Sunday, July 27, 2014

Washington, DC, Mysteries: Max Allan Collins and Andy Straka

Last fall my mystery-collecting husband Dave and I took advantage of a national mystery conference being almost in our area, as Bouchercon was held in Albany, New York. Spending four days with 1200 mystery fans was amazing. And so were the authors we met there, including the prolific Max Allan Collins and his genial researcher and co-conspirator, Matthew (Matt) Clemens.

So I picked up a copy of this team's 2014 political suspense thriller, SUPREME JUSTICE, to relax with on a few summer evenings. In some ways the book is set in an uncertain future: The nation has its second African-American president; the court case protecting first-trimester abortion, Roe v. Wade, has been overturned; and with a right-wing-dominated Supreme Court, search and seizure provision of the USA PATRIOT Act thrive, overrunning traditional Constitutional protections.

Plunging into this situation is Joseph Reeder, an uncertain hero for sure. Reeder's action as a Secret Service agent in the past, taking a bullet to protect his President, made him nationally acclaimed -- but the public and especially his colleagues turned against him when he later quit his job, letting it be known that he couldn't keep supporting an administration that he felt obliged to criticize.

But a few people still believe in Reeder's skills, especially the set he has honed as a private consultant: his people-reading skills, which he now teaches as part of the field of "kinesics," noticing how people move and speak, and reaching conclusions about their intentions and actions. DC homicide detective Carl Bishop tags Reeder for a task force when a conservative Supreme Court Justice dies in a bar robbery gone bad. And Reeder's urgent task becomes convincing the layers of DC law enforcement that robbery was never the point of the crime -- changing the balance of the Supreme Court, though, was premeditated and intentional.
Reeder concluded: "You may say that hanging our entire investigation on my take on Judge Venter's body language is an incredibly foolish tack to take. And I would agree. ... But I will stake my reputation ... which isn't much of a bet in this company ... on being right."
A new law enforcement partner, risk to Reeder's family, and enemies around him on the urgent task force ramp the tensions up quickly, and Collins's trademark pacing and dialogue (built effectively and cleverly over a story treatment he credits to Clemens) makes SUPREME JUSTICE a compelling and intriguing read, raising tough questions about our national government while knotting all the threads of plot and character into a classic action investigation.

Just before picking up the new Collins book, I received a copy of Andy Straka's THE K STREET HUNTING SOCIETY from Cedar Creek Publishing. This was a new author to me, although Straka has 10 novels to his credit and has won a Shamus Award for his Frank Pavlicek mystery series. Pavlicek, like the author, is a licensed falconer living not far from Washington, DC, and he's a former police officer from New York City. But as a private investigator, he and his daughter Nicole team ip to help their friend Jake Toronto provide private security to a multimillionaire software entrepreneur. When the scene goes wrong, with two of the protection team wounded and a software developer dead, Frank and Jake tackle the hunt for a killer who's been known to law enforcement in the region already -- a serious professional with the skills to murder and hide.

Forget the falconry aspect of the protagonists -- Straka brings it in more as metaphor than anything else, although I gather his earlier books have used the bird skills a bit more. Instead, this is a traditional political thriller with good twists, especially in terms of motives and targets. It's a shorter book, closing at page 200, and is built mostly on dialogue, as well as the swift action pace. I found it a good read, and I'll be keeping an eye out for Straka's other titles. (This is book 6.) Straka also has an intriguing blog, which is easy to find from his author website (click here). Two small final details: I was impressed with the quality of editing for this book, especially considering it's from a small publisher, where my expectations are lower; and second, ignore the title -- it's a total misfit. Let me know what you think when you have a chance to read this one.

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