Book Review: L.A. Rotten by Jeff Klima

L.A. RottenL.A. Rotten
A Tom Tanner Mystery #1
Jeff Klima
Alibi, May 2015
ISBN 9781101882733
Ebook

From the publisher—

As an expert crime-scene cleaner, Tom Tanner charges big money to carve out bullets, mop up fluids, disinfect walls, and dispose of whatever’s left of whomever was unlucky enough to require his services. For a handsome young ex-con determined to stay out of trouble, it’s practically a dream job—until he discovers a grisly pattern to his work: a string of gruesome murders at a cheap motel chain, always in Room 236.
 
While prying into a serial killer’s nasty scheme, Tom finds himself with a sharp-witted strip-bar waitress plastered to his side—and his conscience. Even more surprising, the killer starts prying into his life, luring Tom into a twisted friendship. As Tom struggles against his adversary’s wicked whims, risking the lives of the few people he holds dear, bodies pile up everywhere he turns. With a psychopath calling the shots, Tom has little choice but to clean house once and for all.

I’m usually very good at picking books I’m going to like but, every once in a long while, I blunder and I surely did with L.A. Rotten. Does that mean I think this is a bad book? Absolutely not, just that it’s not the right book for me.

I did check it out first as much as I could before signing on for the blog tour and didn’t see anything to put me off. Once I started reading, the first few paragraphs were pretty gruesome but not beyond what I expected—this is, after all, about a guy who cleans up crime scenes and, by the nature of the beast, such a job is frequently going to be gory and messy. The more I read, though, the more I realized the publisher’s description that accompanies the book is just not clear enough for a potential reader to make a choice. Yes, I expect violence in a story involving a serial killer and I expect gritty language in a mystery labeled by other readers as “hard-boiled”. I did not expect to actively dislike the protagonist or to be confronted with very graphic, explicit sex, both action and language, on top of increasingly gory crime scenes. It was all just a bit too much for me.

My feelings about the protagonist did ease up by the time I finished the book but he’s still not one of my favorite guys, by any means. He feels inordinately sorry for himself and his circumstances but he’s entirely responsible. Rather than do whatever he can to improve his lot, he chooses to indulge in activities to make him forget his life and why, for heaven’s sake, does he think all cops are out to get him? Surely, the LAPD has better things to do than harass an ex-con who did his time for a drunk driving death.

There is one character I liked quite a bit, Ivy. I can’t really say why but she appealed to me in a number of ways and she was a big reason I didn’t DNF the book.

I also found the storyline compelling. It makes sense to me that a crime scene cleaner could be the first to see a pattern and I didn’t find it odd that Tom would feel a need to look into his suspicions. In fact, Tom is much more credible as a sleuth than many other amateurs. (Amateur might not be exactly the right word since an ex-con certainly has more practical crime-solving knowledge than many other non-professionals.)

I should mention also that the actual construction of the book—grammar, formatting, etc.—is quite good. Having read a number of books by this publisher, I was not surprised at all that this one was so nicely edited.

Bottomline, for the right reader, this is a good entry in the hard-boiled crime fiction field and the author certainly has the background to make his storytelling as credible as you can hope. I think many will enjoy L.A. Rotten.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, June 2015.

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About the Author

Jeff KlimaJeff Klima is the author of The Dead Janitors Club and L.A. Rotten and is the cofounder of Orange County Crime Scene Cleanup.

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Book Reviews: The Blood Whisperer by Zoe Sharp and Drowning Barbie by Frederick Ramsay

The Blood WhispererThe Blood Whisperer
Zoe Sharp
Murderati Ink, August, 2013
ISBN:  978-1-909-34432-7
Trade Paperback

Kelly Jacks is the eponymous protagonist in what promises to be a new series by Zoe Sharp.  I wondered to myself, ‘blood whisperer’?  Is that anything like a ‘horse whisperer?’  Well, yes, it is, actually. Kelly is, as the author puts it, “someone who seemed to be able to coax evidence out of the most unpromising of scenes.”  Now 40 years old, the former CSI now works for McCarron Specialist Cleaning Services, the services in question being performed at crime scenes after they are released by the police.  She’s gone from being the first on the scene for nearly 10 years as a CSI, to being the last. The crime scene Kelly is working as the book opens is one where a woman’s body has been found in her bathtub, an apparent suicide.  But Kelly has her doubts.  And those doubts open up a world of threats, hurt and violence as others try to stop her from pursuing them.

After the wonderful Charlie Fox series, including ten novels, a short story collection and a novella, the author has managed to create another strong female lead with an intriguing background:  Kelly started her new job upon her release from five years of incarceration after having been found guilty of involuntary manslaughter, still proclaiming her innocence.

Ms. Sharp has produced a complex plot which includes Russian gangsters and the top tiers of English horse-racing, with steadily increasing suspense and a sense of calamity to come as the book races to its conclusion, neither the protagonists nor the reader knowing how it will end, but bracing for the worst: they’ve already seen the brutality of which their foes are capable and suspect that something far wore is still to come.  There is an unexpected twist near the end, and another one I certainly never saw coming after that!

