Friday, November 29, 2019

Backtrack by Paul Doiron

First Sentence: There were four doctors staying at the hunting camp.

Game Warden, Charley Stevens, is called to the winter hunting camp where four doctors are staying.  However, one of them is missing. It's up to Charlie to find the missing man.
The first thing to know is that, in spite of what it says on Amazon, this story does not feature Game Warden Mike Bowditch, but focuses on Charlie Stevens, who had been Mike's mentor.  The story is also told, very effectively, in retrospect. 

A well-done short story truly is a work of art.  Such is the case here.  With a nicely done twist, Doiron takes the reader from suspense to something unexpected and poses an excellent question while dealing with the subject of regret.

The thing with a short story is that one can't say too much for fear of including a spoiler.  What one can say is how much this story may make one think and question what one would do in the same situation.  It may also make one want to read much more of Doiron's work. His series character, Mike Bowditch, is also a game warden in Maine.  The good news is that the series has an impressive backlist
"Backtrack" is a perfect title for this excellent e-short.  It really does take great skill to write a story which is this compact and this impactful and is a perfect introduction to Doiron's writing.

BACKTRACK (ShortStory-Charley Stevens-Maine-Contemp) - Ex
      Doiron, Paul – e-Short Story
      Minotaur Books – Jun 2019

Friday, November 22, 2019

Land of the Wolves by Craig Johnson

First Sentence:  Acknowledgements:  Once, as a young man running fence for a rancher up near Dillon, Montana, I found myself stretching barbed wire over a rocky ridge, having ground-tied my horse below because his shod hooves weren't too fond of the outcropping.

An unusually large wolf is spotted by Walt.  Is it the one suspected of killing sheep from a local herd? When Walt goes to find the herdsman, he finds the man's body and a question as to whether he committed suicide or was murdered. Ranchers want the wolf found and killed.  A woman wants it saved as its DNA is unique.  Henry Standing Bear believes it may be a messenger.  Walt wants to solve the mystery of the herder, especially when another crime is committed.

For those of us who read everything from the cover page on, the "Acknowledgements" should not be missed. There one will find what is essentially a true, short story as a lead to the actual story.

Johnson transports readers into the environment of the story with rich, evocative passages and lush writing.  Lest you fear he gets too flowery, it is balanced by his dialogue which is audible, natural, and tinged with the humor one has come to expect from this author and these characters. "'Why is everyone treating me like a Fabergé egg?' 'After Mexico, all parties have decided that you need a little more adult supervision.'  ... 'Sancho follows me to the bathroom' … 'He's taking his orders very seriously.'" " Finally, there are always things one learns such as about 'predator zones.'

The element of mysticism, often a part of this series, adds a special touch to the story.   Linking the wolf to Virgil White Buffalo, from prior books, and Henry Standing Bear telling about the spiritual relationship between a human and animals is worth considering in these times of environmental destruction.

What is very interesting is that this is a Walt who is older, slower, still recovering from the injuries of his last case.  It is also a slightly more vulnerable Walt, questioning his relationship with his daughter.  Although it is hard to imagine in this time, there has always been a running joke about Walt not having a computer.  That he finally receives one, due to the wonderful character of Ruby, Walt's secretary, provides several delightful exchanges.

Johnson includes fascinating information on a considerable number of topics.  While these are interesting and do relate to the plot, after about the third occasion, it does begin to feel as though it is filler.

"Land of Wolves" takes us back to Johnson's earlier books, which is a very good thing, with his trademark humor, dialogue, interesting characters, and excellent plot twists.

LAND OF WOLVES (PolProd-Walt Longmire-Wyoming-Contemp) – G+
Johnson, Craig – 15th in series
Viking – Sept 2019

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Bomber's Moon by Archer Mayor

First Sentence:  It was cold, dark, and slightly breezy, causing a few dry snowflakes to scurry the length of Sally Kravitz's windshield.

PI Sally Kravitz works within the law, as opposed to her father, a thief known as "Tag Man." Rachel Reiling is a reporter working at the Brattleboro Reformer, hoping for her first big story.  Now, thanks to Joe Gunther, head of the Vermont Bureau of Investigation, the women are working together to connect two murders to a prestigious prep school.

