Book Review: Robicheaux by James Lee Burke

Robicheaux
Dave Robicheaux #21
James Lee Burke
Simon & Schuster, January 2018
ISBN 978-1-5011-7684-5
Hardcover

Detective Dave Robicheaux returns from his last adventure in Montana to the sheriff’s department in Iberia, Louisiana, an area about which James Lee Burke writes poetically in the long tradition of southern writers like Faulkner and Robert Penn Warren.  Robicheaux is a haunted person, suffering from the loss of his wife, Molly, who was killed in an auto accident, nightmares from his time in Vietnam, and alcoholism.  In fact, he goes off the wagon (a devotee of Alcoholics Anonymous) and wonders if he could have murdered the victim, the person who caused his beloved wife’s death, while drunk, even as he conducted the investigation into the incident.

The novel is filled with all sorts of nefarious characters, ranging from outright gangsters to a Huey Long type who glibly mesmerizes the populace and plays a prominent role in events by representing how wealth and imagery can lead to undermining American traditions.  And, of course, Clete Purcel, Dave’s closest friend, is front and center in the story, as is his daughter, Alafair, who writes a screenplay for a movie based on a Civil War event.

The piercing prose and the sweep of the tale, combined with the extraordinary characters, are incomparable.

It is interesting to note that while Mr. Burke writes about the South with such feeling, he lives in Montana.  I guess distance makes for perspective.

Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, February 2018.

A Passel of Teeny Reviews, Part 2

Once again, big surprise, I find myself with
an overload of books read but not yet reviewed
so I think it’s time for a roundup or two…

 

All the Little Liars
An Aurora Teagarden Mystery #9
Charlaine Harris
Minotaur Books, October 2016
ISBN 978-1-250-09003-4
Hardcover

Charlaine Harris has to work really hard to make me not like any of her books and this one is no exception. Aurora Teagarden is her fluffiest series and I was SO excited when she brought it back with this book, 13 years after the last one.

Roe is a librarian—now married and pregnant—in a small town in Georgia and, as librarians are wont to do, falls over dead bodies on a regular basis. This time, a bunch of kids have gone missing and her teenaged brother is somehow involved. I enjoyed this story even though I thought it was just a little weak but I chalk it up to the difficulties of rebooting a series and fully expect the upcoming Sleep Like a Baby to be back on top.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2017.

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Gizelle’s Bucket List
My Life with a Very Large Dog
Lauren Fern Watt
Simon & Schuster, March 2017
ISBN 978-1-5011-2365-8
Hardcover
Simon & Schuster Audio, March 2017
Narrated by Lauren Fern Watt
Downloaded Unabridged Audiobook

I both read and listened to this one and was glad I did because the audio edition added a strong connection between me and the author. This is a true story and, as you can guess from the title, it’s all about this wonderful dog’s last days. Get out a box of tissues because you’re going to need them. Yes, it’s terribly sad but also joyful and uplifting as Lauren helps Gizelle do the things she loves best and those Lauren is sure she’ll enjoy before it’s too late. The love and devotion between Lauren and Gizelle are as real as it gets and I appreciate the time I spent with them.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2017.

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Smugglers & Scones
Moorehaven Mysteries, Book 1
Morgan C. Talbot
Red Adept Publishing, January 2017
ISBN 978-1-940215-87-7
Trade Paperback

Moorehaven is a bed and breakfast in Oregon that caters to crime fiction writers—what a great setting for murder and mayhem, right? Pippa Winterbourne, manager, gets pulled into the investigation when a local is killed and a boat mysteriously crashes on the rocks, leaving her to house an intriguing injured man who just might be guilty of murder. This is a delightful tale full of the history of coastal Oregon and a beautiful setting and featuring some very appealing folks. The setup with the B&B is unusual in that a trust is actually in charge so this is not the typical scenario in which the innkeeper has to scrimp and save to keep things going. That frees Pippa to do some sleuthing on her own while she rides herd on her crochety great-uncle and the current group of author guests. This is a clever, charming series debut and I’m looking forward to the next one, Burglars & Blintzes.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2017.

