Old mysteries and thrillers gathering dust and adding to your clutter? Donate them to the Burrito Boyz and they'll distribute to the homeless of San Diego.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Badlands by C. J. Box

Badlands by C.J. Box is the sequel to The Highway featuring protagonist Cassie Dewell.  Dewell is a middle aged, slightly overweight single mom as well as a smart, effective but unappreciated sheriff’s deputy.  In The Highway she finds a serial killer (even though he escapes) and kills a rogue cop but still can’t gain the respect of her boss, the sheriff.  So, in Badlands we find her leaving Montana for a job in Grimstad, the oil capital of North Dakota, as chief criminal investigator and deputy sheriff in Bakken County.

Grimstad has its problems.  Oil fracking has turned the sleepy rural community into a boom town.  The explosive rise in population, primarily men, has taxed the town’s amenities including housing, roads, restaurants and entertainment and has attracted criminal types to supply prostitutes and illegal drugs.  So Cassie is put to work the minute she arrives and is relieved to find complete trust and professional curtesy from her new boss, Sheriff Kirkbride.

Earlier that day in Grimstad, a twelve year old boy, Kyle Westergaard was delivering newspapers on his bicycle when he witnesses a car being run off the road. It flips over and kills the driver.  Kyle sees a package fly from the car and recovers it before police arrive.  He takes it home and finds it contains thousands of dollars in cash and a cache of heroin and meth products.  Little does Kyle know that this package connects to most all the criminal activity in Grimstad including biker gangs, a violent Salvadoran gang and corrupt police officers.

Kyle’s mother is a recovering drug user and alcoholic who can barely make ends meet with her idiot lazy live-in boyfriend, T-Lock and a part time job at McDonalds.  T-Lock latches on to Kyle’s package and makes plans to change his life.  But with all the criminal elements in Grimstad hot on getting their hands on the merchandise, T-Lock and therefore, Kyle and his mom don’t stand a chance.  Newbie Cassie may be too late, too unfamiliar with her surroundings and too intimidated by the bad guys to help.

C.J. Box creates an interesting story in Badlands.  He shows without political prejudice how hydraulic fracturing can change a community in both good and bad ways.  He develops a solid protagonist in Cassie Dewell.  As a female in a traditionally man’s job, she’s easy to underestimate by her peers and her foes alike (not to mention the reader.)  She’s a little short on self-confidence and self-esteem but when the going gets tough, she gets going.  She has a deep seated moral code and perseverance that can’t be denied.  I think we’re going to see more of Cassie Dewell.             

Friday, July 31, 2015

Money Land by R.S. Guthrie

I remember my father reading those old detective paperbacks written by guys like John D. MacDonald and others. Small paperbacks that would easily fit in one's back pocket. Money Land pays homage to the era of pulp.

This is pretty straightforward. A ruthless Mexican cartel is laundering their money in Canada. A flight with $28 million in cash crashes in Wyoming. Some kids out for some rock climbing spot the wreckage and stash the eight duffle bags. To bring it all out, they have to hire some horses and wranglers who just so happen to not be very nice guys. They kill some of the kids and snatch the cash.

The cartel ain't happy about the money going missing and sends up Omar, one of their enforcers, to exercise some force and coercion to get the money back. Omar tries to intimidate Sheriff James Pruett into handing over information, the cash, or both.

Sheriff Pruitt's family has lived in Wyoming for generations, which is unusual because Pruitt if black in a state not too likely to be electing a black for much of anything, much less Sheriff. In this corner of Wyoming,  "community is like a family . . . and you always have each other's back." When Pritt's daughter is kidnapped right out of her apartment in Laramie, Pruitt rallies the town (and a shadowy group of mercenaries headed up by a former Vietnam partner of Pruitt) into not just making a stand, but also to send a message to Mexico that shenanigans like the cartel was doing would not be tolerated, ever. Their corner of the world was all about blood kin and the land. And the locals will be ruthless, if necessary, to protect their own and their land.

The bad guys have lost their money. The locals make a stand. Pretty straightforward stuff. Must be something about these modern day westerns. The MRB boys are fully on board with the Joe Pickett series by CJ Box and I am particularly taken with the Longmire Mysteries by Craig Johnson. Money Land is the 2nd in the James Pruett trilogy by Guthrie. This linear tale is told in a no nonsense tone that ably demonstrates the resilience of the Wyoming ranchers when faced with a noted cartel.

I liked this book. A direct telling of a pretty simple plot. Like all those old pulp stories, this too is short, Couple hundred pages easily read in 4-5 hours. Another good read on the deck most Saturday mornings. Now I have to find #1 and #3 in this series. Got to love these modern day westerns.

