Fahrenbruary Repost: Know Me from Smoke by Matt Phillips: A heart-wrenching noir love story.

Know Me from SmokeKnow Me from Smoke

by Matt Phillips

Kindle Edition, 193 pg.
Fahrenheit 13, 2018
Read: November 15 – 16, 2018

If you’re looking for an example of noir — in the classic sense — look no farther than Matt Phillips’ Know Me from Smoke. You can tell that’s going to be the case from the opening paragraphs. The first chapter builds on those first three or four paragraphs and sets the atmosphere, the mood, the tone for the rest of the book — and pretty much casts a spell on the reader, too. The second chapter — where we meet our second protagonist firms that up, and from there Phillips builds on this foundation to deliver a book that will stay with you long after you’re done with it.

But let’s step back from that for a minute — we begin by meeting Stella Radney. She’s in her mid-40’s, a lounge singer, and a widow still grieving her murdered husband twenty years after his death. During the robbery that left Virgil dead, Stella was shot as well and the bullet’s still in her hip — a constant reminder that her loss and pain are physical as well as emotional. Both pains seem a bit fresher in the beginning of the book because Stella’s been informed that new DNA technology (unavailable 20 years ago), has led the DA’s office to reopen the case and they hope to have an arrest soon. Stella’s feeling a little raw, hanging on only by more alcohol than is probably good for her and losing her self regularly in the music she performs.

Royal Atkins is a free man, a man with a second chance — a convicted killer released on a technicality and determined to make the best of his second chance. Sadly, a couple of men at his halfway house decide that the best thing for Royal would be to join them and pull a few stickups — and a few other forms of robbery as well. Royal resists — but it’s as clear to him as it is to the reader that this won’t last.

Stella and Royal meet and the chemistry is instantaneous. The chapter where they meet for the first time is possibly the best chapter I’ve read this year — just magic. For obvious reasons, Royal edits the personal history he tells Stella, and his associates from the halfway house use this to blackmail him into going along with them. He’s trying to build a new life, she’s trying to rebuild her life, and neither of them want to be alone in the process.

So we get to watch the growing love story of Stella and Royal, Royal’s history being used against him, the crime spree, and the certainty that this is going to all going to come to a messy end. A little before the halfway point, I put in my notes, “if I stop, some broken people get to live a decent life. If I read another chapter or two, everything will fall apart and lives will be ruined. So tempted to walk away from it.” I really was — I liked these two so much, I wanted to let them have this chance.

But there was no way I was going to stop, Phillips’ prose was too good to abandoned, and I had to see what actually happened to these characters (no matter how inevitable the end seemed). Seriously, I’d have kept reading just so Stella could think about her relationship to music and songs some more — those sections of the book are practically poetry.

There’s conversation between a couple of characters about Pulp Fiction — and Tarantino’s work feels appropriate to this book. But not that movie. Jackie Brown is the movie that this feels like. Maybe the novel, too, but I haven’t read Rum Punch. They’re both from the same species of sweet, second-chance at love story in the middle of a story of crime, criminals and ex-cons.

This is going to go for my entry for “Read a book you chose based on the cover” in the While You Were Reading challenge — it’s not entirely true, but the cover is fantastic and got me to read the blurb a few times, so it’s close enough.

I love that title, too.

There’s just so many things that are right about this book, and so little that’s wrong. This is a winner — it’ll grab you by the heartstrings, will pull you along through the highs and lows of this story, and only let you go some time after you finish (I’m not sure how long that effect will last, but it’s been almost a week and it really hasn’t let go yet).

—–

4 Stars

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Fahrenbruary Repost: Burning Secrets by Ruth Sutton: A Child Abduction Sets Off a Disturbing Chain of Events

I originally posted about this for a blog tour — one of those that I ended up being very glad I participated in, this atmospheric mystery is one to check out.

Burning SecretsBurning Secrets

by Ruth Sutton

Kindle Edition, 264 pg.
Fahrenheit Press, 2018

Read: October 2 – 3, 2018

For a book that clocks in at 264 pages, Sutton packed in a lot of story. I’m having difficulty deciding what to focus on, I’ve got to say. If only all authors could present a guy with such problems . . .

