Monday, May 25, 2009

The Edgar Award Committee was correct.

"Down River" by John Hart won the Edgar Award in 2008 for best novel.

Adam Case returns too his hometown in Rowan County, North Carolina, five years after he was accused of murder and exonerated. One of the reasons for leaving is that his step-mother was the main prosecution witness against him and Case's father sided with his wife.

Adam's former girlfriend, Robin Alexander, is now a detective on the local police department. She tells Case that she still cares for him and should have stayed in touch with her.

Shortly after reaching town, Adam is beaten by Zeb Faith and two others. The message is clear, Adam is not welcome in town and many townsfolk want his father to sell his land. The family farm is located on land that developers want for a big project and if his father sold, then other people would become rich but there could be no development unless Case's farm was part of the deal.

This is much more than a mystery novel. I feel that Hart's may be influenced by fellow North Carolina Charles Frazier, author of "Cold Mountain." There are similar character descriptions in Case and Frazier's Inman. Both are men of integrity and have to prevail against great odds. In addition, Inman's love, Ada, and Case's sister, Miriam are victims of fate in their relations with men. It's how they deal with that difficulty that makes the books different.

Wonderful story and deserving of the Edgar!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

"Don't Look Back...They're Right Behind You"

In Jeffrey Deaver's "The Bodies Left Behind," there's a home invasion in Lake Modnac, Wisc.
The frantic homeowner dials 9-11 but is cut off before leaving his message.
The sheriff's dept. isn't sure if the call is legit so sends the nearest officer, Brynn McKenzie, to investigate. She walks into a home with two dead bodies and narrowly escapes the killers who had been outside looking for a third house guest.
The house guest, Michelle, had apparently wounded one of the men and then shot out their tires so they couldn't leave the scene.
However, the killers want to eliminate anyone who has seen them.
Michelle and Brynn team up and attempt to reach a ranger station in the mountains. When they do, this becomes a case of cat and mouse with numerous close encounters until the situation is resolved.
During the time Brynn's husband becomes concerned with her absence and teams up with one of her younger police officers to see if they can find them.
The pace is brisk and the tension constant. Some plot developments are difficult to accept but Deaver moves quickly and gives the reader a number of surprises. This would be a good novel to bring on summer vacation.
"The Bodies Left Behind" has been nominated as best thriller of 2008.

Monday, May 18, 2009

If you search hard will find her.

There are people who visit restaurants and order meat and potatoes. Others, look at the menu carefully and then order scallopine de vitello saltimboca. "Who Is Shayla Hacker" by Evan Kilgore is a novel meant for the second, more discriminating group.

There are a totally unconnected group of characters that Kilgore winds together like a master spider spinning a mysterious web.

Greg is a loner. No one ever calls him but then he gets a call from a young woman, a stranger, crying for help.

Jackie Savage is a high school student, stranded by her brother. When he doesn't show, she decides to find out what happened to him.

Terry Young is feeling boxed in by his upcoming marriage. He goes to his attic and looks at a photo that will haunt him for the rest of his life.

Det. Joe Malloy is retiring. He is asked by his replacement to tell him about the one case that still bothers him. He has her photo, but who is she?

Debbie Wendell is a construction worker. She finds a valuable jewelry box in an air duct at the airport. Who placed it there and what significance does it have?

Kilgore tells an intriguing story, with good characterization and crisp dialogue. Each character feels an obligation to find this missing Shayla at whatever cost. Others want to stop them, no matter what.

Characters appear and disappear. A man sits next to Debbie on an airplane, begins asking questions about the owner of the jewelry box and then disappears. Greg gets another call from the young woman and immediately, authorities want to know how he knows her and to stop trying to find her.

The story unwinds slowly and the book is hard to put down. The reader will feel both relief that the search has come to some conclusion and great joy at finding such a gem to experience.


Friday, May 15, 2009

Make sure you check the small print.

"Three Weeks to Say Goodbye" by C.J.Box tells a story that concerns adoptive parents' worst nightmare, something going wrong with the adoption.
Jack and Melissa McGuane have adopted little Angelina nine months ago. The adoption agency calls and tells them there has been a terrible mistake. The birth father never signed away his rights to the child and now has decided that he wants to raise his daughter.
Calls to their attorney go for naught, he tells them that the boy's father is an influential judge and that he has a hearing scheduled in his court so they should find different representation. When they meet the boy, Garrett, and his father, the Judge, something seems eerie about the way Garrett leers at Malissa. As the story progresses, Garrett seems more and more sinister and his father is just as bad.
C.J.Box is a wonderful storyteller. His stories had a hero of Joe Pike until his stand alone novel "Blue Heaven" which won an Edgar and now has been opted for film. In this novel, the feeling of tension mounts and it looks like the couple may loose Angelina and the little girl might be raised by someone who could put her at risk.
The writing style is similar to the naturalistic style popular early last century. Seen in Stephen Crane, and Theodore Dreiser in "An American Tragedy and other works. Naturalism is where humans are helpless or nearly helpless victims of natural and social forces. Whatever happens to them, is beyond their control.
In "Three Weeks To Say Goodbye" we have the fickle finger of fate playing dirty tricks, from the birth father never signing the release forms, to the adoption agency not catching the discrepancy, to Garrett's father being an influential judge, to Jack's having to go on a business trip at the start of the crisis in order to save his job. Each step places another layer of victimlology in the fate of Jack and Melissa.
So much sadness only paves the way for what might follow Jack and Melissa do have a small cadre of friends who take matters into their hands.
Box tells an intelligent story that the reader will feel was worth the time spent and enjoyed the tale.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

James Lee Burke has written a winner.

