She Rides Shotgun by Jordan Harper: A Gripping Thriller, A Touching Father-Daughter Story, a Special Kind of Crime Novel

She Rides ShotgunShe Rides Shotgun

by Jordan Harper

Hardcover, 257 pg.
Ecco, 2017
Read: August 7 – 8, 2018

This is one of those books where you want to sit and talk about it for a couple of hours — recapping and dissecting the events, analyzing, and speculating about what happens after the book ends; or you don’t want to say anything beyond “just read it, I don’t want to ruin anything for you.” I could absolutely relish the former, but I’m going to hew closer to the latter. Harper’s better to read on this than me, anyway.

So, here’s the official blurb to keep me from slipping:

           Eleven-year-old Polly McClusky is shy, too old for the teddy bear she carries with her everywhere, when she is unexpectedly reunited with her father, Nate, fresh out of jail and driving a stolen car. He takes her from the front of her school into a world of robbery, violence, and the constant threat of death. And he does it to save her life.

Nate made dangerous enemies in prison—a gang called Aryan Steel has put out a bounty on his head, counting on its members on the outside to finish him off. They’ve already murdered his ex-wife, Polly’s mother. And Polly is their next target.

Nate and Polly’s lives soon become a series of narrow misses, of evading the bad guys and the police, of sleepless nights in motels. Out on the lam, Polly is forced to grow up early: with barely any time to mourn her mother, she must learn how to take a punch and pull off a drug-house heist. She finds herself transforming from a shy little girl into a true fighter. Nate, in turn, learns what it’s like to love fiercely and unconditionally—a love he’s never quite felt before. But can their powerful bond transcend the dangerous existence he’s carved out for them? Will they ever be able to live an honest life, free of fear?

She Rides Shotgun is a gripping and emotionally wrenching novel that upends even our most long-held expectations about heroes, villains, and victims. Nate takes Polly to save her life, but in the end it may very well be Polly who saves him.

The thing to remember about Nate — he might be trying to be a good father, he may want to be a good father and act a certain way for Polly. But he’s not a good guy. He’s not a paragon of virtue, he’s not a reputable citizen. He’s a criminal — and not an entirely successful criminal, with almost zero parenting skills. But man, he wants to try. Expect some heroics, but remember he’s no Nick Mason, Jack Reacher or the like.

Polly? I don’t know what to say about her. If you can read a few chapters of this and not fall in love with this little girl, want to adopt her and protect her from all this madness? Something’s broken in you. She’ll win your affections, you’ll root for her, you’ll pity her, you’ll hope she survives this all intact.

There were a couple of other stand-out characters — I’d get into them, but it doesn’t matter. Your appreciation for this book comes down to this: what do you think about Nate and Polly and what they go through?

This is a tense thriller, with more than your typical emotional moments for the genre. Harper delivers both with equal skill and aplomb. As horrible as so much of this plot was — this was a real pleasure to read, from cover to cover.

I first heard about this novel — and author, come to think of it — on Episode 33 of Two Crime Writers And A Microphone, you might want to check it out.

—–

4 Stars

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Pub Day Repost: Deck the Hounds by David Rosenfelt: Another Christmas Tale (Tail?) for Andy Carpenter, Another Win for Rosenfelt

Deck the HoundsDeck the Hounds

by David Rosenfelt
Series: Andy Carpenter, #18
eARC, 368 pg.
Minotaur Books, 2018
Read: September 11 – 13, 2018

Andy Carpenter sees a homeless man with a dog on the street, gives the man some money and a gift card for dog food (naturally, the dog gets more than the man, because it’s Andy Carpenter) and has a brief conversation with him. Not long after that, that same man is on the news — he’d been attacked by a stranger and his dog defended him. Which resulted in the dog being put in the pound. Laurie’s filled with pre-Christmas spirit and insists that Andy help out. So he uses his rescue foundation to get custody of the dog and moves the pair into the apartment over his garage.

How heartwarming is this? Clearly, this is fodder for a Christmas/holiday story. But it’s also an Andy Carpenter story, so naturally, after Andy does a newspaper interview about the man — giving his name — he’s arrested for murder. No one was more surprised by this move than Andy’s guest, Don. Not only has Don never heard of the victim, he was unaware that he was wanted by the police. Laurie’s pre-Christmas spirit is still strong, so she talks him into defending the man. It helps that he’s innocent, a dog lover, and an educated, articulate vet with PTSD. The PTSD aspect of the story was told with sensitivity and tact. It didn’t feel tacked on to make the character more sympathetic, but it grounded him in reality and may help to inform some readers about the prices that too many vets are paying.

