The Freedom Broker by K. J. Howe

The Freedom BrokerThe Freedom Broker

by K. J. Howe
Series: Thea Paris, #1

Hardcover, 361 pg.
Quercus, 2017

Read: November 6 – 7, 2017


Thea Paris is such a cool character — she’s like a combination of Charlie Fox and Vanessa Michael Munroe — but with a very different load of emotional baggage. When she was a child, her brother was sleeping in her room to help her make it through a hard night when he was kidnapped. She’s spent the following decades convinced that the only reason he was kidnapped is that the abductors thought he was Thea. Yes, he eventually made it back safely, but he was (obviously) never the same, and Thea used that to fuel her mission in life. Her father is the tycooniest of American Oil Tycoons, and she could’ve easily rested on his laurels, or followed in the family business.

But no, Thea is in private security, with an emphasis on K&R (Kidnapping and Ransom). She’s the one negotiating with kidnappers/their representatives to get a ransom paid and the victim returned to his home/family/nation/company. When that doesn’t work, Thea will lead the extraction team doing what they can to bring te victim home. She’s one of the best around. She is not perfect, and we see that right off, but she gets the job done well.

Which is good, because on the verge of one of the biggest deals of his life, Thea’s father, Christos, is kidnapped. It’s up to her, some allies and friends to bring him home. There are several candidates for the kidnapper’s identity — there’s the Chinese oil corporations competing with her father, there are representatives of the African nation that kidnapped her brother all those years ago, there’s an arms dealer that has rumors flying, too. In the midst of this hunt, secrets will be revealed (many Thea will regret learning), and virtually everyone in her life will end up divulging something dark and hidden.

One more thing about Thea — she’s diabetic. Which is an interesting character trait — I can’t think of another action hero with something like that: a real physical condition that requires maintenance, but is manageable and will not ordinarily cause anything more than inconvenience. Sure, it does give us what I’m calling Chekhov’s glucose monitor (not a spoiler, that’s what I put in my notes when it was first mentioned).

I liked the other characters, too — but it’s hard to talk about most of them without getting too heavily into the plot. So let’s just say there are a few people I’m really looking forward to seeing again, and a few that I enjoyed enough this time out, but am very glad they’re in no position to show up again. Just about everyone has a believable motivation — no matter what side of the law and/or morality they fall on — which is just great.

Howe’s prose is tight and the pacing is great. There’s a few times that Thea has the same thought over and over — which is probably realistic, but it seems repetitive (and possibly not trusting the reader enough) to read her conclude “X may have done Y” in a chapter, and then “Y may have been done by X” in the next. But it’s nothing to get too worked up over, I didn’t think. Howe does seem to have a “everything including the kitchen sink” approach to story telling — the number of things that go wrong during Thea’s search for her father, and the number of opponents and obstacles in her way is seemingly endless. I love it, every time you think she’s on a roll and things are going to start going her way, a problem that the reader should’ve seen coming (but almost never does) shows up to derail things again. Sure, eventually, that comes to an end — the book doesn’t go on forever — but not until Howe’s good and ready for it to end. She’s probably getting a new kitchen constructed to hurl at Thea in the next book.

There’s a great mix of action and intrigue, putting clues together and smacking heads, emotional growth and uncovering the past. Like it’s protagonist, The Freedom Broker isn’t perfect, but it gets the job done well. Sign me up for the upcoming sequel, too.

—–

3.5 Stars

2017 Library Love Challenge

Righteous by Joe Ide

RighteousRighteous

by Joe Ide
Series: IQ, #2

Hardcover, 326 pg.
Mulholland Books, 2017

Read: November 3 – 4, 2017


Isaiah Quintabe is back with a couple of dynamite cases. IQ ended with Isaiah stumbling upon the car that killed his brother. So about half of this book is devoted to Isaiah’s renewed efforts to find the man who killed his brother. He quickly concludes that Marcus was not killed in an accident, as he’d believed and the police had included. Rather, it’s pretty clear to him that Marcus was targeted by the driver. So now, Isaiah starts digging — he finds more suspects than he’d prefer, and he starts to have some questions about Marcus’s lifestyle/livelihood.

