Book Reviews: Every Night I Dream of Hell by Malcolm Mackay and The Long Drop by Denise Mina

Every Night I Dream of Hell
Malcolm Mackay
Mulholland Books, April 2017
ISBN: 978-0-316-27177-6
Hardcover

From the publisher:  Nate Colgan would be the first to admit that his violent reputation makes him very good at his job – and bad at everything else. After eighteen years spent working on the sidelines of Glasgow’s criminal underworld, there’s no question he’ll accept the central position that Peter Jamieson’s crime organization offers him, despite his better judgment.  The organization isn’t as strong as it once was:  its most powerful members are either dead or behind bars, including Jamieson himself, and the time is ripe for change.  Change begins with an execution – – a message for Jamieson’s supporters – – which promptly sets the various factions within the organization against one another.  Colgan’s position as “security consultant” means his duty is clear:  identify the killer and find out who’s wiling to seize power at any cost – – even if it means igniting a war.  Meanwhile, on the other side of the law, DI Michael Fisher conducts his own investigation into the murder. Both men can’t help but wonder: Why do these events coincide with the return of the mother of Colgan’s child, Zara Cope, a disreputable woman who seems to have an uncanny ability to attract trouble and troublemakers?  A dark and thrilling crime drama, Every Night I Dream of Hell takes us deeper into a world of violence, fear, and double crosses.

Early on we meet Kevin Currie, a major part of “The Organization,” a guy “in his late forties getting slowly fat and jowly.”  Colgan, a member thereof since he was 18, is now replacing the man formerly Jamieson’s hitman, a line Colgan himself “had never crossed.”  Actually and directly causing the death of another was against his principles, as odd as that may sound, as Colgan is and can be as brutal as necessary.  An insomniac, Colgan thinks “the only world darker than the one I lived in was the one I slept in. . . I was always waking up growling at the darkness, scared of the things I was yet to do.”  He says of himself “I’m not an ugly man, a little weathered and starting to grey at the side of my dark hair, but not wholly unattractive and certainly well built. I’m smarter than most in this business, but not exactly a bundle of laughs.”

To call Colgan “morally complex,” as some readers have done, is an understatement.  The novel is hard-boiled, filled with dark humor, and Colgan is a fascinating protagonist, if one wants to so characterize him.  This is the fifth book written by Malcolm Mackay, the 2nd standalone after The Glasgow Trilogy, and is, as the earlier ones, highly recommended.

Not to detract from that sentiment, it should perhaps be noted that there is a five-page long list of characters provided at the beginning of the novel, and that is a good thing, although I must admit I did not refer to it as often as I needed to – the plethora of characters at times [many!] making it difficult to keep them straight in my mind.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, June 2017.

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The Long Drop
Denise Mina
Little, Brown, May 2017
ISBN 978-0-316-38057-7
Hardcover

From the publisher: William Watt’s wife, daughter, and sister-in-law are dead, slaughtered in their own home in a brutal crime that scandalized Glasgow.  Despite an ironclad alibi, police zero in on Watt as the primary suspect, but he maintains his innocence.  Distraught and desperate to clear his name, Watts puts out a bounty for information that will lead him to the real killer.  Peter Manuel claims he knows the truth that will absolve Watt and has information that only the killer would know.  It won’t come cheap.  Manuel is an infamous career criminal, a degenerate liar who can’t be trusted and will say or do anything to make a buck.  But Manuel has something that Watts wants, which makes him the perfect target for Manuel’s consummate con.  Watts agrees to sit down with Manuel, and before they know it, one drink has turned into an epic, forgotten night of carousing across the city’s bars and clubs that exposes the thin line between a yarn and the truth.  The next time the unlikely pair meet is across the witness stand in court – – where Manuel is on trial for the murder of Watt’s family. Manuel calls Watt to the stand to testify about the long, shady night they shared.  And the shocking testimony that Manuel coaxes out of Watt threatens to expose the dark hearts of the guilty and the innocent.  Based on true events, The Long Drop is an explosive, unsettling novel about guilt, innocence, and the power of a good story to hide the difference.

