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.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Conflict of Interest by Scott Pratt

Conflict of Interest is Scott Pratt’s fifth book in his Joe Dillard series.  Dillard is a frustrated lawyer with very high ideals.  He tried criminal defense and detested the violent criminals he had to represent.  He tried being an assistant D.A. and abhorred the politics and corruption.  Then as District Attorney of a four county district in east Tennessee, he hated the administrative responsibilities and the politics were just at a higher level.
Now he’s back to being a defense attorney but tries to be more discriminating in accepting clients.  So when six year old Lindsay Monroe is kidnapped from her wealthy family’s home, the child’s parents Richard and Mary Monroe decide they need legal representation and Joe accepts them as clients.  Too many of the questions hurled at the Monroe’s by law enforcement implicate them as suspects and they feel they need legal advice to avoid scrutiny.

As Joe is meeting with the Monroe’s in their first interview, Richard’s cell phone rings and ransom demands are spelled out by the kidnapper.  Mary’s father, Charles Russell owns a global security company and takes control of the situation, excluding the authorities per the kidnapper’s instructions.  Joe is tapped as the drop man and delivers three million dollars of Russell’s money to a garbage can in a deserted park as Russell’s security people watch from afar.  No one shows up to retrieve the cash and they discover the garbage can has a false bottom and an underground tube to collect the cash without detection.  So they all end up looking foolish and Lindsay is still missing.

Sure enough as law enforcement searches for the kidnapper, Richard becomes their prime suspect.  His company is having some legal/ financial problems and therefore Richard has motive to scalp Mary’s father for the cash.  Further, Joe learns of some problems with Richard and Mary’s marriage and when Richard is arrested, Joe can no longer represent both husband and wife… a clear conflict of interest.  Mary then files for divorce from Richard and freezes his bank accounts and a judge rules that Joe has a conflict representing even Richard.  So Richard is stuck with no funds to hire a new lawyer and the police have stopped investigating any other suspects.  Joe finds that Richard has some enemies who would benefit from his demise.  But with little or no support from the police and no longer Richard’s lawyer, Joe has to go it alone if Richard is to be vindicated and little Lindsay is to be found.  Meanwhile, Joe is dealing with a plethora of personal problems.  Caroline’s cancer is back, his long lost father shows up and asks for forgiveness, and his sister continues to battle drug and alcohol addiction.

I continue to be impressed with the works of Scott Pratt.  He tells a plausible and suspenseful tale, all the while further developing his idealistic, unlikely hero- protagonist Joe Dillard.  Pratt is the best new author I’ve found this year.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Poor Boy Road by James Weaver

When you are from Warsaw, MO, the best day of your life is when you watch it recede in your rearview mirror.

Jake Caldwell took off after high school, running away from Stoney, his abusive father, and the trainwreck of a family as a result of Stoney's ruthless control courtesy of his fists, ball bats, and alcohol. Jack was a promising 2-way football player headed to K-State on a full ride until Stoney had other ideas. So Jack ran off, leaving his sister and brother to fend for themselves as his girlfriend Maggie. 16 years gone with nary a phone call. 

Jake did some odd jobs in the Kansas City area, but the thing he did best was to intimidate people who'd gotten in over their head. He broke legs and inflicted other sorts of pain on the poor schlubs who'd gotten behind on their loans for a KC mob boss. After doing this for a number of years, he'd started to question his ways even to the point of paying off some loans owed by the very guys he was assigned to squeeze. In short, he was doing for pay what Stoney did to his own family. 

Jake told his boss he wanted out, but the boss man wasn't ready for Jake to leave just yet. A dealer out of Warsaw was trying to extend his territory into KC. Jake was offered one last job: kill Shane Langston, within 2 days. But murder really wasn't in Jake's wheelhouse. But if that's what it took to get out . . . Jake returns home, still running, this time from his life in KC.

Jake's sister calls to say that Stoney is dying from lung cancer and not expected to live much beyond a week or two. So Jake has two tasks ahead of him. Bury the man who was the source of his misery and current station in life and kill Shane.

