Tuesday, January 20, 2015

SHOTS FIRED - Harsh Crimes in Western Country

Shots Fired by C.J. Box is a collection of Crime short stories set against the rugged landscape of Wyoming. Box is the author of a popular series of novels featuring Joe Pickett, a state game warden and sometimes special investigator for the state's governor.

For those who haven't read any of the novel series, Shots Fired is a nice introduction to the Joe Pickett character and the sprawling Wyoming country that he works in. Four of the stories in this collection star Pickett. Other stories feature a variety of characters caught up in volatile situations they didn't want to be in.

The author's style is lean and austere, in keeping with the scenic, but unforgiving conditions of the western landscape. The descriptive picture of the Wyoming countryside feels true. The crimes in these stories are unexpected, the consequences harsh and chilling. The events often take place in the middle of nowhere, with only the wild rivers and snowy mountains as bleak witnesses. The stories "One-Car Bridge," "Dull Knife," "Shots Fired," and "Every Day's a Good Day on the River" are particularly unsettling.

Shots Fired is an entertaining, highly readable collection for those who like crime stories seasoned with a tough, open-country flavor.

BEACH RATING:  4 Palm Trees

Friday, January 9, 2015

THE BIG FINISH an Environmental Crime Thriller

The Big Finish by James W. Hall is a gripping crime thriller in its own right. But the novel is also a graphic depiction of the damage done to the natural environment and to human health by reckless industrial waste pollution.

The novel is part of the continuing series to feature main character, Thorn, a rugged outdoorsman loner who often finds himself entangled in dangerous situations. The setting for this novel is rural North Carolina. Thorn's son is missing there after joining some militant environmental activists who are battling a large hog livestock farm operation. The hogs are being maltreated in truly horrendous conditions and the waste byproducts are poisoning the local land, river, and populace. The farm owners are a brutal lot who stage a fatal armed attack to stop the activist group.

Thorn leaves his native Florida and heads north to find out what happened to his son. In the process, he comes into violent conflict with some coldly vicious enemies.

The Big Finish was written to be the finale to the Thorn novel series. The Thorn books have always been outstanding for their descriptive depiction of the natural ecology of Florida, where Thorn lives. Thorn's deep disgust at the way the state's lands and habitats are being lost to relentless development is an ongoing theme in the novel series.

The Big Finish is a great read as a Crime thriller and as a sometimes stomach-turning picture of how livestock industry pollution can damage a local community and its residents.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Best Crime Dramas on TV Return For New Seasons in 2015

These TV Crime Dramas have all had great past seasons. Luckily for viewers, they return again with new episodes in the 2015 season.

Justified (FX Cable) - Back on January 20th for its sixth and final season. Based on Elmore Leonard created characters, this gritty backwoods series is set in Kentucky coal country, and features laconic fast-draw U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens. This season may finally see the showdown between Raylan and longtime nemesis, the conniving, mercurial Boyd Crowder. This fine series has been a treat to watch for its quirky country characters and dead-on down home dialogue.

Better Call Saul (AMC Cable) - This new series, debuting February 8th, is a spinoff from the great series Breaking Bad, which ended its run last season. The new series features seedy strip mall lawyer, Saul Goodman, whose clientele includes a menagerie of low-life criminal types. The series is from the same production team that did Breaking Bad and is expected to offer a similar mix of offbeat criminality and dark comedy.

Broadchurch (BBC America Cable) - Season Two of this British mystery series begins March 4th. The first season followed the investigation of a local boy's murder in a small English seaside town. One of the townspeople was a killer and the final revelation of who did it was a shocker. Season Two picks up in the aftermath of the murder case, bringing back the main characters, Detectives Emmitt Carver and Ellie Miller, each dealing with personal issues of their own. Sinister psychological mystery at its best.

 Fargo (FX Cable) - The bad news is, this breakout hit series won't return until Fall 2015. Based on the classic Coen Brothers movie, the TV series is set in the same winter-white of northern Minnesota, and involves the same basic elements: stupid crime plans gone wrong, deadpan black humor, and wildly dumb violence. The coming season begins a new storyline of small time husband and wife criminals caught up in a war between rival mobsters. Should be worth the wait for the new episodes.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Best Mystery & Crime Novels of 2014

This was another strong year for new books in the Mystery and Crime genre. These are the best books reviewed by this Blog in 2014:

The Drop by Dennis Lehane - A hard-edged crime story set on the bleak streets of South Boston. The rough, blue collar characters speak in terse, streetwise dialogue that reflects the worn hardness of the neighborhood around them. It all moves inexorably toward a violent end, as if the characters are hopelessly fated by their own warped natures.

The Burning Room by Michael Connelly - LAPD detective Harry Bosch is back in the latest novel in a highly popular continuing series. Bosch is his typical tenacious, maverick self as he digs into a politically charged cold case. The chemistry between the wily veteran Bosch and the new young partner he is training, Lucia Soto, brings added depth to the novel. A compelling, first rate police procedural.