There is another storyline — seemingly unrelated — running through the novel. Obviously, it’s going to tie into Andy’s case, but it takes a long time for that to happen. This gives the reader multiple opportunities to guess how the two are connected (and multiple opportunities to be wrong. I guessed what was happening in that story pretty easily, and I think most people who read a lot of legal thrillers will. But how it connects to the main story will likely leave most readers as surprised as I was (surprised, and then filled with a strong sense of, “well, naturally, what else could it be?”).

The usual gang is back and in their prime form — Hike is back to his full-time dour self; Ricky is a cute kid; Laurie provides the moral center; Pete is a good cop who continually underestimates Andy’s clients; Sam is a wizard with computers in a way that probably defies reality Marcus is his super-hero best here, and possibly faces his biggest challenge yet (I thoroughly enjoyed this scene). What better way to spend a holiday (or at least a book set around one) than with a bunch of friends like these have become over the years?

Andy spent more time in the courtroom in this book than he has lately — it seemed to me, anyway, I didn’t do a page count. His courtroom antics and cross-examinations are what drew me to the character in the first place, so this is the stuff in these books I most look forward to. Rosenfelt brought his A-game to the courtroom events here, and I loved it. As far as mysteries go, this in one of the most satisfying cases that Rosenfelt has brought us in years.

In my post about the previous “holiday special” I said that I really don’t like it when long-running series do a holiday special — yet, The Twelve Dogs of Christmas and Deck the Hounds have been my favorite installments in the last couple of years in this series. Maybe that means this Grinch’s heart is growing a couple of sizes, or maybe it’s that Rosenfelt is inspired to work harder in these. My guess? It’s the clients — the Andy Carpenter books are at their best when they focus on the client, not on some large conspiracy. These holiday books have the kind of clients you spend time on, that the reader gets invested in — and therefore, Andy gets to shine in defending them.

Whatever the reason, this is a sure-fire win for Andy Carpenter fans. Particularly if you don’t mind a little Christmas celebration (or, if you’re like Laurie, and insist on commemorating the holiday for months).

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from St. Martin’s Press via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this.

—–

4 Stars

Just One Damned Thing After Another by Jodi Taylor: A Delightfully Charming and Fun Time-Travel Epic Kicks Off

 Just One Damned Thing After Another Just One Damned Thing After Another

by Jodi Taylor
Series: The Chronicles of St. Mary’s, #1

Paperback, 480 pg.
Night Shade Books, 2016
Read: July 30, 2018

Thinking carefully is something that happens to other people.

I lost my notes to this book, which is annoying me greatly. So I’m going to be a bit more vague than I want to be.

I could tell from the first couple of pages that I was going to have a great time with this book — our narrator is Dr. Madeline “Max” Maxwell, a specialist in ancient history. She is charming, engaging, brash, and funny. She’s a few more things, too, but let’s leave it there. Essentially, she’s a delight — it almost doesn’t matter what setting you put her in, what story you tell with her — I’m in.

Thankfully, Taylor puts her in a crazy novel, one perfectly suited for her. When we meet her, Max is being recruited by a former mentor to join St Mary’s Institute of Historical Research, a very strange research facility. These historians get their hands dirty in their research in the ways that no other facility on Earth can manage — they have time machines to take them to whatever point in time they’re studying so they can see ad experience history first-hand.

Sounds great, doesn’t it? But things go awry — in spectacularly bad fashion. But, for these Historians, where there’s tea, there’s hope. Using wit, sheer determination, and a little luck Max and her new colleagues will have to find a way to meet these new and dangerous challenges.

There’s a lot more action and fighting than you’d think given that the book is about Historians and the Technicians who work with them. There’s a lot of humor, some pathos, a little love — and a little more sex than I’d prefer (thankfully most of it happens “off screen,” but not all of it). The plot is impossible to summarize well — it bounces around from point to point like a ball in a pinball machine. This is not a complaint, this is a description. Months will go by in a paragraph (or less) and then things will slow down for the events of a day or two. These are Time Travelers, after all, they can squeeze a lot of activity into a short period of time.

There are some other great characters here, too. Max has wonderful, loyal and capable allies (who happen to be interesting to read about); she has fantastic antagonists — the kind of characters you can relish your annoyance/anger/moral superiority over; her friends are interesting, he love interest is about as fun as you could ask for, and is charming enough in his own right.

