When person or persons unknown murdered her entire family, seven year old Libby Day managed to escape and fingered her brother Ben as the killer. Now,When person or persons unknown murdered her entire family, seven year old Libby Day managed to escape and fingered her brother Ben as the killer. Now, decades later, she's dysfunctional and nearly penniless, and after meeting some true crime enthusiasts, isn't so sure her brother was the murderer after all. Can Libby discover the truth?
After dodging Gillian Flynn for years in the wake of Gone Girl, I finally caved it when this showed up in one of my daily cheap ebook emails. Gillian Flynn, where have you been all my life?
Dark Places is a mystery but it's one of those mysteries that also happens to be brutal and very well written, like Winter's Bone or something along those lines. Libby Day is a broken adult, having never recovered from her mother and sisters being murdered by her brother. Or were they? Libby cracks open the past like a pinata and takes a look at what falls out: not candy but a lot of ugliness, more like a brood of cockroaches.
Since I live very near nowhere's asshole, rural settings always resonate with me because I understand living miles from everywhere and what could happen in the dark of night. Libby wakes up to the sounds of her family being slaughtered. Not exactly your feel-good read.
I love that instead of some notion of heroism, Libby gets involved in her family's murder because she's nearly run out of money and has no idea how to function as a normal adult. She's a kleptomaniac and has burned every familial bridge she ever trod upon. Lyle and the Kill Club light the spark but it's the lack of money that provides the fuel, at first, anyway.
Gillian Flynn crafts one hell of a mystery yarn but it's her characters that show she's more than just another mystery lover. Ben and Libby are sympathetic figures, despite both being deeply flawed. Still, she makes you understand their motivations, making them seem all too realistic. The parallel structure of the book builds the suspense. I had no idea what actually happened that night until it was pretty much spelled out for me, which I love in a mystery.
There's not much else I want to say for fear of giving something away. Dark Places. Five stars. Read it! ...more
Gun runner Eddie Coyle is facing jail time for some hijacked booze. While trying to procure some guns for a friend of his for a string of bank robberiGun runner Eddie Coyle is facing jail time for some hijacked booze. While trying to procure some guns for a friend of his for a string of bank robberies, Coyle decides to drop a dime on the man he's buying from. But will that be enough? And what will happen to Eddie once people hear he's a fink?
Elmore Leonard called this the best crime novel ever written. Dennis Lehane called it a game changer. Raylan Givens even mentioned it on an episode of Justified. I figured I should give it a read.
The Friends of Eddie Coyle is a lot more challenging than you'd think a slim crime novel would be. It's mostly dialogue and a lot is left up to the reader to figure out. However, it's also clearly the spiritual ancestor of a lot of crime novels that came after. I was immediately reminded of the works of Elmore Leonard and Richard Stark, and the Boston setting reminded me of Lehane's work set in Bean Town.
Speaking of his friends, they're more like co-workers in that most of the characters are criminals, including Eddie. Even the cops are kind of shady. I wasn't sure who was lying to who for a great portion of the book.
Eddie's a conflicted character, not wanting to be a rat exactly but also not wanting to go jail. Even though he got what he deserved in the end, I still felt a little sorry for him.
Higgins' punchy dialogue is the star of the show. It holds up to the standards of today's crime fiction and probably inspired a lot of it, directly or indirectly.
The book's strength is also its weakness, however. Since it's mostly dialogue, it's hard to keep the characters straight at times and the only characters with any degree of substance are Eddie Coyle and Detective Foley.
I wouldn't say it's the greatest crime novel ever written but The Friends of Eddie Coyle is definitely worth your time. Four out of five stars....more
Lorenzo Brown, dog catcher and ex-con, struggles to keep from falling back into his old ways, while his parole officer, Rachel Lopez, has some problemLorenzo Brown, dog catcher and ex-con, struggles to keep from falling back into his old ways, while his parole officer, Rachel Lopez, has some problems of her own. What will happen when two drug factions get into a dispute and Brown and Lopez find themselves caught in the crossfire?
Drama City is a throwback to George Pelecanos DC Quartet. While it's a crime book, it's also a story of life in Washington, DC. In this case, it's the story of a black man trying not to fall back into a life of dealing drugs and a parole officer trying not to let her life go up in flames due to her addictions to sex and booze.
Brown and Lopez are both deeply conflicted characters. It could be that Brown's love of animals and feels toward the young woman and her little girl that he sees every day while walking his dog are all the keeps him from his old life of violence. Lopez has never been in an equal relationship and the idea of one scares her.
Brown's friend from his youth, Nigel Johnson, is a fairly powerful drug dealer. After a minor turf dispute with a rival dealer's thugs, things begin building and Lorenzo is pulled in when he breaks up a dog fighting ring. Melvin Lee, one of the thugs he runs across, shares his parole officer.
Father figures and growing up without a father play important roles in Drama City. Rico Miller, psychopath that he is, sees Melvin as a father figure, and therein is the source of much of the drama that happens in the story. Nigel Johnson sees himself as a father figure to Michael Butler, and when Michael winds up dead, things quickly escalate.
There isn't a lot of action in Drama City. Most of the events are of the emotional sort, but when the violence comes, it is brutal. I love the twist at the end with Nigel and Lorenzo.
Most of Pelecanos' books have a cinematic feel but Drama City felt the most like a movie to me so far. Like something that would probably be nominated but not win an Academy Award.
As with all Pelecanos books, there are a lot of music references and a fair amount of car talk. Derek Strange and his dog make an uncredited cameo appearance early on. Well, Greco is named but not Strange. One thing I noticed is that Pelecanos doesn't often point out skin color to describe characters so you might not realize someone is or isn't white right away.
Like I said earlier, Drama City feels like a throwback to the DC Quartet to me. Four out of five stars....more
A year after his twin sister disappeared, thirteen year old Johnny Merrimon is still looking for her. His father has ran out on the family out of guilA year after his twin sister disappeared, thirteen year old Johnny Merrimon is still looking for her. His father has ran out on the family out of guilt and his mother is hooked on pills and shacked up with an abusive scumbag. The only other people who seem to care are Johnny's best friend Jack and a burned out cop named Clyde Hunt. Until another girl disappears...
