Sunday, February 11, 2018

Third Thriller from Douglas Schofield, KILLING PACE

Sometimes books arrive here for review after they've already been released -- and KILLING PACE is one of those. I wasn't wild about the title, and the (misleading) cover suggested a sort of Celtic time lapse ... but I finally opened the book and then quickly lost track of time, absorbed in this powerfully told and complicated page-turning thriller set in Florida and in Sicily. It's Douglas Schofield's third, but not part of a series; he tends to write female protagonists (and explains something about that here -- in ways that interest me a great deal). And his extensive background in criminal prosecution, as well as globe-trotting, makes him an ideal source for his own plots.

In KILLING PACE, a woman's been held near-prisoner by her presumed fiancé, but it only takes a small breath of freedom for her memories of another life to flood back. Soon we're chasing major criminals in Italy with a woman of another name who works for the U.S. Customs investigation team -- same person? Some answers flash quickly; others, like who's behind the crimes around her (parts smuggling; baby kidnapping) are slower to mesh. But the twists keep coming, and so does the action.

Let's say, for the sake of not throwing any spoilers, that at least one strong woman in KILLING PACE has an Italian grandmother, which gives her definite advantages when sleuthing in Italy, of course. Here's a sample from later in the book:
She could live with being the roughly assembled product of Silvana Pace's obsessions.

Law and justice ...

Today, Laura Pace was a fugitive from the law, hunted for crimes she didn't commit.

Law and justice ...

Today, a police officer had broken the law to prevent her from being arrested.

Law and justice ...

Tonight, she was lying in a bed in a safe house run by a secret United Nations intelligence until whose activities probably violated a score of U.S. federal statutes.

Nonna would completely understand.
Intrigued? It's quite a ride, really well written, and convinced me that I want to read more from this author! The publisher is Minotaur, and I'm sure there are more titles on the way.

PS: Looking for more mystery reviews, from cozy to very dark? Browse the Kingdom Books mysteries review blog here.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

New from Randall Silvis, WALKING THE BONES, Murder and Love

Last year's mystery from Randall Silvis was Two Days Gone, a superb work of compelling suspense that tested the impact of once-in-a-lifetime friendships, while also inquiring into how writers do that mysterious "slice open a vein" action and live to tell about it ... or not. Police Sergeant Ryan DeMarco's investigation led him into immense pain over the loss of his writer friend, and also across the line into killing a killer.

In this year's new Silvis offering, WALKING THE BONES, DeMarco is determined to recover from his losses -- and to get around to the foundational work that his romantic relationship with a fellow officer, Trooper Jayme Matson. It's already a fraught affair, taking place around his obvious case of depression and PTSD and haunted by his child's death and the way his wife has abandoned him (but not yet divorced him). Is there any chance he can regain enough health of heart -- emotional and physical -- to meet Jayme's expectations?

Things look rough -- but when a cabal of quirky justice seekers in Jayme's hometown of Aberdeen, Kentucky, enlist DeMarco to investigate the deaths of seven young women (only their bones remain), his sense of purpose moved back into position (and Jayme's egging it on).

The crimesolving here is well plotted and first rate. But the best strength of any Randall Silvis book is the growth of character, often through pain, and with much awareness of how fragile life can be. Here's a taste of WALKING THE BONES:
At sixteen [DeMarco] was still fleet of foot, and by then had gotten a name for himself as a street fighter thanks to his quick hands and footwork. His knuckles were still scarred fro some of those fights.

In the army he could do five miles with a full pack and still be the first man to the showers. But he had been forty pounds lighter then. And unburdened by the elephantine weight of a conscience that rendered all unnecessary movement futile.

These days all the important movement took place in his head. And to keep that movement fro devolving now into a dark downward spiral, he thought about the girls. Seven unfortunate girls of color, all from miles and hours away. all ending up here in quiet little Aberdeen with the butterflies and hummingbirds,

He wondered if Hoyle had been aware of the metaphor he had created by describing the girls as cocooned in plastic sheeting. Hoyle, as strange as he was. did not strike DeMarco as  man who chose his words lightly.

