Happy Birthday, Archie

My annual tribute to one of my favorite fictional characters (if not my all-time favorite). I really need to update/expand this a bit, but this isn’t the year for it.

On Oct 23 in Chillicothe, Ohio, Archie Goodwin entered this world–no doubt with a smile for the pretty nurses–and American detective literature was never the same.

I’m toasting him in one of the ways I think he’d appreciate most–by raising a glass of milk in his honor.

Who was Archie? Archie summed up his life thusly:

Born in Ohio. Public high school, pretty good at geometry and football, graduated with honor but no honors. Went to college two weeks, decided it was childish, came to New York and got a job guarding a pier, shot and killed two men and was fired, was recommended to Nero Wolfe for a chore he wanted done, did it, was offered a full-time job by Mr. Wolfe, took it, still have it.” (Fourth of July Picnic)

Long may he keep it. Just what was he employed by Wolfe to do? In The Black Mountain he answers the statement, “I thought you was a private eye” with:

I don’t like the way you say it, but I am. Also I am an accountant, an amanuensis, and a cocklebur. Eight to five you never heard the word amanuensis and you never saw a cocklebur.

In The Red Box, he says

I know pretty well what my field is. Aside from my primary function as the thorn in the seat of Wolfe’s chair to keep him from going to sleep and waking up only for meals, I’m chiefly cut out for two things: to jump and grab something before the other guy can get his paws on it, and to collect pieces of the puzzle for Wolfe to work on.

In Black Orchids, he reacts to an insult:

…her cheap crack about me being a ten-cent Clark Gable, which was ridiculous. He simpers, to begin with, and to end with no one can say I resemble a movie actor, and if they did it would be more apt to be Gary Cooper than Clark Gable.

In case you’re wondering if this post was simply an excuse to go through some collections of Archie Goodwin quotations, you wouldn’t be totally wrong…he’s one of the fictional characters I like spending time with most in this world–he’s the literary equivalent of comfort food. So just a couple more great lines I’ve quoted here before:

I would appreciate it if they would call a halt on all their devoted efforts to find a way to abolish war or eliminate disease or run trains with atoms or extend the span of human life to a couple of centuries, and everybody concentrate for a while on how to wake me up in the morning without my resenting it. It may be that a bevy of beautiful maidens in pure silk yellow very sheer gowns, barefooted, singing “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning” and scattering rose petals over me would do the trick, but I’d have to try it.

I looked at the wall clock. It said two minutes to four. I looked at my wrist watch. It said one minute to four. In spite of the discrepancy it seemed safe to conclude that it would soon be four o’clock.


“Indeed,” I said. That was Nero Wolfe’s word, and I never used it except in moments of stress, and it severely annoyed me when I caught myself using it, because when I look in a mirror I prefer to see me as is, with no skin grafted from anybody else’s hide, even Nero Wolfe’s.

Robert Crais’ The Promise Delayed

According to an email I just received about my preorder* and a post to his Facebook page (but no update to his website yet), The Promise has been delayed. The Facebook post says a US publication date is forthcoming, but I’m supposed to receive mine on April 28 of next year.

On the one hand — you know what? I’d rather it be done right, rather than done fast. Robert Crais, much like George R. R. Martin or Patrick Rothfuss or Jim Butcher (to name a few notable authors who’ve delayed things lately) is not my bitch. Crais knows when the book is done, and until then, I can wait.

On the other hand, this is rather short notice for this kind of thing from what I can tell. Makes me wonder about the editorial process for one of his books. Also? I’d scheduled things so I could go right from Taken one week to The Promise the next (yes, the reviews are behind by two books, but my reading is on track).

The positive take: Crais is going to give us the book he wants to. Personally, drat, it means more time without a new Cole/Pike (plus Maggie!) book. And it’s just further proof that the Scot knew what he was talking about when he described how schemes “Gang aft agley.”


* One of the dumbest words in widespread use right now. Why not just say I ordered it? Just because it hasn’t released doesn’t make it a special kind of ordering…

The Last Detective by Robert Crais

The Last Detective (Elvis Cole, #9)The Last Detective

by Robert Crais

Hardcover, 320 pgs.
Doubleday, 2003
Read: October 1 – 2, 2014

The Last Detective begins a few months after the L. A. Requiem and Joe Pike is trying to get himself back in fighting shape after his devastating injuries in exactly the place you’d expect — the Alaskan wilderness (isn’t that where’d you go?). Joe’s looking more mortal than he had since the shooting in The Monkey’s Raincoat, but like the tattoos indicate, he’s moving forward. While there he encounters an Alaskan brown bear? The way Crais describes it (which seems pretty realistic), if you stop and think about it — that’s horror, that’s terror. Hannibal Lecter, Martin Vanger, Alex Kork — that’s fiction, that’s fantasy. Brown bear? That’s reality. A reality I hope never to know better than I do now. But, this isn’t Joe Pike starring in Man vs. Wild, so we’re off to L. A.

