Book Reviews: Amnesty by Aravind Adiga and All the Way Down by Eric Beetner @AravindAdiga @ScribnerBooks @ericbeetner @DownAndOutBooks

Amnesty
Aravind Adiga
Scribner, February 2020
ISBN 978-1-9821-2724-4
Hardcover

Danny, an undocumented Sri Lanken living in Australia, has gradually fashioned for himself a satisfactory life. He has acquaintances with whom he socializes and a woman friend about whom he is serious. And now he has a problem. He may have important information that will help local police solve a nasty murder. If he steps forward as his world view requires, he may be deported because he’s illegally in the country. On the other hand, he may hold the one fact that will solve the case.

The novel is not so much a murder mystery or thriller as a thoughtful if sometimes wandering essay on the life of honest hard-working illegals and the pressures and vicissitudes of that life. There is little overt drama in the story, rather a character-peopled tale in which the author adeptly channels his protagonist Danny into more and more tension as he wrestles with a decision which will, in either path, affect a great many people.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, February 2021.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
Traces, Grand Lac, Reunion, Red Sky.

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All The Way Down
Eric Beetner
Down and Out Books, January 2019
ISBN 978-1-64396-010-4
Trade Paperback

This enthralling crime novel starts with a bad cop called on the carpet. Dale Burnett, risen to detective grade, has allowed his need for money to gradually bend his ethics, in a city already badly out of tune with ethics and morality. He assumes the worst but is given one chance at redemption.

It turns out, the Mayor’s daughter has been captured and is being held by one of the city’s most dangerous and brutal gang leaders. Since Burnett is now known to the gang, law enforcement believes an alternative to a frontal assault is a better option. Burnett is tasked with going into gang headquarters and rescuing the young woman.

Of course, Burnett takes this limited opportunity to risk death and retrieve his good standing. What follows is a rousing and ever more dangerous series of encounters with the gang leader and his murderous minions. With the considerable assistance of the mayor’s able daughter, Burnett engages the forces of evil.

The scene is very limited, all the action takes place inside a single large former factory building, so some of the common characteristics of action novels such as weather, are missing. Nevertheless, the pace is relentless, the tension high and the outcome uncertain until the very end.

All The Way Down is a fine thriller of a novel with surprises on almost every page, sustained action and relevant character development. The mayor’s daughter is a strong, important component of the fabric of the story.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, May 2019.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
Traces, Grand Lac, Reunion, Red Sky.

Book Review: The Blues Don’t Care by Paul D. Marks—and an Excerpt @PaulDMarks @DownAndOutBooks

The Blues Don’t Care
Bobby Saxon, Book 1
Paul D. Marks
Down & Out Books, June 2020
ISBN 978-1-64396-050-0
Trade Paperback

The author is an experienced and winning author of thrillers. This novel, from its title to its epilogue shows the research and care directed to the details of such a story set in a previous century. The action takes place in Los Angeles in the 1940s. It was wartime and a period of active and intense musical development and interest as a counter to the war. Los Angeles was an important part of the home front during World War II.

Bobby Saxon is a recent graduate of a local high school. He’s a brilliant pianist and his goal is a gig with one of LA’s top blues and swing bands. That quickly introduces an important theme that affects everything that happens in the novel because Bobby is white and the band is black. The blues was dominated by black artists. Mixing the races in any way, including performing, was actively prohibited in that decade and Bobby has to deal with it. He has other secrets as well and while performing a guest gig with the band, he becomes involved in a murder that may involve another member of the band. Solving the murder, avoiding revealing personal secrets and finding his way through a city engaged in a war effort requires agility, naivety, flexibility, and a level of personal charm not usually found in such strength in a single individual.

The novel is long, fully engaged with its location and history, very well written, episodic in structure, logical and engaging. In the end, the author is right, the blues really do not care.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, August 2020.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
Traces, Grand Lac, Reunion, Red Sky.

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An Excerpt from
The Blues Don’t Care
by Paul D. Marks

The Blues Don’t Care uses the framing of device of a prologue and epilogue to bring the story into the present, show a little bit of who Bobby Saxon, the main character was – and who he became. In the prologue, Dianne, Bobby’s daughter, comes to L.A. and is intrigued by the person she thought was her father (and he was). But she begins to see another side of him as Booker begins relating Bobby’s story, much of which Diane didn’t know before. She’s drawn into his story, as I hope the reader will be and want to find out more about him, just as she does.

PROLOGUE

San Francisco—The Eve of the Millennium

The late-night phone call jangled Diane awake.

“Diane Saxon?” the officious voice on the other end said.

“Yes.” She tried to shake the sleep out of her voice.

“This is the Los Angeles County Coroner’s office—”

Paul D. Marks

In those few words, any leftover sleepiness Diane had escaped, replaced by dread.

She pressed the phone tighter against her ear. Squeezed the receiver until it nearly cracked in her hand. As soon as the phone rang, she knew it couldn’t be good news.

“Are you related to, um—” papers rattling “—Robert Saxon?”

“Yes, I’m his daughter. Did he—”

“I’m sorry to call you so late, but I’m afraid your, uh, father has passed away. Can you come down to L.A. to identify him?”

