Pub Day Repost: The Last Act by Brad Parks: He’s in the jailhouse now

The Last ActThe Last Act

by Brad Parks

ARC, 368 pg.
Dutton Books, 2019
Read: February 26 – 27, 2019

Inspired by the Wachovia Bank scandal from a few years back, Brad Parks’ third stand-alone is a departure in a sense from his previous two. Rather than crimes close to home for his protagonists, this is crime on an international scale, with most of the figures involved never laying eyes on each other.

Mitch Dupree was a high-level bank executive who was convicted of aiding a Mexican drug cartel by laundering a lot of money. He’s been sentenced to a minimum security prison in West Virginia. If after reading this — or even while reading it — you want a few more details about what happened with Dupree before the novel starts (or more specifics about the events leading up to his arrest), check out the prequel short story, The Whistle Blower. He has made it known both far and wide that he has a large amount of evidence against the cartel tucked away safely — and as long as he and/or his family are alive, that evidence stays hidden.

Naturally, the DEA, FBI and the cartel want to get their hands on it — and are willing to do some above and beyond work to get it.

Enter Tommy Jump — he’d risen to fame and prominence (and a Tony nomination) as a child on Broadway, but as he aged into adulthood the parts dried up. He’s on the verge of calling it quits — at least for a couple of decades. He’s approached by a childhood friend, Danny Ruiz, flashing a shiny FBI badge and an interesting job offer. Danny and his partner, Rick Gilmartin, want Tommy to go undercover with an assumed identity of a bank robber and serve time in the same prison. He has six months to get close to Dupree, win his trust and get the location of the documents. If the intelligence he gathers leads to indictments, he gets a hefty bonus on top of the pretty nice initial paycheck (all the funds come from civil forfeiture, and the well seems to run pretty deep). Given that his fiancé — a painter waiting to be discovered — just told him she was pregnant, any kind of pay-day sounds good to an out-of-work actor, one with a pay-day that could set them up for years? How can he pass that up?

The early stages of the plan go pretty smoothly — Tommy’s given a new identity, develops a cover story and is sentenced to the same prison. He arrives and gets settled — not really making friends, but getting well acquainted with fellow inmates, who show him the ropes and help him get acclimated. It goes so smoothly, actually, that it bugged me a little. Sure, he’s an actor, but this isn’t a play, there’s no script, and it seems easy. But, Tommy’s such a likeable guy, a winning narrator that I just kept shrugging off my skepticism and rolled with it — I wanted things to work out for Tommy and Amanda, I wanted to see what happened with Dupree — so whatever it took to get me to seeing if things would work out for them I could accept.

And then — because this is a thriller, because Parks is good at torturing his readers (that’s why we keep coming back), and because no one is as lucky as Tommy seemed to be — everything got nearly impossible. On a dime, the momentum changes and suddenly thing look incredibly grim for Tommy, Amanda, Dupree and several other characters. Naturally, at the same time the bottom fell out and I was reeling from a pretty significant reveal, my lunch break ended and I had to get back to work with no time to process things. I know it’s stupid, but it felt like Parks planned it that way.

The novel alternates between Tommy chapters and chapters with Amanda, one of the cartel’s higher-ups and his efforts to find the evidence, Danny and Rick, and Mitch Dupree’s wife. I was honestly surprised how much time we got with Amanda and Mrs. Dupree — both of whom had their own character arcs independent of (although influenced by) Tommy and Mitch. I could’ve used a little more of both of them — not that Parks short-changed them in any way, but their stories were so interesting that I would’ve enjoyed it. Alternatively, by the end of the book (especially in light of The Whistle Blower), I was surprised how little time we got with Mitch Dupree — again, it’s not that he was short-changed, I just would’ve assumed we’d have more time with him. And what time we do have with him was by and large mediated through Tommy or his wife.

Beyond that, all the characters are well-drawn, well-developed and the kind that you would like to spend more time with. Parks has always displayed a great knack at creating characters that you can easily imagine coming across in real life — no matter their walk of life. They’re not all good people (particularly those who are aligned with the cartel), but they’re all believable people.