Returning home isn't easy. The memories of childhood cascade around Jake. Maggie has a child and works as a hospice nurse where Stoney is admitted. His best friend in high school, Bear, is now the sheriff. And then there is the general level of low life that inhabits Shane's drug dealing world.

Shane is ruthless. On the surface, he runs a profitable car dealership, but it's mostly used to launder money. Cross Shane and you're likely to lose a hand or a foot or a bullet in your forehead. People have a way of ending 6 feet under.

Regular readers of MRB may realize that I like a particular breed of mystery (although this really isn't a mystery because the bad guys are known throughout the book). In a dark, somewhat destitute corner of the mystery book market sits what's frequently referred to as 'redneck noir' that I find particularly entertaining. Set in the SE corner of Missouri hard in the foothills of the Ozarks are folks with less than little and no real place to go. Jake got out but has to go back to face demons that inhabit his nightmares, courtesy of a flat out mean, drunk, and abusive father.

This exceptional tale is less a mystery and more of a character study of a good guy gone bad who is now trying to turn away from the life. Caldwell is a remarkably compelling character and a welcome addition to the redneck noir corner that gets relegated to a forgotten corner of the bookstore.

Jake Caldwell and Jack Keller (see JD Rhoades, the crown prince of the genre). Now there would be an interesting pairing.


Sunday, June 12, 2016

Not Black and White: From The Very Windy City to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue

Both Chicago and the State of Illinois have long histories of political corruption, and the author, G. A. Beller asks how it is possible in such an environment that a young African-American community organizer could have a meteoric rise through the offices of State Senator, then U.S. Senator, to become the first African-American President of the United States. This is a fictional account of Malik Alawi’s rise to the presidency, and the personalities behind the financial forces that aligned for him and against him. Beller did some remarkable research into the current events of the times in Illinois, and you’ll recognize various figures including the not-too-bright governor who tried to sell the Senate seat of the newly-elected President. This is a fast moving story, and the figures of Mas Gregory and his partner Sam Alsheriti were fascinating behind-the-scenes characters in this drama. As a fan of the Obama presidency, I have to wonder just how na├»ve I’ve been in my trust of the process that brought this man to the office.

I’ve given you a short and sweet review, which is all you need. If you’re a political junkie like the author and this reviewer, then this book is definitely for you.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Reasonable Fear by Scott Pratt

Joe Dillard has never been satisfied in his career as a lawyer.  First, he was a successful defense attorney but despised representing dangerous drug dealers and murderers who paid him with dirty money.  He then moved to the other side and became Assistant District Attorney over a four county area in east Tennessee but found those in power to be just as shady and unethical as his former clients.  He then was appointed District Attorney by the governor but soon found he didn’t enjoy the administrative functions of his job or the politics.

Then the bodies of three young women are found in a nearby lake.  They are identified as strippers who had worked at a local bar owned by a former client of Joe’s.  Information obtained from witnesses incriminates wealthy Nashville businessman, John Lipscomb, his brother Nelson and his lawyer.  The governor personally calls Dillard and tells him to stop investigating Lipscomb, one of the governor’s most generous supporters.  When all law enforcement including the FBI refuse to help, Sheriff Leon Bates continues the investigation.  Joe calls a grand jury and presents the evidence against Lipscomb and his cohorts and issues warrants for their arrests.    He learns during the investigation that Lipscomb and his lawyer have long term ties to the Columbian drug trade that uses violence to manipulate every situation. The following morning the bodies of Dillard’s two prime witnesses are dumped in his driveway.  They have been tortured and brutally murdered.

Joe suddenly realizes the lives of everyone he loves are in danger and no one in law enforcement will help him.  He puts his family in a rented van and drives them to a reclusive farm in Michigan owned by an old army buddy.  On the long drive back to Tennessee, Joe realizes his only way out might be to murder Lipscomb.  Could he put his respect for the law and strong code of ethics aside to save his family?  Could he rekindle his military training to kill or be killed?  Did he have the courage and skill to face known assassins?

