Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A Tense Thriller from S. G. Redling

A petite young data analyst named Dani works for a very secretive, exclusive security firm on the outskirts of Washington, D.C. The firm is doing a job for a defense contractor, attempting to determine who in the firm might be leaking its industrial secrets. Then out of the blue one day, Dani's boss announces that the job is over. The client has called them off and the team is to assemble all the material it has collected so that the client can pick it up later that day.

Oops. Dani has taken some of the material related to the case home to her apartment so that she can work on it after hours. It's nothing critical, just routine scraps of paper and other such things that the target has thrown away. Dani's specialty is examining this sort of material and developing a profile of the subject.

She races home to gather up the material so that it can be included in the package that is being returned to the client. But she arrives back at the firm's headquarters, which is in a secluded rural area, to find a black van blocking the road that the employees use to access the back door.

In a thriller like this, it's never good news when a mysterious black van appears, and the knowledgeable reader is already yelling at Dani to turn around and get the hell out of there. Of course she doesn't, and when she enters the building, she finds that all of her co-workers have been killed. Even worse, the killers are still in the building and she is now effectively trapped.

Dani has no idea what in the hell is going on, and neither does the reader. But since this is still only the beginning of the book, she will manage a narrow escape from the building. Sadly, though, the killers have a roster of employees and they know that Dani is missing. They also believe that she is in possession of the critical item that they were supposed to be retrieving from the security firm, even though Dani has no idea what in the world it could be.

Now a skilled and savage hit man is on Dani's trail, determined to recapture the item and complete the job his team started earlier in the day and if Dani is going to survive, she's going to have to be very nimble, both of foot and mind.

S. G. Redling has created here a tense, taut thriller with a very intriguing protagonist. There's a lot of action; the plot moves swiftly and the reader may well wind up turning the pages of this story well into the night.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Welcome Back, Bernie!

After an absence of nearly ten years, Bernie Rhodenbarr, burglar and bookstore owner, returns in The Burglar Who Counted the Spoons. For those who haven't yet made his acquaintance, Bernie is the creation of Lawrence Block, who is also known for his hit man series featuring John Keller, and his brilliant P.I. series that features Matthew Scudder.

The Rhodenbarr books are much more light-hearted that the Scudder books, and Bernie is blessedly free of the demons that have haunted his stable mate through the years. Bernie thinks of himself as the last of the Gentlemen Burglars and he's much quicker with his wit than with his fists or with any other sort of weapon.

These books generally follow a formula in which Bernie is burgling a house or an apartment, almost always belonging to someone who can well-afford to lose whatever it might be that Bernie is about to relieve them of. Then, in the course of things, a body inconveniently appears, though never as a part of Bernie's handiwork.

The case will be investigated by Bernie's nemesis, the fumbling police detective, Ray Kirschmann. Ray always assumes that Bernie is responsible for the homicide and Bernie then has to solve the crime in order to save his own skin. Almost always this involves gathering all the potential subjects together at the end, in the style of Agatha Christie, so that Bernie can explain the logic of the crime and finally point the finger at the Real Killer.

It's always a lot of fun to watch the story unfold and while this book deviates slightly from the traditional formula, it's certain to entertain anyone who's enjoyed the series through the years.

In this case, a man named "Smith" hires Bernie to commit a series of burglaries to retrieve objects of value to the client which he cannot obtain legally. Meanwhile, Ray Kirschmann is investigating a puzzling homicide and no one will be surprised when the two cases intersect. As always, along the way there's a good deal of banter between Bernie and his best friend, Carolyn, who is a lesbian dog groomer.

Readers who have enjoyed the earlier books will certainly like this one as well. Readers who find the concept intriguing but who haven't read the earlier books might want to start at the beginning of the series with Burglars Can't Be Choosers. While neophytes would probably enjoy this new entry, there's a fair amount going on that would be better appreciated by those who have watched Bernie's career and his relationships develop through the years. We can only hope that Bernie is not now in for another ten-year vacation.

