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Bookends: The Saga of Mr. Mercedes Comes to a Suitable End February 16, 2018

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, mystery, Science Fiction, thriller, Whitehorse Star.
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Bookends: The Saga of Mr. Mercedes Comes to a Suitable End

By Dan DavidsonEnd of wATCH

July 10, 2017

– 888 words.

 

End of Watch

By Stephen King

Scribner

$14.16 (paperback)

$10.99 (Kindle)

448 pages

 

In at least one previous book, Rage, first published under his nom de plume, Richard Bachman, Stephen King described a high school shooting spree. He wrote it in the early 1970s and it was published in 1977, before such things became nearly annual horror shows. Not surprisingly, there were people, who want to blame this sort of behaviour on anything other than the vast American home arsenals just waiting to be misused, who blamed the book for inspiring such atrocities. In response, King allowed the novel to go out of print.

I have to hope that the Bill Hodges trilogy won’t meet the same fate. End of Watch brings the Hodges saga to a satisfying conclusion, but adds a touch of the paranormal that was not present in Mr. Mercedes or Finders Keepers, both of which were pretty much mundane mysteries with a touch of the thriller genre mixed in.

It’s the set-up sequence in each novel that might give the books a bad reputation. In each of the books, people are dealing the ramifications of Brady Hartsfield’s decision to steal a lonely woman’s Mercedes automobile and drive it into the midst of a large group of victims waiting in line for a chance at a job fair.

We have recently had a spate of these activities in England, France and other European countries, but I don’t think you can blame them on King. He didn’t invent the idea. There were such cases in he USA, and at least one in Canada, before he wrote the first book.

The killings in the book were inspired by an actual event which had taken place at a McDonald’s restaurant. King ramped up the body count and spent quite a bit of the book guiding us through the mad mind of the killer, who followed up his original evil deed by taunting the poor woman whose car he had used until she killed herself.

His big mistake was going on to taunt former homicide detective Hodges, who had been unable to solve the case before he retired. Energized by the attack conducted by telephone and e-mail trickery, Hodges, along with some young associates, does solve the case, and Hartsfield is institutionalized with brain damage as a result.

The book won the Mystery Writers of America’s Edgar Award in 2015.

Finders Keepers ,which is the name of Hodges’ private eye practice, goes off in an entirely different direction, but still deals with people whose lives were impacted (sorry, couldn’t resist) by the original crime, which is recapped from a different point of view in the opening chapter.

End of Watch returns to the villain of the first book, whose brain has been altered by the events of his capture, and by some very unethical experiments that one of the doctors tending him has been conducting. Hartsfield slowly discovers he has the ability to project his consciousness into the mind of a person who has been slightly hypnotized by a certain frequency of flashing lights. Eventually he is able to control such persons – first a slow witted hospital orderly, and eventually the doctor – and walk around using them as his meat puppets.

Add to this the discovery that a certain brand of defective hand-held video games can emit this frequency, lure victims to log on to a special website, and thus extend his reach beyond his sick room, and Hartsfield is ready to take his revenge on the people who stopped him when he attempted to be a suicide at a boy band rock concert several years earlier. He arranges to buy up a stock of the units and us them to target people who are connected to Hodges and his young friends, people who were his immediate targets at that concert. There is a sudden spate of suicides and it takes a while for Hodges to make the connection.

Hodge is distracted by the fact that he has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. While he does not want to die, having found fulfillment in his new career, he is more worried about his autistic partner, Holly, who has blossomed so much while working with him.

He has always suspected that there was more to Hartsfield than the seeming vegetable in that hospital bed, but getting anyone else to think seriously about his suspicions is an uphill battle. Finally his old partner does offer some encouragement, but even that is limited. By this time Hartsfield has left his original body, which dies, and is fully in the mind and body of the neurosurgeon whose unethical use of drugs has boosted his powers of telepathy and telekinesis.

Hartsfield’s attempts to draws Hodges into his plot so he can mind control him as he has done his other victims backfire in the same way as in the first book, but with far more terminal results.

The title has a number of possible meanings, and most of the ones I can think of fit the story well. So, I do hope the books don’t do out of print, and this is a trilogy that make a good set of movies.

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Bookends: Sometimes you can’t trust anybody February 16, 2018

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Bookends: Sometimes you can’t trust anybody

By Dan Davidson

July 19, 2017

– 810 words –

 

The Girl on the Train

By Paula HawkinsGirl on the Train

Doubleday, Canada

317 pages

$24.95

 

Paula Hawkins’ debut thriller has a deliberately unfocussed title font, set against the kind of blurred background you’d get if you were sitting in a moving vehicle and just letting the scenery flow past your eyes without trying to actually look at it.

