Sunday, November 15, 2015

Katherine Paterson (Signed) Collection, Re-Priced and Available

We really do work hard to stay focused on first-edition mysteries here, mostly signed. But we've had some other specialties in the past, including Vermont authors of fine children's books -- so last week I pulled out our Katherine Paterson collection and asked The Chief (that's Dave) to review prices and make it all extra accessible.

And that's what he's done. If you're a fan of this author's work (and if you've read her, you're probably a fan; think Bridge to Terabithia, which unfortunately we've already sold, but all the books in the photo are here today), this is your chance. And if you're friends with a fan, these are the ultimate holiday gift treat for that person, signed by the author, who lives about an hour away from us. You can see the list here. (You can order there, too.)

Wishing you joy in these, and in the season ahead.

Dark, Twisted, and Clever, in JEWISH NOIR, ed. Kenneth Wishnia

Kenneth Wishnia's been touring a lot this fall, and there are still some significant appearances ahead on his calendar, from Holbrook NY (Long Island) to the Poisoned Pen (Arizona) to City Lights (San Francisco). (Check his website, here.) It would be fun to catch up with him at any of those locations -- but it's even more fun to read his new anthology, JEWISH NOIR.

The range of authors here is stunning: Jonathan Santlofer, Moe Prager (aka Reed Farrel Coleman), Wishniak himself, S. J. Rozan, Wendy Hornsby, Robert Lopresti, even Marge Piercy. And among the 30+ tales, there's even one from 1912, making its first appearance in English (in 1912 it was in Yiddish). I enjoyed the finale from the extraordinary Harlan Ellison. A special pleasure was a clever tale from Dave Zeltserman, whose writing is often quintessential in this area. Zeltserman's narrator, an embittered writer who's broken through into being well published in spite of an early and very nasty rejection letter, pauses to talk about noir itself, and I really like his summary:
... there are no heroes or happy endings in noir. And there's certainly no hope. True noir is about the alienated, the hapless, the broken.Things start off bad in noir fiction and only get worse. Moral lines are crossed that can't be uncrossed and characters fight a losing battle to keep from tumbling into the abyss.
Zeltserman's crime-pondering protagonist in this tale is borderline psychotic, too, which will give you a good taste of where his dark fiction tends to roam!

But Prager's tale "Feeding the Crocodile" is at least as dark, with a cameo for an SS lieutenant. And then there's the diversity -- Michael J. Cooper takes us to Jerusalem in 1948; B. K. Stevens opens with a faculty meeting; S. J. Rozan delighted me with Jews in Shanghai; and there's a midnight-dark tale of adoption form Travis Richardson that is probably going to sit malignantly in my brain forever.

More than 400 pages of malice, despair, conceit, sometimes heroic actions, and yes, alienation -- JEWISH NOIR should probably be read in very small doses, with a warning label. (Grim grin here.) But oh, what a collection!

Sunday, November 08, 2015

Texas Mystery, STILLWATER, from Melissa Lenhardt

There's a sure touch to the abundant dialogue carrying STILLWATER, unusual in an author's first book. But Texas writer Melissa Lenhardt is already writing across genres, with mystery, historical fiction, and women's fiction, and before this book went to print, it became a finalist for the 2014 Whidbey Writers' MFA Alumni Emerging Writers Contest. Which is a long way of saying: Other writers already think Lenhardt's writing is darned good.

So do I. In fact, I was tempted to say, "Move over, Craig Johnson" -- but Texas isn't Wyoming, and Jack McBride, new police chief for Stillwater, Texas, isn't Walt Longmire. He doesn't have that permanent wound on the verge of despair. Instead, arriving in town prepared to treat his previous work with the FBI as career step, he's capable, sober, and open to an amazing romance that starts as soon as he meets the town's newest business owner: Ellie Martin, proprietor of a brand-new bookstore. Too bad the two of them have so little time to bond in other ways -- Jack's teenaged son isn't ready for his father to date (after all, Jack's still technically married), plus a combination of a new crime and and old one put Jack into overtime right away. Can the hot-shot profiler bite into what's gone wrong, or is he too far out of his home environment?

