a lot of lists. We have only to see the devastating effects of cancer or another debilitating disease, to have an unholy terror of it someday striking close to home.
But how many, I wonder, would include “zombie attack” on our shortlists? (Yes, I really said “zombie attack”.) For those of us who devoured (tee-hee) Mira Grant’s Feed--and then proceeded to wait with bated breath for the arrival of number two in the trilogy, Deadline--well, let’s just say that probably a LOT of us would.
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Deadline picks up several months after what, for the main characters, was one of the worst things that could ever happen: a string of zombie attacks. We’re not talking about any full-of-wide-eyed-wonder sort of “Oh my gosh, there are zombies?!?” sense here, either, because Grant’s vision of the world--thirty years in the future--isn’t a happy place, but is instead one in which zombies have already been moaning and staggering around for more than twenty-five years. (Contrary to some rather peculiar beliefs recently, the end of times involves zombies, not a scheduled rapture, okay?)  
First, though, a brief refresher course--because you’ve already read Feed, right? (If not, hie yourself on over to the review, here, then run out and pick up a copy, pronto; read it and then come back to this, okay? Really, you’ll thank me.) Anyway, since the first zombie rising in 2014--following the exceptionally-unfortunate snafu which resulted when two viral “cures” (one for cancer and another for the common cold) collided with unpredictable and violent effect in our bodies, leaving us with a condition that makes us 100%-susceptible to becoming zombies--mankind has had to live with a strange new threat that had previously only been fodder for B-horror flicks. In other words, anyone in 2041 (when this book is set) who has the extreme bad luck to get up close and personal with a zombie will--in very short order--also become a zombie him- or herself. Ever since the “Kellis-Amberlee” hybrid viral strain formed, messed-up cells just waiting for “amplification” via contact with an actual zombie are genetically part of our makeup, and there’s nothing we can do about it. There’s no handy-dandy vaccination or bottle of pills to take as a precaution or a cure; if you get infected by a zombie, you’re gonna become one, too... end of story, and may someone please shoot you before you can infect too many others.
So, for the “After the End Times” crew--the small group of journalists we follow who report, via their online blogs, what’s really happening out there--when I say the zombie attacks finally hit too close, I mean they experienced casualties of the very worst kind: the deaths of several of their members. 
Even now, months later, things aren’t remotely close to being “back to normal”. Co-founder Shaun Mason, one of the “Irwin” branch of journalists (daredevils in the late Steve Irwin, poke-the-big-crocodile-with-a-stick-to-see-what-happens mode), is adrift and aimless without his sister, Georgia, around to temper his particular brand of insanity. (“Insanity”, by the way, is no longer an exaggeration; Shaun may not be going out in the field risking his life looking for flesh-eaters... but he’s haunted by Georgia’s ghost and holds frequent conversations with her, while hovering in a too-close-to-suicidal state for anyone else’s peace of mind.) Meanwhile, Rebecca “Becks” Atherton has taken over most of his Irwin duties, including the majority of local field reporting; Dave Novakowski has been doing his best to follow in Buffy Meissonier’s techie, go-go-gadget footsteps following her untimely demise; and, from London, Mahir Gowda has stepped into Georgia’s head-of-the-“Newsie”-branch shoes.
It has, overwhelmingly, been a period with nothing much new really happening. Scattered outbreaks, as usual. Daily lives lived out in fear, with multiple blood tests and a home-before-sunset schedule, for most people. No good news, no changes, and no cures. 
More importantly for the After-the-End-Timers, though, there’s been no resolution, retribution, or answers for the loss of Georgia and the others... nothing but the steadily-increasing sense of urgency to somehow make sure their deaths mean something--that they might not be quite so utterly and absolutely in vain.
Until one day, that is, when a young CDC research scientist from Memphis comes knocking at their Southern California headquarters door... with information and speculation that changes everything. Not only is the conspiracy they’ve been fighting not even remotely dead, but now they know it looms larger than they ever dreamed possible. Much larger... and much, much worse, as it points in directions they’d never even considered... and at people they’d previously thought were on their side. 
Galloping coast-to-coast while facing storms, road hazards, unfriendly government employees, scary off-the-grid conspiracy theorists, plus the occasional pack of rabid zombies, Deadline is one roller-coaster ride of pure, adrenaline-filled, pulse-pounding terror... made so much scarier by the dawning realization that the worst monsters aren’t the creepy flesh-munchers, at all... but people who look as ordinary and seem as sane as everyone else.
✜ ✜ ✜ ✜ ✜ ✜ ✜ ✜ ✜  
Like the very best that sci-fi (or a sci-fi/thriller, as I'm terming it) has to offer, Deadline is a cautionary tale, one which illustrates that very bad things can happen through even the best of intentions--and that too often the response to the something bad is to try to cover it up and bury it. Even more so than in Feed, the monsters in Deadline aren’t propelled by an undying hunger for human brains (really, for a zombie book, there's almost a total absence of them here)... but are, instead, the scientists, politicians, and company big-wigs--the brain trusts and mouthpieces and fat cats (with apologies to felines everywhere)--intent on denying everything, at the cost of anything and anyone who gets in the way. The heroes, meanwhile, don’t come with super-powers or impossibly-fantastical skills and knowledge; they’re just regular people who believe enough in something--and in themselves, and each other--to try to make a difference, no matter the cost.
Deadline is some seriously good stuff, or some very bad stuff, but in a really good way. Epic, chilling, and heartbreaking--yet with a smidgeon of hope--this one’s a major must-read.

