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 Twenty-Year Death by Ariel S. Winter and Redemption by Kate Flora

The Twenty-Year DeathThe Twenty-Year Death
Ariel S. Winter
Hard Case Crime, August 2012
ISBN 978-0-85768-581-0
Hardcover

It’s a three in one deal and when I see something like that I can’t pass it up. Yep, three books in one giant-sized novel. Three murder mysteries that bring back the genre of early hard-boiled detectives, of desperate people taking desperate measures to save themselves or their loved ones. Winter has written a novel worthy enough to be included as part of the Hard Case Crime series.

The Twenty-Year Death is actually three separate murder mysteries tied together by two characters. The first story, “Malvineau Prison”, is set in 1931. Chief Inspector Pelleter is only visiting the small French town of Verargent to speak to a prisoner concerning violence against other inmates. However, when a corpse is found within the town limits, Pelleter is drawn into a complex murder mystery involving not only the prison, but Shem Rosenkrantz, a famous American writer and his wife Clothilde.

Jump ahead ten years to Hollywood and “The Falling Star”. Clothilde-now Chloe Rose-is an actress who is paranoid thinking someone is following her. Her husband, Shem, who is writing not only for the movies, but for a smut producer, has become an alcoholic. The movie studio’s head of security hires private detective Dennis Foster to discover if Chloe’s fears are justified. What he discovers is the dead body of Chloe’s costar and very important people willing to go to great lengths to keep secrets buried.

Move to 1951 and “Police At The Funeral”. Shem Rozencrantz, has-been writer, is struggling to recover from his alcoholism and hoping for an inheritance from his first wife to keep Clothilde safe in her asylum. When he gets into an argument with his son, the young man ends up dead. Shem is hounded by the police after he and his girlfriend try to cover up the accidental death.

At first I wasn’t sure what I was getting into with this massive tome. Three stories that could just as well have been three separate novels instead of grouped together under one cover. Winter writes each with a different tone and voice. The first ends up being a straight mystery while the second is in the vein of the first person hard-boiled private eye looking at a world gone dirty. The third reminds me of the fifties and sixties short novelettes of one man with his back against the wall, trying to save himself from a circumstance gone out of his control. I ended up enjoying each story even though it took me awhile to finish the entire novel. This is something different but definitely worth reading.

Reviewed by Stephen L. Brayton, August 2012.
Author of Night Shadows, Beta and Alpha.

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RedemptionRedemption
Kate Flora
Five Star, February 2012
ISBN 9781594153792
Hardcover

A homicide detective’s life is never pretty or easy. There are always pressures from home and family and bean counters at work. There are even pressures within the ranks from other colleagues’ lives. Thus is the story of Joe Burgess of the Portland, Maine PD. A solid murder mystery with plenty of character driven action to keep you turning the pages.

Burgess just wants to spend time with his girlfriend and two kids they are thinking of fostering. However, his job keeps getting in the way. A weekend with the kids is interrupted by the murder of Burgess’ long time friend and war buddy Reggie Libby. Libby, never quite the same after the war, turned to alcohol and the street. So who would kill him? Suspects abound. His son, a shyster realtor, his ex-wife. Burgess’s struggles to find evidence in the case are another obstacle. A superior is urging him to cut out the extra manpower for what looks like an accidental drowning of a wino. Nobody seems to know Reggie’s mysterious new employment. Burgess’s friends on the street are too addled-minded to be of but scant assistance. Reggie’s son, Joey is nowhere to be found and the ex wife is a witch. The situation grows more tense as the days pass and the clues start to add up.

One of the things about homicide mysteries that keep them interesting are the subplots. Redemption has a couple of good ones, even though the latter is brought in late in the story. The story isn’t just focused on Burgess and the murder or his friend. His colleague has an ongoing problem with a woman and just doesn’t quite know how to handle the situation. Flora does a nice job of keeping me interested in the main plot, but also allowed me a breather by bringing in other action to enjoy.

Reviewed by Stephen L. Brayton, September 2012.
Author of Night Shadows, Beta and Alpha.

Review: The Gutter and the Grave

The Gutter and the Grave
Ed McBain
Hard Case Crime/Dorchester, December 2005.
Originally published as I’m Cannon – For Hire by Curt Cannon by Hui Corp., 1958.
ISBN 9780843955873
Mass Market

The name is Cordell.

I’m a drunk. I think we’d better get that straight from the beginning. I drink because I want to drink. Sometimes I’m falling-down ossified, and sometimes I’m rosy-glow happy, and sometimes I’m cold sober–but not very often. I’m usually drunk, and I live where being drunk isn’t a sin, though it’s sometimes a crime when the police go on a purity drive.

Matt Cordell is a cuckold, disgraced former private detective, and down-and-out drunk when boyhood friend Johnny Bridges finds him between benders and asks Cordell to look into the disappearance of cash from Bridges’ tailor shop. Before he’s even begun, Cordell discovers Bridges’ partner dead from two gunshot wounds to the chest and Bridges fingered as the killer. Then he meets Laraine Marsh, the victim’s sister-in-law, and all his past troubles begin to seem like mere inconveniences. With a former P.I. rival baying for his blood and the cops beginning to think he’s the killer, can Cordell cut through a Gordian knot of lies and maybe, just maybe, redeem himself?

Ed McBain is a great author to turn to when I’m craving a good, no-frills detective story. I’ve only read four McBain novels so far, barely scratching the surface of his very extensive oeuvre (and not even touching all those he wrote under Evan Hunter, his legal name), and I’ve yet to be disappointed. The man was  a writing juggernaut. According to Wikipedia, in addition to McBain and Hunter, he also wrote under at least half a dozen other pseudonyms during his 50-year career. He didn’t only write gritty crime fiction either, but also science fiction, scripts (for movies, television, and the stage), and children’s books. What amazes me even more is that, although he did write series at times (most notably the 87th Precinct novels), many of McBain’s books stand on their own. Each, so far as my limited exposure has found, is fresh and original and populated by three-dimensional characters, while still adhering to the conventions of the genre.

The Gutter and the Grave was originally published in the late 1950s, an era when noir was popular in fiction and on screen. The Gutter and the Grave has all the atmosphere of classic hard-boiled crime fiction but without the verbal tics that distinguish some of the more notable purveyors of that genre (Raymond Chandler, I’m looking at you). That’s not a complaint. The Gutter and the Grave is about as boiled-down and bare-bones as a book can get and not be a Reader’s Digest condensed version. The style is a reflection of Matt Cordell’s spirit, beaten down and tarnished but with a hint of élan lurking beneath the surface.

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