Saturday, August 12, 2017

CHAIN OF EVIDENCE by Garry Disher


Chain of Evidence is Australian crime writer Garry Disher’s fourth novel to feature Inspector Hal Challis and Sergeant Ellen Destry. A police procedural set in the rural, but booming Mornington Peninsula area south of Melbourne in Victoria, Australia. A place where poverty and wealth live side-by-side and crime is as deadly and ugly as it is in any large city. 

While visiting his dying father in his childhood home in the dusty, hardscrabble South Australia town of Mawson’s Bluff, Challis unofficially investigates the mysterious disappearance of his sister’s husband, Gavin Hurst, from eight years earlier. Hurst is a man not readily missed by many of Mawson’s Bluff’s residents and his disappearance is truly a mystery. His truck abandoned at the desert’s edge, his body never found.

Back home at the Waterloo Station, Ellen Destry is filling in for Challis during his absence, a girl is kidnapped on her way home from school. She is found imprisoned in an uninhabited house. Abused by what Destry believes is a pedophile ring operating in the Peninsula. Her investigation hits roadblocks from within the police service and the only person she can trust is Hal Challis, more than 1,000 kilometers away.

Chain of Evidence is a powerful and disturbing procedural. The two major mysteries are intriguing and executed with the sure hand of an absolute professional. It is Ellen Destry’s coming out as an equal partner with Challis. The setting, both the Peninsula and Mawson’s Bluff, is rendered with a muted artistry and adds immeasurably to the novel’s power. There is nothing gory or exploitative about either storyline and Mr. Disher has a way of mixing character stereotypes to develop tension between the characters, the plot, and the reader. It may be the best book in the series. If you are new to Garry Disher, Chain of Evidence is a very good place to get acquainted.

Monday, August 07, 2017

A Trio of Mack Bolan


A few months ago I read the trilogy that killed Colonel John Phoenix and brought Mack Bolan back to the world. I had meant to write a detailed review when I read these, but time (a lack of it) conspired against me. The trilogy includes two Executioner novels, 62, Day of Mourning and 64, Dead Man Running, both written by Stephen Mertz and the Super Bolan title, Terminal Velocity written by Alan Bomack. Alan Bomack is a pseudonym and a snazzy anagram (with a little cheating) of Mack Bolan. The books were published between February and April 1984.
Day of Mourning is the best non-Don Pendleton Mack Bolan books I’ve read. It is a straight ahead thriller with a terse, hard-boiled style, matching the originals very well. It chronicles the murder of April Rose and a grave threat to Stony Man Farm.
The story continues with Terminal Velocity, which has the feeling of two separate novels smashed together. Its purpose in the story arc is to introduce Greb Strakhov, and the reason for Strakhov's grudge against Bolan. Its style is less hard-boiled than DOM, but in its own right an entertaining and very readable thriller. 
The trilogy finds its conclusion with Dead Man Running, which is a fine finale. It is a slight step down from DOM, but it admirably chronicles Mack’s journey from Colonel Phoenix back to Mack Bolan. All done while hunting the mole who gave up Stony Man to the Soviets and indirectly caused the death of April Rose.
These, especially the two written by Stephen Mertz, are really terrific action thrillers.

This review, in slightly different form, originally appeared on Gravetapping’s Facebook page. If you don’t follow Gravetapping on FB, you should, and here is the link.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

The Covers of Travis McGee

I’ve been running a series of posts at Gravetapping’s Facebook page featuring four covers, from the first to the latest, of John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee novels. And since I have the cover scans, meaning the hardest part is done, I decided to do an all-inclusive blog post. Here they are, from the first novel, Deep Blue Good-by, to the last, The Lonely Silver Rain.

The Deep Blue Good-by (1964).

“Home is where the privacy is. Draw all the opaque curtains, button the hatches, and with the whispering drone of the air conditioning masking all the sounds of the outside world, you are no longer cheek to jowl with the random activities aboard the neighbor craft. You could be in a rocket beyond Venus, or under the icecap.”





Nightmare in Pink (1964).

“She worked on the twentieth floor, for one of those self-important little companies which design packages for things. I arrived at five, as arranged, and sent my name in, and she came out into the little reception area, wearing a smock to prove that she did her stint at the old drawing board.”


A Purple Place for Dying (1964).

“She took the corner too fast, and it was definitely not much of a road. She drifted it through the corner on the gravel, with one hell of a drop at our left, and then there was a big rock slide where the road should have been. She stomped hard and the drift turned into a rough sideways skid, and I hunched low expecting the white Alpine to trip and roll. But we skidded all the way to the rock and stopped with inches to spare and a great big three feet between the rear end and the drop-off. The skid had killed the engine.

The Quick Red Fox (1964).