East Coast Don

Allegiance Burned

Allegiance Burned is the second book in a trilogy about Jackson Quick, who could be thought of as a somewhat reluctant assassin, but one who is quite adept in the necessary skills of his trade. The story opens with the murder of a senior scientist in his secret lab which is a mile underground. He’s been studying the use of solar neutrinos, a subatomic particle that has never been harnessed. However, the scientist had apparently made great advances with this technology, but for what purpose? Was it useful to help submarines communicate under water, to detect nuclear weapons in rogue states, or to vaporize the nuclear weapons of one’s enemies? As the story unfolds, Quick is confused by the shifting allegiances and betrayals of the primary characters with whom he is engaged: Sir Spencer, a mysterious figure that seems to be one step ahead of everyone; Bella Francesca, CEO of Nanergetix, the company who had employed the dead scientist; Mack Mahoney, who once was loyal to Bella’s deceased father; and Liho Blogis, the enemy and competitor of Sir Spencer who also wants control of the new technology. As Tom Abrahams captures the confusion of Quick as he sorts through the twists and turns of the plot, so the reader experiences the same disorientation as new information is revealed.

My own standard for assassins is the Alistair MacLean story Where Eagles Dare. That was also a 1969 movie with Clint Eastwood as the main killer. Quick probably did not murder as many men as Eastwood did in that story, but he certainly participates in multiple shootouts where lots of bad guys die. I liked this book significantly more than the first one in the trilogy, and I’m eager to get to the concluding novel, Hidden Allegiance.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Secrets of The Last Nazi by Iain King

His name is/was Werner Stolz and he died in a Potsdam nursing home at about the age of 102. Cause of death? Suicide via cyanide and a gunshot. Just like Hitler. But at 102? 

Because he was an SS Captain who was close to Hitler, and because of some tenants of the post war treaties, a representative of each of the winning nations (US, UK, France, Russia) must be sent to investigate - Cambridge military history prof Myles Munro is whom the story revolves around. 

They all meet at the nursing home and decided on a plan to find out why this old man would commit suicide. They adjourn to his former apartment and start digging into his collection of papers, which indicate Stolz was a critical player in Hitler's search for clues in the heavens - how the planets influence significant events in history. 

Now anyone who has seen the first 20 minutes of Raiders of the Lost Ark knows Hitler was obsessed with matter of the occult and astrology must've been part of that obsession. As the investigatory team moves from the Berlin area to Austria, Italy, France, and back to Berlin, it become apparent that someone else is watching their progress. Interested enough to kill one of the team and carry out some grizzly attacks on others on the team. What they learn is that Stolz's research indeed shows connections between planetary positions and the outcomes of significant events. So much so that Hitler would plan his conquest based on what the astrologers reported.

And the predictions were mostly accurate not only about outcome, but also about things like casualty counts, trade, governmental decisions, and reports dated in the 1940s predicting events of the 21st century. Pretty powerful stuff that would challenge modern concepts of science and religion if the predictive algorithm were to become public.

It was obvious that King had done some significant research into planetary effects on human behavior and offers copious references at the end of the book. The story moves along at a brisk pace with references to ancient history through 20th century examples from each of the countries represented in the investigation team. It's been offered as a good option for folks who like Dan Brown (that's not me. I don't care for Brown), but King presents his research in a much more plausible story. Like (mostly military) history and astrology whisked together in a modern thriller? This is right up your alley.

Available July 2015.

East Coast Don

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Suicide Run: Three Harry Bosch Stories by Michael Connelly

You’ve been a fan of Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch character since The Black Echo and have fervently read every book in the series, most within the first month of its release.  But now it’s months away from the next release… so what do you do to get a Bosch fix?  You could subscribe to Amazon Prime where their exclusive series Bosch is doing fabulously or you might read Suicide Run, three short stories that are pure unadulterated Harry Bosch.

Each story is set at different times in Harry’s career but each exemplifies what has become the Bosch brand.  The tenacity to follow the slightest clue that is inconsistent with the presumed, most obvious scenario.  The disregard for authority when department politics threaten to redirect his intense focus away from the killer’s trail.  The empathy for the victim, regardless of social status, to find the killer no matter how long ago the crime.  The adrenalin rush he rides (and allows you to ride with him) when he finds the clue that he knows will nail the killer.
Suicide Run is just the quick fix you need to bridge the gap to the next Harry Bosch adventure.