In addition, Jack has a bigger problem: his predecessor. When his son Ethan wants to push the boundaries, Jack must admit what he already knows about the Stillwater job:
"It's because I'm the chief that I can't do whatever I want. The guy before me did too much of that. I have to set a new tone -- and fast."

"He took his kids to crime scenes?"

Jack sighed. "I don't know. He was corrupt, is what I meant. I have to be extra careful what I do. Taking my teenage son to interview witnesses is a bad way to start."
And of course, Jack's going to have to earn the town's respect and challenge his predecessor in person, if he wants to hold the job.

Lenhardt spins a great story, full of lively action, intriguing twists, and a heavy dash of romantic tension. And when Jack's efforts to woo the bookshop owner fall apart -- not his fault, huge factors beyond his control -- the cases heat up and challenge all his skills.

This is a smooth and enjoyable small-town Texas mystery, with well-chosen police issues, strong emotions (criminal and otherwise), and top-tier pacing in the tension and suspense. Maybe Jack McBride is a little too balanced to take the Western prize away from Walt Longmire and all his depression and losses ... but reading one series and then the other is going to be a lot of fun, as Lenhardt continues to push Jack forward in his challenged new police role. Glad to have found this author, looking forward to more.

Is It a YA Mystery? BLOODLINES, Lynn Lipinski

The cover design, the promotions, the snippets I saw about this book all had me wanting to read it. Then, before I got around to buying a copy, the publisher sent one here for consideration. So I plunged into BLOODLINES, an irresistible mystery by Lynn Lipinski. And ended up with burning question.

Zane Clearwater, age 26, is a suspect in his mother's death by presumed arson at the trailer where she and his younger sister live -- and so does he, although he's paid a deposit on his first apartment based on his job at the Tulsa (Oklahoma) Zoo. The trouble is, Zane got fired on suspicion of selling turtle eggs; lost his sobriety that day and got drunk with his mom; and left the trailer park just about 15 minutes before the trailer erupted in flames. There are a lot of reasons to consider him a suspect. Worse yet, Zane's a blackout drinker: He has no idea what happened that evening.

Soon Zane and his sister Lettie, 14, find the outlines of their lives irretrievably blurred, as they discover their mother's life was very different from what they'd thought -- basically she had a name change and is in hiding from a possible spree killer who'd threatened her life. The siblings, especially Zane, have to know more, and soon they're in touch with the man who surely was Zane's biological dad, who'd been released by the courts for lack of evidence. The discovery of a couple of grandmothers and half-brothers doesn't make this any easier.
Zane wondered if his blackouts were inherited from his father. And he also wondered what other traits he might have inherited. Maybe that dark rage that overtook him sometimes when he drank? The part of him that itched for a fight or welcomed violence? The part he tried to keep clamped down.

Learning that his life was based on a set of lies was like someone had opened a locked door, but instead of revealing a brightly lit path forward, all he saw was another closed door. He wasn't even sure he had the energy right now to open it. The adrenalin of the day had evaporated and he slump in the chair. There was no fight in him now; all he wanted was a nap.
Meanwhile Zane's hoped-for girlfriend turns out unreliable, and the police are increasingly interested in Zane -- which his newly discovered relatives are only exacerbating.

This is a well-written mystery, with plenty of energy and good plot twists. Zane and Lettie are indeed engaging, and memorable. I'm really glad to have read the book, and I'd recommend it to .... well, there's that burning issue I mentioned. Zane is the protagonist who's viewing the action, and his issues are coming-of-age issues: naive belief that a parent will solve a situation, that a first girlfriend will become a wife, that the warmth of his newly discovered father means he has a "real family" to depend on -- and, of course, that he can somehow drink like his father and not screw up his life.

So this is a "young adult" (YA) mystery. Even the language in it, the sentence structures, the dialogue, say young adult. In fact, I don't buy Zane as 26: He acts and thinks like 18 or so.

