Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Thrift Shop Books Covers: "The Rockford Files"

The Rockford Files returned to television in 1994 with a made-for-TV movie, I Still Love L.A. It switched networks, from NBC, which broadcast the original series from 1974 to 1980, to CBS. Another seven movies aired through 1999, and while they weren’t the original, they were pretty good. Even better the success of the movies encouraged Forge to release two original novels featuring the intrepid Jim Rockford, and written by the accomplished Stuart M. Kaminsky. 
The Green Bottle was published 1996 as a hardcover by Forge, but the edition that caught my eye is the 1999 paperback. It has the glitter and glow of all the beautiful people (very Hollywood) with the added bonus of a hotel in the background. The artist: Steve Chorney.

The first paragraph:
“It was raining in Santa Monica, a cold, driving, California winter rain, and I was crouched on the deck of a small but not inexpensive boat moored at the pier along with a few hundred other boats being tossed by the Pacific.”
Devil on My Doorstep was published as a hardcover by Forge in 1998, but the edition that caught my eye is the 2001 paperback. A wealthy enclave across a golden sea bordered with an oh so 1990s woman. The artist: Steve Chorney.  

The first paragraph:
“The sun was just about to come up and I was late. I must have hit the snooze button on the alarm clock without knowing it. I turned the on the Weather Channel and heated some of yesterday’s—or was it the day before’s—coffee in the microwave while I drank a glass of orange juice. The coffee was awful, but it was coffee.”

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Mystery Scene Issue No. 150

The latest issue of Mystery Scene Magazine—No. 150—is at a newsstand near you. As usual, it is packed. It features an interview with Scott Turow, Michael Mallory’s terrific article “Raffles: The Anti-Sherlock Holmes” and many others.

It also features my short story review column, “Short & Sweet: Short Stories Considered.” All of the column reviews are currently available in the print edition and most are also available at MS’s website. In the column I discuss:
Nearly Nero, by Loren D. Estleman, is a collection of ten stories featuring Estleman’s endearing Nero Wolfe-like character Claudius Lyon.
MatchUp, edited by Lee Child, is an anthology produced by the Thriller Writers Association that pairs a female and male thriller writer for each story.
Dis Mem Ber and Other Stories of Mystery and Suspense collects seven dark tales by Joyce Carol Oates.
The March / April, 2017 issue of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, featuring a bevy of terrific stories from Pauline Simpson, Alan E. Foulds, and Chris Knopf.
It also includes four of my book reviews. The titles: The Silent Corner by Dean Koontz, The Substitute by Nicole Lundrigan, She Rides Shotgun by Jordan Harper, and The Daughter of Sherlock Holmes by Leonard Goldberg. The book reviews are all available at MS’s website:
The Silent Corner by Dean Koontz is the beginning of a new series and a return to the type of stories Mr. Koontz wrote in the 1990s.
The Substitute by Nicole Lundrigan is pleasantly surprising psychological thriller.
She Rides Shotgun by Jordan Harper is a first novel that roars on all cylinders. 

The Daughter of Sherlock Holmes by Leonard Goldberg is a new take on an old subject.
The reviews are available online at Mystery Scene’s website—click the titles above.
Mystery Scene is available at many newsstands, including Barnes & Noble, and available for order at MS’s website.

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

CHASE by Dean Koontz

I am a longtime fan of Dean Koontz’s writing.  I enjoy all of Mr Koontz’s work, but I have a particular fondness for the work he produced in the 1970s and 80s.  I love his big genre mixing thrillers like Lightning, Cold Fire, and Twilight Eyes and more recently I have gained an appreciation for his earlier straight suspense novels like Shattered, After the Last Race, and Dragonfly.

I recently reread a short suspense novel written as by K. R. Dwyer titled Chase.  Benjamin Chase is a used up Vietnam veteran who received the Medal of Honor for an act he wants to forget.  He lives alone in an attic apartment.  He drinks to drown out the voices of the dead, and he wants to be left alone to grieve and regret.  His world tumbles into chaos when he saves a young woman from murder, and the would-be killer—a man who calls himself “Judge”—begins calling Ben on the telephone.      

Chase is a dark and disturbing novel.  It was written in the Vietnam-era and is infused with hard cynicism.  Chase is simple.  He is alone, guilty, and ashamed.  His isolation is perpetuated by the near hero worship, and simple minded patriotism, of the townsfolk.  He has judged himself as less than, but as Judge pursues his verdict against Chase, he is forced to face both himself and his demons.

