Tuesday, November 28, 2017

The Devouring by James R. Benn

First Sentence:  Light is faster than sound.
Captain Billy Boyle and Lt. Piotr “Kaz” Kazimierz are headed to Switzerland but crash-land in France, meeting up with Anton Lasho, a Sinti (Gypsy) determined to kill every German he meets.  The three do make it across the border and connect with members of the OSS.  Their task? Investigate Swiss banks that are laundering looted Nazi gold.
From the very start, there is high drama and fast action, and it’s great.  One feels the anxiety of the characters as we are immediately introduced to Billy, “Kaz” and Anton Lasko, who is new to us but who proves to be such a good character, one wouldn’t mind seeing him in the future.  Billy and Kaz are truly wonderful characters.  One can very much appreciate the way in which Benn sprinkles information on their backgrounds throughout the story.  It is through the trio that Benn creates such painful, yet honest scenes that they touch one’s emotions.  That’s the mark of a truly fine writer.
Benn has an excellent voice.  He includes the vernacular of the 1940’s—“You’re all packing, I assume” … “Can you get us shoulder holsters?” I asked. “It’s clumsy carrying these six-shooters around in a coat pocket.”—without overdoing it.  He includes just the right touch of wry humor—“All we had to do was avoid imprisonment and long-range rifle fire.  All in a day’s work.”
This may be Benn’s most complex book so far.  It is filled with historical information. One may find it makes them quite angry.  Not toward the author, but because of the information which one may not have previously known, yet is important to learn.  And that’s what makes this a particularly good book.

The Devouring” is a really well-done tale of duplicity, stolen gold, and a country that wasn't quite as neutral as we thought.  

THE DEVOURING (Hist Mys-Lt. Billy Boyle-France/Switzerland- WWII) – VG
      Benn, James R. – 12th in series
      Soho Crime – Sept 2017

Monday, November 20, 2017

The Seagull by Ann Cleeves

First Sentence:  The woman could see the full sweep of the bay despite the dark and the absence of street lights where she stood.
An old enemy of Insp. Vera Stanhope, John Bruce asks that she visit him in prison where she helped put him.  He wants to cut a deal; information on the whereabouts of the body of Robbie Marshall, a long-missing hustler in exchange to Vera looking out for his daughter and grandchildren.  There is a very personal element to this case for Vera as Bruce, Marshall, and a man known only as “the Prof,” were close friends of her father, Hector Stanhope, bringing back memories Vera would prefer remain buried.
Cleeves creates such a strong sense of emotion—“Sometimes it felt as if her whole live had been spent in the half-light; in her dreams, she was moonlit, neon-lit, or she floated through the first gleam of dawn,”—and place—“The funfair at Spanish City was closed for the day, and quiet.  She could see the silhouettes of the rides, marked by string of coloured bulbs, gaudy in full sunlight, entrancing now.”
Those who follow the BBC television series “Vera” and may be disappointed by the departure of some characters, it’s nice to see that Holly and Joe are still here in the books.  The description of Vera’s team is done in terms of their relationships to Vera.  What is lovely is her understanding of what drives them, each member’s strength and what motivates them.  Vera and Joe’s visit to the mother of a missing man is a sad reminder of the pain through which families go without the closure of knowing what happened.
There is honest police work here.  The investigation is conducted by legwork as well as technology; getting out and talking with people.  The case is worked step-by-step, without flash.
Vera’s self-awareness is admirable—“then she thought she was making a drama of the situation.  She always did.” Yet, to her—“…the law matters.  All those little people you despise so much have to abide by it, and so do you.  So do I.”
The Seagull” is such a good book.  Beyond the excellent plot, what one really cares about is Vera and her team.

