Sunday, April 22, 2018

Boston Attorney Brady Coyne Tries to Save His Girlfriend from a Murder Rap

Although Brady Coyne, the protagonist in this series, is a Boston lawyer, these books are not really legal thrillers. Brady almost never sees the inside of a courtroom and actually dispenses very little legal advice. Rather, he seems to spend most of the time attempting to resolve the trouble that one or another of his clients has gotten into, and this almost always seems to involve solving a murder or two. Such is the case here, and in this instance, the case is very personal.

Brady is now dating a woman named Evie and takes her on a weekend vacation to Cape Cod. He's rented a secluded cabin and is planning a very romantic weekend. But on their first night there, Evie gets into physical altercation with a man whom she claims has been stalking her. The next morning, Evie goes out for a run and when Brady gets up a little later, he finds Evie out in the yard, standing over the body of her alleged stalker. The man has been stabbed to death with a knife from the kitchen of the cabin where Brady and Evie are staying. Not surprisingly, the cops tag Evie as their number one suspect in the killing.

Brady insists that, no matter the evidence, Evie could never kill anyone. But Evie doesn't help her situation much when she runs away and disappears. Brady now begins his own hunt for the killer, with the cops shadowing his every move in the hope that he will lead them to his girlfriend. But whether she's guilty or not, it's clear that some very strange things are going on here, and the deeper Brady digs into the case, the more confusing--and dangerous--it becomes.

This is one of the better books in what I think, overall, is a very good regional mystery series. By now the series characters have been well defined, and Tapply continues to demonstrate that he's a master at describing the physical setting. The plot is a good one, and this is a book that should appeal to a lot of readers who enjoy a good traditional mystery.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

In His First Case As a U.S. Marshal, Lucas Davenport Chases a Particularly Nasty Killer

I confess to feeling enormously conflicted about this book, which features John Sandford's principal protagonist, Lucas Davenport. Through the twenty-six books that precede this one, Davenport has been first a detective on the Minneapolis P.D. and then head of the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. In each instance, he took on only the most challenging and interesting cases. At the end of the book preceding this one, he saved the life of a Very Important Person and was rewarded with a new, prime job with the U.S. Marshals Service.

Now in his new job, Lucas takes on a particularly difficult and nasty case. A pair of robbers hit the counting house of a drug cartel in Biloxi, Mississippi, and escaped with several million dollars. In the process, they killed five people, including a six-year-old girl who was the granddaughter of one of the drug runners. The authorities believe that the man behind the robbery and murders was Garvin Poole, a particularly elusive killer who has managed to evade capture for years. Lucas now accepts the assignment of finding Poole and bringing him to justice.

The Feds are not the only one looking for Poole and his accomplices. The head of the drug cartel wants his money back and he also expects to make an example of anyone who would dare to attack his operation in this fashion. He sends a couple of assassins to begin working their way through Poole's family members and acquaintances, in an effort to force someone to give up his location. One of the assassins is a particularly large, ugly woman who enjoys torturing people with power tools.

Fairly soon, of course, Lucas and the assassins will cross paths, and the race is on to see who will get to Poole and the money he stole first, assuming that anyone can. It's a great chase across several states, with lots of action and plenty of intrigue, and in that respect, it's a hugely entertaining read. The problem, at least for me, is that, while we have here a character named Lucas Davenport--a guy who looks like Lucas Davenport and who dresses like Lucas Davenport, this does not seem remotely like a Lucas Davenport novel. 

Early in the book, Davenport notes that in Minnesota he knew the state and its criminal element intimately. He had sources everywhere. He also had a team around him that he had depended on for years and with whom he had worked very closely. He confesses that, now out on the road, he's something of a fish out of water. So is the reader, and therein lies the rub.

Through the twenty-six Prey novels and Sandford's eleven Virgil Flowers books, the reader had also developed a fairly good understanding of the criminal world in Minnesota. The reader had also grown very well acquainted with, and often very fond of, the supporting cast that surrounded Davenport. As much of a cliche as it is, picking up one of these novels always was like meeting old friends on familiar ground. You knew what you were getting, and you couldn't wait to turn the first page.

As good as this book is, you get none of that here, and as a long-time reader, you can't help but feel a bit disappointed--or at least I couldn't. All of the old supporting cast is back up in Minnesota, along with Lucas's Porsche, and without them the book feels decidedly empty. In particular, Davenport has always had an interesting love life, even after his marriage, and one of the fun things about these books has always been the sexual banter between Lucas and the various women with whom he's been involved. That too is totally absent here. While there are a couple of female characters who doubtless would have interested Davenport while he was a single man, now that he's happily and faithfully married, the reader can only imagine the sparks that might have flown between Lucas and these women under different circumstances.

As an additional concern, Sandford sometimes strains a bit too hard to be cute. Too many of the southern males in this book have names that sound too distinctively like backwoods country bumpkins. A group of criminals is called the Dixie Hicks. Sandford does give Lucas a couple of new partners, two U.S. marshals who are, unbelievably, named Bob and Rae. If that weren't bad enough, Rae is a female whose last name is Givens.

Which brings us to the crux of the matter. The truth is that this could be a book featuring any U.S. Marshal. The protagonist could be John Smith, or Joe Jones, or practically anyone else. It could be Raylan Givens. But the hard fact is that there's little or nothing here that makes this book uniquely a Lucas Davenport novel.

I've been a huge fan of this series from the beginning and I can understand that Sandford might be tired of writing the character or that he may be running out of ideas for plots that leave Lucas in Minnesota. I can only say that as a significantly less-than-best-selling author, I can only dream about having those kinds of problems. But if that really is the case, maybe the better solution would have been for Sandford to put Davenport on the shelf for a while until he came up with a new inspiration for the character. In the meantime, he could have created an entirely new character, made him a federal marshal and put him in the middle of this plot. Unrestrained by the fact that he was writing Lucas Davenport, Sandford might have written here a book that was even more entertaining.

