Saturday, March 17, 2018

A Gripping Novel of Crime and Family from Brian Panowich

This is another excellent crime novel in which family ties are a critical theme. For several generations, the Burroughs family has controlled Bull Mountain in rural North Georgia. Their criminal empire was built first on moonshine and then graduated into weed and, finally, meth. The family's leader in each generation has been tough, brutal, amoral, and willing to do anything to protect the family and its enterprises. Murder is simply one of many tools for advancing and protecting the family's fortunes, and most Burroughs men will kill without giving it a second thought.

The exception is Clayton Burroughs, the youngest brother of the current generation, who has determined to take another path. Clayton has won election as sheriff in a small neighboring town and is attempting to carve out a life for himself and his wife, different from that of his brothers. Not surprisingly, there's no love lost between Clayton and his brothers, particularly Halford, the current leader of the clan. At one point, Halford tells his Clayton that he's the sheriff only because Halford allows him to be--not meaning that he could see Clayton defeated at the ballot box, but rather meaning that he simply hasn't given the order to have his little brother killed yet.

Into this combustible mix comes a rogue F.B.I. agent named Simon Holly who has an agenda of his own. The Burroughs have entered into an alliance with an outlaw Florida biker gang to run their product and their money back and forth between Florida and Georgia. Holly shows up in Clayton's office, claiming that he wants to shut down the biker gang and their network of illegal activities. This would impinge on the Burroughs family operation, and Holly wants Clayton to cooperate with the investigation. Clayton now finds himself trapped between the proverbial rock and the hardest of all spots, and there's simply no way that this can end well.

The story is told from shifting points of view, and Panowich writes beautifully. He creates a wonderful sense of place, and the reader can practically feel him- or herself climbing Bull Mountain and being sucked into the roiling catastrophe that is the Burroughs family. This is a great read that will keep you turning the pages well beyond your bedtime.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

A British Racing Investigator Tackles a Complex Case in Norway

When a British jockey named Richard Sherman disappears from a racecourse in Norway, he leaves behind a pregnant wife and a huge mystery. At the same time Sherman went missing, so did sixteen thousand kroner--the day's take at the racecourse where Sherman had been riding that afternoon. Sherman was last seen near the room where the money was inexplicably left unguarded, and the assumption is that he has run off with it.

But how? 

Norwegian investigators have drawn a blank; neither Sherman nor the money have surfaced and there's no record of him leaving the country. Accordingly, the racetrack officials call in David Cleveland, an investigator from the Jockey Club in England. Cleveland pairs up with a Norwegian investigator named Arne Kristiansen, who tells David that he hopes the Englishman can pull the proverbial rabbit out of the hat.

Almost as soon as Cleveland arrives in Norway, however, it becomes very clear that someone doesn't want him poking around, and the deeper he digs, the more dangerous things become. But Cleveland is a typical Dick Francis protagonist, and he's not about to back down, irrespective of the possible consequences.

This is a fairly typical novel from Dick Francis. There's lots of intrigue, danger and action. In this case there's not much romance, although at one point our intrepid hero causes a woman to have an orgasm just by dancing with her! With that kind of talent, it's hard to imagine that even the most diabolical criminals will escape his reach for long. 3.5 stars, rounded up to 4.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

A Beautiful Novel of Crime and Family from Urban Waite

Disgraced former sheriff Patrick Drake is paroled after twelve years in prison and returns home to the small town in Washington state where his life went south and where his son and daughter-in-law still live in the house that used to be his. His son, Bobby, is still embarrassed about the crimes his father committed and the relationship between the two is seriously strained. Still Bobby invites his father to stay with him and his wife while Patrick figures out what to do with the rest of his life and while father and son try to determine what, if any, sort of relationship they might have going forward.

Complicating matters is the fact that Patrick was convicted of a robbery from which the money was never recovered. There's $200,000 out there somewhere, and while Patrick claims he knows nothing about it, some determined people on both sides of the law refuse to believe that and will not let Patrick or his family rest until the money turns up.

In the especially nasty department are two convicts who knew Patrick inside. As an ex-lawman, Patrick was especially vulnerable in prison and "bought" protection by promising to pay off the two once he was released if they would keep him safe inside. They weren't supposed to be out for another ten years or so, but once Patrick is free, the two manage an escape. They are now hot on the trail of Patrick and the money.

