Video Killed the Radio Star by Duncan MacMaster: A Murder Mystery as Fun as The Buggles’ Song

(or the cover by The Presidents of the United States of America, either will work)

Video Killed the Radio StarVideo Killed the Radio Star

by Duncan MacMaster
Series: Kirby Baxter, #2

Kindle Edition, 261 pg.
Fahrenheit Press, 2018
Read: October 15 – 16, 2018

“I fear we will never be mistaken for the Algonquin Round Table.”

“We’ll have to work on our witty repartee,” said Molly. “I plan on taking a course on banter, ripostes, badinage, and persiflage.”

“Even persiflage?”

“Especially persiflage,” said Molly. “There is nothing worse than sub-par persiflage.”

“You might need to get a sub-par persiflage lanced.”

“We’ve hit the nonsense phase of the night earlier than usual.”

“I like nonsense,” said Kirby, “it distracts me.”

Kirby Baxter just wants to live a quiet life out of the spotlight: hanging out with his girlfriend, Molly, when he can; restoring a car with his valet/bodyguard/etc.; and drawing his comics. And now that the excitement about the murder he solved at Omnicon dying down, he’s on the verge of doing that. But the mayor of his hometown knows Kirby, and has no shame in extorting his cooperation with a small problem that he’s having.

You see, one of the town’s major landmarks — an old, abandoned mansion — is in dire need of upkeep and remodeling. And a reality show full of C-List celebrities (maybe D- or E-list) have recently set up shop to do that work. But the city’s having second thoughts and they want Kirby and his über-perception skills to find a reason to shut down production and send them packing to disrupt another locale.

Kirby visits the production, talks to the cast and producers, looks around and comes up with a lot of observations and conclusions — and could cause a lot of inconvenience and embarrassment for everyone involved from those observations — but he can’t find what the mayor wants. That accomplished, he gets back to pursuing his best life now — which lasts just a few hours. Because before he can start to collect from the mayor for the work, one of the celebrities is found dead.

So, it’s back to the mansion for Kirby, this time to act as a consultant ot the local police as they investigate this suspicious death. Which is soon followed by another. And an attack on another cast member. And . . . well, you get the idea.

It’s nice that MacMaster didn’t repeat the whole “Kirby has to win over a skeptical and antagonistic police officer” thing — this time, thanks to most of the force having grown up with him, they all accept his talents and skills — an expect him to deliver.

The cast of the reality show, “Million Dollar Madhouse,” is filled with the typical collection of has-beens, almost-weres, and celebs trying to stage a comeback. Initially, I rolled my eyes at each of them, but the more time I spent with them, the more I appreciated and enjoyed them. In particular, the Kardashian-esque character totally won me over. Like in the previous book, there’s a large cast of characters that MacMaster juggles expertly — there are so many suspects to the murders, as well as witnesses for Kirby and the police to wade through.

Almost every serious suspect has the same defense — they didn’t want the initial victim dead. They wanted him to make a fool out of himself on national TV, possibly seriously injuring himself with a power tool. Some would follow that up with some other form of revenge — but if he’s dead, no one could get the revenge they wanted. It’s not ideal, but it’s an honest defense.

Gustave was slightly less super-human this time out — but he’s still in the Ranger/Hawk/Joe Pike nigh-impossible stratosphere. As much as I like everyone else in this series, it’s arguable that Gustave is MacMaster’s best creation — not just the character, but how MacMaster uses him.

I did miss Mitch. But was glad to see Molly and Kirby talk about him — and even make a joke he wasn’t around to make himself. It’s probably good that he wasn’t around — it’ll mean when we see him again, it’ll be easy to appreciate him without worrying about over exposure.

In the place of Mitch, we have Molly’s assertive and cunning cousin — she runs a gossip-website and wheedles her way into the investigation in order to land a story big enough to put her and her site on the map. Kirby clearly vacillates between finding uses for her and finding her distracting.