That’s very fitting, since Rachel, the most frequent of the three first person women whose lives are revealed to us, has a pretty fuzzy memory. Rachel is the titular “girl” on the train, the train on which she travels to London town every day, past the row of flats where she once lived with her ex-husband, where he now lives with his new wife, Anna and baby girl.

In the same block of flats there lives a couple whose names she doesn’t know, but she calls them Jess and Jason, and imagines what seems to be their perfect life together. Like many of the things she imagines, there’s a large dose of illusion there.

Rachel is the very definition of an unreliable narrator, a type that has become very popular since Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl. The narrator may be unreliable, like the married couple in that book, because they are doing it on purpose, or just because they leave things out. In that sense, the first person narrator in Christie’s Murder of Roger Ackroyd is an early example of the type. He leaves out all the things that would allow you to realize he is the murderer.

(I’m surely not spoiling the ending of a book published in 1926.)

Rachel is a nasty blackout drunk, subject to fits of rage and a foggy memory of her actions when she’s been drinking. She is also hiding things, both from us and from the good girl friend with whom she has been living since her marriage to Tom broke up.

“Jess and Jason” are really Megan and Scott, and she is the second narrator in the novel, her segments complicated by the fact that they begin 14 months before Rachel’s and end just a few days after that narrative begins. I admit to being several chapters into the book before I realized there were two different time lines to be aware of.

Megan has a number of secrets in her life that emerge as the story continues. One of her teachers once called her a mistress of reinvention. She reinvents to escape her pain, carried over from past events that are only revealed to the others after she is gone.

Tom went on to marry Anna, who is the third of the narrators in this novel. Anna has had secrets in her time. Indeed, after the beginning of Rachel’s mental and alcohol related breakdown, she became the “other woman” in Tom’s life and helped to bring about the end of their decaying marriage. She’s not entirely secure in her new life, has some difficulties dealing with her baby daughter and isn’t really comfortable in the house where Rachel was once the chatelaine.

The book begins with a significant teaser, as seen by Rachel on her morning commute: “There’s a pile of clothing on the side of the train tracks.”

While it’s not what we think it might be when we learn, later on, that there has probably been a murder, it is a hint that all may not be what it seems, and Rachel’s reaction is revealing.

“My mother used to tell me that I had an overactive imagination. Tom said that too, I can’t help it. I catch sight of those discarded scraps, a dirty T-shirt and a lonesome shoe, and all I can think of is the other shoe, and the feet that fitted into them.”

She’s like that with her views of other peoples’ relationships. She assumes things. She is a troubled soul. She hasn’t been able to let go of Tom in her head and heart, and is still reaching out, nearly two years later. When something seems to be wrong in her vision of “Jess and Jason” and she learns that Megan is missing, she tries to insinuate herself into that situation, convincing herself that she’s trying to help Scott, who is suspected of having killed his wife.

There’s a complicated web of relationships linking Scott, Megan, Tom, Ann and Rachel, and because of the way the story is told, with each narrative sequence related in chronological order, sequences overlap sometimes and we both gain advantage and are misdirected by this device.

This was an engaging novel, and I’m not surprised that it is already a motion picture. Why they moved the setting from London to New York is beyond me, but perhaps it will make sense when I see the film some day.

 

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Bookends: The answers to this mystery are deep in the past February 15, 2018

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Bookends: The answers to this mystery are deep in the past

By Dan Davidson

June 22, 2017

– 728 words –

 

The Last Mile

The Last Mile

By David Baldacci

Narrated by Kyf Brewer and Orlagh Cassidy

11 hrs and 49 mins

Audible Download

$30.79

Paperback edition

464 pages

Grand Central Publishing

$7.89

IN the first of the Amos Decker series of mysteries, Memory Man, we met Amos, whose football injury had altered his brain to give him a perfect memory (Hyperthymesia) and synesthesia (cross connections between sensory inputs). Amos had been a police detective until the murders of his wife, daughter and brother-in-law had forced him into a deep depression. When we met him he was a down and out private eye, scraping the bottom of the client barrel.

The opportunity to solve the murders for which he had once been a suspect, and the introduction of a couple of new people into his life, reinvigorated him and set him on a path to being hired as a special consultant for an FBI cold case task force, along with Alexandra Jamison and team leader Special Agent Ross Bogart.

Book two picks up the story with Amos on his way to Quantico, where he will be working. He hears an item on the radio about convicted murderer Melvin Mars, who is scheduled to hang in a few days time. Mars is another football player who played against Decker in college and he is intrigued.

There are so many similarities between the Mars case and his own life that it just seems like fate is pushing him to look into it. Amos hates coincidences.

We have already met Mars by this point, since the first chapter, told from a slightly different time frame, introduced us to him very personally on what was to have been his last day of life. We know he is innocent and that he has been incarcerated for nearly 20 years.

We went back in time to get to Decker’s narrative. He does some quick research and brings the Mars’ case to the team after demolishing the rationale for the case that they had been assigned to, much to the annoyance of one of his more rule bound team mates, who resents the presence of these new non-agency personnel in an agency operation.

