Archive for the ‘Crime fiction’ Category
# 41: The Dawn Patrol by Don Winslow:
“Sorry, I forgot,” Hang Twelve says, “Like the moana was epic tasty this sesh and I slid over an ax of this gnarler and just foffed, totally shredded it, and I’m still amped from the ocean hit, so my bad, brah.”
Cheerful looks at Petra and says, “Sometimes we have entire fascinating conversations in which I don’t understand a word that is said.” He turns back to Hang Twelve. “You’re what I have instead of a cat. Don’t make me get a cat.”
Synopsis: Boone Daniels, half wronged good guy PI, half Lebowski, takes on a missing stripper case for an insurance company. All his friends on The Dawn Patrol, a group of dedicated early-morning So Cal surfers, take the hit.
Boone Daniels used to be a cop, now he surfs. His friends — Sunny Day, Hang Twelve, High Tide and Johnny Banzai (still a cop) — all surf too, and when an epic macking crunchy set of waves approaches, they’re all puzzled when Boone takes on the case of a missing stripper. But what does that have to do with the girls who look like ghosts, the Japanese internment of World War II and the Samoan concept of the marai?
You really should read this book to find out.
I hate being coy about plot twists, I really do, but in Winslow’s case it’s worth it. It’s like the last book of his I read, California Fire and Life, there are so many twists, and they’re all so damn good that in this case it’s worth being coy.
That’s right, babies: the SpoilerPants are staying in the closet.
Things I will say:
–Loved it. (Obviously, right?) Winslow writes really great, strong, believable women in his books, women with agency, who exist outside of a need to nail the hero/PI. Sunny Day, the only woman on The Dawn Patrol, can outsurf all of them, Boone included, and a not-inconsiderable part of the narrative is devoted to Sunny’s focus on making it as a pro surfer; it consumes her to a degree, we’re shown, that her relationship with Boone does not. Petra, the hard-bitten lawyer from the insurance company, repeatedly pulls her weight, plotwise, as well as jumping in and using her brains and her skill as a lawyer to save the day. And let me talk for a minute about turning the cookie-cutter stripper character on its head. Do NOT mess with these ladies.
There’s really not enough words I know to express my need for more characters like these. I am again reduced to eight minutes of squeaking noises.
–It only struck me while I was copying down quotes from the book into the ubiquitous quotes notebook (four pages worth, thanks for asking) that the whole novel is written in the present tense. Normally that annoys the socks off me, but in this case I could not put it down. That is hard to do. I like when hard to do is pulled off well and makes me want to run out and ravage my local bookstore like a well-read Viking.
It’s hard to say what exactly makes this such a great book. I’ve been thinking about this a lot since I finished the book last week because a) I want more books to be like this and b) when it comes down to it, I want everything I write to be this compulsive, this deeply layered but with the appearance of ease. All the characters are well-defined, rounded and interesting. A lot of the book focuses on women and people of color, which, roll your eyes all you want, but that’s the world I live in, so I want books that reflect this reality.
Also, Winslow gives great coastal California. He writes a lot about the history of development in Pacific Beach, CA in a way that’s totally unlike the dry history books presented in schools all over this fine nation of ours. There’s a certain unique talent in blending your own writing voice with history in, oh, for example, describing how the Beach Boys are responsible for most of what’s wrong with the coast of Southern California today and pulling it off with a visceral edge:
Boone doesn’t know the answer to that old Ethics 101 question from his freshman year in college — if, knowing what you know now, you had a chance to strangle Adolf Hitler in the cradle — but he’s clear about the answer for Brian Wilson. You’d splatter his baby brains all over the bassinet before you’d let him make it to the recording studio to turn that 101 into a parking lot.
There are tons of small, fascinating digressions that take the form of stories told in flashback. Like when the group took Hang Twelve to a strip club for his birthday and he ate the shrimp at the buffet. Or how Boone came to live in Cheerful’s pier-side bungalow. It’s all magic, and I appreciate the time taken to stop the admittedly gunfire-happy action to tell these stories. They make the book deeper and more nuanced.
The plot is complicated, but simple when it gets all laid out end-to-end.