Monday, December 23, 2013

A Twisted Set of Cases for Detective Sergeant Mulheisen

As a practical matter, this novel, which was first published in 1990, constitutes a stand-alone in Jon A. Jackson's series featuring Detective Sergeant "Fang" Mulheisen of the Detroit P.D. It does not involve either the Detroit mob or the character Joe Service, both of whom appear prominently in most of the other books. It doesn't build on the earlier stories, and nothing that happens here is essential to the books going forward.

Which is certainly not to say that it isn't a good book. The plot is fairly convoluted and involves a long-retired detective named Grootka, who was once Mulheisen's mentor. For most of his adult life, Grootka has been haunted by his failure to solve the rape and murder of a beautiful young girl back in the 1950s. Then, one afternoon when he's riding along with an old pal who tags abandoned vehicles for the department, Grootka discovers the body of and elderly pimp named "Books" Meldrin, who was also Grootka's snitch back in the day.

Poor old "Books" has met a sad end, shot and stuffed into the trunk of an abandoned car. The killing is added to Mulheisen's already bulging caseload, and Grootka is convinced that the killing is somehow related to the death of the girl years earlier.

Mulheisen's boss couldn't care less about the murder of an elderly pimp and wants him to focus on the much higher profile case of the murder of a society matron. But Mul is intrigued by the "Books" case and is soon devoting the bulk of his time to it.

Once the game is on, it's interesting and more than a little dangerous. Mulheisen demonstrates his usual disregard for authority and pursues the job in his own inimitable way. Pretty soon, more bodies are dropping; the evidence is twisted almost beyond imagination and there are startling surprises at almost every turn. This one is well worth looking for.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

A Great Piece of Pulp Fiction

This is a classic piece of pulp fiction that was first published in Britain in 1941, but which was deemed much too racy for the U.S. at that time. Accordingly, it was first published here in an sanitized version that glossed over all the parts that were too "adult" for the delicate sensibilities of the American reading public. The opening couple of sentences of the original version might suggest why:

"From the way her buttocks looked under the black silk dress, I knew she'd be good in bed. The silk was tight and under it the muscles worked slow and easy. I saw weight there, and control, and, brother, those are things I like in a woman."

Our intrepid narrator is a man named Karl Craven who's just arrived in a small, out-of-the-way Midwestern town on some mysterious errand. We learn that he's been preceded in town by a partner, or an accomplice; as Craven checks into the hotel, we're not yet sure which. Things get complicated right away, though,when it turns out that the man Craven is to meet has been shot to death. The killer is still at large.

The town is as corrupt as they come in a pulp novel of this sort, from the sheriff on down. But added to the mix is a mysterious religious retreat, know as Solomon's Vineyard, which sits just outside of town. No one is quite sure exactly what goes on behind the closed doors of the Vineyard, but you can bet it's titillating and maybe even dangerous.

Karl Craven is a large man with even larger appetites and he drinks and eats his way through this story at a mind-boggling pace. At one point, he has a four-pound steak for dinner, along with all the trimmings and a half an apple pie for dessert. His sexual appetites are pretty much on the same scale.

It would be unfair to reveal much of anything about the plot, but this is a story with lots of gunplay and other malicious violence. There's tough dames and a fair amount of rough, kinky sex, some grave-robbing and a bizarre religious cult headed by a princess who may be even too much for a man like Craven to handle.

If your a fan of the sort of trashy pulp fiction that was popular at the middle of the last century, you'll probably love this book which is so much over the top that it almost becomes a parody of the genre. Latimer, who would ultimately become a fairly successful Hollywood screenwriter walks you right up to the line but steps back just in time to give you a really fun read.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

My Ten Favorite Books from 2013

          It's that time of year again when everyone compiles their lists of favorite books, movies and music from the year just ending. So I thought I'd wade in and offer a quick look at my ten favorite books from 2013. Please note that these are not necessarily the "Best" books of the year, just the ones I enjoyed reading the most. Also note that most of these books were released prior to 2013--in some cases, years earlier--but I happened to read or re-read them this year, which is why they made it on the list. In no particular order, my favorite books of the year were:

1. Okay, so I lied right out of the box. William Kent Kruger's Ordinary Grace was easily my favorite book of the year. Set in a small Minnesota town in the summer of 1961, and populated with deftly-drawn characters, it's a brilliant meditation on the ties of family and community and on the nature of grace, whether granted (or withheld) by God or by frail and fallible human beings in times of crisis and terrible loss when any rational person might well doubt his faith in anyone or anything. This is a book that I'll be reading over again for years to come.


