Friday, May 22, 2015

Kent Starling Takes a Last Dance in Phoenix

In 2013, Kurt Reichenbaugh gave us Sirens, a hugely entertaining mash-up of several genres set on the Florida Gulf Coast in the late 1970s. He now returns with Last Dance in Phoenix, a taut, gritty novel in the hard-boiled tradition set in the present day.

At the center of the book is an accountant, Kent Starling, who labors day by day in his cubicle, moving numbers around from one column to another in a constant effort to arrange them in ways that will please his bosses, whom Starling believes are all basically clueless idiots. His fellow employees don’t rank much higher in his estimation and so, perhaps needless to say, the job is something less than challenging or inspiring.

Things aren’t all that much better on the home front. Kent’s marriage to his wife, Denise, lost its spark some time ago and has settled into the proverbial rut; he can barely even remember the last time they had either sex or a meaningful conversation. Thus disappointed with virtually every aspect of his life, Starling makes the classic noir mistake and gets involved with The Wrong Woman, and from that point on his life begins to spiral steadily downward into a gigantic disastrous mess.

Shortly after beginning this affair, Starling receives a social media friend request from Roy Biddles, who was perhaps his closest childhood friend back when Kent was growing up in Florida. Roy was something of a loser and never much of a real friend and so when Kent joined the Air Force and left Florida, he lost track of Roy. Suddenly, though, Roy is back, demanding to be a part of Kent’s life again. He seems to somehow know a great deal about Kent’s life in Phoenix, including the fact that he’s having an affair, and he’s making only thinly veiled sinister threats about what might happen should Kent choose to ignore him.

Obviously, this cannot end well. Before long, someone will be dead and Kent Starling will have made enough stupid mistakes to be the prime suspect. Things will continue to go from bad to worse and before long, it’s apparent that not only is Starling’s freedom on the line but perhaps his life as well.

Starling confesses at one point that he doesn’t read crime fiction and that he doesn’t watch cop shows on television. Had he done so, he might have known enough not to keep making one stupid blunder after another, thus getting himself deeper and deeper into trouble.

Fortunately for the reader, though, Kurt Reichenbauch obviously has read a lot of crime fiction and knows this genre very well. The result is a fast-paced and gripping tale that will engage and entertain even those readers who are well-versed in the field—a very good read.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Jack Reacher Gets Personal

One day in Paris someone takes a shot at the President of France from three-quarters of a mile away and damn near hits him, but a sheet of bullet-proof glass in front of the podium deflects the shot. Only a handful of people in the world could have made that shot, and probably only one American--a sniper named John Kott who was released from prison a year earlier after doing a fifteen-year stretch.

The evidence suggests that this may have only been a practice round. The leaders of the G8 nations are about to hold a summit in London where they will all be exposed to a sniper who could hit from that range and so, needless to say, the international intelligence people are having apoplexy trying to identify and track down the sniper before he can take dead aim at one or more targets at the summit meeting.

It's not clear that the sniper actually is John Kott; intelligence officials in a few other countries have identified potential suspects, but the bullet fired in Paris was American made, and, one by one, the international suspects tend to fall by the wayside, leaving Kott as the most likely suspect.

So what in the hell do you do in a case like this if you're in the CIA or the State Department or whatever and you need to find and deter Kott ASAP? Well, naturally, you put a personal ad in the Army Times asking Jack Reacher to get in touch. Then you hope that Reacher will find a copy of the paper lying around on whatever damned bus he's riding at the moment.

Happily, Reacher sees the ad and reports for duty. He was the guy who arrested Kott sixteen years early and the Powers That Be are hoping that Reacher can find him again. Naturally, if you are the PTB, you don't want Reacher wandering too far off the leash, though, and so they assign a young female analyst named Casey Nice to tag along and report on Reacher's activities.

