Book Review: Dietland by Sarai Walker

DietlandDietland
Sarai Walker
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, May 2015
ISBN 978-0-544-37343-3
Hardcover

Reading Dietland is indubitably equivalent to walking a mile in the enormous shoes of our nearly thirty year old, three-hundred-four-pound narrator, Plum. I’ve never felt that I could genuinely understand a position I’ve not actually been in. Until now. This unprecedented presentation of current social issues is more than thought-provoking. It is painful and tragic, with portions that are harsh, raw, and deserving of deliberation.

Commanding characters create empathy and sympathy as they uncomfortably reveal reasons for actions. The potpourri of concerns surrounding our narrator include: Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, female vigilantes, fat-shaming, feminism and self-acceptance. Ms. Walker unapologetically strips down her characters (yes, literally…occasionally), giving the reader circumstances and background information, along with bigger picture views that beckon the most open of minds to take in just a bit more.

Plum’s story unfolds most poignantly. The reader meets Plum in present day to fully understand her lifestyle and goals. Where she is, where she thinks she will be. Why she is being stalked.

The intriguing Stalker Girl leaves a book for Plum that upon opening mentally and emotionally whisks her twelve years back in time; to when she was about the same age as the girls that write “Dear Kitty” letters to her filled with “predictable topics…boys, razors and their various uses….” Three years of providing “big sisterly” support and advice regarding matters as pressing as “why won’t he call?” and “can a girl ask a boy out?” begins to seem frivolously indulgent.

Buried in the book, Plum gradually moves away from her daily correspondence with teen girls to spending face-to-face time with grown women. Life-goals beg re-examination. Violent acts of revenge exacted by a woman known only as “Jennifer” force Plum to consider matters she’s blissfully ignored as well as creating a bit of mystery that tickled the back of this reader’s mind with possible connections to Plum’s “work world” and new and improving small, intimate “world of friends”.

My very favorite thing about Dietland is the long list of quotes I pulled. The words grabbed me while I was reading, enough to be worthy of highlight, and that is a spectacular thing; but reviewing the quotes later, out of context…..was absolutely stunning.

My crystal ball tells me that after the May 2015 release, we are going to be hearing a lot about Dietland. I believe that it will be the “something totally different and efficacious” book of 2015.

Reviewed by jv poore, April 2015.

Book Reviews: Capital Punishment by Robert Wilson, Original Skin by David Mark, and Andrew’s Brain by E. L. Doctorow

Capital MurderCapital Punishment
Robert Wilson
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, April 2013
ISBN: 978-0-547-93519-5-5
Hardcover

It’s not often that kidnappers do not demand money in exchange for the victim.  But that is precisely what happens when Alyshia D’Cruz, daughter of an Indian billionaire, Frank D’Cruz, is grabbed one night in London, and she is subjected to intense psychological interrogation, for reasons that are unclear to her father.

The ramifications of the abduction are wide.  One possible motive is revenge on her father—but at whose instigation and for what reason: Gangster associates with whom he has been in business?  Terrorists in Pakistan, where he has operations and dealings with intelligence agents?  There are other theories involving MI-6 and other spy agencies, personal relationships of various characters, including Frank’s ex-wife, Frank’s relationship with his daughter, and her relationship with her mother (Frank’s ex-wife).  Ultimately Charles Boxer, a private security officer, is retained by Frank to rescue his daughter.

This is a very complicated novel, written with great depth and on many levels, encompassing religious fanatics, Indian mobsters, London crime lords, Pakistani politics, and British government officials, all kinds of plots within plots and distorted personal relationships.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, August 2013.

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Original SkinOriginal Skin
David Mark
Blue Rider Press, May 2013
ISBN: 978-0-399-15865-0
Hardcover

Detective Sergeant Aector McAvoy showed in his debut in The Dark Winter that he not only blushes easily, but his gut leads him to see crimes passed over by others.  Once again, he follows his instincts to solve a murder chalked up by others in the CID as a suicide.  It’s not as if the Yorkshire Serious and Organized Crime Unit hasn’t enough to do, but by conducting his “informal” investigation, McAvoy brings the “solve” statistics way up as at least two more murders occur.

