Saturday, January 31, 2009

The loss of a literary giant

It's sad when one of the greats leave us whether it is in film, politics, literature or elsewhere. It's almost as if a little bit of ourselves goes with them.
This week we lost the prolific author John Updike. John died Jan 27 2009.
He won the Pulitzer Prize for "Rabbit is Rich" in 1981 and "Rabbit at Rest" in 1991. He felt the ordinary people were as interesting as various adventure subjects and was outstanding in this regard.
"Rabbit at Rest" tells of the Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom's life and begins when Rabbit is in a Florida airport and gets a feeling that he has come not to meet his son but his own death.
As a collector, it was a special thrill to have a copy of "The Witches of Eastwick" in a signed limited edition.
He has also had a number of works made into film such as "The Witches of Eastwick" with the amazing Jack Nicholson and Cher, and "Rabbit Run" in 1970 with James Caan.
I'm sure that there were still some great works left in Mr. Updike and he will be missed and we are all at a loss from his absence.

Friday, January 30, 2009

"Curse of the Spellmans" by Lisa Lutz

Thirty year old PI Izzy Spellman is arrested for the fourth time due to her obsessive investigation of her next door neighbor. After Izzy learned that the neighbor's name was John Brown, she knew he just had to be up to something.

Her family owns a detective agency and when her parents refuse to bail her out, Izzy turns to her eighty-two year old Uncle Mort to defend her. However, so that Mort can mount a defense, Izzy has to tell him the story behind her suspicions.

We meet Izzy's so called fiancee, Henry Stone, a police investigator who has just been run over, accidentally, by Izzy's sister Rae. Rae is a precocious fifteen year old who has a fixation on Henry whom she calls her "best friend". Henry is so vexed by Rae's constant attention that he begs Izzy to get her away from him so he can recover in peace.

Izzy is a daffy character who could be played by Lusa Kudrow, best know from her role on "Friends". With the bizarre behavior of the characters, this novel is a fun read.

The book's jacket informs us that the author's first book, "The Spellman Files" is in development by Paramount. With the same zany characters, the movie should be enjoyable.

The writing style mixes narration and summaries from the hidden tapes that Izzy makes from many of her conversations. It is an easy read but I find the characters too absurd to be believable and while enjoyable, I don't feel enlightened by any literary scholarship.

The reason for mentioning that is that the novel has been nominated for an Edgar Award for the best mystery novel of the year. A nomination that even the author admitted being surprised about.

Mildly recommended 2 1/2 starrs.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

"Divine Justice" by David Baldacci

David Baldacci's "Divine Justice," continues the adventures of The Camel Club, a group of everyday people, established to monitor the activities of powerful agents of the U.S. Govt.
This novel has all the adventure and action of TV's "24."
John Carr, as his alias "Oliver Stone" kills the two govt. officials who have destroyed his life. One who authorized the hit on Carr's family when Carr told his bosses that he wanted to retire from his activities as the Govt's #1 assassin, the other who ordered the take out of Carr's undercover unit.
After killing the two officials, Carr leaves on a train, to lay low in New Orleans. Along the way, he helps a young man being attacked by three men on the train. Rather than give his ID to the train conductor, after the fight, Carr and his new friend are put off of the train at the next station.
They travel to the man, Danny Riker's hometown, Devine, Va. A coal mining town where Carr finds a situation reminiscent of the adventures of Lee Child's Jack Reacher. There are a number of unexplained deaths, coal miners with addiction to meth and an unusual degree of wealth throughout the town.
One day, Stone saves another young man named Willie who has overdosed and has stopped breathing. With no doctor nearby he hooks up wires to battery cables and the man's chest and shocks the man back to life.
Leading the search for Stone is Agent Joe Knox. He's a hard driving investigator and Viet Nam vet like Stone. He's been hired by fromer general, Macklin Hayes, to find Stone so Hayes' people can take care of Stone so that he never goes to trial.
Joe Knox is an honorable man and in the investigation he finds the members of The Camel Club who are so devoted to Stone that Knox begins to feel an empathy for the man and feels that their rolls could have been reversed.
Like Jack Reacher, Oliver Stone stands out as the only man in town who has the honor and determination to see what is right and do whatever it takes to correct a wrong.
Unlike Reacher, Stone has The Camel Club and associate members who want to help.
The characters are well drawn and likable. Baldacci's narrative is infectious and it's hard to put this exciting novel down.
Highly Recommended. Can't wait to see this series made into Movies.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

