Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Crashed by Timothy Hallinan

Crashed (Junior Bender, #1)Crashed by Timothy Hallinan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Junior Bender has been a successful burglar since he was a teenage boy. However, everyone's luck runs out eventually, and when Junior is contracted to steal a Paul Klee painting, he finds he's been set up, a blackmail victim because of an inconvenient video surveillance system.

A Los Angeles crime boss, Trey Annunziato, needs Junior to protect her new movie project, a trilogy of porn films starring the former child television star, Thistle Downing. Someone is trying to shut Trey's production down, and whether it's disrupting the film set or killing the star, they don't care.

Downing was one of the biggest child stars of her time, but drugs, poor money choices, and parental problems have left her destitute and disillusioned. Junior takes a liking to the young woman and finds that he can't let her, or his 12-year old daughter, Rina, down. Now how can he help her without paying the ultimate price?

Hallinan has written an irreverently, nice guy in Junior Bender. He's a criminal with lots of smooth, intellectual edges. Although divorced, he still loves his wife, and cherishes his daughter. He'll do what's right as long as it falls within his unique moral code. If not, he'll do what's necessary.

Doing what's necessary happens a lot in Crashed and following Junior as he navigates through the land mines of bad girls and worse guys is great fun.

View all my reviews

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Bouchercon 2014 Panel Schedule

The Bouchercon 2014 full panel schedule has been posted on the conference website and you can reach it here: http://bouchercon2014.com/Panels_4days.pdf.

It looks like a phenomenal schedule! During many hours there will be nine programming tracks running simultaneously. You should find plenty to interest you and probably the worst issue you'll have is deciding among so many great panels. What a problem to have.

Don't forget my panel on In the War: Mysteries Set in and Around the World Wars on Saturday, November 15th from 11:30 AM to 12:30 PM in Regency B. The panel features Aileen Baron, Carola Dunn, J. Robert Janes, John Sandrolini and Charles Todd. Hope we see you there.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Bouchercon 2014 Panel

I'm excited to be moderating a panel in Long Beach, CA for Bouchercon 2014. The theme is In the Wars: Mysteries Set in or Between the World Wars and is a period I find particularly interesting.
Panelists include Aileen Baron, Carola Dunn, J. Robert Janes, John Sandrolini, and CharlesTodd
The authors' works will take you all over the globe, from Southeast Asia to England, from the US to Northern Africa, and points in between. Their stories occur in and around war time, but are not only about war. They show how people dealt with the deprivations of war time, how society changed during that time, what technologies were developed, all while weaving these details into excellent crime fiction stories. 

Please join us November 15, 2014, Saturday from 11:30 AM to 12:30 PM in Regency B.


Monday, September 01, 2014

The Forsaken by Ace Atkins

The Forsaken (Quinn Colson, #4)The Forsaken by Ace Atkins

In The Forsaken, Ace Atkins fourth Quinn Colson novel about Tibbehah County and the town of Jerricho in rural Mississippi, Colson has his hands full. He’s facing an upcoming reelection campaign and he and his chief deputy, Lillie Vernon, fear they are being investigated for possible corruption and murder charges from a previous adventure. A motorcycle gang that ran around the area years ago when Colson’s uncle was sheriff is making a comeback and now a local store owner, Diane Tull, has related a story that has Quinn revisiting a case from long ago that few locals are interested in seeing reopened.

Thirty-six years ago, Diane Tull and Lori Stilwell, were abducted at gun point. Diane survived, but Lori didn’t. Diane described the perpetrator in some detail, but that didn’t mean much to the wild gang that was out for vengeance. Their rage resulted in the death of a homeless black veteran who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Now years later, Diane has been encouraged to put things right and she thinks the honest and forthright Quinn is the man to do it.

Adding to that mix is Johnny Stagg, a local business owner and manipulator who is an ongoing thorn in Quinn’s side. Stagg attempts to portray legitimacy through wholly illegitimate methods and often runs up against Colson’s moral code. In relation to a couple of Quinn’s problems, Stagg hopes to show Colson that as the enemy of his enemy, he can be Colson’s friend. Colson is a skeptic.

The Forsaken is Atkins at his best. His plotting seems effortless as he lays out his story piece by piece, managing the various sub-plots with dexterity and a keen sense of timing. Nothing is rushed. Characters are fully realized and complex. From hero to villain, they are multi-dimensional and fill a necessary place in the narrative. Throughout The Forsaken Atkins uses flashbacks for back story and character development during that time 36-years ago. The flashbacks also fill in Colson’s family back story, which is a welcome addition to understanding Quinn as he is today. 