THE SEAGULL (Pol Proc-Inspector Vera Stanhope-England-Contemp) – Ex
      Cleeves, Ann – 8th in series
      Minotaur Books – Sept 2017

Monday, November 13, 2017

Desert Remains by Steven Cooper

First Sentence:  Her name is Elizabeth Spears.
The caves in the mountains around Phoenix are known for their petroglyphs, but these are different.  A kill has been carving pictures of his actual murders in each of the caves where the body of a woman is found.  Because the city powers want the case solved immediately, even though there are no clues, Detective Alex Mills calls on the talents of Gus Parker, a psychic he has worked with in the past.  Yet even the images Gus sees don’t seem to relate to these murders.  Or do they?
What an interesting beginning with the gruesomeness of the murder scene, and the bluntness of those at the crime scene contrasted against the beauty of a desert sunset. In the midst of that is an introduction to Det. Alex Mills, which may actually make one smile.  We then meet Gus Parker, a somewhat reluctant medical image technician, and his friend and fellow psychic Beatrice Vossenheimer as the two seek to unmask a fake psychic.  The information involved in their so doing is quite interesting and makes perfect sense.  Cooper establishes credibility for Gus by establishing that he has worked with other law enforcement agencies in the past.  While it is true that they are known to use psychics on occasion, it would have been interesting to learn about the research Cooper undertook about psychics and their role in this milieu.  Unfortunately, that information isn’t provided, even in the author notes.
It is nice to have a protagonist who is married, loves his wife and is faithful, but it is also realistic in that Mills’ home life isn’t idealized.  The situation introduces another plot thread which may seem awkward, and not really necessary.  It is also nice that Mills is a by-the-book cop who not only doesn’t work around the law but doesn’t even bend it.  Gus, too, has issues in his personal life that need addressing.  These aren’t characters who have been prettied up for public consumption.   These are characters who are realistic, including a Sheriff Joe Arpaio-like character. 
Cooper throws in some excellent plot twists.  What’s even more impressive is that he truly takes us along with Gus, with the help of Beatrice, on his search for the suspect.  It’s not a pound-the-pavement search, but one utilizing his research and impressions.  We become as invested as does Gus in truly trying to work things out. 
Once the climax is reached, one realized breadcrumbs had been laid throughout the plot, had we really been paying attention.  Happily, the story is interesting enough that most of us won’t have been.  There are some weaknesses to the writing that may niggle at the back of one’s consciousness, but they are rather like floaters in one’s eye; they’re a bit distracting but don’t destroy the overall enjoyment of the story.
Desert Remains” is Coopers’ first mystery and a very enjoyable read. It will be interesting to watch the series develop.

DESERT REMAINS (Pol Proc-Gus Parker/Alex Mills-Phoenix-Contemp) – G+
      Cooper, Steven – 1st in series
      Seventh Street Books – Oct 2017) 

Saturday, November 4, 2017

The Deep Dark Descending by Allen Eskens

First Sentence:  I raise the ax handle for the third time and my arm disobeys me.
Detective Max Rupert had believed his wife’s death was an accident.  Learning she was murdered sets him on a course of vengeance.  The question is:  How far will he go?
What a powerful and effective opening.  Eskins use of language and imagery is poetic—“After Jenni’s death, those occasions, even the lesser ones, remained my connection to her.  I found her thread woven through almost every part of my existence, a tapestry once vibrant and alive now in danger of fading away.”
The plot jumps back and forth between close-set time periods so one must pay attention.  There is a temptation to take the book apart and reassemble it in a straight timeline.  It’s hard to say whether anything would be lost by so doing.  Either way, one admires Eskens’ ability to pack a serious story with a strong emotional punch in less than 250 pages, following the style of many early masters of crime fiction. 
Even so, one may not find it as satisfying as Eskins’ other books, but it does raise an important question as to whether personal revenge can be justified.  It’s hard not to be reminded of Mark 8:36: “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” In this instance, what does Max gain?  One interesting item was the mention of when Michael Dukakis ran for president and was asked about the death penalty, and of Max’s late-wife Jenni’s position on the issue.
The Deep DarkDescending" is a powerful and emotional book, albeit not necessarily a comfortable one to read.  And that’s not a bad thing. Eskens is a writer one will want to follow.

THE DEEP DARK DESCENDING (Pol Proc-Det. Max Rupert-Minnesota-Contemp) – VG    
      Eskens, Allen - Standalone
      Seventh Street Books – Oct 2017