Monday, July 27, 2015

The Bone Tree by Greg Iles

The Bone Tree is Greg Iles second book in what promises to be a trilogy that began with Natchez Burning.  Protagonist Penn Cage is a former Houston D.A. turned best-selling author turned mayor of Natchez, MS, his hometown.  His father, Tom Cage is an aging but beloved physician who is accused of euthanizing his former nurse, Viola.  Penn’s motivation to protect his father leads him to uncover sins from Natchez’ past that involve infidelity, child abuse, rape, racism, drug dealing, political corruption and murder.  Penn finds that the evil core that erupted in Natchez in the 1960’s by a white supremacy terrorist group, Double Eagles and the vile Knox family extended far beyond Mississippi.  The Double Eagles were formed from the dregs of the KKK to eliminate John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, and Robert F. Kennedy and after discovering ties to a mafia don in New Orleans with a connection to Cuba, Penn is shocked at the role the Double Eagles could have played… not to mention, however inadvertently, the role his father played.

But others have ‘skin in the game’ concerning Penn’s father.  Viola had fled Natchez to Chicago many years earlier to avoid the Knox family after they raped and threatened to kill her.  Soon after arriving in Chicago she gave birth to a son, Lincoln.  Recently when Viola is diagnosed with cancer, she returns to Natchez to be under Doc Cage’s care.  Lincoln follows believing the old doctor is his father.  Forrest Knox, son of a Double Eagle founder, is now near the top in command of the Louisiana state police and has used/abused his power to murder poor Blacks escaping New Orleans after the Katrina hurricane and operates a meth distribution system throughout Louisiana.  He was involved with the rape of Viola many years ago and sees her and Tom as a threat to his new found political power.  Caitlin Masters, Penn’s fiancĂ© and ace newspaper reporter in Natchez is all about publishing the truth about the Double Eagles and their more than half century old murderous civil rights crime spree that has yet to be proven or prosecuted. Then there is FBI agent John Kaiser who believes the Knox’s were involved in John F. Kennedy’s assassination.  He thinks Tom Cage through his 1960’s medical treatment of the Knox’s and Carlos Marcello, the New Orleans mafia don, can offer evidence to prove his conspiracy theory.

So we have many characters on both sides with strong motivation to uncover the truth and/or keep it buried.  All have varying and conflicting degrees of righteousness, power, morals, and desperation.  It all leads to a long, complex, spell binding tale that Iles tells masterfully.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

The Murderer's Daughter

The prolific Jonathan Kellerman has written The Murderer’s Daughter, a non- Alex Delaware book, introducing a new character, a new clinical psychologist, Grace Blades, Ph.D. Grace was the birth product of the worst of characters. Her 22-year-old father was a polysubstance abuser and general worthless lowlife, and her 19-year-old mother was no better. They met at Flapper-Jack’s Pancake Palace where they were the nighttime cleanup crew, in Antelope Valley, an economically depressed desert area north of LA. Grace may have been conceived on the second night of their acquaintance. Given the lack of interest that both parents had in her welfare, it’s remarkable that Grace survived her first five years, but by then, she had learned how to fend for herself. She had no emotional attachment to either her parents of whom she thought of as the strangers who happened to share her rattrap residence in a disgusting trailer park.

Grace was kicked into the foster care system when her mom murdered her father, when in the midst of another argument and episode of spousal abuse, her mom slit her father’s throat. Then, using the same knife, mom plunged it into her own belly, thus successfully committing suicide. All Grace saw was blood, and she vividly remembered “the red room.” Over the next several years, she was bounced around from one foster house to another because foster parents got paid more for taking care of special needs kids, which Grace was not, so when a foster parent had a chance to make more money, Grace got the boot to the next home. It was not until Grace’s teenage years that she landed in a more stable and helpful foster setting. She was a remarkably intelligent and resourceful person who met enough people to help her along the way so she did not end up like her parents.

In the telling of this story, Kellerman bounced forward to Grace’s current life in LA as a successful psychologist who specialized in dealing with trauma victims in her own private practice, and then back to her developing life as a ward of the courts. However, despite her ability to help other trauma victims, Grace remained scarred in terms of her ability form intimate relationships with her peers. For the most part, she was a loner who learned to satisfy her sexual needs by seducing random men for one-night stands. Mostly, that worked out for her, but a time that it did not is an integral part of the story. Her past came back to haunt her when she stumbled into some of the people she had known during her foster care days who were even more emotionally damaged.

The story did not reach a resolution until the last couple of pages. It kept me involved and curious to the very end. Kellerman is a master storyteller, and he has the option of doing so much with this character in future stories. If he does, I’ll be along for the ride. BTW, this is a prepublication review, and the book should be available shortly.