Random Review: Hazardous Duty by W.E.B. Griffin

This review contains mild spoilers.

Book Name: Hazardous Duty
Author: W.E.B. Griffin (with William E. Butterworth IV)
Series: #8 in the ongoing “Presidential Agent” series
Format(s): Hardcover/Mass market paperback/audiobook/eBook
Genre(s): Thriller
Original Release Date: December 31, 2013

Rating: 3/10

Before I started my run through all of the series written by W.E.B. Griffin that I hadn’t read yet the latest “new” book of his I’d read was Empire and Honor, which was the latest in the “Honor Bound” series set during World War Two in South America. That book was a major disappointment because in its 670-odd pages there was a significant amount of flashback scenes that made it just about half of a new book. I was hoping in Hazardous Duty Griffin and his son, who has obviously taken over writing all the books, would get back to what made all the Griffin books so good.

They didn’t. Instead what we have in Hazardous Duty is a book where there is virtually no hazardous duty. What the whole book breaks down to is main protagonist, Colonel Charley Castillo, doing nothing but spending tax dollars dodging his assignments. Literally nothing else happens that matters in the book. I rated it a three out of ten instead of lower because what is there, a touch of political intrigue and an interesting history lesson that could have taken ten pages but instead lasts about a quarter of the book, was written rather well. It just goes to show that this could have been a good book had Griffin and Butterworth bothered to try to write one.

Usually the cover of a book is at least marginally representative of something in the plot, but I can’t recall a single scene where that cover image would come into play. Reading the back of the book a reader would note that because the story allegedly includes Somali pirates that type of boat would likely be used by the good guys. Only there’s hardly anything about Somali pirates in Hazardous Duty. The blurb on the back also mentions Mexican drug cartels. Not too many of those in the story either.

There is an author’s note at the end by Griffin saying he wrote the book is the same style as his “M*A*S*H*” books. I think that note was written just to excuse how bad the book is because not once did the thought of this being anything like his “M*A*S*H*” books came to my mind. Hazardous Duty is nothing but a plotless money-grab of a novel. Griffin should be embarrassed his name is associated with the book.

If you’re someone that needs to read every single book of an author or a series then I’d say go ahead and buy the book second-hand somewhere to save some money. If you’re just looking for something good to read, look elsewhere.

Random Review: The Victim by W.E.B. Griffin

This review contains mild spoilers.

Book Name: The Victim
Author: W.E.B. Griffin
Series: Book #3 in the ongoing “Badge of Honor” series
Publisher(s): Jove
Format(s): Hardcover(reprint)/Mass market paperback/audiobook/eBook
Genre(s): Thriller
Release Date: February 1, 1991

Rating: 8/10

You can read my review of the second book in the series, Special Operations, right here. That will eventually lead back to the first book in the series, Men In Blue.

Despite The Victim being the third book in the series this is really where “Badge of Honor” picks up steam. There are two murders, one an obvious mob hit and the other a cop, and Griffin hops between the two seemingly unrelated crimes with ease. Add to the mix that a friend of “Golden Boy” Matt Payne, Penny Detwieler, is wounded in the mob hit and you have three different storylines running throughout the book. The Detwieler storyline continues on after The Victim ends, but the mob hit of “Tony the Zee” has a likely real world ending that doesn’t work well in murder mysteries. But as I’ve said in my previous two reviews, “Badge of Honor” isn’t about the mysteries it’s about the relationships between the characters in the story.

The Victim is a throwback novel as it’s set in the 1970s, so no cell phones, no DNA, and crime scene forensics is really in its infancy. Being from a time where all these things are usable by police it’s fun to see how the police had to cope with the lack of things we take for granted now. Several times in the series we read of a police official “checking in” with headquarters to tell them where they are and to see if they have any messages. Griffin liberally uses the phrase “put the arm out” when saying that someone is looking for another officer. It’s maddening in a way because all you can think of is “if only they could…”.

Like the previous two books I liked this one a whole lot, but that comes with the caveat that I read all these books in order without the gap that would have taken place had I read them on their releases. The good news is you can do that too, and as so the three books have read like a long single book. That continued into book four, The Witness, and I’ll have more on that later.

How do you pick the next book you’re going to read?

I get asked that question a lot, especially from friends that have wandered into my office and see the bookshelves full of stuff I haven’t read yet. Right now my “to-read” list is about 200 books long (I don’t count it that often and don’t remember the exact number it was when last I did), which is a lot when you consider only books I own are on that list. But picking what I’m going to read next isn’t as hard as one might think.

