Book Reviews: Carl Brookins: The Case of the Purloined Painting and The Case of the Yellow Diamond

The Case of the Purloined PaintingThe Case of the Purloined Painting
A Sean Sean Mystery #1
Carl Brookins
North Star Press of St. Cloud, June 2013
ISBN 978-0-8783-9708-2
Trade Paperback

From the publisher:  When an American Army unit arrived at the end of World War II, some soldiers appropriated items in what appeared to be an abandoned building.  A small painting by a mid-level Polish painter is used by an ex-GI to float a bank loan which results in the founding of a manufacturing firm in Minneapolis.  Now the painting and the ledger become the center of murderous attempts by the descendants of the veteran to conceal the painting’s journey.  World-wide efforts at repatriation of stolen art from World War II is a major ongoing effort and the story links to that effort as international operatives descend on the Twin Cities.  Enter private detective Sean Sean.  He is a short but effective operative who, unlike many PIs of the modern era, doesn’t sleep around, doesn’t shoot people unnecessarily, and has many friends among various local law enforcement agencies.

The title of this novel puts one in mind of the great Erle Stanley Gardner, most if not all of his Perry Masons novels bearing titles which begin “The Case of . . .” But this book borrows nothing from great writers of the past; it is entirely Mr. Brookins’ own.  And that is a good, no, a terrific, thing.  Not entirely surprising, since I’d read many of this author’s reviews, and his writing is simply great.

The publisher’s notes quoted above reference the protagonist’s short stature.  He is, in fact, just over five feet tall, to the six foot tall Catherine Mckerney, massage therapist with her own school, variously described as his lover, his apartment-mate, friend and sometime partner.  Sean has been an active private investigator for a couple of decades.  He describes himself as a “tracer of lost persons, collector of evidence of malfeasance, revealer of fraudsters and thieves. . . not only am I very good at my job,I’m also persistent.”  Three days after the discovery of a body in the Mississippi River, on which body was found a “faint series of numbers tattooed on one forearm,” indicating that the man had been in a Nazi concentration camp during WWII, Sean finds himself with two different new clients, each of whom relates a tale that his instincts soon tell him are related.  The first of these is a woman who tells him she witnessed the scene on the bridge which culminated in the body of a man being thrown to his death.  The second is a man who hires him to find a woman he’s been dating who seems to have disappeared.  This latter client soon neither returns calls nor shows up at Sean’s office.

The tale is one that touches upon art work and other stolen property taken during or just after the war in Europe, whose descendants are still searching for them, a search that is ongoing.

Mr. Brookins makes the reader very palpably feel the brutal weather of February in Minneapolis.  I loved the author paying homage to both Raymond Chandler, a wonderful mystery writer of days of yore, and the very current [and also wonderful] author named Michael Connelly, and acknowledges a beloved mystery novel discussion group named after Dorothy L. Sayers, appropriately named DorothyL.  I also loved his note, after an evening at a blues bar:  “Blues music is a label not given to precise definitions.  It bears some similarities to crime or mystery fiction in that regard.”  A sentiment with which I must agree.

Highly recommended.

Next up for this reader is Mr. BrookinsThe Case of the Yellow Diamond – I can’t wait!!

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, November 2016.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The Case of the Yellow DiamondThe Case of the Yellow Diamond
A Sean Sean Mystery #2
Carl Brookins
North Star Press of St. Cloud, September 2015
ISBN 978-0-8783-9816-4
Trade Paperback

The title of this novel, as was the case with Mr. Brookins‘ last book, The Case of the Purloined Painting, puts one in mind of the great Erle Stanley Gardner, most if not all of his Perry Masons novels bearing titles which begin “The Case of . . .”   And this book, as was the last one, is also absolutely delightful, with the author’s trademark sly sense of humor much in evidence throughout.

This book deals, as did the last one, with events which took place in the waning days of WWII.  In this book, those events began in the Pacific Theater, and involve “thefts, smuggling, and the acquisition of wealth and influence through illegal means.”  The tale opens with the protagonist, Sean Sean, entering his office and finding a dead body lying on the floor.  He immediately calls his good friend, Minneapolis Police Detective Ricardo Simon. What follows is a flashback to Sean being hired a few weeks before by Josie and Tod Bartelme to assist in their efforts to locate the wreckage of a B-24 bomber that had taken Josie’s granduncle to his death near Yap Island, “a speck of coral in the Pacific Ocean.”  In the ensuing investigation, the dead man had been the principal suspect.

Members of both families and even Josie’s college buddies had offered their assistance, and financed their efforts as well.  Josie and Tod were planning to embark on a trip to the Pacific to continue their search for the wreckage, and hire Sean to assist in their efforts, notwithstanding that it had taken place nearly 70 years ago.

The protagonist, just over five feet tall, lives with the self-proclaimed love of his life, the six foot tall Catherine Mckerney, a successful massage therapist with her own school, with whom he shares her apartment in  Kenwood, Minnesota as well as his home and ranch in Roseville.  Sean has been an active private investigator for a couple of decades, the sign on his door reading “Sean Sean, Private Investigator, Ltd.”  He describes himself as a “tracer of lost persons, collector of evidence of malfeasance, revealer of fraudsters and thieves. . . not only am I very good at my job, I’m also persistent.”  Sean says of himself “Family dynamics were always convoluted and frequently hard to sort out, which was one reason I didn’t do divorces.  Give me a nice clean street robbery or random serial killer any time.”  In this instance, that is an understatement

The cast of characters is large, mostly consisting of family and friends of Sean’s clients [including one particularly oversexed and buxom female], some of whom try to dissuade him from continuing his investigation, even going so far as to bad-mouth him in the industry, putting them at the top of Sean’s list of suspects, which grows exponentially with incidents of murder, attempted murder, and vandalism taking place.

In his last book, the author paid homage to fellow mystery writer Michael Connelly; this time around the references are to Carl Hiaasen, Bill Crider, James Lee Burke, and Wilkie Collins. I love it!

As was the earlier book, this one as well is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, November 2016.

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