The ending is not simple at all. It’s also not strictly legal, but it is right. And that’s what counts.
So to recap: good stuff. Dark, textured, complicated and well thought-out.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to celebrate July Fourth by ravaging a bookstore for Winslow’s backlist.
Garnethill by Denise Mina:
Despite the atmosphere in the house Liam delighted his mother by getting into Glasgow University Law School. He dropped out after six months and started selling hash to his friends on a casual basis but he discovered a talent and went professional. He bought a big house. They told Winnie he managed bands. Maureen used to nag him about security but he said that if he started to worry about things like that he’d get really paranoid.
His present girlfriend, Maggie, was a bit of a mystery. She was a model but they never saw her model anything, and a singer, but they never heard her sing either. She was very pretty and had the roundest arse Maureen had ever seen. She didn’t seem to have any friends of her own. Poor Maggie had a lot to live up to: Lynn, Liam’s first and last girlfriend, was a doctor’s receptionist and rough as a badger’s arse but such great crack even Winnie’s snobbishness dissipated when Lynn told a story.
Synopsis: After deciding to break up with her therapist-bf Douglas, Maureen goes out and gets rip-roaring drunk with a friend, only to wake up at home the next morning, with Douglas bound to a chair in her kitchen with his throat-slashed.
Oh I loved it. I loved it.
Weirdly, this book has been on my infamous list of Background Reading for My Mania for Insane Asylums since it first came out, but even for me, the premise of the book was a little gritty, so it didn’t rise to the top of my TBR pile until a friend was emptying out her book collection and winged it at my head.
Allrighty then. That’s usually how the universe decides to communicate, so I’ve learned to duck as much as possible and roll with whatever makes contact.
And this book definitely made contact.
In her first year of university, Maureen had a breakdown and spent five months in a psychiatric hospital working through her issues, all of which involved her family, especially her alcoholic mother Winnie and her father, who left when she was twelve. Upon her release and against everyone’s advice, she began dating Douglas, a therapist at that hospital. Eight months later it’s over in Maureen’s eyes, but not, apparently over enough for Douglas’ murderer.
The set-up’s brilliant: how does a recovering psychiatric patient explain a dead body in their kitchen to police? And more importantly to Maureen, how does she keep her drug-dealing brother Liam from their prying eyes as well? By finding the murderer, of course.
The mystery world is rife with a myriad of amateur sleuths, and Maureen’s probably one of the less likely ones to take up the crime-solving banner. But she’s also so well versed in the rhythms of a psychiatric hospital and, more importantly, how to connect with ongoing mental illness sufferers, that she has insight the police don’t.
As she puts it after the police hamhandedly interview a fellow patient about her brutal rape: “They just about broke the poor woman’s brain.”
Maureen on the other hand, takes the woman home with her, makes her cups of tea and, recognizing the need for professional help for everyone, calls over her best mate Leslie, who works at a women’s shelter.
The mystery at the heart of Douglas’ murder is lurid and revealed in fits and starts, but it’s more than enough to keep company with the dramatic subplot that is Maureen’s uber-dysfunctional family. Her mother Winnie is so soused all the time that she’s thrown out of a police station. Her sisters think Maureen should be institutionalized again and she and Liam have a fantastic love-hate relationship that’s sorely tested as the police suspect first her, then him, then both of them of having done away with Douglas. And through it all, Maureen has to cope with the regular panoply of triggers and traumas incumbent to abuse survivors.
There’s a lot going on in this book.
The plotting hangs together nicely and the characters are, if not entirely likeable (including Maureen) then at least both memorable and believable. Garnethill is a world where actions have consequences, and even if they’re not the ones you would’ve wished, the only thing to do is make the best of things. Or a hash of it. Either one works.
The level of honesty with which mental illness is portrayed reminded me strongly of Mary Morell’s Final Rest, and I’ve seen other reviews of the book bang on about how central to the book it is, but frankly, for me, I thought it was admirable how the book wasn’t all about it; instead, it was about a woman who’s been accused of murder who has to clear her name and protect the parts of her family worth protecting and dodge the rest…while being an abuse survivor. It’s a welcome difference.
