Despite the long journey, Englishman Terry Sheffield arrives in San Francisco from London with a bounce in his step. Green Card in hand, he's ready to...moreDespite the long journey, Englishman Terry Sheffield arrives in San Francisco from London with a bounce in his step. Green Card in hand, he's ready to start his new life with American wife, Sarah. The two met while on holiday in Costa Rica, and after a whirlwind romance were married. Now, after being apart for 6 months due to bureaucratic red tape, things have finally lined up for the newlyweds.
Only, Sarah isn't there to meet him at the airport. After waiting for several hours, hoping she was just stuck in traffic, Terry finally takes a shuttle to "their" house, a place he's never actually been. Sarah isn't there either, which forces Terry to break in...something a watchful neighbor dutifully reports to the local sheriff. A brief arrest and long explanation later, Terry is left with a skeptical sheriff, wary new neighbors, and still no wife.
Terry can find no explanation for her disappearance, but does find evidence that she left voluntarily-there's no sign of struggle in the house and a bag, some clothes and personal items seem to be missing-and has to wonder if the police are right: did the woman he married just get cold feet and take off?
When a dead woman fitting Sarah's description turns up, her tongue cut out, Terry's brought to the scene to identify the body. He's relieved to see that it's not her, but disturbed that the sheriff now sees solving the murder as more important than finding Sarah, whom the sheriff is still not convinced didn't just run off. It isn't until more women start turning up dead that the sheriff begins to entertain the idea there may be some connection, but the connection he's looking for isn't exactly the one Terry had in mind.
Given her profession of freelance investigative journalist, Terry's forced to wonder if Sarah's disappearance has something to do with a story she's working on. But if it does, was the disappearance deliberate, or sinister? And what, if anything, do the dead women have to do with it? Only adding to his frustration and anxiety, the place where he's lined up a job, biotech company Genavax, isn't exactly what he was expecting. Actually, nothing about what he finds-or doesn't, as the case may be-in America is quite what he was expecting. In fact, the more Terry pokes around, the more complicated things become.
As do all his books, Simon Wood gets No Show off to a galloping start, plunging both Terry and the reader immediately into mystery and confusion from the moment Terry steps off the plane. Terry's status as an outsider, not just new to town but to the very country, provides Wood with fertile ground for tension, miscommunication, and appropriately timed doses of wry humor. It, and the couple's brief courtship, also provides Wood with the chance to explore the very nature of relationships-particularly those of a romantic nature-and to ask how well does anyone really know someone...even the person they're married to.
There's nothing especially groundbreaking about the plot of No Show, and there's nothing wrong with that. Not every book needs to contort itself into a pretzel trying to prove how clever and original it is. No, Wood is happy to just dig in, grab the reader's interest, and tell a page-turning mystery/whodunnit story, and you'll be more than happy to go along for the fast-paced, twisting, "didn't see that coming" ending of a ride.(less)
Having worked her way up to the position of branch manager at the brokerage firm of McKinney Alitzer in downtown Los Angeles, Iris Thorne is pretty co...moreHaving worked her way up to the position of branch manager at the brokerage firm of McKinney Alitzer in downtown Los Angeles, Iris Thorne is pretty confident she can handle anything life throws at her. That is until her ex-fiancé, Todd Fillinger, calls up with a major investment opportunity for Iris in Russia. Her instincts tell her to skip the trip and let the past be the past, but lingering guilt over the way their relationship ended-Iris left Todd at the altar, in Paris no less-overrides Iris's instincts and she finds herself on a plane to Russia.
Almost immediately upon her arrival it becomes apparent something isn't quite right with the situation, or Todd. When pressed, Todd admits he's been having trouble with the Russian mafia, which is trying to elbow in on Todd's art brokerage business. The seriousness of the situation is made graphically clear when, as Iris looks on in horror, Todd is gunned down outside the restaurant where the two were to have dinner.