It won’t be a spoiler to state that the eponymous “long drop” is a reference to the method of the hanging process which was still the sentence of choice in murder cases when this case occurred, although capital punishment has since been abolished.  I am probably among the majority, at least in the U.S., when I confess ignorance of this crime, trial and the outcome thereof, so this True Crime novel was my first awareness of the apparent scandal that surrounded the case in the country where it took place.  Manuel, 31 years old at the time, and his trial, become a sensation.  The killer sought here “attacks women in the dark, hides in dusty attics, waiting for people to leave their homes so he can steal their mother’s engagement ring, lies on pristine linen bedclothes with dirty boots on or drops food on precious rugs and grinds it in with the heel of his shoe, spoiling a modest home for spite; he drags women down embankments, scattering their shopping in puddles, telling their three-year-old son to shut the f*** up or he’ll kill their mum.”  A rape charge against Manuel ends in a unanimous decision of Not Proven.  But there are still 8 murder charges against him, including that of two 17-year-old girls.  The trial is recounted in very convincing form by the author, whose previous books I have found extraordinarily good.  The chapters alternate between early December of 1957,and January of 1958, when the crimes occurred and May of 1958, when the trial takes place.  The characters are very well-drawn, especially that of Manuel and his parents, as well is Laurence Dowdall, “Glasgow’s foremost criminal lawyer”.   Another terrific novel from this author, and it is recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, September 2017.

Book Reviews: Twice a Spy by Keith Thomson, Only Time Will Tell by Jeffrey Archer, Did Not Finish by Simon Wood, The Fifth Witness by Michael Connelly, and Mystery by Jonathan Kellerman

Twice a Spy
Keith Thomson
Doubleday, March 2011
ISBN: 978-0-385-53079-8
Hardcover

This sequel has more action packed between the covers than a fast-paced hockey game.  Charlie Clark and his father, Drummond [who suffers from the ups and downs of Alzheimer’s], find themselves in Geneva on the lam.  They fled the U.S. facing criminal charges and while in Switzerland, Drummond is being treated with an experimental drug, which seems to be helping reduce the effects of his disease..

All of which has little to do with events that ensue.  To begin with, Charlie’s lover, Alice, is kidnapped to force the Clarks to reveal where an atomic device is located, in return for her release.  Then the action gets underway at an unbelievable pace, vaulting Charlie into a whirlwind of activity to frustrate the bad guy but save his girlfriend.

The tale takes us from Europe to the Caribbean and various points in the U.S. from Langley to the Gulf Coast, with the Clarks fighting not only terrorists, but the CIA, Secret Service, and everyone in between. The plot moves at an incredibly rapid rate, if somewhat implausibly. Nevertheless, it’s an easy and entertaining read, and recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, July 2011.

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Only Time Will Tell
Jeffrey Archer
St. Martin’s Press, September 2011
ISBN: 978-0-312-53955-9
Hardcover

This aptly titled novel is the prelude to a series entitled The Clifton Chronicles, covering the lives of several characters over the span of a century.  In the hands of the author, Jeffrey Archer, it follows the life of the main character, Harry Clifton, from his birth shortly after World War I to just short of WWII with more curves than a talented big league pitcher.

The story is told in succeeding chapters from the point of view of various persons, each contributing some insight into the questions raised in the last summation.  It takes Harry from a fatherless tot to a school truant to a talented choir singer and his education right up to his acceptance at Oxford.  Meanwhile his life becomes complicated as he grows up by virtue of his background:  the mystery of his father’s death, his mother’s struggles to support him, his questionable parentage.

No comment is necessary regarding Mr. Archer’s ability to write a solid story, and to end it in cliffhanger fashion so readers will look forward to the sequel.  It remains to be seen how ingenious he can be in the next book in the series.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, July 2011.

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Did Not Finish
Simon Wood
Crème de la Crime, September 2011
ISBN: 978-1-78029-007-2
Hardcover

The advice usually given to authors (and would-be authors) is to write what you know.  And that is just what ex-racecar driver Simon Wood has done.  He has written a mystery with motorsports as the theme; sort of a Dick Francis novel on wheels, if you will.

It all begins the night before a big race when a nine-time champion threatens to kill his rival, who is in the lead to capture the title.  When the rival actually is killed during the race under suspicious circumstances in a collision with the champion, Aidy Westlake undertakes to prove it was a case of murder.  Throughout all sorts of hardships and dangers, he doggedly continues his mission, until the plot inevitably takes a sharp turn.

Filled with loads of details on the racing scene and the people and equipment that make it possible, the novel moves spiritedly apace.  It is filled with suspense and startling revelations, and is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, July 2011.

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The Fifth Witness
Michael Connelly
Little, Brown, April 2011
ISBN: 978-0-316-06935-9
Hardcover

The saga of the Lincoln Lawyer, Mickey Haller, continues, following his previous appearance as a special prosecutor.  Times are hard and money scarce.  To scratch out a living, Mickey is now advertising in TV for clients facing foreclosure of their homes.  There is in this era no shortage of potential clients, and a thousand dollars here, a monthly payout there, and bills can be paid.

