Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Book Review: The Spirit and the Shadow by Thomas P. Lavalle and Brandon L. Swope

Brandon L. Swope
Thomas P. LaValle
Detective Robert Garrison is an investigator in the Vampire-Human division of the LAPD. He’s human. Detective Aiden Lawson is Garrison’s partner. He’s a vampire. Together they investigate any incident involving human-vampire violence – whether vamp on human or human on vamp in nature. When a human victim turns up in an alleyway with his throat half ripped out in an uncharacteristic attack, the two are pulled into a case that draws them into an international conspiracy involving assassination squads, covert operatives and a mysterious package.

The Spirit and the Shadow is Book One in a proposed series of graphic novels written by Thomas P. Lavalle and illustrated by Brandon L. Swope. Actually, it’s less a graphic novel and more a novella in script form with an ongoing story-board. There are no speech or thought balloons, no narrative paragraphs, and no consistent panel-for-panel visual arc. The illustrations use only two colors, black and red, and the red is not used sparingly.

Storywise, The Spirit and the Shadow weaves a very clever vision which seems to have been conceived as a television series for Netflix or HBO. It’s just that violent and has some adult language, but it’s missing the requisite nudity that would assure it a second season on paid cable or subscription Net service. It has a well-developed and involved mythology which tows the line of the usual vampire tropes while tweaking the genre in some very original ways.

Illustratively, it’s a little amateurish. Stylistically, the drawings look like something which would have been submitted as concept art to a professional to be fleshed out; and many of the drawings are used repetitively – which comes across as lazy; although the artist does introduce some clever ideas into the mix. For example, in a few sequences, if the reader pages through the images quickly, there’s something of a flipbook animation gimmick which unexpectedly materializes.

The Spirit and the Shadow ends in a cliff hanger, which is probably intended to go several episodes if not establish an indefinite series. The concept and story are probably strong enough to support that aspiration. However, other than family and friends of the creative team, I don’t think a general audience will embrace the script format or the monotony of the repetitive images. 

You can get all the info on their book at their website:


Friday, April 11, 2014

Book Review: Sons of Cain by C.W. Burgett

Jack Basset is a reporter for a major daily with a particular talent for sniffing out good stories. His current assignment is to find out why an assassin murdered a US Senator a year before. Jack finagles a meeting with the prisoner (who refuses to meet or talk with anybody with the exception of one man) by having guards tell the prisoner that the one person he will meet with is waiting to see him. Jack leaves the meeting with precious little, and soon learns that the prisoner, the prison guard, and Jack’s editor have all been killed. Realizing that he’s probably next, Jack scurries to protect his family and self just as the assassination team arrives at his house.

Sons of Cain by C.W. Burgett is a thriller involving a secret society determined to advance to the white house. The writer goes out of his way to avoid strong language and sexual situations. Unfortunately that doesn’t always work to keep the reader engaged. In one particularly grating scene, a nurse who has been helping Jack attempts to seduce him only to have her advances rebuffed by the hero who wishes to remain faithful to his wife. The seduction is clumsy, ill-timed, and comes out of nowhere. It reads like the fantasy of a twelve year old boy, like the Heavy Metal seduction scene Kenny imagines in that one episode of South Park.

The novel opens strongly. The first chapter is particularly well written and fast paced. However, the rest of the book doesn’t live up to that opening chapter. In fact, the difference is so noticeable that it’s as if the writer gave the novel to a professional who edited the first chapter on spec and then quoted a price for the remainder which Burgett was unwilling to pay. For example, the writer has a habit of using proper names when a pronoun would have worked better. He also uses a simple vocabulary with three-dollar-words interjected pell-mell. (See what I did there?)

Burgett has obviously seen more thriller movies and learned their lessons than he has read thriller novels to learn theirs. Burgett’s desire to write uplifting Christian lit is also evident in the sparse narration. This is a story with a message when a story with a story would have been better. Actually, to be fair, the story itself is actually very well crafted and clever. It would make a decent TNT movie starring Lorenzo Lamas.

The book is available on Amazon, and has a Goodreads presence. Mr. Burgett can be found on Facebook or on his own website.

     Jack read the passage and looked up at Keith for an explanation. Keith smiled at Jack before responding to the unspoken question.
     “Basically, it puts forth an alternative view of Cain. It says that when God made Cain into a nomad, he vowed that death would be his legacy. He spent the rest of his life pitting tribe against tribe and brother against brother. He taught his children to cause war as a means of gaining the spoils.
     “It claims that almost every major war can be traced back to the group that Timothy belongs to--they call themselves The Sons of Cain. Alexander the Great, Napoleon, even Abraham Lincoln were all members of this organization.”
     Jack flipped through the pages and found that what started merely as names, turned into signatures on the left and typed out names on the right. Jack could not help but stop and stare at one name in particular.
     A few years back, Jack had written an article that had required reading of many of this man’s writings, thus becoming very familiar with the handwriting. There was no doubting it: the signature of Adolph Hitler.
     “That night, I took the book home and read it. To me, it seemed extremely interesting--it sounded like a group of businessmen that had the foresight to prepare themselves to reap the benefits of war. Frankly, that sounded right up my alley. “At first, I didn’t believe all of the Cain stuff, but over time and research, I have concluded that it must be true. The next day I met with Tim again. After I told him I liked what I had read, he pulled out this book.”
     Keith pulled another folder out of the bag. This one was similar to the first, but smaller.
     Keith smiled and opened the folder to the first page without saying a word.