Rescued by David Rosenfelt ★ ★ ★ 1/2 A tale of self-defense, an old flame and a truckfull of dogs

RescuedRescued

by David Rosenfelt
Series: Andy Carpenter, #17

eARC, 304 pg.
Minotaur Books, 2018

Read: May 4, 2018

At an early age, Andy Carpenter discovered that he couldn’t hit a curve-ball and therefore had to give up on his dreams of playing in the majors and fall back to following in his father’s footsteps and becoming a lawyer. His father, a lifelong prosecuting attorney, probably wished for something else, but for the many people that he’s defended in court, they wouldn’t have it another way.

This is the seventeenth novel in this series — I’ve talked here about nine of the previous sixteen. There’s part of me wondering just what I could possibly have to say about this one that I haven’t said at least once before.

Andy Carpenter is called to a nearby rest area — a truck containing sixty-one dogs was discovered with the driver shot. Andy and Willie were called out to help the police retrieve the dogs and care for them. The police are really not happy to see him there — Andy Carpenter at a crime scene? Not a welcome sight. But then he’s called away, there’s a prospective new client waiting for him at home.

Not that surprisingly, the potential client was also at that rest area earlier in the day. He actually tells Andy that he shot the driver — in self-defense, mind you. Sure, there’s a history between the two — Kramer (the client) had assaulted the victim and threatened to kill him, in fact. But that was years ago, and he had no current reason to. He just needs some help with the inevitable arrest. Andy believes him — he has to. Kramer is Laurie’s ex and she vouches for him — so much so that Andy pretty much has to take the case for her sake.

Honestly, Andy really isn’t that interested in helping tall, hunky and dangerous Kramer — ex-Military, ex-police, ex-licensed investigator. But it’s not long before he starts to believe that there’s something more afoot. And what was the deal with all the dogs?

All the regulars are along for this ride — Pete Stanton brings the law and order, we get a little more about the fun side of Hike that was introduced in the last book, Sam and his hacking crew dig up plenty of information, Marcus is his typical imposing self, Tara is as loyal as ever — and Andy gets a lot of courtroom time in. There’s a new prosecuting attorney for him to face off against — I liked her, and would like to see her against Andy again.

I don’t think it’s much of a spoiler here, because it’s pretty much the default in this series, but there’s a conspiracy behind the murder and they men behind it have decided to frame Kramer. This is one of the better — or at least one of the more grounded — conspiracies featured in these books. Up to a point, some of it was pretty hard to swallow — it just went a little over the top for my taste (but many of them do in this series). Also, this one features the best code names this side of Reservoir Dogs. Still, it was one of the more clever solutions that we’ve been treated to lately.

A thought about the series as a whole at this point: I would appreciate it if Rosenfelt would shake things up a little bit — I’m not talking about killing Hike or splitting up with Laurie or anything — just dial down the super-criminals a bit, maybe spend some more time with the client again. But there’s little reason for him to do that — the series moves like clockwork and is reliably entertaining. I only say this because I’m a fan — Rosenfelt is in danger of becoming a parody of himself (at worst) or just putting out cookie-cutter books (at best), I don’t want Andy Carpenter to become a Stephanie Plum.

This is not to say that I didn’t enjoy the book — because I did. Andy, Sam, Pete, Vince, Laurie, Tara and the rest are old friends that I enjoy getting together with every few months. Rosenfelt’s latest demonstrates what’s been true for years — this series is at the point where you can reliably count on each book for an entertaining read, a puzzling mystery, some good comic moments, a nice dog or two and maybe even a tug on the heart strings. They’re still charming enough to win over a new reader (and any of the books serve just fine as entry points) as well as satisfying the long-term reader. Rescued delivered just what I expected and left me satisfied — satisfied and ready to read number 18.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from St. Martin’s Press via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this, it was a real pleasure.

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3.5 Stars

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Fleshmarket Alley by Ian Rankin: Rebus finds himself in his most tangled case yet

Fleshmarket AlleyFleshmarket Alley / Fleshmarket Close

by Ian RankinSeries: John Rebus, #15

Hardcover, 420 pg.
Little, Brown and Company, 2005
Read: May 18 – 23, 2018

           Rebus had never seen children in a mortuary before, and the sight of« fended him. This was a place for professionals, for adults, for the widowed. It was a place for unwelcome truths about the human body. It was the antithesis of childhood.

