Book Review: Deadfall by Linda Fairstein

Deadfall
An Alexandra Cooper Novel #19
Linda Fairstein
Dutton, July 2017
ISBN 978-1-1019-8404-8
Hardcover

Still reeling from her harrowing experience in the preceding novel in the series, Alex Cooper may have reason to be portrayed in Deadfall as the weak, wishy-washy female rather than the forceful prosecutor she has been in this long-running story, in which this is the 19th entry.  But it doesn’t seem to be in character. Yes, she has always enjoyed a drink.  But to almost become an alcoholic?  And to be warned and even forced to stop drinking? Sure, there is some justification when her boss and mentor, DA Battaglia, is shot in the head on the steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and falls on Alex, pushing her to the ground beneath him. But until now we have been led to believe she is made of stronger stuff.  Or perhaps she is changing as the result of her love affair with Mike Chapman, her detective boyfriend.

Be that as it may, the DA’s assassination sets off not only a murder investigation, but a much more complicated look into an international crime based on importation of narcotics and valuable animal parts, like ivory tusks, rhino horns and bones.  As part of their investigation, Alex and Detectives Mike and Mercer visit the Bronx Zoological Park, to learn more about the organization running it and the society charged with helping preserve endangered species, as well as giving the author the opportunity to exhibit her deep research into another New York City landmark.

The plot is so complicated that some readers may be put off by the book.  While the denouement is not so far fetched, it takes Ms. Fairstein several twists and turns to get there, although the conclusion is pretty much a forgone conclusion almost from the start. Probably a little simplification could have prevented making the reader work through the various machinations Alex and Mike are put through.  It’s a tough way to finally get a Dewar’s on ice.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, October 2017.

Book Review: Lucky by Henry Chang

Lucky
A Detective Jack Yu Investigation #5
Henry Chang
Soho Crime, March 2017
ISBN: 978-1-6169-5784-1
Hardcover

The protagonist in this series, Jack Yu, is a Chinese detective.  The action centers in New York’s Chinatown.  The novels offer a brutal look into the poverty and violence, the gangsters and crime of the society.  The “Lucky” of the title is Jack’s boyhood friend, a Chinatown gang leader name Louie who was shot in a Chinatown OTB establishment and lay in a coma for 88 days, finally awakening on Easter Sunday.

Jack believes his blood brother friend has run out of luck, and tries to get him to enter the witness protection program.  But Lucky eschews Jack’s advice, and upon his recovery after leaving the hospital puts together a small crew in an attempt to regain his position as the crime boss of Chinatown.  He masterminds several daring operations against other crime bosses’ gambling dens or massage parlors, stealing large sums of money.  It is a race with one of two results.

Meanwhile Jack is called upon to perform his duties as a New York City cop, giving the author the means to describe the culture and people of Chinatown (and the satellite areas in Queens) , portraying the streets, buildings and environment as only a native can.  Henry Chang writes simple, hard prose, tightly plotted.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, November 2017.

Book Review: All Day and a Night by Alafair Burke

All Day and a NightAll Day and a Night
Alafair Burke
Harper, June 2014
ISBN: 978-0-0622-0838-5
Hardcover

Ellie Hatcher, a detective with the NYPD, and her partner, Jeffrey James (“J.J.”) Rogan, working homicide in the 13th Precinct, return in the fifth entry of this wonderful series by Alafair Burke.  The pair have conflicted reactions when Ellie’s boyfriend, ADA Max Donovan, assigns them, on behalf of the Conviction Integrity Unit, as a “fresh look” team to look into the 18-year-old murder conviction of Anthony Amaro, a man who had been put away as a serial killer and is serving a life sentence without chance of parole (in prison slang, “all day and a night,” “all day” simply being a life sentence).  The problem arises when a Park Slope psychotherapist is found murdered in a manner identical to that of the women Amaro had been accused of killing [those having apparently all been working prostitutes], and the police start receiving anonymous tips.  Things get more complex when there is a question about the possibly coerced confession made by Amaro to one of the murders, the fallout of that being a review of all ‘confessions’ elicited by that same cop, again reminiscent of something along similar lines in New York in recent years.

The rather obscure DA unit handles cases of “wrongful conviction,” of which there have been many successful ones over recent years.  The attorney who represents Amaro here is Linda Moreland, a celebrity trial lawyer with 8 exoneration wins under her belt, who in turn contacts Carrie Blank, a former law student of Moreland and now an attorney with a prestigious law firm who is the step-sister of one of the victims, killed many years ago in Utica, NY.  Carrie can’t refuse, hoping she can gain some insight into her step-sister’s murder.  The novel’s point-of-view alternates accordingly, with the parallel investigations.

The writing completely captures the toxic atmosphere currently plaguing the US and, especially, New York City, with regard to community vis-à-vis police relations, and the stop-and-frisk policy just recently changed by New York’s current mayor.  The case revolves around both venues, the upstate New York area where most of the murders occurred and where the most recent victim once worked, as well as the New York area, now home to Ellie [originally from Wichita, Kansas], Rogan, Max and the author as well.  The novel moves ingeniously and quickly to a terrific conclusion, with several unexpected twists and turns along the way.  The author gets everything right, with many ‘ripped from the headlines’ story lines, and the book is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, January 2015.

Book Reviews: Save Me by Lisa Scottoline, Drawing Conclusions by Donna Leon, Red on Red by Edward Conlon, The Redbreast by Jo Nesbo, and Favorite Sons by Robin Yocum

Save Me
Lisa Scottoline
St. Martin’s Press, April 2011
ISBN: 978-0-312-38078-X
Hardcover

Bullying, and shining a spotlight thereon, is heralded as the reason this novel was written, but it plays such a minor role in the story that one wonders why it is even raised, except perhaps for the widespread publicity attendant to the subject.  It does occupy, along with much extraneous and superfluous background, about the first half of the book.  It is not until this reader got past that point that a modicum of interest arose.

