Friday, January 31, 2014

A Great Entry in the Detective Sergeant Mulheisen Series

This is the fifth of the ten books by Jon A Jackson featuring Detroit Detective Sergeant Mulheisen and Mulheisen's nemesis, mob enforcer, Joe Service. And it remains my favorite book in an excellent series.

At the end of the previous book, Hit on the House: Detective Sergeant Mulheisen Mysteries, a Detroit mobster was killed and a vast amount of mob money went missing. While other threads in the book were neatly tied off, the murder was not solved and the money was not found. Mulheisen suspects that Helen Sedlacek, the daughter of another murdered mobster, may have revenged her father's death by killing the mobster whom she blames for his death. But Helen is in the wind, as is the mysterious Joe Service.

Deadman opens with Service driving down I-90, just outside of Butte, Montana, enjoying a gorgeous fall day. But the day turns decidedly ugly when Joe stops to help a man in trouble and is shot and left for dead by the side of the road. Miraculously, he somehow survives and winds up in a Butte hospital in a coma and unable to communicate. Meanwhile, Helen waits in the cabin that she and Joe are sharing out in the mountains. When found, Joe had no identification and so he is initially listed on the hospital's roster as "Deadman."

An attractive young nurse is smitten with Joe and sees to his care, something that involves some interesting sponge baths. Meanwhile, Helen finally realizes what has happened. She begins sending cashier's checks to the hospital to pay for Joe's care, but realizes that the bad guys are on their trail and begins taking steps to protect herself. Mulheisen also picks up the scent and winds up in Montana to investigate, at which point the story really takes off.

A city boy from Detroit, Mulheisen is a fish out of water in Montana and it's great fun watching him interact with the locals. The book is populated by a number of great, vividly-imagined characters, and it moves at just the right pace from the opening scene to a brilliant climax. It's a great read, and it's hard to imagine that there's any fan of crime fiction who would not enjoy this book.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Alex Delaware Returns in Fine Form

When a shrewish, combative woman named Vita Verlin is murdered, L.A. homicide detective Milo Sturgis is called to the scene. When he sees that the victim has been ritualistically disemboweled, he calls in his friend, psychologist Alex Delaware, to consult. Alex and Milo have been working together through twenty-seven books, spanning a period of nearly thirty years, and this is the most gruesome case they've ever seen.

There's certainly no shortage of suspects. The victim apparently didn't have a friend in the world and alienated virtually everyone with whom she came in contact with, from her own psychiatrist, to her landlord and even to the people she casually encountered at the local diner.

Initially, the challenge seems to be simply sorting through the people the woman had offended and coming up with the one who hated her enough to have killed her so savagely. But then another victim is killed, obviously by the same person, and this victim is the polar opposite of Verlin. He's the nicest guy on the planet, and everyone loved him.

Of course, this complicates matters enormously, and unfortunately, as the body count keeps rising, the clues do not. This is a very careful, systematic killer, who's leaving virtually nothing behind that will serve as evidence, save for an enigmatic taunt that he or she leaves at each crime scene.

I've been a bit disappointed with some of the later books in this series in which Alex simply tags along with Milo when there's no real apparent reason for him to be involved in the case. Here, however, it seems clear that the means to finding the killer is through the psychology involved in the case and, as in the earlier books, Delaware actually has a believable and useful role to play. As a result, this book is much more fun to read and turns into an intricate puzzle that only someone as talented as Alex Delaware will ever be able to solve.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Another Lyrical and Thought-Provoking Thriller from Boston Teran

One of my favorite books of the last few years was The Creed of Violence, by the elusive and mysterious author, Boston Teran. Set mostly in pre-revolutionary Mexico in the early Twentieth Century, it featured two great protagonists and an engrossing, convoluted and thought-provoking story.