Initially taken in for questioning by the Russian police, and a shady man who doesn't identify himself, Iris is eventually extracted from the sticky situation by a member of the US Consulate. Feeling a sense of obligation to Todd now more than ever, Iris agrees to carry an urn containing his ashes back to the US for delivery to Todd's sister, figuring it's the least she can do. If only she'd trusted her instincts and never gotten on that plane to begin with...
Iris has no sooner landed and delivered the urn to Todd's sister, who meets Iris at the airport, when she finds herself up to her eyes in threats and conspiracies, with everyone from the FBI to a decidedly determined and dangerous art thief to the Russian mafia demanding Iris turn over a priceless, and stolen, statue they are all under the impression she has returned from Russia with. Now Iris has to figure out a way to get to the bottom of things before she gets arrested, or killed.
As author Dianne Emley has been so kind to share in her retrospective on the Iris Thorne series, the evolution of Iris is really both the evolution of a character and a writer. With every book since her introduction in Cold Call, Iris has noticeably progressed as a character, evolving from that of a somewhat superficial and borderline irresponsible pseudo-adult into a more responsible and reasoned woman. It's a progression fueled in no small part by Emley's own growth as a writer, the evolving confidence in Iris mirroring that of Emley in her own ability as an author.
Indeed, Pushover, the fifth and (for now) final entry in the series, shows yet another leap forward. While Iris herself had grown in depth and complexity with each previous outing (Cold Call, Slow Squeeze, Fast Friends, Foolproof), it is in Pushover that the seeds for what was to come next for Emley are clearly sown from a pacing and plot point of view. Whereas the previous Thorne books tended to be more rooted in the mystery arena, Pushover has a noticeable infusion of the thriller genre, complete with international intrigue, conspiracies, shootouts and double crosses. Pushover clearly set the table for what was to come: The First Cut, the first entry in Emley's (ongoing) Detective Nan Vining series, in which Iris actually makes a cameo appearance.
Not many authors would take the time-or be brave enough-to rerelease a series which saw its initial publication two decades ago...and to "resist the urge to make major changes, wanting to respect the books as they had been published." I, for one, am incredibly happy that Emley did. For all the amusing era-specific details that pepper the Thorne series (think big hair, late 80s excess, and the "greed is good" mentality), Iris is actually a deceptively complex character. If you missed her the first time around, please do yourself a favor and discover what a wonderful series this is. And if you're of a certain age, like me, not only will you enjoy the mysteries, you'll enjoy the touch of nostalgia you'll get while reading them as well. (less)
Paul O'Brien's debut, Blood Red Turns Dollar Green, was one of the more enjoyable books I read last year, a wonderful combination of organized crime a...morePaul O'Brien's debut, Blood Red Turns Dollar Green, was one of the more enjoyable books I read last year, a wonderful combination of organized crime and professional wrestling circa the early 1970s. The book ended with a rather intense cliffhanger, and fortunately for fans of the first entry O'Brien is now back to pick up the story in Blood Red Turns Dollar Green Volume 2
As we learned in the first outing, professional wrestling in the early 70s was not the huge, centralized business it is today, but rather was broken into various territories held by individual owners spread throughout the country. And though the owners worked together to a certain degree for the greater good of the sport in general, at the same time each protected their turf ruthlessly. One owner, Danno Garland, has managed to claw his way to the top of the heap and now controls the World Heavyweight Champion, which gives him tremendous power. It wasn't an easy climb, however, and the backstabbing and double-crosses are now catching up with Danno. When his rivals lash out at him in a particularly horrific way, Danno turns his back on everything he's ever known and loved and directs the same single-minded focus he used to build his wrestling empire to a new purpose-revenge.
The story is told by flashing back and forth between the time leading up to the lynchpin event and the days immediately following it. It's an interesting juxtaposition, one which lets O'Brien fill in pertinent details and backstory from the first book in a very subtle way, allowing readers who may be joining the story in progress to hit the ground up to speed and running. It's also a technique which provides for a natural buildup of tension, with the reader waiting for the inevitable head-on collision of the two storylines as they converge like runaway trains on single track.