When one of his clients is arrested for the murder of a bank’s home loan officer, Mickey is once again a defense lawyer, giving the author to do what he does best: a dramatic courtroom story.  The drama is there, but a little bit of a potboiler, with the reader pretty much knowing not only the outcome of the trial but what follows.

Mickey, however, remains an interesting continuing character and we can be certain the sequel will take him into new territory once again. The author is excellent in constructing a plot that moves forward in a logical and careful manner, albeit with few surprises.  Written with aplomb and, to a degree, the flippancy necessary for Mickey’s personality, perhaps the next novel in the series will unveil more depth to the character. Make no mistake, however:  this one’s a good read, and recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, July 2011.

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Mystery
Jonathan Kellerman
Ballantine, April 2011
ISBN: 978-0-345-50569-9
Hardcover

Sometimes the adage “the more things change, the more they stay the same,” refers to a good thing.  Certainly it applies to the Alex Delaware series.  For 25 novels, the basic plot has remained the same: a crime is committed and Dr. Delaware and Lt. Sturgis investigate, analyze, philosophize and eventually solve it.  This 26th story in the series is no different.

A beautiful young woman, obviously waiting for a “date,” first observed in a rundown hotel by Alex and his paramour Robin, is found later up in the Hollywood Hills shot in the face.  Sturgis invites Alex, by chance, to witness the scene, and the good doctor is able to identify the victim by the way she was dressed.  There is little in the way of clues or evidence, but that doesn’t stop them from researching and theorizing ad infinitum.

One would think that an author would tire of characters and plots after so many novels, but they remain fresh and interesting, readable and enjoyable.  So when’s the 27th?  It will undoubtedly be recommended as well.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, July 2011.

Book Reviews: Silent Mercy by Linda Fairstein, Live Wire by Harlan Coben, Rizzo’s Fire by Lou Manfredo, Afraid of the Dark by James Grippando, and Started Early, Took My Dog by Kate Atkinson

Silent Mercy
Linda Fairstein
Dutton, March 2011
ISBN: 978-0-525-95202-2
Hardcover

This deeply researched series highlighting New York landmarks featuring Alexandra Cooper and Mike Chapman takes the reader in a somewhat different direction from previous entries.  This time the author tackles religion, albeit in a non-controversial manner.

While New York continues to be the prime real estate, the murderer the duo is chasing has committed the same crime in other states, ending up on Cape Cod.  But various religious institutions set the stage for the chase as the culprit leaves his victims on display at various churches, apparently making a statement.  And Alex and Mike visit a couple of leading teaching institutions undergoing a crash course in various religions and beliefs in an effort to learn what the murderer is attempting to say.

As usual, the reader learns a lot about the streets and history of New York City, always an important part of reading a novel in the series. But equally important is the tightly written mystery and analytical approach to solving it.  This author’s books are always a delight to read and this newest one, as all her prior novels, is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, May 2011.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Live Wire
Harlan Coben
Dutton, March 2011
ISBN: 978-0-525-95206-0
Hardcover

To paraphrase the Bard: “The mistakes that men make live long after them.”  This thesis governs the plot of this latest Myron Bolitar novel. Except the errors Myron made were the result of deceptions or lies by others.  So what lesson is to be learned?

While there might be a reason to summarize the tale, it ain’t gonna happen here.  The story has been told by others and I see no reason to waste time repeating.  Needless to say, Myron (and his sidekick, Win) find themselves in another messy situation and have to fight their way out with all kinds of wiles and force.  The tale begins many years earlier when Myron and his younger brother, Brad, have a falling out and Brad and his wife disappear from the Bolitars’ lives, traveling and working out of the country.  Now, 16 years later, Myron’s father has a heart attack and asks Myron to find Brad.

The plea leads to various complications, and the author, with his accustomed plot twists, allows the reader to wend his or her way through a series of unrelated side plots until a graphic finale.  The story moves swiftly, and as is customary the wisecracking Myron and enigmatic Win adorn the pages.  Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, May 2011.

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Rizzo’s Fire
Lou Manfredo
Minotaur Books, March 2011
ISBN: 978-0-312-53806-4
Hardcover

There are many police procedurals, but few on the down and dirty street level of veteran detective Joe Rizzo, who has been around long enough to have collected all sorts of favors, seen most of everything possible in Brooklyn and developed his own set of standards, ignoring, often, “the book” but solving “the crime.”

After wandering around for the first part of the novel, in which the characters are established and Rizzo’s new, black, gay, female partner is introduced, and some amusing situations set the stage, the detectives catch a murder of an old recluse.  At first blush, it appears to be a break-in, but nothing seems to be missing.  Meanwhile, across the river in Manhattan, a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright is also murdered.  The MO’s are similar, and the investigation progresses, as Rizzo puts it, by him following his nose.

