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Bookends: Headhunting the Police stirs emotions February 11, 2016

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Bookends: Headhunting the Police stirs emotions

By Dan Davidson

LIfe for a LifeNovember 25, 2015

– 770 words –

 

Life for a Life

By T. Frank Muir

Chicago Review Press

392 pages

$17.95

There is a pattern here that is common to most British police procedurals. The lead character, often middle rank with a few people working under him, will have lost his wife, either due to job pressures or infidelity (his or hers). Chances are he drinks too much, and knows it. He’s lonely. He may or may not be good looking enough to be pursued by some female associate. He’s quite bright, but probably a tad reckless and may get himself in over his head.

DCI Andrew Gilchrist of the Fife Constabulary in Saint Andrews, which my British bus tour experience tells me has lots of golf courses, can check off most of these boxes. It was his wife who was unfaithful, and that was probably dealt with in one of the three books that came before this one. Since the separation he’s had an affair with one of his subordinates, and that didn’t go well. The ramifications are lurking in the background of this book and do surface a bit at the end.

Andrew is gun shy about relationships. This seems to be due to his divorce and to that interoffice fling I mentioned. What he has to be nervous about is a very amorous and desirable medical examiner, who keeps coming on to him throughout the book. They have known each other, in the Biblical sense, just once, and he’d love to know more, but she’s married and it feels to him just too much like what his wife did, or at least that’s how it comes across.

Gilchrist has a new assistant in this book, a very edgy younger woman named Jessica Janes, who is, of course, nicknamed Jesse. She has a deaf and dumb son for whom she would do anything, and a clutch of really nasty relatives, a mum and two brothers, criminals all, who keep intruding on her life.

Jesse’s son Robert’s ambition is to become a stand-up comedian, or at least a writer of that sort of material. So Jesse has been helping him by trying out his stuff in clubs. She is not very good at it, and the jokes aren’t that great either, but it does show us how devoted she is to the young man.

Where Gilchrist deviates from the DCI template I outlined earlier is that he’s actually quite kind, in a sort of George Gently way. He actually cares about the people he works with, tries to understand them, and puts up with a fair bit of crap from Jesse in order to bring out the best in her as a detective and partner.

So here I am, halfway through this column and I haven’t even begun to the plot. Tells you what I liked most about the story, doesn’t it?

It’s a really ugly murder story, and it begins with a two and half page opening sequence that has a young woman running – unsuccessfully – for her life.

Initially, it’s a murder with what seem to be not clues, no motives, not even an identity. This is kind of where Jesse, newly transferred in from another region, comes in handy, because she’s seen something like this before, and that little end of a thread is just enough for the locals to pull on and begin to find other connections.

These a human trafficking ring. It’s super nasty, so much so that we eventually learn even the upper echelons of the local ungodly don’t want anything to do with the people behind it. Later on in the book Gilchirst has an absolutely chilling meeting with the local regional crime boss that really underlines how nasty his suspects are.

Because their local activities have been uncovered, even to a small degree, these lowlifes have decided to roll up their entire operation and start fresh elsewhere. To them this means eliminating all the girls, all the middle persons they used in setting up their base camps, and anyone that might have developed even the slightest of clues as to what they were up to.

That means they’ve decided to target the police, and they do it in a style somewhat reminiscent of the ISIS killings we’ve seen some many of recently.

The story goes off in some directions that I didn’t expect it to, and some of the solutions that are arrived at seem to be as a result of good luck rather than good planning, but life’s like that a lot of the time, so I really didn’t mind.

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Bookends: This inheritance turns out to be a mixed blessing February 7, 2016

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Bookends: This inheritance turns out to be a mixed blessing

By Dan DavidsonBrass Verdict copy

November 3, 2015

– 933 words –

 

The Brass Verdict

By Michael Connelly

592 pages

Grand Central Publishing

$10.00

 

It’s been almost two years since I read The Lincoln Lawyer (2005), the first of the Mickey Haller novels. My Connelly library up to that point had all been the Harry Bosch novels, and I wasn’t sure if books about the lawyer would be as interesting as books about the cop. I needn’t have worried.

The time span is about right for reading this book. It’s been a year since Mickey nearly got himself disbarred for the events of the first book. He was sort of suspended; “sent to Cuba” was the phrase used, for the 90 day punishment that stretched out to 365 plus. In between he got hooked on the painkillers that he initially started taking to deal with the pain from the gunshot wound he got at the end of the first book.

As we meet him in this book he’s a recovering addict, a guy who doesn’t really feel like he’s ready to reenter the courtroom.

We actually begin with a scene from his past, a time when he destroyed the career of DA Jack Vincent by exploding what was supposed to be an open and shut case in front of the whole world. Vincent crossed the floor to defense practice and made a whole lot more money at it, so he ended up thanking Mickey for the career change.

Over the intervening years they worked together in a collegial manner, occasionally covering each others’ cases. Even so, it was a bit of a shock when Vincent was murdered and Mickey found himself designated the heir to his friend’s practice, office and the works.

