Monday, December 14, 2015

Best Mystery and Crime Novels of 2015

This year was another strong year for new books in the Mystery and Crime genre. These are the best novels, including two by one author, reviewed by this blog in 2015:

The Crossing by Michael Connelly - Former LAPD detective Harry Bosch returns in a new police procedural novel in this popular continuing series. Bosch is now retired and ends up reluctantly crossing over to the other side to help defend an accused criminal defendant. But as Bosch starts digging, too many things don't fit and it looks like someone inside the LAPD is behind it. A riveting, outstanding read.

Endangered by C.J. Box - New entry in the series that features Wyoming state game warden Joe Pickett. Joe's step-daughter, April, is found beaten and unconscious, and his friend, Nate is gunned down in a cold blooded ambush. As Joe investigates these attacks, he comes up against a roughneck, violent backwoods clan. A fast paced read set against a rugged western landscape.

Badlands by C.J. Box - Introduces main character Cassie Dewell, a Sheriff's Department investigator in her new job in a rowdy shale oil boomtown in North Dakota. Cassie soon finds herself dealing with violent drug gang murders and corruption in her own department. Set on the frigid plains, with a realistic and appealing character, it's a nice start for a new continuing series featuring Cassie Dewell.

Blood on Snow by Jo Nesbo - A short, stand alone novel by the popular Norwegian crime author. Main character Oleg is a "fixer," a contract killer for his boss. But when Oleg is ordered to kill the wife of his boss, it creates an impossible dilemma, because Oleg himself is in love with her. A philosophical, gripping crime tale that races to a harsh finish.

Gathering Prey by John Sandford - Latest in the crime thriller series that features Minnesota State Police investigator Lucas Davenport. Lucas gets onto the trail of a roving, rag-tag band led by a sociopathic guru name Pilate. These drifters move around the country, luring and killing random victims to suit their whims. Lucas follows the killers, along with a police posse, in a multi-state chase. A terrific thriller with a plot that moves at breakneck pace.

The Beat Goes On by Ian Rankin - This is the complete collection of Inspector Rebus short stories, featuring the cranky Edinburgh, Scotland detective. The stories are presented in chronological order, spanning the years as John Rebus moves from young Detective Constable to veteran Chief Inspector. An entertaining treat for fans of the Inspector Rebus novel series.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Private Eye Elvis Cole Returns in THE PROMISE

The Promise by Robert Crais is a latest crime novel in the popular series featuring L.A. private eye Elvis Cole. Cole is an unconventional, wise cracking detective who drives a vintage yellow Corvette and has a Disney wall clock in his office.

Cole's new client hires him to find a missing woman who embezzled some company funds. But the case immediately goes wrong. A brutal murder, missing explosives, and a cold blooded killer named Mr. Rollins all make Cole realize he has been hired under false pretenses and something much bigger is going on.

The story allows Cole to meet LAPD officer Scott James, who is part of a K-9 unit along with his police dog, Maggie. Cole and James work leads together to find the explosives, but this makes James himself a target of the sadistic Mr. Rollins.

The Promise is not one of the stronger novels in the Elvis Cole series. The pairing of Cole with Scott James and Maggie adds a new element to the plot. But the storyline feels forced and over-padded at times and the climactic scenes are a let down. For a better taste of the Elvis Cole books, try The Forgotten Man and Chasing Darkness.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Harry Bosch is Back in THE CROSSING by Michael Connelly

The Crossing by Michael Connelly sees popular character Harry Bosch return in a new police procedural mystery. Bosch is now retired as an LAPD detective. When defense attorney Mickey Haller asks Bosch to assist as an investigator in a homicide case, Bosch doesn't want to do it. He spent his whole police career putting such criminals behind bars. It would mean "crossing over" to help the other side if he works to free an accused defendant.

But Bosch does grudgingly agree to at least take a preliminary look at the murder case. The victim was a woman brutally beaten to death in her home. The accused suspect is a black former gang member, whose DNA was found at the scene.

