Wednesday, December 27, 2017

An Excellent Hard-Boiled Novel Set in Scotland

This is a deliciously nasty, noirish, early entry in the Hard Case Crime series. The protagonist, Joe Hope, walks the mean streets of Edinburgh, working as an enforcer for a loan shark named Cooper. Joe is especially effective wielding his baseball bat, the sight of which leaves delinquent borrowers terrorized. 

Joe's a heavy drinker, especially when he's been out collecting with his buddy, Cooper, and after one of these all-night sessions, Joe returns home to discover that his teenage daughter is dead. She has apparently killed herself after going to stay with an uncle in northern Scotland.

Joe is devastated and furious, and he vows to take revenge against the uncle who, in Joe's view, did not sufficiently protect his daughter. But Joe has barely begun to take his revenge when he is arrested for a murder that he did not commit. The evidence is heavily stacked against him and it's clear that someone is attempting to put him into the frame.

As the book progresses, Joe must sort out what happened with his daughter and at the same time stay one step ahead of the cops who are in hot pursuit. Neither will be easy, and his efforts align him with some pretty hard characters. One doesn't normally think of Scotland as prime territory for traditional noir crime stories, but by the time Guthrie gets through, he has produced a story worthy of the masters of the genre. This is a book that should appeal to any fan of hard-boiled crime novels.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Boston Attorney Brady Coyne Investigates the Disappearance of a Friend

The Constitution guarantees that everyone accused of a crime is entitled to a defense--even though he or she might actually have committed the offense for which they have been charged. This is bound to cause difficulties for many attorneys--at least for those with a conscience--who find that they must mount the best defense they can even for clients that they personally find reprehensible.

Boston attorney Brady Coyne finds himself in this situation when the son of one of his clients is charged with killing two people while driving drunk. There's no question about the fact that the son was driving the car, that he was legally drunk, that he hit another car and killed two people. But the wealthy father wants his son off the hook.

As readers of this series know, Coyne's one-man law practice is largely confined to administering the affairs of wealthy, mostly elderly clients. He doesn't do criminal defense himself, but acting on the instructions of his client, Coyne finds an excellent defense attorney named Paul Cizek to take the case. Cizek, who is one of Brady's friends, was once a prosecuting attorney with an outstanding record. Since going into private practice he has successfully defended a number of high-profile defendants who have been acquitted as the result of his efforts, which certainly does not mean that they were not guilty.

Such is the case here, and against seemingly impossible odds, Cizek wins an acquittal for the drunk driver who was surely as guilty as sin. But Cizek is troubled by the fact that he is now helping guilty clients escape the consequences of their actions. His marriage is also in trouble and one night, shortly after the trial, he disappears off his boat which he has taken out into a storm.

Did Cizek die by accident? Was he so depressed that he took his own life? Brady Coyne is haunted by the death of his friend and goes searching for answers. Naturally, his quest will stir up all kinds of additional problems that Brady never anticipated, and before long, he will be in considerable trouble himself.

If that weren't bad enough, Brady's own love life has hit a troubled patch. For some time, he has been in a relationship with a newspaper reporter who seems to be his ideal mate. But when she get a chance for a big advancement, it may mean moving away from Boston and may, in turn, have serious consequences for her relationship with Brady.

This is a very good entry in this series. The case is an interesting one, and the reporter, Alex Shaw, is one of Brady's more appealing love interests, and so the reader winds up rooting for them to succeed. All in all, a good read.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Joe Gunther and the VBI Must Unravel the Mystery Surrounding a Forty-Year-Old Skeleton

This is another solid entry in Archer Mayor's series featuring Joe Gunther, the head of the Vermont Bureau of Investigation. Twenty-seven books into the series, the formula and the cast of characters are very well set, but the formula remains strong and the characters are still uniformly interesting, even though by now, long-time readers of the series know these people almost as well as members of their own families.

As the story opens, a Vermont nuclear power plant is being decommissioned forty years after its construction in the mid-1970s. Workers are jackhammering the concrete floor of a warehouse that was part of the complex when they discover a skeleton encased in the concrete. It's readily apparent that the victim was murdered and the job of investigating the death naturally falls to the VBI. 

Gunther and his team are able to identify the body fairly quickly as that of Hank Mitchell, one of the principal figures in a roofing company that was working on the nuclear site. There were problems in Mitchell's marriage, and his family and friends had long assumed that he had simply abandoned his old life and moved on to greener pastures. They are shocked to discover that he has been dead all this time.

