Book Review: The Fools in Town Are on Our Side by Ross Thomas

The Fools in Town Are on Our Side
Ross Thomas
Thomas Dunne Books, May 2003
ISBN 978-0-312-31582-5
Trade Paperback

Ross Thomas was a skilled and highly accomplished novelist and storyteller.  He wrote a lot of mysteries, most excellent,  Morrow originally published this one in 1971.  Except for a few words and some financial stuff in which the amounts are way too low, this suspense thriller could have been written yesterday.

Thomas is able to keep us grounded in a story that moves back and forth through three separate time periods in the life of protagonist Lucifer Dye, born in Montana in December, 1933.  He comes of age a few years later on the streets of Shanghai when his father is blown apart by a bomb, leaving this American boy, fluent in Chinese but not in English, holding the bloody stump of an arm with his father’s wristwatch still attached.

He is rescued by the owner and operator of Shanghai’s most prestigious sporting house, where he learns several other languages, a good deal about variant sexual tastes and the venality of most people in high places.  Lucifer C. Dye goes on to experience more war as a soldier in Korea, then higher education, espionage and graft.

The core story focuses on a strange group of individuals brought together by a wealthy genius-level young man named Victor Orrcutt who makes money by corrupting already corrupt public officials in order to inflame the good citizens to revolt and throw the original thieves out of town.  A most interesting concept.  There is Carol Thackerty, ex-whore, Homer Necessary, ex-police chief with one brown and one blue eye, Victor and then, Lucifer Clarence Dye, man of all tools, an accomplished raconteur, cynic and wise manipulator of people and systems.

None of these central characters are the fine upstanding and highly moral individuals we’d like them to be.  On the other hand, their illegal and questionable immorality are a far cry from those of their adversaries. Homer and Dye in particular throughout this fine novel manipulate their greedy and power-hungry enemies in ways that eventually lead to their defeat and destruction.  But, they are the bad guys, right?  So we wink and feel, at least a little, that it’s okay.  Sorta.

The action moves briskly along, and this novel is excellent in all aspects.  Thomas’ genius lies not only in his exceedingly strong writing and compelling characters, but in his ability to carry these separate plots in Lucifer’s life forward with interest and clarity for the reader.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, December 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 Reviews: The Killing Song by P.J. Parrish, Buried By the Roan by Mark Stevens, Iron House by John Hart, The Woodcutter by Reginald Hill, and Robert B. Parker’s Killing the Blues by Michael Brandman

The Killing Song
P.J. Parrish
Gallery Books, August 2011
ISBN: 978-1-4516-5135-5
Trade Paperback

A diversion from the long-standing Louis Kincaid series for which this sister-writing-team is well known, this standalone features a hard-drinking investigative reporter headquartered in Miami, Matt Owen, who is confronted with his younger sister’s sudden disappearance and subsequent murder.  When he suddenly discovers her Ipod with a Stone’s song on it, he realizes he may have found something of a clue, and flies to Paris.

In the City of Light, aided by an old newspaper friend and a female French Inspector, he begins to track the murderer, first in Paris and then London and Scotland and back to Paris again, developing, step by step, a picture of the culprit and his past crimes, leading to an interesting chase.

It is quite a story, with well-developed characters, especially that of the villain, and an intensive investigation to find him.  Whether or not the reader can accept Matt as an alcoholic ne’er-do-well or a talented, tenacious reporter attempting to redeem himself, is a question that can only be answered by the reader.  But, then, we’ll always have Paris.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, December 2011.

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

Buried By the Roan
Mark Stevens
People’s Press, August 2011
ISBN: 978-0-9817810-9-9
Trade Paperback

The second Allison Coil Mystery begins with a hunting party Allison and her guides are heading in Colorado.  Among the participants is the owner of a ranch who supposedly is in the forefront in the community of “striking it rich” by collecting gas royalties as the controversy swirls about ruining the environment by fracturing underground sources of hydrocarbons.  Unfortunately he dies up on the mountain, apparently in an accident.  But was it?

From that point, the convoluted plot progresses and the reader has to work doubly hard to reach the end.  The writing is uneven, with spurts of excellent descriptive material, especially with regard to elk-hunting and the environment in which the activity takes place. But it is confusion that greets the reader on the topic, pro or con, concerning environmentalism.