This book starts off with a child abduction — a child, Helen Helsop, that we get to know a little bit before she’s abducted. Immediately I groaned, because the last thing I wanted to deal with is a book about a little girl getting snatched and then dealing with whatever abuse is looming. Without spoiling much, let me assure you — nothing like that happens. This is not that kind of kidnapped child story. This doesn’t mean that she’s been taken for benign or even beneficial reasons, however.

Helen hasn’t been living at home — she’s been staying with family in town so she can attend school. Because theirs is a farming community — predominately, or at least heavily, a dairy and cattle area, and this is 2001 — the height of the Foot and Mouth crisis. I’ll be honest, as an American in a pre-social media age, I didn’t have a strong grasp on the effect this had on smaller farmers — I just never was exposed to it. I got what it meant on the national/industry front, but didn’t think much more about it. If I had, it would’ve been obvious just how much this would decimate a community, an individual family, and why this was such a horrible crisis. Anyway, back to Helen — she hasn’t had a good time of it in this temporary home and is easily persuaded to leave. It’s hours (of course) before anyone notices that she’s missing, and even then, most of her family doesn’t believe she’s actually missing.

Before that, thankfully, the police are called in — we focus on DC Maureen Pritchard — a well-known fixture in the community (not as well-known as her father, however) and the newly-arrived DS Anna Penrose. There’s a little professional jealousy between the two — Pritchard envies another woman in a position she was denied and Penrose would love the acceptance and respect her fellow officers seem to have for Pritchard. But largely, they can put that aside to focus on Helen. It’s obvious from the start that the foster family and Helen’s actual family are both holding back from the police, but it’s hard to tell if it’s germane to the case, or if it’s just things that no one wants to share with outsiders.

This is all so compellingly told — the layers that Sutton is working on are something to behold. She’s excellent at revealing more and more about Pritchard and Penrose while they’re uncovering more about Helen’s life and whoever took her. You could make the case (I think you’d be wrong, but you can make it) that the mystery in this novel takes a back seat to the drama surrounding the women and their superiors. Initially, probably because we meet her first, I was pulling for Pritchard to solve the case, rescue the girl and save the day to put Penrose in her place. But soon, I just wanted the two of them to knock off the nonsense and just work together — preferably by being open with each other about what’s going on. I won’t say if I was ultimately satisfied in that desire, but I can say that Sutton deals with their relationship in a way that is absolutely believable and realistic — a very satisfactory job.

The greatest impediment to the search for Helen isn’t the fact that the family is hiding something(s), the difficulty in tracking down a person of interest, the cleverness of the kidnapper, finding a particular van in a decent size, getting a straight answer out of scared kids with overbearing/concerned parents interfering (for nefarious reasons or unintentionally), or any of the other absolutely understandable and inevitable roadblocks. Instead, it’s Detective Inspector Stanley Bell — he’s too focused on the budget and on impressing his DCI, not that we can forget his obvious misogyny and blatant racism. It’d have been easy for Sutton to leave him as a buffoon, an obstacle, a foil for Pritchard and Penrose — but she doesn’t, there are times when he seems to be a perfectly capable police officer. But those times are the minority — it is fun to watch his subordinates play him to get their way, Penrose learns from Pritchard’s example quickly on this front.

If I tried to talk about the kidnapper, I’d spoil it — if I tried to talk about Helen’s family, I’d fail. I can’t summarize what Sutton did there (I was reductionistic enough with the police — and I’d still be reductionistic if I’d included everything I wanted to say about them) — I’ve known men like her father and older brother. I could feel their pain, their frustration — with their life in general, even before Helen’s abduction, which just seemed like the next-to-last straw for them. Between Foot and Mouth, general hardships (physical and financial) related to this lifestyle, too much alcohol, and a wife who wants more than all this — it’s just too much for people to take.

