Wednesday, January 4, 2017

THE COUPLE NEXT DOOR a Tangled Mystery

The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena is a tangled domestic mystery filled with continued, surprising plot twists. Nothing is as it first seems, and all of the key characters are hiding secrets which are eventually revealed.

Anne and Marco Conti are parents with a new baby girl. When their babysitter cancels, they decide to attend a dinner part anyway at their next door neighbors' house. They leave their baby, Cora, sleeping alone while checking on her every half-hour. But when Anne goes to check on Cora at one a.m., the baby's crib is empty. Someone has taken her.

The police are called. A search is undertaken. But no sign of who took Cora is found. Anne and Marco are distraught. Detective Rasbach begins to suspect the parents are hiding something. They had both been drinking earlier. Anne has been seeing a psychiatrist for poet-partum depression. Something is off about all of it, but Rasbach can't tell what it is.

More plot twists unfold. Anne's parents arrive to help, with their own agenda. The next door neighbors are questioned, but they may be hiding something as well. A witness may have seen something. But the baby is still missing.

 The Couple Next Door is a compelling, tautly written mystery that moves toward an unexpected answer. The novel makes entertaining winter reading for mystery fans.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Best Mystery and Crime Novels of 2016

The past year saw the release of new Mystery and Crime novels by popular authors as well as newer faces in the genre. These are the best books reviewed during 2016 by this blog:

Extreme Prey by John Sandford - New entry in the series that features Minnesota state police detective Lucas Davenport. Here Lucas works to stop an assassination plot against a candidate in the Iowa presidential primary. Another superb crime thriller that moves at breakneck pace from Sandford.

Off the Grid by C.J. Box - Wyoming game warden Joe Pickett is back. Joe comes up against a terrorist cell hiding out in the remote, desolate Red Desert region of the state. Raw boned crime tale set against a rugged western landscape that makes for a great read.

Even Dogs in the Wild by Ian Rankin - A new case for Edinburgh, Scotland police inspector John Rebus. The irascible Rebus investigates a connection between the murder of a prosecutor and the attempted murder of a local mobster. A tangled crime plot along with an entertaining main character.

The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware - An eerie psychological suspense puzzle set inside the claustrophobic confines of a huge luxury yacht. A passenger thinks she sees a woman thrown overboard ... or was she? Engrossing mystery that builds in paranoid intensity to a startling plot twist.

The Wrong Side of Goodbye by Michael Connelly - Former LAPD detective Harry Bosch returns, now working part time for a small town police force, as well as taking private cases. Bosch is pursuing a serial rapist called the Screen Cutter while he is also hired to locate a billionaire's lost heir. A vintage Bosch outing and the police procedural at its best.

Monday, December 5, 2016

WRONG SIDE OF GOODBYE a New Harry Bosch Case

Former LAPD detective Harry Bosch is back in The Wrong Side of Goodbye by Michael Connelly. Bosch is now retired from the LAPD and working part time for the small police force of San Fernando. He also continues to take cases as a private investigator.

This new novel finds Bosch working simultaneously on two troubling cases. As a cop, he is pursuing a serial rapist, dubbed the Screen Cutter, who has staged a chain of local attacks on women inside their homes.

Harry is also hired by aged, frail billionaire Whitney Vance to search for a possible lost heir that Vance may have, an illegitimate child from a college affair. But with control of billions at stake in the Vance estate, Bosch is opposed by those around Vance who don't want any such heir suddenly found.

As Bosch digs deeper into both cases, the Vance matter turns threatening, and the Screen Cutter case leads to a violent confrontation. The Wrong Side of Goodbye is vintage Harry Bosch and another compulsively readable crime thriller from Michael Connelly.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Corrupt Judge at Center of John Grisham's THE WHISTLER

The Whistler by John Grisham is a new legal novel that begins with the problem of a corrupt judge and leads to the uncovering of a widespread, entrenched crime syndicate.

The main character is Lacy Stolz, an investigator for the board that oversees Florida judges. When a complaint of judicial misconduct is filed against a female Circuit Court judge, Lacy and her partner, Hugo Hatch, are at first skeptical. The complaint filer is a secretive whistleblower who claims to have a mole contact close to the judge.

