Archive for the 'Detective Fiction' Category

Review: Sixkill by Robert B. Parker

Thursday, January 26th, 2012

When I heard the news of Robert B. Parker’s passing, I was heartbroken. I have been reading his Spenser novels for ages and the thought there would be no more of them — too much to contemplate. Sixkill is the 39th Spenser novel and, according to the book jacket, “the last Spenser novel Parker completed.” Now, that doesn’t sound very…final. It sounds like there might be some unfinished stuff out there. I am not completely opposed to another author carrying the mantle, as long as we don’t lose any of the snappy dialogue and hooligan philosophy of the original.

In Sixkill, Spenser is older and wiser and without his usual back-up, Hawk, who is off in Central Asia. We start off with a visit from our old friend, Martin Quirk, who wants Spenser to look into a murder. A particularly nasty piece of work named Jumbo Nelson is shooting a movie in Boston and has apparently murdered a young woman he hooked up with. At least, she died in his bed, the coroner isn’t quite sure of what, and he claims to have been barely sober enough to notice she was dead when he came back from taking a leak. Like I said, nasty fella. As much as everyone wants to put him away, Quirk isn’t sure, and Spenser trusts Quirk’s instincts.

The novel introduces a new character that I think would have had some staying power. Zebulon Sixkill (and what an awesome name that is!) is a Native American college drop-out, former college football star, now a bodyguard for Jumbo Nelson. He’s got a drinking problem (not the sort of thing that is helped by hanging out with celebrities) and he ends up working with Spenser. Actually, what Spenser does is more like mentoring — he helps the kid get sober, gets him back in shape, gets him a job at the gym. Gets him back to a place where he might be able to make something of his life. He’s an interesting young man and, like a lot of other tough guys from previous Spenser novels, could definitely become a recurring character. Sadly, we won’t get to read what Parker might have had in mind.

Sixkill is one of the better Spenser novels I’ve read recently. There were a couple of books where I thought it might be time for Spenser and Susan to retire to a little cabin in the Catskills or something, but there is plenty of snappy dialogue, cool new characters, and an engaging mystery to solve. It was a real pleasure to read, which makes the fact that it is the one that was completely Parker’s all the more melancholy. This is an author and a series that I will truly miss, but I am glad that he goes out on such a high note.

My copy of Sixkill came from my personal library.

Review: Black Thunder by Aimee & David Thurlo

Thursday, January 5th, 2012

Anyone who reads here regularly will know that I love mysteries. One of the keys to a good mystery series is that it should be accessible — if I haven’t read anything of yours before, I should be able to walk into the series, no matter which book I choose. So when I learned that Black Thunder was the 13th Ella Clah novel, I was a little cautious. The great thing about the book is that without ever reading any of the previous books,  I was able to enjoy Ella’s adventures and not feel at all lost.

Black Thunder takes place on the Navajo reservation (“the Rez”) in New Mexico. One of the most interesting things about the book is the setting and the restrictions it places on Clah’s police work. How can you discuss the suspects in a case when the Navajos avoid using a person’s name? How do you interrogate someone when you have to wait in your car to be invited to their door? It’s a very different way of dealing with people and it was fascinating to see the way that Clah and the other detectives adapted their methods.

The reservation police have discovered a serial killer’s dumping grounds — four bodies, buried close together, all with the same, execution-style cause of death. The bodies need to be identified, commonalities determined, friends and enemies interviews, and they need to do it quickly. From what the coroner has determined, the killer strikes once a year, and it’s nearly that time…

Here’s another difficulty for the tribal police: Navajos do not like to deal with the dead. Which, of course, makes things difficult when you are investigating a murder or trying to perform an autopsy.

“The chindi, the evil in a man, was said to remain earthbound waiting for a chance to create problems for the living. Contact with the dead, or their possessions, was a sure way to summon it to you, so avoidance was the usual strategy.”

The mystery builds slowly, which I like. I hate a story where the killer is obvious while the police are oblivious. Who wants to read about police who aren’t smart enough to catch the crooks? There are some good twists and turns and some subplots to keep you reading along. The only issue I had is that everyone seemed to get along really well. I don’t know that much about actual police work, but it seems likely that the FBI, county police and tribal police would butt heads at some point — jurisdictional issues, policy issues, general posturing. Here, everyone seems to be able to put their ego aside and work together and when does that ever happen in real life? Still, it’s a minor squabble. It’s a very pleasant, readable mystery and I wouldn’t mind at all picking up more in the series.

