Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Introducing Chief Inspector Morse

This is the book that introduced Colin Dexter's famous protagonist, Chief Inspector Morse of the Oxford Homicide Division. Morse is a confirmed bachelor who is attracted to women, liquor and complex homicide investigations. Here we also meet the man who would be Morse's sidekick throughout the series, the much put-upon Sergeant Lewis.

As the book opens, two attractive young women are waiting for a bus. One of them, Sylvia Kaye, grows impatient and decides to hitch a ride instead. She is later discovered murdered in the parking lot of a pub in Woodstock. Morse is assigned to the case and his first challenge is to find the young woman who was waiting for the bus with the victim. The woman turns out to be particularly elusive and when Morse narrows down the list to the woman he KNOWS must be Sylvia's friend, the young woman steadfastly insists that Morse is wrong. Why won't she own up to the obvious truth?

Other obstacles block Morse's investigation and along the way, he will become enamored with one of the women central to the case. He will be forced to discard one theory after another until it seems possible that there will never be a solution to the case, but Morse will never be one to give up.

This is a solid introduction to the series and the characters of Morse and Lewis, once established here, will remain virtually constant through the remainder of the series. Many Americans first met Morse when this series was adapted for television and exported to the U.S. and those who enjoy British crime fiction are almost certainly guaranteed to like this book and the rest that follow. 

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Another Very Entertaining Novel of the 87th Precinct

Marilyn Hollis is drop-dead gorgeous and financially independent, thanks, she says, to her wealthy father in Texas. When a man she is dating is poisoned to death, Detective Steve Carella and his associates from the 87th Precinct come calling on Ms. Hollis. She’s sorry to hear the news, but informs the detectives that the victim is only one of the men that she dates. She is very open-minded and free-spirited and expects the same sort of attitude on the part of her beaus.

As almost always happens early on in these books, the detectives are stumped. They prowl through the victim’s life but can’t find anyone who might have wished him harm. Then a second man in Marilyn Hollis’s life comes to an untimely end as does a third. Sensing a pattern here, the detectives hone in on Ms. Hollis and those around her, looking for the perpetrator.

Detective Hal Willis, in particular, hones in on the lovely Ms. Hollis and before long, in violation of what we hope would be department regulations and certainly in violation of common sense, Willis moves in with her, even though she’s a suspect in an ongoing investigation. Willis insists that Marilyn is an innocent victim in all of this and couldn’t possibly be guilty of anything. Steve Carella is not so sure, but Willis seems to be beyond reason in this matter.

This is another good entry in the 87th Precinct series and it’s fun to watch it all play out. Fans of the series will certainly want to look for it.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Introducing Tony Valentine

Grift Sense is the debut novel by James Swain that introduces Tony Valentine. Valentine is a retired cop who now works as a consultant to gaming establishments, attempting to prevent them from being cheated.

Tony has mostly worked in New Jersey and has compiled a huge database of hustlers and crooks who attempt to defraud casinos. He doesn’t much like Las Vegas but he feels compelled to answer a call from the owner of the Acropolis, a gaudy, aging, down on the heels Vegas operation.

A gambler named Frank Fontaine has breezed into town and nicked the Acropolis for $50,000 at the blackjack tables. Fontaine is way too good to be purely lucky and he’s making plays that no intelligent gambler would make. Worst of all, the plays are almost always paying off and, given the precarious state of the casino’s finances, if this keeps up the place could go under.

Valentine arrives in town and is almost immediately convinced that a beautiful blonde dealer is assisting Fontaine, but Tony can’t figure out how the scheme is being worked. During the course of his investigation, Valentine encounters more than a fair share of very colorful characters and soon finds that he’s threatening the interests of some very nasty people who don’t take this sort of thing lightly.

Grift Sense is a very good read and an introduction to an unusual and appealing protagonist. Swain obviously has some experience in these matters, and one of the really interesting things about these books is the explanation of the schemes that some hustlers use to defraud casinos. There’s a fair amount of humor involved; the story is interesting and all in all, readers will almost certainly enjoy spending an evening or two in the company of Tony Valentine.