Before I get back to what Parks did right, I have a couple of problems that I want to talk about — as always, I’m afraid that the amount of space I spend talking about them is going to give the idea that I had real problems with the book as a whole. I didn’t. It’s just a couple of issues — issues that take more space to explain than the bits I like take. Still, they’re worth talking about.

I’m not 100% convinced that Parks adequately gets the point across about how dangerous this cartel that Tommy’s mixed up in is. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like he portrays them as cuddly or anything. But I’m still not sure I got a large sense of threat and doom from them–Tommy and Dupree carry that sense, they’re adequately scared (especially Dupree), but I’m not sure that Parks gets the readers to be. I know he’s capable of it, I’m just not sure he did it here.

Similarly, I think he could’ve done a better job depicting life in the minimum security prison, the daily ins and outs — the lack of privacy, the loneliness, the hardships. I’m struggling for words here — the deprivations from a life of liberty that make prison a place you want to avoid, even a minimum security prison.. . It honestly felt like Tommy had an easier time getting up to stuff (including out-of-the-building excursions) in the middle of the night than Harry, Ron and Hermione did at Hogwarts. Or to put it in a different light — Say Nothing‘s Scott Sampson’s pretty sizeable home and nice office, felt far more confining than the prison did. And the small house that Melanie Barrick called home in Closer Than You Know seemed much more restricting and frightening than Tommy’s incarceration (as did the county jail she spent time in).

That said — what Parks was able to convey very strongly was the life-and-death nature of the situation that Tommy, Dupree, and Dupree’s wife was in. Also, the questions of identity, the future consequences of everyone’s actions loomed large here and dominated their thoughts, motives and actions. Where Scott and Melanie’s stories were much more immediate in their focus (yes, with long-range repercussions, but a very intense focus on the immediate future), Tommy’s story and his own focus is on the future. He spends very little time thinking about the now of things, most of his eye is on a decade away — which is likely tied in to his sentence.

As I mentioned earlier, when things started going bad for Tommy, they went really bad — and the rest of the book didn’t lighten up on him. It’s almost as if Parks lulled readers into letting their guard down before hitting them hard (actually, it’s probably exactly that). The twists and turns start to come fast and relentlessly. The beginning of the book is interesting and winning — and then once the hook is set, Parks just messes with you and you can’t relax until everything is over. In his previous stand-alones, Parks pretty much kept the tension and suspense going from the first chapter theory the end. In this book, he saved almost all of it until the end, so it hits you harder. So it stops being about characters that you’d like to see succeed or find out more about, to characters that you like and have to know if they’re going to survive with their wits, health and family intact — and you have to know it right now.

About the same time that things got intense, I had a realization — I think I’ve figured out what makes Parks’ novels work so well, how he gets his readers to commit — in The Last Act — and everything else he writes — what matters most is family. Ultimately, all his books are celebrations of family, and what people will go through for the sake of family. It’s tucked away in some of the Carter Ross books — but, without going back to reread any, I’m pretty sure its there. But especially in his stand-alones, this is Parks’ recurring theme. It’s the way he connects his audience to whatever his protagonist is going through and to the protagonists themselves. There’s something instinctive, primal about the way that Parks portrays family and the lengths that individuals will go through for them — whether the family is just starting or well-established. something that Tommy and Dupree have a conversation about made that click with/for me — and thinking about it is the only thing that got me to think about putting this book down for a moment.

I’ve yet to be disappointed by a Parks book, I’ve enjoyed all of them — and this is no exception. I do think there’s something special about this one, both in Park’s construction of the novel and what it’s saying about the characters. He takes some risks, and does some things he hadn’t done before, and I was pleased to see the results. There’s a lot of heart in The Last Act, a lot of tension, and more hope than you might expect. There’s also some things said about the drug war and the prison system that are worth reflecting on. I’m not sure what else I can say to convince you to try this, so I’ll just call that good.

Disclaimer: I received this ARC from Dutton Books, which did not influence anything I had to say about it — it just means I was able to say something about it before the publication date. I do thank them for the opportunity, however.

—–

4 Stars

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The Last Act by Brad Parks: He’s in the jailhouse now

The Last ActThe Last Act

by Brad Parks


ARC, 368 pg.
Dutton Books, 2019

Read: February 26 – 27, 2019

Inspired by the Wachovia Bank scandal from a few years back, Brad Parks’ third stand-alone is a departure in a sense from his previous two. Rather than crimes close to home for his protagonists, this is crime on an international scale, with most of the figures involved never laying eyes on each other.

