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 Review: All Day and a Night by Alafair Burke

All Day and a NightAll Day and a Night
Alafair Burke
Harper, June 2014
ISBN: 978-0-0622-0838-5
Hardcover

Ellie Hatcher, a detective with the NYPD, and her partner, Jeffrey James (“J.J.”) Rogan, working homicide in the 13th Precinct, return in the fifth entry of this wonderful series by Alafair Burke.  The pair have conflicted reactions when Ellie’s boyfriend, ADA Max Donovan, assigns them, on behalf of the Conviction Integrity Unit, as a “fresh look” team to look into the 18-year-old murder conviction of Anthony Amaro, a man who had been put away as a serial killer and is serving a life sentence without chance of parole (in prison slang, “all day and a night,” “all day” simply being a life sentence).  The problem arises when a Park Slope psychotherapist is found murdered in a manner identical to that of the women Amaro had been accused of killing [those having apparently all been working prostitutes], and the police start receiving anonymous tips.  Things get more complex when there is a question about the possibly coerced confession made by Amaro to one of the murders, the fallout of that being a review of all ‘confessions’ elicited by that same cop, again reminiscent of something along similar lines in New York in recent years.

The rather obscure DA unit handles cases of “wrongful conviction,” of which there have been many successful ones over recent years.  The attorney who represents Amaro here is Linda Moreland, a celebrity trial lawyer with 8 exoneration wins under her belt, who in turn contacts Carrie Blank, a former law student of Moreland and now an attorney with a prestigious law firm who is the step-sister of one of the victims, killed many years ago in Utica, NY.  Carrie can’t refuse, hoping she can gain some insight into her step-sister’s murder.  The novel’s point-of-view alternates accordingly, with the parallel investigations.

The writing completely captures the toxic atmosphere currently plaguing the US and, especially, New York City, with regard to community vis-à-vis police relations, and the stop-and-frisk policy just recently changed by New York’s current mayor.  The case revolves around both venues, the upstate New York area where most of the murders occurred and where the most recent victim once worked, as well as the New York area, now home to Ellie [originally from Wichita, Kansas], Rogan, Max and the author as well.  The novel moves ingeniously and quickly to a terrific conclusion, with several unexpected twists and turns along the way.  The author gets everything right, with many ‘ripped from the headlines’ story lines, and the book is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, January 2015.