Molly and Kirby are cuter together than they were previously, and I could watch the two of them banter any day. It seemed harder to incorporate Molly into the story this time, and hopefully it’s easier for MacMaster in Kirby #3, but as difficult as it was, it was absolutely worth it.

I’m not sure exactly what it is about MacMaster’s writing that works so well for me, but it does. Just before I started writing this, I started to draw some parallels between these Kirby Baxter books and Ellen Raskin’s The Westing Game and The Mysterious Disappearance of Leon (I Mean Noel). I didn’t have time to fully flesh this idea out, but Raskin’s work definitely was formative for me and if the comparison hold up, that could explain a lot. The mix of humor, real emotions and complex mystery is the sweet spot for me and MacMaster consistently hits it. It’s not easy, there are precious few who try — and fewer that succeed. This is the third novel I’ve read by him and it seals the deal, I’ll buy everything he writes as soon as I can without really looking at what the book is about.

I was a little worried that this book wouldn’t live up to A Mint-Conditioned Corpse, and I don’t think it did — but I don’t know what could have for me. I’d enjoyed the other so much that it’s almost impossible to live up to — and the reality show setting didn’t do anything for me — they just leave me cold. The fact I’m rating Video Killed the Radio Star as high as I am is all about how effortlessly charming and entertaining this seems. Effortless always, always, always equals blood, sweat and tears — or at least a lot of work. This must’ve taken a great deal of labor, and it was absolutely worth it. A clever mystery, clever dialogue, and very clever characters in a funny, twisty story. The Kirby Baxter books are must reads, no doubt about it. Give this one a shot — I don’t see how you can’t enjoy it.

—–

4 1/2 Stars

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BOOK SPOTLIGHT: Video Killed the Radio Star by Duncan MacMaster

Today I’m very happy welcome the Book Tour for Video Killed the Radio Star by Duncan MacMaster — I’ve been looking forward to this one for months because this is the follow-up to one of my very favorite reads of this year, A Mint-Conditioned Corpse. Along with this spotlight post, I’ll be giving my take on the novel here in a bit.

Book Details:

Book Title: Video Killed the Radio Star by Duncan MacMaster
Publisher: Fahrenheit Press
Release date: July 26, 2018
Format: Paperback/ebook
Length: 261 pages

Book Blurb:

Money in the bank and his dream girl on his arm – life was looking pretty sweet for Kirby Baxter.

Of course it couldn’t last. Where would the fun be in that? This is a sequel after all.

After solving the murder of a movie starlet the previous year, Kirby is doing his best to live down his burgeoning reputation as part-time Interpol agent and amateur sleuth.

Then reality TV comes knocking next door.

Million Dollar Madhouse is a reality TV show where a bunch of washed up celebrities are thrown together in a dilapidated mansion while their attempts to renovate the building are broadcast 24/7 for the viewers delight.

Kirby’s quiet town is thrown into chaos by the arrival of camera crews, remote control video drones and a cast of characters including disgraced actress Victoria Gorham, political shock-jock Bert Wayne and reality TV royalty Kassandra Kassabian.

When one of the cast members turns up dead the local police turn to the only celebrity detective in town for help and draft an unwilling Kirby into their investigation.

The first body is only the beginning of another rip-roaring adventure for Kirby Baxter and with Gustav his loyal driver/valet/bodyguard/gardener/chef/ass-kicker at his side, our hero plunges into the fray with his usual stunning displays of deductive reasoning and sheer bloody luck.

About Duncan MacMaster:

Duncan MacMaster
Duncan MacMaster is a writer, pop-culture blogger, and film school survivor from the untamed wilds of Eastern Canada.

When he’s not concocting plots for Kirby Baxter to unravel he’s posting rants and rages about the business behind pop-culture on his blog.

Duncan MacMaster’s Social Media:

Twitter

Purchase Links for Video Killed the Radio Star:

Fahrenheit Press (this is really where you should buy the books, help FP out!) ~
Amazon UK ~
Amazon US


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

Night and Silence by Seanan McGuire: Toby Daye’s shattered world gets another blow — can she survive?