Mitch Dupree was a high-level bank executive who was convicted of aiding a Mexican drug cartel by laundering a lot of money. He’s been sentenced to a minimum security prison in West Virginia. If after reading this — or even while reading it — you want a few more details about what happened with Dupree before the novel starts (or more specifics about the events leading up to his arrest), check out the prequel short story, The Whistle Blower. He has made it known both far and wide that he has a large amount of evidence against the cartel tucked away safely — and as long as he and/or his family are alive, that evidence stays hidden.

Naturally, the DEA, FBI and the cartel want to get their hands on it — and are willing to do some above and beyond work to get it.

Enter Tommy Jump — he’d risen to fame and prominence (and a Tony nomination) as a child on Broadway, but as he aged into adulthood the parts dried up. He’s on the verge of calling it quits — at least for a couple of decades. He’s approached by a childhood friend, Danny Ruiz, flashing a shiny FBI badge and an interesting job offer. Danny and his partner, Rick Gilmartin, want Tommy to go undercover with an assumed identity of a bank robber and serve time in the same prison. He has six months to get close to Dupree, win his trust and get the location of the documents. If the intelligence he gathers leads to indictments, he gets a hefty bonus on top of the pretty nice initial paycheck (all the funds come from civil forfeiture, and the well seems to run pretty deep). Given that his fiancé — a painter waiting to be discovered — just told him she was pregnant, any kind of pay-day sounds good to an out-of-work actor, one with a pay-day that could set them up for years? How can he pass that up?

The early stages of the plan go pretty smoothly — Tommy’s given a new identity, develops a cover story and is sentenced to the same prison. He arrives and gets settled — not really making friends, but getting well acquainted with fellow inmates, who show him the ropes and help him get acclimated. It goes so smoothly, actually, that it bugged me a little. Sure, he’s an actor, but this isn’t a play, there’s no script, and it seems easy. But, Tommy’s such a likeable guy, a winning narrator that I just kept shrugging off my skepticism and rolled with it — I wanted things to work out for Tommy and Amanda, I wanted to see what happened with Dupree — so whatever it took to get me to seeing if things would work out for them I could accept.

And then — because this is a thriller, because Parks is good at torturing his readers (that’s why we keep coming back), and because no one is as lucky as Tommy seemed to be — everything got nearly impossible. On a dime, the momentum changes and suddenly thing look incredibly grim for Tommy, Amanda, Dupree and several other characters. Naturally, at the same time the bottom fell out and I was reeling from a pretty significant reveal, my lunch break ended and I had to get back to work with no time to process things. I know it’s stupid, but it felt like Parks planned it that way.

The novel alternates between Tommy chapters and chapters with Amanda, one of the cartel’s higher-ups and his efforts to find the evidence, Danny and Rick, and Mitch Dupree’s wife. I was honestly surprised how much time we got with Amanda and Mrs. Dupree — both of whom had their own character arcs independent of (although influenced by) Tommy and Mitch. I could’ve used a little more of both of them — not that Parks short-changed them in any way, but their stories were so interesting that I would’ve enjoyed it. Alternatively, by the end of the book (especially in light of The Whistle Blower), I was surprised how little time we got with Mitch Dupree — again, it’s not that he was short-changed, I just would’ve assumed we’d have more time with him. And what time we do have with him was by and large mediated through Tommy or his wife.

Beyond that, all the characters are well-drawn, well-developed and the kind that you would like to spend more time with. Parks has always displayed a great knack at creating characters that you can easily imagine coming across in real life — no matter their walk of life. They’re not all good people (particularly those who are aligned with the cartel), but they’re all believable people.

Before I get back to what Parks did right, I have a couple of problems that I want to talk about — as always, I’m afraid that the amount of space I spend talking about them is going to give the idea that I had real problems with the book as a whole. I didn’t. It’s just a couple of issues — issues that take more space to explain than the bits I like take. Still, they’re worth talking about.

