Deep Dark Night by Steph Broadribb: High Stakes Danger for Lori Anderson in the Windy City

Deep Dark Night

Deep Dark Night

by Steph Broadribb
Series: Lori Anderson, #4

Kindle Edition, 320 pg.
Orenda Books, 2020

Read: January 16-17, 2020
Grab a Steph Broadribb book from your local indie bookstore!

I’ve always felt an element of fear about the jobs I do. In the right dosage it can help you. It gets your adrenaline firing, makes you think clearer, faster—gets you alert and ready to tackle anything that comes your way. But if the fear builds too much, all that good stuff swings things around; the nerves make you hesitant, jumpy and too cautious. That’s when you start making mistakes. And mistakes, in my world, can be fatal.

After barely getting to take a breath following the events of Deep Dirty Truth, Lori finally gets the chance to work off her debt to FBI Agent Monroe. This puts Lori and JT in Chicago trying to get the mobster Cabressa to take possession of some stolen goods. Once that’s done, a series of dominoes will fall and Monroe will be able to put him away for a very long time.

So he insists, anyway.

Step one involves Lori getting an invite to an incredibly exclusive Poker game, Step two involves giving her a crash course in playing Poker so she seems mostly credible in the game. (this isn’t presented as a comedic segment, but I chuckled at this part of the book—also, I’m jealous, I wish I could learn how to play like this).

Now, every thriller reader knows what will happen next—no plan, no matter how thorough, how well-thought-out no matter who’s involved, will work. If for no other reason than it would produce a dull novel. But also, every thriller reader has heard the line, “no plan survives first contact with the enemy” and knows it to be true. The questions that need to be answered are: how badly will the plan go awry? and How will Lori and JT react to it?

So let me assure you, when this plan is derailed, it’s derailed in a spectacular fashion, providing a lot of danger for our heroes, peril for those around them, and more than enough tension to satisfy a hungry reader. Lori and JT respond appropriately, not perfectly (which would be boring), but they display the stamina, resourcefulness, and tenacity we’ve come to expect from them.

The poker game collected quite the interesting mix of players—sports figures, politicians, as well as shady characters like Cabressa. When things go wrong during the game, it opens things up for a lot of drama and conflicting interests causing trouble for all involved. Suddenly, Lori and JT can’t focus solely on getting Cabressa to fall into Monroe’s trap—they have to worry about survival—their own, and as many others that they can help. Sure, Cabressa is still their target, but there’s a lot they have to go through before they can make him a priority.

I’m not going to get more in-depth than that, I’ll leave it there and say there’s more than enough going on plot-wise to fuel a book at least half again as long as this one. Broadribb has stacked the deck against the pair and it’s great to watch them try to navigate the situation.

The game takes place at the top of a pretty high building in Chicago and the action centers around that location, stories above the ground. In the real world, I’m pretty acrophobic—and occasionally (okay, more than occasionally), a movie can get me to feel the anxiety that heights can bring out in me. I don’t remember ever feeling symptoms while reading a book, but I did here. It’s not like Broadribb focused all that much on the height and risk of falling (it was there, but she didn’t belabor the point), but something about the way that she told the story, flicked that particular switch in my brain. There’s something very disconcerting about sitting in a comfortable seat (on the ground level like a sane person) but feeling like I was standing in a precarious* location several feet off the ground. I’m not promising that anyone else will experience what I did, I assume the rest of humanity is a bit better adjusted than I am, but for me that was an unexpected “bonus” to the book.

* Yeah, fine, my definition of a precarious location applies to perfectly safe—even benign—spots.

I’m a little worried about the long-term health of Lori’s elbows. She uses them so often as weapons, she probably heads back to Florida with at least one of them horribly bruised. I don’t remember this being the case in the previous novels, maybe I just forgot—or maybe she’s just relying on the technique in these circumstances (I remember more than once the narration in a Jack Reacher novel talking about the usefulness of that tactic compared to the use of a fist).

As far as long-term character development goes, Lori and JT start a conversation they’ve needed to have since, well, since we met the two of them about Dakota and why Lori didn’t tell JT about her before she did. This will prove helpful in the future and provide the opportunity for the relationship to grow and change. The two of them have some sort of plan going forward about their careers and daughter, but we’re going to have to come back to find out what they have in mind. Seeing these two deal with each other and their daughter is almost as rewarding to me as the action-hero kind of thing is, and Broadribb’s featuring both sides of Lori like this is a real strength of the series.

