Saturday, August 19, 2017

Brady Coyne Searches for a Missing Heiress and Finds More Trouble Than He Bargained For

It's autumn in New England when Boston attorney Brady Coyne drives out to historic Concord, Massachusetts to visit another of his very wealthy and very elderly clients, Susan Ames. Sadly, Susan, a widow, is dying of cancer and has only a month or so to live. For the last eleven years, she's been estranged from her only child, Mary Ellen, who went away to college shortly after her father died and who has never returned or contacted her mother since.

Mary Ellen had been devoted to her father, who indulged her every whim, and never had a good relationship with her mother, who was the family disciplinarian. Hence her long absence. But Susan's death will have practical consequences. The Ames family has lived in the same historic house since 1748. It's a national treasure and it will now go to Mary Ellen. There's a fair amount of money in the estate as well, and these matters have to be addressed before Susan passes on. Beyond that, Susan simply wants the chance to reconnect with her daughter before she dies.

Susan informs Brady that the Ames family does not hire "sleazy private eyes," and so she assigns him the task of finding her daughter. Brady fairly quickly locates the town home where Mary Ellen lives, but finding Mary Ellen herself proves to be a more difficult proposition. Before long, there will be the inevitable murder, followed by a couple more for good measure, and Brady is soon up to his neck in complications and in physical danger.

This is among the better books in the series with an intriguing plot and an interesting cast of characters. Brady is his usual subdued but very effective self and, as usual, he'll find time in and around his investigations for a new romantic entanglement. A very good read for those who prefer fairly classic mystery novels.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Lucas Davenport Confronts a Unique and Especially Dangerous Set of Opponents in "Shadow Prey"

The second entry in John Sandford's Prey series barrels along at the same breakneck pace as the first, Rules of Prey. It opens with the ritualistic murder of a Minneapolis slumlord by one of his Indian tenants. That is quickly followed by the similar slaying of three other men known for their prejudicial treatment of American Indians. Lucas Davenport is assigned to lead the investigation, but he's hampered by the fact that he has few contacts in the Indian community.

The killings are being orchestrated by two elderly Indian men known as the Crows, who have developed a plan to settle some long-standing scores, particularly with a high-level government official whom they are attempting to lure into their trap. But can Davenport and his colleagues foil the scheme before it comes to fruition?

The investigation pits Davenport against the Crows and their son, a particularly twisted man named Shadow Love. (Both of the Crows were sleeping with his mother when Shadow Love was conceived and so they both act as his father.) But Shadow Love has an agenda of his own and even the Crows may not be able to deal with him.

This is a high-energy novel with a lot of great scenes as well as the particular brand of humor that would come to mark this series. Davenport's character is still taking shape, but his love life is front and center here. He's still involved with Jennifer Carey, the mother of his infant daughter, but he's also enormously attracted to Lily Rothenberg, a New York cop who comes out to Minnestota to assist in the investigation. Complications will ensue.

The plot moves very swiftly, and the plot of Indians redressing their legitimate grievances in this fashion is unique and interesting. Rereading the book, it's also great fun to go back and see Lucas Davenport in the early stages of his development. It's hard to imagine that there's a fan of crime fiction out there somewhere who still has not stumbled across this series, but if you are that rare creature, do yourself a favor and check it out.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

The Monkeewrench Gang Stumbles into a Developing Disaster

The third entry in the Monkeewrench series finds Monkeewrench founders Annie Belinsky and Grace MacBride on their way to a conference in Green Bay, along with Wisconsin deputy sheriff, Sharon Mueller. As they make their way north, they take several scenic detours to see interesting barns and other such attractions. The authors suggest that this is something that women do on a fairly regular basis, and before long the trio is way off course and hopelessly lost near Four Corners, a town so tiny that it actually only has two corners.

As fate would have it, earlier in the day a tanker truck has overturned in Four Corners, with catastrophic consequences. A team of sinister men is busy attempting to conceal the matter when the women's SUV breaks down and they wind up walking right into the disaster. 

It's quickly apparent that something very bad has happened in the little town and that the women might be in very grave danger. Matters are complicated when, for some inexplicable reason, the women leave their purses in the local cafe for the bad guys to find, alerting the BGs that the women have intruded into their midst. The women also inexplicably leave most of their cell phones in their purses, which means that they have no way to communicate with the outside world. 

The male members of the Monkeewrench gang soon become alarmed when the women haven't reported in and so pile into the Monkeewrench RV and go chasing after them. As the book unfolds, it turns out that the gang has stumbled into a massive plot that, if not nipped in the bud, could cause a disaster of epic proportions.

I generally enjoyed the first two books in this series, but, for me at least, this one stretched credulity way out of bounds, practically from the git go. I found the plot to be very implausible and the actions of the characters often seemed equally inexplicable. It may be a while before I return to the series.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Another Difficult and Dangerous Case for Detective Sean Duffy

Adrian McKinty's second novel featuring Detective Sean Duffy is set in 1982, during the time of the "Troubles" in Northern Ireland. As the novel opens, a man's torso is found abandoned in a suitcase. Duffy manages to identify the victim as an American tourist--a retired IRS employee who had come to Ireland to visit his roots.

The autopsy reveals that the man was poisoned by a very rare plant, and Duffy can't find a hint of it anywhere in Northern Ireland. His only viable lead comes when he discovers the identity of the man who owned the suitcase. But the investigation hits an apparent dead end when it turns out that the man who owned the suitcase has himself been murdered, apparently by IRA assassins. His widow gave the suitcase to the Salvation Army, and there's no way of knowing who might have gotten it from them.

