Book Reviews: The Killers Are Coming by Jack Bludis and Unreasonable Doubt by Vicki Delany

The Killers Are Coming
A Ken Sligo Mystery
Jack Bludis
Bold Venture Press, January 2017
ISBN 978-1-5410-9677-6
Trade Paperback

Killers is a throwback to the old-fashioned, hard-boiled PI noir genre told in the first person.  Ken Sligo returns home to Baltimore from overseas at the end of WW II and has no wish to go to work in the family business operating a butcher shop in a local market.  Instead, his estranged brother arranges an introduction to a local bail bondsman (and possibly a low-level gangster) and he becomes a private eye tracing bail skippers.

Then one day, he is asked to follow a woman dancer at a local theater, reporting on who she sees, talks to and any other activities.  This assignment leads Sligo far from the original purpose as the trail becomes more convoluted. Also complicating his life is his pending testimony in a murder trial of one of the men working for the bondsman.  Naturally, Sligo’s testimony is unwanted either by his erstwhile employer, or by the accused.

Having lived in Baltimore for a time, I found it nostalgic to read about the city, and especially the notorious East Baltimore Street which housed the seedier elements of the burg, including bars, burlesque houses and strip joints.  For those who enjoy this type of novel, it is an excellent example of light reading, with some aspects of a Mickey Spillane mystery, especially the violence and sex, and is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, February 2017.

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Unreasonable Doubt
A Constable Molly Smith Novel #8
Vicki Delany
Poisoned Pen Press, February 2016
ISBN: 978-1-4642-0513-2
Hardcover

The author turns her attention in this entry in the Constable Molly Smith Mystery series to a wrongful conviction controversy in the form of a character named Walter Desmond, who was found guilty of murdering a young woman, and remanded to the penitentiary.  After 25 years, an appeal exonerates him based on new evidence and a sloppy police investigation.  Upon his release, he decides to return to the little town of Trafalgar, British Columbia, where he encounters considerable resentment.

Complicating his visit, a number of attacks on women occur: on the wife of Police Sergeant John Winters; on Molly’s mother, Lucky; and a visiting Dragon Boat team member.  Naturally, suspicion falls on Desmond.  Meanwhile, the original murder case is reopened, and Winters investigates the cold case with little hope of finding the killer.

The novel demonstrates how the mindset of a largely insulated population works. Most minds are made up; the police said Desmond was guilty and, despite the appeals court saying he is innocent, they still believe him to be guilty.  And it also shows the dramatic difference between old-time cops and modern professionals.  This is the tenth novel in the series, although Molly plays a small (but crucial) part in it. Winters occupies a central role.

The author has written an interesting take on the subject, especially with regard to the advisability of whether Desmond should, so to speak, return to the scene of the crime to find out why he was picked to be the murderer, or just remain in Vancouver and not face a hostile population.

An excellent series, well-written and always thought-provoking, and recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, March 2017.

Book Reviews: The Golden Egg by Donna Leon and Lineup by Liad Shoham

The Golden EggThe Golden Egg
Donna Leon
Atlantic Monthly Press, March 2014
ISBN: 978-0-8021-2242-1
Trade Paperback

It is no mean feat to sustain a mystery series at this high a level through 18 novels. Of course, that is just what Donna Leon has accomplished, and more (this is the 19th Commissario Guido Brunetti mystery). Of course, The Golden Egg features that charming and erudite Venetian detective in a tale that begins with the death of a mentally challenged deaf mute who works in a tailor shop frequented by Brunetti’s wife, Paola. She goads Brunetti into looking into the death, which appears to be natural.

At the same time, Brunetti’s boss timidly asks him to look into whether or not the mayor’s son’s fiancée, part owner of a store, is evading taxes or paying bribes to tax officials. The mayor, of course, is running for reelection and could do without any embarrassing revelations. The Commissario solves this one quickly and smoothly, but spends the entire novel on the other investigation, which becomes more complicated with every interview, no part of which is an official inquiry.

The charm of Brunetti’s home life, his relationship with his wife, daughter and son are always plusses in the books that make up this series. Unlike most others, the central theme of this novel is not a serious issue, but a personal, subtle one. Written with the usual depth of knowledge about Venice, its allure and atmosphere, the novel is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, March 2014.

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LineupLineup
Liad Shoham
Translated from the Hebrew by Sara Kitai
Harper, September 2013
ISBN 978-0-06-223744-6
Hardcover

This novel is the first to be published in the US by Liad Shoham, an Israeli attorney and the author of five best-selling novels in his native country, apparently considered “the Israeli John Grisham.” I was immediately intrigued by the setting, and by the protagonists, for the book presents wonderful character studies of three men: Amit Giladi, a would-be investigative journalist who’d been covering crime and education for the local Tel Aviv paper for 7-1/2 months; Police Inspector Eli Nachum; and Ziv Nevo, a man who in the last eighteen months had lost his job and his wife.

A brutal rape in a quiet Tel Aviv neighborhood leads to the arrest of Nevo by Inspector Eli Nachum and Giladi is sent by his editor, in the most urgent terms, to cover the story and get a scoop for the paper. There is no evidence, forensic or otherwise, and the girl couldn’t see the face of her attacker, but Nachum is led to Nevo when the victim’s father, who had been haunting the street where the daughter lived in the firm belief that the attacker would be back looking for another victim, sees him on the same street, acting suspiciously, a stalker, and becomes convinced that he is the one they are seeking; he soon convinces Nachum as well. The problem arises when that certainty leads to a fatally contaminated lineup: The father had followed and taken photos of Nevo after spotting him on the scene, and shown his daughter the photos, and Nachum knows this. Nevo, guilty of something totally unrelated to the rape, shows clear signs of having done something about which he is keeping silent, and does not divulge what he was doing on that street that night. With the best of intentions and determined to prevent another young woman from suffering the same fate, Nachum sees to it that the man is convicted of the crime, determined to “do whatever it took to put the rapist behind bars.”

The tale is well written (despite the fact that the first half felt as it needed some judicious editing). It is a compelling plot, and the characters are ones that this reader came to care about. I will be certain to watch for the next book from this author, and the book is recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, April 2014.