For my money, this is the best of the series—she’s got a real handle on these characters by now and knows just how to put them through the wringer in a way that provides real tension and thrills. I got more wrapped up in this than I expected to (and I had pretty high expectations at this point in the series), and it was absolutely worth it. Book five cannot arrive soon enough for me.

If you haven’t met this bounty hunter yet, you need to—either in the pages of this book or the beginning, either would work (but you might as well just buy the set all at once, you won’t be satisfied until you read them all). Deep Dark Night will win Broadribb some new fans and confirm those readers already along for the ride.


4 1/2 Stars

This post contains an affiliate link. If you purchase from it, I will get a small commission at no additional cost to you. As always, opinions are my own.

Clearing the Deck: Tweet-length thoughts about books I can’t find time to write about

Yeah, I have a daunting TBR stack, but I also have too many books on my “Too Write About” pile, and it’s bugging me. So, I’m cutting myself some slack, and am clearing the deck of everything from 2019 and before that I haven’t made time for. This was painful to do, I was looking forward to writing about most of these, but I’m just not going to get to them–and the 2020 books are starting to pile up, too. So, in 144 characters or less, here’s me cutting myself some slack.

(Click on the cover for an official site with more info)

Rivers of London: Detective Stories
3.5 Stars
Rivers of London, Volume 4: Detective Stories by Andrew Cartmel, Ben Aaronovitch, Lee Sullivan
Brief flashbacks showing what Peter et al. get up to between novels/comic series. A fun idea, well executed. Would enjoy another one like this.
Cry Fox
3.5 Stars
Rivers of London Volume 5: Cry Fox by Andrew Cartmel, Ben Aaronovitch, Lee Sullivan
This was a lot of fun, and showed a new side of a cool recurring character.
Rivers of London: Action At A Distance
3 Stars
Rivers of London: Action At A Distance by Andrew Cartmel, Ben Aaronovitch, Brian Williamson, Stefani Renne
A serial killer hunt and Nightingale backstory. Great combo.

(some nice Molly material, too)

Geerhardus Vos: Reformed Biblical Theologian, Confessional Presbyterian
4 Stars
Geerhardus Vos: Reformed Biblical Theologian, Confessional Presbyterian by Danny E. Olinger
A biography and a discussion of his Vos’ major works. This was an excellent way to gear up for my 2019 Vos reading. Inspirational stuff.
The Utterly Uninteresting and Unadventurous Tales of Fred, the Vampire Accountant
3 Stars
The Utterly Uninteresting and Unadventurous Tales of Fred, the Vampire Accountant by Drew Hayes, Kirby Heyborne (Narrator)
A light Urban Fantasy about misfit monsters. Enjoyable enough to come back for more.
Open Season
4 Stars
Open Season by C. J. Box, David Chandler (Narrator)
Series Debut about a WY Game Warden with a nose for mystery. Loved the dual POVs (Pickett, his daughter). Addicting.
Please Don't Tell My Parents I'm a Supervillain
3 Stars
Please Don’t Tell My Parents I’m a Supervillain by Richard Roberts, Emily Woo Zeller (Narrator)
A cute story about kids of super-heroes/super-villains trying to get started in the biz without their parents’ involvement. Went on longer than it needed to, but fun enough to try volume 2.
Dragon Blood
3 Stars
Dragon Bones by Patricia Briggs, Joe Manganiello (Narrator)
Manganiello is a great choice for narrator. Nice little stand-alone fantasy story. Great dragons.
Savage Run
3.5 Stars
Savage Run by C. J. Box, David Chandler (Narrator)
Almost as good as the first Pickett novel. Mrs. Pickett gets to shine here, too. I’m so glad I finally got to this series.
Inkheart
3 Stars
Inkheart by Cornelia Funke, Lynn Redgrave (Narrator)
Gets a bit redundant, but I loved the concept. Better than the movie (which I kind of liked), but still could’ve been better.
Undeath and Taxes
3 Stars
Undeath and Taxes by Drew Hayes, Kirby Heyborne (Narrator)
A little better than the first volume, an enjoyable way to spend a few hours.
Dragon Bones
3 Stars
Dragon Blood by Patricia Briggs, Joe Manganiello (Narrator)
OK, so Dragon Bones wasn’t a stand-alone. Could’ve been, but it was nice to get a little more with these characters/this world. Still, give me a Briggs Urban Fantasy above this.
The Imputation of the Active Obedience of Christ in the Westminster Standards
4 Stars
The Imputation of the Active Obedience of Christ in the Westminster Standards by Alan D. Strange
I love this series. Strange packs so much material into this tiny package. Excellent stuff.
Badlands
3 Stars
Badlands by C. J. Box, January LaVoy (Narrator)
Cassie takes over The Highway series and moves to a new Oil Town in North Dakota. Midwest Winter, Drugs, Murder, Corruption and Too Much Money wreak havoc on her first week on the job.
Zombie Spaceship Wasteland (Audiobook)
3.5 Stars
Zombie Spaceship Wasteland: A Book by Patton Oswalt (Audiobook)
The memoir chapters are nice, the comedic bits are odd (and funny). An interesting look at Oswalt.
No Sweat
3 Stars
No Sweat: How the Simple Science of Motivation Can Bring You a Lifetime of Fitness by Michelle Segar, Ph.D.
A great way to look at keeping (or getting) yourself motivated to exercise.