And it made DeMarco sad to think of those girls as unformed butterflies. They had never been given their wings, had never tested the sky. And now every time DeMarco saw a butterfly, he would think of those girls.
For DeMarco to solve the case, he'll have to push well beyond his current physical limits, and risk both his life and his heart, under grim conditions that reminded me at times of a Stephen King horror plot. But don't underestimate him -- or Jayme, who's determined to somehow pull him back to life.

A fine read; I only wish DeMarco's series came to publication more often than once a year. This one, like its predecessor, comes from Sourcebooks. Readers of Julia Keller's West Virginia mysteries will feel at home in this Silvis series; those to value the mysteries of Charles Todd and Louise Penny will also recognize the soul battle underway.

PS: Looking for more mystery reviews, from cozy to very dark? Browse the Kingdom Books mysteries review blog here.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Edgy San Francisco Mystery, Dystopian, from Jonathan Moore: THE NIGHT MARKET

Wow!

I really liked Jonathan Moore's mystery from last year, The Dark Room. And I figured I'd enjoy the 2018 book, which was already scheduled at that time. But I had no idea what was in store -- THE NIGHT MARKET knocked me breathless.

Fiercely plotted with twists and blade-sharp revelations, wrapped around homicide detective Ross Carver in a San Francisco of the hauntingly near future, THE NIGHT MARKET takes "techno-thriller" to a new height of expert writing and psychological disturbance. I couldn't put it down, and I'm shaken by the suggestions on how Big Money and Big Advertising may already be twisting our culture -- and threatening our lives.

Here's how it starts: Ross Carver and his partner, as the homicide team on duty, answer a call to a home where there's a presumed murder that's just taken place. That is, there's a corpse, and blood -- and the neighbor reported sounds of a frightening disturbance. But when Carver gets into the room with the body, what he sees makes no sense ... a covering of some kind of fungus already engulfing the body. Even less does the next moment make sense, as the FBI bursts onto the scene and drags Carver and his partner out to some kind of biological decontamination rig.

We know that -- but Carver, waking up in his own apartment with a neighbor he's never met taking care of him, has to start from scratch, because his memory has been wiped, and so has his partner's. The messed-up records of where he may have been are enough to suspend him from duty. But the tiny scrap of information left for him -- a fragment from a case he and his partner were supposed to investigate -- turns out to tie him back to the dangerous experiment he seems to have stumbled into.

The trouble is, it looks like organized crime and Very Very Big Money are running a scam in San Francisco -- maybe across the country -- that Carver can't afford to discover if he wants to survive.

Here's a scrap of conversation between Carver and his mysterious neighbor, Mia, who might be on his side. Or not. At any rate, she's ahead of him on figuring out the technology behind the crime scene that he witnessed:
"I didn't know what else to do," Mia said. "I've been sitting here for weeks, waiting. Either to be killed, or for someone to pull me out. And there wasn't any other choice. I  can't do this alone. I don't even know how they got to her, so I have no idea what's safe and what isn't." ...

"Did Johnny Wong kill her?" Carver asked.

"I don't know."

"But you didn't hear that name for the first time from me. You already knew about him, didn't you?" ...

"We finally had a lead," she said. "Years in the dark, and then we thought we had a way in."

"Tell me."

"It's like what they said about J.F.K. You want to know who killed the president? List the world's best marksmen, and then find out which ones were in Dallas. Making these devices would be incredibly hard. We guessed only a few scientists in a few labs could do it."

"So you did your research, and then you made a list."
The closer Carver gets to figuring out the trap he's in, the closer he gets to a very nasty death. Or worse.

I couldn't put this one down, and I know I'll re-read it, tugging at the dangerous truths woven into the page-turning fast-paced plot. I know it took Moore a while to bring this one to publication -- he had to insert at least one other book before it -- and it was worth the wait. He sees it as the finale of a three-book painting of San Francisco: The Poison Artist, The Dark Room, The Night Market. Which of course suggests there won't be a sequel -- I wonder what he'll next bring to dark, vivid life on the pages.

From HMH, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. And do check out Moore's author webpage, here. Last but not least, should I point a finger at the character name, for mystery/suspense fans who know their classics??

PS:  Looking for more mystery reviews, from cozy to very dark? Browse the Kingdom Books mysteries review blog here.