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Still Life
A Chief Inspector Gamache Mystery #1
Louise Penny
Narrated by Ralph Cosham
Blackstone Audio, August 2006
Downloaded Unabridged Audiobook

When murder is done in a small town in the Quebec province, Chief Inspector Armand Gamache is called in to investigate. Most of the villagers think it must have been a hunting accident but Gamache is quite sure something else is going on.

I’m hanging my head in shame, I think, because I’m apparently at odds with the mystery reading world. I’d always avoided this series ( now up to #13) for no particular reason other than I have a bit of distrust when everybody raves about the first book, then the second, the third… But, I finally started feeling kind of silly about it and bit the bullet and, well, I’m kind of underwhelmed. The narrator was quite good (I understand fans were devastated when he passed away a few years ago, after recording the tenth book) and the story was good but I just didn’t connect with it. Still, a gazillion readers can’t all be wrong so I’m going to try the second book.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2017.

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The Introvert
Michael Paul Michaud
Black Opal Books, November 2016
ISBN 978-1-626945-47-0
Trade Paperback

He’s a vacuum salesman, a quiet individual, kind of a loner but only because solitude is usually easier. He’s Everyman. He also has moments of inner rage so intense he imagines the other person “red and open” but he’s perfectly normal. Right? Well, there was that incident a couple of years ago…

{{Shudder }}

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2017.

 

Book Reviews: Tokyo Kill by Barry Lancet and The Care and Management of Lies by Jacqueline Winspear

Tokyo KillTokyo Kill
Barry Lancet
Simon & Schuster, September 2014
ISBN: 978-1-4516-9172-6
Hardcover

Jim Brodie made his initial appearance in Japantown, an action-packed thriller and the series debut.  He now returns in a novel which is no less filled with derring-do and lots of exotic descriptions of Japanese culture and history.  Brodie inherited a half-interest in Brodie Security, founded by his late father and headquartered in Tokyo, and also operates an art dealership, which he claims is his main profession, in San Francisco.

In Tokyo seeking a rare painting, Brodie is approached by a 90-year-old veteran of World War II asking for protection because members of his military detachment in Manchuria during the war-time occupation by Japan were being murdered.  After he supplies a security detail, events take over the course of the rest of the novel, as Brodie investigates the possibility of Triads, Chinese spies and others as the culprits.  And that takes on a life of its own.

The author has lived and worked in Japan for more than a quarter century, and the flavor and information about the country permeates with authenticity throughout the novel.  His description of various types of martial arts practiced in Japan is a further exhibit of his expertise.  Powerfully written, Tokyo Kill is a very enjoyable read, and this reader is looking forward to additions to the series.
Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, November 2014.

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The Care and Management of LiesThe Care and Management of Lies
A Novel of the Great War
Jacqueline Winspear
Harper, July 2014
ISBN: 978-0-06-222050-9
Hardcover

The old adage that an army travels on its stomach certainly is an apt description for this standalone by the author of the terrific Maisie Dobbs series.  Like those novels, it is sent in and around World War I and captures the horrors of the Great War, the muddy trenches, the deaths and its effect on the folks back home.

The plot centers on Kezia Marchant who marries Tom, the younger brother of her good friend, Thea Brisenden, with whom she went to school, both becoming teachers.  Then upon marrying Tom, Kezia becomes a farm wife.  All this takes place shortly before the outbreak of hostilities, and when the war breaks out, Tom feels imperiled to enlist, leaving Kezia to manage the farm.

In the brief time before Tom leaves for France, a ritual develops, as Kezia learns to cook with a flourish, using ingenuity and good sense to set a table unlike anything her husband had ever experienced.  And when he receives letters in the trenches they are filled with glowing accounts of dinners Kezia has prepared for him, filling his drudgery with lightness.  And the rest of the soldiers in his unit take to the descriptions as well, adding to their joy in the face of the poor rations they have to endure.  This is a novel demonstrating the ability of people to withstand all sorts of horrible experiences and survive, and it is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, January 2015.

Book Review: One Kick by Chelsea Cain

One KickOne Kick
A Kick Lannigan Novel
Chelsea Cain
Simon & Schuster, August 2014
IBSN 978-1-4767-4978-5
Hardcover

The author is an experienced, acclaimed thriller writer. This eighth novel is the debut of yet another protagonist for her. As a big thriller with a hot, tough, protagonist, Elizabeth (Kick) Lannigan, deals with one of the nastier aspects of our society, pedophilia and child abduction, and this novel is destined for highly popular ranking.