Reasonable Fear is another winner from Scott Pratt.  The protagonist, Joe Dillard is an ordinary Joe placed in extraordinary circumstances… imperfect and likable with a strong code.  The plot is dynamic, plausible and suspenseful… good stuff!  Now on to the next installment.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Once Was Lost by Matthew Iden

Once Was Lost is Matthew Iden’s sixth book in his Marty Singer series.  Marty is a fifty something retired D.C. homicide detective who is recovering from colon cancer.  His live-in girlfriend, Julie is a lawyer and he looks out for Amanda, a twenty something social worker who has become like an adopted daughter to him.  Marty dabbles unofficially in P.I. cases since his retirement.

Tommy Dolan is trying to escape from his Philadelphia mobster Uncle Patrick for agreeing to testify against him.  Tommy’s wife, Grace is kidnapped in public by the Dolan gang and is presumed dead.  Tommy had agreed to enter the witness protection program with his son, Bobby but he just doesn’t trust the Feds and tries hiding out at the shelter where Amanda works.  Julie and Amanda team up on Marty and encourage him to help Tommy and Bobby permanently disappear on their own.  Marty knows some folks in the biz and a skiptrace pal advises them on how to hide out without discovery.  After intense instruction, Tommy and Bobby leave for parts unknown… unknown even to Marty.

Then Grace appears with a different story about Tommy’s intensions.  She wants her son back and convinces Marty to help.  Marty feels like a sucker for believing Tommy and agrees to try and find him.  A US marshal also appears looking for Tommy.  Marty has reason to believe the marshal is working for the Dolan gang and tries to divert him.  Not sure who are the good guys and who are the bad, Marty has to use his training and intuition to figure it out.  But that requires some bumps and bruises to his body as well as his ego and puts him in the middle of a federal investigation, a mob family and a questionable victim.

Two years ago, I was thrilled to discover Iden’s Marty Singer series.  Iden’s descriptive prose and easy to like protagonist made for satisfying mysteries.  But Once Was Lost is a little different.  Marty is gullible, wishy washy, and less sure of his values which I think is out of character for the Marty of the previous five novels and for a former police detective.  Granted Marty Singer does not have the cynical, black vs white nature of the stereotypic ex-policeman but he does have the suspicious nature and powers of observation that the police training instills.  For this reason, Marty’s gullibility just doesn’t ring true for me and that is disappointing.  Hopefully, that is redeemed in the next Marty Singer installment.    

Saturday, June 4, 2016

The Domino Game by Greg Wilson

Part 1
The new Russia has a whole new breed of bureauocrat, or crime boss. What's the difference. The new Mafiya works both sides of the street. Prostitution and the board room. Laundered money buying stock and eventual ownership, particularly in companies providing services and products to the US military-industrial complex. And the best way to do that is to buy influence from a former Ambassador now lobbyist.

Nikolai Aven is Russian FSB, a cop. An unusual cop. One with honor. He and his partner Vari are investigating one of the new oligarchs is Marat Ivankov. Former army who made it out with a knack for hustling, killing, investing, and buying influence. Billionaire. In their investigation, the stumble across a video that shows Ivankov doing his best arm twisting of some current Politburo members. Having the video is a problem. No way to know who to tell given Ivankov's reach. Vari suggests talking with Jack Hartman, CIA station chief.

Hartman is a bit of an expert on Russian crime bosses. Realizes the tapes could be an important link to Russian influence peddling in the US. Tells his contacts in Langley that Aven and his family need to be given assylum . . . now. Promises Aven to get them out the next night. But Langley says no.

Hartman decides to go it alone, but Aven is yanked from his apartment and tried for treason, sentenced for 20 years in the gulags.

