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.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Tooth and Nail

It’s hard to find an Inspector Rebus novel by Ian Rankin that Midwest Dave hasn’t already read and reviewed, but I found one, the third of the 20 book series, Tooth and Nail. Having previously solved a serial murder case in Edinburgh, his home base, Rebus gets called to London to help with an ongoing serial murder case there. Of course, since he is “off his patch” the London cops resent his presence and most aren’t willing to give him much help despite the fact they have no clue how to solve the mounting number of murders of young women. Well, George Flight was the man who asked for Rebus to be sent to London, and he was very helpful, but expected the rebel Rebus to toe the line in London unlike Rebus had ever done at home.

The cast of characters included the pathologist, the overly formal pathologist, Philip Cousins, and his bizarre assistant and bedmate, Isobel Penny. Chief Inspector Howard Laine was one arrogant and controlling bad ass of a commander. Adding to the drama was the fact that Rebus’ ex-wife had moved to London with their 17-year-old daughter. And then there was the psychologist (or was she), Lisa Frazer, who was volunteering her time and body to Rebus so she could offer her help to solve the crimes. Was it a man or a woman, and why were there teeth marks on the abdomen of all of the victims? Rebus is a bit of a bumbling type guy, mixing Columbo and Inspector Clouseau, but he’s also intuitive and relentless.

Rankin spins a good story and I did not see the end coming until after the author already gave it away. I thought that was another misdirection and that the guilty party would be someone else. Far better than an “airplane book,” Rankin dependably writes an excellent crime novel.

What Dies in Summer by Tom Wright

Jim Beaudry, nicknamed Biscuit is a teenage boy growing up in the 1970’s in a small town in Texas.  He lives with his grandmother because his stepfather uses him as a punching bag.  Biscuit has a gift his Gram calls ‘the sight’ which occasionally allows him to dream something before it actually happens, like a clairvoyant.  Otherwise, thanks to Gram, Biscuit is a normal teenager who avoids many of life’s temptations brought on by his peers.  Then, L.A., his female cousin comes to live with him and Gram.  She too is having stepfather issues but is much more broody and within herself than Biscuit.  He admires her superior intellect and feisty independence and they become good friends.

The plot darkens when Biscuit begins dreaming of a girl dressed in white sitting at the end of his bed.  A few days later, he and L.A. find the girl’s body, the very one from his dreams, in a secluded field along a road.  She has been brutally raped and murdered.  They call the police and an investigation ensues.  As more bodies turn up, Jim and L.A. find their own lives in danger and the innocence of childhood is soon left behind.

What Dies in Summer is a good effort for this first time author.  The characters are interesting and well developed.  The plot while appealing seems to bounce around at times without clear direction.  Is this a coming of age plot or a murder mystery?  I know it could be both but I think the author could have structured it better for the reader.  Further, the clairvoyance angle doesn’t add anything to the plot but confusion.  I think Wright is a promising author but I wish for a bit more clarity in his future works.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Foreign Agent

Simon & Schuster sent me a pre-release copy of Brad Thor’s new book, Foreign Agent. I am not free to quote from the book or say too much about it. It is due out in mid-June 2016. A tag line from the publisher says it best: “a thriller as current as tomorrow’s headlines.” Protagonist Scot Harvath is at it again, this time in a CIA-Russian-Syrian story that rocks from page one, and I didn’t put it down until the last page. If you are a fan of Brad Thor, this book is one not to miss.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

An Innocent Client by Scott Pratt

Joe Dillard is a criminal defense attorney in a small town in East Tennessee.  He has a great wife and two normal kids but he’s just not happy.  His sister is a drug addict whom he has enabled too many times.  His mother has Alzheimer's and is failing fast.  Plus he hates his chosen profession.  His clients are the dregs of the earth, usually violent drug dealers and/or murderers who are arrested because they are guilty.  Dillard doesn’t go looking for these clients, the court appoints him to them because he is very good at criminal law and no one else wants to represent them.  Consequently, everyone associated with law enforcement which constitute most people he knows, hate him.  And what’s worse, Joe hates himself for helping these criminals get an undeserved break.  So on Joe’s birthday just before he blows out the candles on his cake, he wishes for just one innocent client.

The next day the body of a preacher, John Paul Tester is found in a local hotel room… he’s been stabbed numerous times and his penis is severed.  Special Agent Phillip Landers is called to investigate.  Landers surmises a sexually motivated killing and starts by visiting the local strip club.  Erlene Barlowe, the club owner denies ever seeing Tester but Landers finds that the preacher withdrew two hundred dollars from an ATM at the club the night of the murder.  Landers questions Barlowe’s employees and finds the preacher had groped the young attractive waitress, Angel Christian and that Angel and Erlene had left the club shortly after Tester.  Landers collects other evidence that leads to the arrest of Angel.

