At one time, Solomon Gage's mother was the executive assistant to billionaire Dominick Sheffield. Although she died in a car accident whenRATING: 3.75
At one time, Solomon Gage's mother was the executive assistant to billionaire Dominick Sheffield. Although she died in a car accident when Solomon was 14, Dominick took him under his wing and trained him in the ways of the world. Soon, he became an indispensable asset to Dominick, and a thorn in the side of Dom's sons. Solomon has dedicated his entire adult life to serving the Sheffield family and in some respects is more of a son to Dominick than the two men of his blood.
Solomon specializes in solving the family's problems and dealing with any trouble that may come up for any of them. In the case of Dominick's granddaughter, Abby Maynes, that is almost a full time job. She's a drug addict who has been prostituting herself to get her fix; Gage rescues her from a crackhouse and helps her go straight. Unfortunately, things don't turn out as hoped for.
Given the fact that Gage has such a close relationship with the family patriarch, you can imagine that Dominick's sons aren't overly fond of Solomon. Ever loyal to Dominick, Solomon is disturbed to hear rumors that the men are involved in some shady dealings in Africa. The stakes become higher when some mercenaries from Niger come to the US to protect their own interests, and killing people is part of what they need to do. Trying to deal with the situation causes Solomon to lose everything that he holds dear.
The turmoil in the family and the sons' treatment of Solomon serve as the foundation of what turns out to be a more than serviceable thriller. In addition to the mercenaries and conniving sons, there's the divorce lawyer for the wife of the eldest son who becomes involved with Solomon, which leads to aspersions being cast on his loyalty to the family. The only unconvincing element for me was Solomon's physical abilities, with him turning into a tough guy who is just as adept at using his fists as using his brain and suffering from a bit of Energizer Bunny syndrome while dealing with the threats.
CUTTHROAT is quite a departure for Brewer, who has previously written a humorous PI series and several standalone caper books. Although the book is much more serious in nature, it still has all the trademarks that make Brewer a favorite author of mine—excellent plotting, well-developed characters and various unexpected turns of events that keep interest high.
Most defense attorneys will tell you that many of the people that they represent are not innocent. In spite of that fact, they are sworn tRATING: 4.25
Most defense attorneys will tell you that many of the people that they represent are not innocent. In spite of that fact, they are sworn to provide them with the best possible legal defense. Miami defense attorney Jack Swyteck finds himself in a real dilemma when he is assigned a homeless man known as "Falcon". He is certain that he won't receive his fees; much to his surprise, Falcon has no problem at all coming up with the required $10,000. In fact, he sends Jack to Bermuda to retrieve it, at which time Jack finds Falcon has stashed $200,000 in a safe deposit box.
Falcon had been arrested after threatening to jump from a bridge unless the mayor's daughter is brought to the scene. Once released from jail, he is implicated in the brutal murder of a woman found in the trunk of the abandoned car which he had been calling home. Panicked, Falcon takes Jack's best friend, Theo, hostage, along with two women and a man found in a seedy motel room.
Grippando takes us deep into the twisted mind of Falcon. Along with the police, the reader is never certain what he will do next. Will he kill one of the hostages? Will he be satisfied if the mayor's daughter, Alicia Mendoza, comes to talk to him? The motel is surrounded by SWAT teams and eagle-eyed snipers. Alicia's former boyfriend, Vince Paulo, is assigned as the negotiator. There's a lot on the line for Vince, as he lost his sight during a similar stand-off. Alicia, Jack and Vince form a team who desperately try to figure out how to put the Falcon out of commission without harming the hostages.
WHEN DARKNESS FALLS is a suspenseful thriller that goes beyond action and provides a good look at the motivations of the various characters in the book, as well as portraying some of the political influences that are impacting the situation. I really liked Jack Swyteck, who was a defense attorney with a conscience. In spite of the fact that he had an extremely unlikable client, he provided him with the best defense that he could and would not allow himself to use information about Falcon to barter with the mayor and others for personal gain. Grippando also did a great job in his depiction of Vince Paulo, who was only recently blinded and struggling with other people's reactions to him as well as finding a way to live a meaningful life.
