Thursday, December 26, 2019

Sidewalk Saint by Phillip DePoy

First Sentence:  It doesn't take long to wake up when there's a gun in your face.

Nelson Roan demands that Child Protective Services agent Foggy Moscowitz find his 11-year-old daughter Etta.  He's not the only one looking for her.  It seems Etta has perfect memory and knows something she shouldn't.  How do you convince a bunch of bad guys that not even Etta doesn't know what that is?  It's up to Foggy to find her, and keep her safe until he can figure out how to neutralize the danger to Etta permanently.

Talk about an effective hook.  This is not a book where you read a paragraph for a quick try, planning to sit down with it later.  This is a book where you read the first sentence and keep reading.  The case is intriguing.  One wants to know where it's going, and the plot twists start very early on.

DePoy not only captures your attention, but his unique descriptions bring the characters to life--"His skin was grey, and his eyes were the saddest song you ever heard, times ten."  His use of language is wonderful--"The camp seemed to have a life of its own.  It wasn't just the leftover smells, cook fires, swamp herbs and tobacco. It was like an eerie echo was still reverberating around the concrete walls. Like old conversations were still hanging in the air.  Like ghosts were wandering free." 

As for Foggy, DePoy informs readers of who he is, his background, and how he got where he is and eventually, the meaning if the book's title.  Foggy's philosophy may make one think--"I was always a big believer in is. Not should be, or ought to. Is.  That's very powerful, because it is the only reality.  Whatever it is you were doing, that was the only thing that truly existed. Everything else was a fantasy." Foggy also makes an insightful self-observation--"To me that was the weird thing about having a reputation as a good guy.  Too many people expected me to be good.  Which I wasn't especially.  I was just a guy trying to make up for what he'd done wrong." A nice explanation of the title helps one to understand Foggy better.  

 DePoy's characters, on both sides of the law, are far from ordinary, which is a large part of the appeal.  They are quirky, interesting, capable and surprising.  His children are refreshingly smart, capable, and astute--"You know you're too smart for your own good, right?' I suggested.  'Oh, yes,' she said.  That's my main problem."  He really does write some of the best dialogue. 

There is a nice element of mysticism.  It doesn't overwhelm the plot, but instead, it adds another interesting layer too it.  In a way, it balances the bad stuff.  The turns this story takes are more dizzying than a state fair teacup ride.  Not just any author can come up with a plot point to destroy a mobster and his business via a phone call

"Sidewalk Saint" is a fun, twisty book filled with quirky, unique characters.  There's violence, but minimal on-page death, but the story also gives one plenty of ideas to consider.

      CPS officer-Foggy Moscowitz-Florida-Contemp
      DePoy, Phillip – 4th in series
      Severn House – Dec 2019

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Nothing More Dangerous by Allen Eskens

First Sentence:  I was fifteen the day I learned that Ms. Lida Poe had gone missing.

Set in the 1970s, Eskens gifts his readers with a story that deals with a mystery, bigotry, and a young man growing up in an environment that makes him decide who and what he believes and for what he stands

It is so nice to read a book whose story starts on the first page and continues straight on through; no prologue and a single Point of View.  Beginning with relating a memory, Eskins' voice as a true storyteller is apparent—"I knew that President Ford has his hands full trying to beat out an actor named Ronald Reagan for the Republican nomination, but what any of that had to do with the price of a turnip down at the IGA--I couldn't tell you."

Eskens creates a sense of time without giving you a specific date and he creates a sense of place through some of the most evocative descriptions one will find—"…Soon I found myself sitting in the crux of my favorite oak tree, watching the afternoon sun ripple across the surface of Dixon's pond, the smell of mud and water in my nose, the feel of tree bark under my bare feet." His humor is subtle; it slides in without one really noticing—"Personally, I didn't find it hard to believe that someone had up and left Jessup; what baffled me was why more people didn't do it.

The characters, both good and bad, are real and recognizable—"Hoke wore his sixty plus years like an old book. ... Sitting close to him, you could see the loose ends of a past that Hoke never talked about."

The descriptions of Brodie's life as a teen are wonderfully representative of life in a rural area have a timelessness about them, yet we are also reminded of the bigotry that is pervasive in many such areas--"I mean, there's no reason there ain't no black quarterbacks playing pro football.  They can run as fast and block and stuff, but they ain't as smart as whites.  That don't make 'em bad people.  They're just different. ... I think that if a black man sets his mind to it, he can be just as good as a white man."   There is also the pressure to conform and the way hatred and racism spreads--"You put enough like-minded idiots in a room, and pretty soon their backward way of thinking starts to take on an air of legitimacy."  

One wants the book to be perfect, and it nearly is.  But not quite.  There are a couple of unfortunate and completely unnecessary portents.  There are coincidences which make one shake one's head believing the author could have done better.  There is a rather predictable wounding of our hero that feels as though the author watched one too many detective shows.  Fortunately, one can forgive those weaknesses in contrast to the story of Hoke, his pain, and how he met Brodie, and how impactful is the story overall.