This entertaining, but serious, book is the second in the series. Rizzo is depicted as a wise-cracking, street-wise cop, but he is very human. Throughout the novel, he faces torment when his youngest daughter decides to join “the cops.”  He is convinced it is a wrong choice for her, but is he man enough to stand by her decision?  The book is well-written and enjoyable, and recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, June 2011.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Afraid of the Dark
James Grippando
Harper, March 2011
ISBN: 978-0-061-84028-9
Hardcover

Contemporary themes are a trademark of a James Grippando novel, and this one is no exception.  It boasts at leas two:  Guantanamo, and data mining, the collection and sale of personal information over the internet.  How these two topics intertwine form the basis of the plot, which is kind of unusual for the Jack Swyteck series, which usually revolves around his defense attorney law practice.

Instead, it begins with Swyteck defending a Gitmo detainee and obtaining his release, only to see the ex-prisoner arrested for murder.  Then Jack becomes involved in investigating not only the murder of his client, but several others as well, while side topics involving pornography, black interrogation centers operated overseas by private CIA contractors, and an undercover FBI operation in which Jack’s fiancée is acting as an undercover agent complicate matters.

Pardon the pun, but it is a gripping tale, full of suspense and twisted characters.  The plot gets a little complicated from time to time, but in the end it all logically comes together, and is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, June 2011.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Started Early, Took My Dog
Kate Atkinson
Little, Brown, March 2011
ISBN: 978-0-316-06673-0
Hardcover

Be forewarned:  This is not an easy book to read.  It has a complicated plot, filled with a wide assortment of characters, and jumps back and forth both in time and between circumstances.  It flits episodically so that this reader, at least, became confused more than once.  It was work to read, despite some excellent prose.

The main story involves Tracy Waterhouse, a zaftig ex-cop, now chief of security at a mall, who on a whim buys a young girl from a dope-addicted prostitute, and Jackson Brodie, now a PI who is pursuing the quest of a New Zealand woman to find her birth parents, or information about them (she, obviously, was adopted).  Then there are all kinds of other individuals who come and go, and eventually play a part in the mystery, as the story twists and turns.

If you have the stamina and patience to tackle the book, reading and rereading passages, paragraphs and whole sections, as I had to, it is a worthwhile endeavor.  But be prepared.  With this caveat, the novel is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, June 2011.

Book Reviews: Silent Mercy by Linda Fairstein, Live Wire by Harlan Coben, Rizzo's Fire by Lou Manfredo, Afraid of the Dark by James Grippando, and Started Early, Took My Dog by Kate Atkinson

Silent Mercy
Linda Fairstein
Dutton, March 2011
ISBN: 978-0-525-95202-2
Hardcover

This deeply researched series highlighting New York landmarks featuring Alexandra Cooper and Mike Chapman takes the reader in a somewhat different direction from previous entries.  This time the author tackles religion, albeit in a non-controversial manner.

While New York continues to be the prime real estate, the murderer the duo is chasing has committed the same crime in other states, ending up on Cape Cod.  But various religious institutions set the stage for the chase as the culprit leaves his victims on display at various churches, apparently making a statement.  And Alex and Mike visit a couple of leading teaching institutions undergoing a crash course in various religions and beliefs in an effort to learn what the murderer is attempting to say.

As usual, the reader learns a lot about the streets and history of New York City, always an important part of reading a novel in the series. But equally important is the tightly written mystery and analytical approach to solving it.  This author’s books are always a delight to read and this newest one, as all her prior novels, is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, May 2011.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Live Wire
Harlan Coben
Dutton, March 2011
ISBN: 978-0-525-95206-0
Hardcover

To paraphrase the Bard: “The mistakes that men make live long after them.”  This thesis governs the plot of this latest Myron Bolitar novel. Except the errors Myron made were the result of deceptions or lies by others.  So what lesson is to be learned?

While there might be a reason to summarize the tale, it ain’t gonna happen here.  The story has been told by others and I see no reason to waste time repeating.  Needless to say, Myron (and his sidekick, Win) find themselves in another messy situation and have to fight their way out with all kinds of wiles and force.  The tale begins many years earlier when Myron and his younger brother, Brad, have a falling out and Brad and his wife disappear from the Bolitars’ lives, traveling and working out of the country.  Now, 16 years later, Myron’s father has a heart attack and asks Myron to find Brad.