Simultaneously, the Unit is overwhelmed by a series of crimes brought about by a vicious group seeking to take over the drug trade previously run by Vietnamese.  But McAvoy sniffs foul play in the year-old discovery of the nude body of a young man found choked in his home, hanging in his kitchen.  So he looks into it informally, with a sort of blessing by his superior, Detective Trish Pharaoh, and learns more about underground erotic sex activities than he bargained for, as well as coming too close to politicians who can cause him more trouble than it’s worth.

The plot moves swiftly, and the interchanges between Aector and Trish are so understated and poignant that the reader can only marvel at the author’s low-key approach.  This follow-up to the debut novel is more than a worthy successor; it is a wonderful addition to the series, which, we hope, will continue strongly in the future.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, October 2013.

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Andrew's BrainAndrew’s Brain
E. L. Doctorow
Random House, January 2014
ISBN: 978-1-4000-6881-4
Hardcover

The eponymous Andrew reminds me of the Al Capp (Li’l Abner) character,Joe Mxstlpk, who walked under a black cloud and was followed by a calamity wherever he went.  That is the story told by this Andrew, presumably to a psychologist or “shrink,” of his life:  the trials and tribulations, loves and losses, highs and lows.  In a way, the novel also reminds me somewhat of James Joyce’s Ulysses, except that it is written in clear prose and complete sentences.  The tale is related in a disjointed stream of consciousness, flitting from topic to topic, but is grouped into eleven “chapters,” various phases of Andrew’s life.  Apparently, Mr. Doctorow set out to write a book of very different quality than his previous efforts, which include such popular novels as World’s Fair, Billy Bathgate, Loon Lake and Ragtime [which also found its way into a hit musical].

It is unfortunate that this novel may not attract readers of his previous work, although it should gain plenty of critical acclaim.  As such, it is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, December 2013.

Book Review: The Diviner’s Tale by Bradford Morrow and Blue Suede Shoes by Deborah Reardon

The Diviner's TaleThe Diviner’s Tale
Bradford Morrow
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, January 2011
ISBN 978-0-547-38263-0
Hardcover

A woman haunted, formed, and shaped by her past. A killer who never lost the monster inside. These are what Morrow‘s latest book brings into play. Gentle humor, abounding love, simple lives. This one has it all.

Cassandra Brooks is a diviner in upstate New York. One morning, while performing her craft, she encounters a dead girl hanging from a tree. However, upon returning to the site, the body is gone. Soon, however, another girl very much alive is found. Thus begins a strange summer long experience for Cassandra, one of reflection on her diviner’s gift, her ailing father, and trying to fathom the mystery of why a killer stalks her, even to a remote island off the coast of Maine.

There is a lot of back story and memories and very little ‘mystery’. This book runs on an even keel throughout with little tension or action. Vivid descriptions brought me into the story. This is a tale about a woman reviewing her life, in which direction she wants to go in the future, and caring for her children. The ‘murder’ is a backdrop to add substance and to ultimately help her with her decisions.

Reviewed by Stephen L. Brayton, January 2013.
Author of Night Shadows, Beta and Alpha.

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Blue Suede ShoesBlue Suede Shoes
Deborah Reardon
River Grove Books/Greenleaf Book Group, October 2012
ISBN 978-1-938416-11-8
Trade Paperback

A missing child must be the worst nightmare for parents. But what if one of those parents exhibits apathy after the fact? What if the police have written the disappearance and supposed death as an accident? What if the only one who cares can’t get anybody to listen to her reasoning? This is what happens in Blue Suede Shoes. A small Midwestern town is rocked by a child disappearing but other things divert attention.

What happened to young Mary Martin all those weeks ago? The story opens upon one man finding blood and the girl’s cherished shoes in the woods. Soon, the police and, apparently, the parents, deem the incident closed. An accident. Misadventure, perhaps a wild animal. For Clare Paxton, local banker, the situation doesn’t ring true. She can’t fathom the attitudes from the local populace who seem to be more up in arms over the possible destruction of a bell tower. Or from her nerve wracking mother who can’t accept Clare dating the sheriff. Or from said sheriff who thinks more about a deeper relationship with Clare than he does about solving what more and more is looking like a crime.

Several subplots take the focus away from the mystery of the missing girl. It’s only the persistence of Clare which kept me interested in finishing the book. I wanted right to come out on top. I kept rooting for Clare to go further, dig deeper, stir up more trouble. Which she did. Good read!

Reviewed by Stephen L. Brayton, January 2013.
Author of Night Shadows, Beta and Alpha.

