Video Killed the Radio Star by Duncan MacMaster: A Murder Mystery as Fun as The Buggles’ Song

(or the cover by The Presidents of the United States of America, either will work)

Video Killed the Radio StarVideo Killed the Radio Star

by Duncan MacMaster
Series: Kirby Baxter, #2

Kindle Edition, 261 pg.
Fahrenheit Press, 2018
Read: October 15 – 16, 2018

“I fear we will never be mistaken for the Algonquin Round Table.”

“We’ll have to work on our witty repartee,” said Molly. “I plan on taking a course on banter, ripostes, badinage, and persiflage.”

“Even persiflage?”

“Especially persiflage,” said Molly. “There is nothing worse than sub-par persiflage.”

“You might need to get a sub-par persiflage lanced.”

“We’ve hit the nonsense phase of the night earlier than usual.”

“I like nonsense,” said Kirby, “it distracts me.”

Kirby Baxter just wants to live a quiet life out of the spotlight: hanging out with his girlfriend, Molly, when he can; restoring a car with his valet/bodyguard/etc.; and drawing his comics. And now that the excitement about the murder he solved at Omnicon dying down, he’s on the verge of doing that. But the mayor of his hometown knows Kirby, and has no shame in extorting his cooperation with a small problem that he’s having.

You see, one of the town’s major landmarks — an old, abandoned mansion — is in dire need of upkeep and remodeling. And a reality show full of C-List celebrities (maybe D- or E-list) have recently set up shop to do that work. But the city’s having second thoughts and they want Kirby and his über-perception skills to find a reason to shut down production and send them packing to disrupt another locale.

Kirby visits the production, talks to the cast and producers, looks around and comes up with a lot of observations and conclusions — and could cause a lot of inconvenience and embarrassment for everyone involved from those observations — but he can’t find what the mayor wants. That accomplished, he gets back to pursuing his best life now — which lasts just a few hours. Because before he can start to collect from the mayor for the work, one of the celebrities is found dead.

So, it’s back to the mansion for Kirby, this time to act as a consultant ot the local police as they investigate this suspicious death. Which is soon followed by another. And an attack on another cast member. And . . . well, you get the idea.

It’s nice that MacMaster didn’t repeat the whole “Kirby has to win over a skeptical and antagonistic police officer” thing — this time, thanks to most of the force having grown up with him, they all accept his talents and skills — an expect him to deliver.

The cast of the reality show, “Million Dollar Madhouse,” is filled with the typical collection of has-beens, almost-weres, and celebs trying to stage a comeback. Initially, I rolled my eyes at each of them, but the more time I spent with them, the more I appreciated and enjoyed them. In particular, the Kardashian-esque character totally won me over. Like in the previous book, there’s a large cast of characters that MacMaster juggles expertly — there are so many suspects to the murders, as well as witnesses for Kirby and the police to wade through.

Almost every serious suspect has the same defense — they didn’t want the initial victim dead. They wanted him to make a fool out of himself on national TV, possibly seriously injuring himself with a power tool. Some would follow that up with some other form of revenge — but if he’s dead, no one could get the revenge they wanted. It’s not ideal, but it’s an honest defense.

Gustave was slightly less super-human this time out — but he’s still in the Ranger/Hawk/Joe Pike nigh-impossible stratosphere. As much as I like everyone else in this series, it’s arguable that Gustave is MacMaster’s best creation — not just the character, but how MacMaster uses him.

I did miss Mitch. But was glad to see Molly and Kirby talk about him — and even make a joke he wasn’t around to make himself. It’s probably good that he wasn’t around — it’ll mean when we see him again, it’ll be easy to appreciate him without worrying about over exposure.

In the place of Mitch, we have Molly’s assertive and cunning cousin — she runs a gossip-website and wheedles her way into the investigation in order to land a story big enough to put her and her site on the map. Kirby clearly vacillates between finding uses for her and finding her distracting.

Molly and Kirby are cuter together than they were previously, and I could watch the two of them banter any day. It seemed harder to incorporate Molly into the story this time, and hopefully it’s easier for MacMaster in Kirby #3, but as difficult as it was, it was absolutely worth it.