The Last Child is a mystery about a missing girl in a small town but it's also a lot more than that. It's the story of what happens to a family who suffers senseless loss with nowhere to turn. It's the story about a cop so obsessed with a case that his life falls apart. And it's the story of what guilt does to a person over the course of a year.
The story starts simply enough. Johnny is out looking for his sister when he witnesses a man run down by a car. The man's dying words are of finding a missing girl. The story zigs and zags all over the place, taking Johnny and Detective Hunt to places most people would be reluctant to go, both physically and emotionally.
I'd never heard of John Hart before this book but I'll be picking up his back catalog after this. The prose was a notch above most detective novels and the characters were very well realized, not a paper character in sight. The relationships between the characters and their families drove the book forward, Johnny and his mother, Hunt and his son, Jack and his family. Levi Freemantle reminded me a lot of John Coffey from The Green Mile.
Hart kept me guessing right up until the end, dragging me from one false lead to the next. I had no idea who the killer was until it was spelled out for me. That's the hallmark of a great mystery. Hell, of a great book period.
Five stars. If I read a better book than this in 2013, I'll be surprised. ...more
When repo man Bart Heslip is found in a coma in a wrecked, repossessed Jaguar, his college, former cop Larry Ballard, can't shake the idea that someonWhen repo man Bart Heslip is found in a coma in a wrecked, repossessed Jaguar, his college, former cop Larry Ballard, can't shake the idea that someone staged the accident to cover something up. Armed with only his wits and Heslip's last two days worth of cases, Ballard goes up against a three day deadline to find a would-be killer.
I initially bought this because I knew it was a crossver with Richard Stark's The Plunder Squad. It proved to be a pretty read all on its own.
Dead Skip reads like an episode of The Wire if The Wire was about a bunch of private detectives working for Dan Kearny and Associates, a repo agency. Ballard runs all over San Fransciso and surrounding areas, running down any lead he can find, looking for the man who put Bart Heslip in a coma. Needless to say, it boils down to legwork and talking to people, not booze and broads.
The case was serpentine in its complexity and not easily solveable. The dead leads outnumbered the useful ones by 12 to 1. By the time Ballard finally got on the trail, I was as worn out as he was.
Kearny and Ballard were both fairly well drawn characters for a book of this type from the era when it was written. Kearny doggedly looking for his man reminded me of Matthew Scudder a bit. Kearny could have easily been a world-weary police chief in another life.
The crossover with Parker made me want to reread all the Richard Stark novels. Speaking of Stark, the writing reminded me of Ed McBain collaborating with Richard Stark, despite both of them being pseudonyms and not actual people.
Dead Skip was a fun read and not just because of the Parker crossover. I'll be looking for the subsequent DKA books. Four out of five stars....more
P.I. Janelle Watkins left finding missing children behind after a failure that led to her leaving the San Francisco PD. Or so she thought. Now she's bP.I. Janelle Watkins left finding missing children behind after a failure that led to her leaving the San Francisco PD. Or so she thought. Now she's back in the town where she grew up, on the trail of two missing boys. Can she overcome her personal demons long enough to find the boys and bring their abductor(s) to justice?
I got this courtesy of Angry Robot/Exhibit A and Netgalley.
Karen Sandler has been around for a while but this is her first detective novel. I hope she sticks to writing detective novels from now on.
Janelle Watkins won me over right away, from her injured leg, to her dysfunctional childhood and subsequent psychological issues, to her sassy black secretary. About halfway through the first chapter, I started measuring Janelle Watkins and Clean Burn against Carol Starkey and Demolition Angel. Janelle held her own.
The comparison to Demolition Angel proved to be an apt one. Watkins and Starkey are both damaged heroines, Watkins from her dysfunctional childhood and the accident that saw her get chained to a desk with a bum leg and Starkey from the bomb blast that killed her partner/lover and left her off the bomb squad. They both also have bad coping mechanisms: Starkey loves the sauce and Watkins burns herself with match heads. They're both strong ladies when the chips are down.
Watkins' cases take her to her old home town of Greenville and back into her past, confronting both memories of her childhood and the sheriff, her old partner on the SFPD with whom she had an affair. Ken, the sheriff, is working on arson cases. The two inevitably team up and find themselves up against a serial kidnapper/nutcase called Mama.
Things develop along the usual thriller-y lines, chasing down leads and moving closer to the inevitable hookup, a standard trope for the genre. It all came together at the end and the last 30% was nearly impossible to put down.
It was right on the line between three and four so I gave it a four, the same rating I gave Demolition Angel. When's the next Janelle Watkins book coming out?
A drifter named Constantine winds up back in DC after more than a decade of drifting and finds himself entangled in a plot to rob two liquor stores atA drifter named Constantine winds up back in DC after more than a decade of drifting and finds himself entangled in a plot to rob two liquor stores at the same time. But can he keep his mind on the job when the girlfriend of the man bankrolling it has her sights set on him?
Shoedog is a departure from Pelecanos' first couple of books featuring Nick Stefanos. This one features a larger cast and a different writing style. Instead of a straight up detective story, this one is more like a heist by Richard Stark or Elmore Leonard. Probably more on the Leonard side of things. It's written from multiple viewpoints in the third person, much different than the Stefanos books.
Constantine, like Stefanos, is kind of a screw up but of a slightly different breed than our beloved Nick. He's a drifter, running his whole life. Things start coming unglued for him when he winds up back in DC for the first time since he was 17 and hooks up with another screw up named Polk. He and Polk get involved with a gangster named Grimes and things immediately spiral out of control.
Even though the writing is different than in the Stefanos books, it's still Pelecanos and still pretty damn slick, complete with music references. The heist seemed flawed from the beginning and was doomed to come unglued, as did the fledgling relationship between Constantine and Delia. Parker never would have worked with a crew like this.
