Monday, October 16, 2017

Harry Bosch and Terry McCaleb Team Up in This Excellent Thriller from Michael Connelly

In this book, published in 2001, Michael Connelly brings together three of the characters he had previously used as lead protagonists: former FBI agent, Terry McCaleb from Blood Work, journalist Jack McEvoy from The Poet, and L.A. Homicide Detective Harry Bosch, whom Connelly had featured in several novels up to that point. McEvoy plays a relatively minor role here, while Bosch and McCaleb are center stage.

As the book opens, Bosch is assisting the prosecution in a high-profile Hollywood murder trial. A movie director is charged with murdering a young actress and then attempting to make the killing look like an accidental death. Bosch was the lead detective on the case and made the arrest.

As the case unfolds in court, L. A. County Sheriff's detective Jaye Winston seeks out Terry McCaleb, looking for help on a case that has dead-ended. McCaleb, who was forced to retire after having a heart transplant, is now living quietly, running a charter fishing boat, and carving out a life with his new wife, their daughter, and his adopted son. But he hasn't lost the drive and the curiosity that once made him a leading FBI profiler.

Winston's case involves a scumbag named Edward Gunn who was once arrested by Harry Bosch for the murder of a prostitute. Gunn managed to beat the charge and has now been found murdered in a ritualistic fashion. Winston's case is going nowhere and she fears that this may be a serial killer who will be targeting victims after Gunn. She appeals to McCaleb who had worked with her previously, to look at the evidence and offer an opinion.

Well, in for a penny.... 

The reader understands immediately, even if Winston doesn't, that once this case gets its hooks into McCaleb, it's not going to let go. Civilian or not, and whether anyone wants him to or not, McCaleb will wind up in the middle of it. And the deeper McCaleb digs into the case, the more the evidence leads him in the direction of a startling suspect.

Meanwhile, the trial in which Bosch is involved is having its ups and downs. Just when it appears that the prosecution team has pretty much nailed the case against the cocky director, things seems to take a bad turn. And as the case seems to be hanging by a thread, McCaleb's investigation intrudes into it, with potentially dire consequences for everyone involved.

This is another very good novel from Michael Connelly. Caleb and Bosch make a very interesting pairing and the plot takes one surprising twist after another. One might argue that the ending is a little forced, but that's a small complaint, and this is another story from Connelly that kept me turning the pages well into the night. An easy four stars.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Another Winner from Tana French

This is an excellent police procedural and, to my mind, Tana French's best book yet. At its center is Detective Antoinette Conway who is new to the Dublin Murder Squad and who has gotten a very cool reception. Many of her new mates actively dislike her; she's subjected to continued harassment, and she's assigned a lot of crap cases.

The pattern seems to be continuing one morning when she and her partner, Stephen Moran, are assigned a new case that appears to be open and shut. An attractive young woman named Aislinn Murray is found dead in her home, apparently the victim of a lovers' quarrel that has spun out of control. The two detectives bring in Aislinn's new boyfriend, Rory Fallon, and question him under the watchful eye of a senior detective who's inserted himself into the case. Fallon is obviously nervous, and there are problems with the story he tells. To the senior detective, the case seems a slam dunk and he presses Conway and Moran to charge Fallon and move on to new business.

Conway, who is the lead detective on the case, balks and insists on clearing up loose ends. As she does, she further alienates many other members of the squad and seems to be committing career suicide. But she and Moran persist and gradually become convinced that maybe this case isn't as simple and straightforward as it appears on the surface.

Like all of French's characters, Antoinette Conway is a complex bundle of ambition, hopes, fears, dreams and doubts. She carries a lot of personal baggage, and at times, she's not very likeable. But she is smart and persistent and determined to follow her own course, irrespective of where it might lead, who it might offend, and what it might portend for her personally.

The principal strength of the book for me is the way French, through her protagonist, follows this case from beginning to end. The Author has clearly done her homework, and the police procedure here, most especially the scenes in the interview rooms, rings truer than that in almost any other crime novel I've ever read. The book is very well-plotted; the characters and the action are compelling, and it's a book that's almost impossible to put down. 4.5 stars for now, reserving the right to go to 5 after a second reading.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Detective Donald Lam Tries to Save a Man from Being Poisoned

The twelfth entry in A. A. Fair's (Erle Stanley Gardner's) Donald Lam and Bertha Cool series begins, as do many of the others, with a new client coming into the office and lying to the two detectives. A young woman--"a nice number, brunette, trim, with nice curves"--claims to be Beatrice Ballwin. She offers the partners $500.00 to prevent her uncle, Gerald, from being poisoned by his wife, Daphne. (This book was published in 1947, when people still had names like Beatrice and Daphne.)

As always, Bertha is happy to take the money while leaving the execution of the job up to Donald. But, as he points out, he can hardly stand by Gerald Ballwin's side, watching everything that his wife serves him to eat. How, exactly, is he supposed to prevent the guy from being poisoned?

Donald comes up with a clever scheme to protect Ballwin that should work perfectly. But then complications occur and all hell breaks loose. The client is unhappy with Donald; Bertha is furious with him, and now the cops are after him. 

Oh well, it's all in a day's work for Donald, and as always, he'll have to move quickly and intelligently to save his own bacon and that of the firm. As usual, it's fun watching him maneuver his way through the puzzle while Bertha fumes and sputters and Sergeant Frank Sellers stumbles around one step behind him. This is one of the more entertaining books in a fun, classic series.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Attorney Brady Coyne Finds Trouble Representing a Vietnam Vet

Boston attorney Brady Coyne has a practice that's devoted almost exclusively to meeting the needs of a small group of very wealthy and, for the most part, elderly clients. He's rarely ever in a courtroom and does not do criminal defense work. But when a Vietnam vet is arrested for trafficking in marijuana, a mutual friend reaches out and Brady agrees to step in.

