Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Detective Donald Lam Is in Serious Trouble--Again

The thirteenth novel in the Donald Lam-Bertha Cool series begins with Lam hanging out in a hotel lobby. He's shadowed a man to the hotel on behalf of a client and is then distracted when a young woman is thrown out of the hotel's bar for being unescorted. (Back in 1949, many upscale establishments apparently refused service to women dining or drinking alone, figuring that the women might be of "ill repute.") The woman in question "was a small, well-formed package of dynamite. A pocket edition Venus--high breasted, thin-waisted, smooth-hipped--with large brown eyes and taffy-colored hair. She couldn't weigh much over a hundred pounds, but she was perfect, and she was buzzing like an angry hornet."

Who could resist such a woman? Certainly not Donald Lam. She introduces herself as Lucille Hart, and, ever the gentleman, Donald escorts her back into the bar and buys her a drink. One thing leads to another, and she asks him to drive her home. Donald agrees and on the way Lucille says she's suddenly feeling ill. She asks Donald to pull over and check into the Kozy Dell Slumber Court, so that she can rest for a bit.

Obviously, an evening at a place like the Kozy Dell Slumber Court is bound to be interesting, and sure enough, shortly after they arrive, Lucille disappears. While Donald is searching for her, three gunshots go off in another cabin and Donald realizes that he could be in Big Trouble. He wipes his prints from the cabin he rented with Lucille and makes his way back to town.

Well naturally, all hell breaks loose, and before long, Donald is the prime suspect in a couple of murders. His partner, the tough and mercenary Bertha Cool, is furious with him for getting into yet another mess; the bumbling police detective Frank Sellers is hot on Donald's trail determined to put Donald behind bars, and if Donald is going to avoid getting framed for murders he didn't commit, he's going to have to save himself.

This is another entertaining entry in the series. Lam remains nimble and clever as ever and the cast of characters is suitably pulpy, including a "cute little trick" who's "as supple as the greased cable out of a speedometer." They certainly don't make women (or speedometers) like that anymore, and they don't write books like this one anymore either. But every once in awhile it's fun to pull one of these books off the shelf and return to the early, formative years of crime fiction.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Henry Pierce Loses Focus When He Should Be Chasing the Dime

A couple of days ago, I wrote a review complaining because one of my favorite authors, John Lescroart, had set a plot into motion by having his protagonist do something incredibly stupid. Now, another of my favorite authors, Michael Connelly, has done exactly the same thing.

In Connelly's defense, this book was first published in 2002. It's his eleventh book overall, and does not feature Harry Bosch or any of the other series characters that Connelly has introduced through the years. The protagonist here is a guy named Henry Pierce, the head of of a tech startup firm called Amedeo Technologies. The company is doing pioneering work in molecular computing, and the ultimate objective is to produce a computer smaller than a dime, hence the title. Pierce is the genius behind the company and has made a major breakthrough that could put the firm well ahead of its competitors in the field.

The problem is that the company is very short of cash and in desperate need of finding a major investor--a "whale"-- who can write the check that will enable Pierce and company to move forward. Happily, they have such an investor on the hook. The guy is coming in for a dog and pony show, at the end of which, hopefully, he will write a huge check in return for a small stake in the company.

Unhappily, though, only a few days before the demonstration, Pierce breaks up with his girlfriend and moves out of the house they shared. His personal assistant helps him move into a new apartment and, among other things, signs him up for telephone service. (This is, obviously, back in the day when people still had land lines, and besides, Henry really doesn't trust these new-fangled cell phones.) 

Henry arrives at his new apartment, plugs in his phone, and immediately begins getting calls for a woman named Lilly. The calls are coming from men who are phoning from hotels and who sound very nervous, and Henry quickly realizes that his new phone number must have previously belonged to a hooker.