The plea leads to various complications, and the author, with his accustomed plot twists, allows the reader to wend his or her way through a series of unrelated side plots until a graphic finale.  The story moves swiftly, and as is customary the wisecracking Myron and enigmatic Win adorn the pages.  Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, May 2011.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Rizzo’s Fire
Lou Manfredo
Minotaur Books, March 2011
ISBN: 978-0-312-53806-4
Hardcover

There are many police procedurals, but few on the down and dirty street level of veteran detective Joe Rizzo, who has been around long enough to have collected all sorts of favors, seen most of everything possible in Brooklyn and developed his own set of standards, ignoring, often, “the book” but solving “the crime.”

After wandering around for the first part of the novel, in which the characters are established and Rizzo’s new, black, gay, female partner is introduced, and some amusing situations set the stage, the detectives catch a murder of an old recluse.  At first blush, it appears to be a break-in, but nothing seems to be missing.  Meanwhile, across the river in Manhattan, a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright is also murdered.  The MO’s are similar, and the investigation progresses, as Rizzo puts it, by him following his nose.

This entertaining, but serious, book is the second in the series. Rizzo is depicted as a wise-cracking, street-wise cop, but he is very human. Throughout the novel, he faces torment when his youngest daughter decides to join “the cops.”  He is convinced it is a wrong choice for her, but is he man enough to stand by her decision?  The book is well-written and enjoyable, and recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, June 2011.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Afraid of the Dark
James Grippando
Harper, March 2011
ISBN: 978-0-061-84028-9
Hardcover

Contemporary themes are a trademark of a James Grippando novel, and this one is no exception.  It boasts at leas two:  Guantanamo, and data mining, the collection and sale of personal information over the internet.  How these two topics intertwine form the basis of the plot, which is kind of unusual for the Jack Swyteck series, which usually revolves around his defense attorney law practice.

Instead, it begins with Swyteck defending a Gitmo detainee and obtaining his release, only to see the ex-prisoner arrested for murder.  Then Jack becomes involved in investigating not only the murder of his client, but several others as well, while side topics involving pornography, black interrogation centers operated overseas by private CIA contractors, and an undercover FBI operation in which Jack’s fiancée is acting as an undercover agent complicate matters.

Pardon the pun, but it is a gripping tale, full of suspense and twisted characters.  The plot gets a little complicated from time to time, but in the end it all logically comes together, and is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, June 2011.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Started Early, Took My Dog
Kate Atkinson
Little, Brown, March 2011
ISBN: 978-0-316-06673-0
Hardcover

Be forewarned:  This is not an easy book to read.  It has a complicated plot, filled with a wide assortment of characters, and jumps back and forth both in time and between circumstances.  It flits episodically so that this reader, at least, became confused more than once.  It was work to read, despite some excellent prose.

The main story involves Tracy Waterhouse, a zaftig ex-cop, now chief of security at a mall, who on a whim buys a young girl from a dope-addicted prostitute, and Jackson Brodie, now a PI who is pursuing the quest of a New Zealand woman to find her birth parents, or information about them (she, obviously, was adopted).  Then there are all kinds of other individuals who come and go, and eventually play a part in the mystery, as the story twists and turns.

If you have the stamina and patience to tackle the book, reading and rereading passages, paragraphs and whole sections, as I had to, it is a worthwhile endeavor.  But be prepared.  With this caveat, the novel is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, June 2011.

Book Review Roundup by Gloria Feit

Known to Evil
Walter Mosley
NAL, February 2011
ISBN: 978-0-451-23213-7
Trade Paperback

Leonid Trotter McGill is a 54-year-old African-American man, an amateur boxer known to have had his “finger in every dishonest business in the city” including being a fixer for the mob, who is trying to turn his life around, now working as a private detective. He describes his marriage as “twenty years of unfaithfulness on both sides of the bed;” he has fathered only one of the two sons he has raised with his wife, she of the “gorgeous Scandinavian face.”  At present both his wife and his girlfriend have taken on new boyfriends, and his two sons are involved in some kind of trouble.  And that’s only his personal life.

He is hired [although insisting it will be a ‘favor,’ with no money to change hands other than expenses] by a very powerful man to find a young woman who it seems is being stalked, with no information except for an address; when he goes to that address it quickly becomes apparent that it is a crime scene where two dead bodies have been found.  The ensuing investigation, by McGill and the police, is not a simple one; ‘convoluted’ would be an understatement, but one never loses interest for a minute.   The woman he was sent to find was “a mystery and missing, the object of attention of a man who was as dangerous as any terrorist or government-trained assassin.”