In some ways this is a rare gift, a chance to get back in to the lawyer life without having to build up a new client list. On the other hand, the style is weird. Haller likes to work out of the spacious and office equipped back seats of a small fleet of Lincolns, and having a physical office feels weird.

Furthermore, it soon seems to become clear that Vincent died because he was too close to some secrets, and there are people who feel that Mickey must have inherited those along with everything else, so there’s the question of a potential threat to his life.

The biggest of the cases Haller inherited is the defense of Walter Elliot, a prominent studio executive charged with killing his wife and her lover. Elliot is adamant that he didn’t do it, but he is also uncomfortably certain that he won’t be convicted, and Mickey is never quite sure what to make of him.

Meanwhile, just to make the book really interesting, the homicide detective assigned to that case is none other than Harry (Hieronymus) Bosch. Something about that name, its association with the 15th century Dutch artist, and just the general air about Bosch seems awfully familiar to Mickey, but he doesn’t pin it down until quite late in the story. You won’t either unless you have a better memory than I did and recall a scene from the The Black Ice, the second of the Bosch novels, way back in 1993. It really is playing a long game when an author pulls a rabbit out of a 15 year old hat to close a plot circle in a book published in 2008.

There’s a lot to puzzle over here. On the mystery side there’s the Elliot case, along with several others that play out as sidebars just to show Haller getting back on the horse and learning to ride again. There’s the mystery of Vincent’s death, and Bosch’s insistence that the FBI is somehow involved.

On the Scooby gang side, there’s the reactivation of Haller’s team, which includes one of his ex-wives, Lorna, as his office manager and her lover, Cisco, as his investigator.

On the personal side there’s his fragile relationship with his other ex-wife, Maggie, who just happens to be a prosecuting attorney and who, more importantly, in the mother of his daughter, Hayley. Haller keeps trying to fix up that side his life, but his success rate is patchy, to say the least.

With his daughter, Haller has to deal with a bit of an existential conundrum, summed up as, and I’m not exactly quoting, “If Mommy works to put the bad guys away and you work to let them go free, who’s right?” Truth to tell, Maggie has the same problem with him.

Mickey’s in recovery from his addiction, from being out of the game for months and from having a lot of trouble really dealing with people on an emotional level. He sees it as a lack of empathy on his part, maybe from years of dealing with clients who never seem to tell him the truth.

There’s a sign that he is getting a bit better fairly early in the book. One of the clients he’s inherited is a surfer named Patrick who has fallen on hard times and has been busted for jewel theft. Mickey figures out a way to get him out of trouble, gives him a job as his driver, and even manages to reclaim one of his favourite boards for him.

That’s a really minor plot point, but it does show a bit of character development.

To find out how everything else turns out, why Bosch seemed so familiar to him and what the heck the title means, you’ll just have to read the book.

 

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Bookends: Murder and Mystery at the Top of the World February 7, 2016

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Bookends: Murder and Mystery at the Top of the World

By Dan Davidson

October 28, 2015

– 986 words –Sundown

 

Sundown on Top of the World

By R.E. Donald

Proud Horse Publishing

306 pages

$18.95

 

R.E. Donald’s latest mystery begins in 1972, near Johnson’s Crossing, Yukon. RCMP Constable Hunter Rayne has been called to investigate a disappearance at a trapper’s cabin off in the woods. Another trapper has found what looked like a death scene at the cabin owned by Martin Blake and has brought Rayne out there by snowmobile to investigate. Rayne finds what appears to be the site of a bear attack. No sign of the Blake’s body, but lots of blood.

There are also pretty clear indications that there had been a young woman at the cabin. The photo tacked to the wall gives Rayne a shiver that will stay with him for years. He had known April, the pretty young waitress he had never quite got round to asking out in Whitehorse. There’s no sign of her either.

There’s never any sign of either body, and the case remains unresolved for the next 25 years, though Rayne thinks about it often. He was a dedicated officer, too dedicated for the good of his marriage, which happened and failed in the intervening years, leaving him the part time father of two grown daughters.

Somewhere along the way a good friend and fellow Mountie killed himself and Rayne soured on the investigative life. He took up long-haul trucking as a way of making a living, but he’s not quite able to shake the skills and instincts he had spent so many years developing, and so he often finds himself knee-deep in mysteries along his routes.

This one takes him back to the Yukon, with his ne’er do well buddy Dan “Sorry” Sorenson riding shotgun. Sorry’s in a sorry state, having just lost yet another job and been kicked out of the house by his wife. Rayne could use the company, although sometimes Sorry is more of a nuisance than he’s worth.

Before we begin the buddy road trip that is supposed to go north to Fairbanks, we make a stop just south of Eagle, along the Yukon River, where old Betty Salmon lives with Goldie, the girl she has raised since she was a baby. Goldie’s a young woman now, and getting itchy feet, hankers for the bright lights. She loves her Gran dearly, but is annoyed that she won’t tell her anything about her actual parents.

