Saturday, October 30, 2010

Perry Mason in His Literary Youth

First published in 1934, The Case of the Howling Dog was the fourth entry in Erle Stanley Gardner's long-running series featuring Perry Mason.

At this point, Gardner was still in the process of establishing the formula that he would adhere to once the series hit its stride. Lieutenant Tragg, the intelligent and sympathetic homicide detective, and Hamilton Burger, the D.A. who would become Mason's principal adversary had not yet been introduced. The police department is still represented by the oafish Sergeant Holcomb, who wouldn't recognize a clue if it bit him in the backside. The D.A.'s office is represented by an assistant D.A., Claude Drumm who immediately falls into every trap that Mason so cleverly baits for him.

Della Street, the faithful and adoring secretary, Paul Drake, the reliable detective, and Perry Mason himself are still evolving into the characters they would ultimately become. Mason is a bit rougher around the edges than the suave attorney that most crime fiction readers would recognize, and at this stage of the game he's much more willing to severely bend, if not actually break the law in the interest of serving what he sees as the greater good.

As is often the case in this series, the plot becomes almost hopelessly convoluted: A man comes to see Mason about his neighbor's howling dog and about writing a will. Complications ensue.

Suffice it to say that there will be a murder. Inevitably, Mason's client will be the prime suspect, and inevitably the case against the client will appear to be open and shut. As always, the D. A.'s office will be salivating at the chance to finally beat Mason after suffering so many ignominious defeats at his hands. And of course, as always Mason will pull the rabbit out of the hat and save the day at the very end.

Obviously, this story is a bit dated and is clearly a product of its times, but it's still a fun read and an opportunity to see Perry Mason and these other characters in their formative stages.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Busses always seem to be dropping Jack Reacher off in the oddest of places where, inevitably, trouble is brewing.

In this case, Jack has hitched a ride on a tour bus filled with elderly folks who, for whatever insane reason, have decided to visit scenic South Dakota in the middle of winter. The bus hits an icy patch and skids off the road leaving Jack and the other passengers stranded out in the middle of nowhere in Bolton, South Dakota, a tiny town with huge problems.

A pint-sized Mexican drug lord has created a meth lab on an abandoned federal installation just outside of town. The outlaw bikers who run the lab are generally on their best behavior while in town and have given the local cops no reason to roust them. But just before Reacher arrives in town, one of the bikers is caught selling meth to a dealer from Chicago. An elderly woman witnesses the sale and the biker is arrested. The woman is determined to do her civic duty and testify against the biker, irrespective of the danger to herself.

The local police know that the drug cartel has dispatched a killer to eliminate the witness so that their operation will not be endangered. But the Bolton P.D. is not really up to the task of taking on a wily drug lord and his biker henchmen and the situation is looking grim. Enter Jack Reacher.

Jack will spend the next 61 hours attempting to do what he does best--outsmarting nasty villains while protecting helpless but civic-minded librarians. This is a book that moves at a somewhat slower pace than many other Reacher novels, but there are some very interesting characters, some plot twists that you don't expect, and as always, it's fun to watch Reacher in action. The action slowly builds to a great climax that will reward careful reading

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Harry Bosch in Hong Kong...

9 Dragons opens with the murder of John Li, the Chinese owner of a liquor store in south L.A. Connelly's long-running protagonist, Detective Harry Bosch, is assigned the investigation and quickly concludes that the murder is more complicated than it might initially appear on the surface.

Displaying his excellent skills and dogged determination, Bosch discovers that Li had been paying protection money to one of the ancient Chinese triads that now operates in the United States as well as in China. Harry identifies a suspect and begins the process of arresting and charging him with the crime. As he does, Harry receives an anonymous phone call warning him off the case. If he persists, the caller warns, there will be consequences. Harry naturally ignores the warning and proceeds to make the case against his suspect, and then Harry's world is completely upended.

As readers of the series know, Harry has a daughter with Eleanor Wish, a former F.B.I. agent. Madeline, the daughter, is now thirteen and living in Hong Kong with her mother. Harry visits her regularly and otherwise maintains close ties with Madeline through phone calls and emails. As Harry continues to put together his case, ignoring the warning, he receives a video on his phone. Madeline has been kidnapped and is being held somewhere in Hong Kong, apparently in an effort to force Harry to back off.

Harry flies to Hong Kong in a desperate effort to locate and rescue Maddie and now must operate in what is, almost literally, a different world. The Hong Kong scenes are expertly written and it's virtually impossible to put this book down once Harry arrives there.

In 9 Dragons, Bosch's professional and personal lives intersect as never before; he is at once both the desperate father that one would expect to find under these circumstances and the consummate professional detective that he must be if he is to have any hope of rescuing his daughter.

As the book opens, Harry is clearly frustrated with his new partner, Ignacio Ferris. Bosch, who is almost fanatically devoted to his mission as a homicide detective, believes that Ignacio lacks the fire in the gut that the job demands. In particular, Harry believes that Ignacio spends too much time attending to the demands of his family. And then, in a twist of fate, Harry's family becomes absolutely the only thing that matters in his life. Once that happens, he will travel, if not to the ends of the earth, at least to Hong Kong, and he will bend, if not break, virtually every rule in the book to ensure his daughter's safe return.

While not the equal of some of the earlier books in the series, 9 Dragons is still a great read, and it's going to be very fascinating to see where Connelly takes Harry Bosch in its wake.