That story alternates with an actual paying case — Marcus’ girlfriend (and the object of Isaiah’s teenaged affections) comes calling for Isaiah’s help. Her little sister, a gambling addict, and her equally addicted boyfriend are in trouble — they’ve got a Loan Shark gunning for them, and have resorted to some freakishly stupid lengths to get the money they need to get him off their case. These lengths have made them the target of some of the nastiest, deadliest, coldest criminals you’ve ever read. So, Isaiah and Dodson head to Vegas to help them. Dodson is fairly assertive here, not wanting to be relegated to sidekick and PR status, but to been seen as an equal to Isaiah — more of an Elementary‘s Joan Watson than Doyle’s John, without the student-vibe (or Dr. Eric Foreman to Dr. House . . . ugh, there are just too many versions of Holmes to walk an unbeaten path). Which is not to suggest that Ide’s blossoming partnership here is just a retread or a rehash, Dodson just reminds me of Joan a little. There’s a dynamic between these two that you don’t often see in detective duos, outside of police shows where two are forced to work together — a mix of partnership, antagonism, respect, and rivalry.

So why does Isaiah bring him along? Because he’s growing as a person, realizing that he needs social connections, other people in his life — he has a new dog, but that’s not enough. There’s even a longing for something like Dodson’s new family. His work, his trying to make something out of the wreck his life became after Marcus’ death — that’s not enough (nor is it finished) — he wants people around, and Dodson’s the first step.

There’s a couple of criminals wandering around Vegas making life horrible for several people that I’d love to see again — [spoiler] we won’t, and they got what they deserved — but man, I enjoyed them so much. All the “bad guys” (and, wow, were there a lot of them) were much more than your typical mystery novel baddies (even really well-written ones!). They were fully fleshed-out, individuals, with believable (and contradictory) self-interests and motivations.

As compelling as the baddies are, Isaiah is better. And in this book (like IQ) we see one of the ways that Ide is superior to Arthur Conan Doyle. In A Study in Scarlet, we see Holmes as the successful version of himself — on the verge of being a legend, really. Like Athena fully formed, emerging from Zeus’ skull. But IQ is still learning, still fallible — yes, he’s achieved a large measure of success and notoriety, but he’s still making mistakes. He’s good, but he needs more discipline, more patience, less ego, etc. In Righteous, as in IQ, we get the equivalent of Miller’s Batman: Year One and Barr’s Batman: Year Two. He’ll get to the point where his mistakes are more rare and less obvious, no doubt — but he’s not there yet. Combining this aspect of the character and the nascent social life and you’ve got a lot of fodder for character growth.

I’ve recently started reading (for those who don’t read every post) the John Rebus books, plugging my way through the 30 years of history of the character. I’ve received various encouragements from long-time Rebus readers to stick with it, the best is yet to come (not that I was in any danger of dropping it), and that I was reading something special. I can easily see myself giving similar encouragement to someone just starting these books in a decade or so. Isaiah is one of those characters that I can see myself reading for years to come. Between Isaiah and Dodson as characters, and Ide’s style and skill — this series is one to read.

—–

4 Stars
2017 Library Love Challenge

Y is for Yesterday by Sue Grafton

Y is for YesterdayY is for Yesterday

by Sue Grafton
Series: Kinsey Millhone, #25

Hardcover, 483 pg.
Marian Wood Books/Putnam, 2017

Read: October 24 – 27, 2017

…all I had to do was return the retainer and that would have been the end of it.

But I was already hooked. The little terrier in my nature was busy chasing after the problem, throwing dirt up behind me as I dug my little hole. There was a rat down there somewhere and I would have it for my very own.

It’s this attitude that won me to Kinsey’s side, and has kept me reading her.

Fritz McCabe has just been released from prison — ten years after being given the maximum sentence for being part of a murder as a high school student. Now his parents are being blackmailed with the threatened release of a videotape (seeming?) to show him (and the others involved in the murder) participating in a sexual assault on a drunk/high younger girls. If this tape leaks, he will be put back in prison, doing adult time. The legal bills will destroy his family, and they know that the blackmailer’s demands will eventually do the same. Kinsey’s hired by the parents to put an end to the blackmail. She is, rightly, horrified by the events on the tape, but wants to help the parents.