Diane looked at the clock. Midnight. Bobby would have appreciated that.

Los Angeles—The Next Morning

Diane walked the musty halls of Bobby’s house, killing time before her appointment at the coroner’s office. Bobby, so meticulous all his life—sometimes to the point of driving her crazy—had let things go in the last year or so.

She returned to the scrapbook she’d left on the dining table, turned the yellowing pages in the fragile book. A pristine shellac seventy-eight rpm record spun on an ancient but near-mint condition record player. This record had only been removed from its sleeve a handful of times over the years for fear of breaking the delicate material. “La Tempesta,” an allegro tune for two pianos—Bobby on one of them—spun its satiny web from the player’s speaker. The tune reverberated in Diane’s head; she’d heard it many times. She could picture Bobby wailing on the piano like a possessed demon.

The brittle scrapbook paper nearly crumbled in her fingers. Faded photographs, brown with age, stared up at her. Bobby from the forties, sitting at a grand piano in a snazzy wide-lapelled pinstriped suit. Bobby in a white jacket and bow tie in the fifties. Bobby in black tie and jacket in the sixties. Bobby in shirt sleeves barbequing in the backyard of the rented duplex on Edinburgh. Diane as a baby, on her stomach, feet in the air—cheesecake pose. Her sister Mindy on their favorite red rocking horse with painted on black saddle. Diane’s mom and Mindy’s mom—Diane and Mindy, sisters with different mothers. She sipped the Bubble Up she’d gotten from the fridge. Who knew if they even made that anymore? She wanted to keep turning pages but had an appointment to keep. She gently closed the cover on the scrapbook.

She walked to Bobby’s mirror—Bobby loved his mirrors—checked her makeup, grabbed her purse. She noticed his favorite cigarette lighter on the dresser, the one with the picture of that “Kilroy Was Here” guy on it, so popular during the war. She squeezed the lighter as if that could bring a memory from it, slipped it into her purse.

“Criminy,” she said, holding back a tear.

She had flown in from San Francisco, but Bobby’s old red-over-white sixty-one Corvette Roadster would take her where she had to go now, probably better than any new car. Bobby was a whiz with cars, always fixing them up and selling them. She headed out the door, “La Tempesta” still spinning its magic.

She drove past familiar haunts from her childhood, down the Miracle Mile, past the fabulous streamline May Company building, the La Brea Tar Pits, where Bobby had taken her and Mindy on picnics, and the old El Rey Theatre, where they’d gone to the movies. Oh boy, how Bobby loved movies. Past Bullock’s Wilshire, the art deco masterpiece, and by MacArthur Park, which Bobby insisted calling Westlake Park, even long after the name had been changed to honor the great World War II general. She jogged up and over, onto North Mission Road, looked for a place to park.

Heart tapping a hard four-four time in her chest, she walked toward the white-trimmed red brick building, beautiful despite its nature. It had been a hospital, once trying to save lives, now dealing with the remains. The green-and-white marble lobby seemed sober enough for its purpose. She did a double take at the Skeletons in the Closet gift store, a gift shop in the morgue that offered up all matter of items, from keychains to beach towels with body outlines on them, even body-shaped Post-it pads. Maybe she’d pick up a monogrammed body bag for some friends—enemies?—on the way out.

“May I help you?” a young man in suit and tie asked. He didn’t look ghoulish, but who else would want to work here?

“I’m here to identify someone’s remains.” Diane thought that’s how it should be put. She wished Mindy was here for moral support but she had refused to come. Some kind of ill-defined bad blood between her and Bobby. Something that neither could figure out how to resolve so they resolved to avoid each other, even though Mindy only lived an hour away from Bobby, up in Lancaster. Something that would never be resolved now.

The young man pointed her to the elevator in a small vestibule. The short trip seemed to take forever. A ride down, into the past.

She stepped out into a world that was more what she expected. Sterile, tile, gurneys. People in white smocks. An attendant escorted her to the viewing room. A spikey-haired doctor joined them.

“I’m Doctor Takamura. I’m sorry you had to come down here.”

“I guess it’s something that has to be done.”

“We don’t usually have people come down to the morgue to identify remains anymore. That’s just in the movies. But this was a special case.”

Diane wasn’t sure why Bobby was a special case. Maybe because he’d been a fairly well-known musician at one time, though that was long ago.

The doctor knocked on the glass. An attendant on the other side opened the blinds and pulled back the glaring white sheet. Diane walked closer to the window, almost pressing her nose against the glass. Bobby had almost made it. Today was the last day of the year; tomorrow would not only bring a new year but a new millennium, the twenty-first century. How Bobby would have loved to see it. He was always excited about things like birthdays and Christmas and New Year’s. Everyone had to die sooner or later, but she wished he could have lived just a few more days. Just long enough to be alive in the new millennium.

“Yes, that’s him. That’s my father.”

“Robert Saxon?” A look passed between the doctor and the assistant.

“Yes.”

“There’s something you should know,” the doctor said.

