Saturday, November 30, 2019

Naughty and Nice: Three Diverse Crime Novels for Your December List

Three crime fiction treats for your reading pleasure, now that the evenings are so long:
  • Barbara Cleverly, INVITATION TO DIE.
  • Martin Edwards, GALLOWS COURT.
  • Gerry Boyle, RANDOM ACT.
Crime fiction fans are fortunate readers: They can dip deeply into a series, or explore a wide range, and either way, there's some great reading among the 2019 titles!

Let's start close to this reviewer's Vermont location with Gerry Boyle's 2019 title, RANDOM ACT. The 12th in Boyle's highly enjoyable dark crime series featuring Maine journalist Jack McMorrow, this is a gem of action, risk, and vicious crime. Most dangerous in this title is the romantic passion that Jack's Special Forces neighbor Louis drops into ... with a mysterious blond who brings Russian crime attention to the neighborhood. The only risk on this one is that you may need two copies, so you can give one to a friend as a holiday gift and keep the other for your own shelf. Well worth it! (We've been fans of all Boyle's work, always a good read. And Islandport Press does a nice job.)

Can't figure out why I haven't reviewed more of the crime fiction by Martin Edwards. GALLOWS COURT comes via Poisoned Pen Press, which is now a Sourcebooks imprint. Set in London, 1930, it's an astonishing classic sleuth novel featuring a woman detective clearly operating outside the law, Rachel Savernake. Double points of view keep the twists spinning, and the finale meets the quintessential criterion for a good novel: a perfect fit with what's happened, and yet an intense surprise. Reading Jacqueline Winspear, Charles Todd, Barbara Cleverly? Try Martin Edwards and put a pillow over the phone for the duration.

Classic English detective (inspector) fiction, Roaring Twenties, Cambridge, and romance: What a divine mix! This second in Barbara Cleverly's John Redfyre series (the first was Fall of Angels last year) has a delightful set of treats, along with a series of mysterious crimes that involve multiple murders and insight into a "dark and bloody war." A gem of a comment to Detective Inspector Redfyre from a medical examiner in here:
"They say death's a leveller," the doctor murmured, "but I don't know. It's hardly a scientific view, but it always seems to my jaundiced eye to accentuate differences. And sometimes it distorts. Subjects take on a deceptively saintly aspect—and the reverse. Looking at our bloke, I'd say 'saintly,' wouldn't you? He may have been an utter blackguard in life, of course. That's up to you to discover, my friend."
You don't need to read the first in the series, but Cleverly, published by Soho Crime/Soho Press, is a consistently agile and entertaining storyteller; grab this one, and the odds suggest you'll want some or all of the others. (The Joe Sandilands series, her earlier one, is highly satisfying.)

Good luck with your list ... hope this gives you a boost into the season, whether for gifts or for self-spoiling stress relief and delight.

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

Olen Steinhauer, THE LAST TOURIST, March 2020 Release

Olen Steinhauer's penetrating anti-spy espionage book The Tourist was published in 2009; for his March 2020 title, he's chosen THE LAST TOURIST. Like his other titles, this one can be read in several vital ways -- as announcing the last in his "Tourist" books, for instance, or as a label for Milo Weaver himself, struggling stepfather and agency-organized murderer with mega regrets. The group he worked for was called the Department of Tourism, and it tackled adjusting the global balance of power, one daring and highly illegal exploit at a time.

In the opening section of THE LAST TOURIST, however, it's not Milo's point of view we're sharing, but that of the very naive CIA desk jockey Abdul Ghali. To his astonishment, this young American whose first language is a special Arab dialect is summoned from his desk to fly to North Africa and interview Milo Weaver -- someone he's never heard of. But the CIA issues Abdul a specific set of questions to ask the notorious former "Tourist," and off he goes. Even Abdul has to wonder whether he's been chosen for the task because he is, ahem, expendable.
The shock took a while to fade. The idea that the Agency considered me expendable, yes, but more than that I couldn't shake the image of Collins, tosssed against that stone wall, the way his head had lost its form. His broken body stuck with me as we drove north, into the wide black desert that had been a home to my people, but to me looked like the antithesis of home, a terrain that left nowhere to hide.
On the other hand, Milo's transformation from authorized criminal of the Department of Tourism has led to his developing a very different organization, entirely information based: The Library. And Abdul's presence is quickly enmeshed in the issues of who's gunning for The Library now, and whether the attack is survivable — for Abdul, for Milo, for the information network itself.