The Forsaken is a satisfying read that shows Atkins is one of the best mystery authors writing today. 
Rating A+

View all my reviews

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Present Darkness by Malla Nunn

Present Darkness (Detective Emmanuel Cooper, #4)Present Darkness by Malla Nunn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Present Darkness is Malla Nunn’s fourth entry in the Detective Sergeant Emmanuel Cooper series and is an excellent continuation of the series.
It’s the 1950’s in South Africa and Apartheid has taken its vicious hold. Detective Sergeant Cooper has managed a temporary transfer from Durban to Johannesburg for personal reasons. The price he must pay is reporting to the angry, religiously fanatic Lieutenant Mason who applies the Apartheid rules with a vengeance.
Cooper is called to assist in the investigation of the savage beating of a well-to-do white couple. The couple’s teenage daughter identifies Aaron Shabalala as their attacker. Aaron is the son of black Detective Constable Samuel Shabalala, Cooper’s friend, and a man who has once saved his life.
Cooper’s superiors are satisfied that they have the guilty party and break off any further investigation. However, Cooper believes the evidence doesn’t support the daughter’s story. He’s determined to uncover the facts and free his friend’s son, even though the young man won’t speak up for himself. Cooper, Shabalala and their friend, Dr. Daniel Zwiegman set out to discover the truth and their search takes them into the underbelly of Johannesburg and the worst it has to offer: drugs, gangs, prostitution and abject poverty.
Malla Nunn’s previous Cooper books were stark portrayals of the darkness of Apartheid and its dehumanizing effects. In Present Darkness she succeeds again in wringing drama from that terrible scourge.
Money and power allow some to flout the laws, while applying them with a heavy hand when they choose. To combat these people, Cooper and his friends must occasionally go outside those same laws, and rely on unsavory types to gain an advantage or discover information. Nunn does an outstanding job illustrating how Cooper and his friends serve justice by delving into these areas and living with the consequences of their actions.
Nunn writes with a sure hand. Her portrayal of Apartheid, the insidious way it turned people against one another, and the manner in which some found kindness in spite of it is entirely authentic. Her characters are multi-dimensional and complex, and even angry Mason reveals some humanity. Present Darkness flows smoothly with plenty of drama and culminates in a satisfying climax. It should leave Nunn’s fans watching excitedly for the next Cooper novel.
Rating: A-

View all my reviews

Monday, July 21, 2014

Crime Always Pays

Crime Always PaysCrime Always Pays by Declan Burke
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

From the Book Description:
"Who says crime doesn't pay? The perpetrators of a botched kidnap make their getaway in this hilarious sequel to The Big O

Karen and Ray are on their way to the Greek islands to rendezvous with Madge and split the fat bag of cash they conned from her ex-husband Rossi when they kidnapped, well, Madge. But they’ve reckoned without Stephanie Doyle, the cop who can’t decide if she wants to arrest Madge, shoot Rossi, or ride off into the sunset with Ray. And then there’s Melody, the wannabe movie director, who’s pinning all her hopes on Sleeps, the narcoleptic getaway driver who just wants to go back inside and do some soft time.

A European road-trip screwball noir, Crime Always Pays features cops and robbers, losers and hopers, villains, saints – and a homicidal Siberian wolf called Anna. The Greek islands will never be the same again."

Through much of this book I wondered who were all these people and what were they doing in this story? A confusing jumble of short chapters didn't help my understanding. But I'm a fan of screwball and of noir, and this book seemed to be headed in one of those directions so I kept plodding along. Then a wonderful thing happened. I started figuring it out, and actually enjoyed it.

I come down on the side of screwball. I'm told Crime Always Pays would have made more sense to me if I'd read Burke's The Big O first (Now they tell me!). It's worth the time spent. Enjoy

View all my reviews

Friday, June 13, 2014

The Buffalo Job by Mike Knowles

The Buffalo Job: A Wilson MysteryThe Buffalo Job: A Wilson Mystery by Mike Knowles
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In The Buffalo Job, the fifth effort by Mike Knowles in his Wilson series, Knowles shows he’s not growing soft, or even slightly sympathetic to Wilson, the former mob enforcer who just can’t quite get his life back together. Exhaustion, pain, mayhem and death travel with Wilson. Corpses and battered people litter the way behind him.