Right now, as I’ve mentioned before, I’m working my way though W.E.B. Griffin’s “Badge of Honor” series. As I’m reading them one after another picking what I’m going to read next is easy: the next one in the series. Like last summer when I ran though Michael Connelly’s books this summer was supposed to be all Griffin, but his stuff reads a lot slower than Connelly’s so it’s taken longer. “Badge of Honor” is the third series of Griffin’s I’ve read this year, and after I finish it (two more books to go!) I’ll just have his “Men At War” series about the OSS left.

After I finished his “Brotherhood of War” series I took a short break and read a few other things, two books I’d been waiting for that were in the military/thriller genre and then I went to Karen Miller’s “Godspeakers” trilogy for a change of pace. Picking the Miller series was easy, I said to myself “pick a fantasy trilogy”, and when I looked up there was “Godspeakers” right in front of me at eye level.

Then it was back to Griffin again for his “The Corps” series about the US Marine Corps, and when that was over I once again took a break for a book I was waiting for and continued on to Stephen Lawhead’s “King Raven Trilogy” while I waited for another book to come out. I picked the Lawhead books because I noticed they were separated into different bookcases. My OCD needed to keep them together, and the easiest way was to read them next. After I got bored with the fantasy stuff I saw I had a book misfiled (Agent 6 by Tom Rob Smith) so instead of moving a ton of stuff to put it in the right place I read it next.

Which brings us to where I am now, nearing the end of the “Badge of Honor” series. Now as to what I’m going to read next I’ve already decided it will be The Gods of Guilt by Connelly. Assuming nothing comes out that I’m looking for before I finish the Connelly book it’s a good guess I’ll be switching back to sic-fi/fantasy for a bit. As some point before the end of the year I’ll start “Men At War”.

I know I’ll likely never read every book I’ve bought, mostly because I buy a lot of stuff from new authors just to support their hard work. Obviously most people don’t have as many at their finger tips to chose from as I do, so I’m curious as to how other decide what to read next. Do you just wander into a bookstore and pick up what catches your eye? Do you just fill up your e-reader and pick like I do? Or do you buy a large amount of books and work your way through them before buying more? I’d love to read your answers…

Random Review: Special Operations by W.E.B. Griffin

This review contains mild spoilers.

Book Name: Special Operations
Author: W.E.B. Griffin (originally written as John Kevin Dugan)
Series: Book #2 in the ongoing “Badge of Honor” series
Publisher(s): Jove
Format(s): Hardcover(reprint)/Mass market paperback/audiobook/eBook
Genre(s): Thriller
Release Date: October 1, 1989

Rating: 8/10

You can read my review of the first book in the series, Men In Blue, right here.

Special Operations picks up almost immediately after the events of in the first book, Men In Blue, take place. W.E.B. Griffin tends to do that in many of his series, having the action continue through the books of a series as if they’re one long book. As he also does in many of his series, Griffin develops an “elite” organization within an organization and that’s where Special Operations is born. The oddity is there was already an elite organization in the Philadelphia police force called the Highway Patrol. It’s a unique anti-crime task force that has jurisdiction throughout the city instead of just within the district it lays. Griffin solves the issue by having Highway work under the umbrella of “Special Operations”.

The book has two main plot lines, the first is special operations being tagged to stop a rapist that has struck several times, with each case getting more violent than the previous ones. The second plot line, driven by the first, is about Peter Wohl and his staffing of the new special operations department. The downside of the first plot line is in Special Operations Griffin doesn’t follow any of the established guidelines for writing a mystery so it’s impossible for the reader to even guess at who the bad guy is. That didn’t bother me as both plotlines are more story driven than beholden to the mystery aspect, but it would have been nice if Griffin had intertwined some evidence pointing at a character he’s mentioned previously.

As Special Operations rolls along it’s starts to get obvious that the police is going to need to get lucky to catch the Northwest Serial Rapist, and not shockingly that luck falls squarely on “golden boy” Matt Payne. Unfortunately that type of ending, while common in Griffin’s books, does detract from the overall story a bit. He does do a good job of leaving a couple of plot points open for the next book, The Victim, which is where the “Badge of Honor” series really starts to pick up some steam. More on that soon.

Random Review: Men In Blue by W.E.B. Griffin

This review contains mild spoilers.

