Book Review: The Night Fire

ConnellyHarry Bosch and Renee Ballard are back in Michael Connelly’s excellent and latest police procedural. The chapters switch back and forth between Bosch and Ballard. Harry is investigating a 20-year cold case. Retired detective John Jack Thompson “borrowed” a murder book that Thompson’s widow hands over to Bosch. Why did Thompson take the murder book? He didn’t seem to investigate the case. Bosch gets Ballard involved in helping find out more about the case which first appears to be a homicide about a drug deal gone bad. There is much more to it as we will find out.

While both are juggling the case, the duo get themselves involved in other cases. Bosch helps his half-brother Mickey Haller, find out who killed a judge. Haller’s positive his client is being set-up.  Ballad meanwhile finds herself being squeezed out by her superior in a case that killed a homeless man in a fire.

Connelly remains at the top of his game in this gritty novel that continues to set up Renee Ballard as Bosch’s successor as our hero ages out.

Book Review: The Burglar Who Smelled Smoke

Smoke

Lawrence Block’s Bernie Rhodenbarr is one of my favorite fictional characters. This short story, co-written with Lynn Wood Block who as Mr. Block explains came up with the original idea and did the research. He later sat down and wrote the story.

Bernie Rhodenbarr, used bookstore owner and master thief, meets with Karl Bellermann, an eccentric book collector. Karl’s books are the most important things in his life. Bernie’s there to offer Karl a rare special edition to add to his collection in return for a nice price. Upon his arrival Karl shows Bernie his private library containing his massive collection and tells him of the great lengths he has gone to protect his books from any sort of thief or man-made or natural disaster.

Bernie and Karl have lunch together. Afterward, before any transaction can proceed, it’s time for the eccentric collector to lock himself in his library to read for four hours, something he does like clockwork every day from 2PM to 6PM.

During this four hour interlude, Bernie gets a bit “familiar” with Karl’s beautiful wife. The time passes quickly. When Karl’s wife realizes it’s almost 6PM and her husband will be exiting his book room right on time like he always does, it’s panic time! She jumps out of bed, gets dressed and runs downstairs. The panic increases when the always punctual Karl does not come out of the library at exactly 6PM as he always does. Something’s wrong. Something’s very wrong.

Lawrence Block has written a fascinating short story, a locked room mystery both absorbing and with an ending carefully explained. The one problem is there are only a few characters making the ‘who done it’ part rather evident but that does not negate from enjoying this tale.

Book Review: Rides A Stranger

Rides

Don Kurtwood, a university professor, and his father were never close. The only thing they had in common was a love of books, though their tastes were far apart. Don favored the classics while his father was strictly a reader of pulp fiction: mysteries, thrillers and especially westerns and the works of Max Brand and Louis L’ Amour. He read them over and over/

Notified of his father’s death, Don returns home to attend the funeral, help his Mom grieve, and clean up the hundreds and hundreds of paperbacks collected over the years (Mom already disposed of many boxes filled with books, but there are more). During the Viewing, surrounded by family and friends, a stranger approaches Don. He wants Don to come to his bookstore later that evening, claiming to have important information about Don’s father. Don felt the man was a greedy collector interested in buying his father’s collection of pulp fiction and had nerve showing up before his Dad was even in the ground.

Late that evening, Don goes to the man’s used bookstore, only to find the owner dead. During the police investigation into the store owner’s death, Don discovers the owner was not interested in purchasing his father’s book collection, his interest was in only one particular book. A western novel (Rides A Stranger) written by his father.  This comes as a shock! His father never wrote a book and never spoke about writing a book. Don’s mother claims he did nothing but reading and watch TV during all their years of marriage. Did Dad have another life in the past that he never revealed?

Written by David Bell, Rides A Stranger, a short story, is not only a good mystery but an insightful look into asking how well do we know people, even our closest family members.

Recent Read: The James Deans

Deans

 

With Moe Prager, author Reed Farrel Coleman has created one of the great modern day P.I.’s. Like many private dicks, Prager is a former cop. His career ended due to a freak accident that occurred during the days the city was in lock down and hunting for Son of Sam. Unlike most fictional P.I.’s we meet Moe is not walking the mean streets twenty-four seven. But he is smart and tenacious.

