Sunday, April 25, 2010

2 in the Hat and Never Look Away

4/18/10 Best-made plans don't quite work out for devious schemers in a pair of recent crime novels that showcase taut page-turning suspense.

2 In the Hat by Raffi Yessayan (Ballantine, $25) is the riveting sequel to his highly acclaimed debut novel 8 in the Box.

Yessayan brings back many characters that appeared in his first book, but it's three years later - and they're searching for a different serial killer. The victims are students, posed in formal attire, as Boston's latest murderer is known as the Prom Night Killer.

Homicide Detective Angel Alves is handing the case. His ex-partner Wayne Mooney recognizes similarities to unsolved crimes from a decade earlier. Assistant DA Conrad Darget's along for the ride, offering assistance, but there are other problems as gang killings intensify.

The gritty tale moves along in a frantic pace, with Yessayan utilizing the successful James Patterson technique of making his chapters two or three pages long.

The talented author again uses his experience as an assistant defense attorney and prosecutor, adroitly mixing legal insights with solid police procedures.

It's best to read Yessayan's books in chronological in order to appreciate his intriguing story-telling abilities - be prepared for numerous unexpected plot twists.
Never Look Away by best-selling author Linwood Barclay (Delacorte, $25) has similar surprises in store.

Barclay, a former journalist, has an exceptional talent for using everyday characters and putting them in tight situations with no easy solutions in sight.

He introduces David Harwood, a stressed-out reporter working for a floundering small town newspaper in upstate New York. After covering an unusual story, he takes his wife Jan and their 4-year-old son Ethan on a planned trip to a nearby amusement park.

When his son disappears, Harwood panics. Although Ethan is soon found, Jan has vanished.

The facts just don't add up - suspicious police feel Harwood has killed his wife and disposed of her body.

Barclay increases the tension level to a fever pitch as Harwood investigates. The reporter uncovers hidden facts that only raise more questions, and he must deal with media frenzy and other family matters as well.

Full of well-drawn, believable characters, this exciting tale should further cement Barclay's position as one of America's best thriller writers.

Ray Walsh
This article also appeared in the
Lansing State Journal on April 18, 2010


Thursday, April 22, 2010

As If We Were Prey

4/11/10 Michael Delp's new anthology of short stories, As If We Were Prey (Wayne State, $15.95), is a slim paperback that packs a powerful punch.

Delp, who has taught at Interlochen Arts Academy for more than 25 years, examines the attitudes and frailties of the male psyche in a selection of interesting and unusual stories set in Michigan.

Stylistically, Delp's stories could be compared to Jim Harrison, one of our state's most respected authors, as he is strong on character development. It's impossible to predict what's going to happen in Delp's stories; the reader is whisked away in a series of small-town vignettes full of memorable scenes.
While the title story is most disturbing, it's wisely at the end of the book, when a northern Michigan shop teacher melts down psychologically, flashing back to Vietnam and other troubling experiences.

His best story, Traveling Einstein, is more laid back, about a man who travels through small Michigan in a '47 Dodge station wagon.

He lives on donations and the kindness of strangers, challenging the townspeople:

You ask 'em and Art Bewley answers 'em. No question too difficult. Come on, dredge your minds, and if you can get me, I'll give you five bucks.

In five years of this type of questioning, the self-proclaimed "Man of a Thousand Answers, Master of Minutiae" hasn't been stumped, but Bewley faces new challenges.

The first story, Commandos, about a small-town bully, is disturbing. Another deals with a man bringing his daughter back to a basement site where he lost many boxing matches as a youth.

Mystery Park explores the attitudes of freshly tattooed Ray Munger, who's on his way to help his sister move. He gets involved in an unusual situation with a caged bear at a run-down tourist attraction.

Therapy is a bizarre tale about an odd solution to marital problems while Perfect Bass is a funny fishing story that focuses on human behavior and possible rewards.

Delp, who lives outside Traverse City, is one of the editors of Wayne State University Press' "Made in Michigan" Writer's Series.

Ray Walsh
This article also appeared in the Lansing State Journal on April 11, 2010


Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Bigger on the Inside

When customers enter the Curious Book Shop, the most frequent comment we hear, next to "I love that old book smell!," is "You have three floors?" Astonishingly, we do! Though the 40-year-old shop may look small from the outside, nestled among the other storefronts in downtown East Lansing, the shop is much bigger than it appears.

With over 50,000 items, the Curious Book Shop expands above and below the ground level, and the aisles stretch far to the back. The walls are packed with books or lined with ephemera, and the narrow aisles are created with tall shelves brimming with the same. The collection of books and paper items became so extensive in 1987 that Ray opened a second shop six blocks to the west. The Archives Book Shop houses an additional 20,000 books and 50,000 postcards!

