Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Boston Attorney Brady Coyne Is Hamstrung by Client Privilege

The ninth Brady Coyne novel opens when his client and long-time friend, Chester "Pops" Popowski, calls Brady with a problem. Already a distinguished jurist, "Pops" has been nominated for a seat on a federal court, and he has ambitions of one day sitting on the Supreme Court. But, as fate would have it, someone has chosen this rather inopportune moment to blackmail him over an incident that happened years earlier.

If the incident were to become public knowledge, it would almost certainly derail Popowski's judicial ambitions, and the blackmailer wants ten grand to keep the secret. He also wants to meet with Pops at a somewhat seedy bar to discuss the deal. Pops refuses to tell Brady what the incident involves and insists that it was nothing all that serious--just potentially embarrassing. He wants Brady to take the meet and tell the blackmailer that he's not going to pay.

As instructed, Brady meets the guy and delivers the message. The blackmailer gets huffy about it and they exchange some words. The blackmailer leaves the bar. Brady leaves the bar. The blackmailer gets murdered. Oh, crap.

The police identify the blackmailer and trace his movements to the bar where the cooperative bartender identifies both the victim and Brady, and tells the cops that he saw them arguing. The cops want to know what they were talking about and why they met, but Brady is bound by client privilege to protect Pops and can't tell them. Not surprisingly, he becomes the prime suspect.

Through the rest of the novel, then, we watch Brady attempt to extricate himself from this mess without breaking his obligation to his client. This means that he will have to find the Real Killer himself. It's an interesting hunt, but this is not one of the more compelling books in the series. Brady wanders here and there, attempting to solve the crime, but there's not a lot of suspense. He's never in any physical danger and the reader realizes that he's probably not really going to be arrested and convicted of the murder, and so we watch him go about his business, feeling pretty confident that things will all work out in the end.

It's an okay book, and those readers who are fans of the series and who are as compulsive about these things as I, will certainly want to read it. More casual readers who want to sample the series would be best advised to dip into other entries, and this will not be a problem. There are a lot of good Brady Coyne novels out there.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Norwegian Detective Harry Hole Chases a Particularly Fiendish Killer

The opening of the eleventh entry in the Harry Hole series finds the famed Norwegian detective happily retired from the homicide division and teaching at the police academy. He's clean, sober and recently married, building his relationship with his wife and his stepson. Hard as is may be to believe, Harry Hole is actually happy.

Any fan of the series knows that this can't possibly last long, and Harry fears it as well--he knows that his life is too good to be true. Sure enough, when two women are murdered in a particularly fiendish way after accepting Tinder dates, it's clear that a new serial killer is haunting Oslo. And, of course, Harry Hole has built his reputation on hunting serial killers. No one does it better. But when the Police Chief asks Harry to return to homicide and help track down the killer, Harry refuses, insisting that he will not sink back into that swamp again. The chief, though, brings pressure to bear, effectively making Harry an offer that he cannot refuse, and soon Hole is back on the job, running his own small team in an effort parallel to the main investigation.

The plot thickens when Harry realizes that the person most likely guilty of the crimes is an old nemesis who eluded capture a few years earlier, and soon the chase is one with Harry and his old antagonist battling it out. 

The killer is a monster of the first magnitude and this novel flirts with crossing into the realm of the horror genre. Like all of the books in this series, psychological themes are front and center, and the most interesting case study is Harry Hole himself, who remains one of the most complicated and compelling figures in crime fiction. A lot of the earlier cast members are present for this outing, and as always, the tension is thick.

It's very hard to say more about the plot without giving too much away; suffice it to say that the plot is complex and turns in a number of unexpected ways. It's another page-turner from Jo Nesbo that will keep readers up well into the night and scare the living daylights out of a lot of them in the process.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Introducing Boston P.I., Spenser

"The office of the university president looked like the front parlor of a successful Victorian whorehouse."

Thus opens the novel that introduced Robert B. Parker's most famous creation, Boston P.I., Spenser. Spenser was a former cop who'd been fired for insubordination, and he was also a veteran of the Korean War. When The Godwulf Manuscript was published in 1973, he was apparently somewhere in his middle forties, which means that when Parker wrote his last contribution to the series in 2011, Spenser would have been in his early eighties. With the publication this year of the latest book in the series, written by Ace Atkins, Spenser would be pushing ninety.

For a guy that old, he still does amazingly well. More important, for a series this long--now forty-five books--the character and the concept have held up very well. Truth to tell, the series had begun to falter a bit toward the end of Parker's life, but Atkins has put it back on track and restored it to its former glory.

From the beginning, as suggested by the opening sentence above, Spenser was a world-class smart ass. He was also a very tough guy, wise to the ways of the world, and, naturally, hugely attractive to the ladies. He worked by his own rules, and for Spenser, the ends almost always justified the means. He was a very worthy successor to the generation of tough-guy P.I.s who had come before him.