Elvis and Ben Chenier are hanging out for a few days while Ben’s mom is out of town, Elvis and Lucy are still trying to recover from the hit their relationship took in Requiem. Ben goes off to play outside while Elvis is on the phone with Lucy, and then he doesn’t come back. Elvis gets scared, finds his video game laying in the brush below Elvis’ house. It’s not too long afterwards that they get a call — the boy didn’t get lost, he didn’t run away — he was abducted.

The investigation gets into full swing fairly quickly — Elvis calls in some favors from the police to help. Here we meet investigator Carol Starkey (from Crais’ Demolition Angel) who vacillates between appreciating Elvis’ investigatory skills and being annoyed with him. Lucy’s ex comes in, pushing his investigators into the investigation, trying to push Elvis out and generally making life difficult for him. Richard clearly has an Elvis-shaped chip on his shoulder and uses this circumstance to throw dirt on his ex-wife’s new love.

It seems that Ben’s kidnapping is related in some way to what Elvis did in Vietnam, and both the reader and those involved in the investigation learn a lot about something that Elvis thought he was done talking about. What some people called his secrets, he saw differently:

I wasn’t keeping secret. Some things are better left behind, that’s all, you move past and go on. That’s what I’ve tried to do, and not just about the war.

Elvis’ life before and during the war weren’t wonderful, and he’s tried to go on. But that’s no longer an option — he has to revisit a lot of that, which Lucy doesn’t react well to.

On the one hand, I’m still liking Lucy less and less for more of the same that I complained about last time. But that’s not to say I disagree with her — when she tells Joe Pike that the way he and Elvis live isn’t normal.

I don’t like the way violence follows you; you and him. I’ve known police officers all my life, and none of them live like this. I know federal and state prosecutors who’ve spent years building cases against murderers and mob bosses, and none of them have their children stolen . . . I am normal! I want to be normal! Are you so perverted that you think this is normal? It isn’t! It is insane!

. She’s right. But . . . well, see what I said last time. I sympathize, but I still don’t like her any more.

Now, this isn’t just a manhunt for the kidnappers — there’s plenty for Elvis to investigate, a few twist and turns and — of course, secrets unearthed and a decent helping of violence. The emotional toll these events take is worse than anything else, all things considered.

Although the focus is on Elvis and the search for Ben. We do learn a little more about Pike (no problems between he and the LAPD this time). We get a different explanation for Joe’s need for order and cleanliness than I’d surmised from Requiem, but it’s probably a combination. I’m only talking about it so much because for so long it’s what little we knew about him — he liked his Jeep spotless and everything immaculate. Joe displays his typical loyalty to Elvis here — it’s typical for him, it’s out-of-place in today’s world on the whole. He even takes on a debt that sets up a future book, a detail I hadn’t really paid attention to until now, but it was a huge move on his part.

John Chen returns — and is again helped to gain a bit of the spotlight he so craves, but he’s got skills of his own (and is probably learning a good deal from Joe and Elvis). He’s still a not good guy, really, but you can’t help but like him. I had a brief moment of fan-boy excitement when everyone’s favorite Vietnam Tunnel Rat turned LAPD detective puts in a cameo. It really helped lighten the oppressive mood. It was nice to see him in these pages, it was nicer still that it happened when it did.

This is the most intense, fastest-paced Elvis Cole novel yet. It’s all forward momentum (see Pike’s tattoos yet again — Crais isn’t the only one who can overuse them as a symbol). Part of this — maybe a large part of this — has to do with the fact that it’s a kidnapping case, every minute counts. It certainly doesn’t hurt that every chapter leads off with “X Hours, Y Minutes” since the kidnapping.

This is really great stuff here. Even though I remembered why the various villains were up to their villainy, seeing it revealed to Elvis still got me riled up as it was intended to, and though I knew how both the kidnapping and related stories wrapped up, I was still glued to the pages, turning as fast as I could. Which is the sign of a master of suspense writing — that even when there’s no suspense, the reader is still reacting as if there was.


