Book Reviews: Fangs Out by David Freed, Lies at Six by Sarah Scott, and Dead Wrong by Connie Dial

Fangs OutFangs Out
David Freed
Permanent Press, April 2013
ISBN: 978-1-57962-333-3
Hardcover

From its title, I was largely ambivalent and didn’t know what to expect from this new book by David Freed.  So lest you have the same uncertainty, fear not, dear reader, and allow me to quote from its pages:  “There’s an expression among fighter jocks that described what I was feeling, the adrenaline-fueled determination to close with the enemy and destroy him.  They call it ‘Fangs out.’”  Let me also assure you that what awaits you in those pages is a delightful, very enjoyable novel, which along the way will enlighten you with some obscure facts such as why vultures are bald.

Cordell Logan (just “Logan” to one and all) is many things:  broke, a self-described “Buddhist work in progress . . . striving to become one with the universe,” adding “I had a long way to go before attaining true enlightenment . . . How does a man prone to violence by nature and training embrace a religion that preaches peace above all else?”). A recovering alcoholic, he now runs a flight school as an instructor in his beloved 1973 Cessna, the Ruptured Duck, which looks like “a homeless person with wings,” and is still in love with his ex-wife who years ago had left him for his best friend.  His past includes having played wide receiver for the Air Force Academy; later a National Security “go-to” guy (read “assassin”) whose job was “chasing bad people to the dark corners of the globe in the name of national security.”

Logan is hired by Hub Walker, Lt. Col. USAF Retired, a “living legend” and “one of less than 100 living recipients of America’s highest military decoration, the Medal of Honor,” whose daughter, a beautiful young woman who had been second in her class in Annapolis, had been murdered.  The man convicted of her murder had just been put to death by lethal injection.  The problem was that just before the sentence was carried out, he stated that the actual murderer was a close friend, whose integrity and reputation had suffered greatly as a result.  Hub’s job?   “Validating the innocence of a man falsely accused.”  No easy task.

Thoroughly entertaining, the book is recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, August 2013.

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Lies at SixLies at Six
Sarah Scott
Krill Press, May 30, 2013
ISBN:  978-0-615-82795-7
Trade Paperback

Sarah Scott, formerly a TV journalist in Memphis and Atlanta originally from east Tennessee, follows the maxim to write what you know, bringing us Joanna Leland (“Jolie”) Marston, on-air reporter for fourteen years, working in three newsrooms, ten years in Memphis at WTNW News [apparently now spoken of as the station Where Trash News Wins).  Jolie chafes at what she perceives as a mind-set determined in any way to hold onto their viewers in the desired demographic, “keeping this town more scared than it needs to be,” turning whatever news comes their way into something sensational enough to make their loyal viewers put down their forks and pay attention, thereby keeping the ratings growing.  She feels the effects of constantly having to deal with the content, or lack thereof, of the stories she’s told to cover and making them into something sensational.  Finally unable to deal with what she perceives to be their pattern of “Lies at Six,” she effectively blows up her career with an on-air rant, however justified it may have been.

Divorced at 23, Jolie is now 36.  Fast upon the heels of her firing, a truly sensational event takes place:  The murder of Ellis Standifer, respected former Mayor of Memphis, and a dear friend and mentor to Jolie Marston.  Despite the fact that she is no longer employed, she tries to find out whatever she can about the murder through her contacts at the police department and otherwise, to little avail.  But then some information comes her way, and she determines to try to find the story behind the murder of her friend, with no idea where or to whom it will lead.

