Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Consolation by Garry Disher

First Sentence:  Did Hirsch own the town?

Hirsch's territory covers a large area of not much in Tiverton, South Australia.  It is up to him to keep the peace.  Someone is stealing women's underwear.  Although that seems a small thing, it is the sort of thing that can escalate. And so they do, exacerbated, exacerbated by a woman who has developed an obsession with Hirsch.

A concise introduction presents Constable Paul Hirschhausen "Hirsch" and the scope of his job, which is impressive in its scope and diversity.  Issues range from the seemingly innocuous to the potentially dangerous.  The jump from one incident to the next brings the residents into play.  Hirsch isn't a cop who sits behind a desk but spends his time walking the street, and driving the territory.

Disher is a wonderful wordsmith.  One understands the words and the meaning behind them.  "Hirsch the mediator.  He seemed to spend most of his time as father confessor, therapist, social worker, fixer, and go-between.  What he'd give for a plain old criminal and a plain old vanilla arrest." 

It is not all serious.  Hirsch's relationship with Wendy and her daughter provides normalcy, offset by his unwillingness to confront the woman who is stalking him as she becomes a threat.  We see the openness of Northern Australia and the bone-chilling cold of late winter.

As the story progresses Hirsch finds one should be careful for what one wishes when things turn violent and deadly.  "…his ABC of policing said:  assume nothing, believe nothing, challenge everything."

"Consolationis a story of lives intertwined; the domino effect begun by the actions of one crashing into the lives of others and the result.  This is an author well worth reading.

(PolProc-Const. Paul Hirschhausen-South Australia-Contemp) – VG 
Disher, Garry – 3rd in series
Text Publishing, Nov 2020, 399 pp 

Friday, March 26, 2021

From the Grave by David Housewright

First Sentence: The young woman who identified herself as a psychic medium moved with almost absentminded confidence among the fifty people who had paid forty dollars each for a seat in the community center lecture hall with the hope that she might help them connect with a dead mother or father, uncle or aunt, a dead child—by no promises.

From a friend who attended a psychic reading, former cop, Rushmore McKenzie, learns of a threat placed on his life by the spirit of Leland Hayes, a man McKenzie had killed. Now, more than 21 years later, a highly skeptical McKenzie becomes involved with two psychic mediums to find the money and, due to one of the mediums, to locate a missing woman.

Housewright creates a strong sense of place, even for something as basic as Nina's condo. The interplay between the two characters is easy and natural—"I like your outfit." "Really? Last night you couldn’t wait for me to take it off."—and a particular conversation between them provides good background and an explanation of their relationship. McKenzie's unpleasant neighbor provides a touch of normalcy. Mackenzie has an inner monologue that is used sparingly and effectively, often with a touch of humor. Housewright has also given him an excellent playlist.

It is always fun when an author references other authors. Because of the psychic aspect, he also references a number of popular paranormal investigation shows, but it is McKenzie's skepticism that keeps things grounded until his skepticism is tested. Learning what goes on in the making of such shows is both interesting and demystifying without taking away from the possibility of actuality.

This book is somewhat lighter and less suspenseful than some. In this time of COVID-19 when many are having trouble concentrating, that's not a bad thing. Even so, the story does not lack for twists or red herrings.

"From the Grave," at its foundation, is a solid mystery, well-constructed and enjoyable. One may, or may not, accept the paranormal aspect, but it does provide an extra layer of creativity. However, best of all, is the ending that makes one smile.

FROM THE GRAVE (Unl Invest/Para/ColdCase-Rushmore McKenzie-Minn/St. Paul, MN – Contemp) – VG
Housewright, David – 17th in series
Minotaur Books, May 2020, 312 pp

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Black Coral by Andrew Mayne

 First Sentence:  Everyone is looking at me funny.

      The Underwater Investigation Unit is called out to a submerged van at Pond 65.  The passenger has been recovered; but Detective Sloan McPherson, the team's top diver, needs to recover the driver. Rather than one, she finds three bodies in the van, and evidence of a fifth person having been involved.  The investigation puts McPherson and the UIU on the trail of the serial killer, while also trying to catch a thief stealing millions of electronic equipment off mega-yachts. 

      Mayne has a great voice layered with wry humor—"If you have any questions, please contact us through our website," George concludes." … "We have a website?" I ask in a whisper."  He is a true storyteller who creates wonderful characters that play into one another.  One wants to share passages of his writing with others.  Not every male author writes women well.  Mayne is one who truly does, and it is a pleasure to read. 