5 Stars


Drawing by Kirsty Stewart, chameleonkirsty on deviantART, used with permission.

Saturday Miscellany — 10/18/14

Wow. A very light week for this column. (more time to spend catching up for the slow weeks lately?)

Only four things to share this week in the odds ‘n ends from over the week about books and reading that caught my eye. You’ve probably seen some/most/all of them, but just in case:

    This Week’s New Release That I’m Excited About and/or You’ll Probably See Here Soon:

  • The Younger Gods by Michael R. Underwood — I’ve said it before, I’m a fan of Underwood. Even if I wasn’t, the premise of an Urban Fantasy featuring an ex-cultist turned NYC college student battling his family to save the world would probably get my attention. Put the two together? You know I’m reading this one soon.

Incarnate by Anton Strout

Incarnate (The Spellmason Chronicles, #3)Incarnate

by Anton Strout

Mass Market Paperback, 320 pg.
Ace, 2014
Read: October 11 – 15, 2014
And here we are at the end of The Spellmason Chronicles (following Alchemystic and Stonecast). So the big question for me going into this (aside from how would Lexis and Stanis clean up that mess from Stonecast?) was: could Strout stick the landing — his other series was just canceled, leaving things open (and I’m still curious about it), this was a planned conclusion, so how’d he manage it? I’m not at all surprised to say, pretty well.

First off, Strout really expands his world here — there’s a lot more magic, magic users and the like than he’d shown before (it was there before, but we hadn’t seen it as much). There’s some new characters I’d like to spend more time with — Fletcher seems really interesting, and the NYPD detectives Maron and Rowland need to run into Simon Canderous and Connor Christos.

Lexi’s a lot more confident in her abilities — which have grown since we saw her last — and driven in a very Peter Parker-y way. She’s a lot more than the would-be artist we meant a couple of books ago. Similarly, her pals Rory and Marshall have grown a good deal — I like the development of them both. Marshall’s is on the one hand surprising (as Lexi’s and Rory’s reactions attest), but on the other is a lot more believable than Rory’s. But with Rory, her continued growth into Lexi’s go-to fighter is pretty fun, and as long as we’re buying the whole Spellmason thing, we might as well buy into Rory the super-hero.

Stanis has his hands full trying to track down stray grotesques like himself, help them understand what’s going on with them and give them a place of safety and refuge — particularly as the threat of a group of grotesques who are out to use their strength, abilities and invulnerabilities against humanity. The more we learn about the leader of the other group, the worse it gets. I don’t want to get into spoilers here, but the Big Bad in Incarnate here is probably the worst villain that Strout’s come up with yet.

Throw in interference from the magic community (who aren’t happy at all that muggles are seeing flying statues in the Big Apple), notice of — and pursuit by — the NYPD, and Lexi and her gang have more than their hands full. Which makes for a good time for the readers.

That said, Strout stumbles a couple times with this. In the opening chapters, the dialogue is a little stilted, a little awkward. Which is really unusual — this is typically Strout’s strong point. But to me, a lot of the dialogue was very thinly veiled exposition. Not quite as bad as, “Hey Rory, my blue-haired best friend since childhood, dance student and resident ass-kicker, could you please pass me my great-great-great-grandfather’s spell book, the one I just inherited a couple of months ago when I started manifesting the abilities of a Spellmason?” But it felt close. By chapter 4 or 5, that mostly disappears, and if not for the notes I’d taken I’d probably have forgotten it.

There was a lot more blood than I expected here — not that this was really gory at all, and all of the nasty stuff happened off-screen (if you will), and our heroes either came across it after the fact or in photographs. So there’s a lot of blood and some dismemberment — but even the more squeamish readers should have no problem with it.

And, like Stonecast, this is a little too short. I could’ve used more Rory and Marshall (together or on their own). We hit the big “Boss Battle” a bit abruptly, I thought. Also, the last chapter is rushed. It felt like one of the alternate endings to Wayne’s World (there’s a relevant pop culture reference, for ya) — a series of conclusions for each character one after the other, bam, bam, bam. Given everything he tried to accomplish in those last few pages, the importance and scope involved, I just think it could’ve used a bit more breathing room.

I realize my negatives are longer than my positives — but that’s because I can talk about them with a bit more detail than all the cool stuff that happens, which pretty much involves spoilers. The good far outweighs the nits I may want to pick. All things considered, it’s a solid conclusion to a pretty good series. Good character development throughout, leaving most of the characters in places that will please and satisfy fans (I, honestly, would’ve preferred something a little less happy and a little more incarceration-y for Caleb). I don’t know if Strout has plans in this direction, but he leaves things in a place that he could come back and tell more stories in this world, and with these characters with no problem. Or he could leave them alone with no problem. Which is a nice place to leave a series.