The case looks solid until Bosch starts digging deeper. He doesn't like what he finds. Too many things don't fit. It looks like Haller's client may have been set up, possibly by someone inside the LAPD.

When new murders occur as Bosch keeps probing, things take a dangerous new turn. Someone unknown will keep killing to protect themselves and Harry Bosch is the next target on the list.

The Crossing is a riveting, outstanding read for mystery fans. Michael Connelly continues to deliver, book after book, the best novels in the police procedural genre.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Stephen King's BAZAAR OF BAD DREAMS a Dark Ride

Bazaar of Bad Dreams by Stephen King is a short fiction collection that ranges across genres from Horror and Fantasy to dark mainstream fiction. Running through the stories are the two common themes of fatalism and fear of the dark things that are always waiting somewhere in human lives.

The best tale in the collection is the outright horror novella, "Mile 81," about a monster in the form of a derelict car that sits waiting for victims at a deserted highway rest stop. The story has echoes of the straight horror shudders that King produced early in his career. Other entertaining tales are "The Dune," "Obits," "Ur," and "The Little Green God of Agony."

Less successful are a few of the mainstream fiction pieces like "Morality," "Under the Weather," and "That Bus is Another World." These are dark meditations that feel like they're reaching too hard for something and are ultimately unsatisfying.

That said, Bazaar of Bad Dreams is on the whole Stephen King's best story collection since Everything's Eventual. The stories are all told in the author's trademark earthy, colloquial, "Big Mac and Fries" style. Faithful King fans should be pleased with this new volume of his work.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

ROGUE LAWYER an Enjoyable Read from John Grisham

Rogue Lawyer by John Grisham features maverick street lawyer Sebastian Rudd, who takes on the most toxic criminal defendants that other attorneys shy away from. Rudd pays a price for that, needing a bodyguard and riding around in a bulletproof van because of the many threats made against him.

The novel follows Rudd as he defends a series of controversial clients. An accused child murderer. A cage fighter who beats a referee to death. A homeowner who shoots back at a SWAT team that mistakenly raids the wrong house.

The events are narrated in the first person by Rudd. His cynical commentary about the dirty little truths of the criminal justice system is both entertaining and troubling. But Rudd knows all the dirty inside tricks himself and he is only too willing to use them to win his cases.

Rogue Lawyer is a fast paced read with an admittedly flawed, but unapologetic main character. The novel is one of John Grisham's wittiest and most enjoyable in his long writing career.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

FARGO Best Crime Series on Television in Second Season

Fargo (FX Cable) opened its new season this week as the best crime series on TV. The series is a spin-off from the cult classic neo-noir movie by Joel and Ethan Coen. The TV version has faithfully lived up to the standards of its acclaimed movie predecessor.

The familiar plot elements are still present. The snowy, blank whiteness of the Minnesota landscape. Slow thinking, earnest small town cops. An act of stupidly impulsive violence that triggers a chain of out-of-control consequences. The pervasive undertone of quirky, deadpan black humor.

Add to that a brewing gang war between a local family crime business and invading organized crime mobsters. Caught in the middle is a hapless, none-too-bright married couple who accidently kill one of the criminals, then clumsily try to cover it up.

The great theme of the Coen brothers has always been a bleak, fatalistic view of humanity and the misguided acts that people undertake which lead inexorably to their own destruction. The empty white landscape serves as a metaphor for the amoral blankness in which the characters flail futilely about.

The Fargo TV series is faithful to that theme, offering a pitch black, quirky crime drama and a cast of dumbly motivated, morally vacant people who can't get out of the disastrous situations they have blundered into.

Monday, October 5, 2015

DRY BONES a New Walt Longmire Wyoming Mystery

Dry Bones by Craig Johnson is the latest in the popular mystery novel series featuring Wyoming county sheriff Walt Longmire.

A highly prized T-Rex fossil skeleton is discovered buried on a local ranch. Soon afterwards, the body of the ranch owner is found floating dead in a fishing pond and it looks like he was murdered.