As Lacy digs into the case, it looks like the judge is taking payoff money connected to a casino on Indian tribal land. But the corruption spreads much wider than that, and dangerous people involved are willing to use violence to protect themselves.

A cold blooded trap is set for Lacy and Hugo with tragic consequences. The whistleblower himself suddenly disappears. As Lacy's office realizes what they are up against, they are forced to go to the FBI for help.

The Whistler is an entertaining read that is slowed sometimes by in-depth background material. The novel continues John Grisham's exploration of the darker corners of the American legal system.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

ESCAPE CLAUSE a Wild Crime Escapade From John Sandford

Escape Clause is an entertaining new crime novel by popular author John Sandford. The novel is the latest in the series that features Minnesota State Police investigator Virgil Flowers. Virgil is a laid back country boy type who would rather be fishing in his boat on some lake instead of chasing criminals. Somehow, he always seems to draw the oddball cases.

This time, two rare tigers have been stolen by someone from the Minnesota Zoo and Virgil is put on the case to recover the animals. Tiger parts are prized in the Chinese drug market for their alleged curative powers. The illegal tiger extracts could be worth over a million dollars. It's feared that the animals will be quickly killed and their valuable parts harvested to be smuggled to China.

Virgil Flowers is racing the clock to track down the tiger thieves. But the trail soon leads to a crazy shootout, the arrival of a family of Armenian thugs, and then murdered bodies start to pile up. The tiger hunt continues to take new twists as Virgil chases leads all over the state.

Escape Clause is a fast reading crime ride seasoned with deadpan dialog humor. This is another wild escapade in the series of crime novels that John Sanford seems to turn out effortlessly.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

OUR KIND OF TRAITOR a Tense Spy Drama

Our Kind of Traitor (new on DVD) is a gripping drama about the clash between honorable values and political corruption within the murky world of government spy agencies. The movie is based on a novel by John LeCarre.

British couple Perry and Gail are on vacation when they meet Dima, a flamboyant character, and a money launderer for a Russian crime syndicate. But Dima's gang is now controlled by a ruthless new boss who is eliminating the old guard and Dima fears he and his family will soon be assassinated. He wants to defect to Britain for safety, and he uses Perry as intermediary to help him do so.

Perry makes contact with British agent Hector from MI-6. Dima has information about high British officials who are in the pay of the Russian syndicate. Dima will provide those names in exchange for political asylum. Hector agrees, but he has his own agenda of revenge against a particular government official that he wants to satisfy at the same time.

The movie follows a tense operation in Switzerland as Perry and Hector's team try to get Dima and his family to safety, leading up to violent fight with the Russian gangsters at a safe house in the Swiss Alps.

Our Kind of Traitor is a chilling story of lies and betrayal, in which a Russian defector is a more honorable traitor than the politically corrupt traitors high up inside the British government itself.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Caleb Carr is back with SURRENDER, NEW YORK

Surrender, New York is a new crime novel by Caleb Carr. His earlier bestselling novel, The Alienist, dealt with the first use of psychological profiling to solve crimes in 1900 New York City.

Carr's new novel is set in the upstate New York town of Surrender, where a series of grotesque deaths of local teenagers has occurred. The novel's main character is Dr. Trajan Jones, a criminal profiler, who works with Dr. Mike Li, a trace evidence expert.

The teenage victims were all part of a class called "throwaway children," who were abandoned by or kicked out of their original families. Jones and Li believe some unknown predators are targeting these rootless kids. But their theory puts them in conflict with authorities who may be covering up a disturbing conspiracy.

The author uses the novel to advance his criticism that crime investigation now relies too much on CSI-type physical evidence that points in only one direction. Trajan Jones argues that profiling the entire psychological context of the crime is better able to consider all potential motives and suspects.

 Surrender, New York is a densely written, overly long novel which could be shorter by two hundred pages and suffers from some weak plot elements. Recommended only for dedicated Caleb Carr fans.