The team manages to get Mars’ execution postponed and begins the process of finding out what actually happened, This is complicated by the fact that another murderer, in another prison, suddenly confesses to the murder just prior to his own execution. It is further complicated by an attempt by some guards in Mars’ prison to arrange for his murder by a couple of other inmates. Mars is released under the supervision of the FBI team, then pardoned, then rearrested after Decker’ investigation reveals that the other confession was bought and paid for by persons unknown.

This raises a number of important questions. Who really murdered Mars’ parents all those years ago? Who were his parents, really? Why were they keeping such a low profile anyway? What did the fact that Mars was becoming a famous college football player with enormous prospects have to do with their deaths?

And that’s all I’m going to tell you. Read or listen to it for yourself if you’re curious.

Baldacci writes books with a lot of dialogue in them and with strong male and female characters. Brewer and Cassidy do a great job of dealing with the main characters and the supporting cast. It doesn’t require them to do a lot of voice changes. They manage with pitch and subtle shifts in regional accents, and it’s always clear who is talking.

The balance of contributions to the case is quite even. Decker brings his memory and years of work as a detective. Jamison was a relatively new reporter when she first met him, but she has great instincts, a way of reading people that he doesn’t (a side effect of his brain injury) and a dedication to truth as fixed as Decker’s.

While there is a lot of talking in this story, and a lot of internal reflection of Decker’s part, there is also a lot of action and suspense. It is a page turner of a book, or in my case, a story that really kept me from thinking about the many kilometres in my most recent trip to the city and back.

 

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February 14, 2018

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, Klondike Sun, mystery, Whitehorse Star.
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Bookends: Murder and Mayhem among the not so idle rich

By Dan Davidson

May 31, 2017

– 790 Words –

 

Blacklist

Blacklist -audio

By Sara Paretsky

Narrated by Sandra Burr

15 hrs and 42 mins

Brilliance Audio

 

Kindle Edition

 

Print Length: 444 pages

Berkley Books

 

I’ve listened to five or six of theV. I. Warshawski novels over the years. Paretsky was one of the women, along with Sue Grafton (the Kinsey Milhone series), who took the Raymond Chandler style hardboiled private eye and swapped his gender. Like Chandler (and later like Robert B Parker) Paretsky has made her Chicago setting almost another character in the story. Chandler did this with LA, Grafton with her fictional California city, and Parker with Boston.

This novel came out in 2003, the second of the books that she wrote in the wake of the September 11, 2011 destruction of the World Trade Centre towers (and the other lesser remembered airborne assaults). These events brought on the morally questionable Patriot Act, interpretations of which are at the heart of this mystery.

VI. is hired by Darraugh Graham, an important long-time client of hers, to look into some complaints he’s getting from his aged mother, Geraldine Graham. The seniors condo where she lives outside of Chicago overlooks the former Graham family mansion and the old lady swears she is seeing lights in the building, but none of the local authorities are taking her seriously.

V.I. stakes out the place one night and bumps into a young woman doing something odd on the extensive grounds, Chasing her in the dark, she stumbles into the overgrown ornamental pond, and finds the body of a middle aged black journalist, Marcus Whitby. Investigation leads her to discover that he was working of a story dating back to the Re Scare era of the 1950s, a story that involves the wealthy families who live in splendor in this rural enclave and which dates back a couple of generations.

When the local authorities dismiss the suspicious death as a suicide, V.I, is hired by the reporters’ relatives to find out what really happened. She’s convinced it was murder, and a proper autopsy eventually confirms her suspicions.

She tracks down the girl, a high school student, Catherine Bayard, and finds out that she’s been hiding an Egyptian student, a young innocent who is wanted for questioning by Homeland Security simply because of his race and religion, by keeping him in the mansion.

There are many threads to this mystery. One of them leads to the story of a beautiful black dancer who was championed in the 1950s by various of the local liberals among the wealthy. There were affairs and much skullduggery. The homosexual secrets of a number of prominent right wingers were covered up and exploited. Blackmail and threats to reputations slid on down the years to the present day.

A second death, that of a once famous prosecutor for the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) which made so many lives miserable and created the Blacklist which inspired the title of this book, is also dismissed by the authorities, but V.I. is certain this death and Whitby’s are connected, and is also certain that Benji, the Egyptian boy, saw who put Whitby’s body in that pond.

There are certain set pieces in a Paretsky novel. V.I. must spend some time with Mr. Contreras, the downstairs neighbour with whom she shares a couple of dogs. She must argue with Bobby Mallory, a family friend (of he late father) and police officer who disapproves of her profession but nevertheless is often grudgingly helpful in some of the official niceties of her cases. The impression is that V.I. has to up her game and make all her suppositions airtight is order to get Bobby’s help.

