Sunday, June 30, 2019

Another Excellent Novel frm Larry Watson, Author of MONTANA, 1948

Jack Nevelsen is the sheriff of a small county that is tucked into northeastern Montana--isolated from the larger world and very sparsely populated. Jack lives in the tiny town of Bentrock and is always very nervous on the night of the town's high school graduation. The new graduates are often tempted to drink and drive, which is always a dangerous combination, but especially so on a night like this in a county where the roads are not all that great to begin with. 

Up to now, Jack's always been pretty lucky, but it's graduation night, 1957, and his luck has just run out. Jack is called to the scene of a fatal accident and is shocked to find that the victims are June Moss, a young woman who just graduated from high school that night, and Leo Bauer, the high school principal. Bauer is a married man, a pillar of the community, and his son, Rick, just graduated in the same class as June.

There are three suitcases in the trunk and it's clear that Bauer and the young woman were running away together--a scandal that would devastate the small town. Jack believes that his principal duty as sheriff is to protect the town and the citizens who elected him. Accordingly, he begins to devise an alternative explanation for why Moss and Bauer might have been killed together.

Oh, the tangled webs we weave (to coin a phrase). Once Jack starts down this path, there will be no turning back. Inevitably, the situation will get increasingly complicated as time goes on, and Jack's story will quickly get away from him and turn in directions he never anticipated, with very serious consequences for the county, for the people that Jack was trying to protect and, most of all, for Jack himself.

This is a very engaging book that offers deep insights into the human condition and which also illustrates how actions taken with the best of intentions can sometimes go dramatically wrong. Larry Watson expertly describes the time and place in which this story takes place and has created solid, believable characters to populate it. One might strongly disagree with some of the decisions that Jack Nevelsen makes through the course of the story, but the book poses some very interesting questions and will leave readers thinking for a long time after the story has ended.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

A Great Debut Novel from Jordan Harper

Simply put, She Rides Shotgun is a fabulous debut novel. At its center is eleven-year-old Polly McClusky, a character that no reader is ever likely to ever forget. Polly has only dim memories of her father, Nate, who has been in prison for much of her life. But when he unexpectedly pops up in her schoolyard, demanding that Polly accompany him in a car that he's obviously stolen, Polly does as she's told, bringing along the small stuffed bear that is her best and perhaps only friend. 

At eleven, Polly is obviously too old to be having a stuffed bear as her constant companion, but it's not been an easy eleven years, and things are about to get exponentially worse. While in prison, Polly's father killed the brother of the head of a prison gang called Aryan Steel. Nate was due to be released, and the gang was attempting to coerce him into working for them on the outside. Nate resisted; the brother came at him with a shank; shit happens. 

Now the Aryan Steel has put a death sentence on Nate and, for good measure, on his ex-wife and daughter as well. Nate arrives back in his home town only to find that his ex and her new man have already been brutally murdered. He knows that Polly is next on the list and his only option is grab up his daughter and go on the run.

What follows is a story unlike any other in this history of father/daughter road trips. Nate and Polly McClusky are a combination unlike any other you've ever met, on the page, in the movies, or anywhere else, for that matter. Nate knows little or nothing about being a traditional father, which is a very good thing, because with a death threat from a vicious gang like the Aryan Steel hanging over her head, the last thing Polly needs is to be riding shotgun with Ward Cleaver. And, fortunately, Polly is not your run-of-the-mill eleven-year-old girl either. If she's going to survive, she's going to have to grow up quick and learn the kind of lessons that no one ever taught at the school she so recently left behind.

This is a beautifully-written book--dark, bloody and violent, with characters that will leave an indelible imprint on the mind of anyone who reads it. It rushes along, twisting and turning like a raging river, and once it grabs hold of you, all you can do is hang on for dear life and hope to somehow come out safely at the other end. A fantastic read.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Detective Harry McCoy Returns in this Riveting New Novel from Alan Parks

Glasgow police detective Harry McCoy, the protagonist of Alan Parks's debut novel, Bloody January, returns in February's Son. The story takes place during a freezing winter in the 1970s, and McCoy is still recovering from the events that occurred in the first book when he is assigned a new case involving the brutal murder of a promising young footballer. The victim has been hacked to death and a message has been carved into his chest.

It turns out that the murdered man was engaged to marry Elaine Scobie, the daughter of a major Glasgow drug dealer, and that adds an entirely new perspective to the case. The principal suspect is a man named Connolly, a vicious thug who works for Elaine's father and who apparently had a thing for Elaine himself. Connelly has disappeared, and as more corpses keep turning up, the pressure on Harry McCoy ratchets up as well.

McCoy has his own connection to the underworld in the form of his best friend, Stevie Cooper. The two have a history that dates back to the time when they were both young boys, and in spite of the pressure from his bosses, McCoy is not about to turn his back on Cooper who will play an instrumental role in this case.

This is a very dark, hard-boiled novel, with a cast of creepy and interesting characters. Harry McCoy is one of the most tortured protagonists in modern crime fiction, and watching him work this case is riveting. The plot is compelling; the settings are vividly rendered, and this book suggests that Alan Parks has a very bright future in crime fiction.