My Favorite Crime/Mystery/Detective/Thriller Fiction of 2019

Once I settled on dividing this chunk of my reading out for its own list, I knew instantly half of the books that’d make it before I even looked at my reading log. After my first cut (which was pretty hard), I had 20+ candidates for the other 5 spots. Whittling those down was difficult, but I’m pretty comfortable with this list. That doesn’t mean the other 90 or so books I read in this family of genres were bad—most were really good and worth the time (sure, a handful should be missed, but let’s forget about them). But these are the crème de la crème.

Not all of these were published in 2019—but my first exposure to them was. As always, I don’t count re-reads, or almost no one could stand up to Stout, early Parker, etc. and my year-end lists would get old fast.

I should say that I was a little worn out by the time I composed a lot of this and ended up borrowing heavily from my original posts. Hope you don’t mind reruns.
(in alphabetical order by author)

Deep Dirty TruthDeep Dirty Truth

by Steph Broadribb

My original post
Lori is kidnapped by the same Mob that wants her dead, giving her basically two choices—do a job for them or else they’re coming for JT and Dakota. Nothing about this book went the way I expected (beginning with the premise), it was all better than that. I had a hard time writing anything about this book that I hadn’t said about the first two in the series. Broadribb’s series about this tough, gritty bounty hunter (who is not close to perfect, but she’s persistent, which is easier to believe) started off strong and remains so.

4 Stars

ThirteenThirteen

by Steve Cavanagh

My original post
One of the best serial killer antagonists I can remember reading. A breakneck pace. An intricately plotted novel. An already beloved protagonist. Genuine surprises, shocking twists, and a couple of outstanding reveals make this fourth Eddie Flynn novel a must-read (even if you haven’t read any previous installments).

5 Stars

Black SummerBlack Summer

by M. W. Craven

My original post
It’s hard to avoid hyperbole in a Best-Of post like this, it’s harder still when talking about this book. But I just did some math, and Black Summer is in the top 1% of everything I read last year—the writing, the plot, the pacing, the tension, the protagonists, the villain(s), the supporting characters are as close to perfect as you’re going to find. The first note I made about this book was, I’m “glad Craven gave us all of zero pages to get comfy before getting all morbid and creepifying.” It’s pretty relentless from there—right up until the last interview, which might elicit a chuckle or two from a reader enjoying watching a brilliant criminal get outsmarted. It’s dark, it’s twisted, and it’s so much fun to read.

5 Stars

An Accidental DeathAn Accidental Death

by Peter Grainger, Gildart Jackson (Narrator)

My original post
Grainger’s DC Smith couldn’t be more different than Craven’s DS Poe if he tried, and these two books feel so different that it seems strange to talk about them at the same time. What’s the same? How easily they get the reader invested in their protagonists. How easily they get you plunged into their world and caring about what they care about. Grainger has a nice, subtle style (with even subtler humor) that made this novel sheer pleasure to read (well, listen to, in this case).

