Tag Archives: book review

Sunday Review: The Murderer’s Daughter

Caveat: This is the first Jonathan Kellerman novel I’ve read. It won’t be the last.

Kellerman breaks the mold of most thriller writers. He doesn’t rely on heavy plotting and endless bullets flying. Instead, he focuses on his protagonist, Grace Blades, generating genuine sympathy and concern for an intelligent child born into home of uncaring and abusive parents. Little Grace must find her own sources of food and comfort–the former consists of crumbs and trailer park hand outs; the latter she finds in books. While he has us concerned about poor little Grace, he brings us to her present day, where she is a skilled psychologist at the top of her game, with an eccentric side she keeps hidden.

Who Grace is and how she got there is what drives the reader through most of the book. That, and someone from her past who, under a false name, seeks her out. Someone from her childhood who has connections to an evil day that gives birth to the largest turning point in her life. Someone who is murdered after he leaves her office.

Kellerman weaves a dual timeline together masterfully, keeping the reader intrigued and anticipating what poor little Grace will have to face and how she will heal, while Dr. Blades seeks a killer from her past who is also seeking her. All the while, Kellerman keeps this about Grace Blades, entirely. It is about her actions, thoughts, reactions, planning, feelings, emptiness and sense of justice.

There is much a writer can learn from where he segues, and how he keeps the reader concerned about little Grace when we know she survives to be Dr. Blades. Kellerman manages to transcend his genre with character, while anchoring us with enough immediacy to turn the page and see what’s on the next.

In my opinion, the ending was cut too short. There were a couple of “false starts.” Once, it looked like Grace would be the subject of an investigation but the detective just disappears from the novel. Another time, the threat loomed larger than what it ended up as. Perhaps the worst was that hundreds of complications could’ve arisen, but none of them were explored. This novel succeeded on the journey, not the destination, but it kept me turning the pages until the end, and that is enough for me to read another.

It’s a Book Review! (Fictorian Style)

I love comics.  And one webcomic in particular has hit the top of my list:  Girl Genius, by Phil and Kaja Foglio.  (If you haven’t tried it, go here.  I’ll wait.)

All of which is prelude to this review of the first volume of the novelization of the comic:  Agatha H. and the Airship City, by Phil and Kaja Foglio, published last year by Night Shade Books.  (Note that the authors are the same creative team that produce the webcomic.)



First, what it is:  the whole Girl Genius story universe is a fantasy/steampunk extravaganza, laid in what appears to be an analog of late 19th or early 20th century Europe, if you squint your eyes really hard.  There are all kinds of glorious brassy machines of all sizes, incredible monsters of all descriptions, and mad engineers all filled with the Spark, which enables them to create all of these crazy beasts and contraptions.  So it reads a bit like a three-way mash-up of The Prisoner of Zenda and Jules Verne and The Three Stooges.  Slapstick, oh my.  And Murphy’s Law appears to be a universal constant in this universe also:  whatever can go wrong, will.  And at the worst possible moment.

High hilarity is the result.

Now my experience of novelizations of original visual and graphic works has been very disappointing in the past.  But I finally broke down and read this one, and was very pleasantly surprised.  Perhaps because it was written by the creative team that writes the comic instead of by some outsider “adapting” the comic, it captures the flavor of the comic very well.  It does an astonishingly good job of telling the webcomic story arc that it parallels.  And almost all of the balancing-on-a-high-wire suspense and riding-a-speeding-car-down-the-mountain-road-with-no-brakes pacing makes the transition to text extremely well.

Second, what it isn’t.  It’s not dark, or depressing, or grim.  It gets a little tense from time to time, and it’s a little bloody, but most of the blood is green, so that doesn’t count.  It’s just a lot of fun.  I think we need to be reminded as writers that not everything we write has to be apocryphal, apocalyptic, or tragic.  There’s a place in the market for books like this, and kudos to the Foglios for writing it and to Night Shade Books for publishing it.

There’s not much of a way to tell you more about the story itself without committing major snerks, so let me just say that underneath the fun is some well-plotted writer’s craftsmanship.

Okay, so what did I as a writer find illuminating about the writer’s craft in this book?

First of all, I think it’s an excellent model of how to maintain a high energy breakneck pace in a long story.  It’s 264 pages long in hardback, and when I closed the cover I felt like I’d been on a killer roller coaster ride.  I think we could all get some pointers from that.  The writers just never let up on the pace.

Second, as mentioned above, even missing the mugging and double-takes possible in the comic, it’s still genuinely hilarious.  And it’s consistent in its humor as well, which is much harder to do than you might think, especially in a novel-length work.  I’ll be looking back at it for some hints on how to handle humor, as well.

Third, a negative lesson:  there is a class of characters in the story who are presented to the reader with a heavy generic Eastern European/Russian accent spelled phonetically.  I stumbled over this.  I’d have to stop and sound out the words to figure out what they were saying.  This reinforced in me the teaching I first got from one of L. Sprague deCamp’s essays, that dialect and accents need to be treated very carefully, otherwise it can interfere with the readability of the story.  If they had it to do over again, I would suggest to the Foglios that they lighten up on the dialect.  But with 11 years of producing the comic behind them, it’s a bit late for that.  Nonetheless, that was my only problem, and it wasn’t nearly enough to make me quit reading.

To wrap it up, all in all a well-crafted and enjoyable read, suitable for adults and YA as well.


P.S. – The sequel, Agatha H. and the Clockwork Princess has just been released, also from Night Shade Books.