I was sure I wrote this up already. How did I take over a month to get this up? Something is wrong with me . . .

Night and SilenceNight and Silence

by Seanan McGuire
Series: Toby Daye, #12

Hardcover, 368 pg.
Daw, 2018
Read: September 6 -10, 2018

“Um, this IS Toby,” sald Quentin. “We’re always about to die. When we’re not about to die, we’re still about to be about to die. She’s like a Rube Goldberg machine whose only job is generating .life-threatening situations.”

What a difference a book makes — at the beginning of The Brightest Fell, Toby was happy, her life was looking good, she was relaxing — and then trouble struck. At the beginning of this book, she’s probably in the worst straits she’s been in since getting out of the fish pond. Toby and her loved ones are still reeling from and dealing with the repercussions of that last novel (“not dealing with” might be more accurate, but why quibble?). Jazz is messed up in ways that are hard to fathom; her relationship with mentor/champion/sponsor, Sylvester, is in shambles; and worst of all, her fiancé is a shattered version of himself, barely able to be in the same room with her.

And then the other shoe drops (at this point, you might be thinking we’re talking about an Imelda Marcos-sized collection, as many of these have dropped): her very human daughter, Gillian has been kidnapped — and her father and step-mother are accusing Toby.

Yeah, kidnapped again. But this time it’s worse (and the last time was no walk in the dark). If anything is going to prove to be the straw that breaks the camel’s back — this could be it. Toby, May, Quentin — and some other allies band together to find the girl before something happens to her that will make the last kidnapping look pedestrian.

Sylvester is around for a lot of this novel — I was afraid he wouldn’t be. Sylvester has long been one of the — maybe the — best part of the series, and to see him in this state? It took so much away from this book. I know that’s the point, and I want to stress I’m not complaining — but man…it sucked. A lot of the emotional beats to this part of the story seemed to repeat themselves — and I wondered if it was a little filler. I decided that as often as Toby was reassuring Tybalt that they could work through things and get him better, McGuire was reassuring the reader that Sylvester could be recovered. I’m not sure it’s the case, but I’m going with that explanation.

This book has the best use of May since . . . well, probably since we met her in this form. Usually, May is too much in the background for my taste. But not in this novel. She’s strong, she’s emotional — she’s a major player in the events of this novel. We need to see her as active as she is here more often.

The debt that Toby keeps incurring to the Luidaeg is getting huge. Aunt or no, she can’t keep going like this forever, and at some point the sea witch is going to collect. This is going to be horrible.

Along the way, we learn a great deal about Toby’s human family — some of which will make the reader’s jaw drop, all of which will make Toby reconsider things — and like so much of what we’ve learned the last couple of books, what we’ve “known” before wasn’t necessarily right.

This isn’t the strongest Toby Daye novel, but an “iffy” Toby novel is still rocking by other series’ standards. This was a strong, satisfying read — as troubling as it was. And the next one isn’t going to be much easier to read — but I know it’ll be worth it. I don’t know that this is the book to jump on the series with, but it might work. But I can assuring long-term readers that this will scratch that itch just fine.

—–

4 Stars

She Rides Shotgun by Jordan Harper: A Gripping Thriller, A Touching Father-Daughter Story, a Special Kind of Crime Novel

She Rides ShotgunShe Rides Shotgun

by Jordan Harper

Hardcover, 257 pg.
Ecco, 2017
Read: August 7 – 8, 2018

This is one of those books where you want to sit and talk about it for a couple of hours — recapping and dissecting the events, analyzing, and speculating about what happens after the book ends; or you don’t want to say anything beyond “just read it, I don’t want to ruin anything for you.” I could absolutely relish the former, but I’m going to hew closer to the latter. Harper’s better to read on this than me, anyway.

So, here’s the official blurb to keep me from slipping:

           Eleven-year-old Polly McClusky is shy, too old for the teddy bear she carries with her everywhere, when she is unexpectedly reunited with her father, Nate, fresh out of jail and driving a stolen car. He takes her from the front of her school into a world of robbery, violence, and the constant threat of death. And he does it to save her life.