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Brief Mention: DOMINIC, sequel to Hollow Man, by Mark Pryor

Mark Pryor is British by birth and bucked the author trend by moving to Austin, Texas, to become an assistant district attorney. His Hugo Marston series, apparently now on long pause, is set in Europe and delves into human love and loyalties, with a whiff of the paranormal that evil can call forth.

I found his stand-alone crime novel Hollow Man to be interesting -- it's in the Dexter line, and also similar to Garry Disher's Wyatt series, as the protagonist is a psychopath. Unlike Disher's Wyatt, however, Pryor's charming criminal Dominic -- himself an Englishman and prosecutor -- shows no inner sense of longing for an emotional life. Love leaves him cold ... well, not physically, but he won't be making any genuine self-sacrifice for the lady who attracts him. And again unlike the Marston series, this one is set in Texas. Dark, dark Texas.

Pryor then created a sequel after all, which was released last week: DOMINIC. This time, to add to the puzzle of Dominic's criminality and manipulations, there's a lady of interest involved who is nearly as chilly-hearted as the psychopath protagonist ... a lady in a lime green dress that shows off all her physical allure. Is it her beauty, or her own manipulative psyche, that attracts Dominic?

Making the book yet more challenging is Pryor's device of alternating voices between these two dangerous personas. And each time he does so, it's up the reader to catch up, because on the page each one speaks as "I." So it pays to note the character name at the opening of each numbered chapter.

Although the manipulations and interrupted interior monologues are compelling and even haunting, they are also deeply disturbing. I do hope there aren't many people like Dominic in the real world. I came away from the book reluctant to face another in this series, and hope that it's not the career of dealing with American courtrooms that is pulling this kind of writing from the author!

If you're a Wyatt or Dexter fan, or a reader of Dave Zeltserman, you need Hollow Man and DOMINIC on your shelf, for comparison and to better grasp the choices of these noir crime-fiction creations. Do expect to get up and check that the double locks are in place on the doors, and that all your other means of self-protection are ready and close at hand. Published by Seventh Street Books, where crime fiction thrives.

PS:  Looking for more mystery reviews, from cozy to very dark? Browse the Kingdom Books mysteries review blog here.

Mystery of 1920s Bombay, THE WIDOWS OF MALABAR HILL, Sujata Massey

Newly released this week is a hot new historical mystery from Soho Crime -- one that's been widely anticipated for its colorful depiction of a blend of cultures becoming vitally important in global interactions today. Written by English-born and American-raised Sujata Massey, THE WIDOWS OF MALABAR HILL provides a traditional mystery format within the compelling setting of a young woman trying to find her way to a law career at a time when that was nearly unheard of in India.

Happily, THE WIDOWS OF MALABAR HILL opens with Perveen Mistry already a confident woman solicitor in her father's law firm in Bombay -- and presented with a legal puzzle that will require unraveling first a set of cultural barriers. Perveen suspects something's amiss when three women, all widows of a polygamous and prosperous Muslim client of her father's, suddenly appear to have signed over their interest in the estate of their joint husband. She wants to investigate. But the women are in purdah, that is, seclusion, and it won't be easy to reach them or to find out the truth.

From this 1921 opening, Massey takes the story back five years, to when this "modern" Parsi teen lost her half-under-the-table place at a law school in Bombay, fell in love, and abruptly married a young man from an "orthodox" Parsi family. Her excruciating struggles in this situation become the forceful background for how she develops into a problem-solving and competent adult who'll tackle an unjust situation when she discovers it.

Here's a taste of Mistry family life as Perveen argues for a chance to marry, sooner than her older brother:
Grandfather Mistry cleared his throat and said, "If a younger sister marries before her older brother, people will believe she had to marry for reasons of pregnancy. Every bead of her reputation will be sold."

"We aren't like that." Perveen struggled to keep her voice level. "And what else can I do with myself now that I am not a student, except get married?"

"The one who digs a whole falls into it," Grandfather Mistry replied dourly, and Rustom snorted.

[Perveen's mother] pressed her hands together as if she was nervous. "You were always such a dear, agreeable daughter. You appreciated what you were given, not like some others in town. How can you do this to us?"