Whatever Strout has planned next, I’m looking forward to it.


4 Stars

One Kick by Chelsea Cain

One Kick (Kick Lannigan, #1)One Kick

by Chelsea Cain

Hardcover, 309 pg.
Simon & Schuster, 2014
Read: September 19 – 20, 2014

When she was a kid, the shrinks told her she had anger issues. But she didn’t have anger issues, at least not the way that they meant. She was just angry.

As well she should be.

When Kit Lannigan was six years old, she was abducted by someone in the middle of the day and America (and her family) assumed the worst things possible had happened. Most of them did. But when she was 12 or 13, the FBI rescued her from her abductors. We meet Kit, now calling herself Kick, about a decade later, much changed. She’s seen a million shrinks, taken up all sorts of self-defense, forms of personal protection and weapons to make herself feel safe. She’s fairly well adjusted — and angry. She’s patched together a life that works for her. Then an arms dealer looking to do a little good in the world, John Bishop, comes to her. Bishop wants her help in tracking down — and hopefully rescuing — two local abducted children.

We are all relieved — and honestly, generally surprised — when one of those children we see on Amber Alerts gets rescued in relatively good health, particularly years after their abduction. But on the other hand, we do know (whether we say it out loud or not) that this poor kid is going to be dealing with this trauma for the rest of their lives. And on occasion, we get updates from them on morning news shows on the anniversaries of their rescues, or the occasional book. But on the whole, soon after their ordeal is over we forget them (which is probably good — anonymity is probably the best chance they have at a near normal life). Still, we’ve all wondered what life is like for them. We get one idea from the first couple of Lisa Gardner’s D. D. Warren books or Heitor Dhalia’s Gone. One Kick gives us one more. And it’s a doozy.

Is Kick as formidable a fighter as she thinks she is? Nope. She’s not a Gina Carano character or Charlie Fox. Which is a relief — I prefer seeing her not that capable — and yet, she thinks she’s much better than she is. Which is probably the only way she gets out of bed in the morning. Still, she could hold her own against more people in a fight than most of humanity.

There is a psychological realism to the depictions here that adds a degree of credibility to Cain’s characters and story. Now, I don’t know how realistic it is, honestly — but it sure seems real, and in a novel, that’s pretty much all you’re looking for. “Do I think that this trauma would/could result in this behavior?” is the only question the reader needs to ask. And Cain nails it with all her characters, not just Kick (although she does her best here, as we spend more time with Kick than the rest combined).

Do not get me started on Kick and her dog. So good.

If you’re not sure that this premise interests you? Stay away. The violence, the psychological damage, the rawness of it all will not appeal to everyone (probably shouldn’t, either). It’s not a fun, “yee-haw, let’s take out some bad guys” kind of suspense novel, either. Go into this with your eyes open.

Much more than a revenge novel, or a suspense novel about tracking down abducted children, One Kick is about some very damaged people trying to turn their experiences into something that can help someone else. If that provides a measure of relief for Kick, Bishop and the rest? So much the better. Good action, fast-paced (but not at a break-neck speed), some characters you probably don’t relate to, but can actually like. A couple characters you hate — a strong visceral kind of hate. Really worth the read. I’m looking forward to seeing where Cain takes Kick next.


5 Stars

Reread Project: L.A. Requiem by Robert Crais

L.A. Requiem (Elvis Cole, #8)L.A. Requiem by Robert Crais

Mass Market Paperback, 539 pages
Published October 3rd 2002 by Pocket
Read: September 24 – 25, 2014

I know that I’ve read this one at least twice previously, but you wouldn’t have been able to prove it last week when I started my re-read of it. I’d spent the last few weeks while planning this series (and probably years before it), convinced that the events of The Last Detective happened in this book — and that the back story revealed here was revealed a couple of books earlier.

Not only that, I’d forgotten this was where we met John Chen! I’d even forgot that he was on the horizon! Sure, John Chen is a despicable, slimey guy. But there’s something about him I liked — even here, before any of his redeeming qualities are found (developed?), there’s something about John that’s likeable. He’s a creep, but he’s Pike’s creep.

Still, I’d clearly forgotten just about everything meaningful about this novel — at least as far as plot goes. I remember what I learned about Pike (but, as I said, thought I learned it elsewhere). Making this a lot of fun to reread. Which is, I guess, the whole point of rereading.