Steinhauer's fast-paced thriller is based squarely in "today," including the current US presidential administration. He works from two directions: the awkward moral choices and deepening of Milo himself (and incidentally Abdul, much though he hates the notion), and an outrageous proposal about the nature of our time.

In terms of Milo, here's how I described this conflicted spy-on-spies back in 2012, when the original Tourist trilogy was completed:
The trouble is, Milo Weaver, like George Smiley, is one of those people who feels "responsible." In spite of having done some terrible things, he's mostly done them when directly ordered to do so, and he's the sort of spy who'd somehow try to make things right for people he's hurt by accident. So when people he cares about are threatened, and he's the only one who can take action, he's got little choice in his moral calculus: He's got to go back undercover.
In fact, Milo in later life is far further undercover than ever ... and managing a massive information network that engages a dozen nations and uses the effort of balancing their databases as a way to damp down conflict and disaster. With his sister Alexandra, he's held the group together so far, but with his power and control come regular attacks, and the group itself is a prime source of those! So, can he (1) maneuver around the latest effort to depose him and capsize The Library, (2) avoid killing indiscriminately and preferably only murder truly bad people, and (3) save enough of his interior morality to be able to face the questions of his now 17-year-old stepdaughter honestly?

You want to know about the outrageous proposal part? Let's start with the US court decision commonly called "Citizens United" -- the one that enables private wealth to operate easily as a political force. Steinhauer, through Milo's very uncomfortable multinational (and very risky) discovery process, paints the entire global power structure as transformed into a balance of profit: Corporations, especially information ones (such as a thinly disguised Facebook-cum-Snapchat), can overwhelm and overrule, and the Big Decisions are now made to favor their increasing wealth and power. Milo's catching on:
Bad days in America and always, the cloud that hung over all human endeavor: climate change. As world temperatures crept steadily upward, people remained resolutely distracted by the crimes humans committed against each other. Everyone was dancing to the wrong tune, and dancing toward a cliff.
Later, Milo will try to explain this to Abdul, a perfect foil in such naive ignorance:
"Look we got it wrong, and we kept getting it wrong. All of us. Afer 1990, we thought history as we knew it was over. The last big competing superpower had imploded, leaving only the US to oversee the final move into a liberal democratic world order. Not everyone agreed. ... Factionalism. So we all started adjusting our policies to deal with this. But history kept shifting. Russia and China rose and Europe began to fracture, which brought us back to the start: Superpowers were back. ... Money ignores borders. Corporations are the new nation-states."
Although there seem to be quite a few lectures to Abdul (and Milo's lectures to himself), the action is swift and suspenseful, with abundant firearms, explosions, and chases. (I'm on board for the film versions, just let me know when, Mr. Clooney.)

How Milo will resolve the dangerous refocusing around him and whether he and his family can survive it without further deaths or deep wounds -- moral or physical -- is in doubt all the way through. Brace for an ending that clearly concludes the Tourist espionage books. The author never gave you any other expectation, right? But is it also the end of the world, as we know it?

And who are we more similar to: Milo? His sister Alexandra? Or ... Abdul?

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

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Stress-Free Holiday Travel: Crime Fiction from Sujata Massey and Peter Lovesey

Book shopping for the holidays? Here are two for the list, whether your intention is to gift-wrap a treat for a friend, or to build a TBR stack for yourself to hide in as the year-end "important" celebrations roll up.

Sujata Massey's India series, set after World War I, features Perveen Mistry, a young woman lawyer from Bombay struggling to find a niche for her skills in a culture and time period that bars women from full action. The first in the series was The Widows of Malabar Hill, and it involved a lot of explanation of religious groups, liberal versus orthodox leanings, and gendered roles of the period. In THE SATAPUR MOONSTONE, the second in the series, Massey relaxes this pressure and focuses instead on life in India's hill states at the time, when a prince can isolate the women and children in his family in ways that prevent any public presence for them. So Sir David Hobson-Jones recruits Perveen to travel to the very un-Westernized state of Satapur and insinuate herself among the women there, to tackle a mess that the civil service is unable to resolve.