In addition to the present-day situation, Grippando weaves in a sub-plot about Argentina in the late 1970s and early 80s having to do with the "Disappeared" during the "dirty war". The connections to the present day were a little too convenient, but do add another dimension to the narrative.
WHEN DARKNESS FALLS is the sixth book in the Swyteck series. This is my first exposure to the author and the character. Based on how much I enjoyed this book, it won't be my last.
How does a hit man give up his career and go on to live the life of a normal man? That's the dilemma that faces Conrad Hirst, who is burneRATING: 4.25
How does a hit man give up his career and go on to live the life of a normal man? That's the dilemma that faces Conrad Hirst, who is burned out and only too aware of how barren he has become emotionally. He's only 32 years old, but his most recent hit shatters him and destroys his willingness to continue his nihilistic life. He arrives at a simple answer—he must kill the only four people who know his identity. After that, he should be able to put away his assassination tools and settle into life behind a white picket fence.
But we all know that isn't possible, don't we? Hirst may think there are only four people who know who he is, but he hasn't considered the people behind the people. It isn't until after he's eliminated the first person on his list that he becomes painfully aware of how badly he's miscalculated, and how bleak his future looks. After all, he can't kill off an entire intelligence agency. But he can target some specific individuals who he views as contributing the most to his downfall. The only way that he can see to atone for all the killing that he has done is to kill again.
Hirst uses all the skills that he's developed during his career and manages to stay one step ahead of disaster as he tries to unravel the mystery of who has been employing him and exactly what he has sacrificed to live life as an assassin. He knows that he can trust no one; yet, he depends on a French femme fatale to assist him in reaching his goal. He's well aware that he may not live to see another day and that in reality he doesn't have very much to live for. But he's determined to die trying.
Wignall has created an extremely intriguing character in Conrad Hirst. At first, he appears to be not much more than a robotic, remorseless man killing as directed. But along the way, he is also revealed to have many more layers than are initially apparent. He unveils himself through letters that he writes to a dead lover. And it's chilling to think that although he seems to have loved this woman very much, she may have been one of his victims.
The one thing that made the book stand out is the fact that Hirst, in spite of being a stone cold killer, actually does have a heart, although it has been shut down for a very long time. All readers can relate to the themes of regret and redemption. It's odd to find yourself hoping that this man who can kill another human being without thinking twice will survive to live a different life. Excellent minimalist writing, haunting characterization and suspenseful pacing combine to make this book one you NEED to read!
Although not a criminal himself, Herman Jackson's career has centered around professions that put him in touch with lots of doubtful characRATING: 4.0
Although not a criminal himself, Herman Jackson's career has centered around professions that put him in touch with lots of doubtful characters. He was a bookie in Detroit, which he left under a cloud. Ever since, he's been living in St. Paul, Minnesota, where he has a bail bondsman business. Generally speaking, when a person needs to post bail and they don't have the money, they will use the services of a bail bondsman who will provide the bail and guarantee that the criminal will appear in court. The person being bailed out provides some sort of collateral to back up the loan.
Amy Cox avails herself of Herman's services in order to get her brother out of jail. She gives Herman a priceless Amati violin as security for his bail. Shortly thereafter, Amy is murdered outside Herman's office; and Herman, being the last person to see her alive, is the prime suspect. The police are very interested in getting their hands on the violin for evidence, but Herman isn't terribly willing to help them out.
Herman sets out to prove himself innocent and gets involved in a series of misadventures involving gypsies, crooked cops and a fiery, independent woman named Rosie who has her own fair share of baggage to deal with. Herman believes that he is being set up for huge con involving the violin; he's sure of it when he finds that it has been replaced by a cheaper model. But no one is demanding large sums of money, so he's uncertain exactly what is involved with the con.