The depiction of Helen is really strong, as well — she is a scared twelve year-old doing the best she can in a horrible circumstance. At some point the police don’t understand why she did X in a situation. I wanted to yell at them, “because she’s a scared little kid!” Of course, she’s not going to act like a rational adult. (The other thing I had a hard time buying was that given the emphasis the officers put on local knowledge, was that it was the outsider who understood the importance of getting his cows milked to a dairy farmer)

I’ve gone on too long, and haven’t said nearly enough. So let’s hit the important things as I try to wrap up.As I said at the outset — this is not a typical kidnapping novel. Every assumption you make early on in the book will prove to be mistaken, but it all feels organic, it all seemed natural. This isn’t one of those books where you can see the author moving pieces around to achieve her ends. I have no doubt she did — but I couldn’t see it. There’s some good action, some very clever policework, and a strong psychological-thriller bent to parts of this as well. There’s a strong Perry Mason-esque quality to the strategy the police employed at the end, which I appreciated. Burning Secrets ticks almost every box a mystery-fan will have on their list.

This is a novel about family secrets, family problems — all families, on some level, I’m sure. There are strong threads about options various women take to take care of their families and themselves — what lengths they may go to, what shortcuts they may take, what hard choices they may make — to secure happiness, health, or survival. This is a novel about change — individual and societal — how difficult that is. But none of these themes detract from a heart-stopping and heart-breaking story about a kidnapping and the consequences radiating from it. All in less than 300 pages — not a bad feat.

I have no idea if Sutton intends to write more about these characters (there’s every reason to think she will, given her track record) — but I’d love to spend more time with them. If Penrose and Pritchard can turn their détente into some sort of working understanding, or better, a real partnership, they’d be a fantastic combination (for drama, they’d still be interesting if they don’t form any closer relationship, but it wouldn’t be as fun to read). Sutton does have a pretty hefty backlist, and I should try to dive in — and you should, too. Start with this, though, it’ll whet your appetite for the rest.

—–

4 Stars
My thanks to damppebbles blog tours for the invitation to participate in this tour and the materials they provided.

Pub Day Repost: Dry Hard by Nick Spalding: Who needs to drink when you can have this much fun reading?

Dry HardDry Hard

by Nick Spalding
eARC, 293 pg.
Amazon Publishing UK, 2019
Read: November 19, 2018

Kate Temple’s in PR, Scott Temple’s a marketing director for a distillery. Both of them rely on alcohol to get through their days (and nights). They used to have each other to rely on and curb their use, but as they’ve become more successful, they have to do more things away from each other and they really don’t have anyone to watch out for them. Also, because they spend less time with each other, both have a hole they need to fill throughout their days — which usually involves more drinking.

Things are getting bad enough that they both endanger their jobs (not to mention the property and safety of others) thanks to drunken escapades. But this doesn’t give either of them much pause — if anything it drives them to the bottle even more. Their teenaged daughter, Holly, can’t understand why these two can’t see how bad their drinking is, how much it’s hurting their marriage, how much it’s affecting her life. So, at Christmas, she decides to secretly film them at their drunken worst (which starts pretty early in the evening) and then she shows it to them, hoping this video intervention will awaken them to their problem.

It doesn’t work — her parents defend their drinking, downplay the mortifying things they do on video and generally blow her off. So in a fit of adolescent pique, she uploads the video to YouTube so her friends can see it. But the video catches the attention of a couple of popular YouTube celebrities and next thing they know, Kate and Scott are a viral sensation.

This very public shaming convinces them that they need to make some changes, and decide to cut out drinking totally. Holly tries to get them public support by uploading videos chronicling their efforts to live dry for a year, attaching the hashtag #DryHard. Things do not go well — well, maybe well, but not smoothly.

Now, here’s where Spalding distinguishes himself from almost every other writer on the planet — he makes all of that hilarious. Yes, Holly’s going through a lot because of her parents, but even in the way that Spalding describes it, her hardships are funny. At the 14% mark, I wrote in my notes “I have no idea if he can tell a story, but Spalding can make me laugh!”

I can thankfully report, he can tell a story — and still makes me laugh. The comedy comes from the situations, from the slapstick-y way his characters navigate the situations, and just the way he narrates (typically through the protagonists’ voices). It’s not just one thing that he does well — he can bring the laughs through multiple channels. Yes, the couple are careening toward rock bottom, but you laugh about it; yes, they’re dealing with very serious life and death issues — but Spalding makes you find the humor in the situations; they have monumental struggles that don’t go away just because they sober up, but you’ll ber chuckling and chortling while watching them flounder.

