Book Reviews: Gods and Beasts by Denise Mina, The Devil in Her Way by Bill Loehfelm, and Touch & Go by Lisa Gardner

Gods and BeastsGods and Beasts
Denise Mina
Reagan Arthur Books, March 2013
ISBN: 978-0-316-18852-4
Hardcover

Alex Morrow, DS with the Strathclyde police, is back in the newest book by this Scottish author.  The twins with whom Morrow was pregnant in the last book, the wonderful The End of the Wasp Season, are now a few months old.  As the new book opens, she is deep into what is referred to as “the Barrowfields investigation,” when a new case comes her way:  One week before Christmas, during the course of an armed robbery in a busy Glasgow post office, an elderly man who was patiently waiting in line suddenly is seen to assist the gunman, but not before handing his young grandson to a stranger, soon after which the grandfather is brutally murdered by the robber, who makes a clean escape.  The only clue the police have is the fact that the alarm system was not working the morning of the crime.  And the additional fact that the innocent bystander to whom the young boy was entrusted turns out to be much more complex than he at first appears.

I have had nothing but praise for the several earlier novels by Ms. Mina that I have read, and would like to say that this newest book was equally wonderful.  But I have to admit that I found it slow-moving and felt almost disjointed, as the several story lines unfold, including rampant control of the city by gangs (mostly involved in the drug trade, said to be worth more than a billion pounds a year in Scotland); police corruption; and a goodly amount of political discussion.  The final pieces don’t fall into place until nearly the very last page.  I should perhaps add that Paddy Meehan, the protagonist of several of Ms. Mina’s earlier books, makes a couple of peripheral appearances here.

I will still look forward to future offering from this author, but this one didn’t come up to the high level reached by its predecessors for this reviewer.  Oh, and should one wonder, the title is from Aristotle:  “Those who live outside the city walls, and are self-sufficient, are either Gods or Beasts.”

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, August 2013.

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The Devil In Her WayThe Devil in Her Way
Bill Loehfelm
Sarah Crichton Books/Farrar, Straus and Giroux, May 2013
ISBN: 978-0-374-29885-2
Hardcover

Maureen Coughlin made her initial fictional appearance in The Devil She Knows.  Now, at the age of 30, after being a waitress for nine years, living through a series of unrewarding relationships, and residing with her mother on Staten Island, she decides to become a cop.  When the test for the NYPD is postponed, she applies and is accepted for the police academy in New Orleans.  And that’s where this novel begins, with Maureen serving her probationary trial period under the tutelage of Preacher Boyd, a wizened, jaundiced but savvy veteran NOPD police officer.

The plot, such as it is, follows Maureen and Preacher from her graduation from the police academy through her probationary period. On her first day, she answers a domestic call where she is brutally punched by a man bursting through the door.  While backup officers recover two pounds of weed, while she looks on from the street, a young boy seems to want to tell her something, but is warned off by someone across the street.  This sets the stage for an ever-inquisitive Maureen to pursue what turns out to be a major investigation, including murders, best left to homicide detectives, a specialty to which she aspires.

As a protagonist, Maureen leaves a lot to be desired.  Perhaps it is too early in her career to wish for more and she will develop more fully in future installments.  As a rookie, as her training officer reminds her often, much of what she attempts is none of her business. Sometimes it turns out OK, others, not so much.  The novel starts out slowly, and does not grab the reader, at least this one, until virtually the final pages  The author, who also moved from Staten Island to New Orleans, interweaves various post-Katrina observations throughout the book, reminding the reader of the devastation which still plagues the city.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, October 2013.

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Touch & GoTouch & Go
Lisa Gardner
Signet, November 2013
ISBN 978-0-451-46584-9
Mass Market Paperback

This standalone opens with the kidnapping of Justin Denbe, his 45-year-old pill-popping wife Libby, and their 15-year-old daughter, Ashlyn [who would seem to be wise beyond her years].  The author switches back and forth from Libby’s 1st person p.o.v. to third person throughout, having the effect of making Libby and her family not just ciphers, or “the victims,” but equally protagonists for whom the reader feels empathy.  This is nominally a police procedural about that kidnapping, filled with the expected quotient of suspense, but ultimately it’s much more than that:  it’s about a family which seemingly has it all, from their opulent Back Bay house in Boston to the hundred-million-dollar construction business headed by Justin.