Our books cover a vast array of topics, so you're sure to find something of interest. Take a look at our store layout to get an idea of the subjects we carry and where you might find them. You'll be amazed at how much bigger we are on the inside.


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Gutshot Straight and Troglodytes

4/4/10 Crime, mayhem and murder are the focal points of two recent crime novels that are mostly set in far-off countries. Each is full of intriguing characters and violent action, but differ greatly in their approach.

Gutshot Straight by Hollywood screenwriter Lou Berney (William Morrow, $24.99) is a good debut novel that opens with a prison scene. It introduces Charles "Shake" Bouchon, a professional wheelman who's about to get out of jail after serving three years.

Bouchon gets to Los Angeles where Alexandra Ilandryan, the head of the area's Armenian mob, meets him. His former boss and lover wants him to deliver a package to Las Vegas and pick up a briefcase.

While it sounds simple, there are serious complications, especially when Bouchon discovers a woman trussed up in the trunk.

The action doesn't stop the there - soon the pair is on the run with a Vegas thug hot on their trail. They're on their way to Panama, where they hope to sell the highly eclectic contents of the briefcase to a rich, big-time con-artist in hiding.

Highly entertaining, the serpentine novel has unexpected twists and turns. Many of the quirky characters could have just stepped out of an Elmore Leonard or Carl Hiaasen novel.

Berney, a talented and experienced author, has crafted one of the most unusual and enjoyable crime novels of the year. Hopefully a sequel is in the works, with film adaptation following shortly.

Troglodytes, by Ed Lynskey (Mundania Press, $13.95) is considerably darker, showcasing private investigator Frank Johnson, who's appeared in two earlier novels.

This classic hard-boiled tale in mostly set in Ankara, a bustling city in Turkey.

American diplomat Sylvester Mercedes has vanished from his hotel room. Lois, his prominent socialite wife, hires Johnson to find out what happened to him.

Johnson needs the money to pay the IRS, so he takes the case. He stays in a seedy hotel room and tries to follow minimal leads. As he investigates, possible suspects emerge, including a loudmouth beer salesman and a sleazy hotel manager.

The diligent private eye gets assistance and has unexpected results, leading to a realistic, satisfying conclusion.

Ray Walsh
This article also appeared in the
Lansing State Journal on April 4, 2010


Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Fallen

3/28/10 Six people are killed in the first half-dozen pages of The Fallen (Oceanview, $25.95) by Oxford, Mich., author Mark Terry.

The action doesn't slow down, as Terry sets a blistering pace - hurtling hero Derek Stillwater through an amazing assortment of deadly situations.

Using exceptionally short chapters, (a method that's been successful for best-selling author James Patterson) Terry writes like Lee Child on steroids, showcasing a likable hero facing incredible odds.

Twenty world leaders are attending a G8 Economic Summit Conference at the Cheyenne Resort in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Despite layers of exceptional security, a terrorist group known as "the Fallen Angels" takes over the conference, holding the prominent statesmen hostage.

Terrorist leader Richard Coffee has some of the world's top intelligence operatives in his group - many are cold-hearted, efficient killers.

Coffee, formerly a government operative working with Stillwater, used to be a friend. Now he's intent on using his clever scheme to get specific prisoners freed from Guantanamo Bay.

Stillwater has been working undercover at the resort as a maintenance worker for eight months and must try to defeat the terrorists. They threaten to kill a leader in an hour if their demands aren't met.

The terrorists have inside information about the security details and use a devious plan which threatens to increase the body count. Protesters at the site complicate the situation and media exposure focuses attention on the standoff.

Out to stop the terrorists, Stillwater gets assistance from an unexpected source: Maria Sanchez, a quick-thinking co-worker.

Russian security agent Irina Khournikova, who's dealt with Stillwater before, also joins in. With the clock ticking and the security of the world at risk, the tension mounts to a fever pitch, with numerous dangerous heart-stopping confrontations.

While character development is minimal, there are just enough tidbits of information offered to maintain interest.

Many scenes are very realistic, including bickering among politicians and security team members.

Terry's earlier books featuring Stillwater are The Serpent's Kiss and The Devil's Pitchfork. He's also the author of Dirty Deeds and Catfish Guru, a collection of mystery novellas.

This exciting Stillwater thriller could easily be adapted into an action-packed, violent movie that would give Jason Bourne real competition.

Ray Walsh
This article also appeared in the
Lansing State Journal on March 14, 2010