Posts Tagged ‘Kendra Michaels’

Sleep No More by Iris Johansen

September 1, 2012 Leave a comment

Writing teams are relatively unusual. Whereas we routinely accept the idea that squads of people can sit in rooms and churn out television series, and smaller groups can write and rewrite film scripts, we seem to prefer the idea that one mind is best when it comes to writing fiction. Although, in some cases, there are all these quietly acknowledged people who read drafts and explain how stuff works and then edit the book before it goes to the printer. It’s just that authors believe their names are the brand that sells the books and they don’t need lots of other people’s names clouding the issue. That’s why Charles Todd is interesting. There are some fifteen novels featuring Ian Rutledge, Scotland Yard’s finest, and not only is Charles Todd American, he’s also a mother/son writing team. So a while back, I read Close Your Eyes by Iris Johansen and Roy Johansen, another mother/son team. Now to continue my investigation comes Sleep No More by Iris Johansen on her own, which is particularly fascinating because it includes a fairly important role for the team character Kendra Michaels. It seems the mother can use the jointly created character in her ongoing series featuring Eve Duncan and Joe Quinn. Of course, I’m comfortable with the notion of the shared universe in which groups of writers pick and mix characters and situations from central casting. Lovecraftian fiction has been around for decades and, from the world of comics comes the Marvel and DC stables of heroes and villains, closely followed by film and television series which have overlapping characters and story arcs. The idea of Kendra Michaels turning up in an Eve Duncan book seems perfectly reasonable once mother and son have resolved the cross-licensing issues.


To get the best out of this book, you need a reasonable amount of background information. When still a teenager, Eve had an illegitimate child called Bonnie who later went missing. Joe Quinn, ex-FBI and now police detective, was there almost immediately after Bonnie went missing. After the usual emotional problems in their failure to find Bonnie, they became lovers. But Eve never gave up. Indeed, it would be fair to say she had an obsession to find out what happened to her daughter. By training to become a forensic sculptor, she became an expert in finding other children and people who had gone missing. All this came to the fore in the trilogy of books when Bonnie’s body was finally discovered and the search for her killer reached its climax. Now Eve discovers she has a previously unknown step-sister. Against this emotional background, you will therefore understand Eve’s determination to find this person. She may have failed to find her own illegitimate daughter alive, but she’s determined nothing will happen to Beth.

Iris Johansen talking about Eve



So what’s good about this? We’ve got a clearly defined scenario. All the major elements fit together to make a coherent story with a clever reason for Beth being able to escape from the mental hospital in which she’s being against her will. This may not sound such a “good” thing but, if you read as many books as I do, you’d understand how often writers fail to produce a credible plot. But the use of the word “credible” does signal a slight problem with the characters. There’s a lot of corruption on display here and, once the plot really gets underway, there’s quite a significant body count. Although I’m not going to stick my neck out and say all this couldn’t be arranged, it’s moderately spectacular. And although those responsible may be correct that their money and status will enable them to avoid any comeback, there could still be some very difficult-to-answer questions asked in the public domain. I’m slightly on the fence about it. The inevitable psycho-killer who threatens our heroes is reasonably competent and increasingly motivated to take revenge for being made to look amateurish. That’s a success. The other male minions are suitably limited but they’ve prospered because no-one with intelligence and gumption has been able to challenge them. All this feels realistic.


But I’m not quite so sure about the forces of light. Joe seems to be on detached leave and able to sweet-talk his way around the country. Curiously, there seems no threat to prosecute him for the various crimes he commits. Similarly, Eve and Kendra are teflon-coated, presumably because there’s slightly less evidence of their criminal activities. I suppose everything is fair in this “fight fire with fire” approach to crime-fighting with the surviving “baddies” able to hold the threat of prosecution should the “goodies” get a bit too uppity. Hmmm. In this increasingly shades-of-grey world we see in straight and political thrillers, we’re invited to accept the moral relativism of the heroes as the price of their success. Putting this to one side, the only element I found annoying was the faintly supernatural insistence on telepathy and communion with the dead. I understand how this all fits together with the death of Bonnie but I prefer my thrillers to remain reasonable pure and unadulterated by paranormal “happenings”.


On balance, Close Your Eyes is a high-class thriller with plenty of excitement as our heroes survive and prosper against the odds. It’s also interesting to see the interaction between the long-running series character Eve and the newly introduced Kendra. The latter is less deductive but does her human bloodhound act rather well. She’s a good additional member for the team, no matter who does the writing.