I wish I’d had the time to write this up when the book was fresher in my mind — or if I’d not lost my notes. This book deserved a bit more from me. Basically, this book — between characters, circumstances, plot and tone is what I’d hoped for from the Tuesday Next books. I have no idea if Taylor can keep up the freshness of the voice, the zaniness of the plot, and the engaging quality of the characters (particularly Max) — it’ll be tough to do. But I’m looking forward to finding out. I had a blast reading this one, and can’t imagine that Taylor’s charm wouldn’t win over at least 87% of those who give this a try.

—–

4 Stars

Without Rules by Andrew Field: A dark tale where many means are justified


Without RulesWithout Rules

by Andrew Field

Kindle Edition, 215 pg.
Boomstang, 2018

Read: October 9 – 11, 2018


Last week, in the many tributes to Elmore Leonard that I saw floating around on what would’ve been his birthday, I came across this quotation: “I don’t judge in my books. I don’t have to have the antagonist get shot or the protagonist win. It’s just how it comes out. I’m just telling a story.” Which seemed awfully appropriate as I was in the closing chapters of Without Rules at the time. I’m not suggesting that there’s anything Leonard-esque to Field’s novel*, but they definitely were working from the same ethos.

This book starts off showing you that it’s about as far as you can get from a cozy — a hit man and his accomplice on the run after a disastrous (yet successful) job take shelter in something between a brothel and a porn studio while waiting for extraction. Their unwilling hostess supplies them with booze, a laundry machine, and some meaningless sex in the meantime. When the opportunity presents, she tries to convince the hitman to rescue both herself and her daughter from their situation — being forced by her father to live and work in this place since she was about her daughter’s age. Naturally, it’s this same father who hired the hitman to take out one of his clients before he could be flipped by the police.

Things get messier from there — no, really. Soon, we’re plunged into a mare’s nest of police cover-ups, police investigations, evidence tampering, evidence planting, blackmail, murder, pedophilia rings, international drug dealers, and real estate fraud. This particular night ends in betrayals, deaths, lives and careers being ruined, missing people and near-death escapes. The book will then lurch ahead a couple of years to witness the chaos and destruction left by that night and how it’s altered, prospered and ruined lives — and attempts will be made by several to rectify that situation. The novel will then jump ahead as the events of part two have left even more trouble and chaos in their wake for the survivors to try to deal with the aftermath.

There’s a fine line between complex and convoluted — this novel doesn’t tip-toe down that line, it dances on it. When it falters, it typically lands on the convoluted side before resuming its jig. There are arguably too many characters running around — and few of them are fully rounded-out. But, largely, I’m okay with that — because the more I get to know just about any of these characters the less I wanted to know them at all. These are ugly people in the midst of ugly businesses.

With one or two climactic exceptions, the action is believable, the evil is all too real — there’s no criminal mastermind stroking his cat while the world burns. Instead we have several depraved individuals scraping to make their fortunes greater — or just to survive. There’s one well-timed Diabolus ex Machina that was hard to swallow that was necessary to set up the book’s conclusion, but otherwise the action stayed within the bounds of credulity.

In a capricious world, it’s odd to find so many characters talking about justice — generally how it’s impossible to find — but just about every one of these characters has a lot to say about it. There is an irony there for the careful reader to appreciate.

Minor spoiler: There’s no happily ever afters here. No redemption arcs. No one wears a white hat. A couple of characters do ride off into the sunset, but not in any real sense of victory or joy. The cynical among us — many would prefer to be called realists — would say that this is an accurate reflection of life. No justice, no just desserts, bad things happen to bad people, those who intend to be heroes become villains, a villain or two will find themselves doing something heroic, and everyone’s out for themselves and a profit. In a very noir world, Andrew Field offers us a very noir novel.


* That’s not a ding on Field, there’s pretty much no one who can write something Leonard-esque. And it’s generally embarrassing when they try.

BOOK SPOTLIGHT: Without Rules by Andrew Field

Today I welcome the Book Tour for the Without Rules by Andrew Field. Along with this spotlight post, I’ll be giving a few thoughts on the novel here in a bit.