Nate made dangerous enemies in prison—a gang called Aryan Steel has put out a bounty on his head, counting on its members on the outside to finish him off. They’ve already murdered his ex-wife, Polly’s mother. And Polly is their next target.

Nate and Polly’s lives soon become a series of narrow misses, of evading the bad guys and the police, of sleepless nights in motels. Out on the lam, Polly is forced to grow up early: with barely any time to mourn her mother, she must learn how to take a punch and pull off a drug-house heist. She finds herself transforming from a shy little girl into a true fighter. Nate, in turn, learns what it’s like to love fiercely and unconditionally—a love he’s never quite felt before. But can their powerful bond transcend the dangerous existence he’s carved out for them? Will they ever be able to live an honest life, free of fear?

She Rides Shotgun is a gripping and emotionally wrenching novel that upends even our most long-held expectations about heroes, villains, and victims. Nate takes Polly to save her life, but in the end it may very well be Polly who saves him.

The thing to remember about Nate — he might be trying to be a good father, he may want to be a good father and act a certain way for Polly. But he’s not a good guy. He’s not a paragon of virtue, he’s not a reputable citizen. He’s a criminal — and not an entirely successful criminal, with almost zero parenting skills. But man, he wants to try. Expect some heroics, but remember he’s no Nick Mason, Jack Reacher or the like.

Polly? I don’t know what to say about her. If you can read a few chapters of this and not fall in love with this little girl, want to adopt her and protect her from all this madness? Something’s broken in you. She’ll win your affections, you’ll root for her, you’ll pity her, you’ll hope she survives this all intact.

There were a couple of other stand-out characters — I’d get into them, but it doesn’t matter. Your appreciation for this book comes down to this: what do you think about Nate and Polly and what they go through?

This is a tense thriller, with more than your typical emotional moments for the genre. Harper delivers both with equal skill and aplomb. As horrible as so much of this plot was — this was a real pleasure to read, from cover to cover.

I first heard about this novel — and author, come to think of it — on Episode 33 of Two Crime Writers And A Microphone, you might want to check it out.

—–

4 Stars

Pub Day Repost: Deck the Hounds by David Rosenfelt: Another Christmas Tale (Tail?) for Andy Carpenter, Another Win for Rosenfelt

Deck the HoundsDeck the Hounds

by David Rosenfelt
Series: Andy Carpenter, #18
eARC, 368 pg.
Minotaur Books, 2018
Read: September 11 – 13, 2018

Andy Carpenter sees a homeless man with a dog on the street, gives the man some money and a gift card for dog food (naturally, the dog gets more than the man, because it’s Andy Carpenter) and has a brief conversation with him. Not long after that, that same man is on the news — he’d been attacked by a stranger and his dog defended him. Which resulted in the dog being put in the pound. Laurie’s filled with pre-Christmas spirit and insists that Andy help out. So he uses his rescue foundation to get custody of the dog and moves the pair into the apartment over his garage.

How heartwarming is this? Clearly, this is fodder for a Christmas/holiday story. But it’s also an Andy Carpenter story, so naturally, after Andy does a newspaper interview about the man — giving his name — he’s arrested for murder. No one was more surprised by this move than Andy’s guest, Don. Not only has Don never heard of the victim, he was unaware that he was wanted by the police. Laurie’s pre-Christmas spirit is still strong, so she talks him into defending the man. It helps that he’s innocent, a dog lover, and an educated, articulate vet with PTSD. The PTSD aspect of the story was told with sensitivity and tact. It didn’t feel tacked on to make the character more sympathetic, but it grounded him in reality and may help to inform some readers about the prices that too many vets are paying.

There is another storyline — seemingly unrelated — running through the novel. Obviously, it’s going to tie into Andy’s case, but it takes a long time for that to happen. This gives the reader multiple opportunities to guess how the two are connected (and multiple opportunities to be wrong. I guessed what was happening in that story pretty easily, and I think most people who read a lot of legal thrillers will. But how it connects to the main story will likely leave most readers as surprised as I was (surprised, and then filled with a strong sense of, “well, naturally, what else could it be?”).