I must admit to only having read one of this author’s prior books, which took place in an LA of earlier times.  I found this novel, which takes place in contemporary New York City, more accessible, which probably says at least as much about me than about the author.  But his evocation of present-day Manhattan is a vibrant one, as are his characters.  His writing is enjoyable on so many levels:  The frequent irony; the depiction of his protagonist as a deeply flawed man but one with his own immutable moral code; the wonderful names he gives his characters:  e.g., a young man who I want to describe as a computer genius except that that wouldn’t do him justice, with the two nicknames of “Tiny” [because he isn’t] and “Bug,” [no idea]; his father was self-named “Tolstoy;” an ex-cop’s middle name is Proteus; an assassin friend is named Hush; his brother is Nikita; he himself has named his sons Twilliam and Dmitri.

The writing is wonderful. When something bothers McGill, he describes it as “a feeling at the back of my mind, something that was burgeoning into consciousness like a vibrating moth pressing out from its cocoon.”  When he turned 49, the man who was a surrogate father to him gives him this wisdom:  “When you hit your fifties life starts comin’ up on ya fast . . .  Before that time life is pretty much a straight climb.  Wife looks up to you and the young kids are small enough, and the older kids smart enough, not to weigh you down.  But then, just when you start puttin’ on the pounds an’ losin’ your wind, the kids’re expecting you to fulfill your promises and the wife all of a sudden sees every one of your flaws.  Your parents, if you still got any, are getting’ old and turnin’ back into kids themselves.  For the first time you realize that the sky does have a limit. You comin’ to a rise, but when you hit the top there’s another life up ahead of you and here you are – – just about spent.”

Mr. Mosley has been called a master of contemporary noir, and I cannot disagree with that assessment.   Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, May 2011.

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Misery Bay
Steve Hamilton
Minotaur, June 2011
ISBN: 978-0-312-38043-4
Hardcover

The first page of the newest book by Steve Hamilton, which brings the welcome return of Alex McKnight, describes a scene wherein the body of a young man is found hanging from a tree branch at the edge of a bay in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.  For those new to the series, McKnight is a former Detroit cop and current holder of a p.i. license, although he protests that he ‘doesn’t do that anymore’:  He owns and rents out cabins to ‘the snowmobile people’ in season.

Three months after that first-page event takes place, McKnight is approached by Roy Maven, Chief of Police in “the Soo” [Sault St. Marie], who asks for his help.  This from a man whose relationship with McKnight could at best be described as ‘fraught’ – as the Chief says, ‘just call it a persistent lack of liking each other.”  The dead boy’s father had been Maven’s partner on the police force, and Maven wants McKnight to investigate the circumstances that could have led to what appears to have been a suicide.  Having suffered horrendous personal losses himself – his partner on the Detroit police force, the woman he loved – there is no way this particular man could refuse.  In what is perhaps the unlikeliest of alliances, McKnight agrees.

The place where the body was found is the eponymous Misery Bay, a fitting enough name for the site itself and for what happened there, and a five-hour drive away from McKnight’s home on Lake Superior, in a town called Paradise.  McKnight once again periodically turns to his friend Leon Prudell, the once and perhaps future p.i., for his unerring ability to point him in the right direction.  The investigation takes some unpredictable turns, as more lives are lost and more still endangered.

The writing is wonderful – no surprise here.  The long, long winter of Paradise is once again made palpable by the author:  “The sun went down.  The wind picked up and started howling and I knew the wind chill would be something like thirty below.  Another beautiful April night in Paradise. . . [where] springtime felt like a fairy tale.”  [And I loved that the author tips his hat to fellow mystery writers, both from NYC: Reed Coleman and Jim Fusilli, both police sergeants in this incarnation.]

As dark as the story line is, there is just enough humor injected into the writing and, as usual for this author, it is a sheer pleasure to read, and highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, July 2011.

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The Retribution
Val McDermid
Little, Brown, September 2011
ISBN: 978-1-4087-0319-9
Hardcover

[This review is based on the UK edition and the US edition is now available from Atlantic Monthly Press, ISBN 9780802120175]

In her twenty-fifth novel, Val McDermid brings back Jacko Vance, introduced to readers in The Wire in the Blood, and to television viewers in its wonderful series adaptation.  As the book opens, this truly malevolent serial killer, whose resume includes “killer of seventeen teenage girls, murderer of a serving police officer, and a man once voted the sexiest man on British TV” as well as an Olympic athlete and an outwardly charming and charismatic man, has served over 12 years in prison, owing mostly to the efforts of DCI Carol Jordan and psychological profiler Tony Hill.  Vance has spent most of that time meticulously planning his escape, as well as his future after its successful completion:  the revenge suggested by the books title, directed toward those who had caused his imprisonment, first among them Jordan and Hill, as well as his ex-wife whose betrayal he sees as making her equally culpable.  Of course, his plan for vengeance merely begins there.