Part 2
Aven spends 9 years in prison. How he escapes is a book in itself. Needless to say, Aven manages to thrive and his story in prison is outlined in a detailed expansive tatoo on his chest. To those who know how to read the images, Aven beat many, killed a few. Made a friend who became his benefactor in his escape.

Once out, he ventures back to Moscow and Vari, tries to find out what happened to his wife and daughter. With Vari's help, he manages to get passage to New York.

And once in NY, his fate takes him closer to Hartman and answers to what happened that night 9 years ago.

Part 3.
Confrontation in upstate NY. Aven v. Hartman. And the beginnings of redemption and the potential for payback, in the US and in Moscow.

As with most books about Russia, this one, too, is a big expansive tale. Rich in geographic detail, and informative in just how these most ruthless of Russians are prying their way into our affairs to spread influence and get rich. A bad combination. Forget the cold war and military conflict. These old smart Russians are better suited to win in the board room, not the battlefield. Reads like a good bet to be one of those excellent 6-part thrillers making the rounds these days. Part LeCarre, part Ludlum. All centered around that most unlikely of Russians. A cop with a conscious. If I gave out stars, this would get 5/5.

available August 29, 2016

East Coast Don

The Emerald Lie by Ken Bruen

Picking up the Jack Taylor saga after Green Hell.

Galway is always a dark, gray place. Pubs filled with the downtrodden making love to a Jameson's with a pint chaser. The government is taxing water trying to make a dying economy thrive. Jack Taylor is the patron saint. The embodiment of all things Galway. Fired from The Guard, but won't give them back his Garda overcoat. A man trying to run from himself, from his past, from his sludge in the gutter future. Can't keep his mouth shut so he suffers a beating too frequently. But willing to make an attempt at helping someone in need, especially if not asked - see the previous sentence.

His schizo quasi-girlfriend, Em (GreenHell@gmail.com), thinks it's fun to jerk Jack's neighbor Doc around, just because she can, especially when Jack thinks there might be something deeper for them. Then there is The Grammarian. Someone with a hardon for folks who misuse the Queen's English. The first offender ends up being pushed into traffic . . . and a card with the letter 'a' on the deceased's chest. The next local to destroy the language has a card with the letter 'e' and the third has the letter 'i'. A serial killer. And Galway is waiting for to see who dies with the card containing the letter 'o'.

While the Garda is plugging around for the Grammarian, Jack continues to spiral down via a shot of Jameson's and a pint, step by step and in the meantime takes a periodic beating. He gets hired to investigate the death of a girl at the hands of a video producer. After accusing the producer in no uncertain terms, a couple thugs pay a visit to Jack's apartment to administer yet another beating and its accompanying hospital stay.  Em takes offense to Jack's treatment. No one can figure out why and how the video company offices burn and a single male dies in the fire. Don't mess with Em's close friends.

The accused Grammarian's aunt asks Jack to prove her nephew is innocent. Pays a goodly upfront sum. Not bright. Money burns a hole in Jack's pocket and the more he has the deeper the hole. Returning from England, he rides the ferry and spots the telltale signs of a pedophile headed for an island off Galway. He and Em work out a ruse to help the boy and put the guy out of business. Em likes to dress up.

For those new to Bruen, his writing is sparse, economical, and would probably be an affront to The Grammarian. More of a character study than it is a crime story. What Bruen expertly does is take us down to the depths experienced by Taylor and back again, only to head back down. Bruen's feel for addiction, self-destruction, and meager attempts at redemption is remarkable. His portrayal of a man destined for Taylor's special place in hell because Jack can bring a humble nun to tears is the result of a talent that is unique amongst crime writers.

To borrow an old line, 'Bruen may not be in a class by himself, but it sure doesn't take long to call the roll.' Not to mention, Bruen is a quote machine. Too bad I can't provide some examples from this preprint.


East Coast Don

p.s. There are 6 Jack Taylor episodes on Netflix (each about 1.5hr long). According to IMBD.com, another 2 more are in post production. I've watched most. Iain Glen (plays Jorah Mormont on Game of Thrones) is perfect as Taylor.