Book Review: Kill Devil Falls by Brian Klingborg

Kill Devil Falls
Brian Klingborg
Midnight Ink, April 2017
ISBN: 978-0-7387-5201-3
Trade Paperback

Imagine, if you will, a country house mystery but instead of in a beautiful old house filled with interesting things the setting is a nearly deserted old mining town high in the Sierra Nevada Mountains and instead of mostly unaquainted invited guests the characters are a few “hanger-oner” town residents, a prisoner and a U.S. Marshal sent to transport the prisoner. That in a nutshell is what Kill Devil Falls is. Does it work? For the most part I’d say it does. But for fans of the country house mysteries, be aware, this is no cozy, the action is on stage and at times brutal. The language is just what you would expect from a band of low life scumbags-rough and filled with cursing.

The basic premise of the book is U.S. Marshal Helen Morrissey is sent to pick up a prisoner who is wanted for a string of robberies. Rita, the prisoner, is one tough sounding woman who is on the run from her partner in crime. She took the money and her partner is not the only one looking for the loot. Morrissey is unhappy because she is forced to travel up a winding mountain road to a place so small it is not even in her GPS system to pick up the prisoner she was supposed to fetch from the county seat. She gets to Kill Devil Falls to find the remainders of a rundown nearly deserted community that has been condemned, a hand full of ragtag residents who for some reason have stayed. The sheriff is not in town, his son the deputy cannot assist with the transport and darkness is quickly approaching. And then Helen’s car breaks down and her prisoner is murdered. She is stuck in this Godforsaken place with at least one murderer on the loose, a target on her back and people dropping like flies.

This book is a bit of a surprise for a few reasons. First, it is published by Midnight Ink whose offerings tend to run more to the softer side of the mystery genre.  The author does put an interesting and fresh spin on the “country house” theme. And, in spite of the fact that none of the characters are particularly likable, the overall book is. This is due in part to the vividly described setting.

This book appears to be the first in  a series. Helen could certainly support a series, but I think if that is to happen, the reader is going to need to have her fleshed out more. We really learn very little about Helen in Kill Devil Falls, but hopefully we will the next time out.

Reviewed by guest reviewer Caryn St. Clair, April 2017.

Book Reviews Galore by Ted Feit

The House at Sea’s End
Elly Griffiths
Quercus, January 2011
ISBN: 978-1-84916-367-5
Hardcover

[It should perhaps be noted that this review is based on the UK and Canada edition; the US edition is now available in the US from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt]

As the book opens Kate, the baby born to Ruth Galloway, the forensic expert, as a result of a one-night stand with Detective Inspector Harry Nelson in the prior entry in the series, is now four months old and the mother is still juggling her maternal and professional duties, sometimes to much criticism from friends.  But the baby seems to survive.

In any event, her motherly demands don’t seem to prevent Ruth from getting involved with more forensic investigations and police investigations.  Especially when six skeletons are discovered on a beach and her examination indicates that they are probably from Germany, perhaps dating back to an invasion during the early days of World War II on a lonely Norfolk beach.  Indications are that each was shot in the back of the head.  The question arises:  Did the various persons in the Home Guard play any role in their deaths?

As in the previous two novels featuring Ruth and D.I. Nelson, they combine to discover the facts surrounding the mystery of past and present.  The prose is lean and the plot moves apace with agility.  The characters remain immensely human and intriguing, and the novel lives up to the standards of the predecessor novels.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, April 2011.

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The Troubled Man
Henning Mankell
Translated by Laurie Thompson
Alfred A. Knopf, April 2011
ISBN: 978-0-307-59349-8
Hardcover

Nothing is as it seems, and all good things come to an end.  And so, the time has come to bid adieu to Kurt Wallander.  But not before he undertakes a deeply introspective journey at the behest of his daughter, Linda, who has just made him a grandfather (although she and the baby’s father have not yet decided to marry).  It appears that her putative father-in-law, a retired naval commander, has disappeared, and she and her significant other, the man’s son, ask Wallander to try to find out what happened.  Is he the victim of foul play?