Carol Jordan, as yet unaware of what is about to happen, is dealing with a shake-up at the Bradfield Metropolitan Police, where the powers that be are disbanding her Major Incident Team.  In an attempt to go out in a ‘blaze of glory,’ they are faced with finding a killer who has been killing street prostitutes in gruesome ways, and branding them with a distinctive tattoo on the wrist of each.   Suddenly, Jordan’s priorities change with Vance’s escape, and its implications.  Tony’s priorities as well must be divided between these investigations.

The relationship between Jordan and Hill has always been difficult to define, becoming more so all the time.  They are not quite lovers, although they share space, and different flats, in Tony’s house.  But their emotional entanglement has always been obvious to all, even if they themselves do not admit to one.  That relationship, both professionally and personally, is about to be threatened now as never before.

The author goes into more of Tony’s background, and the emotional and psychological paths that have shaped him, and caused him to work at “passing for human,” than I remembered having been done in the past.  He tells a colleague “I won’t deny that the people who do this kind of thing fascinate me.  The more disturbed they are, the more I want to figure out what makes them tick.”  It is his empathy and his oft-times brilliant insights that have made him so successful.  But this is a challenge unlike any he has ever faced.

The pace steadily accelerates along with a sense of dread as Vance begins to carry out his plans, and the resultant page-turner is as good as anything this acclaimed author has written.  Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, September 2011.

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Split Second
Catherine Coulter
Putnam, July 2011
ISBN: 978-0-399-15743-1
Hardcover

There are three story lines presented in the newest book by Catherine Coulter.  The first appears on page one, and isn’t resolved until nearly the final page in the book:  The owner of a small convenience store in Washington, D.C. is nearly killed late one night in an apparent robbery gone wrong, the latter not having counted on FBI Agent Dillon Savitch being the customer in the shop at the time.  When the same man is shot in another incident shortly thereafter, leaving him seriously wounded, it would seem there is more going on than a “simple” robbery.

The second, and main, story line deals with a series of crimes involving women in their 20’s and 30’s who are picked up in neighborhood bars, brought back to their own apartments, and strangled with a length of wire, no apparent connection among them, and the crimes occurring in various large cities including Cleveland, Ohio; San Francisco; and Chicago.  Autopsies show the women were drugged with Rohypnol and ketamine.   One of the victims had scratched her attacker before being killed, leaving a nice sample of DNA to be analyzed and run through databases, after which it is determined that the killer is the offspring of none other than Ted Bundy, the man who kidnapped dozens of young women, raped, tortured and then murdered them before he was caught and ultimately electrocuted in Florida in 1989.

The last of the plotlines is a very personal one, having to do with a horrifying family secret just discovered by Lucy Carlyle, another FBI agent in the Washington DC office, and her attempt to put it on the back burner while joining her boss, Savitch, and her partner, Cooper (“Coop”) McKnight, in the investigation of the serial killer, whose victims number five and counting.

I had several problems with the book, starting with the fact that one of the agents, whose name is, disconcertingly, Lacey Sherlock, is never referred to or called Lacey but, always, “Sherlock,” even by her husband.  As well, much of the writing felt stilted, the dialog often not what I felt one or another would be expected to utter or their actions not ringing true, e.g., a 27-year-old FBI agent “bouncing up and down” upon being given news of an important breakthrough in the case; a cup of coffee described as “dark as sin.”  And would a woman who had just been told her niece had lost control of her car and been badly injured, upon seeing that niece, really say to her “Oh, you’ve got a bandage on your head!”  Nor am I enamored with the supernatural in mysteries, as is the case here.

On the other hand, almost in spite of myself, I was caught up in the story, the pages turning quickly, and anxious to find out how each story line was resolved.  I am obviously in the minority with my reservations about the book, since the author consistently makes the bestseller lists.  This is her seventeenth book in what is termed “the FBI Thriller” series.  It made for good reading, on balance, and I’m sure most readers will find it very enjoyable.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, November 2011.

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Very Bad Men
Harry Dolan
Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam, July 2011
ISBN: 978-0-399-15749-3
Hardcover

This new novel from the author of the acclaimed Bad Things Happen, his writing debut, has no ‘sophomore book’ problems.   Very Bad Men immediately engages the reader, and one is quickly drawn into this compelling tale of murder, specifically, the murder of two men who were part of a bank robbery seventeen years ago, and the attempted murder of a third.  All three men had been convicted, and served jail time of varying lengths.  But what could be the motive?  These three men had not seen nor contacted one another in all the intervening years.  And the killer – for his identity is quickly revealed – is not a cool, professional hit man; that is immediately made clear.