Both cases effectively wind up on the back burner. But Duffy continues to be bothered by apparent inconsistencies in both murders and, even though he's been ordered off the case, he continues to poke and prod, antagonizing some very dangerous people in the process and putting himself at serious risk of life and limb.

This is another extremely well-told tale with a very likable and savvy protagonist. McKinty sets the stage beautifully, and the violence and the sadness of the conflict between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland lurks behind virtually every scene. This book justly won the Barry Award for Best Paperback Original, and I can hardly wait to get my hands on the third book in the series. 4.5 stars.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Detroit P.I. Amos Walker Returns for the Twenty-Third Time

This is the twenty-third entry in Loren Estleman's series featuring Detroit P.I., Amos Walker. Walker is an old-school detective and this is an old-school, hard-boiled series in the best sense of the tradition. Walker is a direct descendant of Philip Marlowe and Sam Spade, and the Detroit streets that he drives in his souped-up Oldsmobile Cutlass are at least as mean as the ones in L.A. that were once walked by his erstwhile predecessors.

As the book opens, Walker is hired by a wealthy financier to find his much-younger wife who has left him for the second time. The wife, Cecelia Wynn, has left a note that is short and to the point: "Don't look for me." Walker agrees to do so in spite of the note, and ascertains fairly quickly that the missing spouse was unhappy and masking her despondency with shopping, lunches with her girlfriends, drinking heavily, and taking herbal remedies.

On leaving, Cecelia seems to have left behind her stash of supplements and so Walker begins by visiting the shop where she got them. There's a very interesting woman behind the counter and a dead body in the basement, and from here things get both very interesting and extremely confusing. Drug runners, porn stars, the Mafia and a couple of foreign agents all make an appearance while poor Amos attempts to somehow stay alive, stay out of jail and complete his mission.

Thirty-four years after his initial appearance in Motor City Blue, Amos is more than a little world-weary, and who can blame the poor guy? He's had to endure a great deal through the years, investigating any number of dangerous and complex cases, getting beat up, jailed, and otherwise abused, and all the while holding up the traditions of one of the most sacred sub-genres in the crime fiction business. It's a nasty job, but crime fiction fans can be grateful for the fact that Amos and his creator are still on the job and at the top of their games all these years down the road.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Boston Attorney Brady Coyne Follows a Case All the Way to Montana

Although he'd rather not, Boston attorney Brady Coyne agrees to spend the weekend at the Cape Cod home of one of his clients, Jeff Newton. Newton was once a very successful hunting guide in Africa, but six years ago, he was attacked by a wounded leopard and left an embittered invalid. He now lives alone with a voluptuous housekeeper in an isolated home guarded by two trained Doberman watch dogs. Two or three times a year, he summons Coyne to deal with his various legal matters.

Brady arrives on a Friday night to find Newton in a surly mood. After dinner with the housekeeper, the three of them go off to bed in their respective rooms. In the middle of the night, Brady is awakened by two men who tie him to his bed, threaten to kill him, and then knock him unconscious. When he wakes up the next morning, he manages to free himself and discovers that the two guard dogs have been killed; Jeff Newton has been badly beaten and lies unconscious at death's door, and a very valuable collection of solid gold Pre-Columbian leopards has been stolen. The housekeeper is unharmed.

The local investigators haven't a clue and initially suspect that Brady and/or the housekeeper were involved. For Brady the crime has become personal and he sets out to investigate it himself. The trail will ultimately take him to Montana and will place him in grave danger, and the chances that this will all end well are not very good.

This is another solid entry in the Brady Coyne series, and as always, along the way, Brady will find some time to fish, to bed a seductive woman, and to ruminate on the mysteries of life. Another enjoyable read for fans of the series.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

A British Investigator Searches for a Horse Missing in the U.S.

AGene Hawkins is an English civil servant--actually a very astute investigator for a department that is never named. He's also severely depressed following the end of a love affair and is toying with the idea of suicide. He has a three-week vacation coming, and this is probably not good news for a man who has no life outside of his work and who is thinking of ending his own life.

Just as his vacation begins though, Hawkins's boss asks him to accompany him and his family on a Sunday afternoon boating outing. This is very odd, since the boss has never before asked Hawkins to socialize outside of work. The boss's precocious young daughter picks Hawkins up and drives him to the boat. They cast off and the boss introduces Gene to the rest of his family and to his other guest, a man named Dave Teller.

Obviously, there's an ulterior motive lurking behind the invitation, and it turns out that Teller is part of a syndicate that has just lost a very expensive horse in the United States. This is the third such horse that has gone missing, the boss wonders if Hawkins would mind using his vacation to go to the U.S. and investigate the matter as a favor to Teller. 

Hawkins has no interest in undertaking such a mission and turns the offer down. But then, while the party is still on the river, an incident occurs that convinces Hawkins to change his mind. Before long he's on his way to the U.S. and begins tracking the latest missing horse. Obviously, this is going to be a very dangerous mission, But his adversaries have no idea that Hawkins is already contemplating ending his own life, so what does he have to lose?

This book is a bit unusual for a Dick Francis novel in that most of it takes place in the U.S., rather than the U.K. And, while there are horses involved, the main protagonist is not actually part of the racing world. It's a fun, quick read, but maybe not quite on a par with a lot of other Dick Francis books. Hawkins is an OK protagonist, but one of the things that usually characterizes a Dick Francis novel is an especially menacing bad guy who's controlling things from behind the scenes. The villains here are not as scary as usual, but that's a relatively small complaint and fans of Dick Francis should certainly enjoy this effort.