V.I.’s emotions in this case are further complicated by the fact that some of the clues seem to lead back to Calvin Bayard, a civil rights legend for whom she had had immense respect during her years in law school (she was a public defender before becoming a PI). The man is now afflicted with late stage Alzheimer’s Disease and is not even a shadow of his former self.

I greatly enjoyed the developing relationship between V.I. and the haughty matron, Geraldine. They move from the latters attempts of bully an employee into submission to a true, cooperative friendship by the end of the book. I expect we’ll see her again.

This mystery is anything but simple, and I suspect that Paretsky’s decision to contrast the HUAC hearings with the Patriot Act was a very deliberate piece of social commentary by a writer whose Ph.D., thesis is history was entitled “The Breakdown of Moral Philosophy in New England Before the Civil War”.

Sandra Burr gave a very good reading of this book.

 

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Bookends: Mystery-thriller novels expand their series February 9, 2018

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, Klondike Sun, mystery, thriller, Whitehorse Star.
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Bookends: Mystery-thriller novels expand their series

By Dan Davidson

April 26, 2017

– 866 words –

 

The Mephisto Club

The Mephisto Club

Tess Gerritsen

368 pages

Ballantine Books

Paperback $9.98

Kindle $9.39

Checking the online reactions to the Rizzoli and Isles series of novels, I find that many of the comments come from people who picked up the books because of the TV series. Many of those commentaries say they are disappointed with the books.

I’m not, though I came to them via the same path. The series is much more light-hearted than the books, and the characters are quite different. Jane, for instance, is married and has a child. She used to suffer from all sorts on insecurity, but that seems to have eased with her marriage.

Maura is much more serious and has a darker backstory, one involving a psychopathic birth mother. Among the police she is sometimes known as Dr. Death. She also has a questionable relationship with a local priest.

Kozak, Jane’s immediate YV superior, is retired, and has just started dating Jane’s mother, who has only just left her husband in this book, though they’ve be separated for years in the show.

Frost, who had to be written out of the show when the black actor who played the part died between seasons, is a white guy in the books.

On TV Frankie, Jane’s brother, has evolved into a worthwhile individual and has risen in the Boston Police Dept. In the books, he’s a total jerk.

This particular book seems to be trying to infuse the usual police procedural/thriller pattern with a supernatural twist.

There’s a series of bizarre murders, made stranger by the occult serial killer symbolism that is attached to them, and the fact that they ultimately seem to be directed at an international group of armchair sleuths who call themselves the Mephisto Club.

The members believe in the reality of evil, and that there is a certain hereditary line of humans that stretches back to Biblical times, and is determined to prepare the way for a very real coming of Satan.

Jane and Maura think this is claptrap, but they get caught up in it nevertheless and end up in one of those secluded mansions that feature in so many spooky thrillers. It’s the Christmas season, the weather is terrible, and things almost go rather badly.

Yes, that’s a spoiler, but the journey is more than half the pleasure in this book, and there are a number of other plot threads that I haven’t mentioned which will reward your reading pleasure.

 

Saint DeathSaint Death

By Mark Dawson

CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform

292 pages in print

Kindle Edition

Amazon Digital Services LLC

$2.96

 

Mark Dawson has been churning out books at a fabulous rate every since he discovered Amazon’s self-publishing platform. The John Milton series has ten books so far and he’s got several others under way. I wonder if he’s inspired by the record of John Creasey, who used to put out several books and several different series, under different names, every year during his career.

In the second of these books, Milton, a former British secret service hit man who has walked away from his job, has been on the run, quite successfully, for some six months. He’s left England and has been working his way north from South America until he has landed in Cuidad Juarez, Mexico.

Along the way he’s been finding occasions to work on his personal redemption by helping people, earning his living as an itinerant cook.

Juarez is a hotbed of drug related crime, as well as being littered with the bodies of sexually abused girls and terrified police officers. The media are uniformly frightened into silence except for a group of crusading bloggers. When Santa Muerta (Saint Death) and his crew arrive at the greasy spoon where Milton is working, aiming to murder the bloggers and their interview subject, Milton kills all but one of them, saves the female blogger, and inspires one of the local police to stand up to the cartel.

Milton joins forces with an American bounty hunter, who is being paid by the Mafia to take out Saint Death, in order to use his connections to get the young woman to safety in the USA.

Things go sideways and Milton is forced to improvise, at least partly because his former boss, known as Control, has sent a squad to capture him and bring him home. As it turns out, this works in his favour.

I’ve enjoyed the two books I’ve read. They’re light action reading. My main objection to them is the way their promotional material keeps trying to piggyback on Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series. Except that they have an implacable main character who tries to help people, they don’t have much in common. They have a different style of writing, a different use of narrative viewpoints, and Dawson seems to suffer a lot more damage than Reacher.

