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September 11, 2013

Book Reviews - CSI novels

I do really like the original CSI TV show, but I haven't had the chance to watch them in quite a while. So long, in fact, that I still had episodes with Laurence Fishburn on them from 2011 on my DVR.

What's a guy to do when he's stuck at home with his tooth killing him and an excessively swollen cheek? How about catch up on some CSI episodes!

So I've watched the show for years (*ahem*) but hadn't really read any of the tie-in novels until a few years ago. So, in honour of my enforced layabout last week, how about making this week's book reviews about those novels? There are some good ones in there.

Overall, I've read four of the novels over the years, and they've ranged from decent to outstanding. None of them will be considered great literature, of course. But they are fun books, interesting reads with a good take on the television characters.

One problem with TV tie-in novels is that the TV show holds all the character cards. If they want to introduce some previously unmentioned sister or love child of one of the major characters, they can. The books can't do that. I've seen one Star Trek author talk about how the writers get to play with somebody else's toys, but they have to make sure they're all back in the toybox afterward, unharmed.

Thus, you're not going to get a deep character study of Gil Grissom or Catherine Willows in a CSI novel.

That being said, good tie-in writers can skirt the edges and do interesting things with them despite not being able to make fundamental changes to the character.

Following are mini-reviews of the four novels I've read, with links to Curled Up With a Good Book reviews.

In Extremis - by Ken Goddard
"A contract killer has a hit going down in a nature preserve outside of Las Vegas, which unfortunately is interrupted by a DEA drug sting operation. The killer, Viktor Mialkovsky, expertly does his job anyway, but his evacuation of the scene is prevented by the Las Vegas police department showing up at the sting site, where the assembled agents end up firing at a truck that appears to be trying to run them down. As the CSI team tries to reassemble the shooting scene to discover whether it was justified or not, another body appearing further up the mountain may bring the team too close to Viktor’s location. A game of cat and mouse develops, pitting CSI head Gil Grissom against an expert killer who just may be familiar with him."
This is a decent novel, but the characterization of the regulars is what ultimately make the book mediocre.

The villain is extremely well-done, but Goddard fails in what I mentioned above: doing anything interesting with the regulars. It's a rather paint-by-numbers crime story, where Hodgest is an annoying kiss-ass, there's one brief tender scene between Grissom and Sara, and they do a lot of scientific investigation. This last part slows the pace of the novel considerably when he goes into way too much detail.

Brass in Pocket - by Jeff Mariotte
"It's a busy night in the crime lab. Gil Grissom is off in Washington at a conference and then a Congressional testimony, and the lab is shorthanded (this novel takes place during the 10 episodes before William Petersen left the show, so after Warrick Brown's death). But murder doesn't wait until it's convenient, and three crime scenes occupy their attention: a brutal shooting at a cheap motel that may involve police Captain Jim Brass, who's not answering Catherine Willows' phone calls; a "locked room" mystery where a pilot lands a plane at a small airport and is discovered dead in the pilot seat; and a gruesome find of some animal bones as well as a recently slain sheep that may be the lead up to a serial killer. And then Catherine's daughter calls with her problems!"
This is a much better novel, because Mariotte is an experienced tie-in writer. That being said, I've never cared for his Star Trek books, so it's surprising that I loved this one so much.

He does a great job with the characters, and while Catherine's angst over how she's neglected her daughter is well-worn on the show, he ties it into the Brass case and actually makes it interesting. He brings something previously unknown from Brass' past, but it's not so huge that you can complain "this wasn't in the show!" Also, the character of Riley disappeared from the show fairly shortly (maybe one season?), so he's able to give her a lot more depth as well.

It's an interesting set of cases and very well-written. As a CSI fan, I enjoyed it.

The Killing Jar - by Donn Cortez
"A teenager is found dead in a hotel room, killed by millipede poison. Gil Grissom, Nick Stokes and Riley Adams are forced to face off with a deranged killer whose knowledge of entomology rivals Grissom's own, and who uses that knowledge to not only kill but also to explore the effects of his murders. He may be Grissom's toughest opponent yet. Meanwhile, Catherine Willows and Greg Sanders are investigating the death of a Hawaiian man engulfed in hardened wax after having his fingers cut off. He's the overlap between the world of crystal meth and the art world, and these two crossing is never a good thing."
I had the honour of meeting Mr. Cortez (not his real name) at V-Con last year, and it was interesting to hear him talk about tie-ins like this. I complimented him on this book, which is the best CSI book I've read (admittedly, that's not a huge number).

This book takes place during the 10-episode arc that opened the season where Grissom left, so it was an interesting character study of the man. Granted, Cortez couldn't make any huge revelations or anything. But he could have the case really affect him and make it credible that events in the novel added to his decision to leave the crime lab.

It's a fun book, and it feels the most like the TV show compared to the other novels. I could really hear the actors spouting the lines that Cortez was giving him.

The cases were really interesting (though the artist one not quite so much) and Cortez' prose gets out of the way and lets you enjoy the novel.

A great read.

The Burning Season - by Jeff Mariotte
"Three separate crimes need to be solved by the intrepid Las Vegas nightshift CSIs. A fire in a small resort town of Mount Charleston, near Las Vegas, results in almost the entire subdivision being burned to the ground, as well as the deaths of six firefighters. There is the attempted roadside bombing of the head of a major cable news network, a network beset by large protests outside of the building and numerous death threats against the owner. Finally, a dog has taken a severed hand underneath the front porch of a suburban home. Retrieving the hand will lead Ray Langston into the dark underbelly of the illegal immigrant community."
The first of the novels with Ray Langston that I had read (sadly, I haven't read any novels with the latest new characters). Mariotte uses him to good effect, with a rather interesting case.

That being said, the politics of the novel is what really brings it down. Mariotte tries so hard not to offend anybody that he makes it very unrealistic. The head of the network who is pissing everybody off is supposed to be so middle of the road that I have no idea why anybody would be protesting him, especially violently. "I strongly advocate that we....don't do anything!" Yeah, that will get people riled up.

Mariotte also gets a bit too technical in the crime scene investigation scenes, even having Sara and Greg explain to each other for a whole page why they can now use digital photographs in their processing.

The characters are interesting, but the novel just kind of lies there at times. Probably the worst of the four novels.

I will have to check out some of the newer ones, if they are even being written anymore. Now that I'm catching up on the show again.

Hope you enjoyed this run-through of the CSI novel universe!


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