A copy of this book was sent to me for review.


Close Your Eyes by Iris Johansen and Roy Johansen

August 19, 2012 2 comments

Close Your Eyes by Iris Johansen and Roy Johansen (Macmillan, 2012) brings us a mother-and-son writing team which has collaborated on this stand-alone novel (there’s also an ebook short story featuring the heroine Kendra Michaels). Given the track record of this pair of writers, I suppose we can expect to see this heroine returning although I can’t say I champing at the bit to read the next instalment. Sadly, it’s trying too hard to be all things to all people and ends up being a little here, and a little there, with stuff happening in-between. It starts off by introducing a new Sherlock Holmes on overdrive. This is a young woman who was born blind, decided she was going to be independent and then was the beneficiary of a new medical procedure which gave her sight. So here comes the theory. While blind, she learned to use all her other senses to interrogate and understand the world. This sharpened those senses into lethal forensic weapons that can capture the smell of blossom at sixty paces and hear when someone walks past with a limp. When she’s finally able to add visual input, she looks where others would not and sees what others miss. Add to this a deductive reasoning capability like IBM Sequoia and you have our one-in-a-million amateur detective.


This is an interesting idea and, in the first section of the book, we’re given several examples of her ability to collect information and draw inferences that no normal person could match. For example, she can walk into a room and immediately smell chemicals suggesting one section of the carpet has been relaid, i.e. the carpet piece is new but has been aged to make it match the old carpet on the floor. This level of appreciation of her surroundings would potentially lead to sensory overload. Every glance gives her details to remember, each intake of breath through her nose adds depth to the scene, each turn of her head tunes her ears into sounds from different directions, each touch brings her new sensations. So, in the words of the rock opera Tommy, she sure plays a mean pinball. Except, after the first few scenes, there’s very little evidence of super abilities. I suspect the writing team had great fun reverse-engineering one or two set-pieces of deductive logic to show off their Arthur Conan Doyle credentials, and then got on with the task of writing a formulaic thriller.

Iris and Roy Johansen with one of their fans


So what do we have after the initial Sherlockian burst is over? Sexy, ex-blind chick gets sucked into an FBI investigation to find her ex-lover. The man who does the sucking (yes, if this goes into the series we all expect, this man will definitely end up the romantic counterpart) is also supposed to be a manipulator who can talk baby kittens down from trees. They form the essential partnership, striking sparks off each other as is required before defences crumble and they fall into each others arms sometime during book 2. Against them come an array of distinctly dumb heavies who try to shoot or otherwise kill them. Even the leaders of this home-grown terrorist cell are less than impressive in the brain department, preferring to kill off their own men for incompetence rather than encourage them to get back out there and finish the job. And what’s it all for? Well this loopy bunch has managed to steal the formula for a superweapon from Homeland Security. They cook up a big batch of it in a cave out in the desert and are ready to export it to al-Qaeda for more camels than money can buy. However, because they value their lives, they decide to test it on a very small scale. That way they will be confident of giving these foreign terrorists something that actually works and live long enough to enjoy their camels. So they infect a test group and monitor them. When it seems to be working, they pay an assassin to murder these test subjects in obvious ways. They hope the obviousness of the cause of death will pass the bodies through the autopsy system without a full battery of tests. Except, of course, the FBI does notice.


If you think this sounds complicated, it is, and unnecessarily so. I know bad guys have to be seen to be doing bad stuff and giving the whole thing an international terrorist dimension does up the ante, but it’s creating the one set of circumstances likely to lead to their detection. Sensible master criminals go to the foreign terrorists and say, “Look, we’ve stolen this weapon from Homeland Security and no-one knows we’ve got it. Gives us half the camels up front, we’ll give you the first batch and you can test it out in the desert somewhere on a tribe no-one will miss. When you prove it works, we take the rest of the camels, we cook up a major quantity of this stuff and you can hit any major city in the US and kill everyone.” It would actually have been more interesting if everyone in New York had suddenly dropped dead and our heroic duo set off to work out who was responsible and how they did it.


So what we have in Close Your Eyes is thin gruel with our heroes dodging death and beating the shit out of bad guys to pick up clues while our criminals go out of the way to signal they’re still around and pretending to be dangerous. It’s a quick read which gets on with the story except, by my standards, the story isn’t worth telling.


For a review of a book by Iris Johansen on her own but featuring Kenra Michaels in a supporting role, see Sleep No More.


A copy of this book was sent to me for review.


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