Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Shameful Secrets, Buried Bodies, & the Fair Hand of Fate

There’s an old saw which holds that nothing in life is certain but death and taxes. (Bit of a Gloomy Gus came up with that one, apparently.) Of course it isn’t any truer than most such sayings; the last time I checked, the sun still rises in the east, mathematical formulas continue to work, and (soon to be relevant here) those little directional compasses--common to hikers’ kits and cars’ rearview mirrors everywhere--reliably keep on pointing due north.   

If only our so-called “moral” compasses followed the same rules of behavior, always agreeing on what’s right and wrong, things would be so much simpler, wouldn’t they? But, alas, such isn’t the case; whether due to sheer human perverseness or guided by convenience, the ol’ moral compass shows a penchant for fickleness from one situation to the next... sometimes surprising even us. 

Newcomer Jamie Mason exposes the intricacies of our moral compasses in her impressive debut, the psychological thriller Three Graves Full.

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As hard as it is to live with the knowledge that you’ve done something really, really wrong, it’s that much harder to live with the secret of it... never knowing--but always wondering--if your dreadful and dastardly deed is on the brink of being found out. 

Mousey, awkward Jason Getty knows that feeling all too well. A little more than a year ago, he beat a man to death in his living room, then buried the body in the farthest corner of his own backyard. (No, it wasn’t premeditated, and yes, the dead dude definitely deserved it. Still, killing a fellow like that is almost universally frowned on, and burying bodies out back is pretty much a guaranteed ticket to a nice little six-by-six barred cell and a lifetime supply of orange jumpsuits.) 

Now Jason’s got another problem. Nearly a year-and-a-half of neglect has left his lawn an unholy mess; something has to be done ASAP, if he doesn’t want his few neighbors to start knocking on the door. Since facing the prospect of hedge-trimming, weed-whacking, and flower-planting is a no-go (the man doesn’t want to hang out in his yard, can you blame him?), he decides to hire a landscaping service to spruce things up.

His worst nightmare comes true when the foreman comes to the door and tells him he’d better come outside, because they’ve found something--a body. Impossibly, though, the man doesn’t lead Jason to the back of the property, but instead, shows him to one side of the house, where there is, indeed, a skeleton peeking up at them from the newly-turned dirt... almost directly below Jason’s bedroom window (in some kind of awful karmic joke).

When Jason’s house and yard are overrun with detectives, crime-scene investigators, and one very smart dog (in a birthday hat, no less!), it’s all he can do to keep it together... particularly when the news suddenly gets much, much worse. Turns out there isn’t just the one body buried next to his house; there’s another on the opposite side... and now, the detectives are giving him some mighty funny looks.

As the investigation heats up in their small South Carolina community--the questions getting more personal and the searches more invasive--Jason fights to hold onto his sanity. He knows he’s not responsible for the two bodies bookending his modest home, even as he knows too well he’s completely responsible for the one they’ve yet to find. And, when body number three does come to light... well, stuff is sure to hit the proverbial fan.

Meanwhile, besides detectives Tim Bayard and Ford Watts (and Ford’s beloved companion-and-volunteer-doggy-detective Tessa), other interested parties are anxiously watching the proceedings, as well--Leah, the determined young woman still searching for (though not precisely mourning) her long-lost fiancé; Boyd Montgomery, previous owner of Jason’s house; and Bart Montgomery, Boyd’s ne’er-do-well twin brother. Everyone wants answers, just not necessarily the same ones.

As a few more answers--not to mention, more questions--come to light, the various characters find themselves circling ever closer... to each other, to the truth... and to danger. All of them have bad things they’d rather not admit to themselves, let alone have drug into the open and exposed... but who among them is willing to kill (again?) in order to keep everything buried?

 ~ / ~ / ~ / ~ / ~

With what has to be one of the best opening lines to a story, ever--”There is very little peace for a man with a body buried in his backyard”--I knew Three Graves Full was going to be something special from the very start. Darker-than-a-moonless-night, it’s also full of the best sort of humor--that which is founded in reality, those little insights into mood, personality, psychology, and feelings that have you nodding your head in recognition (and often, in utter delight).

As hard as it is to find something fresh to say, that’s exactly what Mason has achieved; this isn’t like anything I’ve read before. Her prose is lyrical, yet her writing never veers into the flowery or overdone. The pacing is perfectly-timed; there aren’t any moments of absolute calm in this tale, but rather, a well-honed tension that’s allowed to escalate naturally, in small bursts and pulse-pounding action sequences.

The characters and their language ring true (right down to the nasty chap who poor, hapless Jason did away with so memorably), and reading their deepest, darkest thoughts--showing how their very different moral compasses allow them to live with the things they’ve done--makes it feel as though they’re as real as the guy next door, and are surely living off the page... maybe just down the road. I can't wait to see what Ms. Mason has in store next.

(And, if I haven’t hooked you by now--and you’re an animal lover--all I’m gonna say is that this is how to write about dogs, their relationships with those they love, and why dogs do what they do. Really, the only thing that could’ve make Three Graves Full any better would’ve been the inclusion of a cat in a role of equal importance. [And yes, that’s a hint. ;)])

GlamKitty Catnip Mousie Rating: 5 out of 5 Engrossed Mousies

Thursday, February 14, 2013

If Cupid Wore Fur...