Threats start to come her way as well to those who have been assisting her in her investigation.  Despite the fact that she had come to love her riverside city, she feels she must leave, returning to her home town of Singleton, in East Tennessee, where she had first met and come under the influence of her friend, Ellis Standifer (although “she usually described her hometown to people as the place where the fire station had been burned and the sheriff’s department had been busted for bootlegging.”).  Her family welcomes her back into the hearth; she even finds that her mother had become willing to “overlook her [ex-]boyfriend’s Jewishness.”  (The hostility toward inter-marriage raises its ugly head more than once.)   She soon learns more than she had bargained for, as some old secrets come to light, as well as hints at corruption at the highest level, with unexpected sources being a couple of women who were very close to the great man, and one enigmatic old-world gentleman keeping long-held secrets.

The tale initially proceeds at a pace befitting the deep South, but soon amps up that pace with the mounting suspense of trying to find a killer, taking unexpected twists and turns in the process.  A recurring theme seems to be that “there is no such thing as truth. Not when it comes to the past.  Just different versions of it.”  It is amazing how so many disparate situations reveal that to be true.

I was thoroughly intrigued by Jolie and her tale, and her depiction of the old (and new) South (including the old family recipe for mint juleps!), and look forward to where Ms. Scott will take her next.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, September 2013.

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Dead WrongDead Wrong
Connie Dial
Permanent Press, May 2013
ISBN: 978-1-57962-334-0
Hardcover

The author’s bona fides are evident from the first page of this, her fourth novel, and the second in the Josie Corsino series:  Connie Dial had 27 years of varied experience as a member of the LAPD, including undercover work, narcotics detective, Internal Affairs surveillance officer, watch commander and captain.  And her protagonist, Josie Corsino, is an LAPD captain, trying to juggle that demanding job with that of wife and mother, and not always succeeding.  After 20 years in the DA’s office, her husband, Jake, had just made partner in his new law firm, and the friction in their marriage is mounting.  The tension includes her relationship with her 23-year-old son, still dependent on his parents for support, now involved with a woman Josie’s age.

In the opening pages, Kyle Richards, a sergeant Josie had appointed to supervise a burglary task force in Hollywood division, is involved in a fatal shooting.  When it is discovered that the dead man was a fellow police officer, after over 20 years on the job, Kyle is faced with a hearing and a possible suspension until it can be proven that it was a justified shooting.  Added to the fact that the dead cop was a black man, and Richards white, the political implications make every aspect of the investigation more difficult.  With the help of her best friend, vice lieutenant Marge Bailey, and Detective “Red” Behan, Josie goes out on a limb to prove his innocence in the matter. Things only get more complex when another killing occurs, and Josie believes the two events are connected.  The novel elucidates the theme that “perception most of the time was more important than truth in the world of policing.  A good reputation was difficult to tarnish; a bad reputation whether it was deserved or not was indelible.”

This was a well-plotted tale.  I have to admit feeling that the writing could have been more polished, but the novel held my interest throughout, and I will look forward to reading the next chapter in Josie Corsino’s life.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, October 2013.

Book Reviews: The Sparrow’s Blade by Kenneth R. Lewis, Headhunters by Jo Nesbo, The Cut by George Pelecanos, The Infernals by John Connolly, and Feast Day of Fools by James Lee Burke

The Sparrow's BladeThe Sparrow’s Blade
Kenneth R. Lewis
Krill Press, February 2011
ISBN: 978-0-9821443-8-1
Trade Paperback

As in this author’s debut novel, Little Blue Whales, which was warmly received, this one also takes place in Cutter City, OR, and features Kevin Kearnes and Thud Compton.  It is now a few years after the harrowing experience described in the earlier book in which they were almost killed, and their roles have changed:  Kearnes, the former Chief of Police, is now with the Dept. of Homeland Security in Portland, and Compton has replaced him as Police Chief.

The book opens with Kevin traveling to Cutter City with his fiancée Britt McGraw and his sons by a former marriage, to be married as well as to visit with the Comptons.  Little did any of them know that a sword on display at the local library, a relic of World War II when a Japanese pilot dropped two bombs in the vicinity and then crashed, would result in the turmoil that it did when it is stolen.