The hunt covers a lot of ground in the U.S., in France, and in Britain and, as always, it's great fun watching Reacher confound not only the bad guys but his handlers as well. It's a gripping tale, somewhat reminiscent of the excellent The Day of the Jackal, and it moves along at a very fast pace. All in all, it's an excellent choice for a summer read, or any other season for that matter.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Perry Mason Faces a Complicated Case at Sea

Matilda Benson is an elderly cigar-smoking widow who has kicked over the traces somewhat late in life and decided to march to the beat of her own drummer. She appears in Perry Mason's office and asks Mason to get possession of some I.O.U.s that her granddaughter has foolishly given the owners of a gambling ship that sails just beyond the twelve-mile limit where law enforcement can't reach them.

The task seems simple enough, but as everyone who reads this series understands, complications are bound to ensue. Sure enough, Perry's initial attempt to get the notes, while very clever, goes astray. Soon after that, someone is shot to death and Perry's client is the prime suspect. Even worse, Perry winds up a fugitive from justice himself as he attempts to untangle what would appear to be an impossible locked room mystery. Perry's ability to pull yet another rabbit out of the hat will be sorely tested as he encounters one problem after another.

All in all, it's a lot of fun and this is one of the better of the early entries in this series.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

P.I. Jack Flippo Investigates a Mysterious Death in Baggett, Texas

When Dallas P.I. Jack Flippo snips the pony tail off the head of his ex-wife's dopy new boyfriend, he earns himself a trip to jail. Once released on bail, he's hired to do a death investigation for an insurance company. Only a few months earlier the company had written a partner's insurance policy for the owners of a somewhat less-than-high class watering hole called the Melon Patch. Now one of the owners has drowned in an alleged boating accident and the survivor, a country singer wannabe named Rex Echols, has his hand out looking for the $500,000 death benefit from the policy.

The death occurred in the tiny town of Baggett where the sheriff, who's a pal of Rex Echols, is enamored of a waitress/stripper with the improbable name of April Showers who works at the Melon Patch. Jack arrives in town to discover that the coroner only took one photo of the body as it lay face down on the dock after being recovered. The sheriff has signed off on a declaration of accidental death, and the body has been cremated, courtesy of the surviving partner, who claims it was the least he could do for the victim and his grieving family.

Jack would like to talk to the victim's family, but Echols claims that they live somewhere way off in Arkansas and that they're too impoverished to have come to the memorial service in Texas. And, sadly, Echols seems to have lost the phone number of the poor boy's mamma.

The insurance company is ready to write the whole thing off and pay the claim because to them, the $500,000 is small potatoes. (You'd never hear Mr. Keyes saying that in Double Indemnity!!!) But Jack won't let go of the case, and the deeper he probes, the more trouble he's in.

This is another very entertaining entry in this relatively short series. It's a lot of fun hanging out with Jack Flippo, and Swanson creates a great cast of auxiliary characters. Most readers probably won't want to put Baggett, Texas on their list of prime vacation destinations, but they'll be happy enough to visit there in the company of this smart-ass and engaging P.I.

Lucas Davenport Is on the Hunt in a Field of Prey

Two high school kids are parked out in a field near Redwing, Minnesota, enjoying an evening of youthful passion, when they notice a very bad smell coming from somewhere nearby. The boy, being the responsible sort, tells a deputy sheriff and the next day he and the deputy go back to the spot and discover a concealed cistern. When they pry the cover off, they discover that the cistern is filled with decaying female bodies.

The local authorities begin pulling the bodies from the cistern and quickly realize that this is a job for the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. Lucas Davenport races to the scene and by the time he arrives, parts of fifteen bodies have been brought to the surface.

There are still more to come, and it soon becomes apparent that the bodies have been deposited over a long period of time. The victims are all young, blonde, busty women from a broad area around the field where their bodies are discovered. Most of them disappeared after being out for a night of drinking and were never seen again.

Lucas realizes that a very clever killer is at work here. The assumption is that he's a local man, but no one has any idea who it might be, let alone how he could possibly have gotten away with this behavior for so many years and right under their noses.

The reader knows fairly quickly who is responsible for these murders and it becomes a question of how many more victims will be claimed before Davenport, the BCA and the local authorities can bring him down. Most of Lucas's regular team members are off on other investigations and so Lucas is effectively teamed up with a sheriff's investigator named Catrin Mattson. It's an interesting combination, and even though most of the usual "Prey" characters are not available, there's still a lot of great banter and wry humor even in the midst of a case so horrible.

