My Favorite Crime/Mystery/Detective/Thriller Fiction of 2018

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 looked at just what I’d read in 2018. After going through that list, I had 15 more candidates for the other 5 spots. Whittling those down was hard, 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 great (I can think of maybe 5 I could’ve missed). But these are the crème de la crème.

Man, I wanted to write the crème de la crime there. But I’m better than that.

Not all of these were published in 2018 — 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.

Now that I’m done with this, I can focus on 2019.

(in alphabetical order by author)

The Puppet ShowThe Puppet Show

by M. W. Craven

My original post
A book with some of the darkest moments I came across last year — and some of the brightest, too. The mystery was great, the character moments (not just between the protagonists) were better — great rounded, human, characters. Even after I saw where Craven was going with things, I refused to believe it — and only gave up when I had no other choice. Two (at least) fantastic reveals in this book, very compelling writing and fantastic characters. What more do you want? Washington Poe and Tilly Bradshaw are two of my favorite new characters and I can’t wait to see where they go next.

5 Stars

Needle SongNeedle Song

by Russell Day

My original post
I could pretty much copy and paste that above paragraph for this one. It never gets as dark as The Puppet Show, but the depravity displayed is bad enough to unsettle any reader. What makes this story compelling isn’t really the crime, it’s the way the crime impacts the people near it — those who lost a family member (I don’t want to say loved one) and those who are close to the suspects. Yakky and Doc Slidesmith are characters I hope to see again soon, and I want to bask in Day’s prose even more.

5 Stars

She Rides ShotgunShe Rides Shotgun

by Jordan Harper

My original post
The story of a little girl being surrounded by death and destruction, with both looming and threatening her all the time, and her discovering how to be brave. The story of a man trying to be a good father — or just a father. The story of survival. A story of revenge. A story about all kinds of violence. Wonderfully told.

4 Stars

WreckedWrecked

by Joe Ide

My original post
Not as entertaining as IQ, but it works as a novel in ways the previous two didn’t. I don’t know if I could put my finger on it, but it’s there. Wrecked is a clear step in evolution for Isaiah, Dodson, and probably Ide. It definitely demonstrates that the three are here to stay as long as Ide wants, and that these characters aren’t satisfied with being inner-city Sherlock/Watson, but they’re going places beyond that. Some good laughs, some good scares, some real “I can’t believe Ide ‘let’ them do that to Isaiah” moments — a great read.

5 Stars

A Mint Condition CorpseA Mint Condition Corpse

by Duncan MacMaster

My original post
I put off reading this for reasons I really don’t understand and haven’t forgiven myself for yet. But the important thing is that I read it — it took me a chapter or two to really get into it, but once I did, I was in hook, like and sinker. In my original post I said this is “a joy to read; full of characters you’ll want to spend days with, that you’ll want to have over for Thanksgiving dinner just to lighten things up and distract you from Aunt Martha’s overcooked yams and dry turkey; a completely fun time that’s very likely most I’ve enjoyed a book in 2018. It is escapist. It is silly. It is clever.” I also said, “Probably the 5-Star-est 5-Stars I’ve given this year.” There are a couple of books that could compete for that line, but I’m not sure they’d win.

5 Stars

My Little EyeMy Little Eye

by Stephanie Marland

My original post
Fantastic, fantastic premise. Great hook. Another great pair of protagonists (although most of their work is independent of each other). A True Crime blogger and a DI racing to uncover a serial killer, while battling dark secrets, dark pasts, and outside pressures that threaten to derail them at every turn. Marland surprised me more often and in more ways than just about any author this year. I was floored by some of them, too. A great puzzle, a great mish-mash of amateur detective and police procedural.

4 1/2 Stars

Her Last MoveHer Last Move

by John Marrs

My original post
I didn’t realize what I was getting myself into when I said yes to this Book Tour request. I’m not sure I could have — no offense to Mr. Marrs, but I don’t think I’d heard of him before. He’s definitely on my radar now. This was brutal, devastating, shocking, and just about every other adjective reviewers (professional and otherwise) overuse when describing a thriller. Marrs did so many things I didn’t think he would do. He didn’t do a lot that I thought he would (and seemed to mock the idea that he’d so some of what I wanted him to do). I spent a lot of time while reading this book not liking him very much, but so grateful I was getting to read the book. I’m still upset by some of it, but in awe of the experience.