While bringing back characters known from Ms. Gardner’s previous novels, 29-year-old corporate investigator and former Massachusetts State Police Trooper Tessa Leoni and Boston’s “reigning super cop,” Detective Sergeant D.D. Warren, other cops called into the case include New Hampshire detective Wyatt Foster and his former lover, FBI Special Agent Nicole “Nicky” Adams.  There appear to be no leads as to who pulled off this apparently very well-planned abduction, or any motive, as the first full day goes by with no ransom demand or other contact.

The suspense continues along pulse-pounding and unexpected paths right up until the end.  I found the novel even better than I had expected, although I had read and enjoyed a few of the author’s books in the past, and I will eagerly await the next one.  Recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, November 2013.

Book Review: Standing in Another Man’s Grave by Ian Rankin

Standing in Another Man's GraveStanding in Another Man's Grave 2Standing in Another Man’s Grave
Ian Rankin
Orion Books, November 2012
ISBN: 978-1-4091-4471-7
Hardcover

Also available in the US
Reagan Arthur Books, January 2013
ISBN 978-0-316-22458-1
Hardcover

Rebus is back! And he’s up to his usual old tricks. Years after his forced retirement, he’s now working as a civilian in a cold case unit until a chance happening places him right back in the midst of CID. A mother, desperate to find her daughter starts him on a path, a path he tracks to the bitter end.

I’ve been reading Rankin’s Rebus series for a while now and he’s a detective I’ve grown to love. He’s a veteran of old school policing where criminals were caught through sheer dogged determination and keeping your ear to the ground. Throughout the years, I’ve always had the impression of a man, standing knee high in the water, kicking his feet about, disturbing the silt and sand and watching to see what bottom feeders are lurking under the murk. He epitomizes the typical dysfunctional detective that we know and love. A failed marriage, an overfondness for drink and cigarettes and a ‘screw you’ attitude combined with his Scottish demeanour means you can’t help but admire him and his tenacity. But while Rankin has created a fantastic detective, he has also managed to create another great novel to add to the series. Since Rankin wrote Rebus in real time with the detective ageing with each novel, it was inevitable that the day would come when he would have to retire (if he made it that far). Imagine the delight the world over when we heard that Rebus was coming back. Rankin has stayed true to form and brought his creation back as a civilian working cold cases so his age has advanced yet again. This time, pure chance brings Rebus into contact with a mother desperate to find out the truth about her daughter’s disappearance. But, there’s more to this tale than meets the eye. A series of women have disappeared along the same road with only one thing linking them. The same photo is sent from each of their phones to a random person in their contacts list. The photo shows the same location, a location that could be anywhere in the wilds of Scotland.

This book is interesting since we meet the same familiar detective but he’s completely out of his comfort zone. He’s a civilian now without access to all the resources at an officers disposal. He has no authority and is quickly swamped with the changes in police work since he retired. The internet, social networking sites and mobile technology have taken over from door to door enquiries. Rebus is out of his depth and treading the fine line between getting results and staying on the right side of the law. Rankin has weaved a cracking story here, depicting the murkiness of Scottish criminals against the wild and powerful beauty of the landscape. It is bleak; a bleak landscape, a bleak crime, a bleak detective. Wonderfully written, this is another fine foray into the life of John Rebus. Rankin’s writing is always tight, with an intricate plot that is easy to follow. There is also a great range of complex characters that add to the overall ‘fleshiness’ of the story. Standing in Another Man’s Grave is another great edition in the Rebus series. Highly recommended, catch it while he’s still around!

Reviewed by Laura McLaughlin, January 2013.

Book Reviews: Quinn by Iris Johansen, Fever Dream by Dennis Palumbo, The Confession by Charles Todd, The Impossible Dead by Ian Rankin, and Back of Beyond by C.J. Box

Quinn
Iris Johansen
St. Martin’s Press, July 2011
ISBN: 978-0-312-65121-3
Hardcover

This is the second volume in a trilogy [the first was Eve, and the next Bonnie], wrapping up the mystery of the disappearance of Eve Duncan’s seven-year-old daughter who was presumably murdered.  This novel gives a lot of background on how she and Quinn came to meet, fall in love and come together.