I have no idea where this series is going to go from here, and in some respects Sandford--and Lucas--may have burned their bridges. I'll keep my fingers crossed that the series somehow gets back to "normal" or that it quickly develops in a way that makes up for that. In the meantime, I'm very happy about the fact that I have all those earlier books on the shelf that I can reread at any time. The bottom line is that, while this is a very good book, I wish it had been a realLucas Davenport novel. 3.5 stars.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

A Very Entertaining Sendup of the Thriller Genre from Lee Goldberg

Lee Goldberg is a very funny guy. He's also a prolific writer with something on the order of five dozen books to his credit, along with a host of television shows for which he has written scripts, and he's brought all of that experience to bear on his newest book, True Fiction, which is a terrific read.

The protagonist, Ian Ludlow, is, like Goldberg, a very successful writer. Ludlow has build a career around a series of novels featuring Clint Straker, an action hero in the mold of Jack Reacher or James Bond. Clint is an incredibly handsome, tough guy who thinks quickly on his feet and who has multiple ways of disposing of the villains who challenge him, no matter how great their numbers. And as scores of women can attest, he's also fantastic in bed.

Ludlow is nothing like his hero at all. He's an insecure schlub who exists largely on junk food and who hasn't had a meaningful relationship with a woman in ages. He's terribly out of shape and couldn't fight his way out of the proverbial wet paper bag. (He's obviously unlike his creator in this respect in that, as anyone can tell from his author photo, Mr. Goldberg is something of an international sex symbol.)

As the book opens, Ludlow is having trouble getting traction on his new book when someone remotely takes control of a passenger plane and crashes it into a hotel on Waikiki Beach. Watching the news, Ludlow is horrified because several years earlier, in an effort to stay a step ahead of the terrorist threat to America, the CIA had gathered together a group of thriller writers and asked them to dream up scenarios that bad guys might use to attack the U.S. Ludlow recognizes this plan as his very own and then discovers that all of the other writers who were at the meeting have had fatal "accidents" within the last few months.

A few weeks ago, Ludlow himself narrowly escaped death when his house blew up. Investigators determined that the explosion was an accident, but Ludlow suddenly realizes that it was no accident at all. Out of nowhere, he's been catapulted into a scenario straight out of one of his own novels.

When the realization hits him, Ludlow is in Seattle on a book tour, accompanied by a feisty young dog sitter named Margo who doubles as a book tour escort. Ludlow and Margo must go on the run in a desperate effort to stay one step ahead of the villains who are in hot pursuit and who are using every modern technological tool to track them down and kill them. Defeating these guys would all be in a day's work for Clint Straker, but sadly, Ian Ludlow is no Clint Straker--or is he? If he and Margo are going to survive, Ludlow will have to dig deep and plot a new scenario in which a thriller writer, rather than his superhero, can rise and save the day.

This is a hugely entertaining romp and a fairly quick read. The book is laugh-out-loud funny and is a great sendup of the thriller genre. Given his experience in television, Goldberg knows how to strip a scene down to its essence and how to keep the action moving at a breakneck pace. Ludlow and Margo are very appealing characters and I loved spending an evening in their company. I'm already looking forward to the second installment in this series.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

A Great Legal Thriller from John Lescroart

This is the fourth entry in John Lescroart's series featuring attorney Dismas Hardy, and the one in which the series really hits its stride. In the earlier books, Hardy had suffered a devastating family tragedy and had become somewhat unmoored. He'd abandoned his life as a policeman and a lawyer to become a bartender. He ultimately wound up working as a prosecutor in the district attorney's office and as this book opens, he has left that job and gone into private practice as a defense attorney, where he will remain through the rest of the books.

As this book opens, Hardy has rented office space in a firm headed by a flamboyant attorney named David Freeman. Forty-three days into this new arrangement, Freeman takes on a sensational murder case and asks Hardy to assist him with it. The defendant is a beautiful woman named Jennifer Witt. Jennifer is the daughter of a man who routinely beat her mother and she has married not one, but two men who have routinely beat her.

Jennifer's first husband was a drug addict who died of an apparent overdose. She then married a successful doctor who is a total control freak. He closely circumscribes Jennifer's life, and everything in his house, Jennifer included, must be perfect. If not, there will be hell to pay and Jennifer will be in for another beating. The two have a young son who is the one bright spot in Jennifer's life.

Jennifer must stay in good physical shape in order to please her husband and one morning when she returns from a run, she finds a policeman at her door. Someone has reported shots fired inside the house and when Jennifer reluctantly allows to policeman to enter the house ahead of her, they discover that her husband and son have been shot to death with a gun that was kept in Jennifer's bedroom.

Jennifer, who stands to gain five million dollars out of her husband's death, quickly becomes the prime suspect and, as the evidence against her mounts, she is arrested and charged with the murders. David Freeman believes that she is probably guilty and wants to use a battered wife defense. But despite all the evidence to the contrary, Jennifer insists that she wasn't abused and that she is innocent. She will not allow Freeman to go in that direction. Hardy can't decide if Jennifer is guilty or not but he will do the best he can to help Freeman defend her. It will be an increasingly uphill battle, and the major stumbling block will be the defendant herself.

