Monday, January 13, 2020

Matt Scudder Short Stories Now Collected Together

Matt Scudder is the New York detective created by Lawrence Block. Scudder appears in a long series of novels that follow him from his time as an NYPD cop to his later work as an unlicensed private investigator. The early novels see Scudder descend into serious alcoholism before joining AA and trying to stay permanently sober.

The Night and the Music includes all of the Scudder short stories collected together for the first time. Standout stories are "Out the Window" and "A Candle for the Bag Lady." All of the pieces are written in lean, hard boiled prose and narrated in the familiar dry cynical voice of Matt Scudder.

This is a great story collection for previous Lawrence Block fans and a nice introduction for new Matt Scudder readers.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

John Le Carre Gets Political in AGENT RUNNING

Agent Running in the Field is the latest novel by John Le Carre, the renown master of the international espionage novel. This new book is a smaller scale picture of a backwater British spy sub-agency called The Haven that deals with minor intelligence nuisances.

The story is narrated by Nat, a veteran agent network runner now close to being put out to pasture by his agency. Nat's cynical voice allows John Le Carre to show his own dry wit with much inside baseball description of the mundane daily workings of The Haven. The actual plot of the novel is very thin, with Nat reconnecting with a former agent asset, who has urgent new information about a Russian undercover operation inside Britain. A surprising revelation puts Nat under suspicion at his own agency.

Unfortunately, the novel goes off the track as author Le Carre uses the story to vent his own strident political biases against Brexit, the Tory Party, and the American Trump administration. Le Carre has often shown open anti-American disdain in previous novels (see A Most Wanted Man ) and he continues that nasty streak here.

 Agent Running in the Field  is almost a droll satire of spy agencies, but the novel is mainly a diversion for die-hard John Le Carre fans who share his leftist politics.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

THE NIGHT FIRE a New Crime Novel From Michael Connelly

The Night Fire by Michael Connelly is a new Crime novel in the popular series that features former LAPD Detective Harry Bosch. Bosch is retired now, but still works some cases on his own time. He's drawn into a new mystery when his former LAPD mentor dies and leaves behind the file on a murder cold case for Bosch alone to look into.

Once again, Bosch crosses paths with LAPD Detective Renee Ballard, who is working the open case of a homeless man set on fire one night and murdered by someone unkown. As Bosch pursues his case and Ballard works hers, connections between the two murders begin to show up. What emerges is the pattern of a much larger conspiracy and the existence of a single ruthless professional killer at the center of the unsolved deaths.

The hunt for the killer leads Bosch and Ballard into a deadly confrontation that neither of them saw coming.

The Night Fire is a solid police procedural that moves back and forth between the two main characters of Harry Bosch and Renee Ballard created by Michael Connelly, one of the best crime authors writing today.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

BLOODY GENIUS a Tangled New Crime Tale by John Sandford

Bloody Genius by John Sandford is the latest offbeat crime novel in the series that features Minnesota State Police detective Virgil Flowers. Virgil is a laid back rural type, who sometimes pulls his boat behind his truck on the way to crime scenes, in case he gets time to do some fishing.

His latest case is strictly an urban affair in the Twin Cities. A university professor is sneaking into the library at night when he is unexpectedly attacked by someone and murdered. Virgil Flowers is left with a handful of puzzling questions. Why was the professor hiding there at night at the library in the first place? Who would want to kill him? Did it have anything to do with his lucrative scientific research? Or was it the result of a bitter academic feud with another professor?

The novel follows Flowers through a tangled trail of false leads, red herring clues, and multiple possible suspects. It takes Virgil a while to realize that someone is leading him on a chase of planted distractions away from the actual murderer.

Bloody Genius is filled with a few too many plot twists and minor characters to follow and the eventual uncovering of an unlikely culprit with an equally unlikely motive for the murder. This one isn't John Sandford's best effort, but the novel is entertaining with a running stream of quirky humor and the laconic character of Virgil Flowers himself.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Ruth Ware's new Suspense Novel Is a Sinister Enigma

The Turn of a Key is the latest novel by popular Psychological Suspense author Ruth Ware. This new offering is an ambiguous one. The novel has jarring narration and plot twists which may leave many readers uncertain, depending on how they interpret the final pages.

The opening story setup is promising. Rowan Caine takes what seems a cushy, high paying job as a family nanny in a remote manor house in the Scottish Highlands. But troubles for Rowan begin almost immediately. The parents must leave on a work assignment in Europe. The three small children left with Rowan are an unruly handful. Then there's the house itself, which seems to have a sinister presence about it.

There are faint echoes of the Henry James classic The Turn of the Screw. The children whisper vaguely about ghosts somewhere. The novel works overtime to build Gothic creepiness, from phantom footsteps in the night to an ominous locked door.

The structure of the novel has the story narrated by Rowan in letters to an attorney as she is being held in jail after a death in the house. But the plot takes a wrenching turn in the last third when vital new information is suddenly given to the reader that has been withheld from the beginning. Talk about an unreliable narrator! Things turn even more upside down at the conclusion when more new revelations make the reader question the validity of the entire prior narrative.

The Turn of a Key is a psychological enigma which offers one direct answer at the end. But is it the right answer?

Sunday, September 1, 2019

THE BITTEROOTS a Rugged Montana Crime Thriller

The Bitterroots by C.J. Box is the author's fourth Western-set crime novel to feature investigator Cassie Dewell, who appeared previously in The Highway and Badlands and Paradise Valley. Cassie is mid-thirties, not very tall, and somewhat overweight. But she's a sharp investigator and a good shot when she has to be. This combination makes her character both realistic and appealing.

Cassie is a former sheriff's detective in Montana and North Dakota, but she left law enforcement after bad experiences in two departments. She's now a private investigator based in Bozeman, Montana. A local attorney has a defendant in a sexual assault case and hires Cassie to dig into the background of the charges.

Cassie travels to the isolated town of Horston, where the alleged assault took place, set below the rugged Bitterroot Range in western Montana. Once there, she runs into early trouble. A powerful local ranching family wants her to quit poking into the rape charges and leave town. But Cassie finds some details of the case don't add up. As she keeps digging, she ends up arrested in the local jail. Then it gets even more dangerous for her.

 The Bitterroots is a western crime novel as tough edged as its rugged setting. Author C.J. Box has another compelling read in the Cassie Dewell series.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

KNIFE by Jo Nesbo a New Norwegian Crime Thriller

Knife by Norwegian author Jo Nesbo is the latest crime novel in the series that features obsessive Oslo police detective Harry Hole (pronounced Hoo-leh). Harry is a police legend for his past hunting down of fiendish serial killers, portrayed in previous Nesbo novels such as The Snowman and The Leopard.

A new case is devastating for Harry when someone personally close to him is brutally murdered. At first, it appears that a recently released convict Harry arrested a decade earlier is behind the murder in revenge against Hole. But then new suspects emerge with their own twisted motivations. Even though Harry is suspended from working on the murder case because of his connection with the victim, he is driven to pursue the killer on his own.

Knife is a heavy read at 450 pages that sometimes bogs down in too much involvement with Harry's own complex psychological obsessions. That said, Jo Nesbo fans will enjoy seeing iconic character Harry Hole on the case again.