I’m not 100% convinced that Parks adequately gets the point across about how dangerous this cartel that Tommy’s mixed up in is. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like he portrays them as cuddly or anything. But I’m still not sure I got a large sense of threat and doom from them–Tommy and Dupree carry that sense, they’re adequately scared (especially Dupree), but I’m not sure that Parks gets the readers to be. I know he’s capable of it, I’m just not sure he did it here.

Similarly, I think he could’ve done a better job depicting life in the minimum security prison, the daily ins and outs — the lack of privacy, the loneliness, the hardships. I’m struggling for words here — the deprivations from a life of liberty that make prison a place you want to avoid, even a minimum security prison.. . It honestly felt like Tommy had an easier time getting up to stuff (including out-of-the-building excursions) in the middle of the night than Harry, Ron and Hermione did at Hogwarts. Or to put it in a different light — Say Nothing‘s Scott Sampson’s pretty sizeable home and nice office, felt far more confining than the prison did. And the small house that Melanie Barrick called home in Closer Than You Know seemed much more restricting and frightening than Tommy’s incarceration (as did the county jail she spent time in).

That said — what Parks was able to convey very strongly was the life-and-death nature of the situation that Tommy, Dupree, and Dupree’s wife was in. Also, the questions of identity, the future consequences of everyone’s actions loomed large here and dominated their thoughts, motives and actions. Where Scott and Melanie’s stories were much more immediate in their focus (yes, with long-range repercussions, but a very intense focus on the immediate future), Tommy’s story and his own focus is on the future. He spends very little time thinking about the now of things, most of his eye is on a decade away — which is likely tied in to his sentence.

As I mentioned earlier, when things started going bad for Tommy, they went really bad — and the rest of the book didn’t lighten up on him. It’s almost as if Parks lulled readers into letting their guard down before hitting them hard (actually, it’s probably exactly that). The twists and turns start to come fast and relentlessly. The beginning of the book is interesting and winning — and then once the hook is set, Parks just messes with you and you can’t relax until everything is over. In his previous stand-alones, Parks pretty much kept the tension and suspense going from the first chapter theory the end. In this book, he saved almost all of it until the end, so it hits you harder. So it stops being about characters that you’d like to see succeed or find out more about, to characters that you like and have to know if they’re going to survive with their wits, health and family intact — and you have to know it right now.

About the same time that things got intense, I had a realization — I think I’ve figured out what makes Parks’ novels work so well, how he gets his readers to commit — in The Last Act — and everything else he writes — what matters most is family. Ultimately, all his books are celebrations of family, and what people will go through for the sake of family. It’s tucked away in some of the Carter Ross books — but, without going back to reread any, I’m pretty sure its there. But especially in his stand-alones, this is Parks’ recurring theme. It’s the way he connects his audience to whatever his protagonist is going through and to the protagonists themselves. There’s something instinctive, primal about the way that Parks portrays family and the lengths that individuals will go through for them — whether the family is just starting or well-established. something that Tommy and Dupree have a conversation about made that click with/for me — and thinking about it is the only thing that got me to think about putting this book down for a moment.

I’ve yet to be disappointed by a Parks book, I’ve enjoyed all of them — and this is no exception. I do think there’s something special about this one, both in Park’s construction of the novel and what it’s saying about the characters. He takes some risks, and does some things he hadn’t done before, and I was pleased to see the results. There’s a lot of heart in The Last Act, a lot of tension, and more hope than you might expect. There’s also some things said about the drug war and the prison system that are worth reflecting on. I’m not sure what else I can say to convince you to try this, so I’ll just call that good.

Disclaimer: I received this ARC from Dutton Books, which did not influence anything I had to say about it — it just means I was able to say something about it before the publication date. I do thank them for the opportunity, however.

—–

4 Stars

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.

—–

4 1/2 Stars

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.

—–

4 1/2 Stars

Pub Day Repost: Say Nothing by Brad Parks

Say NothingSay Nothing

by Brad Parks
eARC, 448 pg.
Dutton Books, 2017
Read: January 19 – 21, 2016

Since his debut novel, Faces of the Gone in 2009, I’ve considered myself a Brad Parks fan — but when I heard that he was going to step away from his series for a stand-alone, I got a little nervous. Maybe I wasn’t a Brad Parks fan — maybe I was just a Carter Ross fan. Honestly, the parts of the Carter Ross novels that he doesn’t narrate aren’t my favorite. Also, we all know all too well that for every Suspect or Mystic River, series writers can give us a The Two Minute Rule or Shutter Island — maybe grabbing this book was going to be a mistake.