5 Stars

Stoned LoveStoned Love

by Ian Patrick

My original post
Sam Batford, undercover cop, is back in a sequel that shows real growth from a very impressive debut. Batford is in incredibly murky ethical and legal waters — and that’s not counting what his undercover op is. Any misstep could ruin his career, end his life, land him in prison — or all three. Actually, those options hold true even if he doesn’t make any missteps. There are so many balls in the air with this one that it’d be easy to lose track of one or more. But Patrick doesn’t seem to struggle with that at all — and he writes in such a way that a reader doesn’t either. That’s a gift not to be overlooked. I liked the overall story more than it’s predecessor and think that Patrick’s writing was better here. This is a series — and a character — that you really need to get to know.

4 1/2 Stars (I remember liking it more than that…I’m sure I had a reason at the time)

Exit MusicExit Music

by Ian Rankin

My original post
I’ve spent enough time with John Rebus over the last couple of years that I knew one of the books had to end p here, I just wasn’t sure which one. Exit Music ended up on the Top 10 not so much for the main mysteries (although they put the book in contention), but for all rest of the things that the novel was about — Rebus’ moving on (not knowing how to or to where), Siobhan moving on (and not sure she wants to), and the dozen or so little things surrounding the two of them and their work. Even Big Ger was kind of moving on here — and that’s just strange to read about. Exit Music would’ve been a great way to say farewell to John Rebus, I’m just glad it wasn’t that.

5 Stars

Trouble is a Friend of MineTrouble is a Friend of Mine

by Stephanie Tromly, Kathleen McInerney (Narrator)

My original post
If not for Kirby Baxter (above), I could say this was the most fun I had with a Mystery novel this year (not to take anything away from the sequels on that front). This is just the right mix of high school hijinks, teen drama, quirky characters and writing with panache. Zoe and Digby are a great combo of smarts, recklessness and responsibility as they work their way through puzzles surrounding missing kids, drug dealing doctors, and some strange cult-like group. You can feel the chemistry between them — like Remington Steele and Laura Holt, David Addison and Maddy Hays, Cumberbatch’s Sherlock and Freeman’s Watson. Throw in their friends and frenemies and you’ve got a recipe for fun and suspense. I listened to this on audiobook (and bought the paperback for my daughter before I got to the end, I should add) and McInerney’s narration was perfect — she captured the spirit of the book and made the characters come alive.

4 Stars

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My Favorite Non-Crime Fiction of 2018

When I was trying to come up with a Top 10 this year, I ran into a small problem (at least for me). With 44 percent of my fiction, Crime/Thriller/Mystery novels so dominated the candidates, it’s like I read nothing else. 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.

I do think I read some books that were technically superior than some of these — but they didn’t entertain me, or grab me emotionally the way these did. And I kinda feel bad about leaving them off. But only kind of. These are my favorites, the things that have stuck with me in a way others haven’t — not the best things I read (but there’s a good deal of overlap, too). I know I read books that are worse, too — I don’t feel bad about leaving them off.

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 my re-reading books that I’ve loved for 2 decades.

Enough blather…on to the list.

(in alphabetical order by author)

Lies SleepingLies Sleeping

by Ben Aaronovitch

My original post
I’ve read all the comics (at least collected in paperback), listened to all the audiobooks, read the books at least once . . . I’m a Rivers of London/Peter Grant fan. Period. Which means two things — 1. I’m in the bag already for this series and 2. When I say that this is the best of the bunch, I know what I’m talking about. Aaronovitch writes fantastic Urban Fantasy and this is his best yet. The series has been building to this for a while, and I honestly don’t know what to expect next. Great fight/action scenes, some genuine laughs, some solid emotional moments . . . this has it all. Everything you’ve come to expect and more.

—–

5 Stars

The Fairies of SadievilleThe Fairies of Sadieville

by Alex Bledsoe

My original post
I was very excited about this book when Bledsoe announced it was the last Tufa novel. Then I never wanted it to come out — I didn’t want to say goodbye to this wonderful world he’d created. But if I have to — this is how the series should’ve gone out. It’s the best installment since the first novel — we get almost every question we had about the Tufa answered (including ones you didn’t realize you had), along with a great story. It’s just special and I’m glad I got to read this magical series.

