Thursday, July 21, 2016

THE HIGHWAYMAN a Walt Longmire Ghost Story

The Highwayman by Craig Johnson is a new entry in the popular crime series that features Wyoming sheriff Walt Longmire. But this short novel is a departure for Longmire as he investigates a legendary Western ghost story.

The spooky setting for the tale is the night fogs of the rugged Wind River Canyon region. Mysterious police radio calls are coming in, seemingly from state trooper Bobby Womack. But Womack himself died in a fiery crash in the canyon decades earlier. Trooper Rosie Wayman swears she heard the radio calls in her patrol car, and she comes to her friend Longmire for help. Walt gets involved in the mystery and finds more than he bargained for.

The Highwayman is the author's updating of the classic Charles Dickens tale "The Signal-Man." The novella is a quick, fun read both for fans of Walt Longmire and readers who enjoy a good, eerie ghost story.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

THE TUNNEL a Sinister Crime Puzzle

The Tunnel is a ten-part crime series now seen on PBS. Back episodes are available on Comcast Infinity.

The series opens with a bizarre puzzle: a female body is found in the Channel Tunnel that runs between England and France. The body is placed exactly on the boundary line between the two nations. What's more, the body is in two pieces, taken from two different corpses. Half of the body is from a French congress member. The other half is from an English call girl.

An oddly matched team of English and French detectives is assigned to the case. The French woman, Elise Wasserman, is socially detached. The English detective, Karl Roebuck, is a sardonic cynic. They work grudgingly together at first.

Bizarre new deaths continue to occur as an anonymous killer, the Truth Teller, stages shocking murders meant to expose the ills of society and the political system. A distorted voice on the phone announces his intentions.

The Tunnel is a gripping and disturbing mystery with no sure sense of where the plot will go next. The awkward chemistry between the two main characters adds another element of uncertainty.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Stephen King Completes Suspense Trilogy with END OF WATCH

End of Watch by Stephen King is a follow-up to his prior related suspense novels, Mr. Mercedes and Finders, Keepers. Continuing characters in all three novels are retired police detective Bill Hodges, his mentally fragile assistant Holly Gibney, and sociopathic mass murderer Brady Hartsfield.

Hartsfield is now a vegetative coma patient after suffering a brain trauma injury when Hodges and Holly stopped his mass casualty bombing attempt. But Brady's mind has been secretly recovering, and in the process, has developed paranormal mental powers. He uses those powers to incite an epidemic of suicides, aided by a hypnotic game player tablet called a Zappit.

As the sudden suicide deaths mount, Bill Hodges uncovers Hartsfield's monstrous plot. Hodges and Holly race against time to shut down the malevolent Zappits before the suicide infection can spread even further.

End of Watch contains some familiar King themes: paranormal mental powers, sinister technological devices, and a team of friends coming together to fight an evil threat. The novel is notable for the characters of Bill Hodges and Holly Gibney, two of the most admirable people Stephen King has created.

The novel is overlong by at least fifty pages, as King's renown "Big Mac and Fries" style tends to overwrite too often. The author is actually at his best in shorter, tighter works such as The Night Flyer and The Mist.

That said, End of Watch is a colorful, fast-reading work that long time King fans should find satisfying.

Monday, June 6, 2016

AQUARIUS Season Two - The Dark Side of the Sixties

Aquarius (NBC Network) returns June 16 for its second season. This crime series looks at the darkest side of the 1960s decade, while set against a background of the lifestyle and music of that era. Season One was uneven, but interesting enough to continue the series storyline.

The Sixties era was a time of political turmoil over the Vietnam war, when many kinds of revolution were in the air. It was a period that encompassed psychedelic drugs, the Summer of Love, and visionary rock music from The Beatles, Dylan, The Doors, and Jefferson Airplane.

But the Sixties was also infamous for the crimes of the notorious Manson Family - a ragged communal cult that committed a series of horrific California murders under the mesmerizing sway of the demonic Charles Manson.

Aquarius begins in 1967 Los Angeles as LAPD detective Sam Hodiak (played by David Duchovny) looks into the case of a missing teenage girl. He learns the girl may have joined a creepy band of hippie drifters. That puts Hodiak on the trail of the people who would become the Manson Family killers.

