Thursday, May 30, 2013

Dave Brandstetter on the Job for Pinnacle Life

Pinnacle insurance has issued a policy on the life of Paul Myers, a truck driver. Only a couple of months later, Myers' truck flies off a cliff and Myers is killed. As a matter of routine, Pinnacle hires crack investigator Dave Brandstetter to look into the matter.

The matter turns out to be anything but routine when investigators learn that someone had planted an explosive device under the cab of the truck and that the device was detonated just before the truck went airborne. When Dave goes to visit the widow, Angela Myers, he finds that she's been recently beaten. She claims that her husband did it just before he died, but Dave isn't buying it.

Dave also quickly learns that Paul Myers' best friend, another trucker who was hard up for cash, has also just died, apparently from a heart attack, and Dave is now convinced that something sinister is definitely going on.

Of course there is, or there would be no book. And this is a pretty good one.

Dave's lover, Cecil, is still recovering from gunshot wounds he sustained at the end of Dave's last adventure, and in and around nursing Cecil back to health, Dave sets out to determine what was going on during the last few days of Paul Myers' life and why Angela Myers is so reluctant to discuss it. It seems pretty clear that Paul Myers was involved in something shady, and before too long, Dave can only hope to stay alive long enough himself to figure out what it was.

This is one of the better books in an excellent series. As always, Hansen creates memorable characters and vividly marks out his southern California territory, in the process showing why he's a worthy successor to the writers like Raymond Chandler who first claimed this region for their own.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Nick Stefanos Goes Down By the River

First published in 1995, this is the third and final installment of George Pelecanos's series featuring Nick Stefanos. In the opening book,A Firing Offense, Nick left his job at Nutty Nathan's electronics store and got his license as a P.I. But as this book opens, Nick, who has a major drinking problem, is supporting himself by tending bar at The Spot, a somewhat less-than-genteel establishment. Being a P.I. is still something of a sideline for Nick.

At this point, Nick is dating a woman probably better than he deserves and who is also developing a significant problem with booze herself. Needless to say, Stefanos is not the best influence in this regard. One night, Nick goes on a hellacious bender and winds up dead drunk, down by the Anacostia River. During the course of the night, a car pulls up near the spot where Nick has passed out. He awakens sufficiently to hear two men drag a third out of a car and shoot him. Nick can't raise his head high enough to see either the killers or their car, but he is alert enough to deduce from the sound of their voices that one of the killers is white, the other black.

The next morning, Nick finally awakens and stumbles down to the riverbank where he finds the body of the victim, a young black man. He makes an anonymous call to the cops, reporting the killing, and then beats feet.

The cops are convinced that it's a drug deal gone wrong or perhaps a gang killing and they don't appear to be putting a lot of effort into solving the case. But Nick knows that it's highly unlikely that a black man and a white man would be cooperating in either scenario. The killing has sobered him, at least temporarily, and he decides to investigate the crime himself.

Stefanos finds it significant that the victim's best friend is now missing and he teams up with a straight-arrow newbie P.I. named Jack LaDuke who has been hired by the missing boy's mother to find him. Together, Nick and LaDuke will be drawn into a seamy world of drugs, gay porn, violent crime and lots of other unpleasant activities as they attempt to find the missing boy and solve the killing.

As is usual in a novel by George Pelecanos, the major force in the book is the setting and atmosphere that he creates. The seedy underside of Washington, D.C., where virtually all of his books are set, comes alive and is vividly rendered. You can feel the poverty and despair, smell the cigarette smoke, and practically taste the liquor.

As always in a Pelecanos book, music plays a key role, and hardly a page goes by that does not find Stefanos listening to one musical group or another, a great many of whom no one else has ever heard of, and at times it can seem like Pelecanos is simply showing off in this regard, effectively pointing out to the reader that he is cooler and way more hip than the reader could possibly ever be.