A little something (erm... make that a BIG something) sweet for you... guaranteed to be calorie- and cavity-free...

A fan of Cupid? Perhaps... :)  Hope it's a lovely day, no matter how you spend it... 


Saturday, February 9, 2013

The Virtues of Trying Something (like Zombies!)

“How do you know you don’t like it, unless you try it?”

Millions of parents have used that very line on recalcitrant toddlers stubbornly turning their little button noses up at a proffered serving of broccoli (oatmeal, liver, whatever*). A few years later, teenagers goad each other the same way--only by then, the “it” in question usually pertains to beer, drugs, or prospective hook-up material.

The funny thing is, we never entirely outgrow the concept; there’ll always be something out there we’re positive we don’t like (don’t agree with, don’t believe)... without ever having tried it (or finding out about it). In our eternal, infernal stubbornness over certain things, we will always be about three years old.

The solution is simple enough: go out and try the things we have strong opinions--but no actual knowledge--of... taste, read, explore, sample, experience (and then form conclusions). [Okay, brief interruption, here... if you’re sitting there thinking I’m about to go off onto some terribly meaningful tangent--and good grief, I hope you aren’t thinking that!--well, I’m not, ‘cause I’m not that kind of blogger, m’kay?]

Anyway, while I’ve never overcome my revulsion of beer (sorry, beer-drinkers, I just don’t get what you like about the stuff), and to this day see no point in sticking a Brussels sprout in my mouth (after going this many decades without doing so, am pretty sure I can continue along my sprout-free journey with no regrets), I’ve long been ready, willing, and able to try reading (or watching) almost anything. (Please note the “almost”; speaking in absolutes only invites someone to come out of the woodwork waving some godawful piece of piffle around. There are limits, ya know?)

I never would have guessed, for instance, how much I’d get into zombies. Supernatural stuff in general, sure; from the moment as a wee girl when I plunged into the “Wizard of Oz” series, wherein all manner of fantastical creatures cavorted across the pages, my imagination was hooked. Fairy tales and swords-and-sorcerers stories full of powerful, magical beings and happenings (plus cool medieval settings, romantic themes, and more-intricate world building) continued the trend of wanting to believe. Several years later, vampires--creepy-yet-sexy, with that whole rising-from-the-grave (they used to be us!) thing--became fascinating. Werewolves (scary, yet somehow relatable, especially to an animal-lover) followed on the vamps’ heels, with an appeal all their own. But... zombies?? There is nothing sexy about the undead.

Turns out zombies (depending on the particular lore an author or screenwriter goes with) can be more than just shambling, decaying, brain-munching meanies, though. (Occasionally they’re even sentient, which really puts an interesting spin on things.) Sometimes the zombies are the heroes, or the objects of pity and sympathy... and sometimes they’re strictly the bad guys, making carnage of justifiably-freaked-out humankind. Either way, there’s almost something about the dynamics between the breathers and the no-longer-need-to-breathes, that's just... compelling. 

So, all of the above? It’s my very (very, VERY) long way of getting to this one point: I’m freakin‘ jazzed that The Walking Dead returns February 10 (in the States, at least) for the last half of season three, because I’ve been going through some big-time withdrawal pains. (And, to tie in with my opening salvo, I was a late-adopter; it wasn’t until a friend persuaded me just last fall to--wait for it--try it, that I even started watching... and that, as they say, was that. I was hooked, and proceeded to blast through the entire first two seasons in a couple weeks’ time, thanks to Netflix.)

Yep, it’s a gore-fest par excellence (not that I’m especially enamored of flying gore, but, eh... this IS zombie stuff), and violent to the extreme (but never without reason, which makes a difference to me)... but it’s so much more than that, too. It’s a show about basically starting from scratch with the bits and pieces of shattered former lives, then learning how to cope in a crazy-scary new world in which your former neighbors (friends, relatives) might, with little notice, suddenly be out to eat you alive (for real, not metaphorically). 

Like I said, though, there’s a lot more than just survival-of-the-fittest horrors here. The Walking Dead is just as much a psychological study, showing the myriad ways people cope with impossible situations... and what changes and then breaks (or doesn’t manage to break) them. It's great TV--really well-acted, with plenty of likable (and not-so) characters, and story arcs that don't always go where you expect. It feels true... and horribly (yet brilliantly) right.

Oh, yeah... I know where I’ll be Sunday night. (Now, don’t fret; I’m not gonna miss Downton Abbey, either. That’s what DVR’s are for... ;))    

*I quite enjoy steamed broccoli, have no problems with (though no especial cravings for) oatmeal, and cannot abide the smell, taste, or thought of liver. (And yes, I did try it. Under duress, certainly, and the threat of a swat, probably. Never again.)

Monday, February 4, 2013

Tripping (& Clucking) the Light Fantastic into the Weird

When times are lean, everyone has to make some tough choices. Do you not pay the bills, and let your family go hungry... or do you suck it up and take whatever little jobs you can find to stay afloat? (That’s a no-brainer, right?)