Any logical, sensible, intelligent person would unplug the phone, wait until Monday, call the phone company, and ask for a different number, especially if he had to finish a presentation that could mean the survival of his company and of his dream. But Pierce decides to investigate. He browses websites, looking for Lilly's ad, and finds her on a site called L.A. Darlings. He wonders why Lilly is no longer answering her number, and assumes that something bad may have happened to her. (It apparently never occurs to Henry that Lilly may simply have grown tired of selling herself, given up the number, resumed using her real name, and moved back to Omaha.) Inevitably, of course, Henry's search will bring him up against some very nasty characters and will get him into serious, maybe even fatal, trouble. But he soldiers on in spite of the risks.

Which makes absolutely no damned sense at all.

Henry needs to be in his lab, perfecting the demonstration that will propel him and his company into computer superstardom. His partners, employees and other investors have everything riding on him. What the hell is he doing, messing around trying to find this woman and putting himself and his company in serious jeopardy? Everyone who even gets a hint of what he is doing, tells him he's crazy and that he needs to get his head back into the game, but will he?

He will not, which simply leaves the reader, or at least this reader, shaking his head in disbelief. The character behaves so irrationally that in the end, it's impossible to care about him. If this novel had been written by somebody named Joe Blow, one might conclude that it's an "okay" book, but one expects more from a writer as talented as Michael Connelly. Interestingly, at an author event a couple of weeks ago, even Connelly himself could not remember the name he had given to the protagonist of this novel. And given that, perhaps the reader can be forgiven for fairly quickly forgetting it and the book as well.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

A San Francisco Woman Makes a Potentially Fatal Mistake

While I'm a big fan of John Lescroart's Dismas Hardy/Abe Glitzky series, this stand-alone didn't do very much for me. The book and I got off on the wrong foot right from the start when the main protagonist did something incredibly stupid just for the sake of setting the plot into motion, and once that happened I simply couldn't generate much sympathy for her or much enthusiasm for the plot.

Kate Jameson is in her mid-forties, happily married to a great guy with two children and a generally wonderful life in San Francisco. At a dinner party, she meets a man named Peter Ash who, like Kate's husband, is a lawyer. Kate feels an immediate attraction to Peter, which she confesses to her best friend, Beth Tully, an SFPD homicide detective. Beth, like any other rational person, the reader included, understands that it would be extremely foolish for Kate to even think about getting involved with Peter Ash; the consequences could be devastating and might destroy her virtually perfect life.

Kate naturally agrees with this logic, right up until the point where she doesn't. She lures Ash into an encounter at a hotel where the two of them have a mind-blowing sexual experience, even though Ash also realizes that this is a Really Stupid Thing To Do. Kate insists that this is a one-time-only experience, and good luck with that idea. Inevitably, of course, the dominos begin to fall; a homicide will occur; the case will be assigned to Beth Tully; any number of lives will be destroyed, and the world will never be the same again.

I understand that normally intelligent people do really dumb things all the time, especially in the sexual arena. But the problem here, at least for me, is that the author gives us no good reason why either Kate Jameson or Peter Ash should do such a thing. If either, or both, were unhappy in their marriages, their actions would make more sense. But Lescroart sets them up in a nearly perfect world where both of them appear to be leading about the best lives anyone could possibly imagine. Again, I just couldn't buy into the premise that either one of them, let alone both of them, would so casually jeopardize the lives they had worked so hard to build up to that point. I'll look forward with a great deal of enthusiasm to the next Hardy/Glitzky novel, but I certainly don't need to meet these characters again.

Friday, November 10, 2017

A Jockey Is Stunned by the Verdict of a Racing Commission in this Novel from Dick Francis

When jockey Kelly Hughes and the trainer he rides for, Dexter Cranfield, are called before a commision of enquiry following a race that Hughes rode on one of Cranfield's horses, the two men assume that it's a minor matter of no concern. They both know that they did nothing wrong and so assume that they will simply have to answer a few questions about the race and be on their way.

Understandably, then, the two men are shocked when the commissioners exhibit evidence against them that Hughes and Cranfield claim has been clearly fabricated, indicating that the two men were guilty of serious offenses during the race in question. Although they protest their innocence, both are banned from racing in the future.

Their livelihoods and their reputations are at stake, and Cranfield withdraws into himself, assuming that nothing can be done about this situation. Hughes is a fighter, though, and is determined to discover who manufactured the evidence against him and Cranfield, and why. Hughes's mission brings him up against some particularly vicious people, and before long, his safety and his very life are at grave risk.