Fiddle Game is a debut novel, and Thompson has done a great job of creating a different kind of caper. Instead of the typical building of preposterous events upon preposterous events, he keeps things realistic. He's also created an interesting set of characters. I liked Herman very much and Rosie even more. As Herman states, "All around, a formidable woman, this former prairie flower, gun moll, stripper, café owner, martial arts expert, and God knew what else." I don't know why, but Herman seemed a lot older than his early 40s, which made the romantic relationship a bit implausible. There were lots of touches of humor in the book, most provided by various secondary characters. My favorite was an unusual man who believes he is a Prophet; some of his dialogue was laugh-out-loud funny.
I thought that the situation around figuring out what was up with the violin was drawn out a bit too long; but I did like the fact that a standard con was not in play in the book. I found Fiddle Game to be an enjoyable read and look forward to future books by Thompson.
Harald Guntlieb is a strange young man from Germany who has come to Iceland to complete his studies on the subject of witchcraft. He is draRATING: 3.5
Harald Guntlieb is a strange young man from Germany who has come to Iceland to complete his studies on the subject of witchcraft. He is drawn to the area because Iceland was unique in the fact that it had many male witches in its history, as opposed to the rest of Europe where female witches dominated. He came by his knowledge of the subject from his grandfather, who collected various medieval artifacts and works. Harald was his only heir and lived quite an affluent lifestyle. For Harald, wealth was a means of following his passions. He was more interested in forming a communal group who shared his interest in black magic than a high-living life. And when he is murdered, it becomes obvious that his appreciation for the secret arts is why he has been killed. There are various mutilations to his body that indicate some kind of bizarre ritual has been followed.
Harald's family doesn't believe that a local drug addict killed their son and hire a former German police officer named Matthew Reich to investigate the murder. Since he does not understand Icelandic, they also ask Thora Gudmundsdottir, who is an attorney in Reykjavik, to help, offering her a sizable increase over her usual rates. They focus at first on Harald's university connections but soon find themselves following a complicated path into Icelandic history, most particularly religious beliefs from the past and various historic works on witchcraft.
Subtitled "An Icelandic Novel of Secret Symbols, Medieval Witchcraft, and Modern Murder", Last Rituals was a mixed bag for me. When Sigurdardottir was dealing with Thora's daily life, her struggles as a single mother, her hunger for a sexual relationship, the narrative was credible and compelling. When she moved into the area of the murder investigation, things weren't handled as well. A large part of the plot centered around events from Icelandic history and lore from the 15th century and later. At times, the author was quite didactic as she presented the historical background. At other times, she brought in fascinating details, such as how witches were prosecuted. The unveiling of the murderer was anticlimactic, at best.
Sigurdardottir has gone outside of the standard brooding Scandinavian crime fiction formula and created a character who is not dark at all. Thora is funny and very human. Her interactions with the German are delightful; they move from a wary reliance on each other to affection and trust. Their good-natured teasing of one another was a high point of the book. In addition, we see Thora relating to her young daughter and troubled teenaged son. She struggles with all her roles—mother, lawyer, lover, friend—but shows at her core a basic decency and heart, a very human fallibility and a sense of humor that helps her face her challenges.
Sigurdardottir exhibits great potential. Once she develops the ability to build a credible plot, she will be a force to be reckoned with. For now, her lead character is one that I would enjoy meeting again.
I think most readers are on a universal quest to find books that are exceptional and in which they can completely immerse themselves. On aRATING: 4.75
I think most readers are on a universal quest to find books that are exceptional and in which they can completely immerse themselves. On average, I read ten books per month and although I may enjoy many of them, very few knock my socks off. So imagine my surprise when I found that a debut novel by an unknown Scottish writer did exactly that.
Alan McAlpine is a police detective who has been unable to put away the ghosts of his past. Almost twenty years earlier, he was involved in a case where a woman was completely disfigured when someone threw acid in her face. Although she is unable to speak or move other than her fingers, Alan tries to find ways to communicate with her. In so doing, he creates a beautiful fantasy woman, a woman with whom he falls deeply in love. Even after she dies, he cannot let go of her memory, in spite of the fact that he has married an equally incredible woman of beauty and spirit.