O'Brien's background is in writing for the stage, and that really shines through in Blood Red Turns Dollar Green Volume 2. The character development is a joy to watch unfold, with O'Brien proving to those who may have thought the wrestling setting of the first book was a gimmick (sorry, I couldn't resist) that made him a one trick pony that they couldn't be more wrong. Already in the twilight of his life, though at the top of his career, the events of Blood Red Turns Dollar Green Volume 2 utterly destroy Danno Garland, turning him into a man running on little more than grief, fueled by revenge, with the only question being whether he will accomplish his self-appointed mission before completely flaming out. As written by O'Brien, it's a transformation which is both thoroughly engaging and utterly heartbreaking.
But as captivating as Danno's breakdown is, it's Danno's second-in-command, Ricky Plick, who really steals the show. A loyal man, Ricky tries his best to keep Danno from running completely off the rails and destroying both himself and the business. As loyal as he is, however, Ricky is also very shrewd, and as Danno's downward spiral progresses Ricky knows that even after all their years together a decision will have to be made as to where his ultimate loyalty lies. After all, Ricky has his own crosses to bear, simultaneously dealing with his own failing body after years of abuse in the ring, as well as now looking out for his partner, Ginny, who isn't the same following a traumatic event during the climax of Blood Red Turns Dollar Green.
And while Blood Red Turns Dollar Green included a significant amount of detail about wrestling, including some wonderful descriptions of in-ring action, which may have made some readers a bit wary, Blood Red Turns Dollar Green Volume 2 is a straight-up crime fiction novel which just happens to have the business of 1970s territorial professional wrestling as the backdrop. There's still enough pro wrestling flavor to make fans of the sport happy-particularly in the character of Shane `The Sugarstick' Montrose, a colorful, aging superstar-but if for any reason the wrestling angle had scared you off the first one, its extremely limited "on screen" time in this outing means there's no excuse for you to not give Blood Red Turns Dollar Green Volume 2 a try.
In fact, as much as I liked the first book, I believe Blood Red Turns Dollar Green Volume 2 is even better. Telling a good crime story is hard enough, but doing so while putting a very human face on the devastation and consequences which flow from greed and power run amok is very tricky business, one which O'Brien manages with impressive aplomb. (less)
Though he doesn’t literally have “Born to Lose” tattooed on himself, Billy Keyhoe would seem to have been given the karmic equivalent of the mark. Twe...moreThough he doesn’t literally have “Born to Lose” tattooed on himself, Billy Keyhoe would seem to have been given the karmic equivalent of the mark. Twenty-nine years old, his life has been most notable for its failure to launch. The only thing he’s proven himself any good at is smoking, drinking, and beating on his girlfriend.
Even he’s bright enough, however, to realize he’s hit a new low when in a fit of jealous rage he delivers a particularly savage beating one night, so he grabs a few things and hits the road in his beater of a ’66 Caddy. His intention is to put Waycross, Georgia in the rearview and start over somewhere in West Texas.
When he spontaneously decides to rob Earl’s 66 during a stop for gas on the way out of town, that goes about as well as the rest of his life, netting him a whopping $29 and a pissed-off clerk unloading her shotgun at him for his efforts.
Things seem to take a turn for the better when Billy picks up a beautiful hitchhiker named Feather. He realizes it’s kind of odd she was just standing at a crossroads in the middle of nowhere, but Billy has no idea how truly odd things are going to get before their journey is over.
Author Kevin Lynn Helmick packs more into the hard-hitting 91 pages of Driving Alone than many writers manage in works several times as long. As the story unfolds, it quickly becomes clear to the reader that there’s more to Feather than meets the eye–she’s not just a pretty face and a “Jesus Slave” belt buckle. It takes Billy a little longer to catch on, but he slowly comes to understand that Feather can help him make sense of his life, but that in order to have any hope of moving forward he must first go back and revisit how it is he got to this point–how he became the person he is.
