A Passel of Teeny Reviews, Part 4

Once again, big surprise, I find myself with
an overload of books read but not yet reviewed
so I think it’s time for a roundup or two…

Unsub
Unsub #1
Meg Gardiner
Dutton, June 2017
ISBN 978-1-101-98552-6
Hardcover

If you’re ever in the mood for a nail-biting, gut-wrenching tale of police work, this is it. Detective Caitlin Hendrix comes very close to her own kind of obsession that plays like a counterpoint to the unsub’s sick and deadly obsession and, at times, it’s a little difficult to tell them apart. I don’t mean that literally—on the page, of course you know who is who—but the emotional turmoil that each feels has a sort of certain similarity and you can’t help wondering just how much the killer is affecting her, perhaps even twisting her mind, not to mention the agitation stemming from her own baggage. This unsub is pretty well terrifying and Ms. Gardiner had me flying through the pages.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, January 2018.

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Poor Things
Daniel Barnett
CreateSpace, June 2016
ISBN 978-1533613080
Trade Paperback

Are you ready for some creepy vibes of the horror variety? From the opening scene of a deer dying on the road, I had a sense of what the title might refer to in a vague sort of way but I wasn’t prepared for how much I would like these characters, especially Joel and a new friend, Ash, a tomboy with an inner strength and a no-nonsense attitude. A high school superjock, Joel is typically obnoxious and a bit of a bully towards his kid brother but his life changes in an instant. He’s naturally full of anger and resentment but a kernel of compassion is there. All he can really hope for is to find acceptance for his new circumstances and, just maybe, a little happiness.

Too bad there’s something evil beginning to stir, maybe the end of the world…

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, January 2018.

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Renting Silence
A Roaring Twenties Mystery #3
Mary Miley
Severn House, December 2016
ISBN 978-0-7278-8653-8
Hardcover

Jessie Beckett isn’t really a private investigator but she seems to have a knack for it so, when Mary Pickford asks her to look into a starlet’s death, she agrees, having no idea where her search for the truth will take her. Vaudeville’s colorful past, blackmail, an impending death sentence…all come into play but will these varying pieces lead Jessie to Lila Walker’s real murderer before Ruby Glynn hangs?

The mystery here is topnotch but it’s Ms. Miley‘s evocation of Hollywood in its early days that’s really the star of the show, pun intended. Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Myrna Loy, Zeppo Marx,  even Rin Tin Tin fill the pages with so much history and fun it’s easy to become mesmerized. I thoroughly enjoyed this episode in Jessie’s life and will be staring the next book, Murder in Disguise, as soon as I can.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, January 2018.

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Resurrection Mall
A Penns River Crime Novel #3
Dana King
Down & Out Books,
ISBN 978-1-943402-65-6
Trade Paperback

A town that’s down on its luck, economically speaking, is ripe for drug trade and mob activity along with a rise in petty crime and that’s what’s happened to Penns River, leading to corruption on multiple fronts and a police department that’s sorely tested. The “Resurrection Mall” of the book’s title actually is a shopping mall, one that’s being refurbished by a minister trying to help the community or so he says.

Doc Dougherty, the quintessential cop we all want on our side in a crunch, still goes home for Sunday dinner because that’s the kind of guy he is, rooted in family and the truly important things in life. Police work in Penns River is generally not exactly unusual but this time it most certainly is, beginning with the mass murders of five top level members of the drug trade.

Resurrection Mall is a little more dismal than I usually like but Mr. King‘s elegant writing, his plot development and his characters (who are refreshingly normal) all kept me going because I became invested in this Rust Belt community and in Doc. There are two earlier books and I think I’m going to have to check them out.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, January 2018.