Garnethill is the first book in a trilogy, but don’t look up the other two books on Amazon unless you want to be spoiled on the identity of the Garnethill killer; I made that mistake for everyone, but the book still managed to surprise me with its twists and turns.
Hot and Sweaty Rex by Eric Garcia:
There’s something about the way they’re treating me that reminds me — quite unpleasantly — of the way I spoke to Chaz the other night, As if getting in this car might not be optimal for my health. But I’ve thrown myself headlong into any number of nasty situations when intuition screamed at me to run like hell, and come out clean every time. Unless you count the broken legs. And the stitches. And the two subpoenas.
“Sounds great,” I chirp. “Which way to the car?”
Synopsis: An L.A. P.I. gets drawn into dueling Mafia family problems, due to his shady past. And oh yeah, everyone’s secretly a dinosaur.
Dinosaur PI Vincent Rubio is manipulated into working for one of the main families of dinosaur organized crime. The assignment takes him to Miami, where he collides with another dino mafia family, this one headed by a childhood friend.
So there’s good news and there’s bad news about this book.
The good news is the dinosaurs. They’re EVEN MORE AWESOME THAN YOU THINK. Garcia’s spent some serious time on his world-building, and what should be a fantastic concept actually works: based on this book, I would not in the least bit be surprised if some of you on my f-list are in fact, secretly dinosaurs. Especially
The fact that dinosaurs are mandated to wear human-shaped costumes, held on by straps and buttons, and that their corpses are disposed of by a dino-flesh-eating bacteria, and that they get drunk by eating cooking herbs totally makes sense. It makes a scary kind of sense, and the more details you get the more details you’ll want. It’s fabulous.
And here’s the bad news: the plot? Eh, not so much. It’s basically your garden-variety mob-based goomba dance. There’s two families competing for the same cut of the action, there’s a girl involved, there’s bad blood stemming from past infractions, there’s a not-so-innocent PI caught up in it all. Eh. Nothing particularly new here to see. EXCEPT FOR THE DINOSAURS.
Also, Garcia is really, really in love with flashbacks and I was really not as in love with them, especially when they went on for twenty pages and multiple chapters. Bring it on down, Slappy.
Plus — and I don’t know how we’ve gotten to this place with books, but: this is the fourth book I’ve read this year where the protagonist does something preposterous and/or lame on the very last page, right as the ink runs out. Authors: stop doing this. Now. Rar.
But feel free to add more dinosaurs to your stories, because that rocks. Seriously: new! culinary mystery series featuring a velociraptor running a bakery! A marine salvage adventure novel with a plesiosaur scuba team! Sky-writing, crime-fighting pterodactyls! The possibilities are endless.
Much, possibly, like the supply of coffee in this house.
#39: Trophies and Dead Things by Marcia Muller:
I made two detours on my way to All Souls: first to pick up a pizza, so I wouldn’t have to sponge off the folks who lived there (and probably have to eat some god-awful health food), and then to my house to pick up my gun.
Synopsis: In case you haven’t had the pleasure, let me clarify: Sharon McCone is the shit.
The 14th mystery in Muller’s Sharon McCone series, this is one of those happy accidents where I was wandering round my living room, wondering what to read, holding Muller’s Point Deception in one hand, when I discovered that I had both Trophies and #15, Where Echoes Live shelved sideways next to the front door, just under the crap westerns section.
(What can I say, I spend a lot of time wandering around my living room. At least it keeps me off the streets.)
I think I read this book the first time when I was 10. I know I found the very first book, Edwin of the Iron Shoes and rrrrrrrrripped right through the series like it was on fire, courtesy our quite excellently stocked public library, and I remember thinking then as I did now, holy crap, girl!PI.
I know, I know, my young onions, but back in the heady days of the 1980s, we didn’t have girl PI’s. We had shit like Mike Hammer and Glitterburn in great heaping spoonfuls and finally when Sharon McCone and Kinsey Milhone showed up, it was like a breath of fresh air. It was this whole idea that women could get PI licenses and get divorced and get shot at and do something in hardboiled mysteries besides get widowed and get pronged and it was just. So. Awesome. Still is.