And that means I'm recommending this for teens -- and for the many adults who enjoy YA mysteries. Share it across generations for extra pleasure. It won't make you double-check the door locks as you read, although Zane's dad is one nasty character. (Native American issues do rise up here, since the villain of the book is Cherokee. I leave that for others to probe, but please be aware of it.)

This is Lipinski's debut novel, and I look forward to reading more of her work. Her website is intriguing -- check it out here. The book is a paperback original, published by Majestic Content Los Angeles, and also available as an ebook.

Saturday, November 07, 2015

Maine Murder Mystery, THE SCOTTIE BARKED AT MIDNIGHT, Kaitlyn Dunnett

This new mystery from Kaitlyn Dunnett (a pseudonym for Kathy Lynn Emerson) is a keeper -- a lively and all-too-believable escapade in the chill of March in still-snowy Maine. And if some of the characters are a little wilder than real (the woman with the python? the stage magician and his charming assistant?), the sense of performance is intentional: They're on a very much staged reality TV show.

Somehow (and you do know how these things happen, admit it), Liss McCrimmon's rescue of a charming Scottish terrier on an icy highway leads to her impulsive agreement to help this terrier -- and a second one, and their owner -- to complete a set of performances on "Variety Live." Subbing for the trainer/owner in the act of "Deirdre and her Dancing Doggies" ought to be a pleasure for Liss. She's a retired Highlands dancer herself, loves the dogs at first sight, and can easily take some time away from her shop in tiny Moosetookalook, Maine, at this time of year.

But while Liss soon realizes that the dog's previous owner may have been murdered, it takes a dangerously long time for her to put enough pieces together to see that the killer may come after her as well!

Kaitlyn Dunnett provides a fresh new twist to her series, and shows that she's getting better and better ... nicely twisted plot, great pacing, characters who are unforgettable, and the charm of the friendly dogs to round it all out. Count on Liss's hunk of a hubby, Dan, to back her up, with support from her best friends, too. THE SCOTTIE BARKED AT MIDNIGHT is the perfect "amateur sleuth" mystery to curl up with on a chilly late-autumn or winter's night. From Kensington Books, of course, adding to the shelves of this publisher's diverse and enjoyable "cozies."

Outstanding International Drama, MRS. JOHN DOE, Tom Savage

I'm not sure booksellers should ever feel at home with the idea of an "e-book original." There is something a bit frightening about the notion of a book that may never have pages or covers. It's a soul in need of a body.

So I hope that Alibi/Random House will soon move from e-version to physical book for the latest from New York City author Tom Savage. Author of six suspense novels and two mysteries (the mysteries are under the name T. J. Phillips), Savage calls himself the Mystery Man, and worked for years at the quintessential mystery shop Murder Ink, as well as being an actor.

With MRS. JOHN DOE, he neatly turns the classic espionage plot inside out: Nora Baron is enjoying and appreciating her upscale Long Island home, just before she gets the phone call that any spouse dreads --"I'm so sorry, Nora. It's -- it's Jeff. He's been in an accident. He's dead."
She heard the words, and they registered; she understood. Something happened inside her, a sudden feeling that she was on a stage, and they were speaking lines that had been written by a playwright. She gripped the receiver carefully in her hand and spoke slowly, distinctly, so that the audience could hear.
It will be many chapters before we understand what that stage image means to Nora. She's headed right away to England, to make identification of her husband's body -- delayed because he'd been without ID, hence a "John Doe." She's quick to decide: It's necessary. On the plane, she suspects for a while that she's being watched. And moments after she makes the critical corpse identification, so that cremation can be done, a personal message and a warning arrive. From friends of her husband? Colleagues? What she knows about his life, its secrets, its shadows, is barely enough to guide her first reactions. An attack in the notorious London fog sends her racing to continental Europe, to discover what complications have thrown her life into such upheaval -- and why Jeff has left such messages for her to follow.