My copy of Black Thunder was an Advanced Reader Copy, provided free of charge. For more on the Ella Clah mysteries, check out the Thurlo’s website.


Review: The Stranger You Seek by Amanda Kyle Williams

Thursday, December 22nd, 2011

Well, I have found my new detective obsession. I love good detective fiction and I love my handsome detectives, but I am an equal opportunity fan and Keye Street is my new best girl. The Stranger You Seek by Amanda Kyle Williams is a debut novel with great promise. The characters are terrific and the mystery is compelling — I put the book down half-way through to check Amazon and see if I could pre-order the next book. Sadly, I can’t, but I will be pestering her publisher for a review copy.

Keye Street is a terrific character. She’s a private detective with a sordid past, living in Atlanta, Georgia. She’s Chinese; she was adopted by the Streets when she was just a toddler. She didn’t come from a great background:

“I wasn’t emotionally devastated by the fact that they’d given me up. They did it because they were incapable of caring for a child. I mean, with the prostitution and stripping and drugs and all, they were really busy. I guess I was a little pissed that I’d grown up on cheese grits and gravy…but generally I have been incredibly blessed by their handing over their child.”

She’s also got a lot of baggage. She’s an alcoholic and her drinking destroyed her career at the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit. She’ll never officially work in law enforcement again, and with that background she does not make a compelling expert witness. Still, she has carved out a niche for herself in Atlanta, doing background checks, serving subpoenas, and chasing down bail jumpers.  She does tend to gravitate to some odd work:

“I’d been a licensed Bail Recover Agent since leaving the Bureau. It bought the groceries while I built my private investigating business, and it still supplemented by income nicely. My shrink, Dr. Shetty, says it’s a power thing, that I have a brutal case of penis envy. What can I say? I like strapping on a big Glock now and then.”

In The Stranger You Seek, Keye gets caught up in the case of a serial killer. The killer is taunting police, writing letters to the media, and perhaps targeting those involved in the investigation. There are some real scares, some interesting twists, and a story you can really get wrapped up in. I was left with a few questions (Amanda, are you out there? I’ve got questions about Charlie!) but all in all this was a great read.

My copy of The Stranger You Seek was an Advanced Reader Copy, provided free of charge.

Review: When the Thrill is Gone by Walter Mosley

Thursday, June 9th, 2011

Leonid McGill is a former thug, trying to go straight. He was a bad guy who worked for bad guys, but he doesn’t want to be that guy anymore. Unfortunately for Leonid, there are too many ties to his past and no one — from organized crime kingpin Harris Vaartan to honest cop Carson Kitteridge — is willing to let him forget it in Walter Mosley’s When the Thrill Is Gone.

When a beautiful woman tells a detective she needs his help, he’s almost obligated to rescue her (at least in the fiction aisles). Even though McGill knows that Chrystal Tyler is lying to him, he takes her case. She has a stack of cash, he needs the money and he has problems of his own: a cheating wife, a son with a budding criminal career, and a best friend with not long to live. What are a few lies with all that on his plate?

A lot, it turns out. Chrystal has lied about…well, just about everything. McGill is not the sort of guy to just drop it and move on — you know he is going to get to the bottom of the mystery. There are people depending on him and he doesn’t like being lied to.

I absolutely love this series. Leonid McGill is a great character: he’s got an interesting past, a plan for the future, and morals that are flexible enough to keep his past nipping at his heels. He’s a good man, at heart (that’s practically a requirement), he’s strong and brave and loyal to his friends, willing to go to great lengths to do what’s best for people. His family is kind of a disaster. He knows his wife is cheating on him, he knows that their daughter isn’t really his, he’s afraid that his oldest son’s affair with a crazy Russian girl is going to end badly. He dearly loves his youngest son, Twill, who is fearless and brilliant, but has not yet developed his father’s moral compass. (In an earlier book, McGill put a stop to Twill’s plan to murder a friend’s father because the father was molesting her.) He wants to find a way to save Twill from himself without squashing his spirit.

