Sunday, January 15, 2017

Boston Attorney Brady Coyne Investigates the Death of an Apparent Homeless Man

Published in 1987, this is the fourth novel in the series featuring Boston attorney, Brady Coyne. The most unusual thing about this series is that, in the twenty-eight books that constitute the series, we never once saw Brady Coyne in court. And, for that matter, there's very little legal argument in any of the books. Almost always, as in this case, one of Coyne's very wealthy clients asks for his assistance with a problem that has very little to do with legal matters.

In this instance, Senator Ben Woodhouse, a rare Massachusetts Republican, asks Brady to look into the death of his nephew, Stu Carver. Carver was found dead in an alley in freezing weather, dressed in the rags of a homeless man. There was no identification on the man and no apparent trauma to his body, and so the police are ready to dismiss the case as the accidental death of yet another bum who froze to death on a cold Boston night.

But then, the victim is identified and it turns out that he's the nephew of an important politician. So the cops decide to pay closer attention. They order up an autopsy, which they otherwise would not have done, and it turns out that Carver was stabbed to death by someone who stuck an icepick into his left ear. (Ouch!)

Even with this new evidence, the police are inclined to write off the case as an attack on a homeless man. It's too bad; regrettably, it happens all too often; they have no leads at all, and so they aren't inclined to do much about it. Thus the senator contacts Brady Coyne and asks him to look into the case.

Brady quickly learns that Stu Carver was not just your average homeless person. He was actually a successful author who was doing a book on the homeless. To thoroughly immerse himself in the problem, he actually became a homeless person. Digging deeper into the killing, Brady discovers that Carver may have discovered something that he shouldn't have. Perhaps even worse, he may have written about it in his notebooks. And this, in turn, may put a lot of other people in mortal danger, not least among them, his uncle's attorney.

This is another very good entry in the series. The book is a bit dated, of course, but it's fun to spend a few hours in the company of Brady Coyne. And once you're immersed in the story, it doesn't even occur to you that nobody has an i-Phone or a tablet, or even much of a computer. This series never achieved the prominence of, say, Robert B. Parker's Spenser series, which was also set in Boston, but nonetheless, most of the books in it, this one included, will appeal to a lot of crime fiction fans.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Married Private Detectives Confront Married Hired Killers in This Entertaining Novel from Thomas Perry

This is another very enjoyable stand-alone novel from Thomas Perry, author of the Butcher's Boy and Jane Whitefield series. It's unique in that it has two sets of married couples who serve as the book's protagonists. The first, Sid and Ronnie Abel, have been married for thirty years. They're retired L.A.P.D. detectives who have opened their own agency. The other couple is Ed and Nicole Hoyt. They Hoyts are younger and they work as hired killers. Both couples are smart and funny in a wry sort of way. And all four individuals appear to be excellent shots.

A year before the book opens, the body of a man named James Ballentine was found in an overflowing sewer drain. Ballentine was a scientist working for a private company, and everyone told the police that he was a very nice guy with no enemies at all. Presumably, they weren't including the person who shot Ballentine twice before shoving him into the sewer drain.

A year down the road, the case remains open. The detective who was principally assigned to the case has died and the investigation is going nowhere. Anxious to see justice done, the board of directors of the company that employed Ballentine hires the Ables to dig into the case. They've barely begun, however, before someone is taking shots at them. That "someone" turns out to be the Hoyts who have been hired to eliminate the Abels. The Hoyts don't know why their employer wants the Ables dead, and it doesn't really matter. They're happy to have the work.

The book alternates between the P.O.V. of the Abels and the Hoyts. The relationships are a lot of fun to watch, and it's also fun watching each couple go about its business while trying very hard not to fail at their own missions because of the other couple. Perry is a master of weaving clever plots, and he puts both couples through their paces before the book reaches a great climax. This book is further evidence of the fact that a reader can always depend on Perry for a thoroughly entertaining reading experience.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Former Detective John Rebus Returns to the Force As a Consultant in This Excellent Tale

The twentieth book in this great series finds the protagonist, former Edinburgh police detective John Rebus, finally retired. The hard work of detecting has been turned over to younger men and women like Rebus's long-time protege, Siobhan Clarke, and his one-time nemesis, Malcolm Fox. Fox, a former member of the Complaints division (Scotland's version of Internal Affairs) is still distrusted by almost every other police officer, and has been assigned to a relatively useless role assisting a surveillance team visiting from Glasgow. The team has spent months attempting to take down a major Glasgow crime family and has followed the father and son to Edinburgh, where the criminals are allegedly attempting to find a man who has stolen valuable property from them.

