Here are brief reviews of three of the books that I read on my bus trip to and from GenCon. I would have reviewed the fourth one as well, but I couldn’t remember the title so couldn’t look it up on Amazon. It will have to wait until I get home.

Brother Death by Steve Perry

Light SF action-moviesque popcorn. The protagonists are a brother and sister, born of genetically-engineered heavyworlder stock, who shared the same childhood but different adult lives. He was trained as a special type of bodyguard called a Matador, she became an assistant planetary police chief. Together, they are confronted by a series of impossible locked-room murders, including an attempt on the sister’s life using her own gun that had been impossibly retrieved from within a security vault. Behind it all is an insane religious cult devoted to the artifacts of an ancient alien race, who have seemingly attained the power to walk through walls.

This is more or less the scientifictional equivalent of the “Mack Bolan” novels, largely action-adventure with people shooting and hitting each other, sprinkled with a little SF flavor. As such, it’s not bad popcorn reading. Though it seems to be a late book in a series (checking Wikipedia, it’s 8th of 9), there is enough background provided not to feel lost.

I passed this book on to a fellow bus passenger; hopefully he’ll post his thoughts on it via BookCrossing, so I can go back and paste this review in, since I didn’t have time to enter the number on the label in before I handed it off.

Early Eight by L.T. Fawkes

A decent little murder mystery with a bit of an unusual protagonist. Terry Saltz is a working man who one day made the mistake of getting drunk and high and committing some mayhem that got him sent to jail for a while. When he got out, he started putting his life back together, going on the wagon and getting some jobs as carpenter and part-time bouncer for a local bar and grill. And solving murders on the side.

Early Eight is the third murder mystery featuring this particular character, but enough backstory is filled in along the way that it’s never an obstacle to getting involved with the characters and following the way the story goes. The mystery itself involves two simultaneous deaths—an attractive but self-centered woman strangled in her car after a pool tournament, and an older real-estate magnate planning to divorce his wife who perishes in a fatal auto accident. Is the accident murder? If so, are they connected? And did Terry’s older brother Berk have anything to do with the crimes?

As murder mysteries go, this is a fun read. Far too often in literature, “working class” is synonymous with “stupid.” It’s interesting to see a mystery where working stiffs are portrayed not as rubes but as intelligent people in their own right. The motives, methods, and resolution are believable, and the story was fun.

The Cat Who Talked Turkey by Lilian Jackson Braun

What the heck was this?

I remember when I was first introduced to the “Cat Who” mysteries; my High School French teacher’s bookshelf was full of them, along with the Mrs. Polifax mysteries and some Inspector Maigret. I enjoyed them, even though they were a little cutesy and it was hard to suspend disbelief at the cats’ antics, but I wasn’t really driven to keep up with the series.

Now, seeing the book in a cheap pile at Wal-Mart, I figured why not try it—and wow, what a disappointment, especially so soon after reading Early Eight. It seems to me that the “Cat Who” mysteries actually used to be mysteries, but judging by this one, now they’re just cutesy.

To paraphrase what I once said about a movie, it’s a sad state of affairs when the blurb of the book is more exciting than the actual book itself. Talked Turkey‘s blurb implies Qwilleran has to solve an execution-style murder on his property, and somehow the mysterious reappearance of wild turkeys thought long-gone from the area has something to do with it. Well, it doesn’t (nor is it ever explained at all, in fact), and the murder is barely even mentioned in the book; the fact that it gets “solved” in the end is more or less coincidental. In actuality, the book is by and large a slice-of-life story about Qwilleran, his cats, and the community. Which is fine if that’s the sort of thing you’re looking for, but not all that great when the book is being advertised as a “mystery.”