The excellent portrayal of the characters, coupled with the tension of the plot, maintain reader interest on the same high level of the predecessor book.  The level of writing remains at the high level of Little Blue Whales which presumably will continue in the forthcoming The Helical Vane.  Needless to say, Sparrow (the name for the sword, btw) is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, January 2012.

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HeadhuntersHeadhunters
Jo Nesbo
Vintage Books, September 2011
ISBN: 978-0-307-94868-7
Trade Paperback

Turning his attention away from his highly regarded Harry Hole series, the author has written a compelling standalone.  While the background of Roger Brown, as a top headhunter of corporate officials in Oslo, provides some interesting and useful information on how to judge and place candidates, it is the main crime plot and character descriptions that are undeniably gripping.

Roger seems to have it all, except sufficient income to pay for the art gallery he has helped his wife, Diana, establish and operate. Thus, to supplement his need for cash to deal with the operating deficit, he steals art from candidates he interviews for jobs.  Until, that is, he encounters Clas Greve, whom he meets one evening at his wife’s gallery.  And the plot thickens.

Jo Nesbo, in this novel, has proved he is an author capable of writing almost anything.  It is superbly formulated, with humor and irony. The plot has more twists and turns in its concluding pages than a mountain road.  It needs no further recommendation other than to go get a copy and revel in a job well done.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, January 2012.

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The CutThe Cut
George Pelecanos
A Reagan Arthur Book/Little, Brown and Company, September 2011
ISBN: 978-0-316-07842-9
Hardcover

In the first novel of a new series, we are introduced to Spero Lucas, a just-returned Iraq war veteran, working as an investigator for a Washington, D.C. defense attorney with a sideline of recovering “lost” property for a 40 per cent cut of its value.  In the caper he undertakes in this initial foray, he seems to bite off more than he can chew.

The attorney is defending a top marijuana peddler, and the client asks for Spero to visit him in jail.  He tells Spero that his deliveries are being stolen and he is out of money, and would appreciate recovery of either the merchandise or the cash.  The assignment takes Spero off into all kinds of action, some of which is kind of far-fetched.

Mr. Pelecanos is well-known for his characterizations and his use of the nation’s Capital as background, and this book is no exception. Somehow, however, using Spero as an example of a footloose vet just returned from the desert just didn’t quite ring true.  Some of his friends who served with him there do exhibit the plight of wounded, disabled marines, or just plain still unemployed, somewhat more realistically.  That said, the novel is written with the author’s accustomed flair, and the plot moves at a rapid pace.  Certainly, the action is vivid, and the reader keeps turning pages.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, January 2012.

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The InfernalsThe Infernals
John Connolly
Atria Books, September 2011
ISBN: 978-1-4516-4308-4
Hardcover

This novel, the sequel to The Gates, picks up 18 months after the events described in that book, after young Samuel Johnson [just turned 13], assisted by his faithful dog, Boswell, repelled an invasion of earth by the forces of evil.  The two books are quite a departure for the author, whose Charlie Parker mysteries are highly regarded and widely read.  These are categorized as YA books, laced with pseudo-scientific and amusing footnotes.  [It should perhaps be noted that the tenth Charlie Parker novel, The Burning Soul, has also been released.]

This time around Samuel, accompanied by four dwarfs and the truck in which they were riding, an ice cream truck and its vendor-driver, and two policemen and their patrol car, are instead transported by the ogre Ba’al in the form of Mrs. Abernathy to the netherworld to present the boy to her master, the Great Malevolence, as a gift in an effort to regain his favor.  And so we follow their adventures as they experience the strange land and seek a way to get back home.

Written at times with tongue firmly in cheek, the little nuggets of information on a wide variety of subjects are both informative and often just plain funny.  A very enjoyable read that is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, January 2012.