Amidst the family drama, there is plenty of action and mystery. Hidden identities, stolen children, threats and arrests and gunfire are all on the schedule; there might even be time for some old-fashioned lust. Still, when McGill has the chance to help a random girl he meets in the train station, he jumps right in. How can you resist a tough guy with a heart of gold?

This is the third book in the Leonid McGill series. I’ve read The Long Fall, but somehow, the publisher forgot to send my copy of Known to Evil; I need to do something about that. Walter Mosley is the author of more than 30 novels, including the acclaimed Easy Rawlins mystery series, which began with the classic Devil in a Blue Dress. My copy of When the Thrill Is Gonewas an Advanced Reader Copy provided free of charge.

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Review: The Sentry by Robert Crais

Thursday, February 10th, 2011

I do love my detectives and their tough-guy sidekicks:  Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin, Spenser and Hawk, and now Elvis Cole and Joe Pike.  Elvis Cole is an ex-Ranger with a Mickey Mouse phone, a bright yellow Corvette and a troubled past  Joe Pike is his silent partner — dark shades, distinctive tattoos and very few words.  The bonus for fans like me is that Robert Crais has taken the sidekick in his popular detective series and given him a series of his own — double the reading, double the pleasure for me.  His latest Joe Pike novel, The Sentry, draws Pike into the problems of a lovely woman and her shady uncle…whether they want him there or not.

Joe Pike is the silent partner for a reason — he doesn’t talk much.  He keeps his thoughts to himself and he never gives a two-word answer when one word will do.  He’s ex-military, a sniper, and has his own troubled past to deal with.  He is fiercely loyal, which is how he ends up involved with Dru Rayne, and why he stays involved when a lesser man would have thrown up his hands and walked away.

Pike sees an assault in progress and steps in to stop it.  The victim, Wilson Smith, isn’t exactly grateful.  He seems unreasonably annoyed with Pike for saving him from a pretty vicious beating.  Then, Pike meets Dru, Smith’s niece.  He’s immediately drawn to her intelligent eyes, which seems out of character for Pike.  He’s too tough and closed-off to be much of a ladies’ man, but he feels a real connection with Dru.  She tells him her story and then she disappears.  The official story is that she and her uncle left town, but Pike isn’t buying it.  His instincts tell him that Dru is in danger and he looks for her, even as he story begins to unravel.

Elvis Cole also has his part to play in this, and it’s not the role he wanted.  No one wants to tell a good friend that someone they care for may be lying to them, but it’s what a good friend does.  He is always going to be there for Pike, no matter what it costs.  Their relationship is one of the things I’ve loved about these novels.

I devoured this book.  I love detective fiction and I am especially fond of Cole and Pike.  They work well together, the story was interesting with a number of twists and turns, and each Pike novel seems to reveal a little more about Joe, the enigma.  I just wish they could tell us more about these guys without ripping their hearts out.

I would strongly recommend The Sentryto any fan of detective fiction or cop stories.  My copy was an Advanced Reader Edition, provided free of charge by the publisher.

Review: Ice Cold by Tess Gerritsen

Thursday, June 10th, 2010

In Ice Cold by Tess Gerritsen, an unhappy woman makes an impulsive decision that leads to tragedy.  Stranded, cold and in danger, she has plenty of time to contemplate the choices that lead her here.  Pretty standard stuff, really, as far as mysteries go.  Luckily, Ice Cold has a handful of plot twists that keep the story moving along.  Good beach reading, when you need to cool off a little.

Maura Isles is not a happy woman.  She’s having an affair with a priest, and really, how can that end well?  Their last phone call was pretty chilly and the doubts are eating away at her.  While attending a medical conference in Wyoming, she runs into Doug, an old college acquaintance — a handsome, charming, single fellow, whose memories of Maura as stable and focused and predictable make her question herself even more.  She makes a reckless and unpredictable decision: accompany Doug and his daughter, Grace, and a couple of friends on a weekend ski trip.  They’ll drive up to the lodge, get in some skiing, hang around in front of their fireplace — maybe even find time for a little romance.  What could go wrong?

