Book Review: Robert B. Parker’s Colorblind by Reed Farrel Coleman

Robert B. Parker’s Colorblind
A Jesse Stone Novel #17
Reed Farrel Coleman
Putnam, September 2018
ISBN 978-0-399-57494-8
Hardcover

One would not expect racial unrest in the sleepy town of Paradise, MA, but Jesse Stone and his cops have their hands full.  To begin with, a black woman is assaulted in a neighboring town and it is made to look like a murder that occurred in Paradise years before.  The woman was in a relationship with a white man, and unfortunately she dies.  Then another black female, Alisha, who Jesse hired for diversity purposes, responds to a call at a bar and is taunted by bikers.  She also has a relationship with a white man.  Soon, however, things get worse.

A cross is burned on the lawn of Jesse’s old house, which was bought by a couple, a white woman and a dark Indian man, with two children.  Apparently the fire was set with kerosene, and a check of places where it could have been bought turns up a CCTV image.  When Alisha spots the person captured in the CCTV as she emerges from a bar, legally over the limit, she chases him into a blind alley and responds to what she believes is a shot by shooting and killing him.

It turns out that the victim is the son of a strident agitator seeking to incite a race war.  Of course, a black cop killing a white person is the perfect excuse.  Especially when the investigation turns up no weapon by or near the victim.  Jesse to the rescue.  As a side story, Jesse now is abstaining from alcohol and is attending AA meetings.

Mr. Coleman continues to live up to the standards set by Robert B. Parker in this latest addition to the Jesse Stone series, and it is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, September 2018.

Book Review: The Sinners by Ace Atkins

The Sinners
A Quinn Colson Novel #8
Ace Atkins
Putnam, July 2018
ISBN: 978-0-399-57674-4
Hardcover

Quinn Colson finally is going to tie the knot, but events tend to interfere with the planning, much less the ceremony itself.  It’s a good thing Maggie Powers, his betrothed, is an understanding woman.  As sheriff of Tibbehah County, Mississippi, Colson is hoping for some quiet, but an invasion of a couple of gangsters, a drug war and assorted underworld internecine strife tends to interfere.

Moreover, Quinn’s best man, Boom Kimbrough, gets a job driving trucks for a shady outfit that traffics in drugs and women.  When a couple of wannabes, the Pritchard brothers, who grow the best weed, want to branch out and hijack Boom’s semi, the gangsters blame Boom as a conspirator and almost kill him, giving Quinn additional incentive to take action.

The latest in this long-running series, the novel is written in the inimitable style Ace Atkins has developed to portray the south inhabited by the characters he writes about.  The series consists of excellent crime novels, filled with colorful characters.  Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, September 2018.

Book Review: Dead Man Running by Steve Hamilton

Dead Man Running
An Alex McKnight Novel #11
Steve Hamilton
Putnam, August 2018
ISBN 978-0-3995-7444-3
Hardcover

Alex McKnight has had a long rest:  five years since he appeared in the last novel in this great series.  And he needed it for this, the 11th novel in the series.  It seems a tourist traveling in Europe remotely checks his home where he recently installed security cameras, and discovers an illegal entry.  Moreover the intruder, Martin T. Livermore, is having sex on the marital bed.  It turns out the female is dead.

Police capture the culprit, who refuses to speak to anyone but Alex McNight, who is thousands of miles away in the upper Michigan peninsula.  He promises to lead McNight to his possible seventh victim, who may be alive.  Alex accedes to the perp’s wishes and, along with all kinds of law enforcement personnel, is led into a trap where only McNight and Livermore, who then escapes, survive.  Thus begins a grueling chase to save the victim as well as capturing Livermore.

Actually Livermore, with his superior intellect, sets up a challenge for Alex, based on an obscure relationship between the two, unknown to McNight.  The author maintains a steady tension throughout the novel, a characteristic for which he is famous. At the same time, the plot develops in countless deviations as Livermore keeps Alex on the run until the novel concludes in an unexpected fashion.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, August 2018.

