Sunday, December 18, 2011
Sunday, December 4, 2011
Two recent crime novels set in Michigan are highly entertaining, although they occur in vastly different locations and time periods.
The carefully crafted, cozy mystery stars Lee McKinney Woodyard, who works as business manager for her aunt's chocolate business.
This time, Lee's following her aunt's instructions to clean out an old storage space at the specialized chocolate factory and retail location.
Lee discovers a dusty trophy that brings back unpleasant old memories for her aunt.
Forty-five years earlier, her aunt's singing group, the Pier-O-Ettes, had won the trophy in a singing contest at the lake's Castle Ballroom.
That was the night the owner of the ballroom was found shot, an apparent suicide. The Pier-O-Ettes are now back for an eventful high school reunion, and the tasty plot thickens when a new murder occurs.
JoAnna Carl, who also writes as Eve K. Sandstrom, offers a delightful, fast-paced tale, complete with interesting chocolate chat and trivia.
The sequel to Johnson's excellent "Detroit Electric Scheme" showcases flawed hero Will Anderson again getting into lots of trouble.
The first chapter sets the pace, with Will discovering the dead body of Carlo Moretti, the driver for Vito Adamo, a local crime boss.
Will goes on the run, afraid he's going to be charged with murder; soon he's caught up in Detroit's first mob war. The rival Gianolla gang threatens violence; more complications arise as the Teamsters attempt to unionize Will's father's electric automobile company.
Will faces more challenges, including his addiction to morphine. His former fiancee, a determined cop and young members of what will become the infamous Purple Gang play a vital part of the action.
Johnson is in fine form as he describes Detroit, a hustling, bustling town full of new immigrants and crooked cops. He throws in cameo appearances by an assortment of automotive pioneers including Ransom E. Olds; Edsel Ford, Henry Ford and Thomas Edison are also involved.
Ray Walsh, owner of East Lansing's Curious Book Shop, has reviewed crime novels and Michigan books regularly since 1987.
This review was originally published by the Lansing State Journal on Sunday, December 4, 2011.
Weisenfeld, an award-winning journalist who attended MSU, has ties to the local community, working as a news broadcaster in the late 1960s and early 1970s for WITL.
His debut novel, set in the late 1990s, showcases private detective Randal Bristol, who only accepts clients on a referral basis.
While this significantly limits his clientele, Bristol likes it that way, working hard to keep media exposure at a minimum.
The fast-paced novel is divided into three subsections, mostly taking place in California. Bristol's initial case involves a highly unusual blackmail scheme, a search for a lost film and the quest for a missing script.
Later segments deal with a clever terrorist who's out to stop a film's production, deadly secrets and a major wildfire.
Stylistically, this new crime novel is easy to read, with more than 180 short chapters and snappy dialogue.
Spurts of unexpected violence towards the end are a bit jolting; some transitions are not as smooth as in the earlier parts of the novel. The conclusion is complicated but satisfying; it's not completely believable but still highly entertaining.
Weisenfeld deftly captures much of the underlying craziness in Hollywood, dealing with a wide assortment of greedy filmmakers, studio executives, worn-out actors and actresses, nasty thugs and wannabe movie stars.
Ray Walsh, owner of East Lansing's Curious Book Shop, has reviewed crime novels and noir thrillers regularly since 1987.
Monday, November 21, 2011
Sleazy lawyers abound in a pair of highly entertaining new novels. With many courtroom shenanigans and unexpected plot twists, these fast-paced tales are likely to keep you up reading all night, rooting for the underdog.
“The Litigators”, by best-selling author John Grisham, (Doubleday, $28.95) is his best book in a few years.
Grisham, the masterful storyteller well known for his excellent legal thrillers, doesn’t disappoint his loyal fans as adds a bit more humor, introducing ambulance-chasing attorneys Oscar Finley and Wally Figg.
The lower level attorneys have been together for over 20 years, operating out of a seedy Chicago office, specializing in quickie divorces and DUI’s.
