Monday, March 26, 2012

We’re the FBI and We Always Get Our Man

I have always been a big fan of Romantic Suspense novels.  I have especially enjoyed the ones dealing with the FBI.   These novels grab you in the first sentence and keep you up late at night trying to finish. The balance of romance and suspense are different in each; some romance plays the major role and in others, suspense gets the upper hand.

One of the first FBI thrillers that I read was Catherine Coulter’s The Cove which was published in 1996 and was the beginning of her bestselling Sherlock and Savich series, although Savich just has a minor role and Sherlock is not in the book at all.  The book begins with Sally Brainerd fleeing from D.C. after her Senator father is murdered.  She is the prime suspect but has no memory of what happened and may very well have killed him.  She winds up in this quaint village on the west coast, The Cove.  The FBI sends Special Agent James Quinlan undercover to follow and befriend Sally.  Sally and James begin to not only investigate her father’s murder but also the strange number of people that have been disappearing from the Cove.  Through twists and turns, both resolutions are unexpected and shocking.

Another good FBI suspense is Twisted by Andrea Kane.  Former FBI agent Sloane Burbank is an independent consultant in crisis resolution.  Her childhood friend mysteriously disappears, and Sloane cannot help but get involved.  FBI Special Agent in Charge and former lover, Derek Parker, partners with Sloane as they discover that seemingly random disappearances and murders are linked.  Then Sloane becomes the killer’s next target.  Through the dark twisted pathways of a serial killer’s mind, the novel grabs you from the very beginning and doesn’t let go until the final page is turned.  You might need the lights on for this one.

Another very suspenseful FBI thriller is Allison Brennan’s Sudden Death.  When a homeless veteran is found brutally tortured and murdered in Sacramento, FBI agent Megan Elliot takes it personally, especially after the killer mails the vet’s dog tags to her home.  Her investigation leads her to suspect that someone is going on a nationwide torture and killing spree of former Delta Force soldiers.  Jack Kincaid, mercenary and former Delta Force, is separately pursuing an investigation of the murder of one of his friends.  By-the-book Megan and Burn-the-book Jack are forced to team up as their cases link.  This book is less romance and not for the faint of heart as the torture and depraved sex acts that the killers commit are gruesome indeed.  However, the storyline is absorbing and kept me engrossed.

My favorite of the FBI romantic suspense subgenre is Julie Garwood’s FBI series.  It has the right mix of romance, suspense and humor.  The first one of the series is Heartbreaker.  Father Tom Madden is in the confessional when a man says, “Bless me Father for I will sin”.  Chillingly he describes his past of stalking and killing, and then names his next victim, Father Tom’s sister Laurant.  Father Tom’s best friend, FBI agent Nick Buchanan can’t refuse his friend’s call for help.  The killer makes it clear that if Laurant hides, he will kill someone else.  In Father Tom’s and Laurant’s small Iowa town, Nick and Laurant pretend to be a couple to draw out the killer.  An attraction grows between the two but one false move could kill them both. 

Additional Recommended Titles:
Bait by Karen Robards  
The Third Victim by Lisa Gardner
The Bliss Factor by Penny McCall
Left to Die by Lisa Jackson
The Ideal Man by Julie Garwood
The Maze by Catherine Coulter

Monday, March 12, 2012

Move Over Superman: Literary Graphic Novels

So we’ve all heard it before, comic books are trash.  They’ll rot your brain.  You should read a “real book” instead. Yeah, comics and graphic novels definitely have a bad rep.  In fact, in the 1940’s and 50’s their reputation was so bad that they were often blamed for juvenile delinquency, homosexuality, and lower intelligence levels.  Things got so bad that the comic book industry was investigated by Congress to see if reading Superman would really make someone stupid or want to rob a bank.

Luckily things have gotten better for the format in the last few decades.  The question remains, however, is a graphic novel capable of conveying the same emotional depth and complex, thought provoking ideas as a traditional novel?  The answer is a resounding yes! 

Mauss: A Survivor’s Tale by Art Spiegelman is one of my favorite literary graphic novels and won a Pulitzer Prize in 1992.  Told in two parts, this biographical comic follows the author’s parents, who were Polish Jews during World War II, as they go from denial, to attempted escape, to eventual capture and incarceration at Auschwitz.  However, this is more than just a story about the Holocaust, the book also tells the story of a father and son who struggle to relate to each other when they have lived such different lives.  The art is striking, and while it is cartoonish at times in it depictions of the Jews as mice and Germans as cats, is jarring in its harshness at others.  

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi is another story of a family caught up in a war.  Through the eyes of her childhood self, Marjane Satrapi tells how her family held high hopes when the hated Shah was overthrown in the Iranian Revolution, only to see those hopes shattered as Islamic fundamentalist took over the country, taking away what few freedoms they had left.  She watches as family friends disappear and her mother puts black curtains over their windows to keep their neighbors from informing on them.   While Marjane herself is witty and defiant, the images in this book are stark, illustrating the bleakness of her family’s situation.

American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang was a national book award finalist in 2006 and mixes Chinese mythology with modern storytelling to weave a tale of self-discovery and, more importantly, acceptance.  In this book Yang tells three seemingly separate tales. One of a young Chinese- American boy who moves from San Fransico’s Chinatown to a suburban neighborhood where he is one of only two Asian students at his school, one of Chin-Kee, the ultimate negative Chinese stereotype personified, and one of Chinese mythology’s powerful Monkey King. These seemingly separate stories come together through a strange twist to form a truly climactic and philosophical ending that readers will never see coming.

Finally my absolute favorite literary graphic novel is The Arrival by Shaun Tan which tells its entire story through art with no need for words.  Through Tan’s incredibly detailed and beautiful pencil drawings the universal immigrant experience is revealed as the main character travels to a faraway land where nothing is familiar.  Strange creatures, food, and customs abound as he tries to make a better life for himself and his family.  He is helped along the way by kind strangers who in turn have their own stories. 
So whether you’re an avid graphic novel reader looking for a bit more substance, or new to the genre, there are many literary graphic novels out there to choose from.  Don’t believe me?  Try some of these other great titles!

Buddah by Osamu Tezuka
Blankets by Craig Thompson
Level Up by Gene Luen Yang 
Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea by Guy Delisle