—–

5 Stars

Dragon RoadDragon Road

by Joseph Brassey

I haven’t been able to get a post written about this –I’m not sure why. It’s superior in almost every way to the wonderful Skyfarer — the idea behind the caravan, the scope of the ship and it’s culture are more than you might think anyone has done before. A fantasy novel about wizards and warriors (and warrior wizards) in a SF setting. I had a blast reading this and I think you will, too.

—–

4 1/2 Stars

Kill the Farm BoyKill the Farm Boy

by Delilah S. Dawson and Kevin Hearne

My original post
Probably the best comedic/parody/satire fantasy since Peter David’s Sir Apropos of Nothing. The characters are fun, well-developed and pretty strange. This is a great fantasy story, it’s a great bunch of laughs, but there’s real humans and real human reactions — it’s not all laughs but enough of it is that you won’t have to work hard to thoroughly enjoy the book.

—–

4 Stars

Kings of the WyldKings of the Wyld

by Nicholas Eames
Like Dragon Road, I’ve been trying to write a post about this book for months. An epic story about brotherhood, about family, about heroism, about integrity — but at its core, it’s a story about Clay Cooper. Clay’s a good man trying to stay one. He worked really hard to get to where he is, but he has to e back on the road to help his friends’ daughter. It’s a fantastic concept and set up, with an even better follow-through by Eames. Possibly the best book I read last year — and I don’t say that lightly.

—–

5 Stars

All Those Explosions Were Someone Else's FaultAll Those Explosions Were Someone Else’s Fault

by James Alan Gardner

My original post
A Superhero story, a SF story, an Urban Fantasy, a story about friendship and destiny told with just enough of a light touch to fool yourself into this being a comedy. From the great title, all the way through to the end this book delivers.

—–

4 Stars

Smoke EatersSmoke Eaters

by Sean Grigsby

My original post
I started my original post about the book like this: Really, the case for you (or anyone) reading this book is simply and convincingly made in 13 words:

Firefighters vs. Dragons in an Urban Fantasy novel set in a futuristic dystopia.

That could’ve been my entire post, and it’s all I’m going to say now.

—–

4 1/2 Stars

Dark QueenDark Queen

by Faith Hunter

My original post
This could have been the series finale and I’d have been satisfied. I’m thrilled that it’s not. Hunter’s been building to this for a few books now — and it absolutely pays off the work she’s been doing. Better yet, there’s something else she’s been building toward that doesn’t get the attention it needed — and it’s devastating. The series will be different from here on out. Hunter’s as good as the genre has, and this book demonstrates it.

—–

5 Stars

Jimbo YojimboJimbo Yojimbo

by David W. Barbee

My original post
I don’t have words for this. I really don’t know how to say anything about this book — especially not in a paragraph. Click on the original post and know that even then I fail to do the book justice. It’s strange, gross, funny, exciting and thrilling.

—–

4 Stars

Beneath the Sugar SkyBeneath the Sugar Sky

by Seanan McGuire

My original post
As much as I appreciate McGuire’s Toby Daye, Indexing and InCryptid series, her Wayward Children books are possibly the best things she’d done. This allows us to spend time with characters I didn’t think we’d see again and the family — and world — of my favorite character in the series. It’s like McGuire wrote this one specifically for me. But it’s okay for you to read it, too. I’m generous like that.

—–

5 Stars

Deep Dirty Truth by Steph Broadribb: Once Again, the Lori’s (almost) in Over her Head

Deep Dirty TruthDeep Dirty Truth

by Steph Broadribb
Series: Lori Anderson, #3

Kindle Edition, 320 pg.
Orenda Books, 2018

Read: December 5, 2018


After all the drama and trauma of her recent past, Lori is taking only easy assignments — her life needs to coast for a bit. Naturally, that’s not going to work too well (why would we read about that? Also, why would Broadribb be nice to her now?) — she’d kidnapped by the Miami Mob and we readers have to be braced for all sorts of nasty things to happen to her. And while it is nasty — no one is prepared for what happens to her.

