Book Reviews: The Lost Ones by Ace Atkins, Good Bait by John Harvey, Watching the Dark by Peter Robinson, A Cup Full of Midnight by Jaden Terrell, and Chance of a Ghost by E.J. Copperman

The Lost OnesThe Lost Ones
Ace Atkins
Putnam, June 2012
ISBN: 978-0-399-15876-6
Hardcover

Quinn Colson first appeared in The Ranger, and now, in this follow-up novel, faces a couple of situations that really put him to the test.  As sheriff in a northern Mississippi county, he has to apply not only the skills he learned in the army, but a lot of common sense and a certain amount of diplomatic talent.

First, a high school friend recently returned from Iraq and Afghanistan now runs a local gun shop and shooting range.  Colson suspects him to be the source of U.S. Army rifles which turn up in the hands of a Mexican gang.  Meanwhile, a case involving an abused child leads Colson to discovering a bootleg baby racket.  While raiding the place where the babies are being kept before they’re sold, Colson and his deputy, Lillie Virgil, discover that the two cases somehow converge.

As the investigation progresses, lots of action takes place, sometimes reminding the reader of an actual military operation, led by General Colson, rather than sheriff Colson.  The characters are colorfully drawn, and the dialogue is vibrant.  The novel is sort of a cross between an old-fashioned western and a modern day crime novel and reads well, and is recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, November 2012.

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Good BaitGood Bait
John Harvey
Pegasus, January 2013
ISBN 978-1-605-98378-3
Hardcover

There are two main story lines, and two cases for the cops to pursue, in this newest novel from John Harvey.  The first is the murder in Hampstead Heath of a 17-year-old Moldovan boy, assigned to DCI Karen Shields and the Homicide & Serious Crime team.  The second falls to DI Trevor Cordon of the Devon and Cornwall Police in Exeter, when a woman he’d known is killed under the wheels of an oncoming train, whether suicide, accident or murder is unknown.  Though not strictly his problem, he takes time off the job to investigate it, as the woman in question was known to him from years back and is the mother of a girl who, though many years his junior, he knew and by whom he was intrigued all those years before. There is the tantalizing question of whether or not these two events are connected.

This is, of course, at least nominally, a police procedural, and quite a good one, although the multitude of characters, both ‘bad guys’ and good, were often difficult for me to keep track of.  But of course, being a John Harvey novel, it is much more than that.  That title, for one instance, is, typically of a Harvey protagonist, the title of a jazz tune of which Cordon collects every known recording, from Miles Davis to Nina Simone to Dexter Gordon.  It is also a character study of the lead cops, entirely different from one another:  Karen, a black woman from Jamaica, and Trevor, fifty-ish, with an ex-wife and a grown son from whom he’s been estranged but who he believes is now living somewhere in Australia.  The author philosophizes about what makes these cops tick:  if it’s “the mystery, the need to see things through to their conclusion, find out how they’d been put together, how they ticked.  Wasn’t that one of the reasons people became detectives?” and about “missed chances.  Roads not taken. Relationships allowed to drift.  Always that nagging question, what if, what if?”  Another terrific Harvey novel, and recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, December 2012.

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Watching the DarkWatching the Dark
Peter Robinson
Morrow, January 2013
ISBN: 978-0-06-200480-2
Hardcover

The 20th entry in the wonderful Inspector Banks series by Peter Robinson opens with the shocking killing of one of Banks’ colleagues, a decorated detective inspector, on the grounds of St. Peter’s Police Convalescence and Treatment Center, where he was a patient.  The Major Crimes Unit, or Homicide and Major Inquiry Team, as it was now known, operating out of Eastvale, is assigned, the investigative team once again including DS Winsome Jackman (“all six feet something of her”), DC Gerry Masterson, and DI Annie Cabbot, Banks’ close friend, who is just returning from a convalescence after having survived her own brutal wounds and subsequent convalescence in events described in a prior entry in the series.

Because there had recently been a hint of police corruption, Inspector Joanna Passero, of Professional Standards [the equivalent of the American IAB], is assigned to work with Banks.  Their working relationship, perhaps understandably, is an ambivalent one, at least initially.  Very shortly, another murder takes place, and there are indications that the two killings may be related.  Another angle that comes into play is a six-year-old cold case involving Rachel Hewitt, a 19-year-old English girl who seemingly “disappeared off the face of the earth” in Tallinn, Estonia, a case that had haunted the dead inspector for the intervening years, having been involved in the investigation at its inception in Tallinn.