This is a fairly entertaining novel and a pleasant way to while away a flight from Phoenix to Chicago, or probably anywhere else for that matter. Hughes is a very typical Dick Francis protagonist, and the story is much like most of Francis's other novels. There will be no real surprises here for people who have read others of his books, and for those who haven't, this is as good a place to start as any.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

"IQ" Is a Fantastic Debut Novel from Joe Ide

In Isaiah Quintabe (IQ), Joe Ide has created one of the most unique and entertaining protagonists to enter the world of crime fiction in a good long time. Left alone at an early age, Isaiah has a somewhat rocky start. But he pulls himself up by the proverbial bootstraps and becomes a brilliant investigator. Mostly he takes cases large and small in and around his L.A. neighborhood that the cops can't solve or simply can't be bothered with. Sometimes he gets paid in cash; sometimes he gets paid in pies or some such thing, and sometimes he doesn't get paid at all. But that's cool; Isaiah has a mission, and the only thing that really matters is that he fulfills it.

Outwardly, Isaiah doesn't make much of an initial impression. He's quiet and laid back, but underneath that exterior lurks a massive intelligence on the order of, say, Sherlock Holmes. Isaiah's sidekick is a diminutive guy named Dodson, who is prone to getting Isaiah into more trouble than the friendship may be worth, and it's Dodson who brings Isaiah the case that constitutes the bulk of the novel.

A rap star who's rapidly losing touch with reality and whose career is circling the drain, fears that he is the target of an assassination plot. He's hiding out in his garish mansion, surrounded by a circle of sycophants, and he wants Isaiah to figure out who's behind the plot and put a stop to it. His greedy manager just wants the rapper back in the studio, working on his new album, and would just as soon that Isaiah like to his client to ease his concerns. Well, that's not going to happen, and the deeper Isaiah digs into the case, the more complicated and dangerous it becomes--especially when a one hundred and thirty-five pound killer dog enters the picture.

The novel switches back and forth between 2005 and 2013. The earlier chapters treat Isaiah's youth and detail the circumstances that led him to his path as an adult. The later chapters detail the current investigation. Isaiah himself is a very attractive and intriguing character, and the rest of the cast is brilliantly imagined. At points the book is very touching and at others it's hilariously funny. Ide strikes a very nice balance, emotionally, and the book is a terrific read. There's no mystery at all about the fact that it was nominated for virtually every honor in the crime fiction world, including the prestigious Edgar Award. I'm already looking forward to the sequel.

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.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Inquiring Minds Want to Know: Is Fat Bob Dead Yet?

This is one of the strangest and funniest crime novels I've read in a long time. It's also very endearing with a cast of oddball characters that you simply can't help rooting for.

The story is set in New London, Connecticut, and opens with a tragic incident. A would-be con man named Connor Raposo picks up a pair of shoes and walks out of the cobbler's shop to see a garbage truck suddenly back out into the street, right in front of a Harley-Davidson "Fat Bob" belonging to guy named Fat Bob. The bike slams into the truck and body parts, presumably belonging to Fat Bob, go flying everywhere. It's not a pretty sight. 

It's a terrible accident--or is it? Two bickering detectives named Manny Streeter and Benny Vickstrom are assigned to investigate and things rapidly become very confusing. Connor Raposo, the main witness is working for a gang of grifters called Bounty, Inc. They've appeared in town running a scam collecting donations for various charities like Prom Queens Anonymous, Free Beagles from Nicotine Addiction, and Orphans from Outer Space. Since there's obviously more than one sucker born every minute, it's a pretty good racket, but the last thing Connor needs to to get entangled with the cops.

Connor also runs into trouble with mob enforcers, angry wives, a sexy woman for hire, and his own brother. It's not an easy life. It does make for a very entertaining novel, however, one that should certainly appeal to readers who enjoyed the more comic novels of Donald Westlake, for example. All in all, a very good read.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Hotel Burglar Cassie Black Tries to Make One Last Score

Void Moon, which was published in 2000, is another standalone from Michael Connelly, the creator of Harry Bosch and Mickey Haller. The protagonist is Cassie Black, a beautiful young woman who was once a very skilled burglar who specialized in ripping off big marks in Vegas. But then a job went catastrophically wrong; Cassie's partner and lover was killed, and Cassie was arrested and sent to the pen for six years. Now free, she's living in L.A., selling Porches, and reporting regularly to her probation officer.