Thankfully, it wasn’t.

While working on this post, I saw this from Sue Grafton talking about Say Nothing: “Terrific book. Truly terrific. Tension throughout and tears at the end. What could be better than that?” I’m a little annoyed by this, honestly. That’s pretty much how I was going to sum up things for this post. Frankly, I wish Grafton would focus her efforts on finding another 5 letters between X and Z rather than preemptively stealing my lines.

We meet Judge Scott Sampson a few minutes after the biggest crisis of his life has started — and a few minutes before he leans about it. Once you get to learn Sampson a little, you’ll see that the bar for biggest crisis for him is set a little higher than for most. He’s informed that his twin children have been kidnapped and is provided some pretty compelling reasons to believe that he’s under surveillance (and will soon be given even more reason to believe that). Basically, the message he gets is this: if you want to see you children alive and well, you will do what we tell you to with a case. There are a few tests he has to pass to demonstrate his compliance — tests that may do lasting damage to his career. But Sampson is eager to prove that he will do whatever he’s asked for his children, consequences notwithstanding.

This isn’t going to be an overnight escapade — in fact, for Sampson and his wife (how have I failed to mention Allison?), this is an ordeal of indefinite duration. The stress, the worry, the intense reaction to this situation begins taking its toll almost immediately. These pressures test their individual ethics, bring secrets to light, expose and exacerbate problems in their marriage, and generally bring them both to the breaking point. They are also both driven to discover their inner-Liam Neeson in order to get their daughter (and son) back — neither, really possess a particular set of skills fitting this goal, sadly. These attempts just make their personal and interpersonal woes worse — and their lives continue spinning out of their control.

There is a relentlessness to the pace that’s a pleasure — and a drain. Jack Reacher gets a good night’s sleep and enjoys coffee (and the less than occasional romantic interlude), Harry Bosch has jazz to relax him, Elvis Cole has that cat and Tai Chi — as intense as things may get, by and large these guys get a break. But for Scott and Allison — their children don’t stop being kidnapped, and whatever solace they might find in alcohol, sleep or family — it’s a temporary band-aid at best.

This doesn’t mean that it’s not an enjoyable read — Scott is a charming character and you will like him as you learn more about his life and family. You will not approve of every move he makes here (I guess you might, but I hope you don’t), but on the whole you will understand why he makes them and won’t judge him too harshly. Whoops, I was talking about tone here — I had fun with this, even as I was feeling a shadow of the pressure Scott and Allison are under, I even laughed once. There’s a real sense of peril when the narration focuses on the children — but it never feels exploitative.

Like most readers will, I had a couple of pretty compelling theories about who was behind everything (and why), and focused on the correct one pretty early on. Which didn’t stop me from being taken aback when it Parks revealed it — he really handled that well. Another weakness comes in the last couple of pages where Parks ties up a few loose ends, and a couple of them feel too tidy. But it’s instantly forgivable, and you want these characters to have something tidy after all they’ve gone through. On the whole, however, the characters and situations are complex and real (if heightened) — Parks nailed this whole thing. I think this will hold up to at least one repeat reading — the second read might even be more rewarding since you can appreciate what Parks is doing without being distracted by wondering what’ll happen.

The tears that Grafton mentioned? Yeah, she got that part right, too.

This is a thriller filled with real people and situations that you can believe. You’ll run the emotional gamut a time or two while reading this and will wish you could read faster just so you can make sure these kids make it home. I think I like the Carter Ross books more than this, but it’s in Say Nothing that Parks finds his stride as a crime fiction writer. Really well done.

By the way, It turns out that I am a fan of Brad Parks. Phew.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Dutton via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this, although my Primary Care Physician probably isn’t crazy about what it did to my blood pressure .