In Trophies and Dead Things, San Francisco P.I. Sharon shows up bright and early one morning to help her boss clean out the house of a recently and suddenly deceased friend. As they sort through the guy’s belongings, they discover that the notorious 60s Movement radical made a new will, leaving his considerable estate to four strangers and that in addition to baseball cards and oversized sweaters, the house is full of Secrets. Yessss, with a capital Esssss.
Ostensibly, McCone’s job is to track down the four strangers and make them aware of their inheritances and see if they actually know the deceased guy in question. It’s like a grown-up version of The Westing Game: one of these people is an ostler, another’s a news anchor. One’s a crooked lawyer and another’s a drunk. Then the shooting starts.
I’m biased, because I love these books, but I can readily see that newcomers to the series will either love or hate Sharon McCone, right off the bat. She’s prickly and emotionally closed-off and judgmental.
Frankly, these are all things I love about her, but you know, ymmv.
Muller’s an honest enough writer that she shows the effects these characteristics have on the people around McCone, whether its the coworkers who watch her chase after a sniper in a bloodthirsty rage, or the fickle, unhinged ex-boyfriend who drops in at 6 a.m., or the Homicide detective who gets promoted out of McCone’s life, leaving her with a sense of things moving on, leaving her behind. It’s messy and it’s complicated and it’s all there in these pages.
The other thing that’s there is San Francisco, in great fog-wreathed chunks. Just like Harry Bosch is inextricably entwined with L.A., McCone is part of the city by the bay, and it’s hard to imagine her leaving, or more to the point, it’s hard to imagine the city letting her leave.
I actually went looking for Muller books because of how well San Francisco’s written in them. Offhand, I’m trying to think of someone else who writes that city as well as she does (a modern version, I mean. Stand down, all you Sam Spade defenders). Stephen Greenleaf’s John Marshall Tanner springs to mind, as does Lia Matera’s Willa Jansson and Joanne Pence’s Angie Amalfi mysteries, despite how much I want to clunk Amalfi in the head with a shovel. Can anyone suggest any others?
(Having said that, of course, I just found Golden Gate Mysteries. Oh internet, I heart you sometimes).
This time around, Trophies is starting to show its age, but in amusing, innocent ways. Like, can you imagine the SFPD blithely letting P.I.’s sit in on their investigations nowadays? On interrogations of subjects? McCone also uses more pay phones than Superman and idly contemplates how useful it would be to have that miracle of modern life, a car phone. Ooh! Now, these things come up in other, older detective novels it’s true, but it’s a testament to the strength of the series that other than those things, the book still reads as timely and relevant to today.
I quit reading this series back in the day, after #15, Where Echoes Live. Why? Who knows. I was about 13 or so, so either I got distracted by things like Valley of the Amazons or I entered that time-honored teen-gore-pulp stage, mainlining Bentley Little and Peter Straub. More likely than anything I just got distracted by the state of my hair. We’ve all been there.
Book #16 involves dolphin cartilege, so I’m not entirely sure when I’ll be throwing myself on that particular grenade, but for now it’s simply enough to be reminded Sharon’s still in the world. In 2010, Muller published Coming Back, #28 in the series.
#37: Sugar Skull by Denise Hamilton:
I scrolled through the wires again to see what else was going on in the city. All over town, people were dying violently — shot in dead-end bars, withdrawing money from ATMs, working the night shift in liquor stores, and playing hopscotch on the corner. Usually, we waited until Sunday, when the final tally came in, then did a roundup. Unless the victims were rich, prominent, or had met their end in some horribly unusual and tragic way they got folded into the main story as smoothly as egg whites into cake. So far the wires were at fourteen and counting.
Synopsis: LA Times reporter Eve Diamond — who, let us be honest here, has the best female Dirk! Pitt! name — gets waylaid by a creepy dude who’s convinced his teenage daughter has been killed by squatters. He’s right, of course, but ask yourself this: what does this have to do with the LA mayoral race, a family of Mexican-American entertainment moguls and Eve’s propensity for hucking ice cubes at mockingbirds.
Eve! Diamond! (that is just not getting old, people) is a low-level reporter at the L.A. Times who works hard, loves L.A. and keeps getting shafted by reporters and editors who like to make sure she knows she has no connections in Society to get her a leg up the corporate ladder.