Book Reviews: Dying for Justice by L.J. Sellers, Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin, The Informant by Thomas Perry, The Ridge by Michael Koryta, and One Was a Soldier by Julia Spencer-Fleming

Dying for JusticeDying for Justice
L.J. Sellers
Spellbinder Books, May 2011
ISBN: 978-0-9832138-3-3
Trade Paperback

Detective Wade Jackson, with the violent crimes unit of the Eugene, Oregon Police Department, an investigator with the best track record of closing cases, has never worked a cold case before.  In the fifth and newest entry in this terrific series, he is faced with two of them, one in particular of a very personal nature:  the murder of his parents, ten years earlier.  Convinced that the man who has been imprisoned for the crime, now terminally ill with cancer, is innocent, he is determined to find justice for them, and peace for himself.

The second case has to do with Gina Stahl, now 46 years old, who has been in a coma for two years, believed to be the result of a suicide attempt.  When she awakens for the first time, she quite lucidly tells the authorities that she had been attacked by a man wearing a ski mask but who she believes was her ex-husband.  That investigation is complicated by the fact that her ex is a police officer.

Jackson ultimately works both cases, assisted by 32-year-old detective-in-training Lara Evans, the chapters for the most part alternating p.o.v. between the two.   The tale, as much as anything, is one of dysfunctional families in general, and siblings in particular.  The author’s expertise in creating deeply human characters is again much in evidence, together with a plot that keeps picking up speed as it hurtles to an ending that, quite literally, sent chills up and down my back and arms, and just as that was settling down, the ending had me again in goosebumps.  Ms. Sellers’ books just keep getting better and better, and accordingly this is her best one yet.

Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, September 2011.

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Crooked Letter, Crooked LetterCrooked Letter, Crooked Letter
Tom Franklin
Harper Perennial, May 2011
ISBN: 978-0-06-059467-1
Trade Paperback

Whether this novel is a mystery, or a story about two men, or a tale about the Deep South, it is a riveting look into the characters, their development and their environment.  Larry and Silas, one white and the other black, were boyhood friends for a short time in rural Mississippi more than a quarter of a century before (where children were taught to spell the name of the State and river: M, I crooked letter, crooked letter, I, crooked letter, crooked letter, I humpback, humpback, I,).  They are tied together by more than just an apparent crime that changes both their lives.

Larry is a shunned outcast in the town as the result of the disappearance, and presumed murder, of a girl with whom he supposedly had a date as a teenager.  Silas moved to Chicago with his mother, but returns to the small rural town, eventually serving as its only constable.  Now their lives intertwine again as Larry falls under suspicion when the daughter of the town’s leading citizen disappears. The situation makes Silas face the past, something he’d rather avoid.

As a mystery, the novel is intriguing.  As a description of life in a small Southern town, it is vivid.  As a tale of racial conflict, it is mesmerizing.   The complex analyses of the characters, their motivations and actions are profound, and it is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, October 2011.

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The InformantThe Informant
Thomas Perry
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, May 2011
ISBN: 978-0-547-56933-8
Hardcover

As in his earlier novels [and I’m thinking particularly of the wonderful Jane Whitefield series], the devil is in the details, and this author excels in conveying the meticulously planned and executed steps taken by his protagonist, so that credibility is never an issue. In this standalone – actually, a follow-up to Mr. Perry’s very first novel, The Butcher’s Boy [for which he won an Edgar award] – that eponymous character returns, twenty years older.  Although he goes by any number of other names, that soubriquet is the name by which he is known, both to the authorities and to the mafia members who variously employed him, betrayed him, and then became his victims.  The Butcher’s Boy kills without compunction.  It is, after all, what he does best, taught since childhood, simply as a job, or a way to stay alive, or to seek revenge for the aforementioned betrayal.  Rarely is it personal.  Although somewhat more so of late.

Well-trained from the age of 10 by an actual butcher, whose “side job” is in “the killing trade,” beyond the necessary skills he is also taught “Everybody dies.  It’s just a question of timing, and whether the one who gets paid for it is you or a bunch of doctors.  It might as well be you.”