But this is a small complaint about a very good book from a writer early in his career who would only grow more talented and produce even better books in the years to come. It should appeal to any reader of crime fiction who likes his or her action down and dirty and who understands that in real life, sometimes there are no happy endings.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

A Shoplifter Gets Kinsey Millhone Into a World of Trouble

P.I. Kinsey Millhone is taking a break and reluctantly catching up on some shopping in a Nordstrom's department store, when she sees a pair of shoplifters helping themselves to the store's merchandise. Kinsey alerts a clerk who in turn calls security. One of the shoplifters, a middle-aged woman named Audrey Vance, is caught and arrested. Her younger companion escapes, but not before attempting to run over Kinsey in the parking garage.

Vance is released on bail and shortly thereafter is found under a bridge, apparently having committed suicide--perhaps because of the shame? Kinsey feels a bit guilty for her role in all of this, even though the woman was clearly wrong and deserved to be arrested. But in spite of the evidence suggesting otherwise, Vance's fiancé refuses to believe that the love of his life could have been a career criminal. He thinks the whole thing was a minor mistake that got blown way out of proportion and he hires Kinsey to investigate. As always happens in these cases, Kinsey is soon up to her neck in trouble.

Meanwhile, a wealthy society woman grows suspicious of her husband while a young man with a gambling jones foolishly borrows ten grand from a loan shark and heads off to Vegas. The loan shark has family, romantic and legal problems of his own, and all of them are on a collision course with Kinsey Millhone at the center of the impact.

The early books in this series were comparatively brief and were all narrated by Millhone in her first-person voice. This book, the twenty-second in the series, is longer and more complex than the earlier entries. Much of the story is still narrated by our intrepid heroine, but much of it is also told from the third-person POV of several other characters.

It's a fun read, but the problem with the book, at least for me, is that the other characters are a lot more interesting than Millhone. And the tone of the book suggests that, subconsciously at least, the author may feel the same way. The book really comes to life when the story focuses on the other characters. Grafton has created some very complex and interesting roles here and it's fun to watch their stories unfold.

When Kinsey takes over the story, though, things seem to drag a bit. Perhaps this is because over the course of the earlier twenty-one books in the series, we've seen Kinsey go though her routine over and over again. A long-time reader of the series can pretty much predict every move she's going to make and the character no longer seems to contain any surprises. This is perhaps inevitable when the series has been as long and as successful as this one, but it's probably a bad sign when the reader sighs every time the main protagonist takes over the story again.

My other concern about the series as a whole is that Grafton decided early on that Kinsey Millhone would not age in any practical sense and that the stories would stay rooted in the 1980s. Kinsey does celebrate her 38th birthday in this book, but that's not bad for a character who first appeared in 1982. (This book is set in 1988.)

While this spares Grafton from having to deal with all of the changes that have occurred over the last thirty years, it does limit her as well. Kinsey Millhone is essentially stuck in a time warp. She hasn't grown or changed very much since A is for Alibi and neither has the world around her. For a long-time reader, this means that the character and her surroundings have become awfully static and predictable and thus, perhaps, somewhat less interesting.

Still, it's hard to argue with success, and Grafton has created here one of the most enduring characters and one of the most successful crime fiction franchises in this history of the genre. She still spins a fun tale but one wonders how much better these books might have been had she brought the character forward into the modern era.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

A Complex Moral Dilemma in the 87th Precinct

Doug King, a wealthy industrialist, is putting together a secret deal that will effectively give him control of the company where he has been working for most of his life. To make the deal, he's had to scrape together every last dime he has and that he can borrow. Now he's got $750,000 and is ready to make his move.

Just as he's about to put his plan into motion, however, a kidnapper calls King and tells him that the kidnapper and his partner have King's young son, Bobby. If King wants his son back alive, he needs to pay $500,000. The kidnappers will phone with instructions later.

King and his wife are naturally panicked and call the cops. Steve Carella and other detectives from the 87th Precinct spring into action and are busy setting traps on King's phone lines and doing the other things that the police would normally do in such a case when Bobby walks through the door after playing outside.