Longmire pursues the homicide case while the valuable T-Rex fossil is the subject of a tangled legal dispute involving a museum, federal agents, and an Indian tribal group that also claims title to the skeleton. Longmire looks for a link between the murder and the T-Rex find, or was there another less obvious motive?

The real charm of the Longmire series is Walt's own dry, unflappable nature and the set of eccentric characters surrounding him. His tough talking deputy, Victoria Moretti. Walt's wise and mystical friend, Henry Standing Bear. And all the colorful members of reservation tribes that Walt must regularly deal with.

Dry Bones is another entertaining tale for readers who like their mystery stories salted with wry humor and a backdrop of rugged Western landscape.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Collected Inspector Rebus Stories a Crime Fiction Gem

The Beat Goes On by Ian Rankin is the complete collection of Inspector Rebus short stories, featuring the irascible Edinburgh, Scotland detective.

The collection of 31 stories includes three not previously published. The stories are presented in chronological order, running over the span of years as John Rebus moves from young Detective Constable to veteran Chief Inspector.

The crimes involve everything from theft and violent assault to murder. But the true focus is the character of Rebus himself, with his sour cynicism and sardonic remarks. Rebus is often in conflict with his plodding bosses. But he plunges ahead regardless, like a rude bulldozer that won't be stopped until a case is closed.

The Beat Goes On is an entertaining set of crime stories and a treat for Inspector Rebus fans.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

BADLANDS by C.J. Box - Murders in an Oil Boomtown

Badlands by C.J. Box is set on the frigid plains of North Dakota, where the shale oil industry has created whole new boomtowns flush with high pay and "man camps" of newly arrived workers. But with the boom comes drugs and brutal criminal gangs competing for the cash-rich territory.

Arriving in the overcrowded town of Grimstad is Detective Cassie Dewell, hired to be the new Chief Investigator of the Sheriff's Department. In her previous job in Montana, she worked a serial murder case that led to the death of her police partner. Looking for a fresh start, Cassie finds herself suddenly dealing with violent gang murders and corruption that may reach into her own new department.

C.J. Box if the author of the popular crime novel series that features Wyoming game warden Joe Pickett. Badlands has the new main character of Cassie Dewell, who appeared in a prior Box novel, The Highway. Cassie is mid-thirties, not very tall, and somewhat overweight. But she's a sharp investigator and a good shot when she has to be. This combination makes her character both realistic and appealing.

Badlands offers the same sweeping sense of rugged landscape and the threat of rough violence as other C.J. Box western crime novels. If this one is part of a new series built around Cassis Dewell, it's a great start.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

GIRL ON THE TRAIN a Devious Psychological Mystery

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins is a devious psychological mystery that shifts through a series of plot twists, first pointing in one direction, then changing course again.

The plot structure is elaborate. Events move in chapters told in the first person by three alternating narrators --- Rachel, Anna, and Megan. An added complication is that Megan's chapters take place in a time period a few months earlier than the chapters narrated by Rachel and Anna.

Rachel Watson is the central character, a troubled alcoholic with memory blackouts, who is unhappily divorced and jobless. She rides commuter trains to fill her empty life. Other characters circle around her confused thoughts. Tom Watson, her ex-husband. Anna Watson, Tom's new wife. Scott and Megan Hipwell, former neighbors at Rachel's old home. Dr. Kamel Abdic, a psychiatrist.

When a key character goes missing, followed by the discovery of a body, the truth of what happened can only be worked out through the competing narrative accounts of Rachel, Anna, and Megan. The answers build piece by piece toward the startling exposure of the killer.

The Girl on the Train is a smartly written, compelling psychological mystery read. It's a much more satisfying novel than last year's similar genre novel, Gone Girl, with its manipulative, misleading plot, unreliable narrators, and flagrantly over-written style by the author.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

CHARLIE MARTZ Shows Early Elmore Leonard Work

Charlie Martz and Other Stories by Elmore Leonard is a collection of early, mostly unpublished stories from the iconic crime fiction writer, who died in 2013.