2. David Goldfield's America Aflame is an outstanding contemporary overview of the Civil War era, beginning in the 1830s and concluding with the nation's centennial celebration in 1876. What distinguishes Goldfield's treatment of the period from that of earlier historians, is his emphasis on the importance of evangelical Christianity in bringing on the crisis that produced the war. In essence, he argues that evangelical Christians, especially in the North, increasingly saw many of the important issues of the day, slavery in particular, as moral causes that could not be compromised. In consequence, American and their political leaders became increasingly inflexible and in the end, the nation was plunged into a disastrous civil war in which both northerners and southerners would be totally convinced that God was on their side. Goldfield eschews the notion of the war as a gallant, heroic effort and instead portrays in heart-rending and occasionally stomach-wrenching terms the brutal, ugly realities of this war that would cost 630,000 American lives--more than the lives lost in all of the nation's other wars combined.

3. Daniel Woodrell, The Maid's VersionIn 1928, the tiny town of West Table, Missouri, was shattered by the explosion of the Arbor Dance Hall. But although many explanations for the tragedy were put forward, the guilty party or parties were never identified and prosecuted. Alma Dunahew works as a domestic in the house of the town's leading banker. Alma's sister, Ruby, is a carefree young woman who uses and disposes of men as the spirit moves her, until the night she too becomes a victim of the dance hall tragedy. Alma has her own idea about what happened that night, and as the incident overwhelms her emotionally, she gradually loses touch with reality. She alienates members of her own family and many of the townspeople; she loses her job and has to cobble together a living as best she can. Years later, in 1965, her grandson Alek is sent to spend the summer with her and over the course of the summer, Alma slowly tells him the story of the events that led to the explosion of the dance hall. It's a riveting tale, told mostly in flashbacks and it grabs the reader from the brilliant opening line.

4. Joseph Hansen, A Country of Old Men.This is the twelfth and final entry in Joseph Hansen's excellent series featuring insurance investigator, Dave Brandstetter. Published over a period of twenty-one years, from Fadeout in 1970, to this book in 1991, the series was witty and very well-written, with cleverly-plotted stories and well-drawn characters. Set in southern California, the books also captured perfectly the geography and the social and economic currents of the place and time. What really set these books apart was the fact that Hansen created in Dave Brandstetter the first openly gay P.I. to inhabit a series like this, and neither Hansen, not his protagonist ever made a big deal out of it. Dave's sexual orientation was made clear from the opening pages of the first book, and it was simply a fact of life, just like the sexual orientation of any other detective. Dave had a love life and was active sexually throughout the series, but it never seemed intrusive or in any way out of the ordinary. In fact, Dave's romantic attachments were much more believable than those of many of his heterosexual fictional contemporaries. This was an engrossing and fitting conclusion to the series.

5. James Ross, They Don't Dance Much. This Depression-era novel was first published in 1940. The protagonist is a North Carolina farmer named Jack McDonald who is about as down on his luck as any man can get in the middle of the 1930s. The Boll weevils have destroyed his cotton; he can't pay the money he owes at the bank, and the county is about to seize his land for back taxes. Jack makes what seems to be the only logical decision at this point and decides to get drunk. He buys a jar of moonshine from a filling station operator named Smut Milligan. Smut is an ambitious man, and he tells Jack that he's planning to open a road house. He offers Jack a job as his cashier and, having no other viable prospects, Jack accepts the offer. Any reader will certainly understand that a character who signs on with a guy named Smut has probably got a lot of trouble in his immediate future. Milligan will gradually entangle Jack in a variety of evil schemes and in classic noir fashion, Jack slowly sinks before our very eyes, taking one ill-advised step after another until he's finally in the jam of a lifetime. A great read.