It’s been called brilliant, outstanding, and masterful. I agree. I particularly enjoy the voice of the author, her writing style is unusual and slick. Which is not to say the book is smoothly written. The plot, on the other hand, is truly original and masterfully conceived, developed and resolved. The main characters are nicely handled and with some exceptions develop appropriately. The structure of the novel is excellent. The prologue avoids revealing too much so we are intrigued, wonder about significant omissions and are pulled into the story. We want to know more about this girl, rescued by the FBI after many years of captivity and forced bondage. This is not a novel for the faint of heart.

Kick Lannigan was abducted as a child, forced into unspeakable circumstances. After her rescue she becomes an avenging angel, determined to help wipe out an international network of child stealers and molesters. She learns and teaches herself more ways to kill than is possible to recall. She prides herself on physical agility and toughness of mind. Yet she is apparently seriously deficient in her ability to retain control of some dangerous situations, situations which result in grievous injury and, not incidentally, propel the plot into interesting episodes.

The novel is a fast read, well-thought-out and carefully concluded. Still there were times when I wanted to grab Lannigan by the neck and shout at her when I saw her letting down her guard, making mistakes that, in real life, would have undoubtedly resulted in instant termination.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, September 2014.
Author of Red Sky, Devils Island, Hard Cheese, Reunion.

Book Reviews: The Longings of Wayward Girls by Karen Brown and The Last Word by Lisa Lutz

The Longings of Wayward GirlsThe Longings of Wayward Girls
Karen Brown
Washington Square Press, July 2013
ISBN 978-1-4767-2491-1
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

It’s an idyllic New England summer, and Sadie is a precocious only child on the edge of adolescence. It seems like July and August will pass lazily by, just as they have every year before. But one day, Sadie and her best friend play a seemingly harmless prank on a neighborhood girl. Soon after, that same little girl disappears from a backyard barbecue—and she is never seen again. Twenty years pass, and Sadie is still living in the same quiet suburb. She’s married to a good man, has two beautiful children, and seems to have put her past behind her. But when a boy from her old neighborhood returns to town, the nightmares of that summer will begin to resurface, and its unsolved mysteries will finally become clear.

Most of the big review publications love this book, using such terms as nervewracking, haunting, absorbing, tension, suspense. I’m sorry to say none of these words come to mind when I think about The Longings of Wayward Girls. It’s not that it’s a bad book—it really isn’t—but to say it’s full of suspense and tension is miles apart from what most mystery readers are looking for.

We know from the jacket copy that two children have gone missing but getting to any real information about those disappearances is a chore. The second instance, which is the real focus, doesn’t actually happen until more than two thirds through the story and that is simply far too long for the mystery reader to wait. In essence, the only real tension is caused by wondering when on earth we’ll be told anything about this second disappearance beyond the fact that it happened. To make matters worse, there’s no real resolution to that second crime because we’re left wondering whether it really was a crime or rather jealousy gone out of control leading to unintended consequences.

On the other hand, as a look at a woman’s life and how her adulthood is so heavily influenced by her childhood, this hits the mark. Speaking personally, I couldn’t like Sadie very much—she’s remarkably self-centered as a child and as an adult—but she has some reason to be that way. If I had thought this would be a personality study that happens to include a couple of mysteries, I might have enjoyed it very much because Ms. Brown is a fine writer, particularly when it comes to evoking a sense of setting. Unfortunately, the description makes it sound much more like suspense is the overriding theme and that just isn’t the case.  The publisher should come up with a more accurate description for future editions to prevent disappointing readers looking for a solid crime drama.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2013.