In addition, there seem to be some continuing characters among the Brits that I expect to keep seeing again. One of two of them actually seem to be developing some sympathy for their erstwhile comrade, and it will be interesting to see how that develops.

 

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Bookends: The rehabilitation of an assassin February 8, 2018

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, Klondike Sun, Mark Dawson, mystery, Whitehorse Star.
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Bookends: The rehabilitation of an assassinThe Cleaner

By Dan Davidson

March 15, 2017

– 812 words –

 

The Cleaner

By Mark Dawson

CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform

Amazon Digital Services LLC

314 pages in paperback

$9.90

Kindle version

$2.22

 

The Cleaner is the first in a series of novels about John Milton, a master assassin for the British government who has finally, after 130 or so kills, burned out – or acquired a conscience.

Here we begin with Milton’s last assignment, in which he kills three targets in cold blood and then finds himself unable to kill the woman’s young son. It is his epiphany and leads him to a conclusion that Control, the head of Group 15, is not prepared to accept. For Control, Milton is his Number One Cleaner, or he is useless, and too dangerous to let run loose. He may have to be decommissioned, in the bloodless deflective terminology of the agency.

The story continues with a sequence that reminded me bit of the silent cold opening from the late 60s British cult TV series, The Prisoner. In that sequence, Patrick McGoohan’s character, who seemed to have stepped right out of his earlier series, Danger Man (Secret Agent on American television), resigns from the British Secret Service and storms out of his boss’s office.

Hours later he is gassed unconscious at his flat and transported to an island home for defective spies, where he spends the next 12 or 13 episodes (this was one of the first mini-series) trying to escape.

So, to put it more bluntly, Milton will have to be put down if he doesn’t change his mind. Control would probably have loved to be able to use the solution from The Prisoner.

Milton’s second epiphany is when the black woman jumps down onto the tracks in the underground with the apparent intention of letting herself be run down by the approaching coaches. He saves her at some risk to his own life, and that act determines his immediate future.

Sharon has a son, Elijah. He’s beginning to mix with a bad lot and Sharon feels like she’s failed him, as she has failed at so many things and with so any people in her life. Milton has decided that his action obligates him to protect this woman and her teenage son, and determines that he will clean up the project neighbourhood. He rents a house, cases the area, finds an ally in a former soldier who runs a boxing club for local boys, and begins to build a relationship with the lad.

He’s not very good at it, and when he and Sharon finally spend the night together, Elijah, who was beginning to warm to him, assumes he is just another “John” using him to get to his mother’s bed.

After that, things get seriously nasty. Milton has to deal with a gangland rapper called Risky Bizness, as well as cope with the fact that he is being hunted by another Group 15 agent, who has orders to kill him.

The story is economical in its prose style and effective in its characterizations and action scenes.

If it appears odd that Milton doesn’t seem to anticipate the level of retaliatory violence that the rapper is prepared to use to protect his turf and his rep, that might be explained by the clandestine nature of his former occupation. His has been a clinical profession in which matters of weapons, ambush, preparation and invisibility were key components. He doesn’t seem to have spent a lot of time dealing with people except as targets.

The advertising surrounding the series is a bit misleading. Milton is compared to Jack Reacher. Not that Reacher never assassinated anyone, but those deaths were executions as part of his service as an MP and involved people who had committed serious crimes, rather that simply being foreign policy inconveniences, as Milton’s targets were at the beginning of this book.

Milton’s going to be footloose, as far as I can see, but he’s also going to be on the run. The second novel begins with a series of agency memos summarizing what has already happened and recommending further action.

It also appears that this series is going to march on in chronological order, whereas Lee Child has his character jump all over his lifeline.

At the start Milton does come across as the sort of blunt instrument that Ian Fleming’s rendition of James Bond was (as opposed to the various movie incarnations), but you can see that he is beginning to change by the end of this book, and it may be interesting to see how he develops.

Dawson has self-published this book and the other nine in the series, plus a bunch of other books during the last several years, and my copy of The Cleaner came as part of an eight book ebundle from Kindle.

 

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Bookends: Reaching Back into Jack’s Past March 10, 2017

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Bookends: Reaching Back into Jack’s Past

By Dan Davidson

Night SchoolJanuary 23, 2017

– 843 words –

 

Night School: A Jack Reacher Novel

By Lee Child

Delacorte Press

385 pages

$15.99

 

“In the morning they gave Reacher a medal and in the afternoon they sent him back to school.”

It was a Legion of Merit – his second. It was nice, “But he figured the real reason he was getting it was the same reason he had gotten it before. It was a transaction. A contractual token. Take the bauble and keep your mouth shut about what we asked you to do for it.”

What they had asked him to do was kill a couple of bad men, not exactly the sort of detail you expect to be handed to a Military MP. It wasn’t a chase and capture scenario, but a very clinical execution.