The stories show Leonard beginning to find his trademark style: clean, hard prose along with tight, streetwise dialogue, and salted with simmering menace.

Some of the stories included are crime pieces like the Detroit mobster vengeance tale, "One, Horizontal." Other stories like "The Trespassers," and "For Something to Do," show ordinary people put into threatening situations.

Then there are the Western stories, where Leonard first made his writing mark with novels like Hombre and Valdez is Coming. Two standout tales are the title story "Charlie Martz," and the follow-up "Siesta in Paloverde."

This collection is a varied, interesting read for Elmore Leonard devotees. Leonard was a writer's writer and a rigorous craftsman and Charlie Martz shows how he learned that craft.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

FINDERS, KEEPERS a Dark Crime Tale From Stephen King

Finders, Keepers by Stephen King is a new crime tale about a famed, reclusive author's unpublished manuscripts and an obsessed fan who will kill to possess those unseen literary works.

The deranged fan is Morris Bellamy, a ruthless sociopath who murders the Salinger-like author and steals the hoard of manuscripts. Morris doesn't want to merely sell the material, he wants to be the first one to read the unseen works by his idolized author. But he never gets the chance. He's sent to prison for another crime and the stolen notebooks remain where he hid them.

Years later, a teen named Pete Staubers stumbles onto the hidden notebooks and plans to sell them himself on the literary black market. But Morris Bellamy is paroled, and when he finds out who has his stolen trove, he goes after Pete Staubers.

The novel brings back a character from King's prior novel, Mr. Mercedes, retired police detective Bill Hodges. It's the stolid veteran Hodges who enters the picture to try to protect Pete from the maniacal killer Bellamy.

The obsessed literary fan theme has echoes of an earlier King classic, Misery. Finders, Keepers is notable mainly for its vivid character portraits and for being written in the author's earthy, idiomatic style.That said, the novel is an entertaining read from Stephen King, even if not at the top level of some of his past work.

Monday, June 1, 2015

GATHERING PREY - New Crime Thriller by John Sandford

Gathering Prey by John Sandford is the latest in the popular crime novel series that features Minnesota State Police investigator Lucas Davenport.

What begins with a young panhandler drifter going missing leads Davenport into a multiple murder case that just keeps spreading in scope.

Lucas gets on the trail of a roving, rag-tag crew of disciples led by a sociopathic, self-styled guru named Pilate. The disciples travel the country in a road convoy, luring and killing random victims to suit their whims.

As Davenport closes in along with a posse of local police officers, the hunt turns into a multi-state chase that leads up to a wild gun battle in a one-horse town in the backwoods of the Michigan Upper Peninsula.

The novel moves like a bullet train through the twists of the chase and the running shoot-out with the fleeing, ruthless disciples. John Sandford continues to produce inventive new plots built around the long running main character of Lucas Davenport. Gathering Prey is an outstanding read that further confirms Sandford's place in the top rank of crime thriller authors.

BEACH RATING: 4 Palm Trees

Saturday, May 23, 2015

AQUARIUS - The Dark Side of the Sixties

Aquarius (NBC May 28) is a new crime series that journeys through both the psychedelic exuberance and the darkest depths of the iconic 1960s decade.

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.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

WAYWARD PINES Series a Sinister Psychological Puzzle

Wayward Pines is a new mystery mini-series debuting on FOX TV May 14. The pilot episode (available now on Comcast On Demand) shows strong potential of a layered puzzle with unexpected twists to come.

Secret Service agent Ethan Burke is sent to the isolated town of Wayward Pines, Idaho to look for two missing fellow agents. He's involved in a sudden car crash and awakens in the town hospital. Nothing is normal after that.

Ethan can't get a phone call to the outside world. The local sheriff is menacing and unhelpful. The town residents seem to be hiding something. The highway out is a circular road, leading right back into the town again.

Ethan is suffering from a concussion. References are made to his past mental problems. Nothing about the town seems normal, or is it all in Ethan's own mind? Then it gets worse when he finds the body of one of the missing agents in an abandoned house.