There are so many things to like in this book: characters are well developed, the writing is sharp and direct and the landscape descriptively detailed. Coleman knows New York City. You feel it in his writing. The narrative is smart, fast moving with plenty of twists.

The James Deans is a gritty and relentless tale, and though it’s only May, I know this book will be on my top ten list.

Recent Read: Beyond the Truth

Beyond

Bruce Coffin is a new author for me, but after reading he’s latest Detective John  Byron novel, number three in the series, I look forward to reading more. Beyond the Truth is a detailed police  procedural. A fast  paced tale about a Portland, Maine police officer, a man with a long and stellar record, who finds himself involved in the shooting of a teenage robbery suspect. The kid, a local high school sports star, had a gun, but no gun is found at the scene. During the investigation, Byron has to deal the press, politicians, and his superiors all with their own agendas that could impede the truth. Meanwhile, Byron has his own personal demons to battle.  Beyond the Truth is a complex tale with nicely drawn characters, and a super ending that won’t disappoint.

 

 

 

Recent Read: A Florida State of Mind

Florida stateFlorida! The land of sunshine, beaches, Mickey Mouse, and Disney World; it’s the happiest place on earth, or so it likes to bill itself. Florida is also the land of hanging chads, gator wrestling, 17-foot pythons, uncontrolled urban sprawl, low paying jobs, a history of violent colonization, and real estate con men; land swindles were so common, Hollywood satirized it in the Marx Brothers film, Coconuts.  Florida is the land where the Outback Steak House is considered the best place to eat, and Fried Gator Tail is a delicacy.

Florida was weird from its early beginnings. Spain was the first to try and colonize Florida but found the unfriendly hot and humid weather as well as the hostile Native Americans overwhelming. The Spanish government gave way to the Government of the United States which after multiple wars and battles forced most of the Native American population to move west.

Florida does have its good side too; the winters are mild, if non-existent. Many beaches are pristine, that is if you don’t mind seasonal red tide, and you can thank Floridian born John Gorrie for air-conditioning. You can also thank Florida for Faye Dunaway, Tom Petty, Jim Morrison, Wesley Snipes, authors Carl Hiassen, Judy Blume, Lisa Unger, and many others.

While other states can try and claim the number one spot for strangeness (California?), Florida consistently ranks number one. The most recent stories about weird Florida alone since I read this book involves the Mayor of New Port Richey, and his immediate replacement both were arrested within a month of each other, and then there was the woman crossing  I-95 naked, dodging cars as she attempted to retrieve her dog,

Author James D. Wright explains the good and the bad in his new book A Florida State of Mind. As Wright points out, Florida likes to bill itself as the happiest state in the country. In truth, depending on the survey you look at it ranks between twelfth and twenty-fourth. Wright lays out an entertaining history of the weirdest state from its earliest days right up until the 21st century. The book is nicely laid out in chapters dealing with its history, growth, politics, tourism, and the environment. An entertaining read on a subject that is never boring.

Note: I received an ARC from St. Martin Publishing.

 

 

Recent Read: Pray for the Girl

Pary

Within the first few pages of reading Joseph Souza’s latest thriller, Pray for the Girl, I knew I was in for a page-turner that would not stop churning. Having finished the book, I am happy to report I was right.

The story is set in the small town of Fawn Grove, Maine. It’s here we meet Lucy Abbott who has returned after 15 years, most of the time working as a sous chef in New York City. Before that, Lucy was stationed in Afghanistan as a medic where she lost both her legs after an IED went off. Lucy’s life has not been easy since. Physical and psychological problems have plagued her. Returning to her hometown of Fawn Grove she is living with her wheelchair-bound (MS) sister, Wendy, her husband Russ and their teenage daughter Brynn. Lucy suffers flashback nightmares due to an honor killing she did not attempt to stop during her time in Afghanistan. Now upon her return, a teenage high school age Afghan girl is buried up to her neck and stoned to death. The local town Detective in charge of the investigation is anti-immigrant, and Lucy soon becomes obsessed with the case.  Soon after, a second kid, a non-Afghani, turns up dead near the same field the girl was killed. While the first killing seemed like a ritual within the immigrant community, the question now arises as to why was a local boy killed. The deeper Lucy investigates, the more questions come up as to who is responsible.