Cassie has a special reason for now walking the straight and narrow, but she still occasionally feels the outlaw juices flowing, and selling cars to rich guys doesn't do much to calm them. Then Cassie suddenly finds herself in desperate need of big money fast and so, with no other option, she agrees to do a job that will earn her enough money to flee the country and build a new life.

It means going back to Vegas and running some very high risks. It will also bring her into conflict with a very bad operator who has no compulsion whatsoever about killing the people who get in his path, even in a minor way. Inevitably, the best laid plans will go awry, and Cassie will be left to her own wits and considerable talents if she's going to survive and complete her larger mission.

This is a very taut, interesting book that grabs the reader from the beginning. Cassie is a very appealing character, and Connelly obviously did a lot of careful research for the book. The technical details, even though dated now, are especially intriguing, and after reading the book, I'm not going to feel safe in a hotel room again for a good long time. A very good read.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Lam and Cool Take on a Case that Mixes Murder with a Pet Crow

The eleventh Donald Lam and Bertha Cool novel begins with a client who wants the detective agency to undertake a task that he will not stoop to do himself. The client, Harry Sharples, is one of two trustees who administer a trust with two beneficiaries. One of the beneficiaries, Sharples says, is an intelligent, responsible young woman who can be trusted with the money the trustees dole out to her. The other is a young man who is anything but responsible and who will gamble or otherwise fritter away whatever funds he is allowed. 

Sharples is worried because a pendant filled with valuable emeralds and which belongs to the young woman, has suddenly appeared on the market. Sharples can't imagine why the woman would be selling the pendant and wonders if she is in some sort of financial difficulty. But he can't bring himself to ask her what's going on and so he wants Lam and Cool to investigate and figure it out for him.

Cool and Lam take the case and Donald begins to investigate. Inevitably, the case will become almost impossibly convoluted, as only a plot by Erle Stanley Gardner can do. A murder will be committed; a pet crow will enter the picture, and Donald will have to fly off to Colombia to check out an emerald mine. None of it makes any sense at all, but it's still always fun to watch Lam in action, bickering with his partner, and conducting the investigation in his own inimitable way. Of course Donald will be a magnet for at least a couple of over-sexed women and all in all, reading the book is a pleasant way to lose two or three hours.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

A Classic Novel from Agatha Christie

This book, first published in 1939, and The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (1926), are generally considered to be Agatha Christie's most outstanding achievements. Both are premier examples of the "locked room" mystery, and this book is perhaps the most elaborate puzzle mystery ever published. Christie noted later that it was the most difficult book she ever wrote and the one that pleased her the most.

As the book opens, eight people who are all strangers to each other, accept an invitation to spend the weekend at an island house. None of them is really familiar with their hosts, a Mr. and Mrs. Owen, but they accept the invitation just the same. However, on arriving on the island, they discover that their host and hostess have been delayed and will not arrive until the following day.

The guests are thus left in the care of the couple that runs the household. Oddly, they too have never met their employers and are carrying out instructions that were mailed to them when their services were retained. Counting the couple, there are now ten people effectively abandoned on the island, given that the boat that has brought them has returned to the mainland and will not be coming back to the island for several days due to rough seas.

In each of the guest rooms there is a copy of a blackface song, written in the 1860s, and titled variously as "Ten Little Niggers," or "Ten Little Injuns." (Christie's novel was first published as Ten Little Niggers, but later editions of the book were sanitized, and the title changed to reflect the last line of the song. In current editions, the song is titled "Ten Little Soldiers," which presumably will not offend anyone's sensibilities.) The song describes the activities of the ten little individuals who die, one by one, in various misadventures until the last one expires, "and then there were none."