4 Stars

Dead InsideDead Inside

by Noelle Holten

My original post
When I was about halfway through this novel, I wrote, “While I’m loving every second of this book, I’m having a hard time shaking the bleak outlook on life and humanity that seems to be part and parcel of this novel…Seriously, read a few pages of this book and see if you’re not willing to replace humanity as the apex predator with something careful and considerate—like rabid pit bulls or crack-smoking hyenas.” This is not an easy read thanks to the characters and circumstances, later I wrote, “This isn’t the cops dealing with a larger-than-life genius serial killer—rather, it’s the everyday reality for too many. Just this time tinged with a spree killer making a grim circumstance worse for some. It’s a gripping read, a clever whodunit, with characters that might be those you meet every day. As an experience, it’s at once satisfying and disturbing—a great combination for a reader. You won’t read much this year that stacks up against Dead Inside and you’ll join me in eagerly awaiting what’s coming next from Holten.” I can’t put it better than that.

5 Stars

Deception CoveDeception Cove

by Owen Laukkanen

My original post
I heard someone describe this as Laukkanen writing fan-fic about his dog Lucy. Which is funny, and pretty much true. From the setup to the execution and all points in between, Deception Cove delivers the goods. Anyone who read just one of his Stevens and Windermere books knows that Laukkanen can write a compelling thriller with great characters. In these pages, he shows that in spades—you take a couple of characters that could easily be cardboard cutouts and instead makes them three-dimensional people with depth, flaws, and a relatability—and throw them into a great thriller. What more could anyone want? A wonderful dog. Guess what? He’s got one of those, too. Leaving the reader wanting little more than a sequel.

4 Stars

HackedHacked

by Duncan MacMaster

My original post
Duncan MacMaster is a new (for me) go-to author if I need someone to break me out of a gloomy mood because of books like this. Clever, well-plotted, and filled with more laughs than some “Humor” books I read this year. It also features what’s probably the best secondary character from 2019. Take out the humor (for the sake of argument here, don’t you dare do that really) and this is still a smartly-plotted and well-executed mystery novel. Adding in the humor makes this a must-read.

4 1/2 Stars

The ChainThe Chain

by Adrian McKinty

My original post
There was enough hype around this that I can see where some of my blogger acquaintances were let down with the reality. But McKinty’s breakout novel absolutely worked for me. The tension is dialed up to 11, the pacing is relentless, the stakes are high enough that the reader should make sure their blood pressure prescriptions are filled. The Chain is as compelling and engrossing as you could want. It’s a near-perfect thriller that doesn’t let up. Winslow calls it “Jaws for parents.” He’s right—I can’t imagine there’s not a parent alive who can read this without worrying about their kids, and reconsidering how closely to track their movements and activities.

4 1/2 Stars

Black MossBlack Moss

by David Nolan

My original post
This is one of those books that the adjective “atmospheric” was invented for. There’s an atmosphere, a mood, an undercurrent running through this book. Hopelessness surrounds the so many of these characters. Wretched also works to describe the feeling. You really don’t notice the time you spend in this book, it swallows your attention whole and you keep reading, practically impervious to distractions. Yes, you feel the harsh and desolate atmosphere, but not in a way that puts you off the book. The mystery part of this book is just what you want—it’s complex, it’ll keep you guessing and there are enough red herrings to trip up most readers. As far as the final reveal goes, it’s fantastic—I didn’t see the whole thing until just a couple of pages before Nolan gave it to us. But afterward you’re only left with the feeling of, “well, of course—what else could it have been?” And then you read the motivation behind the killing—and I don’t remember reading anything that left me as frozen as this did in years. There’s evil and then there’s this. This is a stark, desolate book (in mood, not quality) that easily could’ve been borrowed (or stolen) straight from the news. Nolan’s first novel delivers everything it promises and more.

5 Stars

The Power of the Dog The CartelThe Power of the Dog / The Cartel

by Don Winslow

My original post about The Power of the Dog, The Cartel should be up soon.
There’s simply no way I can talk about one of these without the other, so I won’t. This is a fantastic story about a DEA Agent’s obsessive drive to take down one of the most powerful, deadly and successful Mexican Drug Cartels around, as well as a devastating indictment of the U.S.’s War on Drugs. Despite the scope and intricacy of the plot, these are not difficult reads. Despite the horrors depicted, they’re not overwhelming. In fact, there are moments of happiness and some pretty clever lines. Which is not to say there’s a light-hand, or that he ever treats this as anything but life-and-death seriousness. They’re not easy, breezy reads— but they’re very approachable. I don’t know if there’s a moment that reads as fiction, either—if this was revealed to be non-fiction, I would believe it without difficulty. I will not say that he transcends his genre to be “Literature,” or that he elevates his work or anything—but I can say that Winslow demonstrates the inanity of pushing Crime Fiction into some shadowy corner as not worthy of the attention of “serious” readers.

