Book Reviews: Good as Dead by Mark Billingham, Pocket-47 by Jude Hardin, Buried Secrets by Joseph Finder, and Hurt Machine by Reed Farrel Coleman

Good As Dead
Mark Billingham
Little, Brown, August 2011
ISBN: 978-1-84744-419-6
Hardcover, 392 pp., 16.99 BPS

[This book is the UK edition. It was released in the US in June 2012 by Mulholland Books under the title The Demands.]

This novel is the latest—the 10th—in the Tom Thorne series featuring a British cop of a different stripe.  His approach to solving a crime is to achieve a conclusion by any means.  And, in this book, he shows no mercy.

It begins when D.S. Helen Weeks enters her local news agent’s shop to buy her customary candy bar and ends up, along with another customer, as a hostage to the proprietor, who then demands that Thorne find the murderer of his son.  Some months before, Thorne had been the arresting officer when the boy surrendered for killing another lad in self-defense.  He received an eight-year sentence, rather an extreme incarceration based on the case.  While in prison, he was attacked and taken to the hospital where he was later found dead of an overdose of drugs.  His father refuses to accept the verdict that the death was a suicide.

Forced to reopen the case and “find the truth,” Thorne fights against time and Helen’s predicament.  The time frame of the novel is three days, which certainly speeds up the action both behind the closed doors of the shop, as well as vis-à-vis Thorne’s progress.  The psychological aspects of the hostage system:  the interchanges between Weeks and her captor, and the uncertainties of the situation, are manifested in the shifting conversations between the two.  In contrast are the fears and doubts of the police officials outside who cannot determine what, if any, efforts should be made to free the hostages and apprehend the news agent.  Thorne’s quick determination that the news agent’s belief is correct – – that rather than suicide, his son was murdered – – comes quickly, just as the various pieces of the puzzle are unveiled one by one.  Nevertheless, Thorne is really a delightful and intriguing character, and the well-written scenario moves forward briskly.  Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, September 2011.

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Pocket-47
Jude Hardin
Oceanview Publishing, May 2011
ISBN: 978-1-60809-011-2
Hardcover

I’m not sure the world needs another hard-boiled PI, but that is what we have in this debut effort, which has a hard time finding a consistent voice, and from time to time lapses into trite asides, for almost no reason.  Nevertheless, the book shows the author can write, and hopefully will settle on a method that doesn’t simply try to emulate Mickey Spillane (who, obviously, not only invented the genre, but is in a class by himself).

Nicholas Colt makes his territory in the Florida Panhandle and is retained by a woman to find and bring home her runaway 15-year-old sibling.  It doesn’t take him long to find the girl, holed up in the apartment of a pimp, and he takes her to his girlfriend’s apartment since the girl complains that she doesn’t want to go home since someone is out to kill her.  So he takes her the next day to his Airstream trailer, teaches her to fish, and then leaves her alone while he goes away for a short time.  In his absence she is kidnapped, setting the stage for a more complicated [and contrived] ending.

The title is another mystery to be solved, and the answer is almost beside the point, especially since it involves the death in an airplane crash of Colt’s wife and daughter 20 years earlier (another example of unnecessary and complicated contrivance in the novel). Let’s consider this book a learning experience, from which a much better effort will emerge.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, September 2011.

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Buried Secrets
Joseph Finder
St. Martin’s Press, June 2011
ISBN: 978-0-312-37914-8
Hardcover

It is a hard task to review such a well-written novel, peopled by interesting characters and with a well-drawn plot, yet have reservations because it seems to reverberate with clichés.  There is Nick Heller, the second appearance by this former superspy turned Boston PI, who seems to be too good to be real.  He knows everyone and seems to be smarter than them all; and some of the other characters seem like cardboard figures, especially some of the FBI personnel.

Yet the book is exciting, even riveting, despite the fact that a major premise – – the loss of over a billion dollars by Marshall Marcus, an investment manager “who never had a losing quarter, unlike Warren Buffet” – – seems somewhat preposterous.  As does the source of the funds  he managed to “lose.”  The plot revolves around the kidnapping of Marcus’ daughter in an effort to force him to reveal a secret document which would provide a Russian oligarch business leverage. Marcus enlists Heller’s aid in rescuing the girl, and the chase is on.

Finder’s eye for detail is impressive, and he moves the story forward daring the reader to put the book down.  The action is at a pace almost too much to absorb, packed with all sorts of twists and turns. Despite the above reservations, this is a book to be read, and it is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, October 2011.

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Hurt Machine
Reed Farrel Coleman
Tyrus Books, December 2011
ISBN: 978-1-4405-3202-3
Hardcover
[It should perhaps be noted that the book is also being released in trade paperback]

Unlike the previous six novels in the series, this book is a lot more introspective and deep since Moe Prager learns he has stomach cancer.  This leads to a lot of looking at the past and present and less at the lighter side of life.  But that does not stop the formidable Moe from undertaking another tough task, made especially hard by the time restraints of his daughter’s upcoming wedding in a week and his own possibly limited lifespan.

