Friday, November 15, 2013

Book Review: Blood Drama by Christopher Meeks

Blood Drama
by Christopher Meeks
Publisher: White Wiskers Press  (June 15, 2013)
Available in: Print & eBook, 242 pages

Note: several major and many minor edits on November 19th.

This is a thriller, a page turner with a noir edge and elements of a romance woven in.  But it is much more.  The use of metaphor and the emphasis of aspects that appear to reflect a theme raise it to the level of literary in my eyes.

The theme on first blush is ineffable and I will be struggling as I attempt to put it into words as it is more of a strong feeling tone at this point.  I would need a second read through once I'm able to hold the entire story arc in my mind like a faceted jewel to do it justice.  Making it harder is the convention of book blogging to take extreme care not to give spoilers and when you are dealing with a thriller or mystery that constraint is even stricter.

Sometimes I miss the early days of my blog when I knew nothing about book blogging and its subtle rules and didn't have an audience that I was aware of and was still naive enough to let rip off the cuff when I was touched or excited about a book.  This was before I knew about ARCs and what seemed at the time a marvelous opportunity to get free books.  The only kind I could afford.  And to get them before the libraries had them and thus bypass those first several months of waiting on my hold to rise to the top.

But there is always a trade off isn't there?  Nothing is ever really free.

For me the price I pay is loosing the freedom to say what's really on my mind and the time to keep up with my favorite writers living and dead.  I've stopped rereading Flannery O'Connor, Jane Austen, Mark Twain and Tolstoy.  To name just a few of the latter.  I've missed more than half of the last ten from Joyce Carol Oates and Stephen King whom I'd followed since the early 80s, and all of Alice Munro, Margaret Drabble, Barbara Kingsolver and Margaret Atwood since before 2001 which was six or seven years before I started getting ARCs so that was more about differences in selections between the library systems in the Rogue Valley OR and The Silicon Valley CA where we lived for two years before the tech bubble broke.

And apparently it isn't just the size of the library systems for as I've wandered the stacks of my childhood library in Longview WA this past year I've noticed I see a selection that resembles the one in Sunnyvale CA more than that of the Southern Oregon Library System with two large libraries and 13 rural branches and the two campus branches of the Rogue Valley Community College.

I don't know how to do a scientific analysis but my gut tells me that has to do with the attitudes of the local community and politicians.  Support for funding services of any kind is low in Southern Oregon with a very loud anti-tax crowd and officials, most male businessmen, who deem their caste a dime's thickness below divinity and did not blush when bragging that they got to the top of their current pinnacle having never set foot in a library.  Then watched with satisfaction when their fellow fundamentalists  in DC with the same doctrine and loud bull horns, acquired the power in 2006 and refused to renew the funding the system had depended on for decades.  Then together they turned their bull horns on the valley during the bond campaign to replace that funding and forced its defeat.  And then stood by with indifference as all fifteen branches closed their doors in 2007.

That funding was not sourced by tax dollars.  It was more like a trust fund created during Teddy Roosevelt's Presidency as reparations for the looting over the previous decades by the Robber Barons. Stopping the use of the funds from the forest lands held in trust is the first step toward returning them to private ownership so strip mining and clear cutting can resume.

Bitter much?  Yeah, a bit still.  But there has been a positive trade off.

It was during those six months without a library that I went from a dilettante blogger who'd posted less than once a week to posting daily.  It was during that time I discovered the free public domain ebook collections, the power of Google, book blogs and ARCs.  It's also when I discovered online writer support groups, tutorials on creative writing and gathered my courage to return to my own fiction and poetry writing after grieving for six years over the loss of all my WIP files except for 100 pages of excerpts and short pieces that I'd deemed worthy of the ink and paper to make hard copy and kept in a single portable folder that traveled with me when we stepped onto a bus in San Jose with one large duffle, two backpacks, two cat crates and the large beach bag I called my purse.  Leaving behind our storage unit--forever as it turned out.

But I've digressed yet again.  I've been doing that a lot lately.  I've deleted swathes of text below the third paragraph twice and was about to do it again when I reread that paragraph's first sentence:  The theme on first blush is ineffable and I will be struggling as I attempt to put it into words...  And it clicked and I realized that if I deleted the following paragraphs I would just find another tangent because this is how I figure out what I'm trying to say.