The usual gang is back and in their prime form — Hike is back to his full-time dour self; Ricky is a cute kid; Laurie provides the moral center; Pete is a good cop who continually underestimates Andy’s clients; Sam is a wizard with computers in a way that probably defies reality Marcus is his super-hero best here, and possibly faces his biggest challenge yet (I thoroughly enjoyed this scene). What better way to spend a holiday (or at least a book set around one) than with a bunch of friends like these have become over the years?

Andy spent more time in the courtroom in this book than he has lately — it seemed to me, anyway, I didn’t do a page count. His courtroom antics and cross-examinations are what drew me to the character in the first place, so this is the stuff in these books I most look forward to. Rosenfelt brought his A-game to the courtroom events here, and I loved it. As far as mysteries go, this in one of the most satisfying cases that Rosenfelt has brought us in years.

In my post about the previous “holiday special” I said that I really don’t like it when long-running series do a holiday special — yet, The Twelve Dogs of Christmas and Deck the Hounds have been my favorite installments in the last couple of years in this series. Maybe that means this Grinch’s heart is growing a couple of sizes, or maybe it’s that Rosenfelt is inspired to work harder in these. My guess? It’s the clients — the Andy Carpenter books are at their best when they focus on the client, not on some large conspiracy. These holiday books have the kind of clients you spend time on, that the reader gets invested in — and therefore, Andy gets to shine in defending them.

Whatever the reason, this is a sure-fire win for Andy Carpenter fans. Particularly if you don’t mind a little Christmas celebration (or, if you’re like Laurie, and insist on commemorating the holiday for months).

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from St. Martin’s Press via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this.

—–

4 Stars

Just One Damned Thing After Another by Jodi Taylor: A Delightfully Charming and Fun Time-Travel Epic Kicks Off

 Just One Damned Thing After Another Just One Damned Thing After Another

by Jodi Taylor
Series: The Chronicles of St. Mary’s, #1

Paperback, 480 pg.
Night Shade Books, 2016
Read: July 30, 2018

Thinking carefully is something that happens to other people.

I lost my notes to this book, which is annoying me greatly. So I’m going to be a bit more vague than I want to be.

I could tell from the first couple of pages that I was going to have a great time with this book — our narrator is Dr. Madeline “Max” Maxwell, a specialist in ancient history. She is charming, engaging, brash, and funny. She’s a few more things, too, but let’s leave it there. Essentially, she’s a delight — it almost doesn’t matter what setting you put her in, what story you tell with her — I’m in.

Thankfully, Taylor puts her in a crazy novel, one perfectly suited for her. When we meet her, Max is being recruited by a former mentor to join St Mary’s Institute of Historical Research, a very strange research facility. These historians get their hands dirty in their research in the ways that no other facility on Earth can manage — they have time machines to take them to whatever point in time they’re studying so they can see ad experience history first-hand.

Sounds great, doesn’t it? But things go awry — in spectacularly bad fashion. But, for these Historians, where there’s tea, there’s hope. Using wit, sheer determination, and a little luck Max and her new colleagues will have to find a way to meet these new and dangerous challenges.

There’s a lot more action and fighting than you’d think given that the book is about Historians and the Technicians who work with them. There’s a lot of humor, some pathos, a little love — and a little more sex than I’d prefer (thankfully most of it happens “off screen,” but not all of it). The plot is impossible to summarize well — it bounces around from point to point like a ball in a pinball machine. This is not a complaint, this is a description. Months will go by in a paragraph (or less) and then things will slow down for the events of a day or two. These are Time Travelers, after all, they can squeeze a lot of activity into a short period of time.

There are some other great characters here, too. Max has wonderful, loyal and capable allies (who happen to be interesting to read about); she has fantastic antagonists — the kind of characters you can relish your annoyance/anger/moral superiority over; her friends are interesting, he love interest is about as fun as you could ask for, and is charming enough in his own right.