This is a gripping story with well-drawn characters and an interesting subplot is the effect that the case has on the relationship between Hardy and his wife, who increasingly resents all of the time that Hardy is spending on the case, leaving her to care for the house and their two small children, virtually by herself. The book really kicks into gear once the trial begins, and the courtroom scenes are very good. This is a book and a series that should appeal to anyone who enjoys a taut, exciting legal thriller.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Another Poor Victim Falls for the Wrong Woman in this Classic Pulp Novel

This is a hardboiled novel from 1955, in which the protagonist, Joe Hooper, falls into the classic noir spiral from which hardly any man ever recovers. Hooper owns a gas station and a rundown motel in a small town in Oklahoma. The tourists only stay at his place when all the good motels are full, and even though he only has five cabins, he's never yet had to hang out the "No Vacancy" sign.

Hooper's in something of a relationship with a good woman, and most of the people in town, including his own father, expect him to marry her. But Hooper isn't really happy in the relationship; he's about to lose his business to the bank; he's at loose ends, and he has no idea what he's going to do. And then, of course, as in every novel of this type, SHE shows up.

In this case, SHE is Paula, the sexy, sultry wife of a guy named Karl Sheldon. The couple shows up to buy gas and to rent a cabin, and from the moment Hooper sees the woman through the windshield of her Buick, he's done for. Prowling around the Sheldons' cabin that night, he hears them planning the robbery of a local factory. Hooper insists on cutting himself into the plan, mainly so that he can get next to Paula, and in an instant, he's in so deep that he'll never get out.

Things unfold from there as they usually do in a book like this, and even though anyone who's read many of these novels knows almost with certainty how it's going to end, it's a great ride. Paula Sheldon is the archetypal Hardboiled Bad Girl; Joe Hooper is the typical noir protagonist who's sucked into a trap he can't possibly escape, and the plot moves along swiftly from beginning to tragic end. A somewhat atypical theme in a novel like this is Hooper's relationship with his father, which helps set this book a bit above the standard for a mid-1950s Gold Medal pulp read. Black Curtain Press brought out a new edition of the book in 2013, and fans who enjoy this genre might well want to look for it.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

A British Bloodstock Agent Finds Trouble and Danger in this Novel from Dick Francis

I'm generally a fan of the novels of Dick Francis, most of which are set in the world of British horse racing. This one, though, was something of a disappointment. It fits the mold of most Francis novels: the protagonist is in his mid-thirties--a man who has been damaged but who is tough, determined, smart, and who refuses to back down in the face of any threat. As usual, a young woman appears who will be attracted to the protagonist, but who will not be interested in marrying him. Bad things will happen and, as is almost always the case, there will be an amoral shadowy figure who will be behind the villainy and who will stop at nothing to protect his interests.

Our hero in this case is Jonah Dereham, an ex-jockey who has been injured one too many times and can no longer race. He is now a bloodstock agent and runs afoul of a scheme that some unscrupulous agents are using to inflate their fees. They want Jonah to fall in with them and when he refuses, they determine to teach him a lesson. It's always a very bad idea to threaten a Dick Francis protagonist in this fashion and, more likely than not, they will pay a price for doing so.

By comparison to most other Francis novels, though, this one felt flat to me, or maybe just a bit too predictable. I didn't find Dereham to be a particularly attractive protagonist and the scheme here was not as inventive as the ones you most often find in a Francis novel. And to cap it off, the villain was not nearly as scary or as vicious as the ones you usually encounter in these books. Perhaps my expectations for this book were simply too high, based on the other Francis novels that I've read, but to me, this one rates only 2.75 stars, rounded up.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

A Harrowing and Unstinting Look At the War in Vietnam

Sympathy for the Devil is a brilliant look at the war in Vietnam as seen through the eyes of one very literate Special Forces soldier. Like the war itself, it's a nasty, brutish, profane examination of the way in which men approach combat and at the ways in which it affects and transforms them.

The protagonist, a "college boy" named Hanson, was drafted into the war three years into his college experience, as was the author, Kent Anderson. And having had the opportunity to hear Hanson discuss his experiences in the war, it's clear that much of this book is based very closely on those experiences.

It's not a pretty sight. And it's clear that, while Hanson and his closest compatriots may be fighting for a variety of different reasons, patriotism and a belief in the American mission in Vietnam have little or nothing to do with it. Mostly, they're fighting to protect each other and because to a large extent, they've become intoxicated by the experience of war. They have virtually no sympathy for the South Vietnamese soldiers whom they are supposed to be assisting in the war. They don't like them; they don't trust them; and they think that the South Vietnamese forces are lazy and generally useless.

The same is pretty much true of the officers and politicians who lead their effort, most of whom appear to be interested only in advancing their own careers and other interests at the expense of the troops they command. From beginning to end, from Basic Training to the end of Hanson's second tour, this is a harrowing, beautifully written and gut-wrenching ride that builds to an unbelievable climax. Although a novel, this book has the solid ring of truth, and it's probably the best book I've read yet about the war in Vietnam. 4.5 stars.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Donald Lam Tries to Save the Marriage of a Wayward Conventioneer

Barclay Fisher may have been indiscreet. He isn't completely sure though, because he went to a convention in San Francisco, got really drunk, and woke up the next morning on the couch in an apartment belonging to a gorgeous young babe named Lois Marlow. Barclay may or may not have been unfaithful to his wife in the strictest sense of the word, but the technicalities won't matter all that much to his wife, who apparently has no sense of humor about these sorts of things. If she finds out that Barclay spent the night in Lois's apartment, it will probably be "Adios, Barclay."

Unfortunately, someone has threatened to send a letter to Mrs. Fisher, detailing how her husband spent his time at the convention, when he was supposed to be selling boats. Barclay offers Bertha Cool and Donald Lam five hundred dollars (no small sum in 1957) to get him out of this mess.

The firm agrees to take the case, which appears to be a fairly straightforward instance of blackmail. Donald flies to San Francisco and meets with the lovely Lois. There he discovers that something altogether different may be going on. Naturally, someone is going to get killed before all of this is over, and equally inevitably, Donald Lam will be up to his neck in trouble and may be headed to jail before all is said and done.