David Zinc is a smart, young, burned-out attorney who’s tired of 100-hour weeks. He impulsively decides to quit his job at a prestigious law firm, ending up drunk at Finley and Figg’s office.
As unlikely as it seems, he joins the lawyers and soon becomes involved in a class action suit against a major pharmaceutical company.
That’s where the fun begins, as the attorneys try to get statements from people whose family members have either died or been harmed by Krayoxx, a popular cholesterol-reducing drug with possible deadly side effects.
Sleaziness is not limited to the Finley and Figg firm; other attorneys around the country jump on the bandwagon and the huge pharmaceutical firm has its own unscrupulous tactics. Grisham is in fine form with strong, likable characters, lots of courtroom action and a satisfying conclusion.
“Lassiter” by award-winning author Paul Levine (Bantam, $25) marks the gritty return of Jack Lassiter, a former football player who’s earned a reputation as a tough lawyer in Miami’s low rent district.
Beautiful Amy Larkin hires Lassiter to investigate the disappearance of her sister Kristi, eighteen years earlier at a party at a local porn producer’s mansion.
Runaway, underage Kristi had starred in some films, but has vanished; Lassiter was peripherally involved and vows to make amends.
The quirky case gets more complicated when Amy is accused murdering a mobster; the porn producer, now a philanthropist, is trying to stay out of the picture and a dedicated State Attorney is out for blood.
While it’s been 14 years since the last Lassiter novel, Levine, the author of the excellent Solomon/Lord series definitely hasn’t lost his touch.
Monday, November 14, 2011
Here’s a quick look at some interesting books with a Michigan connection that came out earlier this year.
“The Color of Night: by L.C. Timmerman and John H. Timmerman (New Horizon Press $24.95) is a compelling true crime account of the struggle for justice in the murder case of 19-year-old Rachael Timmerman and the disappearance of Shannon, her 3-month-old daughter in Newaygo County.
The fascinating, gritty, highly detailed book opens with the 1997 discovery of Rachel’s body, duct-taped, handcuffed and chained to a cement block, in Oxford Lake.
She and her daughter had disappeared two days before she was to testify against Marvin Gabrion, who she had accused of attacking and raping her. The FBI is called in; eventually he is captured in a small New York town and is a suspect in other murders.
There are many more complications in the case; ironically, the 6th Court of Appeals recently overturned the death sentence on a technicality.
This well-researched book includes courtroom testimony as well as personal insights. It’s co-written by her father, who lives outside of Cedar Springs and her uncle, a professor at Calvin College in Grand Rapids.
“As Life Goes On” by Lansing author Larry Webb (CreateSpace $14.99) is an intriguing tale about Jeremy, a teen-ager whose best friend Scott is killed in a hit-and-run accident.
Jeremy goes to the cemetery, finding Scott and Jeremy’s long-dead dog Mooshy as ghosts, sitting on a mound of dirt.
It gets stranger from there, as the trio tries to unearth what really happened in the moments before Scott’s death.
The helpful spirits discover useful information; soon they assist Jeremy in a search for a missing classmate. Although they face numerous challenges, they are successful – in a way, opening the door for another paperback in the series, “Life Moves On”.
“In Which Brief Stories Are Told” by award-winning poet Phillip Sterling, (Wayne State, $18.95) is a slim, unusual collection of 15 short stories, some only two pages long.
These carefully crafted tales by Sterling are often enigmatic, offering quick slice-of-life glimpses of emotional situations.
It’s akin to reaching your hand into a large glass jar filled with razor blades, marbles and honey - you never know where Sterling’s literate tales will take you. Sterling teaches writing and literature at Ferris State University in Big Rapids.
Sunday, November 6, 2011
"Barn Stories" by Morrice author Larry Neitzert (LWN Press, $14.95) is an amazingly good collection of 14 mesmerizing short stories by one of Michigan's most talented writers.
Neitzert, who gained acclaim with his excellent debut novel, "Maggie's Farm," last year, has self-published an exceptionally entertaining paperback anthology that smoothly delves into a variety of human emotions.