Enter Vince Chevalier, who drags Eve out of work one day with the promise of murdered body: his daughter’s. Intrigued, Eve follows, Vince delivers on his promise, the trail leads to a weenie mayoral candidate with a hot wife and a fundraising party, then the hot wife turns up dead as well. And then there’s the hot Mexican-American scion of rodeo promoters who promises Eve a behind-the-scenes tour and takes that phrase to a whole new level, nudgenudge winkwink.
And Eve’s homeless houseguest gives everyone crabs. It’s awesome.
So, one of my favorite things about this book was the L.A. Times itself; specifically that every time Eve paused for breath, one editor or another would pin her down and give her a new assignment that was due at 3pm that day. This felt very much like every workplace I’ve ever been in. And while Eve gets mildly flustered, she keeps being all WHAT? THE WHAT NOW? A STORY ON ACCORDIONS? ACCORDIONS. BY WHEN? FINE. NO, THAT’S FINE, THIS MURDERED BODY WILL KEEP, WE’RE GOOD. And she makes good on her promise. Because that’s real life. That’s what you have to do when you’re employed, Hannah Swensen. It’s just how things have to work, murdered body or not.
Some bad things: Eve’s kind of well, um…
There’s no easy way to put this: Eve’s kind of a dipshit.
She’s impulsive and hard-working, she’s dedicated and genuinely wants to be a better person than the awkward liberal that she is, but time and again she’s also not the ripest banana in the bunch. Unprotected sex with a hot lead in one of your stories? GAME TIME. Let a teenager sit drinking your tequila in your car? WHY NOT. Take the schizophrenic street addict home with you and tell her you’ll adopt her? SOUNDED LIKE A GREAT IDEA AT THE TIME.
Seriously, I don’t know how Eve’s not killed crossing the road, when she punches someone’s ignition thinking it’s the crosswalk button. She is just not bright.
But she is compulsively readable.
A huge part of the appeal of this book is how much L.A. plays a role in the story. Hamilton writes of the L.A. Cris Beam wrote of, the L.A. of homeless kids and transgender prostitutes, institutions that are worse than anything the street can offer. In Sugar Skull just as in Beam’s Transparent, L.A. is truly the city of lost angels.
It’s also an uneasily multicultural city, where different ethnic groups live cheek-by-jowl, building-by-building, and racism isn’t easily dismissed in the name of tourism. I’m not surprised Hamilton’s edited both LA Noir and LA Noir 2, and if I wasn’t going to check out those collections before, I sure as hell am now. Holy crap, y’all.
Eve’s a true Angeleno, happy to frequent ethnic groceries for the good deals and Ukrainian bakeries for the good eats, while at the same time getting nervous at a raucous Latino Dia de Los Muertos celebration. Although being Eve, she refuses to let her discomfort get in the way of finding the blonde transgender mermaid who’s the key to at least seven of her competing stories.
I had a couple issues with the structural execution of the ending, along the lines of, if you show us your heroine hanging from a cliff by her fingernails, the next chapter shouldn’t then begin, “So I made it off the cliff okay.” That’s a little anticlimactic and doesn’t play fair with the reader, IMO. But the story as a whole hangs true, and bad things happen to good characters, bad characters and ambiguous characters. Eve walks into a set-up and proceeds to make a bad thing worse.
At the same time, though, it’s an interesting way to drive a narrative: leave it in the hands of someone who is constantly distracted by shiny colors. Sooner or later, the story’s bound to wind up someplace unexpected, even if it’s by accident.
#36: The Black Ice by Michael Connelly:
Bosch dragged deeply on a cigarette and then dropped the butt into the gutter. He hesitated before pulling the billy club that was the door handle of the Code 7. He stared across First Street to the grass square that flanked City Hall and was called Freedom Park. Beneath the sodium lights he saw the bodies of homeless men and women sprawled asleep in the grass around the war memorial. They looked like casualties on a battlefield, the unburied dead.