The author expertly juxtaposes the lines of investigation, with Annie and her colleagues handling the Eastvale aspect of the case, and Banks the second killing, which appears to involve illegal migrant labor activities, ultimately taking him to Estonia, though he is warned not to get diverted by the Hewitt case.  Following his instincts, as always, Banks is determined to do his best to bring closure to the girl’s parents if at all possible.  A complex plot, carried off in smooth fashion, in a book that is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, December 2012.

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A Cup Full of M idnightA Cup Full of Midnight
Jaden Terrell
Permanent Press, August 2012
ISBN: 978-1-57962-225-1
Hardcover

Jared McKean, 36 years of age and now a private detective after seven years with the Nashville Metro Police Department, has gone, as he describes it, from “uniformed patrol officer to undercover vice officer to homicide detective to outsider.”  Now he has his most important client ever:  his nephew, Josh.  Josh and his sister, 14-year-old Caitlin, are as close to him as anyone in his life, the boy feeling closer to him than to his own father. Lately Josh’s life has been in a state of upheaval, having not long ago come out of the closet and left home to live with Sebastian Parker, known as “Razor,” the sociopath who’d seduced him [a man in his late 20’s to Josh’s 16]. After the latter’s murder a few days before, Josh had attempted suicide, and now ‘hires’ Jared to find out who killed Razor.  No simple task, since he seems to have engendered hatred in most everyone whose path he crossed.  In what appears to be a ritual killing, he had been slashed to death, emasculated, eviscerated, and his body placed on a pentagram, surrounded by occult symbols.

The novel is a cautionary tale of disenchanted youth and the Goth sub-culture, “vampire wannabees.”  I was initially – but only initially – unsure whether this was a book for me, agreeing with the protagonist when he says “I didn’t believe in magic spells or voodoo curses.  I didn’t believe in vampires or witches or things that go bump in the night.  The only monsters I had ever seen were human.”

This is the second in the Jared McKean series, following the terrific Racing the Devil, and it doesn’t disappoint.  Jared’s “ex” hits the nail on the head in explaining why she couldn’t stay married to him, citing his career choice:  “It’s not what you do; it’s who you are. You’re a hero waiting for something to die for.”  Jared is a fascinating protagonist.  Still on good terms with his ex-wife [now re-married and in her ninth month of pregnancy], they are both devoted to their eight-year-old Down Syndrome son, Paulie.  He shares a ranch with his best childhood friend, Jay, now battling AIDS, and his three horses:  Dakota, the rescued Arabian; Crockett, the Tennessee Walker; and Tex, the palomino gelding Quarter Horse. As the investigation continues, several suspects emerge, and Jared’s investigation puts his life, and that of his nephew, at risk, and he becomes even more relentless.  Well-plotted, the book has more than one heart-stopping moment.  It was a very good read, and is recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, January 2013.

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Chance of a GhostChance of a Ghost
E.J. Copperman
Berkley Prime Crime, February 2013
ISBN: 978-0-425-25168-3
Mass Market Paperback

Alison Kerby returns in the fourth Haunted Guesthouse Mystery series by E.J. Copperman.  Alison, a single mother in her late thirties, runs a guesthouse in her childhood hometown of Harbor Haven, on the Jersey Shore, inhabited by her and her precocious ten-year-old daughter, as well as Maxie Malone, Alison’s resident Internet expert, and Paul, an English/Canadian professor turned detective, both of whom have lived there since before their deaths.  It would seem that Alison and her daughter, as well as her mother, are the only ones who can see the ghosts.

At Paul’s urging, Alison had obtained a private-investigator’s license, and her services as such are sought by her mother’s own ghostly friend, who wants Alison to find out who killed him.  While his death six months previously was deemed to have been of natural causes, he is convinced he was murdered.  The investigation morphs into a search for the ghost of Alison’s father, who died five years ago, but whose ghost has been strangely absent of late.  She is aided in her efforts by her mother, her daughter, her best friend Jeannie, and her present [living] houseguest, who is a retired cop and delighted at the opportunity to do what he did best, and misses a lot, as well as by Paul and Maxie [who Alison refers to as her  two “non-breathing squatters”].

As with every book in the series, this newest entry contains the same unbeatable combination:  a terrific plot and great if quirky humor [if you like that sort of thing – and I do!!].  I particularly loved the line about the heating system in Alison’s ancient Volvo, which was “roughly as efficient as the United States Congress, which is to say it made a lot of noise but got very little done.”  The protagonist’s slightly bemused attitude toward the apparent fact that ghosts actually exist, and that some people could see/hear them, seems perfectly reasonable.  This book, as were the earlier entries in the series, is thoroughly delightful, and highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, February 2013.