The tension ratchets up dramatically when the killer decides to target members of the investigating team and this fast-paced thriller gathers even more steam. All in all, it's another great ride from John Sandford that will leave readers waiting impatiently for the next Prey novel.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Dismas Hardy Lures Abe Glitsky Ouf of an Early Retirement and into the Line of Fire

I've long been a fan of John Lescroart's series featuring San Francisco lawyer Dismas Hardy and Homicide Inspector Abe Glitsky, and so it's always a treat to open a new book in the series. Glitsky has recently been forced to resign from his position as head of the Homicide department and is at loose ends. Feeling like he's too young to be retired, he's spending his days reading, watching television, and generally being bored as hell.

On the night before Thanksgiving, Hal Chase, who is a guard at the jail run by the county sheriff, goes out to the airport to pick up his brother who's flying in for the holiday. When the two men return to the Chase house, they find Hal's two young children in bed asleep. Hal's wife, Katie, is nowhere to be found and a few drops of blood on the floor suggest that she has been the victim of foul play.

Although this begins as a missing persons case, it quickly becomes a homicide investigation, even though as yet, Katie's body has not been found. The most logical suspect in such cases is always the surviving spouse and the detectives are strongly suspicious of Hal Chase from the beginning. There were serious problems in the marriage and while Hal has something of an alibi, it's not air tight.

As a sheriff's deputy, Chase is no dummy when it comes to this sort of thing and he quickly realizes that he needs a very good lawyer. His wife had been in therapy with Dismas Hardy's wife, Frannie, and so Chase asks Hardy to represent him. Shortly thereafter, Katie Chase's body is discovered in a wooded area near their home and Hal finds himself in jail, indicted by a grand jury for the murder.

Wyatt Hunt, the P.I. that Hardy usually relies on, is out of town for a while and so Hardy appeals to Abe Glitsky to investigate the case for him. Glitsky agrees, and what initially appeared to have been a relatively simple case soon turns into something much more complex and seriously dangerous for a lot of the parties involved, Glitsky included.

While Glitsky has played a prominent role in all of the books in this series, Harding has always been the principal character, usually defending someone that Glitsky's homicide department has charge with a killing . There's usually a lot of great courtroom dramatics, and these are the things I like best about the series. In this book, though, Glitsky is really on center stage and there are no court room scenes.

It's a fun read; it's well-plotted and there's a lot of great banter among the characters, which is another attractive hallmark of the series. I enjoyed the book very much, and it should appeal to large numbers of crime fiction fans, whether they are familiar with the series or not. But as far as favorites go, this is one that will fall into the middle ranks of the books in this series for me, simply because I favor the books in which I can watch Hardy at work in the court room.

Monday, April 27, 2015

In the Dead of Winter, Citizens of Isola Are Getting Iced

This is another very good entry in the 87th Precinct series. The title has multiple meanings and, as it would suggest, the story takes place during a brutally cold winter. As it opens, a dancer from a big show is walking home late at night. As she nears her apartment, someone steps out of the shadows and shoots her to death with a .38.

As it turns out, the same gun was used in the murder of a small-time drug dealer a week or so earlier. That case belongs to Steve Carella of the 87th Precinct, and since the two cases are obviously linked, the detectives of the 87th inherit the murder of the young woman as well, even though the crime did not occur within the boundaries of their precinct.

The detectives work diligently, but they can find no link between the two victims and no plausible suspects in either killing. Then another person is shot with the same gun and this victim would appear to have no relationship with either of the first two. It's all very confusing and suggests to the detectives that perhaps a crazy person is running around the city, killing people at random, which would be the worst possible thing that could happen.

In the meantime, Detective Bert Kling is still recovering from his recent divorce. He is definitely in emotional and psychological difficulty and is spending way too much time in the wee hours of the morning, lying awake and staring at his gun on the nightstand beside him.

All in all, it's a great tale. Thirty-six books into the series, McBain was clearly on a roll and fans of the series won't want to miss this one.