Well, a few bad decisions later, their car is stuck and they are stranded on a private road that won’t be plowed until spring.  They find an abandoned village with the cheerful name of Kingdom Come and take shelter in one of the houses.  Kingdom Come is like wandering into the lost Roanoke colony – the houses are intact, windows open, food on the tables, but the people have simply disappeared.  It’s creepy, but the group has few options in the midst of a blizzard with only their overnight bags.  They settle in to wait out the storm and decide what to do.  Exploring their temporary shelter, they find signs that things might be even creepier – and more dangerous than they thought.

When, a few days later, Maura’s burned corpse is found in a ditch along with the other travelers, her friend Jane Rizzoli, a Boston police detective, gets involved.  Along with her husband, an FBI agent (how handy!), they try to find out what really happened to their friend.

There are plenty of twists and turns to the plot, which keep you guessing about what is actually going on.  I’ve enjoyed Gerritsen’s work in the past but this one just didn’t wow me.  As creepy as being stuck in an apparently abandoned fundamentalist stronghold might be, I just never really felt the danger, or got those little shivers you get when you read something that gets you truly engaged in the story.  I was just not able to lost myself in the blizzard and play along.

This is the seventh novel in the Rizzoli/Isles series.  I’ve read a couple of the others — The Mephisto Club and Body Double (another book in which Maura turns up dead) — and enjoyed them a great deal.  Tess Gerristsen is best know for her medical mysteries; she’s an MD and the medical plots are always interesting.  The Rizzoli and Isles partnership is taking a new direction, as a tv series, “Rizzoli and Isles“, debuting on TNT in July, starring Angie Harmon as Jane Rizzoli and Sasha Alexander as Maura Isles.

Ice Cold is scheduled for release on July 27, 2010, coinciding with the premiere of the tv series.  My copy was an Advanced Reader Copy, provided free of charge.

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Review: The Dark End of the Street, edited by Jonathan Santlofer and S. J. Rozan

Wednesday, May 19th, 2010

The premise behind The Dark End of the Street is simple:

When we proposed this book to writers from both banks of the stream dividing crime writing and literary writing, we thought we had a particularly alluring idea.  Write your heart out on the twin subjects of sex and crime.  Define each however you want, take any approach you like.  What writer could resist?

The result is a terrific collection of stories from some of my favorite writers.  Editor S.J. Rozan (author of one of my favorite mystery series), introduces the collection and provides a particularly chilling story, “Daybreak”, near the end of the volume.  Great writers and great writing are the rule here, and there is a little something for everyone.

They really did let the authors define sex and crime any way they wanted.  Some stories would barely garner a PG rating, a couple are far more racy.  The crimes are different, the criminals are different, and the approaches they take are all over the board — that’s what makes it such a fun read.

The first story I fell in love with was “Scenarios” by Lawrence Block.  I love his work (P.I. Matthew Scudder, among other great novels).  For everyone who has ever read a mystery story and thought “oh no!  not that again!”, this story lets you think through all the possibilities.

The very next story was also a great read, but in a totally different way.  “The Hereditary Thurifer” by Stephen L. Carter is the story of an Episcopal priest unraveling a mystery.  The story never goes in the direction I think it will, a mystery and a main character full of surprises.

“The Story of the Stabbing” by Joyce Carol Oates takes the theme of sex and death in a new direction – not so much about the crime itself as it is about the person who witnessed it.  “Tricks” by Laura Lippman is a great story about a conman and his next victim.

My favorite story of the bunch is “Midnight Stalkings” by James Grady (Six Days of the Condor).  I should have seen it coming.  I didn’t and I was thrilled.

The book is full of great authors:  Patrick McCabe (author of Winterwood – marvelous and twisted), Janice Y. K. Lee (The Piano Teacher), Michael Connelly (9 Dragons), Lynn Freed (The Servants’ Quarters).  Each author has their own slant on the book’s themes — they all come at it from a different angle, but it’s easy to follow the threads from story to story.

I realize that this is a review full links, but if you aren’t familiar with these writers, you should be.  Click on the links, look at their bibliographies, find yourself some great new books.  If you’re a fan of mysteries, definitely check out S. J. Rozan — I have several of her novels featuring Lydia Chin and Bill Smith.  They’re an unusual detective team and the stories are terrific.