This is another solid entry in this entertaining series, and as always it's fun to watch Bertha and Donald spar with each other while Donald tries to pull all these chestnuts out of the fire. If you're curious about this series, this would be a good one to sample.

Friday, March 23, 2018

A Young Taiwanese Man finds Heartache and Danger During Ghost Month

Ghost Month is set mostly in the bustling night market in Taipei. The protagonist, Jing-nan runs a food stand there, which he inherited from his parents. He also inherited a huge debt that was initially incurred by Jing-nan's grandfather and which has been passed down to him along with the food stand. Jing-nan once had dreams of escaping to America, going to college there, and then remaining in the U.S., along with his girlfriend, Julia, who has been the love of his life since high school. But the death of Jing-nan's parents has left him with no choice but to drop out of college, return to Taiwan, and take over the family business.

His dreams shattered, Jing-nan returns home, still harboring the faint dream that he will someday, somehow escape this destiny and reunite with Julia. He has told her, though, that he will have no contact with her until he is able to do so. Several years have now passed, and his dream has largely disappeared.

Ghost Month, which generally falls in August, is a very superstitious time for many residents of Taiwan. They are particularly attentive to the spirits during the month, and their conduct is circumscribed by the traditions that accompany the month. Jing-nan is not religious and believes in none of this "nonsense." But reading the paper one morning, he is shocked to see that Julia has been murdered. Without his knowing it, Julia too had returned to Taiwan and had been working as a "betel nut beauty"--a scantily clad woman who sits in a roadside stand and sells betel nuts to passing motorists. The job is only a small step short of prostitution and Jing-nan is stunned to learn that Julia has returned and that she has been reduced to these circumstances.

Grieving, Jing-nan pays a courtesy call to Julia's parents. They believe that the police are making no significant effort to find Julia's killer and ask Jing-nan to see what he can discover. Jing-nan agrees and soon finds that he's stirred up a hornets' nest and that he's now in serious danger himself.

This is on the whole, a very good book. My only complaint is that Lin has spent so much time developing the setting that the story suffers in the process. He devotes a great deal of time to the social, cultural, political, and economic conditions on Taiwan, and as a result the reader feels as if he or she were actually on the island, riding behind Jing-nan on his moped. The problem, though, is that every time the story begins to gain momentum, Ling detours off into a discussion of local customs or some such thing, and the tension drops about four levels.

Reading this book, I kept thinking about Martin Limon and his excellent series which is set in South Korea. Those books are also excellent in describing the setting in which the plots play out. But Limon has a way of working these details into the stories so that they don't interfere with the action. Lin's book suffers a bit by comparison and thus three stars for me rather than four.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Boston Attorney Brady Coyne Gets Tangled Up in a Small-Town Mystery

Scar Tissue is among the best of the books in William G. Tapply's series featuring Boston attorney Brady coyne, largely because it features one of the best plots that Tapply ever developed for the series. Coyne has a small, one-man practice, and focuses mostly on writing wills and doing other such mundane tasks for a small group of generally very wealthy clients. 

In line with the personal service he provides, Brady has become close friends with a number of his clients and, as a friend rather than as their lawyer, Brady rushes to the side of Jake and Sharon Gold when their son, Brian, is involved in a fatal traffic accident. Brian was riding in a car driven by his girlfriend, when the car veered off a slick highway in the middle of winter and plunged down the bank into an icy river. The girlfriend was killed immediately; Brian, who was not wearing his seatbelt, was apparently thrown from the car and and swept away.

The Golds live in the small town of Reddington, and hour or so away from Boston, and the accident occurred on the outskirts of town. Brady sits with the Golds while waiting for Brian's body to be recovered, but his curiosity gets the better of him and he decides to examine the site of the accident for himself. He also talks to the local police chief and gets the distinct impression that the chief does not want him to be interfering with the investigation.

Of course, as any reader knows, you should never tell the protagonist in a book like this to butt out of your business, and sure enough, Brady continues poking around. Almost immediately, the wheels start turning, and Brady had better be looking over his shoulder for the trouble that is about to rain down on him.

As I've said in earlier reviews, Brady Coyne is an engaging protagonist and this is a solid regional mystery series. In and around his investigation, Brady's personal life continues to develop, and no one who enjoys the series will want to miss this entry.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

A Gripping Novel of Crime and Family from Brian Panowich

This is another excellent crime novel in which family ties are a critical theme. For several generations, the Burroughs family has controlled Bull Mountain in rural North Georgia. Their criminal empire was built first on moonshine and then graduated into weed and, finally, meth. The family's leader in each generation has been tough, brutal, amoral, and willing to do anything to protect the family and its enterprises. Murder is simply one of many tools for advancing and protecting the family's fortunes, and most Burroughs men will kill without giving it a second thought.

The exception is Clayton Burroughs, the youngest brother of the current generation, who has determined to take another path. Clayton has won election as sheriff in a small neighboring town and is attempting to carve out a life for himself and his wife, different from that of his brothers. Not surprisingly, there's no love lost between Clayton and his brothers, particularly Halford, the current leader of the clan. At one point, Halford tells his Clayton that he's the sheriff only because Halford allows him to be--not meaning that he could see Clayton defeated at the ballot box, but rather meaning that he simply hasn't given the order to have his little brother killed yet.

Into this combustible mix comes a rogue F.B.I. agent named Simon Holly who has an agenda of his own. The Burroughs have entered into an alliance with an outlaw Florida biker gang to run their product and their money back and forth between Florida and Georgia. Holly shows up in Clayton's office, claiming that he wants to shut down the biker gang and their network of illegal activities. This would impinge on the Burroughs family operation, and Holly wants Clayton to cooperate with the investigation. Clayton now finds himself trapped between the proverbial rock and the hardest of all spots, and there's simply no way that this can end well.