Book Reviews: The Age of Doubt by Andrea Camilleri, Elegy for Eddie by Jacqueline Winspear, Capitol Murder by Phillip Margolin, and The Riptide Ultra-Glide by Tim Dorsey

The Age of DoubtThe Age of Doubt
Andrea Camilleri
Translated by Stephen Sartarelli
Penguin, June 2012
ISBN 978-0-14-312092-6
Trade Paperback

The books in the Inspector Montalbano series usually are lighthearted stories about the Sicilian detective combined with a mystery for him to solve.  However, while in this novel he does have a mystery to solve, this entry reflects more of his introspection.  The contrasts are intriguing, to say the least.  It begins when the Inspector rescues a bespectacled, rather mousy woman whose car is about to be swallowed into a chasm, or sinkhole, created in a collapsed road.  She tells him she’s the niece of a rich widow whose yacht is about to enter port.

When the boat does enter the port, it brings with it a corpse and a dinghy retrieved at the mouth of the harbor. The victim’s face was smashed, and the fingerprints are not on file, making identification extremely difficult.  The yacht docks alongside a luxury craft, whose crew appears suspicious. This leads Montalbano on a convoluted investigation based on information – – or misinformation – – the woman has given him.

As usual, the Inspector’s lusty appetite is exhibited, with descriptions of lunches and dinners at his favorite restaurant, or dishes left for him to heat in the oven by his housekeeper.  Perhaps more poignant is a side story about the 58-year-old Inspector’s possible love interest, a beautiful young woman Coast Guard lieutenant he meets during the investigation.  It makes him even more human as a character, lightening what would otherwise be a heavy murder mystery.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, December 2012.

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Elegy for EddieElegy for Eddie
Jacqueline Winspear
Harper Perennial, October 2012
ISBN: 978-0-06-204958-2
Trade Paperback

The Maisie Dobbs series, now with nine entries, has taken her from World War I, where she served as a nurse, to the cusp of the Second World War.  In this novel, there are three themes which can tend to confuse the reader until the author brings them together and makes sense out of what at first appear to be separate subplots.

To start with, a delegation from Lambeth, scene of Maisie’s childhood, visits her to engage her services as an investigator to find out how a young man died in a paper factory.  The other two plot lines, one more personal to her than the other, has Maisie questioning her own motives and standards as well as her relationship with her lover; and the last involving the stealth campaign of Winston Churchill to prepare Great Britain for the possible war with Nazi Germany.

The book is equal to its predecessors in characterization and human interest.  Obviously, it is more political in tone than its forerunners, given the time in which it takes place: the depression era and rise of Adolf Hitler.  While Maisie’s introspections may be overdone, they certainly are in keeping with the character.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, October 2012.

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Capitol MurderCapitol Murder
Phillip Margolin
Harper, December 2012
ISBN 978-0-0620-6999-0
Premium Mass Market Paperback

The fact that the author long served as a defense attorney in 30 murder trials permeates this tale of terrorism, murder and treason. It is the third novel featuring Brad Miller, an attorney; his wife, Ginny, also an attorney; and Dana Cutler, a dogged private investigator and sometime reporter for a sleazy Washington supermarket scandal sheet.  In previous books, their investigation revealed the role of a President in a series of murders and saved the life of a Supreme Court Justice while preventing a CIA plot to fix a case before the Court.

Now Brad is serving as the legislative assistant to the U.S. Senator from Oregon and Ginny is working at the Department of Justice. Murders in Oregon and the District of Columbia seem to implicate an escaped serial murderer, one of whose previous convictions Brad helped to overturn.  But, of course, nothing is what it appears to be.  A terrorist plot surpassing the Twin Towers destruction completes the story, uniting all the elements.

The plot is pretty much humdrum, and the characterizations less than fully developed, but Mr. Margolin certainly knows how to spin a narrative.  In the end, he makes sense out of the diverse elements in an interesting manner.  It is, perhaps, a light read, but still one that is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, December 2012.

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The Riptide Ultra-GlideThe Riptide Ultra-Glide
Tim Dorsey
Morrow, February 2013
ISBN:  978-0-06-209278-6
Hardcover

There’s nothing sane about a novel featuring Serge A. Storms and his sidekick, Coleman.  There usually is a plot, but the real show is the madcap escapades and far-out situations described.  And no less so are the irreverent observations from Serge’s mouth. Too numerous to mention.

As in the former entries in the series, this novel takes place in Florida, giving Serge the opportunity to hold forth on the many locales and highlights of the State.  It begins with Serge and Coleman driving down to the Keys, filming what is to be a reality show on a camcorder.  And the rest of the book, of course, turns out to be surreal, when a couple of teachers from Wisconsin lose their job and decide to go to the Sunshine State on vacation.  Instead they become embroiled in the midst of two gangs fighting for control of drug traffic.  It remains for Serge to rescue them.

