Sunday, April 30, 2006

Reviewing: "Laguna" by Michael Putegnat

Texas has a long history of very wealthy landowners controlling not just their land, but the way of life for the local people in the area. Some have acted like benevolent dictators while others have seen themselves as gods who should have every whim catered to without question. John Magne IV certainly fits the latter category.

The current patriarch of a family that has always gotten their way over the decades is faced with a dilemma. Not only are his grown children less than helpful in keeping things going but he sees his empire beginning to crumble. Loans are coming due and the local banker is getting a bit big for his britches. But John Magne IV has a plan to deal with all of it. He wants to drill for natural gas as he believes a field lurks beneath his land in the Laguna Madre. The resulting financial windfall, if the gas is there, will restore the family’s financial footing and increase their power base considerably.

To make it all happen, he will need help and return on favors and deals he has made over the years with politicians and regulators as well as the money men. As he puts the wheels in motion on plans he has made, so do others with their own plans either is support or against John Magne IV and his interests. The result is an interesting read with shades of Greek tragedy and hubris that spans a number of interrelated characters and generations of family members.

While the read is interesting and the attempted tale is grand, this novel could have been so much better. A slick marketing package does not make a good book. Instead, it creates an illusion of what the book will be and when the book fails to reach the marketing hype, disappoints the reader. Such is the case here.

More than any thing, a strong editor would have been able to cut back on some of the overwriting of dialogue and scene as well as streamline the work so that it moves forward at a better pace. Despite the often cited blurb found on all promotional items, book jacket, etc. the author does not have a “crisp writing style.” The novel drags at numerous spots and the pace throughout work is uneven with sudden starts and near stops.

Dialogue sections are most often the problem throughout the novel as they frequently read unrealistically, both in terms of stilted prose as well as going on much longer than normal human conversation. They are also used as info dumps and serve to bring the action to a virtual standstill. At the same time, the narrative sections provide some of the best writing and serve well to move the story along. Not only do they do that, but especially in the sections detailing the region, showcase the author’s clear experience and appreciation for the natural beauty of the area.

The result is a rollercoaster of a read that serves to disappoint in that the author tried to do so much. This is a grand book in terms of various storylines covering various generations with numerous small subplots. Several of such should have been eliminated which would have resulted in a radical structural change but yet a much better book. Like many books that are released though publishing houses where authors share the financial costs of publication, this novel could have been and should have been so much more. It certainly never lives up to the hype of the promotional materials this reviewer received, nor does it ever answer the teaser questions posed in the materials. Taken for what the novel actually is, this work becomes an average read at best.

Laguna: A Novel
By Michael Putegnat
Synergy Books
ISBN #1-933538-19-8
$21.95 US

Kevin R. Tipple © 2006

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

The siren's song in "Sorrow's Anthem"

Building upon the series that began in “Tonight, I Said Goodbye” author Koryta brings back private investigators Lincoln Perry and his partner, Joe Pritchard in another excellent read. This time around, Lincoln Perry is driven to help an estranged friend and it could cost him in ways he never saw coming.

Years ago when Lincoln was on the Cleveland Police Force he was put into a very difficult position. He could ignore his old friend’s criminal activities or he could work him like any other suspect. Lincoln chose not to prevent his childhood friend Ed Gradduk from going to jail. That decision severed a friendship, marked Lincoln as an outcast in his old neighborhood, and changed both lives forever. With Ed in the news and on the run from charges of arson, murder, and others, Lincoln sees an opportunity to try once more to save his friend from himself as well as assuage his own guilt.

Minutes after finding him, Lincoln is powerless to save him as Ed dies in a confrontation with police. But, just because he died does not mean the case is over. It just means Lincoln feels even more guilt and now he has to deal with a grieving mother, former friends that hold him responsible and a trail that has few answers now that the man that could give them is dead.

As the bodies began to stack up and houses burn in the old neighborhood, Lincoln is forced to relieve a childhood that he thought he understood completely. Decisions made decades ago have come back to haunt those alive today and it becomes a real question as to whom will survive the repercussions.

As he did in the first novel, the author weaves another complicated and compelling read. The pace moves along steadily without a wasted word or thought as Lincoln works the case. Back story sections are brief, to the point, and provide not only information, but rich character detail. Such transitions are done well and do not serve as information dumps as routinely happens with lesser authors.

While this is second in the series, it certainly could be read independently as a stand alone. There are brief references to the earlier novel but the information shared would not harm the enjoyment of that read. This is another excellent novel from the author and does not fall prey to any of the normal second novel weaknesses.

Sorrow’s Anthem
By Michael Koryta

Kevin R. Tipple © 2005

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Haven't we figured this out yet?

Sometimes that moment, that tipping point, where everything begins to go inexorably downhill is obvious. Sometimes it isn’t. For Nick Conover, CEO of Stratton Corporation, the moment isn’t clear though he knows that things aren’t going well. His knowledge is just the tip of the proverbial tip of the iceberg and he has no idea how bad or how fast his slide downhill is going to be.

He knows he isn’t liked by his employees or the community at large and things aren’t much better at home. Nothing has been the same since his wife died. His teenage son, Lucas, hates his guts. His daughter, Julia, still loves him but things aren’t the way they were. The fact that someone keeps vandalizing their house in the expensive gated community doesn’t help matters. Having “No hiding place” written on your walls in spray paint is never a good thing. The vandalism seems to point to a faceless nameless former employee, one of many recently laid off as Nick has struggled to save a business which has recently become a small part of a much larger business empire.

With the local police force unwilling to find his vandal, Nick arms himself to protect his family. Before long, a trespasser is dead, Nick is part of a conspiracy to cover up the death and all sense of control Nick had over his personal as well as his professional life is lost.

Like most thrillers, character development is somewhat limited in this work. Most of the character development is done through back story detailing various momentous moments in Nick and his family’s past long before the period of time the novel event’s actually happen. These events aren’t complicated and are rather straightforward as well as gradually revealed throughout the course of the book.

As in most thrillers, several enemies are clearly identified early while others are revealed later in such a way to reduce the entire novel to us vs. them situation. That certainly is true here as Nick struggles mightily to defend not only himself, but his family from assault. At the same time as his actions continue to invite more trouble into his life, he attempts to bridge the gap between himself and Lucas in order to save Lucas from a clear path of self destruction.

The result is an entertaining fast moving read that pulls the reader along at a rapid clip. The novel does not pretend to be anything more than it is--a fun read. It serves that purpose well and reinforces the idea that so many folks still have yet to learn. The cover up is always worse than the crime.

Company Man
By Joseph Finder
ISBN# 0-312-31916-9

Kevin R. Tipple © 2006

Friday, April 14, 2006


Its been a rough stretch. The computer blew up, the wife has been in the hospital, and lots of other stuff that wasn't much fun. But, things are looking up and I hope to be back going strong again soon.