The story is told from shifting points of view, and Panowich writes beautifully. He creates a wonderful sense of place, and the reader can practically feel him- or herself climbing Bull Mountain and being sucked into the roiling catastrophe that is the Burroughs family. This is a great read that will keep you turning the pages well beyond your bedtime.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

A British Racing Investigator Tackles a Complex Case in Norway

When a British jockey named Richard Sherman disappears from a racecourse in Norway, he leaves behind a pregnant wife and a huge mystery. At the same time Sherman went missing, so did sixteen thousand kroner--the day's take at the racecourse where Sherman had been riding that afternoon. Sherman was last seen near the room where the money was inexplicably left unguarded, and the assumption is that he has run off with it.

But how? 

Norwegian investigators have drawn a blank; neither Sherman nor the money have surfaced and there's no record of him leaving the country. Accordingly, the racetrack officials call in David Cleveland, an investigator from the Jockey Club in England. Cleveland pairs up with a Norwegian investigator named Arne Kristiansen, who tells David that he hopes the Englishman can pull the proverbial rabbit out of the hat.

Almost as soon as Cleveland arrives in Norway, however, it becomes very clear that someone doesn't want him poking around, and the deeper he digs, the more dangerous things become. But Cleveland is a typical Dick Francis protagonist, and he's not about to back down, irrespective of the possible consequences.

This is a fairly typical novel from Dick Francis. There's lots of intrigue, danger and action. In this case there's not much romance, although at one point our intrepid hero causes a woman to have an orgasm just by dancing with her! With that kind of talent, it's hard to imagine that even the most diabolical criminals will escape his reach for long. 3.5 stars, rounded up to 4.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

A Beautiful Novel of Crime and Family from Urban Waite

Disgraced former sheriff Patrick Drake is paroled after twelve years in prison and returns home to the small town in Washington state where his life went south and where his son and daughter-in-law still live in the house that used to be his. His son, Bobby, is still embarrassed about the crimes his father committed and the relationship between the two is seriously strained. Still Bobby invites his father to stay with him and his wife while Patrick figures out what to do with the rest of his life and while father and son try to determine what, if any, sort of relationship they might have going forward.

Complicating matters is the fact that Patrick was convicted of a robbery from which the money was never recovered. There's $200,000 out there somewhere, and while Patrick claims he knows nothing about it, some determined people on both sides of the law refuse to believe that and will not let Patrick or his family rest until the money turns up.

In the especially nasty department are two convicts who knew Patrick inside. As an ex-lawman, Patrick was especially vulnerable in prison and "bought" protection by promising to pay off the two once he was released if they would keep him safe inside. They weren't supposed to be out for another ten years or so, but once Patrick is free, the two manage an escape. They are now hot on the trail of Patrick and the money.

At one level, this is a gripping crime novel with plenty of action. But more than anything, it's a story about family and the relationships that exist among family members. Patrick's son, Bobby, has been enormously conflicted ever since his father was accused of the crime. But rather than moving away and attempting to create a new life for himself, he remains in the small town where he grew up. Though now married himself, he continues to live in the house where he was raised, with all of the memories it holds. And if that weren't enough, he has followed in his father's footsteps and is now a deputy sheriff in the department his father betrayed.

Also in the mix is Patrick's own father, who lives a hermit-like existence out in the middle of nowhere, and Bobby's wife, Sheri. Bobby and Sheri have suffered a tragedy of their own; their relationship is troubled as well, and the last thing they need are the emotional complications and the danger that Patrick will bring into their home.

Waite writes beautifully; the characters are expertly created, and the sense of place is overpowering. When I finally pulled this book off the shelf and finally got around to reading it, the sales receipt fell out and I realized that I'd had this book on my TBR shelf since November of 2014. I really wish I'd gotten to it a lot sooner.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

L. A. Detective Harry Bosch Teams Up with F.B.I.Agent Rachel Walling to Chase an Especially Nasty Killer

The Narrows brings together several of Michael Connelly's characters, including L.A. detective Harry bosch, Connelly's main protagonist; F.B.I. agent Rachel Walling from The Poet; and Terry McCaleb, a former F.B.I. profiler, who first appeared in Blood Work.

Actually, as this book opens, McCaleb has just died. He was the survivor of a heart transplant and apparently died when his new heart failed him while he was out at sea on the charter fishing boat that he operated. It all seems pretty straightforward, but McCaleb's widow, Graciela, asks Bosch to look into it. Bosch, who has left the L.A.P.D. and is now a private investigator, agrees to do so because McCaleb once saved his life when the two were working together on an earlier case.

McCaleb had never been able to let go of his career as a profiler, and although he was no longer with the F.B.I., he occasionally consulted with other law enforcement agencies. He also followed cases that he personally found interesting and left several boxes of files when he died. Bosch begins reviewing the files and finds a relatively new case that had grabbed McCaleb's attention. The case had caused McCaleb to travel to a desolate part of Nevada, but his notes are fairly cryptic, and Bosch can't figure out what McCaleb might have been looking for there.

Virtually at the same time, an unidentified person sends a GPS unit to the F.B.I. addressed to Rachel Walling. Walling has been exiled to hardship duty in North and South Dakota because she fell out of favor with the Powers That Be at the end of the case where she was chasing the Poet. The Poet was presumed to be dead at the end of that book, but it was impossible to confirm the identification of the body that was found, and anyone who's ever read a novel about a serial killer knows what that means.