At one level, this is a gripping crime novel with plenty of action. But more than anything, it's a story about family and the relationships that exist among family members. Patrick's son, Bobby, has been enormously conflicted ever since his father was accused of the crime. But rather than moving away and attempting to create a new life for himself, he remains in the small town where he grew up. Though now married himself, he continues to live in the house where he was raised, with all of the memories it holds. And if that weren't enough, he has followed in his father's footsteps and is now a deputy sheriff in the department his father betrayed.

Also in the mix is Patrick's own father, who lives a hermit-like existence out in the middle of nowhere, and Bobby's wife, Sheri. Bobby and Sheri have suffered a tragedy of their own; their relationship is troubled as well, and the last thing they need are the emotional complications and the danger that Patrick will bring into their home.

Waite writes beautifully; the characters are expertly created, and the sense of place is overpowering. When I finally pulled this book off the shelf and finally got around to reading it, the sales receipt fell out and I realized that I'd had this book on my TBR shelf since November of 2014. I really wish I'd gotten to it a lot sooner.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

L. A. Detective Harry Bosch Teams Up with F.B.I.Agent Rachel Walling to Chase an Especially Nasty Killer

The Narrows brings together several of Michael Connelly's characters, including L.A. detective Harry bosch, Connelly's main protagonist; F.B.I. agent Rachel Walling from The Poet; and Terry McCaleb, a former F.B.I. profiler, who first appeared in Blood Work.

Actually, as this book opens, McCaleb has just died. He was the survivor of a heart transplant and apparently died when his new heart failed him while he was out at sea on the charter fishing boat that he operated. It all seems pretty straightforward, but McCaleb's widow, Graciela, asks Bosch to look into it. Bosch, who has left the L.A.P.D. and is now a private investigator, agrees to do so because McCaleb once saved his life when the two were working together on an earlier case.

McCaleb had never been able to let go of his career as a profiler, and although he was no longer with the F.B.I., he occasionally consulted with other law enforcement agencies. He also followed cases that he personally found interesting and left several boxes of files when he died. Bosch begins reviewing the files and finds a relatively new case that had grabbed McCaleb's attention. The case had caused McCaleb to travel to a desolate part of Nevada, but his notes are fairly cryptic, and Bosch can't figure out what McCaleb might have been looking for there.

Virtually at the same time, an unidentified person sends a GPS unit to the F.B.I. addressed to Rachel Walling. Walling has been exiled to hardship duty in North and South Dakota because she fell out of favor with the Powers That Be at the end of the case where she was chasing the Poet. The Poet was presumed to be dead at the end of that book, but it was impossible to confirm the identification of the body that was found, and anyone who's ever read a novel about a serial killer knows what that means.

The Fibbies have no choice but to bring Rachel back into the fold, at least until they can figure out why the GPS was sent to her, and as it turns out, the coordinates on the GPS send them to the exact same desolate spot in the Nevada desert where Bosch is headed. Oops!

It quickly becomes apparent that a very bad hombre is on the loose and, naturally, the stuffed shirts at the F.B.I. will have their heads in a position where it will be very difficult for them to think clearly. This means that it will be up to Harry and Rachel to save civilization as we know it, if only it's not too late.

This is a very entertaining novel and it's great fun watching Bosch and Walling work together, especially with all the odds that are stacked against them. It's hard to imagine a fan of crime fiction who would not enjoy this book.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Introducing Tracy Crosswhite

My Sister's Grave introduces Seattle homicide detective Tracy Crosswhite. Twenty years earlier, her younger sister, Sarah, who was then eighteen, disappeared after the two had participated in a shooting competition. As Tracy went off to dinner with her boyfriend, Sarah left to drive home in the rain and was never seen again. 

The two sisters had been best of friends and Tracy has never forgiven herself for allowing Sarah to drive home alone. Twenty years later, the pain is still sharp and ultimately led Tracy to give up her career as a teacher to become a homicide detective. 