Aong its haunting details of the terrain and the odd balancing act of British rule and local princedoms, to the dangerous emotional ride Perveen chooses for herself as she interacts with a man her own parents would clearly not approve of, the book's tension rises rapidly. Risk, deadly attacks, poisoning, and isolation in the hill country all ramp up the suspense. Although, because this is a series, there's good reason to believe Perveen will survive her investigation, she's clearly stirred up more violence, including against children, by intervening on behalf of the civil service, and a number of intense scenes and perilous moments keep open the question of how much Perveen herself will risk and lose in her work ... and who else will pay the price.

Fair warning: Although you don't need to read the first in the series before thoroughly enjoying THE SATAPUR MOONSTONE, you're likely to want to acquire it soon afterward. And, of course, leave room on the shelf for more to come. (No translation issues here, by the way; Massey was born in England and lives in Maryland, and is a very nimble storyteller.)

Peter Lovesey opens his 18th "Peter Diamond" crime novel, KILLING WITH CONFETTI,  with a prison outbreak that's soon linked to a quandary for his long-term protagonist and seasoned law enforcement officer, Detective Superintendent Peter Diamond: Diamond's superior, Deputy Chief Constable George Brace, expects him to personally supervise a highly unusual situation. Brace's son Ben is marrying his longtime girlfriend Caroline, and Diamond is to provide both security and prevention ... because the bride is the daughter of crime boss Joe Irving, and the fact that Irving is out of prison at the moment doesn't make him any less dangerous or treacherous. Plus, of course, Irving's exposure in a public wedding frame sets up crime vengeance opportunities for his enemies.

Louise Penny has called this investigator "impatient, belligerent, cunning, insightful, foul, laugh-out-loud funny." It's a good description, and Diamond will need all those character traits to sort out the mess he's been dumped into. Adding to the complex of personalities and potential crimes is the setting for the wedding: the Abbey and Roman Baths of Bath, England, an archaeological delight and a crime prevention nightmare.

If you have a friend who's still stuck in "old-fashioned" British crime fiction like Agatha Christie's books, here's a great opportunity to lure the reader into the modern century without losing the very British flavor. No need to read the earlier books before this one, as Lovesey is adept at setting a scene and moving his diverse and diverting characters into believable and intense confrontations. That said, long-time readers of the series will get the most chuckles from the humor in here. A great book for crossing generations, too—something to bear in mind if you're in a book club where the age range is wide and there are frequent disagreements about taste. You could sow holiday peace and renewal, just by handing around copies of Lovesey's latest.

Both of these are from Soho Crime, the very active mystery imprint of Soho Press.

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

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

How Murderous Is the Tour de France? THE BLACK JERSEY by Jorge Zepeda Patterson

Award-winning Mexican journalist and novelist Jorge Zepeda Patterson released THE BLACK JERSEY, a dark and threatening look behind the scenes of the bicycle race called the Tour de France. Through the eyes of Marc Moreau, a professional cyclist whose own past has included strange experiences in the military, the complexities of the race and its "teams" take on a harshly competitive atmosphere. The stakes of the race are high enough to overwhelm ordinary morality and inspire an "anything goes" mentality ... as Moreau suffers the trials of an athlete tackling mountainous terrain, yet in far more danger from the other riders.

As crime fiction, THE BLACK JERSEY -- the title is a riff off the tradition of the cycling leader wearing a yellow one -- is fast-paced and intense. It will make a great addition to the shelves of anyone regretting that they're not at the top of this cycling adventure themselves, since the miseries of both the sport and the aggression make staying home seem far more appealing!

American readers will find two challenges to the book: First, it's narrated entirely in first person, rich with personal insight at a literary level that's not common in this kind of crime fiction. Second, the translation, by Achy Obejas, sweeps a flavor of translated Spanish fiction like that of Carlos Ruiz Zafón (The Shadow of the Wind) through the pages. If you're a fan of the Zafón work, you'll feel right at home. But if you're happier with the familiar phrasing and pacing of American crime fiction, you may feel stranded in a foreign land.

Here's a sample to get the feel of the writing:
Once again, Radek spoke for our collective indignation. "If you do anything like yesterday," he told the Lavezza leader, "I'll kill you. ... I'll do it, do you hear me?" Radek insisted, then looked at me defiantly, as if I'd also disrespected him. I nodded without a word, thinking anything I said could make him angrier or, worse, lead him to fulfill his promise. ... "Don't kill him," I said after a pause. "Just make sure he's not wearing the yellow jersey in Paris." I went for a festive tone, as if the whole conversation was nothing more than a joke. I hadn't finished my sentence when I realized my mistake. Radek pursed his lips and narrowed his eyes, like a Templar receiving a holy assignment. I won't uncover the killer, but I'm going to end up creating one,  I thought with a shiver.
Grab a copy if you're ready to dig into this challenge. And by all means, give a copy to any cycling racer who has time to hit the couch with this slow work of quintessential noir. You never know — you could save a life, or at least protect a good friend from daring the Tour.

