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Bookends: A thriller series that uses many different genre styles May 12, 2019

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, mystery, thriller, Uncategorized, Whitehorse Star.
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Bookends: A thriller series that u
ses many different genre styles

by Dan Davidson

July 4, 2018

– 981 words –

 

The John Milton Series

by Mark Dawson

self published

 

Back in the days of the pulp magazines, writers like Walter Gibson (aka Maxwell Grant, author of most of The Shadow stories) and Lester Dent (aka Kenneth Robeson, author of most of the Doc Savage stories) would sit at their typewriters and pound out dozens of short (average 120 pages) novels each year to feed the magazines that housed them. When the paperback book came along a few decades later, some, like John D. MacDonald, whom I wrote about here a few weeks back, jumped to the paperback original market. Gibson and Dent would later find their books reprinted as paperbacks, though they probably didn’t make a lot of money on them, as they were writers-for-hire and didn’t own the characters.

Writers have been pretty much at the mercy of the publishing houses for well over a century, and the flurry of mergers over the last several decades has left them with even fewer options for creative control.

Recently we have entered the era of self-publishing, and that’s changing the game. I receive a few of those actual books for consideration in this column. Others come from distribution houses that handle dozens of different imprints. Still others are pitched on Facebook and other platforms, often with an offer of some free material, sometimes in omnibus format.

That’s how I met Mark Dawson, Let’s face it; with that last name I had to give him a try. The advertising pitch he’s been using, along with a number of other thriller writers, compares his material to Lee Child’s successful Jack Reacher novels. In interviews, Dawson himself admits that this is not an accurate comparison; it’s what might be called an “elevator pitch”, something to catch your attention.

 

John Milton is a former assassin, who used to do wet work for the Group, a black ops branch of MI6, with possible connections to MI5. He was recruited by Control after a career in the military, including several tours on behalf of Her Majesty in some nasty places. He rose through the ranks to become Number 1 in the Group.

All of the following books arrived in one omnibus volume from Amazon, which provides the CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform on which they were produced. All have since also appeared as actual physical books. Dawson has been busy, churning out 13 of these between 2013 and this year.

In the first book, The Cleaner (314 pages), Milton final

The Cleaner

ly faces a situation that is the tipping point for his conscience. Long sin

ce driven to drink to deal with his guilt complex, he resigns from the Group and sets out of a path of redeeming himself by helping others. Rather, he tries to resign. Control doesn’t take it well and sends one of the lower numbers to decommission him permanently. It doesn’t go well, either for the agent, or for Milton’s attempts to be a white knight. He has to flee.

 

Book two, Saint Death (290 pages) , finds him

Saint Death

working as a short order cook in a small Mexican city, keeping a low profile andstaying out of trouble. As often as possible, he attends meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous groups, and this helps to keep him away from the booze. Quite by accident, he ends sup saving the life of young female reporter who has

Ghosts

been annoying the local drug cartel’s leader by writing about their influence over the local authorities, and things just get more complicated. Once again, a squad from the Group comes to find him, and so he has to cope with danger from several sides. This book actually does feel a little bit like a Reacher story.

I dipped into the third book after a few months of heavier reading, just needing a bit of a break, and found myself pleasantly surprised. In The Driver(330 pages), Milton has been living in San Francisco or several months, working two jobs, attending lots of AA meetings, actually making some friends, and keeping out of trouble. One of his fares turns out to be an escort, and when something goes terribly wrong at the party she’s been hired to attend, it begins to look like she’s been killed. After the bodies of several other call girls turn up, the police start looking for suspects. Milton ends up helping his fare’s boyfriend, at least partly because both of them have become prime suspects.

There’s politics involved here, and the presidential candidate in question could actually be the source for much of Donald J, Trump’s campaign rhetoric; this is fairly prophetic for a book written two years before that campaign.

This one blends the thriller genre with a fairly straightforward mystery feel. Be warned though, there’s an epilogue which acts as a nearly irresistible teaser for the next book. I found myself turning the electronic page.

Ghosts (273 pages) changes the format entirely, delving back almost a decade in its opening chapters to Milton’s first major hit with the Group, led by the then Number One, Beatrix Rose, and told from her point of view. Dawson is canny, and this book served as what television producers would call a “back door pilot” for a second series, now up to six books, featuring this deadly lady,

Milton is rescued from the predicament that ended the previous book and is spirited off to Moscow, to be enlisted in a revenge plot that serves his own needs as well as those of the rogue Russian general whom he had failed to kill eight years earlier. Once again Dawson has switched genres for his story, bouncing the reader from Texas to Moscow, to Hong Kong, to London, to Moscow and back to London in the end. He has called his character “James Bond with a conscience” and that pretty much fits this particular story.

 

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Bookends: When the drug problem hits close to home May 12, 2019

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Bookends: When the drug problem hits close to home

By Dan Davidson

June 19, 2018

– 754 words –

 

Close to Home

By Robert DugoniClose to Home

Thomas and Mercer

368 pages

$13.60

 

While this is billed as book number 5 in the Tracy Crosswhite series, there are at least three major characters whose stories we follow.