It turns out that the kidnappers have made a critical mistake. Instead of grabbing Bobby, they have grabbed his playmate, the son of King's humble chauffer. The kidnappers don't care; they still want the five hundred grand. Doug King would have been willing to pony up the money for his own son, but he's not so sure about ransoming back the chauffer's kid, because if he does, he will not have the money he needs to complete his big business deal.

While Carella and the other detective try to track the kidnappers and rescue the boy, Doug King must wrestle with his conscience and decide what to do. It makes for an entertaining tale with a complex moral dilemma at its center. The result is one of the better early entries in this long-running series.

Monday, May 20, 2013

It's a bittersweet evening for Alex Delaware and his Main Squeeze, Robin. For a long time one of their favorite romantic hangs has been at the bar in the aging Fauborg Hotel in Beverly Hills. But the place is closing and on the the bar's last night, Alex and Robin go in for a farewell drink. The occasion is beyond sad and their attention is drawn to an apparent bodyguard outside the hotel and to an attractive young woman who is the only other patron inside the bar. She's dressed in white, wearing an expensive diamond watch, and is apparently waiting for someone who never shows.

Two days later, Alex is working at home when his pal, Lt. Milo Sturgis drops in. As usual, Milo cleans out the refrigerator and he shows Alex photos from his latest homicide. In an amazing coincidence, which is somewhat typical of this series, it turns out that the murder victim is none other than the young woman that Alex had seen in the bar.

Although there is absolutely no reason for a consulting psychologist to be involved in this case, Alex naturally tags along with Milo as he investigates the crime. There are some fairly seedy and kinky characters involved; some of them wealthy, others not. Simply identifying the victim becomes a major challenge.

Milo ultimately gets an anonymous tip that leads them to a website where wealthy Sugar Daddies attempt to make arrangements with Sweet Young Things. The victim was registered with the site and had made a connection with a very wealthy patron.

Alex and Milo will formulate and discard several scenarios that might have led to the crime before hitting upon the solution. It's still fun to watch them work, but after twenty-six books, the series has settled into a pattern that can be a bit frustrating for readers who have been along for the entire ride.

As an example, Milo's rude eating habits are really getting tiresome. Certainly, there ought to be a way of defining the character without having him clean out every refrigerator in sight and spilling half of his meals all over himself. But the hardest thing to come to grips with here is Delaware's role in a lot of these cases.

In the earlier books, which were much better than many of the later ones, Alex served the department as a consulting psychologist, most often dealing with the children who were involved in the homicide cases. In these instances, he had a legitimate reason for being involved. In a lot of the later books, though, he simply tags along as Milo investigates his cases. As in this instance, there's no legitimate reason for Alex to be anywhere near this case, and certainly no real homicide investigator would allow a civilian to play the role that Alex does.

During the course of this book, Alex will deal with a situation in which a child needs his help, but it has little or nothing to do with the investigation and the reader is left to wonder why Milo doesn't simply attend to his own business.

That isn't to say that this is a bad book. It is entertaining, but for those who yearn for the more compelling and sophisticated cases of Delaware's early career, it's still something of a disappointment.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Leo Banks Returns in Benediction

This is another fine, very gritty police procedural by Robert Sims Reid featuring Rozette, Montana homicide detective, Leo Banks.

A piece of L.A. scum named Johnny Perbix has shown up in Rozette. But Perbix is a rich piece of scum--a record producer turned-real estate developer. Perbix has bought a piece of prime real estate, Bride's Canyon, that overlooks Rozette and the valley below. The property was once a beautiful, forested park-like area that the original owner had allowed the local citizens to enjoy. The original owner had hoped to donate the land as a public park, but he fell on hard times financially and had no choice but to sell. Shortly thereafter, he and his wife died in a tragic accident.

Now Bride's Canyon has been clear-cut and Johnny Perbix is planning an upscale housing development there. Since the local economy is depressed and the new development will pump a lot of money and jobs into the area, some citizens are willing to forgive Perbix for desecrating such a beautiful spot and for being less than an upstanding citizen.

Not Leo Banks.

Banks is particularly upset because Perbix had earlier corrupted a local young woman and got her into drugs and porn films. She later died of an overdose, and Banks has been determined to bring Perbix down ever since.