6. Don Winslow, The Kings of Cool. A prequel to Winslow's wonderful book, Savages, that shows how the three principal characters in that book, Ben, Chon and O came to know each other and how they grew into the people they would ultimately become. In this case, as in Savages, the profitable business that Ben and Chon have built as growers of prime weed is in jeopardy. The book bounces back and forth between the present day and the counter-culture SOCAL of the 1960s. As Ben, Chon
and O deal with their respective problems, we meet a group of surfer dudes, hippies and people involved in the early days of the dope business, which at that point, simply involved moving grass into Southern California and selling it. Over time, of course, the early days of the counter culture will evolve into something entirely different while back in the present day, the threats to Ben, Chon and O will grow increasingly complicated. Winslow weaves his way through these narratives brilliantly and you simply cannot put the book down as one surprise after another unfolds. The writing itself is inventive, as it was in Savages, and ultimately, the book ends way too soon.

7. John Sandford, Certain Prey. One of my favorite crime fiction series is Sandford's Lucas Davenport series. This is the tenth book in the series, first published in 1999. Sandford excels at creating excellent villains, and this book introduces my favorite of all his bad guys, hit woman Clara Rinker. She's a fantastic character and this is one of the best stories that Sandford has crafted. Anyone new to the series would certainly want to start with the first book, Rules of Prey, but this is a great one to look forward to down the road.

8. Robert Caro, Means of Ascent.  This is the second volume (of four thus far) in Robert Caro's magisterial biography of former president Lyndon B. Johnson. It treats the period from mid-1941, when Johnson lost a special election for the U.S. Senate, through 1948, when Johnson won election to the Senate in a hotly contested and heatedly disputed primary election. Johnson was crushed by his loss in 1941, and believed that the election had been stolen from him by an opponent who was more clever than he. He vowed it would never happen again and Caro describes here the steps that Johnson took to make sure it didn't. I think there are problems with the case that Caro attempts to make here, which I've detailed in my long review of the book. Still, there's no denying that this is a tremendous accomplishment.

9. Jamie Harrison, On the Edge of the Crazies. Beginning in 1995, Jamie Harrison, the daughter of novelist Jim Harrison, wrote four novels set in the fictional town of Blue Deer, Montana, located on the edge of the Crazy Mountains, very near where the real town of Livingston, Montana would be found. The main protagonist was a young archaeologist, Jules Clement, who returned home to Blue Deer and was elected to the office of County Sheriff, a position that had once been held by his father. Blue Deer is populated with a mix of eccentric characters, some of whom are long-time residents and others of whom are more recent arrivals, including a number of writers, artists and other celebrities who have found their way to Big Sky Country in the last few years. Among other things, Harrison cleverly explores the tensions that have developed between native Montanans and the new arrivals. This book opens when someone takes a couple of shots at a screenwriter named George Blackwater. George is wounded but survives, and the chaos that ensues is great fun to follow.

10. Robert Sims Reid, The Red Corvette. Leo Banks is recently retired from the police department in Rozette, Montana. He's living quietly and happily alone, fishing and doing some amateur geology. Then his old friends from college, Sarah and Gerry Heyman, show up in Montana on vacation. Their reunion is awkward, and it's clear that Gerry is a troubled man. He's now a successful doctor in 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. When Banks refuses, 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 new and one old, in a town where there are lots of buried secrets. This is a great book with an excellent cast of characters; 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.