"Nothing More Dangerous" is a story of friendship, bigotry, violence, fate, and redemption.  It is also a beautiful story which touches one's heart.  

      Mystery-Brodie Sanden-Missouri-1976/Contemp
      Eskens, Allen - Standalone
      Mulholland Books - Nov 2019

Thursday, December 12, 2019

A Christmas Gathering by Anne Perry

First Sentence:  It was not the Christmas Vespasia had planned.

Vespasia and Narraway had hoped for a quiet Christmas at home.  Instead, they are obligated to attend the country estate gathering of Max and Lady Amelia Cavendish.  More than a holiday celebration for Narraway, former head of Special Branch, he is there to uncover a traitor.

Perry does an excellent job of introducing one to the characters, as well as providing background on Vespasia's history and relationship with Narraway.

Perry's observations often cause one to pause—"But this visit was duty, and he learned long ago that no happiness was untarnished for long if you had shirked duty in order to take it."  A nicely done recounting of Narraway's history reveals the significance of this visit.  Most authors would be inclined to depict Narraway as a classic strong male.  Perry skillfully avoids that trope and gives us a man with faults and insecurities, and we like him all the more for it.

The relationship between the two principal characters is an interesting one and Perry captures the nuances of it perfectly.  The sharpness repartee between Vespasia and Amelia is perfect and reflects Perry's skill with dialogue.  She also captures the audacity of status; how those who are "higher" believe it gives them privileges simply because of their rank.

One can't help but love Vespasia as she begins to conduct her own investigation and demands that Victor let her help, and for snapping at him when he dismisses her idea—"But with a woman, it is not the words, it is the message that matters."  For those readers who have followed Perry's series for years, this Vespasia seems much sharper in tone.  It is rather gratifying.

"A Christmas Gathering" is a good addition to the series of novellas.  It's always nice to see her normally secondary characters move into the limelight.  The story has a subtle building of tension and while the suspense is well done, it is truly the characters who bring make this book work.

Hist Novella-Vespasia/Narraway-England-early 1900s
Perry, Anne – 17th in series
Ballentine Books – Nov 2019

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Dachshund Through the Snow by David Rosenfelt

First Sentence:  It has been almost fourteen years since Kristen McNeil's body was discovered.

A tag on a Christmas charity wish tree leads attorney Andy Carpenter and his wife Laurie to a young boy wanting his father Noah Traynor to be brought home. The murder, for which Noah has been arrested, was a cold case until his DNA is identified on the victim's body. In the meantime, K-9 officer Sergeant Corey Douglas is about to retire, but his dog, Simon, still has time left to work.  Corey wants Andy to help him get Simon released to retire with him. Andy agrees to represent Simon on the basis of species discrimination.

How refreshing when characters defy stereotype.  Laurie, Andy's wife, is the type of person one aspires to be; kind, generous, compassionate toward people. She is an ex-cop, and very capable of taking care of herself and Andy.  Andy, on the other hand, is a lawyer who keeps trying to retire from the law and is passionate about dogs.  As a self-described weakling, he depends upon Laurie and the indomitable Marcus to protect him. There are interludes of Andy at home with his family and friends, yet they avoid the over-sentimentality such interaction can bring about.

Rosenfelt's courtroom scenes are a pleasure to read.  They are well presented and honest, even when the client is decidedly unusual.  He creates an excellent analogy likening a court case to a mountain climb such as Mt. Everest, and through it introduces the rest of Andy's quirky and memorable team.

It is always tragic when someone young dies. It is appreciated when Rosenfelt acknowledges one of the great sorrows of such a death--'It also once again highlights the terrible loss that occurred when her best friend died; Kristen might have gone on to bring other people into the world or cure some disease or just do kind things for people that needed kindness."

The story includes alternative POVs but only when needed to move the plot forward by characters other than the protagonist.  Rosenfelt creates a plot which seems simple but grows into something more complicated and more dangerous as it progresses. Be aware; despite the cute dog on the cover, this is not a cozy.  Rosenfelt does like his body count, but the scenes aren't particularly gory. He is also very good at the unexpected, and very effective, plot twist, and a fun mention which lightens the situation.

The dialogue is so well written, the courtroom exchanges come alive. Along with the on-going outside investigation, in which there is a very nice escalation of suspense, plot twist, and an excellent red herring, one feels the anticipation of awaiting the jury's decision.

"Dachshund Through the Snow" is a well-done legal mystery with plenty of twists and suspense.  A very nice aftermath hints at the future of the series. 

      Legal Mys-Andy Carpenter-New Jersey-Contemp
      Rosenfelt, David – 20th in series
      Minotaur Books - Oct 2019