As the book opens, a woman is brutally assaulted by two men who not only violate her but videotape the assault. The woman was once married to one of Perbix's employees and she is also the daughter of the original owner of Bride's Canyon. Banks sees Johnny's fingerprints all over this crime and is determined to use it as a wedge to bring Perbix down. The only obstacles in his path would appear to be his bosses in the department, the townspeople who still want to placate Perbix, and the victim herself who blows hot and cold with regard to Banks and to the crime that was committed against her.

It all makes for a volatile mix, and Banks is determined to get to the bottom of the seamy mess, no matter the danger or the personal cost to himself. This is a good read that should appeal to anyone who enjoys their crime fiction dark and nasty.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013


First published in 1982, this is the sixth entry in Joseph Hansen's series featuring Dave Brandstetter, the first openly gay detective to inhabit the world originally occupied by Philip Marlowe and other such giants of the P.I. genre.

Dave is now working for the Banner Insurance Company. A young woman named Serenity Westover has been missing for a couple of years, after falling under the spell of a nutcase named Azrael, who is something of a mash-up of Jim Jones and Charles Manson. The cops have invaded the ranch occupied by Azrael and his followers, and they have discovered the graves of several young women, one of whom may be Serenity.

Serenity's life had been insured by Banner and her father, Charles Westover, a disbarred lawyer, files a death claim. But when Dave attempts to interview her father, Westover is nowhere to be found. His house is empty and apparently hasn't been occupied for at least a couple of weeks.

Naturally, Dave is not going to sign off on the claim unless and until he can interview Westover and ensure that Serenity is, in fact, dead. But Dave's effort to discover the missing father leads him deeper and deeper into a world of old secrets that a lot of people would rather not see exhumed, and before long, he finds himself in serious trouble. At the same time, he's settling into a new relationship with a much younger man, and that is causing him problems as well.

This is a very entertaining book from a day and age when P.I. genre novels were still relatively short and tightly focused. Brandstetter is a character unique in the annals of crime fiction, especially for the early 1980s, and this is a book that should appeal to anyone interested in the evolution of this genre.

Lucas Davenport Chases After Brutal Killers and a Lot of Missing Money

Lucas Davenport is back on the job for the twenty-second time, and as the book opens Lucas is himself the victim of a crime. Out for a run, he stops by an ATM and withdraws $500.00. Moments later, a pair of tweekers rob him at gunpoint. They take his five hundred bucks and knock him down, breaking his wrist. Lucas will have to be in a cast for three months and, needless to say for those who know him, he's going to be seriously angry about this.

Lucas is determined to find and arrest the robbers and since they are apparently from a rural area out of town, he delegates the task to Virgil Flowers, who will report in periodically. Lucas will be constantly on Flowers' case about this and will insist on being their when the offending tweekers are finally run to ground.

Meanwhile, a family in a wealthy Minneapolis suburb is brutally tortured and murdered. It's perhaps the worst crime scene that Davenport has ever encountered and it bears the signature of a Mexican drug gang. The father of the murdered family was the last to die and owned a software company that sells Spanish-language software in Mexico. Lucas wonders if perhaps the company was laundering money for drug lords.

As it turns out, the drug lords seem to be missing $22 million, and they would like it back. The trail leads to Minnesota and the head of the cartel has dispatched a trio of cold-blooded killers to find it. Lucas is faced with the task of finding the killers and tracking down the missing money.

This is a fun read, but to my mind, it's not up to the usual very high standards of the series as a whole. The book seems somehow a bit flat, not as exciting and not as witty as most of Davenport's other adventures.

As an example, when Lucas gets the cast on his wrist, he naturally bitches about it and you expect that this is going to be a humorous subtheme that Sandford will use through the rest of the book, as he often does with something like this. After a few pages, though, he drops any reference to the cast. Then, finally, as the book ends, the three months are up and the cast come off. At which point, the reader smacks himself in the head and says, "Oh yeah, right. He's had a cast on his wrist through the whole book!" As quickly as Sandford lost interest in the cast, one wonders why he even bothered with it in the first place.

