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Bookends: What’s the matter with the book seller? April 17, 2018

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Bookends: What’s the matter with the book seller?

By Dan Davidson

December 28, 2017

– 806 words –

 

Bellvue SquareBellevue Square

By Michael Redhill

272 pages

Doubleday Canada

$32.00

 

Some time after he had achieved genre superstardom as a writer of thrillers and horror novels, Stephen King got out the drafts of his earlier unpublished novels, rewrote them, and issued them under the name of Richard Bachman. He’s not quite clear on why he used a pseudonym for these books, which sold only moderately well until some sharp-eyed reader outed him and then they sold much better.

Eventually he ended the career of his alter-ego, who had had his own author photo and fake biography on the back of each book, saying that he died of cancer of the pseudonym. He would later revisit the consequences of this action in the novel The Dark Halfand the novella “Secret Window, Secret Garden”.

J.K. Rowling walked a similar path after the Harry Potter books, producing a series of detective novels under the name of Richard Galbraith. She was outed before the first one appeared, but has continued to use that name for her Cormoran Strike mysteries (four so far).

Trevor Ferguson has written some books in the Detective Emile Cinq-Mars series of mysteries (five so far) under the pen name of John Farrow, while pursuing literary fiction under his own name.

Michael Redhill has been productive in several genres as well. There are two plays, four volumes of poetry, four literary novels and four mysteries, the latter under the name Inger Ash Wolfe. The choice of name and gender reverses the more normal publication practice of women hiding behind men’s names.

The present book, which is a psychological thriller of the unreliable narrator variety, begins by introducing us to Jean Mason, an independent bookshop owner in Toronto, in an area near Kensington Market.

It begins, “My doppelganger problems began one afternoon in early April” and it continues to get much stranger after that. One of her regular customers tells her that he has just seen her in the nearby park, but that somehow she has managed to change her clothes and get a haircut in about 15 minutes.

Thus begins Jean’s obsessive quest to find this other woman, a quest which leads her to spend hours each day staking out the park and making the acquaintance of its denizens, many of whom are, to say the least, eccentric. So is she, as we slowly begin to realize.

That, however, is far from all in terms of plot twists, for it develops that almost everything we have learned about Jean and a number of the people around her, are not things that will pass the test of objective reality. And from that point in the book, we are left wondering just what parts of what comes next are real and which are parts of a delusional psychosis that sometimes has Jean institutionalized and sometimes has her moving about freely.

Is there a doppelganger or isn’t there? Does she look almost exactly like Jean? It that person named Inger Ash Wolfe, and has she been the author of four mystery novels? And if you’re beginning to sense something odd here, go back to the paragraph that begins with the words: “Michael Redhill has been productive in several genres as well.” and check out his pen name.

It’s a spooky story, and at the end of it, when the police sit down with Jean and ask her to give her full name, you’re going to be left wondering, as I was, just what she might have said in reply.

This book got a lot of press notice this year, Aside from being the winner of the Scotiabank Giller Prize, it was a #1 National Bestseller, a Globe and Mail Best Book of 2017, a National Post Best Book of 2017, a Kobo Best Book of 2017 and a NOW Magazine Best Book of 2017.

I don’t know that I’d agree with everything the 2017 Giller Prize Jury  had to say about it, but it’s worth quoting as part of this review:

“To borrow a line from Michael Redhill’s beautiful Bellevue Square, ‘I do subtlety in other areas of my life.’ So let’s look past the complex literary wonders of this book, the doppelgangers and bifurcated brains and alternate selves, the explorations of family, community, mental health and literary life. Let’s stay straightforward and tell you that beyond the mysterious elements, this novel is warm, and funny, and smart. Let’s celebrate that it is, simply, a pleasure to read.”

I agree with the last sentence, but have to tell you that I was intrigued by Redhill’s other literary life, and picked up a copy of The Calling, the first of his Hazel Micallefmysteries. My next column will be about that book.