The memories return in full force when Alan is assigned to the Patrickhill station in Glasgow. He's heading the investigation of a killer known as the "Crucifixion Killer", who thus far has murdered at least two women. Forget about the "Dreaded Serial Killer Syndrome" – Ramsay puts together a narrative that is chilling with several surprising twists. Alan begins to behave erratically; he is drinking too much and treating his wife and colleagues poorly. Although the focus of the book is largely on the investigation, Ramsay pays significant attention to Alan's psychological state and its impact on those around him. But that doesn't mean that the other characters aren't fully developed, most especially two of the police detectives who have to deal with Alan the most.
It's hard to believe that this is a debut novel. Ramsay's writing is remarkably assured; it seems as if this could be her tenth book rather than her first. She's excelled in each of the main writing elements of plot, characterization, pace, dialog and setting. I haven't had a reaction like this to a first book since Black Dog by Stephen Booth. I am sure that I will be listing this on my Anthony Award ballot as a candidate for Best First Novel.
Given how much I liked this book, you may be wondering why I did not assign it the highest rating, 5 quills. Some parts of the characterization such as Alan's undying love for a woman he didn't really know and his wife's unwavering acceptance of his eccentricities weren't plausible to me; and the killer seemed obvious. However, I do feel that the book merits more than 4.5 quills. So do me a favor—take your pen and add a few more lines to the last quill until it almost reaches the top. ...more
A series of murders are occurring in the London area. Although the way the victims are killed varies, each has a message scrawled on theirRATING: 3.25
A series of murders are occurring in the London area. Although the way the victims are killed varies, each has a message scrawled on their body, such as "Dirty Girl" or "Filthy Coward". It appears that the killer has chosen each of his victims for personal reasons, but it certainly isn't apparent to Detective Stella Mooney and her colleagues what links each of them. Is the killer some kind of moral guardian? Are his messages a justification for the murders?
The book started well enough, but as the narrative progressed, the pace slowed to a crawl. At about the midway point, I found myself becoming increasingly bored and irritated, first with the redundant nature of the investigation and secondly with Stella and her complicated personal life. I'm not usually able to predict who the murderer is in most mysteries, but in this one, the perpetrator was obvious to me. He wasn't a very interesting character, and his motives weren't believable. Having the detectives and a police psychologist endlessly dissect his possible motivations made me comatose.
The most enjoyable aspect of the book was how Lawrence developed the relationships within the police force. DI Mike Sorley, Stella's boss, is a calming influence on the department. Unfortunately, he suffers a heart attack and is removed from active duty to recuperate. His temporary replacement is a man who Stella detests and who delights in antagonizing her. Their relationship develops over the course of the investigation in some very interesting ways. Lawrence also does a good job of building the setting, most particularly the housing projects which hold some bad memories for Stella.
Down into Darkness is the fourth book in the Detective Stella Mooney series, and the first that I have read. I am sure that followers of this series will enjoy this book, as they will learn more about Stella's unhappy childhood and see her moving in new directions with her latest lover. ...more
Sometimes life really does imitate art. That's certainly the case for Charlie Howard, who has written a series of suspense novels about an intrepid thSometimes life really does imitate art. That's certainly the case for Charlie Howard, who has written a series of suspense novels about an intrepid thief named Faulks. As it turns out, Charlie also does a bit of burgling on the side. Apparently, this is not a very well-kept secret. Charlie is currently working in Amsterdam and is approached by an American who is willing to pay him a lot of money to steal two monkey figurines, which are a part of a "Hear/See/Speak No Evil" set, and for which he has the third monkey. The burglary must take place that evening, and the American spells out exactly where the monkeys can be found. Charlie is a bit suspicious and at first refuses the job; upon further consideration, he decides that he'll do it and pulls it off without a hitch. However, when he tries to collect his fee, he finds that the American has been beaten nearly to death and that the third figurine is now missing.
