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Thursday, September 22, 2016

Shadow Woman

When a protagonist of a series of crime novels gets into a long relationship, you know there’s going to be turmoil. James Bond’s marriage to Tracy didn’t even last the length of one book (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service) before she was killed. Harry Bosch, Elvis Cole, Joke Pike, Jack Taylor, John Wells, Scott Harvath, John Rebus – none could sustain a relationship of any length. The two exceptions that come to mind are C.J. Boxx’s Joe Pickett and Daniel Silva’s Gabriel Allon. But, the marriages of Pickett and Allon were constantly challenged by their dedication to “doing the right thing.” In Shadow Woman, when Thomas Perry had the nerve to allow Jane Whitefield to marry Carey McKinnon, every mystery reader had to be ready for trouble, and Perry does not disappoint.

Carey had already proposed to Jane, and she intended to accept if he could tolerate knowing the way she had led her life. Even if she quit the business of helping people disappear from trouble that was pursuing them, it meant her future life would always be at risk from those were still trying to bring trouble to her former clients. And if her life was at risk, so would be her spouse’s life.

Jane had intended that Pete Hatcher would be her last case, and the story opens in spectacular fashion with her literally making Pete disappear from a magic show in Las Vegas while being followed by his would-be killers. Pete had the goods on an evil casino operation, Pleasure, Inc., and the Board of Directors wanted to terminate his employment contract, permanently. Because the case came to her so quickly and she set up Pete’s disappearance at the last second, Jane didn’t have enough time to teach Pete all that he needed to know in order to stay hidden. By the time she learned that her last client was in trouble, Jane had already accepted Carey’s proposal and had promised to give up her old life. But, she felt honor-bound to go back into the field. And, Pleasure, Inc. had hired the best assassins and trackers possible – so the incredible chase began between Jane and Pete versus Earl Bliss and Linda Thompson.

Perry’s characters are all well-crafted and believable. One does not need to make extra effort to suspend belief in order to enjoy this story. I’ve become a fan and Perry is trying to fight his way into my power rotation – the list of my 10 favorite authors.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The Storykiller by Humfrey Hunter

Three years ago, Jack Winter was an up and coming reporter for The Legend, a notable London daily. He was hot on a story about a schoolgirl who was killed on her way home from school by a hit and run driver. In his digging, he turned up a valuable source in one of the teachers at the girl's school. For weeks, Jack peeled back the onion that was the school. When he thought he'd mined that source for all he could get, he dropped the guy. A week later, the teacher went into the police and confessed. Jack went into a funk because he failed at getting justice for the little girl. When the connection was made public, the girl's mother tracked down Jack and stabbed him repeatedly putting him in the hospital for weeks.

Despite earlier successes, Jack left journalism and became a bit of a public relations guy specializing in getting stories due to hit the press effectively killed, saving his clients considerable embarrassment.  Jack gets a call from an Edward Valentine. One of those stiff upper lip Brits with a ton of 'old' money in his pocket. He hires Jack to get a story killed. Seems a protege of Valentine, Adam Pryor is an MP, a  minister within the current PM's cabinet. One of those politicians to watch. Came up from nothing to become the #2 in an office that controls British international development. Well liked by both sides of the aisle, the public, and the press. Fast track to become Prime Minister one day. Pryor accepted an invitation to speak at Oxford.  After his speech, he retires to a local pub where 2 students throw themselves at him. Prior beds one and forgets to tell he that he is married until the next morning. She ain't happy and threatens to go to the papers. That's were Jack comes in. Convince the girl that's not a good idea.

Hunter's 1st novel opens the curtains that hide the underbelly of politics by pulling them back so we see the extremes that people will go to gain power and the extremes that those who pull the strings of politicians will go to influence policy and line their pockets. While this is a British tale, it's not much of a jump to see Valentine as the George Soros for the Democrats or as the Koch brothers for the Republicans. Or it that's too realistic, just think about House or Cards. If even 1/10th of what's presented here actually occurs in our political system, then we are is some serious trouble.