Tracy is a Seattle homicide detective. She’s married to a lawyer named Dan. They are trying very hard to conceive a child, and coping with the possibility that this may not be possible.

Tracy and her detective partner are assigned to what appears to be a simple hit and run case. A teenage boy has been killed by a vehicle while on his way home from an evening playing basketball. When they find the vehicle, it has been hidden, and thoroughly wiped down. They do tie it to an owner, Lazlo Trejo, but he claims it was stolen, and there doesn’t seem to be any way to break his story.

He works for the US Navy, which decides to take jurisdiction over the case, assigning both a prosecutor and a defense attorney from its Judge Advocate General branch. The defense lawyer is an ambitious woman named Leah Battles. We spend quire a bit of time with her.

The other major narrative is that of Detective Delmo (Del) Castigliano. Del is spending lot of time looking after his sister, who has recently lost her daughter to a drug overdose. She’s not dealing with her grief well and Del is taking it upon himself to look after her twin 9 year old boys.

It takes a while for us to find how these three strands of story fit together.

The first two are easy. Tracy and her team locate videotape evidence from a convenience that demolishes Trejo’s alibi, but then the case is taken out of their hands by the Navy, and this crucial piece of evidence vanishes before the preliminary Navy hearing.

Someone at the JAG office must have done this, and fingers point at Battles. Surveillance video at the base shows no one near the office where the evidence box was stored, and she was the last person known to have had it. We know she didn’t take the old VHS tape, but she is considered a prime suspect.

Meanwhile, Tracy has been pursuing leads in the case in the event that the Navy hands it back to Seattle PD, and is nearly on the scene when Trejo is murdered. It’s made to look like a suicide, but the gun is by the wrong hand. Tracy has always been suspicious as to the details of the hit and run, and Trejo’s death looks like someone tidying up loose ends.

Del has enough to do with his regular assignments and looking after his sister, but he has been spending quite a bit of spare time trying to track down the source of the extremely potent heroin that his niece died using. This is where all the diverse strands start to come together, even though some of these people never seem to meet each other.

I’m not spoiling any plot surprises if I tell you that Battles is being framed, and that the complications related to the Trejo case are all part of an effort to hide an illegal drug dealing operation that is related to the death of Del’s niece.

Just how Battles is being framed is an important part of the puzzle.

Del’s search for his niece’s dealer is an important part of the puzzle.

Tracy’s careful examination of the evidence surrounding the vanishing videotape is equally important.

The combination of these things leads to the tense climax of that part of the story with just a couple of chapters left to go,

But it’s not the only resolution in the book. There are personal stories for both Del and Tracy that get tidied up before we get to the author’s note at the back of the book.

This is a book with a message alongside with its story, Dugoni wanted to shine a light on the drug problem that has moved into middle class America, and gave us examples of three families that have suffered from it.  One of the secondary characters, a civilian prosecutor, makes a strong case for supervised injection sites and argues that the “war on drugs” approach just isn’t working.

Sometimes embedding a message in a story can get in the way of the book, but in this case it seems to be a good fit.

 

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Bookends: Finding the Plot Behind the Pink Nightmare May 9, 2019

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Bookends: Finding the Plot Behind the Pink Nightmare

By Dan Davidson

The Whitehorse Star

June 13, 2018Nightmare in Pink

– 946 words –

 

Nightmare in Pink

By John D. MacDonald

Narrated by Robert Petkoff

Audible Studios

5 hrs and 42 mins

$14.99

 

Paperback reprint

224 pages

Random House Trade Paperbacks;

$18.80

Original copyright 1964

 

Back in the late 1960s, when I spent my high school summers working in a pulp mill, one of the perks of an otherwise terrible, back-breaking job was the opportunity to paw through the bales of discarded front coverless paperbacks that were destined for the very scary blades in the pulping vat that I sometimes had to clean out. That’s where I found my first Travis McGee novels and developed a taste for them.

The early ones had some pretty lurid and suggestive covers, so I was just as happy not to have to explain those to my mother. Mind you, the same thing was true of those quite conservative Perry Mason mysteries that I was reading about the same time.

It was only much later that I discovered how influential John D. MacDonald was in the mystery/thriller genre world. The first four McGee novels, of which Nightmare in Pinkis the second, appeared in 1964. There would be another 17 in all before The Lonely Silver Rainin 1985 brought down the curtain. In addition there were 43 other standalone thriller/mysteries, three science fiction novels, and several collections of short stories.

There could have been many short story collections, since MacDonald got his start writing for the pulp magazines before he was one of the first to cash in on the paperback original boom. He churned out 500 short stories for detective, mystery, adventure, sports, western, and science fiction magazines, using a variety of pen names, including Peter Reed, John Farrell (sometimes John Wade Farrell), Scott O’Hara, Robert Henry, Harry Reiser, and John Lane.