After a pre-wedding dinner, Moe’s ex-wife and PI partner, who left him years before, accosts him outside the restaurant, asking him to look into the murder of her estranged older sister, one of two EMTs who refused to assist a dying man at a high-end bistro where they were supposedly having lunch.  Moe doggedly takes on the task, and therein lies a tale.

The tone of this book is a lot different from its predecessors, necessarily so in light of Moe’s serious illness.  That does not, of course, take away from the plot; it only reinforces the intensity of the various elements.  It is written with power and passion [albeit sometimes with too much schmaltz].  Let’s hope the doctors can save Moe and that he returns to his old self.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, October 2011.

Book Reviews: Gloria Feit X 3

Trick of the Dark
Val McDermid
Little, Brown, 2010
ISBN 978-1-4087-0201-7
Hardcover

[This book is presently available only in/through the UK and Canada, not available in the US at this time]

As the book opens, Dr. Charlotte [“Charlie”] Flint finds her professional life as a forensic psychiatrist in tatters, her reputation destroyed, and awaiting a hearing by the General Medical Council to will decide whether or not she can be reinstated as an expert in her field.

Magdalene [“Magda”] Newsam, a pediatric oncologist, is a 28-year-old woman whose husband was killed on their wedding night, attending the trial of her husband’s partners for his murder.  One of the two hubs of this book is Magda’s mother, Corinna Newsam, who was Charlie’s tutor while an undergraduate at St. Scholastika’s College, Oxford University, which is the other point around which all else revolves. Each of the characters’ ties to Corinna and Oxford have shaped their lives to this point.  As is the case also with Jay Stewart, wildly successful businesswoman in the throes of writing her second memoir following her first bestseller, the point of view throughout the book variously that of the three younger women.

Corinna asks Charlie to investigate whether, as she suspects, Jay Stewart had something to do with her son-in-law’s death, mostly due to the fact that Jay is now romantically involved with Magda.  Seeking redemption, Charlie agrees. As the solution drew near, the feeling that I knew what lay ahead didn’t diminish the suspense or the intricacy of the plot.  And, of course, I was completely wrong in my expectations.

Few of the characters in the book are male; few of the romantic relationships/entanglements are heterosexual, a fact noteworthy only in the prejudices thereby aroused in others which are essential to the plot.  The novel, though somewhat lengthy, is an absorbing and worthy addition to Ms. McDermid’s past novels, and is recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, November 2010.

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Thirteen Hours
Deon Meyer
Translated by K. L. Seegers
Atlantic Monthly Press, 2010
ISBN 978-0-8021-1958-2
Hardcover

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 Gloria Feit, November 2010.

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The Immortals
J.T. Ellison
MIRA Books, 2010
ISBN 978-0-7783-2763-9
Mass Market Paperback

This newest entry in the Taylor Jackson series could be termed a procedural with a twist.  It includes elements of the occult: Goth, Wicca, Satanic and Pagan rituals and beliefs.  In the spirit of full disclosure, I must admit that in general, “woo woo” is not my favorite genre.  This novel, however, does not ask readers to believe in the occult, merely to accept that there are those that do.  And on that basis, I had no problem with it at all.  More to the point, I found it equally as enjoyable as the earlier books in this series, of which this is the fifth.

All events transpire over a four-day period, beginning, significantly, on October 31st [usually known as Halloween or, if one follows the occult, Samhain, which is the Wiccan New Year.]  As the book opens, Taylor Jackson has just been reinstated as a Lieutenant in the Nashville Metro Police Department, heading up the Murder Squad.  The squad assembles hurriedly when there are reports of multiple victims and multiple crime scenes, at least seven dead in five different houses, all victims between fourteen and eighteen years of age.  The persons responsible seem to be the eponymous, if self-styled, Immortals.  Is this, as it starts to appear, a case of vampires and witches running amok in Nashville, Tennessee?

Paralleling this investigation in the novel is one that revolves around events which began in June of 2004 with the discovery of the fifth victim of what the media dubs The Clockwork Killer, which involved Dr. John Baldwin, Supervisory Special Agent and Taylor’s fiancé, and which he must revisit when a hearing into the matter is being held at FBI headquarters at Quantico.  In each case, the present and the past, there is an inherent threat of further loss of young lives, both aspects of the book equally suspenseful.  [I couldn’t help but note that Dr. Baldwin displays good taste in writers, reading a copy of a John Connolly book in one scene.]  The occult aspect becomes just another part of the background and not a deterrent to this reader’s enjoyment of the book.  As is pointed out to Taylor, “Everyone needs something to believe in.  Pagans just look to things that are a bit more tangible than what you and I are aware of.”  The Immortals, as were the other books in the series, is recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, November 2010.