So bear with me please as I remain on this path.  I will bring it back to the topic in that third paragraph.  The ineffable theme of Blood Drama.  And now that I understand what I've been trying to do I see the path back a bit clearer. I do not think in the tidy linear flow charts of rhetoric and dialectics.  I think in images, both still shot and moving and both containing stories that I cannot explain short of telling them whole.  It brings to mind this quote from Flannery O'Conner: “A story is a way to say something that can’t be said any other way, and it takes every word in the story to say what the meaning is.”   When I first read that in my early twenties I had the most electrical Aha! moment that gave me back to myself.  I began to accept my way of thinking as legitimate and slowly stopped feeling inferior to the linear thinkers and stopped engaging in debates with my brother and husband who were both black and white linear thinkers who loved to argue.  At least at that time when in there twenties.  They've both mellowed in the last thirty years.

OK time to wrap this up.  Once I realized what I'd been trying to do with my memoir-like stories I looked for commonalities between this ramble and the other two.  And sure enough there was one.  All three were trying to get at the concept of how one reacts to adversity--with passive acceptance tinged with pessimism and despair or proactive acceptance honed with hope and effort and a willingness to see new opportunities in the situation and take them on with vigor.

In story this is the difference between a character who is willing to grow and one who is not.  The passive's story will fizzle like a dud firecracker while the proactive's will take off like a rocket breaking the bond of gravity.  Both Ian Nash, the protagonist, and FBI Agent in charge of the case, Aleece Medina, who has the role of Ian's antagonist are strongly proactive.  Both are exquisitely drawn with clear motives that drive their actions which are often at odds with each other.  And both, though they often do aggravating, off putting things are easy to empathize with and once you are connected to them you are connected to the heart of the story and though it is their actions that drive the story is who they are that makes you care enough to keep turning the pages.  For me anyway.  The action in and of itself is never enough to keep me involved.  I need to care deeply about those who act and react to the onslaught of events and the repercussions of thier actions.

Medina's actions grow out of her gut instincts backed up by decades of experience.  Ian's action's are rooted in his understanding of the theory of story and drama after years of academic study in the field of theater and the years he's worked on a dissertation about the playwrite Mamet.  Whenever he's confused by the actions of those around him he pulls up a quote from Mamet or other writers or from plays and other story forms that helps him sort it out and find a direction to aim his action.  Sometime he blurts it out but mostly he keeps it to himself.  Sometimes it directs him true and sometimes leads him astray for his motives are not always pure but tainted by the seething rage his traumatic experience at the hands of his kidnappers instilled in him.

Medina wants justice as defined by the law but Ian wants revenge.  It's easy to understand why and some might agree its the way to go even though they themselves have never experienced the level of brutality Ian had.  But I rooted for him to snap out of it before he was was further damaged by his own actions which in his fantasy rose to an equivalent level of brutality.  Brutality, in my opinion, rebounds upon the the perpetrator at least as severely as on the victim.

The novel began with Ian being booted out of his dissertation program.  Though it was partly campus politics that forced it, he'd probably have been protected from it if he'd had a strong dissertation in the works but as he was told, he was not breaking new ground.  I suspect that after the events in this story he'd have an easier time writing a dissertation with the heart and originality his first attempt lacked because now, having used it to comprehend the traumatic events and contrive responses, he has real world visceral knowledge of the dry theory.

I had more to say but I have to stop now.  I've officially missed my committed date as it just passed midnight.  I cringe at the realization I can't do a line edit.  I can no longer bring the words into focus. Forgive the errors some of which could be as big as misplaced phrases as I kept loosing the cursor and continuing to type for several seconds before I realized it and I'm not sure I found them all.

Well I guess I've made it obvious that I was moved by this story and intensely intrigued.  I'm fairly sure I'll want to reread it.  It is gems like this one and many others I've encountered as ARCs once I'd shifted my aspirations from the big names and big house titles to the indie small press and self pub titles, that keep me coming back in spite of the penalties I mentioned earlier.

From the Publishers:

Everyone has a bad day. Graduate student Ian Nash has lost his girlfriend in addition to being dropped from a Ph.D. program in theatre at a Southern California university. When he stops at a local coffee shop in the lobby of a bank to apply for a job, the proverbial organic matter hits the fan. A gang of four robs the bank, and things get bloody. Ian is taken hostage by the robbers when the police show up. Now he has to save his life.
FBI Special Agent Aleece Medina’s analysis of the bloody bank heist drives her into the pursuit of a robbery gang headed by two women. She doesn’t anticipate how this robbery will pit her against both the bandits and the male higher-ups in the FBI while the media heats up during a giant manhunt.
The robbers are about to kill Ian, and all he has at hand is his knowledge of the stage.