Oh, also, this has nothing to do with the plot, but Spalding’s description of Gin Fawkes — a flavored gin using orange peel and cinnamon produced by Scott’s distillery — is enough to make me consider becoming a teetotaler. Fantastic stuff. Funny and horrifying in equal measures.

This is the story of a family in crisis and the great lengths they go to to preserve that family. That right there sells me on the book — everyone wants the same thing — Kate and Scott’s marriage to recover. There’s not one person in the family thinking of pulling away, there’s not one more committed than the rest — both spouses are flawed and fallible, even Holly makes mistakes and loses her way, however briefly. No one’s blameless, no one’s to blame, Scott and Kate have got themselves to this point together, and together they’ll make it out. Too many books like this will take the “side” of one spouse — one is committed, one is faithful, one is stupid and blind to their own faults and one is the bigger/wiser person, etc., etc. Spalding doesn’t do that — he presents the Temples as mutually dysfunctional, mutually aspirational, and human.

Unlike a lot of similar authors, if Spalding had the opportunity for an honest, heartfelt emotional scene or a series of laughs — he’d pick the laughs 99 times out of 100. Thankfully, if he could go for a fairly honest and quite heartfelt scene with laughs, he’d go for that too. If he’d gone for fewer laughs and more of the honest and heartfelt moments, he might have a more complex, realistic, and substantive novel. Something more akin to Jonathan Tropper or Nick Hornby at their best. Instead, Spalding produced an entertaining, funny and frequently hilarious novel. The substance is there — but it’s hidden and easy to miss between the chuckles.

If you take the time to look for the substance/depth — you’ll find it and appreciate its presence. If you don’t and just laugh, you’ll be fine and have a good time — either way, you win.

This was my first Nick Spalding book — it will not be my last. Fast and funny — I had a blast reading this and laughed out loud more than I can remember doing in a long time. Read this. You’ll enjoy it.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Amazon Publishing UK via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this.

—–

3.5 Stars

P Is for Pterodactyl: The Worst Alphabet Book Ever by Raj Haldar, Chris Carpenter, Maria Beddia: Twisted, Fun and even Educational

P Is for PterodactylP Is for Pterodactyl: The Worst Alphabet Book Ever

by Raj Haldar, Chris Carpenter, Maria Beddia (Illustrator)


Hardcover, 40 pg.
Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, 2018
Read: December 20, 2018

One of the first books printed in the American colonies was The New England Primer, filled with catchy lines like “In Adam’s Fall / We Sinned All.”

Since that time, many alphabet-type books have been published in the same — or similar — vein. One of the latest is P Is for Pterodactyl, which carries the subtitle, The Worst Alphabet Book Ever which doesn’t seem that complimentary, but when it includes lines like:

” is for Jai Alai.

or

” is for Ewe.”

or even

U is not for You.

and maybe you start to think there’s a little truth in advertising.

It’s actually an amusing book with some examples of the oddities and vagaries of English spelling/pronunciation that will stick with you. I’m not crazy about some of the selections (V’s a good example), but by and large, I really liked each “for” that the authors selected.

The artwork is great — it compliments the text well and will help keep shorter attention spans focused.

For everyone who enjoyed BNL’s “Crazy ABC’s”, this Picture Book entertains as well as educates. I’m not sure how well it’d work for the 7-and-under crowd, but for older elementary kids — and adults who just want a chuckle, this book will be just the ticket. I had a fun time reading it — as did my whole family. Unlike most of the picture books I post about here, you’ll note tat this one doesn’t carry any kind of disclaimer — I bought this one after seeing a couple of pieces about it online, and am glad I did. I imagine you will be, too.