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Crimson Earth
Modi Series #2
Anna Soliveres
Anna Soliveres, December 2015
ISBN 978-0-9960149-3-9
Trade Paperback

Aeva is a most unusual girl, even in her world that’s so different from our own, and is currently passing as the missing Queen Violet. Aeva is also right in the midst of the fight against a man who is obsessed with power, no matter what he has to do to obtain it and Aeva’s people look to her intelligence and strength to protect and lead them in this time of crisis. To do that, this remarkable young woman has become the strong, self-reliant heroine she was destined to be.

Crimson Earth is the sequel to Violet Storm which I read and enjoyed more than three years ago (https://cncbooksblog.wordpress.com/2014/09/24/book-review-violet-storm-by-anna-soliveres/). I didn’t feel quite the same connection to this second installment but I blame myself for not re-reading the first book before getting into this one and I really do recommend reading them in order to get the full effect of a really well-conceived dystopian tale.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, January 2018.

Book Review: The Bookseller by Mark Pryor—and a Giveaway

The BooksellerThe Bookseller
Mark Pryor
Seventh Street Books, October 2012
ISBN 978-1-61614-708-2
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Who is killing the celebrated bouquinistes of Paris?

Max—an elderly Paris bookstall owner—is abducted at gunpoint. His friend, Hugo Marston, head of security at the US embassy, looks on helplessly, powerless to do anything to stop the kidnapper.

 

Marston launches a search, enlisting the help of semiretired CIA agent Tom Green. Their investigation reveals that Max was a Holocaust survivor and later became a Nazi hunter. Is his disappearance somehow tied to his grim history, or even to the mysterious old books he sold?

 

On the streets of Paris, tensions are rising as rival drug gangs engage in violent turf wars. Before long, other booksellers start to disappear, their bodies found floating in the Seine. Though the police are not interested in his opinion, Marston is convinced the hostilities have something to do with the murders of these bouquinistes.

 

Then he himself becomes a target of the unknown assassins.

 

With Tom by his side, Marston finally puts the pieces of the puzzle together, connecting the past with the present and leading the two men, quite literally, to the enemy’s lair.

Just as the killer intended.

When I was first offered the chance to read and review this book, I naturally had to say yes. I mean, after all, it’s booksellers and I used to be one so how could I possibly resist? It didn’t hurt that the description was so enticing. Paris, kidnapping, murder, booksellers, spy-ish stuff—what more could I want? And now I’m happy to report that debut author Mark Pryor and  The Bookseller have lived up to my hopes quite nicely.

Hugo Marston has joined my list of heroes I love to read about, joining the likes of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher and Patrick Lee’s Travis Chase. These are the guys who have all the brawn they need but they use their minds to win the day and that is so very appealing to me. Hugo also has a pretty nifty buddy in Tom Green. The two look into the puzzle of the missing and murdered booksellers with open minds and great aplomb and the pace is almost faster than you can keep up with. Possible perpetrators and motives are in abundance and, at the same time, the author gives us a feel for Paris that is so rich and full of history that, at times, I forgot the story takes place in contemporary times or, at least, within the last 75 years. Or so. You’ll just have to find out for yourself 😉

Wonderful characters abound besides Hugo and Tom—in the very first pages, I came to like Max immeasurably—and the plot keeps on a-comin’.  Throw in an intriguing journalist, the Parisian police, Nazi hunters, drug dealers  and the hindrances that come with being attached to a US embassy and there’s hardly anything more you need (and Hugo’s Texas background adds a flavor that mixes nicely with Paris). Oh, and I mustn’t forget the feeling that the author gives that the reader is sitting right there in Paris soaking up all its beauty and history while all this is going on around you. What a lovely way to read a book!

To me, three things are most evident when an author is really good. First is strong characters, second is a plot that grabs me and won’t let go, and third is a mastery of the English language. Mark Pryor has it all in his first novel and I can’t wait for his next Hugo Marston mystery.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2012.

Have you discovered a real winner lately, something that’s

new to you if not to the book world? Tell us about it and

you’ll be entered in the drawing for a trade paperback copy

of The Bookseller by Mark Pryor. Open to all readers in

search of good mysteries, no residence restrictions. The winning

name will be drawn Wednesday evening, November 14th.