He was a full time writer from 1945 until he died in 1986. The last McGee book came out the year before, and there was one additional novel in that final year. He was a good friend of the comic Dan Rowan, of Laugh In fame, and a volume of their letters to each other, called A Friendship, also came out then.

Unlike nearly all the other books in the series, most of this one takes place in and around New York City, and we only get back to the his base on the Busted Flushin Florida when Travis and Nina are recuperating from the mess they found in New York.

Travis has a friend named Mike, a very badly damaged war vet who he visits at least once a year because he credits him with having saved his life when they were both enlisted and fighting for their country. Mike has a sister whose fiancée was recently killed in a botched mugging. She’s not coping with it well, especially since she found stash of cash – $10,000 was a lot of money in1964 – while she was clearing his things out of her closets.

Why did he have it? Where did it come from? Did it mean that he had not been the man she had thought he was?

Mike asks Travis of find out. Now Travis isn’t exactly a detective. He describes himself as a freelance recovery agent. If you’ve lost something and he can find it for you, he’ll charge you half of its value, and since you wouldn’t have it back except that he found it for you, you consider that fair.

This case, however, is pro bono, a good deed for an old friend. It turns out to be a pretty raw deal, but it’s likely that, even if he had known about the pink nightmare, Travis would still have taken it on.

Nina comes across as a hard case at first.

“The fabulous Travis McGee,” she says. “Fabulous means something about fables. I don’t need any fables. Thank you so much.”

Travis is dubious about helping her.

“I didn’t want to be within fifteen hundred miles of this ‘darling girl’. I didn’t want to be in this October city. I wanted to be back aboard my Busted Flushmoored in Slip F‑18, Bahia Mar, Lauderdale, my 52 feet of custom houseboat…

“But Miss Nina looked at me out of her brother Mike’s true blue eyes, and he had never asked me for anything else.”

It turns out that Nina’s Howard had been on to something; that there was something terribly wrong with his employer; that the $10,000 was important; and that Travis was going to find out way more than he ever wanted to know about the pink nightmare before the story was over.

It’s quite a story; a bit dated after all these years, but significant enough to have been reprinted lately and for best selling author Lee Child to have written a lovely essay about MacDonald for the 2013 trade paperback reissue editions. I found those 12 pages at Amazon.ca while doing some research. They weren’t included in the audio book version, but I recommend that anyway. It kept me alert on a recent trip from Dawson to Whitehorse.

Lee Child wonders about what made MacDonald decide on the writing life.

“Why? Why did a middle-class Harvard MBA with extensive corporate connections and a gold-plated recommendation from the army (he finished as a Lieut. Colonel) turn his back on everything apparently predestined, to sit at a battered table and type, with an anxious wife at his side? No one knows. He never explained. It’s a mystery.”

He concludes that we can’t possibly know, but that he, and writers as varied as Spider Robinson, Dean Koontz, Stephen King, Lawrence Block, Carl Hiaasen, Kurt Vonnegut, Robert B. Parker and Elmore Leonard, are all on the record as being glad that he did.

Listening to Robert Petkoff’s excellent narration, I found myself catching little stylistic hints that reminded me of a number of other writers I enjoy reading.

 

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Bookends: A Protégé of Sherlock Strikes Out on his Own December 31, 2018

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Bookends: A Protégé of Sherlock Strikes Out on his Own

By Dan Davidson

May 9, 2018

–  886 words –

The Irregular

The Irregular: A Different Class of Spy

By H.B Lyle

Kindle Edition

$15.49

Print Length: 301 pages

Hodder & Stoughton

 

Sherlock Homes remains one of the most durable literary creation of the 19th century, his continuing popularity evidenced by what seems to be the annual appearance of yet another collection of pastiche short stories by dozens of different authors and a list of novels and collections that ran to several pages the last time I tried to pin it down.

Then, of course, there is the BBC series of TV mini-movies featuring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, and set in our time. How odd that in both the original and the upgrade it is still possible for Doctor Watson to have received his war wound in Afghanistan.

Then there are the fairly bohemian period piece films featuring Robert Downie Junior, of which there is to be a third; and the television show Elementary (now in its sixth season) which has brought a fellow named Holmes into the 21st century and moved him to New York.

Continuing the character is one way to work with the formula. Pitting Holmes against the Invisible Man, Mr., Hyde, Dracula, the Martian Invasion and other tricks have been tried. He was even teamed up with Tarzan in one pastiche novel.

Another way is to take secondary characters from the Holmes canon and work with them. The late John Gardener wrote several novels from the point of view of Professor Moriarity, Holmes’ great enemy.

H.B. Lyle has begun a series using yet another secondary character, one who was first introduced to us in the very first novel, when there is a thundering of many footsteps on the stairs leading up to the apartment at 221-B Baker Street. Watson announces his bewilderment.

“’What on earth is this?’ I cried, for at this moment there came the pattering of many steps in the hall and on the stairs, accompanied by audible expressions of disgust upon the part of our landlady.

