Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Long Range by C.J. Box

First Sentence:  The sleek golden projectile exploded into the thin mountain air at three thousand feet per second.

A grizzly attack causes game warden Joe Picket to leave his district and join members of the Predator Attack Team.  Joe has suspicions about the attack but is called away before being able to investigate further. A shooter targets a local judge, seriously wounding the judge's wife.  The shot came from an extremely long-range, and Joe's best friend Nate Romanowski is suspected.  This leaves Joe to find the killer, clear his friend, and uncover the answer to the bear attack.

Talk about a hook!  Box sets the scene well, contrasting the beauty of the location with the cold, hard terror of a lethal element coming from through the air so that one experiences the horror of when the two elements combine.  The suspense continues once we join Joe.

Reading Box is both exciting, and an education in everything from grizzly bears, the technology that enables a cell phone to be tracked even in a no-service area, an air force of predator birds, and long-range rifles. Box explains each of these in a way that is fascinating even to urban dwellers, and each has an important role to play in the plot.  There is a nice piece of information regarding the role of a Wyoming game warden which helps explain Joe's involvement in the shooting investigation.

The characters are alive.  Some are those series readers have met before.  Some carry over from a previous book, but in a way that their backstory is apparent and their incorporation into the present story handled seamlessly.  There are good guys; bad guys, and those about whom we are uncertain, which adds to the suspense.  

Joe is compelling, refreshing for his imperfections—not the best on horseback, not the finest shot, has a penchant for destroying his county vehicle--and has phobias, particularly his fear of flying.  Marybeth, his wife, is a true partner both in their marriage and due to her position as director of the county library, which can aid in Joe's investigation. The personal side of Joe and his wife's struggle being empty nesters personalizes and humanizes them.

One of the characters who has developed and changed most in the series is Nate Romanowski.  The suspense and excitement always escalate whenever Nate appears.  The friendship between Nate and Joe is admirable.  When you combine the two men in a scene, non-stop action ensues.

It is not all action, however.  While not overtly political, the story does connect to present events—" It was a new political world, Joe had learned.  Politicians who were snared in scandal didn't fight back or resign in shame, because there was no personal shame."

One may identify one of the villains quite early, others are less obvious, and one whose appearance may cause series readers to roll their eyes in dismay. Box's wry humor is always a pleasure and "Pickett's charge" a definite high point.

"Long Range" has an exciting, dramatic climax followed by a wonderful ending making one feel it was over all too soon. 

LONG RANGE (GameWard-Joe Pickett/Mate Romanowzki-Wyoming-Cont) - VG+
Box, C.J. -20th in series
G.P. Putnam's Sons - Mar 2020

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Next to Last Stand by Craig Johnson

First Sentence:  Years ago, on one particularly beautiful, high plains afternoon when I was a deputy with the Absaroka County Sheriff's Department, I propped my young daughter, Cady, on my hip and introduced her to Charlie Lee Stillwater.  

Walt receives a call from Carol Williams, the caretaker and administrator of the Veteran's Home of Wyoming, once Fort McKinney.  Resident Charlie Lee Stillwater has died. Going through his effects, Carol and Walt find a box containing two items of particular note; one million dollars in cash and a painted canvas which was clearly part of a larger painting. Walt investigates the source of both, and whether the painting, thought to have been long destroyed, was stolen.   

The best characters are ones who grow and change over the course of a series.  So too has Johnson done that with Longmire.  This book is more the Walt we love; the events of the prior two books have understandably changed him as he questions his future.  

Dog is here!  Those who are series readers have come to love Dog.  Henry is also here.  A joke that runs between him and Walt in this story makes one smile. Vic, Walt's second and girlfriend, is a character who, for some of us, has become tiring.  It is nice to see Lonnie Littlebird, Chief of the Cheyenne Nation and Tribal Elder—"Um humm, yes it is so." But it's the "Wavers" who are the stars; four elderly veterans in souped-up wheelchairs who wave to passing traffic in front of the Veterans' Home of Wyoming.