We get a précis of this operation later in the book, during one of several intimate interludes with Dr. Marian Sinclair, who is technically Reacher’s superior in the current operation.

You see, Major Reacher has not been sent to school, but to a very high level assignment involving interagency cooperation between the military, the FBI and the CIA.

Wait a minute, you say. Where’s the former MP who travels with nothing but a bankcard and a toothbrush?

Well, Child has been giving us the Reacher saga in no particular order ever since Killing Floor. It’s rare that one novel follows right after another, though there was a pair of them a few books ago. There have also been short stories dating back to his army days, and even some from when he was an army brat, living in various exotic locales around the world.

In this book it’s 1996, just about three years since that first group of terrorists tried to blow up the World Trade Centre with some bombs in the parking garage, and Reacher is still a Major.

The Reacher books also swing back and forth between first and third person narratives, depending on the needs of the story. In this one Child decided we needed to hear some of the interplay among the bad guys, so it’s a third person story, with interludes away from Reacher’s central viewpoint.

In Hamburg, Germany, the CIA have a mole planted in the group of unfriendly Arabs, and from that mole they have learned this: there is an American, probably a service man, who is willing to sell something to a bunch of potential jihadists. More importantly, he wants $100 million for whatever it is.

What the McGuffin (an object or device in a movie or a book that serves as a trigger for the plot) might be, no one has any idea. This is also pre-internet and e-mail time, and the jihadists are using the old school method of human couriers who have nothing written down. All transactions are oral, and all the folks at code name Night School know is that the communications all come back to Hamburg eventually. After a few false starts most of the action moves there.

Hamburg also seems to be home to a group of extreme German nationalists, who occupy a number of positions of power, have some intelligence expertise of their own, and very much want whatever the weapons or information might be to further their own goals with regards to the recently reunified Fatherland.

Most of the fight scenes (because this is a Reacher novel) involve Reacher versus these skinheads and neo-Natzis.

Each of the three agencies bring their own teams to work on the case. Reacher’s picks come from the MP group that he used to head up back in the States. One of them, Sgt. Frances Neagley, is a woman we first met later in the series (confusing, isn’t it?) Several others also arrive to play their parts.

The American, who remains nameless for much of the book until the police procedural sort of work ferrets out his name, has been planning his operation for some time, and has been taking care to leave very few clues. However, part of his leaving no tracks involves the murder of a sex-trade worker, who happens to be a favorite of a Hamburg Chief of Detectives named Griezman. This means that Griezman, who is a good homicide policeman in spite of that little indiscretion, has a personal and professional stake in pursuing this case. When Reacher suggests a connection with his own assignment, Griezman becomes a valuable asset.

There are quite a few twists and turns in this case, and once they finally determine who the American is and what he is willing to sell, the pace picks up dramatically. Where there had been a little too much “talking heads” exposition, things suddenly get very active. For me it was the last third of the book that really made it feel more like a Reacher story.

I enjoy these adventures and, in spite of Tom Cruise, I am looking forward to the second Reacher movie. He’s too short, but he plays the part well.

 

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Bookends: An Upstairs, Downstairs Kind of Murder March 10, 2017

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, Klondike Sun, mystery, Whitehorse Star.
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Bookends: An Upstairs, Downstairs Kind of Murder

The Massey MurderBy Dan Davidson

January 18, 2017

– 812 words –

 

The Massey Murder
By Charlotte Gray

Harper Collins

307 pages

$22.99

 

On the evening of Monday, February 8, 1915, Charles Albert Massey was on his way home from work. He was the not quite so well to do scion of the very well to do Massey family, a family which had grown wealthy and powerful making and selling agricultural equipment. It was a family that would go on to produce a Governor General and a world famous actor.

At 34 years of age, Bert, as he was generally known, cut quite a swath in Toronto’s social circle. It was true that he was less well off than others of the clan, that the house he and his family lived in was not nearly so grand. He was a high end car saleman in a new industry, and the family was living about his income.They had but one domestic servant, a mousy, quiet 18 year old import from Great Britain named Carrie Davis.

Bert liked her, and had crossed a line a day earlier (while his American born wife was visiting family in Bridgeport. Connecticut) by making several aggressive moves on the girl, which she successfully evaded. Even so, he was surprised, we assume, when she met him at the front door carrying his own .32 calibre Savage automatic pistol, and proceeded to shoot him twice, killing him almost immediately.

Those facts were never in doubt, having been witnessed by several people, and never actually denied by Carrie herself, although she was initially uncertain that she had killed him.

There were larger questions in play in almost no time at all. How quickly could the Massey family get this dealt with in a polite way (the girl was obviously deranged and Bert’s behavior had nothing to do with it) without besmirching the family name?

Then there was the question of public opinion, and what it might due to stimulate the sales of the two big rival newspapers in the city, not to mention the smaller ones.