“’It’s the Baker Street division of the detective police force,’ said my companion gravely; and as he spoke there rushed into the room half a dozen of the dirtiest and most ragged street Arabs that ever I clapped eyes on.” From A Study in Scarletby Arthur Conan Doyle.

Their leader is the oldest one of them, a young teenager named Wiggins. Both he and others, most of whom are nameless, appear in several other stories and novels, and the device has been considered worthy of inclusion in some version in each of the current media incarnations of Holmes. They are called the Baker Street Irregulars, or just the Irregulars.

And now you know why Lyle’s novel has that title.

It’s 1909 and Wiggins is in his 30s, having grown up and spent a long stint in the army, a very basic career choice for lower class young men as the 19th century drew to a close. Britain pretty much dominates the world at this point, but there are revolutionary winds blowing in Russia; there’s an arms race with Germany; and the world is beginning to lurch towards that conflict which will initially be called The Great War.

Lower class Wiggins hasn’t been able to do well for himself since being demobbed. He’s been reduced to being a collection agent for a loan shark, which pretty much means strong-arming  and shaking down people who haven’t made their payments, people with who he would naturally be in sympathy.

He is approached by a friend of Holmes named Vernon Kell, who wants to set up a secret service to help protect the Empire. He needs men (mostly) who are smart, capable of fighting, and who can blend in with the lower classes. Holmes, who appears only briefly in this book, has recommended Wiggins as a prime candidate.

Kell is anxious to prove to his arrogant political masters that such a force is actually needed. They can’t begin to see why there could possibly be any threat to the Empire. He needs capable people who can establish that such threats exist.

Wiggins turns down the job at first, saying he “don’t do official”, but when a policeman friend of his is murdered by Russian anarchists, leaving that man’s family destitute, Wiggins signs up as a way to work on finding his friend’s killers. While his official assignment has him working undercover at a munitions factory that seems to be leaking information to the Germans, he is able to use his position to build up a string of informants and allies that help him to solve more than just his official case.

He’s an irregular sort of agent who creates his own group of irregulars, following in the footsteps, and using the methods of, his mentor, the Great Detective. Not that he doesn’t have all sorts of problems with his upper class superiors, but he does get the job done.

Interviews with Lyle indicate that he used quite a few real people (Kell being one) in the book and did a lot of research to get the period right. There’s a second book under way and the first has been optioned to be produced as a mini-series.

 

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Bookends: Who really killed Alicia Hutchins? December 30, 2018

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Bookends: Who really killed Alicia Hutchins?

By Dan Davidson

May 1, 2018

– 731 words –

 

Snap Judgment

By Marcia ClarkSnap

Thomas an Mercer

447 pages

 

 

Snap Judgment is the third novel in Marcia Clark’s series about lawyer Samantha Brinkman. Brinkman’s small firm, Brinkman and Associates, includes her receptionist and organizer Michelle Fusco and her investigator and computer whiz, Alex Medrano. One of her closest friends is her father, Detective Dale Pearson, whom she did not know as her father when she took him on as a client a few years earlier.

From what I have read, Brinkman undertakes a variety of cases, but the main plots in the novels seem to involve her defending professional people.

In this case, her possible client is prominent civil litigator Graham Hutchins, whose daughter, Alicia, was recently found murdered in her off-campus apartment.

It seems that her boyfriend, Roan, with whom she about to break up, is the most obvious suspect. Certainly Alicia’s diary entry, which opens this book, points us in that direction. But Roan turns up dead shortly after, an apparent suicide. Was it remorse for the death of Alicia or was it actually revenge by someone else?

If the latter, then the needle might swing round to point at Hutchins, the grieving father. He views Sam as a friend and colleague and admires her tenacity on other cases enough to think that she would do well by him, should the police decide he is a person of interest.

It’s a bit of a Perry Mason style trope for the lawyer to decide that the best way to keep her client safe is to find the real killer, but that device can still work if it is deftly done, and Clark carries it off fairly well.

All murder mysteries have to have red herrings dragged across their plot lines, and there are lots of those here. Sam’s not entirely sure she trusts Hutchins to give her all the information she needs to work with. There are, in fact, various surprises that she uncovers along the way, surprises about Alicia and surprises about her client.

Books are picking up the idea of multiple plot lines from television, where the average show will have A, B, and sometimes C, plots weaving in and out of each other. Some will be event driven; others will have more to do with relationships.

The B plot here involves Sam’s obligations to a rather serious and nasty underworld type named Cabazon, who insists that she be of service to him in a matter unrelated to the main story. This involves some complicated family relationships, and has a ticking timeline attached to it. Solutions here involve some tricky maneuvering and careful crossing of legal lines.

Springing from that plot, but tangential to it, is a third problem involving domestic abuse. Again it requires a bit of tricky, not entirely legal, business to solve that problem.

The author is, herself, a famous (or infamous) lawyer, having started out as a defense attorney before moving to the prosecution, and having become most famous for her failure to convict O.J. Simpson. Following that debacle, she left the courts, co-wrote a book about the case, and became a frequent commentator on a variety of shows and networks, including Today, Good Morning America, The Oprah Winfrey Show, CNN, and MSNBC, as well as a legal correspondent for Entertainment Tonight.