Anyway, to the book itself:

One of my all-time favorite movies is Midnight Run, if you haven’t watched it, shame on you. Really. There’s no excuse. Go rectify that situation. As you’ll recall, Jonathan Mardukus torments the bounty hunter bringing him back to LA with the question, “Why are you so unpopular with the Chicago police department?” Throughout this series, astute readers have likely been asking a similar question: “Why is Joe Pike so unpopular with the Los Angeles police department?” — at least I have (which is not to say you’re an astute reader if you haven’t been asking the question I have — clearly, you’re astute. And good looking. With a great sense of humor). Except for the times when the detectives have hard to travel out of town, we’ve seen animosity to outright hatred in the LAPD’s reaction to Joe (with the exception of Det. Angela Rossi). In these pages, we finally learn why (it’s an understandable, yet, mistaken reason — naturally). But we learn a lot more about him, here, too: the foundation for his obsession with keeping his jeep clean, why he’s driven in many of the ways that he is, and more — but this isn’t just a series of flashbacks — all we learn about Joe serves the main story as well as the character.

For a little change of pace here in book 8, Joe Pike brings in the client. In this case, it’s the father of a woman Joe dated back when he was a police officer, things ended badly, but not so badly that Frank Garcia has lost any respect for Joe. So when Karen goes missing one day, and the police won’t help him yet, Frank turns to Joe for help. Joe, naturally, brings Elvis along for this investigation.

The events that turned Pike into LAPD’s Most Hated are related to the outcome of this case — and not just because it makes every cop willing to believe the worst in Joe and not look too hard for an alternative explanation when Joe becomes a suspect. His partner jailed, the police hostile to any efforts to seek another suspect, the Karen Garcia case becomes Elvis’ most personal case yet (until the next book).

The various police officers and detectives involved in this book are just horrible — bordering on cartoonishly bad at the beginning. Not necessarily bad at their jobs, just bad human beings. Thankfully, Crais isn’t that kind of writer, and you learn there’s actually a reason for these men and women to act this way. Garcia’s able to use his political clout to force the detectives assigned to the case to let Elvis observe them, read their reports and whatnot. Which is resented (and not just because of Joe), particularly by the detective who’s forced to act as his liaison, Samantha Dolan. Dolan eventually softens to a degree, and her relationship with Cole acts as a precursors/template for another coming soon in Elvis’ life.

There’s a very spoiler-y paragraph here on my blog’s version if you want to read it.

I’m going to break my anti-spoiler policy here, and rant a bit. If you want to read it, use your mouse to select the following paragraph:
Lucy, Lucy, Lucy — I am so disappointed in you. Of course Elvis is going to choose to help Joe here. Of course, he’s going to put his life on the line for his partner (who’s saved his life more than once). Of course, Elvis is going to bend the law (at best), going to pull out all the stops to find the killer and save Joe. What did you think he was going to do? Stop being Elvis? How did you two meet? What lengths did Elvis go to in order to help out these complete strangers and the woman who lied to him and fired him? And then what did he do for those kids, after you forced him to help? Not to mention the case that got you your job in L.A.? I get it, you’re in a vulnerable place, you’ve changed your whole life thanks to Elvis and you feel like he owes you a bit. But before you moved to L. A. you knew who he was. You knew the kind of man he was and what kind of dangerous work he did. I started disliking Lucy here, and that only grows in the next book (even if I sympathize with her more there), so that when she shows up in The Forgotten Man I don’t even want to see her.

Nothing is simple about this case — not the mystery, not the motive for the killings, not the various motives for the investigators, not the lives of those touched by the crimes/criminals/investigators. It’s all complicated, messy and very human.

In the end, this is Crais’ masterpiece. Which isn’t to say that he hasn’t written some very satisfying and enjoyable books after this — many of which I like more. But nothing’s as good as this one. This brings us to a new stage in the Cole books — one that continues to this day. I might contrast the two stages a bit more in the weeks to come (maybe during/after The Forgotten Man or maybe to go along with The Promise), almost making them two different series. And yes, I miss the old Elvis — but that’s not to say there’s a problem with the new one, it’s just noting a difference. It’s haunting, it’s disturbing, and will affect any reader that has an emotional connection to the partners. Really well done. Oh, and as a bonus, the last 3 or 4 pages are just gorgeous — probably the most “writerly” writing that Crais has done yet.


5 Stars


Drawing by Kirsty Stewart, chameleonkirsty on deviantART, used with permission.