I did like the way the dual heists were written, though. It felt like a sequence from a Guy Ritchie movie. An early one, like Snatch or Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, not anything after that.
That's about all I can say without giving anything away. It's a quick and exciting read. Not my favorite Pelecanos by any stretch but not bad either....more
An inventor goes missing and his mistress winds up dead. Former detective Nick Charles wants nothing to do with the case but keeps getting drawn in. WAn inventor goes missing and his mistress winds up dead. Former detective Nick Charles wants nothing to do with the case but keeps getting drawn in. With his plucky wife Nora, can Nick get things sorted out so he can get back to his drinking?
The Thin Man was not at all like I expected. After reading the exploits of Sam Spade and the Continental Op, I expected more of the same. The Thin Man is much more humorous than Hammett's earlier works and I found myself liking it quite a bit.
Nick Charles, former detective, is quite a character. He's smart, sharp witted, and he likes the sauce. He's such a raging alcoholic that Matthew Scudder and Nick Stefanos once staged an intervention for him BEFORE they got off the sauce. "Nick, we like week-long benders as much as the next guy but you might have a problem..."
His wife, Nora, sticks by her man, even if he probably smells like a distillery most of the time due to all the alcohol he consumes. The one-liners each of them fire off are infinitely more interesting than the plot. I'm pretty sure the plot is only here for Nick and Nora to bounce lines around and give them something to do between drinks.
The writing is top notch for the era as well. As always, once I forgave Hammett for not being Raymond Chandler, it was off to the races. Quotable lines abound: “Nora: "How do you feel?" Nick: "Terrible. I must've gone to bed sober.”
“Nick: "Don't you think maybe a drink would help you to sleep?" Nora: "No, thanks." Nick: "Maybe it would if I took one.”
The plot was suitably serpentine and the interplay between Nick and Nora kept me engaged throughout. The rapid-fire dialogue was by far my favorite part of the book. Didn't Nick and Nora's dynamic in The Thin Man inspire J.D. Robb's In Death series? It's a shame Hammett didn't write more Nick and Nora books. Four stars. ...more
Rookie cop Kevin Kearns witnesses a child abduction and gets his ass handed to him by the perp, one Vernon Slocum. The girl winds up dead a short timeRookie cop Kevin Kearns witnesses a child abduction and gets his ass handed to him by the perp, one Vernon Slocum. The girl winds up dead a short time later and Kearns finds himself the scapegoat. When a retired cop with a history of his own with Slocum, Bob Farrell, shows up offering him a chance at redemption, Kearns jumps at the chance. But will even two lawmen be enough to bring in a remorseless killing machine like Slocum?
First off, the official stuff: I got this ARC from Exhibit A in exchange for reviewing it. I'm a huge Angry Robot fan so when I heard they were launching a crime line, I sprung into action and nabbed print ARCs of their first two books.
Wounded Prey is the tale of a deranged psychopathic ex-marine and the two men bent on stopping his killing spree... permanently!
Sean Lynch's debut effort is quite something. This is one brutal book. The good guys don't walk out smelling like roses and the bad guy winds up smelling like something else altogether. Damn near every member of the cast goes through the meat grinder, some multiple times.
The two protagonists, rookie cop Kevin Kearns, and retired cop Bob Farrell are at opposite ends of their respective careers and complement one another nicely. I thought Kearns was a little light on personality but Farrell won me over after only a couple pages. Farrell was part mentor, part bad influence, making for an enjoyable read whenever the two were on stage at the same time.
And the villain, oh, the villain. Vern Slocum was one scary bastard and the idea of someone like him freely wandering around instead of being locked up was pretty chilling. He was rotten to the core but, given his background, didn't have much of a chance to be otherwise. On my all time list of deranged killing machines, he has to be near the top. It's pretty easy to hate a guy that's tougher than the heroes, a better shot, and a child rapist/killer to boot.
The FBI are caught in the middle. Scanlon's an asshole but he's trying to do his job. I was kind of hoping he'd join Kearns and Farrell in putting down Slocum but it wasn't in the cards.
The writing was pretty good, especially when Lynch was writing Farrell. Can you tell Farrell was my favorite character? I'll be interested in further books about Farrell and Kearns.
I do have a minor gripe. If A Farrell and Kearns thriller wasn't displayed above the title, there would have been a lot more suspense. Since Wounded Prey is the first book in a series, I knew neither of the leads would be taking the dirt nap. Other than that, not a gripe to be had. Four stars!...more
When a pizza shop robbery takes a violent turn, the thieves are never caught and the lives of several people are torn apart, most notably Dimitri KarrWhen a pizza shop robbery takes a violent turn, the thieves are never caught and the lives of several people are torn apart, most notably Dimitri Karras when his young son Jimmy is struck and killed by the criminals as they make their getaway. Years later, Dimitri is trying to put his life back together when he runs into an old acquaintance, PI Nick Stefanos. But what connection does Dimitri have with that fateful robbery...?
The DC Quartet goes out with a bang and it's my favorite George Pelecanos yet. The stories of Dimitri Karras and Nick Stefanos intersect and the whole is even better than the sum of its parts.
When we catch up with Dimitri, he's divorced and can't escape the memory of his dead son. He's in a support group with the other friends and relatives of the murder victims from the pizza shop robbery. Nick's still working at the Spot and still taking on PI work but is staying away from murder and drugs. He's still battling his considerable drinking problem.
The story comes together very organically. By now, the denizens of Pelecanos' DC are pretty real for me and the interactions between Nick and Dimitri were my favorite parts of the book. When Nick got Dimitri a job at the spot, I had a feeling how the end would shape up. I was nearly right and I'm glad the ending didn't mirror The Big Blowdown.
It was cool to see Boyle working with Karras and Stefanos. I missed Marcus Clay and Clarence Tate but it was cool knowing how they ended up after The Sweet Forever. Good for them!
The book has a slow build as the killers return to DC and Nick and Dimitri eventually cross paths. While I didn't think the gun fight at the end was as good as the one in The Sweet Forever, I liked the ending a whole lot more. The greedy part of me wants to read another book about Nick and Dimitri but I'm glad Pelecanos is leaving them behind for now. They've earned it.