Of course, it has to begin with Quinn near death in the hospital from a knife wound, but making a superhuman effort to get out and rejoin the hunt for Bonnie’s killer, aided by CIA agent and friend Catherine Ling.  [None of this is a spoiler, please be assured – it’s all revealed on the book cover.]

I had the feeling that a lot of this book was mere padding, an effort to fill out the three-volume “conclusion,” and bringing to an end one aspect of it:  the quest for the truth about Bonnie’s disappearance. The writing and tension keep the reader turning the pages, but wasn’t completely fulfilling for this reader, having not read any of the previous novels.  Of course, I can’t really comment fully on this observation, nor judge its accuracy.  The book is recommended, but I would suggest that at least the first book of the trilogy be read first.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, November 2011.

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Fever Dream
Dennis Palumbo
Poisoned Pen Press, November 2011
ISBN: 978-1-59058-957-1
Hardcover

In the beginning, we had Alex Delaware, psychologist and sometime police consultant.  Now we also have Daniel Rinaldi, psychotherapist and part-time police consultant.  There, of course, the similarities end.  Whereas the Kellerman protagonist is more cerebral, the Palumbo creation is more physical, in keeping with his background as a Golden Glover from the mean streets of Pittsburgh.

This novel, the second in which Rinaldi is involved in a murder mystery which endangers his life (multiple times), begins when he is called by a Pittsburgh detective following a bank robbery, to treat the sole surviving hostage (all the others were shot).  From that point, a series of events takes place, fast and furious.  In the midst of everything, there is a gubernatorial campaign in which the D.A. is running as a tough law-and-order candidate, complicating the police efforts and raising other concerns.

The complex plot proceeds apace, with scant clues but much physical action, especially a few murders and lots of firepower. The only criticism I have about an otherwise entertaining novel is Rinaldi’s omnipotence, allowing him to merely espouse solutions to the various mysteries without any preceding facts in the narrative (maybe that’s the way motion picture scripts are written – – the author formerly was a Hollywood screenwriter).  Nevertheless, the book is very enjoyable, and is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, December 2011.

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The Confession
Charles Todd
William Morrow, January 2012
ISBN: 978-0-06-201566-2
Hardcover

This latest in the long-running Inspector Ian Rutledge series finds him in his office shortly after the end of World War I listening to a man calling himself Wyatt Russell confess to murdering his cousin years before..  The man tells Rutledge he has stomach cancer and just a very short time to live but wanted to “clear his conscience.”  Little did he know that he would be shot in the head and left in the Thames in just a matter of days.  Now the Inspector has more than one murder to solve, and embarks on a quest that takes him to a little fishing village north of London in Essex where he encounters many more mysteries.

Rutledge learns that the man was not who he claimed to be, and that was but the first thing he had to unravel.  Then to discover the meaning of the only clue he had: a gold woman’s locket with the picture of a young girl, found around the man’s neck.  Without the sanction of an official inquiry, the Inspector proceeds to develop the facts, despite the uncooperative and even hostile reception he receives in the village where additional murders and deaths occur.

A novel written by the mother-and-son team writing under the nom de plume Charles Todd, Confession is up to the high level of its predecessors: the plot is tightly woven, the characters well-drawn and the reader is drawn forward anxiously waiting to find out what comes next.  Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, December 2011.

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The Impossible Dead
Ian Rankin
Reagan Arthur Books / Little, Brown & Co., November 2011
ISBN: 978-0-316-03977-2
Hardcover

Ian Rankin usually lays a foundation of current and past events in his novels.  And, in this second Malcolm Fox mystery, he creates a tale reaching back a quarter of a century, when agitation and violence marked efforts for a separate Scotland.  Fox, who made his debut in The Complaints, grows exponentially as a protagonist, along with his sidekicks on his Internal Affairs team, Tony Kaye and Joe Naysmith.  They are worthy successors to the now retired Rebus, although more subtle in the presentation.

This murder-mystery has its beginnings in an investigation of fellow cops who may have covered up for a corrupt co-worker, Detective Paul Carter, who had been found guilty of misconduct.  The original accuser was Carter’s uncle, an ex-op himself.  When the uncle is found dead, perhaps murdered with a pistol that theoretically did not exist for it should have been destroyed by the police in 1985, and Carter himself dead by drowning shortly afterward, Fox is drawn into his own inquiry outside the aegis of a Complaints review, resurrecting the turmoil of the past and terrorist threats of the present.

