Books by Greg Ahlgren

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Greg's Reads

For those of you bored enough to actually ask what I've been reading (and liked) I have come across a few bits of writing the last couple of months to which you may wish to direct a gander.  In no particular order they are:

The Zen Man by Colleen Collins $2.99 at Kindle and Nook

The book is a clever concept wherein the author has written what is essentially a Dashiell Hammett knock-off.  Instead of The Thin Man she calls it The Zen Man, and gives her two main characters similar names.  Hammett's Nick and Nora become her Rick and Laura, and Collins ably mimics Hammett's writing style.  Those of you who are fans of Hammett (I am one) will like this book alot.  Colleen has updated what was at the time considered Nick's adorable boozing by making her character Rick a recovering substance abuser.  This book is primarily character driven.

What I disliked.  Not much. There are the typical Indie typos ( "manager" for "manger," "too" for "to" etc.) but the mistakes were less than are typical with Indies.  She is a bit short on her knowledge of recovering substance abusers (at least what she portrays was not always all that accurate) and waaaaaay short on her accuracy of criminal legal procedure.  But I could look past that.  The plot was a bit thin, but fast-paced enough to be enjoyable, and it certainly never bogged down.

What I liked.  The writing is fun, and pretty good.  For any Hammett fan finding the parallells will be enjoyable.  An easy read, a fun summer (or any other season) read, and a clever concept.  Give it a try.

Wolf Hunt by Simon Breit.  $2.99 at Kindle and Nook

One of the more frustrating movies I ever saw was the 1980 film The Final Countdown.  A 1980 United States aircraft carrier, U.S.S. Nimitz, while on a routine cruise near modern day Pearl Harbor, encounters an electrical storm.  After clearing the storm the crew discovers that all communication and satellite navigation has been lost, and, in desperation, and thinking perhaps that the Russkies have launched WWIII, surveillance aircraft are dispatched over Pearl.  When the photos are developed the crew notices the Arizona riding peacefully at anchor, and realize that the Nimitz is back in 1941.  Tracking additional radio traffic further reveals that they are just a day or so ahead of the Japanese attack of December 7.  Modern aircraft engage in a few skirmishes with Japanese scouts, a debate ensues as to what the Nimitz should do, and, as the Nimitz prepares to pulverize the Japanese force thereby nipping the attack in the bud, [sorry] the storm magically reappears and transports the ship back to 1980.

Damn!  If like me you always wondered what would have happened if... you need wonder no more.  Breit has written an alternative history novel that is as much an alternative movie ending novel as it is an alternative history novel.  In Breit's story it is 2024, and the planet is mired in a post-apocalyptic world following the financial collapse of 2009 that had eventually plunged civilization into an economic depression.  NATO remains, and Breit's set-up is a NATO flotilla heading from the U.K. to Brazil to prevent military intervention by renewed enemy Russia.  There are modern German, American and British ships in the flotilla.  The proverbial electrical storm is encountered,  all communication and satellite navigation is lost, the typical conversation ensues that again centers around possible Russian nuke activity, and the obligatory aircraft (helicopters this time) are dispatched, on this occasiion to the Azores where they see a sleepy 1940-ish fishing community devoid of modern yachts.   Guess why?

Then, we have the typical philosophical debate of what to do.  However, it is here that Beit breaks with The Final Countdown.  One of his characters actually remarks that they can't expect another electrical storm to just come along again and magically return them - an obvious slap at the movie.  There is a split in opinion as to what to do, although everyone is onboard that Hitler must be stopped.  The German naval commander, and chief protagonist, develops a plan to link up with German resistance and use his modern weaponry to help bring Hitler down, and [no spoiler alert necessary] he ends up going off on his own to do so.

The rest of the book is pure enjoyment and erases my 31-year frustration.

The Bad Side:  The editing is horrible.  Breit is German, and at first I was tempted to attribute much of his language mistakes to the fact that English is his second language.  But it is more than that.  Missing quotation marks, misspelled words, misspelled names, etc. etc. hit the reader like a Cruise missile plowing into the Reichstag...whoops! Sorry.

But even so, this book is worth it.  Just don't cringe at the editing. 