The Fibbies have no choice but to bring Rachel back into the fold, at least until they can figure out why the GPS was sent to her, and as it turns out, the coordinates on the GPS send them to the exact same desolate spot in the Nevada desert where Bosch is headed. Oops!

It quickly becomes apparent that a very bad hombre is on the loose and, naturally, the stuffed shirts at the F.B.I. will have their heads in a position where it will be very difficult for them to think clearly. This means that it will be up to Harry and Rachel to save civilization as we know it, if only it's not too late.

This is a very entertaining novel and it's great fun watching Bosch and Walling work together, especially with all the odds that are stacked against them. It's hard to imagine a fan of crime fiction who would not enjoy this book.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Introducing Tracy Crosswhite

My Sister's Grave introduces Seattle homicide detective Tracy Crosswhite. Twenty years earlier, her younger sister, Sarah, who was then eighteen, disappeared after the two had participated in a shooting competition. As Tracy went off to dinner with her boyfriend, Sarah left to drive home in the rain and was never seen again. 

The two sisters had been best of friends and Tracy has never forgiven herself for allowing Sarah to drive home alone. Twenty years later, the pain is still sharp and ultimately led Tracy to give up her career as a teacher to become a homicide detective. 

A previously convicted rapist named Edmund House was arrested and convicted of Sarah's murder, largely on the basis of circumstantial evidence and on the testimony of the local sheriff who claimed that House had confessed to killing Sarah, even though there was no tape recording or witness to back up the sheriff's claim. Tracy has never been totally convinced of House's guilt and has continued digging into the case in an effort to satisfy herself of the fact that justice either was or was not done.

As the book opens, Sarah's remains are finally found by two hunters in a heavily wooded area that had previously been covered by a lake. The discovery of the body raises even more questions about the case against Edmund House and makes Tracy even more determined to make sure that the person who killed her sister pays the price. Her efforts will antagonize a good number of people in the small town where she grew up and where the crime occurred. They will also place Tracy herself in a considerable amount of jeopardy.

This is a very compelling story that combines the best elements of a legal thriller with that of a gripping police procedural. Tracy Crosswhite makes a very engaging protagonist and the story moves at such a fast clip that it's almost impossible to put the book down once it gets rolling. All in all, a very good introduction to this series.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

A Korean War Vet Finds Love and Trouble in the Early 1950s

Tom Decker is a Korean War vet and an ex-con. Now back from the war, he mixes paint for customers in a small New York town in a hardware store that once belonged to his father. But his father went broke during the Depression and was forced to sell the store at a huge loss to a wealthy man named Smith before hanging himself in the basement of the family home. The hardware store is still named Decker's, but instead of owning the business, Tom is forced to work for the sniveling son of the man who swindled his father out of it.

Understandably, Tom has a huge chip on his shoulder. Since his father lost the business, Tom has served time in prison and distinguished himself as a Marine in the Korean War. Now, when he's not mixing paint, in his spare time he's robbing banks in an effort to accumulate enough money to buy the store back.

When a beautiful, sexy woman, walks into the store one day in need of a gallon of paint, Tom mixes it up. He also falls head over heels for the customer. She's immediately attracted to him as well; the fireworks begin, and only after the fact does Decker discover the the woman is the ex-wife of a New York City gangster who's currently in jail. Ex-wife or not, Decker is soon in hot water on that score.

Decker's partner in most of his robberies is a bar owner named O'Neil, and when one of their heists goes wrong, Decker finds himself in even deeper trouble with both the cops and the mob anxious to get their hands on him. In consequence, he's going to have to be particularly resourceful and especially lucky if he even hopes to stay alive, let alone fulfill his dreams.

This is an especially good debut novel from Kevin Roberts who is himself an ex-Marine. The setting in the early 1950s is very well-rendered; the characters are interesting and believable; there's plenty of action, and the plot moves swiftly along. I really enjoyed spending time in Decker's world and in his company, and I'm looking forward to the second book in the series.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

L. A. Detective Donald Lam Finds Trouble While Searching for a Missing Woman

First published in 1957, You Can Die Laughing falls roughly into the middle of the series featuring L.A. detectives Donald Lam and Bertha Cool. By now, the characters and the formula are basically set, and the reader knows exactly what to expect when picking up one of these novels.

Bertha Cool is the senior partner, having inherited the firm from her late husband. At one hundred and sixty-five pounds, she’s all “hard flesh, and … as unyielding as barbed wire.” She claims to be “just as rough, just as tough, just as hard-boiled, [and} just as two-fisted as any man in the country." Lam, on the other hand, barely weighs a hundred and thirty-five pounds soaking wet, and, as Bertha observes, he’s never won a fight in his life. But he’s a “brainy little bastard,” who, while on a case, often skates very close to, if not over, the edge of the law. He generally drives his partner to distraction, at least until the end of a case when he usually serves up the solution, and a generous payment for the firm’s efforts.

This case begins when a Texan named Lawton C. Corning asks the firm to locate a woman who seems to have disappeared. Earlier, Corning has suggested to Bertha that there may be oil leases involved somehow, and she has visions of a big payday. But once in the office with Donald, he claims that nothing like that is at stake and he simply wants to find this woman for reasons of his own.

Of course, no potential client has ever walked into the offices of Cool and Lam and told the truth, meaning that matters will prove to be much more complicated and dangerous than a simple missing persons case. Donald has no trouble finding the woman, and that’s when the fireworks really begin.

