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, July 22, 2016

Mad Dog Barked by Rick Ollerman

When I think of crime, mysteries, and noir set in Florida, I don't think that Sarasota would pop in my head as the locale of choice. Scott Porter owns a small detective agency there. He hires some underlings to do the scut work like following wayward spouses or staking out creeps stalking someone's daughter. Scott prefers to work criminal cases. He and his #1 sidekick, Trudy, handle most of the work, which can be most anything that walks through the door.

One Edwin Morton Holmes was one such person. Obviously very well off and quite cultured. He happens in on Scott one morning with a first printing of Edgar Allen Poe's The Murders in the Rue Morgue that he bought at an estate sale recently.  In the book is a letter, the content of which really makes little sense. But Holmes is spooked that someone is after it or him. His long-time personal secretary has gone missing and people from his home in Providence, RI have said he should be watching his back. Holmes wants Scott to find out what he can about the letter so that he, Holmes, can be protected from whatever may come as a result of him owning it now. Without so much as a query about Scott's fees, Holmes just drops a check on Scott's desk. A really big check.

Scott's first instinct is to find out who Holmes is so he has one of his detective crew follow Holmes. To the local airport. To a private plane headed for who knows where. That's where Trudy comes in. He hubby is a Sarasota cop who, when asked, will follow up with information that his wife can't come up with every time Scott snaps his fingers. Holmes headed north to Richmond where he heads via limo further north to a DC hotel.

And gets his throat slit the first night in town.

A more reasonable PI might just cash the check, shrug his shoulders that his client was killed before the case ever really got started, and move on. But Scott Porter can't stand loose ends. He has a dead client whose personal secretary is dead, and the day after Holmes was killed, the housekeeper was killed during a break-in at Holmes' seaside mansion.

All roads lead to the New England mafia, Providence in particular. Since the RICO statutes took effect, wise guys aren't going to prison quietly. They'd prefer to rat out some higher ups and skedaddle via witness protection. Maybe Holmes' location was part of some wise guy's utterances to the feds. The two stiffs in Sarasota are the result of a Providence-based hitter. And he's still in town. And he wants the letter. Not just a transcript. He needs the letter itself. And he is willing to deal with Scott. But dealing with a professional killer is a double-edged sword, especially when he threatens lovely Trudy.

Until the FBI shows up.

Noir is noir no matter the location. Ollerman delivers on all fronts. Terrific, sparse, concise writing of a convoluted plot involving slick characters of questionable allegiance - irresistible. We don't know who the bad guys really are, not sure if the killer is fulfilling a contract or looking to strike a deal, never really sure whether the local cops aren't playing both sides of the street, how in the hell one of his own employees turned on him, and have mercy on the poor schmuck who threatens Trudy (Scott and Trudy play a flirtatious game of tag with double entendres that are more than just good fun).

Thanks to the good folks at Stark House Press, publishers of terrific stories for sending a pre-release copy. Every book I have received from them has been a winner. When a Stark House Press book shows up at my door, I know I'm in for quite a ride.

And thanks again to MRB friend Charlie Stella for keeping the line open between us and the publisher.


available September 2016

Friday, July 15, 2016

Unholy Code by Thomas Waite

The US is practically under siege. ISIS has sleeper cells all over the country. Terror attacks happen on almost a daily basis. And the attacks are getting creative.

Such as a nuke detonated in the South Pole setting numerous glaciers afloat, melting as they drift, raising ocean levels and scattering refugees inland in all the countries with a coastline, US included. Or the small boatload of Islamics off the Gulf Coast of Mississippi. When confronted by the Coast Guard, they immediately surrender. No suicide vests. No weapons. Off to jail they go. And then everyone they meet in the legal process heads home, interacts with all their friends and their friend's friends. All now exposed, contracting, and dying from smallpox. Suicide 'bombers' don't always need explosives.

Lana Elkins runs a computer security company that contracts with NSA. She works the highest profile and most lethal attacks to the computer infrastructure. 'Steel Fist' is a blogger from the outback of Idaho who espouses violence of the worst kind. Genocide against anyone who doesn't look like him. And it's not like he's this generation's Unabomber. This guy has millions of followers. With every ISIS terror attack, the number of followers jump. And while he's technically good, he gets help from a mysterious guardian angel who is technically gifted. The Steel Fist gets shut down and within minutes he's back spouting his bile.

After getting attacked by Lana's company once again, the Steel Fist decides to take the glove off. He published pictures of Lana, her daughter, her daughter's route to/from school, where she hangs out, her boyfriend (high school classmate who immigrated from Sudan). Everything. And his followers are out in force primarily to kill her daughter. But her boyfriend has his own guardian angel. His uncle, a harsh man with a past tied to Al Queda. At times he's overly protective, other times he accepts what the two kids have with each other.

One of the Fist's followers manages to stage a successful kidnapping. To get her back, Lana has to go to Idaho alone.

