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.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Dry Bones by Craig Johnson

Didn't know there was a dinosaur museum in Durant, Wyoming. But it's highly regarded seeing as the area is one of the most fossil-rich locations on the planet. Museum director Dave Baumann and his subordinate Jennifer Watt are out on the prairie when a flat tire stalls the outing.  Jennifer and her pet Mastiff wander off in search of shade under a rock ledge. The dog interrupts her nap,  growling at something above her head . . . a two fingered talon.  The dig is on and the Museum unearths one of the most significant archeological finds ever. 

A nearly complete skeleton of a Tyrannosaurus Rex. Tradition is that the new find is given the name of the finder.

At issue is ownership. Depending on various lines drawn on some map and a plethora on odd laws, its ultimate fate is up in the air. The publicity machine kicks in to keep the dinosaur local, "Save Jen" becomes the local cry.

One corner of the of property belongs to Danny Lone Elk who has deeded the property the skeleton was found to the Museum. Living with Danny are his son Randy, wife Eva, and high school age son Taylor. Uncle Enic is nearby. Danny is found face down in a pond further complicating the ownership  issue. Mercury poising. Accident or murder?

As if Sheriff Walt Longmire didn't have enough on his plate, daughter Cady is headed home from Phillly for a visit with her 5-month old daughter Lola.

The local community has rallied around behind the "Save Jen" movement, but politics, the 'Acting' assistant US attorney, Robert and Bob the FBI twins, the museum, and the Lone Elk family dance around each other until it all comes down to a Sotheby auction to see us where "Jen" will reside.

#13 in the Longmire series (season 4 due Fall 2015 on Netflix) by Craig Johnson, resident of Ucross, WY population 25. What Johnson continues to deliver is the humanity of not only Longmire, but also of the myriad of supporting characters. The comfortable presentation is akin to sitting on a comfortable leather sofa listening to a favorite uncle regaling a long lost family story. The traits that make Longmire who he is are on display along with his considerable skill and luck at beating some challenge that nature throws at him all the time plus his ongoing visions.

Save Jen. Boy Howdy, Walt. You are the man.

Available May 12, 2015


Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Duke City Desperado by Max Austin

Put 2 losers in a car. Doc is a 40-ish career small time crook. The other is Dylan, a 20 something punk who for some reason has attached himself to Doc as some form of father figure and mentor in stealing enough to keep going.

Doc loves to get high on speed. He runs off at the mouth about any and everything. Politics, movies, cars, women, the weather. A nonstop motormouth full of braggadocio. Tells Dylan the secret to robbing banks and proceeds to demonstrate his theory by trying to pull off the robbery of a local bank's drive thru teller. I didn't say he was bright.

As might be expected, this doesn't go well. Dylan bolts and the teller drags out the heist long enough for the cops to arrive. While in custody, Doc comes to the realization that he isn't looking forward to jail time and using the time honored tradition of the idiot that speaks first gets the deal, promptly gives up Dylan as having forced Doc to try this foolish scheme.

Dylan is on the run, but really has no place to go. The cops and FBI are after him. He no longer has a girlfriend. His name and face are plastered all over the TV. He's broke. In his wanderings around Albuquerque he has to deal with a list of local characters that threaten every minute of his attempted flight.

Meanwhile Dylan is trying to survive the local detention center and avoid jail time.

This darkly humorous tale takes place over about 36 hours, presenting an interesting take on the buddy crook theme (think of Lethal Weapon only the 2 buddies are these stumbling crooks) by developing loyalty to a slightly twisted level. Is it noir? Could be. Is it a comedy of errors? Certainly. Is it worth a few hours? It was to me.

Available June 9, 2015

East Coast Don

Shooting for the Stars by R.G. Belsky

Talk about cold cases.

The Prime Time Files, a NYC-based local news magazine TV show, is preparing to do a story on the 20-year old murder of America’s sweetheart Laura Marlowe. Abbie Kincaid is the show’s host and destined for national exposure. Maybe even 60 Minutes?