Then there was the question of Carrie’s defense, and how it might put a feather in the cap of any potential lawyer willing to take it on.

Not much of this had any bearing on whether or not she had killed the man – because she had. Was it a planned event, a spur of the moment decision? Was the girl merely protecting her honour (her virginity, as it were) against a further assault?

Hartley Dewart, KC, had the daunting task of presenting a Carrie that was tried beyond her young endurance, forced to defend herself, and driven to the killing of her employer on the spur of the moment.

The city, already excited by the anxiety brought on by the war in Europe, which had begun the previous August, was somewhat diverted by this drama on the home front, and all sorts of people adopted all sorts of opinions as to what had happened and what ought to happen next.

This book is a kind of forensic examination, but it is not one about the facts of the case, which were mostly available to Gray through the newspaper coverage during the 19 days between the act and the verdict.

It is rather an examination of the time, place and society within which the events transpired. It is a portrait of Toronto during that month in 1915, in the midst of the war. As background and context we are offered the rise and fortunes of the Massey family, some of the history of the city’s newspaper wars, and a good look at the tactics that were used to both prosecute and defend Carrie Davis.

One of the reasons the book goes in this direction is that there is very little about the case preserved in the official record. It was a case where assumptions about character and motive trumped the cold facts of the killing.

Gray is the first to admit that the newspaper coverage was pretty cut-throat, and there are often competing accounts of the same speeches and descriptions, but that does help to make the book interesting.

Carrie Davis was a virgin, a major fact in her favour. She had a young suitor who was fighting the Hun in Europe. She seemed even younger than 18 much of the time, and utterly disconsolate at the state in which she found herself. The jury took pity on her.

Gray unfolds the narrative in four parts: The Story, The Law, The Trial and the Aftermath. Chapter 17 finishes off the war story that is interwoven with the trial for the month, and chapter 18 tells us something of what happened to Carrie Davis during the rest of her life. All told, it’s an engrossing story.

Charlotte Gray was Berton House writer-in-residence in 2008.

 

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Bookends: Murder is a matter of decision and action March 10, 2017

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, Klondike Sun, mystery, Whitehorse Star.
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Bookends: Murder is a matter of decision and action

By Dan Davidson

January 11, 2017

– 779 words –

Black River Road 

Black River Road: An Unthinkable Crime, an Unlikely Suspect, and the Question of Character

By Debra Komar

Goose Lane Editions

224 pages

$17.93

also available in e-book format.

Debra Komar is the author of three previous books that have used her forensic investigative skills to reexamine real life historical crimes that have taken place somewhere in Canada.

In The Bastard of Fort Stikine, she took on a case from 1842, in which a miscarriage of justice in northern British Columbia was hushed up by the Hudson’s Bay Company. The death of John McLoughlin Jr. may have been a justifiable homicide, but Komar gave it the hearing it never got at the time.

In The Lynching of Peter Wheeler she looked at the evidence in the case of a coloured man who was hanged on the assumption that he has murdered a white girl. In 1896, forensic detective work was in its infancy and Komar concludes that several competing narratives were permitted to overcome the facts of the case

In The Ballad of Jacob Peck, Komar examined an even earlier case, from 1805, in which Amos Babcock was found guilty of killing his sister, under the influence of a religious mania. That he did the deed is not in doubt in her view, but how he came to do the deed, how he was inspired and by whom, become clear during Komar’s narrative.

Her method is to visit the archives, pull out the available material on cases which are somewhat shady, and see what a full “cold-case” examination of the existing records will reveal.

Each book so far deals with a particular manner in which the facts of a case may be distorted. Her most recent book, Black River Road: An Unthinkable Crime, an Unlikely Suspect, and the Question of Character, provides its theme in the title.

What is, or should be, the role of an accused person’s character in determining his or her guilt or innocence? The murders of Maggie Vail and her child are particularly instructive in examining this premise, for this 1869 case, taking place in St. John. New Brunswick, is seen to be the first in which the social standing and reputation of the accused, respected architect John Munoe, were used as the main argument in his defense by his trial lawyer.

“His lawyer’s strategy was as simple as it was revolutionary,” for that time and place, she writes.

“Munroe’s wealth, education and exemplary character made him incapable of murder.”

These things had not rendered him incapable of having an extramarital affair with Maggie, or of fathering a child with her. That he was connected to her in a number of ways and could be traced to the area where, some months latter, a group of teenaged berry pickers stumbled across the badly decomposed bodies, were facts dismissed by his lawyer as incongruent with his character.

Komar prefaces the elegantly told story of Munroe’s life with an essay titled “The Dahmer Effect” in which she shows how the case of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer led forensic psychiatrist Park Dietz to develop his theory of universal lethality. In short, under the right circumstances, anyone can make the decision to become a killer; it’s the ability to decide and the will to act that make the difference.
Dietz wrote, “I think people are born with the inherent ability to be cruel and harmful and destructive and selfish and acquisitive. It’s the function of many of the institutions of society to train us out of that.”

