Book Review: Fugitive Red

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Jack Harper is  stuck in an unhappy marriage. He and his wife Maria have been  in a downward spiral for years. Jack is an ex-alcoholic and former musician who is now a real estate broker. Maria has a corporate job and is the main bread winner in the family. They have an eight year old son, Jacob, who they both love, but he is their only connection these days. They barely talk and their sex life went down the tubes years ago.

When an old friend of Jack’s, a hot shot in the music industry, comes to town and brags about his extra-marital affairs meeting women through a dating website strictly for married people in unhappy relationships. Unhappy Jack reluctantly takes the plunge. On the website he “meets” Sophie  whose on line name is Fugitive Red. They have a few steamy conversations, she likes rough sex, and Jack’s soon convinced they made a real connection. The two agree to meet at her Manhattan town house  for a get together. When Jack arrives, he find Sophie dead…her head bashed in and a red tie around her neck.

He calls the police to report the crime and quickly becomes their number one suspect. Jack’s life quickly spirals out of control with not only the police on his tail, but after Maria discovers his involvement with the dead suspect she tosses him out on the street, changing locks on the door of their apartment, cutting off his credit cards and getting a restraining order. When two more bodies show up, one Sophie’s husband, Jack is in for a complete meltdown.

Jason Starr writes brilliantly flawed characters. He captures the grit and nuance of New York in this twisty suspense filled thriller. You will find Fugitive Red hard to put down.

 

Book Review: The Man Who Came Uptown

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Both crime fiction and book lovers will rejoice after reading George Pelecanos’ latest novel The Man Who Came Uptown. He not only gives us a character dictated crime story, but  pays tribute to book lovers and the joys of reading.

Incarcerated in a Washington D. C. prison,  Michael Hudson discovers a love of books thanks to Anna, the prison’s librarian. Michael’s love of reading opens up new worlds and possibilities that he never imagined. Anna encourages Michael and other prisoners at their weekly meeting to not only read but understand and discuss what the author is saying.

One week Michael does not show up. He’s been unexpectedly released from prison. Charges have all been dropped due to a shady P.I. named Phil Ornazian  who convinced the witness in Michael’s case not to remember a thing. Suddenly, Michael is no longer wearing an orange jumpsuit and is a free man. Phil lets Michael know that he owes him and some day payback will be requested. A free man, Michael is determined to go straight. He gets a job, buys himself a bookcase and books to read.

Ornazian is the kind of P.I. who walks the edge when it comes to good and bad, He wants to provide for his wife and kids and sometimes that means taking a walk on the wrong side of the law. He hates pimps who live off women and helps one hooker get out of the life by robbing the pimp and giving her enough of the money he stole for her to get out of town and start a new life some where far away.

When Ornazian needs a wheel man for one of his jobs, he calls in his favor with Michael Hudson; the dude knows how to handle cars. Michael doesn’t want to get involved, but Ornazian lets him know that the witness who forgot everything he saw could suddenly have an epiphany.

The Man Who Came Uptown is a tale about the love of books and about making choices. The kind of choices we all have to make in life. Sometimes we learn from them and sometimes we die.

 

 

 

 

 

Recent Read: Big Driver – Stephen King

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Stephen King’s novella, Big Driver, originally part of King’s Full Night, Dark Stars collection is a tale of not so sweet revenge in line with the film I Spit on Your Grave.  Tess Thorne, an author of cozy mysteries, is attacked, brutally raped repeatedly and left for dead, on an empty back road while she is on her way back home from a speaking and book signing engagement at a library. Afraid to tell anyone about her rape she seeks revenge on those responsible, two brothers and their mother (the mother it turns out is the library’s event planner and recommended the shortcut to Tess). With the help of her inner voice and a GPS named Tom, The author’s perpetrators get their bloody revenge.

The horror in this King tale is more grounded in reality, or as close to reality as King can get, along the lines of Dolores Claiborne and one of my favorite of King works, Misery (another story about a writer).

 

Recent Read: November Road

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The assassination of President John F. Kennedy was one of the most devastating events to hit this country. Anyone alive at the time remembers where they were and when they first heard the news. I was in a high school classroom when a school administrator walked in and informed the teacher what happened. The teacher then solemnly announced the tragedy to the class. I don’t think any of my fellow students knew how to react or realized the enormity of what happened. One kid, not the brightest bulb in the class, yelled out Nixon got him! Some classmates laughed until our teacher started shouting at us screaming how this was a tragedy and there could be global consequences no one could imagine.  Soon after, the school suspended all classes and sent everyone home.

Lee Harvey Oswald was apprehended hours later after killing police officer J.D. Tippet. That Sunday on live TV as Oswald, in police custody, was being transferred by the police. Out of the shadows a gun shot was fired and Oswald went down, The shot was fired by  sleazy nightclub owner Jack Ruby. They apprehended Ruby, and he was put on trial. He was found guilty, but while waiting on an appeal, he died from a pulmonary embolism due to lung cancer.

With  this as the background, author Lou Berney’s third novel, November Road lays the groundwork for a magnificent  read combining conspiracy theories, history, road trip and a tense thriller all rolled up into one superb crime novel.