Marlowe was a nothing teenage actress wannabe hitting the audition circuit when she hits the big time with a surprising leading role in an award winning film. She followed up with another winner. Her third film was beset with delays due to various Marlowe illnesses. After the film was released, Marlowe was in NY on a promotion junket where she was murdered outside her hotel by an obsessive fan. In the aftermath, Marlowe’s body was cremated quickly and the fan hung himself in a two bit hotel. Marlowe’s husband and mother worked tirelessly to keep her memory alive through foundations and fan supported cruises, film fests, memorabilia, and more. 

Abbie Kincaid uncovered some long suppressed information that implicated a mob connection with Hollywood back when Marlowe broke in and was going to run with it. The show’s producer contacted the New York Daily News and asks that Gil Malloy write a few pieces in the lead up to the big show. 

Why Gil? He’s an up and down reporter who, many years before, printed a fabricated story and suffered the eventual fall from grace. But his recent outing (see The Kennedy Connection, which was favorably reviewed here by MRB) put Malloy back on page 1 with a byline. Despite his history, the producer and Kincaid have a high opinion of his abilities as a reporter. 

Now Malloy doesn’t see himself as a publicist, much less for a TV show, but goes anyway. The teaser show and series of articles brings Marlowe’s death back into the public’s eye. 

Then Kincaid is killed in the same hotel where Marlowe was murdered. 

Malloy convinces his editor that he sort of owes it to Kincaid to continue her investigation into Marlowe’s death and what he should learn will also help find Kincaid’s killer. His editor is more interested in web hits than investigative journalism, but grudgingly agrees.

Malloy’s investigation into Marlowe’s history takes a number of unexpected turns through the underbellies of Hollywood, the Mob, obscure cults, Manson worship, serial killings, and lots more. 

I really enjoy Belsky’s style. His Gil Malloy has this wise cracking, to hell with it all attitude that reminds me a great deal of Nelson DeMille’s John Corey of the NYC anti-terrorist task force and Brian Haig’s Army lawyer Sean Drummond. Characters that will say and do what we readers could only dream to have the same nerve. Belsky has been in the newspaper business for years, mostly in NYC and his familiarity the the peaks and valleys of being a reporter are plainly evident as his descriptive narrative and dialogue appear spot on. Readers are taken on a personal ride through the investigative process of journalism while also displaying his obvious contempt for the ‘new media’ that places more value on electronic hits than it does on The Story.  I have an opening on my power rotation and am seriously considering elevating Belsky. Great story that I could’ve read in a single sitting. Malloy may be a deeply flawed character, but that’s part of what makes this a highly readable book. 

Shooting for the Stars will be available August 11, 2015. Put in your pre-order now.

East Coast Don

Saturday, April 18, 2015

From Bruges with Love by Pieter Aspe

Hugo Vermast was trying to get what most everyone wanted, even in Belgium - a home with some real estate in the country for he and his small family. He found a place outside of Bruges and was in the process of a renovation. Bought it from a Flemish foundation that took in locals down on their luck. 

Hugo’s kids are exploring the property when the daughter, Tine, proudly displays her latest find. a bone, a big one, too that appears to have been in the ground for a long time. The cops are called and one of the chief detectives, Pieter Van In, his gay partner Guido Versavel, and chief prosecutor Hannlore Martens (and Van In’s pregnant wife) are called in to investigate. 

Tough case. Not really a cold case but certainly not a fresh case. Have to identify the remains, determine the cause of death, and then figure out the goings on for the property some 30 years before. That should give some clues about the victim. Walk in the park. 

The convoluted trail winds from Bruges to a prostitution ring for highly visible bastions of government and industry, laundered money, human trafficking, government coverups, and under the table reconstructive surgery. 

