#REVIEW: The Peacekeeper, by B.L. Blanchard

I kinda feel bad about this one, I’ll admit it.

The last time I did a review of a book I’d been sent for review purposes was Scorpica, which turned out pretty well. In fact, rereading my review just now, it seems like that book has grown in my estimation since I read it. After that review got posted the publicist emailed me and sent me a list of the other books she was currently representing, and, well, the description for The Peacekeeper really grabbed me:

Against the backdrop of a never-colonized North America, a broken Ojibwe detective embarks on an emotional and twisting journey toward solving two murders, rediscovering family, and finding himself.

North America was never colonized. The United States and Canada don’t exist. The Great Lakes are surrounded by an independent Ojibwe nation. And in the village of Baawitigong, a Peacekeeper confronts his devastating past.

Twenty years ago to the day, Chibenashi’s mother was murdered and his father confessed. Ever since, caring for his still-traumatized younger sister has been Chibenashi’s privilege and penance. Now, on the same night of the Manoomin harvest, another woman is slain. His mother’s best friend. This leads to a seemingly impossible connection that takes Chibenashi far from the only world he’s ever known.

The major city of Shikaakwa is home to the victim’s cruelly estranged family―and to two people Chibenashi never wanted to see again: his imprisoned father and the lover who broke his heart. As the questions mount, the answers will change his and his sister’s lives forever. Because Chibenashi is about to discover that everything about their lives has been a lie.

Like, y’all know me by now. That’s my shit right there, and I jumped at this book. I’d have jumped at it even if it hadn’t been offered to me for free. A murder mystery set in an uncolonized North America? I’m in. Gimme.

I’ll cut to the chase, because I don’t like writing bad reviews unless I can make them entertaining: I needed more from this book than I got, and ended up disappointed. “North America was never colonized” is kind of a big deal, and it’s just sort of taken as a given, to the point where this book might as well have been set on another planet. It’s “now,” roughly, but there’s reference to a few big wars in the last couple of decades, and we’re on Mars, and the Ojibwe nation is more or less a utopia, in a way that ends up feeling kind of patronizing to the actual Ojibwe.(*) The murder mystery itself is kind of boring, the main character is a bit of a wanker, and the killer is clear from roughly a third of the way into the book, and I am generally very bad at predicting the killer in mysteries.

If any one of these elements were where I wanted them to be– either a little bit of explanatory history, or at least a map, or if the central mystery was more compelling, or the main character less one-note and whiny, I’d have been able to ignore the other flaws. But unfortunately the only thing that kept me from putting this down was the idea that I’d agreed to review it. I didn’t hate it– if I had, this would have been more fun to write– but I just don’t have anything good to say about it. As it stands, unfortunately, it’s just kind of blandly mediocre, and a book with this interesting of a premise being mediocre is a serious letdown.

(*) I kind of want to spend a lot of time talking about this and I kind of don’t; the notion that Ojibwe culture is the best in the world is so consistent throughout the book to the point where it feels weirdly jingoistic and propagandistic, and that’s a damned weird thing to say about a fictional country. Like, one character is an economist and a university lecture, and his alibi for the murder is that he was giving a lecture about how the Ojibwe economic system was the best in the world at a prestigious conference. That is … not how economists talk, and generally not how “prestigious conferences” go, either.

#Review: THE SEARCHER, by Tana French

I have rarely been so relieved to have enjoyed a book as I was with Tana French’s The Searcher. I’m pretty certain I’ve read every novel she’s written, and until her last book before this one I’d enjoyed all of them quite a bit. I was … not a fan of The Witch Elm. I wrote a review saying so, a review that has haunted me by regularly being one of my highest-viewed posts every month since I wrote it. I don’t know why this happens so often when I write negative reviews; people seem to enjoy seeing me not like things for some reason. But I like Tana French, damn it! It was just that one book! She’s still awesome, read the Dublin Murder Squad books!

I don’t know if she’s done with that series or just taking a break from it, but the notion that her newest book, The Searcher, was also going to be a stand-alone had me … nervous. I feel bad about how well the review of Witch Elm has done. And I felt like I really needed to have The Searcher be a return to form. Chances are if I hadn’t liked it, I wouldn’t have reviewed it, but I’d have to make a decision about whether I was buying more Tana French books as they come out in the future, and I need my Irish crime fiction fix, damn it.

