Closer Than You Know by Brad Park

I’m afraid this comes across as a collection of backhanded compliments — I hope I’m wrong about that. If so, I didn’t mean it.

Closer Than You KnowCloser Than You Know

by Brad Parks

eARC, 416 pg.
Dutton Books, 2017

Read: December 6 – 8, 2017


When you read a book about a dog — from Marley & Me to Where the Red Fern Grows — you’ve got a pretty good idea what’s going to happen near the end. Same goes for a Nora Ephron movie. Or a Horror flick. But you still read or watch them, and you cry, or laugh and “awww”, or jump in your seat when you’re supposed to. Even on repeat reads/viewings. But when done right, those things just work. Similarly, think of a roller coaster — you may stand outside the fence watching the thing go around the track while standing in line (some lines give you plenty of opportunity to study), and armed with that study, as well as the your own eyes, you know that track is going to drop from in front of you in a couple of seconds — or the coaster is about to hit the loop — that doesn’t stop your stomach from lurching when it does.

Why do I bother with that? It’s a thought that kept running through the back of my mind while reading Closer Than You Know. By the time I hit the 10% mark, if you’d made me write down what I expected to happen — the reveals, the twists, the story beats, etc. — I’d have gotten an A. I’m not saying I’m smarter than the average bear or anything, anyone who’s read/watched a handful of thrillers would’ve been able to, too. And it worked. It absolutely worked. How Parks pulls it off, I do not know, but he does. He’s just that good.

And all the stuff that I didn’t guess? Oh, man, it was just so sweet when Parks delivered it, there were a couple of scenes that just left me stunned. And, I should rush to note, the way Parks made a couple of reveals that I’d seen coming from the start were so well done, it was like I hadn’t called the shot.

In his previous stand-alone, Parks said that he wanted to write about the thing that scares him the most — his children being kidnapped. Closer Than You Know taps into a very similar fear — Child Protective Services taking your child from you, leaving you to the mercies of the machine where you’re presumed guilty. This time instead of “the bad guys,” faceless criminals, taking someone’s kids, this time it’s the forces of justice, of law and order, taking the child — they’re celebrated for it, they’re doing it “for the best interests of the child.”

What’s worse is that no one will tell Melanie Barrick why her infant son had been taken from his daycare. Melanie spent most of her childhood in the Foster Child system, and most of that time in the worse situations that system has to offer. This isn’t the stuff of nightmares for Melanie, mostly because I don’t think she has enough imagination for her subconscious to cook this up. And then she’s arrested for possession of cocaine and paraphernalia suggesting distribution — a felony that will guarantee she’s about to lose her little Alex for good.

Melanie is a “good person” — she’s one of the success stories that we don’t see as often as we’d like from the Foster Child system. She worked to put herself through college; has a great, supportive husband; a lousy job (but with benefits) — but one that will help her family get somewhere; and is a devoted, doting, loving mother. The kind of person we all want to think we’re surrounded by, but fear we probably aren’t.

From this point on, it’s a cyclone for despair as every part of her life — her job, her husband, her brother, her friends, her finances, her sense of privacy and security — is affected, is under siege during this ordeal. Can Melanie maintain her hope, maintain her innocence, maintain her conviction that she’ll hold her baby boy again?

In charge of prosecuting “Coke Mom” (the press is always so quick with these nicknames), is Amy Kaye. Amy Kaye could easily be the protagonist in any legal thriller, she’s just the kind of character you want to read in that kind of thing. She’s smart, dedicated and driven — at the moment, she’s primarily concerned with a serial rape investigation that she’s doing pretty much on her own. Amy starts to make progress for the first time in years when she’s put on this prosecution (largely for political reasons) — which she’s more than willing to do, but she hates to take away time and attention from the rape investigation. What really makes this difficult for Kaye is that Melanie is one of the most recent victims in this investigation.