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Feast Day of FoolsFeast Day of Fools
James Lee Burke
Simon & Schuster, September 2011
ISBN: 978-1-4516-4311-4
Hardcover

Against the bleak terrain of southern Texas, a morality play featuring Sheriff Hackberry Holland is played out.  It begins with a man who escapes his captors, who had planned to turn him over to Al Qaeda, for a price, for his knowledge of drone technology.  Not only is he sought by his former captors, but the FBI, among others, as well.  Hack, and his deputy, Pam Tibbs, become involved in the interplay.

This is a complicated novel, one in which the author delves into a wide variety of moral and ethical values, adding Hack’s past experiences as a POW during the Korean Conflict, to raise additional questions of right and wrong.  And bringing in The Preacher as a counterpoint further adds to the complexity of not only the plot, but also Hack’s integrity.

James Lee Burke’s prose is as stark as his descriptions of the Texas and Mexican landscapes, and the characters he introduces are deftly portrayed, both good and evil.  He has presented an intricate plot in this, his 30th novel, and the fifth featuring the Texas sheriff.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, January 2012.

Book Review: The Big Grabowski by Carolyn J. Rose & Mike Nettleton

The Big Grabowski
Carolyn J. Rose & Mike Nettleton
Krill Press, 2009
ISBN 0982144334
Trade Paperback

This is one of the funniest mysteries I’ve ever read! It rates so high on my list of all-time favorite mysteries,  any author will have to go a long way to displace The Big Grabowski. The first few pages had me thinking Mayberry RFD and  Barney Fife !

The setting is Devil’s Harbor, a tourist town in Oregon where, according to Jennifer Daley, an employee at Neptune’s Grotto, nothing exciting ever happens and it’s the most boring town in Oregon.  Jennifer is charged with counting the sea lions since the tourists have a right to know how many sea lions they’ll see for their money.  Jennifer, however, is primarily interested in winning the Miss Whirligig contest and is day dreaming about her coronation dress and crown, as well as practicing her victory dance and her pose for the newspaper photo. Aside from her angst about the whiriligig contest, Jennifer worries about keeping her job so she can get her shoes out of lay- away.

It was when she finally got down to doing her job of counting sea lions that she saw something that was definitely not a bachelor bull; she knew this because she knows that sea lions don’t wear ties. The floater turns out to be Vincent Grabowski, an unscrupulous land developer whose work included leveling ridges for a development by bulldozing tons of earth into a creek during salmon migration. Too, Grabowski, aka Grab-Ass, has sampled more than his share of the women in Devil’s Harbor.

Following the discovery of the homicide, the reader meets character after character who will make you smile if not laugh out loud.  Enter Sergeant Greg Erdman who is agonizing over how he would explain to Molly Donovan, a reporter, why he stood her up the evening before.  Molly, the sleuth, left her job reporting the crime beat in Albuquerque, and moved to Devil’s Harbor when her father had a heart attack. Now she writes for the North Coast Flotsam where the most serious crimes are drunken fist fights and stealing from the cars of tourists while they are busy sightseeing.  There is the not-so-grieving widow, Claire, and her boyfriend, Adam Quarles. Not to be forgotten is Icky Ferris, owner of Sweete Temptations Ice Cream Shop but also a producer of marijuana in his backyard garden. Also memorable is Henri Trevelle, a former professional hockey player, and his cat Margaret whom he calls a little slut since she goes “slumming in the alley like a common trollop”.

The list of interesting characters, most of whom had a motive to push The Big Grabowski off Perdition Point to swim with the sea lions, goes on and on. According to Molly, using the phone book for a suspect list would be a good starting point. I must admit that when I read a book with many characters, I tend to forget who is who which then forces me to refer back, but not so with this book. These characters are outstanding and unforgettable !

The Big Grabowski is entertaining and so much fun, I hated it to end. I give this book the highest rating !!  I hope the authors are busy on a sequel or some other equally funny book. In conclusion…READ THIS BOOK – you won’t regret it!

Reviewed by Jean Tribull Harris, August 2010.