What they are saying:

Praise for Christopher Meek’s Love at Absolute Zero:
Top-Ten Best Fiction 2011 at Book Chase: “It is impossible not to like Gunnar Gunderson. As he progresses from one disaster or near miss to the next, one views him with a mixture of compassion and laughter.” Sam Sattler, Book Chase
Winner 2011 Red Adept Reviews Indie Award-Romance: ”The author hit a home run. It’s a very good story, very well told.”- Jim Chambers, Red Adept Reviews
Winner 2011 Noble Award (not Nobel): ”The tension between science and emotion has never been more keenly felt.” - Carolyn Howard-Johnson
“Thermodynamics are nothing; it’s that love thing that is so frustrat- ingly hard to figure out. Love at Absolute Zero is an excellent read that is very much worth considering, highly recommended!”- Midwest Book Review
Here’s what Some of the Reviewers Said From the First Tour of Blood Drama:
“What sets this novel apart from other thriller is the development of the characters.  Not only is Medina more complex than the stereotypical FBI agent found in many suspense novels, but Nash is a new type of victim.  His theater and academic background give him an interesting perspective.  This is definitely a suspenseful, can’t-put-it-down thriller.  Clear your calendar in order to have time to read this from start to finish!”Tammy, The Self-Taught Cook
“Blood Drama was highly entertaining and extremely enjoyable. It is a combination black comedy and crime novel. The characters of Ian and Aleece are memorable, quirky, and unique. I  reveled in Ian’s quoting David Mamet (or some other playwright or work of literature) to deduce and interpret the information he had to ascertain where the clues were leading them.   Meeks is a gifted writer. He has a pleasing way of propelling the action forward while developing his plot and characters. I enjoyed Meeks Love at Absolute Zero quite a bit, but I liked Blood Drama even more. I’m hopeful that Meeks will bring back Ian and Aleece to solve another crime.”Lori, She Treads Softly 
“This is one action packed thriller that you don’t want to put down. The author doesn’t waste time with the trivial, he gets right to the action and stays there. Just when you think things are as bad as they possible could get…wrong!
This was different from most thrillers I read in that it also has a little humor, I absolutely loved that aspect of the book.  The characters are well written, they seem like real people, flaws and all. There’s also romance in this book, which gives you a little relief from the gripping adventures.  I liked this book very much and so I will be checking to see what other books this author has written.”Vicky, I’d Rather Be At the Beach
“This story had me hooked just out of pity for the poor guy, but when things turned from bad to worse I couldn’t put it down. I had to know what was going to happen next. This was far from the typical suspense/thriller. Yes, it does follow the MOs you expect in some areas but the characters make it so unique.  I loved these characters. They were so unique that I could see them as real. They had their quirks and secrets that revealed their flaws and their vulnerabilities Nothing is really too farfetched. Yes, there is one character you might argue is but I live in a huge city. Trust me, it is not farfetched. Can’t say more or I let a big secret slip which is a no-no in reviews.  If you love suspense/thrillers that have some humor, you’ll love this book. Yes, it kept me riveted. You have to read this book. You’ll enjoy it and want more. Plus you’ll learn to appreciate your own days a little bit better.”Rebecca Graf, A Book Lover’s Library

Christopher Meeks first published short fiction in a number of literary journals, and the stories are available in two collections, The Middle-Aged Man and the Sea and Months and Seasons. Recently, he’s focused on novels. The Brightest Moon of the Century is a story of a man who yearns for love and success, covering over thirty years—a tale that Marc Schuster of Small Press Reviews describes as “a great and truly humane novel in the tradition of Charles Dickens and John Irving.” His last novel, Love At Absolute Zero, is about a physicist who uses the tools of science to find his soul mate–and he has just three days. Critic Grady Harp calls the book “a gift.” The new novel, Blood Drama, has him edge into a thriller. Meeks also runs White Whisker Books and publishes four authors.

Christopher at the Red Room
Christopher’s Website
Christopher on Facebook
Christopher on Twitter

Follow the blog tour for more reviews, giveaways, author interviews and guest posts: 

So Many Precious Books Nov 12 Spotlight & Giveaway
Rebecca Paperback Writer Nov 13 Guest Post
Joystory Nov 15 Review
I’m a Voracious Reader Nov 18 Review
Kate Eileen Shannon Nov 19 Review
Kate Eileen Shannon Nov 20 Interview & Giveaway
Deal Sharing Aunt Nov 20 Review
Celtic Lady Reviews Nov 21 Review
Teena in Toronto Nov 22 Review
The News in Books Nov 25 Review
The News in Books Nov 26 Interview
FU Only Knew Nov 26 Review
Sweeps for Bloggers Nov 27 Review & Giveaway

2 tell me a story:

Teddy Rose 11/16/2013 1:11 PM  

Thanks for taking part in the tour. I'm so glad you enjoyed Blood Drama and really got what Christopher Meeks was doing when he wrote it. You definitely delved under the surface and picked out the pearls. That is what I love about his writing, it's not just "skin deep."

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