So basically, things are not going well for these two women. There are occasional moments where there is hope, where there is a hint of humor, or life for them and it’s just enough to get you to let your guard down before the gears turn again and life gets bad. Melanie seems to be a living embodiment of Murphy’s Law — things just never go her way in this book. As she notes herself, addicts talk about hitting rock bottom — she isn’t like them, she keeps finding new bottoms. It’s during this part of the book, where the gears keep grinding away, where the Justice System seems most like a machine, and least like a method for determining (not presupposing) guilt, that things will really get to you. That stomach lurching I mentioned earlier? That image came from somewhere. It feels so real, it feels like this is something that actually happened to someone that Parks spent hours interviewing. I don’t know how you read these parts of the book and not get demoralized — but unable to put the book down, because you just have to, have to know what happens next.

As I’ve said before, I’ve been a Brad Parks fan since the first time I read his debut novel — and I miss Carter Ross, the star of his series. The bad thing for me reading Say Nothing and Closer Than You Know is that these are so good, he’s going to spend years doing books like this and I don’t know if he’ll be able to get back to Carter. On the other hand, I can’t complain really if he’s putting out reading that’s this compelling. Yeah, I said the book was largely predictable — and you’ll likely find it the same. But you will be wrong about some things and you won’t know how he’ll show you that you’re right. Think of a NASCAR race — we all know that it’s basically a series of guys going fast and turning left — but it’s how they go fast and turn left that makes all the difference. Parks delivers the goods — the word riveting doesn’t do this book justice. It’s compelling, riveting, gripping, exciting, and will make you rethink so much of what you may believe of the Criminal Justice and Child Protective systems. You will laugh, you will be stunned (in good and bad ways), you will give up hope for this poor mother.

And you will hate when the book ends — as much as you breathe a sigh of relief as you know you have some degree of closure.
Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Dutton Books via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this.

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4 1/2 Stars

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Death is Not the End by Ian Rankin

Death is Not the EndDeath is Not the End

by Ian Rankin
Series: John Rebus, #10.5

Hardcover, 73 pg.
St. Martin’s Minotaur, 1998

Read: December 4, 2017


I used Goodreads’ ordering of the Rebus series to determine when I read this novella — other sites might have led me to read this before Dead Souls, as it was published. I might have gotten more out of this book if I’d read it in that order, but it might have hurt the novel. I’m not sure.

Basically, this is one of the subplots of Dead Souls — Rebus’ looking for the missing son of a people he knew in school — in its original form. It’d be modified, expanded, and given a different ending in the novel. There’s a subplot, mildly related, involving organized crime and gambling — in much the same way that other crimes were associated with the missing person’s case in Dead Souls.

It is interesting to see how Rankin wrote something, and then came back a couple of years later and repurposed it. But that’s about all I have to say for this. It was interesting — but the version in the novel is better. The subplot didn’t do much for me, either. It was okay, but it really didn’t seem necessary.

The completist in me is glad I read it, but I think I’d have been okay with missing it, too.

—–

3 Stars

2017 Library Love Challenge

In Medias Res: Briefly Maiden by Jacqueline Chadwick

as the title implies, I’m in the middle of this book, so this is not a review, just some thoughts mid-way through.

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Briefly Maiden
Briefly Maiden

by Jacqueline Chadwick

Ali Dalglish, the best criminal profiler this side of Will Graham or Tony Hill, with a Tarantino twist is back. She’s not an amateur like she was in In the Still, and has a couple of more cases under her belt.

Then she’s called in to help with what seems like a lay-up of a case. Which is the biggest signal to a reader that this will be horrible — and boy howdy, this is. I’m at 49% and this is already one of the darkest, most twisted books I’ve ever read. And somehow, don’t ask me how, Chadwick has me loving this — I’m not getting a kick out of the depravity, mind you — but Ali and her interaction with her team and everyone else, I just can’t get enough of. But man . . . this book will eradicate any lingering suspicions you might have had about the reality and force of human depravity.

