Book Review: The Gone Dead Train by Lisa Turner

The Gone Dead Train
Detective Billy Able Series #2

Lisa Turner
William Morrow, July 2014
ISBN 978-0-06-213619-0
Trade Paperback

Memphis detective Billy Able investigates the death of two legendary bluesmen—sax player Little Man Lacy and Red Davis. Little Man falls into a construction dig and Red Davis dies waiting for a train—he is found dead on a bench outside the station.  An incompetent detective, a year away from retirement, caught the case and he’s not interested in a couple of old men who were staying at the local homeless shelter. A voodoo bag was found on Davis and female patrol officer Frankie Malone, who grew up in Key West and is familiar with the Santeria religion, sees a connection between the religion and the deaths.

Able, who is returning to active duty after an extended leave, is contacted by a friend, former St. Louis Cardinal’s catcher Augie Poston. Poston, whose career was cut short by mental illness, contacts Able about investigating the death of his mother.  Augie’s mother Dahlia Poston was a civil rights worker who died not long after the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. Supposedly she was killed trapped in a burning car, but Augie wants to know more about her death. He found scrapbooks of his mother and he hired an investigative journalist to look into her death.

Much of the action takes place around the blues clubs and bars of Beale Street. Readers of Kris Nelscott, Walter Mosley, and Robert Crais may want to check out Detective Billy Able’s latest adventure.

Reviewed by Susan Belsky, May 2017.

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Book Review: The Will to Kill by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins

The Will to Kill
A Mike Hammer Novel

Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins
Titan Books, March 2017
ISBN: 978-1-7832-9142-7
Hardcover

Another uncompleted Mickey Spillane manuscript finished by Max Collins finds Mike Hammer walking along the Hudson River in the middle of the night, unable to sleep, and discovering half a body, the upper torso, on an ice floe.  It turns out the half a corpse was the trusted butler of a wealthy inventor who was the captain of Pat Chambers, Mike’s homicide detective buddy, when he first joined the police force.  Pat suspects his friend’s death may have been a murder and “retains” Mike to investigate.

Mike travels to dead man’s Sullivan County estate where he meets the various members of the man’s dysfunctional family and employees.  The daughter also retains Mike, who suspects not only that the father was murdered, but that the butler was as well.  Each of the grown children, two older brothers, and their younger half siblings (the daughter and a brother) has a motive to murder the others.  Under the terms of their father’s will, the inheritances don’t kick in until age 40 and in the event of a death, that portion reverts to the corpus, fattening the eventual amount for the survivors.

The novel is slightly different from the accustomed Spillane genre: it is more akin to a traditional detective mystery, albeit with Mike Hammer wisecracks, a smattering of sex and firearms.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that approach.  But somehow it left this reader with a desire for something more.  In any event, it is a good read and can be recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, April 2017.

Book Reviews: The Killers Are Coming by Jack Bludis and Unreasonable Doubt by Vicki Delany

The Killers Are Coming
A Ken Sligo Mystery
Jack Bludis
Bold Venture Press, January 2017
ISBN 978-1-5410-9677-6
Trade Paperback

Killers is a throwback to the old-fashioned, hard-boiled PI noir genre told in the first person.  Ken Sligo returns home to Baltimore from overseas at the end of WW II and has no wish to go to work in the family business operating a butcher shop in a local market.  Instead, his estranged brother arranges an introduction to a local bail bondsman (and possibly a low-level gangster) and he becomes a private eye tracing bail skippers.

Then one day, he is asked to follow a woman dancer at a local theater, reporting on who she sees, talks to and any other activities.  This assignment leads Sligo far from the original purpose as the trail becomes more convoluted. Also complicating his life is his pending testimony in a murder trial of one of the men working for the bondsman.  Naturally, Sligo’s testimony is unwanted either by his erstwhile employer, or by the accused.

Having lived in Baltimore for a time, I found it nostalgic to read about the city, and especially the notorious East Baltimore Street which housed the seedier elements of the burg, including bars, burlesque houses and strip joints.  For those who enjoy this type of novel, it is an excellent example of light reading, with some aspects of a Mickey Spillane mystery, especially the violence and sex, and is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, February 2017.

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Unreasonable Doubt
A Constable Molly Smith Novel #8
Vicki Delany
Poisoned Pen Press, February 2016
ISBN: 978-1-4642-0513-2
Hardcover

The author turns her attention in this entry in the Constable Molly Smith Mystery series to a wrongful conviction controversy in the form of a character named Walter Desmond, who was found guilty of murdering a young woman, and remanded to the penitentiary.  After 25 years, an appeal exonerates him based on new evidence and a sloppy police investigation.  Upon his release, he decides to return to the little town of Trafalgar, British Columbia, where he encounters considerable resentment.

Complicating his visit, a number of attacks on women occur: on the wife of Police Sergeant John Winters; on Molly’s mother, Lucky; and a visiting Dragon Boat team member.  Naturally, suspicion falls on Desmond.  Meanwhile, the original murder case is reopened, and Winters investigates the cold case with little hope of finding the killer.