So: yeah. The Searcher is absolutely a return to form. In fact, it might be my favorite of her books, although I’m going to hold off on that decision for a bit and let the sense of relief fade and see how well the book holds up. It shares DNA with a lot of her previous books that was jettisoned in The Witch Elm: the main character is a detective again, although he’s retired, and the book is written in the 3rd-person present tense of the rest of her books and not the first person of Witch Elm. It is not quite a murder mystery; the main character, Cal, is a Chicago cop who has recently gone through a messy divorce and has repaired off to a crumbling house in middle-of-nowhere Ireland, hunting for peace, quiet and smallness. He is rather forcibly befriended– adopted might be a better word, or at least serially imposed upon— by one of the local kids, Trey, a thirteen-year-old from a messed-up household and badly in need of some stability. And then it comes out that Trey’s older brother has disappeared, and Cal gets dragged, mostly unwittingly, into searching for him. There is always the question of whether the brother is alive or dead, but it’s definitely more of a missing-person story than a murder mystery. Can’t have a murder mystery without a dead person, right?

The other interesting thing: Cal, as I’ve said, is retired and a recent arrival in town, and while he’s not exactly taken leave of his detective skills he’s more than a little hamstrung by the lack of any sort of institutional support or knowledge of the local power structures. There are several places in the book where he’s deciding what to do next, and frequently he runs up against well, I can’t run his phone, or do criminal history checks or anything like that because he simply doesn’t have that kind of access any longer. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a fish out of water narrative, but there are certainly elements of that type of story complicating his search, and it’s an interesting change of pace for a book that might otherwise fit in a bit too neatly with the Murder Squad protagonists.

I liked this book a lot. I liked Cal, I liked the relationship between Cal and Trey, and I liked the small cast of supporting characters that get built up over the course of the book. The book is about 450 pages long and I read it in a day; again, I’ve liked-to-loved all of her books but the one, but I don’t remember another one that demanded I finish it immediately the way this one did. There’s a single story decision that comes up at about the 2/3 mark that I still don’t quite get, but it doesn’t turn out to be the misstep that I thought it was going to be when it first happens, and the book ends quite well, I think. I read some other reviews on Goodreads and the biggest knock against the book is that it’s slow-paced. That’s definitely true, but it’s a deliberate decision and quite consistent with everything else going on in the book– Cal has moved to Ireland precisely so that he can lead a slower and more deliberate life, so the book taking its time to watch the rooks in his yard mirrors the main character’s mental state pretty precisely.

Hooray! I enjoy liking things.

#Review: CHEAP HEAT, by Daniel M. Ford

Dan Ford and I have been mutual followers on Twitter for some time now, and I finally ordered one of his books a few months ago. That led to me immediately buying the first book of his epic fantasy series The Paladin Trilogy and pre-ordering Cheap Heat, his second Jack Dixon novel, the sequel to Body Broker. It is fair to take my reviews of his work with a small amount of salt, as I do quite like the guy, but as I said in the linked review there authors do tend to be pretty good at just going radio silent when we don’t like each others’ work, and he would never have asked one way or another. (That said, I don’t seem to have reviewed Ordination, the first Paladin book– rest assured, I liked it as well.)

Cheap Heat picks up more or less right where Body Broker left off, with our hero Dixon continuing to live on his houseboat and eat his almond butter and act as a PI on the side. Ford’s character work continues to be the shining star of his writing; I feel like I know Jack Dixon, and he feels like a real, if a bit charmingly quirky, character. Dixon is contacted by a former wrestling teammate who has made the jump from collegiate-level wrestling to a mid-sized pro circuit. His character is based on Ulysses S Grant, and seeing as how the circuit takes place mostly in the mid-Atlantic and the South, his character is actually a bad guy— and he’s been receiving death threats. Dixon has to embed himself inside the wrestling company as they go on tour while he attempts to figure out who is threatening to kill his friend, and so the back 2/3 of the book is on tour with this touring professional wrestling crew, which is not something I’ve ever seen in a novel before and definitely made the book memorable.

This is the second of Ford’s novels I’ve read at effectively one sitting (Ordination is a bit too long for that to have been an option;) I started it before bed last night, put it down to sleep, then got up in the morning and finished it. If I have a gripe about the book, it’s that it’s a little too short– about the same length as Body Broker at 238 pages, so I’m sure the length is a deliberate decision, but I’d have liked another 20 pages or so to let some of the subplots and the relationships between the characters breathe a little bit more. Dixon’s relationship with his newfound girlfriend Gen feels a little bit shorted, especially since he’s on the road for the majority of the book and so they aren’t actually together– I’ll admit that there were a couple of places in the book where I was mentally shouting Call your girlfriend! at him. But I would like more of this please is not really that strong of a criticism, as they go.

