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

Sunday, October 19, 2014

THE DROP by Dennis Lehane a Hard-Edged Crime Piece

The Drop by Dennis Lehane is a tough, grim crime story set on the hard-scrabble streets of south Boston. This short novel features rough, blue collar characters whose terse dialogue reflects the worn bleakness of the neighborhood around them.

Bob Saginowski is a bartender at a run down local bar. His older, bitter cousin Marv Stipler, a minor mobster, once owned the bar until the tougher Chechen mob took it away from him. The bar is now used as a money drop for the Chechens' illegal activities.

When the bar is robbed one night and the mob money stolen, the violent Chechens want answers from Bob and Marv. Another problem emerges for Bob when he finds an abused puppy in a trashcan and takes the dog home to care for it. Then a sociopath ex-con named Eric Deeds shows up and says the dog is his and he wants it back or else.

Once set in motion along these lines, the story moves inexorably toward violent events, as if its characters are hopelessly locked in by their own warped natures. The Drop is a fast reading, gripping tale that will be appreciated by those who like hard nosed crime fiction.

BEACH RATING: 4 palm Trees

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

WALKING DEAD Begins Nightmarish New Season

The Walking Dead (AMC Cable TV) begins its fifth season on October 12th. The series follows the aftermath of a viral plague that has turned most of the human population into walking dead predators. A small ban of uninfected survivors struggles to stay alive in a bleak post-disaster world that has left civilization destroyed.

The strength of the series lies in its characters. The close-knit group depend on each other for protection and support as they try to make it through each dangerous day. They take care of each other. They have each other's backs. They work together as a tested, hardened unit against outside threats. It's the only way they can continue to stay alive in a nightmare world.

The vicious Walker zombies are infested everywhere. They hunt mindless and hungry for any healthy human flesh. The survivors are continually under siege by the Walkers. One wrong turn into a Walker swarm can mean a horrifying death.

Just as dangerous are the rival human bands working to carve out their own survival sanctuaries. The new season opens with the survivors having been captured and held prisoner by a ruthless gang at a place called Terminus. A violent, bloody battle is coming between the two groups to see which one of them lives.

The Walking Dead is both Horror story and grim survival epic. For the survivor band, the search to find a place where they will be finally safe at last may be forever elusive.

BEACH RATING: 4 Palm Trees

Friday, September 26, 2014

PERFIDIA by James Ellroy a Lurid Noir Crime Epic

Perfidia by James Ellroy is a lurid, sprawling juggernaut of a crime novel that pre-dates Ellroy's famed Black Dahlia-L.A. Confidential noir trilogy of Los Angeles in the late 1940s to mid 1950s.

This new novel begins in late 1941, just before the Pearl harbor bombing by Japan. The looming war and anti-Japanese fever serves as a backdrop to a politically hot murder case: the gruesome deaths of a local Japanese family by unknown killers.

Ellroy brings back familiar characters from his earlier L.A. novels. Captain William Parker, a morally ambivalent figure, later to become LAPD Chief. Detective Dudley Smith, the brutal, corrupt leader of an in-house police strong-arm squad. New character Hideo Ashida, a Japanese LAPD criminologist, is torn by internal conflicts as he works the murder case of the Japanese family.

Perfidia portrays an LAPD awash in corruption, dirty politics, and off-the-books cop beat-downs. The police are at their dirtiest during the cruel, indiscriminate roundups of local Japanese-Americans for internment as war breaks out. Captain Parker and Dudley Smith use all of it to pursue their own private agendas within the LAPD, and against each other.

Perfidia is an epic read, written in the author's trademark machine-gun style -- raunchy, driven, at times near-manic. The novel is salted with sleazy Hollywood dirt and scenes of raw, broken-teeth violence.

Crime fiction readers should find this one compelling and sure to be on the Best-of-2014 list.

BEACH RATING: 4 Palm Trees