While the central action takes place inside an assortment of Michigan barns, Neitzert covers a lot of territory, beginning with "A Blue Uniform for Jonathon" a thought-provoking story set during the Civil War.
Neitzert's next tale deals with an unusual discovery by four boys in a pile of rubbish on a creek bank. Their journey to the barn and the ultimate resolution is both realistic and hilarious.
"Painted Barn" is similar, dealing with two farmers' wives, their strong beliefs and frustrations; the surprising ending certainly is unexpected.
Other stories offer sobering viewpoints from the wives of farmers or their children, examining the changing role that agriculture or livestock production is having in today's economy.
In the haylofts and in the barns, Neitzert showcases his masterful storytelling talents when dealing with aging, proud farmers who face considerable challenges.
"Retirement for Louise" focuses on a woman who wants to escape the farm life; her stubborn husband has other ideas. Another story deals with rural racism; others explore many generational differences and similarities.
"What to Do With Uncle Paul" is an emotional short story about an elderly relative who grew up on his sister's farm and has problems adjusting when the farm must be sold.
Neitzert's short stories are best absorbed a little at a time. It's almost like taking literary vitamins: one a day should make you feel much better.
The author is an MSU graduate who grew up on a farm in Coldwater and was a classroom teacher and athletic coach for 31 years. He is an adjunct instructor at Baker College of Owosso in social studies, where he teaches history.
Copies of the book can be ordered for $17.95 postpaid from the author at Larry Neitzert, P.O. Box 251, Morrice, MI 48857.
Ray Walsh, owner of East Lansing's Curious Book Shop, has reviewed Michigan books regularly since 1987.
This review was originally published in the Lansing State Journal on Sunday, November 6th, 2011.
Tuesday, November 1, 2011
Isn't it about time you brushed up on your American History?
During the month of November, the following sections are 30% OFF:
New Acquisitions at Curious include a set of Ellery Queen's best mysteries, attractively bound; vintage football programs for Michigan State and University of Michigan spanning from the 1950s to the 1980s; dozens of manga graphic novels; plenty of general fiction bestsellers; hardcover and paperback novels by Terry Pratchett; many religious books; 3 companion sets of Great Books, to be purchased together; paperback series fiction for children, including Michigan Chillers, Barbie, Magic Tree House, Choose Your Own Adventure, American Girl and more!
Many thanks to everyone who helped us celebrate our 42nd anniversary, last month.
We would LOVE to know of your fond memories and favorite books from Curious.
Please post them on our Facebook page!
CLASSICON 40 is COMING!
Join us at the University Quality Inn on
Did you stop by Curious during the Pumpkin Walk?
We had an estimated 1200 kids (plus parents!) visit the shop last Thursday,
and saw some extra-cool literary themed costumes, including Laura Ingalls Wilder,
Sherlock Holmes, Dorothy, Harry Potter, Hermione Granger, Winnie the Pooh,
Olivia the Pig, Alice in Wonderland and the Mad Hatter.
The Spartans play Minnesota on Saturday, November 5th.
This is a home game, and it begins at noon.
Remember, downtown parking is at a premium on football Saturdays!
The Spartans play their final home game against Indiana
on Saturday, November 19th. Go Green! Go White!
Literary Happenings through History for November:
Ivan Turgenev, born Nov. 9 1818. Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. born Nov. 11, 1922.
Herman Melville's Moby Dick first published by Harper and Brothers in
New York on Nov. 14, 1981. Sylvia Beach opened her Parisian book shop,
Shakespeare & Co., on Nov. 17, 1919. George Eliot born Nov. 22, 1811.
Ray Walsh, owner and founder of Curious Book Shop, celebrates his
birthday Nov. 25th! Lewis Carroll gave his handwritten manuscript,
Alice's Adventures Underground, to Alice Liddell as an early
Christmas gift on Nov. 26, 1864. John Donne, born Nov. 27 1573.
C.S. Lewis born Nov. 29, 1898. Oscar Wilde died in Paris, Nov. 30, 1900.