Now comes an excellent sequel, The Country I Lived In, set in Texas and in Mexico, and featuring John Rawbone Lourdes, the son and grandson of the two protagonists from the earlier book. It's the dawn of a new age in the United States; prosperity reigns, rock and roll has come crashing into the culture; the early glimmerings of a new civil rights movement can be seen in the South and elsewhere, and the Beats are beginning to pave the way for the Counter Culture revolution that would transform the country only a few years later.

Against that backdrop, though, powerful forces are resistant to change, fearful of a Communist menace from abroad and afraid that those who challenge the status quo here at home are weakening the country from within. Barry Goldwater has not yet suggested that extremism in the face of defense of liberty is no vice, but there are those who clearly believe this to be the case. And they are ready and willing to take whatever steps they feel are necessary to protect what they perceive to be America's best interests, whether it involves overthrowing governments abroad or stamping out internal dissent here at home.

Into this mix steps John Rawbone Lourdes, a young man made old before his time by having fought in both World War II and Korea. Now he just wants the opportunity to finally get to know the country that he has given so much to defend. "Something was missing from his life, something of purpose and destiny, to take away the quiet sadness that kept to itself inside him."

Lourdes has bought a new Packard convertible and wants nothing more than to "hit out on the road...[like] Huck on the river, Parkman on the Oregon Trail, Brando burning up miles of asphalt in The Wild Ones." Fate intervenes, though, when Lourdes gets a desperate call from an old army friend in Laredo who is in trouble and needs his help.

Sadly, Lourdes arrives only a little too late, to find that his friend has been tortured and murdered. Lourdes feels honor-bound to investigate and avenge his friend's death, even though he has no idea what sort of trouble his friend might have been in.

It soon becomes apparent that some very dark and mysterious forces are at work here, including agents of the CIA. They immediately put the squeeze on Lourdes, suggesting that he was in league with his murdered friend in illegal activities and questioning his own patriotism in spite of his long and decorated military service. But in the spirit of his father and grandfather, John Rawbone Lourdes is not a man to be intimidated or to be distracted from his self-appointed mission. He is also not a man who should be underestimated.

What follows is a scary and fascinating tale that races deep into the heart of Mexico and involves a great cast of characters, including two very gutsy and determined women. Like its predecessor, this is a book that will keep most readers up well into the night and that will keep them thinking about these characters and about the issues this book raises for a very long time to come.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Joe Gunther Investigates the Case of the Missing Jewelery

When three losers break into a Boston home owned by a rich old widow, they're not interested in flat screen televisions, other electronics or the usual sorts of items that generally attract unsophisticated burglars. Rather, they're looking specifically for the old lady's jewelry, which would normally be difficult for mugs like these to dispose of. But these guys have a connection that can unload the jewelry to a shadowy buyer for top dollar. Things go sour, though, when the old lady interrupts the burglars and they attack her and leave her mortally wounded.

Meanwhile, up north in Vermont, other burglars target the vacant vacation home of a wealthy couple and attempt to cover their tracks by burning the place to the ground. Again, the target seems to be jewelry. Joe Gunther, the head of the Vermont Bureau of Investigation sees a pattern here, and before long he and his VBI associates have joined forces with the Boston PD and with authorities in Northampton, Massachusetts to investigate a growing number of such burglaries.

Northampton, known as Paradise City, seems to be the destination point for the stolen jewelry, and the cops aren't the only ones on the case. The murdered woman's granddaughter, convinced that the Boston police are not investigating the murder with sufficient enthusiasm, is also trying to solve the mystery.

The result is an engrossing tale that involves a lot of moving parts and some fairly clever antagonists. In the meantime, Joe Gunther is still working his way through the emotional crisis that devastated him a couple of books ago, while his subordinate, Willy Kunkle, is adjusting to marriage and family life--something that may not suit him at all. It all adds up to another very good entry in Archer Mayor's long-running Joe Gunther series.

