Archive for the ‘Fiction’ Category
The Hearse by Henry Clement:
Tom Sullivan was standing against the open screen door. His brown suit was curiously old-fashioned. It was years since Jane had seen a man’s suit cut that way. He held a bunch of yellow wildflowers in his hand. For a moment Jane wondered where she had last seen flowers like that. Then she remembered: it had been beside her grandparent’s tombstone in the cemetary.
She stepped out onto the porch and closed the door behind her.
Tom held out the flowers. “I picked these at my place,” he told her.
Synopsis: Jane inherits house from dead aunt, is menaced by everything. Unfortunately, she is not smart enough to notice until a demon is in her living room.
Jane? Jane Hardy? Peanut, it’s your brain calling. Look, I know we haven’t been in touch a lot these past few years, but I’m really starting to worry about you.
Why? Well Jane, there’s no easy way to put this, but: ever since you inherited your dead aunt’s house, you know, the aunt who was into witchcraft? Aunt Becky? Ever since you inherited her house, you’ve been acting a little strange.
..What? No, I’m sure. Believe me, I’m sure. Look, here’s a partial list of–
C’mon Jane, focus. Yes, that is a pretty dress. Yes, I’m sure you look just as good as your aunt did in it, but–
No, Peanut, come on, focus, follow my finger, follow my finger, we’re talking about your aunt’s house, and all the weird things that have been happening there, so I really need you to focus. Okay? Now, ever since you moved in, I mean, from the very evening you moved in, there have been some things going on in that house that should’ve rung some alarm bells, but here you are trying on your dead aunt’s dresses and pretending like everything’s normal.
What do I mean? Well:
- The night you moved in, you heard strange music coming from your aunt’s bedroom. When you went in, the music suddenly stopped and you didn’t give it a second thought, what with finding shiny earrings on the dresser.
- Then the next morning you noticed a music box you’d put on the nightstand was on the dresser. Didn’t that strike you as a teensy bit odd, Jane?
- The next time you found the music box open and playing, you also found that your bed had been moved to stand at a 45-degree angle to the wall. That really should’ve struck you as strange, Peanut.
(“She stared at it, then shook her head in bewilderment and shoved it back into place. The only possible cause for the moving of the bed was the electricity in the air, she reasoned. Hadn’t she read that in a book someplace?”)
No, Jane, I’m fairly sure you didn’t read that in a book someplace, for oh, about a thousand reasons starting with the fact that as your brain, I can tell you that you last read a book in 10th grade and My Friend Flicka doesn’t cover supernatural furniture juggling.
- Jane, I know we haven’t had That Talk yet, despite the fact that you were married, but inviting a teenage boy into your home to do chores, then getting into soap suds fights with him, letting see you undressing for a shower, and finding his temper tantrums cute is a seriously bad idea. I know, it is flattering that he has a crush on you, but the kind of teenage boy who responds to being turned down for a date by breaking a vase in your kitchen is possibly not one you should have in your home in the first place.
Also, when the teenage boy erects an elaborate rope swing prank to get your attention, and the prank goes mysteriously awry, snapping the rope and cannoning him face-first into the ground, you should see if he’s all right. It’s just good manners, Peanut.
- Speaking of That Talk, this Tom fellow you’ve been seeing–
(“‘Out here in the country, Tom, I seem to be really learning for the first time what it’s like to take care of myself. And I must say that it feels good. In fact, it feels great.’ She smiled at him through the light of the candles. ‘So long as I don’t get killed in the process!’ She broke out into low laughter.
Tom stared into her face for a long moment. ‘You are very beautiful when you laugh, Jane,’ he told her gravely.”)
Yeah, that Tom. Um, isn’t there anything about Tom that strikes you as a little bit weird? Like the fact that no one else can see or hear him? Or that you thought he was going to push you out of that rowboat? Or the fact that HE HAS A PET GHOST HEARSE THAT DOES HIS EVIL BIDDING AND IS JEALOUS OF YOUR RELATIONSHIP?
Jane, I’m starting to really worry about you. Please call.
Love, Your Brain
The Company Man by Robert J Bennett:
Finally one of the larger detectives tackled him and wrapped around his legs, bringing him to the ground. The conductor wept and struggled with him and clawed at the floor. Several patrolmen ran to him, and on took out his truncheon and raised it high.
“Stop!” shouted a voice.