"The Finder" by Colin Harrison

Colin Harrison's "The Finder," is a story of love, greed and integrity.
Ray Grant is the son of a retired New York police detective. Ray participated in the 9/11 rescue as a New York Fireman. He experienced the death of his partner in such a psychologically devastating manner that he takes a leave of absence.
His girlfriend, Jin Li, is the manager of a cleaning service that has been sifting through corporate documents that they were supposed to be shredding and disposing. They are able to find valuable financial records allowing Jin Li's brother in China, and the people he advises financially, to act on insider information and manipulate the stock.
One corporation affected is Good Pharma and their stock begins falling dramatically when one of their products hits a snag in its development.
The corporation becomes aware of the document theft and Tom Reilly, a corporate exec tells his security chief to teach the cleaning service a lesson.
The security chief contacts people he knows who own a septic company.
The septic company has two trucks follow Jin Li and two friends to the beach in Brooklyn and as Jin Li is away from the car momentarily, the trucks wedge the car between them. Then the truck drivers break the sun roof of the car, attach the hose of the truck and fill the car with septic sludge, suffocating the car's occupants.
Jin Li runs and hides. Her brother, Chen, comes from China to find his sister because his source of financial info has been eliminated.
Chen orders his goons to kidnap Ray and they threaten to kill Ray's invalid father if Ray doesn't help them find Jin Li.
In the meanwhile, Bill Martz, a wealthy investor, who has seen his investment in Good Pharma reduced by 30% is after Tom Reilly to explain why.
The action moves to Jin Li's fight for survival, Ray's search to rescue her and the people from the septic company who botched up the murder and want to eliminate a witness.
Harrison's narrative style works well, moving from one character to another while keeping the reader's attention. His characters are well drawn and the plot moves along with intelligence and style.
A newspaper reviewer rated this as one of the top ten mysteries of 2008 and I agree.
Highly Recommended

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

"Stalked" by Brian Freeman

In Brian Freeman's "Stalked," a prisoner who is being transported to prison, escapes and vows to seek revenge on the people foolish enough to cause his incarceration.
While this is happening, Lt. Jonathan Stride is back in Duluth, Minnesota where his former protege, Maggie Bei, wakes up from a drunken sleep to find her husband murdered. Her police gun is at his side and she is the suspect.
When Stride offers to help, Maggie holds back. She has secrets too humiliating to divulge.
In addition, due to his former working relationship and friendship with Maggie, Stride has to appoint one of his detectives to lead the investigation into the murder. Stride tries his best to help without stepping on his detectives toes or doing anything that might be thought of as a conflict of interest.
There is an adult sex club in town and women who perform at the club are later being raped.
In addition, Strides girlfriend and lover, Serena Dial has opened a PI business and she is hired by the county attorney, Dan Erickson, to pay off the person blackmailing him.
The plot moves back between parts of the story and the reader follows the blackmailer's thoughts as he sets a trap for Serena, the person who was responsible for putting him in jail.
Freeman's writing continues to hold the reader's attention while maintaining a constant level of suspense.
The action is continuous and Freeman's descriptions of the winter in Duluth, Minnesota are vivid. I found the story engrossing but did have trouble with two of the character's similar names, Serena and Sonia.
Highly Recommended.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Edgar Award Nominees

The nominees for the best novel include a number of authors who are mystery names themselves.
One is Karin Alvtegen, whose novel, "Missing" is one of the nominees. There are many wonderful mystery review publications but somehow this novel escaped my notice.
In this novel, Sybilla, born to a wealthy family, leaves home and lives on the streets of Stockholm.
She gets by through vatious cons, one of her favorite is to get a hotel guest to buy her dinner and provide a room for the night.
However, after she wakes up one morning the guest is dead and she must avoid suspicion. Sounds interesting, I've put it on my to be read list and will report later.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Patrick McGoohan

See related article about Patrick McGoohan in Randy Larkin's shared items titled "The Prisoner Escapes."

RIP Patrick McGoohan

Sad farewell to Patrick McGoohan who passed away on January 13, 2009. I see that he was born in Astoria, NY, only a few towns away from where I was born.

Patrick was a TV Star of "Secret Agent" and "The Prisoner." One of his last roles that I recall was as King Edward "Longshanks" in Mel Gibson's "Braveheart."

I remember watching both TV shows in the 60's. As I recall, "Secret Agent" was on Friday or Saturday nights and was one of the few shows that I looked forward to.

I loved the theme music to the show, of course, "Secret Agent Man" by Johnny Rivers.