Gunther and the other investigators begin digging back into Mitchell's life in an effort to discover who might have wanted him dead, but then this old, cold case heats up dramatically when someone who had been close to Mitchell is murdered days after the discovery of the skeleton. It quickly becomes apparent that the discovery of Mitchell's body has set off a chain reaction of events and has brought back to the surface secrets that many people thought had been buried with Mitchell forty years earlier. The only question now is whether Joe Gunther can contain the fallout and get to the bottom of this long-simmering mystery.

I've long been a fan of this series and enjoyed this entry a lot. I assume that it will appeal to lots of others who have been following the series, but I would strongly advise anyone interested and new to the series to start at the beginning with Open Season. Part of the joy of following this series is watching the evolution of the characters, and beginning with this book would be the wrong move in that respect.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

A Boston Bike Messenger Headlines a Great Cast in this Debut Novel from Adam Abramowitz

In the tradition of great Boston crime novels by people like Robert B. Parker, Dennis Lehane, et al., now comes Bosstown, the debut novel from Adam Abramowitz. The main protagonist is Zesty Myers who is, by his own admission, Boston's fastest bike messenger. The only thing faster than Zesty's bike is his mouth. He's a major smart-ass, even in circumstances when he should know well enough to stay quiet.

Zesty's father, Will, once ran heavy-duty backroom poker games and was a major behind-the-scenes Boston political fixer. But Will is now old, suffering from Alzheimer's, and in need of constant care. Zesty's brother, Zero, runs a moving service that employs a lot of ex-cons, and their mother, Diane, was a former radical bombmaker, who disappeared years earlier after allegedly helping to rob a bank.

All in all, it's quite the family, and this is quite the story, involving crimes that span two generations. The novel kicks off when Zesty agrees to substitute for another courrier and picks up a package from a record producer's office. But as Zesty races to deliver the package, he's blindsided by a Buick. He and his package go flying; the package bursts open, and all of a sudden, $20,000 in currency is flying through the air.

Passers-by quickly scoop up most of the dough and run off with it, but the cops arrive and it quickly becomes apparent that the remaining money was part of a major bank heist a few days earlier. Zesty soon finds himself in the middle of a huge and dangerous mess, involving sex, drugs, rock and roll, and two major bank robberies that are separated by nearly forty years.

It's a great ride, funny, scary, and compelling, and the reader finds him or herself racing through the pages of this novel at the speed of Zesty's messenger bike, careening through the streets of Beantown. I loved the Zesty Meyers character, and all of the supporting characters are very well drawn and interesting too. Abramowitz has a great voice, and I eagerly await his second novel. 4.5 stars for this one.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Another Dick Francis Protagonist Finds Himself in Serious Jeopardy

My edition of this book quotes a review from The Atlantic Monthly, indicating that the book is "guaranteed to drive the reader to hysterical dithers and jotters." I confess that I have absolutely no idea what even regular dithers and jotters might amount to, let alone hysterical ones, and while I enjoyed the book, I was not especially moved to any unusual emotional reactions.

Neil Griffon's profession is consulting with troubled companies and restoring them to good health. But then his father, who owns a large stable operation with eight-five horses in his care, is badly injured in an auto accident, and Neil is temporarily forced to leave his own job and take over the stables. Neil's relations with his father have never been good (a frequent problem for Dick Francis's protagonists), and the last thing he wants to do is assume this responsibility. Sadly, he has no choice.

No sooner does Griffon settle in than he is kidnapped by a couple of professional thugs and delivered to a rich and powerful criminal. The criminal's son, who has no experience in these matters, wishes to become a champion jockey, preferably starting tomorrow. The crook instructs Griffon to take the son into his operation and set him up on the best horse in the place in the coming race season. Should Griffon fail to do so, the crook will destroy the stables and inflict great bodily harm on Griffon himself.

Obviously, this seriously bad guy has never read a Dick Francis novel or he would have had sense enough to take his son and his threats to another stable. Anyone who ever hasread one of these books understands immediately that any Dick Francis protagonist will face such threats stoically, bravely, and intelligently. Most of all, he will never, EVER, give into such threats irrespective of the harm that will inevitably be inflicted upon him along the way.

Griffon's challenge, then, is to diffuse the situation without ever speaking of it to anyone else, the police included. Bringing them into this matter simply wouldn't be fair to the poor bad guy who has no idea who he's dealing with or what he's getting himself into. And even though I wasn't reduced to hysterical dithers and jotters (at least as far as I know), I did enjoy watching Neil Griffon wrestle with this challenge and I expect that most other readers who like this series will as well.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Minnesota BCI Agent Virgil Flowers Races to save Two Kidnapped Tigers

Minnesota BCI agent Virgil Flowers returns in another entertaining novel from John Sandford. Flowers is a laid-back guy who dresses in jeans and the tee shirts of obscure rock bands and who spends the bulk of his time investigating rural crime. He loves fishing and women, though not necessarily in that order, and is currently in a relationship with a woman named Frankie.

