Luis Alfredo Garcia-Roza: Alone in the Crowd. Garcia-Roza’s Espinosa mysteries, of which this is the seventh, need not necessarily be read in sequence. This is a good thing, since that makes this book as good a place to start as any if you’re new to the author. Some series — Armistead Maupin’s beloved Tales of the City books come to mind — tend to rely too heavily on back stories and on the sense of connection that some readers develop with authors’ characters, to a point where the authors seem to skimp on other things that count, like a compelling narrative. It’s to the author’s credit that in this case, as much sense has been paid to crafting a story worth telling, and reading. I won’t spoil the plot (there’s plenty of spoilers available online); suffice it to say, if you’re a fan of Chandleresque detective fiction, with a twist, you’ll find much to enjoy in this book.
Chuck Klosterman: Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs. Criticism can be dismal business. I’m reminded of this as I read things that start from the assumption that you can’t say something intellingent about something without a ranking or a handful of stars attached, and some wiseass will likely be reminded of it while reading this.
Here’s what I dig about SDaCP: Klosterman reminds me a bit of Lester Bangs, in a good way. He’s not one of these guys (and they’re almost invariably guys) that tries to be more like Bangs than Lester was. Rather, he writes about things you likely wouldn’t give a second thought — Saved by the Bell, The Real World, Guns n’ Roses tribute bands — in ways that make you take notice and actually think about them. Besides this knack for making the mundane seem interesting, it’s also that he doesn’t treat culture as a mere commodity. The approach is one of engagement with culture (the arts, and all the unnecessary things that make life interesting) rather than as a consumer.
Eoin Colfer: And Another Thing… I fully expected this book (the sixth book in the by-now-ridiculously misnamed Hitchhiker’s Trilogy) to be awful, and had to go back over it to make sure I enjoyed it because it was good, and not just because it didn’t suck. Thankfully, it actually was good. The characters, story line, and inherent silliness are all kept intact from the original series, and Colfer manages to evoke Adams’ style without resulting to mere mimickry, or making the book come off as overwrought fan fiction. The only slightly discordant note, ironically, comes from the Guide entries themselves. In the original series, these were usually used to explain some character, plot device or other; here, it seems as though Colfer’s having such fun with the H2G2 itself that the entries sprout like weeds. The end result is that sometimes the guide entries feel more like speed bumps in the narrative, as though David Foster Wallace decided to weigh in on Arthur Dent; they sometimes detract from an otherwise thoughtful and funny story that, while it’s not as iconic as the original, is a worthy addition to the Hitchhiker’s canon.