If your cup of tea is dogged journalists or political intrigue, The Storykiller needs to be on your must-read list.

available September 29, 2016

East Coast Don

Sunday, September 18, 2016

The Naming of the Dead

This is the 9th Ian Rankin novel that’s been reviewed at MRB. We’ve all read his books, so you know Rankin is one of our favorites. However, this particular novel was not Rankin’s best. It was was even darker than the others. The Naming of the Dead, the 16th in the Inspector Rebus series, starts with the unexpected death of Rebus’ younger brother from a stroke. The story also takes place during two real events in 2008, the G8 meeting in Edinburgh and the London bus bombing, both of which Rankin incorporates into the plot and subplots. Meanwhile, Rebus is nearly constantly drunk. He boldly and intentionally antagonizes his bosses who can’t understand why this man doesn’t retire already. But, Rebus has nothing else in his life to retire to, to live for. His main co-conspirator is Detective Sergeant Siobhan Clarke, who is much younger than Rebus but who has passed him in ranking. Still, everyone knows that he’s the detective who runs the show. This is a complex story with lots of characters, three deaths, and lots of possible suspects. I started this book with excitement, but found myself slogging my way through it. If you’re ready to read Rankin, don’t start here.

Friday, September 16, 2016

An Obvious Fact by Craig Johnson

#12 in the ongoing series featuring Absaroka County, Wyoming sheriff Walk Longmire. Full disclosure here: I'm an unapologetic fan of both the books and the TV series now entering its 5th season (premieres Sept 22 on NetFlix). Even going in cold, it's hard for me to think that this will be anything but dang near perfect.

The world's biggest motorcycle rally is warming up in Sturgis, SD. The rally is so big that it spills over into the neighboring Wyoming counties. The sheriff of the border county has a staff of exactly 2 (including him) so he asks Walt to come over for the week to help out. The Cheyenne Nation (aka Henry Standing Bear) joins him not only because they are best friends, but because Henry is a biker of some note having won a hill climb years ago and returns each year to try to recapture his former glory.

For the long drive, they take Henry's Thunderbird convertible (and Walt's dog, sensibly named Dog, who has a pretty good role in this outing). Henry named his T-bird "Lola" (all of Henry's vehicles are named for former girlfriends). Walt's first assignment is to crawl around an accident scene that is in the shadow of Devils Tower (no apostrophe). Guy on a motorcycle was bumped off the road. In the ensuing tumble, the biker suffers a serious head injury and lies in a coma in the closet hospital in Rapid City, SD.

The 911 call came from the daughter of the local business magnate, Bob Nance. He works out of LA but loves the Black Hills where he built himself a massive log home and hosts the annual skeet shoot during the Rally. Politically connected, well liked. Even bought the local sheriff an MRAP (a Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected armored personnel vehicle) because the DoD had a few that were unused and on the market.

The rider is part of the Tre Tre Nomads out of Phoenix. Goes by B-way Torres. The victim is in his late 20s and under investigation by a couple undercover ATF agents for running weapons across the border. Good looking young man, half Apache. Son of Lola Wojciechowski.

Yeah, that Lola.

It's been nearly 30 years since Henry and Lola have crossed paths. And she's in town for the Rally driving her red Cadillac convertible. Even in this mob of miscreants, she loans the car and most any possession to anyone in need. And the crushed bike has a red smear on it and the Caddy has fresh scratches on a fender.

Walt is only in town for the week of the Rally. His undersheriff, Vic, flies in as a surprise and stuns all when she enters and wins the skeet shoot, defeating Nance, who is none too happy with the outcome.

The Rally is filled with a number of colorful characters like Billy ThE Kiddo (a former reality show lead who customized bikes), Erik the Viking (biker who wears a Viking helmet), and the Nutter Butter (the local sheriff) all working to make sure that some downright amusing circumstances exercise the muscles that make you smile.