In Lucy Abbott, Joseph Souza has created a character like no other. Pray for the Girl is a twisty, disturbing suspense thriller taking on issues of PTSD, bigotry, nationalism, and the continuing struggle of small-town America when the one local industry supporting most residents is on its last legs. The comfort and facade of peaceful small-town life hides dark, cruel secrets that are about to be exposed.

Pray for the Girl will be published on April 30th.

Recent Read: Hollywood vs the Author

HollywoodYou don’t have to be an author or a movie lover to find this collection of interviews/essays fascinating. It’s well known that writers in Hollywoodland are considered cesspool waste or at best necessary evils. This book is a sobering look at the life of writers who dare to go Hollywood. Among the authors included are Lee Goldberg, Michael Connelly, Tess Gerritsen, Lawrence Block, Max Allan Collins, Alexandra Sokoloff, and T. Jefferson Parker.

After reading this interesting and entertaining collection my recommendation to any author who finds himself in the position where a Hollywood producer is offering you an advance on your book, it’s best to just take the money and run.  Let them do with it what they will. They will change it, adding characters, removing  characters, locations, motivations and everything else for reasons that may or may not make sense to you. Once you sign on the dotted line you have no control on what they do to your story and your characters. What they can’t change is your book. Your vision, your story remains the same between between the pages of the book. It will remain intact in bookstores everywhere. So unless your in the Stephen King stratosphere of authors either stay away or take the money and run.

Recent Read: Rough Country

FA04CBBB-5CE3-4539-9F39-B59FD8BE8966 Rough Country is John Sandford’S third novel in the Virgil Flowers series and my first book by the author. While on what began as a relaxing fishing trip in Northern Minnesota Virgil is contacted by his boss Lucas Davenport to check out a recent murder at a nearby resort exclusively for women, some of who are of the gay persuasion. The victim is Erica McDill, an executive from the Twin Cities. shot while kayaking. Virgil teams up with local police as the investigation leads to a series of suspects along with a few more murders.

Virgil is a complex character: a charmer, drinking beers with the locals and as the son of a preacher he at times quotes the bible. He loves the outdoors and has parlayed this interest into a sideline career as a writer for outdoor specialty magazines. As a lawman, he does not like guns, but will use them if necessary. He is cool dude with the ladies, though his love life is practically on hold here since most of the women are gay, and while they are not interested in a sexual romp with him they do remain charmed by this smooth talking but tough law man.

Rough Country is  solid read that will keep you entertained.

 

 

 

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Recent Read: A Time to Scatter Stones

Stones

It’s great to have Lawrence Block’s Matt Scudder back, even if it’s a short trip. The two charges leveled against the book by many Amazon and Goodreads reviewers are 1) the book is too short and 2) there is too much sex. In both cases, these are complaints not worth listening to. In the first case, the book is listed, blatantly advertised as a novella. Complaining that a novella is too short is redundant! As for item number two, the blind, the uninformed ant all those who miss the point will whine and complain, but for those who get it, will understand that Mr. Block has written a timely tale of what we read or hear about almost every day, the idea of sexual consent.

In this story, An aging Matt Scudder and his wife Elaine Martell get involved in helping  Ellen, a younger woman, Elaine met at her support group for women, all former call girls. Ellen is being stalked and harassed by a former client who does not understand or won’t accept the meaning of the word no. We only know him by the name of Paul. Paul manages to terrorize Ellen forcing her to consent to his demands without breaking the law keeping the police at bay and making Ellen a helpless victim. Paul is obviously getting off feeling the power he has controlling Ellen.

In helping Ellen, Scudder finds himself searching for a man he has no idea who he is nor what he looks like. In digging in, putting pieces of a puzzle together,  Matt skirts the legal process himself.

A Time to Scatter Stones is a satisfying return with an old friend facing a #metoo world. It’s a short visit, but I for one did not need a full blown three and fifty-page novel to satisfy my soul. Nice to have you back Matt.