Wayward Pines is directed by M. Night Shyamalan, whose past films have featured artificial reality situations with hidden secrets lurking beneath (Signs, The Village). In Wayward Pines, some characters seem to be manipulating events around Ethan, and at one point, he is referred to by a number. Is the whole town part of some kind of experiment or a test? Or is it a mental treatment facility or even a high tech prison?

Based on the first episode, Wayward Pines looks like a sinister psychological puzzle that should appeal to fans of other enigmatic series like Twin Peaks, Lost, and The Prisoner.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

BLOOD ON SNOW Another Jo Nesbo Crime Winner

Blood On Snow by Jo Nesbo is a new Crime novel from the Norwegian writer who has become one of the best in the genre. Nesbo is the author of the popular series featuring Oslo police detective Harry Hole.

Blood On Snow is a short, stand-alone novel whose main character, Olav, is a "fixer," a contract killer for his boss. But when his boss, Hoffmann, assigns Olav to kill Hoffmann's wife, Corina, it suddenly creates a dilemma for Olav.

While watching Corina, Olav first learns that she is having an extramarital affair. Then the longer Olav watches her life, the more he begins to fall for Corina himself.

Olav is a practical, uncomplicated man with no illusions about the hit man work that he gets paid to do. He is even philosophical about his role saying, "I was someone's destiny." When he closes in on a victim, he has "a feeling of order, of things falling into place."

But in the situation with Corina, Olav takes an atypical action that alters the sense of order he works by and may cost him his life as a result.

Blood On Snow is a gripping crime tale that races to a harsh finish. It's another satisfying winner for Jo Nesbo.

BEACH RATING: 4 Palm Trees

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

ENDANGERED by C.J. Box a Rugged West Crime Novel

Endangered by C.J. Box is the latest in the crime novel series that features Wyoming state game warden Joe Pickett. The novel is set against the rugged, sprawling western landscape that Pickett patrols, mostly alone.

The novel opens with Joe investigating the site of an illegal massacre of a flock of sage grouse, an endangered species. Before Joe can pursue the case further, he gets an unexpected call telling him that his step-daughter, April, has been found in a roadside ditch, brutally beaten and unconscious. It's uncertain whether she will survive.

Another crisis soon occurs when Joe's friend, Nate Romanowski, an undercover Federal informant, is set up and gunned down in a cold blooded ambush. After emergency surgery, Nate's life hangs in the balance.

As Pickett investigates both cases, he begins to wonder if the attacks on April and Nate are connected somehow. His digging points him toward the Cates family, a roughneck, violent clan that Joe Pickett may end up having to go against.

Endangered is a fast paced read, with several plot lines moving at the same time. Tough-skinned characters and the unforgiving western country add a strong regional flavor to the story.

Beach Rating: 4 Palm Trees

Thursday, March 5, 2015

BROADCHURCH Returns With Season 2 Mystery

Broadchurch (BBC America Cable) is back for Season 2 of this gripping British mystery series.

Season 1 dealt with the investigation of a boy's murder in the small English seaside town of Broadchurch. Teamed on the case were detectives Alec Hardy and Ellie Miller. Hardy was an outsider assigned to the case, Miller a local native of the town. Miller personally knew many of the town residents, one of whom was secretly a killer.

The first season ended with a shocker: Detective Miller's own husband, Joe, turned out to be the killer. He was arrested and confessed to the crime as his wife reacted with stunned fury. She was sleeping right next to the killer all the time and never knew it. Case closed, right? Not so fast, it seems.

In the new season, Joe Miller suddenly pleads not guilty in  court, throwing the case into renewed chaos. A full criminal trial is begun, forcing the town, and Detective Miller, to relive all the agonizing emotions of the boy's murder.

The trial threatens to expose previously unknown revelations about the murder case and suggests new trouble ahead for detectives Hardy and Miller. The unexpected trial is a wrenching plot twist on a case that viewers thought was solved and done with. But there seems to be more coming that we never knew about before.