The officers looked over their shoulders to see Samantha furiously striding toward them. They paused, unused to dealing with well-dressed women, particularly ones who were shouting at them.
Synopsis: In an alternate-history Seattle, where one company holds all the cards, a very peculiar man and his assistant set about tracking a labor union leader, the last honest cop works himself to a grizzled nub and everyone conveniently turns a deaf ear to the strange noises the city itself has started making.
Oh, where to begin with this fabulous book.
Right. I know: page 20. That’s right, when you sit down to read this book, do yourself a favor and start at the beginning of Chapter Three, which is page 20. Why? Because the first nineteen pages of the book are a mess: stilted, disjointed language; images that never quite gel in the mind’s eye (it took me three tries to figure out where the corpse was) and two protagonists who are virtually indistinguishable.
But if you let those first two chapter dissuade you from the rest of the book, you’d be missing a real treat.
And the story begins.
Set in an alternate history version of post-WWI America, The Company of the title is The McNaughton Corporation, a suffocating, tentacled miracle of modern life, providing the citizenry with everything it may or may not need, including a shadowy security force dedicated to union-busting.
McNaughton operative Cyril Hayes has a dark secret of his own, one the McNaughton Company’s only too happy to use to their advantage. Along with his assistant, Samantha, Hayes is sent after Mickey Tazz, the city’s mysterious union leader, a man who hasn’t been seen in years, but who’s still spoken of in madly glowing terms by everyone who’s never met him.
Then the railcar trolley full of dead men arrives and things get a little unhinged. Because this city’s riddled with more than a network of disused subway tunnels and subterranean laboratories: some secrets don’t like being contained anywhere.
I enjoyed this book so much.
I loved how it refused to be pinned down. It wasn’t exactly alternate history, and it wasn’t a hardboiled detective story. It wasn’t exactly a Lovecraftian ghost story, but it wasn’t just a steampunk Ayn Rand, either. And then there’s the corpse from the first chapter. I eventually gave up trying to figure out what genre the story was, and I lost count of all the clever literary references I found because I was simply enjoying myself too much.
Hayes’ better half (and for my money, most of the sexual tension was between the two male leads) is Detective Garvey, the last honest cop in the city. If Garvey has a first name I missed it entirely because throughout the text he’s Detective Garvey; it’s not just what he does, but it’s who he is as well, a key to his motivations and fate, something Hayes takes gentle pains to point out. As the city descends into chaos, Hayes, Garvey and Samantha, in the grand tradition of detectives everywhere, doggedly continue to try to locate Mickey Tazz and not get sucked into the complex and deadly machinery that is the McNaughton Corporation. And it is a gloriously dingy romp indeed.
Now, my only other complaint about this book is the treatment of Samantha, the assistant. See, that’s basically what she is throughout.
Later on, she turns into the love interest as well,but despite her integral role in the plot the reader’s never allowed to remember she’s nothing more than a glorified secretary. And indeed, the ending, which I won’t spoil, provides her with a continuance of that role. Garvey chooses his fate and Hayes chooses his as well, but Samantha, at the last, is given the role of a companion to one of the two men, because after all she is “the last good thing in my life.”
That’s right, she’s a thing. People get to choose their fates, but things are carted along for the ride like baggage. It’s an unpleasant set-up and one not worthy of what’s otherwise really an astonishingly good book.
Murder on the Run by Gloria White:
I drove to Bernal Heights, straight to Blackie’s house. It was a run-down, ticky-tacky place, just one notch above a shack, with a sweeping view of Interstate 280 and the farmers’ produce market. None of Blackie’s four ex-wives had been able to pry him out of it, but none of them had tried too hard either. Blackie managed to keep it by promising them all his income. Then he basically quit working.
Synopsis: Ronnie Ventana’s set out her PI shingle in San Francisco and hit a run of good luck, which is promptly halted by seeing a high-profile SF personality throw some dude in the Bay. Mistaken identities, beer, missing corpses and shenanigans follow.
I probably should’ve.
Veronica “Ronnie” Ventana, daughter of the notorious cat-burgling Ventanas, is just starting out as a PI in San Francisco when, on an early morning run near Presidio Park, she sees an uber-successful fellow PI chuck a guy into the Bay. Despite Ronnie’s best attempts at getting the cops to believe her, the case goes cold when the body is nowhere to be found. So Ronnie, still flush from a satisfied and generous client, sets out to nail the bad guy.