Savage twists the plot in two startling ways, and Nora's transformation from wealthy home-focused wife to clever investigator holds up brilliantly. There may not be many mystery fans today familiar with The Scarlet Pimpernel, but still, MRS. JOHN DOE begs the comparison with that early novel in which a woman shows unsuspected pluck and skill at racing after her husband's politically fraught and dangerous shadow. I enjoyed each page, gasped at the swift twists, and came away with a hunger for more of the same, whether it be thrills, France, or ... books by Tom Savage. Author website here.

Fingers crossed, please, that the book gets its body ASAP.

Brief Mention, THE RECKONING, Vol. 3 of Niceville Trilogy, Carsten Stroud

The finale of Carsten Stroud's Deep-South gothic Niceville Trilogy came out at the end of the summer, and I devoured it -- I really needed to see how Stroud would wrap up the series, and there was a lot of waiting involved, as publication of THE RECKONING was delayed more than a year.

The blurb that fronts the book is from Stephen King and says, "An authentic work of American genius." I'd be happier with something more pointed -- say, a 21st-century follow-up to Faulkner blended with the malice and darkness of T. Jefferson Parker at his most wicked. Carsten's task in the final book is to decide how much victory Nick Kavanaugh and his wife Kate Walker will be able to salvage from a part-paranormal burden of horror and evil that sucks its energy Niceville. I completely bought the interweaving of Native American and plantation and greed -- enough to ride with the paranormal parts pretty contentedly. (Who hasn't entered a place that said "creepy" and known it was rooted in the history of what took place there?) Carsten's blunt caper humor that interrupts the tension is a bit heavy-handed, but deliberately so (think Westlake or Zeltserman). The book's startling in its shifts from one mode to the other, though.

Don't read this one unless you plan to read all three. (Check out this review of book 2.) And keep your expectations for the finale modest -- I found the endings a bit too neat, and a bit too sweet, considering all the tension and darkness that had gone before. But it's definitely worth the read, and I wouldn't be surprised to see the trilogy take its place as an American classic.

Oh. Maybe that's what Stephen King meant? Yeah. That works for me.

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Espionage and Opposition, World War I: ONE MAN'S FLAG, David Downing

David Downing's six-book World War II espionage series, with each book named for a railroad station in Berlin, established him as a master storyteller who could play the passions of romance and loyalty like stage lights across the scenes of menace, risk, and carnage. It almost hurt physically to come to the end of the series with Masaryk Station and watch the characters learn what the war-torn, peace-torn city would become to them. And with the end of the war, and the end of the high-stakes spying that nearly destroyed them, John Russell and his lover Effi Koenen, an actress who has performed for the German High Command as John forcibly served British, American, Russian, and German needs, were free to walk away. To become, in a sense, ordinary, wounded people, able to make choices in large ways instead of just in small ones. To live in peacetime.

So of course, the series ended. To my delight, in 2014 Soho Press brought out the first book of Downing's next series, Jack of Spies. Oh, marvelous -- Downing simply moved back into the preceding war! In the second book of this series, released this week, ONE MAN'S FLAG, Downing takes readers on a much stranger journey than in his Berlin series. Despite the popular pre-, post-, and in-the-midst-of-war mysteries that are circulating from other authors around the World War I timeline (Charles Todd; Jacqueline Winspeare; Pat Barker), this massive monster of a war is less well known to Americans -- we had so small a role in it -- and Downing draws out details that surprise and challenge. In Jack of Spies, for instance, the German occupation of part of China launched the action (and I'd never been aware of it until I read the book). In ONE MAN'S FLAG, we discover also the perilous state of the British Empire, first in India, where Jack McColl is investigating gun-running efforts to feed a predictable rebellion against the long-time foreign rulers -- and then in Ireland.

And it's Ireland that has pulled steadily on McColl and his former lover, Caitlyn Hanley. If you haven't read Jack of Spies, sorry, this will "spoil" its plot a bit -- but you can't go into ONE MAN'S FLAG without learning right away what Jack did in the debut book of the series, his serious and painful betrayal of Caitlyn and her brother that smashed their relationship and sent them spinning to opposite corners for the opening of the war. But fear not -- that revelation's barely scratched the surface of the first book. Should you read it before ONE MAN'S FLAG? Yes, probably. You don't "need" to, as the second book retells, quite deftly, the core of the first one. Oh well -- don't worry, you'll catch up, in either sequence.