11. Johnny Shaw, Big Maria. Okay, so I can't count, either. But after spending way too much time trying to whittle the list down to ten books, I just said the hell with it because I couldn't leave this one off. This is Shaw's second novel, and again he demonstrates his gift for weaving pathos with drop-dead humor and his ability to create memorable characters who are very sympathetic even though most of them are total losers. Big Maria basically amounts to Treasure of Sierra Madre meets a Chevy Chase vacation movie. Three down-on-their-luck characters go searching for a long-lost gold mine, the Big Maria. They press ahead in spite of impossible odds, determined to find the fortune that will set all of their lives on a brighter path. It's an incredible journey, often touching and hilariously funny within the same paragraph. And it speaks volumes to the dreams and to the bonds that drive and inspire all of us.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

We're All in Big Trouble Now!

This book has the most intriguing premise of any that I've read in a long while. Set in the not-too-far-distant future, it features Hank Palace as a fledgling detective in Concord, New Hampshire. One night, Hank is called to the scene of a suspicious death in the restroom of a McDonald's restaurant. An insurance man named Peter Zell is lying on the floor with an expensive leather belt wrapped around his neck. The other end of the belt is tied to the handicap grip bar next to the toilet, and the officer who discovered the body has called it in as a 10-54S, that is, a suicide by hanging.

Sad to say, there's a lot of that going around these days, ever since astronomers discovered that a giant asteroid, designated 2011GV, is swinging around the sun in preparation for slamming into the earth at about a billion miles an hour six months hence.

The damned thing just came out of nowhere, one of those giant rocks that occasionally passes "near" to Earth but not close enough to be a concern. When 2011GV first appeared in distant space, all the "experts" insisted that it too would pass by harmlessly and that there was no need for concern. Turns out there was, and there's nothing anyone can do about it. The friggin' planet is about to be destroyed.

As one might imagine, a lot of people are upset about this and some changes have occurred in the wake of the news. The world economy has collapsed; there's a lot of turmoil everywhere; governments have assumed emergency powers, and so forth.

Lots of people are killing themselves; a lot of others have quite their jobs and are devoting their last six months to fulfilling life-long dreams. Then there's Detective Hank Palace, who's doggedly determined to keep doing the job he always wanted for as long as he possibly can.

The truth is that, at this point in time, no one really gives a rip what happened to Peter Zell and how he wound up dead in the McDonald's restroom. But Hank does. The death looks suspicious to him and he is determined to investigate it as a murder until proven otherwise. the book details his investigation which is, as you might imagine, a little out of the norm for a police procedural, given the death sentence hanging over everyone on the planet.

It's interesting to watch Hank work, and one admires his determination. Either that, or you question his sanity. It's also intriguing to watch how the rest of Winters' cast reacts to the coming of the end of the world. Any fan of police procedurals and looming apocalyptic novels will probably enjoy this book.


I do have one complaint about this book. I am compulsive about never reading a book's tease before beginning the book. I don't want to know anything about the plot until it unfolds in the course of the story. As I approached the end of the book, I was very anxious to see how the author would treat the final moments before the big collision between the asteroid and the Earth.

Except that he didn't. The book ends with several months still to go before the big event, and only then did I read the back cover and realize that this is only the first volume in a projected trilogy. I was hugely disappointed to learn that I would have to wait two more books before getting to the moment I was anticipating, and I'm not sure if I'm willing to do that, in large part because, although the premise is very intriguing, I'm not sure that it can be sustained over the course of three books rather than the one I was expecting. Also, I'm not sure I was enamored enough of Hank Palace to want to read two more books with him as the central character. This is a case where I'll probably wait to read reviews of the next two before deciding if I want to continue with the series.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

We're Not in Cabot Cove Anymore, Toto

I was a big fan of Sara Gran's first novel featuring Claire DeWitt, Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead, which was set in post-Katrina New Orleans. To say that Claire is an unconventional detective would be the height of understatement, and the character was fresh, quirky and very intriguing. Additionally, Gran did an excellent job of portraying the city in the wake of the disaster, and she was particularly good at capturing the lives of the city's young, poverty-stricken African-American males, many of whom have no real prospects and very little hope.

For those who haven't yet encountered Claire, she's a disciple of the French detective, Jacques Silette, author of the book Detection, which changed Claire's life when she discovered the book as a young teenager. Claire later did her apprenticeship in New Orleans under the tutelage of Silette's most outstanding protégé, Constance Darling, and when Constance died, Claire advanced to the position of World's Greatest Detective.