The ending, I think, deserves some particular praise, as the main plot of the story and a simmering subplot carried forward from the first book knit themselves together in a way that frankly took me completely by surprise, and there is a twist in the very last sentence that has me seriously curious about where Ford plans to go with Jack Dixon next. The third book is already planned– it’s called Doctor’s Note according to that final page– but as of right now I don’t believe it has a release date. I was lucky to read Body Broker when Cheap Heat wasn’t that far off from release; I’m going to have to wait for this next one, unfortunately.

The good news is, every time I catch Dan on Twitter I can yell at him to get back to work. 🙂

12:53 PM, Tuesday, May 19: 1,510,988 confirmed cases and 90,432 American deaths.

#Review: THE WITCH ELM, by Tana French

I am a big fan of Tana French’s books. I have everything she’s ever written, she’s shown up on my 10 Best Books list at the end of the year at least a couple of times, and for the last several titles I have been debating upgrading her to the list of authors whose books I buy in hardcover. The only thing that was preventing me from doing it was that all of her previous books have been part of a series, and I am the type of person for whom it matters that the books in the series wouldn’t match on the shelf. But then The Witch Elm came out, and it was standalone, and I finally didn’t have to wait an extra year to read a new Tana French book after it came out.

The Witch Elm, shockingly, is fucking terrible and you should not read it. It hurts me to write that, but it’s true. It’s not gonna keep me from buying her next book or anything– if you write six books that I love you get to write one that I don’t without me abandoning you– but it’s terrible, and terrible in the right way that I’m going to actually write a negative review of it, which is something I don’t do all that often.

There will be spoilers. Of everything. Be prepared for that. Have a separator line, in fact, in case you want to just take my word for it and bow out.

Actually, hell, let’s start with the promo copy on the dust jacket:

Toby is a happy-go-lucky charmer who’s dodged a scrape at work and is celebrating with friends when the night takes a turn that will change his life – he surprises two burglars who beat him and leave him for dead. Struggling to recover from his injuries, beginning to understand that he might never be the same man again, he takes refuge at his family’s ancestral home to care for his dying uncle Hugo. Then a skull is found in the trunk of an elm tree in the garden – and as detectives close in, Toby is forced to face the possibility that his past may not be what he has always believed.

Here’s Toby’s entire personality: Toby is a privileged white guy. He is a dude. Picture a dude who has never had to deal with the consequences of his actions in his entire stupid white life and you know everything you need to know about Toby, including that he is terrible. He’s not a “happy-go-lucky charmer,” he’s just a privileged white dude, and literally everything he thinks and does in the book is a direct result of his privilege and his whiteness. The Witch Elm is 509 pages long and it takes goddamn near 200 pages for Toby to get his ass beat and for that skull to get found, and he spends every second of the book feeling sorry for himself, because the entire story is told in retrospect– this is not a present-tense type of first-person novel, it’s one of those where it’s clear that the narrator is talking about things that have already happened, so Toby spends every second of the book feeling sorry for himself. He is unbearable. I don’t know that I’ve ever disliked a first-person narrator in a novel as much as I dislike Toby.

So, 200 pages for the story to start. 100 of the last 120 pages– a hundred God damn pages– are literally nothing but characters sitting in chairs explaining things to each other. The big explanation of who murdered the kid they found in the tree is eighty pages long, and then there is another 20 pages or so of a detective explaining other things to Toby, and an exciting sequence where a stray cat is successfully fed some chicken, and then Toby– spoiler alert again, I guess– Toby, who has been suffering from PTSD for the entire book and has not been taking care of himself or eating (he has literally been sitting in a disintegrating old house and going nuts for about a week when this happens) beats the (healthy, well-fed, professional police officer) detective to death, and then the last 20 pages of the book are about how Toby doesn’t go to jail for that murder but goes to a mental health facility and he’s been explaining the whole book at you from his hospital bed and he’s better now except somewhere along the line I guess he finally lost his job? So keep feeling sorry for him.

300 pages of this 509-page book contain no worthwhile story at all. This book has no right to be longer than about 320 pages or so. There is so much talking. So much.

And there’s only a mystery in the first place because Toby has amnesia from the ass-beating, because of course he does, and the way amnesia works is you don’t remember if you murdered someone ten years ago, so that the whole book can be structured around Toby figuring out that other people think he killed the guy whose skull they found in the tree, and Toby wondering if maybe he really did kill the guy whose skull they found in the tree, and then– surprise!– Toby didn’t kill the guy, but there’s a false confession thrown in there by his dying uncle, who wants to save everybody and maybe uncle Hugo saw the murder too and just never did anything about it until heroically making sure the body got found and throwing himself on the grenade before his brain cancer gets him.