"I didn't do anything to you! His parents have asked for a meeting. Won't you at least give them the respect they deserve by going?" she pleaded.
Count on needing the insight Perveen is gaining here, for when she attempts to unravel the mystery of the widows of Malabar Hill!

Perhaps today's best known crime fiction series set in India (in some titles; others simply deal with India as background) is Barbara Cleverly's Commander Joe Sandilands series (post World War I). But that set of titles works from the point of view of an English military man who's sympathetic but not of the culture. Massey's series, framed in a young woman's perspective and playing various cultures within India's melting pot against each other, is eye-opening and intriguing.

Well written, highly detailed, and engaging, THE WIDOWS OF MALABAR HILL shows Massey's extensive writing experience, as well as an acute eye for human frailty and conflict. I'm glad to note from her material that there's a sequel on the way. The series is published by Soho Crime, which also publishes the Cleverly series -- I recommend both.

PS:  Looking for more mystery reviews, from cozy to very dark? Browse the Kingdom Books mysteries review blog here.

Friday, January 05, 2018

New England Mystery Delight in Barbara Ross's New STOWED AWAY

Love a good traditional mystery with a smart amateur sleuth, hot clues, red herrings, an intriguing setting, and characters you can bond with? Good! Barbara Ross is once again writing exactly for you, in her newest Maine Clambake Mystery, STOWED AWAY.

Series fans have been waiting eagerly for this new title, and know the backstory to what Julia Snowden is facing: the fire-cored disaster of her family's historic house on the Maine coast island where she and her relatives are scrambling to re-open their profitable clam-bake operation for the new summer season; a loving but at times highly uncertain relationship with her boyfriend Chris, steady but without specific commitments; her mother, widowed and still not quite back in the groove of the family business; and an awkward relationship (to say the least!) with the local police investigators, who have worked with her far too often since she returned to Maine from her high-pressure urban finance career, in order to help her family.

Barbara Ross skillfully sketches in the frame as she establishes Julia's "new normal" of ocean-based entrepreneurship and local networking (so if you're new to the series, you'll be fine jumping in here). As Julia greets a preservation architect climbing off a boat to view the burned-out mansion to appraise whether it can be saved, seasoned mystery readers will suspect a that the plot's about to leap forward via the "stranger coming to town" move. But to Julia's horror, the "stranger" turns out to be someone she knew in high school -- one of a group of mean girls who'd tormented and humiliated her. How can she possibly trust this architect to determine her family's future investment on the island?

On the other hand, the new arrival, known as Susan in the old days but now by her middle name, Wyatt, comes with a boyfriend of her own -- a reclusive billionaire whose mega yacht is about to be rehabbed in Julia's town of Busman's Harbor. The stresses and strains of the cast of characters ramp up sharply when the billionaire, the real stranger of the moment, is murdered.

I savored this scene Ross provided in a local club, where Julia sank into a seat for a bite to eat and could listen to speculation around her:
The theories abounded, everything from suicide to the Russian mafia. "He was a billionaire who made money on the banking collapse," someone said.

"It was the girlfriend," the husband of the chef declared.

"Why do you say that?" I kept my tone conversational, not challenging.

"It's always the girlfriend," he answered.

"I don't see how it benefits her," I countered.

"Maybe he was terrible in bed," someone offered.

"If that were a reason for murder, half the men at this table would be dead," the bartender's wife joked.

"What do mean, half?" a girlfriend of one of the band members deadpanned. Everybody laughed.
Soon, though, popular opinion circles around to blaming the yacht's chef, an old friend of Julia's. And she finds herself sticking up for both this friend, and the architect, in spite of the bad feeling from high school.

Meanwhile, multiple twists are unfolding around her. In a familiar angle of this series, Julia suddenly has reason to wonder about one of her boyfriend's past relationships -- and with time, will realize she's never asked enough questions to really understand his family background as well. In fact, there's a lot Julia hasn't questioned among her friends, and some of the revelations will bear on the murder -- and some will be false leads.

Ross's expertise in complicating the plot in highly believable ways shines in STOWED AWAY. When the solution to what's on board finally arrives, there are surprises right and left -- but every one of them makes perfect sense, if the right clues have been considered. STOWED AWAY is a prime traditional mystery, highly satisfying, and a lively and enjoyable addition to this quintessential New England series. (And yes, there are more great recipes at the back!)