The novel demonstrates how the mindset of a largely insulated population works. Most minds are made up; the police said Desmond was guilty and, despite the appeals court saying he is innocent, they still believe him to be guilty.  And it also shows the dramatic difference between old-time cops and modern professionals.  This is the tenth novel in the series, although Molly plays a small (but crucial) part in it. Winters occupies a central role.

The author has written an interesting take on the subject, especially with regard to the advisability of whether Desmond should, so to speak, return to the scene of the crime to find out why he was picked to be the murderer, or just remain in Vancouver and not face a hostile population.

An excellent series, well-written and always thought-provoking, and recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, March 2017.

Book Review: Quarry’s Vote by Max Allan Collins

Quarry’s Vote
The Quarry Novels #5
Max Allan Collins
Hard Case Crime, March 2016
ISBN: 978-1-7832-9891-4
Mass Market Paperback

From the publisher:  Now retired and happily married, Quarry turns down a million-dollar contract to assassinate a presidential candidate. It’s not the sort of assignment you can just walk away from without consequences – – but coming after Quarry has consequences, too.  The longest-running series from Max Allan Collins, author of Road to Perdition and the first ever to feature a hitman as the main character, the Quarry novels tell the story of a paid assassin with a rebellious streak and an unlikely taste for justice. Once a Marine sniper, Quarry found a new home stateside with a group of contract killers. But some men aren’t made for taking orders – – and when Quarry strikes off, on his own, God help the man on the other side of his nine-millimeter.

Quarry, who thinks of himself as a Vietnam-era relic, looks at himself at this stage of his life thusly:  “I was thirty-five.  I was getting bored with one-night stands and my own microwave cooking, I wanted some company and she seemed pleasant enough. She talked too much, but most people do.  She was beautiful, a terrific cook, and she kept out of my way.  What more could I ask?”  He’s been retired for nearly ten years, having used the name “Quarry” during those years when he was a paid assassin.  Written in 1987, the book at times seems prescient:  “We are coming into a fascinating election year.  The two parties – – depending upon whom they choose as their standard bearers of course – – should be in for a real battle. Think of it:  the highest office in the land up for grabs…we could have a true conservative in the White House . . .”   He turns down the offer, despite the big bucks involved.  And the situation leaves him deeply unsettled, threatening the life he has come to love, as people such as the ones making this offer don’t like to leave any loose ends.  Thinking of his wife, he muses “She was a sweet kid. I didn’t deserve her, but then who does deserve what they get in this life, good or bad?”

The ensuing tale of killers chasing a killer, who is in turn chasing them, is wonderfully well written.  A target is described as a “wealthy paranoid political crackpot who thinks the Soviets are after him.” When Quarry is asked “Are you a detective or an assassin,” he responds “Necessity has turned me into a little of both.”  When Quarry enters an upper-middle-class residence, he thinks  “It was the home of somebody who used to bowl but now golfs.”  His writing has been called “classic pulp fiction,” but my own take on it is that it is as enjoyable as anything being written contemporaneously.

Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, February 2017.

Book Review: What You Break by Reed Farrel Coleman

What You Break
A Gus Murphy Novel #2
Reed Farrel Coleman
Putnam, February 2017
ISBN 978-0-3991-7304-2
Hardcover

Michael Connolly has Los Angeles, Ian Rankin Edinburgh, Laura Lippman Baltimore; the late Robert Parker Boston; Tim Hallinan Bangkok.  Others write about localities they know.  And Reed Farrel Coleman not only lives in Suffolk County, Long Island, New York, but takes us on a guided tour, in this novel featuring his somewhat flawed ex-cop Gus Murphy, still suffering after the death of his 20-year-old son, John Jr.  Gus, divorced after the death blew up his marriage, lives and works at a second-rate motel, driving a van to and from MacArthur airport and a LIRR station, picking up and dropping off passengers to and from the Paragon and providing security services in exchange for a free room.

The night bellman, Slava, who had once saved Gus’s life, is a close friend. When his friend’s past catches up with him and his life is threatened Gus is faced with a dilemma: sacrifice his friend or attempt to help him.   Meanwhile, another of Gus’s friends, the ex-priest Bill Kilkenny, asks him to take on finding out why wealthy Miceh Spears’ granddaughter was murdered.  The two plots move along simultaneously along the highways and byways  stretching from Queens County and Brooklyn right across Long Island.

Coleman even delves into the social and economic differences between various localities, with the Long Island Expressway sort of dividing north (white and wealthy) and south (for the most part poorer) and how enclaves protect the richer from others.  The novel takes a penetrating look at Gus, his personality and psyche, his assets and flaws.

A good read, the novel is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, February 2017.