Bounty hunter Kelly Driscoll has been facing the same prospects, now that her work has slowed way down, and the fact that the bounties she tracks down are all escaped monsters--think weird, creepy things you never, ever want to encounter--makes no difference; broke is broke. But, when something that started out seeming like a small job turns into something a whole lot bigger, well... that’s when Kelly has to put her big-girl panties on, in Nina Post‘s whimsically-wild and wacky tale, The Last Condo Board of the Apocalypse.

                         ~ / ~ / ~ / ~ / ~

If nothing else, life is rarely boring in the less-than-melodiously-named Pothole City, where Kelly Driscoll has been eking out a modest living for the past several years. With its mix of old buildings and new construction--along with those pesky potholes (some large enough to swallow whole cars!) everywhere you turn--the city is the sort of place that attracts a wide variety of inhabitants (many of whom she’s successfully nabbed in her line of work). 

The only thing Kelly refuses to do is catch vampires (which is unfortunate, since being a vampire hunter is the new “in” thing, and consequently, a big reason why her own business is down). Still, a girl has to choose what lines she will and won’t cross... and that’s where she draws the line.

So, when an impeccably-suited fellow drops in on her (literally) in the middle of a case--rapelling down the side of the building she’s acting as a window washer on (to spy on apartments trying to locate a stolen painting)--and nervously explains that he needs her help on a job (one that doesn’t involve any nosferatu, thank goodness), the answer is an easy-enough “yes”. 

Turns out he isn’t her new client, however, but a go-between whose reclusive boss--Don, the Destroying Angel of the Apocalypse (yep, you read that right)--can’t be bothered with such trivial things, but no matter, because the money’s good. The job? Locating one of Don’s rivals, who’s been causing all sorts of problems in Amenity Tower (“Pothole City’s Finest Luxury Condominiums”), the building Kelly was just hanging from, as it happens. She has two days to find and subdue the guy--although no one knows what name he’s using or what he looks like now. (There’s always a catch, isn’t there?)

Naturally, it turns out there’s a little more to the job than it first sounded like (as though that wasn’t already enough). Amenity Tower isn’t just any luxury condo building (nice as it is) boasting 500 fabulous units; it also happens to be chock-full of fallen and cast-out angels, currently inhabiting human bodies, and all bound to the building (as in, can’t-leave-no-matter-how-much-they-want-to-do-so) as punishment. And, during the same two-day window in which Kelly’s supposed to find the missing miscreant, all those other angels will be trying to figure out how to escape from Amenity Tower (so they can then go forth and wreak havoc, destruction, chaos, and The Works, once more). Yikes.

Murray gives Kelly a little help... of sorts. There are special-purpose angels (SP’s, for short) in charge of overseeing specific tasks (one returns small birds to their owners, for instance, and another guards bicyclists)--and Kelly has one, and then, more than one, as they seem to multiply--at her service. (The fact that they’re inordinately fond of a particular brand of snack food--Cluck Snacks, in all their myriad flavors--features humorously in how she eventually figures out how to use her merry little band of SP’s.)   

Meanwhile, a group of some of those most-powerful fallen and cast-out angels have been holding regular (daily) board meetings at Amenity Tower. Their primary goal (along with making sure the luxury gym is kept up-to-snuff, pizza deliveries are arranged, etc.)? Discovering precisely how and when to escape their horrible bondage (at “Pothole City’s Finest Luxury Condominiums”, don’t forget), so they can return to their higher purpose, running amok and causing all manner of mayhem.

Things get a little murky, though, when Kelly actually meets one of those über-powerful fallens, the movie-star handsome Af... fitness aficionado, lover of gadgets (and of photographing them), and committed writer (presently working on a little something he’s calling “The Fallen Angel’s Survival Guide: Your Ultimate Handbook for a Bound Lifestyle”). He’s nice, interesting, and normal... and in no hurry to leave Amenity Tower (unlike the more-vocal members of the condo board).

With Af’s assistance from inside the walls of his “prison” at Amenity Tower, and the help of an ever-growing number of happy, snack-food-gobbling SP’s on the outside, Kelly races to beat the deadline (while unburying a couple of nasty surprises from her past) and stop the coming apocalypse. The fate of the world is all in a day's work (or so she hopes).

~ / ~ / ~ / ~ / ~

The Last Condo Board of the Apocalypse is the real deal, a true original. Yes, Post has penned an urban fantasy... but she’s done it as a broad (and singularly-clever) satire. It’s surreal and hilarious, bizarre yet surprisingly relevant, and even has an unexpected core of sweetness (lying buried in a cavernous pothole beneath mounds of various Cluck Snacks wrappers, of course).

In short, this one’s a wildly-imaginative and loopy lark... and if you’ve got the right (seriously off-kilter, possibly-certifiable) sense of humor, it’s one humongous heap o‘ fun. :D     

GlamKitty Catnip Mousie Rating:  4 out of 5 Blissfully-Zonked-out-on-'Nip Mousies