Rayne and Sorry break down in Whitehorse. Having to wait several days for parts and repairs, they borrow an SUV and do a little sight seeing: Chicken and then Eagle. There, Rayne is startled to see a young woman the spitting image of the one whose disappearance has haunted him for years. He is convinced she must be April’s daughter. Further, he has been obsessed with that old cold case ever since he crossed the Yukon border, and is now determined to solve it.

His is not the only backstory that we get in this book. Betty has had a very hard life, and we spend a good deal of time in her memories, establishing how she got to be who and where she is. Eventually we learn where Goldie entered the picture and what happened to April, but it all comes in good time, and there are some sidebar tales that also need to be told.

There’s Oliver’s story. He’s a Brit who came to the Yukon to find gold and ended up finding what he thinks is a pretty golden life but, at Betty’s age, he’s finding the wilderness trapping lifestyle a bit hard and so he has set out to travel. He’s a great old guy and he takes a shine to Betty when he arrives in Eagle. Wonder of wonders, especially after we hear about her life, she likes him too, but it appears he might have a dark secret – perhaps a murder – in his past.

The old couple leave town when Rayne starts coming around sounding for all the world like cop in civvies. Oliver doesn’t actually meet him, but gets skittish any way. Oliver gets himself arrested in Chicken and taken back to Whitehorse, where Rayne is planted in his cell as a miner in trouble is order to draw a story out of the polite old man. Rayne becomes convinces he didn’t kill the bar owner who died, but that he is protecting someone that he thinks did do it.

So, there’s the original 25 year old cold case, the question of where Goldie came from, the murder Oliver’s accused of and – oh yes – the search for Betty, who has taken off up river in an under powered motor boat to retrieve some documents she now believes she has to give to Goldie.

In addition, there’s the rehabilitation of Sorry, who is kind of comic relief and more than a bit of a pain through much of the narrative, but who turns out to have actually learned something from the near death of his family life and ends up playing an important role in Oliver’s story.

There’s a lot going on in this book, and Ruth Donald has done a great job of weaving it all together in an engaging way.

The settings are all a little off, but she has wisely chosen to concentrate on the ambience of the places rather than the specifics, and so her accounts of Whitehorse, Dawson, Chicken and Eagle have a good feel to them even if they are somewhat vague. Being set nearly 20 years ago helps achieve that.

Sundown on Top of the World is the fourth book in the Hunter Rayne series. Each of them features the former Mountie finding a mystery along a particular road. The earlier titles are Slow Curve on the Coquihalla, Ice on the Grapevine and Sea to Sky.

 

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Bookends: The Resurrection of Derrick Storm February 7, 2016

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Bookends: The Resurrection of Derrick StormStorm Front

By Dan Davidson

October 7, 2015

– 852 words –

 

Storm Front

By Richard Castle

Narrated by Robert Petkoff

Unabridged: 10 hrs and 36 mins

Hyperion Audiobooks

320 pages in print editions

 

In the television series Castle, Richard Castle is a successful and very wealthy writer of thrillers and murder mysteries who has based his second successful series of books on the life and cases of the woman who is his wife, NYPD detective Kate Beckett. In the books she is Nikki Heat and he is Jameson Rook.

In the real world the owners of the series, the ABC network, have done what they did for the Murder She Wrote series some years ago and have produced a series of novels, the ones that keep getting mentioned on the TV show, and have released them, to considerable success, as if they were written by Richard Castle. They’ve been releasing one a year and are currently up to book 7 in the series.

Castle’s original success, however, was in James Bondish spy thrillers featuring a character called Derrick Storm, a complete list of whose actually never published adventures can be found on the Richard Castle Wikipedia page.

Castle went all Conan Doyle on Storm and bumped him off after 10 books – or did he?

The premise of this book and the three e-book novellas that came before it, is that he didn’t. Like Holmes at the Reichenbach Falls, CIA operative Storm faked his death and went into hiding for four years, only recently emerging to take on some cases for his mysterious boss in a very Black Ops branch of the CIA.

We meet him in Venice, posing as a gondolier in order to trap a British civil servant about to give up some state secrets. That adventure is wrapped up pretty quickly, and we segue to the first of a series of brutal torture and murder scenes in Tokyo, London, and Johannesburg, during which a thoroughly nasty man with a Russian accent is extracting codes from a number of men who happen to be high level bankers and stock traders. Just what this is all about is something we will learn later.

Storm is tasked to attend a gathering in Paris and determine just what is going on with these deaths. While there he strikes up a relationship with a Chinese agent named (Ian Fleming would love it) Ling Xi Bang (yes – shebang).

On to London, where the pair find themselves on opposing sides in another murder investigation, an encounter which ultimately leads them to travel to the United States and uncover the work of an economist who has developed a theory that could lead to the world’s financial meltdown.

It emerges that there is a way to temporarily collapse the value of the US dollar, make a killing in the markets, and them put it all back together again. A New York hedge-fund manager by the name of G (for Graham – oh, why not?) Whitely Cracker has hired a villain named Gregor Volkov to obtain for him the six codes necessary to set this up. Cracker, meantime, has bribed a US Senator to get a bill passed that will limit the ability of the Federal Reserve system to counteract the plan he has in mind.