While this is a new entry in the Vermont Bureau of Investigation/Joe Gunther series, Mayor provides a good sense of each of his characters beginning with a nicely done introduction of Joe, but also a strong sense of place as well.  It's refreshing to have two female characters take a significant role.  Also enjoyable is that they are not members of the police, and that they are quite different from one another, yet find a way to work well together. 

One may find oneself smiling at how well the plotting is done. Interesting 3D crime scene technology brings the story into today's technology.  There are times where the scene would change which made one mentally hear the classic two-note scene indicator on the old police show "Dragnet." The changes also made the story feel a bit disjointed.  

There are lighter moments—"Idle chat in Vermont was always punctuated by discussions of mud season, mosquito plagues, heat waves, dry spells, snowstorms, black ice, and countless other attributes of a muscular, quirky seasonal parade of weather-related iconography."  Mayor does treat one to a lovely use of language—"Biased as he was against other people's learning curves, obdurateness, or rank stupidity, he distrusted his own predisposition to dismiss people prematurely." 

The book is a delightfully intricate Venn diagram of circles neatly intersecting circles.  It's not manipulative, but one becomes more intrigued as the pattern emerges.  The characters are interesting especially as not everyone is as they seem, and a new friendship evolves which one hopes to see continue. 

"Bomber's Moon" is a very good book, brilliantly plotted. Even the ending was a perfect reflection of the characters.

BOMBER'S MOON (PolProc-Joe Gunther-Vermont-Contemp) – VG
      Mayor, Archer – 30th in series
      Minotaur Books – Sept 2019

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Death in Focus by Anne Perry

First Sentence:  Elena narrowed her eyes against the dazzling sunlight reflected off the sea.

On a vacation in Italy with her sister Margot, Elena Stanford meets Walter Mann and Ian Newton.  An immediate attraction causes Elena to go with Ian to Berlin after a message compels him there.   A shocking event and a request from Ian sends Elena on to Berlin, and into a danger from which she may not escape.

Perry masterfully sets the stage, lulling one into a sense of elegance, music and possible romance.  How effectively she dispels one of that notion.  She describes the emotional environment of the time, --"Fifteen years after the war, everyone still had their griefs:  loss of someone, something, a hope or an innocence, if not more.  And fear of the future."--conveying the almost frenetic gaiety and desperation for emotional connection so well.  Perry is such an evocative writer, and her characters are dimensional and interesting, but it's her perspective which causes one to pause, consider and want to share what one has read with others.  She also understands pacing; taking one seamlessly from tranquility into the threat of danger.

The story is told from several POVs.   One may smile at the timelessness dismissiveness with which the younger generation considers the older one, and of Elena's brother's view of her talent and ambition.  Elena's resourcefulness, strength, and determination; a hallmark of Perry's female characters, is impressive even though one may question the suddenness of Elena's decisions.

There is great lyricism to Perry's writing, particularly in her descriptions of nature, yet there is also a touch of pathos.  In 1933, one is witnessing the rise of Hitler, Mussolini's move toward fascism.  It is somewhat painful to realize how much of the 1930s are reflected in that which is happening today. The book does have a strong historical and political message.  While some may object and possibly be offended, others may decide to learn from it –"Hitler is either assuming more power for himself or appointing bloody awful men to do it for him."

It is Perry's description of those who have been in a war and suffer from what we now know as PTSD, and her portrait of the time's events—"The violence is increasing, and the oppression.  They're building camps to put prisoners in, not people who've committed crimes, but people who are born guilty of being …" that truly brings to bear the reminder that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

When Perry switches gears, it is sudden, surprising, and very effective. She triggers our suspicions and then makes us question them.

The plot isn't perfect. There are points of repetitiveness, a lack of focus, and what feels to be plot holes. The female characters are occasionally too trusting, but that's part of the plot. On the other hand, there is excellent suspense and a very effective sense of danger. One has a real sense of the fear people experienced during this time. Elena's determination to photograph the events she witnesses, and then to keep the film safe, were a strong element one hope to see continued. One must give Perry credit for making this time in Berlin painfully real and for teaching us details of history we've not known.

"Death in Focus" is a somewhat painful, but highly relevant read.  It does contain a well-done red herring, and a wicked twist leading to a very good ending.

DEATH IN FOCUS (HistSusp-Elana Stanford-Europe-1933) – G+
      Perry, Anne – 1st in series
      Ballantine Books – Sept 2019