While working as a hit man, his philosophy was simple:  He had “resisted the camaraderie that some of the capos who had hired him
tried to foster.  He had kept his distance, done his job, collected his pay, and left town before buyer’s remorse set in.  He made it clear that he was a free agent and that he was nobody’s friend.”  He has been out of the US for over twenty years, now over 50 years old, and afraid he had gone soft.  But his skills are not diminished.  He leaves no witnesses.  The ones who aren’t dead never notice him entering or leaving a crime scene:  “He was a master at being the one the eye passed over in a crowd.”  And the authorities – –  with one notable exception – –  haven’t a clue.  That exception is Elizabeth Waring, of the Organized Crime & Racketeering Division of the Department of Justice.  She connects the dots and has no doubt that he has come out of retirement and is the one now murdering Mafiosi at an alarming rate, and sees in him, potentially, “the most promising informant in forty years.”  Of course, to fulfill that possibility she must get him to agree and, even more difficult, keep him alive, as “he wasn’t worth anything dead.”  They embark on an ambivalent, and somewhat fluid, relationship, equal parts grudging respect and fear of
the danger the other represents, somehow both earning sympathy.  The author’s trademark suspense as the end of the novel draws near had this reader literally holding her breath.  I loved this book, and it is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, October 2011.

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The RidgeThe Ridge
Michael Koryta
Little, Brown and Company, June 2011
ISBN: 978-0-316-05366-2
Hardcover

Mixing mystery with the supernatural, Michael Koryta has developed works that are eerie and fascinating, and The Ridge is no less than captivating.  The plot is somewhat complicated, and it takes a while to follow the thread.  And, of course, it requires suspension of disbelief.  But it does hold the reader from start to finish.

The story involves a particular area in Kentucky where over a century or more, a series of accidents and deaths occur.  In the midst of a forest, a drunkard has built a lighthouse.  For what purpose?  Then the man who built it is found dead by his own hand, oddly enough leaving a note asking chief deputy Kevin Kimble to investigate it. Meanwhile, a big-cat sanctuary has opened across the road, and the lions and tigers are uneasy in their new surroundings.  What does it mean?  Are there sinister forces at work?

Written with a keen eye, the novel moves rapidly from scene to scene. The characters are well-drawn and the surroundings described vividly, and the novel is recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, October 2011.

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One Was a SoldierOne Was a Soldier
Julia Spencer-Fleming
Minotaur Books, April 2011
ISBN: 978-0-312-33489-5
Hardcover

In the tiny Adirondack town of Millers Kill, in upstate New York, a group of seven recently returning veterans are attending therapy sessions, PTSD the common factor among them, affecting each differently.  There is also a 25-year-old woman, ex-Army.  Each is finding the transition back to civilian life a difficult one.  They are a rather disparate group, variously described as “the doctor, the cop, the Marine and the priest” or, less kindly, “a cripple, a drunk, a washed-up cop . . . , ”  any or all of whom might be at risk for suicide.

Against all odds, Clare Fergusson and Russ Van Alstyne are, finally, going to get married, and fans of this wonderful series can breathe a sigh of relief.  Clare, an Army Major and an Episcopal priest originally from southern Virginia, has just returned after serving eighteen months in a combat zone.  Russ, the police chief from Millers Kills, in upstate New York, is now widowed [after 25 years of marriage], and they no longer have to hide their love.  But believing that he has never gotten over his wife’s death and that he is starting to have second thoughts, she starts having second thoughts of her own. For his part, Russ thinks “What did she want out of marriage? Specifically, marriage to a guy fourteen years older, who thought God was a myth and whose job could get him killed.”

The chapters of this newest book from Julia Spencer-Fleming, her seventh and her strongest yet [high praise indeed], alternate between these two major plot points, until they merge when one member of the therapy group is found dead and Russ is the lead investigator.  Clare is convinced, all evidence to the contrary, that it was murder.  In denial, perhaps, because that might threaten her own sense of safety, fighting, as she is, her own demons.  Russ, too, is ex-Army, had served in Vietnam, and is mindful of the problems faced by returning vets.

There are several plot twists, including wholly unexpected ones near the end, and the precision of the way they are woven into the tale completely satisfying.  In addition, the book makes the reader aware that aside from the obvious politics involved, one tends to forget the toll on lives lost and ruined by wars now lasting over a decade.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, October 2011.

Book Review: The House at Sea’s End by Elly Griffiths

The House at Sea's End 2The House at Sea’s End
Elly Griffiths
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, January 2012
ISBN 978-0-547-50614-2
Hardcover

From the author’s website—

Broughton Sea’s End is the end of the line, a lonely seaside village slowly being destroyed by coastal erosion. A team of archaeologists studying the erosion comes across human skeletons buried below Sea’s End House, the fortress home of eccentric local MEP Jack Hastings.

Forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway is called in to investigate. Ruth has just returned to work after the birth of her daughter and is finding it hard to combine work and motherhood. Ruth discovers that the bodies date from the Second World War.

This means a police investigation is needed, which means that Ruth will come face-to-face with Detective Inspector Harry Nelson, something she has been trying hard to avoid. Ruth and Nelson start to uncover the secrets of the war years at Broughton Sea’s End and it soon becomes clear is that someone is still alive who will kill to protect those secrets.

 

Trapped at Sea’s End House is a snow storm, Ruth and Nelson realise that the danger is very close indeed. Their only hope lies in Nelson’s colleague Judy and a local druid named Cathbad….

The body count starts out high and gets higher still in this intriguing and atmospheric mystery set in a rural English village with some dark secrets from the past. When the first bones are found at the bottom of a cliff, the police and the forensics team are baffled at how these bodies got there and who they were and each question leads to a new one. Learning the truth about these men will open some very old wounds; learning a few current truths will make more than one person’s life rather complicated.

The author has developed characters that are anything but boring and, at times, they’re downright unlikeable. Tatiana, for instance, is remarkably self-absorbed and, when Ruth asks a couple to be godparents to her baby, her insensitivity towards a difficult situation is jaw-dropping. Flaws such as these, though, make the players very human and multi-dimensional. There is an extensive cast of characters, which could be confusing, but the author is adept at making even minor personalities quite identifiable. On a minor note, I learned a new word when Craig says Anselm should have been a conchie and had done with it. “Conchie” is another word for conscientious objector or pacifist.

It’s important to note, also, that the setting is almost a character itself. The cold, the forbidding and crumbling coastline, the remnants of a class pecking order, the memories of World War II all contribute to an ambience that has a bit of a dark feel, lifting the story above what could be a routine police procedural. I especially appreciated the map of the area included in the front of the book.

As for the plot, there are several red herrings and the killer was a surprise to me. This is not a criticism of the author in any way as she plays fair—hints are given and the astute mystery reader may very well be better at solving it than I was.

The one thing about this book (and, I assume, the other books in the series) that irritated me is that it is written in third person present tense. I already disliked first person present tense and now I know I dislike third person present tense even more. To me, that interrupts the tension and the flow because the reader has no idea who is supposedly viewing and relating the action—you’d have to have a narrator that just happens to be on site for every scene. I don’t get the point of doing this and I was constantly aware of it, an unfortunate and unnecessary distraction.

Having said that, I liked the setting and most of the characters and the plot was refreshingly different. I’d also be interested in learning more about these people (in particular, why Ruth is so antagonistic towards her parents) so I will be reading the two earlier books in the series. Ms. Griffiths is an author who has a compelling talent and I suspect her audience will continue to grow.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, May 2012.

Book Reviews: Thirteen Hours by Deon Meyer, Dead Man’s Grip by Peter James, Sixkill by Robert B. Parker, and Kiss Her Goodbye by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins

Thirteen Hours
Deon Meyer
Grove Press, September 2011
ISBN: 978-0-8021-4545-1
Mass Market Paperback

Post-Apartheid South Africa has undergone many traumatic changes.  But for homicide detective Benny Griessel, nothing much changes except for the murder victims, the politics, unsettled race relations and his own personal problems.  Benny is saddled with “mentoring” newly promoted black, or “colored,” detectives.  Of course, he is the only experienced white.

The plot involves two murders and a kidnapping, each a potential PR disaster for the SA government.  It is up to Benny and his untested troops to save a captive American girl who witnessed the murder of her fellow tourist.  Meanwhile, a well-known music executive is found shot in his home with his pistol lying at his feet, his alcoholic wife asleep in a chair.

Deon Meyer has written six novels and Thirteen Hours is probably the best (not taking anything away from its predecessors).  It is taut, moving and deeply memorable, and is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, August 2011.

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Dead Man’s Grip
Peter James
Macmillan, May 2011
ISBN: 978-0-230-74724-1
Trade Paperback
Released in the US by Minotaur Books, November 2011
ISBN 978-0-312-64283-9
Hardcover

This is the seventh in the Roy Grace series, detailed police procedurals that take place in the Brighton area of Great Britain.  The tightly written plots carry the reader from page to page wondering what comes next.  And the nearly overwhelming [in a good way, to be sure!] detail keeps the reader from guessing the next step.