Volkov, of course, has his own plans for the windfall – no less than a coup to take over the government of Russia – and has gone completely off the rails.

To further complicate matters, an entirely separate CIA investigation, involving Storm’s old flame, Clara Strike, has been investigating Cracker for other reasons, but has no idea what he has actually been up to.

Further still, Cracker, an arrogant man who doesn’t realize how overbearing he is, has acquired a number of enemies on his climb to financial success, and one of them has been plotting his downfall for years.

There are very Bondish moments in this story: a hand to hand fight on an unfinished skyscraper, a chase through a subway tunnel, a car chase (with bullets and explosions) on a New Jersey turnpike; a stealth assault on a warehouse where hostages are being held, and a battle royal in a passenger jet.

There are a lot of fan service nods to the Castle TV show. Nikki Heat and Jameson Rook turn up at a murder scene in New York. Two of Storm’s boss’s aids share the names of the secondary detectives on Castle, and the now deceased captain of the precinct, Roy Montgomery, is name-checked.

While this feels a lot like the work of the creator behind the Nikki Heat books, it also has an entirely different flavour. The Heat books are like the TV show, police procedurals with a touch of romance. The sex scenes in this book are actually tamer than those between Rook and Heat, but the action is very much of the Bond and Bourne variety, and the book covers a lot more ground.

I don’t know if I would have enjoyed reading this book, but the audio production was well done and saw me there and back again on a recent trip to the city.

 

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Bookends: Murder and Intrigue in the Deep South February 7, 2016

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Bookends: Murder and Intrigue in the Deep South

By Dan Davidson

September 23, 2015

– 923 words-

 

Natchez BurningNatchez Burning

By Greg Iles

Harper

865 pages

$12.50

 

When he’s not hanging out with Stephen King and playing garage band rock and roll as part of the Rock Bottom Remainders (they’re all writers) Greg Iles is busy turning his home town of Natchez, a small city of about 16,000 souls, into a place with as much mystery and intrigue as King’s beloved state of Maine.

Iles doesn’t play the supernatural card very often, though he did earlier in his career, but he does believe in the power of evil and is well aware of the ambivalence with which even good men sometimes find their way through the world.

Penn Cage, former prosecuting attorney, best-selling novelist, and currently (in the 2005 world of this book) the mayor of Natchez, is one of those men. He means well, but sometimes choses to let the end justify the means, and that doesn’t always work out for him.

While much of this book does take place in 2005, just after Hurricane Katrina savaged New Orleans, its roots are in 1963, when racial bigotry caused the death of a fine old man who only wanted to run his music store and help some down and out young men find a career fixing and playing instruments.

One of those young men had the temerity to have an affair with the white girl, the daughter of a powerful white man connected to the Double Eagles, one of the more violent offshoots of the Ku Klux Klan. Albert Norris tried to hide that boy from Brody Royal’s vengeance and died a fiery death in payment.

That death, and a number of other race related murders, sit at the back of much of what goes on in this novel, and we’re never allowed to forget it for very long.

Cage’s immediate problem, however, is that his father, Dr. Tom, is being accused of having murdered the woman who was his faithful nurse for many years back in the 1960s, around the time of Norris’ murder. Viola, dying of cancer, had come back to Natchez from Chicago to ask her former boss (and we knew almost immediately that they must once have been lovers) to help her come to a more peaceful end.

Penn Cage has no qualms about euthanasia, He’s quite sure that his father eased his own wife’s passage to peace when the cancer was killing her, and he’s always been grateful for that, even if it left him a single parent for some years. Since then he has found a new love in Caitlin, the wealthy publisher of a local newspaper, and they are planning marriage, much to the delight of his pre-teen daughter.

But Viola did not go gentle into that good night. She died hard, and her final moments were caught on video tape. It’s 2005 and assisted suicide is still a crime in Natchez, Mississippi, but this is worse. It looks like murder, and Viola’s son, who might just also be Tom’s son, has come down from Chicago breathing fire and looking for several varieties of revenge. He says Tom murdered Viola.

To one side of all of this is Henry Sexton, a reporter at a smaller town’s paper. He was a young man mesmerized by Norris’ daughter in the 1960s, and he has always wanted to solve the spate of murders and disappearances that took place around that same time and bring the villains to justice.

Penn Cage is at the centre of this story, and his chapters are given to us in the first person and present tense. Iles uses a limited third person past tense narrative style to take us into the minds of his other central characters: Henry, Caitlin, Tom Cage, and various of the villains. It’s an effective strategy for broadening the reach of the storyteller, and Iles uses it well.

When I’m flying I need something to take my mind of the fact that I’m 30,000 odd feet in the air and that those bumps are not the wheels of my truck on a Yukon Highway. Sometimes the in-flight video system will do it for me. Sometimes writing a story on my iPad works the magic. But there’s nothing quite like a good book. With a really good book I can go to a place where a bit of turbulence is an annoyance because it keeps me from focusing on the page rather than causing me to get the chills.