Then again, what was childhood to the Yurgii children but confusion and desperation?

Which didn’t stop Rebus pinning one of the guards to the wall. physically, of course, not using his hands. But by dint of placing himself: an intimidating proximity to the man and then inching forward, until the guard had his back to the wall of the waiting area.

“You brought kids here?” Rebus spat.

This — even by Rebus’ standards — is a dark book, but we keep finding Rebus pushing back against it. It actually almost seems against his character — the cynicism and pessimism that is so definitive of him seems frequently absent. That’s not a bad thing — it’s just a little strange when you stop and think about it. Of course, there’s an easy line to draw between idealism and cynicism, and Rebus has always been an absolutist about justice — and doesn’t let much stand in his way to pursue it. This time there’s a lot more injustice that he seems to be targeting. Something about this murder that has gotten under his skin.

Maybe it’s because he knows it could be one of the last cases he’s involved in — St. Leonard’s has been reorganized and no longer has a CID, so the detectives have been reassigned throughout the city. He and Clarke were sent somewhere that reminds them on a regular basis that they’re not welcome — Rebus doesn’t even get a desk. The message is clear: he should retire. Fat chance of that happening while he can say anything about it.

Which leads to Rebus jumping in to help some old friends investigate the what appears to be a race-based murder, which ends up opening up a tangled web of crimes in so many circles it’s difficult to summarize (I deleted a couple of attempts to do that because they ended up undreadable) while staying spoiler-free. Just know that pretty much everywhere Rebus goes, he’s going to find something else that’s very, very wrong. The more Rebus learns about the victim — and his life — the less likely the fact that he’s Kurdish seems to play in his killing, but it’s inescapable — the press, other police, and every one he talks to about the case won’t stop bringing it up. It’s easier for everyone when first impressions are right, but when you can’t make the facts fit the narrative, you’d better have a detective like John Rebus around to actually get somewhere.

Siobhan meanwhile, gets involved in a couple of things that aren’t really cases but end up dragging her into one. First, she starts doing a favor for a couple she knew years ago when their daughter was raped and later committed suicide. Now their younger daughter has gone missing and they fear the worst. Also, there’s a couple of skeletons uncovered in Fleshmarket Alley that have an interesting story to tell. One thing leads to another and Siobhan becomes involved in a murder investigation that while not connected to Rebus’ keeps the two of them brushing into one another at interesting points.

We also get to see Big Ger for a few minutes, and isn’t that always fun?

There’s some odd tension between Rebus and Siobhan in these pages — something that feels natural, organic. They’re not as static as Spenser and Hawk (for one bad example), with differing goals, aspirations, etc. It’s good to see this dimension to their relationship, really. It makes be believe in them more.

Dark, tangled, well-paced, oddly timely for something written over a decade ago, and so wonderfully constructed that you really can’t believe it when all the pieces start to fall in place. Fleshmarket Alley/Close is just one more bit of evidence that Ian Rankin is a master of his craft.

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4 Stars
2018 Library Love Challenge

Born to the Blade 1.4: The Gauntlet by Michael Underwood: Kris’ opportunity finally knocks in the most satisfying episode yet.

The GauntletThe Gauntlet

by Michael R. Underwood
Series: Born to the Blade, #1.4

Kindle Edition, 53 pg.
Serial Box, 2018
Read: May 10, 2018
Since Episode One, we’ve been waiting for this: Kris Denn of Rumika facing the gauntlet. A series of 6 duels against the members of the Warders Circle of Twaa-Fei to gain a seat at the table for Rumika. Failure here means a decade (or so) before the next potential warder from Rumika has an opportunity. That’s pretty much the whole episode in a nutshell — can Kris make it?

Ultimately, I don’t think anyone will be shocked at the outcome — it’s about the journey, how the outcome is reached. Underwood nails it. A couple of weeks ago, I linked to a piece he wrote about how fight scenes can reveal character (he also tweeted about it this week), and this episode is him displaying that theory in practice. It really works — not only do we get a better idea about who Kris is, but we get a better understanding of the other Warders. Sure, we may not actually learn anything about Lavinia and Ojo — we just get more evidence of what we already know — but there are other duels.