They want her to do a job for them. If she succeeds, they offer to wipe the slate clean. If she fails (or refuses), she, Dakota and JT are dead. Honestly, there’s a pretty good chance they’ll die no matter what, but there’s a chance with the former. All she has to do is retrieve the “numbers man” for the family, currently under FBI protection before he testifies against the family in a couple of days. It’s pretty cool to see how good Lori does at this until things go horribly, horribly wrong (not much of a spoiler, really — the book isn’t going be too suspenseful if she has an easy time of it).

Meanwhile, JT and Dakota run to safety — which goes only slightly worse than Lori’s assignment. JT isn’t anywhere near as healthy as he should be to handle this kind of thing — but he doesn’t have much of a choice. It’s his little girl, what else can he do? It’s great to see JT in action like this. But at some point, at the rate things are going for her, Dakota’s going to end up catatonic or like the little girl in Logan. My money’s on the latter.

So we’ve got the Mob on one hand, the FBI on the other, and a distinct lack of options for this family — it’s all about survival. The longer you’re alive the more opportunities will present themselves to extricate yourself from this Catch-22. As much as Lori (and JT and Dakota) is tough and resilient, it’s her ability to improvise, to think quickly and to pounce on the chances that life gives her that makes her an action hero to pay attention to.

A female bounty hunter with skills and the kind of grit you want to see in an action hero, Lori is a great character. The physical toll on her in this novel is up there with the psychological toll previous adventures have taken on her — not that she gets out of this one emotionally/mentally unscathed (nor did she get out of the previous adventures without a physical injury or 8). She’s smart, determined and prepared to dish it out as well as take it.

I walked away from book 2, Deep Blue Trouble with a pretty strong idea about what book 3 was going to be about. I was wrong, but I’m pretty confident that I know what book 4 will be about (at least initially). I’m very glad to be wrong, actually — because this was a lot of fun, and sets things up to be a more satisfying version of the story I imagined Broadribb would be telling. I’m eager to find out how wrong I am about book 4 (because I will be).

I’ve spent about a month working on this post in fits and starts, because I’m having a hard time saying something about this book that I didn’t say about the other two. Broadribb started off strong — a veteran from the get-go, and the other two have been of the same quality. Consistency is great when you’re a reader — but it’s hard to write about. So I give up — I’m not going to have anything insightful to say or any dazzling or penetrating analysis to offer. I’ll keep it basic — Deep Dirty Truth is a good, fast-paced, white-knuckle ride written by someone who knows what she’s doing. Go read it.

—–

4 Stars

My Favorite 2018 (Fictional) Dogs

In one of the lightest moments of Robert B. Parker’s Valediction (just before one of the darker), Spenser describes his reservation about the first two Star Wars movies: “No horses . . . I don’t like a movie without horses.” After watching Return of the Jedi, he comments that it was a silly movie, but “Horses would have saved it.” Which makes me wonder what he’d have thought about The Last Jedi. Horses aren’t my thing, it’s dogs. I’m not quite as bad as Spenser is about them — I like books without dogs. But occasionally a good dog would save a book for me — or make a good book even better. I got to thinking about this a few weeks back when I realized just how many books I’d read last year that featured great dogs — and then I counted those books and couldn’t believe it. I tried to stick to 10 (because that’s de rigueur), but I failed. I also tried to leave it with books that I read for the first time in 2018 — but I couldn’t cut two of my re-reads.

So, here are my favorite dogs from 2018 — they added something to their novels that made me like them more, usually they played big roles in the books (but not always).

(in alphabetical order by author)