Along the way, Helmick plays with both Billy and the reader’s minds, causing both to question what exactly is happening between Billy and Feather as they verbally and physically spar with one another. Billy’s crude, blunt personality seems to have met a match of sorts in Feather’s (somewhat) more refined and circumspect one, and it’s a wonderful juxtaposition which Helmick deftly explores. His decision to present the dialog with a distinctive cadence which incorporates a rural slang only adds to the gritty, undeniably Southern feel of the story.
Driving Alone is a magical mix of crime fiction, romance, and Southern Gothic, and I highly recommend you join Billy on his enlightening journey of self-discovery…where it ends may surprise you. (less)
"You are a killer. Here's a man I want you to kill. I'll pay you. What else is there?" - Lorena Ruiz
For American hitman Cooper Townsend, there actuall...more"You are a killer. Here's a man I want you to kill. I'll pay you. What else is there?" - Lorena Ruiz
For American hitman Cooper Townsend, there actually was nothing else for many years. A man with a healthy dose of moral apathy, Townsend settled in Juárez, Mexico after a brief apprenticeship with an older assassin and set about making a fine living as a contract killer, primarily for one of Juárez's largest crime organizations. The book opens with Townsend taking care of a job back in the States before heading home to Juárez, where he's met with an interesting job opportunity from his main employer, Señor Barriga-work close protection for the man during a week of negotiations with one of the organization's biggest competitors.
It seems that depending upon how successful the negotiations are, Townsend may be needed to make a hit on the man, and posing as Barriga's bodyguard is the best way for Townsend to get inside the gated community and the man's home for the recon that will be needed should the hit be green-lit. While spending time at the potential target's estate, Townsend meets an alluring young woman, Lorena Ruiz, who kindles feelings in him he wasn't aware he was capable of. When Barriga tells Townsend to stand down on the hit, Lorena approaches him with a proposal of her own, one that sends Townsend down a deadly path from which there will be no turning back.
Author Sam Hawken introduced readers to the city of Ciudad Juárez in his outstanding novel The Dead Women of Juárez, and once again the city plays a role as strong as any of the characters in Juárez Dance. However, unlike in The Dead Women of Juárez, which explored in a fictional setting the real life tragedy of feminicidios (female homicides) and their political and societal ramifications, the action in Juárez Dance is more traditional, straight-forward crime fiction: a hitman, a femme fatale, and a job seemingly destined to spiral out of control.
The action in Juárez Dance builds with a slow, smoldering burn as the reader is first immersed in Townsend's daily life which, many days, is actually rather...boring. And yet, it's not boring because of the way Hawken relays it all through the eyes and thoughts of Townsend. It's the necessary groundwork to set the stage for the off the rails action to come, as there'd be no appreciation for just how far out of control Townsend's life gets, how radically his priorities begin to change, without first understanding how structured and isolated he is used to living. And when the action does hit, it hits hard.
There are two hand-to-hand fights in Juárez Dance that are simply brutal to read. The violence is explosive, primitive, and unforgiving-men used to dealing in death, who know how high the stakes are, and who will do anything to put down their opponent. Similarly, several of Townsend's hits are depicted in graphic fashion, including the aftermath and cleanup. And though it does seem apparent once the action explodes that events can't turn out well for Townsend given how far off the reservation he wanders, there is more than enough tension and uncertainty to keep the reader guessing. You may see the straight left punch coming that sets up the downhill run to the finish, but I guarantee you won't see the roundhouse right that Hawken will hammer you with to put things down for the count.
Sam Hawken has been slowly but surely making his presence known in the crime fiction community over the past few years, and Juárez Dance is another blazingly colorful feather in his cap. If you're not reading Hawken's work yet, get on it now. You will not be disappointed. (less)
Death is in the news every day, and if people stop to give it a second thought they most likely think of the void left in the lives of the living, the...moreDeath is in the news every day, and if people stop to give it a second thought they most likely think of the void left in the lives of the living, the emotional mess it creates when someone dies or is killed. Very few people, however, think about the nuts and bolts of death–the literal mess it makes.