I’m not sure exactly what it is about MacMaster’s writing that works so well for me, but it does. Just before I started writing this, I started to draw some parallels between these Kirby Baxter books and Ellen Raskin’s The Westing Game and The Mysterious Disappearance of Leon (I Mean Noel). I didn’t have time to fully flesh this idea out, but Raskin’s work definitely was formative for me and if the comparison hold up, that could explain a lot. The mix of humor, real emotions and complex mystery is the sweet spot for me and MacMaster consistently hits it. It’s not easy, there are precious few who try — and fewer that succeed. This is the third novel I’ve read by him and it seals the deal, I’ll buy everything he writes as soon as I can without really looking at what the book is about.

I was a little worried that this book wouldn’t live up to A Mint-Conditioned Corpse, and I don’t think it did — but I don’t know what could have for me. I’d enjoyed the other so much that it’s almost impossible to live up to — and the reality show setting didn’t do anything for me — they just leave me cold. The fact I’m rating Video Killed the Radio Star as high as I am is all about how effortlessly charming and entertaining this seems. Effortless always, always, always equals blood, sweat and tears — or at least a lot of work. This must’ve taken a great deal of labor, and it was absolutely worth it. A clever mystery, clever dialogue, and very clever characters in a funny, twisty story. The Kirby Baxter books are must reads, no doubt about it. Give this one a shot — I don’t see how you can’t enjoy it.

—–

4 1/2 Stars

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BOOK SPOTLIGHT: Video Killed the Radio Star by Duncan MacMaster

Today I’m very happy welcome the Book Tour for Video Killed the Radio Star by Duncan MacMaster — I’ve been looking forward to this one for months because this is the follow-up to one of my very favorite reads of this year, A Mint-Conditioned Corpse. Along with this spotlight post, I’ll be giving my take on the novel here in a bit.

Book Details:

Book Title: Video Killed the Radio Star by Duncan MacMaster
Publisher: Fahrenheit Press
Release date: July 26, 2018
Format: Paperback/ebook
Length: 261 pages

Book Blurb:

Money in the bank and his dream girl on his arm – life was looking pretty sweet for Kirby Baxter.

Of course it couldn’t last. Where would the fun be in that? This is a sequel after all.

After solving the murder of a movie starlet the previous year, Kirby is doing his best to live down his burgeoning reputation as part-time Interpol agent and amateur sleuth.

Then reality TV comes knocking next door.

Million Dollar Madhouse is a reality TV show where a bunch of washed up celebrities are thrown together in a dilapidated mansion while their attempts to renovate the building are broadcast 24/7 for the viewers delight.

Kirby’s quiet town is thrown into chaos by the arrival of camera crews, remote control video drones and a cast of characters including disgraced actress Victoria Gorham, political shock-jock Bert Wayne and reality TV royalty Kassandra Kassabian.

When one of the cast members turns up dead the local police turn to the only celebrity detective in town for help and draft an unwilling Kirby into their investigation.

The first body is only the beginning of another rip-roaring adventure for Kirby Baxter and with Gustav his loyal driver/valet/bodyguard/gardener/chef/ass-kicker at his side, our hero plunges into the fray with his usual stunning displays of deductive reasoning and sheer bloody luck.

About Duncan MacMaster:

Duncan MacMaster
Duncan MacMaster is a writer, pop-culture blogger, and film school survivor from the untamed wilds of Eastern Canada.

When he’s not concocting plots for Kirby Baxter to unravel he’s posting rants and rages about the business behind pop-culture on his blog.

Duncan MacMaster’s Social Media:

Twitter

Purchase Links for Video Killed the Radio Star:

Fahrenheit Press (this is really where you should buy the books, help FP out!) ~
Amazon UK ~
Amazon US


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

Night and Silence by Seanan McGuire: Toby Daye’s shattered world gets another blow — can she survive?

I was sure I wrote this up already. How did I take over a month to get this up? Something is wrong with me . . .