Shame the Devil brings closure to both the DC Quartet and the Nick Stefanos trilogy. Like I said above, it's my favorite Pelecanos so far....more
When an old woman is shot by a sniper just after leaving confession at Sacred Heart church, Chicago cop John Lynch is on the case. But what does the cWhen an old woman is shot by a sniper just after leaving confession at Sacred Heart church, Chicago cop John Lynch is on the case. But what does the case have to do with one in 1971 that saw his father murdered? And what will the shadowy government organization that has also been tapped to bring in the sniper do if Lynch gets in the way?
First off, the official stuff: I got this ARC from Exhibit A in exchange for reviewing it. I'm a huge Angry Robot fan so when I heard they were launching a crime line, I sprung into action and nabbed print ARCs of their first two books.
Penance is a hard animal to classify, kind of like a dinosaur. In this case, it's not bird vs. reptile but hard-boiled detective vs. police procedural vs. espionage thriller. It's an exciting chimera to behold.
The protagonist, John Lynch, was the biggest selling point for me. A second generation cop, Lynch has been living in the shadow of his father, murdered when he was a kid, most of his life. He doggedly pursues the sniper despite being shot at, stonewalled, and eventually blackballed. He's no superhero, either, getting wounded over the course of the book and not being comfortable with taking a life. His relationship with Liz was a little abrupt but not outside the realm of believability once it got going.
When the book first jumped to Weaver and his black ops crew, I rolled my eyes a bit, military fiction not being one of my favorite genres. While Weaver's segments had a few too many tactics and weapons descriptions for my taste, it managed to steer clear from gun porn territory and actually meshed pretty well with the more detective-y sections featuring Lynch. It also didn't give me Brad Thor flashbacks, something else I am thankful for. Weaver, Ferguson, and the rest were believable antagonists, adhering to the rule that the best villains are the ones that think their actions are right and justified.
The sniper, while not getting a lot of solo time, was pretty believable and made a chilling threat. I found myself avoiding windows when walking to the bathroom to keep from getting shot by an unseen assailant a few times. I also really liked his reasoning behind shooting people just after they left confession.
The two plot threads, the one in the past with Lynch's father and Lynch's tale in the present day, intersected where I thought they would. There were some twists near the end that brought this above the level of most thrillers.
One thing that I thought was really odd was this bit from Lynch's point of view: Colleen Lynch-Ketteridge stepped out of the car in a Hillary Clinton-type pant suit, except Hillary didn't have Collie's ass. The phrasing is a little creepy to me but I don't have a sister. Maybe if they have nice asses you say things like this?
3.5 stars. I'll read another Dan O'Shea (or Exibit A) book after this....more
A drug runner's car crashes outside of Marcus Clay's record store and someone steals a bag of money out of the back of the car as it burns. Will the sA drug runner's car crashes outside of Marcus Clay's record store and someone steals a bag of money out of the back of the car as it burns. Will the stolen bag of money destroy all that Marcus Clay has worked to build?
The third book in George Peleanos' DC Quartet catches up with Dimitri Karras and Marcus Clay in the 1980s, years after the events of King Suckerman. Marcus now owns a chain of record stores and Dimitri owns an impressive cocaine habit. Complicating matters are a pair of crooked cops, a local crime lord named Tyrell Cleveland and his goons.
Tension slowly builds in this one as Karras sinks deeper into addiction, one of the crooked cops grows a conscience, and the stolen money seems to be the cause of all the troubles in the world. In addition to music, Basketball plays a big part in this book, notably Len Bias, who would die of a cocaine overdose after being drafted before ever playing for the Celtic, an event I remember from when I was a kid.
Nods to other works in the Pelecanos-verse abound, notably appearances by both Big Nick Stefanos and his grandson, Nick, who is still married and has just begun his self-destructive ways.
Without giving away too much, this one ends with one of the best gunfights in crime fiction, right up there with Matthew Scudder and Mick Ballou taking down the bad guys in Everybody Dies. 4.5 stars....more
While trying to clear a man for the murder of his mistress, Spero Lucas takes on another case, the case of a painting stolen by a woman's former loverWhile trying to clear a man for the murder of his mistress, Spero Lucas takes on another case, the case of a painting stolen by a woman's former lover. Further complicating things is a love affair Spero is having with a married woman. Can Spero recover The Double and survive his new lady love with his health intact?
First, the official business. I got this ARC from Netgalley in exchange for reviewing it. This new Kindle is quickly paying for itself.
The first Spero Lucas book, The Cut, was also my first George Pelecanos. Since then, I've read the Nick Stefanos trilogy and the first two books in the DC Quartet. Pelecanos really does like his heroes damaged, doesn't he?
As in the first book, Spero Lucas is a Gulf War vet with some trouble adjusting to civilian life. He makes his living recovering stolen property for people in exchange for 40% of the value. The Double, the painting of the title, will net him 80 large should he manage to recover it. That's a thick slice of pizza. The addition of his love affair with Charlotte really sets this one above most other detective stories. When a ladies man like Spero falls for a woman, he falls hard. I found myself empathizing with him while he was waiting for her to call him.
The villains of the piece, Billy Hunter and his cronies, were reprehensible pieces of garbage and I couldn't wait for Spero to catch up with them. The thing that keeps this from becoming a mindless actionfest is that Spero has a lot of soul searching moments and a lot more baggage from his time as a marine than originally displayed. Not that he can't dish out the violence. The final fist fight in this one is among the most brutal I've ever read.
The Double was a little lighter on musical references but it still hit all the sweet spots for me and my unconventional tastes, namely Ernest Ranglin and numerous mentions of dub records. I like that Pelecanos brought back much of the supporting cast of the first book. I'll be sad once he starts picking them off.
To sum up, I liked this just as much as the The Cut. It's top notch and I'm reading for another Spero Lucas novel. Get writing, George!