This plot is a little more straight-forward and a lot less convoluted than some of the books in this series, and it’s a relatively short and entertaining read. All in all, a good addition to the series.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Psychologist Alex Delaware Checks into the Heartbreak Hotel

Thalia Mars is a couple weeks short of her one hundredth birthday, and so when she calls psychologist Alex Delaware and asks for an appointment, Delaware can hardly refuse. Delaware calls to see Thalia at the aging L.A. luxury hotel where she has been in residence for years. She knows that Alex specializes in child psychology and also knows that he often consults with the police, and the combination of these things is why she has called upon him. She doesn't want to be analyzed herself, she says, but she has some general questions about criminal behavior, the nature of guilt and that sort of thing. After a relatively brief first appointment, she writes Alex a check for $6,000.00, and asks him to drop by the following day.

Alex has some questions of his own, like how did a woman who spent her life as an accountant working for the county amass a fortune that would allow her to live in an expensive hotel, make generous contributions to charity, and retain psychologists at six grand a pop? Sadly, he never gets the chance to ask them, because when he returns the following day, he discovers that Thalia has been found dead. Superficially, it appears that she has died in her sleep, but the first responder and Alex both see some anomalies, and so Alex calles his buddy, homicide detective Milo Sturgis.

Well, of course, it turns out that Thalia has been murdered, but who would want to kill the woman and why? There's no evidence of a burglary; there are no heirs who might have been anxious to get their hands on the estate, and as a result, everyone is baffled. Milo asks Alex to assist in the investigation and before long the two are digging into a pattern of crimes both current and ancient and will wind up in the crosshairs of some very clever and dangers adversaries.

The story itself is okay, though it's certainly not the best plot that Jonathan Kellerman has ever devised. I also understand that I'm obsessing about something that probably doesn't bother a lot of other readers, but I'm disappointed that again, as has been the case with so many of the later books in this series, there is no logical reason for Delaware to be involved in the case.

Delaware is a child psychologist and what made the early books in this series so great was that he actually practiced his profession and the crimes in the novels grew naturally out of the patients' cases that he was treating. In many of the later novels, though, this one included, there's only the most tangential tie to Delaware's profession. His buddy Milo simply keeps inviting him along because a particular case is interesting and because he apparently enjoys Delaware's company.

In this case, Delaware is involved early on because the victim was someone who had consulted him one time. But once it's clear that she's been murdered, there's absolutely no logical reason for a civilian like him to be involved. And in real life, of course, he never would be. Real homicide detectives would take over and follow the case to its ultimate conclusion, and then Milo would call Alex and say, "Hey, Bud, we finally got the guy who offed your elderly client."

But Delaware is front and center, waving his police consultant's card around like a magic wand, and basically leading the investigation. At one point, he even goes charging into a house on the heels of a swat team. It's ridiculous, and basically, unlike the early books in this series, there's nothing to distinguish this book from the large run of novels in which police detectives solve crimes.

If Kellerman really wanted to write novels like this, he should have had Delaware make a career change about fifteen books ago, enroll in the police academy, and become an actual homicide detective. Then he and Milo could work side-by-side, chasing killers, and pedants like me wouldn't be complaining about things like this. I've followed this series since the beginning, and I won't be bullied into quitting now. I will hope against hope, however, that Kellerman will return to form and that these books will start making more sense sooner rather than later.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Boston Attorney Brady Coyne Gets Tangled Up in a Messy Murder Case

This is another good addition to William G. Tapply's long-running series featuring Boston attorney Brady Coyne. As the book opens, Coyne is romantically unentangled and enjoying a burger, onion rings and beer for dinner at Skeeter's Infield, his favorite dive bar. Alongside is a former major league basketball star named Mick Fallon, whom Brady knows slightly.

Fallon is down in the dumps because his wife, whom he claims to love madly, has just filed for divorce. Fallon wants Brady to represent him, and although Brady's one-man practice generally involves wills and estates, Coyne agrees. Brady gets a nasty surprise at the deposition, though, because his client has not been honest with him. 

Brady tells Fallon that he's going to drop him as a client and will recommend someone else to represent him. But then Fallon's soon-to-be ex-wife is murdered and Fallon is the principal suspect. He begs Brady to forgive him and to represent him. Brady agrees to do so and sets about trying to find the Real Killer, assuming, of course, that his client isn't guilty.

It's a perilous and interesting undertaking and I enjoyed the story with a couple of reservations: Brady and Fallon are only casual acquaintances; they aren't Major Buds. I can understand why Coyne would agree to represent him in the divorce, but once Fallon has lied to him and basically left him hanging out to dry at the deposition, it didn't make much sense to me that Coyne would so rapidly forgive him and agree to represent him on the murder rap.

And therein lies the second problem. As I indicated above, Coyne has a very small, quiet practice that focuses on the financial needs of a few wealthy clients. He doesn't do criminal defense law and in earlier books, when one of his clients has been charged with a crime, Brady immediately has immediately hooked the client up with an excellent defense attorney. It's completely out of character for him to so casually and readily agree to defend someone on a murder charge. I enjoyed the book, but these two concerns kept nagging at me as I read it, and so three stars instead of four.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

A British Movie Star Encounters Serious Trouble in South Africa

This novel is a bit unique in that the main character, Edward Lincoln, doesn't fit the usual mold of a Dick Francis protagonist. Almost always these men live alone and within themselves. They are taciturn, but steely and determined. When challenged, they always rise to the occasion. They almost always have a close association with the world of horse racing, and often, they have been in relationships with women that didn't work out. Sometimes a new love interest appears, but it's almost never clear that our hero will at long last find meaningful and lasting love. 

In this case, though, Lincoln is a happily married man with three adorable children. He's also a major movie star, usually filling the role of a death-defying action hero. He's on hiatus between films when an elderly friend named Nerissa announces that she is dying. She owns a string of race horses in South Africa that she will be leaving to her nephew, but for some reason, the horses are suddenly falling well short of their potential and are rapidly declining in value. Nerissa asks Lincoln if he would mind popping over to go to South Africa in an effort to discover what the problem might be.