Night and SilenceNight and Silence

by Seanan McGuire
Series: Toby Daye, #12

Hardcover, 368 pg.
Daw, 2018
Read: September 6 – 10, 2018

“Um, this IS Toby,” sald Quentin. “We’re always about to die. When we’re not about to die, we’re still about to be about to die. She’s like a Rube Goldberg machine whose only job is generating .life-threatening situations.”

What a difference a book makes — at the beginning of The Brightest Fell, Toby was happy, her life was looking good, she was relaxing — and then trouble struck. At the beginning of this book, she’s probably in the worst straits she’s been in since getting out of the fish pond. Toby and her loved ones are still reeling from and dealing with the repercussions of that last novel (“not dealing with” might be more accurate, but why quibble?). Jazz is messed up in ways that are hard to fathom; her relationship with mentor/champion/sponsor, Sylvester, is in shambles; and worst of all, her fiancé is a shattered version of himself, barely able to be in the same room with her.

And then the other shoe drops (at this point, you might be thinking we’re talking about an Imelda Marcos-sized collection, as many of these have dropped): her very human daughter, Gillian has been kidnapped — and her father and step-mother are accusing Toby.

Yeah, kidnapped again. But this time it’s worse (and the last time was no walk in the dark). If anything is going to prove to be the straw that breaks the camel’s back — this could be it. Toby, May, Quentin — and some other allies band together to find the girl before something happens to her that will make the last kidnapping look pedestrian.

Sylvester is around for a lot of this novel — I was afraid he wouldn’t be. Sylvester has long been one of the — maybe the — best part of the series, and to see him in this state? It took so much away from this book. I know that’s the point, and I want to stress I’m not complaining — but man…it sucked. A lot of the emotional beats to this part of the story seemed to repeat themselves — and I wondered if it was a little filler. I decided that as often as Toby was reassuring Tybalt that they could work through things and get him better, McGuire was reassuring the reader that Sylvester could be recovered. I’m not sure it’s the case, but I’m going with that explanation.

This book has the best use of May since . . . well, probably since we met her in this form. Usually, May is too much in the background for my taste. But not in this novel. She’s strong, she’s emotional — she’s a major player in the events of this novel. We need to see her as active as she is here more often.

The debt that Toby keeps incurring to the Luidaeg is getting huge. Aunt or no, she can’t keep going like this forever, and at some point the sea witch is going to collect. This is going to be horrible.

Along the way, we learn a great deal about Toby’s human family — some of which will make the reader’s jaw drop, all of which will make Toby reconsider things — and like so much of what we’ve learned the last couple of books, what we’ve “known” before wasn’t necessarily right.

This isn’t the strongest Toby Daye novel, but an “iffy” Toby novel is still rocking by other series’ standards. This was a strong, satisfying read — as troubling as it was. And the next one isn’t going to be much easier to read — but I know it’ll be worth it. I don’t know that this is the book to jump on the series with, but it might work. But I can assuring long-term readers that this will scratch that itch just fine.

—–

4 Stars

Constance Verity Saves the World by A. Lee Martinez: Connie Verity is trying to have it all — a personal life while saving the world on a regular basis

Constance Verity Saves the WorldConstance Verity Saves the World

by A. Lee Martinez
Series: Constance Verity, #2

Trade Paperback, 385 pg.
Saga Press , 2018<br/
Read: August 18 – 20, 2018

“It’s a problem I have. When you’re ten years old and dangling from a cliff while rabid hyenas circle below, you learn to be stubborn. You can’t quit, because quitting isn’t an option. You dig your fingernails and pray that root doesn’t come loose. And if it does, you plan how best to fend off hyenas when all you have is a Pez dispenser and a priceless diamond in your pocket. I fight. It’s what I do. It’s how I survive. When people turn and run, I go forward. It’s kept me alive so far, but it’s skewed how I look at things.

“Somebody tells me I can’t do something, I want to do it more. Want isn’t a strong enough word. I need to do it. Give me that big red button labeled DO NOT PUSH in bright neon letters, and I’ll push it every time.”