UNPUNISHED by William Peter Grasso. $.99 at Kindle and Nook

Unpunished is a thriller that spans the 16-year period from 1944 through the presidential primaries in 1960.  It starts off with a B-17 mission over Germany in late summer of 1944 in which the pilot decides to take what he claims is his crippled aircraft north to Sweden.  Some of the crew take exception to the pilot's decision, and opt to bail out over Germany.  The rest stay with the plane which, upon landing in Sweden, is immediately interned for the duration.  The novel follows the fortunes of the surviving crew for the duration of the war, and then picks them up again in 1960 when the pilot, now a Pennsylvania congressman, decides to seek the Republican presidential nomination.

Unpunished is Grasso's second novel, East Wind Returns, a World War II alternative history novel, being his first. 

What I liked about the book:  Well, first and foremost, at $.99, you can't beat the price.  Beyond that it is pretty well-written, and the motivations and outer and inner arcs of the central characters were plausible.  It also provided an interesting historical background to a piece of World War II that is often overlooked and that, quite frankly, I knew little about, namely the whole Swedish internment issue.  Those of you who are older may well be reminded of the character Orr in Catch-22, who spent the war trying to get to Sweden. 

Minor Issues:  I downloaded the book shortly after it appeared on Kindle, and it had the occasional misspellings (more wrong word than actual misspellings that spell-check never catches such as "than" for "that," etc.) and grammatical snafus that indie books sometimes have. I e-mailed the author who assured me that the paperback issue would be thoroughly combed.  


3 Lies by Helen Hanson. $2.99 at Kindle and Nook

3 Lies is Hanson's first novel, described by her as a "techno-thriller," which apparently is a thriller with lots of computer stuff.  For those of you who have read my own thriller The Medici Legacy let me sum it up this way:  The Medici Legacy is to 3 Lies like Downton Abbey is to The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift.  I love them both to death, but boy are they different in style!  Hanson writes fast paced, and furiously.  Her whole novel is one adrenaline rush from the opening scene to the climax.  If you're looking for character arcs, well, move along.  Her characters start out at emotional point A and end up at...emotional point A.

The plot centers around a shady group of international-whatevers that are putting the snatch on a seemingly unrelated group of individuals and stashing them on a boat.  Bad luck for the furreners: They grab a woman whose got a new BF who has time on his hands, plenty of dough to buy services, and the right connections, and combines all three to go Lone-Ranger on the un-greencarded bunch. Hanson uses the woman's need for dialysis as a unique way to ratchet up the plot-required limited time-line.  Besides, having a heroine with a physical disability is unique.

I tried to figure out who Hanson's style reminds me of.  There is an attractively flip aspect to her expression that is a bit Runyon-esque.  Her concentration on a plot based drive and dialogue reminded me a lot of Agatha Christie.  And (I'm not sure if this one works) her insistence on multi-similes on each page, if not in each paragraph, definitely gives the novel a Robert Penn Warren feel.  Good writers all in their own way, but I'm not sure how I feel about the extensive use of poetic similes in a thriller.  That may just be my style, however, since I'm more of a meat and potatoes, one foot plodding in front of the other, kind of guy.

But there is one aspect to Hanson that I really like: She is willing to take a chance with her writing where more traditional writers are not.   Whether it is the artistic use of similes in a thriller, or a whole chapter with unattributed dialogue, or her plot set-up that opens with the respective obligatory love-interests already connected, Hanson takes chances.  Some may work, some may not, but there aren't alot of other writers out there willing to roll those dice.

Like many indie books, this one could benefit from a tight proof-read by someone other than the woman across the street who sometimes watches the kids, or a spouse, but you get that in indie books.  I e-mailed Hanson about some grammatical choices and she responded by saying that some were intentional, such as her refusal to capitalize "Internet" because she was familiar with it and it was an artistic choice.  I'm familiar with New Hampshire having lived here almost all my life, but I still capitalize it. The problem is that there are plenty of writing board nitwits out there who will point and cackle at writers who don't have the benefit of in-house editors, and renew their demand that Amazon red flag all indie books. Unfortunately, indies are held to a higher standard.

But hey, I digress.  Buy the damn book.