The point is, Downing lays out the intriguing but less well-known crises of the opening salvoes of the war, including Ireland's Easter Rising, which any history book or website will tell you right away was timed to shrug off British rule ... but naively, and with very poor timing indeed. Still, it's the crisis that pulls Jack and Caitlyn back toward each other. Neither has been able to walk away from what their love means to them. And this time, it's not just Jack who struggles with loyalty: Caitlyn's commitment to honor her brother's death sets her up to potentially entrap Jack, for revenge, maybe even death.

That's where the book title takes on increasing importance: It's from an expression that is supposed to be an old one, parallel to "one man's meat is another man's poison" -- this time, "one man's flag is another man's shroud." If Jack is to serve his British masters honorably, he may put Caitlyn in danger. And if she is to honor her brother's commitment to the Irish independence cause, she will do worse to Jack.

Downing provides more than a page-turning plot, and more than fresh views of the events of this "war to end all wars" -- he looks into the face of War itself, over and over, not just through Jack and Caitlyn's eyes but also through Jack's brother Jed, who rises bitterly to Caitlyn's probing challenge, to spell out what it's like in the trenches:
"I used to take the human body for granted," he began conversationally. "What you saw was what you saw. Just another person. And sometimes I still see them that way. But mostly they're bags, bags made of skin, crammed full of blood and flesh. And the bags get punctured so easily, and all that stuff falls out. Slithers out, usually. Brains, intestines. You see men who suddenly realize that their bag has split, and they're desperately trying to hold it together, but they can't. You see someone you know well, someone you've seen talk and laugh and eat and smoke, and suddenly there's nothing there under the nose but blood pumping out, and the eyes are still open, full of horror. And you think, Thank God that isn't me." He fell silent, as if remembering something.
Facing such revelations, small wonder that it's Caitlyn even more than Jack who sees the disaster that the Great War is inflicting on the peoples of Europe. Will either she or Jack be able to see their own work clearly enough to survive, in any sense whole?

Sign me up for every book of this series. As in his earlier series, Downing portrays with detailed intensity the life of honorable people and especially of clear-eyed women in his espionage fiction. The epigraph for ONE MAN'S FLAG is a Virginia Woolf comment on women, ending, "As a woman my country is the whole world." Caitlyn might say the same -- and Jack might have time to hear it, before his nation pulls him back to his own sort of trenches to soldier onward.

If your mystery reading is wide and varied, you may have come across the Diana Gabaldon books -- oddly, and poignantly, Downing's books inhabit a parallel universe of strong passion and irresistible forces of history. And, of course, risk. Danger. And integrity.

Which is, of course, why I recommend them so strongly.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Country Store Mystery Debut, Maddie Day (Edith Maxwell)

This week's release of FLIPPED FOR MURDER added a fresh and energetic investigator, Robbie Jordan, in a new series by Massachusetts author Edith Maxwell.

Writing under the pen name Maddie Day, Maxwell puts her five years of life in southern Indiana to work with a brisk plot and engaging characters. The country store that Robbie -- short for Roberta -- reopens as both a breakfast/lunch restaurant and a vintage cookware shop is based on a real business, the Story General Store in Story, Indiana. From there, the mystery leaps into fiction, though. Robbie's mom died a year earlier, and she's on the rebound from life's complications, including her own upbringing in California, without a dad, but very attached to her mom and her mom's family. That includes southern Indiana resident Aunt Adele, plucky and encouraging, an anchor for Robbie in the small town. Under Adele's urging, Robbie's bought the shop; rehabbed it and refitted it, thanks to the carpentry skills her mom taught her; and is pulling together a growing staff, in response to the brisk opening business.