This novel begins with the gruesome death of a young man, who defies his mother, the daughter of a mafia don in New York City, to study at a Brighton university and live with his English girlfriend.  One day, on the way to school, riding his bike on the wrong side of the road, he is narrowly missed by a car driven by Carly Chase [who swerves onto the sidewalk to avoid him], but is hit by a tailgating white van [which leaves the scene], then rolls under a truck’s wheels and is killed.

The plot stems from this incident, with the mother hiring a hit man to torture and murder the three drivers.  When two of them are found dead, it behooves Carly to attempt to protect herself and her young son.  And thereby hangs a tale, a rather detailed description of the killer’s movements, and the efforts of Detective Superintendent Roy Grace and the entire Sussex police force to capture him.

By all means get a copy and read it!  Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, August 2011.

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Sixkill
Robert B. Parker
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, May 2011
ISBN: 978-0-399-15726-4
Hardcover

To quote some of the immortal words of the Bard, “I come to praise” Robert B. Parker, and, of course, the work that he has left behind obviously will “long live after him.”  In this, the last, Spenser novel, he once again provides an outstanding example of his talent and creativity.

Spenser is enlisted by his sometime buddy, police captain Quirk, to investigate the death of a young woman, who died after apparently having sex with a repulsive movie star in his hotel room.  The obvious conclusion is that the man is responsible for her death, but Quirk is not so sure and asks Spenser to find out what happened.  And Spenser goes about the task in his usual manner, this time accompanied by a brand new character (Hawk is in Asia), a “wasted” Cree Indian who Spenser takes under his wing to rehabilitate and train.

Enough has been written about Parker, his unparalleled ability to write sharp and amusing dialog, create funny barbs and unusual stories.  So such comments are really unnecessary here.  All one can say is, Mr. Parker, we’ll miss you.

Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, August 2011.

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Kiss Her Goodbye
Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, May 2011
ISBN: 978-0-15-101460-6
Hardcover

When Mickey Spillane died, he left behind a treasure trove of manuscripts, plot notes, rough outlines, character notes and drafts of final chapters.  He told his wife to give everything to Max Allan Collins who “would know what to do.”  And this Collins has done, three times so far [with a fourth due out in October].  In this novel, he combined two partial manuscripts and shaped and expanded them from an unfinished version that was a false start.

In this entry, the death of his mentor, officially termed a suicide, brings Hammer back to New York City from Key West, where he has been recuperating for a year after a shootout in which he killed a Mafia don’s son.  He returns to the Big Apple with a jaundiced eye, denigrating everything he sees and hears, determined to return to Florida quickly following the funeral.  Instead, of course, he becomes enmeshed in investigating the death, which he believes to be a murder, as well as four others, and committing the usual bloody mayhem of his own.

It is pure Spillane, and Collins as usual has performed a service to those who ate up the millions of copies of Mike Hammer novels sold in the 1960s and ‘70s by keeping the flame alive.  How much is Spillane, and how much is Collins, is really not important.  The book is vintage Spillane, and is a tribute to both authors.  Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, August 2011.

Book Reviews Galore by Ted Feit

The House at Sea’s End
Elly Griffiths
Quercus, January 2011
ISBN: 978-1-84916-367-5
Hardcover

[It should perhaps be noted that this review is based on the UK and Canada edition; the US edition is now available in the US from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt]

As the book opens Kate, the baby born to Ruth Galloway, the forensic expert, as a result of a one-night stand with Detective Inspector Harry Nelson in the prior entry in the series, is now four months old and the mother is still juggling her maternal and professional duties, sometimes to much criticism from friends.  But the baby seems to survive.

In any event, her motherly demands don’t seem to prevent Ruth from getting involved with more forensic investigations and police investigations.  Especially when six skeletons are discovered on a beach and her examination indicates that they are probably from Germany, perhaps dating back to an invasion during the early days of World War II on a lonely Norfolk beach.  Indications are that each was shot in the back of the head.  The question arises:  Did the various persons in the Home Guard play any role in their deaths?

As in the previous two novels featuring Ruth and D.I. Nelson, they combine to discover the facts surrounding the mystery of past and present.  The prose is lean and the plot moves apace with agility.  The characters remain immensely human and intriguing, and the novel lives up to the standards of the predecessor novels.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, April 2011.