Chase is all story, which is to say plot with a snatch of something close to meaning.  It is short and sleek.  It takes only a few pages to move from the opening scene banquet to the action.  That is not to say it is plotted from action scene to action scene because it isn’t; there is a legitimate mystery, and the psychology of the protagonist is interesting in itself, and the slow escalation of isolation between Chase and the police, and Chase and society creates a tension all its own.  The prose is crisp and with a touch of melancholy—

“Maybe it was better to be without a woman than to die and leave behind one who grieved so briefly as this.”      
It opens as a straight forward suspense novel—how will Chase save himself from Judge—to something approaching a vigilante novel.  The climax is both surprising and horrifying; even disturbing.  Its suddenness and violence surprised as much on my second reading as it did the first.  Chase isn’t one of Dean Koontz’s big novels, and it may not appeal to most of his current readership, but it a fine example of high velocity classic suspense.  But that ending is a killer.    

Chase was originally published by Random House in hardcover in 1972.  It was reissued in Mr Koontz’s collection Strange Highways in 1995.  The reissued version was touched up before its release, but what was changed, other than the addition of a brief opening chapter setting the time and place of the story, I’m not sure.

This review originally went live December 16, 2013.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Thrift Shop Book Covers: "White Cargo"

White Cargo is one of Stuart Woods rare standalone novels. It was published by Simon & Schuster as a hardcover in 1988, but the edition that caught my eye is a mass market published by Avon in 1989. The cover hits a few of my “I have to read this” buttons: a dense, dangerous looking jungle, a single prop airplane crashing into said jungle, and vibrant and exciting colors. The artist: Unknown (to me, at least).

The opening paragraph:
“Wendell Catledge sat up and squinted at the smudge on the horizon. It should not have been a surprise, he thought, but it was. The boat slid smoothly along in the light wind, and even the slightest movement made it hard to focus on the shape, but it wasn’t a ship or an oil rig, and in the early morning light, it seemed to be pink. He pulled at his beard and ran a hand through his hair, which was a good six months overdue for cutting. Hell, it just might be, it just might be what he guessed it was.”

Sunday, June 18, 2017

COLD HIT by Stephen J. Cannell

Cold Hit (2005) is Stephen J. Cannell’s fifth novel featuring LAPD Detective Shane Scully and the second I’ve read. The first title I read, On the Grind (2009), was disappointing in its lack of depth, character development and over-easy plotting, but Cold Hit is a top-notch police procedural that renders a fully-realized Shane Scully. A complex plot with more than one surprise, and an alluring Southern California setting.
Shane Scully and his partner Zack Farrell are the primary detectives on a series of killings targeting homeless men. After the victims are killed with a bullet to the head, their finger-tips are removed and a symbol is carved into their chests. With the case going nowhere—no suspects, witnesses, clues, or the victims’ identities uncovered—the LAPD’s brass are threatening to remove Scully as the primary detective and form a multi-agency task force to continue the investigation.

Cold Hit is a nicely developed, finely plotted, character driven procedural. It has a sense of the believable from the police investigation to Scully’s relationships with his partner—drowning in alcohol and divorce—and his family. He is likable, something of a maverick who struggles against authority, and tough without being super human. The investigation deepens into the realm of national security and there is an interesting discussion about the post-9/11 world’s enhanced federal law enforcement powers without the story losing its appeal or momentum. Even better, it made me want to read another Shane Scully novel.

Thursday, June 08, 2017

Thrift Shop Book Covers: "Owls Don't Blink"

Owl’s Don’t Blink is the sixth mystery Erle Stanley Gardner published as by A.A. Fair and featuring private eyes Bertha Cool and Donald Lam. Its original release was as a hardcover by William Morrow & Co. in 1942, but the edition that caught my eye is a mass market published by Dell in 1970. An old school photographic cover isn’t my usual bag, but something about this one works. The artist: Unknown (to me, at least).

The opening paragraph:

“I was awakened at three o’clock in the morning by the sound of a garbage-pail cover being kicked across the sidewalk. A moment later, a woman’s voice, harsh and shrill, shouted, ‘I am not going with you! Do you understand?’”

Monday, June 05, 2017

McGRAVE by Lee Goldberg

McGrave is a stylish, action-packed, and downright fun novella written by Lee Goldberg. The Afterword explains it “began as a television pilot” and the plotting, pacing and vivid cinematic prose give it an episodic television feel. A good thing in this case.
John McGrave is an LAPD detective whose knack for destruction has yielded the nifty nickname, “Tidal Wave.” After foiling the attempted robbery of a 3,000 year-old chamber pot, McGrave is fired from the force. His termination is for a culmination of events, but the final straw is a soon to be filed $20-million lawsuit by one of L.A.’s wealthiest residents. Without a job, or even any prospects for a job, McGrave takes the first flight to Berlin trailing the only would-be toilet robber to escape L.A.

McGrave is a sterling action yarn, at a perfect length, with a nicely rendered Berlin setting. The dialogue is witty, the characters fit nicely and play well together. John McGave is something like Lethal Weapons’ Detective Riggs (Mel Gibson) searching for, and finding, his Detective Murtaugh (Danny Glover) in a very unexpected locale mixed with a classic 1980s Stephen J. Cannell television series.