Erlene has taken Angel under her wing (pardon the pun) because she reminds Erlene of her beloved now deceased step daughter.   Barlowe has made good money from her business at the strip club so she hires Joe to represent Angel and pays him handsomely.  Joe soon realizes he may have his wished for innocent client and may be able to move on to a more honorable profession with the fee from this case.  But Joe’s life just cannot be that simple.

I thoroughly enjoyed this legal mystery and feel like I’ve discovered a new author, Scott Pratt for my cache.  The protagonist is real and flawed enough to be likable… the plot interesting and believable.  Pratt puts me in mind of a young Grisham or Turow.  I plan to read more.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Marijuana and Mental Health

Marijuana and Mental Health is a 2016 book published by the American Psychiatric Association and edited by Michael T. Compton, M.D., M.P.H. The book is a 225-page review of the most recent data about this ubiquitous compound. Following the introductory chapter, the book’s chapters include Marijuana’s Effects on the Mind, Medical and Recreational Marijuana Policy, Medical Marijuana, Marijuana Use and Comorbidity, Marijuana Use and Psychosis, Synthetic Cannabinoids, Treatment of Marijuana Addition, and Prevention of Marijuana Misuse. The book was well written and provides a broad overview of the topics listed above. As the authors clearly and repeatedly point out, as the results of the politics behind this substance, there has been too little research done on the 400 compounds found in marijuana, including about 80 known cannabinoids. One out of 10 marijuana users is likely to become dependent on it, and the percentage is higher among adolescents on whom marijuana impinges on normal neural development. 

If you’re searching for facts to help sort through the other material that you read about marijuana, this book is an excellent place to start. The overall message is that federal policies have limited the good research until now, so it is only now that more facts are becoming known. Although the book does not specifically say this, it is clear that most "medical marijuana" programs are nothing more than a thinly disguised means of smoking recreationally. Where else can you get a "license" without a meaningful medical exam and no follow-up whatsoever by a medical practitioner. It is clear that there is a withdrawal syndrome. Also, about one in 10 adults become dependent, and the rate is higher among teenagers. Also, it is teenagers who have a still developing brain which is most negatively impacted by this substance. 

More facts will emerge in the next 10 years, but be cautious - the facts are not all favorable or even just neutral.

Sing a Worried Song

This is the 7th Deverell novel that I’ve reviewed (all favorably), and the sixth and last one in the Arthur Beauchamp series. I am a fan of his writing and this series. He balances serious issues with humor and great characters. Much like the fifth book, in Sing a Worried Song, the author bounces back to an early part of protagonist-lawyer Beauchamp’s career, one in which he acted as a prosecutor, rather than his usual role as a defense attorney, for the thrill murder of a Vancouver street clown, Joyal (Joe) Chumpy. When the jury brought back a guilty verdict and Randolph Skyler was sentenced to life in prison, Skyler promised that he would see Beauchamp killed.

Jump forward 25 years to a time Beauchamp has had a remarkably successful career as a defense attorney, and has now retired and moved to Garibaldi Island, and Beauchamp was in the midst of island festivities when he learned of Skyler’s parole. There is conflicting evidence about whether Skyler has mellowed during his time in prison or if he has harbored the same obsessive fantasy about killing his prosecutor. Deverell successfully hides the resolution of this plot line until the very end of the novel. As with the other Deverell books, this one is a winner and gets my strong recommendation.

Deverell has published at least 17 novels, so now that I’ve gotten through all of the Beauchamp books, I’ll find one of his others to read. And, I can hope that this 79-year-old author still has more Beauchamp stories to come.

Monday, April 18, 2016

The Wright Brothers

David McCullough has written a lot of great historical works including The Path Between The Seas (about the Panama Canal), 1776, John Adams, and others. Now he has written a biography of The Wright Brothers. Before reading this, I knew little of the brothers other than their first powered flight in Kitty Hawk and that they were bicycle mechanics in Dayton, Ohio. This story tells of their remarkable engineering feats that allowed that moment of flight to happen, as well as their critical efforts after that first flight to advance the technical aspects of aviation. McCullough captured the cooperation and competition with others who were pursuing flight, especially in France. Neither brother ever married, and they always lived together with their sister and father in Dayton. Both Wilbur and Orville, named for preachers who were admired by their father, were honest and hardworking men of solid Midwest stock. You’ll be impressed with their characters, the risks they were willing to take as well as those they would not, and they way they went about their business. This was a quick and easy read – and it gets my strong recommendation.