While she investigates what happened to the tape for the decade-plus since the murder (and the brief time between the making of the tape and the murder), Kinsey investigates the events surrounding the creation of the tape (how consensual was it?, was it just a joke by all involved?) — and keeps brushing up against the murder. What actually happened? We get flashbacks to the day of the murder (and the lead up to it), so that we see a lot more than Kinsey will get exposed to through memories, dishonest witnesses, and news stories. It’s pretty obvious to the reader what actually happened in 1979, and what’s probably going on in 1989, early on — we don’t get the full picture until Kinsey does, but then it’s just confirmation. The final reveal on this was nevertheless very satisfactory — possibly the best part of the book.

Meanwhile, the serial killer from X is still lurking around, trying to find some of the evidence he left behind — and is harassing Kinsey while at it. This is by far the most interesting of the stories, but it can’t seem to keep Kinsey’s attention the way it should. She even notes that herself — clearly it’s something she doesn’t want to think about, and who can blame her? But how do you not think about it? The ending to this story wasn’t as satisfying to me, but it worked, and wasn’t (exactly) what you’d expect.

The flashbacks didn’t work as well for me as they have in previous novels, I’m not sure that I can put my finger on why, but Grafton didn’t pull it off as well. It could be related to the fact that everyone in this story was thoroughly unpleasant — the only person you could kind of like was the girl you knew was going to die. Actually, I liked her a lot — even though in the opening chapter I knew she was going to be dead for a decade by the time Kinsey gets involved. One other member of the group who served time related to the murder has made the best of his life that he can following his release from prison — he’s really turned his life around, and I could admire him (in 1989).

Once things heat up on the serial killer side of things, I really liked everyone involved — it was a collection of great characters. As I write this, I realize just how much I wish the book focused on this story (I honestly didn’t realize that until now). It is really hard to talk about, however, beyond what I’ve said already, so I’ll just leave it at that.

There’s a few things going on in her personal life — with Henry, her cousin, Jonah, etc. I’m not going to bother with it, typical judgmental, cantankerous Kinsey — and that’s about it. I don’t think I’ve ever got too concerned about historical accuracies in these books before, but there were a couple of things that people said that just didn’t seem like 1989 to me, maybe mid-90s. But it didn’t distract me too much or take me out of the story for too long (which is the make or break thing for me when it comes to this kind of thing).

It wasn’t bad, but it sure wasn’t good — Y is for Yesterday will scratch the itch that long-term Kinsey fans have, but won’t do much for newer readers.

—–

3 Stars

2017 Library Love Challenge

The Hanging Garden by Ian Rankin

The Hanging GardenThe Hanging Garden

by Ian Rankin
Series: John Rebus, #9

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

Read: October 4 – 6, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—–

4 Stars

2017 Library Love Challenge

Ghost Hero by S. J. Rozan

Ghost HeroGhost Hero

by SJ Rozan
Series: Lydia Chin & Bill Smith, #11

Hardcover, 325 pg.
Minotaur Books, 2011

Read: October 13 – 16, 2017


So, Lydia Chin is approached by a potential client who is clearly lying about his identity about some paintings that are rumored to be in New York, and potentially on sale soon. This client really wants to establish a name for himself in Contemporary Chinese Art, and owning these paintings — preferably before they go on sale — will go a long way toward that. Here’s the trick, no one knows if they really do exist, or where they might be. Still the rumors persist, and in the “where there’s smoke, there’s fire” kind of thinking, they’ve got to exist. The trick is that the artist was killed in the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989. The client wants her to find them, prove they’re real (ideally), and help him get the leg up on the competition.

Like I said, Lydia doesn’t trust the man, and doesn’t understand why he picked her, but his cash is good and she’s curious (about him, the paintings, why he might want the paintings). So she takes the case, but doesn’t know where to start. Luckily, her partner, Bill Smith knows just the guy to talk to — another Chinese PI. Second generation ABC, from the Midwest, Jack Lee has an art degree and mostly looks into stolen and questionable art. Really, he’s the ideal PI to look for these paintings — and it turns out that someone else thought so, too and already hired him to do that. The three decide to work together on this, each playing to their own strengths.

From there, they dive deep into the New York Art Scene — at least those that brush up against Chinese Art — there are people who care about art, people who care about influence and money, and those who really, really care about art. Some care so much that Jack Lee gets shot at more than once. There are other threats as well — the idea that Chau might still be alive is a pretty hot political topic, and various governmental entities seem interested in what Lydia is up to.