Wilson has a weak moment and finishes a job stealing a work of art for some young gangsters after they failed at the same job that he’d planned for them. One was a nephew to an Albanian mob boss, Pyrros Vogli. Vogli decides Wilson is hungry for work and “insists” that he manage a job for him stealing one of the rarest articles in the world, a Stradivarius violin that could soon be out of his reach.

Wilson has to assemble a crew in just a few days, babysit the mobster’s nephew as one of the crew, cross the Canadian/US border to Buffalo, and steal the violin either from a vault or a busy concert hall. While he concerns himself with the loyalty of his thrown-together crew, he also has to worry that the Albanian mob in Buffalo may find out he’s on their turf, or worse maybe trying to steal the violin too. What could go wrong?

Knowles propels his story forward with multi-dimensional characters, terse dialog, spare descriptions and unflinching violence.  Scenes crackle with authenticity, as tense moments explode into ferocious action. Wilson is a protagonist who will make you cringe, even as you root for him to succeed.

Knowles has put a Canadian pin on the hardboiled crime fiction map. His dialog is reminiscent of Andrew Vachss, his brutal intensity of Ken Bruen, and his violence-infused plotting of Charlie Huston. Those are three pretty good reasons to read him if you like your crime fiction dark.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, June 03, 2014


THE LAST DEAD GIRL by Harry Dolan, G.P. Putnam & Sons, ISBN 978-0-399-15796-7, HB $26.95, Rating A

     Few reading experiences are as satisfying as finding an excellent book by a new author, or new to the reader, anyway. The Last Dead Girl is Harry Dolan’s third novel, but the first that I’ve read, and is very much an excellent book.

     Dolan’s previous works are Bad Things Happen and Very Bad Men, both featuring David Loogan, the editor of a mystery magazine, Gray Streets, and taking place in Ann Arbor, Michigan. David Loogan is a mysterious, closed-mouth man with a guarded past. The Last Dead Girl is a prequel of sorts and helps to reveal the past that Loogan is reluctant to discuss, a past where his name was David Malone.

     Late in the evening on a wet, rainy road in Rome, NY, David Malone turns around on a hunch to find a young woman outside her wrecked car and a deer lying by the side of the road. Malone thinks the deer is dead, but when the woman gently massages the deer’s flank and head, surprisingly, it rises and walks off into the woods. The experience draws Malone and the woman, Jana Fletcher, into a romance, a short-lived one. Ten days later Jana is brutally murdered in her apartment and Malone is the prime suspect.

     While police seem to just want the case closed in the most expedient way, Malone believes there are deeper motives behind Jana’s death, something evolving from her interest in a murder from years earlier. As Malone begins to track Jana’s past movements and the people she’s talked with, he becomes convinced that she was on the right track, and now those that were afraid of what Jana might find, might be after him.

     The Last Dead Girl is a page-turner and a thriller, yet has a complex, multi-threaded plot. Solidly written and told deftly in multiple points of view and incorporating flashbacks, the story pushes forward. Every transition seems perfectly timed to ramp up the tension and reveal the next clever twist. Characters are well-drawn, multi-dimensional and believable and Dolan gives them dialog that helps them come to life. David Malone (Loogan) is an intelligent, multi-faceted protagonist, with enough flaws to keep him real, and more than enough personality to carry a long series.

     If Harry Dolan isn’t on your To-Be-Read list, you need to put him there right away. You’ll be glad you did.

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Destroyer Angel by Nevada Barr

Destroyer Angel (Anna Pigeon, #17)Destroyer Angel by Nevada Barr

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In her 17th Anna Pigeon novel, Barr has Anna out for a camping trip in upper Minnesota. She is with her friend Heath and daughter Elizabeth, another mother and daughter combination, Leah and Katie, and a dog, Wily.

While Anna takes an idyllic canoe float relaxing and gazing at the stars, the camp is disrupted by the appearance of four men intent on kidnapping Leah and Katie. One man, the dude, is the man in charge, and the other three are misfits completely out of their element. The four have no chemistry and were apparently thrown together to complete this one evil task. Other than Leah and Katie, the other campers are excess baggage, which doesn't bode well for their survival. The one saving grace is the kidnappers believe Heath's story that Anna had stayed home. They believe they're only dealing with the four they find in camp.

Why do the kidnapping out in the wilderness, when they knew there would be other witnesses to deal with? Good question, and one Barr never provides an answer for. That particular plot hole drags on an otherwise thrilling story.