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The Last WordThe Last Word
A Spellman Novel, Document #6
Lisa Lutz
Simon & Schuster, July 2013
ISBN 978-1-4516-8666-1
Hardcover

From the publisher—

The sixth installment of the critically acclaimed, New York Times bestselling, Edgar- and Macavity-nominated and Alex Award-winning series by Lisa Lutz, finds our intrepid heroine of the series, Isabel Spellman, PI, at a crossroads. Izzy is used to being followed, extorted, and questioned—all occupational hazards of working at her family’s firm, Spellman Investigations. Her little sister, Rae, once tailed Izzy for weeks on end to discover the identity of Izzy’s boyfriend. Her mother, Olivia, once blackmailed Izzy with photo­graphic evidence of Prom Night 1994. It seemed that Spellman vigilance would dis­sipate after Izzy was fired for breaching client confidentiality, but then Izzy avenged her dismissal by staging a hostile takeover of the company. She should have known better than to think she could put such she­nanigans behind her.

In The Last Word, Izzy’s troubles are just beginning. After her takeover of Spellman Investigations, her employees are the fur­thest thing from collegial…and Izzy finds herself struggling to pay the bills. But when she is accused of embezzling from a former client, the ridiculously wealthy Mr. Slayter, the stakes become immense. If Izzy gets indicted, she could lose her PI license and the Spellman family’s livelihood, not to mention her own freedom. Is this the end of Izzy Spellman, PI?

A few years ago, word spread that Lisa Lutz was retiring her Spellman clan after the fourth book and I was one of many who were horrified to hear that news. Then, lo and behold, a fifth book showed up and, now, number 6 in the series. I don’t know what changed the author’s mind but I couldn’t be happier.

Izzy Spellman is a character I’ve come to love and I wish I could spend real-life time with her. Alas, that is not to be, so I have to get my fill of her company through her books and this latest is no disappointment.  Her squirrelly family is just as much fun as they’ve always been—who else would carry on inter-family warfare with boxer shorts and fluffy slippers?—and, although the cases being investigated are not exactly earthshaking, going along for the ride is an adventure in itself.

I especially appreciated baby sister Rae’s development of a new way to bring in much-needed income and and Izzy certainly needs to find out who’s taking advantage of a tycoon’s weakness but there really are two primary mysteries…will the family survive Izzy’s hostile takeover of the investigation business and what will it take to get a three-year-old despot named Princess Banana to approve of Izzy?

Anyone who enjoys a good deal of humor in their mystery reading will love The Last Word and all the other Spellman books and I’m already eagerly awaiting #7.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2013.

Book Reviews: Catch Me by Lisa Gardner, Accelerated by Bronwen Hruska, Creole Belle by James Lee Burke, and The Impossible Dead by Ian Rankin

Catch MeCatch Me
Lisa Gardner
Dutton, February 2012
ISBN: 978-0-525-95276-3
Hardcover

D.D. Warren, the Boston homicide detective featured in this widely-read series, faces two challenges in this latest installment: a new baby boy who keeps her and her boyfriend, Alex, up through the night and, now that she’s back from maternity leave, a complex mystery surrounding a young woman who approaches her with the admonition that she expects to be murdered four days hence and she hopes D.D. will handle the investigation. What to do?  How can you undertake the investigation of a murder that hasn’t even taken place yet?

The prospective victim’s name is Charlene, known as Charlie throughout.  She’s spent the past year in training:  running, boxing, and learning to shoot in anticipation of the big event.  It seems her two best friends were strangled on January 21 in each of the previous two years, and logic dictates that it’s now Charlie’s turn.

The plot traces the next days and the events that take place, which demonstrate D.D.’s evolving character change brought about by her domestic developments and Charlie’s preparations to meet her expected fate.  An interesting aside within the sub-plot, which addresses murders of pedophiles, involves a young boy lured into a potential sex act by the user of an internet game appealing to youngsters.  The author uses the technique to tell the story by alternating third person p.o.v. to relate D.D.’s activities, and first person describing Charlie’s.

Not a thrill a page, perhaps, but certainly an excellent thriller, and recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, July 2012.

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AcceleratedAccelerated
Bronwen Hruska
Pegasus, October 2012
ISBN:  978-1-60598-379-0
Hardcover

Once the reader gets past and accepts the initial premise of this novel, that there is an almost universal conspiracy to boost children’s learning power by declaring them victims of ADD or ADHD and prescribing Ritalin or similar drugs, then it becomes a heart-warming story.  Sean Benn, a single father (the result of his wife’s abandoning him and their young son, Toby), is pressured to dose the boy, against his better judgment, after having refused for quite some time.