—–

4 Stars

The Crescent and the Cross by Kurt Scheffler: An Uneven But Ultimately Satisfying Historical Fiction

The Crescent and the CrossThe Crescent and the Cross

by Kurt Scheffler


ebook
2014

Read: December 20 – 24, 2018


I normally reserve disclaimers for the end of a post — but I’m going to start this post with one. I’ve met Kurt Scheffler, he seems like a good guy. He has taught every one of my children, is currently teaching two of them, and will be teaching one for the next three years. He’s beloved in my house and the impact that he’s had on my kids is almost incalculable. Also, one of my kids bought this for me — not in a “hey, here’s an easy way to get brownie points” kind of move; but a “I know someone who wrote a book, my dad likes books, I should combine those things” kind of way. So basically, I’m trying to say that I have every reason to airbrush what I’m about to say, but I’m going to try to not do that. Also, no parent wants to see one of their kid’s teachers use the word “whoring” that much.

This is the story of The Battle of Tours (in 732) and events leading up to it, told through the lives of people close to Charles Martel and Charles on the one hand and a couple of the leaders of the Muslim forces involved in the Arab invasion of France. Specifically, that’s Charles, his longtime friend, his sons, his mistress, and some children who are adopted by a close associate and are practically part of his household; and then the son of the Caliph and Abderrahman.

It’s your typical historical fiction, blending historical events and fictionalized events into one narrative. I really liked some of the characters a lot, and the ones I had no patience for were the one’s the book doesn’t want you to enjoy. I’m not convinced that I didn’t like them for the same reasons I wasn’t supposed to like them — it wasn’t their less-than-savory characteristics, but their portrayal. But still, that’s better than many novels are able to pull off.

I’m not going to try to summarize the plot more thoroughly than that, or talk about any of the particular characters — this post would quickly become too long to bother with. The story takes awhile to coalesce — it almost feels like the novel couldn’t decide what it was going to be about for the first half — it started trying to be X, then it became Y, then Z and quickly A, B, and finally settling on being C (I might have exaggerated a bit there, the book might have settled on B). That’s how it felt, I should say. In retrospect, I don’t think that was the case, it was simply taking it’s time (arguably too much) setting the stage and establishing the characters before launching into the major story.

That said, I found myself enjoying each version of the story the novel gave us along the way, and when it seemed to shift into a different story, I was disappointed to leave X, Y or Z — at least until I got into the new version. Scheffler can tell a story, that’s clear. He’s skilled at sucking you in and feeling what he wants you to.

I do have a few quibbles with the book — I’ll only talk about a few. My notes are full of question marks when we got a historical particular, I just wasn’t sure if he got the timing on some things correct. There’s a lot of anachronisms — for example, Pascal’s wager a few centuries early (sure, someone could’ve said it before Pascal — but it seemed a bit off); some statements about equality that sounded like Martin Luther King, Jr.’s rough drafts; and people holding opinions/values that I just can’t accept given the time (mostly benign things, I should add, like a noblewoman baking as a hobby). The villains might as well be wearing black hats and twirling mustaches, while the “heroic” characters are subtly drawn and live in the gray — I just wish the villains got the same treatment. Practically every character is very aware of the historical significance of the struggle they’re part of — particularly when it comes to the ultimate (and impending) battle between Charles Martel’s and Abderrahman’s armies. I don’t doubt that sometimes individuals understand how vital a role they play in the grand scheme of things, but this seemed a bit overkill (or this is a case of one of the greatest conglomerations of narcissists ever).

There’s redemption, personal reformation, romance, action against a sweeping historical backdrop — there’s something for almost everyone here. Could this book have been better? Yes. Given the themes, the scope, the characters, the setting — there’s a lot more that Scheffler could’ve done here. Also, it would’ve been very easy to make this incredibly dull and/or hack-y. Scheffler avoided that — and I’m very happy about that. In the end, we’re left with something in the middle — an entertaining work with a few problems. You’ll keep turning the pages to see what he does with the characters, but you’ll wonder a little about the background and details. At worst (or best?) this’ll spur you to further reading on the history of the period after reading Scheffler’s fictional take. Really can’t complain about that, right? I’m glad I read it.

—–

3 Stars

✔ Read a book you received as a gift.