5 Stars

Books that almost made the list (links to my original posts): Flight of the Fox by Gray Basnight, Who Killed the Fonz? by James Boice, Killer Thriller by Lee Goldberg, Going Dark/Going Rogue by Niel Lancaster (can’t pick between the two), You Die Next by Stephanie Marland, The Killing State by Judith O’Reilly, Dead is Beautiful by Jo Perry, Standing in Another Man’s Grave by Ian Rankin, Paper Son by S. J. Rozan, and How To Kill Friends And Implicate People by Jay Stringer.

My Favorite Non-Crime Fiction of 2019

Like last year, while trying to come up with a Top 10 this year, I ran into a small problem (at least for me). Crime/Thriller/Mystery novels made up approximately half of the novels I read this year and therefore dominated the candidates. So, I decided to split them into 2 lists—one for Crime Fiction and one for Everything Else. Not the catchiest title, I grant you, but you get what you pay for.

These are my favorites, the things that have stuck with me in a way others haven’t—not necessarily the best things I read (but there’s a good deal of overlap, too). But these ten entertained me or grabbed me emotionally unlike the rest.

Anyway…I say this every year, but . . . Most people do this in mid-December or so, but a few years ago (before this blog), the best novel I read that year was also the last. Ever since then, I just can’t pull the trigger until January 1. Also, none of these are re-reads, I can’t have everyone losing to books that I’ve loved for 2 decades that I happened to have read this year.

Enough blather…on to the list.

(in alphabetical order by author)

A Man Called OveA Man Called Ove

by Fredrik Backman, Henning Koch (Translator)

My original post
I’ve been telling myself every year since 2016 that I was going to read all of Backman’s novels after falling in love with his My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry. The closest I got was last year when I read his first novel, A Man Called Ove (and nothing else). It’s enough to make me resolve to read more of them, and soon. The story of an old, grumpy widower befriending (against his will, I should stress) a pretty diverse group of his neighbors. It’s more than that thumbnail, but I’m trying to be brief. The story was fairly predictable, but there’s something about the way that Backman put it together that makes it perfect. And even the things you see coming will get you misty (if not elicit actual tears).

5 Stars

Dark AgeDark Age

by Pierce Brown

My original post
When I started reading this, I was figuring that Pierce Brown’s Red Rising Saga was on the downward trend. Boy, was I wrong. Dark Age showed me that time after time after time after time . . . Entertaining, occasionally amusing, stress-inducing, heart-wrenching, flat-out captivating. It was brutal and beautiful and I can’t believe I doubted Brown for a minute.

5 Stars

Here and Now and ThenHere and Now and Then

by Mike Chen

My original post
One of the best Time Travel stories I’ve ever read, but it’s so much more—it’s about fatherhood, it’s about love, it’s about friendship. Heart, soul, laughs, and heartbreak—I don’t know what else you want out of a time travel story. Or any story, really. Characters you can like (even when they do things you don’t like), characters you want to know better, characters you want to hang out with after the story (or during it, just not during the major plot point times), and a great plotline.

4 1/2 Stars

Seraphina's LamentSeraphina’s Lament

by Sarah Chorn

My original post
Chorn’s prose is as beautiful as her world is dark and disturbing. This Fantasy depicts a culture’s collapse and promises the rebirth of a world, but getting there is rough. Time and time again while reading this book, I was struck by how unique, how unusual this experience was. As different as fantasy novels tend to be from each other, by and large, most of them feel the same as you read it (I guess that’s true of all genres). But I kept coming back to how unusual this feels compared to other fantasies I’ve read. The experience of reading Seraphina’s Lament isn’t something I’ll forget any time soon.

4 1/2 Stars

No Country for Old GnomesNo Country for Old Gnomes

by Delilah S. Dawson and Kevin Hearne

My original post
Having established their off-kilter world, strong voice, and approach to the stories of Pell, Dawson and Hearne have come back to play in it. The result is superior in every way that I can think of. I lost track of how many times I said to myself while reading something along the lines of, “how did they improve things this much?” These books are noted (as I’ve focused on) for their comedy—but they’re about a lot more than comedy. The battle scenes are exciting. The emotional themes and reactions are genuine and unforced. And tragedy hits hard. It’s easy to forget in the middle of inspiring moments or humorous aftermaths of battle that these kind of novels involve death and other forms of loss—and when you do forget, you are open to getting your heart punched.