This is a thoroughly enjoyable novel.  I particularly loved the author’s descriptions of, among other things, the English weather, e.g., “The rain had peered out into indifference leaving behind dirty grey clouds like a sulk.”  As with all Ms. Sharp’s earlier books, this one too is recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, November 2013.

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Drowning BarbieDrowning Barbie
An Ike Schwartz Mystery
Frederick Ramsay
Poisoned Pen Press, February 2014
ISBN: 9781464202148
Hardcover

Ike Schwartz is an ex-CIA operative who has gone to ground and become a sheriff in a small community in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. Picketsville is an unremarkable town except for its inhabitants, carefully and enjoyably described by the author. This being the tenth in the series, one might wonder how the town attracts so many really nasty people.

Sheriff Ike and his lady love, Ruth Harris, after, several episodes, have now decided, at long last, to marry. Town and Gown will thus be joined in what, for a lot of outsiders will be an uneasy alliance. Harris is the hustling president of the local college, determined to make it an outstanding liberal arts institution.

Ike became the sheriff with a short-term goal to rid the county of a completely corrupt administration and evil law enforcement agency. But he likes being sheriff and needs must intrude. Two dead bodies are discovered in a local park and the game is on. Are they related, in spite of the time lapse between their interment? Will the bailed-out ex deputy, now back in town locate and kill his primary target? Will the sheriff and his happy band of deputies stem a rising tide of drug infiltration?

The pace in this suspenseful mystery is relentless, particularly in the last half of the novel. The dialogue throughout is snappy, well-considered and appropriate. This is another well-written novel. It survives a few unfortunate political asides and roars to a fully enjoyable, appropriate finale. Strongly recommended, as are the previous nine adventures in this series.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, January 2014.
Author of Red Sky, Devils Island, Hard Cheese, Reunion.

Book Reviews: Not Dead Yet by Peter James, The Destroyed by Brett Battles, Potboiler by Jesse Kellerman, and Bear is Broken by Lachlan Smith

Not Dead YetNot Dead Yet
Peter James
Pan Macmillan
UK: Hardcover, June, 2012, ISBN 978-0-230-74726-5
UK: Paperback, Sept. 2012, ISBN 978-0-33051-557-3
US,  Minotaur, Nov. 27, 2012, ISBN 978-0-31264-284-6, Hardcover

This is a tale of obsession, in all its infinite variety and manifestations, some more lethal than others but mostly just a matter of degree, with neither gender being excluded from its clutches. There are enough seriously disturbed characters here to populate several novels, in a few different story lines.

The main plot deals with the discovery of an unidentifiable body whose headless, armless and legless torso is discovered on a chicken farm in East Sussex.  As if that isn’t enough, the area is faced with an at once wonderful and problematic event:  a major American superstar [think Lady Gaga, in fact the fictional counterpart is named Gaia] is about to arrive from Los Angeles, with her entourage and film crew, to Brighton, England, the city where she was born, to star in a film which will chronicle the love affair between King George the Fourth and his mistress Maria Fitzherbert. Needless to say, her hordes of obsessed fans converge on the city as well.

A second story line revolves around another obsessive, the target of this one none other than DS Roy Grace, in charge of the Major Crime Branch of Sussex CID.  But a resolution, if any, of that one awaits a successive novel, I suspect.  The personal lives of Grace and of Glenn Branson, to whom Grace is a mentor, get a lot of the focus in this, the eighth series entry, as Grace’s fiancée, Cleo, is in her last month of pregnancy, and Branson, who has become a “long-stay lodger” in Grace’s house since the latter moved in with Cleo, is facing child custody problems in the aftermath of his now-dead “marriage-from-hell.”

Cavil:  It bothered me when, as happened frequently, the p.o.v. jumped around, sometimes without identifying the person from whose point of view the chapter was being told.  I assume this was intentional, but it was somewhat disconcerting.  As well, I felt that perhaps the first two-thirds of the book was somewhat bloated and repetitive, causing this reader’s attention to wander, a first for any of this author’s books.  No wandering attention in the approximately last third of the book, I hasten to add, when the plot lines start to come together with more than one climactic scene, with a finish you’ll never see coming. All in all, it is recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, October 2012.

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The DestroyedThe Destroyed
Brett Battles
Brett Battles, March 2012
ISBN: 978-1-4776-3551-3
Trade Paperback

In my last review of a Brett Battles novel (The Collected, published in October of 2012, and the seventh and penultimate [so far] entry in this series), I noted that Jonathan Quinn, the protagonist whose job it is to discreetly clean up crime scenes, remove bodies and get rid of nasty, incriminating stuff like blood, and his protégé, Nate, had become colleagues, rather than mentor and apprentice.  In this, the sixth Quinn book, the reader finds out how that came about.