Claire is heavily tattooed; she drinks and takes drugs to excess, as often as not stealing the drugs from the medicine cabinets of unsuspecting friends. To solve her mysteries, she relies on mysticism and dreams as much as on more traditional methods of investigation.

This case begins when a musician named Paul Casablancas is murdered in what appears to be a burglary gone wrong. His home has been invaded; several guitars are missing, and the police are ready to write off the murder as incidental to the burglary that Casablancas apparently interrupted. But Claire has a personal tie to the case; she and Paul were once lovers, and when Paul's widow asks Claire for help, Claire assumes the responsibility of attempting to determine what really happened.

Claire investigates for the next several months with the aid of her new assistant, Claude, a graduate school dropout. In and around the investigation, Claire ruminates on the disappearance years earlier of one of her best friends, a girl named Tracy. As teenagers, Claire, Tracy and a girl named Kelly were inseparable. They discovered Silette's book, Detection together and began investigating mysteries of their own. Then, shortly after they solved a particularly difficult case, Tracy simply disappeared and neither Claire nor Kelly ever heard from her again. Tracy's disappearance was a critical element in the first Claire DeWitt novel and we now get the backstory that fills in many of the blanks.

As the above will doubtless suggest, we're not in Cabot Cove anymore, Toto, and this is not your grandmother's traditional mystery novel. It may not appeal to every fan of crime fiction, but it will certainly intrigue those who are willing to take a chance on a story and a character who are more than a little bit out of the mainstream.

If I have a concern about this book, it would be simply that it suffers a bit by comparison to the first in the series. Claire no longer seems quite as fresh as she did in her first adventure, although this is probably to be expected. More than that, Gran did such a magnificent job with the setting of the first book, that this one inevitably suffers a bit by comparison. The disaster suffered by New Orleans allowed Gran a canvas to work with that simply doesn't exist in San Francisco, although it's a great city in its own right. It also struck me that the supporting cast here is not as interesting and well-drawn as the one in City of the Dead, but these are relatively minor complaints, and I'm looking forward to the third and apparently final installment of the Claire DeWitt trilogy.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Travis McGee to the Rescue Again!

Pretend for a moment that it's 1968 and you're a shady, amoral, would-be land developer in some scraggly-ass county in the Middle of Nowhere, Florida. Assume further that you own a couple of hundred acres of land near a waterway and that a big company is looking to acquire the land to build a major plant.

Assume further that there's a guy who owns ten acres of land between you and the waterway that is critical to the plans of the big company. You make the marina operator an offer for his land, but he turns it down. He's working on his own version of the American Dream, which centers on developing his marina and a small motel.

Fortunately, you're well-connected with the local banker and politicians while the marina owner is a relative newcomer. So you pull some strings and get your pals to put pressure on the guy. Before he knows it, his loans are coming due; his business has dried up and his dream has turned to crap.

But the stubborn clown still won't sell and then one afternoon he turns up dead. It could have been an accident; the sheriff rules it a suicide, and who the hell really knows? The good thing about it, though, is that the guy's wife is really up against it now, giving you the chance to grab the land for virtually nothing while leaving her saddled with the huge remaining mortgage. Clearly, this is your lucky day.

Or maybe not. Because just when things are coming up roses, you slap yourself upside the head and say, "OMG; I really hope that damned marina guy wasn't one of Travis McGee's best friends!"

Sadly for you (and for a lot of your pals), it turns out that he was and you are about to find yourself in a huge stinking pile of steaming stuff.

McGee discovers what has happened and immediately sets out to more than even the score. As readers of the series know, McGee is a "salvage" expert who recovers things that have been taken from people who are left with no legal recourse. Normally, McGee's finder's fee is fifty percent of whatever he recovers, but this time it's personal and he's acting on behalf of his friend's widow.