Book Reviews: The Sentry by Robert Crais, Stettin Station by David Downing and Damage by John Lescroart

The Sentry
Robert Crais
Putnam, January 2011
ISBN: 978-0-399-15707-3
Hardcover

There are many larger-than-life, hard-boiled superheroes, some more believable than others.  Then there is Joe Pike:  A strong, contemplative, quiet, unassuming protagonist.  And his sorrowful and anguished side-kick, PI Elvis Cole, adds a more human touch. Together, they make a great team, and in this, the third thriller in the series with Joe in the lead (Elvis is upfront in 11 others), they come together like ham and swiss or hand in glove.

It all begins when by chance Joe observes two gangbangers beating up a cook in a po’boy sandwich shop in Venice, California.  Killing one ( the other runs off), he meets the cook’s niece and becomes attracted to her, deciding to meet with the gang jefe to prevent further violence in what appears to be a protection racket.  This leads to all sorts of events involving the Mexican drug cartel, Bolivian drug lords, and a psychopathic killer, among others.

Each novel in the series is notable, with this entry among the best. The author has written a solid book, with ironic observations and a plot that swerves back and forth to keep the reader wondering what follows.  He has shown that the series is a long way from running out of steam, and I can’t wait for the next one.

Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, March 2011.

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Stettin Station
David Downing
Soho Press ,April 2011
ISBN: 978-1-56947-919-3
Trade Paperback

The chronicle of journalist John Russell begins in Nazi Berlin a week before Pearl Harbor in this, the third novel in the series [with a fourth, Potsdam Station, just out in hardcover].  The descriptions of Gestapo tactics and the beginnings of the “final solution” are eerily chilling.

Russell is ostensibly a correspondent for a San Francisco newspaper, allowing the author to describe the machinations of the Nazi censors and propaganda machine with vivid detail, while his protagonist acts as a go-between between German and American intelligence agents, carrying messages back and forth.  He even obtains proof that the Gestapo is removing Jews from Berlin and planning to gas them, even though he can hardly publish the story.

As conditions worsen, Russell has to find a way to get out of Germany, hoping to bring his long-time girlfriend with him.  It is a tale of terror with a thrill-a-page pace.  Descriptions of wartime Berlin and the police state remind us of a period many may have forgotten, but of which we, and they, should perhaps be reminded.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, March 2011.

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Damage
John Lescroart
Dutton, January 2011
ISBN: 978-0-525-95176-6
Hardcover

Readers should not expect the author’s trademark court scenes in this novel.  Instead, it is more of a psychological study about a newly elected DA, Wes Farrell, in San Francisco, protagonists also including Chief of Homicide Abe Glitsky, Asst. DA Amanda Jenkins and others. The antagonists include Ro Curtlee, a convicted rapist-murderer released by an appellate court on a technicality after serving nine years of a much longer sentence, and his parents, wealthy owners of one of only two newspapers in town and not hesitant in using their power to influence public officials or opinion.

Soon after Ro’s release pending a new trial, the question of bail arises; Farrell takes no position and the judge grants it for a $10 million bond. And then the chief witness in the first trial is found strangled and her apartment burned.  Obviously, suspicion falls on Ro. Another murder and threatening events soon follow.  The thrust of the plot is to get Ro back in jail, and the machinations of the cops and prosecutors vs. the influence of the Curtlees.

So, instead of a courtroom drama, we have a thriller enhanced by peeks into the conflicts and complexities, including ethics, values and procedures, facing various professionals in their attempts to serve justice.  Written with insight and flowing narrative, the novel is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, March 2011.

Book Review: Savages by Don Winslow

Savages
Don Winslow
Simon & Schuster, July 13, 2010
ISBN 1439183368
Hardcover (ARC)

Every great company has an origin story, and here is Ben and Chonny’s:

They’re hanging out at the beach, Chon on extended leave between his two hitches, and they’re playing volleyball on the court next to the Hotel Laguna.