      Sloan is fully dimensional.   There is a nice injection of the character's personal life which adds balance to the story, injecting light into the dark. There is realism in admitting no one is a perfect parent.  one provides compelling She is introspective both about the case—"I see two different men in front of me.  One is the monster.  The other is the victim.  The victim didn't make the monster, but it sure did nurture him.", and her life as a cop—"…where do I go from here?  Catching the New River Bandits was a good thing, but in no way deeply fulfilling."

      Having Sloan as an archeologist, as well as a diver and cop, brings dimension to the character and opens interesting doors.  The plot is very well done and filled with surprises, yet none of them feel contrived.  The things one learns are unusual.  

      Periodic references to events from the first book, don't distract from the current story, nor does the crossover reference to Mayne's Theo Cray series.  This book stands nicely on its own merit.

      Of the two cases, one is fairly straightforward, but the second takes one down a surprising, twisty path with some definite "Oh, my" moments. Although the main plot is about a serial killer, the book is far more suspenseful than gory.

      BLACK CORAL is an excellent read full of humor, suspense, wicked good twists, and a very unexpected ending. 

BLACK CORAL (PolProc-Det. Sloan McPherson-Florida-Contemp) - Ex
Mayne, Andrew – 2nd in series
Thomas & Mercer, Feb 2021, 317 pp 

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Final Out by Sheldon Siegel

       First Sentence:  The Honorable Robert J. Stumpf, Jr. scanned the empty gallery in his airless courtroom on the second floor of San Francisco's crumbling Hall of Justice.

       Jaylen Jenkins is arrested for the murder of prominent San Francisco sports agent Robert Blum.   He is on video holding a baseball bat walking toward Blum, and then running away without the bat.  Jenkins claims he is innocent.  But is he?  Without contradictory evidence, can attorney Mike Daley and the team of the San Francisco Public Defender's Office use the "SODDI" defense to convince the jury that some other dude did it? 

       The story begins with a soft case to introduce the principal characters in a casual, conversational manner. In little time, one is taken into the meat of the story and a case that couldn't be more timely.  One of the benefits is learning something new.  Siegel walks readers through every aspect of the case allowing one to experience exactly what is involved.   He educates without lecturing or slowing down the plot.  After all, who else is familiar with the legal term "wobbler"?  It is impossible to conceive the feeling of knowing one is innocent while being told accepting a plea sentence of eight years is a "good deal," yet that happens to so many.

       Through the principal character, Mike, an ex-priest turned lawyer, Siegel created an excellent ensemble cast of Mike's family and friends. They are wonderfully drawn; brought to life mainly through his skill with dialogue.  Even Mike's internal monologues add dimension to the character and the story.   One appealing aspect of the character is his realism.  This isn't a strutting, overly-confident lawyer, this is one who recognizes he could lose his case.

       Set in the San Francisco Bay Area, captured in perfect detail, Siegel brings the region into focus.  It is always fun having a book set in one's hometown, being familiar with the places visited by the characters.  It is even more amusing when the author's description of a particular building echoes one's own thoughts—"The Salesforce Tower dominated the San Francisco skyline and dwarfed the Transamerica Pyramid.  It's impressive in its size and technology, but it looks like an enlarged phallic symbol to me."

       Siegel's style is one of short, tightly written chapters that read almost as vignettes.  Each chapter compels one to continue reading straight through to the end. 

       FINAL OUT is well written and completely involving.  The underlying theme is a sad, but important truth about our justice system. 

FINAL OUT (LegalMyst-Mike Daley-San Francisco-Contempt) – Ex
Siegel, Sheldon – 12th in series
Sheldon M. Siegel, Inc., Jan 2021, 303 pp 

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Huntress Moon by Alexandria Sokoloff

First Sentence:  FBI Special Agent Matthew Roarke is closing in on a bust of a major criminal organization in San Francisco when he witnesses an undercover member of his team killed right in front of him on a busy street, an accident Roarke can't believe is coincidental.

Waiting for his undercover agent to cross a busy street, Agent Matthew Roarke's attention is captured by a woman standing behind the agent.  Moments later, the agent is dead and the woman has disappeared.  As he tracks the woman, he discovers several deaths at which she was present. Is she that most rare of killers: a female serial killer? She is canny, and always one step ahead leaving bodies behind as Roake begins to piece together her motive and her objective.