My copy of The Dark End of the Street was an Advance Reader Copy provided free of charge.

Review: The Devil’s Star by Jo Nesbo

Thursday, March 25th, 2010

There’s a heatwave in Oslo. Anyone who can’t get out of the city is sweltering in the heat. There are lines at the open-air pool, the city streets are deserted…and there is a killer on the loose.

Police investigations are apparently much the same the world over, as I didn’t find a lot of procedural confusion in Jo Nesbo’s The Devil’s Star. It’s good, gritty detective fiction — just the way I like it. Harry Hole is a police inspector who is on his way down and out. His drinking problem has started to take its toll: he’s lost his girlfriend and he’s about to lose his job, but he may be the only person who can solve this string of killings.

The Devil’s Star has a story that is seriously twisted. The story moves backwards and forwards, there are interludes with unnamed characters and plenty of foreshadowing to give you hints and still keep you guessing. Much of the tension comes from the strained relationship between Hole and his partner in this investigation, Tom Waaler. To the police brass, Waaler is a model cop and one of the best detectives on the force, but Harry is convinced that Waaler has a dark side. He believes that Waaler is involved in a smuggling ring, perhaps with ties to more sinister activities, but he’s been unable to make a case against him. The obsession has ruined Harry’s reputation in the department and this may be his last chance to shine.

There are important clues that tie the crimes together: all the bodies have a severed finger — a different one in each case — and each victim was left with a red diamond, shaped like a five-pointed star. The papers are having a field day (it’s the summer holidays are there is not much else to talk about). The guns used are untraceable, the diamonds didn’t come from any local jeweler, and there is a chance that this is all tied into the unmakeable case against Waaler.

Harrry is the only one in the department to have experience chasing a serial killer, but he’s not in the best of shape. Harry’s a drunk. He shows up to work drunk, when he bothers to show up at all. His apartment is a mess. His very promising relationship has ended, and he’s about to flush everything important to him down to the tubes. It makes him a very interesting character — this is a man who has had a fairly prestigious career and now seems headed for the gutter. Detective fiction is full of flawed characters, but Harry sometimes seems to be all flaws.

Nesbo has written nine Harry Hole novels, according to his website, but not all of them are available in English. The settings range from hunting a serial killer in Australia to accidentally shooting a US Secret Service agent during President Clinton’s visit to Norway. Harry always seems to be struggling to keep himself together, and I read the book hoping that this would not be the moment when he finally lost his grip. Now all I have to do is find enough of the series published in English to fill in Harry’s backstory.

My copy of The Devil’s Star was a review copy provided free of charge.

Review: Alone by Loren D. Estleman

Thursday, December 24th, 2009

Alone by Loren D. Estleman is a marvelous mystery about the movies. Film archivist Valentino (no first name necessary with a last name like that) specializes in hunting for lost classics and convincing their owners to donate them to the UCLA film school. He doesn’t mean to keep getting mixed up in murders, but with this cast of crazy characters, interesting things are bound to happen.

Valentino’s life is a bit of a mess at the moment. He’s trying to rebuild a much-loved but rundown old movie house, The Oracle, and he has come up against one devil of a building inspector. He’s been kicked out of his temporary apartment at the theater and is rooming with his crazy colleague, Professor Broadhead (eggplant margaritas at 3:00 am, anyone?). His buddy, Matthew Rankin, has gotten himself into a real mess — he confessed to Valentino that he was being blackmailed by his assistant, Roger Akers, and shortly afterwards Akers is dead and Rankin is holding the smoking gun. And through it all, the question: did the legendary Greta Garbo really write love letters to Rankin’s wife? The big confession takes place at a party honoring Greta Garbo. Valentino’s girlfriend, Harriet Brown, has a real shot at first prize in the lookalike contest:

Harriet was approaching. The legendary head shot of Greta Garbo, full face, in the identical Mata Hari headdress, hung on the wall behind her; she seemed to be coming out of the frame.

The resemblance is so strong that the host, Rankin, faints. Valentino stays with him while he recovers in his office, and they have a chance to talk about Rankin’s predicament: Rankin’s wife was a close friend of Garbo’s and they corresponded for a number of years. Rankin’s assistant, Akers, has gotten his hands on some of those letters, and they are steamy, to say the least. Not wanting his wife or her famous friend dragged through the mud, Rankin has been paying the blackmail, but he wants Valentino’s help with something that may help him get out from under. The next time they meet, Akers is dead on the floor.