The tale opens in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, when a man keeps an appointment scheduled through an enigmatic e-mail from what is apparently a non-existent address.  A fateful meeting it is, as the man soon falls [jumps?  is pushed?]  to his death just as he is about to keep his appointment with one Mila Voss, the person who is central to the fascinating plot fashioned here.  [Note that this occurs on page 21 of the book, so no spoiler here.] When security cameras show a disguised but recognizable Mila rushing to the spot where the body landed, a furor is raised in “the secret world”: The woman was supposed to have been killed six years ago, and Quinn was the one tasked with disposing of the body, which he duly reported he had done. Conspiracies, corruption in high places, powerful men who will stop at nothing to achieve their goals, all combine to serve up another terrific thriller.

In addition to Tanzania, the story takes the reader to Stockholm, Sweden; Lucerne, Switzerland; London; Rome; Las Vegas; San Francisco; Atlanta, Georgia; Virginia; and, early on, to Bangkok, where Quinn took refuge nearly nine months prior following the events in the prior series entry.  That self-banishment gave rise to Nate becoming “a full-fledged cleaner, running Quinn’s business on his own.”  As Quinn notes when Nate succeeds in tracking him down, “There was something older about Nate, his edges sharper and more defined.  There was a confidence, too.  While Nate undoubtedly had more to learn, he was now a professional who could stand on his own.”

Those who have not yet read the subsequent series entry, The Collected, should waste no time correcting that situation.  Both of these are wonderful, suspense-filled reads, and are highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, November 2012.

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PotboilerPotboiler
Jesse Kellerman
Putnam, July 2012
ISBN 978-0-399-15903-9
Hardcover

The reader has an inkling of what’s in store from the cover of Jesse Kellerman’s new book, which appears to show a typewriter keyboard of sorts, the various keys or buttons displaying words such as “assassinate,” “coup d’etat,” and “war.”

The first page of the book is filled with what appear to be blurbs by no less eminent writers than Stephen King, Lee Child, Robert Crais and various highly respected reviewers, which on closer inspection are very funny and relate to books written by one William deVallee, “noted author of more than thirty internationally best-selling thrillers” whose protagonist is one Dick Stapp.  The protagonist of Potboiler is Art Pfefferkorn, who had known deVallee longer than anyone, including his wife [with whom, it should be said, Pfefferkorn had been in love].  The two men, best friends, had thirty years ago both been aspiring writers.  While Bill had achieved great fame, Pfefferkorn had only had one book published.

The book takes off in a completely different direction at about one-third of the way through, part satire, part fantasy.  Devious, unsettling and frightening things begin to happen.  There are several memorable lines regarding writing, e.g., “good novels enlarged on reality while bad novels leaned on it” and “If one could not express something in an original way, one ought not to express it at all,” and points out the “similarities between spying and writing:  Both called for stepping into an imagined world and residing there with conviction, nearly to the point of self-delusion.  Both were jobs that outsiders thought of as exotic but that were in practice quite tedious.”

A highly original and delightful read, Potboiler is recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, December 2012.

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Bear is BrokenBear is Broken
Lachlan Smith
The Mysterious Press / Grove/Atlantic, February 2013
ISBN 978-0-8021-2079-3
Hardcover

Leo Maxwell has just formally become a member of the California State Bar. He is a man who does not think “ethical criminal defense attorney” is an oxymoron, perhaps putting him in the minority, certainly among the San Francisco police and the District Attorney’s office.  His older brother, Teddy, is a member of that fraternity, a brilliant lawyer and one of the most sought-after criminal defense attorneys in northern California.  As the two men share a lunch while on a break from the trial just nearing its conclusion, with Teddy’s closing argument due that afternoon, a man enters the restaurant and shoots Teddy in the head at point-blank range, then quickly exits before anyone can make a move.

So begins this first novel from Lachlan Smith, apparently the first in a series, and an impressive debut it is.  Teddy lies in the hospital in a coma, and both Leo as well as Teddy’s ex-wife and former law partner, Jeanie, now working at the Contra Costa County Public Defender’s Office, are left to grapple with the prognosis and the knowledge that they may at some point in the not-too-distant future have to decide whether to remove him from life-support systems.  But the most urgent task for Leo is to find the gunman.  His first move is to examine all his brother’s case files, to see if a disgruntled client, or a victim or witness in one of his headline-making cases has sought revenge.  There are several viable suspects as his investigation continues.

Leo has been haunted most of his life by the death of their mother 16 years before (“the abscess at the center of his life”), apparently at the hands of her husband, the boys’ father.  It was Leo who at age ten had returned from school to find her badly beaten body, the weapon Leo’s baseball bat. Despite having protested his innocence, the father was convicted and is serving a life term at San Quentin.

Leo must prove himself, to others and to himself, having been raised by and stayed in the shadow of his well-known, and in many circles reviled, brother.  In his insecurity, as a youngster he had a Batman symbol tattooed on his upper left arm.

I loved the author’s description of a nurse in the hospital as having “the self-sufficient look of someone who spent most of her time with people who didn’t talk back.”  Deftly plotted, the only flaw this reader found was perhaps too many possible culprits, in what turns out to be three killings, by the end getting a slight case of whiplash as the novel names one, and then another and then another, and the possibility that one, or perhaps more than one, is guilty.  That said, the novel is a fast and engrossing read, and is recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, January 2013.