Book Reviews: Catch Me by Lisa Gardner, Accelerated by Bronwen Hruska, Creole Belle by James Lee Burke, and The Impossible Dead by Ian Rankin

Catch MeCatch Me
Lisa Gardner
Dutton, February 2012
ISBN: 978-0-525-95276-3
Hardcover

D.D. Warren, the Boston homicide detective featured in this widely-read series, faces two challenges in this latest installment: a new baby boy who keeps her and her boyfriend, Alex, up through the night and, now that she’s back from maternity leave, a complex mystery surrounding a young woman who approaches her with the admonition that she expects to be murdered four days hence and she hopes D.D. will handle the investigation. What to do?  How can you undertake the investigation of a murder that hasn’t even taken place yet?

The prospective victim’s name is Charlene, known as Charlie throughout.  She’s spent the past year in training:  running, boxing, and learning to shoot in anticipation of the big event.  It seems her two best friends were strangled on January 21 in each of the previous two years, and logic dictates that it’s now Charlie’s turn.

The plot traces the next days and the events that take place, which demonstrate D.D.’s evolving character change brought about by her domestic developments and Charlie’s preparations to meet her expected fate.  An interesting aside within the sub-plot, which addresses murders of pedophiles, involves a young boy lured into a potential sex act by the user of an internet game appealing to youngsters.  The author uses the technique to tell the story by alternating third person p.o.v. to relate D.D.’s activities, and first person describing Charlie’s.

Not a thrill a page, perhaps, but certainly an excellent thriller, and recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, July 2012.

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AcceleratedAccelerated
Bronwen Hruska
Pegasus, October 2012
ISBN:  978-1-60598-379-0
Hardcover

Once the reader gets past and accepts the initial premise of this novel, that there is an almost universal conspiracy to boost children’s learning power by declaring them victims of ADD or ADHD and prescribing Ritalin or similar drugs, then it becomes a heart-warming story.  Sean Benn, a single father (the result of his wife’s abandoning him and their young son, Toby), is pressured to dose the boy, against his better judgment, after having refused for quite some time.

It should be noted that Toby’s best friend had gone into a coma and died.  The school told everyone it was the result of a peanut allergy. Shortly afterward, Toby fell during PT, suffering from an arrhythmia, and ended up in the hospital, comatose.  From that point the plot takes off in dramatic fashion.

Certainly the novel’s raison d’etre is a significant topic.  When over-medication is routinely used to force students to accelerate their ability to learn, something is wrong.  So exposure is warranted. But to raise the possibility that this technique is so widespread across the country, aided and abetted by pharmaceutical companies, while worrisome, is kind of hard to believe.  But maybe such exaggeration is needed to make the point.  And perhaps “worrisome” is required as well.  Written with a smooth hand and tightly plotted, the book is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, September 2012.

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Creole BelleCreole Belle
James Lee Burke
Simon & Schuster, July 2012
ISBN: 978-1-4516-4313-3
Hardcover

The latest adventures of Dave Robicheaux and Clete Purcell read like a massive morality play in 500-plus pages.  The series tales place in southern Louisiana, the bayou country and New Orleans, with all the historic corruption derived from the Civil War and slavery, the oil industry, prostitution and other societal evils.  Dave and Clete are supposed to represent the good fighting the sleaziness.

In the previous entry in the series, the duo suffered near death in a bayou shootout, and we now find Dave in a New Orleans recovery facility in a morphine-induced haze where he receives a midnight visit from Tee Jolie Mellon, a creole barroom singer who leaves him an i-pod filled with music, including three songs she sings and which apparently only he can hear.  Raising doubts that the visit was in fact real.  Meanwhile, Clete is confronted by two goons claiming they hold a marker for a debt he believes was paid off many years before. To further complicate his life, Clete witnesses his illegitimate daughter murder one of the goons.  Then Tee Jolie’s young sister washes up on the Gulf Coast in a block of ice.  An oil well blow-off fouling the environment adds to the corruption endemic to their world.

To say the very least, the plot is a highly complicated series of inter-related components weaved into a long and somewhat tiring saga. The author has stretched his formidable abilities to include wide-ranging comments on a variety of subjects, some poignant, others evocative.  But always clear and concise.  One has to question the violence performed by Dave and Clete in their quest for justice.  Is it excessive and, perhaps, unwarranted?  But certainly it is in character, and the novel is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, October 2012.

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The Impossible DeadThe Impossible Dead
Ian Rankin
Reagan Arthur/Bay Bay Books, November 2012
ISBN 978-0-316-07877-1
Trade Paperback

Ian Rankin usually lays a foundation of current and past events in his novels. And, in this second Malcolm Fox mystery, he creates a tale reaching back a quarter of a century, when agitation and violence marked efforts for a separate Scotland. Fox, who made his debut in The Complaints, grows exponentially as a protagonist, along with his sidekicks on his Internal Affairs team, Tony Kaye and Joe Naysmith. They are worthy successors to the now retired Rebus, although more subtle in the presentation.

This murder-mystery has its beginnings in an investigation of fellow cops who may have covered up for a corrupt co-worker, Detective Paul Carter, who had been found guilty of misconduct. The original accuser was Carter’s uncle, an ex-cop himself. When the uncle is found dead, perhaps murdered with a pistol that theoretically did not exist for it should have been destroyed by the police in 1985, and Carter himself dead by drowning shortly afterward, Fox is drawn into his own inquiry outside the aegis of a Complaints review, resurrecting the turmoil of the past and terrorist threats of the present.

Rankin also demonstrates his trademark attention to character development, concentrating much of the story on the deterioration of Fox’s father’s physical well-being and his relationship with his sister, each with sensitivity and care. At the same time, the author shows his talent for integrating the setting, plot and theme, tightly intertwining the various elements.

Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, November 2012.