Perfidia by James Ellroy - A lurid noir crime epic set in post-war Los Angeles, and a prequel to Ellroy's famed Black Dahlia-Big Nowhere-L.A. Confidential trilogy. This novel portrays an LAPD awash in corruption, dirty politics, and bone-splintering cop beat-downs. It's all written in Ellroy's trademark manic, machine gun style, and salted with sleazy Hollywood dirt. A wild whirlwind of a ride that just skirts the dark rim of craziness.

The Son by Jo Nesbo - A tale of revenge set in Oslo, Norway. An escaped prison inmate, a ghost-like figure known as The Son, goes after those responsible for the death of his policeman father. The cop tracking The Son is Simon Kefas, a balding, tired man nearing retirement and an unlikely hero. Offbeat and eerie at times, with a wrenching final plot twist.

Saints of the Shadow Bible by Ian Rankin - Inspector John Rebus of the Edinburgh, Scotland police returns from short lived retirement. He takes on an auto accident case that turns into a cover-up by powerful people. Rebus is at his gruff best with his tactless rudeness and deep-held cynicism. An intriguing plot puzzle for mystery readers.

Field of Prey by John Sandford - Minnesota State Police investigator Lucas Davenport pursues a grisly new serial killer case. The bodies of twenty young women are discovered in an old, buried cistern on a vacant farm. A killer has been at work for years and he's still living in one of the small towns in the area. A dark, relentless thriller that drives toward a brutal climax.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Stephen King's REVIVAL a Tale of Dark Healing Forces

Revival by Stephen King is almost an homage to the classic Horror genre authors who dared test the boundaries of true darkness --- writers like Poe, H.R. James, Blackwood, and Lovecraft.

But most especially, Revival is a modern echo of the Arthur Machen classic, The Great God Pan, about a woman who undergoes a brain surgery experiment and then dies after glimpsing the monstrous shadow world of evil she is suddenly able to see.

The King novel revolves around another obsessive experimenter with the healing force of electrical shock therapy --- the one-time minister Charles Jacobs. The story is narrated by Jamie Morton, who was a child the first time he encountered Jacobs. Over the decades, the two of them reconnect intermittently. Jacobs becomes a carny show healer, whose fame grows as he appears to evoke miraculous cures with his secret electrical therapy inventions.

But the cures Jacobs provides may have horrifying after-effects for his subjects. As he ages in later years, Jacobs persists in his research nevertheless, pushing ever closer toward the ultimate boundary of revival from death itself.

Revival is one of the darkest novels in all of Stephen King's Horror fiction. It's closest precursor would be the grotesque Pet Sematary. The novel builds slowly to a truly hideous climax and the blackest of visions about human mortality. Even seasoned Horror fiction readers may close the last pages of this tale with an involuntary shudder.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

THE BURNING ROOM by Michael Connelly a Top Crime Read

LAPD Detective Harry Bosch returns in The Burning Room, a new crime novel by Michael Connelly. Bosch is a hard nosed, tenacious murder cop in a highly popular continuing series of books by Connelly.

Bosch is now a veteran detective nearing retirement. He is currently assigned to the Open-Unsolved Unit that handles cold cases.

His new case involves a shooting victim who recently died from a bullet lodged in his body ten years earlier. As Bosch investigates, the original shooting may link to an earlier arson fire that took the lives of several children trapped in a smoke-filled room.

The novel's plot moves like a relentless machine as Bosch follows threads of old evidence that lead toward a powerful political figure who wants the case dropped permanently. But that's not how Bosch operates.

Another strong story element is the teaming of Bosch with a young new partner, Lucia Soto. It's a great combination as the energetic rookie detective Soto gains valuable learning from the hardened veteran Bosch.

The Burning Room is an outstanding crime read. Michael Connelly continues to be the best writer of police procedurals working today. Highly recommended.

BEACH RATING: 4 Palm Trees

Thursday, October 30, 2014

DEADLINE by John Sandford a Backwoods Crime Thriller

Deadline by John Sandford is a new crime thriller set in the rural, wooded country of southeast Minnesota. The novel is the latest in the series to feature Virgil Flowers, a state police investigator.

In the small town of Trippton, a local reporter uncovers a hidden embezzlement scheme that is stealing huge funds from the schools budget. The entire school board is in on the criminal scheme. To stop the reporter from exposing them, the board members take a secret vote to have him murdered. The vote is unanimous.

That's the chilling set-up for the novel. Virgil Flowers is in the same local area to investigate a dog stealing ring that's taking valuable hunting dogs from their owners. When the reporter's body is found shot in the back, Flowers takes on that case as well. He soon finds himself the target of a cold blooded conspiracy by treacherous country folks who aren't going to be stopped.

Deadline is an entertaining crime read filled with startling plot twists and colorful characters and dialogue. John Sandford continues to be one of the best crime fiction writers working today.

BEACH RATING: 4 Palm trees