 

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Bookends: Tales of Bold Adventurers March 1, 2018

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Bookends: Tales of Bold Adventurers

By Dan Davidson

September 27, 2017

– 833 words –

This column is about two fairly similar characters, whose adventures shared some common elements and who appeared in print at close to the same time.

 

The Saint in New York

The Saint in New York copy

by: Leslie Charteris

Narrated by John Telfer

Length: 7 hrs and 48 mins

Unabridged Audiobook

Audible Studios

Print Length: 292 pages

Published in 1935

 

Leslie Charteris first gave us the character of Simon Templar, The Saint, in 1928, in a book originally called Meet the Tiger. Writing until 1963, he would produce about 100 books featuring the character, and would authorise its continued use by a number of other writers after that. The character was the lead item in a monthly magazine for decades and, of course, has been portrayed on screen by Roger Moore (his best role, in my opinion), Ian Ogilvie and Val Kilmer (probably the least successful version), as well as some lesser known older movies.

Most of the books, which I used to own in paperback editions, were short story or novella collections, three to eight stories in a book. There were a few novels, and The Saint in New York was probably the most famous.

In most of the stories, Templar is a good-hearted thief or con-man, usually carrying out his capers at the expense of “the ungodly”, as he often referred to the really bad people on whom the preyed.

This one’s a little different. He is hired by a very rich American to clean up New York as revenge for the killing of this man’s son. In this case, cleaning up actually refers to a series of targeted assassinations.

Charteris wrote the Saint as a larger than life individual, very savvy, very robust, almost a comic book character in terms of his stamina and ability to get out of scrapes and turn the tables on his foes.

This is a fast paced adventure with quite a few twists and turns as he pursues the “Big Fellow” who is the anonymous criminal kingpin, working his way through the pecking order and eliminating them one by one.

The police are baffled by this one man anti-gang war, and the one officer we spend narrative time with is sorely tempted to let it continue, though he is annoyed that he can’t have a hand in it, and actually does strike up a deal with the Saint part way through the story.

There are a couple of close calls in the book and Simon is saved at least twice by the intervention of the mysterious Fay Edwards, who has taken a shine to him, even though she is the Big Fellow’s mouthpiece.

John Telfer gives this one a good reading.

 

Versus the BaronVersus the Baron copy

Written by John Creasey as Anthony Morton

Narrated by: Philip Bird

Length: 4 hrs and 41 mins

Paperback: 162 pages

Unabridged Audiobook

Audible Studios

 

John Creasey gave us 44 books about John Mannering, The Baron, beginning in 1937. These were just some of the 600 plus books that he wrote, using 28 different pen-names. The Baron and The Toff were two characters that bore some resemblance to Simon Templar.

Mannering started out as more or less a cat burglar who left a calling card. Initially, he was a thief who preyed on the upper classes, those who could afford to lose jewels and other priceless objects, but as he built up a considerable fortune of his own, he parlayed his loot into honest cash and no longer needed to activate his alter-ego.

When he does so in this book, published in 1940, it’s because he, as Mannering, was almost suckered into being a receiver of stolen goods. When the man he was to have bought them from is murdered, he decides to come to the rescue of that man’s daughter and her fiancée.

He also cooperates with the police. Several members of the force are positive that he is the Baron, but they have never been able to tie him to anything, They make it very clear that he, as Mannering, can be involved in this case, but if any trace of the Baron shows up (not that he ever admits to that) they will be after him.

In the process of helping the girl he, as Mannering, is captured by the head of a criminal gang. This unsavoury individual also has the girl, and Mannering has a hard time staging an escape for both of them, after escaping once on his own and coming back for her later.

The Baron is less of a superman than the Saint, and has to work much harder at what he does, but they are cut from a similar pattern, one whose template I trace back to the character of A.J. Raffles, a fictional gentleman thief in a series of books by E. W. Hornung, written between 1898 and 1909, and therefore likely to have influenced both Charteris and Creasey.

