Saturday, February 16, 2008

Templar Knights and...Sports Agents?

Yep! Those were the protagonist in the last two books I finished. Let's start with the Templar Knight:

The Alehouse Murders, by Maureen Ash, is the tale of a battered Templar Knight in London, Bascot de Marins, who is contemplating leaving the order. While he is sorting out what direction he wants to go in life, he is sent to the castle of Nicolaa de la Haye and her husband, the sheriff of Lincoln. While there, a bizarre murder occurs leaving four dead in an alehouse. Two of the four identities are unknown and Bascot is left with the task of identifying these mysterious people and solving the murders. But before he is able to do that, others end up dead as well.

I enjoyed being transported to the times of Knights, castles, feasts and tournaments in England. I think these kinds of settings are magical for me. Ash does a wonderful job of bringing this setting to life in the book....from the hub bub of the castle during the festivities, to the “segregated” elements of society: the Jews, the prostitutes and the lepers.

Bascot is a great protagonist. He is easily likeable and deals with his own internal conflict while also dealing with the external conflict around him. He exemplifies the ideal of the Templar Knights in his aim to do what is right, but the corruption and the evil present makes him question his faith and his position. It was interesting to hear his own dilemma with merely buying a pair of boots that provided comfort to his damaged ankle. This was breaking his vow of poverty in his mind. Meanwhile, the people he is surrounded by are greedy and constantly desire money and possessions. At times Bascot reminded me of Maria from The Sound of Music.

I also enjoyed the supporting characters in this novel. Ash developed them superbly. The symbiotic relationship between Gianni and Bascot helped to develop Bascot character. And Gianni is a fun addition to the story. I was especially intrigued with Nicolaa de la Haye. She was not prominent in this particular installment of the series, but I hope Ash brings her more into the spotlight in subsequent novels. What is presented of de la Haye is a strong female character. These types of women were present in this day and age but are often missing from the tales written. Another such woman that Ash includes is Lady Hilde. Her role as the spy is rather funny. While I could see the end coming, I wasn’t really paying a lot of conscious attention to it because I was very caught up in the development of the characters.

Language more in sync with the time period would have been nice, but for many that would probably be a drawback making it a bit less "popular."

The other book I recently completed was Deal Breaker by Harlan Coben. From the Crusades of Europe to the modern-day New York City! I listened to Deal Breaker on audio book. The reader did a fine job, but I don't think he really nailed the sarcasm as well as he could have. Despite this fact, I LOVED this book. It doesn't provide any awe-inspiring insight into human nature; it doesn't have any "deep" themes. I'm sure James Joyce would be likely to scoff at such a book, but it was absolutely FUN! I laughed every morning on my way to work and every afternoon on my way home.

Deal Breaker is the first novel in the Myron Bolitar series. Myron is a former basketball player, former FBI agent, present sports agent. Despite the sports agent role as the scum of the professional athletic industries, Myron is out to do what is right. That may be why he has no big name stars on his list, until Christian Steele comes along. Christian is a rookie sensation, football quarterback. Myron is busy negotiating Christian's contract when a pornography magazine arrives in Christian's mail. This is no ordinary magazine. It contains a picture of his former fiance, a woman who has been missing and presumed dead for the last 18 months. Myron has to figure out what is going on before the picture destroys Christian's career.

Coben has found a very unique approach to detective/suspense fiction. The setting plays very little role in this novel. The novel is about character and plot, and it is done phenomenally. Myron is hysterical - the modern version of the Renaissance man. He's a former basketball star, a former FBI agent, a Harvard law school grad and a sports agent. And his sidekick, Win, is equally dynamic. Outwardly, Win is the stereotypical W.A.S.P., but only outwardly. Appearances can be deceiving, and Win is proof of that. In reality, he breaks all the stereotypes.

I did not see the ending coming at all. Coben keeps all the clues coming, and they are seemingly disconnected so I was constantly questioning who the culprit was. The clues circle the main players in the story, all perfectly viable suspects. And then all the pieces are brought together at the end. No new little tidbit is introduced that you weren't privy to before. All the pieces to the puzzle are there, and when they're put together it makes perfect sense.

This was my first time reading Harlan Coben, and I'm hooked. I can't wait to read more!


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