Walt in evening dress and chasing bad guys through a museum is new, but so are the bad guys.  No cowboy hats and boots here—"Do you ever get the feeling that there are people out there who are living lives that we know absolutely nothing about?"

The plot is interesting and filled with historical information.  Unfortunately, it was almost too much information and it slows down the first half of the book.  Fortunately, once past that, the pace picks up noticeably.  One does wonder where the series is going.  Were some of Walt's comments foreshadowing or merely a frustrating tease? 

Worth the price of the book is the Epilogue.

"Next to Last Stand" is a return to that which fans most love about Johnson's books.  It is interesting, exciting, and filled with excellent characters.  However, this is a book one might want to wait to read until the next book is released.

NEXT TO LAST STAND (PolProc-Walt Longmire-Wyoming/Montana-Contemp) – G+
Johnson, Craig – 16th in series
Viking – Sept 2020

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

When She Was Good by Michael Robotham

First Sentence:  Late Spring.  Morning cold. A small wooden boat emerges from the mist, sliding forward with each pull on the oars.

 In this follow-up to "Good Girl, Bad Girl" the mystery of Evie Cormac continues.  Found hidden away in the hidden room off the bedroom where a man was tortured and killed, the question remains as to whether he was her kidnapper or her protector.  Although the press are still curious, someone more sinister is after the information, and Evie, while psychologist Cyrus Haven, plagued with monsters of his own past, teams up with Sacha Hopewell, the former Constable, who found Evie, to try to protect her.

 There are several elements needed for a memorable book and description/sense of place is one.  Robatham has that well in hand—"The air outside smells of drying seaweed and wood smoke, and the distant hills are edged in orange where God has opened the furnace door and stoked the coals for a new day."

 It is useful to have already read the prior book. However, Robotham not only fills in the backstory of Evie, but includes now information.  The way in which Cyrus' background is conveyed is brilliantly understated yet establishes an important link.  We also learn much more about Terry Boland, the man whose body was found in the house where Evie was hiding.  

This is a dark book.  Robotham has written a clear and strong example of the impact of abandonment.  Then he changes the pace with a surprising plot twist and an example of Edie's ability as a truth wizard—one who can tell when others are lying.

There are observations that cause one to pause and are relevant to today—"The real power belongs to the people who control information… Individuals who can suppress stories, fix problems, spin news, and plant false information."—and make us think of current situations—"…is a classic sociopath, who seeks power and influence rather than fame.  Where others notice the beauty in the world, he sees only how it could benefit him.  Relationships are designed to further his own interest.  It's not about loving or hating but about duplicity and deception and his own corrupt lust."  Intended or not, and although the author is an Australian living in England, the story cannot help but make one think of current events.

 "When She Was Good" is a complicated story with unique characters and a satisfactory ending.  Slow in places, it picks up with well-done twists. 

WHEN SHE WAS GOOD (PsySusp-Cyrus Haven/Evie Cormac/England-Contemp) – G+
Robotham, Michael – 2nd in series
Scribner – Jul 2020  

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

THE DREAMER by Sheldon M. Siegel

First Sentence:  The Honorable Elizabeth McDaniel glanced at her watch, rested her chin in her palm, and spoke to me in a world-weary tone still bearing a trace of her native Alabama.

Mercedes "Mercy" Tejada is a Dreamer who was brought to the United States as a baby.  Now she's accused of murdering her boss, James Beard Award recipient, Carlos Cruz. Carlos was known for sexually harassing his female staff, particularly Mercy.  Now, he is dead in an alley, Mercy kneeling over him, and her prints on the knife next to him.  San Francisco Public Defenders Rosie and Mike are against the clock to prove Mercy innocent, and to keep her, and her family, from being deported.    
Siegel begins with an amusing vignette that pleases and establishes Mike Daley as a sharp, clever, and well-established lawyer.  The way in which we meet the others in Mike's life, especially his ex-wife and boss, Rosie Fernandez, is handled succinctly, but with clarity.