Actually, that reminds me: I could use a lot more of Marlene (Ali’s friend/assistant/Watson-y figure).

At this point, I’m sort of rooting for the killer — at least who Chadwick is making us think is the killer. The victims/intended victims thus far could be the primary antagonists in a book from just about every other crime series. I’m pretty sure I’ve figured out one of the mysteries — I’m fully prepared to be proven wrong, though.

Anyway, I’ll finish this tomorrow, so you can expect to see a full post early next week. But you should really read this book — and its predecessor, if you haven’t yet. I practically guarantee that you’ll love it.

Dead Souls by Ian Rankin

Dead SoulsDead Souls

by Ian Rankin
Series: John Rebus, #10

Hardcover, 406 pg.
St. Martin’s Press, 1999

Read: November 10 – 13, 2017

For the best part of an hour, Rebus had been trying to blink away a hangover, which was about as much exercise as he could sustain. He’d planted himself on benches and against walls, wiping his brow even though Edinburgh’s early spring was a blood relative of midwinter. His shirt was damp against his back, uncomfortably tight every time he rose to his feet.

This might actually be the high point for Rebus in this novel — at least as far as the way he feels goes. The bad news is, this is from Chapter 1. Clearly, Jack Morton’s influence has clearly ended. Rebus is moments away from doing something he’ll regret almost instantly and that will have ramifications on everything he does for the foreseeable future, some of which will likely haunt him for more than that.

Which almost seems par for the course, I realize as I type that.

Anyway, Dead Souls focuses on crimes against children and what that can do to them — not just at the moment they’re victimized, but years later. There are also unintended (and fully intended consequences of crimes against adults throughout the book — Rebus’ own hands aren’t entirely clean here. Rebus’ actions in the opening pages cast enough of a shadow on him that his very brief involvement on another case is used by the defense to cast a shadow on the police’s investigation. He’s also tasked to investigate the apparent suicide of a police detective, informally, anyway. His main task is to work with Siobhan Clarke and a rookie to be a very obvious police presence to a convicted multiple-murderer, recently released and deported from the US back to Scotland. They really can’t do anything other than be visible for a few days until money runs out on the operation, but no one who knows this killer has any doubt that he’ll strike again, and the police are trying to discourage that. Unofficially, Rebus makes things uncomfortable for a pedophile in his new home — an act that will not go well and will spiral out of control — and he’s helping an old girlfriend look for her missing son.

Confused? Yeah, sure, I am — and I wrote that summary. Somehow, Rankin is able to take all that mess and assemble it into a novel that actually makes sense — with all of these stories being tied together, not just with over-lapping themes, but in reality in some sort of 6 degrees of separation fashion — even excluding DI Rebus. It’s really very impressive watching how Rankin weaves every strand of story and character in this novel — it always is, but this web seems more intricate than usual.

The other police in this novel interest me — I won’t go down the list, but those who can’t see why he cares about something, those who can’t understand why he’d do something with so little regard to consequences are on one end — the other end is filled by people (like Clarke) who know exactly what kind of man he is, and without approving or participating in the less-than-savory aspects his methods, can use him and them for good.

…he wondered why it was he was only ever happy on rewind. He thought back to times when he’d been happy, realising that at the time he hadn’t felt happy; it was only in retrospect that it dawned on him. Why was that?

There’s very little light in this novel, there’s introspection, there’s despair, there’s hatred, fear, prejudice, and opportunists taking advantage of all of that. But somehow the book never seems slow or ponderous — just Rebus chugging along, doing his thing. There’s also some strong action — some we see as it happens, but most we hear about after the fact (years or days alter). If you stop and think about how many criminal seem to “get away” with their crimes (as defined by not being charged/tried), it’s not that satisfying. If you think about the book in terms of Rebus (and through him, the reader) understanding what happened and why — it’s satisfying, not really cheerful, but satisfying in that regard.