As the holiday season approaches, please consider shopping for gifts at Curious,
You'll find unique, beautiful gift-quality and rare books at affordable prices.
Call or email to set up an appointment with Audrey, our gift-giving guru.
She can help you find just the right item for that special someone - or for yourself!
As always, we thank you for supporting a local, independently owned book shop!
- Ray, Mark, Audrey and the rest of the Curious Gang
Monday, October 31, 2011
It’s a ghost story, a mystery, a tale of personal growth and more. It showcases John and Anna, a recently married couple, who buy an old farmhouse in Carlston, a small, fictional Western Michigan lakeshore town.
The old house is charming but needs considerable work; that’s only part of the problem. While the couple is initially skeptical, they soon discover that there are unseen, disquieting spirits in the house.
John is in the wine business, which requires him to fly off to service accounts on a regular basis. Anna busies herself with the house restoration, but she is strangely attracted to gardening, which hadn’t interested her before.
She can’t recall her actions for periods of time and has other challenges; John becomes more frustrated as they try to figure out what’s going on.
Their investigation into the past occupants of the house turns up unnerving information. During the Spanish flu influenza of 1918-19, the owners of the house died, but there are still many questions about the younger children in the family.
Anna falls seriously ill; they worry about the spirit’s possessiveness and get unexpected help from a Grand Rapids café owner.
The plot gets more convoluted from there, but Newhof spins a highly entertaining tale, told in tandem viewpoints of Anna and John.
In a search for more information, the couple issues a press release; a resulting outstate journey raises other concerns which may change their lives forever.
Newhof notes in a press interview that the intriguing novel took 13 years for her to write. It started when she and her husband bought an old farmhouse in Montague MI. She states “Many of the things that happened in this story are based on events that happened in our lives and based on things that happened in the house.”
While “Spirits and Wine” is only 168 pages long, it is a carefully crafted, compelling tale filled with strong-willed characters and a satisfying conclusion.
This is the first novel for Newhof, the author of the popular guide series “Michigan’s Town and Country Inns”, but she is working on another.
Sunday, October 23, 2011
Wednesday, October 19, 2011
Wednesday, October 12, 2011
Hello, from the Curious Book Shop!
You're one of the first to know about our big October Sale:
30% OFF Horror, Humor, Health & Hunting
What do the the Dictionary, the Bible,
the Harry Potter books and The Shining have in common?
They're all banned books!
Come celebrate National Book Month and
Banned Book Week at the Curious Book Shop.
There are dozens banned books on display,
along with information about when, where and why they were banned.
New acquisitions include beautiful art and art history books;
many cookbooks; childrens books; history books about ancient Egypt,
Greece, Rome and medieval societies; MSU Football programs (1960s - 1990s);
a fascinating collection of conspiracy theory texts and new age books;
books about Wilhelm Reich, Freud and Jung; and titles by your favorite
bestselling authors of yesterday and today!
Other new items include vintage issues of Western Horseman,
Cycle (a magazine all about motorcycles), Gleanings in Bee Culture
(bee keeping magazine from the 1930s - 1960s), Southwest Art
and the new issue of Locus, our favorite science fiction & fantasy magazine!
Do you want to be the FIRST to know when something unusual comes into the shop?
We are, admittedly, a bit behind the technological times... but we're on Facebook!
Follow us and watch for new acquisitions, posted almost every day.
Did you attended last month's 54th Michigan Antiquarian Book and Paper Show?
Tell us about your experience!
What were you hoping to find?
What items interested you the most?
We value your opinions and strive to make each show better than the last.
Mark your Calendar: The 55th show will be held on Sunday, April 1st, 2012!
More Local Upcoming Events:
MSU vs UofM The big game is this weekend,
which means parking will be at a premium.
Kickoff is at noon, at Spartan Stadium.
We've restocked our classic MSU football programs,
so stop in and take a walk down memory lane, or
fill in the gaps in your collection.
MSU Homecoming is October 21st and 22nd!