In this case, a very valuable manuscript has been stolen from a Boston University. The manuscriptnappers are asking $100,000 for its safe return, but this is not one of the more stellar universities for which Boston is known. They don't have a hundred grand, and so the university president hires Spenser to get the manuscript back.

Spenser's main lead is to a group of campus radicals. Almost immediately, someone is murdered and the stakes are raised significantly. The murder and the theft are obviously related, and Spenser soon finds himself caught between the university officials, the cops, some local mobsters, a lot of uncooperative students and a particularly nasty faculty wife. Naturally, none of these will pose any significant problem for Spenser, but things will get very dicey along the way.

Rereading the book after a very long time was a lot of fun, and it's held up very well, especially for a book that's now forty-three years old. Mainly that's because the character of Spenser seems somehow almost timeless and the story moves along so well that you don't even stop to think about all the modern technology that Spenser doesn't have at his beck and call.

The character is obviously not fully formed yet. A couple of characters are introduced who will accompany Spenser through the entire run of the series, but Parker is still feeling his way along here, and it was interesting to go back and see the character again as he initially appeared. 

This is the book in which Spenser meets Brenda Loring, who will be his first significant love interest. I liked Brenda a lot, and like many another fan of this series, I rue the day when she disappeared from the series only to have Spenser wind up with the insufferable Susan Silverman. Happily, that doesn't happen for a while, which is one of the reasons why so many of the early books in this series are among the best of the lot. All in all, this was a great trip back down Memory Lane.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Kurt Wallander Attempts to Solve Two Perplexing Mysteries

As the fifth entry in this series opens, Swedish police detective Kurt Wallander is looking forward to his upcoming vacation, but then he answers a call to a farmer's field where a young girl has been standing all day in what appears to be a catatonic state. Just as Wallander arrives, the girl douses herself in gasoline and burns herself to death. Wallander is naturally horrified and cannot imagine why the girl would have chosen to end her life, especially in such a painful manner. His task now is to identify the young woman and notify her family of her fate. This will prove to be a difficult process.

Shortly after the girl's death a retired Swedish Minister of Justice is murdered by someone who smashes his head with an ax and then takes his scalp. Wallander and his team are on the case, but have no obvious suspects. For the remainder of the book, the P.O.V. switches back and forth between Wallander and the killer who is on a mission that becomes clearer as the book progresses. As it does, a couple more men will be murdered and scalped and it becomes pretty clear that neither Wallander nor anyone else on his team will be going on vacation anytime soon.

This is another very intriguing and entertaining entry in the series and, as always, it allows Mankell to make observations about a number of social issues. There are a number of troubled families in this book, for example, including Wallander's own. His difficult relationship with his daughter, Linda, has significantly improved, but his father is slowly sinking into dementia and Wallander realizes that they will have little time to repair their fragile relationship.

The plot is compelling and moves along swiftly; as always the characters are very interesting, and all in all, this is a book that should appeal to large numbers of crime fiction fans.
 

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Henry Grey Races to a Flying Finish

In this Dick Francis novel the protagonist is an amateur jockey. However, unlike most of Francis's novels, our hero spends very little time on horseback, and racing constitutes a very minor part of the story. Henry Grey is heir to a British title but would prefer not to be. The last child and the only son in his family, he was largely ignored as a child and developed into something of a loner with few social skills. He's happiest when he's piloting a small rented plane on his days off, alone in the skies over Britain.

Like many of Britain's noble families, Henry's has fallen on hard times financially. The massive family home is ancient and falling into disrepair. His parents and elder sisters expect Henry to do the right thing and marry some wealthy heiress who will bail out the family, but Henry wants no part of it and constantly avoids the young women that his mother keeps throwing at him.

He works in an office that arranges for the transportation of racing horses to countries near and far, but he's bored with that and so takes a job on the planes that actually fly the horses from one destination to another. The man who owns the company humors Henry by giving him the job, but he's sure that the titled nobleman won't stick it out for very long.

Obviously, though, the employer has never read a Dick Francis novel and doesn't know the kind of man he's really dealing with here. Like most Francis protagonists, Henry Grey is a quiet but very intelligent and capable man. He's also very determined and once he sets his mind to something, it's virtually impossible to change his course. Before long, Henry will discover that something very odd is going on in the horse transport business, and his discovery could well cost him his life.

Like most Dick Francis novels, this one is well-plotted and moves along at a brisk pace. The climax is riveting and if I have any reservations it's only because Henry Grey is not quite as interesting as the protagonists in most of the other books. Still, I enjoyed the book, and I'm sure that most Dick Francis fans will as well.