Synopsis: The second in Connelly’s Harry Bosch series, the well-worn misfit L.A. cop tracks a cop killer, a drug dealer and a suicide to Mexico. Strangely, this is not the set-up for a joke.
Christmas night, Harry Bosch is mercurially alone in his house-on-stilts in the L.A. basin, watching the hillside across from him burn down and listening to saxophone solos. Interrupting his amusements is a high-level callout on a suicide in a seedy Hollywood motel coming over the police band. The callout doesn’t include Bosch, which is strange because he’s the detective on call for the evening. So he crashes the party and finds the headless body of missing rogue Narcotics cop Calexico Moore.
From there and in no particular order, Bosch:
–goes to Mexico
–fucks Moore’s widow
–takes over the caseload of a coworker who’s too drunk to keep copping
–pisses off the IAD lieutenant from the first book
–uh, that’s about it
I’ll get this out of the way: it’s not a stellar sophomore effort. I’m convinced that basically the entire problem with this book is that a third of it takes place in Mexico. Connelly gives great L.A.
Not just that, but L.A. is so much a part of Bosch and he a part of it that no amount of stellar place-writing can take the place of that. “Bosch did not begin to feel whole again until he reached the smogged outskirts of L.A. He was back in the nastiness again but he knew that it was here that he would heal.”
So taking that guy and plonking him in the middle of Mexico for 125 pages just means that the reader really knows something is missing.
That said, this mediocre Connelly book is still better than like 80% of the crap I’ve read where a white dude goes around saving the day for brown people, the poor, women, and of course, truth, justice and the American way.
I can forgive Connelly a lot in that schema, for several reasons. One, his women, while sparse (oh come on, this is a noir, people. Unless it’s Sara Gran or Megan Abbott, you’re still looking at a sausage fest.)(Insert hardboiled dick joke here) have actual agency to them. They’re well built (down, peanut gallery!) and complex and exist as more than something for Bosch to fuck, although let’s face facts: two women with speaking roles in the entire novel and he prongs ‘em both. Thattaboy, Harry!
So it’s a dichotomy:
She had continued her life and its routines amidst the ruins of her marriage. She had put the tree up for herself. It made him feel her strength. She had a hard shell of hurt and maybe loneliness but there was a sense of strength, too. The tree said she was the kind of woman who would survive this, would make it through. On her own. He wished he could remember her name.
It’s also just phenomenally good writing. The city is vibrant and dirty and fucked-up and unfair. The plot is so twisty it’s like a sidewinder having a seizure. And it just never lets up. It keeps going and carries the reader along past things that could be considered problematic. The ending of this one, for instance, is completely insane, twistwise, yet looking back, it makes absolute perfect, watertight airproof sense.
Yeah, I’ll be continuing on to Concrete Blonde.
#33: Electric Barracuda by Tim Dorsey:
Coleman stumbled down the porch steps with his own backpack strapped to his stomach.
Serge walked over. “It’s supposed to go on the other side.”
“I know,” Coleman looked down at the teddy bear’s head. “I was having some trouble and it just ended up here.”
Synopsis: Here’s everything you need to know about this book: Birthday-party clowns in a meth-lab fire.
But really this entry is about the strange powers of my house, which may or may not someday become a sentient library against my will.
The strangest thing has been happening lately: I’ll read an article about some author or other and think, “Where have I heard that name before?” then turn around and the house presents me with one of their books, which I had no idea was in the collection.
Then there was a review of Benjamin Black’s new novel, mentioning him as the author of Christine Falls, which is shelved three feet from the bed.
And now, most egregiously, there’s a cameo by some Florida author named Randy Wayne White in Electric Barracuda, and I discover that not only is there a Florida author named Randy Wayne White, but that I borrowed his Tampa Burn from the library on Wednesday.
I can’t explain it.
Electric Barracuda is the — holy tar — 13th novel in Dorsey’s series of hallucinogenic history lessons featuring the serial killer Serge A. Storms. I’ve read faithfully up through Atomic Lobster and in fact have a whole two shelves devoted to Pulp Novels About Florida (for a part-time job, my house makes the Dewey Decimal System cry) but I wasn’t sure if I’d go on past Lobster; but I’m glad the library had Barracuda.