Join us along Grand River Ave. on Friday the 21st for the
annual MSU Homecoming parade, which begins at 6 p.m.
Keep in mind that parking may be quite difficult.
Enjoy beautiful downtown East Lansing before the big
football game (vs. Wisconson, 8 p.m. kickoff).
Be sure to stop in and say hello!
Halloween / Pumpkin Walk at CuriousBring the whole family for one of our favorite nights - the Pumpkin Walk!
Join us on Thursday, Oct. 27th between 5 and 7 p.m. to stock up
on tasty candy, coupons and great books for kids and adults.
This is a wonderful community event that regularly brings
over 1,000 children and parents into our shop.
Our staff will be dressed in literary-related costumes,
so be sure to try and guess which book or character we're celebrating!
Safe Halloween webpage
A Collectable Paperback, Pulp, Comic and Glamour Art Show
is coming to Lansing on Saturday, November 12, 2011!
Admission: $3.00. 10 a.m. - 4 p.m. at the
University Quality Inn (near Frandor Shopping Center).
Thousands of collectable pulp magazines, comics, digests and
paperbacks will be available for sale or trade, as well as original
art pieces, calendars, pin-up art and many more unusual items.
Interesting in exhibiting? Contact Ray at email@example.com.
October's Literary Birthdays:
Tim O'Brien (Oct. 1), Wallace Stevens (Oct. 2), Mahatma Gandhi (Oct. 2),
Graham Greene (Oct. 2), Mikhail Lermontov (Oct. 3), Thomas Wolfe (Oct. 3),
James Herriot (Oct. 3), Gore Vidal (Oct. 3), Kazauki Takahashi (Oct. 4),
Anne Rice (Oct. 4), Edward Stratemeyer (Oct. 4), Denis Diderot (Oct. 5),
Frank Herbert (Oct. 8), R.L. Stine (Oct. 8), Elmore Leonard (Oct. 11),
Conrad Richter (Oct. 13), Katherine Mansfield (Oct. 14), e. e. cummings (Oct. 14),
Virgil (Oct. 15), John Kenneth Galbraith (Oct 15.), Arthur Schlesinger (Oct. 15),
Mario Puzo (Oct. 15), Gunter Grass (Oct. 16), Oscar Wilde (Oct. 16),
Noah Webster (Oct. 16), Arthur Miller (Oct. 17), Wendy Wasserstein (Oct. 18),
John Le Carre (Oct. 19), Ursula K. LeGuin (Oct. 21), Doris Lessing (Oct. 22),
Michael Crichton (Oct. 23), Anne Tyler (Oct. 25), Pat Conroy (Oct. 26),
Dylan Thomas (Oct. 27), Sylvia Plath (Oct. 27), Ivan Turgenev (Oct. 28),
John Locke (Oct. 28), Ezra Pound (Oct. 30), Fjodor Dostoevsky (Oct. 30),
John Keats (Oct. 31), Dick Francis (Oct. 31).
If there's a specific book you're looking for, please let us know!
We'd be happy to keep your request on file, or perform a special order.
Thank you for your continued support and interest in the Curious Book Shop.
What do you think of this month's newsletter? We'd love to know your opinions!
Many thanks from Ray, Audrey, Mark and the rest of the Curious Gang
307 East Grand River
East Lansing, MI 48823
Sunday, October 9, 2011
Sunday, September 18, 2011
"The Astounding, the Amazing, and the Unknown" (Simon & Schuster, $26) will whisk you away to 1943, when America was involved in the middle of World War II.
Malmont, the author of "The Chinatown Death Cloud Peril" and "Jack London in Paradise," offers an exciting tale that features many major science fiction authors as main characters.
Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov and L. Sprague de Camp play a central role in this smooth and exceptionally clever literary mixture of fact and fiction.
Heinlein is recruited by the Navy to form a "Kamikaze Group" of writers to work on a special project at the Philadelphia Naval Yard.
The authors are set up in a military laboratory, hired to try to make an assortment of science fiction themes a reality, including the creation of death rays and force fields.