What follows is a twisty little mystery, full of loony characters and film fantasies. Valentino is in deep trouble at The Oracle — the building inspector seems determined to keep the project from moving forward and has insisted that he can no longer live on the premises. Valentino moves in temporarily with his colleague, Professor Broadhead, but that’s not going to last. The crazy old coot is up at all hours and they are bound to clash over his very young girlfriend, Fanta. And his involvement in the murder case has gotten Harriet in trouble with her boss — quite a big deal, since Harriet works for the police department. And he would love to get a peek at those letters!

The film asides in this are terrific — Valentino is pretty opinionated about the movies, as you might expect:

With updated settings and costumes, full color, and a soundtrack, the film might have succeeded in any modern first-run movie house; but only with Garbo in the lead. Compared to her performance, Julia Roberts, Reese Witherspoon and Halle Berry did little more than make faces at the camera.

I learned more about Great Garbo reading Alone than I expected. There’s a bit of film history, a bit of gossip, all told by someone who obviously loves old movies. I’ve recommended this, along with Valentino’s first mystery, Frames, to a few film buffs for their Christmas lists. Movies, murder and mayhem make a magnificent combination.

Alone was released on December 8, 2009. My copy was an uncorrected proof provided for review purposes.

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Review: 9 Dragons by Michael Connelly

Tuesday, December 15th, 2009

9-dragons9 Dragons by Michael Connelly is the latest installment in a series of novels focusing on Detective Hieronymus “Harry” Bosch of the LAPD. There’s a shooting that may involve a Hong Kong triad, a reluctant partner, a detective from the Asian Gang Unit that Harry’s not sure he can trust. That’s just a typical day for a fictional detective, until the case strikes close to home: Harry’s teenage daughter, Maddie, goes missing and he receives a video from her kidnappers. She is clearly in danger and there’s every indication that it is tied to the Triad shooting. Harry is on the next plane to Hong Kong and he intends to bring his daughter back, no matter what.

I am a big fan of detective novels, and I love a good series — you get a chance to get to know the characters, to see them succeed (or fail) and to see what happens in their lives. Harry Bosch, the character created by Michael Connelly, is a great example. We’ve seen him through various ups and downs during his time with the LAPD (IAD investigations, transfers from Robbery Homicide to the cold case squad and back again) and turmoil in his personal life, including having his home destroyed in an earthquake. We saw him briefly married to Eleanor Wish, a former FBI agent who is now a professional poker player in Hong Kong; their daughter — a daughter Harry never knew he had — lives with her mother overseas.

The story starts with a shooting in a liquor store; not an uncommon occurrence in LA. The victim is an elderly Chinese man, someone Bosch met many years ago, and he feels a strong connection to the case. He’s a little out of his element — he doesn’t speak the language or understand the family’s customs. Consulting with the Asian Gang Unit leads to suspicions that a Triad may be involved — the victim appears to be paying off a customer with a suspicious tattoo on a surveillance tape.

Because Chu is unable to get a quick translation of the Chinese tattoos on the victim (which makes Bosch suspiscious), Bosch sends pictures of them to his daughter in Hong Kong. Maddie is able to make the translation and although Bosch cautions her to keep quiet about it, well, she’s a teenaged girl with pictures of a real-life murder victim on her cell phone! She is bound to tell somebody. A few hours later, Bosch has a video message showing his daughter, tied to a chair, the victim of a kidnapping.

Hong Kong is a very different world from Los Angeles, but Bosch is determined to protect his daughter. His ex-wife, Eleanor, and her colleague, Sun Yee, are able to provide some help, but Harry is running on instinct. He needs to find his little girl before she disappears into an Asian underworld of triads and human traffickers.

The story moves at a whirlwind pace and sweeps you right along with it. The characters are real and honest — there are no saints in this story and they will get a chance to try and atone for their sins. There are mistakes and mis-steps along with flashes of brilliant investigating. It’s a terrific addition to a terrific series.

My copy of 9 Dragons was provided free of charge through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.

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