At the same time, Siobhan is investigating the murder of Lord David Minton an elderly, influential former prosecutor. The initial assumption is that the victim was killed during a burglary, even though nothing appears to have been taken. But then Clarke discovers that Minton had received a note threatening his life just before he was killed. Shortly thereafter, someone takes a shot at "Big Ger" Cafferty, an infamous Edinburgh crime boss. The only cop, or ex-cop, that Cafferty will even think about discussing the matter with is his long-time nemesis, John Rebus. Over the years, the two adversaries have developed a grudging respect for each other, and Rebus agrees to be the intermediary between Cafferty and the police.

The plot thickens considerably when it turns out that Cafferty received the same threatening note that Lord Minton had gotten. The case also seems to tie into the surveillance that Malcolm Fox is working, and retired or not, once John Rebus has the bit between his teeth, nothing is going to stop him from immersing himself in the investigation.

The result is one of the best entries in what has been a consistently excellent series. Rebus is in top form, and it's great to see him back in harness, working alongside Clarke and Fox. Of course, as any fan of the series knows, for John Rebus, "working alongside" his colleagues should be interpreted very loosely. Rebus has always been his own man, and he's not at all reluctant to stray off the reservation in the pursuit of an investigation, irrespective of what his supervisors or his colleagues might think. Working with him, even in "retirement," can be a very taxing exercise for those around him. But for the reader, it's enormous fun. I can only hope John Rebus is still investigating cases and frustrating his superiors for years to come.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Donald Lam and Bertha Cool Take On Another Very Dangerous and Mystifying Case

The fourth entry in A. A. Fair (Erle Stanley Gardner)'s Donald Lam-Bertha Cool series is set in 1940. It's still early in the game for Donald and Bertha, but the series is hitting its stride, and while there are still a couple of wrinkles to be worked out, the general parameters of the series are now in place. Bertha is the big, tough, cheap, no-nonsense half of the team, while Donald is the small, brainy guy who is irresistible to women and who always seems to be half a step ahead of everyone else in the game, most especially, Bertha, who constantly nags and questions whatever he's doing until he inevitably pulls a rabbit out of the hat and saves everyone's bacon.

The case opens when Bertha hires a Japanese judo instructor to teach Donald how to defend himself. He's a small guy and is constantly getting beaten up. He's also a valuable asset, and Bertha would like to see him survive. (It's 1940, and so there are a lot of politically incorrect references to the "Jap" instuctor.) This proves to be a difficult proposition, and the lessons aren't going very well, but then a potential client drops by in the middle of one of Donald's lessons. The guy needs a private detective to check up on his daughter and conceives of the notion of having Donald come out to his house on the pretense of giving him physical fitness tips as a means of getting Donald close to the daughter.

It's a hare-brained scheme, especially since Donald is failing miserably at his his own lessons, but for a hundred bucks a day, Bertha thinks it's a great idea. Once in the household, Donald quickly concludes that the beautiful, feisty daughter is being blackmailed. All sorts of other shenanigans are taking place, and pretty quickly, somebody gets killed and all hell breaks loose. Donald will have to think very quickly to survive this case and save everyone involved, including the client and his boss.

Like virtually every other book written by Gardner, the Perry Masons included, the whole thing gets pretty preposterous, but it's still a lot of fun. And if you just suspend disbelief and go along for the ride, it's a very entertaining way to spend a winter evening.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

A New York Hit Man Runs into Trouble in Shaky Town

This is a very good first novel from screenwriter Scott Frank who wrote the scripts for "Get Shorty," "Out of Sight," and a number of other very entertaining movies. It's at times bloody, amusing, and heart-breaking, and it features a great cast of memorable characters.

Principal among them is a New York hit man named Roy Cooper who flies to L.A. to carry out an assignment but who then gets caught up in an earthquake and any number of other potential disasters before he can safely get out of town after completing his mission.

Roy sensibly parks his rental car a couple of blocks away from the home of his target, but once the job is done, he gets turned around and can't find the car. As he's searching for it, he stumbles onto a group of young gangbangers who are robbing an elderly jogger. Frank intervenes, but disaster ensues and Frank winds up shot. 

A witness sees it all go down from his window above but, not surprisingly in this day and age, instead of calling the cops, the idiot films the whole thing with his phone and then sells the video. The video goes viral, and Roy is mistaken for a hero, which leaves him hospitalized and in deep trouble. Roy had been off the grid for a very long time and now suddenly he's on everyone's radar, including that of several people who would very much like to see him removed from the scene altogether.