More recently she turned to crime fiction, producing a series of novels about a prosecutor, Rachel Knight, before moving to the other side of the courtroom with Brinkman. This series has already been optioned for a television show.

It’s not unusual for legal eagles to turn their hand at crime fiction. Erle Stanley Gardner, author of the aforementioned Perry Mason novels, written one or two a year from 1933 to 1973 (some published after his death in 1970), was also a lawyer. B.C. author William Deverell, who attended the Yukon Writers Festival and Young Authors’ Conference some years ago, was also a criminal lawyer and a prosecutor. His best known novels are probably the satirically humorous ones featuring Arthur Beauchamp, QC, but much earlier in his career, he wrote the pilot for CBC’s Street Legal series, which is about to be revived.

Our recently retired Supreme Court Chief Justice, Beverley McLachlin, apparently wiled away her spare time dabbling in crime fiction, and her first legal thriller, Full Disclosure, hit the bookstores earlier this week.

 

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Bookends: The Death Tour of the Band called The Five December 30, 2018

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Bookends: The Death Tour of the Band called The Five

By Dan Davidson

April 18, 2018

– 955 words –

 

The Five

The Five

By Robert McCammon

TOR Books

500 pages

$10.99

 

The Five are a travelling rock band, a lower echelon group with a name as unimaginative as the name of the folk group I was a member of in high school. We used to practice in a Grade 5 classroom and there were five of us, so guess what we called ourselves. When we added a sixth member, we became the Grade 5 +1.

This band is fronted by lead singer and guitarist John Charles, stage name Nomad, a veteran of many touring bands ever since his high school days, following in the footsteps, or perhaps frets, of his father, who had a similar career.

Then there’s Ariel, a somewhat ethereal second on lead vocals and guitar. With Nomad, she writes most of the songs. She’s unsure of herself, but thinks of the group as her family.

Terry is a whiz on every sort of keyboard. Mike is a super bassist, not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but a solid player. Berke is a bit of an oddball, a lesbian drummer with a touch of genius.

Then there’s George, their manager, and often the driver of their van, the Scumbucket, which is actually his van. He’s a hard worker.

Their latest single, and video, is an anti-war commentary called “When the Storm Breaks”. It’s getting some airplay, stimulating some interviews and social media attention, and getting them some sales of their latest CD.

The first 70 or so pages of this book are about the rather depressing life of the band, and I have to admit that I really wasn’t getting into this story, having expected it to be a bit more like George R.R. Martin’s The Armageddon Rag. McCammon is, after all, known for his horror/fantasy writing.

I put it aside, read about 20 other books, and picked it up again one evening. I had to flip through the first chapter to remind myself who was who, but then I got to chapter two.

Chapter two introduced another character, Jeremy Pett, a former US Special Forces sniper who is on the verge of committing a PTSD fueled suicide when he has a vision. The Five’s video in on his crappy television when he is called out of his bloodstained bathtub by a compelling voice that offers him a mission, something that he has been sadly lacking since his honourable discharge.

His mission: stalk and kill the members of The Five.

It’s never clear just where that mission came from, but later in the book we are told of at least two other guys who get the same message by different means and make their own attempts on the band. Can’t just be an association of music critics, but one has to wonder what’s going on.

By that time, George has announced that this is his last go round and he’s heading home to join the family business. Terry also plans to quit. His love is keyboards and he plans to open a vintage keyboard repair and creation shop, while doing some music on the side. Basically, they’re burned out on the touring life.

Nomad suggests they should all collaborate on one last song to be sung at their last gig together in a few weeks. Berke derides this as a Kumbaya maneuver, but Mike, who has never written anything, is inspired by a migrant worker girl they meet and writes down some of the positive words she spoke to them. He hands them to Berke at their next gas stop, and then dies in front of her when a high powered slug explodes his head.

He is the first. Days later Berke thinks she feels a bullet whiz by her head while she’s jogging. She’s not quite sure, so she doesn’t tell anyone, but when George takes two in the chest a day or so later, after an evening’s performance, everyone, including the FBI, knows there’s a killer on the road (to borrow a phrase from the Doors).

While Nomad is the character whose point of view we follow the most, all of the other members of the group, as well as their nemesis, get their pages.

We also spend time with fiftyish FBI Agent Truitt Allen, who is put in charge of the group assigned to guard the group as they finish their tour in the hope that having them out there as live bait will enable the FBI to capture Pett.

Allen, usually called True from that point on, becomes the group’s acting manager and usual driver (George is recovering in a hospital), while also coordinating their defense with his team of four other agents, at least until head office decides that this whole operation is costing too much money and forces him to scale back.

You can probably tell that my interest in the book increased a lot after Pett entered the plot, and that’s kind of ironic because the group’s sales and reputation skyrocket as it becomes clear to the media that this is a most unusual tour.