Philip Bird gave this book a solid reading.

 

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Bookends: A Serial Rapist Steps up His Game March 1, 2018

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Drowned Girls

Bookends: A Serial Rapist Steps up His Game

By Dan Davidson

August 30, 2017

– 829 words –

 The Drowned Girls

By Loreth Anne White

Montlake Romance

512 pages

$15.88

When Detective Angie Pallorino decided to scratch her sexual frustration itch by resorting to a one-night (well, part of a night) stand with a hunky stranger in the bar where she usually goes to solve this problem, she had no idea that the man would turn out to be her new partner/superior the very next day.

The same could be said of former RCMP officer James Maddocks, who actually went to that bar looking for a friend of his, but could not resist the offer this woman was making when his buddy didn’t show up. It’s not certain who was more surprised the next day.

White presents us these characters in alternating chapters in which the pair reflect on events that we have already seen from one or the other’s point of view.

Pallorino has a lot of issues. She is somewhat estranged from her father. Her mother is in a care home, suffering from dementia, and Angie is worried that it might be part of her genetic heritage. In addition, she lost a partner in the on the force a while back while they were investigating a case in which there seemed to be a man committing serial sexual assaults. She hasn’t really recovered from the PTSD of that case. To top it all off, she is viewed negatively by a lot of her peers and people don’t really want to work with her. She has avoided long term relationships most of her life, and especially since her partner’s death, but she is strongly attracted to Maddocks.

Maddocks, on the other hand, has left the Mounties and signed on with this city police force is order to be closer to his daughter, from whom he is somewhat estranged as a result of the ongoing divorce proceedings with his wife. He has settled for a job at a lesser rank than he had with the RCMP in order to deal with his family issues. He was not looking for a relationship and has never been one to seek casual sex before (it was that job that cost him his marriage), but he finds Angie hard to resist.

The perpetrator Pallorino was trying to find two years earlier seemed to have stopped his spree – which is unusual – until a comatose Jane Doe is found in a local cemetery, sexually assaulted, mutilated, and nearly drowned, with a distinctive cross etched into her forehead. That’s not quite enough to ring bells, but when the body of a drowned young woman, also bearing the marks of the serial rapist, floats up in the Gorge, the hunt for a serial rapist become a hunt for a killer.

Pallorino desperately wants to get onto the homicide squad, and her background history with this case means that her superiors agree with her on that, but the awkward part is that she is partnered with Maddocks. Both of them have trouble being a properly functioning team because of their attraction to each other. There are some incidents where this becomes really difficult.

There are some other points of view in this story. One of them is that of the rapist/killer himself, who has a definitely delusional/religious take on why he is acting out. He started by just assaulting women and them marking them with a cross symbol, rather than carving it into their skin, to absolve them of what he perceived to be their sins. Eventually this accelerated to more extreme measures.

In his earlier phase there are some victims that the police don’t know about, because they never reported the assault for one reason or another, One of these was a former street person and addict, who straightened out her life and became a reporter after she survived the assault. Several chapters are from her point of view and she contributes a number of vital clues to the case during her interactions with Pallorino.

Loreth Anne White is an award-winning, bestselling author of romantic suspense, thrillers, and mysteries who lives in the Pacific Northwest. While she has worked in Canada, according to her bio, and is a member of the Crime Writers of Canada, the vagueness of her address suggests she lives in the USA. From what I can see of her other output, her most recent books follow this habit of mixing genres. (Earlier ones show a lot of bodice ripping, bare chested romance covers.) This one certainly fits under the outer edge of the publishing umbrella of Montlake Romance, and several of her other books seem to have a similar genre mystery/thriller/romance mix.

This is the first volume in a series. While the case was solved, there were lots of personal loose ends left untied in The Drowned Girls, and I expect some of these to be tied off in The Lullaby Girl, due out in November.

 

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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

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, Klondike Sun, mystery, Whitehorse Star.
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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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