PS:  Looking for more mystery reviews, from cozy to very dark? Browse the Kingdom Books mysteries review blog here.

Art Heist Thriller from Neil Olson, THE BLACK PAINTING

People still obsess about America's most well-known art heist: The one that took place at Boston's Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in 1990 has not been solved and is often described as "must be connected to the Mob." Or some other massive underworld structure.

Other noted thefts involved the "Mona Lisa" (lost for two years) and two thefts of Edvard Munch's "The Scream." Two Renoirs and a Rembrandt left a Swedish museum and were recovered. And then of course there's the noted and extensive art plundering done by Nazi forces in Europe.

So when Neil Olson's new thriller THE BLACK PAINTING (Jan. 9 release) begins with a death in a coastal New England family, and coalesces around a missing painting by Francisco Goya, the tension increased with each twist of plot -- and we readers know something of what's at stake. Not only is there a dead grandfather (manipulative even after his lifetime) and an art heist ... there's obsession, with all its dark shadows and complicities.

Goya's art at its most intense depicted the "Disasters of War" -- dark, disturbing paintings that remind viewers of the horrors of the battlefields, which for him focused on the 1802 Peninsular War. But consensus is that the painter struggled with intense mental illness as well, and his final noted 14-image series, the "Black Paintings" (for both their appearance and topics), gives us a phenomenal view of terror within the soul.

Olson, whose first blockbuster novel The Icon also involved art theft (his early education was as an art historian), seizes the despair and fear involved in the Black Paintings to become the center of this new novel -- and invents a fifteenth painting that has found its way, perhaps illegally, to the home of the Morse family. Now the painting is gone, and the family patriarch's death creates further chaos among especially his grown grandchildren, each fragile in a separate way, and each still under the older man's thumb.

The thriller -- which is an intense page-turner -- comes to us through the eyes of the apparently most broken and frail of the cousins, Teresa, whose Spanish father, long gone, once connected deeply with the painting and its fierce owner. As the art historian in the family, she's also the one who understands the painting itself. She explains to her cousins:
"There's a painting in a private collection in New York which a few historians think is that lost one."

"But we know it's not," James insisted, "because Grandpa had it."

"Maybe they're both real," Teresa replied, not liking his agitation. "Maybe neither. I never saw the portrait. The point is ..." ...

"You haven't answered his question," Audrey pressed. "How did this demon get from Goya into the painting."
Fear not, this is far from a paranormal thread. As Teresa quickly answers, "You're being too literal. The demon is a metaphor for the trouble in his life."

And for their grandfather himself, no doubt. As the cousins struggle to escape the old man's domination, their own demons become increasingly evident. Can Teresa push past her physical ailments, her uncertain memories, and her confused understandings of her cousins, to find the answers she needs? Will she risk her life in doing so?

Acutely probing the damage of generations of manipulation and domination, Olson's mystery/thriller resonates more deeply than many in a similar genre, including such line-crossers as The Da Vinci Code -- at heart, this is a book about the demons within a family ... and whether they can be faced, or ever exorcised.

Quick comment about the cover art: Ignore it. It's got nothing to do with the story, and it's silly. The publisher, by the way, is Hanover Square Press -- yet another focused imprint of Harlequin and HarperCollins.

PS:  Looking for more mystery reviews, from cozy to very dark? Browse the Kingdom Books mysteries review blog here.


Friday, December 29, 2017

Backstory #3: When Your Husband Keeps a Secret, in PROTECTED BY THE SHADOWS, Swedish Crime Fiction by Helene Tursten

Helene Tursten's investigating protagonist in Göteborg, Sweden, Investigator Irene Huss, is one of the most likeable officers in today's crime fiction. Married with now-grown twin daughters, Huss depends on her husband's cooking skills -- her own are negligible -- and lives with an endless guilt about the time demands of her career that will feel familiar to many. Moreover, she works in a Violent Crimes unit where gender bias is a daily factor, as much so as personnel shortages.