When two rare tigers are stolen from the Minnesota Zoo, Virgil is assigned to lead the investigation. Time is of the essence here, for the fear is that the animals will be killed and that their body parts will be harvested for the Asian market in non traditional medicinal supplements. At virtually the same moment, Frankie's sister, Sparkle, comes to spend the summer with Frankie while she finishes the research for her dissertation. The dissertation involves the exploitation of workers at a local canning factory, and when Sparkle attempts to interview employees of the factory, she quickly becomes the target of people who would rather that her investigation not be completed.

Virgil will have to devote some time to the problems that result from Sparkle's investigation, but the bulk of his time is consumed in the hunt for the tigers and the tigernappers. As usual in a Sandford novel, the point of view shifts back and forth between Virgil and the gang that has taken the tigers, and while there's a fair amount of violence in this book, there's also a great deal of the humor that readers have come to expect from a novel featuring "That F***in' Flowers."

If I have any complaint about this book, it lies in the fact that Sandford seems to be straining just a bit too hard with the humor elements of the book, at the risk of becoming a bit too cute. Also, the subplot involving Sparkle's investigation didn't really add much to the book. Still, it's always fun to hang out with Virgil and this is a very entertaining way to lose a few hours. 3.5 rounded up to 4 stars.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Another Great Harry Bosch Novel from Michael Connelly

The eighth Harry Bosch novel, published in 2002, opens when a dog unearths a human bone in Laurel Canyon in the hills above Hollywood. The dog's owner, a retired doctor, recognizes the discovery immediately and calls the police. Harry Bosch responds, climbs the hill where the dog had been playing, and discovers the bones of a child that had been buried in a shallow grave more than twenty years earlier.

An autopsy reveals that the boy had been murdered, but there are precious few clues apart from the bones themselves. A case this cold will be almost impossible to solve, but for Bosch, this case, like virtually all his others, becomes personal and he simply won't let go of it. 

Harry is, ultimately, able to identify the victim, but tracking down the killer will take all of the skills he has honed through the years. Along the way, he will acquire a new love interest, and, as is almost always the case, will find himself in conflict with the department's brass who are, at least in Harry's view, much more interested in protecting the department's image than they are in achieving some sort of justice.

This is another very good entry in the series, featuring the level of detail and insight into police procedure that readers have come to expect from Connelly. One of the particular joys of this book lies in the minor characters, beginning with the doctor whose dog discovers the bones, all of whom are very well-drawn and unusually interesting. The book ends with a particularly shattering climax which will leave readers very anxious to get to the next book in the series.

Monday, December 4, 2017

A Mother Driving Across the Country Runs into Terrible Trouble in Arizona

This is a suspense novel written by the Irish crime writer, Stuart Neville, using the pen name "Haylen Beck." It's another of those cases where the author's real name and picture are featured on the cover, raising the issue of why the author even bothers with the pen name. Perhaps Neville wanted to distinguish between his other books, which are set in Ireland, and this one, which is set in the U.S, but I'm not really sure I see the point.

This is one of those books that's especially difficult to review without giving away significant plot points, and I would argue that even the tease on the book cover goes too far in this regard. Suffice it to say that a troubled woman leaves New York, driving to California. She fears that the authorities may be looking for her, and so she's sticking to the back roads which are less traveled. She gets as far as a very small town out in rural Arizona, where everything goes terribly wrong. For my own part, I don't want to give away any more than that, except in a spoiler alert. Read the dust jacket if you wish, and do so at your own risk.

I've read several of Neville's Irish crime novels and have enjoyed them very much, but this one didn't quite work for me. I had a very difficult time buying into the underlying premise of the novel and the story really didn't seem to pick up much momentum until about halfway through. Once it did, I was turning the pages one after another, as quickly as I could; I only wish it hadn't taken quite that long to ramp up the action. It's certainly a fairly good read, but I didn't think it was quite on a par with the author's earlier work.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

DS Alan Banks and Di Annie Cabbot Draw Two Very Difficult Cases in This Novel From Peter Robinson

When Peter Robinson began the Alan Banks series in 1987, with Gallows View, Banks was a Detective Chief Inspector, and the early books followed him through the investigations of a number of crimes. Fairly early on, Robinson gave Banks a young subordinate named Annie Cabbot, who became a fixture of the series herself. Now, twenty nine years and twenty-three books into the series, Banks has been promoted to Detective Superintendent, supervising a number of investigators. Cabbot is now a Detective Inspector with a subordinate of her own, and therein lies the principal problem with this book.