The novel "In The Moon of Red Ponies" is set in Missoula, Montana. It tells the story of how everyday man can make a difference when combating corporate America.
Johnny American Horse is a war hero. He is attempting to stop the oil companies from drilling on Indian land. He senses that they have put a "hit" on him. When two men break into his home he ambushes them killing one and putting the other into the hospital. When the injured man is suffocated at the hospital, Johnny is arrested.
Convinced of Johnny's innocence, Billy Bob Thornton, a former Texas Ranger, puts his ranch up as collateral for Johnny's bail.
There is much discussion of law on Indian reservations and how American Indians are treated when crimes are committed off the reservation.
There is a break in at a research lab and a number of Indians are involved. Johnny, once again a suspect. Powerful corporate officials want their sensitive documents back and dirty tricks happen to Johnny, Billy Bob and anyone not siding with them.
We meet Wyatt Dixon who had been an evil character in a past Burke novel. He had almost killed Billy Bob's wife Temple. Now Wyatt is released from the prison. He claims to have been born again and wants to repay his misdeeds to Billy Bob.
The story is told with feeling towards the struggle that Wyatt, Johnny and Billy Bob have when confronted to powerful enemies. Wyatt proves heroic and Johnny elusive. I felt some of the influence of Tony Hillerman in Johnny's mystic visions. There are some unanswered questions but I feel that Burke is telling us that life doesn't always come in neat packages, some evil is not punished but the attempt for bettering man's environment is heroic.
Another fine story and highly recommended.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Take care when visiting Toronto

"Everybody Knows this is Nowhere" by John McFetridge.
Gord Bergeron is a detective on the Toronto PD. He's recently returned from admin duties while his wife was fighting a losing battle with cancer. His partner is Det. Armstrong.
The reader doesn't have to wait for the action to begin in this dialogue driven story. A man falls or is pushed from a high rise building, a 10 year old girl is abducted, there are immigration issues and drug deals are rampant.
Sharon MacDonald is a dealer who wants Richard Tremblay to front her 4lbs. of weed. He has a condition. There is a new competitor in town named Ray. No one knows much about him. He's offering low cost weed at great quantities and Richard wants Sharon to get to know Ray and see if he is a cop.
Richard is part of a group of dealers who started in Montreal. Then he relocated to Toronto and now he wants more control of the action and to raise the price of his product.
Sharon and Ray become friends. He is naive in many ways. They discuss partnering and moving away from Toronto. However, Richard has other ideas and they include murder.
Except for Gord, there isn't much character development. No real answers as to why these people have turned to selling drugs. However, the dialogue zips across the pages and the author tells a pleasant story.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Desperate Housewives meet the terrible roommates.

Nicci French is the respected writing team of husband and wife Nicci Gerrard and Sean French.
In this story, Astrid Bell is a bike messenger in London. She's on her way home when a neighbor opens her car door without looking, causing Astrid to crash into the door, injuring herself and her bike.
The woman offers to pay for the damages but Astrid is angry at the woman's carelessness. Her six housemates offer consolation but later that night the woman is beaten and robbed.
Astrid tells the police of her encounter with the woman but has nothing else to add. She returns to work and she is assigned to collect a package from a wealthy woman and finds her murdered at her residence.
The police see only one connection between the murdered victims, Astrid. Her roommates again offer various suggestions and we learn that they are having romantic relationships and pairing off together in a manner that would be imagined if Desperate Housewives moved to London.
Another murder occurs and again we have the roommates to consider when the point of view changes to the killers. It is a bit confusing and I wished I had written a scorecard to keep track of which roommate did what and who they were sleeping with.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Don't expect too much when living in a small town.

"The day was hot, the sun high, and the silence was so thick, you'd have thought the sky didn't have any air in it." From "Darkness Peering"
14 year old Melissa D'Augostino is found murdered in a cow pasture in Flowering Dogwood, Maine.
Police Chief Nalen Storrow leads the investigation. He is deeply troubled, not only because a crime like this shouldn't happen in a quiet town like his but also because he feels protective towards his 9 year old daughter, Rachel, and fear for his 18 year old son, Billy, who has had a troubled past and is a possible suspect in this crime. The first portion of the novel ends with Nalen trying to cope with the mounting stress.
Eighteen years go by. The first crime has never been resolved. Rachel is now a detective and her brother Billy works as a teacher's aide in the school for blindness and special needs. Rachel decides to reopen the case.
Claire Castillo is the main teacher under whom Billy works. The children adore both of their teachers but Claire feels compelled to tell Billy that he is being over friendly towards one of the children and reminds Billy that even though the child has special needs, she is a young woman of 16 and might misunderstand.
Outside of the classroom, Claire and Billy are developing more of a relationship when Claire disappears. There is no sign of her and soon, old memories return. Rachel is in charge of the investigation and Billy is, once again, a suspect.
Alice Blanchard has written a compelling story. She deals with developmentally disabled students intelligently. Her characterizations work well and Rachel is very likable to this reader.
I would have liked to see more of the reasons behind Nalen's actions brought out. The way his part in the story concludes seemed abrupt.
Toward the end of the novel, when the reason behind the murder's actions come out, this reader would have liked a better resolution. However, I think that Blanchard was giving a lesson that all things do not come to satisfactory endings in life and justice doesn't always prevail.
Highly recommended.

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