This is my second Van In book by Aspe, both of which are based in and around Bruges. It’s been a while since reading the first book and it took me a little while to get reacquainted with the characters and Aspe’s writing style. Didn't take long before I eagerly jumped in with both feet following Pieter and Hanna’s impending birth as well as Pieter’s investigation. He has the reputation as a top cop not above stepping beyond the bounds of legal investigation, even a simple version of waterboarding, to get the necessary information. 

Some of the best scenes are when Van In is questioning witnesses and suspects and would make terrific theater; think Tom Cruise vs. Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men. Given TV and Hollywood’s fascination with mysteries by European authors, producers would be wise to consider the character of Pieter Van In. 

Take note, Hollywood.

From Bruges With Love is slated to be released in the US on July 7, 2015.


The Royal Wulff Murders by Keith McCafferty

Meet Sean Stranahan. Boston born. During and after college did some nominal work as a PI for a relative’s law firm. Got married, no kids. All that aside, his two true loves were painting water colors and fly fishing. When his marriage fell apart, he packed his bags and headed west finally settling in the Madison Valley of Montana. Home to some of the best trout fishing in the US as well as a sort of artist colony for practitioners of Western art. Sean’s front door in the Bridger Mountain Cultural Center lists ‘Blue Ribbon Water Colors (& Private Investigations).’

His new found friend is Rainbow Sam, a local fishing guide and all around colorful character, not to mention somewhat of an expert on something called whirling trout disease - killed much of the local trout population, but the numbers of fish are slowly returning. Sam’s current client has been hooking some good fish, but when he hooks a corpse, life in the Madison Valley changes abruptly.

Word gets around quickly, to put it mildly. Sam and Sean are having some beers and bar food at the local hotel’s pub, listening to a visiting woman playing standards on the piano. Shouldn’t be hard to guess who shows up to Sean’s studio/office/apt the next day. She goes by Velvet Lafayette, but her real name is Vareda (an interesting way to spell ‘femme fatal’) and she’s from Louisiana with an odd request.

He daddy had fished there frequently and he died on his last trip the year before.  As a catch-release fisherman, her daddy would cut a notch in the dorsal fin of his more memorable catches as some sort of a signature. Veered wanted to hire Sean to fish the nearby rivers and find one of those notched fish and scatter the ashes in the last pool he fished. Odd request, but getting paid to fish sounded good, so he took the job.

Sheriff Martha Ettinger is ready to tag the corpse as an accidental drowning. While the autopsy agreed with drowning as the cause of death, the water samples from the lung came from lake water, not from a running river. Then someone puts a slug into Rainbow Sam’s shoulder. 

Sean is still focused on finding that fishing pool with the notched trout, but darn near every time he turns around, something comes up about that fish disease, the drowned victim, a local fish hatchery, state fisheries politics, not to mention the influx of mostly west coast money and the McMansions built on the shores of all those wonderful trout streams. 

This is the debut book for McCafferty. Sean’s character is well developed and the dance between Sean, the Sheriff, Vereda, Rainbow Sam, and quite a colorful array of locals are as colorful as the local scenery. Don’t expect Sean to be Jack Reacher or Joe Pike of the Northern Rockies. He’s a down to earth guy trying to recover from a divorce by doing the two main things he loves: fish and paint. That PI thing is a sidelight that ends up taking over. Obviously, McCafferty is a fly fisherman and while I wouldn’t know, the fishing details sure do seem to be presented in accurate detail. Looks like there are 2 or 3 more Sean Stranahan books published. While not likely to break into my power rotation, it does add another author to my growing catalogue of ‘Western mysteries: CJ Box (Joe Pickett), Craig Johnson (Walt Longmire), Enes Smith (Cold River Reservation) and of course, the late great Tony Hillerman. McCafferty’s writing is a bit lighter in tone, but could well by in my 2nd tier of western authors. Perfect of a long haul flight. 

(for the uninitiated, like me. a Royal Wulff is a type of fly used by those who fish for trout. Looks like all of his book titles contain a reference to something related to fly fishing). 