A murder case is always the perfect base for a legal mystery.  Add the element of a Dreamer with an undocumented mother, and the level of suspense immediately escalates.  The decision of Rose to be the lead attorney, with Mike as second chair, makes one smile.

Siegel excels at throwing back the cover on the legal system.  He shows just how unjust justice can be, especially if one is a woman, a person of color, and undocumented.  Siegel takes on the issue of undocumented workers.  What is nice is that the story addresses the issue from a moral perspective, rather than a political one.

Reading about a city one knows well always adds a personal touch.  However, even when it is a city unknown to the reader, some things have become sadly universal in urban areas—"A homeless man asked me for change.  A man in a Warriors jersey offered me a fentanyl.  A woman in a halter top asked me if I was looking for a date."

There is an excellent twist and good questions are raised during the investigation.  One doesn't normally think of the initial, information-gathering phase of a case as being suspenseful.  Under Siegel's deft hand, it is.

It may be a classic trope, but it is always interesting to have a victim everyone wants to kill. But watching Rosie and Mike prepare a case with no other suspects, and no witnesses, based on a defense of SODDI (“some other dude did it”), and with the prosecution not meeting the burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt makes things all the more engrossing.  

"The Dreamer" is a very well-done legal mystery with a satisfying affirmation at the end.  Siegel is an under-appreciated author who writes excellent legal procedurals. 

THE DREAMER (LegalProc-Mike Daley/Rosie Fernandez-San Francisco-Contemp) – VG
Siegel, Sheldon M. – 11th in series
Sheldon M. Siegel, Inc. – Mar 2020

Thursday, September 3, 2020


First Sentence:  The express from Dover was still coming to a stop when Hillary Drummond leapt onto the platform.

 A man is found murdered on a train newly arrived at Charing Cross Station.  In his shoe is the key to a railway locker containing a satchel.  It is 1892; the threat of war is in the air. Enquiry agents Barker and Llewelyn are tasked by the Prime Minister to deliver the satchel to Calais as it contains a document, an unnamed first-century gospel.   With the satchel sought by secret societies, political groups, and the German government, Llewelyn is perplexed by Barker's delay in fulfilling their assignment considering it places them under repeated attack.

 Rarely are prologues necessary.  However, Thomas' prologue captures and captivates one immediately with suspense, danger, intrigue, and yes, death.  With the receipt of an old brass key, stamped with the letter "Q," the characters go—"Down the rabbit hole." One cannot help but smile at their destination, and Llewellyn's admiration of what he sees there is understandable. 

Thomas' voice is enviable.  Even during a serious scene, he makes one smile with the simplest line even when in a serious situation. It is only a part of what makes reading him such a pleasure.  His dialogue is a pleasure to read—"The things you know, Thomas!"  "Yes, well, the more I know, the more I know how little I know."

 Characters are Thomas' strength.  It is nice to have a series with characters who have developed over time. Still, for those who have not read the previous books, one won't feel lost as Thomas provides well-presented introductions to the characters. Llewelyn's wife, Rebecca, deals with the conflict of being shunned by her family for being married to a gentile.  Their marriage and commitment adds a nice touch and humanness to the story—"There was still something strange about being separated from Rebecca for more than a few hours.  It was like slow asphyxiation."  A scene between Llewelyn and his father-in-law is particularly well done. 

Thomas conveys mood well, in this case, it is that of a man adrift.  A significant change is made in the roles and responsibilities of Barker, Llewelyn, and others ensure a shift in future books.

The backdrop of Victorian England makes the plot particularly effective.  The drums of war are beating in the distance, the underlying anti-Semitism, and the inclusion of an Evangelical preacher from the United States advocating eugenics. There is action and suspense, but also serious subjects which require consideration.

"Lethal Pursuit" maintains one's interest from the beginning to an ending that is clever in so many ways, including the ultimate question—"Why do evil men prosper?"  This is more than an average historical mystery. Thomas is an author to add to one's list.

LETHAL PURSUIT (HistMys-Baker/Llewelyn-England-1892) – VG
Thomas, Will – 11th book in series
Minotaur Books – Nov 2019