Book Name: Men In Blue
Author: W.E.B. Griffin (originally written as John Kevin Dugan)
Series: Book #1 in the ongoing “Badge of Honor” series
Publisher(s): Jove
Format(s): Hardcover(reprint)/Mass market paperback/audiobook/eBook
Genre(s): Thriller
Release Date: October 1, 1988

Rating: 8/10

As I’ve been working my way through the series that author W.E.B. Griffin has written over the years the one ongoing series that stands out a little from the others is his “Badge of Honor” books because they don’t center around either the military or intelligence/black ops. There is lots of subject overlap in the other series, but how much of the themes that Griffin uses in his military books would he be able to use in a series about police work? Griffin answers that question before he gets even halfway through Men In Blue: all of it, and yet none of it.

One would think a series about the Philadelphia police department would contain at least some aspect of a mystery, but while there are crimes committed in the series the solutions of the crimes are almost secondary. Like all of Griffin’s other series it’s the interplay between the characters that’s the focus. Griffin breaks every rule of mystery writing in the books because he isn’t writing mysteries. So if you’re looking for that kind of book, these aren’t for you.

Set in the early 1970s Men In Blue begins by setting up what quickly turns into a huge action scene and murder that is the lynchpin for everything that comes after it. The killing of Philadelphia Highway Patrol captain Richard “Dutch” Moffitt during an attempted armed robbery introduces all the main characters of the early series and sets into motion the political dealings within the department that the series is based on. Griffin has his usual type of characters in the story, although he combines some of his archetypes into singular characters. Griffin always seems to have a wealthy character at the center of the action, and in Men In Blue that is Matt Payne, nephew of Moffitt and son of another officer who also died in the line of duty.

The change for Griffin is while Payne is his “rich character” he also has him as the “golden boy” character as Payne doesn’t follow the usual path Philadelphia officers are expected to do and is instead “kept safe” by higher ups (referred to as “rabbis”) that knew his father and uncle thinking Payne was just trying to prove his manhood by joining the police department after being rejected by the Marine Corps. The one big hole in the character history of Payne is he’s rejected for an eye issue that’s never really mentioned and somehow doesn’t preclude him from joining the police force. The question of how he could have an eye issue that stopped him from being a Marine officer but not a cop is never addressed.

The murder of Moffitt is also not written like a mystery. Who did it is figured out early and it just becomes a race to find the culprit before he escapes. Griffin introduces two young plainclothes narcotics officers to the plot, Jesus Martinez and Charlie McFadden, and has McFadden figure out how to catch the perp as Martinez reluctantly goes along with him. The end scene of that storyline is classic Griffin, and propels the two young officers into the forefront despite they also not having followed the normal career path of a Philly police officer. At least the reasoning behind that is easily explained and totally plausible.

The central character in Men In Blue is Peter Wohl, a Staff inspector whose father was a well liked Chief Inspector. Griffin goes through great pains to explain the ranks of the Philadelphia police department, so I won’t bother. You’ll either see it multiple times in the series if you read them or you won’t in which case it makes no difference. Wohl is another “golden boy” character type in the series, having been the youngest person ever at each rank he’s achieved. Funny thing is Wohl is probably the most believable character in all the early books. Longtime readers of Griffin’s books will recognize many of Wohl’s character traits.

While I was really expecting mysteries what Griffin delivers in Men In Blue is really more of behind-the-scenes type story many of his other series are. And it works as Men In Blue, once it got going, was a page turner. Despite many of the plot points reaching a satisfying conclusion it’s not really meant to be a stand alone novel. I’m betting if you read it you’ll want to read the next, Special Operations. I certainly did, and I’ll have more on the soon.

Random Review: Brotherhood of War (books 7 to 9) by W.E.B. Griffin

This review does not contain spoilers.

For my review of the first six books in the series click here.

Series Name: Brotherhood of War
Author: W.E.B. Griffin
Series: Books 7 thru 9 of a 9 book series
Books included: The New Breed, The Aviators, Special Ops
Publisher(s): Jove
Format(s): Hardcover/Mass Market Paperback/Audiobook/eBook
Genre(s): Historical Fiction/Military fiction

Rating: 7/10

In book six of the story, The Generals, W.E.B. Griffin painted himself into a corner with a prologue that listed what happened to the main characters in the series. Because some of them were no longer in the military having them involved in a future story would be impossible, so Griffin simply created new characters and set The New Breed so it started in what was the middle of the timeline in The Generals so that there could be some interaction between the old characters and the “new breed”. The problem I have is the characters Griffin created were basically the same ones he just got rid of, just changing their names and making them younger.

Griffin continued the cycle by starting The Aviators in the middle of the timeline set in The New Breed, and unfortunately for the reader lifted some portions of chapters from the sixth book to the seventh. In Special Ops Griffin started the book just about where The New Breed ended, which means The Aviators overlaps the book that came before it and after it. Again, in Special Ops lifts sections of the previous books and simply inserts them into the latest one. It made it easy to see these three books were nothing but a money grab.