Of course, everything goes wrong and nothing is what it seems.
Murder on the Run was a 1991 Anthony Award finalist and with good reason. It’s well-written and scenic, with lots of San Francisco and intriguing, well-delineated characters. Ronnie’s a hard-drinking, immature, wanna-be know-it-all whose stubborn naivete contrasts well with the laconic, world-weary attitude of her mentor, a run-down boxer named Blackie Cooper, and her tight-ass yuppie ex-husband, Mitch.
The plot hangs together nicely and White’s writing style lets you feel like you really are zooming around the city with Ronnie and getting wasted at after-hours East Bay jazz joints.
There are currently five books in the Ronnie Ventana series; Murder on the Run is the first, and I liked it so well I found a used copy of the second, Money to Burn right away.
That….may’ve been a mistake.
Rule number fifty-two of private investigating is never turn down whatever your host offers you. It’s sort of like those tribes in Africa that get insulted if you don’t drink their goat blood. If you accept something out of somebody’s kitchen, you’re one of them. So, even if she’d offered me catnip coffee, I’d drink a sip or two, just to keep her talking.
“Tell me about this morning,” I prompted when she came back with a tray piled high with cookies and, almost as an afterthought, a coffee mug crammed in at each end.
“Here.” She set the tray down, handed me a cup, picked up the second one, and grabbed a cookie. As she bit into the cookie, she rolled her eyes like she’d tasted heaven. “I love shortbread, don’t you?”
“Yeah.” I forced myself to take one, blew a cat hair off of it and took a bite. “About David?”
In Ronnie’s second outing, she’s awakened at 3am by a friend of her ex-husband’s, who busts into her apartment and demands she help him hide from a passel of Uzi-toting goons. The goons are real enough and in fact douse Ronnie’s apartment in gasoline as a warning, but everything David “Bink” Hanover says is a lie. He’s a con-man from Mitch’s college days whose gotten in over his head with a woman he describes as a black widow: all her boyfriends wind up dead.
Now, apart from the amusingly creative ways the boyfriends die (lion enclosure at the zoo, locked in a fridge with a canister of nitrous oxide) so much of what made Murder on the Run great is missing here: less Blackie Cooper, less San Francisco, less tightly woven plot.
But my biggest complaint is that the antagonist, Bink, is a dillweed.
A juvenile, narcissistic prankster who’s always depended on his looks and connections to get him out of trouble, he jerks everyone around and then gets mad when they call him on his actions. And no one does, including Ronnie, which really lessened my ability to get into the book.
If a friend of your ex-husband’s busts into your apt at 3:30 am trailed by armed thugs and then complains that you’re not doing enough to help him escape, consistently whines about getting caught in shady schemes and keeps disappearing while you’re trying to help him then, sister, it’s time for a spine-reinstallation kit.
That and the resolution to the mystery made very little sense.
So what do we have overall?
The writing’s still light and well-crafted and there are still echoes of the first, most awesome Ronnie Ventana on display here. But Blackie Cooper’s relegated to a walk-on part and Ronnie mysteriously loses a large chunk of her spine when Mitch returns from Tahiti (yes, Tahiti) and gets engaged to a new girl in the space of a week.
It’s definitely understandable if you still have feelings for an ex to be upset by them running off with someone, but Ronnie’s reaction, to sit on her couch in the dark and sob, feels unworthy of her as a character. I mean, she’s more upset by that than by anything Bink does.
Bink. I ask you.
There are four more mysteries in the series: Charged with Guilt, Sunset and Santiago, Cry Baby and Death Notes, and I have to say, if I can find the next one in the series at the library or maybe for $2-3 I’m gonna go for it.
Spine or no spine, Ronnie at least likes to keep things interesting. I’m still rooting for Blackie, though.
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.
Also, #41, a reread: Games to Keep the Dark Away by Marcia Muller:
“A private detective.” She shook her head slowly. “The kinds of jobs you girls will get into today…”
Which, I feel, requires no further comment.
#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.
#38: Final Rest by Mary Morell:
“Okay. Can we agree to disagree about this? Is it okay for me to keep my opinion open or will that seem like a betrayal to you?” Lucia spoke with over a year’s experience in negotiating with Amy.
Amy took several minutes to consider.
Synopsis: Crime-fighting lesbians of the early 90s. It’s go time.
My review’s up over at Three Dollar Bill.
#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.