The foundation of the Longmire book series is Walt and it's Walt who has to sort through the various characters, government agents, body guards, bikers, hangers-on, local law enforcement, former girlfriends, and current girlfriend to determine who ran down B-way and why. In most other Longmire books, Walt has to deal with the harsh Wyoming environment and terrain plus the unique traits of the local Cheyenne population both on and off the reservation. This book is a bit of a departure. Johnson continues to reliably present Walt (and Henry and Vic) as characters with their own doubts, flaws, and confidences. In An Obvious Fact, Johnson shows that he is fully comfortable with the characters he has created and his ability to present a compelling mystery while also showing off his lighter side with countless amusing scenarios.

Bottom line: fans of Longmire have another winner on their hands. A winner on all fronts.


The Good Spy Dies Twice by Mark Hosack

Investigative reporter Jake Boxer and his crew are digging around in nowhere, Russia for information about some bizarre humming sound emanating from a former Soviet military compound. Causes headaches, nausea, migraines, and more but no will acknowledge it. His sound guy tries to sneak into the compound to record the humming but gets caught. Jake is eventually called to come to Moscow and identify a body. His sound man. Claire O’Donnell, his producer, and fiancĂ© of the dead sound engineer, nearly goes off the deep end.

Jake is a mess. In his rush to judgment, he accused Putin of following him and everyone with an umbrella filled with poison in the point for just him. His paranoia caused him to meltdown on camera getting him fired. The biggest online investigative show, Bullseye, was now defunct.

Fast forward three years. In the intervening time, Jake has tried therapy, medication, and any number of alternative treatments for his raging paranoia. About the only good thing to happen is that  Jake and Claire became an item, engaged, and decided to honeymoon at a fabulous ski resort in Alaska. Claire has jettisoned investigative journalism in favor of becoming a travel writer of note. The honeymoon will be a bit of a working holiday for her.

One of his bigger stories before Jake’s meltdown was that of this guy convicted of murder in Texas. The guy never said he didn’t do it, just that he was on a CIA assignment. Texas didn’t like that and put him on death row. While on their honeymoon, they receive a text saying the guy had been put to death. Last words were ‘The good spy dies twice.’

While at this spectacular resort, Claire is off doing interviews for her assignment. Jake is still nutty with paranoia and is sure she is seeing someone else up there. As he chases her around town, he manages to almost catch up with her as she heads up the mountain on the ski lift. He gets on a few chairs behind Claire, who is riding up the hill with some guy who works in the records department of the town. During the ride up, an insignificant bolt shears off, the lift cable suddenly loosens tossing lift riders off their chairs. Dozens are hurt and two are killed - Claire and her partner on the lift. Jake has a few lumbar vertebrae fractured and he is practically chained to a wheelchair.

An accident. That’s the official line. Jake's uncontrolled paranoia goes fully into high gear. But he also returns to the madness that made him the toughest investigative reporter on the planet. So while everyone in town is a potential suspect, he also unearths connections back to when the mountain was part of the early warning net back in the Cold War days as well as a link to the recently executed CIA operative in Texas.

This is the first entry into the Jake Boxer series. I had a bit of a hard time getting into the story because Jake’s paranoia was just so much that I grew increasingly tired of it. The guy was a basket case and he just wasn’t interesting to me. But once I got about a third of the way into the book, the story picked up when Jake pushed his paranoia into the dark and allowed his investigative chops take over. From then on, the story became more pretty dang entertaining. Glad I stayed with it because there were plenty of opportunities to put it away. Overall, pretty good. Maybe I’ll come back to Jake Boxer? Hard to say. We shall see.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Judgment Cometh by Scott Pratt