Another problem lies in the fact that the villains in this book are not up to Sandford's usual standards. Sandford is know for creating great, nasty, smart antagonists who are always a good match for Davenport. In this case, though, the trio of killers, while brutally nasty, are just a bunch of dumb thugs who stay one step ahead of the cops more by luck than anything else. The people who stole the $22 million are not all that interesting or challenging either. They're good at manipulating computer code and stealing money out of bank accounts, but they're certainly not in a class with Clara Rinker or many of Sandford's other antagonists. And the investigation of the theft is not all that riveting.

Finally, many of the usual cast of characters are missing here. A few, like Davenport's favorite undercover investigator Del Casplock, will put in a token appearance now and then, but without the normal group that usually surrounds Davenport, the banter is not nearly as sharp and amusing as it normally is. One character, in particular, has been out of the lineup for the last couple of books and is very sorely missed.

Still, even though Sandford and Davenport may not be at the top of their game here, I enjoyed the book and am very much looking forward to Davenport's next outing, Silken Prey.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

A Farewell to Spenser

Forty years ago, in The Godwulf Manuscript, Robert B. Parker introduced his first and most popular protagonist, Spenser, a tough, witty Boston P.I. Sixkill is the fortieth and last entry in the series (at least the last written by Parker himself), and the series, like its lead character, has had its ups and downs.

The early books were terrific. Spenser was a very engaging character and his early cases were often complex and thought-provoking in addition to being a helluva lot of fun. Later, though, Parker began to coast and wrote a number of books that did not live up to the promise of the early novels and that were often little more than an excuse for Spenser and his sidekicks to exchange snappy dialogue for three hundred pages or so.

In particular, the series seemed to wander off the track when Spenser, who had enjoyed relationships with a number of women in the early books, settled down into a monogamous relationship with Susan Silverman, a Harvard-educated psychologist. Increasingly, the relationship between Spenser and Susan became as much of a focal point of the books as the crime or other mystery that Spenser was investigating at the time. And, to be honest, reading about the two of them became extremely tiresome in a pretty big hurry.

As someone who has read the entire series, I really would have hoped that Parker’s Spenser would go out on a high note, in a book that recalled the glory days of the series. Sadly, though, Sixkill is not such a book. In fairness to Parker, though, I assume that he did not expect to die suddenly at his desk without having the opportunity to give Spenser a proper sendoff.

That is not to say that Sixkill is a bad book. Like most of the later entries in the series, it’s a fun read, and certainly a quick one. Spenser’s long-time sidekick, Hawk, is traveling somewhere in Asia and so, unfortunately, is MIA for this last book. Unhappily, Susan Silverman is not traveling in Asia or anywhere else, and so a fair amount of the book consists of Spenser and Susan having world-class sex and telling each other how wonderful they are. (This, in spite of the fact that Spenser is a veteran of the Korean War, which would mean that he’s pushing eighty by the time he gets to this adventure.)

The case itself is patterned after the scandalous 1921 murder trial of Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle. At the time, Arbuckle was a huge Hollywood sensation, and in this case, the term refers both to his popularity and to his size. “Fatty,” as one might gather, was not a small man. The victim, a young starlet, died after partying with Arbuckle and others over several days in a San Francisco hotel room. Though there was little evidence to support the charge, the more sensational newspaper accounts insisted that Arbuckle had raped the woman and, in the process of doing so, had squashed her. In the end, Arbuckle was tried and acquitted, but his reputation was ruined.

In Sixkill, a huge movie star named Jumbo Nelson (again, “huge” in both senses of the word), invites a young woman names Dawn Lopata up to his hotel room. She dies there after having sex with Jumbo. Though the evidence is far from clear, many in the media insist that Nelson, a particularly unappealing character in person, is guilty of murder and should be tried and put away.