It should be noted that Toby’s best friend had gone into a coma and died.  The school told everyone it was the result of a peanut allergy. Shortly afterward, Toby fell during PT, suffering from an arrhythmia, and ended up in the hospital, comatose.  From that point the plot takes off in dramatic fashion.

Certainly the novel’s raison d’etre is a significant topic.  When over-medication is routinely used to force students to accelerate their ability to learn, something is wrong.  So exposure is warranted. But to raise the possibility that this technique is so widespread across the country, aided and abetted by pharmaceutical companies, while worrisome, is kind of hard to believe.  But maybe such exaggeration is needed to make the point.  And perhaps “worrisome” is required as well.  Written with a smooth hand and tightly plotted, the book is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, September 2012.

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Creole BelleCreole Belle
James Lee Burke
Simon & Schuster, July 2012
ISBN: 978-1-4516-4313-3
Hardcover

The latest adventures of Dave Robicheaux and Clete Purcell read like a massive morality play in 500-plus pages.  The series tales place in southern Louisiana, the bayou country and New Orleans, with all the historic corruption derived from the Civil War and slavery, the oil industry, prostitution and other societal evils.  Dave and Clete are supposed to represent the good fighting the sleaziness.

In the previous entry in the series, the duo suffered near death in a bayou shootout, and we now find Dave in a New Orleans recovery facility in a morphine-induced haze where he receives a midnight visit from Tee Jolie Mellon, a creole barroom singer who leaves him an i-pod filled with music, including three songs she sings and which apparently only he can hear.  Raising doubts that the visit was in fact real.  Meanwhile, Clete is confronted by two goons claiming they hold a marker for a debt he believes was paid off many years before. To further complicate his life, Clete witnesses his illegitimate daughter murder one of the goons.  Then Tee Jolie’s young sister washes up on the Gulf Coast in a block of ice.  An oil well blow-off fouling the environment adds to the corruption endemic to their world.

To say the very least, the plot is a highly complicated series of inter-related components weaved into a long and somewhat tiring saga. The author has stretched his formidable abilities to include wide-ranging comments on a variety of subjects, some poignant, others evocative.  But always clear and concise.  One has to question the violence performed by Dave and Clete in their quest for justice.  Is it excessive and, perhaps, unwarranted?  But certainly it is in character, and the novel is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, October 2012.

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The Impossible DeadThe Impossible Dead
Ian Rankin
Reagan Arthur/Bay Bay Books, November 2012
ISBN 978-0-316-07877-1
Trade Paperback

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-cop 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’s 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, November 2012.

Book Reviews: Nemesis by Jo Nesbo, Quarry's Ex by Max Allan Collins, The Litigators by John Grisham, Defending Jacob by William Landay, and The Lost Years by Mary Higgins Clark

Nemesis
Jo Nesbo
Harper, February 2012
ISBN: 978-0-06-211969-8
Mass Market Paperback

There have now been several Harry Hole novels, but this was only the second to be published in the United States (the first was The Redbreast). Both demonstrate the author’s uncanny ability to continually lead the reader astray with one red herring after another before disclosing, in a final twist, a most unexpected dénouement.

In the present novel, these principles apply to two separate story lines.   One involves a bank robbery in which a woman is shot in the head. The other finds a woman with whom Harry had a short affair shot in her bed the day after Harry had dinner at her home (but he can’t remember a thing about the evening).  In fact, there are clues implicating him in the deed and in fact, the cover asks the question: “How do you catch a killer when you’re the number one suspect?”

The translation by Don Bartlett from the Norwegian flows smoothly. The novel was a number one best-seller in Norway, spending 39 weeks on the best seller list.  Past novels from this author saw Bangkok and Australia as settings, and the next to Hong Kong – Harry certainly gets around!

Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, February 2012.

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Quarry’s Ex
Max Allan Collins
Hard Case Crime, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-08-5768286-4
Trade Paperback

Max Allan Collins writes noir crime novels which read very much like Mickey Spillane, with whom he was a close friend and collaborator [and completed some started by the late author].  This novel is no exception, and is full of sex, violence and hard-boiled prose.  It is a prequel to a long-running series about a hit man who has turned the tables on other assassins by developing a new business: collecting his fees from intended victims by eliminating killers and those who hired them.

