Monday, October 16, 2017

Harry Bosch and Terry McCaleb Team Up in This Excellent Thriller from Michael Connelly

In this book, published in 2001, Michael Connelly brings together three of the characters he had previously used as lead protagonists: former FBI agent, Terry McCaleb from Blood Work, journalist Jack McEvoy from The Poet, and L.A. Homicide Detective Harry Bosch, whom Connelly had featured in several novels up to that point. McEvoy plays a relatively minor role here, while Bosch and McCaleb are center stage.

As the book opens, Bosch is assisting the prosecution in a high-profile Hollywood murder trial. A movie director is charged with murdering a young actress and then attempting to make the killing look like an accidental death. Bosch was the lead detective on the case and made the arrest.

As the case unfolds in court, L. A. County Sheriff's detective Jaye Winston seeks out Terry McCaleb, looking for help on a case that has dead-ended. McCaleb, who was forced to retire after having a heart transplant, is now living quietly, running a charter fishing boat, and carving out a life with his new wife, their daughter, and his adopted son. But he hasn't lost the drive and the curiosity that once made him a leading FBI profiler.

Winston's case involves a scumbag named Edward Gunn who was once arrested by Harry Bosch for the murder of a prostitute. Gunn managed to beat the charge and has now been found murdered in a ritualistic fashion. Winston's case is going nowhere and she fears that this may be a serial killer who will be targeting victims after Gunn. She appeals to McCaleb who had worked with her previously, to look at the evidence and offer an opinion.

Well, in for a penny.... 

The reader understands immediately, even if Winston doesn't, that once this case gets its hooks into McCaleb, it's not going to let go. Civilian or not, and whether anyone wants him to or not, McCaleb will wind up in the middle of it. And the deeper McCaleb digs into the case, the more the evidence leads him in the direction of a startling suspect.

Meanwhile, the trial in which Bosch is involved is having its ups and downs. Just when it appears that the prosecution team has pretty much nailed the case against the cocky director, things seems to take a bad turn. And as the case seems to be hanging by a thread, McCaleb's investigation intrudes into it, with potentially dire consequences for everyone involved.

This is another very good novel from Michael Connelly. Caleb and Bosch make a very interesting pairing and the plot takes one surprising twist after another. One might argue that the ending is a little forced, but that's a small complaint, and this is another story from Connelly that kept me turning the pages well into the night. An easy four stars.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Another Winner from Tana French

This is an excellent police procedural and, to my mind, Tana French's best book yet. At its center is Detective Antoinette Conway who is new to the Dublin Murder Squad and who has gotten a very cool reception. Many of her new mates actively dislike her; she's subjected to continued harassment, and she's assigned a lot of crap cases.

The pattern seems to be continuing one morning when she and her partner, Stephen Moran, are assigned a new case that appears to be open and shut. An attractive young woman named Aislinn Murray is found dead in her home, apparently the victim of a lovers' quarrel that has spun out of control. The two detectives bring in Aislinn's new boyfriend, Rory Fallon, and question him under the watchful eye of a senior detective who's inserted himself into the case. Fallon is obviously nervous, and there are problems with the story he tells. To the senior detective, the case seems a slam dunk and he presses Conway and Moran to charge Fallon and move on to new business.

Conway, who is the lead detective on the case, balks and insists on clearing up loose ends. As she does, she further alienates many other members of the squad and seems to be committing career suicide. But she and Moran persist and gradually become convinced that maybe this case isn't as simple and straightforward as it appears on the surface.

Like all of French's characters, Antoinette Conway is a complex bundle of ambition, hopes, fears, dreams and doubts. She carries a lot of personal baggage, and at times, she's not very likeable. But she is smart and persistent and determined to follow her own course, irrespective of where it might lead, who it might offend, and what it might portend for her personally.

The principal strength of the book for me is the way French, through her protagonist, follows this case from beginning to end. The Author has clearly done her homework, and the police procedure here, most especially the scenes in the interview rooms, rings truer than that in almost any other crime novel I've ever read. The book is very well-plotted; the characters and the action are compelling, and it's a book that's almost impossible to put down. 4.5 stars for now, reserving the right to go to 5 after a second reading.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Detective Donald Lam Tries to Save a Man from Being Poisoned

The twelfth entry in A. A. Fair's (Erle Stanley Gardner's) Donald Lam and Bertha Cool series begins, as do many of the others, with a new client coming into the office and lying to the two detectives. A young woman--"a nice number, brunette, trim, with nice curves"--claims to be Beatrice Ballwin. She offers the partners $500.00 to prevent her uncle, Gerald, from being poisoned by his wife, Daphne. (This book was published in 1947, when people still had names like Beatrice and Daphne.)

As always, Bertha is happy to take the money while leaving the execution of the job up to Donald. But, as he points out, he can hardly stand by Gerald Ballwin's side, watching everything that his wife serves him to eat. How, exactly, is he supposed to prevent the guy from being poisoned?

Donald comes up with a clever scheme to protect Ballwin that should work perfectly. But then complications occur and all hell breaks loose. The client is unhappy with Donald; Bertha is furious with him, and now the cops are after him. 

Oh well, it's all in a day's work for Donald, and as always, he'll have to move quickly and intelligently to save his own bacon and that of the firm. As usual, it's fun watching him maneuver his way through the puzzle while Bertha fumes and sputters and Sergeant Frank Sellers stumbles around one step behind him. This is one of the more entertaining books in a fun, classic series.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Attorney Brady Coyne Finds Trouble Representing a Vietnam Vet

Boston attorney Brady Coyne has a practice that's devoted almost exclusively to meeting the needs of a small group of very wealthy and, for the most part, elderly clients. He's rarely ever in a courtroom and does not do criminal defense work. But when a Vietnam vet is arrested for trafficking in marijuana, a mutual friend reaches out and Brady agrees to step in.

The vet, Daniel McCloud, is a former Green Beret who is suffering the after-effects of exposure to Agent Orange. Marijuana is the only thing that works to relieve the pain and McCloud is growing a small crop at his home in rural New England. Mostly it's for his own use, although he shares a small amount with a couple of other vets in similar circumstances. But the local cops aren't interested in his condition or his explanations. They arrest McCloud, throw him in jail, and confiscate his crop.

Brady agrees to represent McCloud as a favor to a friend, but he warns McCloud that the case is pretty cut and dried: He's in violation of the law, and he's almost certainly going to do time. But then, mysteriously, the case is dropped and McCloud is freed. There's no logical explanation for this, but you don't look a gift horse in the mouth. In the wake of the case, McCloud and Brady become friends, and Brady visits McCloud and his girlfriend on several occasions. Then McCloud tells Brady that he's written a book and would like Brady to find an agent for it. 

Brady cannot read the book, and McCloud won't tell him anything about it, which makes the job a lot more difficult, but Brady finds an agent who begins reading the book and who is initially very excited about it. Shortly, though, the agent rejects the book and warns Brady away from the book and from his new friend, McCloud. Almost immediately thereafter, people begin to die and Brady finds himself in the middle of a very confusing and dangerous situation. 

Any sensible person would think to leave well enough alone, but Brady is determined to follow this case to its conclusion, no matter the risk, and before this is over, he'll need all of his considerable skills to save himself from joining the list of the recently departed. As always, along the way, his love life will get increasingly complicated, and all in all, this is another very good addition to this series.