McCammon was a big name in the horror genre until the early 1990s, when he retired from the mainstream for 10 years over a dispute with his publisher. The Five marked his return to the shelves with a modern day setting in 2011. Most of his other work since the early 2000s has been horror fiction set in the 17th to 19th centuries, much of it featuring a character named Matthew Corbett.

He has been a winner of the World Fantasy, Bram Stoker (3 times) awards, and nominated for others.

 

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Bookends: Magic Aids in Solving a Mystery December 29, 2018

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Bookends: Magic Aids in Solving a Mystery

By Dan Davidson

March 14, 2018

Ironfoot– 855 words –

 

Ironfoot

By

Night Shade Books

332 pages

$22.49

 

As Ironfootis something of a coming of age novel, there will be certain comparisons to the Harry Potter books as well as the Earthsea quartet of Ursula LeGuin, and perhaps Lev Grossman’s Magicians series.

That might be a little misleading. Although magic does play a definite role in this book, it is more reminiscent of Ellis Peters’ Cadfael medieval mystery series, particularly in that a murder mystery is the driving heart of the plot.

There is, however, a school of magic at the beginning of the tale, and young Durwin is sent there largely because his impoverished family doesn’t know what else to do with him. The year is 1164, and England is under Norman rule. The time period is about the same as in the Cadfael mysteries. Things have been unsettled and are really just beginning to get sorted to some form of stability.

Durwin is nicknamed Ironfoot –sort of a slur – as one of his legs is shorter than the other, the result of a childhood accident. Because of this, one of his boots has a built up iron sole to level him out a bit. He is very good with horses, being the son of a hostler, and so he is taken on as a student at the magic academy in Helmdon, where they allow him to pay his fees by tending the horses and the stable, where he also sleeps at night.

This begins when he is 14. It is not an easy life, as he is a Saxon amongst a school of upper class Normans. There are class issues and clashes, but on the whole he thrives in his studies and by the time we get seriously into the story, when he is 20 years old, he has become a sort of teacher’s aid, giving instruction to younger students in areas he has already mastered. Class snobbery sometimes makes this difficult, but he is actually a good teacher.

The magic in this historical fantasy world is somewhat acknowledged, although frowned upon, by the Christian Church, and has not yet been outlawed or persecuted. Indeed, King Harald has an Enchanter General in his court, a post to which it seems likely, from the way events progress, that our narrator may one day achieve.

The spells in this version of magic come from books called grimoires, which are largely hand copied and often full of errors, some of which are deliberate on the part of the secretive magicians. A good many of them need to be chanted, or sung, and many of them require more than one voice, most often two, with appropriate harmonies.

At this point in the projected trilogy, which is called The Enchanter General, Durwin is still a magician’s apprentice until events at the home town of one of his instructors causes him to be sent there with his teacher. Before the journey he is elevated to the overdue rank of Adept (which has been delayed by his status as a Saxon) and sent to travel with Sage Rolf. Along with them is sent Durwin’s least favorite person, a Norman student bigot named William.

It’s not an easy trip for William either, as Durwin’s promotion to Adept means that he is now William’s superior in rank, a reality which the troubled young nobleman can hardly stomach.

Arriving at Barton, they discover that the castle’s Sage has died under suspicious circumstances, and they are barely there a day before Rolf also succumbs, leaving Durwin as the ranking magician in the village. Through his knowledge of herbs and potions he determines conclusively, even to those who are skeptical, that murder has been committed in both cases, and his use of magic incantations enables him to discover that there is actually a third death which no one had noticed.

The other major plot strand in this book is the developing relationship between Durwin and William, which starts out as nothing but antagonistic, but slowly changes as the mystery gets deeper and the pair begin to bond in a cooperative effort to solve the puzzle, keep anyone else from getting killed, and protect each other. Since the King is about to arrive for a visit, this is a task that has some urgency attached. While this was a predictable development, it was still enjoyable to watch it happen.

There are two more novels projected in this series, and Duncan’s website reveals that both Trial by Treasonand Merlin Reduxhave been completed.

Born in Scotland, Dave Duncan has lived in Canada all his adult life and currently resides in Victoria, BC. He has been the author of 13 two to seven book series, as well as 16 standalone novels. He is best known for his work in the fantasy genre and is a founding member and honourary lifetime member of SF Canada as well as a member of the Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Association, where he was inducted into its Hall of Fame in 2015.

 

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Bookends: This detective has a ghostly companion December 28, 2018

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, Klondike Sun, mystery, Whitehorse Star.
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Bookends: This detective has a ghostly companion

By Dan Davidson

February 13, 2018

– 612 words –

 

A test of Wills

A Test of Wills

By Charles Todd

Kindle Edition

Print Length 323 pages

Publisher:William Morrow

 

Detectives frequently have a side-kick, someone who follows them about and occasionally contributes a gem of insight by thinking outside the normal boxes. No partnership is quite so intense as that between Inspector Ian Rutledge and Corporal Hamish MacLeod. MacLeod, you see, is dead, and is merely a voice in Rutledge’s shell-shocked head.