Barracuda is zany. It’s a 350-page car chase through South Florida with pit stops at seedy motels along the way and everyone going off their meds for the good of common sense. There are the trademark history lessons, which do not stop being awesome (seriously, if the State of Florida is not putting these books in schools they should, but if it’s one thing I’ve learned from these books it’s that the State of Florida most emphatically won’t be putting these books in schools). There are the breaks for Serge to kill society’s bottom-feeders, with this volume featuring a special and welcome emphasis on the elimination of child molesters.
I especially loved the way the second one was done in and even more, the coroner’s unadulterated glee at having guessed the cause of death. Because come on, as a coroner, I’m guessing there’s only so many times you can look at a stabbing or a shooting and not long for a nice bungalow.
There’s a strange but very welcome plot twist at the very end that makes it hard to see where Dorsey’s going to be able to go with book 14, if there is such a–
BABY, STOP RIGHT THERE.
STOP RIGHT THERE BEFORE YOU GO AHEAD AND SPOIL THE BOOK FOR PEOPLE WHO WANNA READ UP IN IT.
Oh, Spoiler Pants, you’re back! I’ve missed you so!
I’VE MISSED YOU TOO, BABY. BUT THAT’S NO CALL TO BE SPOILING PERFECTLY GOOD BOOKS.
Is anyone still here? Did everyone run away when I started talking to my pants? Awesome.
Anyway, at the very end of Barracuda, Dorsey reveals, through a little bit of authorial legerdemain, that Serge’s longtime nemesis and faithful tracker, Mahoney, is none other than his own brother, who had to be given up for adoption when Serge’s mother went bananas. The two men embrace, have a drink, and agree to go fishing.
You’ve been chasing this man for 13 books, you catch him and some fool shows up with a piece of paper and it’s time to throw it all in and go fishing? The what-what?
The thing about Mahoney is that it all makes perfect sense, though, when you take a step back. Serge is off the deep end in the cause of lawlessness and history and Mahoney’s off the deep end in the cause of the law and history. But! At this whole brother-reveal mess, Mahoney quits talking like he’s trapped in a 40s gangster flick (and you know he lives that way, so it’s not just talk, he walks the walk) and pulls his shit together long enough to aid his brother to escape the g-men he’s brought down on the guy’s tail for 350 pages.
No. I’m not buying it.
That and there’s a subplot about Molly that was beautifully done RIGHT UP UNTIL THE END when it goes off the rails and looks like Dorsey was like, “Oh shit! Molly! And her subplot! Shit! Fed Ex guy’s coming in 15 minutes….fuck fuck fuck fuck….Oh! I’ve got it!”
Look, Molly deserves better than that, Dorsey, so sack up and play nice.
There’s a comment over on Amazon about how the book could have used more plot, and I have to agree, because see my earlier comment about 350 pages of one long car chase, but come on. It’s 1am and I just finished reading the thing, and how many authors do you know who could pull off that kind of thing? So there’s that.
I managed to skip books 11 and 12, Nuclear Jellyfish and Alligator A-Go-Go, but I think I’ll wait a little while before heading back to them, because reading any Serge book is a lot like doing quite a bit of drugs OR SO I’VE HEARD, and you reach a saturation point where you just need a little light reading to unwind.
And after all, at least one of those books is in this house somewhere.
#32: The Black Echo – Michael Connelly:
Much later, Bosch got up from the bed, pulled on his pants and went out on the balcony to smoke. On Ocean Park Boulevard there was no traffic and he could hear the ocean’s noise from nearby. The lights were out in the apartment next door. They were out everywhere except on the street. He could see that the jacaranda trees along the sidewalk were shedding their flowers. They had fallen like a violet snow on the ground and the cars parked along the curb. Bosch leaned on the railing and blew smoke into the cool night wind.
Synopsis: Semi-disgraced LAPD homicide detective Harry Bosch gets called out on a routine body-in-a-culvert call and discovers the victim is a fellow Vietnam tunnel rat. Then the FBI gets involved.
The first entry in the very rightly vaunted Bosh series (which is up to like, sixteen or something), I really thought about calling in sick to work one day this week so I could finish this book.
