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Book Reviews: Masked, part 1 + Primal Fear + Show of Evil + Reign in Hell + The Ice Limit

Masked edited by Lou Anders, part 1
An anthology of superhero fiction.

Cleansed And Set In Gold
He’s a D level superhero with an unpleasant way of getting powers. This was good and canny. The unfortunate hero’s care for others is what keeps him going even as he is savagely repulsed by his own plight.

Where Their Worm Dieth Not
A brooding superhero gets tired of the never-ending fight against his nemesis as their confrontations seem incapable of ending. This is an impassioned tale of heartfelt introspection, negative self-definition and a cold twist.

Best Lines:
“I have to bury my faeces in lead jars because they’d kill any ordinary man that got near them.”

“You dress like a refugee from a bondage flick.”

“The whole reason he was a crime fighter was that he was willing to judge people.”

“They’re being asked to decide if a murder conviction can stand if the victim is later restored to life by a time travel paradox.”

Secret Identity
A sexually confused superhero. Touching.

The Non-Event
A depressing tale of how some super-villains unimaginable bank robbery plan goes fumblingly awry due to a series of absurd events. Okay.

Avatar
A disaffected teenage boy decides to become a vigilante. Reality ensues.

Best Line:
“Kids whose parents were crack whores and syphilitic losers.”

Message From The Bubblegum Factory
A disgraced former sidekick has turned on the worshipped superhero Soliton. But the sidekick knows that Soliton is not the inspirational good guy everyone else believes him to be. This is an excellent tale of a world unknowingly vanquished by its appointed hero.

Best Lines:
“Villains are very big on dangling.”

“My backstory’s a little complicated.”

“Soliton will have no other heroes before him.”

Thug
The journal of a slow kid who misconstrued and dismissed as a thug and becomes a super-villain’s henchman in a self-fulfilling prophecy. This was good and sad as the thug reveals he is not lumpy and incomparably stupid at all.

Best Line:
“I didnt want to do butt things.”

Vacuum Lad
By Stephen Baxter. A disenchanted man becomes a superhero but an explanatory chat reveals how he is much, much more than that. Okay.

A Knight Of Ghosts And Shadows
A 1940s pulp hero does stuff. This was not effective, despite a rich seam to mine. I felt profound dissatisfaction over this debacle, the erstwhile character is boring.

~
Primal Fear by William Diehl
This 1994 novel is set in Chicago and a sainted archbishop is murdered and a blood soaked young man is found swearing he is innocent. Martin Vail is a ‘crusading’ arrogant bad boy defence lawyer. Now his showboating sees him defend the volatile yet vulnerable young man, Aaron Stampler. Vail makes startling and unpleasant discoveries as he fights for his client leading to a shock twist ending. This was adapted into a film with Richard Gere and Edward Norton and a lot was changed for the film.

Best Line:
“A client everybody thinks makes Manson look like Little Bo Peep.”

~
Show Of Evil by William Diehl
10 years have passed since the events of ‘Primal Fear’. Vail is now a top prosecutor and Stampler is due to be released from a high security mental hospital. But a series of murders with ties to the archbishop’s murder take place and Val is sure there is a connection between the murders and Stampler who he brands as demonic and soulless. This 1996 novel is very good. It is a creepy tale of a psychopath and there is yet another twist ending.

Best Lines:
“I am responsible for this human ghoul.”

“Aaron and Roy, it seems, have gone to that great split-personality place in hell.”
“That’s pretty cynical Martin. Don’t you feel some sense of redemption, knowing that you saved him?”
“No.”

~
Reign In Hell by William Diehl
This 1998 novel is set an undetermined amount of time after ‘Show of Evil’ and Vail is now Assistant Attorney General and a rampaging do-gooder hypocrite. Vail is combating militia hate groups (so very 90s), which he brands the ultimate subversive threat to America. As Vail leads his war, he is unaware that a leading militia figure is his old nemesis Aaron Stampler. Vail and Stampler are to have their final conflict. This was okay and this trilogy is highly recommended.

Best Lines:
“Do you consider them dangerous?”
“I don’t consider them at all.”

“He’s as close to the living Devil as anyone I’ve ever met.”

~
The Ice Limit by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child
This 2001 novel is a stand alone tale about a group of treasure hunters who plan to steal a four thousand ton meteorite from Chile. It is 30 million years old and full of secrets. But the group of jerks on a tanker are sure they can deal with it. The jerks talk and talk and drop exposition dumps and technobbable. Someone thinks it is an interstellar meteorite. The scarlet meteorite is ancient and enigmatic. Two characters have a terrible awkward sex scene. There is endless padding, a crazy man chases them and the twist come far far too late. The twist (it involves the panspermia theory) and the final line are the only interesting things about this dull misfire.

Best Lines:
“They belligerently patrol the coastal waters.”

“I never have and I never will.”

“I said, step aside.”

“A place in the universe very different from our own. The region of a hypernova.”

“She threw them up all over my mom’s bed, though. In the middle of the night. That was pretty funny.”

“It wasn’t a meteorite at all.”
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