Charlie can't figure out why the figurines are so valuable—they are made of a cheap plaster—but he is determined to find out what is going on. Now, I don't know about you, but I think the first thing I would have done is to break open one of the figurines to see if there was something hidden inside that would explain why it is such a desired object. Unbelievably, Charlie never even thinks about doing that and instead goes on a wild goose chase trying to find the third monkey. In the meantime, various other unsavory characters are after him trying to rob him of the monkeys that he already has.
My feelings about this book changed dramatically the more that I read. At first, it was a pleasant enough diversion. I'm quite fond of caper books and hoped that this one was going to play out in a clever fashion. Unfortunately, that didn't happen. In addition to the fact that he never even sensed that the monkeys might be transporting something, he was a mighty stupid detective.
What could have been an inventive and clever premise is sunk by an ending that is anything but. Ewan relied on the tired old plot device of having all of the suspects gathered in one place while the protagonist laid out exactly who did what and solved the mystery. But there's a twist – Charlie doesn't actually KNOW what happened, and instead comes up with some harebrained scenarios of what could have happened. When he realizes that his hypotheses are incorrect, he then moves on to another harebrained scenario. Meanwhile, the group of suspects just sits there and listens to him blather on with scenario after scenario until, miraculously, he comes up with the right one. The actions of the group of suspects are unlikely, to say the least.
I did like the insight into the criminal mind and the thief's guide to conducting a crime. Charlie was a likable character, and I enjoyed the humor that appeared in the earlier part of the book. It's too bad that the conclusion didn't build on those positive points. This is a good series concept, but it needs to be better executed.
Twelve-year-old Annie Taylor is pretty fed up with her mother, especially when her latest boyfriend, Tom, appears at breakfast one morning,RATING: 4.5
Twelve-year-old Annie Taylor is pretty fed up with her mother, especially when her latest boyfriend, Tom, appears at breakfast one morning, just like he belongs there. In an effort to win over her 10-year-old brother, William, Tom has promised to take him fishing. When that doesn't happen, Annie decides to take matters in her own hands. Appropriating Tom's fishing rod, she takes William on a trek into the woods so they can fish on their own. Neither of them are prepared for what happens while they're there. They've stumbled across a group of four men who are in the process of killing another man. The children inadvertently give themselves away and end up going on a run for their lives. And thus, they become "missing children"; fortunately, they've found a place to lay low until they can figure out what to do.
The book takes place in North Idaho, a setting that Box describes in breathtakingly beautiful detail. The area has become a haven where retired cops from Los Angeles are settling down. They get to have a little bit of heaven at an affordable price; at the same time, there are enough of them that they have a sense of community. Considered to be a desirable addition to the neighborhood, it's a shock to realize that the killers are among this group. In an effort to cover up the crime, they volunteer to run the task force searching for the children. Who better to take on such an assignment than a bunch of expert cops? Of course, no one is aware that there is anything amiss with these men.
The children end up on a remote ranch owned by Jess Rawlins that has seen better days. Rawlins is struggling to keep his ranching operation going; he's about to sell out unless he can turn things around. He's a man with a big heart, though, and he immediately protects the children when he finds them in his barn and hears their story. The suspense ratchets to unbearably tense levels when the rogue cops realize that Rawlins has the children in his care.
BLUE HEAVEN is a marvelous book that transcends the thriller genre. The characters are lovingly drawn and feel very real. I cared deeply about the fate of the children and aligned instantly with the principled and brave Rawlins. In many thrillers, the characters are there merely to serve the plot; in BLUE HEAVEN, they are the focus and that's what makes it work so well. At the same time, the plot is well conceived and the pacing excellent.
C. J. Box is best known for his series set in Wyoming featuring Sheriff Joe Pickett. I wouldn't be surprised to find this standalone thriller reaching the best seller lists. I know that it is going to be a top read of the year for me.