Wallander has vacation time available and undertakes to investigate, but not before the missing man’s wife is found dead, perhaps murdered. Wallander muddles along, picking up all kinds of extraneous information, misleading clues, and, perhaps just as important, discerning more about himself as he more frequently suffers from lapses of memory.

The author is well-known for his ability to address significant political themes in his novels.  And this last Wallander novel is no exception, delving deeply into the Cold War, and Sweden’s “neutrality” policy.  I found the novel somewhat slow reading and difficult, and wonder if it is the writing or the translation.  Nevertheless, it is a touching look at “the great detective,” and is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, June 2011.

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Hanging Hill
Mo Hayder
Bantam Press, April 2011
ISBN: 978-0-593-06384-2
Hardcover, 428 pp., 12.99 BPS

[It should be noted that this book is presently available only in the UK/Canada and will be available in the US in February 2012 from Atlantic Monthly Press]

The author is known for writing thrillers, sometimes with horrific plots and graphic details.  This novel pales by comparison, with merely an offstage rape scene to occasion a police procedural of somewhat questionable means, and a side story about two sisters who have had virtually no contact for 20 years but are in a sense joined at the hip by the rape victim, and then that thread develops into an evolving family relationship.

The story is more about the various characters—the two sisters, their lovers, their own background and history—and how each is affected, rather than the crime and ensuing investigation which seems to be an afterthought to contribute to the main plotline.

Written with verve, the novel seems to drag along except for some more “exciting” portions.  Much of the descriptions of one sister’s divorce and subsequent life seem labored, and the ending was to this reader quite unsatisfactory.  In fact the title of the book might be a fit description for its conclusion:  It seems to just hang without any wrapping up.  That notwithstanding, the novel still bears reading, and is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, August 2011.

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Bad Boy
Peter Robinson
Harper Paperbacks, November 2011
ISBN: 978-0-0613-6296-5
Mass Market Paperback

Murphy’s Law seems to apply to the premise behind this novel.  After a well-earned vacation touring the U.S. Southwest and the wonders of LA and San Francisco, DI Banks finds, upon his return to Eastvale, that an old friend has died after police tasered him, Banks’ daughter is missing, and everything is in an uncontrolled mess.

It starts when a former neighbor of Banks discovers a gun which had been hidden by her daughter in her bedroom when visiting her parents.  The mother visits the police station hoping to discuss the situation with Banks who, unfortunately, is still away.  When the police raid the house, the woman’s husband dies of a heart attack after the aforementioned taser incident; Banks’ daughter, Tracy, infatuated with the man who owned the gun (the “bad boy” of the title) warns him of the police inquiries and hides him in her father’s cottage.  And from that point on, as Banks returns, everything goes downhill.

The chase begins with Tracy’s status changing from willing lover to hostage, and Banks and the rest of the police force struggling with the lack of clues as to where the fugitive and his captive are.  As usual, Banks doesn’t always play by the rules.  But then, neither does the bad boy.  Another well-written and off-beat story in the series, and highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, October 2011.

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Raylan
Elmore Leonard
William Morrow, February 2012
ISBN: 978-0-06-211946-9
Hardcover

Resurrecting Raylan Givens, the U.S. Marshall from Kentucky given to wearing a Stetson cowboy hat and shooting instead of apprehending, Elmore Leonard once again uses his unusual talent for writing droll dialogue and creating amusing and unusual characters to entertain the reader.  This time, he begins in Harlan County, where marijuana is king instead of coal (100 pounds of weed can fetch $300,000) which apparently doesn’t satisfy two nincompoop sons of the dope-grower who turn their attention to reaping and selling body parts.

Then the author goes on to tell us about another cast of characters, with the slyness only he can muster.  It’s a world only people created by Leonard inhabit, and they talk as only he can make them speak.  Read it and laugh.  Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, December 2011.