—–

4 1/2 Stars

Say Nothing by Brad Parks

Say NothingSay Nothing

by Brad Parks

eARC, 448 pg.
Dutton Books, 2017

Read: January 19 – 21, 2016


Since his debut novel, Faces of the Gone in 2009, I’ve considered myself a Brad Parks fan — but when I heard that he was going to step away from his series for a stand-alone, I got a little nervous. Maybe I wasn’t a Brad Parks fan — maybe I was just a Carter Ross fan. Honestly, the parts of the Carter Ross novels that he doesn’t narrate aren’t my favorite. Also, we all know all too well that for every Suspect or Mystic River, series writers can give us a The Two Minute Rule or Shutter Island — maybe grabbing this book was going to be a mistake.

Thankfully, it wasn’t.

While working on this post, I saw this from Sue Grafton talking about Say Nothing: “Terrific book. Truly terrific. Tension throughout and tears at the end. What could be better than that?” I’m a little annoyed by this, honestly. That’s pretty much how I was going to sum up things for this post. Frankly, I wish Grafton would focus her efforts on finding another 5 letters between X and Z rather than preemptively stealing my lines.

We meet Judge Scott Sampson a few minutes after the biggest crisis of his life has started — and a few minutes before he leans about it. Once you get to learn Sampson a little, you’ll see that the bar for biggest crisis for him is set a little higher than for most. He’s informed that his twin children have been kidnapped and is provided some pretty compelling reasons to believe that he’s under surveillance (and will soon be given even more reason to believe that). Basically, the message he gets is this: if you want to see you children alive and well, you will do what we tell you to with a case. There are a few tests he has to pass to demonstrate his compliance — tests that may do lasting damage to his career. But Sampson is eager to prove that he will do whatever he’s asked for his children, consequences notwithstanding.

This isn’t going to be an overnight escapade — in fact, for Sampson and his wife (how have I failed to mention Allison?), this is an ordeal of indefinite duration. The stress, the worry, the intense reaction to this situation begins taking its toll almost immediately. These pressures test their individual ethics, bring secrets to light, expose and exacerbate problems in their marriage, and generally bring them both to the breaking point. They are also both driven to discover their inner-Liam Neeson in order to get their daughter (and son) back — neither, really possess a particular set of skills fitting this goal, sadly. These attempts just make their personal and interpersonal woes worse — and their lives continue spinning out of their control.

There is a relentlessness to the pace that’s a pleasure — and a drain. Jack Reacher gets a good night’s sleep and enjoys coffee (and the less than occasional romantic interlude), Harry Bosch has jazz to relax him, Elvis Cole has that cat and Tai Chi — as intense as things may get, by and large these guys get a break. But for Scott and Allison — their children don’t stop being kidnapped, and whatever solace they might find in alcohol, sleep or family — it’s a temporary band-aid at best.

This doesn’t mean that it’s not an enjoyable read — Scott is a charming character and you will like him as you learn more about his life and family. You will not approve of every move he makes here (I guess you might, but I hope you don’t), but on the whole you will understand why he makes them and won’t judge him too harshly. Whoops, I was talking about tone here — I had fun with this, even as I was feeling a shadow of the pressure Scott and Allison are under, I even laughed once. There’s a real sense of peril when the narration focuses on the children — but it never feels exploitative.

Like most readers will, I had a couple of pretty compelling theories about who was behind everything (and why), and focused on the correct one pretty early on. Which didn’t stop me from being taken aback when it Parks revealed it — he really handled that well. Another weakness comes in the last couple of pages where Parks ties up a few loose ends, and a couple of them feel too tidy. But it’s instantly forgivable, and you want these characters to have something tidy after all they’ve gone through. On the whole, however, the characters and situations are complex and real (if heightened) — Parks nailed this whole thing. I think this will hold up to at least one repeat reading — the second read might even be more rewarding since you can appreciate what Parks is doing without being distracted by wondering what’ll happen.

The tears that Grafton mentioned? Yeah, she got that part right, too.

This is a thriller filled with real people and situations that you can believe. You’ll run the emotional gamut a time or two while reading this and will wish you could read faster just so you can make sure these kids make it home. I think I like the Carter Ross books more than this, but it’s in Say Nothing that Parks finds his stride as a crime fiction writer. Really well done.

By the way, It turns out that I am a fan of Brad Parks. Phew.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Dutton via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this, although my Primary Care Physician probably isn’t crazy about what it did to my blood pressure.