Having fought for the ability to have a normal life in The Last Adventure of Constance Verity Connie’s out to try to have one. Which is harder than saving the world a few times a week. She’s still saving the world regularly, as well as having all sorts of adventures. She’s trying to settle down with her boyfriend Byron the accountant, while relying on her best friend/sidekick Tia some more (all the while, Tia is trying to strengthen her relationship with her ninja-thief boyfriend, Hiro). There are evil geniuses, aliens, robots, and vampires living in her condo — all of them behaving themselves, thank you very much.

One of the activities that takes most of Connie’s time right now is trying to help out an old friend cleanup the supercriminal organization that he’s in charge of now that his mother has apparently died. There’s a lot of rogue agents, assassins and experiments that need cleaning up if the organization is going to be come a legitimate force for good — or at least not a force for evil and chaos in the world. Connie’s tempted to spend more time doing that than she should, to the detriment of her relationship with Byron. Thankfully, Tia’s there to help keep her priorities in order. Hopefully, that’ll be enough.

You ever find yourself eating something — say, some cake — and you’re not sure if it’s too rich, if the frosting is too sweet? And then you realize how stupid you sound? Wondering if the cake is too good? Well, that’s the experience I had with this (and, I’m pretty sure with the previous Constance Verity book) — where there too many quips? Too many (seemingly) random ideas, aliens, evil masterminds, robots, henchmen of a variety of stripes, strange occurrences? What a stupid thing to ask. Yeah, there’s a lot going on, but it actually doesn’t get to the overload status. It may come close, but it stays on the right side. It’s like asking if there are too many animated personages in Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, if there are too many Easter Eggs in whatever your Super-Hero movie of choice is. No, there’s not — there’s a lot of good things that are fun. Shut up and enjoy.

Really, that’s the worst thing I can say about the book — occasionally, there are too many fun things happening. The pacing is great, the characters are rich, lively, and well-developed (including many of those only around for a page or so), you’ll laugh, you’ll be moved, you might even have a thought provoked. It’s just a charming book set in a delightful world.

Do not make the mistake of thinking this is a romp, just a free-wheeling ball of fun, snark and self-referential humor. It’s an A. Lee Martinez book, so yeah, there’s a lot of that — but laying underneath that is a good story, some interesting ideas about relationships, about trust, about fate. A whole lot of other things, too, I’m sure, but let’s stick with those. Too many people will read this, focus on the “fun” stuff and will miss the very thoughtful portions — it’s Martinez’ strength and weakness that it’s so easy to do with his works. There’s nothing wrong with a silly adventure story, and there’s nothing wrong with a book that’s about something. But when you have a novel that’s both — you should pay attention to both.

I knew Martinez could write a series if he wanted to — I had no idea what it was going to look like when he did. I’m glad I got the chance to find out. Constance Verity Saves the World is equal to its predecessor in every way that it doesn’t outdo The Last Adventure of Constance Verity — which is no mean feat. It’s fun, the characters are better defined and have grown some, and there’s never a dull moment. Constance Verity, the caretaker of the universe, the Legendary Snurkab, possibly the only woman with more titles than Daenerys Targaryen, is a character you need to get to know. Her sidekick Tia is, too. I cannot wait to see what the two of them do next.

—–

4 Stars

A Mint-Conditioned Corpse by Duncan MacMaster: I run out of superlatives and can’t stop talking about this Mystery that filled me with joy.

This is one of those times that I liked something so much that I just blathered on for a bit, and I’m not sure how much sense it made. The first and last paragraphs are coherent, I’m not really sure the rest is…

A Mint Condition CorpseA Mint Condition Corpse

by Duncan MacMaster
Series: Kirby Baxter, #1
Kindle Edition, 275 pg.
Fahrenheit Press, 2016
Read: July 27, 2018

Is this the best-writing I’ve encountered in a Detective Novel this year? Nope. Is this the most compelling, the tensest thrill-ride of a Mystery novel this year? Nope. Is this full of the darkest noir, the grittiest realism, the starkest exposure of humanity’s depths? Good gravy, no! This is however 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.

Think Monk at it’s best. Psych at its least annoying. Castle at it’s most charming. Moonlighting season 1 — I’m going to stop now.