Once upon a time, three boys were fighting in the street when two men claiming to be plainclothes cops show up. One kid gets in the car, the others stOnce upon a time, three boys were fighting in the street when two men claiming to be plainclothes cops show up. One kid gets in the car, the others stay put, and their lives will never be the same. Decades later, Dave Boyle, the kid who got into the car, is accused of killing the daughter of Jimmy Marcus, one of the other boys, and the third boy has grown up to be Sean Devine, the cop in charge of the case. Did Boyle do it? And if he didn't, can Sean find the real killer?
Yeah, 2013 was supposed to be the year of Dennis Lehane for me. It probably would have been had I not discovered George Pelecanos. However, I'm back aboard the Lehane Train now and quite pleased.
While Mystic River is normally classified as a thriller, it's so much more than that, an exploration of growing up and what a traumatic childhood event can blossom into. Mystic River is the tale of three Boston boys who grew up to be very different Boston men. Dave Boyle has drifted from job to job, never quite managing to bury his abduction experience. Jimmy Marcus is a former career criminal who has gone straight and become a family man. And Sean Devine is a cop with a wife he hasn't seen in over a year and a child he's not sure is his.
From the beginning, Lehane kept the waters sufficiently muddy to hold my interest. While I knew I was supposed to assume Dave Boyle killed Katie Marcus, Lehane had me changing my opinion quite a few times. None of the three leads are very simple characters. Dave's got his childhood baggage but still tries to be the best husband and father he can be. Jimmy was once a criminal and is still a hard man but is a loving family man. Sean is a supercop but his marriage is in ruins and he's coming off a suspension for something very petty.
Once Sean is on the case, the book becomes very hard to put down, like it's been duct-taped to your hands. The mystery, unlike a lot of them these days, is solvable and I guessed who the killer was about 75% of the way through, even though I got the motive wrong.
The writing is everything I came to expect from the Kenzie and Gennaro series and then some. I think this is the book where Dennis Lehane went from "Good Thriller Writer" to simply "Great Writer."
Five stars. I suppose I'll track down the movie now....more
When Tom Ripley is offered a handsome reward to go to Italy to retrieve Dickie Greenleaf, he accepts and soon finds himself living the good life in NaWhen Tom Ripley is offered a handsome reward to go to Italy to retrieve Dickie Greenleaf, he accepts and soon finds himself living the good life in Naples with Dickie. An obsession blooms and Tom finds himself wanting to be Dickie Greenleaf. But does he want to be Dickie Greenleaf enough to kill his new friend?
I was somewhat familiar with The Talented Mr. Ripley because I nearly took a girl to see the Matt Damon version in the theater back in the day. We opted to see Dogma instead. Anyway, I knew Highsmith wrote Strangers on a Train so I decided to take a crack at it.
The Talented Mr. Ripley is a tale of obsession, murder, lying, betrayal, and more lying. In short, it's a wholesome noir tale. Highsmith reads like a mannerly Jim Thompson, especially once things start going off the rails.
Tom Ripley is the protagonist but he's far from a hero. In fact, he's probably a sociopath. He doesn't seem to be comfortable in his own skin, preferring to live a lie than to be himself. He's a liar, thief, and eventually a murderer. Since there are more of these books, I'm guessing he continues his lying murdering impersonating ways.
The book is mostly the Tom Ripley show. Dickie and the rest of the supporting cast don't have much going on other than the way Ripley manipulates them. Actually, having never seen the movie, I was surprised at Dickie Greenleaf's fate considering I expected him and Tom to start making out at any moment. Did the movie have this big of a closeted gay vibe?
Like I said before, this reads like a mannerly Jim Thompson book once things start coming unglued. It takes a lot of lying and killing to cover up a murder. I was a little surprised the body count wasn't higher once everything was said and done.
Still, I caught myself wanted Tom get away with it, kind of like Dexter Morgan or Walter White. I guess that means Patricia Highsmith knew a thing or two about writing. Four stars but I'm not in a tremendous hurry to read more about Tom Ripley....more
When a drunken bender sees Nick Stefanos stumble upon a murder in progress, he begins investigating once he sobers up. Nick soon finds himself teamingWhen a drunken bender sees Nick Stefanos stumble upon a murder in progress, he begins investigating once he sobers up. Nick soon finds himself teaming up with Jack LaDuke, a straight-laced PI and looking for the murder victim's best friend, unraveling a web of drugs, pornography, and death...
Nick Stefanos' slide into irredeemable drunkeness continues in Down by the River Where the Dead Men Go, the third of his "adventures." While Nick is now one of my favorite series mystery characters, he's wearing me down with his drinking.
Down by the River deviates from the structure of the first two. There are no drunken road trips in this one. Nick actually acts more like a detective in this one than the previous two books put together, mostly because Jack LaDuke doesn't drink. Still, Nick being Nick, he does manage to hit the sauce quite a bit, getting blackout drunk a few times and trashes his relationship with Lyla.
Pelecanos' writing continues to mature in these early outings, displaying some Jim Thompson in addition to the usual Chandler and Crumley. His depictions of Nick getting drunk make me feel a little hungover. This one felt a lot more urgent than the other two Stefanos books, probably because there was no drunken road trip to break up the investigation.
Down by the River Where the Dead Men Go is the best written of Pelecanos' Nick Stefanos series and probably the most powerful since it shows what Nick's life is doing to the people around him. I guess I'll give it a five but I feel guilty doing it since Nick keeps plunging toward rock bottom....more
When an old man that knew his grandfather asks Nick Stefanos to find his missing grandson, Nick agrees out of a feeling of kinship for the boy. But whWhen an old man that knew his grandfather asks Nick Stefanos to find his missing grandson, Nick agrees out of a feeling of kinship for the boy. But what does an ad man in an electronics store know about detective work?
Here we are, George Pelecanos first novel. The more Pelecanos I read, the higher he is elevated in my esteem. A Firing Offense is no exception.