Human beings have a finite capacity to digest the evil that happens around them. At the age of 13, Billy Shannon walked into his home while his mother Human beings have a finite capacity to digest the evil that happens around them. At the age of 13, Billy Shannon walked into his home while his mother was in the act of being murdered. Incredibly, he was able to turn the tables on the killer, Herbert Winters. But Shannon has paid the price. Now it's 20 years later, he's a cop in Massachusetts; but he's never been able to put the whole incident to rest. Every year as the anniversary of his mother's death approaches, he escapes reality by going on a binge (and he's not normally a drinker) and entering a black-out period of several days, which he can never recall. He's never been able to share his memories with anyone, including his wife, Susie; and he's never divulged anything about the yearly horrors he endures.
Lately, his nightmares are getting worse. Winters visits him in his dreams and tries to distort everything that Shannon knows to be true. At the same time, other women are being murdered in the same manner as his mother was—could Winters somehow have returned from the dead? Or has Shannon gone completely insane?
Unfortunately, I could never accept the main premise of the book. Being the type of reader that generally needs situations based in reality, I was unable to go along with the idea of a person who could transport himself into another person's dreams and try to direct their memories and waking actions. I also thought it was a cheat to include a "replicator" character into the mix and I found the resolution implausible.
On the other hand, the author does many things well, most particularly in building suspense and an interest in unraveling Shannon's past secrets The reader who is more able to accept occult events and has a higher threshold for horror will likely enjoy BAD THOUGHTS more than I did. If Zeltserman had been able to create a villain who was steeped in reality, I would have been much more satisfied with the book.
It's been a long time since Nameless has been a lone-wolf private eye. In the past few years, he's set up his own agency in San Francisco.RATING: 4.5
It's been a long time since Nameless has been a lone-wolf private eye. In the past few years, he's set up his own agency in San Francisco. One of his initial hires, Tamara Corbin, proved herself so adept at running the operation that Bill asked her to be a partner. Ever since, they've experienced great success and even had to hire two more operatives, Jake Runyon and Alex Chavez. At the moment, they are managing the entire case load, as Bill is deeply involved in supporting his wife, Kerry, as she deals with breast cancer. Once her prognosis is in, Bill is able to return to the agency. The truth of the matter is that he is easing toward retirement and only handling a few cases anyway, generally for former clients who specifically request him.
The client is Celeste Nobel, for whom Bill did work several years earlier. She wasn't entirely satisfied with the outcome, but realized that Bill was the man she needed to assist her in investigating the suspicious death of her sister, Nancy Mathias. Celeste is a difficult client, haughty and arrogant, but she does humble herself somewhat because she loved her sister. She believes that Nancy's husband has had her killed. Bill goes deep into the history of Brandon Mathias and his business associates, and comes back once again with a conclusion that Celeste does not find acceptable.
In the meantime, Jake Runyon is chasing down another case in a remote place north of San Francisco. It begins with his trying to serve a subpoena on a man named Jerry Belsize and ends with a series of murders and arson. There's a lot of small-town type situations to face, including an obnoxious local law enforcement officer who does everything he can to make things difficult for Jake.
SAVAGES is the 32nd (that's not a typo – thirty-second!) entry in the Nameless Detective series. I am a total fan of the series, and this book is a prime illustration why. The writing is straightforward; the procedural aspects solid. I enjoyed the dual plots unfolding next to each other. The characters change and grow with each new installment, and it feels like you are spending time with people that you've grown to care about. Pronzini did a great job in this one of exploring the more personal and intimate side of Kerry and Bill's relationship; I felt that I got to know both of them at a much deeper level than before.
And just as I do after every Nameless book that I finish, I sit back after reading and wonder how he is able to keep a series so fresh and engaging over such a long period of time. I am sure that I will say that once again when I finish the 50th book in the series (maybe Nameless won't even be around then!) – this series is an amazing accomplishment, and I never want it to end.
Vince Maguire is an expatriate American journalist who is living in Warsaw and working as a features writer for an English-language paper.RATING: 3.75
Vince Maguire is an expatriate American journalist who is living in Warsaw and working as a features writer for an English-language paper. Although he's lived there for a decade, he's remained quite unconnected from his family and former life in New York. All that changes when he gets a phone call in the middle of the night from his brother, Teddy, saying that he'll be arriving in Warsaw the following day. When Vince goes to the airport, Teddy is not to be found. Instead, a man by the name of Marty Forlani meets him and tells him that his brother is in trouble. That's an understatement. Vince unwittingly goes along with Marty and ends up in the middle of an assassination attempt, and he looks guilty as hell. When the apartment of his some-time girlfriend, Zuzanna, is blown up, he knows it's time to get out of town.