So as Irene's unit teams up with the Organized Crimes Unit to intervene in a series of motorcycle gang killings (and readers of the series already know that means extra flashbacks for Huss), the last thing she needs is to have to worry about her husband's safety. Or that of her daughters. And she can't step in to do much for them -- they will have to be, as the title suggests, PROTECTED BY THE SHADOWS.

In addition to the skillful interweaving of personal and professional tension, Swedish author Helene Tursten provides memorable descriptions of the gritty reality of crime investigation, like this:
The gangster reeked of sweat and stale booze. He was wearing a T-shirt with Gothia MC's emblem on the chest; the same emblem was tattooed on his right forearm, and more or less every inch that Irene could see of his massive body was covered in tattoos. A colorful snake wound its way around his neck, ending up by his left ear. It showed up clearly on his shaven head. The snake was a skillful piece of work, but the rest of the tattoos were of varying quality.

The tread for inking is one of the best things that's happened as far as police are concerned, Irene thought. ... Per Lindström would need to wear a burka if he didn't want anyone to see his artwork.
PROTECTED BY THE SHADOWS is the ninth in this series that Soho Crime has brought to the United States. I like Marlaine Delargy's translation work -- smooth reading with just a hint of the awkwardness that sliding from one language and culture to another can insert, and in this case it adds to the sense of being transported to Scandinavia. Swedish and Finnish cultural insight add up in Tursten's books, and it's worth reading her entire series. But jumping into this ninth title "cold" is very workable -- Tursten carries the story forward skillfully. It's soon clear why Huss's husband refuses to share his dangerous secret with his police officer wife (although as a reader of all of the series, I think Huss's own backstory could have come into this one more vividly and raised the tension).

Watch for some insight into Sweden's experience of Muslim immigration, too. Ah, the benefits of reading well-written crime fiction! (Thanks again, Soho Crime, for keeping so many "foreign" investigations coming steadily across the Atlantic. Global crimesolving, for sure.) I look forward to more in the series from Tursten, whose entry into the field came after a career in medicine. Good move.

PS:  Looking for more mystery reviews, from cozy to very dark? Browse the Kingdom Books mysteries review blog here.

Backstory #2: Criminal Masterminds Cut Loose in SIGNAL LOSS, by Australian Author Garry Disher

Garry Disher lives on Australia's Mornington Peninsula, southeast of Melbourne, and his Challis and Destry police procedural series often takes place right there. The seventh book in the series, SIGNAL LOSS, came out in late 2016 in Australia, reaching American readers via Soho Crime in late November. Now that the holiday season is wrapping up, it's a great time to treat yourself to a copy of this well-written and lively traditional crime investigation -- with the wry, dark twists of humor that are particularly Disher's own.

The book opens with an intro that could have come from that classic wisecracking mystery master, Donald E. Westlake himself:
Lovelock and Pym. They sounded like some kind of show-business duo -- magicians, maybe; folk singers.

In fact they worked for Hector Kaye, who used to run the Finks out of Kings Cross. That was before he set up as a legitimate businessman and started importing crystal meth from China. They didn't come cheap, Lovelock and Pym. Kaye paid them well and he'd bought them each a house and a car in the past year.
When the pair tackle a murder-for-hire and get overly ambitious, though, their fumbles turn deadly for more than just the intended victim. Add to this chaos the more dangerous threat of an Australian bush fire, and "mistakes are made." The kinds of mistakes that, for investigating Inspector Hal Challis, crack open the past conflicts of a crime ring and turn a small case into major impact.

Meanwhile, Challis's lover Sergeant Ellen Destry -- recently made the head of her department's sex crime unit -- realizes her own investigations are revealing a serial rapist with more skills than most. She and her team tug at each loose thread, working the details until they develop into solid leads. But Destry's distracted at times by another ambitious woman in the force, Sergeant Coolidge (Destry names her Sergeant Cleavage at one point!), who's trying to lure Hal out of Ellen's circuit.
They looked at each other, faintly challenging, bringing back old academy memories to Ellen but probably nothing at all to Coolidge.

"Haven't seen you for ages. You're sex crimes now," Coolidge said, as if that were a side path to nowhere in policing terms.

"And you're drugs," Ellen said.