So Kirby Baxter is a comic book writer/artist who breathed new life into a stagnant character which led to the revitalizing of an entire comic book company (not quite as old as DC, nowhere near as successful as Marvel — and somehow hadn’t been bought out by either). He was unceremoniously fired just before he became incredibly well-off (and investments only improved that). Following his new wealth, a thing or two happened in Europe and he gained some notoriety there helping the police in a few countries. Now, he’s coming back to North America to attend OmniCon — a giant comic con in Toronto — returning to see a mentor rumored to attend and maybe stick his toe back in the industry that he loves.

While there we meet his colorist and friend, Mitch — a diminutive fellow, convinced he’s God’s gift to the ladies (most of whom hope he comes with a gift receipt), and just a riot to read about. Molly, a fan, former coworker and friend of Kirby’s who wears her heart on her sleeve (it’s not her fault if people don’t notice it). That needs to be better. Erica is many a dream-come-true — an impossibly good-looking model and would-be actress who is sincere and sweet. Her assistant Bruce is a pretty good guy, too. Her best friend and former mentor, Andi is almost as too-good-to-be-true, and married to a renowned DJ who is providing some of the entertainment at OmniCon. There’s comic dealers, a film director, a crazy actress, Kirby’s former boss, and so many other colorful characters that my notes include a joke about a cast the size of Game of Thrones.

And then there’s Gustav. Words I don’t know how to describe Gustav. Imagine having Batman as your Jeeves. He’s a valet/driver/bodyguard that Kirby picked up in Europe, combining the cool and lethal factor of Spenser’s Hawk, Plum’s Ranger and Elvis’ Pike (except he makes Pike seem chatty). I’d include Wolfe’s Saul Panzer, but Saul isn’t the lethal type that the rest are — but Gustav has the effortless magic about him that makes Saul a winner. If the rest of the book was “meh” and Gustav was still in it? I’d tell you to read the book.

At some point, a corpse shows up — and like the comic book world’s answer to Jessica Fletcher, Kirby identifies the death as a murder — not the accident it appears to be to many. For various and sundry reasons — starting with him being correct, and continuing on to the incidents in Europe — Kirby is roped into helping the police with the investigation. Also, like Fletcher, he’s uniquely gifted to help the police in these circumstances. He’s smart, he has a eidetic memory, can catch a tell or a microexpression like nobody’s business. You throw him into a consulting role with the police, with his friends along for the ride and I’m telling you, you’ve got the most entertaining mystery novel I’ve read this year.

This book’s look at comic conventions reminded me of A Hundred Thousand Worlds by Bob Proehl. But where this one is played for laughs, Proehl was serious — but both show an appreciation for, an affection for the culture that surrounds the cons and the people involved. After reading this, I was ready to buy tickets for the OmniCon.

It’s a funny, fast, romp — a very contemporary take on a Golden Age-mystery. Lots of twists and turns, more crimes than you think are happening and more villains than you can shake a stick at. I thought (and still do) that Duncan MacMaster’s Hack showed that he was an author to keep an eye on — this is better.

A Mint-Conditioned Corpse hit the sweet spot for me — a convergence of so many of my likes told with just the right tone (another one of my likes), while maintaining a pretty decent whodunit at the core. I probably smiled for the entire time I spent reading it — well, at least the last 90% once I started to get a feel for things — at 8% I made a note about Kirby “I’m really going to like him,” and a few paragraphs later, I wrote “I already really like him” about Mitch. And I was right about Kirby, and kept liking Mitch — the rest of the characters are about as good as them, and the story is as good as the people in it are. Is everyone going to enjoy this one as much as me? Nope. But I can’t imagine someone not having a ball reading this. Probably the 5-Star-est 5-Stars I’ve given this year.

—–

5 Stars

The Passenger by Lisa Lutz: A Woman on the Run from the Law, Her Past and her Present

The PassengerThe Passenger

by Lisa Lutz

Paperbacks, 302 pg.
Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2016

Read: July 28, 2018

I tried to look calm and collected as I gathered my things under Ruth’s watch, but I could feel this all-over shiver, a constant vibration of nerves that I had a hard time believing no one else could see.