After putting a few clues together, Vince makes his way to northern Alberta, Canada. He believes that his brother is working for an oil company there. Vince needs to know if he's been set up by his brother or if there's something else going on that would explain the intrigue that has taken over his life. Could he be the victim of his brother's greed? It appears that a group of scientists have uncovered a way to produce oil that is far more efficient and effective than current methods.
Owad excels at building suspense, and the reader is never certain what the truth is. As much as you'd like to believe otherwise, it looks highly likely that Teddy has betrayed his brother. Relying on his skills developed through years of investigative reporting, Vince uncovers the truth, with his heart being broken more than once.
I enjoyed Owad's writing style. He has a deft hand with dialogue, and the narrative progressed at a good pace. The descriptions of life in Poland were well done, and the main characters who associated with Vince really came to life. The "bad guys" were less effectively drawn, particularly two men Vince referred to as "The Tweedles". Although I found the rationale for all of the murderous activity less than engaging, I was quite caught up in Vince's relationships, friend and family alike. ...more
When you're a parent, you face all kinds of dilemmas as far as making your children accountable for their own behavior. Whether they are eiRATING: 3.5
When you're a parent, you face all kinds of dilemmas as far as making your children accountable for their own behavior. Whether they are eight or twenty-eight, it's often difficult to know when you should bail them out and when they need to face the music. James Carroll may be twenty-three, but it's truth or consequences time for him—pay the 30,000 pounds he owes for some drugs he was moving, or face up to what a ruthless drug dealer has in store for him. Although his parents have long been divorced, they are the ones who are stepping up to the situation. His mother, Virginia, feels the only course of action is to pay up. His father, Francis, believes that James should accept responsibility for his acts. Complicating things is the fact that Francis is in the process of floating a new IPO and has all his assets targeted for that investment. His second wife, Rachel, is unlikely to want to mortgage their future to help James.
There's a lot of dickering back and forth between Virginia and Francis; but ultimately after understanding what will really happen to James if he doesn't pay up, Francis agrees it's best to cough up the money. It's not that easy, though, as circumstances change throughout the story and various plots and counterplots play out. At the same time, the human dynamics are boiling in all sorts of directions. Francis is still attracted to the volatile and appealing Virginia; meanwhile, Rachel is desperately drinking strange brews and hiding aphrodisiacs in Francis's food in an attempt to have the child that she thinks will be the ultimate glue in their marriage.
McKeowen's real strength in this book is in characterization. Virginia is a completely unique creation. She has a knack for rationalizing behavior while making anyone disagreeing with her point of view feel somehow lacking, which results in all manner of manipulation. The drug kingpin to whom the money is owed is quite a bit different from the stereotype that you might expect. He is a supremely rational man, careful to a fault, who is planning his retirement to Hawaii just as if he were a businessman for a corporation. Francis is generally in a state of confusion about what to do about his son, his ex-wife, his business, his new wife. The conflicts between the characters are very well done.
The plot was interesting enough, but there wasn't enough happening to warrant a 500-page book. At various points throughout my reading, I found my interest flagging. I was surprised that Grip was shortlisted for the CWA John Creasey Memorial Dagger for best debut crime novel in 2005. Although I found the book reasonably enjoyable, I didn't consider it to be an outstanding effort.
Hugh Davoren is a former journalist who is now working in construction in an isolated area of Montana. He's lived most of his life in thisRATING: 4.5
Hugh Davoren is a former journalist who is now working in construction in an isolated area of Montana. He's lived most of his life in this place. Currently, he is working on the Pettyjohn Ranch. Its owners, Wesley and Laurie Balcomb, are new to the area and raising thoroughbred horses. One evening when Hugh is finishing up on the job, he goes to the area where he dumps the construction debris. He makes a horrible discovery, two dead horses who have not just died but obviously been murdered. From that point on, his life is in a downward spiral, even though he tells no one of what he's seen. Wesley Balcomb does everything he can to have Hugh disgraced and removed as a threat. Just what is it that he has to hide?