Anna overhears the thugs' plans and must decide on whether to take the canoe and go for help, or go commando, using her woodland survival skills to try and rescue the captives. She determines that by the time she could return with help, it might be too late to help anyone.

All of the characters are damaged in some way, the kidnappers and captives, and Barr uses both the physical and psychological afflictions the respective characters possess to move the story forward. Heath is a paraplegic; Leah is an unfeeling automaton with engineering expertise, but no parental skills. One of the thugs is a pedophile and another, a displaced gangbanger. The combination makes for great drama and occasional humor.

Setting the kidnapping in the wilderness certainly set the story up for Anna to display her skills and her grit, and Barr put that to its best use throughout. She also showed that good people with damaged souls can find redemption when placed in impossible situations.

View all my reviews

Friday, May 02, 2014

Early May Musings

Writers Block
I saw a quote in Sunday Parade Newspaper by Anna Quindlen on writers block. She said:

"Some days I fear writing dreadfully, but I do it anyway. I've discovered that sometimes writing badly can eventually lead to something better. Not writing at all leads to nothing."

And so writing this blog, I'll keep working for "something better", and for having written it, I'll feel better. There's something to say for that.

Edgar Awards
Congratulations to all the Edgar winners and nominees.
Last night the Mystery Writers of America awarded the 2014 Edgar Awards. You can see the full list of winners and nominees at Mystery Writers of America. Here you go:

Best Novel - Winner: 
Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger (Simon & Schuster – Atria Books)
Best First Novel - Winner:
Red Sparrow by Jason Matthews (Simon & Schuster - Scribner)
Best Paperback Original - Winner: 
The Wicked Girls by Alex Marwood (Penguin Group USA - Penguin Books)
Best Fact Crime - Winner: 
The Hour of Peril: The Secret Plot to Murder Lincoln Before the Civil War 
by Daniel Stashower (Minotaur Books)
Best Critical/Biographical - Winner: 
America is Elsewhere: The Noir Tradition in the Age of Consumer Culture 
by Erik Dussere (Oxford University Press)
Best Short Story - Winner:
"The Caxton Private Lending Library and Book Depository" – Bibliomysteries by John Connolly (Mysterious Bookshop)

Best Juvenile - Winner:
One Came Home by Amy Timberlake 
(Random House Children's Books – Alfred A. Knopf BFYR)
Young Adult - Winner: 
Ketchup Clouds by Annabel Pitcher (Hachette Book Group – Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)
TV Episode Teleplay - Winner: 
"Episode 1" – The Fall, Teleplay by Allan Cubitt (Netflix)
Robert L. Fish Memorial Award 
"The Wentworth Letter" – Criminal Element's Malfeasance Occasional by Jeff Soloway (St. Martin's Press)
Mary Higgins Clark Award - Winner: 
Cover of Snow by Jenny Milchman (Random House Publishing Group – Ballantine Books)
Grand Master  
Robert Crais
Carolyn Hart
Aunt Agatha’s Bookstore, Ann Arbor, Michigan
Pirate baseball
It was a shame the Pirates lost a double header yesterday to Baltimore. After the great season they had last year, this season has started out disappointing to say the least. But, it's a long season and they still have time to recover. They have to find more consistent hitting, especially with men on base, and even though the bull pen is doing statistically well, it seems they're giving up untimely hits that are losing ballgames. 

Friday, April 18, 2014

The Boom Room and more

Dealing with a down network connection. Just about ready to knock Atlantic Broadband around a little. But at least I have my cell connection on the iPad.

An idea of Orca Book Publishers to publish books aimed at struggling readers offering them lean, quick-moving stories seems a worthy project to me. Below is my review of one of the first in the series.

The Boom Room by Rick Blechta is a new book in the Rapid Reads series from Raven Books, an imprint of Orca Book Publishers. The series books are intended to be well-written stories that can be consumed in an evening and would be of particular interest to ESL readers or readers with literacy challenges.

In The Boom Room, Detective Mervin Pratt is assigned to investigate the stabbing murder of a night club owner in his office. The early evidence points to the leader of a band playing at the club who had a fairly loud argument with the club owner earlier in the day. Lead Detective Gordon, a nemesis of Pratt's, views it as an open and shut case and sees little need for an involved investigation. Pratt disagrees.

Blechta has written a clever, interesting story in The Boom Room's airy 147 pages. You won't find deep character development or lengthy descriptive passages, but a tight procedural with sufficient red herrings to keep you guessing. For an evening of light, fun reading, The Boom Room should fit the bill.