In fairly short order, Roy has both the cops and a lot of bad guys hunting him down. One cop in particular, Kelly Maguire, has problems of her own that are almost at least as bad as Roy's, but nevertheless, she will soon be hot on his trail. Also in (more or less) hot pursuit are a couple of the young gangbangers who feel dissed by Roy's interruption of their crime and who are determined to build their own reps, in part at Roy's expense.

Meanwhile, the damned city is still shaking from aftershocks and it's almost impossible to get anywhere, at least very quickly, because of the damage to the roads and bridges. This complicates matters for all concerned. This is a very well-told tale with crisp dialog, great plotting and very well-drawn characters. All in all, a story that seems to end a lot sooner than the reader might wish.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Chief Inspector Morse Conducts His Penultimate Investigation

Chief Inspector Morse returns for his twelfth outing more than a little worse for the wear. His drinking and smoking, in particular, are now catching up with him and he's beginning to pay the price for all of the years through which he's neglected his physical well-being. Any number of people, including his faithful sergeant, Lewis, urge him to reform before it's too late, but any long-time reader of the series understands, like Lewis, that it isn't going to happen.

The demands of another complex and demanding case certainly won't help. As the book opens, the Master of Lonsdale College in Oxford has announced his retirement. Two candidates stand for election to the position. Each man wants the job very badly, although perhaps neither man wants to be the Master as much as his wife wants to be the First Lady of the college.

One would expect that the academics would get all of this sorted out within the confines of their own small world, but the larger universe intrudes when a young woman is found shot to death early one morning. There would appear to be no motive, but as Morse begins his investigation of the crime, he will discover that the poor woman did have a connection to one of the candidates in the college election. There's also a journalist involved, and the demands of the investigation will require poor Morse to have to work his way through a number of tacky strip clubs in Soho, a task he would never think to assign to his poor, overworked sergeant.

Like all of the Morse mysteries, this one is densely complicated, and only someone as gifted as the Chief Inspector will ever be able to sort it out--assuming that he lives long enough to do so. This penultimate addition to the series is another very very entertaining read, even if a little bittersweet, knowing that we're approaching the end of the line. It should certainly appeal to any fan of the series.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Another Challenging Case for the Monkeewrench Gang

Minnesota certainly seems to be a very dangerous place to live, and the bodies seem to fall right and left in the North Star State. Happily, though, there seem to be a lot of homicide detectives up there to continually put things right, including of course, Lucas Davenport, Kirk Stevens and Carla Windermere, that F***ing Virgil Flowers, Cork O'Connor, and Leo Magozzi and Gino Roiseth, among others.

The last team inhabits the world of the Monkeewrench series, written by the mother-daughter team, P. J. Tracy. And for Magozzi and Roiseth, if for no one else, things have been a bit slow lately. After their last big case, the Twin Cities seem to have calmed considerably and murder has been taking a holiday. "Homicide is dead," one of the detectives complains.

Which, naturally, falls into the category of Be Careful What You Wish For.

The hiatus is interrupted when Magozzi and Roiseth are called to the scene of a very puzzling murder. An elderly man named Morey Gilbert is found shot to death in the back yard of the plant nursery that he has run for years. It's raining and so his wife, a small elderly woman, thoughtfully moves the body inside and wrestles it up on a table. She shaves the victim and dresses him up so he'll look his best and only then does she call the cops.

In the process, of course, she has (conveniently?) destroyed almost all of the evidence that the detectives might have hoped to find at the scene. Naturally, they wonder why she might have done this. They're also curious about the behavior of the couple's son, Jack. Jack is one of those obnoxious personal injury lawyers who advertises on late-night TV. He drinks heavily and has been estranged from his parents for over two years for reasons that no one will discuss. But, just as the detectives begin to narrow in on the victim's family members, another elderly person who lives just down the street is also murdered. And then another...

Well, you get the picture. Someone is running around this neighborhood, killing elderly citizens and neither Magozzi or Roiseth nor any of their fellow detectives can figure out who or why. All of the victims were much beloved. None of them had any enemies, and there isn't a clue to be found.

In the meantime, over the last few months, Magozzi has been pursuing the world's slowest-moving romance with the troubled computer genius, Grace MacBride, of the Monkeewrench outfit that figured so prominently in the first book in the series. When all other avenues have reached a dead end, Magozzi asks Grace if she will apply her computer skills to the problem, knowing that she will doubtless be prowling through databases where she and the police have no legal right to be. And what she discovers will turn this case upside down.

This is another very entertaining entry in this series. It has it's light and breezy moments and a fair amount of humor. The characters are appealing and the plot is engaging. All in all, a fun read.