David Loogan, the editor-in-chief of a mystery magazine, receives, in a plain, unmarked envelope, what at first glance appears to be a manuscript, only several pages long, bearing no signature, the first line of which reads “I killed Henry Kormoran . . . “   Loogan, who lives with his ‘significant other,’ Elizabeth Waishkey, an Ann Arbor, Michigan, detective, and her precocious 16-year-old daughter, ultimately begins a kind of parallel and unofficial investigation.

Each character in the novel is wonderfully well-drawn.  These include the killer, who suffers from synesthesia, a rare affliction which results in a confusion of the senses, with words taking on dimensions far beyond their ‘normal’ printed appearance, according to his emotional reaction to them; Lucy Navarro, a young and rather endearing reporter, who comes up with a bizarre theory of the motive for the crimes; assorted politicians and their ‘handlers,’ among others.  The writer invokes some wildly disparate images: Occam and his razor, Aristotle, jazz musician Charlie Parker; mystery authors Dennis Lehane and Michael Connelly; and a theme:  “We all want to be known.  To be seen for who we really are.” There are carefully placed, and easily missed clues, and startling and unexpected twists in this rather complex and engrossing novel, which is recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, December 2011.

Book Reviews: Think Twice by Lisa Scottoline and Hollywood Hills by Joseph Wambaugh

Think Twice
Lisa Scottoline
St. Martin’s Press, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-312-38076-2
Trade Paperback

First there was Cain and Abel.   In this novel we have Bennie Rosato and her twin sister, Alice Connelly (they were separated at birth and raised by different mothers).  Bennie grows up to be a highly successful Philadelphia lawyer, heading her own firm, while Alice turns out evil.

Alice has drugged Bennie, burying her alive, and then impersonates her in an attempt to transfer all of Bennie’s money out of the country and flee.  She convinces everyone, including the bank, that she is Bennie, and succeeds in transferring the funds to an offshore institution. Meanwhile, Bennie breaks through the box in which she is buried, but runs into all kinds of obstacles when she is believed to be Alice.

In the end, the real question asked and, perhaps, answered is: is the nature of evil born in us or is it in the genes?  While the main plot is charged to a high degree, the tale is interspersed with a bit of old-fashioned schmaltz, including the caricature of an  Italian immigrant family, up and down love lives of a couple of characters, the emotional permutations of a candidate for a law partnership, and even an Italian witch.  Of course, Lisa Scottoline‘s writing is smooth and forceful, so the reader is carried along for an enjoyable read.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, January 2011.

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Hollywood Hills
Joseph Wambaugh
Little, Brown, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-316-12950-3
Hardcover

The patented Wambaugh formula continues to enthrall the reader, even after reaching the Twenty-book mark.  Most of the familiar characters from the preceding 19 books are present again, along with some new ones, and the accustomed anecdotes illustrating the madness that befalls the LAPD cops remain at the high level of the author’s past performances.

The plot running through the novel to give it the feel of a police procedural involves an art scam which is doomed from the beginning, but allows Wambaugh to interweave four characters into the daily activities of the crime-fighting LAPD warriors.

Written at the sophisticated level of past novels in the series, Wambaugh introduces some deeply human and emotional situations to provide a touching pathos, raising the question in at least my mind as to whether or not he is planning to end the highly successful run of this series.  At least we have this one to enjoy, and it is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, February 2011.

Book Review: The Reversal by Michael Connelly

The Reversal
Michael Connelly
Little, Brown, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-316-06948-9
Hardcover

The book’s title has a double meaning:  the “Lincoln Lawyer,” Mickey Haller, normally a defense attorney, is asked in this instance to act as an independent prosecutor in a 1986 case that the higher court has reversed and sent back for retrial.  The defendant was convicted of abducting and murdering a 12-year-old girl and has served the past 24 years in San Quentin.

As a condition of accepting the appointment, he demands the hiring of his ex-wife Maggie McPherson as his second chair and his half-brother,
LAPD detective Harry Bosch, as his investigator.  Rounding out this little family get-together are Mickey’s and Harry’s daughters, cousins who have never met but finally get together along the way and showing some human sidelights of the two main characters, especially taking the hard edge off Harry as an inexperienced parent.

Bringing together the protagonists of his two popular series gives the author the means to write a straightforward courtroom drama led by Haller, as well as a fairly good police investigation a la Harry Bosch.  The plot moves forward in alternating chapters, with each concentrating on one of them, giving the reader an insight into not only what goes on in the courtroom, but also outside those hallowed walls.  Written smoothly, with a somewhat unexpected conclusion, The Reversal is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, December 2010.