Book Details:

Book Title: Burning Secrets by Ruth Sutton
Publisher: Boomslang
Release date: October 5, 2018
Format: Paperback/ebook
Length: 215 pages

Book Blurb:

When a professional hitman turns up at Candy’s World to hide, China Mackie discovers her plan to flee from her abusive father has tragically backfired. A gruesome bloodbath has left four people dead on the streets of a northern city centre on a cold wet Sunday morning. China knows she’s next to die. Unless she is more ruthless than everyone else. She must improvise fast. Seduce her father’s assassin. Plead her case so he helps her escape in a fight to the death where rules don’t matter but the consequences do.

About Andrew Field:

Ruth SuttonAndrew Field has spent most of his working life as a PR and marketing consultant helping raise the profiles of others. Now the roles are reversed as he steps into the spotlight as the author of Without Rules, a crime thriller about vulnerable people forced to do bad things to escape evil people. “Authors, by the nature of what they do, are relatively introverted. They work in isolation. Inhabit imaginary worlds of their own creation. They can spend ages staring at a computer screen bringing their characters to life. Then they have to become a different person to promote their work and market themselves. Writing is the easy part compared to the marketing, especially when crime fiction has become a very crowded marketplace.”

“From my point of view, professional PR people operate best from behind the scenes. They should never become the story otherwise you’re deflecting attention away from the messages you’re trying to communicate,” says Andrew. “The New Labour experiment, for example, was doomed the minute Tony Blair’s media guru Alistair Campbell generated his own headlines. Bragged about ‘spin’. Believed his own hype. Ditto Anthony “The Mooch” Scaramucci’s 10-day tenure as the shortest-serving White House communications director in history – and his “off the record” expletive-ridden rant about his colleagues in Donald Trump’s White House.”

As a PR, Andrew memorably handled Boddingtons Bitter during its “Cream of Manchester” heyday, developing innovative sports and cultural media partnerships with newspapers and TV stations for the beer brand – but also PR’d a fashion entrepreneur who was a convicted armed bank robber and a property developer who did eighteen months prison time for blackmail. “Having a diverse range of clients keeps it interesting. They are all different but the core requirement is to be seen as a believable and trusted information source ready to take advantage of PR opportunities as and when they arise. As a novelist, you look to do exactly the same with your work and yourself.”

“The catalyst for Without Rules was a friend testifying against her father in an abuse case. Although the prosecution was successful, she can never really escape the consequences of what happened to her. She has to find a way of coping for the rest of her life while he was sentenced to two and half years.”

Andrew says crime fiction has a duty to try and educate and as well as entertain. “The memorable books are the ones you’re still thinking about 48-hours after you finished reading.”

Andrew lives, works and plays in Manchester, England, Europe, with his partner, Catherine. He has been a trade journalist in Southampton in his youth. He owned a PR agency in the nineties and early noughties and is now an independent PR, marketing and publishing consultant looking forward to the challenge of becoming the story with the publication of Without Rules.

Andrew Field’s Social Media:

Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Website ~ Instagram

Purchase Links for Without Rules:

Andrew Field’s online bookstore ~ Amazon UK ~ Amazon US


My thanks to damppebbles blog tours for the invitation to participate in this tour and the materials they provided.

The Ten Commandments by Kevin DeYoung: A Warm, Engaging Study of God’s Revealed Will

The Ten CommandmentsThe Ten Commandments: What They Mean, Why They Matter, and Why We Should Obey Them

by Kevin DeYoung

eARC, 208 pg.
Crossway, 2018
Read: September 23, 2018

My initial thought when I saw this book was: do we need another popular-level work on The Ten Commandments? We’ve got so many already, like: Ryken’s Written in Stone, Horton’s The Law of Perfect Freedom, Packer’s Growing in Christ. We’ve got Douma’s, Watson’s and Durham’s (newly republished) on the heavier end of the spectrum, too. Why bring out a new book by DeYoung? Still, I was intrigued, so I requested a copy.

Not too surprisingly, I’m glad I did. This is typical DeYoung: a strong, affectionate, orthodox take on the Law delivered in a very accessible and affable manner. He made me think, he made me reconsider a thing or two, and he reminded me of a few things I needed reminding of.

He begins this work against the framework of the secular “anything goes” point of view, where everything certainly does not go — as much as we as a culture might rail against an external source of morality — there are things that simply cannot be said or done. Giving us a choice between humanity’s unwritten, assumed code — or God’s revealed will. DeYoung then goes on to list reasons for the study as well as the following of God’s Law.