“You in some kid of trouble?” Ruth asked.

“No trouble, I said. “I just found a place to stay, long-term.”

“Don’t fool yourself,” she said. “It’s all temporary.”

Tanya Dubois’ husband died in a stupid household accident. She wasn’t heartbroken by this, but she wasn’t pleased about it. Especially once she realized that while it was an accident, it was one that would at least get the police to take a good look at her while they were deciding that. So she tried to cover things up, only to realize very quickly that she couldn’t, and that be starting to try, she’d made things look less like an accident. So the police would look even harder at her than they would’ve before. This would be a real problem for her because, technically speaking, Tanya Dubois’ doesn’t actually exist. So she grabs her dead husband’s truck and as much cash as she can get (hitting up a few ATM’s while she’s at it to get more) and splits.

She trades in the truck for something else, trades in her (dyed) blonde hair for something shorter and brown, a wardrobe change and became a new person — she says “I looked like so many women you’ve seen before I doubt you could’ve picked me out of a lineup.” Which is a pretty telling way of talking. She’s also able to make a phone call and demand a new name, new identification and some cash. By the time she arrives in Austin, she’s Amelia Keen.

Amelia meets a bartender named Blue, who sees through her right away, but isn’t going to try to turn her in or anything. Mostly, she wants to know where she got such a great passport. Not that either woman tells the other what brought them to the name and place they’re at, but they know that something similar as brought them to this point. Neither trusts the other, but in one way or another, to one extent or another, they need each other. At least for a little while — maybe longer.

At some point, for reasons you should discover for yourself, she leaves Austin and heads west. Then she has to leave that one behind and head elsewhere — eventually, she covers a pretty decent amount of ground, and involves herself in some pretty interesting situations — becoming both a hero and a villain on multiple occasions. All the time proving what Ruth said above, “It’s all temporary.” Well, except one thing — the past. That’s forever, as Tanya/Amelia/etc. learns.

Scattered throughout the book are emails between a Ryan and a Jo — starting years before the Tanya’s husband’s tragic fall, but eventually catching up to the present time. These provide us with a good idea of the life that was left behind by the woman who lived as Tanya and Amelia and so many others all without coming out and telling us that led to her leaving.

Something about Blue made me think of Alice Morgan from the first series/season of Luther (yes, I know she’s in more than that, but keep that vision of her in your mind) — and that image stuck, I don’t care what Lutz said she looked like or sounded like — I heard and saw an American version of Alice when Blue was around. Not the murder her own parents vibe — but the charming, dangerous, potentially duplicitous and erratic, while friendly and helpful vibe. (wow. Could I have qualified that comparison more? Probably, but I’ll hold back)

I never had a good handle on Tanya/Amelia/etc., primarily because I don’t think she did either. We (the readers, and I think she herself) got close to something real with Debra Maze — but she had to abandon that one quickly (too quickly, I liked that existence for her, as doomed as she and the readers knew it was).

There are plenty of other great characters, great moments through the book — some horrifying, some tense, some . . . I don’t know what to say. There’s a Sheriff from Wyoming — he’s not Walt Longmire, but they’d probably get along just fine — who is probably my favorite non-Tanya/etc. character in the book. We don’t get enough of him, but I’m not sure that more of him wouldn’t have hurt the story overall. There’s another bartender who is nothing like Blue, and probably one of the better people we meet in The Passenger, some depraved folks as well — one family that you cannot help but feel horrible for.

There’s a good number of twists along the way, a reveal or two that are really well executed — one I didn’t see coming (not only didn’t see coming, I didn’t even consider as an option). In general some pretty good writing and story telling.

I’ve been trying to get to this for years — and every time I get close (close = it’s one or two down on my list), I have one of those “Squirrel!” moments, and forget all about it. Well, I finally got to it — and was honestly underwhelmed, maybe it was the mental build-up. It didn’t have the Lutz humor, that’s for sure — even How to Start a Fire had some good chuckles. But that’s okay, she doesn’t have to be funny to be good (see the non-funny moments in How to Start a Fire). I also think Karen E. Olson’s Black Hat series handles the woman running from her identity and past better (at least in a way that captures the tension and the fear better). Which is not to say, at all, that this is a bad book — it’s not. It’s also not as good as I think Lutz is capable of.