A Firing Offense starts off with a standard hard boiled plot: someone is missing. In this case, it's Jimmy Broda, a young man that reminds Nick way too much of himself at that age. Nick embarks on an investigation that is equal parts The Long Goodbye and the Last Good Kiss, an investigation that mostly consists of driving around, talking to people, and drinking a small lake of alcohol. For most of the story, Nick was in the dark as much as I was.
What sets Pelecanos apart from a lot of his contemporaries is his sense of time and place. Washington DC is as much a character in the book as Nick Stefanos and the pop culture references, mostly the music, paint a good picture of the time the story was occurring.
The music references lead me to believe George Pelecanos might have run into each other if I'd been going to shows in DC bars in the 90's. He mentions Night Boat to Cairo by Madness, a song I've listened to myself at the tail end of a long night out, and The Raybeats, a obscure Link Wray inspired band featuring Danny Amis, who is now one of the guitar players for Los Straitjackets.
It's an easy four star read. Washington DC is as much a character in Pelecanos' books as New York is in Lawrence Block's....more
Bootlegger Son Martin has 150 barrels of whiskey his dad made stashed away somewhere and his old war buddy, Frank Long, now a crooked prohibition agenBootlegger Son Martin has 150 barrels of whiskey his dad made stashed away somewhere and his old war buddy, Frank Long, now a crooked prohibition agent, has his sights set on them. Will Son cave in under the pressure and hand over the whiskey or will he put Long and his cronies into the ground?
Reading an Elmore Leonard book is like bullshitting with an old friend on their front porch. In this case, it would be whiskey we'd be drinking instead of a couple frosty beers.
Rural Kentucky in the 1930's is far from Elmore Leonard's usual haunts but after watching several seasons of Justified, I figured he could handle it. I was right.
The Moonshine War plays out like a lot of Elmore Leonard books. The promise of violence keeps building until the glorious shitstorm at the end. Frank Long trying to strongarm Son Martin out of his valuable whiskey is more of the same. It went a little differently than I thought it would near the end, which is always a plus for me.
The country dialog is very well done and drives the plot forward. Like in most Leonard books, Son Martin is just a little slicker than Frank Long and the others.
Son reminds me of Raylan Givens a bit of Raylan was running moonshine instead of being a US Marshall. He's a conflicted character, his young wife dying from the flu while he was in the army leaving him somewhat directionless. He's got a bit of that Givens inner rage going as well. When his neighbors started turning on him when he wouldn't roll over for Long and the others, I knew the violence was coming. The Moonshine War actually feels like a western more than anything else.
Any gripes? Not a one besides wanting to read more about Son Martin. 3.5 stars.
Whe a high school friend of Nick's hires him to find his missing wife, Nick takes the case and quickly finds out nothing is as it seems. While Nick loWhe a high school friend of Nick's hires him to find his missing wife, Nick takes the case and quickly finds out nothing is as it seems. While Nick looks for the wife, he also looks into the murder of a reporter friend of his. Are the two events linked? Will Nick be able to solve the cases and escape with his life?
As Nick Stefanos' life continues to side downhill, pushed by a waterfall of booze, my esteem for George Pelecanos continutes to rise. Nick's Trip, much like the previous novel, A Firing Offense, sees Nick going on a drunken road trip. This time, however, it's with his client, Billy Goodrich.
The Goodrich portion of the novel is a trip into the countryside centering around checking April Goodrich's old haunts and going up against her old boyfriend, Tommy Crane. Nick consumes an inhuman amount of booze and gradually pieces together what is going on. The other portion, finding out killed William Henry, puts Nick up against dirty cops and organized crime alike.
Much like the last book, the greatest strengths of this one are Washington DC as a setting and the characters. Nick continues his plunge toward rock bottom and I love that he works as a bartender between cases. The regulars at the Spot help drive the story forward as Nick pieces things together. I also like the side plot with Nick and Jackie Khan.
The writing is even better than in the last book. It's pretty clear that Pelecanos holds James Crumley on a pedestal, or at least did at the time this was written.
Any complaints? Not really, apart from the structure being pretty similar to the last book and there not being several hundred more Nick Stefanos books out there waiting for me to read them. Four drunken stumbling stars....more
Chris Flynn is a troubled youth from DC and after some brushes with the law, finds himself in reform school. Upon his release, he is walking the straiChris Flynn is a troubled youth from DC and after some brushes with the law, finds himself in reform school. Upon his release, he is walking the straight and narrow, working for his father, when he and a friend stumble upon a gym bag full of money on a carpet laying job. They don't take the money but it goes missing anyway and the owners come gunning for them. Can Chris stay on the right path or will he fall back into his old ways?
In The Way Home, Pelecanos revisits themes from some his earlier books: sons struggling to live up to the expectations of their fathers and how hard it is to not fall back into bad behavior patterns.
The book is split almost in half, the first half depicting Chris's life before and during reform school and the second portion details Chris's adult life, struggling to stay out of trouble. Cars, basketball, and music are the frequent topics of conversation, as per usual.
Chris Flynn, the lead, is a troubled man with a rocky relationship with his father. I think a lot of fathers want their sons to do better than they have but don't know how to go about encouraging them. I know mine didn't and neither did Chris's. I found myself relating a little too much to Chris, both before he went into reform school and the reformed outlook after he came out.
Like a lot of Pelecanos books, he takes a fairly standard crime plot, the found money, and uses it as a device to showcase his nuanced characters. Besides Chris, the rest of the cast is also a well realized group. Ali and Ben have become responsible since leaving reform school. Lawrence has not. Chris's father Thomas owns a carpet business and has a strained relationship with his son, both before and after reform school.
The villains of the piece were certainly vile but weren't that complicated and served more as plot devices than characters.
The ending reminded me of the ending of a few other Pelecanos books, most notably Drama City. In a lot of ways, The Way Home is Drama City 2.0. It had a very cinematic feel at times and I could easily picture it being made into a movie.