Before Diane could respond, an ancient black man entered the room. His dark blue double-breasted suit with padded shoulders and long drape was stylish, if out of date. And she hadn’t seen a Dick Tracy hat like that, well, since Warren Beatty’s Dick Tracy. The fuchsia silk kerchief craning up from the pocket was just right. All topped off by an ebony cane with a gleaming pearl handle. “Help you?” Dr. Takamura said.

“Booker Taylor,” the man said, sauntering in, very haughty. Lots of bling sparkled from his fingers. Booker “Boom-Boom” Taylor. He was an old friend of Bobby’s. She remembered him from her birthday parties when she was very young. He would toss her over his broad shoulders and play horsey. It started trickling back, Bobby and Booker and several of Bobby’s other friends jamming at her parties. And she remembered a neighbor once remarking, why did Bobby have that colored fella over all the time?

“Are you sure you’re in the right place?” the doctor said. Booker ignored him.

“Diane. Look at you.” Booker’s eyes lit up. “All grown up and quite the lady.” He squeezed her hand. Turned to see Bobby through the glass. “Bobby, Bobby, Bobby.” A long sigh escaped his lips. He went to the door that led to the little room.

Dr. Takamura stepped in front of him.

“No, it’s okay,” Diane said, smiling at Booker. He looked too sad to smile back. “He knew my father. They were in the music business together.”

Booker opened the door and went inside, Diane trailing. He took Bobby’s hand, tenderly massaged it.

“We weren’t in the music business together. We owned it. We had this town of Los Angeles locked up tighter than a bass drum. And your pop, he really could have gone somewhere. And no one could tap the eighty-eights like he could.”

“Eighty-eights?” the assistant said.

“The piano, hon. Tickle the ivories. Back in the day, Bobby Saxon was the man. And he knew one thing better than anyone, that we’re all bluffing our way through life.” Booker tripped on his words as another man entered the room. Dressed casual-cool.

“Who’re you?” the doctor said.

“Irvin Hernandez, L.A. Times.”

“The Times—what does the Times want here?”

“This is Bobby Saxon, right?”

“Yes.”

“I want his story.”

“I didn’t know anyone remembered my father. He hasn’t played music in years.”

“You’re his daughter? You must have some story to tell.”

To Diane, Bobby was just dad. She didn’t have much to tell. Her puzzlement must have been clear to everyone in the room.

Booker sat on a chair in the corner, leaning his chin on his cane. “I have a story to tell,” he began. “It was the middle of the war when I met Bobby…”

Excerpted from THE BLUES DON’T CARE Copyright © 2020 by
Paul D. Marks Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.

Book Reviews: No Substitute for Mimes by Carolyn J. Rose and Mental State by M. Todd Henderson @CarolynJRose @DownAndOutBooks

No Substitute for Mimes
Subbing Isn’t for Sissies #12
Carolyn J. Rose
Carolyn J. Rose, November 2019
ISBN 978-1-7342412-0-4
Trade Paperback

Set in the fictional town of Reckless River, Washington, residents are by turns, bemused, irked, and barely tolerant as their quiet town is besieged by a group of mimes.

Suddenly, they seem to be everywhere. And they are stealing things; small things, useless trinkets. But then, the stolen items reappear. Residents become increasingly bewildered and irritated, but that fails to suppress the turbulent life of substitute teacher, Barbara Reed. Her principal seems bent on handing her the most problematic assignments at the local school where she is a long-time fixture.

Reed’s life is crowded with a large number  of idiosyncratic individuals from a couple of cops, a wealthy retiree, some relatives and a host of friends. And there is a dog with few manners.

The novel is awash with incidents frequently involving several of Reed’s friends, especially local crime news reporter, Stan. People who like this kind of story in which the mystery or crime often takes a back seat to various social activities, will likely be enthralled.

The book is well-written, moves through town at a measured pace and arrives at a surprise ending that engages most of the town.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, March 2020.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
Traces, Grand Lac, Reunion, Red Sky.

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Mental State
M. Todd Henderson
Down and Out Books, May 2018
ISBN 978-1-948235-33-4
Trade Paperback

Royce Anderson, rogue FBI agent is on a personal crusade. He’s trying to nail the man who killed his brother Alex, a prominent professor of law at a prestigious law school in Chicago. Local police have tentatively ruled Alex’s death as a suicide. Royce is unbelieving, unimpressed, sure his brother would never have done such a thing.

But if Alex’s death wasn’t suicide, what was it? With almost no additional help, except that he sometimes receives along his troubled, occasionally stumbling way, the narrative wanders across the Eastern Seaboard. Indeed, because part of the story involves prior activities by the law professor, there are some undeveloped international elements as well.

The story follows a conflicted and disturbed agent, Royce Anderson, as he uses all his considerable skills and experience to confront and best some very evil and very well-connected people. There are some serious problems, not the least of which are interesting elements of the story which are undeveloped and some major jumps in points of view which may unnerve readers. The occasional political asides add little to what could have been a serious gripping thriller.

Nevertheless, readers with patience will be drawn to Royce’s side as he struggles to avenge his brother and save an innocent man, although at the price of several other lives hugely disrupted.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, February 2019.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
Traces, Grand Lac, Reunion, Red Sky.