Friday, March 19, 2010

Chop Shop by Tim Downs

book cover

Chop Shop
by Tim Downs

Trade Paperback: 352 pages
Publisher: Howard Books
First Released: 2004

Source: Bought from

Back Cover Description:
Intern forensic pathologist Dr. Riley McKay has noticed irregularities in autopsies at the Allegheny County Coroner's lab. Suspecting foul play, she seeks help from Dr. Nick Polchak, the "bug man" renowned for his ability to solve murders by analyzing the insects on victim's bodies. Nick and Riley uncover a sinister link between the lab's director and PharmaGen, a start-up drug company specializing in genetic research. They also discover that PharmaGen fronts an underground system to procure transplant organs for wealthy clients by finding and murdering matching donors. But PharmaGen learns of their security breach and orders the couple destroyed. While staying a step ahead of PharmaGen assassins, romantic attraction develops between Nick and Riley. But the attraction is complicated by a tragic secret that Riley hides -- a secret closely tied to one member of PharmaGen's operation which propels the novel to its astonishing conclusion.

Chop Shop was a well-written contemporary suspense/mystery novel with a bit of romance. It's the second book in the Bug Man series (and I also reviewed Shoofly Pie), but you don't need to read the first book to understand this one. Chapter one of Chop Shop was pretty funny, but chapter two was the funniest thing I've ever read. I couldn't stop laughing...and I'm still laughing when I think of it.

The main mystery was fairly easy to figure out, but Nick also figured most of it out at about the same time. However, there was one mystery element that was revealed only near the end. The suspense was mainly created by the danger of being discovered and then because their lives were in danger.

The characters were complex and often quirky, and there was an underlying humor to the story. Nick's parts were often very funny, and all of the good characters--even the minor ones--were engaging. (Some of the bad guys were jerks.) Nick did make some stupid mistakes near the end that increased the suspense level, but this time he was validly distracted and had a good reason for not thinking straight or gave reasonable explanations for why he'd done them. The ending was a bit sad, but I could see it coming from way ahead of time so it wasn't a surprise.

The world-building and pacing were excellent. The level of detail was much better in this novel than in the first Bug Man novel, especially when it came to the fast-paced scenes.

The dead body scenes were somewhat graphic, but not really gross. There was one instance of "he cursed" style bad language. There was no sex. Overall, I'd highly recommend this novel as well-written, clean reading.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt from Chapter One
North Carolina State University, May 2003

Nick Polchak stood with his nose less than twelve inches from the blackboard, his right hand waving a stick of chalk like a conductor's baton. From time to time he stopped abruptly, and the chalk would tap out a hypnotic staccato; then he would suddenly arch away from the blackboard, study his most recent series of scratchings, make a few quick edits with his left hand, and begin again. He spoke directly to the blackboard, as though students might somehow be trapped behind it. In fact, they were behind him, fighting off heat-induced slumber and cursing the fate that had forced them to take General Entomology during a summer session while more fortunate classmates were right now stretching out on the sands at Myrtle Beach.

"While all bugs are insects, not all insects are bugs," Nick confided to the blackboard. "True bugs belong to the suborder Heteroptera; these include lace bugs, squash bugs, chinch bugs, red bugs, water bugs. The tips of their wings are membranous, but only the tips--insects with entirely membranous wings belong to the suborder Homoptera, which includes cicadas, treehoppers, aphids, and lantern flies. Both orders, of course, are characterized by the sucking mouthparts--"

"Dr. Polchak," a weary voice interrupted, "will this be on the final?"

The chalk stopped tapping. Nicking turned slowly and looked over the class as if he were shocked to discover someone sitting behind him. "Who said that?"

Read more of chapter one.

No comments: