Book Review: Where I Can See You by Larry D. Sweazy

Where I Can See You
Larry D. Sweazy
Seventh Street Books, January 2017
ISBN 978-1-63388-211-9
Trade Paperback

Disgraced Detroit detective Hud Matthews has come home to a small lakeside Michigan community. His old friend, Police Chief Paul Burke has wrangled him a job in order to restart his career, even though both men have doubts. Hud had hardly been able to wait to get away when he was eighteen. He came back to bury his grandmother and to finally solve the mystery of his mother’s disappearance when he was eight.

Almost the first thing to happen is a murder, once which also leaves a young boy motherless. Why was she killed? The motive is obscured, and as Hud and the rest of the department strives to figure it out, more murders occur in rapid succession. What, wonders Hud, is the tie between these different people?

Overall, Hud’s desire–no, make that obsession–to find out what happened to his own mother, overrides every part of his life, and every relationship, whether with women or old friends. Even his job, which hangs by a thread at best, and rampant murder loses focus to his quest.

As a general rule, I love Sweazy’s books. HIs entry from last year, See Also Deception, was one of my favorite books in 2016. Unfortunately, for me, this one didn’t make the cut. The writing, as always, is excellent. But for me, the plot just didn’t quite meld and I found the characters, including Hud, unsympathetic, even though I felt for a child who lost his mother and never knew why.

The setting, however, is terrifically written. If you’ve ever been to one of these old, almost forgotten resorts, you’ll get the exact feeling Sweazy has provided in this book. Wonderful descriptions and atmosphere.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, April 2017.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder and Four Furlongs.

Advertisements

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.

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

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: The Thirst by Jo Nesbo and A Game of Ghosts by John Connolly

The Thirst
A Harry Hole Novel #11
Jo Nesbo
Translated from the Norwegian by Neil Smith
Knopf, May 2017
ISBN 978-0-385-35216-1
Hardcover

Harry Hole, Norway’s most experienced serial murder detective, is content to no longer serve on the murder squad, instead lecturing at the police college and living happily after marrying Rakel three years ago.  Unfortunately, such bliss is interrupted when evidence of a possible murder too difficult to solve leads the police chief to blackmail Harry into joining the hunt.  And then he jumps in with both feet.

It turns out that the villain in a previous novel in the series, Police, may be the sought-after culprit, especially when Harry recognizes the killer’s MO.  As the frustrating hunt continues, we learn more about vampirism than, perhaps, we’d like.  It appears that the murderer has a taste for drinking the victim’s blood.  And Nesbo delves into the subject deeply and often.

In this, the 11th Harry Hole novel, the author once again demonstrates why the series is so popular:  a plot so well-developed that the reader hardly notices the length of the book.  And the twist that draws the tale to an end certainly is an added fillip.  The Thirst demonstrates to what lengths Harry Hole will go to solve a case.

Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, May 2017.

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

A Game of Ghosts
A Charlie Parker Thriller #15
John Connolly
Emily Bestler Books/Atria, July 2017
ISBN 978-1-5011-7189-5
Hardcover

This is Book #15 in the Charlie Parker series.  In it, Charlie has made a deal with Special Agent Ross and is on retainer to the FBI, and he is asked to find a private investigator, Jacob Eklund, also working for Ross, who apparently has disappeared.  With few facts, especially what the PI was doing for Ross, Parker begins his investigation.  And it leads him into the weirdest of investigations. It seems Eklund, on his own, was involved in tracking down a series of homicides and disappearances, each linked to extraordinary events or sightings.

Meanwhile, Parker is also facing pressure from Rachel, his onetime girlfriend and mother of his daughter, Sam; she is convinced Sam’s exposure to Parker places her in jeopardy.  This belief, reinforced by Sam’s abduction in a previous novel and possible harm, leads Rachel to seek judicial relief preventing direct contact between Parker and his daughter without direct supervision.

As the author acknowledges: “This odd book—if mine are not all odd books—is as much a product of a lifetime of reading ghost stories…”  And it is odd.  And it is filled with ghost stories.  It is an intriguing tale of the supernatural, together with a basic crime story.  It is one fascinating account and well-plotted, bringing together what amounts to a detective story and a ghost story, and it is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, August 2017.

Book Review: The Deacon’s Demise by Dean L. Hovey

The Deacon’s Demise  
A Pine County Mystery #5
Dean L. Hovey
Dean Hovey, November 2015
ISBN: 97819382062
Trade Paperback

This is the fifth episode in Dean Hovey’s series of Pine County mysteries. His cast is made up of members of the Sheriff’s unit, with assistance from various local residents and other law enforcement agencies, as needed. The pace is steady, the development of the plot is logical and anyone with even passing familiarity of the Upper Midwest, will recognize and identify the characters.

The story centers around the efforts of a Pine County deputy sheriff to figure out a motive and identify a killer. The killer or killers caused the sudden death of a pillar of Pine Brook, Minnesota, the owner of the local hardware store and a long-time deacon of a local church. George Brown was an upright—some might say uptight—member of the community. He was upset that his church had begun to serve a far-away congregation in Mexico. Youth from the church were spending a lot of time south of the border building a church and George was unhappy. One evening, after again expressing his distrust and anger at the project, he left a deacon’s meeting to drive home. When he started the engine, his car blew up, damaging the church, injuring several members, and, of course, killing George.

Floyd Swenson, deputy sheriff is tasked to figure out who planted the bomb in Brown’s car and why. Early on, he learns that some children are being kidnapped from nearby towns and in neighboring states. There appears to be no connection, and Floyd is over his head with developments in the Brown bombing. But before long, several threads begin to tangle themselves in the Pine County case and the pace picks up dramatically.

The story is well-thought out and constructed, the dialogue is appropriate and the actions of the several characters make sense.

There are some typos, abrupt and unnecessary changes in points of view, and I wish a more readable type face had been chosen. That being said, I enjoyed the novel and recommend it to everyone interested in reading about good small-town characters engaged in solving local crimes, leading to a very satisfactory conclusion.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, July 2017.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

Book Review: Desert Remains by Steven Cooper—and a Giveaway!

Desert Remains
A Gus Parker and Alex Mills Novel #1
Steven Cooper
Seventh Street Books, October 2017
ISBN 978-1-63388-353-6
Trade Paperback

There’s a serial killer on the loose around Phoenix. All the victims are young women. All are tortured before death. All, inexplicably, have paintings on the rocks around where the bodies are dumped (usually in caves) depicting the manner of death. The murder sites provide no clues, otherwise. The killer is evidently up to snuff regarding crime scene detection. Detective Alex Mills is under the gun to solve these crimes quickly, but he’s also under pressure by another detective, former FBI agent Timothy Chase, who’d just love to have Mills’ job.

This is when Mills asks “intuitive medium,” that’s a psychic to most of us, Gus Parker to lend a hand. Parker’s messages from beyond the pale have helped Mills solve crimes before, but this time, even the psychic is hard-pressed to read the messages left behind.

I don’t usually read serial killer books. I guess I prefer my murders to be one-on-one for a reason other than pure evil. And I don’t usually like books written in present tense. Those things said, now forget about them. The book is tense and exciting, a real page turner. The characterization is excellent for all the main characters and most of the more minor ones. Gus, with his dog Ivy, hit a real chord with me. Situations that could’ve made this character run-of-the-mill are absent, a wonderful surprise. The dialogue is clean and carries the story forward. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Desert Remains to any mystery reader, and most especially if you like a little woo-woo in your stories. And I do.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, September 2017.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder and Four Furlongs.

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

To enter the drawing for a print copy
of Desert Remains by Steven Cooper,
leave
a comment below. One winning
name will
be drawn Tuesday evening,
October 17th. This drawing is o
pen
to residents of the US and Canada.

Book Review: Song of the Lion by Anne Hillerman

Song of the Lion
A Leaphorn, Chee & Manuelito Novel #2
Anne Hillerman
Harper, April 2017
ISBN 978-0-062-39190-2
Hardcover

Anne Hillerman continues to demonstrate she is a solid author in her own right, albeit using the characters developed by her late father, Tony, in the series featuring Jim Chee, Bernadette Manuelito and Joe Leaphorn.  And by expanding Bernie’s role, she has added her own stamp on the series, which began in 1970, and in which this is her third novel.

The action begins when a bomb explodes, destroying a BMW belonging to a local hero who is mediating a hearing on a proposed resort on Navajo land adjacent to the Grand Canyon.  A young man is killed while sitting in the car.  The owner is playing in an alumni-student basketball game, and Jim Chee is assigned to be his bodyguard, driving him to the hearing and watching over him.  The plot develops in unexpected ways and as it unfolds, Bernie gets to play a deeper role than that of a bystander.  She takes over uncovering the real reason for the explosion, enlisting the assistance of Leaphorn, who still suffers from a bullet wound in his brain, but recalls an earlier incident, which helps Bernie resolve the case.

Common to the series are the descriptions of the arid Navajo country, the rituals, myths and customs of the people so well-done by Tony Hillerman and now continued on an equal footing by his daughter.  Her plotting is similarly on a par with the series’ founder.  And by introducing an environmental issue in the plot, she has brought the series up to date, while maintaining the integrity of the basic story and its characters.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, June 2017.

Book Review: The Burial Hour by Jeffery Deaver

The Burial Hour
A Lincoln Rhyme Novel #13
Jeffery Deaver
Grand Central Publishing, April 2017
ISBN: 978-1-4555-3637-5
Hardcover

The latest Lincoln Rhyme mystery novel begins with an argument between the criminologist and his aide, Thom, about the forthcoming marriage of Rhyme and supercop Amelia Sachs. The controversy centers on where the honeymoon should take place, with unsentimental Lincoln lobbying for Greenland, where he can observe some new method or other, and Thom suggesting someplace more romantic.  Then fate intervenes in the form of an abduction and an odd form of murder, a hanging with a noose made of a cello gut string.

When the victim is rescued in the nick of time by Sachs, the perpetrator, a mental health escapee from an institution, apparently goes to Italy, where Sachs and Rhyme follow only to be treated shabbily by the Italian police and prosecutor.  Eventually, somehow all work together to solve the mystery, only after at least three more abductions take place.

Unlike previous entries in the series, forensic analysis is done by an Italian woman, albeit a capable technician, with Rhyme and Sachs only able to read the results. On the whole, this novel is less satisfying than previous books in the series. Perhaps the author strained as he based the plot on a controversial topic:  cascading immigration overwhelming the country.  Also, the conclusion is hardly in sync with previous novels featuring the criminologist.  However, it raises the question of whether the author is preparing readers for a seismic shift in future plotting.  Since there are glimmers of the old Lincoln Rhyme, this entry, as all previous ones, is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, May 2017.