The mystery surrounding this novel is why the first 100 pages were not cut before publication.  It is only when the reader plows through one-third of the book that a plot of a sort begins to emerge.  And then, it is just frequently confusing.  Apparently, the theme is supposed to be pro-environmental in nature, a controversy similar to the protests against the proposed pipeline from Canada south.  Or the natural gas fracturing taking place throughout the country.  But it is hard to tell.  That said, fans of western mysteries should be pleased.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, December 2011.

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

Iron House
John Hart
St. Martin’s Press/Thomas Dunne Books, August 2011
ISBN: 978-0-312-38034-2
Hardcover

Iron House was originally built in the Western North Carolina mountains as a psychiatric facility for Civil War veterans, later to be converted into an orphan asylum, one that was poorly supervised and maintained.  Into the home came Michael and Julian as babies.  Through the next decade Michael, the stronger brother, sought to protect his younger sibling who was continually victimized by five bullies.  Then Julian reached the breaking point, stabbing the leader of his tormenters.  Knowing his brother couldn’t hack it, Michael removed the knife from the dead boy’s neck and ran away, “accepting” blame for the murder.

Ironically on that same day, a young woman, wife of a very rich and powerful U.S. Senator, arrived at Iron House specifically to adopt Michael and Julian.  And so it came to be that the weaker brother grew up in luxury, developing into a gifted author of children’s books, while the stronger one arrived in New York, drifting to Harlem as the leader of a gang of boys, soon to be “adopted” by a notorious mob leader and developed into an enforcer and killer.  Then Michael falls in love and wants out of the mob life so he can lead a “normal” life.

That is the background from which the book develops.  The remainder is the chase of Michael and his woman by the mobsters who fear he would betray them, and his attempts to protect his brother and his lover from them.  At the same time, other complications develop to keep the reader’s interest at a peak.  While on the whole this is a gripping tale, one could view it as a potboiler, full of cliché-ish overtones. Nevertheless, it is a very well-plotted, interesting read and is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, December 2011.

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

The Woodcutter
Reginald Hill
Harper, August 2011
ISBN: 978-0-06-206074-7
Hardcover

The son of a woodcutter on an estate where a young girl has attracted his attention, Wilfred (“Wolf”) Hadda sets his sights on marrying her. She challenges him to refine himself and become rich.  He goes away for seven years and performs many mysterious functions, eventually returning with the necessary social graces and a small fortune.  So they get married, and Wolf leads a charmed life in the City, amassing more money and a title.  Then the fairy tale ends.

A police raid one early morning results in the discovery that Wolf’s computer contains porn.  He’s arrested and charged, and it goes downhill from there.  Of course, the current financial crisis forces the collapse of his empire, and the loss of his fortune.  Financial fraud is added to the original charges.  He spends the next seven years in prison, gaining parole only when he acknowledges his crime to a psychiatrist, convincing her of his repentance.

Then comes the twist.

The intricate plot is a study of double-crosses and the uncovering of the plot which sent him to jail, evolving into a quiet study of revenge and retribution.  The characters are well-drawn, and the writing tight.  A well-told tale, and one that is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, January 2012.

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

Robert B. Parker’s Killing the Blues
Michael Brandman
Putnam, September 2011
ISBN: 978-0-3991-5784-4
Hardcover

It is quite a challenge to be asked to pick up where a master like Robert B. Parker left off.  But that is exactly the dare the author faced when the publisher asked him to continue writing the popular Jesse Stone series.  Mr. Brandman was no stranger to Parker:  they were friends for many years and collaborated on several Spenser and Stone movies on television.   Still it was a formidable task.

So let us begin by noting that we will not compare this work with any of Parker’s oeuvre, simply because it would not be fair to either. Instead, let us judge the work on its own merits.  To begin with, it is constructed like a Jesse Stone novel, with many of the elements that have made them so popular, with good plotting and short dialogue and witty Stone comments.

It involves three separate story lines, both of which affect Jesse as a Chief of Police and as an individual.  They take place just as the summer tourist season is about to begin in Paradise, MA.  One involves carjackings, another something out of Jesse’s past, and the last a serious situation involving a young girl holding a school principal at gunpoint.  Each requires Jesse to solve it in his own inimitable fashion.

With that, the conclusion is that an assessment lets us accept the book, as it is presented, favorably.  It is possibly unfortunate that the publisher chose the title to ride the coattails of the late, esteemed Grand Master, somewhat like the producers of the current “Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess” renamed an opera that has stood the test of time for eight or more decades.  A book should stand on its own, and this one does.

Enough with comparisons already:  Just read it and you’ll recommend it, as I do.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, January 2012.