But when the town employee who'd been toughest to get along with during the overhaul turns up murdered, with a strong connection to Robbie's newly opened restaurant, it looks like Pans 'N Pancakes may have a short shelf life.
"Poor Stella. But what does her death have to do with me?" I heard my voice rise and swallowed hard.

"She did not die of natural causes," Buck said.

"Oh, no. That's awful," I said.

"Do you mean she was murdered?" Jim's voice came out low and slow.

"Yup. And then somebody stuffed a cheesy biscuit in her mouth." Buck stared at me.

A cheesy biscuit? One of my cheesy biscuits? Damn. Double damn.
Author "Maddie Day" thus resolves the most critical component of any "amateur sleuth" mystery: the motivation that takes a friendly non-detective out of her comfort zone and into the risks of investigation and detection.

FLIPPED FOR MURDER steps up the pace and the stakes with a pair of parallel plot components. First there are two mysteries on hand: the murder of the very unpleasant Stella Rogers, and the question of who Robbie's father might have been -- something that's suddenly a live question, when she realizes that her mom's departure from Indiana so many years ago fits the time of getting pregnant. Was there a man to run away from? A heartbreak in the past? A danger?

At the same time, Robbie's exploring two sets of possibilities for her own life: the adventure of owning her own business, employees and all, and the endless wondering of who life is bringing for romantic possibilities. After all, although Robbie is an experienced chef and ready to invest, she's also only 27 and repeatedly startled by the attractive men in her life!

The back-up characters in FLIPPED FOR MURDER have charm and pizzazz. There's the mayor's daughter Danna, with her dreadlocks and flair for culinary creation; Robbie's friend Phil, grandson of a church leader; surprising Aunt Adele, with romance plans of her own; and the men, oh the men ... like Ed Kowalski, country-store competition in the next town; real estate lawyer Jim Shermer, ready to help Robbie in other ways; Office Buck Bird of the local police force, who seems to like Robbie but won't hesitate to arrest her if it's called for ... These folks are clearly sticking around for the next book, and I'm eager to see how Robbie invests in their lives, as well as in her restaurant and the defense of her innocence.

Yes, the recipe for Robbie's Cheesy Biscuits is included, along with a few others. Most remarkably, in her Maddie Day persona, author Edith Maxwell proves she can differentiate a new voice for her woman-centered "cozy" mysteries. The core of each of her four series (three already in print, one more coming in 2016)  is a woman standing up for herself and wondering what life's bringing her, while making strong, decisive choices on what to accept and what to walk away from. But the professions, surroundings, and -- as in FLIPPED FOR MURDER -- the casts of characters are sharply separate, intriguing, and promise a lot of fun ahead.

Kensington Books offers a teaser for the next in the country-store mystery series, Grilled for Murder, at the end of this debut. It's clearly going onto my "plan to get the next one" list!

PS -- it's well worth visiting Edith Maxwell's author website. Here's the webpage for the country store mysteries, and it's easy to navigate to the author's Events listing, too. Why not get two copies -- one for yourself, one for a holiday gift -- and get them signed by the author? She'll be mostly in Massachusetts, but there are some events this coming week in the Midwest, and sure to be more, as her research issues the call of the road!

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Risk, Danger, and Love, in THE HOT COUNTRIES, Timothy Hallinan, Thailand

The seventh Poke Rafferty Bangkok thriller is out -- and it's a fantastic wrap-up to this part of the series. THE HOT COUNTRIES tackles crime in one of the world's most notorious cities for crime, but from the point of view of a travel writer who's fallen hopelessly and forever in love ... with Bangkok, with his wife Rose (who knows the sex trade from the inside), and with his firmly adopted daughter Miaow. The trouble is, love may have put its rose-colored lenses in front of some other parts of Poke's life, where it's not a wise idea to feel mushy and warm about what's going on.