The souls that are dead here have been killed by various means and methods over time — some realize that’s what they are, some haven’t a clue — some come to realize it in these pages (and some try to revitalize themselves). By and large, they’re dead souls walking, and seem intent on taking others with them. The question is: is DI Rebus among them?

I’m really not sure if I’ve said anything worthwhile about the book — it’s impressive, immersive and will not let you go — even days after finishing it. I don’t know that this is a bad one to be your first Rebus novel — you may be willing to cut him more slack for his questionable actions if you’ve got a history with him than you would be otherwise, however. For me, this is just further proof that Rankin is one of the best and is getting better (or was, at this point in his career anyway)

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4 1/2 Stars
2017 Library Love Challenge

The Hanging Garden by Ian Rankin

The Hanging GardenThe Hanging Garden

by Ian Rankin
Series: John Rebus, #9

Hardcover, 335 pg.
St. Martin’s Press, 1998

Read: October 4 – 6, 2017

Rebus couldn’t get so excited. The whole enterprise had shown him a simple truth: no vacuum. Where you had society, you had criminals. No belly without an underbelly.

It’s just that kind of chipper optimism that keeps readers coming back to the Rebus books, isn’t it? The events in The Hanging Garden sure aren’t going to change his mind. There are three investigations at the core of this book (although another is referred to repeatedly) — but far more than 3 crimes.

The first is an investigation into an older gentleman who is suspected to be a former Nazi officer who was involved in the slaughter of an entire town in the waning days of WWII. Because of Rebus’ penchant for taking historical deep-dives when most police officers wouldn’t, he’s assigned to investigate this man. There are individuals from various organizations, governmental entities, and the press who are pressuring the accused and Rebus on this front.

The second involves an up and coming gangster — Tommy Telford’s smarter, quicker, and crueler than Rebus and the rest are used to dealing with — he’s also a genuine rival to Big Ger Cafferty (especially since Cafferty’s in prison). There’s a prostitute, a victim of human trafficking, that Rebus focuses on, trying to get her out of Telford’s control while using her to take him down. This becomes laden with some personal baggage (see below) and Rebus takes some risky moves that have some devastating consequences.

Lastly, Rebus’ daughter, Sammy is struck by a car in a hit and run and spends days in a coma. Based on a witness’ statement, Rebus becomes convinced that she was targeted thanks to her involvement with the prostitute and/or being his daughter. Either way, Rebus is out for blood — if only he knew who he was after. He strikes a deal to get criminals looking for the perpetrator while he’s helping/prodding the official police investigation. It really doesn’t matter which side of the law finds the driver, as far as he’s concerned, the end is the only important thing.

I’m not sure we needed the Nazi storyline — which by the way, is based on a real atrocity — but it serves to muddy the waters for Rebus and distract him. So it did play its part, and was good enough that I’m not complaining. Telford is a wonderful (fictional) criminal — I don’t want this guy walking around in my world, but in a novel? Love him. And the Sammy story — obviously, this is the emotional core to the book and is really well done.

When you have that many plates spinning, it’s hard to keep them going — and to do so in a way that balances the story telling to keep the reader engaged and not confused. Throwing in the personal aspects make it all the harder for Rankin — Clarke and Templar are involved with the police actions, and Jack Morton plays a significant role, too (and I finally liked him). Plus you have Sammy (mostly seen in flashbacks), Rhona (her mother) who comes to look after her comatose daughter. Patience Aitken is around as well — what she ever sees in Rebus, I’ll never know, it’s clearly a horrible match.

The way that Rankin has put this one together made it very difficult for me to talk about (I’ve tried to get this post written at least a dozen times). But that doesn’t mean it was hard to read — once I was in 10 pages or so in, there was no stopping. It’s a heckuva read, and I really can’t express more than that.

Rebus — mostly sober throughout, for a change — has some strong moments of self-assessment and self-examination, and is able to see/express things about himself and his approach to his work that many readers probably have intuited but it’s nice to have the man himself realize. Including one insight into himself that enabled me to finally figure out what makes Rebus and Harry Bosch different — something I’ll hopefully return to soon.