—–

4 1/2 Stars

The Fraud by Brad Parks

The FraudThe Fraud

by Brad Parks

Series: Carter Ross, #6

Hardcover, 342 pg.
Minotaur Books, 2015
Read: September 9, 2015

The ethical dilemma posited aside, I hated the first chapter. If I’d never read a Brad Parks book before, it might have caused me to move on to the next thing on my reading list. The cheap “in 43 hours, X, Y, and Z are going to happen…” ploy irritates me. Just get me invested with setting, plot, or character. Present one or all of these in an interesting manner and I’ll get invested. Don’t force the investment. Don’t jam it down my throat. Also, there was a perfect point 300 or so pages later that it would’ve fit.

Thankfully, Chapter 2 was much better, as was the rest of the book. This was the typical Parks mix of darkness and light, grim stories told with a light touch. A newspaper reporter trying to live up to the tradition of the great investigative journalists of the past in the midst of an industry that’s dying and doesn’t care about that tradition.

Carter seems to be off his game a little here, making a couple of blunders that seem out of character — but given that he spends the whole novel waiting for That Call from his pregnant girlfriend, it’s understandable. It also helps move the novel along nicely, so, it’s easier to swallow (especially while reading).

There’s a string of carjackings in Newark, and a couple have proved deadly. Naturally, the one that makes people pay attention is a well-off middle-aged white man. Carter just can’t write about him though, he seeks out another carjacking that resulted in a murder, this time of a less well-off black man. It doesn’t take long before Carter’s sure it was the same carjackers, and that there’s something else going on besides Grand Theft Auto.

There’s not much (beyond the strange relationship between Carter and Tina) that really seems to be the same from novel to novel in this series. The cases don’t overlap really, which is refreshing. Carter can’t rely on the same sources of information all the time — which doesn’t preclude some returning supporting characters, but also keeps things fresh on that front. The corner bodega shop owner in The Fraud was entertaining, and I hope we see him again down the line. Other characters here — friends and family of the victims, sources of information, and so on — were well-drawn and engaging as usual.

Easily one of the more entertaining aspects of the Carter Ross books are the interns — from savvy to naive, hapless to ruthlessly efficient, these characters make you fear for the state of journalism (or give you great hope). This books’ intern, Chillax, annoyed me greatly in the first couple of pages we spent with him. He clearly rubbed Carter the wrong way, too. Which did provide a grin or three. Case in point, we first meet him like this:

“Hey, what’s up, brah?”

I am unsure what youthful genius decided that the word “bro”–which is already an effective truncation of the word “brother” – – needed to be further morphed so it was pronounced like a woman’s undergarment. But it was my hope this linguistic pioneer developed some affliction that was similarly annoying. Like a permanent hangnail.

In the end, Chillax proved to be a little bit more than comic relief, but when we see past interns in this book, we see how little.

The comedic elements, as always, separate this from the pack, they season, but don’t overwhelm the mystery. There was one big joke moment (maybe two, actually) that any reader is going to see coming 5 miles off — but Parks is such a pro that even they work. The more elaborate of them (you’ll know when you read it) is cringe-worthy, totally expected and totally chuckle inducing. The Fletch joke was nice. This summer we’ve had jokes about the movie from Parks and Kuhn, one more and we’ve got a trend.

Parks threw a couple of curve balls that I whiffed on. There’s one shadowy figure that I had pegged to be character type X. Not only was he not X, Y or Z, he was more like D. I was that far off. I also did not see the ending coming (well, the solution to the criminals’ identities I saw because I knew more than Carter), but the rest? Didn’t expect that from a Carter Ross book.

There’s one thing that doesn’t make any sense to me, one character’s motivation and actions that made sense with one interpretation of the facts, are just irrational when looked at in the light of the way Carter finally puts the pieces together. The way that Parks wrapped up the action and provided glimpses into what happened with the major players didn’t allow for him to get into details about the red herrings he chased, but this one was big enough that an explanation would’ve helped.

Good characters, entertaining plot; actually, the mystery itself might be pretty weak, the more I think about it, but it was fun watching Carter figure it out, which is the point. The Fraud, solidifies the Carter Ross series as a reliable mystery series.

—–

3.5 Stars