The Corporal served under Rutledge during the Great War, and the detective feels himself to be entirely responsible for the man’s death at the Battle of the Somme, for reasons that are partly explained in this first book. Subsequent to his mental and emotional breakdown after his discharge, Rutledge found himself with a constant companion, one who was likely to offer his own thoughts on situations unprompted, in his distinctly Scottish tones.

Hamish always seems to be looking over Ian’s shoulder, In fact when he is driving, Hamish cane be heard from the back seat.

Post-war Rutledge has lost some of his ability to interact with people, this exacerbated by his fiancée’s inability to adjust to his changes. Jean’s desertion further undermines his confidence in his ability to deal with others. Interestingly, Hamish’s voice turns out to be a keen observer of other people and often manages to contribute to Rutledge’s deficiencies in this area.

Rutledge was some months recovering sufficiently to return to his duties at Scotland Yard after the war, but there he has a mixed reception. As a bona fide war hero with medals to his credit, there are some at the Yard who look on him favourably. His immediate supervisor, Chief Superintendent Bowles,is not one of those. He is aware of Rutledge’s medical issues, sees only his deficiencies, is jealous of his reputation as a hero, and schemes to assign him to cases where he might fail, hoping that he will, and becoming more antagonistic when he succeeds.

This first novel in the series, which was nominated for a number of mystery awards, sees Rutledge assigned to investigate the murder of an army colonel, with a young captain as the prime suspect. Part of sending him out of London to Warwickshire is that Bowles knows he will be out of his comfort zone there.

Then, the main suspect has ties to the Royal Family, which makes this a very tricky case, and the only witness to events is hardly a credible fellow; a drunken ex-soldier suffering from his own version of shell shock.

The local villagers think very little of the man, and have a low opinion of military men in general. Rutledge has been dropped into a hostile environment and instructed to solve a difficult case as quickly as possible.

Charles Todd is an interesting nom de plumefor a mother and son partnership between Charles and Caroline Todd, who live, as so many of these writers of British mysteries seem to, in the United States. They visit the United Kingdom frequently, as many of these writers appear to do. They have produced twenty books in this series, which they began in 1996.  According to their website, the novels follow a timeline which begins in June, 1919, and continues, month by month, from there on.

The volume I’m reading from happens to be a four book e-book omnibus. It appeared to be the first four books in the series, but now that I’ve looked further into the writers’ website, it turns out that it’s not. I’ve enjoyed the first three mysteries in this collection, and I’ll write up the others sometime in the future.

 

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Bookends: They didn’t mean to hurt anybody December 28, 2018

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, Klondike Sun, mystery, thriller, Uncategorized, Whitehorse Star.
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Bookends: They didn’t mean to hurt anybody

By Dan Davidson

February 7, 2018

– 838 words –

 

The Professionals

By Professionals copy

Putnam

372 pages

$27.50 hardcover

$12.99 paperback

 

 

Owen Laukkanen has been very busy over the last five years. There have been six books in his Stevens and Windemere series of mysteries. He’s been nominated for a slew of awards, won a couple and has graduated to full time writing after spending a number of years covering international poker games for a website called PokerListings.com.

In a way, his life story up to that point was a bit similar to that of the likeable villains in his first novel. His degree in creative writing from UBC wasn’t getting him anywhere in the world and he lucked onto the job writing about poker, a game about which he knew almost nothing when he started.

The merry band of kidnappers in this book started out in much the same place. They had degrees and debt and no hope of employment beyond being baristas at franchise coffee joints. They weren’t lucky enough to land a job writing about poker tournaments and travelling all over the world on the company dime.

Then one of them had a bright idea. Why not use the research skills they had to pick safe low level targets, kidnap them without actually ever hurting anyone, and operate so far below the radar that no one ever notices.

They saw themselves as modern day Robin Hoods, taking from the rich and giving to the poor, which just happened to be themselves. It would work out fine if they just remained professional about it.

For two years it did work out fine, and the four accumulated quite a bank account. They were slick, moved from state to state, picked mid-level wealthy marks who could afford a moderate ransom, and never hurt anybody.

Then, one of their carefully selected targets fell through, and since they had their plan for the area all set up, they went to the alternate choice, and it turned out that, although he looked pretty safe, they hadn’t looked deep enough. His wife was connected to organized crime.

Then, the mark heard one of their names, and their strong-arm man, who’d been getting little too much into the role of being a bad guy, shot him.

To back up just a little, the caper just before that hadn’t gone quite as planned, Usually, the marks were totally embarrassed and kept quiet about what had happened. That victim went to the police after he was freed. The case landed on the desk of state police investigator Kirk Stevens, whose instincts told him that this crime had been just a little too slick to be the first one.

Looking for others that might resemble it took him across state lines and involved the FBI, who gave the case to Carla Windermere.

About that time, the gang killed their latest victim, in yet another state, and the game was afoot.