Pulp magazine writer L. Ron Hubbard joins them in a madcap adventure that will take them on unexpected journeys.
As the war tensions increase, the U.S. government is expecting great things from this group of authors as the country struggles to stay ahead of Nazi military innovations.
An interesting plot twist is developed as the heroes investigate the ruins of a mysterious energy facility near Long Island that was created by Nikola Tesla.
There are many well-crafted, intriguing scenes as the group of authors challenges authority on various levels. They are joined by a variety of other pulp-era writers, including Walter Gibson (creator of "The Shadow") and Lester Dent (creator of "Doc Savage).
Malmont delves deep into the lives and relationships of the talented young authors, offering insights into Heinlein's insecurity about his writing skills, Asimov's marriage problems and his fascination with robots, and Hubbard's many unusual experiences during the war.
Cameo appearances by young Ray Bradbury, superfan Forrest Ackerman and even Albert Einstein add to
this highly distinctive, well-plotted adventure novel.
This is ideal reading for anyone who loves pulp magazines, science fiction or historical thrillers. It falls in the same category as the recent Captain America movie - or Michael Chabon's "Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay." It's simply an exciting, nostalgic tale that's great fun.
Malmont, who works in advertising, attended the Interlochen Arts Academy.
Ray Walsh, owner of East Lansing's Curious Book Shop, has reviewed books regularly since 1987.
This review originally appeared in the Lansing State Journal on September 18, 2011
Sunday, September 11, 2011
Sunday, August 21, 2011
The latest book by M. Chris Byron and Thomas R. Wilson will whisk you away for a wonderful journey into the past, in “Vintage Views Along the West Michigan Pike” (Arbutus Press, $35).
Subtitled “From Sand Trails to US-31” this over-sized pictorial volume covers significant territory and includes a brief introduction from well-known historian Leroy Barnett.
This isn’t a dry, boring, scholarly history book with detailed, mostly outdated, heavily footnoted information. Instead, it’s a thoughtfully created, attention-grabbing book that’s chock full of memorable images from old photographs and vintage post cards. It’s complemented by striking graphics from many colorful advertisements and travel brochures.
The first chapter provides excellent background history of the West Michigan Pike, showing how the scenic route was developed, constructed, expanded and promoted. It notes the initial importance of bicyclists and explores further growth from dirt roads to solid pavement.
Classic images abound, including photographs of old gas stations, long departed restaurants and tourist cabins. Unfortunately, many of the buildings shown no longer exist; many sites are long forgotten or barely remembered.
The trip along Lake Michigan’s eastern shoreline begins at Grand Beach and goes all the way up to Mackinaw City, with stops at every minor village, sleepy small town and bustling city en route.
Appropriate maps are also offered; areas like Benton Harbor, Saugatuck, Holland, Grand Haven, Ludington, Frankfort, Traverse City, Charlevoix and Petoskey are all well-represented.
The carefully-researched book also includes a list of illustration credits, a section of bibliography and sources cited and an index. The authors note: “We wanted to portray the sense of adventure and discovery that early motorists experienced along the pike.” They succeed in a grand fashion.
Byron and Wilson, longtime collectors of historic Michigan ephemera, postcards and photos, have turned their hobby into a fascinating endeavor. They have provided an enjoyable and much needed book that’s ideal for tourists, travelers, historians and local libraries.
Their earlier books, “Vintage Views of Leelanau County” and “Vintage Views of the Charlevoix-Petoskey Region”, won Michigan Notable Book Awards from the Library of Michigan. Their third book, “Vintage Views of the Mackinac Straits Region” was published in 2007.
Tuesday, August 16, 2011
Two recent crime novels by Michigan writers feature hard-working individuals trying to solve puzzling crimes.
One showcases an aging, tough, urban private investigator while the other features a dedicated journalist who’s trying to solve a murder.
“Infernal Angels” by Whitmore Lake, Mich. author Loren Estleman (Forge, $24.99) is the 21st in his popular series starring Amos Walker, Detroit private eye.