This is longer than the previous two episodes — and it helped. The extra length gave things a chance to happen. I assume that’s not something we’ll see next week, but I can hope, right?

I’ve liked the previous episodes enough to justify the purchase of the season and to keep going, but I just flat-out liked this one. Good fight scenes, good character moments and the plot moves ahead. Where this goes next, I’m not sure, but having concluded this initial arc, I’m ready to see it. These authors took their time establishing this world, and carefully built up to this point and what lies beyond. I’m looking forward to see what else comes on this foundation.

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4 Stars

Born to the Blade 1.1: Arrivals by Michael Underwood: The Start of a Promising Series

ArrivalsArrivals

by Michael R. Underwood
Series: Born to the Blade, #1.1

Kindle Edition, 61 pg.
Serial Box, 2018
Read: April 21, 2018

Publisher’s Blurb:

For centuries the Warders’ Circle on the neutral islands of Twaa-Fei has given the countries of the sky a way to avoid war, settling their disputes through formal, magical duels. But the Circle’s ability to maintain peace is fading: the Mertikan Empire is preparing for conquest and the trade nation of Quloo is sinking, stripped of the aerstone that keeps both ships and island a-sky. When upstart Kris Denn tries to win their island a seat in the Warder’s Circle and colonial subject Oda no Michiko discovers that her conquered nation’s past is not what she’s been told, they upset the balance of power. The storm they bring will bind all the peoples of the sky together…or tear them apart.

So there’s the setup for this “season” of 11 novella-length episodes, releasing weekly. Episode 1 — Arrivals is very much a pilot episode. After an action-packed opening, the story settles into introducing the pretty large cast of characters and the world the inhabit.

I found most of what follows pretty dry, and I had a hard time maintaining interest. It reminded me of the Game of Thrones pilot — at least for those of us who hadn’t read the book — so many names and places to learn that it was hard to pay attention to any story. It’s a rich world and most of the characters seem well-developed and complex — I just don’t care about any of it yet.

It is not the most accessible world, with a specialized vocabulary, and political and magic systems that the reader has to dig in to really understand. This isn’t a complaint — it’s just something to know going in. There’s no real pay off for the effort now, but you can assume it’s coming.

But those last couple of pages? Hoo-boy, there’s the hook — I might have had to wait longer than I wanted to just to get to this point, but it was worth the wait. I think that gave me enough motivation to read at least a couple more episodes. Given the strength of the list of authors involved in this one — Michael R. Underwood (the author of this installment), in particular — I’m confident that I’ll be singing the praises of Born to the Blade soon. You might want to jump on board now and enjoy the progress.

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3 Stars

A Question of Blood by Ian Rankin: Rebus Deals with Gun Violence on Multiple Fronts

A Question of BloodA Question of Blood

by Ian Rankin
Series: John Rebus, #14

Hardcover, 406 pg.
Little, Brown and Company, 2003

Read: April 19 – 21, 2018


I’m torn between quotations to open with, on the one hand, you have this one which captures the environment this novel takes place in — it’s a perfect encapsulation of the frustration of so many civilians. Particularly the ones in the town near the focal crime.

Fear: the crucial word. Most people would live their whole lives untouched by crime, yet they still feared it, and that fear was real and smothering. The police force existed to allay such fears, yet too often was shown to be fallible, powerless, on hand only after the event, clearing up the mess rather than preventing it.

On the other hand, this seems to be the perfect encapsulation of the sentiments of Rebus, Clarke, Hogan and so many (most?) of the police in this novel (and most police novels in general):

He checked the radio to see if anything bearable was being broadcast, but all he could find were rap and dance. There was a tape in the player, but it was Rory Gallagher, Jinx, and he wasn’t in the mood. Seemed to remember one of the tracks was called “The Devil Made Me Do It.” Not much of a defense these days, but plenty of others had come along in Old Nick‘s place. No such thing as an inexplicable crime, not now that there were scientists and psychologists who’d talk about genes and abuse, brain damage and peer pressure. Always a reason . . . always, it seemed, an excuse.