Such an outcome would be very bad, both for Jumbo and for the studio and others who have a great deal riding on his career. They would not like to see him prosecuted. Captain Martin Quirk of the Boston P.D. is in charge of the case and isn’t sure that the evidence supports arresting Jumbo. But the public is demanding Nelson’s head on a platter and Quirk apparently feels that he’s not in a position to stand in front of the oncoming train. He’d prefer that Spenser do so. (One might think that the job of the Police Department in this or any other case, would be to pursue justice irrespective of what the larger public might want. But if that were the case, there would be no book, so never mind.)

Spenser takes the case and, as is his habit, he will pursue it to the end, no matter where it takes him and no matter the danger. The real fun of the book lies in the character of Zebulon Sixkill, a Cree Indian who, when the book opens, is serving as Jumbo Nelson’s bodyguard. Sixkill is a behemoth and, naturally, has never been bested by any mortal man. When Spenser annoys Jumbo, Jumbo orders Sixkill to get rid of Spenser. As any reader would expect, Spenser, of course, mops up the floor with Sixkill.

Jumbo fires Sixkill for this gross incompetence and Spenser takes him on as a substitute Hawk, teaching him the ways of the world. The character is one of Parker’s best inventions, smart and funny and a joy to watch in action. It would have been nice to see him appear in later books.

Unhappily, that won’t be the case, at least not for this reader. And as much as I have enjoyed this series through the years, it’s really sad to imagine that there will never again be a fresh Spenser adventure. Susan Silverman, I can happily do without. But Spenser, Hawk, Rita Fiore, Belson, Quirk and all the other characters who have populated these books have become part of my crime fiction universe and I will sorely miss them. The Parker Estate has commissioned Ace Atkins to continue the series, and while I greatly admire Atkins’ own books, I have never liked the idea of another author taking over a series that I really enjoyed once the original writer has gone to Crime Fiction Heaven. So in the future, I will content myself with re-reading the best books of this series and for me, that will suffice.

R.I.P., Mr. Parker, and thanks for all the great books.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Lucas Davenport, Meet Clara Rinker

This is probably my favorite book in John Sandford's Prey series, featuring Lucas Davenport of the Minneapolis P.D. and, later, of the Minnesota State Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. Sandford is famous for creating terrific villains and the main antagonist here, Clara Rinker, is perhaps his best. Actually, Lucas is up against two great antagonists in this story: Rinker, who is a particularly deadly professional hitwoman and Carmel Loan, a man-eating, ass-kicking Minneapolis criminal attorney.

As the story opens, Carmel Loan has fallen madly for Hale Allen, a sexy but rather dimwitted attorney who also works in her firm. The problem is that Allen is married and thus, for the moment at least, unavailable. Carmel has kept her desire for Allen a secret and, through the intercession of a drug dealer she successfully defended, she hires Carla Rinker to kill Allen's wife, Barbara. Once Barbara is out of the way, Carmel figures to help Hale get over his loss ASAP.

Rinker arrives in Minneapolis and smoothly dispatches Barbara Allen. She then collects her money and returns to her home base in Wichita, Kansas, where she owns a bar. But then, everything turns to crap on a variety of fronts when Carmel's ex-client tries to blackmail her over the hit. Rinker returns to the Twin Cities and together, she and Carmel attempt to tie up the loose ends.

Davenport and his team are on the case, but as the bodies continue to pile up, there's precious little evidence pointing toward the killer or killers. Davenport, though, is one of those detectives who works by inspiration as much as anything else, and when he gets a sense of what might be going on, the fun really begins.

As is always the case in this series, the action moves rapidly. There's a great deal of humor, and it's great fun to watch Lucas and his usual cast of characters at work. It's especially fun to watch the by-play between Lucas and Carmel Loan, and Clara Rinker is an inspiration. On the one hand, she's a truly bad person who's killed a couple of dozen people just for the money. On the other hand, though, you can't help but love her, just as you can't help rooting for Lawrence Block's great professional hitman, Keller.