Understandably, Robinson is reluctant to let go of either character, even briefly. But he's well past the point where he can have Cabbot simply trailing after Banks as he does all the heavy lifting in an investigation. His solution is to give both Banks and Cabbot their own separate cases and then follow the investigations.

Banks draws a fifty-year-old cold case involving a celebrated entertainer named Danny Caxton. Several women have now come forward, accusing Caxton of sexual improprieties. The most serious accusation comes from a woman who says that when she was only fourteen years old, Caxton lured her into his hotel room where he and another man raped her. The girl and her mother reported the case to the police, but the investigation went nowhere at the time. Given the new accusations that are being leveled against Caxton, the case is revived, but all of the evidence that might have been collected initially has disappeared, and Banks, who believes the woman's story, has a very difficult task ahead of him.

Cabbot's case is a contemporary one, also involving a fourteen-year-old girl who is gang-raped in a van and then pitched from the van into a roadside ditch. She crawls out of the ditch and only a few minutes later is murdered. The young woman comes from a very dysfunctional family and has fallen into bad company. The small town where she lived is racially divided, with tension simmering between the white residents and a large group of people with Pakistani ethnic origins, and the case may well blow the lid off the troubled relations between the two groups.

Robinson approaches the situation by dividing virtually every chapter in half. One half is devoted to the Banks or Cabbot case and then abruptly shifts to the other. The two cases have absolutely nothing that links them together, and Robinson attempts to bridge the problem by bringing Banks and Cabbot together for drinks a couple of times to kick around their respective investigations. But it's a very frustrating approach, or at least it was for me. Every time one of the stories would begin to gain a bit of momentum, the spell was broken while Robinson switched to the other.

In truth, Cabbot's case is much the more interesting and could easily have sustained a novel all by itself. The Banks case seems thin, and Robinson has to stretch it out quite a bit in order to fill the space needed. Realistically, he would have been better off simply to let this be Cabbot's book and let her run with the case under Banks's general supervision.

This is not a bad book, but it is a frustrating one. These are two appealing characters, and I understand the Robinson, like many readers, is very fond of them. But I hope he finds a more satisfactory way of dealing with them the next time out.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Boston Attorney Brady Coyne Gets Tangled Up in the Debate Over Gun Control

This is something of an odd entry in the Brady Coyne series, which the author, William G. Tapply, uses to explore the issue of gun control. Brady is having a solitary drink in his condo one evening when he gets a call from an old buddy named Wally Kinnick. Wally has come to Boston to testify at a hearing about a proposed state ban on assault weapons, but the guy who was supposed to meet him hasn't shown. Wally wants to know if Brady can pick him up and give him a couch to sleep on for the night. Naturally, Coyne agrees.

Kinnick is the host of a very popular TV show on the outdoors--hunting, fishing, environmental issues, and so forth. As a man well known for supporting the Second Amendment, he's been invited to speak to the committee considering the bill by a group called Second Amendment Forever, or SAFE. Apparently having nothing better to do, like going into his office and doing some work of his own, Brady accompanies Kinnick to the hearing. But there, Kinnick shocks everyone, particularly the member of SAFE who have jammed the hearing room, by testifying in favor of the bill, rather than against it.

Kinnick argues that a semi-automatic assault rifle is not an appropriate gun for a hunter, and following the hearing, Coyne and Kinnick have an unpleasant confrontation in a coffee shop with some of the aggrieved SAFE members. The group publishes a regular newsletter with an "Enemies" list in it and Wally Kinnick soon finds himself at #1 on the list. Apparently for the sin of hanging out with a traitor to the cause. Brady Coyne winds up at number 7 on the list.

Shortly thereafter, somebody shoots Kinnick out in the woods, and the game is on. Of course it could have been a simple hunting accident, but then again, maybe it wasn't, and perhaps everyone on the list is now a target. Brady pursues the matter out of loyalty to his friend and out of an instinct for self-preservation. But if the shooter begins taking the "enemies" out of order, Brady may not have much time in which to figure out what's going on here.

This is an okay read, but it's certainly not one of the better books in the series. Tapply spends a lot of time weighing the merits of the debate over gun control, or at least as that debate existed in 1995, when the book was published. Obviously the debate over guns has moved well beyond that point and as a result, some of the arguments presented in the book seem almost quaint. Completists will want to read this book, but more casual readers who simply want to dip into this series might look for another title.

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.