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.

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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

Review Catch Up: Broken Homes; Black Arts; The Player; Speaking from Among the Bones

I’ve got a backlog of 50 or so reviews I’ve been meaning to write — some of them, I just have to admit aren’t going to get done. But I’m going to try my level best. The four books I’ve decided to tackle in one fell swoop are books I enjoyed, from series I enjoy, and yet I’ve had trouble reviewing them. In the end, I decided that was because by and large, I don’t have anything to say about these books that I haven’t said about others in the series.

But I do want 1. clear these off my to-do list and 2. more importantly, encourage readers to give these a look. So, without further ado:

Broken Homes (Peter Grant, #4)Broken Homes

by Ben Aaronovitch
Series: The Rivers of London, #4

Mass Market Paperback, 324 pg.
DAW, 2014
Read: February 15, 2014

The plot took its own sweet time getting where it was going, with a lot of strange little turns here and there — which works because it’s probably what actual policemen go through investigating a crime. But almost doesn’t work because it makes it feel like Aaronovitch didn’t pace this correctly (which is silly, because he did).

I really, really liked the undercover stuff. The conclusion is probably the best that this series has been. It’d be great if Peter learned a bit more though, his stumbling efforts are amusing, but it’s time for more proficiency.

I’m eager for the next one of these (and would be even without the big twist) — such a great world he’s created here, and I want to learn more about it and the characters that inhabit it.
4 Stars

—–

Black Arts (Jane Yellowrock, #7)Black Arts

by Faith Hunter
Series: Jane Yellowrock, #7
Mass Market Paperback, 325 pg.
Roc, 2014
Read: March 25 – 29, 2014

What’s to say about this one, that I haven’t said about other books in the series already?

The action’s tight, the vamp politics and Jane’s interaction with it are pretty interesting, Faith’s coming to grips with more of her background was really compelling, and her growing relationship with the brothers is fun.

Obviously, this is the most personal case that Jane’s had yet — for someone to be messing around with Molly, that’s just beyond the pale. Those raised stakes (pun fully intended), and the ongoing drama with Leo’s grip on the New Orleans vampires made this the best of the series.
4 Stars

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The Player: A Mystery (Carter Ross, #5)The Player

by Brad Parks
Series: Carter Ross, #5

Hardcover, 336 pg.
Minotaur Books, 2014
Read: April 1 – 4, 2014

What’s to say about this one, that I haven’t said about other books in the series already?

A lot of fun — great characters, love Carter’s voice, everything that you want to see in a Carter Ross novel was here — twisty conspiracy, some good laughs, Carter’s personal life in shambles. It was nice to meet his family.

Sadly, I’m at a loss for words here (something that never seems to be Carter’s problem), this was a lot of fun. I want a lot more of these.
4 Stars

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Speaking from Among the Bones (Flavia de Luce, #5 )Speaking from Among the Bones

by Alan Bradley

Hardcover, 372 pg.
Delacorte Press, 2013
May 16 – 14, 2014

Flavia’s her typical charming, precocious, incorrigible self. Perhaps a bit more clever than we’ve seen her before, definitely with less a sense of self-preservation than we’ve seen previously. Her sisters are a bit, more human? Or maybe Flavia’s portraying them more honestly/more sympathetically. The financial pressures her father’s under are more and more pressing, causing everyone to be a bit more realistic, it seems.

Still, that doesn’t deter Flavia from doing her thing when a body is discovered. It’s everything you want in a Flavia de Luce novel — very, very smart conclusion to this mystery.
3 Stars

The Good Cop: A Mystery by Brad Parks

The Good Cop: A MysteryThe Good Cop: A Mystery by Brad Parks
Series: Carter Ross, #4

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

From the opening pages of Faces of the Gone, I could tell that Parks could tell a good story, and a compelling mystery while making you laugh. He’s only gotten better each novel since — which hardly seems fair.

Not that I’m complaining.

There were times when I thought the mystery this time was a tad predictable, but there were enough twists to keep my interest — and the way Parks writes, plus the subplots and characters made it more than enough. Parks makes me laugh out loud frequently — without turning these books into a sit-com like Janet Evanovich would. It’s real humor in the midst of suspense — like early Robert B. Parker or Robert Crais (remember when Elvis Cole was funny?)

My biggest gripe is that Parks only puts out one of these a year.

Dusted Off (and updated): Faces of the Gone by Brad Parks

Faces of the Gone (Carter Ross Mystery #1)Faces of the Gone by Brad Parks
Series: Carter Ross, #1

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was a solid mystery novel from a first-time novelist who doesn’t write like a first timer (a career as a newspaper reporter helped a lot there, natch). Some of the characters bordered on stock, but Parks used them well enough that you just don’t care. Same with the mystery itself–on the whole, it was pretty obvious, but it was the telling of the story that sold it. Thoroughly entertaining — I even laughed out loud a couple of times.

Looking forward to the next one.

P. S. It’s been a couple of years since I’ve read this one (I have read it twice, however). I think given the world he created, and the way things have played out in the following books. And just my overall appreciation for Parks, I’d probably give this at least 4-4.5 stars now. But I’ll stick to my original grade, just to be honest. Just know that these three stars are very shiny.