Because of the way Griffin wrote them the last three books can be read without reading the previous six, which was obviously by design. It took away from the momentum the previous books set and when read in succession as I did it really caused issues as the story lines progressed. The last three aren’t bad books, but they are by no means the high quality the first six were.

I do think they’re worth reading, especially if you’ve read the first six in the series, but be forewarned that they are not Griffin at his best.

Random Review: Brotherhood of War (books 1 to 6) by W.E.B. Griffin

This review does not contain spoilers.

Series Name: Brotherhood of War
Author: W.E.B. Griffin
Series: Books 1 thru 6 of a 9 book series
Books included: The Lieutenants, The Captains, The Majors, The Colonels, The Berets, The Generals
Publisher(s): Jove
Format(s): Hardcover/Mass Market Paperback/Audiobook/eBook
Genre(s): Historical Fiction/Military fiction

Rating: 9/10

I was originally hesitant to review these books because after reading them one after another and not taking any sort of notes about them I was unsure in my mind of where each book stopped and a new one began as the story flowed from one novel to the next. It was then that it hit me: the first six books of the series were written as if it were a single book anyway, so they should be reviewed as if they were one long book.

W.E.B. Griffin is one of the pseudonyms for William Edmund Butterworth III. Butterworth had written nearly 100 books under various pen names before he released “The Brotherhood of War” under the name W.E.B. Griffin, the reason being because in the 1960s and 70s libraries were the primary purchaser of books and many times if they saw multiple books by a single author they would select one or two and not buy the rest. Using pseudonyms Butterworth was able to sell more books to publishers who in turn would be able to sell them to the libraries. Coming off the satirical style of the M*A*S*H* series Butterworth wanted to make sure readers wouldn’t be confused as to the style of his new series, and as such created the “W.E.B. Griffin” name.

“The Brotherhood of War” is mostly about the rise of aviation in the US Army after World War II, and while it does touch a bit on the Special Forces (The Berets) it never strays far from the main theme that battlefield air power is needed by the “modern” Army. Griffin presents the issues early aviators had in getting air units established in the Army and the problems the US Air Force (formerly the U.S. Army Air Corps) was causing because of the Key West Agreement (an agreement in 1948 between the US Army, Navy, and Air Force concerning the division of air power in the US military).

The first book in the series, The Lieutenants, starts off introducing all the main characters that appear throughout the first six books. As appears in many subsequent Griffin series we have a rich character that seems to have no issue throwing his money around to help the cause in Craig W. Lowell. His rise to the officer ranks is an amusing one, but his “coming of age” tale throughout the story is well written if just a slight bit over the top. He is the foil to Sandy Felter, who despite looking like a minor character is really the driving force behind much of the story in the later novels. George “Mac” MacMillan is another character that has an amusing backstory, and he is one of the few characters that go from plot to plot in a seamless transition. Phillip Sheridan Parker IV, an African-American, is one of Lowell’s best friends in the Army. The trouble the two get into causes Parker lots of issues in the stories.

Griffin uses a “cast of hundreds” in the series as multiple story lines run throughout the books. He does a remarkable job keeping most things straight (Wikipedia has a list of errors in the series for those interested, although none are glaring nor take away from the story) as he uses key events in the book as pivot points to switch from plot to plot. His going back in time to show how other prepared for the events, or what they were doing as those events unfolded, is done masterfully. The first time it happened I was a tad confused, thinking “this already happened” as Griffin recounted a meeting between characters for a second time. It was then I realized Griffin was now telling the story from the point of view of the other main character in the room so as to give a timeline of how all the events unfolded.

One thing you won’t find much of in the series is combat. The stories are more the political and emotional side of the Army, with the only combat being that which shows the characters’ motivation for future events. It’s not that Griffin can’t write a good battle story because the ones included are done very well, it was his choice to not center his stories around the fighting the Army does against an enemy but more the struggles of and in the Army in attempting to serve their primary goal.

The first six books of “The Brotherhood of War” series are outstanding, both individually and as a group. When one gets to the end of The Generals it’s clear that Griffin intended the series to be over by including a sort of “what happened to them” section where we find out what happens to many of the primary characters of the series. Unfortunately, as we will see in a future review, that was not the case…

Some random book thoughts for February 2014

Just like in my January post I write this one as a snowstorm rages on outside my window, with several unfinished posts in my queue. One of my goals should be post actually finish some of them so there’s more than one or two postings a month here. Alas, the best laid plans…

I stated off last month with The Spirit War by Rachel Aaron, the continuation of her “Legend of Eli Monpress” series. Unlike the first three books of the series The Spirit War is a huge tome in the trade paperback format. When I asked Miss Aaron via twitter if the book (and the next) was ever going to be released in mass-market edition she said it wouldn’t be because they were the size of a phone book. And then she actually apologized for that. Well, I’m the one that was sorry in the long run because I waited so long to read it.