  • Edgar from The Puppet Show by M. W. Craven (my post about the book) — Edgar has a pretty small role in the book, really. But there’s something about him that made me like Washington Poe a little more — and he made Tilly Bradshaw pretty happy, and that makes Edgar a winner in my book.
  • Kenji from Smoke Eaters by Sean Grigsby (my post about the book) — The moment that Grigsby introduced Kenji to the novel, it locked in my appreciation for it. I’m not sure I can explain it, but the added detail of robot dogs — at once a trivial notion, and yet it says so much about the culture Cole Brannigan lives in. Also, he was a pretty fun dog.
  • Rutherford from The TV Detective by Simon Hall (my post about the book) — Dan Groves’ German Shepherd is a great character. He provides Dan with companionship, a sounding board, a reason to leave the house — a way to bond with the ladies. Dan just felt more like a real person with Rutherford in his life. Yeah, he’s never integral to the plot (at least in the first two books of the series), but the books wouldn’t work quite as well without him.
  • Oberon from Scourged by Kevin Hearne (my post about the book) — Everyone’s favorite Irish Wolfhound doesn’t get to do much in this book, because Atticus is so focused on keeping him safe (as he should be). But when he’s “on screen,” he makes it count. He brings almost all of the laughs and has one of the best ideas in the novel.
  • Mouse from Brief Cases by Jim Butcher (my post about the book) — From the moment we read, “My name is Mouse and I am a Good Dog. Everyone says so,” a good novella becomes a great one. As the series has progressed, Mouse consistently (and increasingly) steals scenes from his friend, Harry Dresden, and anyone else who might be around. But here where we get a story (in part) from his perspective, Mouse takes the scene stealing to a whole new level. He’s brave, he’s wise, he’s scary, he’s loyal — he’s a very good dog.
  • Ruffin from Wrecked by Joe Ide (my post about the book) — Without Isaiah Quintabe’s dog opening up conversation between IQ and Grace, most of this book wouldn’t have happened — so it’s good for Grace’s sake that Ruffin was around. And that case is made even more from the way that Ruffin is a support for Grace. He also is a fantastic guard dog and saves lives. His presence is a great addition to this book.
  • Dog from An Obvious Fact by Craig Johnson (my post about the book) — I might have been able to talk myself into ignoring re-reads if I hadn’t listened to this audiobook (or any of the series, come to think of it) last year — or if Dog had been around in last year’s novel. Dog’s a looming presence, sometimes comic relief (or at least a mood-lightener), sometimes a force of nature. Dog probably gets to do more for Walt in this book — he helps Walt capture some, he attacks others, just being around acts as a deterrent for many who’d want to make things rough on Walt. Walt couldn’t ask for a better partner.
  • Trogdor from The Frame-Up by Meghan Scott Molin (my post about the book) — Honestly, Trogdor probably has the least impact on the book than any of the dogs on this list. But, come on, a Corgi names Trodgor? The idea is cute enough to justify inclusion here. He’s a good pet, a fitting companion for MG — not unlike Dan’s Rutherford. He just adds a little something to the mix that helps ground and flesh-out his human companion.
  • Mingus from The Drifter by Nicholas Petrie (my post about the book) — Like Trogdor, a great name. Like Mouse and Dog, a great weapon. He’s really a combination of the two of them (just lacking Mouse’s magical nature). He’s vital in many different ways to the plot and the safety of those we readers care about. Petrie made a good move when he added this beast of a dog to the novel.
  • Chet from Dog On It by Spencer Quinn (my posts about Chet) — If I couldn’t cut Dog, I couldn’t cut Chet. Listening to this audiobook (my 4th or 5th time through the novel, I believe) reminded me how much I love and miss Chet — and how eager I am for his return this year. This Police Academy reject is almost as good a detective as his partner, Bernie, is. Chet will make you laugh, he’ll warm your heart, he’ll make you want a dog of your own (actually, all of these dogs will)
  • Zoey from Deck the Hounds by David Rosenfelt (my post about the book) — how do I not invoke Tara when discussing an Andy Carpenter book? Good question. It’s Zoey that brings Andy into the story, it’s Zoey that helps Don to cope with his own issues, it’s Zoey that defends Don and saves him (in many ways). Sure, Tara’s the best dog in New Jersey, but Zoey comes close to challenging her status in this book.
  • Lopside from Voyage of the Dogs by Greg van Eekhout (my post about the book) — It almost feels like cheating to bring in a dog from a novel about dogs — conversely, it’s hard to limit it to just one dog from this book. But Lopside the Barkonaut would demand a place here if he was the only dog among a bunch of humans — or if he was surrounded by more dogs. He’s brave, he’s self-sacrificing, he’s a hero. He’ll charm you and get you to rooting for these abandoned canines in record time.

Just the Clothes on My Back – a collaboration with Lee Child by Naked Blue: Jack Reacher Rocks

Jut the Clothes on My BackJust the Clothes on My Back – a collaboration with Lee Child

by Naked Blue
Series: Jack Reacher


CD, 10 tracks
Bluetick Records, 2018

Mutual fans/friends Naked Blue and Lee Child collaborated on this album — 10 songs from Jack Reacher’s point of view. Well, 9 from his POV and 1 (“Reacher Said Nothing”) that could be the soundtrack for about 90% of the books.