Ben and Chon are the kings of the court, and why not? Two tall, lanky, athletic guys who make a great team. Ben is the setter who thinks of the game as chess, Chon is the spiker who goes for the kill. They win a lot more often than they lose, they have a good time, and tanned chicks in bikins and suntan oil stop and watch them do it.

It’s a good life.

Savages consists of 290 chapters in just over 300 pages. The writing is staccato, aggressive, punchy, with abbreviated sentences that frequently fall into

staggered breaks

like this;

the occasional scene rendered in screenplay format as though the POV character were imagining it as a movie; the liberal use of em-dashes, acronyms and a weirdly compelling southern California version of Cockney rhyming slang; and more pop-culture references and brand-name dropping than you can swing a dead cat at.

The story is thus: Ben and Chon run a very lucrative marijuana growing and distribution business. Ben, the only child of two East Coast-born quasi-hippie therapists, oversees the horticultural part of the business and channels his energy and fortune into improving lives in the Third World. Chon, son of a drug dealer, SEAL, and PTSD-immune veteran of both Iraq and Afghanistan, provides the muscle. There’s a girl too, Ophelia (“O” for short, sometimes revised to “Multiple O” for reasons made all too wink-wink-nudge-nudge clear), whose mother (“Paqu,” or “Passive Aggressive Queen of the Universe”) might have walked off the set of “Real Housewives of Orange County,” but Ophelia’s part in this is as slight as her characterization: she smokes pot, has sex with both Ben and Chon (separately and together), and gets kidnapped by the bad guys.

(Part of me wants to go off on a tear about the misogyny oozing out of practically every page of this book, but I’m not sure I could rein myself back in once I got started. Suffice it to say that I was thoroughly disgusted with the short shrift given women characters – made even worse when compared to how superficial the male characters are – and I’m not one who usually gets riled up over representations of women in fiction. That’s how bad it is.)

Back to the topic at hand, said bad guys are the Baja Cartel, who’ve decided they want in on Ben and Chon’s business and the money it will bring in. Their proposal to take over distribution comes in the form of a video of several decapitated drug dealers. Ben and Chon consider the offer carefully, but in the end turn it down. Unfortunately for Ben and Chon, the cartel’s offer wasn’t a yes-or-no proposition, and so Ophelia is taken hostage to force their compliance.

The complimentary blurb from James Ellroy on the cover hints that Savages tries to emulate Ellroy’s style, but its lack of depth means it falls far short. The bulletpoint paragraphs and writing style(s) could have served as visual and textual representations of the shallow, superficial, attention span-deficient lives the characters lead, thereby infusing them with dimension and nuance, style thereby serving as an instrument of substance. Instead, the characters come across even more devoid of depth and personality. It’s not a good sign when tertiary characters are more interesting than those in the first and second rank.

The set-up takes up more than a third of the book. This is largely because it seems to take about 10 pages of interrupted sentences and rapid-fire, cascading asides to convey one single nugget of relevant information. The remainder of the book is about Ben and Chon’s efforts to get Ophelia back and get back at the cartel for coercing them into this partnership. Once this part gets going, it actually progresses at a reasonable pace–not that the story or characters acquire any depth, it’s just that the dearth of substance is less obvious when the pace picks up.

Predictably, things don’t end well. Call it a Mexican standoff, call it a Shakespearian ending on the scale of “Hamlet” (might as well get some mileage out of Ophelia), but by the ending the stage is littered with bodies, wrecked cars and empty guns. The real tragedy, however, is that by the time I’d waded through 300 pages of style-without-substance, I couldn’t be bothered to care who lived or died.

Oliver Stone reportedly plans to direct a film version of Savages. Although it strikes me as more of a Quentin Tarantino vehicle, I think it might convert well to the big screen. Take that as you will.

Reviewed by Laura Taylor, June 2010.