Jane Whitefield: Runner (Book 6) by Thomas Perry

The most disappointing thing this year was when the Jane Whitefield TV series was not picked up. So when I came across it during the Borders going out of business sale, I couldn’t wait to read it. There was a ten year gap between the last Jane Whitefield book and this one, and I never thought I would have another chance to revisit the characters.

Runner turns out to be just as exciting as I remember the series being. Jane Whitefield has spent much of her life helping people in danger vanish but she has given up that life in favor of living like a regular person. And for years, she has managed to live a quiet, uninterrupted life. But when a pregnant teen shows up at her work, begging for help, Jane can’t turn her away. And in a world where helping someone disappear is more difficult than ever, Jane has to keep from being recognized by those still hunting for her old clients, compensate for the new technology and loss of old business associates, and make sure not to get caught.

Runner is an impressive because it manages to have a female lead in an action story with a solid balance: the woman is not unrealistically strong (talks specifically about how to compensate for lack of size) but does not need to rely on being overly seductive like most action movies have.

My biggest complaint is that Perry built up the idea that the young girl had secrets she was keeping but they never really materialized. As such a young character it was also frustrating to watch her be stupid–as someone so young, she should have a better idea of how technology works but teens are stupid even when they know better, so it was still believable.

It was nice to see how Jane has grown and what her struggles in life are. I look forward to seeing another book soon.

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The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown

I was waiting for this book to come out in paperback before buying because I hate carrying around enormous books (particularly in hardcover, which makes them heavier) but my cousin happened to have a copy to lend me, so I got the treat of reading this earlier than planned. I remember when Da Vinci Code was being passed around (I was spending a year in Israel so the ten or so books that we had among everyone at school were passed around and read by absolutely everyone). Everyone was absolutely fascinated by this alternate way of looking at these historical, famous images, places, and people that Brown presented. (While it is true that Angels and Demons came first, for some reason no one seemed to realize book 1 existed until after book 2 was popular) and in The Lost Symbol, the mysteries and surprises keep on coming.

Robert Langdon is lured to the Capitol, ostensibly to give a last minute lecture, only to discover that he has been tricked and the man who supposedly asked him to come has been kidnapped. The kidnapper wants Langdon to decode an ancient pyramid that will lead to the Ancient Mysteries, a secret guarded carefully by the Masons (a society with secrets NOT a secret society). Like in the other books, you never really knew where things were going to wind up. Who was good or bad, what was the end goal, what didn’t we know about history?

I had a number of issues with The Lost Symbol, the least of which is Brown’s a flare for the dramatics that has a slight tendency to go overkill. (Nearly every section ends with something like “The rag was slipping back in her throat, threatening to choke her. She couldn’t breath!” Yes well, A–>B–>C.) This book got a little too spiritual for me and while I don’t necessarily disbelieve the idea that thoughts can impact reality, the things being claimed in the books just felt too out there. It was all too much and it required so much explaining (the noetic science and the actual symbology) that though the plot depends on it, the amount of explanation came off as a bit over the top and slowed the plot down a bit. Because each book is so detailed and complex, it is nearly impossible to actually recall details from one to the next, so even when Brown uses the typical writing tactic of mention small bits and memories of previous books to allow the readers to feel the connection (and also enjoy the nostalgia of recalling the other books), I found myself unable to actually recall the things he was mentioning.

The weakest part of the book to me was the ending, which was too long and dragged out. After everything was resolved and calm again, the book wasn’t over. Not only was it not over, it had quite a bit left. It didn’t feel like we were going anywhere.

The thing that I would most appreciate, is actual colored pictures of the art pieces mentioned, because otherwise, they are asking us to take Dan Brown’s word for everything (or look it all up–which we know most people won’t do). Adding pictures (much like it adds some of the other elements) would make it feel even more real.

Despite all the problems I had with this book, I did enjoy it. There were enough twists and turns and bits of intrigue to keep me interested and I found myself particularly enjoying Katherine Solomon’s character. It was a good read but certainly not the best in the series.

Man on Fire by AJ Quinnell

I’ve always enjoyed reading a book and then seeing the movie and comparing the two afterward. Most of the time I find the book to be superior because it has so much more in it, is more complex and detailed and allows for a greater degree of imagination, but on rare occasion I find myself preferring the movie. This is one of those cases.

Man on Fire is about Creasy, a mercenary who has lost his will to live–there’s nothing to live for anymore so why continue?–when he gets a job as a bodyguard for a talkative young girl who finds her way into his heart. But when she is kidnapped and killed, he seeks revenge on those who did it.

A few words about the movie: with Dakota Fanning and Morgan Freeman in the cast, you’ve already got some major talent in the mix. But I think that what actually made the movie better was some of the changes they made to the actual story (specifically that the girl was kidnapped but not killed).

I think the change in ending was a huge thing in the story because the ending of the book was so unsatisfying. The last third of the book was Creasy going from one person to the next and killing them. The little girl, Pinta, was supposed to have changed his way of relating to the world and yet he ended up resorting to revenge killings and losing his life. It just seemed like he didn’t learn anything in the end. I think also the timing of when it turned out that the girl died really hurt the book because it was so early on. There was no feeling of potential hope or the possibility that maybe she could be saved. I think that the potential for her to be brought home safely (whether or not she ended up dead in the end) might have made a big difference both in my feelings for Creasy and how I felt about the book overall.

The author also had a tendency to over-explain things and box them into packages. “She was the type of woman that…” is the sort of phrase that he used a lot. I hate when people are given categories and boxed into types. People are complex, no two people are exactly the same, and giving people a “type” has always been something that bothers me. (Sort of in the way that I hate when fantasy writers have two different nations that live near each other and has they have very distinct physical features. They live near each other, interact, and intermarry, they are not going to look so different that you can tell what city they come from!)

There was a lot of back story that didn’t feel like it was really relevant and characters that felt like they were just thrown in their in order to add more pages.

Overall, it wasn’t bad (definitely readable and mostly a smooth narrative). It was good enough to finish, but I would certainly not seek out another book by AJ Quinnell.

Buy the book: Man on Fire