I’ve listened to this album a lot since it came out and I’ thoroughly enjoy it. I think it does a great job capturing the “inner essence” of Reacher (a concept he’d probably boggle at) and delivering it with some great bluesy-rock/Americana tunes. Even if you’re not Reacher-obsessed, or you don’t think about the character the songs hold up just fine — you don’t even have to know anything about the album to appreciate it. But if you are a Reacher fan, you’ll enjoy it a lot more.

“Just the Clothes on My Back” and “Big Man” do great jobs of encapsulating Reacher’s approach to life. “Killing Floor” and “Blessed or Cursed,” are almost as good. All of them have great tunes that get into your head and threaten to take up earworm-like residence.

It’s not all about the action-hero side of Reacher. “The Midnight Line” does a great job of capturing a chapter (or part of one) with the allusions and euphemisms for sex and “Sanctuary,” also does a fine job of recreating the kind of scene in a Reacher book that I skim. This doesn’t mean they’re bad songs, in fact, they’ll be selling points for many. They just don’t work for me.

As for “Reacher Said Nothing”? An almost entirely instrumental piece (with some vocals by Lee Child himself) — how that hasn’t become my ringtone is beyond me. Just love that song.

Now, Jennifer Ferguson Smith might not seem the ideal person to give musical voice to the 6’5″, 210–250 lbs., ex-MP with a 50″ chest, but she somehow pulls it off. The vocals are great — I don’t really know how to describe someone’s singing voice, so I’m not going to try. They match the rootsy-bluesy-rock well. I don’t know if it’s helpful to anyone, but she reminds me of Amy Rigby.

A great album for fans of Reacher. An album that should earn Naked Blue some new fans/listeners. A good album just in and of itself. Give it a whirl.I’m going to give it 4 stars, but based on the way that music like this tends to grow on me, if you ask me in 6-9 months, I’ll probably rate it higher.

—–

4 Stars

Past Tense by Lee Child: If this wasn’t a Reacher book, I’d probably like it more…

Past TensePast Tense

by Lee Child
Series: Jack Reacher, #23


Hardcover, 382 pg.
Delacorte Press, 2018

Read: December 6 – 7, 2018
Shorty and Patty are a young couple from a rural Canadian community on their way to New York City to sell off some beloved possessions in order to make enough money to go to Florida and start their lives. Which sounds like a great idea (assuming they’re not ripped off in NYC) — if only they’d ever done basic maintenance on the car they’re driving. They end up breaking down outside a small town in New Hampshire, nowhere near a decent city.

The owners of a newly refurbished hotel outside town take pity on them and rent them a room for a little cheaper than they should and offer to help with getting their car going again — they even invite them to dinner their first night with them. Yes, I said first night — home repairs aren’t doing the job, so they have to call a tow truck/mechanic to fix the car — which is going to pretty much wipe the couple out. But what choice do they have?

Still, something doesn’t seem right about the whole thing. Shorty’s a trusting guy and rolls with everything that happens, but Patty smells something. She thinks a lot — incidentally, she thinks a lot like Reacher. Which is annoying when you’re reading a book starring Reacher that you get a clone. But it’s good for her and Shorty and just might end up saving their lives. It’d be better for the both of them if she had any of Reacher’s skills other than his ability to analyze a situation, but, I guess you take what you can get.

Meanwhile, Jack Reacher comes into the same town those two are stranded outside of. He was passing near by and on a lark decides to stop in Laconia, his father’s birthplace. He’s never met anyone from that side of the family, and his father said almost nothing about his childhood experiences there. So Reacher’s a bit curious about the town — he doesn’t even know if there might be a cousin or three around. It turns out that finding anything about his family is almost impossible in the official records — and there’s a decent chance that there’s no one around who knows anything about them that’s not in the official records.

While that’s going on, in the middle of the night Reacher encounters an attempted sexual assault and, ahem, dissuades the attacker. This attacker doesn’t press charges or anything, but it turns out that he’s connected to a significant crime family in the Northeast. Reacher is informed about this and is encouraged to leave town soon by a former MP turned local law enforcement officer that he’s become acquainted with. Reacher doesn’t like to be told what to do — by anyone — and there’s something about his father’s past that has him more curious than he’s been before and wants to track that down.