(but mostly you laugh)

4 1/2 Stars

Twenty-one Truths About LoveTwenty-one Truths About Love

by Matthew Dicks

My original post
It’s an unconventionally told story about a man figuring out how to be a businessman, husband, and father in some extreme circumstances. The lists are the star of the show, but it’s the heart behind them that made this novel a winner.

5 Stars

State of the UnionState of the Union: A Marriage in Ten Parts

by Nick Hornby

My original post
This series of brief conversations held between a married couple just before their marriage counseling sessions. At the end of the day, this is exactly what you want from a Nick Hornby book (except the length—I wanted more, always): funny, heartfelt, charming, (seemingly) effortless, and makes you feel a wide range of emotions without feeling manipulated. I loved it, I think you will, too.

4 1/2 Stars

The SwallowsThe Swallows

by Lisa Lutz

My original post
This is not my favorite Lutz novel, but I think it’s her best. It has a very different kind of humor than we got in The Spellman Files, but it’s probably as funny as Lutz has been since the third book in that series—but deadly serious, nonetheless. Lutz puts on a clinic for naturally shifting tone and using that to highlight the important stories she’s telling. From the funny and dark beginning to the perfect and bitingly ominous last three paragraphs The Swallows is a winner. Timely and appropriate, but using tropes and themes that are familiar to readers everywhere, Lutz has given us a thrilling novel for our day—provocative, entertaining, and haunting. This is one of those books that probably hews really close to things that could or have happened and you’re better off hoping are fictional.

5 Stars

PostgraduatePostgraduate

by Ian Shane

My original post
This has the general feel of Hornby, Tropper, Norman, Weiner, Russo (in his lighter moments), Perrotta, etc. The writing is engaging, catchy, welcoming. Shane writes in a way that you like reading his prose—no matter what’s happening. It’s pleasant and charming with moments of not-quite-brilliance, but close enough. Shane’s style doesn’t draw attention to itself, if anything, it deflects it. It’s not flashy, but it’s good. The protagonist feels like an old friend, the world is comfortable and relaxing to be in (I should stress about 87.3 percent of what I know about radio comes from this book, so it’s not that). This belongs in the same discussion with the best of Hornby and Tropper—it’s exactly the kind of thing I hope to read when I’m not reading a “genre” novel (I hate that phrase, but I don’t know what else to put there).

4 1/2 Stars

The Bookish Life of Nina HillThe Bookish Life of Nina Hill

by Abbi Waxman

My original post
This is a novel filled with readers, book nerds and the people who like (and love) them. There’s a nice story of a woman learning to overcome her anxieties to embrace new people in her life and heart with a sweet love story tagged on to it. Your mileage may vary, obviously, but I can’t imagine a world where anyone who reads my blog not enjoying this novel and protagonist. It’s charming, witty, funny, touching, heart-string-tugging, and generally entertaining. This is the only book on this particular list that I know would’ve found a place on a top ten that included Crime Novels as well, few things made me as happy in 2019 as this book did for a few hours (and in fleeting moments since then as I reflect on it).

5 Stars

Books that almost made the list (links to my original posts): Not Famous by Matthew Hanover, Circle of the Moon by Faith Hunter, Maxine Unleashes Doomsday by Nick Kolakowski, In an Absent Dream by Seanan McGuire, The Rosie Result by Graeme Simsion, and Lingering by Melissa Simonson

Look Alive Twenty-Five by Janet Evanovich: A local rock star with ambition, a shoplifter, and a mysterious deli fill Stephanie Plum’s 25th novel.

Look Alive Twenty-Five

Look Alive Twenty-Five

by Janet Evanovich
Series: Stephanie Plum, #25

Mass Market Paperback, 306 pg.
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2019

Read: December 25, 2019


Someone that Vincent Plum Bail Bonds had put up the bail for skipped town, and he’d put up his deli as collateral. Vincent’s father-in-law (the owner of the Bail Bonds) has decided he wants to diversify, so he’s hanging onto it. The catch is, the last several managers have disappeared while working. So Vinnie’s decided that 1. Stephanie is the new manager; 2. She needs to find out what’s going on to get the other manager’s kidnapped/killed/whatever; 3. She can take care of her bond enforcement job during the off hours.