This one is right on the line of being a three or four. I guess I'm rounding up. I was tempted to drop it down to a 3 because it reminded me so much of Drama City but I still liked it quite a bit. 4 out of 5 stars. ...more
Way back in 1972, three white boys drove into the black part of town with an eye toward starting some trouble. One boy wound up dead and the lives ofWay back in 1972, three white boys drove into the black part of town with an eye toward starting some trouble. One boy wound up dead and the lives of three boys were changed forever. Now it's forty years later and Charles Baker thinks someone owes him for the year he did in prison...
Once again, George Pelecanos serves up a tale of redemption and forgetting the past, set against his usual Washington DC backdrop. Of all the George Pelecanos books I've read, this one is the least like a crime novel, although it does have some crime elements, most of which have to do with Charles Baker.
Alex Pappas, diner owner, has a chance encounter with Raymond Monroe, one of the black boys involved in the incident in his past that left him scarred both emotionally and physically. Raymond's brother James is the one charged with the shooting of Pappas' best friend back in the 70's. Meanwhile, Charles Baker, friend of the Monroe boys, is a waste of skin who's living with the mother of an aspiring drug dealer and begins planning to take over the youth's drug business.
Like a lot of Pelecanos' novels, one of the themes in The Turnaround is that it's possible to rise above rough beginnings or let them drag you down. It's also about talking about cars, basketball, music, and the restaurant business.
There's not a lot I have to say about this novel. It's a character driven book, even more than most of Pelecanos' books, and there's not a whole lot that actually happens aside from Charles Baker trying to shake people down and getting out of his depth. That being said, I couldn't wait for someone to take Baker out.
I wasn't too excited about this one after reading the dust jacket and mostly read it to get it out of the way. It's more literary than most of Pelecanos' books and pretty well written. Three stars.
Derek Strange is hired to find evidence to keep Granville Oliver from getting the chair. Terry Quinn is helping his girlfriend find a missing girl. HoDerek Strange is hired to find evidence to keep Granville Oliver from getting the chair. Terry Quinn is helping his girlfriend find a missing girl. How will their cases intersect with a brewing turf war between two gangs?
In this Strange and Quinn outing, Pelecanos explores the gang life in Washington DC even deeper than he has in the past and Strange and Quinn are drowning in it. Strange is tracking down evidence that could keep a known gangster alive out of guilt for killing the man's father when he was a cop. Quinn's helping his girlfriend Sue Tracy find a missing girl. Dewayne Durham and Horace McKinley are heading toward a confrontation that can only end in violence. Dewayne's loser brother Mario touches a spark to a trail of gunpowder with an act of thoughtless violence that sends everything into motion.
Soul Circus has all the Pelecanos hallmarks: pop culture references, philosophical talk about the nature of guns, violence, and life in DC, and of course, Nick Stefanos. Things start getting tense once Mario finds himself in the soup and they don't let up until a couple bloody moments near the end.
The antagonists in Soul Circus are among Pelecanos' best I've read so far. Dewayne's crew and McKinley's crew are all much more developed than the heavies in most detective fiction. Monkey's feelings toward Juwan and his reluctance to harm the kid and Dewayne's feelings for his loser brother made the gangsters seem very real to me. Foreman and his code of ethics and love for his girlfriend made him surprisingly deep for a gunrunner, much more than I thought originally. Strange and Quinn were true to themselves throughout.
Strange and Quinn don't actually accomplish much in this book but the detecting is there, as is the violence. Too bad Pelecanos hasn't written more Derek Strange books since I only have one left. ...more
A white cop kills an off-duty black cop and the black cop's mother hires Derek Strange to get to the bottom of things. Strange stumbles into a world oA white cop kills an off-duty black cop and the black cop's mother hires Derek Strange to get to the bottom of things. Strange stumbles into a world of drug dealers and dirty cops, and the only man who can help him is Terry Quinn, the white cop who shot the son of the woman who hired him...
Right as Rain kicks off the Derek Strange series. Strange, a sixty-ish black PI, is a pretty smooth character, a former cop who is fond of westerns. Terry Quinn is a white disgraced former cop who works in a used book and record store. Pelecanos uses their contrasting characteristics to explore race relations in Washington DC while they tackle the case of Chris Wilson, the off-duty cop Quinn killed.
Sound like Lethal Weapon? It's not, although Strange and Quinn poke fun at the Gibson and Glover action comedy a couple times. Strange and Quinn are both very well developed characters. Quinn's an intense guy and isn't sure if he shot Wilson because he was brandishing a gun or because he was black. Further complicating Quinn's feelings on race is Juana, his half-black, half-Puerto Rican girlfriend. Strange has been in a casual relationship with his secretary for years but won't commit despite feeling fatherly toward her son Lionel.
The friendship between Strange and Quinn grows naturally, first over westerns and boxing, and seemed pretty believable to me. I found myself caring about their relationships with their women and with each other more than the eventual gunplay I knew was coming.
The villains of the piece, the drug dealers, aren't as developed as I would have liked but the story is more about the interactions between Strange and Quinn anyway. Although I did like that Pelecanos had them leave DC for the country a bit. Both men emerge from the story changed men to some degree. Strange's case turns out well and Quinn learns a few things about himself.
4 stars. I'll be reading more of Strange and Quinn in the future.
Joe Recevo and Pete Karras were friends since they were kids, until their boss decided he didn't like Pete and had him badly beaten, giving him a cripJoe Recevo and Pete Karras were friends since they were kids, until their boss decided he didn't like Pete and had him badly beaten, giving him a crippling knee injury. Three years later, their lives will soon intersect when their old boss decides he wants Nick Stefanos, Karras' employer at a diner, to start paying him protection. Who will be left standing after the Big Blowdown?
Here we are. Another great book by George Pelecanos, the first in his DC Quartet. In the Big Blowdown, Pelecanos paints a picture of life in DC, with two vets, Karras and Recevo, as the main characters, taking them from their teens to their thirties. As with Pelecanos' other books, the Washington DC setting is a character unto itself.
The crime elements in this one aren't as pronounced as in the previous three Pelecanos book I've read, the Nick Stefanos trilogy, Nick being the grandson of the Nick in this book. The crime elements stick to the sidelines for most of the book, namely Florek looking for his missing sister and the hooker murders. Everything comes together at the end, just in time for the Big Blowdown.