This is the third 'Code' novel by Waite. It'd been awhile since I read Lethal Code (#1 in the series) and remember I liked it a lot. Well, Waite hasn't lost my attention. This is a tense, taut, light-speed story that sprints between Bethesda, the NSA, and Idaho. Numerous times. Lana and her daughter are no shrinking violets. Both are highly competant and resourceful with both a keyboard and a firearm. A serious story, serious actions, serious consequences.

I really need to find Trident Code.


available July 12, 2016

The Temporary Agent by Daniel Judson

Charlie Cahill, Afghanistan vet, Force Marine Recon, and terribly scarred. His unit was under intense fire and the only help was a Seabee group. The Seabee squad leader, Tom Sexton, saved the Marines, but not before Charlie shielded Tom from a grenade. Both spend excessive time in the hospital, but both survived.

Upon discharge, Tom's simmering PTSD had him drifting the country. He found small town Connecticut comfortable. Got a job at a metal fabricating business and met Sophia, a waitress. But she's more than a waitress. She used to be an affluent citizen with business dealings in real estate, commercial real estate, and more.  But the crash of '08 all but wiped her out. But she's getting by and is looked after by most of the local cops she waits on at the diner. Six months after Tom arrived, she invited him to move in, much to the chagrin of all those cops. Imagine their surprise when they did a little checking to find out Tom is not only a war hero, but also started out at Princeton but had to drop out when his father died. Thus the Navy and the construction battalion.

Charlie, however, is the proverbial silver spoon-baby. Money,  boarding school, Ivy league. But instead of going to Wall Street, he joined the Marines. Won a gold star for saving Tom. Once he recovered, he started to give back by opening up boxing gyms in high-risk neighborhoods. Once opened, staffed, and on good financial grounds, Charlie moves to the next city. He's now in New Haven. But when he leaves a fund-raiser, he and his off the books girlfriend are ambushed. He survives, she doesn't.

Tom's old commander in the Navy went into corporate security. Offered Tom a job years ago that Tom turned down. A call comes to Tom, but it doesn't use their personal coded format. It's a woman. Asking to meet Tom in NYC.

There is some concern that his former boss knows how to get to Charlie. The woman is NSA and certainly paints a picture of Charlie being a traitor. And the government wants Tom to bring Charlie  in.

This is a seriously good book. He presents a triangle of interests facing Tom: Charlie, the government, and Tom's old boss, to whom Tom has an undeniable loyalty. Throughout the entire book, Judson leads us on a chase that results in us having to continually shift our opinion on just who is the traitor and why. A highly intelligent thriller, believable characters, and a tricky circuitous plot. If his other titles are as good as this . . . I see many days with my nose in a Judson book.


Available July 1, 2016

Blond Ice by R.G. Belsky

We pick up shortly after Shooting For The Stars ends. Gil Mallory is, as usual, looking for his next big story. So are the paper's e-editor and the print edior. The NY Daily News' coarse receptionist, Zeena, is tired of acting as Gil's personal secretary and is extremely annoyed at being asked to be Malloy's wall against the public.

Today's walk-up asking to see Gil is an exception. Vanessa Issacs, aka Houston.

Houston was perhaps Malloy's biggest success and more horrific failures. Not long ago, Malloy wrote a series about high-end prostitution in NYC. His inside information was named Houston. While the woman existed, Malloy fabricated the bulk of the story. And when Houston turned up, Malloy's reputation was down the tubes, nearly lost his job, and his wife divorced him. He's been trying to distance himself from that nightmare, but won't abandon Vanessa/Houston.

Vanessa's husband, a normal and fairly dull lawyer, is missing. She was curious about his comings and goings so she hired a PI who told her it looked like he was running around on her. He hasn't been missing long enough for the cops to get interested, so she asks Gil to help her out.

And he turns up. Dead in a hotel room. Beaten horrifically and shredded with a very sharp knife. One of the worst murder scenes the NYC detective has seen. This wasn't the act of a jealous husband or boyfriend. The scene argues something more, something seriously sick. The hotel's security cameras seen him enter with this stone-cold knockout blond. The type that turns everyone's head when she crosses a room.

Gil is also doing a TV show, per the New Media editor. And it's pretty good. Well watched and flexible enough to change show topics on the fly or do an in-depth feature on politicians and socialites alike. The mayor has appointed a new Crime Czar, Bob Wylie, the former St. Louis top cop. Polished, competent,  and in charge. no matter what room he's in. Rumor is he is the top candidate for mayor. He is the subject of a future show for Gil and he has interviews set up with Wylie n preparation for the on-air interview.  These interviews go so well that Malloy is offered a job in the new administration. Malloy said he'll think about it.

Then another guy is killed. Same MO. Picked up by a stunning blonde, tortured and murdered. Of course, Malloy has the exclusive and NYC eyes are watching the print and online Daily News editions.