As the ten people assemble on the first evening on the island, it is revealed that each of them has a dark secret. Each of them has effectively gotten away with causing the death of another person. And sure enough, the ten people begin to die, each in a way that reflects a death in the poem. After two or three deaths, panic sets in and the guests don't know what to do, whom to trust, or how to save themselves.

The story is best read as a classic example of a style of British mystery that was once very popular. Needless to say, crime fiction has come a long way in the last eighty years, and readers accustomed to more contemporary novels may find this one more than a bit odd. It's fun to watch the puzzle unfold, though, and to see Agatha Christie at her best. In that sense, this is a book that should interest a large number of crime fiction fans.

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.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Detective Jackson Faces Multiple Challenges in "Deadly Bonds"

Deadly Bonds is another excellent entry in the Detective Jackson series by L. J. Sellers. Jackson is a detective in the Eugene, Oregon P.D. and the book opens as he is called to the scene of a murder. A young woman lies dead in a run-down house, although the cause of death is not immediately apparent. In searching the house, Jackson finds a terrified three-year-old boy hiding in a crawl space under the house. Jackson convinces the child to trust him enough to come out of his hiding space and the boy immediately bonds with Jackson and won't let go of him.

Jackson naturally attempts to pass the child off to Child Services, but that goes badly and so Jackson agrees to hang on to the child temporarily while he searches for relatives who can take the boy. This may not be the best idea in the world, because at the moment, Jackson is especially vulnerable in the family department. His own daughter, Katie, is estranged and living away from home. At the same time, the daughter-in-law of Kera Kollmorgan, Jackson's Significant Other, has been badly injured in an auto accident and is not expected to live. Needless to say, Jackson's personal responsibilities to his family are thus basically colliding head-on with his obligations to the job.

Jackson's efforts to keep all these balls in the air at the same time is hindered by the city's budget crisis, which has led to staffing cuts in the P.D. In consequence, Detective Lara Evans, one of Jackson's most valuable teammates, is pulled off the investigation into the woman's murder to investigate the death of a star college football player. This makes the investigation into the original victim's death all that more difficult and places even more responsibility on Jackson's shoulders.

Sellers very deftly moves back and forth between the two death investigations and the multiple crises in Jackson's personal life. It makes for a swift-moving and very enjoyable read. The tension grows as the book progresses and ends in a great climax. Jackson is a very capable and sympathetic protagonist, and Deadly Bonds is another winner from this prolific author.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Bill Hodges Reaches the End of Watch

This is the concluding volume of Stephen King's trilogy featuring ex-cop and P.I., Bill Hodges. The cast of characters from the first two books has returned mostly intact, including Hodges; his partner, Holly Gibney, and Brady Hartsfield, the maniac whose crime spree set the trilogy in motion. For almost six years, Hartsfield has been hospitalized, apparently in a persistent vegetative state, but Hodges still suspects that Hartsfield might be faking his illness in an effort to avoid prosecution for his crimes.

As this book opens, Bill and Holly are called to a death scene by Bill's former partner, Pete Huntley. Two women are dead in an apparent murder-suicide, and Huntley believes that Hodges may be interested in the scene because one of the women was one of Brady Hartsfield's original victims. The cops, or at least Pete's new partner, are ready to close the case, but Hodges is not so sure that there's not more to the women's deaths. He and Holly begin their own investigation and the game is on. It's really hard to say much more without giving too much away, and I would recommend that anyone considering the book, ignore the tease on the cover, which does give way too much away.

I enjoyed the first two books in this series, but this one not so much. I hasten to say that this is certainly much more my fault than the author's. This is one of those books where I can recognize that the book is generally well done and that it will appeal to a large number of readers. But, unlike the first two books in the trilogy which were fairly straight-forward crime novels, this one bends the genre in ways that just didn't work for me. In short, I'm really not the audience for this book.

I would argue that the book is about a hundred pages too long. It seemed to drag and to get a bit repetitive, but again, that may just reflect the fact that I wasn't really enjoying it and was waiting for it to be over. Certainly no one should avoid this book because it didn't work for me; the scores of other much more favorable reviews would certainly indicate that it did work for a lot of other readers.