What an intriguing book, and one where readers are kept off-guard from start to end. It's also a hard book to review without spoilers. Matthew Roarke is a driven character who we come to know in small bits. He is intuitive, yet logical; a perfect balance for someone in his job. But it's the female character who keeps us going. Initially, we don't know the identity of the killer until the "ah-ha" moment, and the tension builds from there.

Information on the main characters is provided in bits as the story progresses.  It is that information that then provides a motive for their actions.  Damien Epps, Roarke's second, is the breath of fresh air.

That the story is told in days heightens the suspense.  The story alternatives between Roarke and the woman, and it works.  The introduction of a man and his 14-year-old child raises the stakes even higher.  The author has an ability not only to set the scene, but to convey the underlying emotions of it—"He steps through the open doorway, past the carved wooden door, into the entry hall with its white painted brick walls and tiled floor. … The terror has turned every cell in his body to ice; his feet can barely move him forward."  

Just as Sokoloff has not given the investigators anything definite they can track, she leaves the reader directionless.  It is clear the moon has significance, but what is unknown.  However, evil, the sense of it, is a prevalent and effective theme.

As the story progresses, the killer takes on the identity first as "Huntress," and finally her name and background are revealed with a powerful twist.  The author's skill is clear in the killer's progression. I don't recall another author being able to transition one's attitude toward a killer in the way Sokoloff does.

This is not a perfect book. There are some plot holes and weaknesses such as the description of the Tenderloin, which is not nearly as grim as portrayed.  The primary thing which did not ring true is Roarke, an FBI Agent, seemingly surprised by the idea of a female serial killer. He just couldn't be that naïve. Another slight miss was the inference of a supernatural element that was not developed. 

HUNTRESS MOON, the first in the series, is rather the first chapter in one long book with an arching theme: Evil. It is a page-turner and truly a popcorn book in that no one will be able to read just one. If you like the first, chances are you will want to continue.

HUNTRESS MOON (PolProc-Agent Matthew Roarke-WestCoast-Contemp) – VG+
Sokoloff, Alexandria – 1st in series
Thomas & Mercer, Jan 2015, 386 pp

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

A Fatal Lie by Charles Todd


First Sentence: On his sixth birthday, Roddy MacNabb was given a fishing pole by his pa, with promises to teach him how to use it.

Scotland Yard Inspector Ian Rutledge is sent to Northern Wales where a man's body was pulled from the River Dee by a young boy. It's first thought the man had fallen from the viaduct that spans high above the river, put there are no signs of a fall, no identification on the body, and no one claims to know him. Only a few clues lead Rutledge on a trail to identify the victim, recreate the man's recent travels, and uncover both the motive and the person responsible for the man's death, and those that follow.

Authors strive to create a good "hook," the opening which will compel the reader to keep turning the pages. Todd's opening does that very effectively.

Ian is a unique character. Shell shock; i.e., PTSD, from WWI has left him with the voice of Hamish, a soldier executed for desertion, in his head. We are reminded of the cost of war, not only in the number of the dead, but the lasting impact on the veterans and their families—"A fine soldier, liked by his men, he didn't suffer, and we must be proud of him, for he gave his life for his King and Country. That isn't terribly reassuring, is it?"

It is always fascinating to read about the forensics of the time. Todd weaves details of places, such as the operations of the aqueduct, and history, the Bantam Battalions, smoothly into the story. These create strong visual images and play into the fact that in the days before technology, police work was done by pulling the thread of clues, a lot of travel, and intuition.

One does need to keep track of who is where. Between the character names and Ian traveling from place to place, and back again, it can become confusing. Pulling up a map proves helpful. It is also a challenge to follow the timeline. There is a lack of clarity as to when things happened as there can be the impression of something happening in the past only to realize it is in the recent past. Follow the trail of bodies which are always one step in front of Ian. Yet it seems to take a while before any real progress is made and then, after all the to-ing and fro-ing, there is the great and complete confession. Good grief.

"A Fatal Lie" is a good book, but not as good as usual. The dialogue was weak, the usual wry humor was completely lacking, and the book could have used some serious editing and simplifying. One wonders whether because of COVID, the authors had little to do but write, so they just kept putting things in. Here's hoping for a crisper, more involving book #24.

A FATAL LIE (HistMys-Ian Rutledge-England-1921) - Okay
Todd, Charles – 23rd in series
William Morrow, 349 pp – Feb 2021