The vet, Daniel McCloud, is a former Green Beret who is suffering the after-effects of exposure to Agent Orange. Marijuana is the only thing that works to relieve the pain and McCloud is growing a small crop at his home in rural New England. Mostly it's for his own use, although he shares a small amount with a couple of other vets in similar circumstances. But the local cops aren't interested in his condition or his explanations. They arrest McCloud, throw him in jail, and confiscate his crop.

Brady agrees to represent McCloud as a favor to a friend, but he warns McCloud that the case is pretty cut and dried: He's in violation of the law, and he's almost certainly going to do time. But then, mysteriously, the case is dropped and McCloud is freed. There's no logical explanation for this, but you don't look a gift horse in the mouth. In the wake of the case, McCloud and Brady become friends, and Brady visits McCloud and his girlfriend on several occasions. Then McCloud tells Brady that he's written a book and would like Brady to find an agent for it. 

Brady cannot read the book, and McCloud won't tell him anything about it, which makes the job a lot more difficult, but Brady finds an agent who begins reading the book and who is initially very excited about it. Shortly, though, the agent rejects the book and warns Brady away from the book and from his new friend, McCloud. Almost immediately thereafter, people begin to die and Brady finds himself in the middle of a very confusing and dangerous situation. 

Any sensible person would think to leave well enough alone, but Brady is determined to follow this case to its conclusion, no matter the risk, and before this is over, he'll need all of his considerable skills to save himself from joining the list of the recently departed. As always, along the way, his love life will get increasingly complicated, and all in all, this is another very good addition to this series.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

A Seasoned Prosecutor Finds Himself on the Other Side of the Legal System

This legal/family thriller is strongly reminiscent of Presumed Innocent, the novel by Scott Turow that basically set the standard for every legal thriller that would follow.

In this case, the main protagonist is a long-time assistant D.A. named Andy Barber. He's second in command to a D.A. with higher political aspirations. The two are friends; Andy gets all the high profile cases because he's very good at what he does. Andy is married to the love of his life, Laurie, and they have a teenaged son named Jacob.

When one of jacob's classmates is stabbed to death in a local park while on his way to school, the entire community is shocked. Andy immediately takes charge of the case, determined to see that the killer is severely punished once the police find him or her. But then, Andy is stunned when his own son becomes the principal suspect in the killing after classmates reveal that Jacob had a knife much like the one the police have described as the missing murder weapon.

Andy insists, of course, that Jacob is innocent. He simply knows this intuitively because he loves his son. But Jacob is indicted and eventually tried for the crime. Andy's boss distances herself; that friendship is ended, and the case is given over to the number two prosecutor behind Andy, an ambitious, insecure prosecutor who is determined to make his bones by successfully prosecuting the case against Andy's son. Inevitably, all of this takes a toll on Andy and Laura's marriage, and so this is also a portrait of a family in crisis.

I had fairly mixed emotions about this book. I did not like any of the characters, who all seemed flat and one-dimensional. None of them was very sympathetic, and I found that I frankly didn't care much whether Jacob was convicted or not. I also didn't care about what might happen to his parents' marriage. Where the book came alive for me, though, was in the courtroom scenes. These are very well done, and once the trial finally began, I couldn't put the book down

So a mixed review for me. I really enjoyed parts of this book a lot, but others troubled me. An okay read, but not a great one.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Two Thieves Hit an Armored Car in this Christmastime Novel from Hard Case Crime

This novel, from Hard Case Crime, was published in 2014, but it's set in the Christmas season of 1951 and has the feel of a classic pulp novel. The story is fairly simple: a crime boss hires two men, Walter and Eddie, to rob an armored car. But stealing the money is the easy part. As the crime goes down, a major blizzard hits the area complicating the getaway. Of course it also hinders the cops who are in not-so-hot pursuit because of the treacherous conditions.

The narrative jumps back and forth in time and among the various characters as the day of the robbery, December 20, unfolds. The changing points of view are interesting and keep the story moving along nicely. Walter and Eddie are entertaining characters, and the story will ultimately involve a female forest ranger and her demented Captain, a couple of unhappy wives and a few other unsavory characters. It's a quick and entertaining read that's sure to appeal to fans of the Hard Case novels.

A British SportsWriter Finds Himself in Serious Trouble

James Tyrone is a sports writer for a tabloid paper called The Blaze. It's not the most respectable paper in town, but it pays better than its more prestigious counterparts and Tyrone badly needs the money. 

Tyrone's principal beat is horseracing and one day after lunch he walks a fellow scribe back to his office. The other reporter, Burt Chekov, writes for a competitor, but he and Tyrone have been friends. Chekov has been drinking heavily of late and seems to be deeply troubled. He's also been touting horses in his column, encouraging readers to bet heavily on his picks, only to have some of the horses withdraw from the races at the last minute, leaving the people who bet on them out of luck. As Tyrone walks Chekov to his office, Chekov says something that leads Tyrone to believe he has been being blackmailed and then, shortly thereafter, Chekov "accidentally" falls out of the window of his office to his death.

Tyrone smells a story and begins digging into the horses that Chekov was touting. He ultimately discovers a nefarious scheme to cheat bettors out of their money. Before long, powerful forces are warning him to drop the story, "or else." Tyrone believes that he is impervious to the sorts of threats that doomed his friend, Chekov, but when the villains discover that Tyrone may have a weak spot after all, all bets may be off.

This is a fairly typical Dick Francis story that should appeal to anyone who has enjoyed his other books. James Tyrone is the usual stand-up Francis protagonist, and the bad guys are dependably powerful and villainous. The end result is a very good read.