The World Savers by Matt Cowper: A Bang-Up Start to a new Super-Hero Series

The World SaversThe World Savers

by Matt Cowper
Series: The Elites, #1

Kindle Edition, 257 pg.
2018
Read: December 11 – 12, 2018

There are going to be a lot of comparisons in this to Marvel/DC characters. This isn’t saying Cowper’s being derivative — nor is he ripping any character off. These are well-known and established types — he’s not doing anything that Ben Edlund didn’t do in The Tick, or Bendis in Powers, or Kirkman in Invincible — etc. I’m just going to say something like “Slab is a Thing-like character” so I don’t have to write three sentences to describe the Thing.

Beverly Gillespie (an Amanda Waller-esque character), the Secretary for Superhuman Affairs, is re-assembling the legendary team, The Elites. Enough time has gone by since they disbanded (for very good reasons) that the government wants to start them up again — under new leadership. Nightstriker — a very Batman/CW’s Arrow -type of guy. He’s driven, he’s obsessive, he’s seemingly incorruptible, and doesn’t play well with others and is pretty paranoid. Which is what attracts Waller — she wants someone who’ll go out of his way to keep the team’s integrity.

It takes some doing, but Nightstriker relents and selects a few people to join the new group — none of them are the crème de la crème, Nightstriker considers them misfits, actually. But misfits that he thinks can work well together and be a strong Gestalt-y greater than the sum of its parts entity. No sooner have they assembled, than their home base, Z City, is under attack. I’ll leave this vague, but essentially these opponents are Occupy Wall Street with a cult-like flavor, following a would-be world conqueror, with everyone within the group possessing some sort of metahuman abilities. So The Elites have to stop this group from destroying the city (or at least the financial and governmental structures), while learning to function as a team.

The book is told through the points of view of Nightstriker and a member of his Elites, Blaze. Nightstriker’s a strong take on the type — you know him pretty well almost instantly.You get his motivation, his way of doing things and can understand his paranoia about reforming this team. He sees himself as not just Team Leader, but Mentor/Coach to his team — but he has a lot to learn about being a Team Player as well as a Leader.

Blaze is a high schooler struggling with Biology tests while he goes around fighting crime in a Human Torch-ish way (with shades of Firestorm, too). He’s eager, he’s naive, he’s a little reckless, he has a sense of fun that’s outweighed by a sense of responsibility. He’s so wet behind the ears that it threatens to put out his fire. But he’s smart (probably smarter than he realizes) and has nothing but potential. Nightstriker sees all of that (and probably more), and sees similar qualities in the other recruits. I really enjoyed his chapters — the Nightstalker point of view is what the DC movies are (at their best), Blaze’s are Marvel movies. The two together make a powerful combination.

Metal Girl doesn’t have point-of-view chapters, but we learn a lot about her — her origin story, what makes her tick, etc. She’s sort of a Vision/Red Tornado/Metamorpho cocktail. That description can only work once you’ve read the book — it’ll click when you do. I really dug her as a character and can’t wait to see what Cowper has in store for her development.

There are two members of The Elites that are under-served — which isn’t too much of a complaint, there’s a lot of plates spinning in these pages and to try to fit in more of these two probably would be counter-productive. First is Buckshot — think the Green Arrow or Hawkeye, but with guns (it’s been too long since I’ve read anything with him in it, but maybe that makes him Arsenal-like) with a Western-motif about him and a talk-radio conservative world-view — I like him, but think Cowper overplayed some of his characteristics (just a little bit). The other one is Slab — he’s a Thing-type character, who really isn’t that much like Ben Grimm — although they’re similar. There’s something about this guy — as much as I enjoyed the rest of the cast, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if Slab becomes the heart and soul of the team — and maybe the guy who really comes through at the very end to land the coup de grâce in the finale. Maybe it’s just me, but I like Slab enough that if you told me that Cowper was releasing a novella starring him today, you’d be reading my review about it tomorrow.

There’s plenty of solid super-hero action with a much larger cast of characters than you expect going in — much larger than I’ve told you about, too. The best thing about the opponents of The Elites (I hesitate to call them villains — although it’s appropriate for at least some of them) is that there’s some merit to their cause, enough that at least some of the super-heroes fighting them have to consider their actions. The world seems awfully black-and-white at the beginning, but by the end there’s a lot of gray.