Rankin also demonstrates his trademark attention to character development, concentrating much of the story on the deterioration of Fox’ father’s physical well-being and his relationship with his sister, each with sensitivity and care.  At the same time, the author shows his talent for integrating the setting, plot and theme, tightly intertwining the various elements.  Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, December 2011.

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Back of Beyond
C.J. Box
Minotaur Books, August 2011
ISBN: 978-0-312-36574-5
Hardcover

Against the vastness and isolation of Yellowstone Park, C.J. Box has once again created a suspense-murder-thriller novel using the natural environment as a backdrop.  Cody Hoyt, a rogue cop who first appeared in Three Weeks to Say Goodbye, returns once again, as he is called in to investigate the death of a man shot in the head and burned in his half-destroyed mountain cabin, later identified as Cody’s AA sponsor, making the case very personal to the detective.

In the course of his investigation, Cody discovers that the murderer has joined a group on a multi-day wilderness horseback trip in a remote part of the park.  Adding incentive, Cody learns that his son is part of the group on the trip, so has to not only find the murderer but save his son.

The author then takes the reader on a wild ride, never once giving much away in clues as bodies and riderless horses start turning up along the trail as Cody, who now is suspended and AWOL from the Sheriff’s Department, tries to close in on the remaining group.  The descriptions are sweeping, the character development deeply absorbing.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, December 2011.

Book Review: The 500 by Matthew Quirk

The 500
Matthew Quirk
Reagan Arthur Books, June 2012
ISBN 9780316198622
Hardcover

Jump into the cesspool that is Washington, D.C. Swim with the sharks and their prey and hope you can survive. The debut novel by Matthew Quirk has a man only wanting only to stay on the straight and narrow, to earn his keep through hard work. But corruption in America’s capital is too overwhelming and it’s comes down to a matter of life or death.

He’s a former con man trying to live a respectable life. He’s worked hard to get through Harvard and to pay his mom’s medical bills. After being hired by a powerful consulting firm, the Davies Group, Mike Ford looks forward to the good life full of perks he never imagined. However, within a year he finds himself falling back into habits from his past, and learning new ones. His assignments for the Davies Group have him barely escaping the authorities. Henry Davies, founder of the company wants to control the 500 most influential people in Washington, D.C. However, one man won’t buckle under. Ford, against everyone’s advice, digs into the practices of the Davies Group in order to save his own life and maybe the life of several others’.

With each new book about Washington politics the more the seamier side of life is exposed. This is full of powerful people who only confirm the adage about power corrupting. The action is tense, the knowledge of the ways of Washington is solid, and there’s even some wry humor to keep it interesting. Welcome a new face on the scene in Matthew Quirk and read The 500. No need for unnecessary hype or sensationalism–this, simply, is a good one.

Reviewed by Stephen L. Brayton, March 2012.
Author of Night Shadows and Beta.

Book Review: What It Was by George Pelecanos

What It Was
George Pelecanos
Reagan Arthur Books, January 2012
ISBN 9780316209540
Trade Paperback

It’s the summer of 1972 and the place is Washington, D.C. It’s the time of 8-tracks, big afro hair, high heels on men’s shoes, incense, soul and funk, bell bottom pants and rayon shirts. It’s the era of muscle cars and drugs and money and prostitutes. Four years after the D.C. riots and shortly before Watergate. It’s what it was and the story of a man starting out in the private investigator business, and a bad man wanting to make a name for himself.

Derek Strange, ex-police officer and now private eye, is hired by a woman wanting to retrieve a lost ring. Robert Lee Jones, aka ‘Red Fury’ has killed a local drug dealer and is about to go on a murder spree to become a man with an infamous legacy. Strange’s former partner, veteran Frank Vaughn has caught the case and is soon on the trail of Red. Enter hitmen from the mob also looking for the killer of the dealer. As Red and his associates plan to make their getaway forces from all sides are closing in.