Natchez Burning was one of those books. Over the course of half a dozen takeoffs and landings during my month away from home, Greg Iles deviously plotted legal thriller kept me company and helped to pass the time. I’d finished all but about 150 pages of its 865 by the time we got back home.

There have been several novels featuring Penn Cage, and others in which he is a peripheral character, since Iles stopped sight-seeing around the world and the nation and focussed his sights on his home town. This book has a lot of loose plot threads and is the beginning of a trilogy. Book two, The Bone Tree, is already out in hardcover. His website reports the third book nearly finished and that this book has been optioned for a cable TV series. While the 2005 portions of the book take place in less than a week, it would take a dozen or so episodes to do it justice.

 

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Bookends: Jack Reacher Gets Personal January 28, 2016

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Bookends: Jack Reacher Gets Personal

By Dan Davidson

August 26, 2015

– 840 words –

 

PersonalPersonal

(with bonus short story “Not a Drill”)

By Lee Child

Dell Books

544 pages

$10.79

Kindle Edition: $11.90

 

The Jack Reacher novels defy the usual conventions of series’ story telling in that they are given to us in two distinctly different voices. If memory serves, most of the books are third person narratives, but some of them aren’t. Some are written in the first person, and with a title like Personal, I guess that fits for this, the nineteenth book in the series.

The other unusual thing about this series is that it jumps all over the place in terms of chronological sequence. The first book to appear was Killing Floor, back in 1997, but a suggested reading order (yet to be amended) on Wikipedia, tells us that the first novel in the series was The Enemy, published in 2004, and that Killing Floor is two books later in time.

On top of that disjunction, there are a number of short stories that predate the first novel, tales of Reacher’s military service and one reaching back to when he was a boy. These stories seem to appear mostly in the e-book editions of the novels, and perhaps their addition to these explains why the virtual version of Personal is more expensive than the physical paperback.

The story here is personal in a number of very important ways. General Tom O’Day wants Reacher to work for him on an international case. Reacher is a rootless wanderer, so O’Day uses a rather clever method of finding him, and the story begins with that.

Shortly, we discover that someone has taken a shot at the president of France, who was only saved by a special type of bulletproof glass. It was a very long range shot, which only an extreme marksman could have made. There are four possibilities, and one of them is John Kott, a military killer that Reacher had put away during his military police days, but who is now released.

We learn that Kott has an obsessive hatred of Reacher, which leaves our hero feeling he is being drawn into this case as potential bait, but he feels responsible, so he takes it on in spite of his distaste for O’Day and his methods.

His assigned CIA partner on this case is a young CIA agent with the improbable (and very Ian Flemingish) name of Casey Nice. Since there is usually a temporary romance in a Reacher novel, we expect one here, but instead Reacher treats her as a protégé, becoming a mentor to her ingénue role. This shows us a side of Reacher that we have seen before, but not very often.

The first person narrative style demands that the writer give us the internal workings of a man’s mind and heart, and not merely his actions. In the third person narratives, Reacher often comes across as a force of nature, his size, strength and endurance being key factors in his success. Analysis and the application of intelligence somehow seem to be secondary factors. In this book, as in the other first person narratives, the order is reversed, and we learn that he has thought through as many angles of a situation as he can before he acts, most of the time anyway.

Reacher and Nice are off to Paris first, where the sniper strikes again, this time missing Reacher by inches. They move on to England, where the intelligence analysts believe the shooter has been hired to kill someone at the next G8 Summit, which will be held in London.

In a very brief time the pair find themselves accosted by two different local criminal gangs who seem to have banded together to assist the sniper. They are sort of working with a British SAS agent named Bennett, as they are there unofficially and have to fly under the radar. As the story develops it becomes clear that Reacher has figured out that things are not what they have been portrayed to be, but I don’t think most readers will figure out exactly why that is until they hit the twist at the end of the story, long after we expect the tale to have been completed.

The bonus short story at the end of this e-book was “Not a Drill”. It’s set sometime before the novel and, as it is a third person narrative, really points up those differences I mentioned at the top of this review. Reacher is hiking near the New Brunswick border when he get involved with a trio of Canadian tourists and a mysterious military quarantine of the hiking trail they wanted to travel. Again, the title is pretty much a clue as to how the story will turn out. Things are not what they seem, and there’s another double twist in the very short plot. Lots of fun though.

This was great airplane reading. It almost let me ignore the rough spots in the ride to Calgary last week.

 

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Bookends: This caper depends on following the money January 28, 2016

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Bookends: This caper depends on following the money

By Dan Davidson

August 5, 2015

– 880 words –

 

King and Maxwell

By David BaldacciKing and Maxwell

576 pagesGrand Central Publishing

$9.90
Hachette Audio edition

Unabridged reading

Narrated By Ron McLarty and Orlagn Cassidy Orlagn Cassidy

12 hrs and 56 mins

$28.00

 

This is number six in Baldacci’s King and Maxwell series, yet it is, oddly enough, the first to have only that as the book title. Perhaps this is a result of the short-lived television series that put faces on the characters. In the introduction, the author says he felt those actors really captured the characters as he had imagined them.