A third is killed. This time, it's a departure from the others. This guy was not running out on his wife. He was abducted but was still killed the same way. Viciously. And he was Wylie's chief of staff.

Meeting with the editors, Gil has to work up storylines that will captivate the public.  NYC has a serial killer. But this is no Son of Sam or Ted Bundy. This is a woman, a knock-out at that. And she needs a name. The print editor comes up with it: Blonde Ice.

The police and Gil track back through the victim's wives a common link - a women's empowerment group held at a local college. From the group leader, the identify a female PI who works on infidelity cases. A stunningly gorgeous PI, and she's blond. Now all they have to do is flush her out in the open.

Then she turns up dead.

I really like Belsky and the Gil Malloy character. Irreverent, cocky, and damaged. Every day he is reminded of his failure with the Houston story, which he has to deflect at every turn. Belsky takes a serial killer plot and takes it well beyond what I've ever read. Heck, the main suspect turns up dead halfway through the book. The true identity of the Blonde Ice killer is the real mystery here and Belsky's takes us up and down one blind alley after another. Is it really just a nut woman, or do the clues that point back to St. Louis and Ohio mean they likely next mayor is somehow mixed up in this.

I was excited when I opened up the package from Atria Books cuz I certainly like the previous two Gil Malloy books. Belsky's style is addictive and highly readable where he develops an interesting character study of a talented writer who became damaged goods. Terrific. Highly recommended.


available October 18, 2016

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Blood Money by Scott Pratt

In Pratt’s sixth Joe Dillard legal thriller, he introduces Charleston (Charlie) Story a young country girl lawyer, who becomes Joe’s associate.  Charlie brings with her a client, Roscoe Barnes whose son, Zane is trying to prove him mentally insane.  Zane has learned that his great grandfather back during prohibition hid some gold bars on his rocky, mountainous property that belonged to a Philadelphia gangster.  Both old man Barnes and the gangster die before they can retrieve the gold now thought to be worth over fifty million dollars.  Zane’s real estate development business is in trouble and he’s keen on the gold baling him out.  Problem is Zane and his dad, Roscoe don’t get along so Zane is petitioning the courts to commit Roscoe to a mental institution.  Roscoe has hired Charlie his neighbor and family friend to represent him.  On the day of his hearing, Roscoe takes a dive head first off the courthouse roof.  His will leaves his 500 acre property including the gold to Charlie.  Attached to the will is a map pinpointing the location of the hidden treasure.  The publicity brought on by the gold gets back to the Philly gangster’s ruthless and greedy descendants.  So Charlie is caught in an ethical dilemma and legal battle as well as in a web of danger and intrigue.

Meanwhile Joe is representing Jordan Scott, a young black man who shot and killed a white police officer who was attempting to rape Jordan’s girlfriend.  Scott has proof that the policeman is a rapist but the cop’s political connections kept him from being arrested.  Scott caught the officer in the act and shot him as he ran away.  Since Scott shot the officer as he was retreating, the district attorney is pressing charges.  Joe has his hands full as he prepares for trial while advising Charlie and caring for his ailing wife Caroline.

I continue to be impressed with this author.  His characters are imperfect but likable.  His plots are complex but plausible and his pace exhilarates the reading experience.  Scott Pratt is quickly moving toward my top ten list.  

Friday, July 8, 2016

The African Contract

This is the second book in the series. See my review of Kerns first book about Hayden Stone - The Riviera Contract

The Riviera Contract

I decided to check out author Arthur Kerns who has written three books built around the character of Hayden Stone, a former FBI guy who now has a sort of informal and ad hoc role with the CIA. I’ve finished the first two books, The Riviera Contract and The African Contract. Both stories were classic international espionage stories. In The Riviera Contract, terrorists are trying to smuggle a deadly virus into the U.S. to kill many more people than died on 9/11. In The African Contract, more terrorists are in the process of acquiring a misplaced and leaking atomic bomb from South Africa. As indicated by the titles, the action in the first takes place in the south of France, and the second takes place between Cameroon and South Africa. The protagonist, Stone, is an experienced and most resourceful agent who is difficult to control by his handlers. In the first book, the reader is introduced to one of his old flames, the beautiful and wealthy Contessa Lucinda Avoscani. She pops up in the second book to, and despite Stone having nearly destroyed her castle in the first book, she suddenly propositions him to come back from Africa to France to live with her forever. At the end of book two, after a month of living with the Contessa, Stone succumbs to an offer to return to the espionage action that he misses, and that leads to book number three.

To cut to the chase, you’ve read these stories before, and that may be what left me short of raving about Kerns efforts. The stories are good and well told, but I didn’t find anything to really distinguish the plots from other similar stories. Stone and the Contessa are interesting, but I felt there was something missing in the character development. I already have Kerns’ third book, The Yemen Contract, and I will probably get to it after a pick off a couple other books in my long reading queue.