These two stories run independently of each other, while happening very near each other. Reacher does come to the hotel and asks a couple of questions about his quest about the same time that Patty’s getting suspicious, but the two don’t cross paths.

Now, I didn’t right down the page number when Reacher’s story intersects with Shorty’s and Patty’s — but I do know that it hadn’t happened by page 245 (of 382). Which is pretty astounding, and is definitely a new way to bring Reacher into the main events of a novel. I doubt it’s a trick Child can pull off again, but I’d like to see him try. If he doesn’t show up, bad things will happen — and will likely continue to happen — but it’s hard to say just how bad it’d all be. But Reacher does show up, and he does his usual thing, and many more people live than otherwise would have. Which isn’t to suggest that no one dies after he shows up, it’s just that most of them aren’t the people that seemed likely to die 30 pages earlier.

There’s little violence until the end of the book (there’s Reacher’s dissuasion, and two other minor — by Reacher’s standards — fights), but once the fighting starts, it doesn’t stop until there’s a whole lot of violence and bloodshed. Tension and unease that’s been mounting slowly over the whole book, are unleashed – and most of the last twenty percent (or so, I’m just guessing) of the novel is as violent and action-packed as you could hope for. Once that switch is flipped, it’s on.

This wasn’t my favorite Reacher novel — by far — but it was a really engrossing read. I enjoyed it — and really think if Jack Reacher hadn’t been the fly in the ointment for the people trying to manipulate and hurt Shorty and Patty, I think I’d have enjoyed this much more. But I expect more from Lee Child than I do other writers, and this time, I just don’t think he pulled it off. I’m willing to bet he does better next year, and I’ll content myself with that hope.

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3.5 Stars2018 Library Love Challenge

Hardcore Twenty-Four by Janet Evanovich: A Swing-and-a-Miss from a Typically Reliable Source

Hardcore Twenty-FourHardcore Twenty-Four

by Janet Evanovich
Series: Stephanie Plum, #24

Mass Market Paperback, 275 pg.
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2017
Read: December 25, 2018

I dropped Lula off at the office and went to my parents’ house to mooch lunch. They live five minutes from the office, five minutes from Morelli’s house, and a time warp away from me. Even when my mom gets a new refrigerator or buys new curtains the house still feels precisely the same as when I was in school. It’s equally comforting and disturbing.

At this point the series feels a lot like Stephanie’s childhood home — they all feel the same, which is comforting and disturbing for the reader. This book ended up serving as a prime example of that.

I was feeling pretty good early on, when Connie was giving Stephanie a couple of new FTA’s to go pick up — they seemed equally interesting and potentially amusing. There’s a man who got upset by the poor service he received at a coffee shop and shot up a few cars in the parking lot, and a “pharmaceutical activist” who was arrested after blowing up a meth lab he was using in an abandoned building.

Actually, the travails of the slippery fifty-two year old who threw a tantrum and his eccentric wife is a pretty fun storyline. But the story of Zero Slick gets derailed right away by antics around his political activism and then leads into the major plot-line of the novel about a potential Zombie-outbreak — that both Zero and Lula seem to be overly focused on. That ties into a series of crimes where heads are being stolen from corpses at the various undertakers in town.

Yup. Zombies. Oh, and Diesel shows up. I was so glad that he wasn’t around anymore, it actually took some effort to remember who he was. Throw in an online boyfriend for Grandma Mazur and things are overfull with the zaniness.

I spent so much of the book just wanting it over — I did appreciate the story-line about the shooter — and a couple of other FTA’s that Stephanie picked up. I liked almost everything about Morelli for a change. The Ranger flirtation (and things beyond it), not to mention the Diesel flirting, the Zombie story (even when Evanovich tries to ground it in reality), and the Mazur stories just didn’t work for me. A little too crazy, a little too would=be comedic, without success.

I like the series, as often as I grumble about it — but this was beyond grumbling. I honestly had a hard time remembering why I keep reading these. They used to be funny, now I settle for amusing and almost charming. But I know Evanovich is capable of more, and I hope she gets back to form soon – even if it’s a diminished form. I’ll be back for Look Alive Twenty-Five, but my anticipation will be muted.

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2 1/2 Stars