Sean King and Michelle Maxwell are both former Secret Service agents who have set up a private detectives. King is the older of the two by a few years, has been married before and is a bit of a neatness freak.

Maxwell is messy. Her desk is a disaster and the back seat of her crew cab truck is a landfill. Frequent references are made to the disparity between the two of them. They the odd couple of the detective world.

King, who is also a former lawyer, is a meticulous planner, thinks on both sides of all issues and acts when he feels he has as much as possible figured out.

Maxwell is impetuous, acts before thinking, drives like a NASCAR racer. She’s also a former Olympian athlete and much more physical than her partner. She was gravely injured during their last case, and is still in recovery.

They are immensely fond of each other, in love probably, but they tiptoe around the line between business and friendship. They did cross it once, apparently, and have never felt right about it since.

And yet. Maxwell shows all the signs of being a jealous lover when this case causes them to cross paths with King’s ex-wife, Dana, who is a walking man trap. She just can’t believe that King’s only interest in her at this point in professional.

Perhaps it isn’t entirely. King feels a keen sense of personal responsibility when Dana is shot and nearly killed while using her connections in the military (her second husband is a general) to get some information for the detectives.

There are a couple of distinct narratives going on here. We actually start in the Middle East, where a soldier named Sam Wingo is hauling a very precious cargo to a carefully planned destination. His operation goes sideways when he is met by men claiming to work for the CIA, who tell him the plans have been changed. He escapes from them, but loses the cargo, which is a whole lot of money in Euro bills. Back home he is held responsible for it, and has to go to ground to try and find out what really happened. His adventures while getting back to the States form interludes in the main story.

When his high school age son, Tyler, is told that his father is dead, missing in action, he is devastated and runs off into the night, which is where our detectives almost run him over in the middle of a pounding rainstorm.

It turns out, just a bit later on, that Tyler has received a coded email message from his father with a time and date stamp well after the day he was supposed to have died. Tyler decides to hire King and Maxwell to find out what is really going on.

Almost as soon as they take the case, weird things start happening. Homeland Security comes down on them like a ton of bricks. The FBI suddenly takes an interest in their doings. They start spending time in interrogation rooms being questioned and threatened, but no charges are ever laid.

Aside from officialdom, they find themselves the targets of a hit squad made up of former military types who do not hesitate to unload on them in a mall food court, killing a mall cop, and wounding another, along with King’s ex, who was meeting with them at the time.

In a third strand of the narrative, we spend time with the mysterious mastermind behind all this, who has very personal reasons and goals what has nevertheless become an operation with international ramifications.

There are many twists and turns in this tale, a number of shoot-outs and no end of complex skullduggery.

The use of two readers is a nice touch. Ron McLarty handles the main narration and all the male voices, of course. There are a good half dozen of those, from older military types all the way back to Tyler Wingo. There is also a former client of theirs named Edgar Roy, whose computer and code breaking skills are instrumental in solving the case.

Orlagn Cassidy provides the voices for all the women. Again, this ranges from the hard edged Maxwell to lascivious Dana, several other wives, Tyler’s stepmother and his high school sweetheart.

As there is a lot of conversation in this book, having two readers was a good plan and both of them have a lot of work to do.

This was a great book to listen to on a recent road trip. I had read several of Baldacci’s Camel Club mysteries, but this series has a different flavour.

 

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Bookends: Globe trotting in order to follow the money January 28, 2016

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Bookends: Globe trotting in order to follow the money

By Dan Davidson

July 29, 2015

– 787 words –

 The Water Rat Of Wanchai and The Dragon Head Of Hong Kong

By Ian HamiltonWater Rat

584 pages

Anansi

$14.54

Kindle edition- $9.99

I don’t suppose it actually matters what order you read these stories in. The Water Rat Of Wanchai was actually the first of the Ava Lee mysteries to be written, and it won the Arthur Ellis Award for best first crime novel. The Dragon Head Of Hong Kong is actually a novella, but it is set 10 years earlier and tells the story of how Ava Lee met the Hong Kong patron and partner who is generally referred to as Uncle in the books. While he does appear in the pages in person from time to time, he’s sort of Charlie to her one-woman Angel.

Ava Lee is a 115 pound Chinese-Canadian lesbian forensic accountant. She is the product of an odd (to Canadians) family arrangement in which her father (who lives in Hong Kong) has several wives and multiple families which he maintains in great comfort at different points around the globe. Lee happens to live in Toronto, but her job as a financial recovery expert takes her all over the world.

In this, the 69 year old Hamilton, a Welsh born Canadian, takes advantage of his earlier careers in journalism, the federal and provincial civil services and private enterprise, careers which have caused him to travel to and work in 30 different countries. As a result, Lee travels all over the world as part of the collection service she runs with Uncle.