This book does depend on at least one pretty amazing coincidence, but by the time it occurs, you really don't care. You're having so much fun by that point that you're perfectly willing to suspend disbelief and happily go along for the rest of the ride. This is a great read.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Leo Banks Tackles Homicides Old and New

After twenty years of service, Leo Banks is recently retired from the police department in Rozette, Montana. Having married and divorced three women, he's living quietly and happily alone, fishing and doing some amateur geology. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, his old friends from college, Sarah and Gerry Heyman, show up in Montana on vacation, along with their two kids. Years ago, Sarah was Leo's first lover, but they split up when Banks joined the Navy against her wishes, and she ultimately married Gerry, who had been Leo's best friend.

After all the time that's passed, their reunion is awkward, and it's clear that Gerry is a troubled man. He's now a successful doctor in Mauvaisterre, a tiny river town in southern Illinois, and he's recently acquired a new elderly patient who's just been released from prison and moved into the nursing home in Mauvaisterre.

The new patient, Mickey Cochran, is mildly retarded, and fifty years earlier, he pled guilty to the murder of the wife of one of the town's most prominent citizens. Now Cochran insists that he did not commit the crime and Gerry Heyman believes him. Gerry wants Leo to come to Illinois and investigate the old case.

Banks refuses for a variety of reasons, some of them practical and others emotional, given his ancient history with Sarah and Gerry. Gerry returns to Illinois and attempts to investigate the case himself and a few weeks later is found on a lonely road, beaten to death.

Sarah believes that the local cops are not up the challenge of solving the crime and begs Leo, an experienced homicide detective, to come investigate it himself. Reluctantly Leo agrees, and before long, he finds himself knee deep in two homicide cases, one knew and one old, in a town where there are lots of buried secrets.

This is a great book with an excellent cast of characters, some of who are more than just a little off-center. There's a lot of local color and the Banks character, who was first introduced in Cupid, is now given a great deal of additional depth. The plot is intriguing and moves along at just the right pace.

I've insisted earlier that Robert Sims Reid is one of those writers who, sadly, did not enjoy nearly the reputation he deserved. It's hard to imagine anyone who might read this book and think otherwise.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Nick's Trip

This is the second installment in George Pelecanos's trilogy featuring Nick Stefanos, who lives in Washington, D.C. When last seen in A Firing Offense, Nick had left his job at Nutty Nathan's electronic store and had gotten his license as a P.I. Clients are few and far between, though, and so Nick takes a job as a bartender in a dive bar called the Spot where there's never a lack of clients.

There's no lack of booze at the Spot either, and Nick seems in danger of watching his young life slip away in a sea of whiskey and a cloud of cigarette smoke. He has his music and a girlfriend of sorts, but that's about the sum of his life at the moment. Then one day, a long-lost friend named Billy Goodrich walks into the Spot. Back in the day, Nick and Billy were tight and once took an infamous road trip that Nick has never forgotten. It seems that Billy's wife, April, has disappeared and Billy wants Nick to find her. He insists that he just wants to know that she's OK.

As Nick begins to dig into the case he discovers that April is not the only thing that's missing. She'd been seeing a small-time numbers runner named Joey DiGeordano who suddenly seems to be missing $200,000 that disappeared along with April.

The plot begins to thicken and soon Nick and Billy are on another road trip into a rural area south of D.C., hot on April's trail. In the meantime, Nick has also agreed to look into the murder of a newspaper reporter named William Henry. The cops have written off the crime, but Henry was a friend and Nick refuses to let the murder go unsolved.

As is always the case with a novel by George Pelecanos, the book is very atmospheric. All of the characters are well drawn; music infuses the story, and you can practically taste the liquor and smell the cigarette smoke. The search for April Goodrich is an interesting and colorful tale, and along the way, Nick learns a great deal about the nature and value of friendship.

If I have any quarrel with the book, it would be that the second case, involving the murder of William Henry, seems tacked on to the plot and does not flow as smoothly as it might. One also wonders how anyone, even a person as young as Nick Stefanos, could possibly function at a reasonable level, given the amount of booze, cigarettes and dope he consumes during the course of the book. But these are minor complaints; in this book, as always, George Pelecanos demonstrates that he's a master of the craft and Nick's Trip is a great ride.