Monday, January 13, 2014

"Fang" Mulheisen and Joe Service, Together Again

This is a crime novel with a great cast of characters, beginning with "Big" Sid Sedlacek, a Detroit mobster. Big Sid has been skimming money off the top and cheating his cronies who thus hire a hit man named Hal Good from that nest of hit men in Iowa City, Iowa, to deal with the problem. Unbeknownst to the other crooks, Hal has been assisting Big Sid in ripping off his fellow mobsters and so eliminating Sid allows Hal to collect on the contract, cover his own tracks, and make off with a fair share of the loot.

As the book opens, Hal shoots Big Sid one evening in front of the Sedlacek family home. But the cops get there so quickly that Hal is still walking away from the scene and gets swept up in the net of suspects that the cops corral. But Hal is clever enough to escape custody and make his way back to the safety of Iowa.

Enter Detective Sergeant "Fang" Mulheisen, who is assigned the case. Unfortunately for Mul, once Good has escaped, there's no suspect and no evidence worth pursuing. If that weren't bad enough, Mulheisen is now reunited with a former high school girlfriend named Bonny who left Detroit for bigger and better things and went on to be a Playboy centerfold. Now in her thirties, Bonny is still very hot and apparently still attracted to Mul.

Bonny's husband, Gene, also got caught up in the net of suspects following Big Sid's murder, allegedly while on his way to the store to get Bonny some rosemary, and Bonny would like Mul to get him out of the can. Mul does so, but there's something about Gene that doesn't add up.

From this point, things are off and running, and the mob will bring in an outside investigator, Joe Service, who has tangled with Mulheisen before, in an effort to track down the millions that are still missing after Big Sid's demise. It all makes for a very entertaining read, and it's especially fun to see Joe Service back in action. Jon A. Jackson never got the rep that accrued to his fellow Detroit writer, Elmore Leonard, but he should have. This book is that good.

Friday, January 10, 2014

A Racketter with an Ace Up His Sleeve

When a federal judge named Raymond Fawcett is found murdered in his isolated mountain cabin, mysteries abound. The most important question is why did a judge of very modest means need the large state-of-the-art safe that was found hidden behind a bookcase?

Not surprisingly, the safe is now empty. The judge's young secretary who was found murdered beside him, had been tortured before she was killed. the assumption is that the killers tortured her to force the judge to open the safe before killing the two of them.

Since Fawcett is only the fifth active federal judge ever to have been murdered, the F.B.I. assembles a huge task force to track down the killer or killers, but the task force is virtually at a standstill. No one has any idea what might have been in the judge's safe and the careful killers left no trace of themselves behind. There are no witnesses, no clues of any kind, and no real suspects.

Meanwhile, not far from the crime scene, disbarred attorney Malcolm Bannister sits in a federal prison camp near Frostburg, Maryland, with five years left on a ten-year stretch. Bannister is actually an innocent victim who got caught up in a net thrown by an ambitious prosecuting attorney who abused the RICO statues to convict him. Naturally Bannister is unhappy, but he now has an ace up his sleeve because he knows what was in the safe and who killed Judge Fawcett to get it.

Through the warden, Bannister contacts the F.B.I. and offers to make a trade: his freedom for the information he alone possesses. His offer sets off a great game of cat-and-mouse between Bannister and the authorities. As usual, Grisham keeps you turning the pages, one after another, and the first half of the book is especially gripping.

My only complaint about it is that the second half doesn't really live up to the promise of the first half. There's a significant turn in the action that occurs about halfway through and from that point on the action gets a bit sluggish and the book starts to feel like it's gone on perhaps a bit longer than necessary. But that's a relatively minor complaint; this is a fun read and a good way to spend an evening or two. It also raises some chilling questions about the way in which federal authorities may use and possibly abuse their powers. At a time when the news is focused on the ways in which the NSA and other government agencies are tracking our phone calls, e-mails and other activities, this theme takes on an added relevance.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Amos Walker, Back on the Job

Detroit P.I. Amos Walker appears for the twenty-first time in Infernal Angels. As always, the case seems innocuous enough at the beginning: a resale dealer has been burglarized and twenty-five HDTV converters have been stolen.

