Book Reviews: Cut, Paste, Kill by Marshall Karp, Long Gone by Alafair Burke, Before the Poison by Peter Robinson, and A Darker Shade of Blue by John Harvey

Cut, Paste, Kill
Marshall Karp
Minotaur Books, August 2011
ISBN: 978-0-312-37824-0
Trade Paperback

A woman, the wife of the British consul in Los Angeles, is found stabbed to death in the ladies room of a posh hotel, a scrapbook recalling her transgression, killing a young boy leaving a school bus while DWI, nearby.  Lomax and Biggs, the comic LAPD homicide detectives, catch the call. Then they learn that the FBI has been investigating two other murders with identical MO’s for the previous two weeks.  Each victim was guilty of some offense but had escaped punishment for one reason or another.  And we have the makings of another serial murder mystery.

Additional murders take place, and the wisecracking detectives, teamed up with the FBI, are hard-pressed to solve the case.  Meanwhile, Lomax and his girlfriend are pre-occupied with caring for a precocious seven-year-old girl when her mother has to go to China to tend to her dying parent, and Biggs volunteers to write a screenplay based on a concept of Lomax’ dad (two ex-cops driving an 18-wheeler and solving crimes on the road, entitled “Semi-Justice”).

Not only is the humor twisted, but so is the plot, which keeps the reader twisting with every unanticipated turn in the story.  The one-liners come often enough to take the hard edge off a grisly subject and a detailed police procedural.  A welcome addition to the series, in which this is the fourth entry, and recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, July 2011.

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Long Gone
Alafair Burke
Harper, June 2011
ISBN: 978-0-061-99918-5
Hardcover

The author has written six previous novels, but this is her first standalone, so her familiar characters and themes do not apply. Nevertheless, she has demonstrated an ability to take an idea and run with it, in this case two separate themes with some common threads.

The main plot involves Alice Humphrey, daughter of a famous motion picture director and his Academy Award-winning wife.  Somewhat estranged from her father, and wishing to demonstrate her independence, she presently is unemployed when a “dream” job falls into her lap.  It turns out to be part of a plot against her and her dad, but that is as far as we should go in divulging the plot.  A subplot involves a missing teenager.  The commonality of the two themes involves the effects of the relationships between the mother of the missing girl and Alice and the law enforcement personnel with whom each is involved.  Enough said.

Ms. Burke has amply demonstrated in the past her knowledge of the law and the various people involved in enforcing it, and this novel shows her insights into how detectives go about their business.  Here empathy for the female characters is obvious, but the male characters seem to be stereotypes.  On the whole, however, the novel is an excellent read, and is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, October 2011.

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Before the Poison
Peter Robinson
Hodder & Stoughton, August 2011
ISBN: 978-1-444-70483-9
Hardcover
Also available in the US from William Morrow & Company, February 2012

Diverting his attention from the popular and successful Inspector Banks series, the author has written a murder mystery of a different genre.  Instead of a police procedural, he has undertaken to use a variety of literary devices to unravel the truth behind a death that took place sixty years ago.

It begins when Chris Lowndes, reeling from the death of his wife, decides to buy a home on the Yorkshire Dales.  He purchases Kilnsgate House, a large, bleak, isolated structure in which he hopes to recover from his depression, and, perhaps write a sonata instead of the incidental music for motion pictures which he did for many years on the West Coast of the US.  No sooner does he take possession than he becomes haunted by its past: Grace Fox, the former owner, was accused and convicted of poisoning her husband, a respected local physician.  And she was hanged for it.

Chris becomes so obsessed that he endeavors to “discover” the truth, initially convinced that she was innocent of the charge.  The author leads the reader (and Chris) from supposition to fact, alternating excerpts of Grace’s wartime diary (she was a nurse, first in Singapore, then escaping the Japanese, suffering a series of devastating experiences, finally serving in France before returning to her husband at Kilnsgate House) and various interviews with aged characters, including her younger lover now living in Paris and a man who as a seven-year-old lived with the Foxes for a time as an evacuee at the beginning of World War II.

The shifts in the plot, as Chris conducts his “investigation,” are truly ingenious, keeping the reader off balance to a fare-thee-well.  The characters are well-drawn, and the author undertook deep research to create Grace’s diary.  While the novel may seem at times somewhat dry and slow to read, it constantly draws the reader forward and is well worth reading, and it is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, December 2011.

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A Darker Shade of Blue
John Harvey
Pegasus, February 2012
ISBN: 978-1-60598-284-7
Hardcover

Of the 18 short stories in this collection, four feature Charlie Resnick, seven north London detective Jack Kiley, and one in which they both appear.  Each, of course, is a well-known protagonist featured in prior John Harvey novels.  And their characters come through even more strongly in a short story.

As Mr. Harvey writes in an introduction, the short story form gives an author greater latitude to experiment with an idea or character to learn whether or not use can be made later in the novel format.  The extremely well-written, well-constructed short stories are a prime example of that observation.

Not lost in the shuffle is Harvey‘s fascination with the world of jazz, nor his descriptions of London and outlying areas, especially the more depressing aspects of English life and the world of crime.

Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, February 2012.