GlamKitty Catnip Mousie Rating: 5 out of 5 Mousies!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Caught: Ensnared in a Web of Truth, Lies, & Something In-Between

We have become a world of voyeurs, obsessed with the lives of everyone else. 
It’s a benign-enough past-time for most of us--and one nearly impossible to avoid. Think about what lines the walls of supermarket checkout aisles everywhere (aside from candy and all those bizarre little gizmos you were previously, blissfully unaware you craved): tabloids, emblazoned with (often) embarrassing and (usually) Photoshopped pictures of celebrities--courtesy of the very lowest rung of photojournalists, the paparazzi--with captions blatantly espousing tawdry rumors in bold 100-point type. (You’ve ogled the flashy covers and flipped through the pages when you thought no one was looking, haven’t you?)
Or, consider the current TV trends: the so-called “reality” shows, encompassing everything from assorted talent competitions to programs which supposedly follow the lives of this or that group of has-beens, wannabe-celebrities, or “interesting” people doing... well, whatever sort of awful or strange stuff it is that they do; and the tabloid-y “talk” shows, in which a host interviews some of society’s dregs (or people being paid to make us think they’re utterly-classless imbeciles), about the awful stuff they claim to do.
Is this passive voyeurism completely harmless? I’m not convinced of that, at all... although it’s certainly true there many things much worse.
But what about the people who aren’t seeking the limelight or looking for a quick buck by posing for and participating in the photo ops and programs? There have to be some unintentional casualties... ruined reputations, embarrassments and scandals from which there’s no coming back. 
Harlan Coben offers a fascinating look at someone who finds himself in that predicament--and the person who puts him there--in Caught, which pits the effects of our quest for titillation--and the media’s pursuit of ratings--against an individual’s right to privacy, truth, and justice.
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After enduring a difficult childhood, Dan Mercer became a social worker so that he could hopefully help others through their own tough times. His understanding of troubled teens--and nonjudgmental attitude toward them--have earned him respect and commendations.   
Reporter Wendy Tynes has covered all sorts of human interest stories during her career, but her current specialty is deadly serious: exposing sexual predators on the nationally-aired TV program, “Caught in the Act”. Her reports have brought dozens of deviants to light, increasing awareness of the problem on a large scale. 
When Wendy’s latest televised sting operation snares Dan and outs him as a child molester, everyone is in a state of shock--including Wendy, who had previously interviewed him about his successful work with youths. Still, the evidence against him is staggering; he’s caught red-handed, meeting a (supposedly) underaged girl with whom he’d been conducting an email relationship for some time. In addition, the police unearth a large stash of kiddie porn during a search of his home.
Dan cries foul. He claims he wasn’t sending risque emails to any teenagers, and that the only reason he showed up at the house where he was busted was in response to a frantic phone call to the help center he runs, which was made by a troubled teen. (He’s also adamant about denying ownership of the pornographic materials found in his garage.)
His lawyer manages to get the charges dropped; it was clearly entrapment, and the search was of the “fruit of the poison tree” variety. But, while this result might put an end to the shame and embarrassment for those accused of other crimes, being tied to a sex crime--one with children, no less--is a different matter altogether. In the days following his release, he is followed, chased, and brutally beaten up multiple times.

As bad as it is (and this would be near the end of many books, instead of being merely the beginning of this one), it’s only the start of a tragic, downward spiral... 
Just three months earlier, the same New Jersey community had been rocked by another scandal--the disappearance of sweet, smart, and well-liked high school senior, Haley McWaid. Her friends and family can only assume the worst after such a long time with no news and no leads (although they still cling desperately to the last vestiges of feeble hope).
When, out of the blue, a mysterious connection is made between Haley and Dan, the two cases--one a few months old and rather “cold”, the other still so new and fresh--become entwined in a tangled mess of clues, false leads, and dashed hopes. 
Wendy, for her part, is torn; did she help set up an innocent man, putting his life in grave danger from all those who remain unpersuaded of his innocence? Or, did her actions botch the case so that a guilty man--who might possess intimate knowledge of the whereabouts of the missing Haley--is instead freed? Wendy doesn’t have any answers, but she intends to find them.
As she pursues her own investigations, though, she discovers that there are, perhaps, as many people who don’t want the truth uncovered, as those who do... and the ones who don’t are the ones she comes to fear, as her life becomes a mirror image of Dan’s... being followed, threatened, ostracized, and even losing her job, all because of some false accusations leveled against her. 
Making it personal is a mistake for whomever is behind everything, of course-- particularly when the target of these attacks is trained to be curious and tenacious about uncovering the truth. There will be other victims before everything is said and done, as ancient history is revisited and old laundry is finally aired, but Wendy will get to the bottom; she’s determined to somehow correct the actions she inadvertently set into motion.
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Caught is quintessential Harlan Coben, delving right into the dark areas that even the most “ordinary” among us keep hidden deep inside. It’s impossible to read this book without being an active participant, thinking about the issues and putting yourself in everyone’s shoes, asking how you’d feel and how you’d react. 
The answers, like life, are not simple. Neither is Caught, which is, instead, a challenging, stimulating, and thought-provoking read... one that steadily builds in tension and dread until finally reaching an ending that... well, let's just say you probably won’t see this one coming.
GlamKitty Catnip Mousie Rating: 4 out of 5 Mousies