Book Review: Whispering Nickel Idols by Glen Cook

Format:  Paperback, First Edition, 2005

Pages:  368

Reading Time:  about 3 months*


In my previous review of a Glen Cook book, Angry Lead Skies, I revealed that though I love the Garrett P.I. series, another stinker will see me walking away from Glen Cook’s writing. Well, I guess I better buy some good shoes, because I am indeed abandoning this series after struggling through Whispering Nickel Idols.

In all fairness, this book isn’t quite as bad as the last one. It does feel like it could have been written by Mr. Cook. Unfortunately it wasn’t enough to make me want to go out and buy Cruel Zinc Melodies. Maybe he’s tired, or bored with this series, or needs money…I have no idea what Mr. Cook thinks or feels. But it sure feels like he’s mailing it in, so to speak.

Garrett has been reduced to a shell of himself in this book. He has a brush with death that relegates him to a minor character about halfway through the book, and he feels like an observer the rest of the way through. It’s obvious Cook wanted Garrett to change after the P.I.’s near-death experience…the detective spends more time with Tinnie Tate, sits on the sidelines, and is always one step behind everyone else until the end of the book. He whines and complains more than usual – about people, the weather, his beer, but most of all about his finances. At one point I was questioning how this guy could be considered a detective at all since he couldn’t figure anything out without help.

The most glaring problem with the book, however, is that it just isn’t very compelling. I said it in my last review and I’ll repeat it here: what I enjoy about the Garrett novels are compelling mysteries, twists and turns, minor skirmishes, big dust-ups, sexual tension, and a tremendous dose of tongue-in-cheek humor mixed with sarcasm and wit. There’s a little bit of these elements here and there throughout the book, but not enough to satisfy me. I kept thinking, “where’s the action, the suspense, the mystery, the humor?”

*My favorite time to read is when I’m headed for bed – a relaxing, quiet time to turn pages for an hour. Some books I stay up longer to read, because I just can’t stop turning the pages. With this book, I could barely make it through a chapter without falling asleep. Every day for 3 months. And were talking chapter sizes of 1-3 pages long. That’s why I have nicknamed this book, ‘The Book That Almost Killed My Blog.” I have vowed to read only one book at a time and finish every book, but Whispering Nickel Idols nearly made me break that vow.

So with that said, I part ways with Glen Cook. It’s a sad day, but I do have fond memories of the previous books in this series, as well as the Black Company books. Now, however, I’m looking forward to other adventures…

Book Review: Angry Lead Skies by Glen Cook

Format:  Paperback, First Edition, 2002

Pages:  364

Reading Time:  about 7 hours

I am a huge Glen Cook fan. I’ve devoured every book in the Black Company series, and I’ve been following Garrett P.I. for some time. Garrett has been around far longer than Harry Dresden or Eddie Drood…Cook laid the groundwork for these types of books, and there was nothing like Sweet Silver Blues when I first read it back in 1990. Angry Lead Skies is the 10th book in the “series”. I use that word loosely because each book is a stand-alone tale that does not require reading previous installments. Although it would be more helpful if you know some of the backstory, Cook takes the time to re-introduce each character to get you up to speed.

Each Garrett novel begins with a knock on his front door, leading to a mystery that the P.I. is asked to look in to. Along the way people usually try to kill him, and he struggles with his romantic relationships as the case gets in the way. Garrett has several friends, partners, and romantic interests: The Dead Man (a 400 year-old dead Loghyr with psychic capabilities); Dean (the housekeeper); Morley Dotes (a vain, vegetarian, elven assassin); Playmate (friend and stable owner); Saucerhead Tharpe (muscle); Doris, Marsha, and Dojango (half-troll, half-giant, also muscle); Tinnie Tate (off-again, on-again romantic interest); and The Goddamn Parrot (also known as Mr. Big).

The premise of this particular tale has aliens invading the town of TunFaire. Yes, that’s right, aliens. There is a loose plot of a boy gone missing, but not much mystery to speak of. In fact, most of the plot is resolved in the first two-thirds of the book. The last third of the book has Garrett setting himself up with money and explaining himself to the police and is incredibly anti-climatic. And what’s with all the sex with these ugly aliens? Over and over again…really?!!!

This is in fact the worst story I have ever read from Glen Cook. I was unhappy with how dark the Black Company books were at the end of that series, but this is far, far worse. I’ve seen several reviews that suggest this book was ghost-written by someone else. If that’s true, it would explain a lot, as it’s hard to imagine Mr. Cook wrote this story. What I enjoy about the Garrett novels are compelling mysteries, twists and turns, minor skirmishes, big dust-ups, sexual tension, and a tremendous dose of tongue-in-cheek humor mixed with sarcasm and wit. But I found none of that here.

In fact, not only are these elements absent, but several inconsistencies arise, based on what has transpired in previous novels. “illiandantic” has a review over at Amazon that sums up these inconsistencies nicely:

“First of all, where did Garrett’s love interest, Katie, come from? Usually, he finds these women as part of his cases (either the principal or a player). In this case, we start out the book with her already there. She has no background and plays no part in the book. He doesn’t even mention Tinnie (whom he had gotten back together with at the end of the previous book — a couple of weeks in Garrett time) until half way through the book.

– Second, Playmate is way out of character. In all the other books, he’s a simple, honest person. In this one, he’s essentially a walking Dead Man or a more honest Morley Dotes: a sophisticated, educated, smooth talking, cynical person. Plus, Cook specifically notes that he’s NOT really 9 feet tall. Yet, in all the other books, he IS 9 feet tall. A couple of books ago, Cook graphically portrayed him in a situation at Morley’s restaurant as being bent over to fit inside. My guess is Cook needed some way to work a specific type of character in as a principal and a 9 foot tall, simple guy wouldn’t work. So, he just changed him.

– Similarly, Singe has miraculously graduated from a smart, though barely articulate, rat woman into practically an Einstein.

– Ditto for the Rose triplets. Specifically, Doris and Marsha. In all previous books those two grolls were dumb as stumps. Even more importantly, only Dojango spoke “English” (that was why he was around — to translate). Doris and Marsha ONLY and SPECIFICALLY spoke grollish.

– And, finally, near the end, Cook mentions that the Tates have DWARF blood somewhere back in their line. That’s not correct. Again, specifically, in all previous books he’s mentioned that they have ELF blood in them.”

Everything pointed out here is spot on, and goes a long towards proving something is fishy about this book. From the opening chapters it becomes clear that something is up – the prose and dialog is clumsy, hard to follow, and it takes 3 chapters to introduce the “mystery”. I was scratching my head in confusion. I’ve never had this much difficulty getting interested in one of Cook’s stories.

I struggled to finish this book, and don’t want to waste any more of my time reviewing it. The story is that bad.  I will give the next book a chance, but if it’s more of the same, I’ll be dropping this series, and dropping Glen Cook as one of my favorite authors. My time is valuable to me, and I don’t want to waste it reading pedestrian material.