Much like Nick Stefanos in his trilogy, Pete Karras is a conflicted character, not really sure how to act with his family. Or his mistress, for that matter. I think it's partly because of his experiences in World War II and partly from his upbringing. It sure goes a long way toward explaining why Dimitri Karras acts the way he does in King Suckerman, the next book in the DC Quartet.
Reading this right after reading the Stefanos trilogy, it's amazing to see what direction Pelecanos' writing was going, from a hardboiled style to a more literary one.
Four stars. I will continue to preach the Pelecanos Gospel....more
Washed up wannabe ball player Jack Ryan has a brush with the law and soon gets entangled with Nancy, a rich man's young girlfriend. Turns out Nancy isWashed up wannabe ball player Jack Ryan has a brush with the law and soon gets entangled with Nancy, a rich man's young girlfriend. Turns out Nancy is a thrillseeker and soon has Jack headed for another brush with the law...
If I'm not mistaken, this is Elmore Leonard's first crime book. While it's by no means as polished as his later works, it's the prototype from which the rest evolved.
Jack Ryan, the protagonist, is a conflicted guy pulled into a femme fatale's orbit and finds himself powerless to resist her pull, no matter how outlandish her ideas are. Nancy, the femme in question, gets her kicks by breaking windows at rocks, firing her .22 pistol at boats and windows while driving her mustang 70 mph. Complicating things are a pair of mugs Ryan did some B & E with at the beginning of the story and the boss of the cucumber-picking outfit Ryan was working for until he beat up his crew leader.
Like every Leonard book after this, there is a fair amount of double dealing. Also like it's descendents, the dialogue is slicker than a wet raft and the lines between good and bad are as blurred as the drive home after a weekend-long drunk.
Brief side note: This has been made into a movie twice but I have no inclination to see either since I don't buy Ryan O'Neal or Owen Wilson as Jack Ryan. Or as capable actors, for that matter.
For historical reasons, you'll want to give this a read as an Elmore fan. Otherwise, you could safely miss it. It's not bad but old Dutch hadn't hit his rhythm quite yet. It's like the demo version of one of your favorite songs. 3 out of five stars....more
In the bygone age of 1985, detective TC Cooke, with young cops Gus Ramone and Dan Holiday in tow, tried to save a string of murders dubbed the PalindrIn the bygone age of 1985, detective TC Cooke, with young cops Gus Ramone and Dan Holiday in tow, tried to save a string of murders dubbed the Palindrome Killer, aka the Night Gardener, and failed. Twenty years later, a murder with the same telltale characteristics occurs. Has the killer resurfaced? And can the three men, now in vastly different lives, crack the case?
The Night Gardener is a police procedural mystery set in Washington DC. At least, at first glance. It's really the tale of fathers and sons, secrets, and redemption. Gus Ramone, a veteran homicide cop, has his life shaken when a friend of his young son's turns up dead of a gunshot wound in a community garden. Since the young man's name is Asa and the situation is similar to the decades old Palindrome Killer crime, the police speculate there is a link. Retired cop TC Cooke and disgraced former cop Dan Holiday both get wind of it and launch an investigation of their own. Couple that with the story of some rival gangsters and a briefcase of stolen money and it's off to the races.
Much like the rest of George Pelecanos' novels, music, basketball, and car talk are often featured in the dialogue. Derek Strange's wife and dog make cameo appearances, as does Pelecanos himself as an unnamed passenger in a limo driven by Holiday. I kept waiting for one of the characters to get a drink at The Spot so would could check in with Nick Stefanos but it was not to be. Pelecanos revisits familiar themes like racism and what it's like to grow up black and poor in Washington DC.
As usual, his characters come right off the page. Ramone wants more than anything to keep his family safe. Holiday wants a chance at redemption. Cooke wants to solve the case that haunted the final days of his career. Even the bad guys were far from one dimensional. Several knew they were in over their heads and acted accordingly.
The revelation about Asa's death and what led him down that road were pretty hard hitting. The big gunfight was even more brutal than I thought it was going to be. The ending for the rest of the characters wasn't what I was expecting but was fitting.
Every time I return to the Washington DC of George Pelecanos, it's like I never left. As usual, Pelecanos kept me entertained for the duration. 3.5 out of 5 stars....more
It's 1976 and everyone's talking about King Suckerman, the new blaxploitation flick that's in the theaters. When Marcus Clay and Dimitri Karras wind uIt's 1976 and everyone's talking about King Suckerman, the new blaxploitation flick that's in the theaters. When Marcus Clay and Dimitri Karras wind up with a pile of cash after a drug deal gone wrong, everyone's after their hides, including a thug named Wilton Cooper and his gang, and an Italian named Tony Spags, who wants his money and his girl, who's shacking up with Karras. Can Clay and Karras give the money back without getting killed?
Here we are, the second book in George Pelecanos' DC Quartet. Pelecanos weaves a tale worthy of Elmore Leonard, set around our nations capital around the time a film called King Suckerman has everyone's attention. Pelecanos continues to develop the Washington DC of the Pelecanosverse, as Kemper calls it.
It's a pretty straightforward crime tale about ill-gotten gains and murder. What makes it so good is Pelecanos' writing, specifically how well he develops his characters. You've got Cooper, Claggett, and the Thomas brothers, the killers of the piece, Spags and Tate, the lowlifes in over their heads, and Clay and Karras, the regular guys caught up in things. With the exception of the Thomas brothers, the characters are all well drawn and fairly realistic. Cooper was so slick I almost wanted him to live through everything. The action is pretty intense when it happens and the dialogue is almost as smooth as Elmore Leonard's in his prime.
Interesting side note, I bought Eldorado Red by Donald Goines at the same time I bought this. Imagine my surprise when Goines makes a cameo appearance in the tale.
Much like The Cut, I can't really find anything to complain about with King Suckerman. Pelecanos is quickly climbing the ranks of my favorite crime writers.