Judgment Cometh is Scott Pratt’s eighth installment in his Joe Dillard series.  Dillard has slowed his caseload as an attorney to allow time to attend to his wife as she struggles with a new onslaught of cancer. But from an adjacent county comes a case that Joe decides he needs to take.  Joe is hired by Michael Craig, a wealthy doctor to defend his brother who has been arrested for murder.
David Craig is stopped by a Deputy Sheriff for a possible DUI late one night on a lonely mountain highway.  The deputy finds two sealed coolers in the back of Craig’s pickup, full of human body parts.  DNA analysis identifies the dismembered body as that of a missing Tennessee Supreme Court judge, one of several Tennessee judges who have disappeared or have been murdered of late.  But Craig’s interrogation and arrest are bungled by the locals and Dillard gets a judge to disallow most of the evidence against Craig.  In dealing with the sober David Craig, Joe becomes convinced of Craig’s innocence but Craig refuses to name the true killer for fear of retribution.  With the help of Joe’s pal, Leon Bates, the lawyer vows to find the real murderer.  Leon is the sheriff in Joe’s home county and has a ‘do whatever it takes’ code like Joe’s, particularly when friends and family are threatened.  Together they have thwarted many bad guys.  When Joe is able to extract the name of the brutal murderer from Craig, the race is on.  Find the guy and enough evidence to convict him or stop him in whatever way possible before he kills Craig, more judges, or Leon and Joe.

Judgement Cometh is another great addition to the Joe Dillard series.  Joe’s personal code again conflicts with the law at times but he is able to maneuver around ethical issues in the name of justice… a fine line he walks.   

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Fatal by John Lescroart

John Lescroart deviates from his successful Dismas Hardy and Abe Glisky series to write this stand-alone novel also based in his beloved San Francisco.

Kate and Ron lead a typical yuppie lifestyle.  Ron is a successful attorney and Kate is a stay at home mom.  They frequently attend dinners and social events with like-minded friends.  Kate is a natural beauty and has worked to keep fit.  She has maintained a life-long friendship with Beth, now a homicide detective.  One day while out walking with Beth, Kate reveals a sexual fantasy she has had about Peter, an attorney in one of Kate and Ron’s social circles.  Beth warns Kate not to act on her fantasy and Kate assures Beth, it’s only a fantasy.  But on a whim Kate books a downtown hotel room and calls Peter’s office.  She lures him to her hotel room and seduces him.  Initially, they agree this is a one time encounter but the event changes Peter’s outlook.  He has been dissatisfied and views his fling with Kate as a sign to lead his life differently.  He leaves his wife and family, and after Kate’s repeated rejection, patterns his life after an alley cat.  He moves into a rooming house for single college students and begins his nightly prowls.  Among his many sexual conquests are his secretary and his landlord.

Meanwhile, Kate continues on as if nothing has happened.  Then her life takes a turn.  She’s out with Beth one day when a terrorist group attacks the downtown restaurant where they are lunching.  The terrorists randomly shoot and kill many innocent people.  Beth is shot twice in the legs and Kate is shot in the chest.  They both survive but only with surgery and months of therapy both physical and mental.  Beth is on medical leave from her job for three months.  Her first case upon returning is to investigate the murder of a downtown lawyer named Peter Ash.  She doesn’t immediately make the connection that the murder victim is her best friend’s fantasy from six months earlier.

So the who-done-it begins.  With Peter’s abrupt change in life style, the list of potential suspects is long.  A disgruntled client or law partner, a jilted lover, spouse or boyfriend of a one night stand, the victim’s wife or teenage son, or some random killer… all must be investigated.  And then there is Kate, her best friend who ignited Peter’s path to destruction.  She couldn’t have done it because she was recuperating from being shot but could her actions have caused Peter’s demise?

This book has many flaws but I enjoyed it nonetheless.  The plot is contrived at times and the coincidences too convenient.  The characters are too many for much in depth development.  But sorting through the plethora of suspects and measuring their motives and opportunities for murder with a seasoned detective is a treat.  John Lescroart is still in my top ten list of favorite authors.

Thanks to NetGalley for the advanced look.