If you’re a Pelecanos fan you know his stories are full of culture, music, food, drugs, guns, and straight, no nonsense dialogue and action. What It Was recalls a time when America had experienced changes and was heading for more. The good guys aren’t all the time good and the bad guys are a product of their place and time. It’s a quick read but another fine product from the mind of Pelecanos.

Reviewed by Stephen L. Brayton, December 2011.
Author of Night Shadows and Beta.

Book Review: The Complaints by Ian Rankin—And We Have A Winner!

The Complaints
Ian Rankin
Reagan Arthur Books, March 2011
ISBN 978-031603974-1
Hardcover

This new novel by Ian Rankin is what is hoped is the first in a new series, introducing Inspector Malcolm Fox.  It must be said without further ado that John Rebus, declared by the author to have made his last appearance in print [newly published, that is], will be sorely missed.  But his new protagonist promises to be equally splendid and sure to quickly find a place in the hearts of Mr. Rankin‘s myriad fans.

There are many similarities between the two Edinburgh cops, among these a history of drinking and a broken marriage.  Fox has been five years dry; he has a father in a care home, and a sister in what can best be described as an abusive relationship, both being important in his life, but the latter becoming central to his job.   He has worked for the past 4-1/2 years for the Complaints and Conduct department of Lothian & Borders Police, more particularly the Professional Standards Unit, referred to variously as The Complaints or, more informally, The Dark Side, the equivalent of the Internal Affairs Bureau in the US, cops who investigate other cops.  The “other cops” tend to look at those in The Complaints with disdain, and Fox is told at one point “Stick to watching the detectives, Malcolm.  Let us other cops do the real work.”

Fox’s nickname was “Foxy,” “but he didn’t think of himself that way.  ‘A bear of a man’ – that’s the way one of his previous bosses had described him.  Slow but steady, and only occasionally to be feared.”  The supporting cast in the current book includes colleagues Tony Kaye and Joe Naysmith, CID head “Bad Billy” Giles, DCS Adam Traynor, and DC Gilchrist and DS Annie Inglis, both with the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Dept. [CEOP].  Fox is assigned to assist CEOP in its investigation of a suspected paedophile within CID, of one of whose members he had just successfully concluded an investigation.  But a conflict of interest develops when that same suspect heads an investigation of a murder very close to home.  Fox finds there is more than one person in his circle who may not be what [s]he seems, and as things go on he doesn’t know who he can trust.

The book jacket describes the novel is “an inquiry into personal morality, private vice, friendship, and the state of the nation.”  A grand claim, perhaps, but no less true for that.  Just as wonderful a read as the author’s previous novels, Rebus or otherwise, it is highly recommended, and I say without hesitation “Welcome Malcolm Fox!”

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, May 2011.

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Congratulations to Vicki Hencey, winner of a gift basket

filled with dead body cookies, chocolate shoes, and a copy of

Killer Recipes from your favorite mystery authors, courtesy of Cindy Sample!

Book Review: The Cut by George Pelecanos

The Cut
George Pelecanos
Reagan Arthur Books, August 2011
ISBN
Hardcover

Don’t expect anything new from Pelecanos’ new book introducing a new lead character. You’re going to get the same down to earth strong story, the same strong, definitive characters, the same devotion to music, food, books, and culture as you’ve read in his other novels. Which means you’re going to experience the same enjoyment.

Ex Marine and Iraq vet Spero Lucas works as an investigator for a Washington, D.C. defense attorney. He also has a sideline business finding lost items for people. Drug runner Anwan Hawkins, in jail awaiting trial, hires Lucas to find two shipments of marijuana stolen from drop-off sites.

Lucas discusses the problem with Hawkins’ employees, who are laid back and easy going. The picture quickly changes. Lucas must use his intelligence and various contacts because the stakes have been raised and the people he’s up against are serious about keeping him from receiving his ‘cut.’

Pelecanos presents the Washington D.C. urban culture and its people in a straightforward manner. It is what it is. The details are basic and not lavish. Every good guy has little faults and every bad guy knows the potential consequences of his choices. There’s no hype, no flash, no sensationalism, but with The Cut you don’t mind. I tend to view Pelecanos’ stories as ‘A Day in the Life of’ or time elapsed snapshots of a chapter out of the lives of the characters, with a little flavor and spice added to keep it interesting.

Reviewed by Stephen L. Brayton, August 2011.