Oh, and the story behind Tanya/etc.’s tattoo? I loved it. Should probably give the book another half-star just for it.

—–

3.5 Stars

How It Happened by Michael Koryta: A great thriller to kick off your summer (and/or a Russo novel gone awry)

How it HappenedHow It Happened

by Michael Koryta

Hardcover, 368 pg.
Little, Brown and Company, 2018
Read: May 29 – 30, 2018

The rain had tapered off overnight and given way to a gorgeous day, the sky and sea competing for the deepest blue, a light wind pushing off the water, temperature nearing eighty. The air was scented with ocean breezes and pines and held only the faintest trace of humidity. A quintessential Maine day, more suited to July than May.

If you weren’t looking for a drug addict and self-confessed murderer, it would be a day to treasure.

This is one of those that comes down to the set-up. Because it’s executed practically flawlessly, and if you’re in for a penny, you’re in for the whole pound — and it’s a heckuva ride. You won’t want to get off until the end, and then you’ll be able to breathe for the first time in seventy pages or so. If you’ve read Koryta before, you have an idea what things’ll be like — and you’ll be right. If you’ve not read him before, you probably will make arrangements to familiarize yourself with him soon after finishing this.

So, what is the setup? FBI Agent/expert on eliciting/evaluating confessions from criminal suspects, Rob Barrett returns to the small Maine community of his childhood summers to investigate a missing persons case/potential double homicide. After weeks of work, he finally gets a seemingly reliable confession from Kimberly Crepeaux to what happened to the missing young people. It’s a harrowing confession, I have to say — I’ve read novels with less tension than her recounting of what happened that night. Kimberly is a drug addict, jailhouse snitch, and all-around unreliable person — everyone in town knows this. But Rob believes her (and you will, too).

But there are a couple of problems. Problem one: Mathias Burke is the man that Kimberly says is the murderer. Mathias is a go-getter of a young man, and has been since he was a kid — the dictionary might as well feature his picture under “industrious.” No one in town can believe anything Kimberly says about the way he acted that night — even the non-criminal aspects of it. None of it is characteristic of him. Problem two: the bodies aren’t where she says they were. In fact, they’re found miles away and seemingly killed in a different fashion, with the fingerprints and DNA of someone not Mathias Burke present.

So much for Kimberly’s confession — and Rob’s career. He’s shipped out to a field office in Montana, probably for the rest of his career.

But Kimberly sticks to her story, and convinces the father of one of the victims, Howard Pelletier, to believe her (and fear for her safety from Burke). Howard’s wife died when his daughter, Jackie, was young. He became the most devoted single father in history, and in time, she reciprocated. The story of Jackie and Howard would be enough for a novel, were it not for the murder. Howard’s insistence that Rob pay attention to Kimberly again and his need for answers brings Rob back for one more try at finding out how it happened.

Pretty good hook, eh? And like I said, once it’s set, Koryta reels the reader in just like the seasoned pro he’s become.

A strange thought occurred to me this weekend: this could very easily have been a Richard Russo novel — I’m not sure who the protagonist would’ve been — maybe the cafe owner or something. But Rob, returning to his childhood stomping grounds (however temporarily), Howard and Jackie would’ve easily have been fixtures — ditto for Mathias Burke (and even Kimberly, come to think of it). Mathias would be a major player, really — not the protagonist, but a lead character for sure, his troubled youth, his Horatio Alger-ish work ethic/success story, the way that this silly FBI interloper messed up his life, etc. The tangled lines connecting all these people would be seen more clearly, and traced back a generation or two, making everything more complex. Actually, the more I think about this, the more I want to see Russo write his take on these elements. Anyhow, this isn’t a Richard Russo novel — this is a Michael Koryta novel. So, it won’t be anywhere near as funny, the psychology will be presented in starter light, the tension level will be much higher, and the sense of right and wrong will be much less murky.

A knockout of a read — a great thriller to kick off your summer with.

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4 Stars2018 Library Love Challenge