Unlike many longer books there isn’t a ton of wasted space in The Spirit War. It’s pretty full of new content, with just enough rehashing of the first three books to help remind readers what transpired and to help new readers along with the plot. The story is a good one, moves at a decent pace, and while the cliffhanger is telegraphed a little bit it does set up the next book very well.

And the next book, Spirit’s End picks right up where The Spirit War ends, almost as if the two are one very long book. If you tried to read Spirit’s End without at least reading The Spirit War you’d be totally lost. The story takes a bit of a turn in Spirit’s End, but all of the major plots (and most of the minor ones) are tied together nicely in the inevitable ending confrontation that includes all the major characters still alive. It’s a well thought out ending, and one that could very easily have happened given the circumstances. Only I didn’t like it very much.

The book (and series) is great, but the final conclusion wasn’t what I was hoping for. Rachel Aaron went out of her way to avoid the stereotypical fantasy ending but I think strayed off the path a little too far. It’s not like the ending doesn’t make sense, it most certainly does. It just didn’t do it for me. I gave both The Spirit War and Spirit’s End five stars on Goodreads and they absolutely deserve that, but I have lots of questions about what possibly happens next (which I won’t share here because it would spoil the previous books). Of course, a sixth book might answer those questions…

Then in a complete changing of the gears I went away from the fantasy genre to Empire and Honor, the seventh book in the “Honor Bound” series by W.E.B. Griffin. The previous book, Victory and Honor, was basically half a book as it rehashed the first five books multiple times and jumped so far ahead in the time line World War II was essentially over. In Empire and Honor the war is indeed over, and it deals with the dismantling of the OSS in both Europe and South America. The plot moves along OK, but nothing really happens for most of the book. It’s just contrived occurrence after occurrence heading in no real direction until the last 40 pages or so. The final encounter of the book is a total letdown, and in fact ends basically in the middle of the action, such as it was, as if several pages are missing.

Griffin’s son, William E. Butterworth III, has taken over many of Griffin’s series and is listed as co-author, but it’s pretty clear that Griffin has very little to do with most of the current running series. Reading the older books you can see the current writing style is close but the content is far from Griffin’s heyday. It’s a shame too, because it’s alienating many longtime readers.

The next book I picked up was The King’s Deception by Steve Berry, but after being just a couple pages in I accidentally left the book in my car as my wife went off to work one morning. Looking for something quick to read I grabbed Allegiance in Exile by David R. George, a “Star Trek: The Original Series” pulp-style novel, off the to-read shelf. This was the last of the $1 paperbacks I had bought recently, and with the other two being pretty bad I wasn’t expecting much other than it being a time killer.

I was surprised at how good the book was. I mean, it was really good. It didn’t have much in the way of the standard ST:TOS crap that was in the first two books contained (other than McCoy not liking the transporters, which I always find amusing) and really delved into Sulu as a character as opposed to a caricature. It was a good, well developed story that was never as “over the top” as many of the Star trek novels are. It looked at things a little differently than those books, and his treatment of Captain Kirk as a regular person as opposed to a larger than life hero was refreshing.

Then I got back to The King’s Deception, which like most of Berry’s books uses historical facts and twists them a tad to come up with modern stories relating to those twists. The King’s Deception deals with the Tudor era of the British monarchy, and specifically with the end of the reign of Henry VIII and on to the Elizabethan era. Without spoiling the plot, the story weighs heavily (and mentions and credits) a book by Bram Stoker entitled Famous Impostors. I already knew of the story Berry’s book was based off of, but it didn’t hurt my enjoyment of it.

One thing I really enjoy about Berry’s books is he clearly indicates what is real history and what he fictionalizes in his writer’s notes at the end. I’ve often times gone back and reread some of the chapters in his book armed with the knowledge now that something there is fictionalized. It’s a testament to how good a writer he is by the fact that many times I can’t tell until he mentions what’s not real.

January is traditionally a slow month for new stuff, and I didn’t find anything interesting to pick up. The list for science fiction/fantasy for February doesn’t look all that promising either. I probably won’t get much reading done this month as hockey and TotalCon take up much of time free time. Right now I’m reading The Corpse-Rat King by Lee Battersby. More on that next month.

Until next time…