“A big noisy wind out of the northeast, full of a February chill, herded the tourists off the afternoon beach, driving them to cover, complaining bitterly. It picked up gray slabs of the Atlantic and smacked them down on the public beach across the windshields of the traffic, came into the cramped acres of docks and boat basin, snapped the burgees and hoooo in the spider-webs of rigging and tuna towers. Fort Lauderdale was a dead loss for the tourists that Saturday afternoon. They would have been more comfortable back in Scranton.”

A Deadly Shade of Gold (1965).

“A smear of fresh blood has a metallic smell. It smells like freshly sheared copper. It is a clean and impersonal smell, quite astonishing the first time you smell it. It changes quickly, to a fetid, fudgier smell, as the cells die and thicken.”

Bright Orange for the Shroud (1965).

“Another season was ending. The mid-May sun had a tropic sting against my bare shoulders. Sweat ran into my eyes. I had discovered an ugly little pocket of dry rot in the windshield corner of the panel of the topside controls on my houseboat, and after trying not to think about it for a week, I had dug out the tools, picked up some pieces of prime mahogany, and excised the area of infection with a saber saw.”






Darker than Amber (1966).

“We were about to give up and call it a night when somebody dropped the girl off the bridge.”

One Fearful Yellow Eye (1966).

“Around and around we went, like circling through wads of lint in a dirty pocket. We’d been in that high blue up yonder where it was a bright cold clear December afternoon, and then we had to go down into that guck, as it was the intention of the airline and the airplane driver to put down at O’Hare.”

Pale Gray for Guilt (1968).

“The next to last time I saw Tush Bannon alive was the very same day I had that new little boat running the way I wanted it to run, after about six weeks of fitzing around with it.”


The Girl in the Plain Brown Wrapper (1968).

“After I heard that Helena Pearson had died on Thursday, the third day of October, I had no trouble reconstructing the immediate past.”

Dress Her in Indigo (1969).

“On that early afternoon in late August, Meyer and I walked through the canvas tunnel at Miami International and boarded a big bird belonging to Aeronaves de Mexico for the straight shot to Mexico City. We were going first class because it was all a private and personal and saddening mission at the behest of a very sick and fairly rich man.”

The Long Lavender Look (1970).

“Late April. Ten o’clock at night. Hustling south on Florida 112 through the eastern section of Cypress County, about twenty miles from the intersection of 112 and the Tamiami Trail.”

A Tan and Sandy Silence (1971).

“The socket wrench slipped, and I skinned yet another knuckle. Meyer stood blocking out a sizable piece of the deep blue sky. He stared down into the bilge and said, ‘Very inventive and very fluent. Nice mental images, Travis. Imagine one frail little bilge pump performing such an extraordinary act upon itself! But you began to repeat yourself toward the end.’”

The Scarlet Ruse (1972).


“After seven years of bickering and fussing, the Fort Lauderdamndale city fathers, on a hot Tuesday in late August, killed off a life style and turned me into a vagrant.”




The Turquoise Lament (1973).


“The place Pidge had borrowed was a studio apartment on the eleventh floor of the Kaiulani Towers on Hobron Lane, about a hundred yards to the left off Ala Moana Boulevard on the way toward downtown Honolulu.



The Dreadful Lemon Sky (1974).

“I was in deep sleep, alone aboard my houseboat, alone in the half acre of bed, alone in a sweaty dream chase, fear, and monstrous predators. A shot rang off steel bars. Another. I came bursting up out of sleep to hear the secretive sound of the little bell which rings at my bedside when anyone steps aboard the Busted Flush. It was almost four in the morning.”

The Empty Copper Sea (1978).

“Suddenly everything starts to snap, rip, and fall out, to leak and squeal and give final gasps. Then you bend to it, or you go live ashore like a sane person.”

The Green Ripper (1979).


“Meyer came aboard the Busted Flush on a dark, wet, windy Friday afternoon in early December. I had not seen him in nearly two months. He looked worn and tired, and he had faded to an indoor pallor. He shucked his rain jacket and sat heavily in the biggest chair and said he wouldn’t mind at all if I offered him maybe a little bourbon, one rock, a dollop of water.”





Free Fall in Crimson (1981).

“We talked past midnight, sat in the deck chairs on the sun deck of the Busted Flush with the starry April sky overhead, talked quietly, and listened to the night. Creak and sigh of hulls, slap of small waves against pilings, muted motor noises of the fans and generators and pumps aboard the work boats and the play toys.”



Cinnamon Skin (1982).
“Every man can be broken when things happen to him in a certain order, with a momentum and an intensity that awaken ancient fears in the back of his mind. He knows what he must do, but suddenly the body will not obey the mind. Panic becomes like and unbearably shrill sound.”

The Lonely Silver Rain (1984).
“Once upon a time I was very lucky and located a sixty-five-foot hijacked motor sailer in a matter of days, after the authorities had been looking for months. When I heard through the grapevine that Billy Ingraham wanted to see me, it was easy to guess he hoped I could work the same miracle with his stolen Sundowner, a custom cruiser he’d had built in a Jacksonville yard. It had been missing for three months.”

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.