Resolution by Denise Mina

Resolution is the final book in Denise Mina’s Garnethill trilogy, two of which received Notable Books of the Year awards from New York Times Book Review. Featured protagonist, Maureen O’Donnell is forced to deal with more than her share of misery.  Abused by her father and raised by her alcoholic mother, Maureen has become an alcoholic herself and sells contraband cigarettes to get by.  She had spent some time in therapy and her psychologist, Angus Ferrell had helped her until it was discovered he had raped several patients and murdered Maureen’s boyfriend.  Maureen is to be the star witness at Ferrell’s trial but Ferrell is threatening to kill her and her loved ones if she testifies against him.

Meanwhile, Maureen befriends an elderly woman, Ella McGee at the flea market where she works.  Maureen helps Ella file a complaint against her son over unpaid wages.  Ella ends up in the hospital severely beaten and unexpectedly dies.  Suspicious of Ella’s son, Maureen learns the son’s place of business is a brothel, staffed with Polish sex slaves.  With the police unwilling to investigate, she covertly devises a dangerous plot against the son to vindicate Ella’s death.

Maureen feels her world closing in around her.  Threats from Ferrell, contempt from Ella’s son, hatred of her own father, and fear of repercussions from some of her own illegal activity, Maureen’s only escape is through a bottle.  Can she survive this hopeless abyss?

Resolution is my first Denise Mina novel and probably my last.  I had great expectations for Mina’s work since I heard she is one of C.J. Box’s favorites.  But this particular book just didn’t do it for me.  First, I couldn’t relate to the characters and therefore did not find them likable.  They seemed to dwell on a problem but not take any action… just fret about it… seemingly endlessly.  Second, I thought Mina tried to tackle too many social issues without any resolution (ironically the title of the book.)  Sexual slavery, child abuse, alcoholism, multiple murders, doctor abuse of patients, and relationships in dysfunctional families seems a bit much to cover in a single novel.  Finally, the Scottish slang appropriately used in the Glasgow, lower middle class setting, was lost on me.  Many times I just didn’t get the meaning.  So, thanks to C.J. Box for the tip and attempting to broaden my scope of fiction writers but the experience for me was only a reminder of how narrow my tastes have become.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Green Hell

I’ve read at least 15 books by Ken Bruen, and his protagonist, Jack Taylor, may be my favorite character in all of the crime novel genre (i.e., better than Connelly’s Bosch, Burke’s Robicheaux, Box’s Pickett, Child’s Reacher, etc.) High praise, indeed. I thoroughly enjoyed this pre-publication read, Green Hell, and the book is due for release in July 2015. But, if you aren’t already familiar with Taylor, this is not the place to start.

Green Hell is in two parts. First, an author is trying to write a biography of Taylor, and in so doing, many of Jack’s earlier adventures are relived. But, the character who is writing the novel about Taylor, Boru Kennedy, is too fixated on the violence and drug/alcohol abuse which have plagued Taylor. I’ve always thought Taylor’s intermittent triumphs over his demons was one of the best parts of the stories. Bruen clearly writes with knowledge and compassion about the world of addictions, but his fictional biographer Kennedy does not capture that side of Jack.

The second part of the story is about Kennedy being accused of the murder of the man Jack is after, a college professor, Anthony De Burgo, who is not only bedding, but badly abusing his female college students. Of course, that idea is ridiculous, and before Kennedy can be cleared and released from jail, he commits suicide, thereby only adding fuel to the fire for Jack to deal with de Burgo. It’s Jack’s plan to “take him off the board.” This takes us to Emerald, the mysterious woman who is Jack’s female counterpart to violence. If I tell you more, I’d give away the plot, which is too good to reveal.

In summary, good stuff. Ken Bruen’s writing is unique and powerful. He remains one of my go-to guys, near the top of my power rotation of authors.