In that first book she travels first to the Far East and then to Guyana in search of some misappropriated funds that a seafood company owes to her client. Lee’s method is to track the money and then find some way to persuade the crook or crooks to return it. She may simply steal it back electronically (since there is very little physical currency involved) or she may force the culprit to do it for her.

Sine she happens to be petite and gorgeous, men (and women) tend to underestimate her. “Though she be but little, she is fierce” as was said of Hermia in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. In the course of this adventure she runs up against the bullying brother of Captain Robbins, the corrupt police official who runs Guyana, and when that brother tries to strong-arm her she totally incapacitates him using a very lethal form of martial arts.

Robbins is not the target of her recovery scheme, but she needs to use him to get to the man who is, and when the Captain decides to get his own slice of the financial pie he tries to turn the tables on her.

Outsmarting Robbins, a formidable adversary indeed, turns out to be more difficult than she had thought it would be, but she does accomplish it and recovers the missing money in the end.

With The Water Rat, readers were asked to jump right in the deep end with a character unlike most of those they may have met. Some reviews compare her to Stieg Larson’s Lisbeth Salandar, but aside from her skill with computers, her size and physical prowess, there’s not much similarity. Lee is a well adjusted individual who knows who she is and has no difficulty dealing with people.

After he had produced seven books in the series (about two a year – he says writing is just his favourite thing ever) Hamilton backed up and wrote the novella which has been bundled with this reissue of the Water Rat. The Dragon Head Of Hong Kong takes us back to Lee’s first venture in financial repo work. At that point she is a trained forensic accountant who has found that she can’t stand working within the confines of an agency, so she strikes out on her own, handling mostly minor accountancy clients, but at least setting her own rules, even if the clientele is mostly referrals from friends of the family.

One of her clients, Hedrick Lo, has been swindled out of more than a million dollars by a Chinese importer named Johnny Kung, so she travels to Hong Kong to try to retrieve it. It emerges that Kung has also fallen afoul of the Uncle, and the two end up collaborating on a scheme to get him to cough up his ill-gotten gains. This, as Humphrey Bogart said to Claude Raines in Casablanca, turns out to be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

I’ll be looking for more of these, and I’ve already given my wife an omnibus edition (KOBO this time) for her birthday.

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Bookends: Living with the Consequences of Disaster January 28, 2016

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Bookends: Living with the Consequences of Disaster

By Dan Davidson

Back of the TurtleJuly 8, 2015

– 895 words –

 

The Back of the Turtle

By Thomas King

HarperCollins

518 pages

$33.99

Thomas King’s latest novel begins one day at first light, a portentous day in which one man would try to kill himself, watched by two individuals as he headed for the beach and the rock formation where he hoped to be engulfed by the tide.

Watching him are a man named Nicholas Crisp and a dog which will acquire a number of names as the story progresses. Crisp is a man of indeterminate age who speaks in a strangely antique tongue and is a catalytic figure during his interactions with the others on this British Columbia coastline. This part of the book takes place near a deserted town that used to be known as the Smoke River Reserve, but is more commonly known now as The Ruin.

The man who is trying to physically drown himself is Gabriel Quinn, a brilliant scientist of First Nations lineage who is drowning in guilt. For some time now he has been conflicted about the work he has done for the Domidion company, particularly in the area of defoliants. He has been making lists of environmental disasters and the realization that his own chemical, called Greensweep. has, in fact, devastated the place where he grew up, has pushed him over the edge.

Quite by accident, he ends up saving the lives of some boat people on that very night, and his plan is postponed until at least the next high tide. He is still determined to do himself in as a penance, but meeting Mara causes him to delay his plans.

Mara is a Native woman who also grew up in Smoke River, and was living elsewhere when the Ruin destroyed the place, killing all the wildlife, the turtles which used to lay their eggs on the beach and, ultimately, most of the people who lived there. She has returned to try to reclaim some of her old life.

She and Quinn come into contact with each other, and with Crisp and the dog. The old man spends a lot of time trying to get the two of them to see possibilities in life, rather than just digging themselves deeper in sorrow. A lot of this involves retellings of the Turtle Island legend.

There are two other strands to the story, and they are sort of commentary and comic relief.

At the beach there is Sonny, a mentally unstable young man whose favorite pastime is hitting things (wham-wham!) with a hammer. He has deluded himself into thinking that he is looking after a derelict hotel with his father, who is, in fact, not there at all. His antics are often humorous, but we never quite figure out why he is the way he is.

In Toronto we spend some equally confusing time with Domidion CEO Dorian Asher, an extremely narcissistic man whose main concerns in life seen to be shopping, pleasing himself, and making sure that his company is never held responsible for any harm it might cause to the world.

It was a Domidion error – using many times too much of the chemical – that caused the Ruin. They have managed to cover that up so far. But Domidion is involved in the Athabasca Oil/Tar Sands mining in Alberta, and one of their settling ponds has just breached its dam. Others are about to follow.