That’s pretty much all you need to know. Stephanie’s running a strange little deli with Lulu as the assistant manager/sandwich guru. There are three other employees there who really know what they’re doing (mostly doing drugs while toiling away at a minimum wage job). Hijinks ensue—her car is stolen, she tracks down a couple of skips, she looks into the disappearances (with help from Joe Morelli and Ranger), and things get weird at the deli (particularly due to Lulu, who becomes a social media sensation of the moment).

I must say that Stephanie seems more competent at this gig than a lot of the other jobs she’s held over the course of this series—either in an undercover assignment or because she was trying to do something other than bond enforcement. If it wasn’t for the distraction of the investigation (and Lulu), she probably could’ve made a decent go of it and changed the series for good. It was pleasant to see her not horrible at something.

We get a little bit of another of Stephanie’s supernatural acquaintances, Gerwulf Grimoire (Wulf), here, but in such a small amount that I’m really not sure why Evanovich bothered. That said, if she was determined to use Wulf, this is precisely as much as she should.

I still don’t get what Stephanie sees in Joe, or what Ranger sees in Stephanie, or why Joe or Ranger let this stupid triangle continue. But I’m at peace with that—I’ll never get it, and Evanovich will never change it, why fight it?

If this had been part of any other story, I’d say the solution stretches credulity too far. But as it’s a Plum novel, I really don’t think I can. Honestly, it was only as I was gathering wool a couple of days later that I gave it any thought.

One last thing: I’d read the blurb for Twisted Twenty-Six a few weeks earlier, and was looking forward to reading it more than I have since the mid-teens (I’m guessing). So, it turns out that I was already primed for the near cliff-hanger last couple of pages. I don’t feel too bad saying that because it really doesn’t have much to do with this novel (although events in it do tie-in), but it’s something I have to talk about because I don’t remember Evanovich doing this in the previous twenty-four novels.* Evanovich doing anything new at this point is something to note and celebrate.

* Feel free to correct me in the comments.

This wasn’t anything special, but there wasn’t anything annoying about it, either. Which sets it apart from the last handful. Evanovich ticked all the boxes she needed to; got Stephanie into a new situation and had her handle it in a non-disastrous way; and capped the book off with something new. I can’t imagine Evanovich will return to the comedic heights of the early series—and I imagine even less that she feels any compulsion to do so. I just hope for a reliable level of moderate entertainment, and that’s what she delivered. It’s a decent time, but if you’re new to Plum—go back to One for the Money and immerse yourself in the first dozen or so of these before taking the plunge into the higher numbers.


3 Stars

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“There’s a bookstore here somewhere,” Lula said. “I’ve never been in it, but I saw it advertised. Maybe she would like a book.”

“She has four kids,” I said. “She hasn’t got time to read.”

“That’s a shame,” Lula said. “Everyone should read.”

“Do you read?”

“No. But I think about it sometimes. Problem is, I go to a bookstore and there’s so many books I get confused. So, I get coffee. I know what I’m doing when I order a coffee.”

—Janet Evanovich
from Look Alive Twenty-Five

Blue Moon by Lee Child: A Very Timely Novel Puts Reacher in One of the Most Dangerous Positions He’s Been In

Blue Moon

Blue Moon

by Lee Child
Series: Jack Reacher, #24

Hardcover, 356 pg.
Delacorte Press, 2019

Read: December 2-3, 2019

Grab a copy from your local indie bookstore!

“We should be magnanimous in victory. Someone said that.”

“Full disclosure,” Reacher said. “I told you before. I’m a certain kind of person. Is the guy in the trunk still breathing?”

“I don’t know,” Abby said.

“But there’s a possibility.”

“Yes, there’s a possibility.”

“That’s me being magnanimous in victory. Normally I kill them, kill their families, and piss on their ancestors’ graves.”

“I never know when you’re kidding me.”

“I guess that’s true.”

“Are you saying you’re not kidding me now?”

“I’m saying in my case magnanimity is in short supply.”

“You’re taking food to an old couple in the middle of the night.”

“That’s a different word than magnanimous.”

“Still a nice gesture.”