The action opens with a moody and sweet scene at the Expat Bar, a local men's hangout where Poke's wandered more often than usual lately, escaping the surge of British TV watching that Rose and Miaow (or Mia, in her new teen persona) are indulging in. The oldtimers at the bar have made him welcome for years. So in Poke's mellow evening, there's no reason to worry about the presence of a new fellow in the line-up at the bar, Arthur Varney. At least, not until Poke realizes that Varney is the mover-and-shaker behind some very threatening messages coming his way, messages that threaten his family (and by the way, Rose is pregnant) and also his friends. Especially at risk is Treasure, a street waif who's seen horrendous abuse and is recovering very slowly after Poke's managed to settle her into a group home for kids who share her past experience. And the threat is being delivered via messages to Poke himself.
Treasure says, "I'm frightened."

"I know," Poke says. "But we're not just going to keep you away from him. We're going after him, and when we find him, you'll never have to think about him again."
A rash promise.

Here's where that highly technical term "part of a series" come into play. Yes, this is number 7 in Timothy Hallinan's Bangkok series, but it's also the third -- and completing title -- of a set of the Rafferty books that focus on how and whether Treasure can actually be saved from both the horrors of her past life and the overwhelming power and wealth of her abuser(s). As he did with number 6 (For the Dead), Hallinan is playing Poke Rafferty's almost naive drive to save the people he cares about, against the sweaty tropical weight of a culture that's almost given up on its vulnerable members.

Although Poke is highly motivated to fight the criminals battering his life, he's truly an "amateur sleuth" in the sense of the genre definition: no martial arts skills, no amazing weapons, not even a trained sniper on his side. But there are those old men from the Expat Bar ... a police officer who's a friend, even if a disgraced one ... and some women and "ladyboys" who recognize that Poke himself is worth saving.

The people who come through for Poke do so because he's earned their loyalty. Most of all, this time, the heroes include his own daughter, who's been through a lot herself. Astute readers will notice Miaow's steady progress toward taking responsibility for resisting evil and asserting her own amazing future -- so the book's ending is especially satisfying, as well as surprising in the best of ways.

I do hope this isn't the "final" Poke Rafferty book, because this stretch of intense and suspenseful thrillers set in a wickedly complex and dangerous Thai city has given me a really good ride! Keep them rolling, Tim Hallinan and Soho Crime ... please.

[PS - if you're a reader who stays WAY away from thrillers that include sexual abuse, you have my sympathy ... and my assurance that even though that's a major crime in the Poke Rafferty series, it's portrayed as a justice issue, not as porn. Safe to read these, truly.]

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Texas Rangers & Western Bioterrorism, STRONG LIGHT OF DAY, Jon Land

Jon Land brings us a new adventure with Caitlin Strong, a fifth-generation Texas Ranger who's still prying loose the tales of her grandfather's and father's exploits in the tough-minded law enforcers. In STRONG LIGHT OF DAY, she and her lover Cort Wesley are galvanized into action by the sudden disappearance of 30 students from Cort Wesley's son's school -- including his son. Although there's no ransom demand, what else could this be but a major kidnapping, immaculately planned?

To discover where the students are, and make a workable plan for their rescue, Strong and her team (yes, including her massive assistant Guillermo Paz, when he's not seeking paranormal advice) must probe the local wing of the Russian mob. Land deftly interweaves the conflicts of an earlier generation to show how inevitable it is that the mob would pick Strong's Lone Star State for the launch of a major bioterrorism plot.

This is a fast-paced thriller, with a bit less of the supernatural than some of the earlier ones in the series. Instead of ghostly presences, there's a major disturbance on the home front, as Cort Wesley's boys step into action, clearly the next generation getting involved. Count on a hint of Romeo and Juliet too, as Cort Wesley's family took one side of the law, Caitlin Strong's the other, at least in the past. Did their interests ever coincide? What opened the way for the current generation's intricate entanglement?

You don't need to read the others in the series before this one (this is number seven - click here for Land's blog post on how Caitlin Strong was born as his fierce and wonderful character), although some things will be clearer if you have. Pick up a copy for a fast ride with just the right amount of "it hasn't happened yet but it could" -- and plenty of lively firefights, but not much in-your-face gore. I'm a fan of the SUV combat scenes, myself!