So long Patrick. You will be missed.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

"Six Seconds" review

Reading "Six Seconds" by Canadian author Rick Mofina.
Enjoyable thriller about a terrorist plot where a woman in Iraq lost her husband and child and then is raped multiple times by a group of American contractors. She is found in a dazed condition and recruited by a terrorist to go to the United States, establish herself with a former truck driver in Iraq and await the opportunity to seek a proper avenue to seek revenge. In this case that is to assassinate the Pope when he visits the United States.
The truck driver, Jake, is suffering from Post Traumatic Depression and believes that his wife Maggie slept with another man when Jake was working in Iraq. The driver kidnaps his son Logan and meets up with the Iraq mole.
Maggie is persistent in looking for her lost son. There is good drama with
lots of twists and turns.
Five months later, in Alberta Canada two children are found dead. One, a little girl is almost rescued from an icy river by Daniel Graham, a Canadian Mountie who hears the girl say "...don't daddy...don't...please" just before she dies. He becomes convinced there is more to the children's deaths and he investigates from Canada to the United States.
It is interesting to see a Canadian Mountie at work trying to solve the crime.

Fine work that keeps you wanting more. Recommended.

See "Rush Job" In Randy Larkin's shared comments for more information on this author.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Another top ten mystery for 2008 "The Brass Verdict"

In Michael Connelly's "The Brass Verdict," Mickey Haller is back in action.

Haller was last seen in the wonderful "The Lincoln Lawyer." As the action enfolds in "The Brass Verdict," Haller is recovering from a gunshot to the stomach and the complications to the pain medicine. He is a criminal defense lawyer and is summoned to the office of Judge Mary Townes Holder. He learns that his old courthouse competitor and friend Jerry Vincent has been murdered and his computer and laptop are missing. Jerry had named Haller in his legal documents as his successor in all legal matters, in event of his death.

The Judge knows that Haller hasn't practiced in over a year and asks if he is physically and mentally prepared to go back to work and take on Vincent's case load.
When Haller accepts, the Judge gives him the cases but requires a weekly update on his progress.

The biggest and most lucrative case is that of Walter Elliot. A movie studio owner who is a braggart and dislikable character. Elliot is accused of murdering his wife and her lover.

Haller must put together an administrative and investigatory staff immediately, review and case notes and find a way to defend this client.

Along the way Haller also takes on the case of a down and out surfer, who is a puppy like character who becomes Haller's driver in order to pay his legal fee.

Connelly has been correctly described as the best mystery writer around. The court scenes are believable and cleverly depicted. In is fun for the reader to be reacquainted with Harry Bosch who had a main role in previous Connelly novels. Bosch is in charge of Vincent's murder investigation and believes that the killer will now go after Haller because of what he knows and what he may discover.

The characters are well drawn and Haller is a likable hero. Having his young daughter witness her father's achievements in court adds a warmth to the plot.

Highly recommended.

Friday, January 2, 2009

"Immoral" By Brian Freeman

I remember sitting back on my easy chair and beginning Brian Freeman's "Immoral." I sighed, "aah" this is gonna be a good one. I hope there's nothing scheduled because I'm going to be reading this gem of a mystery for as long as I can without putting it down.

It's no wonder that it was a finalist for the Edgar Award.

When the comparisons to Michael Connolly and Dennis Lehane were made I knew there had to be something grand about this novel and it didn't disappoint.

Lt. Jonathan Stride is brought in to help find missing teenager Rachel Deese who is described by one of her classmates as "...a bigger slut, you're not likely to find."

Rachel knew how to get her way with her father but when her father died she told her mother " was you who killed him." She is a difficult if beautiful teenager who vanishes. Lt Stride is pained by the possible connection with the disappearance of Kerry McGrath just 14 months earlier. He feels he's lost Kerry to t monster and is determined to do what he can to find who has taken these teenagers and to possibly rescue Rachel.

Stride is emotionally numbed by the death of his wife, Cindy, who passed away from cancer within the year. Her death has taken his heart and he goes through the steps of the investigation robotically, as if the fates have already been drawn for these teenagers and there's nothing that can be done to save them. He struggles and through his efforts the reader feels that he is searching for his lost wife as well as these children.

The characters are well drawn and likable. The setting in Superior, Wisconsin makes this reader feel the resemblance to "Fargo." So much so that I could almost see him riding shotgun across the frozen cornfields with Frances McDormand behind the wheel.

Highly Recommended.

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