The plot is a mishmash of twisted lines.  It begins with a fire in a newly opened elementary school, in which three persons are killed and two young children injured, one of whom is the young victim of the bullying, the eight-year-old daughter of Rose McKenna.  Rose, serving as a lunch mom, saves two girls (one of them the bully), ushering them toward an exit, and returns through the fire to save her daughter, who is locked in the bathroom, emerging initially as a “hero,” but then criticized when it is learned that the bully was injured in the fire (how?  It seems she returned to get something she had left behind) and Rose is accused of ignoring her in favor of her own daughter.

Faced with civil and criminal charges, Rose undertakes to discover the reason for the fire (officially attributed to accidental causes) when she suspects foul play.  This leads to further action, somewhat beyond belief.  The novel is carefully constructed and well-written, but somehow doesn’t fulfill its purpose, since, essentially, it is a murder mystery, but so overloaded with superfluous subplot that it becomes burdensome to read.  The author usually writes legal thrillers which I have found to be so much better, and I for one hope she returns to that milieu.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, July 2011.

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Drawing Conclusions
Donna Leon
Atlantic Monthly Press, April 2011
ISBN: 978-0-8021-1979-7
Hardcover

Unlike previous novels in the series, this mystery lacks many instances of the refined palate enjoyed by Commissario Guido Brunetti’s life.  There is some, but not much, of his charming home life.  Instead in this, the 20th entry in the series, we have a deep study of the man and his ethics drawn into a mystery he informally investigates.

It all begins when a retired school teacher is found dead of an apparent heart attack by a neighbor who calls the police, and Brunetti and his assistant respond.  The medical examiner rules it a natural death, but the detective is disturbed by bruises on the woman’s body, so he continues unofficially to look into the circumstances of the death.  This leads to a philosophical judgment on his part, quite unlike the stickler for the law that he usually is.

Each book in the series is an enjoyable read, and this one certainly is no exception.  The descriptions of Venice, its buildings and churches, continue to warm the heart of one who fell in love with the city years ago (and is about to renew the friendship in September). Let’s hope we can continue to recommend the series well into the future.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, July 2011.

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Red on Red
Edward Conlon
Spiegel & Grau, April 2011
ISBN: 978-0-385-51917-5
Hardcover

Having first turned his hand to a memoir of life in the NYPD, Blue Blood, which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for Non-fiction, the author, a working cop and detective, has now turned his efforts to fiction.  In this novel, it seems there is plenty of real life fact to go along with the fabricated story about two NYPD detectives.

Nick Meehan transfers into an upper Manhattan precinct from a miserable post in the Bronx under the auspices of Internal Affairs, ostensibly to get the goods on another detective, Esposito, as being “bent.”  Unexpectedly, the two are partnered and develop a close relationship, and Nick is torn by his own self-doubts and unstable personal life.  It soon appears that “Espo” is sort of a genius, conjuring up various scenarios to close cases as well as to help Nick’s love life.

The novel is full of detail on how a detective squad works, solving crimes and interacting with each other, written, obviously, by one who knows whereof he writes.  It is amusing at time, sad at others, but throughout, rings with authenticity and emotion, and is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, August 2011.

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The Redbreast
Jo Nesbo
Harper, September 2011
ISBN: 978-0-06-206842-2
Mass Market Paperback

During World War II, Norway was occupied by the Nazi army, and the head of the government lent his name to the English language synonymous with traitor—Quisling.  About 400 Norwegian youths volunteered to fight with the Germans on the Eastern front against the Russians.  Most of them did not survive the war. But those that did and returned to Norway were branded traitors and sentenced to years in prison.

It is against this challenging backdrop that the author has created a superb mystery novel equal to the best of the Scandinavian writers. He introduces Harry Hole, an irreverent, alcoholic detective on a par with Harry Bosch and his contemporaries.  The story moves from events during the war to present times and back and forth.  A series of murders takes place in Oslo, and little by little Harry follows the leads subtly provided, ignoring the powers that be who tell him to ignore his intuition and “be a good boy.”

The roots of the story are gleaned from the author’s own background—his father served in the Leningrad siege and his mother in the resistance. The novel was first published in Norway in 1997 and won the Glass Key Award for best Nordic crime novel and later voted the best Norwegian crime novel ever written.  It is the author’s second book [his third has just been released in hardcover] and we look forward to many more. Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, August 2011.

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Favorite Sons
Robin Yocum
Arcade Publishing, June 2011
ISBN: 978-1-61145-004-0
Hardcover

Sometimes a first novel is born from an author’s prior background, reflecting authenticity and deep understanding.  Such is the case in this debut novel with a plot more complicated but more meaningful than a simple plot summary can convey.  In its utter simplicity, the novel traces the ramifications of a decision taken by four 15-year-old boys, 30 years after the fact.

The book centers on Hutch Van Buren who seems a shoo-in to be elected Ohio’s next Attorney General, leading in the polls by about 18 percentage points.  Until, that is, it comes to the surface that he and three friends covered up the murder of a retarded youth, allowing a pedophile to be convicted of the crime.  After his release from prison, the convict threatens to expose Hutch unless he quashes another charge of molestation.

The novel delves deeply into the psychological impact on Hutch, and looks into various other issues, including corruption, bribery, and the criminal mind.  It tests the limits of friendship, and weighs heavily in on the question of whether truth and justice should prevail.  This is a worthy book, especially so coming from a first-time novelist, and we hope there is another forthcoming.  Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, August 2011.