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Wednesday, September 25, 2013

What I'm Reading: Series Round Up-- The Last Word and Countdown City

Oh, it is not even funny anymore.  I am so far behind in reviews.  No apologies.  I have dropped the ball.  So today I am doing a quick Series Round-Up to get 2 off the queue.  Both are mystery series, both are among my favorite series, and yet, both share very little appeal.  Ahh, proof that we librarians have just as crazy to figure out tastes as our patrons.  Seriously, look at your own weirdness before you are shocked by a patron's tastes.

The Last Word is the 6th installment in Lisa Lutz's funny PI series featuring Izzy Spellman and her crazy family of San Francisco Private Investigators.  As Izzy would say in her distinct narrative voice, I am not going to spend time brining you up to speed on the series. Instead I refer you to the previous documents.

Now back to this novel specifically. Izzy's narrative style is what drives the series and this book in particular.  Yes, like the previous books, Izzy talks directly to us, the reader, as if she is giving confession, but in The Last Word, Izzy is very self-reflective. She must come to terms with some serious things going on in her life and her career. Izzy is forced to deal with life in many major ways, and for a girl who goes through life avoiding anything difficult this is a big deal.

I don't want you to get the wrong idea that The Last Word is a downer because it is not. It is just as fun as previous books, but Lutz has managed to move the series from its single joke premise (Izzy refusing to grow up) and brought the series into its maturity.  I feel good about reading this series going forward.

Again in true Izzy fashion, if you want more details you need to check the previous reviews. [If you read the books you would get the joke]

Three Words That Describe This Series: humorous, strong first person narration, quirky characters

Readalikes: Again, I love this series and have had much to say about possible readalikes here, but with each new book I like to add a new readalike or two. So here are some other witty and upbeat mystery series worth a try:
  • Michael West's Teeny Templeton series seems to have the same screwball comedy feel as Lutz's series.
  • Donna Andrews is also a perennial favorite for her offbeat bird themed mysteries featuring Meg Langslow.  Fans of Izzy in particular will have an affinity for Meg too.
Now for something completely different.  Ben Winter's second book in his original and thought provoking pre-apocalypse trilogy, Countdown City.

Again, this is book two in a trilogy, so for more detail check out my review of book one, The Last Policeman. But the basic set up is easy.  This is an old school hardboiled detective novel, except our detective has been laid off. Why? Because an asteroid is weeks away from hitting the Earth and killing at least 50% of the world's population.

Yes, this is a pre-apocalyptic novel.  Last time we were introduced to a world where people go "bucket list" and basic services begin to deteriorate.

Now, things are even worse. We re-enter the story as Hank is trying to find his childhood babysitter's missing husband, but along the way, Hank [and those of us reading along] find out a whole lot more about what is going on in this pre-apocalyptic landscape.

Like last time, Hank's sister plays a part here.  In fact, it is a similar role, that of the conspiracy theorist. Although her ideas are beginning to seem a lot less crazy as the series goes on.

There is not much more to say without giving things away, but I will share that the ending of Countdown City takes us somewhere completely new from which the final installment will soon begin.

All the appeals are the same here.  Hank is still an endearing, if slightly naive and inept policeman. The story is intricately plotted, off beat, and thought provoking, while still being a whole lot of fun. I know that may sound odd. The world is going to end, but this book is fun to read. There are some heart breaking moments and some observations about the brutality of humanity under dire circumstances, but yes, over all, this book was so original and quirky that reading it was fun.

It is a true genre mash-up. It is mystery, SF and literary all rolled together. It is a series for anyone who is willing to ponder the question-- what would you do if you knew the date and time on which the world was going to end?

On a personal note, I usually hate 2nd books in trilogies, but not here.  I liked Countdown City more than The Last Policeman. It was a fast read too.  I can't wait for book 3.

Three Words That Describe This Book: hardboiled, pre-apocalypse, thought provoking

Readalikes:When I reviewed The Last Policeman, I listed a wide range of readalike options here.

A few more that come to mind (and why) are:

  • I found this great list of "weird detectives" that are NOT paranormal on Goodreads.  This captures the appeal of Hank perfectly.  If you don't need the apocalyptic setting but loved Hank's oddness check out the list.  The Yiddish Policeman's Union by Michael Chabon [read pre-blog] and The City and the City by China Mieville are both on the list and make for good choices.
  • One book that is a long time favorite of mine that also has an odd detective is Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem.  Click here to see my Browsers' Corner post on this book.
  • Hank is trying so hard to be hardboiled, it reminded me of the child detective in Huge by James Fuerst. The books are very similar in feel and the mysteries both have a family angle.
  • If you are looking for another book with an original science fiction premise try The Man in the Empty Suit by Sean Ferrell which I described as "The best episode of Dr. Who you haven't seen." 
Look for more reviews in the coming days.  At least, that is the plan. We will see...

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