As we follow Asher, it is clear that all of this is, to him, primarily an exercise in public relations. As long as they can stay ahead of the story, he can continue dining out, buying new watches and suits, moving to a bigger condo and puzzling over why his wife could possibly want to leave him.

He and his minions also puzzle over the whereabouts of one of the firms chief scientists, a fellow named Quinn. They can’t find any trace of him.

Asher’s portions of the book are perhaps the weakest parts. The other characters have developmental arcs – even Sonny to some degree – but I kept wishing that a safe would fall on the head of this cartoon character who seems to be totally devoid of any serious adult empathy for others. Maybe that was what King was aiming for.

It’s interesting that literary online accounts of this excellent 2014 book refer to it as the first novel King had produced after a 15 year detour into non-fiction. Since that detour produced a book of connected essays, The Truth about Stories, in 2003 (the Massey Lectures for that year, by the way), and two award winning books about the experience of First Nations people in Canadian history – A Short History of Indians in Canada (McNally Robinson Aboriginal Book of the Year Award in 2006) and The Inconvenient Indian (the RBC Taylor Prize in 2014) – I would say it was a worthwhile detour.

What puzzles me more though, is the total disregard for his foray into the mystery genre, the two books he published under the pen name of Hartley Goodweather. Dreadful Water Shows Up (2002) and The Red Power Murders: A DreadfulWater Mystery (2006) may not have quite the same Governor General’s Award winning cachet as The Back of the Turtle, but they are undoubtedly enjoyable novels and don’t deserve to be ignored.

 

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Bookends; Another look at the Kennedy assassination January 28, 2016

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Bookends; Another look at the Kennedy assassination

By Dan Davidson

June 24, 2015

– 797 words –

The Third BulletThird Bullet

by Stephen Hunter

Pocket Books

538 pages

$12.99

It’s a sign of how old Stephen Stills’ protest anthem, “For What it’s Worth” is, that it can now be used as the section headings in a thriller.

“There’s something happening here”

James Aptapton had no idea what sort of trouble he had got himself into when he started looking into the events of November 22, 1963, the day President Kennedy was killed. On the night that the Russian assassin in the high poweredApparently someone thought it would be too good a book. We’ll be a while learning just who that was.

“What it is ain’t exactly clear”

Bob Lee Swagger doesn’t want anything to do with the case that Aptapton’s wife
comes to Idaho to persuade him to take, but he becomes fascinated with it in spite of himself, because the book her husband had been going to work on dealt with a very old puzzle that that never set quite right with him.

It doesn’t hurt that as soon as he begins to poke around the clues that had inspired Aptapton, he finds himself the target of the same type of murder. Of course, because he’s expecting it, and because he is one of the best snipers ever trained, has survived to the age of 60+, and is very canny, things don’t work out well for the killer.

Travelling to Russia to track down why a Russian assassin would have been looking to kill him winds Swagger up in a whole bunch more trouble and provides him, though not us, with some essential clues. At this point he knows who must have actually shot Kennedy and has worked out a theory, based on his extensive knowledge of firearms and bullets, as to how it might have been done without leaving any evidence behind.

“There’s a man with a gun over there”

Now just where would that be? Why are the Russians involved? Where did the fatal bullet that finally killed Kennedy actually come from? Why is a thin tire mark on a hidden overcoat reeking of gun oil and found in the Daltex building, just down the street from the Texas Book Depository from which Oswald shot, significant?

It is in this third section of the book, more than half of the page count, that Swagger’s third person narrative begins to alternate with the first person memoirs of Hugh Meachum, a long retired and officially deceased CIA case officer, the man who ran Lee Harvey Oswald, recruited the real assassin, and actually masterminded the Kennedy assassination.

From here on we plunge into the past and follow Meachum’s narrative of what happened, how it was really all a bit of an accident until just a few days before the event. Meachum sees himself as a professional patriot and had set out to eliminate an entirely different person as a threat to national security, until fate dropped the Kennedy visit to Dallas right into the middle of his carefully worked out plot.

At the same time we are following Swagger’s progress in figuring it out, getting some pretty extensive technical lectures about rifles, scopes, suppressors and bullets, and yet, not actually being bored because there’s a lot going on and the past and present stories are coming together.

“Telling me I got to beware”

So we come to the denouement, brought to us in the final 30 or so pages of the book. It all comes together, but not quite the way case officer Meachum had planned. It’s quick but it doesn’t seem rushed, because we got there in such careful stages, but I’m not going to say very much about it.

The book concludes with Hunter’s 15 page analysis of why this theory works as a story, even if it might not be true. He also explains how tinkering with this idea years back actually led him to come up with the Swagger character in the first place and have him play the Oswald role (only with better results) in the first book of the series, Point of Impact, which later became the movie, Shooter.

Seven books and 10 years later, he decided to see what he could do with the actual Kennedy case. This was close to the same time that Stephen King was working on his massive time travel version in 11/22/63 and that book is referred to in this one.

They provide vastly different reading experiences but both books left me with the feeling that the writers had done a lot of work and had succeeded in telling a good story.

 

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