The entire book could have been avoided if someone had thought to put a flat rock on top of the hole in the tree that they stuffed the body into. Or some concrete.

There are lots of “You thought this was what happened? That was a dumb thing for you to think” moments, where one character tells another character– usually Toby– that whatever theory they had about the murder is dumb. Only the reader has already thought “gee, that’s a dumb thing for you to think, Toby,” and been annoyed by it, so having the characters explain why the plot of the book is dumb– never ever write a scene where your characters are complaining about your plot being stupid– is not actually helpful or revelatory, but instead increases the reader’s dislike toward the book.

If Tana French hadn’t written this, I would have put it down before hitting the 100-page mark, and I’d never have reviewed it, because a book has to disappoint me somehow in addition to being bad for me to take the time to write a bad review. This is not the worst book I’ve read this year– that dubious honor still belongs to Robert McCannon’s Swan Song— but it is 100% the most disappointing. I still think you should read all of the Dublin Murder Squad books, because they’re awesome, but pretend she never wrote this one.

On being dumb and confused, in that order

IMG_7041Take a look at that there can of Mountain Dew.  Just take a second and look at it.

Oh, wait, I’m sorry, I meant “Mtn Dew,” since the company decided that a weird abbreviation instead of a perfectly normal word was how they wanted to be known from now on.  I assume trademarks are involved somehow and either way I think it’s stupid.

If you follow me on Twitter or on Instagram (and if you don’t, why not, dammit?) you may already be aware that I discovered a truly epic splat of bird shit on the door of my car when I left for work this morning– fully four or five inches wide, big enough that I have to assume it came from the bald eagle that’s been spotted around here recently, because normal birds don’t shit this big.  I mean, hell, it was a big enough splat of bird shit that I took a picture of it and put that picture on the Internet, and I don’t feel bad about it, because you would have done the exact same damn thing.

But anyway.  That huge splat of bird shit meant that I needed to hit a gas station on the way home to clean it off.  Also for gas.  And also, as it turned out, for caffeine, since as soon as I got to the gas station I realized I needed Mountain Dew.

And then I saw that can, and I saw the flavor– for Christ’s sake, crafted green apple kiwi, which is absolutely guaranteed to not be anything I want to drink, and with a word in the name that does not belong there at all to boot– and, for no clear reason, I bought the can, because the can looked so good, and despite knowing that it wasn’t going to taste very good I spent money on it anyway.

This is a gatdamb miracle of marketing over my own good common sense, and I knew it at the time and did it anyway.  And then discovered that the beverage itself was a poisonous-looking green in color, not far off from the pull tab at the top, and the color that we used to use for things like antifreezes to signal that they shouldn’t be consumed, and of course it tasted like ass.  But Mtn Dew has my money, for something I didn’t want and knew beforehand I wouldn’t like, because yay cool can!


Just over a year ago I wrote this post about a shitty, shitty house full of shitty, shitty people near me that I noticed had been foreclosed on by the bank and sold at auction.  The house was purchased and torn down nearly instantly, and is currently open green space.  What I left out, because it wasn’t relevant, was that there was a second shitty house not far down the road from the first shitty house.  These folks didn’t raise my ire because of the lack of white supremacist symbols on the house, and in fact it appeared to be abandoned anyway– but it must have been a terrible place to live in, because each and every time it rained, no matter how small of a rain, the entire front yard would flood.  Heavy rain could leave puddles in the yard for weeks.  I can only imagine the mold that must have been inside that house.

I drove past it Saturday night on the way home and the whole house was gone, leaving behind evidence of what sure as hell looked like an explosion.  Today, with better light, I stopped and took a couple of pictures.  Does this look like the results of a deliberate demolition to anyone?


This would have been where the house was and, I think, a bit of the back yard.  You can see what looks like a piece of siding in the middle of this picture, but I promise there used to be a whole ass house there.  The picture is taken from a distance because the place is surrounded by a fence.  In particular, look at that tree on the right, and look at how it looks like the big branch bisecting that tree seems to have split the entire thing in half.  What the shit happened here?

The house behind it, by the way, appears to be fine, and there’s no visible damage to any of the trees or the grass or anything on their lot.


This is a view of what would have been their front yard.  None of that looks like construction or demolition debris to me– it all looks like exploded tree.  I don’t even see anything that looks like a foundation anywhere– the house doesn’t have a footprint any longer at all.

I can’t find any news articles or any references to anything having happened there recently.  I feel like if there had been a big fire or something there would have been an article about it– but nothing looks burned.  Anybody have any theories?

I was, by the by, unable to fully clean off the birdshit.  It’s gonna take a rainstorm.