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The Troubled Man
Henning Mankell
Translated by Laurie Thompson
Alfred A. Knopf, April 2011
ISBN: 978-0-307-59349-8
Hardcover

Nothing is as it seems, and all good things come to an end.  And so, the time has come to bid adieu to Kurt Wallander.  But not before he undertakes a deeply introspective journey at the behest of his daughter, Linda, who has just made him a grandfather (although she and the baby’s father have not yet decided to marry).  It appears that her putative father-in-law, a retired naval commander, has disappeared, and she and her significant other, the man’s son, ask Wallander to try to find out what happened.  Is he the victim of foul play?

Wallander has vacation time available and undertakes to investigate, but not before the missing man’s wife is found dead, perhaps murdered. Wallander muddles along, picking up all kinds of extraneous information, misleading clues, and, perhaps just as important, discerning more about himself as he more frequently suffers from lapses of memory.

The author is well-known for his ability to address significant political themes in his novels.  And this last Wallander novel is no exception, delving deeply into the Cold War, and Sweden’s “neutrality” policy.  I found the novel somewhat slow reading and difficult, and wonder if it is the writing or the translation.  Nevertheless, it is a touching look at “the great detective,” and is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, June 2011.

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Hanging Hill
Mo Hayder
Bantam Press, April 2011
ISBN: 978-0-593-06384-2
Hardcover, 428 pp., 12.99 BPS

[It should be noted that this book is presently available only in the UK/Canada and will be available in the US in February 2012 from Atlantic Monthly Press]

The author is known for writing thrillers, sometimes with horrific plots and graphic details.  This novel pales by comparison, with merely an offstage rape scene to occasion a police procedural of somewhat questionable means, and a side story about two sisters who have had virtually no contact for 20 years but are in a sense joined at the hip by the rape victim, and then that thread develops into an evolving family relationship.

The story is more about the various characters—the two sisters, their lovers, their own background and history—and how each is affected, rather than the crime and ensuing investigation which seems to be an afterthought to contribute to the main plotline.

Written with verve, the novel seems to drag along except for some more “exciting” portions.  Much of the descriptions of one sister’s divorce and subsequent life seem labored, and the ending was to this reader quite unsatisfactory.  In fact the title of the book might be a fit description for its conclusion:  It seems to just hang without any wrapping up.  That notwithstanding, the novel still bears reading, and is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, August 2011.

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Bad Boy
Peter Robinson
Harper Paperbacks, November 2011
ISBN: 978-0-0613-6296-5
Mass Market Paperback

Murphy’s Law seems to apply to the premise behind this novel.  After a well-earned vacation touring the U.S. Southwest and the wonders of LA and San Francisco, DI Banks finds, upon his return to Eastvale, that an old friend has died after police tasered him, Banks’ daughter is missing, and everything is in an uncontrolled mess.

It starts when a former neighbor of Banks discovers a gun which had been hidden by her daughter in her bedroom when visiting her parents.  The mother visits the police station hoping to discuss the situation with Banks who, unfortunately, is still away.  When the police raid the house, the woman’s husband dies of a heart attack after the aforementioned taser incident; Banks’ daughter, Tracy, infatuated with the man who owned the gun (the “bad boy” of the title) warns him of the police inquiries and hides him in her father’s cottage.  And from that point on, as Banks returns, everything goes downhill.

The chase begins with Tracy’s status changing from willing lover to hostage, and Banks and the rest of the police force struggling with the lack of clues as to where the fugitive and his captive are.  As usual, Banks doesn’t always play by the rules.  But then, neither does the bad boy.  Another well-written and off-beat story in the series, and highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, October 2011.

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Raylan
Elmore Leonard
William Morrow, February 2012
ISBN: 978-0-06-211946-9
Hardcover

Resurrecting Raylan Givens, the U.S. Marshall from Kentucky given to wearing a Stetson cowboy hat and shooting instead of apprehending, Elmore Leonard once again uses his unusual talent for writing droll dialogue and creating amusing and unusual characters to entertain the reader.  This time, he begins in Harlan County, where marijuana is king instead of coal (100 pounds of weed can fetch $300,000) which apparently doesn’t satisfy two nincompoop sons of the dope-grower who turn their attention to reaping and selling body parts.

Then the author goes on to tell us about another cast of characters, with the slyness only he can muster.  It’s a world only people created by Leonard inhabit, and they talk as only he can make them speak.  Read it and laugh.  Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, December 2011.