The case is pretty interesting — and the various people that the trio interacts with are so interesting, so colorful, occasionally so despicable. The solution that Lydia cooks up is worthy of Blackadder’s Baldrick, but I kind of liked it. It works as a solution in a novel (I hope nothing like this would happen in real life). The ultimate reveal was a bit too obvious, but I still enjoyed it — and the rest of the mystery made up for it.

I’ve said time and time again, I love reading the back-and-forth between Lydia and Bill — adding Jack to that seems like a gamble. Thankfully, it worked wonderfully, he fits in with the two of them so wonderfully well that you wish he’d been around for a couple of novels previously to this. It almost doesn’t matter if the plot behind the book was entertaining, just get the three of these guys around a beverage or two and it’s worth it.

On the one hand, I’m kind of with Lydia in not understanding why someone would come to her to look for this — art isn’t her thing. On the other hand, she dealt with art dealers in China Trade, Chinese heirlooms in Reflecting the Sky, missing jewels in The Shanghai Moon (which yeah, is sort of precious minerals, but the art aspect of the Moon seems as/more important than the gems). So it’s not like she’s an utter novice. Sure, going to Bill Smith or Matt Scudder would seem like a bad move — but Lydia’s a good choice for this case (not as obvious a choice as Jack Lee, I grant you). And how could I not think of another PI in New York?

There was one thing I was disappointed in: I was truly hoping/expecting that this book would contain a clue (if not more) about why this was the last book to be published in the series — and given the 6 years that have passed since then, it seems pretty likely that this was it for the series. I’m assuming that it wasn’t planned, but can’t find any information about it (which means that someone’s going to come along in half an hour with a link to 15,000 words about the reason for this.) Update: A few hours after posting this, Rozan assured me that the series is not over, which is great to hear

A fun, fast-paced read that is enjoyable, engaging and all around entertaining — which is pretty much a great way to describe any novel from Lydia Chin’s point of view. Give this one a shot and then pick up the others (or pick up the others, and then this one — either way).

—–

4 Stars

2017 Library Love Challenge

IQ by Joe Ide

IQIQ

by Joe Ide
Series: IQ, #1

Hardcover, 321 pg.
Mulholland Books, 2016

Read: September 18 – 19, 2017


The book opens with a criminal in the making, and a very slapstick-y incident. But even while grinning about that, you get the sense that this character isn’t going to be good for more laughs. He’s not — but thankfully, we don’t have to spend a lot of time on him, because Isaiah Quintabe (a.k.a. IQ) finishes his blossoming criminal career. Which is very effective way to introduce Isaiah, the unlicensed investigator, and his world to readers.

After this, we spend some more time with our modern-day Sherlock of South Central LA. He needs money, not another case that he takes on in return for some homemade cookies or something, he’s got a couple of big bills heading his way and requires cash to take care of things. His need for an infusion of cash forces him to align himself with a former friend (there’s a very good reason for that “former”) with a tie to a well-paying client. The client is a famous rapper who is convinced that someone is trying to kill him — he happens to be right, I should add, which makes the book a lot more interesting. (obviously, an investigator looking into a paranoid delusion isn’t going to be as action-packed as one looking into a person actually trying to kill someone). This investigation will bring Isaiah and Dodson into the not-as-lucrative-as-it-used-to-be music industry, into marital problems, petty jealousies, and a whole lot closer to pit bulls than at least one of them wants to be. The case is at once a showcase for Isaiah’s talents and something almost too complex for him.

We also get a series of flashbacks to the events that set Isaiah on this path, how he honed his natural abilities and inclinations to become the man he his — an unlicensed PI that helps out people in his neighborhood, many of whom wouldn’t turn to the authorities. So often with a Sherlock-type character, we just get the finished product — the Great Detective at the height of his powers, knowing all sorts of arcane information. But Ide shows us how Isaiah gets this information, how he earned it, improved his reasoning and observation skills. Also the why behind it all — why didn’t Isaiah take his genius into something that would make him more money? Why does he stay where he is? The flashbacks also show us Dodson and Isaiah meeting and falling out.

The two stories intertwine and are pretty equally intriguing, which is a real bonus.

There’s what seems to be an authenticity to the world Ide portrays — honestly, what do I know about the realities of LA? But it sure feels real, so either way, I guess Ide did his job. The characters — all of them, the good, the bad, the creepy, the slimy and everyone else are wonderfully conceived and executed. The crimes depicted are varied sophisticated (making them worth Isaiah’s time) — and at least one method of assassination is something I’ve never seen before. Ide does a great job of balancing the moods at work, the grim, the hopeful, the silly and all points in between.