Book Reviews: Baby Shark’s Showdown at Chigger Flats by Robert Fate and The Right Wrong Number by Jim Nesbitt

Baby Shark’s Showdown at Chigger Flats
Baby Shark #5
Robert Fate
Robert Bealmear, July 2012
Ebook

For readers of racing, abrupt and heavily plot-driven novels, here’s a fine example. Plus, it’s very well written with unusual and intriguing characters set in the blasted climate of the vast Texas oil fields. The action begins in the very beginning. In Fort Worth, Texas in 1960. Otis and Baby are on their way out of their office to a surveillance job. By the time the chapter ends, one guy has been dispatched by car bumper, another by .38, a third would-be assassin by heavy-duty handgun slug and at least one thug semi-crushed where he sat in their vehicle.

The cops show up of course, and some minor nicks and scrapes are duly attended to. Meanwhile, snappy dialogue between Otis and Baby and a few other characters effectively establish the characters, professions and attitudes of some characters. And, importantly, we get the foundation of the plot. A vanquished adversary, a very bad person, has been released from the Texas Penitentiary on compassionate leave. Now, word is out he wants revenge, and he has a lot of help.

Well, there is almost no let-down in pace, narrative voice or dialog between the characters for the entire novel. A delightful, bloody thriller of a crime novel.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, September 2016.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

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The Right Wrong Number
An Ed Earl Burch Novel #2
Jim Nesbitt
Spotted Mule Press, February 2017
ISBN: 978-0-9983294-0-6
Trade Paperback

This novel is filled with wrong numbers. Nearly every character is wrong, is one you would not enjoy having dinner with. Most of us would be afraid to walk down a dark street or even have a beer with any of them for fear of getting caught in the violent wash of a sudden shoot-out. Make no mistake, this is what we call a nasty, hard-boiled murder story. There’s no mystery here. The bad guys are carefully identified and described. There are no good guys, even the cops are at best flawed and mostly getting through life by bending the rules whenever necessary.

This exciting, roiling, novel is set in Texas and the action, nearly constant, runs from throttlings in Houston to gunfire, rape and murder in Dallas, as well as several points in between. The southern border to Mexico is breached as well. The story follows ex-cop, and former homicide dick, former footballer, Ed Earl Burch. He is paying in pain for his history and the loss of his gold shield due to questionable actions. He is over-weight, under-paid, living half the time from paid gigs as a private detective who has a rep that he’ll take on any sort of case. He seems to live the rest of the time wound up in the naked, sweaty limbs of ex-wives, current girlfriends and sundry other females, all of questionable social status. The sex is often violent, sometimes brutal, explicit and frequent.

Burch becomes entangled in a complicated arrangement involving the transfer of large amounts of cash and illegal hard goods among banks and assorted gangs across international boundaries. Burch agrees to aid the wife of one of the principals in trying to wrest large chunks of money from her mate. Her attraction to Burch is not so much in desperately needed coin of the realm as it is in the use of her body. Their sex is frequent and frank and varied. The more they plan and maneuver, the more collateral damage occurs, to foe and friend alike.

The pace of the author’s writing is mostly fast, furious and relentless. Occasionally he lapses into rambling philosophical observations, but those too are well-written, as is the entirety of the novel. This is certainly not a crime novel with universal reader appeal, but it will have strong appeal to a particular segment of the reading public.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, May 2017.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

Book Review: Thieves Fall Out by Gore Vidal Writing as Cameron Kay

Thieves Fall OutThieves Fall Out
Gore Vidal, writing as “Cameron Kay”
Hard Case Crime/Titan Publishing, April 2016
ISBN 978-1-7832-9249-3
Mass Market Paperback

It had been a long time since I’d read a novel by Gore Vidal (partially due to the fact that he passed away 3-1/2 years ago at age 86).  It was a pleasure to have the opportunity to read a novel by this prolific author, thanks to publisher Hard Case Crime, which discovered a lost pulp crime novel written in 1952, unavailable for more than 60 years and never published under his real name.  This is a tale of a down-on-his-luck American trying to smuggle an ancient treasure out of Egypt on the eve of a bloody revolution.

From the publisher:  It is a pulp yarn through and through, defiantly non-literary (and non-P.C., but then Vidal always was that, with echoes of “Casablanca” in its wartime intrigues and desperate rogues.  But it will also hold interest for modern readers for its depiction of Egypt in the throes of a revolution, with the ouster of a corrupt monarch leading to rioting in the streets, bloodshed and chaos.

Peter Wells, 31 years old, born in Salem, Oregon, finds himself in Cairo in July, the hottest possible time of the year.  He has been robbed by a prostitute and left penniless with nothing except, fortunately, his passport.  In quick succession, he meets two beauteous young woman, one French and one German, each of whom quickly has him under her spell, despite warnings against each and a slight unease that they may each cause harm, either directly or indirectly, to him, as well as the mission he is on: to smuggle out of the country a piece of jewelry said to be cursed but worth over $100,000, for a ‘commission’ of 10%, which he desperately needs.  The not-too-far-distant history of one of the women with Nazis, and of the other with the present Egyptian king, in addition to a mysterious hunchback known as Le Mouche, enter into the tale as well.

The novel reads quickly, and the plot is intriguing, neither Peter nor the reader knowing who can be trusted, and certain that each has been telling him nothing but lies.  It is a very interesting novel, especially considering its true authorship, and is recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, April 2016.