Book Review: Robert B. Parker’s Old Black Magic by Ace Atkins

Robert B. Parker’s Old Black Magic
A Spenser Novel #47
Ace Atkins
Putnam, May 2018
ISBN: 978-0-399-17701-9
Hardcover

From the publisher:  Iconic, tough-but-tender Boston PI Spenser delves into the black market art scene to investigate a decades-long unsolved crime of dangerous proportions.  The heist was legendary, still talked about twenty years after the priceless paintings disappeared from one of Boston’s premier art museums.  Most thought the art was lost forever, buried deep, sold off overseas, or, worse, destroyed as incriminating evidence.  But when the museum begins receiving detailed letters about the theft from someone claiming to have knowledge of the whereabouts of the paintings, the board enlists Spenser’s help to navigate the delicate situation. Their particular hope is to regain the most valuable piece stolen, The Gentleman in Black, a renowned painting by a Spanish master and the former jewel of the collection.  Soon the cold art case thrusts Spenser into the shady world of black market art dealers, aged Mafia bosses, and old vendettas.   A five-million-dollar-reward sets Spenser and pal Vinnie Morris onto a trail of hidden secrets, jailhouse confessions, murder, and double-crosses.

 

For some reason I had allowed myself to fall behind in reading the “new” books in this wonderful series, just as wonderful when authored by Ace Atkins, of which this is the newest.  The preceding entry in the series was Little White Lies, which I finally caught up to in the last few weeks.  With apologies for redundancies, as I said in my review of that book, “the author has captured many of the expected patterns of Robert B. Parker’s writing.  But Mr. Atkins, besides giving us a very absorbing tale, has retained some of the most typical Parker patterns, e.g., nearly every character’s choice of clothing and headgear is noted, particularly caps declaring the owner’s love for a particular local sports team, whether Braves or Red Sox.  (In fact, very near the end of the book we find Spenser escaping a close call and thinking “I’d hoped these guys didn’t plan ambushes like Branch Rickey planned ballgames.”)  One character appears dressed in a “light blue guayabera, his white hair loose and scattered as always, with some black reading glasses down on his nose.’  There is also a lot about food.  When he prepares a Cobb salad for himself and Susan, and she hands him a vodka martini, he thinks “You couldn’t eat a Cobb salad without [it].  It was a law in California.”  Then there are the nicknames, e.g., “Fat Freddy,” “Famous Ray.” The terrific plotting and action are always present, as Spenser goes about solving “the biggest theft in Boston history,” a painting worth sixty or seventy million.

Spenser’s love of jazz is always present, from Coltrane playing from speakers in a restaurant, to the final scene where Tony Bennett “reached for the tree of life and picked him a plum,” and Spenser saying “The Best Is Yet to Come,” to which Vinnie replies “You better believe it.”  I loved the author’s tip of the hat to another terrific mystery writer, Hank Philippi Ryan, reporting on Boston’s Channel 7 with a live shot from a crime scene.  Set against the high-society art scene and the low-life back alleys of Boston, this is classic Spenser doing what he does best.  As was Little White Lies, Old Black Magic is also highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, May 2018.

Book Review: Robert B. Parker’s Little White Lies by Ace Atkins

Robert B. Parker’s Little White Lies
A Spenser Novel #46
Ace Atkins
Putnam, May 2017
ISBN: 978-0-399-17700-2
Hardcover

For some reason I had not read this entry in the Spenser series created by Robert B. Parker, but have finally caught up to it, I’m delighted to say.

From the publisher:  Connie Kelly thought she’d found her perfect man on an online dating site.  He was silver-haired and handsome, with a mysterious background working for the CIA.  She fell so hard for M. Brooks Welles that she wrote him a check for almost three hundred thousand dollars, hoping for a big return on her investment.  But within weeks, both Wells and her money are gone.  Her therapist, Dr. Susan Silverman, hands her Spenser’s card.  A self-proclaimed military hotshot, Welles had been a frequent guest on national news shows, speaking with authority about politics and world events.  But when he disappears, he leaves not only a jilted lover but a growing list of angry investors, duped cops, and a team of paramilitary contractors looking for revenge.  Enter Spenser, who quickly discovers that everything about Welles is phony.  His name, his resume, and his roster of associates are nothing but an elaborate fraud.  But uncovering the truth won’t be easy, as he’ll have to keep his client from falling back into the mystery man’s tangled web, all while staying a step ahead of trained killers.  As the trail winds from Boston to the back roads of Georgia, Spenser will need help from trusted allies Hawk and Teddy Sapp to make sure Welles’s next con is his last.

