What we've been reading lately

Welcome to the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association redesigned Killer Books page. Below, you will find selections from members' blogs and webpages that post mystery reviews. If you've read the book discussed, or would like to, we welcome your comments.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

One Red Bastard


One Red Bastard, Ed Lin, Minotaur, $25.99.  
Recommended by Robin Agnew, Aunt Agatha's, Ann Arbor, Mich., www.auntagathas.com:

"…You have to suck at it for years until one day your experience pays off and you reach a point where you know what you're doing. "     "It's like everything else, then, isn't it?"

I was a big fan of the first book Minotaur published by Ed Lin, Snakes Can't Run, and I enjoyed this one maybe even a little bit more.  Lin's central character, Robert Chow, is a Chinese American Cop in New York City's Chinatown circa 1976 (Carter and Ford are battling it out for the presidency).    Robert has a good backstory – he's a Vietnam Vet, he was a drunk but is now sober, and he is now feeling his way through his job, hoping for a detective's gold shield as well as trying to figure out  his relationship with his girlfriend, Lonnie.

Lin's deceptively simple prose is actually very vivid.  Here's his description of Lonnie's dad, when encountered by Robert for the first time:  "I was a little taken aback to find that Lonnie and Paul's dad was a fairly small guy, barely five feet tall.  In my imagination, he was a hulking linebacker brandishing a belt.  In reality he was a thin man in his late-fifties and his hair had thinned out to black streaks smeared over the top of his head like skid marks."  Reading that brief description, you won't forget this man.  All of the sidebar characters are this well delineated, making reading this actually very short book a very rich experience.  This distinctive prose is only part of Lin's charm, though.

Lin is very interested in this novel in the different strands of the Chinese Communist party – the kick off for the plot concerns the advance man for Mao's daughter, Mr. Chen, who is murdered while he's in town.  Robert becomes obsessed with Mr. Chen's death because his girlfriend is the prime suspect: she was the last one to see him alive, after she'd interviewed him for her wire service.  Lonnie is being followed everywhere by detectives from Manhattan South and it's driving Robert crazy.

The total setting for the novel is a very full one – the police department and the inner workings of the communists in New York, as well as the many ties Robert has to his community and family.  Lin is very interested in the way systems work – how does the police department work?  How do community and political ties work?  What ties are the most important, or are they interwoven?  Robert's obligations of family and duty often butt up against each other, just as they do in everyone's life.

Such concerns are seamlessly integrated into an absorbing story – as Robert follows the clues that lead him to Mr. Chen's killer, some of his actions seem questionable after the fact.  Lin's gentle moral prodding about the way the police department works will get you thinking.  It gets Robert thinking as well.  It's part of what makes him such an interesting character, one you want to follow further.

The sly humor that's a backdrop to the whole story doesn't hurt, either.  Some of the observations about the Chinese culture are so wryly and beautifully observed that they stick with you.  Since the books are set in 1976, it truly is like entering another world.  The time remove just adds another layer of "otherness", but since it's the recent past, your own memories may step in as you read, adding to the total experience.  Lin is an original, gifted writer with an offbeat slant that lets you look at the world maybe a shade differently.  Any writer that can achieve that is well worth a look, in my opinion, and it's the main reason I enjoy reading.  So remember this name:  Ed Lin.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

From Murder on the Beach:

The Professionals
By Owen Laukkanen
Reviewed by Sue Wilder

Four friends who recently graduated college and are
not able to find jobs decide to become professional kidnappers. They are
ingenious in that they kidnap prominent businessmen and demand
relatively modest ransoms which are easily paid. They release their
victims unharmed and move on to another town.
Nobody pursues them since the kidnappings are not reported,
until a kidnapping in Michigan. Their victim is connected to the Mob.
The action escalates as the gang is chased by the Mob, local law
enforcement and the FBI. Despite the danger, the gang hangs in, intent
on "earning" enough to "retire" from the business.
Mr. Laukkanen has created a strong cast of characters, each
driven by very distinct goals. The risk factor continues to rise as the
gang is pursued cross country. Despite the danger, the four friends,
like gamblers, think they can make their luck hold out just a little bit
longer.
The reader is swept along for the ride. The Professionals is
a well written thriller with a high level of tension. The ending is a
real AHA!
Fans of Thomas Perry, Marcus Sakey and Robert Crais will
welcome this first novel from Mr. Laukkanen and hope that the next one
is not far behind. Highly recommended. Putnam, 25.95