This takes place in the same world as Cowper’s Johnny Wagner, Godlike PI books, but it feels rather different. And it should — one’s a PI novel with super-hero overtones, the other’s a straight-forward super-hero book. I enjoyed the first of those books (and really should’ve read the second by now), but Double Lives took awhile to win me over. The World Savers had me by the end of the first chapter. Don’t ask me what the difference was, I couldn’t tell you. But it’s there.

Great action, great characters (with room to develop and signs that they will), a world teeming with possibilities, this is a strong intro to a series that could turn out to be great (it could also turn out to be simply really good — I’d be okay with that, too). This is a planned trilogy, and I’d pony up the cash for the next two installments right now if I could, I’m eager to see where Cowper takes these characters next (I have a small wish list, but I expect he has better plans).

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for my post and my honest opinions.

Godlefe’s Cuckoo by Bill Todd: A Deadly Game of Hide-and-Go-Seek

Godlefe’s CuckooGodlefe’s Cuckoo

by Bill Todd
Series: Danny Lancaster, #6

Kindle Edition, 270 pg.
DLE-Fiction, 2018

Read: December 19 – 20, 2018

He lit another cigarette. Popped the ringpull on another can of Stella.

This was pointless.

He could sit here forever debating the pros and cons like some poncy intellectual while all the time he knew what he would do.

Fuck it, those bastards had to be sorted out.

Anyway, you had to die of something.

So Danny Lancaster is a former soldier, injured in the line of duty — leaving him with one prosthetic (see also, Cormoron Strike). He didn’t seem to know what to do with himself after leaving the army and ended up a small-time criminal who did a little time in prison. Then he started working as a P. I. (I’m not sure if he could have officially done that given his record, but I don’t know). He seems to have skirted the edge of legality through this career — helping the police frequently, but a known associate of noted criminals (see also, Rebus and Big Ger). The picture I get is of a less intellectual, more violent, and less alcoholic Matt Scudder.

Given that this is Book 6 in a series, Danny Lancaster is a pretty established character and the novel doesn’t spend a lot of time exploring the character, mostly it’s just using him. Which makes sense, especially given the plot — but that means I have to rely a bit more than I normally would on extrapolating from what we’re given and comparing him to better known characters.

When the book opens, he’s been missing — presumed dead by many — for months. There are some hoping he’s still alive, who wish the police (or someone) would find him. There are some who are convinced (hoping?) he’s dead, and are fully prepared to leave him this way. And then there’s one person who is convinced he’s alive — and will continue to be convinced until he sees a body — and he’s determined to find Danny.

The problem is that this man is a Russian mobster, with a lot of money, a lot of power — and no patience or much time to live. Shortly before the “accident,” Danny had disrupted this Russian’s smuggling enterprise and he wants revenge. His associates in England pursue a particular strategy to bring Danny out of wherever he’s hiding — they start killing people associated with him, and will continue to do so until it works. They do this in such a way that it takes the police a long time to realize that’s what’s going on (and no one believes the first one to come to this conclusion).

Once Lancaster realizes what’s happening, he takes definitive steps to bring this to an end. Now that the prey has been flushed from cover, it becomes a matter of hunter vs. the hunted (I’m not sure which is which, really). The action scenes are great, and it’s easy to see why Danny Lancaster (the series or the character) have made it through five books already.

Most of the characters, like Lancaster, are clearly previously drawn and established. There are plenty of them, too. Again, if I knew them, I could appreciate their appearance and use. Those characters that are used for the first time I have a strong handle on and appreciate for.

I’m convinced that I’d have enjoyed this more than I did if it wasn’t my first Danny Lancaster book. That said, you can absolutely read this as an entry point to the series — it won’t work as a stand-alone, you’re going to want to read a possible seventh, and at the very least to go back and read the previous five. I just don’t see anyone reading this and thinking, “yeah, I’m done now.” I didn’t fully appreciate everything that happened here, but I could tell that long-time readers would and that there was something about these characters that could inspire loyalty and excitement.

I liked it, I think I should’ve and could’ve liked it more, if I’d only done my homework. Give it a shot — or better yet, read some of the earlier books and you’ll like this all the more.

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3 Stars

My thanks to damppebbles blog tours for the invitation to participate in this tour and the materials they provided (including the book).