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Review: “Painter of the Heavens” by Bart Stewart

“Painter of the Heavens” by Bart Stewart

Available from: Amazon
Released on: 15 September 2013

Description: “A Novel of Crime and the Heart,” Painter of the Heavens goes inside the mind of a woman as she is drawn into the bizarre fraud scheme of an eccentric man she is dating. Penny doesn’t know going in that Lyle is a con artist. His personality had seemed slightly strange from the start, but charismatic and alluring as well. Only after bonding with him does she learn that the “business plan,” which was too sensitive for him to talk about, is in fact an outrageous forgery plot. He needs an accomplice for this caper, and sees Penny as being perfect for the role.

Penny Sturdevant is in flux in her life. Just turning thirty as the decade of the 1980s turns into the ’90s, she has taken a leap into the unknown, divorcing her well-placed husband because he had become loveless, distant, and dull. Coming from a background of financial struggles, she feels the insecurities swirling around her after this big move. She dreams of turning the page, getting off of the sidetrack, and being “part of something.” Her old circle of friends, and her impoverished parents, aren’t much support for her in this time of transition.

One day, on a random whim, she stops off at an indie bookstore on the outskirts of her home town of Chapel Hill, North Carolina. The manager there has a hypnotic presence, with a magnetic gaze that grabs her and leads her to come back again. He is a poet (six original poems are featured in the novel) and Penny finds him more and more intriguing as she gets to know him. The point of view in the novel is all Penny’s, so we have only Lyle’s mixed signals and trippy, zen-like sayings to know what’s happening in his mind.

He seems increasingly suspicious, but we don’t know just how bad this bad guy is. One unsettling moment comes at their first date, when he asks Penny to keep it entirely their secret that they are seeing each other. He has a plausible explanation for this, all ready to go. And it turns out that he always does. He talks a very, very good game. At one point Penny reflects that everything he says seems to be both outrageous and indisputable. He is a “plague of vague,” and “like boxing with a fog bank.” But he is also sexy, and loving for her. He’s different, and interesting. They have a hot affair. (Not that this is full-on erotica.)

The novel is character-driven noir fiction that goes deep into the heads of its two lovers. It is not the familiar crime novel or police procedural. Penny and Lyle aren’t Bonnie and Clyde, but they become desperadoes in a way, when their perfect, “victimless” crime spins out on them.

A phony letter and a genuine love. Humor, pathos, danger, and two of what Dickens called “lives of quiet desperation” come together in Bart Stewart’s debut novel, Painter of the Heavens.

Review: This book is a hard one for me to figure out how to properly rate.

It proved to not really be my sort of book, but it wasn’t because it was poorly constructed. The writing was competent and the idea was interesting. I found the pacing to be a little uneven and a bit passive at points, more Tell than I usually like, and yet I find I can’t come down too hard on that because it sort of fit the psychological tenor of the story. And yet it kept me from feeling much suspense.

There were some interesting psychological angles, as mentioned, both from the characters and the crime, and aspects to the end did surprise me.

The author did well in portraying the main character as that newly-free previously-stifled woman desperate to feel things again, and placing it in the ’80s made for a backdrop I don’t usually see. (And I like that.) Lyle was also an interestingly drawn character, though written in such a way that nothing he did actually surprised me.

The puffer thing–you’ll understand when you read it–was intriguing, though there was a segment where we went outside Penny’s point of view and I wasn’t crazy about that.

So…I am left conflicted when writing the review. I can’t say I really liked it, but I can’t say I disliked it either. So, I think it’s a 3.5 Fireballs from me: better than average, and while I can’t say that I really liked it, I can see this as a book that would be really enjoyed by others.

3.5 Fireballs

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Review: The Death of Anyone by D. J. Swykert

“The Death of Anyone” by D. J. Swykert

Available on: Amazon * Barnes & Noble * Smashwords
Released on: 25 February 2013
Released by: Melange Books

I received this book free from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Description: Detroit homicide Detective Bonnie Benham has been transferred from narcotics for using more than arresting and is working the case of a killer of adolescent girls. CSI collects DNA evidence from the scene of the latest victim, which had not been detected on the other victims. But no suspect turns up in the FBI database. Due to the notoriety of the crimes a task force is put together with Bonnie as the lead detective, and she implores the D.A. to use an as yet unapproved type of a DNA Search in an effort to identify the killer. Homicide Detective Neil Jensen, with his own history of drug and alcohol problems, understands Bonnie’s frailty and the two detectives become inseparable as they track this killer of children.

Review: This book falls into a bit of a middling range for me. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great either.

The writing early on feels kind of stiff and clinical, although it flows all right. It improves somewhat as it goes on, but I never felt really drawn *into* the heads and hearts of our main characters. There were a lot of very fleshed out internal thoughts, which people don’t usually think like, and I think that was meant to do the drawing-in, but it ended up just reading…off to me.

The point of view seemed confused, like we were in Bonnie’s head 90% of the time but then small snips here and there would seem to be from the point of view of other, making it neither limited nor omniscient and that sort of thing always pulls me out. As does there being a lot of repeated information–such as what people would say to each other–which may happen in real life but is a little irritating in fiction.

Bonnie read, to me, a little stereotyped as a female. Her thoughts, particularly. There are women like that, I’m sure, but I dunno, I like fresh takes. And people were a little too quick to canonize her; be too grateful and tell her what a good person she is.

The relationship of Bonnie and Neil really goes 0 to 60, unless I missed some build up before the story takes place, and that’s a little tough to follow. I did like Neil and I liked the ARA angle. Our big shocker moment about him towards the end was just that, though I’m still undecided whether it was truly necessary for the story or just a shock tactic.

I also had one question I wanted to ask the investigators towards the end, but everything kind of rushed along at that point and, well, fictional characters rarely listen to me… (Even my own.)

And yet, over all, I didn’t DISlike the book, really. It read all right and I liked our main characters enough to continue and be somewhat interested in what happened to them. I think with some better editing–both for streamlining and point of view, as well as straight up line editing–it could’ve been a lot stronger.

Addition… Something I saw in a review while gathering information for posting. Apparently these characters appear in a previous book. I may have just missed this in my previous looking into things, but I do wonder if some of my issues may have been lessened if I had read the previous. Hard to say but worth considering.

As this does fall middling to me, as I see a lot of potential but see work needed, it’s 3 Fireballs.

3 Fireballs

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