Brothers Joe and Eddie Jones have not only thought about it, they’ve made it their business. Literally. Sparkle Cleaners, their Seattle-based janitorial service, specializes in crime scene cleanups. Theirs is a unique tag team, with Joe acting as the face of the business and Eddie the actual cleanup man. And anyone who’s ever used Sparkle Cleaners will tell you, no one can clean a crime scene like Eddie.
He’s so good, Sparkle Cleaners gets the inside line on jobs from members of the Seattle PD, including Detectives Louis and Bjorgesen. When they call Joe to schedule the cleanup of a triple murder–a husband, wife, and their six-year-old daughter–they couldn’t possibly have foreseen the chain of events that would unfold…or that it would get even more complicated when Sparkle is assigned to the cleanup of a seemingly unrelated massacre of six people at a club in Chinatown.
But what no one knows, not even Joe, is that Eddie’s gift goes far beyond being able to erase the physical signs of death. Due to a trauma the two suffered when they were young children, Eddie has retreated into his own little world, one which presents to everyone else as severe autism. But while people think Eddie is virtually uncommunicative, what they don’t realize is that he communicates with the dead. At every cleanup scene he encounters the spirit/ghost of the person who died, and only by his erasing the physical signs of their death are they able to move on to the next world.
Things get weird, even for Eddie, when at the scene of the triple homicide the young girl refuses to leave even after Eddie’s finished cleaning. Not only does she refuse to leave, she reveals to Eddie a piece of evidence the police missed, and makes him promise to “make the catch.” Eddie tries to ignore the situation, but when it happens again at the Chinatown club he knows he must act, and in doing so is forced to confront the very trauma from his past which bestowed his gift upon him.
Rudy Yuly has created something very special in Sparkle, a book which works on several different levels. First and foremost, this story is about relationships: brother to brother, partner to partner, man to woman, living to dead. It’s about what ties people to one another–be it love or loyalty or obligation–and what happens when events occur which stress those ties that bind. Joe wants to be a good brother, knows Eddie needs him, but still can’t help but resent him a little for putting Joe in a situation where he can’t lead a normal life because of Eddie’s condition. And though to the outside world it’s Joe who’s taking care of Eddie, endearingly, from Eddie’s perspective it’s very much the opposite:
It was tough on Eddie. He had to take care of Joe all the time, walking him through rituals he should be totally comfortable with. Joe couldn’t seem to get it, always trying to change stuff that needed to stay the same, like last night. When it really was time for something to change–like today–Joe would hang on to it with all his might.
Yuly exquisitely captures the frustration and awkwardness the brothers feel trying to deal with one another, as well as that which they both encounter while interacting with the women in their lives: Joe with a waitress at his favorite bar whom he’s desperately attracted to, Eddie with the worker at the zoo who takes him on a tour every Saturday as part of his rigid routine. Having dealt mostly with only each other for decades, their social skills–though for very different reasons–are highly suspect, and painfully realistically portrayed by Yuly.
The book also unfurls two different mysteries over the course of the story, that of who killed the victims at the two cleanup sites, as well as what exactly happened to Joe and Eddie when they were kids that caused Eddie to retreat into his private world. Yuly doles out clues to the killer’s identity and motives, and flashbacks to that fateful day in the boys’ lives, at just the right pace, slowly and confidently weaving all the treads together to create a complete tapestry. Yuly even manages to throw in a little curve at the end, one which only adds to the book’s overall reflection on relationships and the impact death can have on the living.
Released independently last year, Sparkle may well have slipped past under your radar, but this offbeat, lovingly written work is one I highly recommend you pick up. I may have missed it in 2012, but Sparkle has declared itself ready to fight for a spot on my Top 10 of 2013 list, that’s for sure.(less)