Book Reviews: County Line by Bill Cameron, The Two Deaths of Daniel Hayes by Marcus Sakey, Camouflage by Bill Pronzini, Tigerlily’s Orchids by Ruth Rendell, and Hell Is Empty by Craig Johnson

County Line
Bill Cameron
Tyrus Books, June 2011
ISBN: 978-1-935562-52-8
Trade Paperback

Before even attempting to evaluate this novel, it must be pointed out that at the beginning and end of the book as well as in between segments there are QR barcodes, purportedly featuring bonus material and extras.  To do so, of course, one must own a smartphone and download an app to view the material.  Since I have no need or desire to own such an instrument (what’s wrong, am I anti-American?), I don’t know how much, if anything, I am missing, especially what the barcode at the end of and within the novel provides.   Since I had a feeling of incompleteness after finishing the book, I wonder.  And if that is information I need to judge the novel, then it not only is a disservice to the reader who chooses not to utilize it, but a poor gimmick to sell smartphones and cellular service.  As it is, I found it only a distraction, as well as questioning whether it was necessary for a full appreciation of the book.

As far as the novel is concerned, it is incisively written, with good character development.  It begins when go-getter Ruby Jane Whittaker, founder and owner of a three-store chain of coffee shops in Portland, Oregon, goes off on what is to be a two-week trip.  When she doesn’t return, two of her boyfriends take heed, and undertake to find her. The effort takes them to San Francisco to see her brother (who becomes a hit-and-run victim before their eyes), then to a small Ohio town where Ruby Jane grew up and then back to Oregon.  The effort raises more questions than it does answers.

Another section of the novel retraces Ruby Jane’s earlier life in Ohio, and provides some background to the mystery, which is finally brought to a violent finish, albeit leaving this reader wondering whether or not that really is the conclusion, or just laying the groundwork for the next book in this series.  If you own a smartphone, OK, you can take this as a recommendation.  If not – – well, the choice is yours.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, October 2011.


The Two Deaths of Daniel Hayes
Marcus Sakey
Dutton, June 2011
ISBN: 978-0-525-95211-4

Daniel Hayes wakes up on a beach in Maine, half drowned and with a loss of memory.  This sets the stage for a slow, dramatic tale as he attempts to reconstruct his life.  He finds a car nearby which is apparently owned by someone named Daniel Hayes from Malibu, CA.  Is that him?

Then he decides to cross the country in an effort to find out who he is, after fleeing a cop attempting to arrest him in Maine. Dan is a scriptwriter, and his efforts are like episodes on a TV show.  When he gets to Malibu, he sneaks in to what turns out is his home.  So he has a name.  And a home.  Then he finds out a female character on a television show is his wife who apparently was killed when her car went over a cliff.  While he searches for answers, the plot thickens.

And quite a plot it is.  Interspersed with fairly crisp prose are simulated scripts, sometimes fantasy, others integral to the story line.  The reader is kept off-balance with the question of whether Dan fled to Maine because he killed his wife.  And when that question is answered, a whole new mystery arises to keep one turning pages.


Reviewed by Ted Feit, October 2011.


Bill Pronzini
Forge, June 2011
ISBN: 978-0-7653-2564-8

The Nameless Detective in this long-running series is supposed to have semi-retired.  It just isn’t so.  He’s still working four or five days a week, and it’s a good thing, because it makes for good reading.  In the first of two cases described in this novel, he takes on a new client with what at first appears to be a simple ‘trace’ case.  The oft-married client asks Nameless to locate his ex-wife so he can get her to sign a Catholic Church form to pave the way for an annulment, so he can marry the next, an apparently well-to-do prospect.  Tamara, who is now running the agency in wake of Nameless’ “semi-retirement,” locates the ex-wiife, and after she refuses to sign the papers the client visits her, after which he storms into the office saying that it’s the wrong person.  This leads to the ensuing mystery to be solved.

The second plot line involves Jake Runyon, Nameless’ partner, who has finally developed a relationship with a woman, Bryn, who has a nine-year-old son who is in her ex-husband’s custody.  It appears that the boy is being abused, but by whom?  The father, or his fiancée, who is living with him and the child?  The complication of the girl’s murder and the subsequent admission by Bryn of having committed the deed lays the groundwork for some detective work by Jake to find the real culprit.

As in the previous more than two score books in the series, the tightly written novel, accompanied by terse dialogue and seamless transitions, take the reader forward effortlessly.  The author’s eye for detail is penetrating, and the novel is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, October 2011.


Tigerlily’s Orchids
Ruth Rendell
Scribner, June 2011
ISBN: 978-4391-5034-4

Ruth Rendell novels are a study in human relationships, and this book is no exception.  It takes a look at an assortment of tenants living in an apartment house block in London, particularly one building, but also a couple of homes across the way.

An inordinate amount of space is devoted to one tenant, a young, handsome youth, Stuart Font, who recently inherited some money and bought his apartment.  He decides to have a housewarming and invite all the other tenants.  His married lover forces him to invite her, setting the stage for her husband to invade the apartment and harm Stuart, who is later found murdered in a nearby park.

The mystery, of course, is who the murderer is.  But it is almost superfluous since the interaction of the various characters is the prime focus of the novel:  One woman who is determined to drink herself to death; three young girls, students of a sort, one of whom falls in love with Stuart, who in turn is obsessed with a beautiful young Asian in the house across the street after discarding his married lover; an elderly couple who once had a one-night stand in their youth and find each other again; the caretaker couple, the husband of which enjoys spying on young girls and watching pornography on his computer.  Among others.

The author’s eye for detail is sharp, and the personality descriptions vivid.  For a crime novel, the mystery is virtually irrelevant, but certainly the character studies are vital.  For that reason alone, the book is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, October 2011.


Hell Is Empty
Craig Johnson
Viking, June 2011
ISBN: 978-0-670-02277-9

This, the seventh novel in the Walt Longmire series, is perhaps the most harrowing.  It starts out simply enough, with Walt, the Sheriff of a Wyoming county, and his deputies transporting three murderers to a rendezvous with two other local Sheriffs and Federal officials.  One of the felons, a psychopath who says he hears supernatural voices, has indicated he killed a young Indian boy years before, and offers to locate the bones for the officials.  There is a rumor, also, that he has secreted $1.4 million, perhaps in the grave.

This sets the stage for a harrowing experience for Walt, as the convicts escape, killing FBI agents and taking two hostages with them as they climbed Bighorn Mountain.  A determined Walt follows under blizzard conditions, which almost kills him.

As in previous entries in the series, the geographical and environmental descriptions are awesome.  The reader can feel the cold and ice as they penetrate Walt’s body and inundate the mountain peak in glasslike cover and snow-filled mounds.  Another excellent book, full of Indian lore and supernatural phenomena.


Reviewed by Ted Feit, October 2011.

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