I didn’t expect that this would live up to Black and Blue, and it didn’t. But it wasn’t a let-down in any sense — it was a different kind of story, a different kind of crime, and different motivations for John Rebus. Still, the essentials are there: Rebus, his outlook, his tenacity, his humor, and his demons. Crime fiction doesn’t get much better than this.

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4 Stars

2017 Library Love Challenge

Happy Birthday, Archie!

My annual tribute to one of my favorite fictional characters (if not my all-time favorite).

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

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

Who was Archie? Archie summed up his life thusly:

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

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

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

In The Red Box, he says

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

In Black Orchids, he reacts to an insult:

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

I’m not the only Archie fan out there:

  • A few months back, someone pointed me at this post, The Wit and Wisdom of Archie Goodwin. There’s some really good stuff here that I was tempted to steal, instead, I’ll just point you at it.
  • Robert Crais himself when writing an introduction to a Before Midnight reprint, devoted it to paying tribute to Archie. — one of the few pieces of anything written that I can say I agree with jot and tittle.

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

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

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

She turned back to me, graceful as a big cat, and stood there straight and proud, not quite smiling, her warm dark eyes as curious as if she had never seen a man before. I knew damn well I ought to say something, but what? The only thing to say was ‘Will you marry me?’ but that wouldn’t do because the idea of her washing dishes or darning socks was preposterous.)

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

If you like Anglo-Saxon, I belched. If you fancy Latin, I eructed. No matter which, I had known that Wolfe and Inspector Cramer would have to put up with it that evening, because that is always a part of my reaction to sauerkraut. I don’t glory in it or go for a record, but neither do I fight it back. I want to be liked just for myself.

When a hippopotamus is peevish it’s a lot of peeve.

It helps a lot, with two people as much together as he and I were, if they understand each other. He understood that I was too strong-minded to add another word unless he told me to, and I understood that he was too pigheaded to tell me to.

I always belong wherever I am.

The Dark Prophecy by Rick Riordan, Robbie Daymond

The Dark ProphecyThe Dark Prophecy

by Rick Riordan, Robbie Daymond
Series: Trials of Apollo, #2

Undabridged Audiobook, 12 hrs, and 31 min.
Listening Library, 2017

Read: October 5 – 11, 2017


I’m not sure how to give a plot synopsis here — basically, it’s the continuation of the Trials of Apollo. He has another task to accomplish — another of the new emperors to take down before the third one, in the next book. It’s the same ol’ set up that has served Riordan so well — and will continue to do so for years to come.

Basically, Apollo/Lester has to go and find another Oracle. To do so, really, he has to face a lot of people that he’s hurt/disappointed over the millennia. He learns a lot about himself, matures a bit. That part was good — and the whole thing was entertaining. But it felt stale. I liked The Hidden Oracle a lot and was excited to see where this series went. Now, I’m not so sure. I’ll finish the series, but with greatly diminished expectations.

Not that it got into details, but there was a lot more intimated/flat-out said Apollo’s sexual history than I’m comfortable with for a MG book. The previous books in the Percy-verse suggested sexual orientation and activity, there was some romance, but this went much further than any of those. Honestly, it went a step too far. If this wasn’t a part of the Percy-verse, or was clearly marketed toward older readers, it wouldn’t have been that bad and I wouldn’t have said anything about it. But that’s not the case here.

As far as the audiobook goes, it was rough. Robbie Daymond was very aware that he was reading amusing material and he read it like each line was a punchline. It was the vocal equivalent of mugging for the camera, if you will. Now, there were a couple of serious and poignant moments, and Daymond pulled those off well, but otherwise it was tough to listen to.

I didn’t like the narration, and didn’t think the story/writing was as crisp as the first book in the series. But it was still entertaining enough. This isn’t the one to start reading Riordan. But it’ll do for his older readers.

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3 Stars