I wish I’d had the time to write this up when the book was fresher in my mind — or if I’d not lost my notes. This book deserved a bit more from me. Basically, this book — between characters, circumstances, plot and tone is what I’d hoped for from the Tuesday Next books. I have no idea if Taylor can keep up the freshness of the voice, the zaniness of the plot, and the engaging quality of the characters (particularly Max) — it’ll be tough to do. But I’m looking forward to finding out. I had a blast reading this one, and can’t imagine that Taylor’s charm wouldn’t win over at least 87% of those who give this a try.

—–

4 Stars

Without Rules by Andrew Field: A dark tale where many means are justified


Without RulesWithout Rules

by Andrew Field

Kindle Edition, 215 pg.
Boomstang, 2018

Read: October 9 – 11, 2018


Last week, in the many tributes to Elmore Leonard that I saw floating around on what would’ve been his birthday, I came across this quotation: “I don’t judge in my books. I don’t have to have the antagonist get shot or the protagonist win. It’s just how it comes out. I’m just telling a story.” Which seemed awfully appropriate as I was in the closing chapters of Without Rules at the time. I’m not suggesting that there’s anything Leonard-esque to Field’s novel*, but they definitely were working from the same ethos.

This book starts off showing you that it’s about as far as you can get from a cozy — a hit man and his accomplice on the run after a disastrous (yet successful) job take shelter in something between a brothel and a porn studio while waiting for extraction. Their unwilling hostess supplies them with booze, a laundry machine, and some meaningless sex in the meantime. When the opportunity presents, she tries to convince the hitman to rescue both herself and her daughter from their situation — being forced by her father to live and work in this place since she was about her daughter’s age. Naturally, it’s this same father who hired the hitman to take out one of his clients before he could be flipped by the police.

Things get messier from there — no, really. Soon, we’re plunged into a mare’s nest of police cover-ups, police investigations, evidence tampering, evidence planting, blackmail, murder, pedophilia rings, international drug dealers, and real estate fraud. This particular night ends in betrayals, deaths, lives and careers being ruined, missing people and near-death escapes. The book will then lurch ahead a couple of years to witness the chaos and destruction left by that night and how it’s altered, prospered and ruined lives — and attempts will be made by several to rectify that situation. The novel will then jump ahead as the events of part two have left even more trouble and chaos in their wake for the survivors to try to deal with the aftermath.

There’s a fine line between complex and convoluted — this novel doesn’t tip-toe down that line, it dances on it. When it falters, it typically lands on the convoluted side before resuming its jig. There are arguably too many characters running around — and few of them are fully rounded-out. But, largely, I’m okay with that — because the more I get to know just about any of these characters the less I wanted to know them at all. These are ugly people in the midst of ugly businesses.

With one or two climactic exceptions, the action is believable, the evil is all too real — there’s no criminal mastermind stroking his cat while the world burns. Instead we have several depraved individuals scraping to make their fortunes greater — or just to survive. There’s one well-timed Diabolus ex Machina that was hard to swallow that was necessary to set up the book’s conclusion, but otherwise the action stayed within the bounds of credulity.

In a capricious world, it’s odd to find so many characters talking about justice — generally how it’s impossible to find — but just about every one of these characters has a lot to say about it. There is an irony there for the careful reader to appreciate.

Minor spoiler: There’s no happily ever afters here. No redemption arcs. No one wears a white hat. A couple of characters do ride off into the sunset, but not in any real sense of victory or joy. The cynical among us — many would prefer to be called realists — would say that this is an accurate reflection of life. No justice, no just desserts, bad things happen to bad people, those who intend to be heroes become villains, a villain or two will find themselves doing something heroic, and everyone’s out for themselves and a profit. In a very noir world, Andrew Field offers us a very noir novel.


* That’s not a ding on Field, there’s pretty much no one who can write something Leonard-esque. And it’s generally embarrassing when they try.