Walker, who’s slow to adjust to modern technology, is hired by Rueben Crossgrain to track down a bunch of HDTV converter boxes that have been stolen. Diligently checking out promising leads, Walker runs into problems when his client’s dead body is discovered.
Walker becomes a suspect, getting the attention of Deputy Marshall Mary Ann Thayer and others in authority who have conflicting ideas on how to deal with him.
The private eye follows a trail of deception and violence, getting help from journalist Barry Stackpole, who’s appeared in other Walker novels.
The case gets considerably more complicated as the real reason behind the theft surfaces – the converter boxes were filled with high-grade heroin and were accidentally shipped to Crossgrain.
Estleman is in fine form, showing the challenges facing an aging private investigator; there’s an unusual and realistic chase scene that’s quite memorable.
This is a great, classic tough guy, private eye tale that’s ideal for hard-boiled crime fiction fans.
“A Case of Hometown Blues” by Jackson Mich. author W.S. Gager (Oak Tree Press, $14.95) is the third in her series about Mitch Malone, who was twice nominated for a Pulitzer Prize Investigative Journalism Award.
This oversized paperback is set in the small fictional town of Flatville, Mich. where Malone grew up. He’s returned to give a seminar on investigative journalist techniques.
The seminar is the same weekend as Malone’s high school reunion, but Malone really doesn’t want to participate. Trudy Harrison, the school’s Homecoming Queen, tracks him down in a local bar after the celebration.
She’s sloshed, so Malone decides to drive her home. Big mistake! Trudy’s body is discovered the next day and Malone becomes the prime suspect.
Released from jail, the dedicated journalist digs deeper, discovering many deadly dark secrets of the small town.
While Gager’s highly entertaining tale wraps up a little too neatly, it’s still solid escapism by a promising new talent.
Monday, July 25, 2011
It’s hot outside - and time for easy, relaxing summer reading. If you haven’t discovered Robert Parker or Bill Pronzini, you’re in for a real treat!
Each author has won the Grand Masters Award from the Mystery Writers of America for lifetime achievement and consistent quality. Both are well known for their long-running series starring a hard-working private investigator, but unfortunately Parker died early last year.
“Sixkill” (Putnam, $26.95) is the 39th in his best-selling and exceptionally popular series starring Boston private eye known simply as Spenser.
It’s the last one in the series that Parker completed, although his legacy will live on with other Spenser novels that will be written by Ace Atkins (author of “White Shadow” and “Wicked City”.
Spenser agrees to look into a case for Boston Homicide’s Captain Quirk involving the death of a young woman in the hotel room of Jumbo Nelson, an overweight actor/comedian. Nelson was in Boston filming a new movie; the studio has attorney Rita Fiore hire Spenser to clear Nelson.
Zebulon Sixkill, Nelson’s bodyguard, initially is a suspect; the drunken Cree Indian is fired by Nelson after being beaten up by Spenser.
Although an alliance between Spenser and Sixkill seems unlikely, Parker makes it work, deftly utilizing likable Sixkill as a prominent character.
Spenser’s longtime sidekick Hawk is still off somewhere in Asia, although there are many cameo appearances by others who have appeared in earlier novels.
With his usual snappy dialogue, fast pacing and strong character development, Parker is in fine form; this is one of the best books in a great series.
“Camouflage” by Bill Pronzini (Forge, $24.99) is the 38th in his series featuring San Francisco private eye known only as “the Nameless Detective”.
Business executive David Virden hires Nameless to deliver some papers to his first wife. He tracks her down, but she refuses to sign them.
Virden stops payment and threatens to sue, claiming that the detective hadn’t found the right woman. The case gets more complicate as Virden disappears.
As the Nameless Detective investigates, he unearths unnerving information and exposes a carefully created scheme. The result is totally unexpected and well orchestrated by Pronzini, one of today’s best crime novelists.
A secondary subplot showcasing Jake Runyon, another agency operative, is more personal. He’s looking into allegations that his girlfriend’s young son is being beaten by her ex-husband. There’s a dead woman involved; Runyon struggles to find a devious killer.