As usual, there will be a psychologically damaged female who can only be saved by McGee's tender attention; as usual, there will be a dangerous sociopath lurking in the background ready to strike, and as usual, McGee will spend a fair amount of time ruminating on the state of his own life and of the world around him.

This is one of the better books in the series, mainly because of the very clever scheme that McGee creates with the help of his friend, Meyer. It's also not quite as cringe-inducing when it comes to McGee's treatment of women. This book, too, is certainly dated in that regard, but it's better than a number of others. All in all, a fun way to spend a rainy afternoon.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Will There Be Honor Among Thieves?

Thick As Thieves is a densely plotted heist novel that locks you in quickly at the beginning of the story and then continues to ratchet up the tension as it races to a startling climax.

At the center of the story is an ex-CIA agent named Carr. He's the new leader of a small band of elite criminals who are planning a huge score. The mark is Curtis Prager, a former hedge fund manager who fell from grace and who now launders huge amounts of money for various criminal enterprises. Carr and company intend to relieve Mr. Prager of many of the millions of dollars he's holding for his various clients.

It won't be easy. Prager lives on a huge estate in south Florida and is protected by a network of top-flight, virtually impenetrable security, both physical and electronic. Breaking through those barriers will not be a job for amateurs or for the faint of heart.

If the job weren't tough enough already, Carr has problems with members of his own team. Their last leader, a man named Declan, was killed when the team's last job went south. This is Carr's first time at the helm and other members of the team worry about his ability to get the job done. They all have pretty massive egos of their own, and some of them may have plans of their own that don't exactly dovetail with Carr's. Especially interesting is the beautiful, sexy Valerie who is the team's honey trap and who appears to have fallen hard for Carr.
Or has she? Inevitably in a crew like this, there's always the issue of honor among thieves.

This is a riveting story that travels from Florida to the Caribbean, to Latin America and elsewhere. The details of the planned heist are extremely intriguing, as is the cast of characters. And every time you think you've just figured out what's going on, the story races off in a different direction.

I'd recommend this book to anyone who likes crime fiction, and I'd especially recommend it to anyone who enjoyed Richard Stark's Parker series. While there are obvious differences between this book and the Parker books, they have enough in common that Parker fans might well want to look for this one.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Detective Sergeant Mulheisen Meets a Very Attractive Redhead and Some of Her Interesting Friends...

This is the second novel in the series by Jon A. Jackson featuring Detroit Detective Sergeant "Fang" Mulheisen and his nemesis, hit man Joe Service. This early in the series, Service is still on the perimeter of the action; he's more aware of Mulheisen than Mulheisen is of him, but the detective is aware of the fact that some clever, sinister force is lurking out there on the edge of the action.

The case opens when a police patrolman answers a burglary call and shoots to death a man who had broken into a garage. The dead man has no ID and no one can figure out what he might have been looking for in the garage.

The garage in question belongs to an up and coming trucking executive named Jerry Vanni. Vanni is an ambitious young man who's also branching out into juke boxes and vending machines. The plot thickens when two gunmen come into a bar and shoot to death one of Vanni's jukeboxes and one of his cigarette machines.

Mulheisen wonders if Vanni has gotten on the wrong side of the mobsters who usually control things like juke boxes and vending machines in the Motor City. He's also very intrigued by Vanni's secretary, Mandy Cecil, a gorgeous young redhead who seldom wears foundation garments.

Things get even more curious when Mul encounters the charming Ms. Cecil in the middle of the night in the company of some would-be Cuban revolutionaries in a "blind pig," an after-hours club for people like Mulheisen who aren't always ready to go home when the regular bars close at 2:00 a.m.

Before long, all hell is breaking loose and it's a great ride for the reader. Jackson creates memorable characters and there's plenty of witty banter and lots of great action. Mulheisen is a great protagonist and at this point, the reader has seen enough of Joe Service to know that things are probably going to get very interesting later on down the road.

This book should appeal to any fan of crime fiction but anyone interested would be especially well-advised to start this series at the beginning with The Diehard: Detective Sergeant Mulheisen Mysteries.