The other important groundwork comes from the midst of his very strong chapter on the First Commandment in which he describes the role of the Law for New Covenant believers. It’s still applicable, still binding — just in a different manner. I think this could’ve been developed more — maybe in its own chapter, but what we got here was good. I do particularly appreciate his metaphor of transposition. The Law in the New Covenant is the same for believers as it was in the Old, it’s just in a different key.

Following the introduction where he lays out his framework, DeYoung turns to consider the commandments individually. This is the bulk of — and the heart of — the book, with a chapter devoted to each commandment. If the book has any value, it’ll be found here, and there’s a lot of it to be found. I briefly considered summarizing each chapter, but why steal his thunder. Also, he’s not carving out anything new here, so there’s little need. What’s new is his expression of the timeless truths, his way of explaining and applying them. If you want a quick summary of what he’ll say about each commandment read The Heidelberg Catechism questions 92-115 or the Westminster Shorter Catechism questions 39-85, and you’ll get a pretty good idea.

Instead, I’ll just comment on a few highlights and a couple of problems I had (your mileage may vary). I found his comments regarding the Fourth Commandment to be helpful, but hesitant — in his effort to not be legalistic, or overly dogmatic, he comes across as wishy-washy. I appreciated most of what he had to say about the Second Commandment, but again, he’s hesitant enough in some of his application to stumble a bit. Which is not to say that the bulk of those chapters weren’t good and helpful — they were. I think he could’ve been more consistently so.

Conversely, the chapters on the Eighth and Tenth commandments were incredibly helpful. If you ask me, these two are where the American Church and American Christians stumble more often than we realize (or care about). Publicly, Protestants are expounding so much energy on certain applications of the Sixth and Seventh commandments that one would be tempted to think that 8-10 are concerns of the past. DeYoung doesn’t let the reader think that for an instant, and if you don’t come away from these chapters with a good dose of conviction of your own sin, you probably didn’t read it too closely.

The chapter on the Third Commandment was invaluable also. It’s far too easy for Western Christians to reduce this to “don’t be a potty mouth” and far too hard for us to really get what the importance of “name of the Lord” is. DeYoung does a yeoman’s job on both fronts and does a good job expounding the meaning of this commandment.

You’ll never walk away from any of these chapters thinking that DeYoung is writing a hellfire and brimstone jeremiad against the Church, you, or anyone. He’s sharply critical of a lot of general culture, and individual inclinations, but that’s to be expected. There’s conviction and inspiration both to be found in these pages — all delivered in DeYoung’s warm, almost conversational, style — a strong blend of wit and charm with the steel in his words. I won’t get into it, but his chapter on the Third Commandment contains one of the funniest anecdotes (more in the telling than the story) I’ve read from him. Ignoring his content for a moment, his writing style is what will keep me coming back to DeYoung’s books for years to come.

I think I’ve said before, I’m not a big one for study/discussion questions in books — I like to think the engaged reader doesn’t need them and someone leading a discussion/study of a book will be clever enough to come up with their own. But, I’m obviously swimming against the tide on this because publishers keep printing them. That said, on the whole, this is a pretty good set of questions and would help someone who likes those kind of questions for their own use or for those using the book in Family Worship, Sunday School, or Bible Study.

In the end, my question, do we need another popular-level book on The Ten Commandments? Is answered yes: we need frequent — constant — reminders of the revealed will we’ve been called to obey, so we never stop striving for that perfection and never cease calling on the Spirit’s assistance. We also need to remember how great our sin and misery are so that we constantly live lives of repentance. So bring on DeYoung’s good summary. And others as well — and we need to read them, as well as the older popular-level works. And then we need to push ourselves and read some of the less-popular level ones as well.

This is a good, short set of meditations and reflections on the perfect law, the law of liberty for a contemporary audience. It’s approachable, it’s warm, it’s pointed, and it’s Gospel-centered. It’s not perfect, but it’s good. It functions well as a refresher for those who need one, and a good starting point for their own study of The Ten Commandments. I’m buying a copy (at least one) for my personal library and will be encouraging my household to read it — and anyone else who asks.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Crossway via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this.

—–

4 Stars

Saturday Miscellany – 10/13/18

Odds ‘n ends 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 Releases I’m Excited About and/or You’ll Probably See Here Soon:

  • Wrecked by Joe Ide — IQ is back for his third novel — and I can’t wait to see what Ide has in store for him.
  • The Blue Kingfisher by Erica Wright — Kat Stone, undercover cop turned PI with identities to spare investigates an apparent suicide. Here’s what I had to say about it.