Book Reviews: The Killing Song by P.J. Parrish, Buried By the Roan by Mark Stevens, Iron House by John Hart, The Woodcutter by Reginald Hill, and Robert B. Parker's Killing the Blues by Michael Brandman

The Killing Song
P.J. Parrish
Gallery Books, August 2011
ISBN: 978-1-4516-5135-5
Trade Paperback

A diversion from the long-standing Louis Kincaid series for which this sister-writing-team is well known, this standalone features a hard-drinking investigative reporter headquartered in Miami, Matt Owen, who is confronted with his younger sister’s sudden disappearance and subsequent murder.  When he suddenly discovers her Ipod with a Stone’s song on it, he realizes he may have found something of a clue, and flies to Paris.

In the City of Light, aided by an old newspaper friend and a female French Inspector, he begins to track the murderer, first in Paris and then London and Scotland and back to Paris again, developing, step by step, a picture of the culprit and his past crimes, leading to an interesting chase.

It is quite a story, with well-developed characters, especially that of the villain, and an intensive investigation to find him.  Whether or not the reader can accept Matt as an alcoholic ne’er-do-well or a talented, tenacious reporter attempting to redeem himself, is a question that can only be answered by the reader.  But, then, we’ll always have Paris.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, December 2011.

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

Buried By the Roan
Mark Stevens
People’s Press, August 2011
ISBN: 978-0-9817810-9-9
Trade Paperback

The second Allison Coil Mystery begins with a hunting party Allison and her guides are heading in Colorado.  Among the participants is the owner of a ranch who supposedly is in the forefront in the community of “striking it rich” by collecting gas royalties as the controversy swirls about ruining the environment by fracturing underground sources of hydrocarbons.  Unfortunately he dies up on the mountain, apparently in an accident.  But was it?

From that point, the convoluted plot progresses and the reader has to work doubly hard to reach the end.  The writing is uneven, with spurts of excellent descriptive material, especially with regard to elk-hunting and the environment in which the activity takes place. But it is confusion that greets the reader on the topic, pro or con, concerning environmentalism.

The mystery surrounding this novel is why the first 100 pages were not cut before publication.  It is only when the reader plows through one-third of the book that a plot of a sort begins to emerge.  And then, it is just frequently confusing.  Apparently, the theme is supposed to be pro-environmental in nature, a controversy similar to the protests against the proposed pipeline from Canada south.  Or the natural gas fracturing taking place throughout the country.  But it is hard to tell.  That said, fans of western mysteries should be pleased.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, December 2011.

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

Iron House
John Hart
St. Martin’s Press/Thomas Dunne Books, August 2011
ISBN: 978-0-312-38034-2
Hardcover

Iron House was originally built in the Western North Carolina mountains as a psychiatric facility for Civil War veterans, later to be converted into an orphan asylum, one that was poorly supervised and maintained.  Into the home came Michael and Julian as babies.  Through the next decade Michael, the stronger brother, sought to protect his younger sibling who was continually victimized by five bullies.  Then Julian reached the breaking point, stabbing the leader of his tormenters.  Knowing his brother couldn’t hack it, Michael removed the knife from the dead boy’s neck and ran away, “accepting” blame for the murder.

Ironically on that same day, a young woman, wife of a very rich and powerful U.S. Senator, arrived at Iron House specifically to adopt Michael and Julian.  And so it came to be that the weaker brother grew up in luxury, developing into a gifted author of children’s books, while the stronger one arrived in New York, drifting to Harlem as the leader of a gang of boys, soon to be “adopted” by a notorious mob leader and developed into an enforcer and killer.  Then Michael falls in love and wants out of the mob life so he can lead a “normal” life.

That is the background from which the book develops.  The remainder is the chase of Michael and his woman by the mobsters who fear he would betray them, and his attempts to protect his brother and his lover from them.  At the same time, other complications develop to keep the reader’s interest at a peak.  While on the whole this is a gripping tale, one could view it as a potboiler, full of cliché-ish overtones. Nevertheless, it is a very well-plotted, interesting read and is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, December 2011.

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

The Woodcutter
Reginald Hill
Harper, August 2011
ISBN: 978-0-06-206074-7
Hardcover

The son of a woodcutter on an estate where a young girl has attracted his attention, Wilfred (“Wolf”) Hadda sets his sights on marrying her. She challenges him to refine himself and become rich.  He goes away for seven years and performs many mysterious functions, eventually returning with the necessary social graces and a small fortune.  So they get married, and Wolf leads a charmed life in the City, amassing more money and a title.  Then the fairy tale ends.