A previously convicted rapist named Edmund House was arrested and convicted of Sarah's murder, largely on the basis of circumstantial evidence and on the testimony of the local sheriff who claimed that House had confessed to killing Sarah, even though there was no tape recording or witness to back up the sheriff's claim. Tracy has never been totally convinced of House's guilt and has continued digging into the case in an effort to satisfy herself of the fact that justice either was or was not done.

As the book opens, Sarah's remains are finally found by two hunters in a heavily wooded area that had previously been covered by a lake. The discovery of the body raises even more questions about the case against Edmund House and makes Tracy even more determined to make sure that the person who killed her sister pays the price. Her efforts will antagonize a good number of people in the small town where she grew up and where the crime occurred. They will also place Tracy herself in a considerable amount of jeopardy.

This is a very compelling story that combines the best elements of a legal thriller with that of a gripping police procedural. Tracy Crosswhite makes a very engaging protagonist and the story moves at such a fast clip that it's almost impossible to put the book down once it gets rolling. All in all, a very good introduction to this series.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

A Korean War Vet Finds Love and Trouble in the Early 1950s

Tom Decker is a Korean War vet and an ex-con. Now back from the war, he mixes paint for customers in a small New York town in a hardware store that once belonged to his father. But his father went broke during the Depression and was forced to sell the store at a huge loss to a wealthy man named Smith before hanging himself in the basement of the family home. The hardware store is still named Decker's, but instead of owning the business, Tom is forced to work for the sniveling son of the man who swindled his father out of it.

Understandably, Tom has a huge chip on his shoulder. Since his father lost the business, Tom has served time in prison and distinguished himself as a Marine in the Korean War. Now, when he's not mixing paint, in his spare time he's robbing banks in an effort to accumulate enough money to buy the store back.

When a beautiful, sexy woman, walks into the store one day in need of a gallon of paint, Tom mixes it up. He also falls head over heels for the customer. She's immediately attracted to him as well; the fireworks begin, and only after the fact does Decker discover the the woman is the ex-wife of a New York City gangster who's currently in jail. Ex-wife or not, Decker is soon in hot water on that score.

Decker's partner in most of his robberies is a bar owner named O'Neil, and when one of their heists goes wrong, Decker finds himself in even deeper trouble with both the cops and the mob anxious to get their hands on him. In consequence, he's going to have to be particularly resourceful and especially lucky if he even hopes to stay alive, let alone fulfill his dreams.

This is an especially good debut novel from Kevin Roberts who is himself an ex-Marine. The setting in the early 1950s is very well-rendered; the characters are interesting and believable; there's plenty of action, and the plot moves swiftly along. I really enjoyed spending time in Decker's world and in his company, and I'm looking forward to the second book in the series.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

L. A. Detective Donald Lam Finds Trouble While Searching for a Missing Woman

First published in 1957, You Can Die Laughing falls roughly into the middle of the series featuring L.A. detectives Donald Lam and Bertha Cool. By now, the characters and the formula are basically set, and the reader knows exactly what to expect when picking up one of these novels.

Bertha Cool is the senior partner, having inherited the firm from her late husband. At one hundred and sixty-five pounds, she’s all “hard flesh, and … as unyielding as barbed wire.” She claims to be “just as rough, just as tough, just as hard-boiled, [and} just as two-fisted as any man in the country." Lam, on the other hand, barely weighs a hundred and thirty-five pounds soaking wet, and, as Bertha observes, he’s never won a fight in his life. But he’s a “brainy little bastard,” who, while on a case, often skates very close to, if not over, the edge of the law. He generally drives his partner to distraction, at least until the end of a case when he usually serves up the solution, and a generous payment for the firm’s efforts.

This case begins when a Texan named Lawton C. Corning asks the firm to locate a woman who seems to have disappeared. Earlier, Corning has suggested to Bertha that there may be oil leases involved somehow, and she has visions of a big payday. But once in the office with Donald, he claims that nothing like that is at stake and he simply wants to find this woman for reasons of his own.

Of course, no potential client has ever walked into the offices of Cool and Lam and told the truth, meaning that matters will prove to be much more complicated and dangerous than a simple missing persons case. Donald has no trouble finding the woman, and that’s when the fireworks really begin.

This plot is a little more straight-forward and a lot less convoluted than some of the books in this series, and it’s a relatively short and entertaining read. All in all, a good addition to the series.