The novels in this series are not particularly easy reading because much of the time Serge’s observations and comments are so outlandish that the reader has to stop and regroup.  But, crazy as it sounds, most of the time they make sense.  Nevertheless, a Serge A. Storms novel is always enjoyable.  And recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, January 2013.

Book Reviews: The Leopard by Jo Nesbo, The Girl in the Green Raincoat by Laura Lippman and Queen of the Night by J.A. Jance

The Leopard
Jo Nesbo
Translated by Don Bartlett
Harvill Secker, January 2011
ISBN: 978-1-846-55401-8
Paperback

[It should be noted that this book is presently only available in/through the UK & Canada. It will be published in the US in hardcover on 12/13/11 by Knopf Publishing Group.]

The latest Harry Hole novel presents the reader with a formidable challenge:  On the one hand, the temptation is to try to read this tautly written, tightly plotted murder mystery in a single sitting.  On the other hand, its 611 pages is undoubtedly a very large hurdle.  Whatever the method, it’s well worth the effort to read it no matter how long it takes.

After the travails he suffered at the conclusion of The Snowman, Harry was so down that he resigned from the police force and traveled to the Far East, where he loses himself in alcohol, opium and gambling.  There, a female detective from Norway finds him, pays off his gambling debts, tells him his father is in the hospital dying and he, as the only officer with experience solving serial murders, is wanted back in Oslo to help in what appears to be another multiple homicide case.  At first he is reluctant, but finally accedes to the request to return because of his dad.

Still refusing to rejoin the crime squad, Harry finally gives in when a third victim, a member of parliament, is killed.  There are no clues and no common links between the victims until Harry discovers all three spent a night in an isolated mountain cabin together, and it becomes apparent that the “guests” are being picked off one by one.

From that point, the case slowly unfolds somewhat murkily to keep the reader in the dark as to the ultimate denouement. Sometimes, Harry’s insights are prophetic, others off base.  But he always has his eye on the main purpose:  to catch the bad guy.  At the same time, he is fighting his personal demons, his separation from the great love of his life, his relationship with his dying father, the politics of the competition between elements of the department as to responsibility for murder investigations, and his disillusionment with his role as a cop.  More than enough, one must say, for one man.

Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Theodore Feit, March 2011.

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The Girl in the Green Raincoat
Laura Lippman
Morrow, January 2011
ISBN: 978-0-06-193836-8
Trade Paperback

This novella first appeared as a serialization in the Sunday New York Times Magazine.  The author freely admits that she appropriated ideas for the work from a variety of sources, making the story really a smorgasbord of unrelated themes.  It is, however, a Tess Monaghan tale set, as usual, in Baltimore.

Eight months pregnant, Tess, ever the active one, is confined to bed and bored silly.  She looks out the window (shades of Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Rear Window’] and sees a woman in a green raincoat walking a dog with a matching green sweater, who she then notices on a daily basis.  Days later, when she doesn’t see the woman, she becomes, in her state of ennui, obsessed:  Where is the woman?  Then she sees the dog running around unaccompanied.  It is enough to set Tess off in her investigative mode, enlisting others to assist in discovering what has happened to the woman.

Other elements of the novella include observations of love between various characters, the development of Tess as she progresses in her pregnancy and, presumably, future motherhood, and some insights into her friend Whitney.  All in just a slender volume.  Perhaps if the novella were developed into a full-fledged novel, this hodgepodge of subject matter could have been more fully developed, rather than with just token appearances.  Nevertheless, it is written with the author’s accustomed smoothness and is an enjoyable read.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, March 2011.

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Queen of the Night
J.A. Jance
Harper, April 2011
ISBN: 978-0-06-123925-0
Premium Mass Market Paperback

With a bow [by dedicating the book] to the late Tony Hillerman, who was a master at the genre of this novel (and the predecessors in the saga of the Walker family), J.A. Jance has written a murder mystery surrounded by the further development in the family’s history peppered with lots of Indian lore.

The eponymous Queen is a once-a-year blossoming cactus whose legendary beginnings, like many of the tales in the novel, are based on the culture and history of the Tohono O’odhap people of southern Arizona. It plays a minor, but important, role in the story as the site of the contemporary murder of four people.  Meanwhile, former homicide detective Brandon Walker inherits a 50-year-old open case from his Last Chance cold case mentor, one in which a popular coed was stabbed to death in San Diego while on a school break.

The broad sweep of the Walker saga provides interesting and deep personal observations about the characters and what motivates them. The plot lines in the novel are fairly complex, but move forward in a logical pattern.  As usual, the writing is uncomplicated with beautiful descriptions of the Arizona terrain, and especially of the night-blooming cereus (the Queen of the Night), particularly appealing.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, March 2011.