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.

Friday, April 1, 2016

OFF THE GRID a Western Crime Thriller

Off the Grid by C.J. Box is the latest novel in the series that features Wyoming Game Warden Joe Pickett. The Pickett novels are noted for fast moving plots, with raw boned action, set against a rugged western landscape. This newest entry doesn't disappoint.

The storyline shifts between Joe Pickett and his friend Nate Romanowski, a former special forces soldier and now a renegade outlaw wanted by the Feds. Nate has been hiding out in the wilderness off the grid. But the Feds finally locate him and recruit him for a job. In return, Nate's record will be fully cleared.

The Feds want Nate to infiltrate a suspected terrorist cell training in the remote, desolate Red desert region of Wyoming. Meanwhile, the state governor sends Joe Pickett into the same area to find out what the Feds are up to on state lands.

Joe and Nate are working separate missions, but they both run up against the same ruthless enemies in the middle of a barren nowhereWhen it becomes clear what kind of disaster the terrorists plan to cause, the book's title takes on a whole new meaning. 

Off the Grid is a riveting read that again shows why C.J. Box is one of the most popular authors in the crime thriller genre.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

MIDNIGHT SUN by Jo Nesbo a Fateful Crime Tale


Midnight Sun is a new short novel from Norwegian crime author Jo Nesbo, who is widely acclaimed for his popular series featuring Oslo homicide detective Harry Hole.

The main character of Midnight Sun is a former crime gang member who calls himself Ulf. He was supposed to kill someone for his boss, the Fisherman, but instead Ulf took money to let his intended victim go free. Now Ulf himself is on the run from the Fisherman's hit men. Hiding out in an isolated village in the far north of Norway near the Arctic Circle, Ulf hopes they won't find him there. But in his heart, he knows they will be coming sooner or later.

Ulf is a practical man with no illusions about the dead end situation he is in, a pitiless prospect as bleak as the barren landscape around him and the relentless, hanging sun that never sets. A fatalistic undertone of the consequences of one's decisions runs throughout the story.

Midnight Sun is a grim crime tale that moves implacably toward an unexpected finish. It's another solid read from Jo Nesbo.