Harry Bosch is, as his temporary partner at the FBI points out, a product of institutional living. From group homes to a foster home to the Army to the LAPD, Bosch has lived his life serving faceless entities and getting out by the skin of his teeth. He’s not a superhero, but he is a survivor. And he’s kind of fascinating.
First of all, Connelly gives great L.A., which is kind of a ticklespot of mine. Second of all, while he’s a great detective, Harry’s also kind of stupid about people, which makes him more lovable. For instance, he gets hella distracted by his FBI partner’s ladyparts and who among us can say we’ve never lost our minds over some good pussy? I ask you.
But Bosch is also bulldog-tenacious and has a certain manner of waving away the smoke of a flaming wreckage and finding windows next to the doors that are slammed in his face, over and over again.
The plot is tight and impressive, and very very hardboiled. I for one, was completely awed by the ending plot twist, and I’m still kinda chewing on it and trying to figure out What It All Means.
And that’s basically what’s at the heart of this book: it’s a universal state to quest after that very thing, think you have it figured out and still be dead wrong.
Five stars. Super awesome book. Will totally be continuing on with the series.
#30: Minnesota Strip by Michael Collins:
We are a species that preys on itself. We live on our own kind, hunt each other. That’s what I wanted to tell the girl who faced me across the desk in the office part of my one-room loft, but I didn’t. I told her what the police had told me.
Synopsis: Best-named P.I. ever, Dan Fortune is hired to find a guy who was trying to find a missing Vietnamese refugee in NYC, while other guys try to stop him, kill his client, etc etc etc. Heavy on the etc.
Remember, people, according to James Patterson, New York’s never had a great detective.
Well, in this case I think I might have to side with the animatronic mummy. Dan Fortune’s not all that great. There’s nothing very memorable about him, he’s not super strong or super smart or juggles bananas and alarm clocks, or anything like that. He gets duped a couple times by one of his main suspects, but that doesn’t make him very sympathetic either. He’s just kind of…blah.
There’s a girl who disappears while staying at a brothel, but she’s the thing that starts the whole story in motion (and I use the term "thing" advisedly; she’s not ever actually considered as a person by the people looking for her, then about 2/3 of the way through, she disappears from the narrative entirely). A troubled young man from her adoptive family goes looking for her and when he disappears, his girlfriend asks Dan Fortune to find him.
Dan investigates. The troubled young man’s father gets involved. Dan goes to visit the adoptive family and meets the ladies of the household in what is one of the most mean-spirited and dispiriting portrayal of women I’ve ever read.
Dan and the girlfriend get shot at. They get menaced. They sleep together. Then she drops out of the plot.
There’s a whole denouement about drugs and the Vietnam War and long past sins and blah blah blah. It’s convoluted and wasn’t much fun to try to make sense of, but eventually the book does end. Just not really with an ending.
There’s not a ton to recommend this book other than it’s not challenging to read. You can put it down and answer the door or bake apple muffins or go for a bike ride and basically, while you might not remember all the nuances involved in the plot, there’s no real need to.
I’ve seen Dan Fortune’s name whispered in hushed tones among some of the crime fiction nabobs on my twitter list, but I’m still puzzled as to why. It’s entirely possible I picked up a weaker entry in the series. The writing’s fluid, but Fortune narrates the whole thing with a distinct lack of interest, and if your protagonist can’t get into your story, how can the reader?
#29: Cemetery Murders by Jean Marcy:
In the meantime, Harvey decided to forgo the finish of his late-afternoon nap to join us and petition for some kibble. I tossed a half-cup of the dry stuff into his bowl and he looked at me disdainfully and leapt up on the table to inspect our visitor. I shooed him off, trying for the surprised look of one who never allows her cat on the kitchen table.
Synopsis: PI Meg Darcy takes her job very seriously — except that whenever she runs into police detective Sarah Lindstrom (aka The Ice Queen), her brain goes bananas. Seeing the line of work they’re both in, this happens quite a lot. But when someone in St. Louis starts killing off homeless women and dumping their bodies in cemeteries, both women get deadly serious about finding the culprit.
Yes, I went there.
My review at Three Dollar Bill Reviews