Another bonus is the prickly, entertaining chemistry between the two detectives as they face the pressures around them. With a cast of characters with hidden secrets of their own, Broadchurch is an engrossing drama of sinister psychological mystery at its best.

Friday, February 20, 2015

NIGHTCRAWLER A Social Drama of Obsession

Nightcrawler (Now on DVD) is neither a suspense movie nor a crime movie, although it contains strong elements of each.  Rather, the movie is a disturbing social commentary on the endless drive for visceral video footage in TV news coverage.

Lou Bloom is a freelance video shooter who makes a living selling raw video footage of car crashes, fires, and violent crime scenes to local TV stations in Los Angeles. He makes contact with a female news director eager to buy the most sensational footage Bloom can supply.

Bloom is a manipulative, ruthless competitor. He is  essentially a sociopathic personality with no internal moral workings beyond his own obsessive personal goals. He begins to cross all ethical and legal boundaries in his pursuit of the most graphic video images to sell.

Bloom's manic conduct builds tensely, with ominous foreboding of a bad end point coming. When it does happen, the violent results are sudden and hideous.

 Nightcrawler is also a biting commentary on the TV news culture itself. The daily news cycle is a ravenous beast that must be constantly fed with new red meat stories in order to attract viewers and gain ratings. Viewers are drawn to the most sensational video material. We can't look away from the graphic scenes of carnage in spite of ourselves.  TV news exploits this for its own commercial benefit.

The cycle goes on, day after day, always seeking the next new raw spectacle to report. This is the other side of the screen from Lou Bloom's amoral camera lens. And it all never stops coming.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

BETTER CALL SAUL a New Crime Series Gem

Better Call Saul (AMC Network) had an entertaining two episode debut that showed strong future promise. The new series is a prequel spinoff from the classic series Breaking Bad, and features sleaze ball criminal lawyer Saul Goodman.

The new series begins while Saul is still named Jimmy McGill and trying to survive while doing public defender cases for peanuts. But the seeds of the future Saul Goodman are already being planted.

Jimmy sets up a phony pedestrian injury scam with two skateboarding brothers, but the plan goes grotesquely wrong. The subsequent leg breaking scene in the desert is a blackly comic gem that's as outrageous as the wildest scenes in Breaking Bad.

Another plus is the return of two familiar characters from Breaking Bad -- tough oldster Mike Ehrmantraut and drug thug psycho Tuco.

Still in process is Jimmy McGill's transition into Saul Goodman. He changes his name because he thinks it gives him more credibility if clients believe he is a shrewd Jewish lawyer. Later to come are the shoddy TV ads, "Better Call Saul!" and the strip mall office.

The fun of Better Call Saul will be seeing Saul's ongoing character transition while he tries to survive entanglements with various dangerous criminal clients. It looks like a great ride is in store for viewers.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Uneasy Suspense in TWO FACES OF JANUARY

Two Faces of January, now out on DVD, is a deceptive movie that mixes intriguing character drama with uneasy, slow building suspense.

Based on a Patricia Highsmith novel, the movie is set in Greece in the early Sixties. Three main characters come into accidental contact. Chester McFarland, middle-aged, and his much younger wife, Collette, are seemingly normal tourists in Athens. Rydal Keener is a young American ex-pat working as a tour guide while running minor money cons on the side.

In reality, Chester is an embezzler on the run after stealing investment funds from clients. Rydal is openly attracted to Collette as the three of them become acquainted. When Chester gets involved in an unexpected death, Rydal impulsively agrees to abet the couple's hasty flight to Crete to avoid the police.

Why does Rydal get himself entangled in a crime? Why does Chester allow Rydal to hang around with them, despite his obvious flirtation with Collette? This unstable triangle moves tensely toward an outcome we are never sure of. The plot has an edgy unpredictability that generates apprehension of something dangerous coming, but what is it?

Whether you read the Highsmith novel or see the movie version, Two Faces of January is a nice choice for fans of chilly, ominous suspense dramas.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

SHOTS FIRED by C.J. Box - 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 by James W. Hall 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.