Boca Daze
By Steven M. Forman
Reviewed by Stephanie Saxon Levine

Although this is the third in Steven M. Forman's series featuring P.I.
Eddie Perlmutter, aka The Boca Knight, it is the first one this reader
has read. And what a delightful way to begin! Boca Daze starts off at a
lightening pace, and carried this reader along racing through the pages
in great suspense.
Eddie, an ex-Boston cop who came to Boca Raton looking for a
peaceful retirement, found life in South Florida anything but placid. As
a result of his heroic deeds in the first book, a newspaper gave him the
title "Boca Knight," which he used, after adding an "s," as the name of
his detective agency. Eddie is well-known by his honorific to many South
Floridians.
Now, in book three, a criminal from his days in Boston asks him
for a favor, a bag lady's mumblings lead to murder, and a simple
investigation brings Eddie and his partner close to death. How's that
for peace and quiet in paradise?
Forman captures the essence of Boca Raton and its environs
--at least from this nine-year transplant's point of view -- showing the
seamy side as well as the glamour. As good as Forman is at capturing the
setting, he's even better at creating believable characters and serving
up a fast-paced and suspenseful plot.
All this comes together with humor added in good measure,
making Boca Daze a thoroughly enjoyable read. It isn't necessary to
have read the earlier books to follow the story, but, this reader, for
one, plans to do so. Forge 1st Edition, signed: 25.99

--

Joanne Sinchuk
Murder on the Beach Mystery Bookstore
Pineapple Grove
273 NE 2nd Avenue
Delray Beach, FL 33444
Phone: 561-279-7790
www.murderonthebeach.com

And She Was

Submitted by Barbara Tom, Murder by the Book, Portland, OR
www.mbtb.com

And She Was
Alison Gaylin
Harper Originals, $5.99

Winner! This is Gaylin's fifth book and the start of a second series.

Brenna Spector has hyperthymestic disorder (like demi-celebrity Marilu Henner). That means that she can recall every day of her life in excruciating detail from the age of 11 onwards. She can remember with all her senses the highs, lows, and mediocrities of her life. She can remember how happy her ex-husband made her, which means she can never truly let go of him. The mostly upside of the disorder means she is an extraordinary private investigator. In fact, Brenna has started to link two cases of disappearance, one about a decade earlier and the other, a recent case.

Because Brenna also peripherally investigated the disappearance of six-year-old Iris Neff from her neighborhood ten years ago, she has met several of the people who now pop up in her current investigation. Carol Wentz has disappeared, and her husband, Nelson, an odd-duck of a man, wants Brenna to find her. Carol lived in Iris' neighborhood and was one of the last people to see Iris. In trying to find Carol, Brenna tries to find Iris' mother, Lydia. She, too, has disappeared. Then a series of seemingly unrelated deaths turn out to share a tenuous link, and the link is Iris, Lydia, and Carol. Is a cigar sometimes just a cigar, or is there really something there worth investigating?

What would romantic suspense be without romance? Professor-ish homicide detective Nick Morasco is the window dressing. Brenna's assistant, the oafish but brilliant Trent, provides the levity. Brenna's daughter, Maya, provides the illusion of teenage angst. And Brenna's missing sister, Clea, provides the reason for the next book.

Nicely paced, well written, good disease/disorder-of-the-week -- a few years ago it was M√ľnchausen-by-proxy -- and just enough character depth to get readers going without drowning in detail. Well done!