Sunday, July 17, 2011
It’s been about two years since Ann Arbor author Harry Dolan burst on the crime novel scene with his highly acclaimed debut novel “Bad Things Happen”, which introduced David Loogan, editor of “Gray Streets”, a mystery magazine.
The wait’s definitely worthwhile; Dolan’s back with a vengeance – and so is Loogan, in “Very Bad Men” (Amy Einhorn/Putnam, $25.95).
Loogan gets involved in a strange investigation when a manuscript appears outside his office door. It gets his attention right away – it confesses to a murder that just took place – giving unannounced details. Loogan gets more concerned when the manuscript identifies the killer’s next proposed victim.
The journalist calls in his live-in girlfriend, Ann Arbor Police Detective Elizabeth Waishkey; soon the hunt is on to identify and stop the murderer.
Dolan deftly hooks the reader from the opening chapter, where he relays information about the murderer and his plans to kill Terry Dawtrey, a prison inmate in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
Dawtrey’s been jailed for his involvement in a bank heist 17 years earlier; the killer, Anthony Lark, is successful, but in an unexpected way. He feels he’s justified and sets his sights on murdering the other two remaining robbers. Lark has more than a few mental problems, but feels up to the challenge, using an amazing assortment of devious methods.
Loogan and Waishkey aren’t just sitting still, they’re running all over the state trying to put together answers, getting both help and hindrance from a young journalist looking for a tabloid feature story.
The case gets considerably more challenging, involving a U.S. Senator, local law enforcement officers, a paralyzed former sheriff and the charismatic daughter of the sheriff, who’s running for election as Michigan’s next senator.
The body count rises as the tension mounts; the complicated plot deals a lot with motives - and the lengths people will go to keep deadly secrets.
Dolan is exceptionally good at keeping the pacing going, using strong well- developed, colorful characters, brisk dialogue and seemingly endless plot twists. It’s easily one of the year’s best mysteries!
Sunday, July 10, 2011
Set mostly in a slightly altered Grand Rapids, with flashback scenes in Laingsburg, Riggle’s third novel is not exactly what most people are likely to take to the beach for pleasant summertime reading.
Told through a variety of multiple viewpoints, Riggle explores many different emotional situations, but at least nobody dies.
Edna Leigh Casey (or just Casey), one of the book’s main characters, is frustrated from the beginning, as she’s trying to get out of a somewhat problematic relationship. She’s 26, living with newspaper reporter Michael Turner, and serving as a stepmother to his three children, Angel, Dylan and Jewel.
As a blended family there are numerous confrontations, including unpleasant scenes with Mallory, David’s ex-wife, who’s psychologically unstable and an alcoholic.
Tensions mount when 14-year-old Dylan disappears after being dropped off at school. Riggle skillfully develops the ensuing frantic search, smoothly shifting viewpoints as she explores attitudes and insights while increasing tension.
There are many other challenges; Casey has her own secrets and is a recovering alcoholic. David has issues with his over-bearing, successful father. Mallory is always having emotional issues; the kids find adjustment is difficult and rebel in their own way.
Most of the book seems devoted to arguing, bickering, yelling and sniping, leaving the reader likely to feel that maybe their life isn’t really that bad in comparison.
The novel’s title indicates one of the major difficulties of this extended family – while they do communicate, they don’t listen very well or say what’s really on their mind.
There’s a brief additional section designed for reading or discussion groups, with 15 interesting and thought-provoking questions.
There are no easy answers, but the flawed characters and their assorted problems are likely to linger long after the reader is finished.
Riggle is a freelance journalist, short story writer and co-editor for fiction at the e-zine Literary Mama. Her previous two books, “Real Life and Liars” and “The Life You’ve Imagined” are now available in paperback.
Ray Walsh, owner of East Lansing’s Curious Book Shop, has reviewed books regularly since 1987.
This review was originally published by the Lansing State Journal on July 10, 2011.