Frank Guidry is a trusted member of New Orleans mob boss Carlos Marcello’s crew. He knows his way around the club scene and with women. One night, Frank has an awakening of sorts. Though he is a loyal and well thought of member of the family, he is also a loose end connecting Marcello to the assassination of JFK. Marcello, if nothing else is thorough. That makes Frank expendable. Realizing this, Frank decides its best if he leaves town and disappears. But where to go and who can he trust.

Then there is Charlotte Roy, a mother of two young girls, married to a hopeless drunk. Charlotte lives a dead-end life in a small dead-end town in Oklahoma. Charlotte’s mother’s lessons taught her to hold on to what you got and never look beyond. But Charlotte hungers for something more in life for her and her daughters. With her two daughters in hand, Charlotte packs up and takes off for a new life heading for California.

These two divergent souls will find each other on America’s open roads, both looking to escape their past and search for new starts in life. Berney has created three dimensional, fully developed characters and though the story plays out more than 60 years in the past, you can relate to them. Especially Charlotte, a woman who wants more out of life and does not want to settle for the nothing life of her past. Though Frank is on the run, he too, after meeting Charlotte, dreams of a new life, a good life away from the mob, but the question remains, is it too late, especially for him.

November Road is a must read and will rank up there as one of the best reads of the year.

Recent Read: Colorblind

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Colorblind is Reed Farrel Coleman’s fifth book since taking over Robert B. Parker’s Jesse Stone series. It’s his best. Coleman has taken Stone, and while preserving Parker’s essence, made him his own. It’s a winning combination.

After a few months in rehab, Jesse  gets a second chance as police chief in the small Massachusetts town of Paradise. He is still struggling, both emotionally and mentally, to recover from the death of his murdered love, Diana.

When Jesse first became police chief of Paradise, years ago, it was a small town with not much happening. A far cry from his days with the L.A. Police. But like so much of America, Paradise has grown and changed. Barely able to settle back in to his job, there‘s a rape and death of  a young African-American, Felicity Wileford, who was jogging alone on the beach.  A few nights later, a burning cross is planted on the property of Dr. Ron Patel and his wife. The home was previously owned by Jesse. What the incidents have in common is Felicity was in a relationship with a white man and Dr. Patel, an Indian, has a wife who is white. Not long after these incidents, flyers are found on many parked cars placed there during the night. They are credited to an extremist right-wing group called  “The Saviors of Society.” A few nights later, the group targets Jesse’s deputy, Alisha, the first black woman ever hired as a police officer in Paradise, framing her for a bad shooting.

In this book, Coleman brings to the forefront a series of timely issues turning this story into a much darker version than earlier books in the series. Like the rest of America, Paradise is dealing with issues that have divided us. Don’t let that discourage you, just think about it the same way as if you’re watching a movie franchise and different artists have taken over from the originals. It’s different, but the same.

Recent Read: Fear: Trump in the White House

FFBE3047-F521-43C5-8658-F29B7D1C1668Whether or not Donald Trump supporters like it, Bob Woodward is a well-respected investigative reporter, the author of 18 books, and has won two Pulitzer Prizes. His deals in fact and they have never been in dispute. Subsequently, his new book cannot be easily ignored. Fear: Trump in the White House tells the story of a president, who starts many of his days at 11AM, feasts on hot dogs and diet coke and more importantly lacks even a teenager’s view of world events.

 Woodward does not take sides, he is an even handed observer, listening and reporting. He expresses no personal opinion on Trump or others.  He just flat out reports. These days when there is so many one sided attacks by the news media Woodward’s style is refreshing.

For Trump everything boils down to money. He  questions over and over why are we spending billions of dollars on military resources in South Korea and we get nothing in return. When his team attempts to explain the military, and financial, advantages, he still doesn’t get it. Finally, Defense Secretary James Mattis blurts out we are preventing World War III!

What makes Fear most enticing and believable is it is based not just on the recollections of a variety of eyewitnesses but is supported by transcripts of conversations and exact dates

Less reliable books like Fire and Fury by Michael Wolff who relied mostly on Steve Bannon as his main source, and Unhinged by former White House aide and fired Apprentice star Omarosa Manigault Newman, both of whom had axes to grind  and present views that are most likely slanted. Woodward’s book is straightforward and provides a complex and frightening take at the inside workings of the Trump White House.

Fear: Trump in the White House is a riveting, page turning look at an ill-equipped, unpredictable, childish, cruel, compulsive liar with a short attention span who has no respect for anyone including his generals, staff and himself.

Recent Read: Baltimore Blues

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Baltimore Blues is the  first in author Laura Lippmann’s Tess Monaghan series. Tess is an out of work journalist after her newspaper shut its doors. Unemployed and skimping by on money, she accepts an offer from her good rowing buddy Rock to tail his fiancé Ava, a lawyer, who has been acting strangely. It turns dark when Rock is accused of murdering shady legal beagle Michael Aromowitz, who  Tess recently uncovered as Ava’s lover. They have been spending some special lunch time at a local hotel. Tess now finds herself trying to prove Rock’s innocent without getting herself caught in the crosshairs and getting killed herself.