Coolidge gave her a slow-burning smile and Ellen wondered at the intent: to tease me, unsettle me. She returned the smile, a quick hard nastiness in it, and opened the door of the car. "Good luck," she said and got in and drove out of there. Not much of a victory -- not much of anything -- but why get bogged down fighting the woman? 
As it turns out, Hal is the one who'll get bogged down by Coolidge's interference, but that's jumping a ahead some. Pick up this fast-paced investigation and you'll get the details quickly, because even though it would be great to have a Disher crime novel last a long time, the tension pushed the page turning. In fact, clear the schedule if you can -- here's your winter vacation between the covers in a 345-page "Down Under" romp through twinned cases that are hard to control, and incredibly satisfying to solve.

This is Disher's more accessible, easy-to-enjoy series (read chapter 1 here if you like); his other is the Wyatt series, darkly reminiscent of the Dexter mysteries yet somehow likeable (but, please note, very very dark). He also offers occasional stand-alones and "young adult" (YA) books, which Soho Crime doesn't yet bring across. Check the Soho website for the American releases of Disher's books. So far, I've appreciated all of them (Disher reviews here).

PS:  Looking for more mystery reviews, from cozy to very dark? Browse the Kingdom Books mysteries review blog here.


Thursday, December 28, 2017

Backstory #1: How Caitlin Strong Grew Into Texas Ranger Overkill, in STRONG TO THE BONE, Jon Land

It's not a spoiler to look at the Author's Note in the back of the newest Caitlin Strong Texas Ranger thriller from Jon Land. Setting STRONG TO THE BONE into context, Land wrote, "Strong to the Bone started with me wanting to challenge Caitlin as I'd never challenged her before. Provide a deep look into a part of her psyche I'd never previously explored."

With that decision, Land provided fresh depth to his series character, a Texas Ranger who's a lone female in her field much of the time in modern-day Texas -- and whose "nature and nurture" both come from her father, grandfather, and more, riding for justice and crime control in the Lone Star state.

Land's unusual format for his Caitlin Strong books involves flashing alternate glances into the past stories of the other Texas Rangers in the family. This time it's Earl Strong, who missed out on the armed forces in World War II only to find himself confronting the very dangerous J. Edgar Hoover, head of the FBI, over a murder case at a prisoner-of-war camp ... a murder involving Germans who have complex backgrounds and motives.
Darkness fell without any of the first responders emerging from the complex.

"What did the Rangers do for excitement back in the day before we had terrorists?" Caitlin asked D. W. Tepper.

"You mean besides hunting dinosaurs? Well, we did have the likes of Bonnie and Clyde and John Wesley Hardin to deal with. And your grandpa, he even went up against the Nazis."

"Earl Strong spent time in Europe?" Caitlin asked, trying to reconcoile the apparent discrepancy with what she know of her grandfather's history.

"Nope, he went up against them right here in Texas ..."
At the same time, Caitlin's life partner Cort Wesley Masters is tangling with a case that looks independent of Caitlin's -- one that jeopardizes the safety of his risk-taking younger son. The couple's powerful and spirit-swept ally Guillermo Paz sweeps into action to protect both generations. And suddenly bullets are flying (no surprise to series readers!).

What makes STRONG TO THE BONE different from earlier titles in this series is that Caitlin's past, as probed here, is more personal than the preceding backstories of her Texas Ranger forebears have revealed: She's been overly violent for a long time, causing her superior officer, D. W. Tepper, to tear out his hair repeatedly, as Caitlin spirals from one round of violence into another. What's her trigger? Land must have written the book long before the hashtag #MeToo took over American news -- but it could have been Caitlin Strong's own battle cry.

STRONG TO THE BONE is a lively page-turner, crammed with action, suspense, and interlocked tales of courage and skilled investigation. Take the associated paranormal strands with some humor and enjoy the way they give bite to the conflict. I'm a fan of Guillermo Paz and his crazed spirit journeys here -- but every Caitlin Strong book also lures the reader to make a declaration on behalf of the historic and modern Texas Rangers, even to say (in another recent meme): I'm with Her.

[NB: Land's author website is usually out of date, but still fun to explore: http://www.jonlandbooks.com]

PS:  Looking for more mystery reviews, from cozy to very dark? Browse the Kingdom Books mysteries review blog here.