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

Monday, November 18, 2019

Autumn Mysteries to Catch Up With: Archer Mayor's BOMBER'S MOON, and THE RANSOM by Nancy Boyarsky

November's a perfect month for shopping for mystery books, because there are two equally valid choices: buy them as gifts (the gifting holidays are racing toward us), or stack them for the dark days that linger from now til February, at least in the northern hemisphere.

So here are a pair to consider. THE RANSOM from former political author Nancy Boyarsky is the fourth in the Nicole Graves series:

1. The Swap
2. The Bequest
3. Liar Liar
4. The Ransom

This time, Nicole has a proper private investigator's license, which makes investigating in Los Angeles much safer. Or at least, it should. But while she investigates an apparent home invasion-turned-kidnapping, she discovers an unexpected deposit of more than $2 million to her own checking account. Tracking down the source isn't hard—but the sudden wealth makes Nicole herself a target, and soon she's trying to investigate multiple crimes with a very clever twist.

Boyarsky deserves to be better known: Her plotting is fast-paced, tight, and surprising, and she walks the line between dark and smart in an enjoyable mode that leaves room for some laughter, some flirtation, and a lot of hard-core investigation:
Nicole took the box, went into her office and closed the door. She'd just finished locking the money in the cupboard where she kept her purse and jacket, when she thought of something. Why had the kidnappers failed to show up at the first two drops? ... the police took extra care on the second drop, when they'd used the drone to keep watch. Somehow the kidnappers still found out the cops were involved.  ... She thought of her conversation with Kevin that morning, his nonplussed attitude ... It was as if he'd been expecting her call.
I enjoyed racing along with Nicole, and savored the careful plotting that allowed me to get a handle on the crime just in time to feel that I could have solved it -- but not so soon that the suspense would be crushed. Nice work! And worth picking this up, especially if you have a shelf for women investigators.

Another must-buy from the autumn releases is Archer Mayor's 30th Joe Gunther mystery, BOMBER'S MOON. Fans of the series will be especially pleased to savor a full house of the favorite characters from this Vermont-based investigation team: Joe Gunther as an investigator resisting retirement, the puzzling relationship of Sammie Martens and Willy Kunkle, return appearances by other investigators and even one of the criminals from an earlier book. It also features Mayor's trademark "rough talk" as he crossed police conversation with a hint of military:
In fact, Gunther's present ranking was as statewide field commander of all VBI investigations. However, instead of flying a desk at headquarters in Waterbury, alongside the agency's director, he'd insisted on also being agent in charge of the southeast office, one of five aceross Vermont. An unusual setup, it had been his only requirement to transferring to the VBI from the Brattleboro PD, where he'd been chief of detectives. He was among the longest-serving and most respected cops in Vermont.
What makes the book stand out the most is the way Mayor plays two characters against each other and then perhaps in tandem: investigative reporter Rachel Reiling, and private investigator (PI) Sally Kravitz.

The book also has some frustrating aspects that may irk obsessive readers: papers that seem significant but never quite materialize, the absence of resolution on at least three characters and their conflict, threads left incomplete for Willy and Sammie. But go for the ride and don't be too fussy! Add this one to a Vermont shelf ... or PI shelf ... or police procedurals. Or place it in the center of your TBR stack, for a delicious winter reward.

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

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Alaskan Crime Fiction from Keenan Powell, HEMLOCK NEEDLE

It's winter in Vermont, and the weather's taken on an ambition to reflect the storms of the nation's capital: Gusty, icy, sometimes bright with color, but determinedly making things harder, day by day. And with the shortening hours of light, a person needs to take deliberate action to avoid freezing into some seasonal depression.

Reading mysteries set in Alaska might be a good notion, about now.

Crime fiction often goes dark when it's set in northern landscapes. Nordic noir exposes the cost of unhealed grief and trauma -- often, as in the hands of Henning Mankell, tugging a reluctant and damaged sleuth across the landscape. John Straley and Stan Jones tilt the darkness into the murders and abuse in their Alaskan crime fiction instead.