Tess Monaghan is a great character  and Lippman surrounds her with a great cast of characters who are quirky and funny. From the get go you know that the city of Baltimore is as much a character in the book as the  people. Lippmann knows the city and you can feel its feel and taste throughout the book.

Baltimore Blues is a fine introduction to the series.

 

 

Recent Read: The Most Dangerous Thing

Laura1Considering that Laura Lippman’s most recent book (Sunburn) I will be ranking as  one of the best novels I read this year; it’s a modern day masterful noir, it made this most recent read by the author even more of a disappointment. The Most Dangerous Thing revolves around five childhood friends who have a dark secret. Like most friends from  school age days, they have gone on to adulthood and separate lives. With the recent death of one of the five, the remaining friends reluctantly find themselves reuniting. Long ago buried, dark secrets  resurface, unknown facts are exposed in a slow and lethargic fashion that make this book a perfect antidote for someone with insomnia. There are too many characters and too much character development that continuously slows the pace. Tess Monaghan, Lippman’s on going character makes a cameo appearance, but it does not help. I have read five of Lippman’s books, including Sunburn; all were terrific reads. I look forward to reading more of her work. The author is a fine writer, but this was a misfire.

Recent Read: The Chill in the Night

ChillThe young and beautiful lawyer Lainie Goff is on the fast track at her law firm until one night she disappears and  is soon discovered naked, frozen and dead in the trunk of her car at  Portland’s Fish Pier on a cold night in January. A witness, Abby Quinn, a young woman with a history of schizophrenia soon appears but just as quickly ends up missing.  Will she be found before the killer finds her? Did she really see the murder or was it a hallucination? Abby’s history of mental problems, she is known for hearing voices and seeing strange things, makes her an unreliable witness. Would a jury believe her testimony? Former NYC cop, now a Portland detective, Michael Savage is extremely determined, dedicated, and fighting his inner demons, along with his partner Maggie Savage are up against a slick and nasty killer. There are multiple suspects, all with good motives. First off there is Goff’s married boss/lover at the law firm. Did she threaten to out their affair to his wife after she was denied a partnership in the firm? There is  the ex-priest who now runs Sanctuary House, a home for abused kids, where Goff was a board member and volunteer. The organization is the sole beneficiary of Lainie’s will. Then there is the superintendent/handyman where Goff lived, a creepy dude with strange sex fixations including getting caught by McCabe sniffing Goff’s underwear.

The Chill of the Night is author James Hayman’s second novel in the McCabe and Savage series. It is my first book by the author. McCabe is nicely drawn.  We learn he has an artist girlfriend, an ex-wife, and a daughter he cares deeply about. His partner Maggie Savage comes across as more of a secondary character. I would like to learn more about her. Maybe, she will be more prominent and developed in later books in the series.

Set in Portland, Maine, The Chill of the Night is a suspenseful mystery/thriller and a entertaining read.

 

 

Recent Read: Mystery Inc.

OatesWhen I lived in New York City, there was a bookstore called the Gotham Book Mart.  The store had a long and famous history and was a favorite for many authors and other celebrities. Allen Ginsberg and LeRoi Jones worked there as clerks. Arthur Miller and Woody Allen were frequent visitors. Patti Smith’s book of poetry Witt was published by the Gotham Book Mart. That was in 1973 about the time I was making my own sojourns to the 47th Street location. At the time, I had no idea of the bookstore’s background and history, but the Gotham Book Mart was a book lovers’ ideal dream of what the perfect bookstore should be.

The Gotham kept coming to mind as I read Joyce Carol Oates eloquently written  short story, Mystery Inc. Bookstores like the Gotham Book Mart and the one described in Oates devious tale are a dying breed. Located in Seabrook, New Hampshire, Mystery Inc. is a charming, cozy, four leveled store with one level dedicated to rare signed first editions by Agatha Christie, S.S. Van Dine, John Dickson Carr and unsigned first editions of A Study in Scarlet and The Hound of the Baskervilles.  There is much more, enough to make our narrator, Charles Brockden, salivate. The name is an alias and with good reason. You might say Mr. Brockden collects bookstores like others collect books. His method of acquisition is a deadly one for the owners. Brockden does not like to kill, but his desire to own the bookstores is more potent than his will see them in other less deserving hands. Unbeknownst to our narrator, he has never come  up against someone who likes to murder just for the sake of killing.

The owner, Aaron Neuhaus, is outgoing and enthusiastic and happy to engage with someone who loves books as much as he does. He invites our narrator to talk in his private office over a cup of cappuccino. Brockden likes the man and feels terrible that he  has to murder him. Still, he sees himself as the owner of the cozy store and even imagines himself marrying Neuhaus’ widow.

”Mystery Inc. was initially published as part of Otto Penzler’s Mysterious Bookshop’s  Bibliomystery series which has been ongoing for some years now with something like more than thirty titles in the series. It has since been published as part of a collection of short fiction by the author (The Doll-Maker and other Tales of Terror) and as a stand-alone.

Oates is a fabulous writer, and while you may be able to guess how it will turn out, this foreshadowing just makes it more chilling.