Amos is a detective of the old school who still drives a souped-up Oldsmobile Cutlass and who only recently--and begrudgingly--got a cell phone. He wouldn't know an HDTV converter from an Xbox 360. The dealer patiently shows him the sample he was sent ahead of the shipment that was stolen and explains what it does. That night, the resale man appears on television, showing the sample converter to a reporter who has tumbled to the story.

Bad move.

The burglar, or burglars, now realizing that they apparently missed one of the converters, return to the scene and steal it, this time killing the resale dealer in the process. One might wonder why in the hell an HDTV converter, or even twenty-six of them, would be worth all this trouble, but as Walker belatedly discovers, the twenty-five that were originally stolen were packed with super high-grade heroin and were shipped to the resale dealer by accident.

Now a fortune in primo heroin is missing and drug addicts are dropping like flies on the streets of Detroit. The dealer had hired Walker for three days, and Amos feels honor-bound to give the man his due, even though the client has now expired. This will involve him with a lot of rough characters and, to make matters worse, the local cops and the Feds will soon be all over his case.

Amos Walker is his own man, and he doesn't take a lot of crap from people, irrespective of their rank. As is usually the case in these books, his determination and his insubordination will get him into a lot of trouble. It will also get the crap beaten out of him a couple of times, which is no small thing for a guy who's getting on in years. But Walker will soldier on as always, and will see the case through to the end, no matter the outcome or the risk to his own well-being.

This is a very good entry in an excellent series. If you like your action down and gritty and your P.I.s clever, tough and mouthy, you'll want to search it out.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Lucas Davenport Finds Trouble on Several Fronts

The thirteenth entry in John Sandford's Prey series finds the protagonist, Assistant Minneapolis Police Chief Lucas Davenport, with his life in an uproar. His long-time boss, Chief Rose Marie Roux, is about to lose her job as a new mayor takes over. This means that Lucas will be out of a job as well. But Rose Marie is angling for a state job and, if she can pull off the scheme, she promises to take Davenport with her.

On the home front, Lucas's girlfriend, surgeon Weather Karkinnen, is with child. She and Lucas are planning a wedding and, at the same time, Lucas has leveled the house he has lived in for years and is building a new one. Of course, these are three of the most traumatic events that can befall a person, and no sane human being would ever have a kid, plan a wedding and build a house all at the same time. In real life, this combination would probably be the death of even the strongest relationship, but it makes for some entertaining moments in fiction.

At the same time, an old nemesis from an earlier Davenport adventure returns to haunt him. Personally, I'm reluctant to identify the villain, even though the blurb on the dust jacket does so. The problem is that doing so will spoil the ending of the earlier book in which this antagonist appears for anyone who hasn't already read it. And I assume it's possible that someone might read this review who is reading the series in order and who hasn't yet gotten to the first book to feature this villain. So...

In the earlier book, Davenport runs the villain to ground but the villain manages a narrow escape. The person leaves the country and plans never to return until old criminal enemies discover the villain living abroad and send in a hired killer. The killer misses his target and kills someone near and dear to the villain who is now an injured party and royally pissed.

The IP returns to the U.S. determined to seek revenge. In doing so, the IP turns up on the radar of the F.B.I. and they ask Davenport to join in the hunt, since he knows the villain/IP better than any other law enforcement person. Davenport agrees and a great game of cat and mouse ensues in which the determined IP tracks down targets while Davenport and the Fibbies attempt to intervene and capture the IP.

Even though most of the action takes place in St. Louis, Davenport is wise to the ways of the streets and recruits a cast of local and very able-bodied assistants. All in all, it's great fun and one of the better books in the series with all of the wit and dry humor that readers expect from Sandford. But to enjoy it to the fullest, again I would urge any interested reader to read the series in order.