Stevens is a family man with a wife and kids. She supports his police work, but she has a career of her own to nurture. Up to now, he hasn’t had to travel a lot. This case puts some strain on the dynamic of their marriage.

Windermere has an underemployed partner in a common-law relationship, which is pretty much coming apart at the seams.

The two agents are quite different people, something underlined by him being white and her black. What they do have in common is a love of the chase. Both have been feeling under appreciated in their respective jobs. There is a definite attraction between them, but neither one of them gives into it, at least, not in this first book.

We spend as much time with the kidnappers as we do with the authorities, Of the four – Pender (the planner), Sawyer (the muscle), “Mouse” (the hacker) and Marie (good on details) – we get to know Pender and Marie the most. They are presented quite sympathetically and we like them, but we feel for them as we watch them skip down that well known road to hell that is paved with good intentions.

We know this is not going to end well, and yet we wish it somehow could.

There is a third perspective on all of this, which makes it possible for us to spend some energy rooting for the kidnappers. They didn’t mean to hurt anyone, but the mob hired hit man who is sent to get them, in an investigation that parallels the official one, really is a bad guy, and means to misbehave is serious ways.

It’s acceptable for us to prefer the kidnappers to him and his cohort of killers.

If you’re trying to figure out just where this Vancouver based writer might fit in your library, he has impressive list of cover blurbs from other people who work this genre, including Steve Berry, Jonathan Kellerman, John Lescroart, John Sandford and Lee Child. There aren’t often that many for a first novel.

 

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Bookends: The Many Mysteries of Promise Falls December 28, 2018

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Bookends: The Many Mysteries of Promise Falls

By Dan Davidson

January 24, 2018

– 736 words –

 

 

Broken Promise

Broken Promise

By Linwood Barclay

512 pages

Doubleday paperback

Kindle edition

$9.99

 

Far From True

Far from True

By Linwood Barclay

 

480 pages

Doubleday paperback

Kindle edition

$9.99

 

The Twenty-Three

By Linwood BarclayThe Twenty-Three

464 pages

Doubleday paperback

Kindle edition

$9.99

 

Having read all of these, one after the other (because I really wanted to know what the heck was going on) I think I have to warn you to have all three on hand or on your e-book reader of choice before you begin the first one. The Promise Falls Trilogy, as it is being called, is probably best described as one long novel.

I want to talk first about the narrative style, which is interesting. Each book is a blend of first and third person narratives, with each book choosing a different first person narrator along with numerous third person points of view (POV).

The chief protagonists are, in order through the books: David Harwood, an out of work reporter; Cal Weaver, a small time private investigator; and Barry Duckworth, a detective with the local police force. We see them through their own eyes, and also through the eyes of each other and those of several other third person viewpoints that weave through the three books.

Each book also begins with a statement from the person behind most – but not all – of the bad things that are happening in the town. Each is a teaser: “I hate this town.”; “They ain’t seen nothin’ yet.”; “I know I won’t be able to get them all. But I hope I’ll be able to get enough.”

It’s clear from the very start that whoever is thinking those words believes he has some kind of vengeance owed to him or her, but just what that might be about, and who she or he might be, is hidden until very near the end. There are lots of red herrings, though.

Davis Harwood’s personal mystery begins when he discovers that his emotionally challenged sister (still suffering from a miscarriage) is suddenly in possession of a year old baby she claims to have received from an angel. When the real mother is found murdered, David, who has been forced to take a job as campaign manager for the former mayor of the town, a man he despises, has the task of finding out what has really happened.

Barry Duckworth has been plagued by this same disgraced politico, but he has to admit that whoever killed 23 small animals and hung them from a fence does seem to be sending some kind of a message. There are a couple of murders that also seem to have the number 23 connected to them. He has the niggling feeling that something is going on, but when we first meet him he seems almost more concerned with the need to stay away from donuts. In the first two books we are nearly tempted to write him off, but he improves over time.

Cal Weaver is marginally involved in the first book, but becomes the first person narrator after the opening sequence in book two. This is when someone blows up the support beams at the drive-in theatre on its very last night of operation, killing two people and injuring others when the heavy screen collapses on the cars in the very front row. By date and time of day, this too has a 23 connection, but Weaver doesn’t know about that until later.

The climax comes in the final book, on Memorial Day, which I have to tell you is May 23, because why would Canadian readers know that. Suddenly scores of people are stricken with a strange malady resulting In vomiting, dizziness, loss of consciousness, and eventual death. The hospital is swamped and no one can figure out why. This is Duckworth’s turn as narrator, though the other two still have their third person POV chapters.

Each book is part of the larger 23 plot, which eventually gets resolved, but each also has one or more mysteries of its own, which are dealt with in that book and focus more specifically on either Harwood, Weaver or Duckworth.

Barclay has apparently decided that he likes these characters, and this setting, and has returned to use Cal Weaver in two stand-alone mysteries. Harwood has also been used in a book that predates this trilogy. That’s not surprising, as Barclay has created several series in the past, including the lighter and more humorous Zack Walker novels, and two about the Archer family.

 

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