Review: Escape Clause by John Sandford

Escape Clause Sandford.jpgA while back, Virgil Flowers was just a supporting character in John Sandford’s long-running Prey series. He’d help Lucas Davenport out on an investigation, then fade into the background again until Sandford revived him for another cameo appearance. But here we are now, with Escape Clause, the ninth book in the Flowers series, and perhaps the best, thanks to its fresh take on a traditional plotline. This time around, Virgil is hunting a group of thieves, who have stolen rather precious loot from the Minnesota Zoo: two Amur tigers, whose bodies could be mined for various remedies. Question is, can Flowers apprehend the thieves before the tigers are killed?

Whenever I think about my favourite crime writers, I always overlook Sanford, which is a serious injustice on my part. Sandford’s novels aren’t ground-breaking, but they are exemplary, exceptionally well-constructed, and highly polished police procedurals / thrillers. He writes the kinds of books you’ll bomb through in no time, and enjoy every second. So, what makes his novels – Escape Clause, in particular – so compulsive, then? Beyond his stark style and ability to craft brutally violent, adrenaline-pumping action scenes, it’s Sandford’s villains that truly stand out, never more evident than that of Winston Peck VI, an M.D. barred from practicing after it was discovered he was groping unconscious patients.

Make no mistake: Peck is a bad dude, but he’s not a killer. At least, he never planned to be, but as the authorities close in on him, he does what he feels he must in order to survive. If that means ending a few lives, well, so be it. But that doesn’t mean he has to like it. He’s not a psychopath. Or is he…? Some of the novel’s best moments see Peck debating his mental state, adding layers to what could’ve been a very rote villain. Lots of crime writers nail their protagonist and the puzzle that needs solving; few are as capable of conjuring such enigmatic bad guys.

Exciting, absorbing and intriguing, Escape Clause is the perfect crime thriller for this time of the year, as the weather begins to warm up, and readers are looking to wile away a few hours at the beach with an enthralling book. It’s not all flawless; there’s a secondary plot thread involving Virgil’s girlfriend’s sister, which feels very much tacked on, and a tad unnecessary – but it doesn’t overshadow the effectiveness of the ‘A’ plot.

If you’ve never read Sandford before, don’t feel put off by the fact this is the ninth entry in a series. Escape Clause is a fine place to start, and I bet it’ll have you scouring your local bookstore for Virgil Flowers’s earlier capers. Then, don’t forget, you’ve got the Lucas Davenport books to savour. Man, those of you who are new to John Sandford are in for such a treat.

ISBN: 9781471154300
Format: Paperback (234mm x 153mm x mm)
Pages: 400
Imprint: Simon & Schuster Ltd
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Ltd
Publish Date: 20-Oct-2016
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: Seinfeldia by Jennifer Keishin Armstrong

seinfeldia-9781476756103_hrI don’t watch a lot of scripted television, but when I do, it’s usually a Seinfeld repeat. It’s a show I watched religiously with my parents growing up, and a show I continue to watch with friends; there’s no better reason to unite than for a marathon of our favourite episodes. So naturally I was excited by the prospect of a book on the show. At the very least I figured I’d get some nostalgic value from it. Thankfully Seinfeldia delivers more than just that.

Jennifer Keishin Armstrong went all out for her book, interviewing the show’s writers, directors, bit-players, even the creator of its theme music. The book covers the show from its inception – Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David’s first discussion of the subject – through to its finale, and the intervening years since its finale. But as deep as she has dived into Seinfeld, I was left wanting more from the book. In places, it feels like Armstrong has only scratched the surface – touched on areas that deserved excavating. It’s not that Seinfeldia isn’t enjoyable – far from it.  I read the book over a couple of days and thoroughly enjoyed Armstrong’s intelligent analysis and research. I just wanted more of it! In particular, more information on Seinfeld’s writers room; how the writers pitched to Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld, how plot ideas were fleshed out. Armstrong does explain the process, and there’re plenty of anecdotes from the show’s writers’… but I am certain there was more material to mine. Perhaps that’s my bias shining through; maybe all I really want is Inside the Seinfeld Writer’s Room by the Seinfeld Writers… and believe me, I have my fingers crossed for that.

Most intriguing is Armstrong’s study of how Seinfeld impacted culture at the time, and how it has continued to do so. This is a television show that not only changed the landscape of network television, it also influenced how we speak, how we act, how we think. Particularly fascinating is the author’s assertion that Seinfeld’s take on New York City helped rehabilitate the city, which is a thought that never even crossed my mind.

So though it might not quite be the book I was hoping for, Seinfeldia is an enthralling read that has sated – for now – my desire for more Seinfeld insight. But seriously, someone get cracking on that Seinfeld Writers’ Room book…

Shut Up and Take my Money.jpg

ISBN: 9781476756103
Format: Hardback (228mm x 152mm x 30mm)
Pages: 320
Imprint: Simon & Schuster
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publish Date: 28-Jul-2016
Country of Publication: United States