“Because one day I could be them. But I’ll never be the guy in the trunk.”

“So it’s purely tribal,” Abby said. “Your kind of people, or the other kind.”

“My kind of people, or the wrong kind.”

“Who’s in your tribe?”

“Almost nobody,” Reacher said. “I live a lonely life.”

Reacher is on a bus bound for somewhere. He sees an older man being targeted for a mugging (both he and the would-be thief have noticed a fat envelope that seems to be holding cash). When the man and his predator get off at some city, Reacher abandons his planned trip to follow along.

Obviously, he foils the mugging, but the older man is injured, so Reacher appoints himself a guardian and assistant until he can get the man home. He learns that this man and his wife are in debt to a Ukrainian loan shark, and it’s not looking good. They got in this state due to some incredibly believable bad luck, and Reacher decides to take it upon himself to get them out of it. Maybe not permanently, but at least for the foreseeable future. He has essentially one week to extricate them from their current predicament, and Reacher is hopefully going to beat that clock and get back on the road.

We’re not told what city this takes place in, it doesn’t matter—it’s a small-to-medium sized city with two competing crime syndicates. One is a Ukranian mob, the other is an Albanian mob. They each control half the city, with a very clear line of demarcation. They’re currently enjoying an uneasy peace, and are nervous about a new police commissioner coming soon—neither group has been able to find a way to manipulate or bribe him and they’re in his sights. Before I forget, I want to say that I love that both groups speak/write in unbroken English—I get why other authors use broken English for these kinds of characters, but it feels less cartoonish this way.

Once Reacher starts doing his thing, a little comedy happens. Reacher is trying to do X. The Ukrainians see the effects and assume the Albanians are doing Y. The Albanians see the effects and assume the Ukrainians are up to Z. The clear messages Reacher is sure he’s sending aren’t being received by anyone. Before long the two factions are on the brink of war—which is the last thing that anyone wants.

While he’s trying to help out this older couple, Reacher befriends a waitress, Abby. Soon, she leads him to some other allies—a couple of musicians (one a former Marine) and a security consultant who used to be a Company Commander in an Armored Division in Europe during the Cold War. There’s some good-natured chest-thumping between the three veterans which helps lighten to tension.

Abby is tough and smart. She reminded me a lot of Patty from Past Tense—she adapts to the dangerous situation she finds herself in pretty well. She’s not crazy about it, she’s pretty freaked out, honestly. But she pulls herself together enough to help Reacher as well as being his conscience occasionally (she’s less willing than he is to leave a trail of bodies in their wake). Like Patty, once things get rolling, Abby starts analyzing her situation and what’s going on with the Ukrainians/Albanians in a very Reacher-esque way.

What makes this one distinctive from others in the series? It feels very ripped-from-the-headlines. Not in the sense that Law & Order based stories on actual events, but in that it addresses a handful of things that are in the news practically every day lately. Sure, Reacher frequently deals with real issues, but this seems the most timely since Gone Tomorrow a decade ago (I could be wrong about that, but that’s the one that jumps to mind without taking time to review the details of each of the 23 previous novels). I don’t think Child could/should keep that up, but doing something so fresh-feeling every now and then would be a great idea.

Also, Reacher seems a bit different—still Reacher, I’m not saying that Child’s changing him, but he’s not quite his usual self. For starters, he seems more inclined to a “kill ’em all” approach to the various criminals (especially later in the novel). Now, this could be because he wants to ensure the safety of this older couple who really can’t defend themselves, so he’s getting the defense in pre-emptively. The other possibility I can think of is that he assumes there’s only one language both organizations will understand.

The other difference is Reacher seems more mortal, at least more aware of his mortality. He tells Mrs. Shevick that he knows he will be beaten one day—but today isn’t that day. He’s also more obviously lonely (not just because of the semi-joking material quoted above). It’s like being that lone wandering warrior is taking its toll on Reacher. We’ve seen this before from time to time, but it seems to be growing lately. I remember reading in Martin’s Reacher Said Nothing that Child had considered retiring the series around The Midnight Line, I can’t help but wonder if this is a sign of that becoming imminent.

A stronger cast of non-“Bad Guy” characters than we’re used to seeing from this series, a winning female lead, some tragic victims, a bunch of ruthless criminals, a lot of bullets flying and Reacher at his toughest. There’s so little to not like here. One of my favorites lately.


4 1/2 Stars

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