Keenan Powell takes another direction. Although her sleuth Maeve Malloy has reason to be bitter -- her choices in love have burned her and her career badly -- she can't afford time for a pity party. HEMLOCK NEEDLE is the second in the series (the first was Deadly Solution), and just as Maeve received notice that there's a bar complaint against her legal career, she confronts an irresistible emergency: Single mom Esther Fancyboy has vanished, and Esther's seven-year-old son Evan wants Maeve to find his mother. Now.

Powell spins a lively page-turner, with well-paced variation from action plot to Maeve's own issues. A former Anchorage attorney herself, she also dips heavily into Yu'Pik Eskimo culture:
Margaret continued. "In the village, when someone gets lost, their soul wanders the tundra. They look different from real people, all white. If you see them, they run away. They're afraid of living people."

Esther had been missing three days. No call, no text message from her at all. No effort to assure her seven-year-old son that she was alright, that he was loved, and that he didn't need to be afraid. By now, there was a pretty good chance that she was a ghost.

But until there was proof, Maeve would assume she was still alive and needed help.
It's touchy to write crime fiction that crosses cultures (white legal person, Yu'pik Eskimo community). Evaluating whether the author's crossed the line of #ownvoices is tough. The best measure that Powell has done this cleanly, though, is that her writing almost always stays inside Maeve's thinking: Her other Alaskan voices speak for themselves, but with restraint, and she writes with respect and a touch of awe about the customs and beliefs among her characters. Even the missing woman Esther Fancyboy, is a chief financial officer, someone strong and active and likeable.

Although the physical copy of the book, from Level Best Books, has the feel of a low-budget self-published work, HEMLOCK NEEDLE provides a well-written, hard-driving investigation with memorable characters. It stacks up well against the more experienced Alaska crime fiction voices of Jones and Straley, and I'll be watching for the sequel.

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

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Mystery Publisher to Keep an Eye On: Encircle Publications

At  the New England Crime Bake this weekend, the two (married to each other) people who "are" Encircle Publications, Eddie Vincent and Cynthia Brackett-Vincent, shared perceptive insight on today's mystery publishing business. Just as much in flux as any other market segment, it's also providing healthy new forms, and Encircle captures one of the most intriguing: a small to mid-sized publishing house where authors are significant, strong writing matters, and this much-loved genre thrives.

In a season when several small-ish mystery publishers have either folded or been gobbled up by the big franchises, here's a chance to pay attention -- and pay some support -- to a rising star.

Currently the mystery author list at Encircle includes:

Thursday, November 07, 2019

For the Gift List: Cara Black, MURDER IN BEL-AIR

It's time to shop for holiday gifts. One book for me, one book for you. Isn't that fair enough, from one book lover to another?

Cara Black's MURDER IN BEL-AIR, number 19 in her astonishing series featuring single-mom Parisian detective Aimée Leduc, may be her best yet. With a robustly complex plot that involves the disappearance of Aimée's own mother, as well as others, this crime novel plunges into both the Leduc family complications and the criminal enterprises of the City of Lights. And it's full of moments that capture this stylish detective at her most determined an active, like this:
She'd struck a chord. Thrown him off-balance.

"Where are you from?" she asked.

"Arles." His answer came too quick. And she'd never heard a Provençal accent like his. Not even close to that musical patois.

She saw him tense, and his lips moved—he was whispering something.

Merde. Was he wired?

With no more of a plan than to get the hell out, she accelerated, veering left as she kicked straight out with her right foot. Counted on the element of surprise. Her stiletto heel got him in the thigh. Wobbling over the cobblestones in the rain, the scooter shot forward and out of the courtyard.

Right into traffic. Her handlebars scraped a van, and she almost lost her balance. But somehow she kept going, weaving in the downpour with a cacophony of horns blaring behind her.
Black's author note at the start connects the plot to her own mother, and her lithe depictions of strong vibrant women in MURDER IN BEL-AIR contributes to the story's swift action and bright undercurrents. No need to read the other 18 titles first ... get this one for yourself for holiday-season relaxing, and give a copy to one of your best friends as well.

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

Saturday, November 02, 2019

Strong Stand-Alone from Garry Disher, UNDER THE COLD BRIGHT LIGHTS (Australia)

Australian author Garry Disher now has more than 50 books to his credit, but is not yet well known in America. Thanks to Soho Crime, his two crime series—the gritty yet often tender Hal Challis books and very very dark "noir" of the Wyatt series—have mostly traveled to the United States. In July, Soho Crime (the crime fiction imprint of Soho Press) brought out a stand-alone from this author: UNDER THE COLD BRIGHT LIGHTS.