There’s a passage in this book that is one of the best brief pieces of writing I’ve read this year, period. As I reread it (at least 5 times), I kept thinking of the Fiction Writing professors I had in college that would’ve made us study it for at least one class session. It’s during the “origin” portion, where Isaiah’s Geometry teacher is explaining inductive reasoning — these four paragraphs give you a strong character, setting, tone, a minor character (and even a brief storyline), a good idea what she looks like, her past, her relationship with her husband — and you get a good working definition of inductive reasoning, too! It’s really great.

This year (most recently, last week), I’ve also talked about another modern Sherlock — Victor Locke. How would I compare the two of these? There’s some similarities, and more than a few differences. At the end of the day, Victor Locke is a lot more amusing and entertaining. Isaiah, on the other hand, I could believe was real (I know he’s not, don’t worry). Isaiah is driven, he’s brilliant, he’s proud, he’s haunted, he has no obvious addictions (phew! wonderful change), he’s a bit more grounded than your typical Holmes-type. Dodson is the least John Watson-y Watson-figure you’ve ever seen, more of a hindrance than an assistant. Thankfully, also he’s not a narrator, and I’m not sure I could’ve handled a book from his point-of-view. It’s hard to summarize, but he works really well in this role.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book from beginning to end, with not a dull moment in between. Isaiah Quintabe is a keeper, and I’m already counting the days until his next book.

—–

4 Stars
2017 Library Love Challenge

The Western Star by Craig Johnson

The Western StarThe Western Star

by Craig Johnson
Series: Walt Longmire, #13

Hardcover, 295 pg.
Viking, 2017

Read: September 15 – 16, 2017


In the last novel, An Obvious Fact, Johnson plays with lines and themes from Sherlock Holmes while letting us get to know that very important woman in Henry Standing Bear’s life while Walt solves a murder. In this book, Johnson plays with Murder on the Orient Express while letting us get to know that very important woman in Walt’s life while Walt solves a murder. It struck me while reading that as large a shadow that Martha Longmire cast over the books (particularly the first few), we really don’t know much about her. We don’t learn that much about her, really, but we see her interact with Walt and Henry — and you walk away with a much better sense of her as a person, not her as the giant hole in Walt’s life.

How do we get this sense? Half of the novel takes place shortly after Walt returns to the States after his time in the Marines, and he’s been employed by Lucian as a deputy for a couple of weeks. Lucian is attending the annual meeting of the Wyoming Sheriff’s Association, and he brings Walt along. This meeting takes place on The Western Star, a passenger train. Shortly after boarding, Walt meets one Sheriff who is convinced that one (or more) of his fellows is murdering people across the state (sort of a Dexter-vibe to the motive), and he needs someone with fresh eyes and a lack of knowledge of the Sheriffs to help with his investigation. This would be Walt, naturally.

Meanwhile, in alternating passages/chapters set in the present, Walt is in Cheyenne for a highly politicized parole hearing (that becomes something a little different) to keep this particular killer behind bars. Johnson’s very good about not tipping his hand about the killer’s identity until Walt uncovers it. While doing so, he stays with Cady and his granddaughter, and annoys some pretty powerful people in the state.

I found the Walt on a Train story entertaining more than intriguing, but the final reveal was well done and made me appreciate it all the more. But while I wasn’t that into the mystery, I really enjoyed watching Deputy Walt and Sheriff Lucian do their thing. It was sad watching Walt’s idealism surrounding the societal/cultural changes that the 60’s promised come into contact with the cold reality that humans take awhile to change. I was really intrigued by the present day story, on the other hand, and wished they could get into more of the details about the case, but it’d have been hard to do while keeping the identity of the killer under wraps.

The events that are revealed after the reveal (in both timelines) will leave fans unsure what to do with themselves until Walt Longmire #14 comes out. I have some thoughts about what that book will end up being, but I’ll hold on to them for now. But it’s going to be something we haven’t seen before.

But this book? Very entertaining, illuminating and the whole time, it slowly but surely reels you in and sets you up for the biggest emotional moments that Johnson has penned to date. Johnson earned the 5th star for me in the last 13 pages.

—–

5 Stars
2017 Library Love Challenge