To some this would seem to contradict the notion that people are naturally good and that crimes such as murder are committed by deviants. To others this might well put a new spin on the older notion of original sin, divorcing it from any connection the sexual act.

In the courts of the post-Dahmer days, character, and its adjunct, motive, matter less than decisions and actions, and it is this point that Komar uses the Maggie Vail case to illustrate.

She does so in a prose style that deliberately echoes 19th century writing and is supported by useful maps, photographs, memorabilia from the high profile trial and a very thorugh listing of footnotes and references.

Debra Komar was the fall to early winter writer-in-residence at Berton House, having turned to writing non-fiction crime books after 23 years as a practicing forensic anthropologist. She has testified as an expert witness at The Hague and throughout North America and is the author of many scholarly articles and a textbook, Forensic Anthropology: Contemporary Theory and Practice.

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Bookends: Spenser does a favour for an old friend March 10, 2017

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, Klondike Sun, mystery, Whitehorse Star.
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WonderlandBookends: Spenser does a favour for an old friend

By Dan Davidson

January 4, 2017

– 830 words –

 

Robert B. Parker’s Wonderland

By Ace Atkins

Unabridged audiobook

Narrated by Joe Mantegna

7 hours and 2 minutes

Random House Audio

$17.99

 

This is book 41 of the Spenser series, the second written by successor writer Ace Atkins following the death of series creator Robert B. Parker. The first of these was Lullaby, which I reviewed as being decent enough, but longer than normal (by about 30 minutes longer than this one in the audio version) and quite a bit more profane in its use of language.

There was a pattern to Parker’s books. There would be a certain amount of cooking, some running, some Boston travelogue, some Susan and a bit of violence. Atkins hit all those notes, but it seemed like he was trying too hard.

He hits them again in Wonderland, but seems to be less forced. He is still more long winded. The last Parker novel was about a 5 ½ hour read and the Atkins’ books I’ve listened to so far clock in at 7 hours plus. In this case, the length is justified by a more complicated plot. At about the point where it seemed the main plot of the story was wrapping up, an unexpected murder sets it off in a new direction.

Susan Silverman is less present in this book than in most of the later Parkers, being on assignment teaching at a university in another city. She drops by Boston on the weekends.

Hawk is entirely absent from this story, being on some sort of personal assignment in Florida.

Atkins has apparently decided to flesh out some characters that are part of the canon, but haven’t been used too much. Zebulon Sixkill, a American Indian former college football player who had fallen on hard times, was introduced in the last of Parker’s novels (Sixkill). In this one he has been taken on as Spenser’s protégé. Z, as he is usually known, suffers from a bit of physical arrogance and had been a budding alcoholic when we met him. He still has that problem, especially when he finds himself physically overmatched by some of the bad guys in this book. So a good part of the story is about Spenser working with Z and Z learning the ropes.

Henry Cimoli owns the gym and training facility, which has been a feature in this series since almost the beginning, but in this book Henry is given a key role and provided with a lot of backstory with which we are not overly familiar.

Someone is trying to force Henry and the other elder residents of the condo where he lives to sell out and move on. The offer is pretty good, but awfully mysterious. Some residents like the proposed deal. Those who don’t, Henry chief among them, have been experiencing a series of increasingly annoying “accidents”. In fact, Spenser and Z enter the picture at about the time when things look to be getting personal and violent. Henry is set upon by a trio of thugs who are scared off by our heroes.

Since no one knows exactly who the interested buyer is, Spenser starts there and soon his poking around, as it often does, causes a series of reactions by the bad guys. Z, who has been tasked with watching over Henry, is set upon and injured by two of the same thugs they met before. He is hurt physically, but also psychologically, and his emotional recovery is one of the subplots in this adventure.

It turns out that the condo is the last piece of property needed to cement a deal for the creation of a casino in the area of the old Wonderland (hence the book’s title) dog racing park. Two parties are competing. One seems marginally more honest than the other, and, just as the deal is brokered with that group, with Spenser acting as mediator, one of the two front men is murdered and the affair takes a whole new turn.

There have been a number of readers in this series over the years, and while all have been interesting for the time of Spenser’s life, Joe Mantegna is one of the best for the most recent stories. Mantegna played the lead role in three made for TV Spenser movies and, to my mind, was better in the part than the late Robert Urich, who starred in the Spenser – For Hire TV series.

His bio includes the tidbit that he was a bass player as a young man in the 1960s, and was a member of the rock/jazz group that eventually morphed into the Chicago Transit Authority, which became just Chicago after that first double album.

He has, of course, been a regular cast member on Criminal Minds since he signed on in 2007 and has provided the voice of Fat Tony on the Simpsons since 1991.

 

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