A police raid one early morning results in the discovery that Wolf’s computer contains porn.  He’s arrested and charged, and it goes downhill from there.  Of course, the current financial crisis forces the collapse of his empire, and the loss of his fortune.  Financial fraud is added to the original charges.  He spends the next seven years in prison, gaining parole only when he acknowledges his crime to a psychiatrist, convincing her of his repentance.

Then comes the twist.

The intricate plot is a study of double-crosses and the uncovering of the plot which sent him to jail, evolving into a quiet study of revenge and retribution.  The characters are well-drawn, and the writing tight.  A well-told tale, and one that is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, January 2012.

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

Robert B. Parker’s Killing the Blues
Michael Brandman
Putnam, September 2011
ISBN: 978-0-3991-5784-4
Hardcover

It is quite a challenge to be asked to pick up where a master like Robert B. Parker left off.  But that is exactly the dare the author faced when the publisher asked him to continue writing the popular Jesse Stone series.  Mr. Brandman was no stranger to Parker:  they were friends for many years and collaborated on several Spenser and Stone movies on television.   Still it was a formidable task.

So let us begin by noting that we will not compare this work with any of Parker’s oeuvre, simply because it would not be fair to either. Instead, let us judge the work on its own merits.  To begin with, it is constructed like a Jesse Stone novel, with many of the elements that have made them so popular, with good plotting and short dialogue and witty Stone comments.

It involves three separate story lines, both of which affect Jesse as a Chief of Police and as an individual.  They take place just as the summer tourist season is about to begin in Paradise, MA.  One involves carjackings, another something out of Jesse’s past, and the last a serious situation involving a young girl holding a school principal at gunpoint.  Each requires Jesse to solve it in his own inimitable fashion.

With that, the conclusion is that an assessment lets us accept the book, as it is presented, favorably.  It is possibly unfortunate that the publisher chose the title to ride the coattails of the late, esteemed Grand Master, somewhat like the producers of the current “Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess” renamed an opera that has stood the test of time for eight or more decades.  A book should stand on its own, and this one does.

Enough with comparisons already:  Just read it and you’ll recommend it, as I do.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, January 2012.

Book Review: Blood and Fire by Nick Brownlee

Blood and Fire
Nick Brownlee
Thos. Dunne Books, 2010
ISBN #978-0-3125-5024-0
Hardcover

In Blood and Fire, the sequel to Bait, the wonderful debut novel by Nick Brownlee, the author once more brings together the unlikely team of Jake Moore, six-foot tall, 36-year-old ex-Scotland Yard cop now a game boat skipper on Kenya’s East Coast, and Daniel Jouma, the 51-year-old Mombasa Detective Inspector Daniel Jouma of the Coast Province CID who has become his friend.   There are several things that engage their attention, and their concern.  To begin with, it seems that Spurling Developments, Kenya’s largest civil-engineering company is planning to build a five-star hotel on the grounds that now house the village that is Jake’s stomping ground, with bulldozers leveling everything, if not everyone, in its path.  Evie Simenon, a white Kenyan in her late twenties, heads a group of a couple of dozen eco-warriors, who tells Harry, Jake’s partner: “We can’t just sit back and let rich white developers turn Kenya into one big hotel complex.” But then things start to get much more complicated. When Jake becomes involved, Harry tells him:  “Spurling will win.  They always win. There is absolutely nothing you or Evie Simenon can do about it.  It’s the way the world works.”

**[Possible spoiler for those who haven’t yet read the first book in the series [a condition which should be corrected as soon as possible!:

In addition, the reader is horrified when, at page one, a hit man finds and dispatches his latest target, the woman with whom Jake became involved at the end of Bait.  It seems that the events which were described in that book have not been fully resolved.

**end spoiler]

Next, a former police sergeant is found dead, having plunged to his death from the walls of Fort Jesus, a building which was closed tight with its sturdy main gate bolted shut. Jouma is assigned to head up the ensuing investigation by his new boss, Superintendent Elizabeth Simba [who has replaced the man who was among those disgraced and punished in a sweeping corruption scandal that earned Jouma the appellation “The Man Who Cleaned Up Mombasa].”  And then a seventy-five-year-old nun disappears.

The book is a wonderful successor to the equally fine first book, and the even better news is that the third, Machete, is due out in the UK later this year and, hopefully, at some point in time in the US.

Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, January 2011.