The TV series is set against the colorful backdrop of the Sixties culture scene, when the wild permissive freedom of the era degenerated into the frenzied, amoral blackness of the bloody crime scenes left behind by the Manson Family cult. Aquarius shows that beneath the surface of good vibes and pounding music, something evil and violent was already stirring.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Crime and Suspense Classics - The Must-Read List

Here's a list of classic novels that are essential reads in the Crime and Suspense genres. The list is roughly chronological, ranging from the 1930s to the current time. Note that the list does not include traditional Mystery novels, which is a separate genre.

The Maltese Falcon - Dashiell Hammett. Where the terse, hardboiled style all began.

The Big Sleep - Raymond Chandler

Double Indemnity - James M. Cain. The classic Noir doomed crime plan.

The Getaway - Jim Thompson. The crime novel as a descent into Hell.

The Manchurian Candidate - Richard Condon. The paranoid conspiracy thriller and a monstrous maternal figure.

Psycho - Robert Bloch.

The Deep Blue Goodbye - John D. MacDonald

The Friends of Eddie Coyle - George V. Higgins. Gritty crime story told in pitch perfect street dialogue. Elmore Leonard learned from this author.

Death Wish - Brian Garfield. Unban crime problems and the novel of revenge.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy - John LeCarre. The perfect Cold War spy novel.

The Ipcress File - Len Deighton. The spy novel retold with working class cynicism.

Marathon Man - William Goldman. That shudder-grating torture scene in a dental chair.

Miami Blues - Charles Willeford. An under-appreciated gem of a crime author.

Killshot - Elmore Leonard.

The Black Dahlia - James Ellroy. Frantic, pitch black, and borderline insane, as only Ellroy can write.

Silence of the Lambs - Thomas Harris. The best serial killer novel ever written.

Heaven's Prisoners - James Lee Burke

Mystic River - Dennis Lehane.

No Country For Old Men - Cormac McCarthy. Noir fatalism in the new West.

City of Bones -  Michael Connelly. The police procedural at its best.

The Leopard - Jo Nesbo. Obsession, Nordic style.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

NIGHT MANAGER a Sleek Spy Drama

The Night Manager is a taut, sleekly produced mini-series airing on AMC Cable network. The series is based on a novel by John Le Carre.

With the end of the Cold War battle between the CIA, MI-6, and the Soviet KGB, spy novelists like Le Carre had to find new plot subjects such as terrorism, multi-national corporations, and international crime. The Night Manager deals with an undercover operation by a British intelligence agency to bring down a notorious arms smuggler. In the process, corruption and betrayal are uncovered at high levels within both MI-6 and the CIA.

Other Le Carre novels have pursued similar post-Cold War intrigue:

Our Kind of Traitor - A British couple on vacation become involved with a Russian crime oligarch who wishes to defect, which draws the involvement of British intelligence. The movie version of the novel will be released this August.

A Most Wanted Man - A grim, cynical drama set in Hamburg, Germany. A wanted Muslim terrorist pretending to be an ordinary immigrant is hunted by competing American, British, and German agencies. Unfortunately, Le Carre's ingrained anti-American streak is on its nastiest display here. The movie version is available on DVD.

Monday, May 2, 2016

EXTREME PREY a New Crime Thriller by John Sandford

Extreme Prey by John Sandford is the newest entry in the crime thriller series that features Minnesota State Police investigator Lucas Davenport.

The Iowa Presidential campaign trail is the background for the novel. A threat has been made against a candidate. Lucas is on indefinite leave from police work, but he agrees to look into the threat as a free lance consultant.

What Lucas finds increasingly worries him. Evidence develops that indicates the threat is not only real, but clearly dangerous. But the threat comes from an unlikely source: a bitter and resentful farm family following near-psychotic political motives. The race to stop an assassination plan crisscrosses the rustic Iowa landscape, hurtling toward a tense, explosive finish.

Extreme Prey has a crackerjack plot and is written in such a smooth, fast paced style that the novel practically reads itself. Once again, John Sandford shows why he is one of the best crime thriller authors working today.

An outstanding read. Highly recommended.