The Fifth Profession is an interesting novel. It’s part espionage thriller and part sci-fi. The crux of the story is that Savage, a former Navy SEAL and executive protector on an assignment to rescue the wife of a wealthy businessman, encounters his Japanese counterpart, Akira, who he saw die when they were serving on an assignment together. Akira has the same memories, except he saw Savage die. They get together and piece together their jumbled memories and find out that many of the things they remembered didn’t actually happen. This leads them back to Akira’s homeland of Japan, where the mystery ensues.
I found this novel to be intriguing. The mystery component was captivating, and I wanted to see how it unfolded. There was action galore with plenty of fight scenes and some chases. It works at that level even without the added element of the jumbled memories. That part of the novel was problematic however, since the false memories storyline really strained believability. To further exacerbate the issue, the author never really explains in any detailed or believable way how the two main characters got their false memories. It was all kind of wave your hand behind the curtains hocus pocus type stuff. Although there was lots of good action, I thought the fight scenes could have been executed a little better. Getting past that, I thought the novel delivered. I was entertained from beginning to end.
Balak is a Cthulhian mythos style novel set in modern-day Chicago. The novel starts off with the disappearance of a little boy, in part witnessed by Claire Challis, whose own child disappeared not long before that. This leads Claire and her boyfriend, Mike, into a dark church, whose members worship Balak, an ancient figure who serves an even more ancient god, who was around when the world was new in a typically HP Lovecraft motif. The Chicago police become involved. All of this leads to an end of the world scenario, where Balak is trying to use Claire to allow this ancient god to enter our world.
I’ve read a number of Lovecraftian type stories, and this kind of falls in the middle of the pack. There was nothing particularly bad about, but it also doesn’t rise above some of the others I’ve read. For me, the bar is set with Brett J. Talley’s work, whose take on Lovecraft is top-notch. The situation is fairly ordinary. The characters are solid, but none of them fell into the category of someone I was rooting for to succeed. I just couldn’t latch on to them. The novel is very competently written and was a decent read. You could do a lot worse than this novel, but it’s not one that I feel as if I’ll remember a year later.
When I first started reading this book, I thought it would be a historical fiction novel featuring Edgar Allen Poe and the Usher family that he wrote about over a century ago. It turned out to be set in modern-day. I was hoping for historical fiction given that McCammon is terrific as an author in that genre. Having said that, Usher’s Passing did not disappoint.
It was an interesting and imaginative tale. In this world, the Usher family is one of the wealthiest in the world, with their fortune tied to the sale of arms. Rix Usher is the outcast of the family. He’s a horror writer (I imagine Robert McCammon put some elements of himself into this character). He’s vehemently against the family business but returns to their compound in North Carolina with his father dying. Although Rix doesn’t want anything to do with the family business, he wants to write an expose/history of the family in sordid detail. But what lurks beneath the surface is the supernatural and how the family has been able to achieve the fortune through ties with otherworldly forces.
There are some nice twists and turns in this novel. The main baddie here is the Pumpkin Man, a supernatural character who has been abducting children for decades. When the reveal was finally made about the Pumpkin Man’s identity, I was surprised. It was a well-delivered set up that made sense in retrospect but caught me off guard. I thought there was good character development in this novel, with a good many memorable characters. The writing was strong and purposeful. The supernatural elements mixed in well with the parts that were grounded in reality. My only negative was that I felt it dragged in certain parts and could have used some trimming to make it a tighter story.
The Second Part to It was fighting a losing battle from the start. First off, it had a lot to live up to. It Chapter One was perhaps the second-best Stephen King adaptation ever made behind Jack Nicholson’s The Shining. It also had the issue that the source material from King’s novel was inferior. Almost all of the good parts from the novel took place when the protagonists were kids. I read the book many moons ago, and all of the stuff that was memorable was the flashbacks scenes when the kids took on Pennywise the first time.
So, this movie had quite a bit, working against it. One thing was very clear. This movie was not nearly as good as Chapter One. Given how good the first chapter was, that doesn’t necessarily make this a bad movie. And ultimately, it wasn’t bad. It just wasn’t great.
The bad: The chills and creep factor, while admirable, didn’t quite measure up. There was a bit of redundancy to them, and there was no new ground being broken. Now for the really bad. What they did with Richie Tozier’s character was ridiculously stupid. It did not fit who he was, did not make a damn bit of sense after watching the first movie, and was just thrown in to appease special interest groups. It really brought the movie down for me. I also didn’t like how they portrayed Mike Hanlon’s character. He was jumpy and unstable, not at all the way his character is meant to be. In the novel, he’s the most rock-solid of all the characters. Finally, the whole part of the Native American ritual was just dumb.
The good: I really enjoyed the selection of actors, in particular, James McAvoy and Jessica Chastain. The actors overall were really top-notch and delivered great performances. And the portrayal of Pennywise was terrific. The movie had some good laughs to break apart the seriousness of the movie. There were some good horror elements as well, and I thought a fitting ending.
Overall, I give this movie a thumbs up. It wasn’t great. It could have been done better, but it was still solid and worth watching.
I was hooked in by The Grace of Kings right from the start. There is a lot to like in this novel. I liked this novel because it had the feel of an epic fantasy novel but was written in a very different style. It had a clear Far Eastern influence to it which made it stand apart from many other fantasy novels that I have read. I also liked the mixture of science along with the fantasy as seen by the steampunk style airships featured in the novel as well as other scientific developments, including a crude type of submarine that was introduced.
The characters were also good. There were so many characters that some of them either blended together with other characters or were not particularly notable enough that by the end of the novel, I had no real remembrance of them and what they did. But there were a great many interesting and memorable characters. What I especially liked was that even the villain characters were well crafted and interesting. The ultimate villain in the novel is Mata Zyndu, who starts off as heroic characters and friends to Kuni Garo, the main protagonist. Although Mata goes off the rails and eventually turns into a tyrant and bloodthirsty killer, there is a clear nobility to the character, and Mata is the hero of his own story. He is convinced that his way is right and just. Even the Emperor at the beginning is convinced that his vision is a good one. In some ways, he was correct, although he was clearly misguided.
There were comparisons of this novel to Game of Thrones, but I wasn’t seeing it early since it has a more lighthearted tone and didn’t have all of the palace intrigues as Game of Thrones, but as it went along, I saw that there was quite a bit of deceit and backstabbing, even if it was lighthearted. The only real drawback is that I thought the novel could have used some definite editing. It was overly long in spots, and it dragged in a couple of others, but on balance, this was a compelling, well written, well crafted, and enjoyable novel.