Friday, August 15, 2014

Book Times Three

Brett Battles began his thriller career in 2007 with the stories of professional "cleaner" Jonathan Quinn, a man for hire who helps his clientele remove inconvenient things like bodies after the assassins have done their work. In 2011 he began branching out, offering some other series as well as standalones. No Return, published in 2012, is one of those.

Cameraman Wes Stewart is shooting footage for a travel show in the Mojave when he and his co-workers are nearly clipped by a crashing F-18 fighter. Wes tries to help the pilot, but before he can, the plane explodes. But what caused the plane to crash? And why are the people at the nearby naval air station acting like they have something to hide? Powerful people don't want Wes to answer those questions, and even though the shoot was taking place near the town he grew up, it will be Wes who's unfamiliarity with the lay of the land might endanger him and his friends.

Battles does well with suspense, but one of the most interesting things about the Quinn series is that the books feature a lead character who is at the very least outside the everyday world and probably a confirmed misanthrope. Battles' "regular guy" characters of the film crew have a lot less depth, and the Dark, Deeply Buried Secret in Wes's past is so conventional that I've probably spoiled it by mentioning it exists. The main plot as well is strictly paint-by-numbers, and not very many numbers at that. No Return is no worse than average, but Battles has led readers to expect much, much better than average and so it's probably a good thing he's kept the Quinn series going as well.
Back in the late 1990s, actress Helen Hunt had a friend who wrote crime fiction, so she suggested he write a female detective and she would try to get the book made into a movie. The friend was Spenser creator and crime fiction grand master Robert B. Parker, and the detective was Sonya Joan "Sunny" Randall, who bowed in 1999 with Family Honor.

Sunny is a private detective in Boston with an ex-husband she can't quite seem to put out of her life. Her father is a retired Boston cop and Sunny served as well, until the mob ties of ex-husband Richie made the department suggest she find other work. Right now, that other work means trying to track down a missing teenage girl for a wealthy Boston family. The search will involve mixing with some thoroughly disreputable characters, but what happens after Sunny finds the girl could be even worse.

Family Honor is a mesh of the Spenser books Early Autumn and Ceremony, combining the latter's search for a runaway teen and the former's casting of a detective protagonist as the only one who seems to care what happens to that child. Parker toys with the idea of Sunny mentoring the girl, the way Spenser does with Paul Giacomin in Early Autumn, but he doesn't follow through (in fact, the teen disappears for the rest of the series, never mentioned again even in passing). Honor is mostly a cut-and-paste retread of several Spenser themes, set pieces and characters. Over the course of seven books Parker occasionally made Sunny and her cast interesting, but never for very long, and the series seems to have wound up in 2007, with no Sunny Randall books talked about after that.

Her beginning during a significant trough in the quality of Parker's output, plus the long lag since her material came out, probably makes her the one Parker character without an afterlife. Given the uneven quality of Honor and its successors, that's not necessarily a bad thing.
Although Disney is known for its animated characters and features, it's had its share of live-action movies as well. Many of these were aimed at an audience slightly older than the ones who watched Micky, but still featured simple plots, predictable characters and very few surprises.

Remove an early seduction scene, and Tim Champlin's Treasure of the Templars would fit into that set of stories just fine.

In 1898, professor Roddy McGinniss is about to present a paper at an academic conference that confirms the long-lost treasure of the Knights Templar was actually brought to the New World. But the modern-day version of the organization, a secret society of dubious character, doesn't want him to, and so makes a move against the professor and his niece Merliss. Fortunately, ex-Trappist monk Marcus Flood is able to help them both out and travel with them to the spot in the Southwestern U.S. where Roddy thinks the treasure is. But the modern Templars are barely behind them, and they want that treasure first.

Champlin writes mostly westerns, and in fact the Templar treasure is just a McGuffin to get the cast out into the desert in a "search for the lost mine" plot. It's very standard, barely paper-thin, and over and done with once the last page turns. Which is not that much different from all of those "family adventure" live-action movies from Disney, almost all of which are overshadowed by the better-known and generally better-done animated features.

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