 

The author has captured many of the expected patterns of Robert B. Parker’s writing. (Mr. Parker died in January 2010.)  But Mr. Atkins, besides giving us a very absorbing tale, has retained some of the most typical Parker patterns, e.g., nearly every character’s choice of clothing and headgear is noted, particularly caps declaring the owner’s love for a particular local sports team, whether Braves or Red Sox.  Connie Kelly’s early appearance notes that she “was dressed in a white sleeveless silk top with a black pencil skirt adorned with chrysanthemums and a pair of black open-toe heels that highlighted her shapely calves. Her toes had been painted a festive red.”  In her next appearance “she wore a very short red floral dress and black tights with black suede booties,” with a purple cardigan.  She explains what attracted her to Mr. Welles thusly:  “I wanted a tall, successful, and interesting man.  Someone who liked to travel and took time to enjoy sunsets.”  Well, she got all of that and a lot more that she could have done without.  Spenser is now living in the area of the Charlestown Navy Yard, where Pearl the Wonder Dog keeps him delightful company.

This is another exciting entry in the series, thoroughly entertaining, and highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, May 2018.

Next up for this reviewer is the next in the series by Mr. Atkins, another Spenser novel, Old Black Magic.

Book Review: The Man in the Crooked Hat by Harry Dolan

The Man in the Crooked Hat
Harry Dolan
Putnam, November 2017
ISBN 978-0-3991-8541-0
Hardcover

From the publisher:  Jack Pellum is a Detroit detective who left the force after his wife was murdered in a random attack.  But Jack never bought that theory, and the case was never solved.  Eighteen months later, Jack is working as a part-time private investigator while continuing the hunt for an elusive person of interest in his wife’s murder: a man in a fedora who Jack is convinced could break open the case.  When a local writer’s cryptic suicide note suggests the man in the fedora actually exists, Jack picks up the thread he’s certain will lead him to his wife’s killer. He never imagined it would also unravel twenty years of secrets and unsolved crimes or make him the target of a psychopath trying to erase his own past.

In the early pages of the book, Jack meets Paul Rook, 26 years old, whose mother was killed nine years earlier, and who shares a similar obsession, trying to find a man in a fedora who he thinks killed his mother.  When Jack asks him what he thinks the man’s motives are, the reply he receives is “’He kills people. He doesn’t have motives.’  He tells Paul that he has been doing his own sleuthing, and that he’s ‘found sightings of him.  Some of them go back years.  The earliest one I’ve found was twenty years ago.  It happened about thirty miles from here, in a town called Belleville. I think the man in the hat got his start there’ . . .   Paul had told him about more than a dozen murders – – each one with a witness who claimed to have seen a man in a hat. The sightings took place at different times, sometimes on the day of the murder, sometimes in the days before.  Never at the scene of the crime. ”  Jack then is told about another boy who was killed, about a month later, in a town six or seven miles from the scene of that murder.

Jack is relentless in his search, and at times I must admit it became a bit too much of a slog for this reader.  But the tension and the suspense mount, and almost before one realizes it one is caught up in the investigation almost as much as its protagonist.  In the very first pages of the book we meet Michael Underhill.  It is over 70 pages later before we meet him again.  But surprisingly, that doesn’t lessen the suspense.  Even when we learn “who,” the “how” and “why” are absorbing, and the resolution is very satisfying.  The novel is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, January 2018.

Book Review: What You Break by Reed Farrel Coleman

What You Break
A Gus Murphy Novel #2
Reed Farrel Coleman
Putnam, February 2017
ISBN 978-0-3991-7304-2
Hardcover

Michael Connolly has Los Angeles, Ian Rankin Edinburgh, Laura Lippman Baltimore; the late Robert Parker Boston; Tim Hallinan Bangkok.  Others write about localities they know.  And Reed Farrel Coleman not only lives in Suffolk County, Long Island, New York, but takes us on a guided tour, in this novel featuring his somewhat flawed ex-cop Gus Murphy, still suffering after the death of his 20-year-old son, John Jr.  Gus, divorced after the death blew up his marriage, lives and works at a second-rate motel, driving a van to and from MacArthur airport and a LIRR station, picking up and dropping off passengers to and from the Paragon and providing security services in exchange for a free room.

The night bellman, Slava, who had once saved Gus’s life, is a close friend. When his friend’s past catches up with him and his life is threatened Gus is faced with a dilemma: sacrifice his friend or attempt to help him.   Meanwhile, another of Gus’s friends, the ex-priest Bill Kilkenny, asks him to take on finding out why wealthy Miceh Spears’ granddaughter was murdered.  The two plots move along simultaneously along the highways and byways  stretching from Queens County and Brooklyn right across Long Island.

Coleman even delves into the social and economic differences between various localities, with the Long Island Expressway sort of dividing north (white and wealthy) and south (for the most part poorer) and how enclaves protect the richer from others.  The novel takes a penetrating look at Gus, his personality and psyche, his assets and flaws.

A good read, the novel is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, February 2017.