This novel takes us back in time, providing the back story for the Quarry series, when he was a young marine, met Joni and married her, returned from Vietnam to find her in bed with another man (who he murders) and then going off the deep end.  After a while, he is contacted by the “broker,” and becomes a paid assassin, until he kills his “employer” in a double-cross and stealing his files which identify other murderers.  With this information, Quarry turns the tables, targeting them for elimination and saving the intended victims.

This brings us to the present story during which, purely by accident, Quarry finds his ex-wife married to a movie director, the latter the target of a pair of killers Quarry knows from the files.  The ex is really incidental to the story, which revolves around Quarry’s efforts to save the director’s life and identifying who retained the killers. It is fast and furious, with colorful characters, entertaining with panache, and is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, February 2012.

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The Litigators
John Grisham
Doubleday, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-385-53513-7
Hardcover

Early in his career, John Grisham wrote novels that whacked a home run every time.  But even Babe Ruth couldn’t do that every time.  This book is workman-like, perhaps a double.  But then, if you can do even this often enough, you’re an All Star.  And John Grisham certainly is that.

The story is extremely contrived, with sort of caricatures for characters.  It might have been more fun if they were less predictable and more cartoonish, if that’s possible. Attorney David Zinc belongs more in a soap opera than a legal novel.  His two partners, Finley & Figg, are even more unbelievable, other characters even more wooden.

But all this criticism doesn’t negate the fact that Grisham can still write an entertaining novel, albeit somewhat stilted and predictable. About the only interesting character in the book is a 90-year-old Federal judge, presiding over a comical case.  So, despite all this negativism, the novel is recommended with caveats.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, April 2012.

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Defending Jacob
William Landay
Delacorte Press, January 2012
ISBN: 978-0-385-34422-7
Hardcover

Is this novel a courtroom drama, a psychological study of a family, an introspective study of a man, or is it about truth and justice?  Or all of the above?  It’s hard to tell in this rambling book which attempts to keep the reader in suspense and leaves much to the imagination.

Andy Barber, the First Assistant DA in Newton, MA, is the man who faces the questions posed by the story and really doesn’t come to grips with the essential problems raised.  His 14-year-old son is accused of murdering a fellow student and goes to trial for Murder One.  Did he or didn’t he? Andy, who initially ran the original investigation, does not believe his son is capable of doing the deed. The effect of the pressures of the trial on Andy and his wife are weakly described.  The courtroom drama is, to some extent, extremely well done, but, for the most part, drawn out to a great degree.  And the snideness of the comments about Andy’s replacement when he’s taken off the case and during the trial are too often petty.

On the whole, the novel is an interesting presentation, but could have been edited severely, especially the front end which drags on slowly until the book picks up steam toward the middle.  It is no spoiler to note that there is more than one surprise waiting for the reader at the end, some attention-grabbing, others a little far-fetched.  That said, it is an off-beat novel that is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, June 2012.

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The Lost Years
Mary Higgins Clark
Simon & Schuster, April 2012
ISBN: 978-1-4516-6886-5
Hardcover

A good idea wrapped in a lot of superfluous schmaltz sums up this latest effort by Mary Higgins Clark.  The plot involves the discovery by a Biblical scholar, Dr. Jonathan Lyons, of the only letter supposedly ever written by Jesus, and Lyons’ subsequent murder, presumably as a result. The mystery, of course, is which of his various friends and co-workers wants the manuscript to sell on the black market instead of it being returned to the Vatican library from which it was removed in the 1400’s.

Instead of a straight police procedural, the story becomes bogged down in several side issues:  Dr. Lyons’ daughter’s guilt over her alienation from her father over the issue of his mistress and her own “love life;” a couple of characters, Alvirah and Willy, who outwit the police and the perpetrator; and Lyons’ wife’s dementia, among other things.

The author can still write smoothly, but the novel smacks of a manufactured outline, rather than a carefully developed plot, with each step carefully constructed to fit.  It is unfortunate because the idea for the story is excellent, and if the characters were more deeply drawn, and the irrelevancies omitted, the novel could have been more intriguing.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, August 2012.