The book's closer in tone to the Hal Challis series than to the Wyatt books. Detective Alan Auhl, now an acting sergeant, is much older than most of the force and has been pulled back into action to tackle the cold cases. He is clearly wounded, himself. His former wife sometimes visits, but not always to share affection with him; in addition, Auhl owns a boarding house that caters to people with hard-luck stories yet decent hearts, among them an abused woman named Neve and her young daughter Pia, still being emotionally strangled by their ties to Pia's father. While Auhl struggles to help Neve and Pia find a position of strength, he's also tangled up in the cold case of John Elphick, whose daughters insist he was murdered, and with a newly discovered body that clearly dates back to a much earlier death, as well as a murderous doctor—and maybe it's just as well he's so busy. Otherwise he'd drown in the grief and angst of his boarders.

The delight of Disher's investigation novels is the depth he unfolds in his investigators, and UNDER THE COLD BRIGHT LIGHTS is a great example -- and also, for that reason, a good starter if you haven't yet read any of this Down-Under author. Here's a sample:
As the evening deepened, Auhl brooded. Men like Kelso, Fanning—Alec Neill. Their assumptions,  cronyism, power, sense of entitlement. Pre-emptive strike kinds of men: they seized the advantage while the rest of the world was thinking things through. Like Neill with his accusations against his wife,  thought Auhl. And as soon as we move against him he'll surround himself with lawyers and colleagues. ... Quite suddenly, a deeper unease settled into Auhl. Saturday morning. Janine Neill, pale, dizzy, uncoordinated. She had speculated blithely that Neill might shoot her or push her off a rock, but what if he'd poisoned her? Surely he couldn't be that arrogant? But he'd succeeded three times before Maybe he thought he was untouchable. ... [Auhl] dressed in dark clothing, backed his elderly Saab out of the garage and headed across to East Melbourne, heart jumpy and mouth dry.
Like Karen Slaughter, Tucker Coe (a Westlake nom de plume), or Louise Penny, Disher gives us an investigator whose sense of his own belonging to the world depends on taking action against the cruel, malicious, and criminal. Thanks to his deep experience and careful craft, UNDER THE COLD BRIGHT LIGHTS is one of the most satisfying mysteries of 2019.

[More Disher reviews here.]

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

Friday, November 01, 2019

New from Lee Child, BLUE MOON (Jack Reacher)

At a rough count, this is number 25 from Lee Child, of which 23 involve Jack Reacher. Count on BLUE MOON for rattling good adventure, casual violence, and those moments of thoughtful appraisal and deep kindness that make a Jack Reacher thriller so different from the average shoot-'em-up. I confess, I pre-order each one and look forward to a couple of evenings of true relaxation.

In BLUE MOON, Reacher's riding on a long-distance bus when he realizes an elderly man on the bus has become a crime target. And you know Reacher, right? He gets off the bus when the almost-victim does, tries to intervene ... and gets caught up in a city-wide crime wave.

It's hard to avoid spoilers, so let's just say there are Albanians and Ukrainians, and some effect of Russians -- and a remarkable woman, and some great brothers-in-arms moments.

What I do want to specifically mention is part of the brothers-in-arms conversation on pages 182-183, when Reacher outlines his approach to the potentially violent confrontation he's headed into:
"First I need to understand what they're saying in the texts, and then I need to use what I learn, in order to figure out what to do next. No combat readiness yet. No warnings necessary."

"Suppose what you learn is that it's hopeless?"

"Not an acceptable outcome. Can only be a failure of planning."
Now that I've noticed this, I'll be re-reading earlier Reacher titles, looking for the same sort of wry comment on military prep and thinking. It comes up again later in BLUE MOON, when the very interesting woman (yes, Reacher seems to only connect deeply with strong women) asks Reacher whether he actually believes -- as he told someone earlier -- than some day he will fail:
"It's something they teach you in the army. The only thing under your direct control is how hard you work. In other words, if you really, really buckle down today, and you get the intelligence, the planning, and the execution each a hundred percent exactly correct, then you are bound to prevail."
And in some ways, of course, Reacher does. Readers of the series know that won't make him immune from pain and loss, but ... it makes a heck of a good story.

If you've never read one of these -- go back as far as you can in the series (see, and read your way forward, for the most enjoyment.

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