So the story is, an ex-SAS soldier walks in to a school, shoots three students and then kills himself. One of the students — the son of a local politician — survives. His dad sees this crime as an opportunity to get himself out of some PR trouble and some prominence — so he keeps popping up in inopportune places to grandstand and shine a negative light on the police. Which goes a long way to make a complicated situation worse for Bobby Hogan — the detective running the investigation. There’s not much to investigate, the only surviving witness has told his story, the culprit is dead — but there’s a lot of why questions floating around, Hogan’s got to try to answer some of them. Hogan knows two things: 1. His friend John Rebus was almost an SAS soldier, so he might understand the mindset of this man better than the rest, and 2. Rebus could use an excuse to get out of Edinburgh for a few days. The Army’s in town, doing what it can to shape the narrative — i.e. “this isn’t the way we train our men to be, maybe there’s something else going on.” Hogan’s having trouble getting anywhere, the press isn’t helping, and the evidence isn’t doing wonders for anyone at all.

I liked the fact that we’re dealing with Rebus’s military past again — it’s largely been untouched (at least to any real depth) since Knots & Crosses, and conversations between Rebus and Clarke show that he hasn’t talked to her about it at all. As much as the first book might have helped Rebus deal with some of what happened to him, it’s clear that there’s more t do. Hopefully, this is the start of it — at least to help him.

The more this crime is investigated, the less it looks as cut-and-dry as it was at the beginning. This was all wonderfully constructed, a strong multi-layered story that’ll keep the reader glued to the action to find out what happened (or why it happened). And it’s really not the best part of the novel — it could’ve been, easily. But no.

The reason that Rebus could use a few days away from home base is that he has a mysterious injury. One that could have a completely innocent explanation — or one that puts him at the center of a suspicious death investigation. There’s this creep who’s been stalking Clarke, threatening her. Rebus is seen at a bar with him one night, and the next day, he’s dead and Rebus is getting medical care that suggests he could have been present at the time of death. Clarke and Hogan believe him because he says he didn’t do it. Good ol’ Gill Templar isn’t sure (raising the question: who knows him best? Siobhan or Gill?), and frankly, none of Rebus’ legion of enemies in the police or press are less sure than Templar. There’s a little question about letting Siobhan fight her own battles rather than take the avuncular and/or misogynistic approach of helping her. The two get past that pretty quickly, but Clarke harbors a doubt or two about Rebus’ involvement.

Rebus, actually, wasn’t that concerned with protecting Clarke — he just used that situation to help him with another investigation. Which is typical of him. It’s this last story that’s really — in a way — the center of the whole novel. The events investigated, the motives for a lot of it, and the emotional core are all tied (at the very least) to this story. Rankin’s structuring of the novel in this way shows him at his best. And that’s really all I can say without ruining the experience for anyone (in fact, I arguably said too much).

Then there’s the last chapter == which is all I’m going to say about it — I’m torn. On the one hand, it seems to undercut a lot of the emotional weight of the climactic moments. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t believable. It’s probably more believable than the alternative. Still .. . it left me dissatisfied. On the other hand, Rankin seems to be setting us up to revisit many of these characters in the future. I bet that’ll be worth it.

It’s hard to come up with things to talk about in a series that’s 14 books-old. It’s got to be hard to come up with things to talk about with a character that’s 14 books-old. Which might be part of the reason that Rankin circled back for another look at the end of Rebus’ time with the SAS, which definitely could use another look. How he did it — and the situations the characters found themselves in regarding that case,and all the others going on — is what makes Ian Rankin the modern legend that he is. A Question of Blood is one of those books that improves, the more you think about it.

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4 1/2 Stars

2018 Library Love Challenge

Quotation of the Day

“A man condemning the income tax because of the annoyance it gives him or the expense it puts him to is merely a dog baring its teeth, and he forfeits the privileges of civilized discourse. But it is permissible to criticize it on other and impersonal grounds. A government, like an individual, spends money for any or all of three reasons: because it needs to, because it wants to, or simply because it has it to spend. The last is much the shabbiest. It is arguable, if not manifest, that a substantial proportion of this great spring flood of billions pouring into the Treasury will in effect get spent for that last shabby reason.”

–Nero Wolfe

Pub Day Repost: Closer Than You Know by Brad Parks

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