Perhaps it has something to do with his wife. Laurie. She seems terrified of Wesley and makes Hugh into her ally. Initially cautious, he finds himself wanting to protect her and care for her. She reminds him of his first love, Celia Thayer, who broke his heart when he was a teenager. She died under suspicious circumstances. As it turns out, those echoes from the past have great relevance to the events of today.
LONE CREEK is a beautifully written book that is satisfying on just about every level. The characters on these pages are all flesh and blood, although most of them are a tad eccentric. Hugh is probably the most "normal" one of the bunch; yet, he's suffering profound loneliness in his daily life. Most of the people he respects are a bit off kilter. There's his best friend, Madbird, an Indian who has some strange ways but who is loyal no matter what is asked of him. He easily joins the pantheon of memorable sidekicks in crime fiction. There's another group of folks who are stupid or manipulative or mean. The one person who seems genuinely warm-hearted is Hugh's former girlfriend, Sarah Lynn Olsen, but her portrayal is almost tepid in comparison to the rest of the crew. Their relationship was a weakness for me, but that was a minor piece of a much bigger story.
The plot was ingenious, complex, surprising and riveting all at the same time. The diabolical machinations of Wesley Balcomb are inspired—the way that his mind works is fascinating in all its evil. I was fooled more than once by the events in the book, but McMahon always used fair play. There were some action scenes that had me on the edge of my seat. McMahon also used the setting in ways that contributed to the atmosphere of the book. Some of the most exciting scenes are set in remote areas of the Montana landscape.
I highly recommend LONE CREEK. It takes real talent to have such a good balance between characterization and plotting, although I was vaguely disappointed by the resolution. McMahon is the real deal and LONE CREEK one of my favorite recent reads.
Brian McNulty is a bartender who's been exiled to the nondescript Savoy Hotel in New York City after a run-in with one of the union organizRATING: 3.5
Brian McNulty is a bartender who's been exiled to the nondescript Savoy Hotel in New York City after a run-in with one of the union organizers at a classier spot. It seems like everyone associated with the bars and the union is on the take. When one of the union honchos embarrasses a cocktail waitress, the entire working staff go out on strike. His fellow bartender and friend Barney is savagely attacked as a result of his flirtation with a waitress named Betsy whose abusive husband is a cop. It falls on McNulty to organize the strikers and keep the picket line going.
And now he's in a world where everything is against him. The union chiefs have a vested interest in keeping their enterprise going, so McNulty is a target for them. Then there's the garden variety gangsters who are also involved and who threaten him as well. When the cop is murdered, the prime suspect is the wife and Brian's bartender friend. He tries his best to prove that neither of them committed the murder, no matter how justifiable. But nobody wants to believe a bartender over the law enforcement authorities.
In spite of the violence around him, McNulty manages to retain a core of sweetness that makes him a very sympathetic character. He takes in the cop's wife and child because he is worried about what will happen to them, not to make any romantic advances. He has a marked lack of confidence in his own abilities, both as a union organizer and as a father. Some of the best scenes in the book are the ones where he is interacting with his son, sometimes failing miserably at the whole fatherhood gig. But his heart is in the right place, and that makes it work. As a bartender, he has a heightened sense of what makes people tick and an innate sympathy for others.
Given that, it was hard for me to understand why McNulty mulishly clung to the idea that one of the union chiefs was the genesis of all the troubles in the book. It seemed pretty obvious that this character was just a cog in the bigger machine. All of the suspicions that Brian had about him were very unconvincing.
Lehane has done a great job of depicting the Irish community and the inner workings of the union. The fact that Brian McNulty is not the typical Knight in Shining Armor makes him an appealing protagonist.