Lincoln's father was a trainer and Lincoln himself had dreams of becoming a jockey before he grew too tall for the profession. He still owns a horse of his own and so knows something about the animals. Given that his friend is dying, he can't refuse the request and so gins up a reason to go to South Africa, allegedly to promote his new film. While there, he will discreetly look into the problem of the underperforming horses.

One he arrives in South Africa, though, Lincoln suddenly seems to become accident-prone and narrowly escapes two potentially fatal mishaps. Could something sinister be at work here? Well, of course it is, and Lincoln can only hope that his experience in making action movies will serve him in good stead when he really needs it. This is also a bit different than most Dick Francis novels in that the majority of the book takes place out of the UK, but it's a solid piece of work and an enjoyable read.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Another Fine Entry in Adrian McKinty's Sean Duffy Series

Early in the third novel in the Sean Duffy series, Duffy, a detective in the Royal Ulster Constabulary, is booted off the force for an offence he didn't commit. Duffy is a brilliant detective, but he's also a wiseass of the first magnitude who prefers to work in his own way and who has little tolerance for his superiors, especially when they don't see things the way he does. In consequence, his superiors take advantage of a trumped-up charge to get him out of their hair.

The series takes place in the Northern Ireland of the early 1980s--the time of the "Troubles," when Protestants and Catholics were at open war with each other. Duffy, a Catholic, has always been a fish out of water in the Protestant RUC. Most Catholics think he's a turncoat and the Protestants aren't sure they can trust him, but Duffy has always held the naive belief that the two intractable opponents should be able to work together.

Now off the force, Duffy spends his days drinking, listening to music, and attempting to figure out what he wants to do with the rest of his life. But then Dermot McCann, an IRA explosives expert, escapes from a high security prison with a number of other IRA members. British intelligence services fear that McCann and his comrades may be planning a major campaign of terrorist bombings directed against the English. Duffy and McCann were childhood friends and thus agents from MI5 show up at Duffy's door and ask him to help hunt down McCann. Duffy uses the situation to leverage an apology for his mistreatment and a restoration of his job.

The hunt is a challenging one, and along the way, Duffy finds himself entangled in the death of a young woman who died inside a locked room. The mother of the young woman believes that her daughter was murdered and if Duffy can prove it, the woman may be able to help him in his hunt for McCann when virtually no one else will.

This is another very good entry in this series. Sean Duffy continues to be a very appealing character and McKinty spins a very entertaining and gripping tale. If you haven't yet discovered this series, it would be better to start with the first, The Cold Cold Ground, and work your way forward. This is a character and a series worth getting to know.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

An LAPD Detective Chafes Under the Restraints of the Late Show

With this book, Michael Connelly adds yet another character to the Harry Bosch Universe, LAPD detective Renee Ballard. Ballard has much in common with Bosch who remains Connelly's principal protagonist. Like Bosch, Ballard is a loner. Like Bosh, she had a difficult childhood and lost her mother early. Like Bosch, her partners are sometimes unreliable; like Bosch, she has problems with people up the chain of command. Like Bosch, she has trouble following orders, particularly when she's told to stand down from an investigation. Like Bosch, she's not reluctant to bend the law a bit in the service of a higher cause, and like Bosch, once she gets her teeth into a case, she refuses to let go.

Because of an incident earlier in her career, Ballard has been assigned to the "Late Show." She's a detective on the midnight shift and her job is to begin an investigation at the scene of a crime and then turn it over to other detectives in the morning. She almost never gets to follow a case through to its conclusion. This is perfectly fine with her partner, who has no such ambitions, but it grates on Ballard.

As the book opens, Ballard is among the first on the scene at two crimes. The first involves a transexual prostitute who has been tortured, badly beaten, and left for dead. Ballard fears that the woman may be the victim of a predator who will attack others, but she seems to be the only one who really cares about the case.

The second case involves a mass shooting in a nightclub. Four men are sitting in a booth when suddenly one of them opens fire and kills the other three. While running out the door, the shooter also kills a waitress and a bouncer. A supervising detective with whom Ballard has clashed is in charge of this case and warns her to stay well away from it. Ballard, though, is reluctant to let go of either case and so, against direct orders, continues to pursue them in her off-duty hours. In doing so, she winds up putting both her career and her life on the line as these cases heat up.

This is another very compelling novel from Michael Connelly, who clearly writes the best police procedurals of his generation. Under normal circumstances, I'd happily give it four stars. I'm downgrading it to three because I'm disappointed in the fact that Connelly didn't make Ballard a more distinct character. 

The truth of the matter is that, with minor changes, this could have easily been a Harry Bosch novel. In point of fact, it really is a Harry Bosch novel, with Ballard playing the role of Bosch. I can understand that Connelly might have wanted to create a new character and that he might have wanted to write a female detective for a change. I have no problem with that at all, but I wish he would have differentiated Ballard from Bosch at least a little.

Certainly, Michael Connelly knows the LAPD much better than I, but are there no supervisors in the department who aren't complete jerks? Is there nobody in the department other than Bosch and Ballard who doesn't put departmental politics above all else? Are there no detectives who actually enjoy working with each other? Are there no detectives who are reasonably well-adjusted and trusting of others?

I realize that I'm exaggerating a bit in order to make a point. Occasionally, Bosch has had a supervisor who was reasonably supportive and occasionally he has had a partner he could rely on, even if only briefly. But for the most part, Bosch has been at war with his own department almost constantly, and the department has much more often frustrated rather than assisted him in carrying out his mission to provide justice for the victims of crimes. Introducing Ballard allowed Connelly the opportunity to show another side of the LAPD and to create a truly distinct character. I'm sorry that he chose not to do so.