Pub Day Repost: Rescued by David Rosenfelt: A tale of self-defense, an old flame and a truckfull of dogs

RescuedRescued

by David Rosenfelt
Series: Andy Carpenter, #17
eARC, 304 pg.
Minotaur Books, 2018
Read: May 4, 2018

At an early age, Andy Carpenter discovered that he couldn’t hit a curve-ball and therefore had to give up on his dreams of playing in the majors and fall back to following in his father’s footsteps and becoming a lawyer. His father, a lifelong prosecuting attorney, probably wished for something else, but for the many people that he’s defended in court, they wouldn’t have it another way.

This is the seventeenth novel in this series — I’ve talked here about nine of the previous sixteen. There’s part of me wondering just what I could possibly have to say about this one that I haven’t said at least once before.

Andy Carpenter is called to a nearby rest area — a truck containing sixty-one dogs was discovered with the driver shot. Andy and Willie were called out to help the police retrieve the dogs and care for them. The police are really not happy to see him there — Andy Carpenter at a crime scene? Not a welcome sight. But then he’s called away, there’s a prospective new client waiting for him at home.

Not that surprisingly, the potential client was also at that rest area earlier in the day. He actually tells Andy that he shot the driver — in self-defense, mind you. Sure, there’s a history between the two — Kramer (the client) had assaulted the victim and threatened to kill him, in fact. But that was years ago, and he had no current reason to. He just needs some help with the inevitable arrest. Andy believes him — he has to. Kramer is Laurie’s ex and she vouches for him — so much so that Andy pretty much has to take the case for her sake.

Honestly, Andy really isn’t that interested in helping tall, hunky and dangerous Kramer — ex-Military, ex-police, ex-licensed investigator. But it’s not long before he starts to believe that there’s something more afoot. And what was the deal with all the dogs?

All the regulars are along for this ride — Pete Stanton brings the law and order, we get a little more about the fun side of Hike that was introduced in the last book, Sam and his hacking crew dig up plenty of information, Marcus is his typical imposing self, Tara is as loyal as ever — and Andy gets a lot of courtroom time in. There’s a new prosecuting attorney for him to face off against — I liked her, and would like to see her against Andy again.

I don’t think it’s much of a spoiler here, because it’s pretty much the default in this series, but there’s a conspiracy behind the murder and they men behind it have decided to frame Kramer. This is one of the better — or at least one of the more grounded — conspiracies featured in these books. Up to a point, some of it was pretty hard to swallow — it just went a little over the top for my taste (but many of them do in this series). Also, this one features the best code names this side of Reservoir Dogs. Still, it was one of the more clever solutions that we’ve been treated to lately.

A thought about the series as a whole at this point: I would appreciate it if Rosenfelt would shake things up a little bit — I’m not talking about killing Hike or splitting up with Laurie or anything — just dial down the super-criminals a bit, maybe spend some more time with the client again. But there’s little reason for him to do that — the series moves like clockwork and is reliably entertaining. I only say this because I’m a fan — Rosenfelt is in danger of becoming a parody of himself (at worst) or just putting out cookie-cutter books (at best), I don’t want Andy Carpenter to become a Stephanie Plum.

This is not to say that I didn’t enjoy the book — because I did. Andy, Sam, Pete, Vince, Laurie, Tara and the rest are old friends that I enjoy getting together with every few months. Rosenfelt’s latest demonstrates what’s been true for years — this series is at the point where you can reliably count on each book for an entertaining read, a puzzling mystery, some good comic moments, a nice dog or two and maybe even a tug on the heart strings. They’re still charming enough to win over a new reader (and any of the books serve just fine as entry points) as well as satisfying the long-term reader. Rescued delivered just what I expected and left me satisfied — satisfied and ready to read number 18.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from St. Martin’s Press via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this, it was a real pleasure.

—–

3.5 Stars

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The Death Pictures by Simon Hall: A Solid Sequel featuring a Procedural and a Puzzle

The Death PicturesThe Death Pictures

by Simon Hall
Series: The TV Detective, #2

Kindle Edition, 282 pg.
Fahrenheit Press, 2018
Read: July 10 – 11, 2018
So here we are a few months after the events of The TV Detective, and while Dan Groves, TV reporter, and DCI Adam Breen aren’t working together any more, their friendship has grown and both of the careers are improving from their collaboration. So when there’s a serial rapist on the loose — one who made a point of leaving a calling card at the crime scenes to get public attention — both of their bosses are interested in them renewing their partnership (even if no one ever gets to hear about his calling card).

Around the same time, there’s a famous artist dying of cancer who is using his impending death as a launching pad for a contest of sorts — it raises money for charity, and raises his public profile a bit, too (not that it needed much). Dan has been tapped by his producer and the artist’s wife to help with the final part of the contest, and to do his final interview — most to be aired upon his death. This is so far from the rape case that it seems odd to spend time on it — until the artist dies under mysterious circumstances. A murder inquiry into a celebrity’s death obviously gets the police’s and public’s attention — although it’s really seen as more of a distraction from protecting women who are prospective targets of the rapist by Adam and his team. For the most part at this point, Adam and Dan tackle the murder investigation and his team handle the rapes, and Dan pretty much only covers the case as a reporter (with an inside track, of course), but not as an investigator.

Arrests are made pretty early on in both cases — it’s in the aftermath of the murder investigation and the contest that the latter part of the novel focuses on. The puzzle’s solution is clever, but the reader can see it coming (we do have a little more information than all the characters), but that only adds to the sense of drama leading up to the Reveal. I thoroughly enjoyed watching Dan through this story — both his official work as a reporter or with the police and his unofficial personal obsession with the puzzle.

As for the rape story? I don’t mean to sound cold, but there was something very cookie-cutter about the motivation and perpetrator. Horrible, yes; disturbing, yes, but nothing that hasn’t been on Law & Order: SVU an estimated 3,709 times — I’m not saying badly written or boring, just something I’ve seen before. But when Adam gets him in the interview room and he starts laying out his defense? That was utterly chilling. As I write this, I imagine the accused’s approach is not completely novel in Crime Fiction, but man . . . the way that Hall depicts this guy? Chilling.

Dan’s frequent work on the contest is reminiscent of his search for the Ted Hughes Memorial in The TV Detective, but is obviously tied more closely to the plot of this novel. I don’t recall another series doing something like this in book after book — I hope Hall continues it.

There’s something that happened to Dan in the past that was alluded to in the previous book and is talked around a good deal here. We’re not going to get more details on that in Book 3 (I bet), but I expect to see it wreak havoc on Dan’s life and various relationships soon. Similarly, there’s something that happens in this book to Adam — that will possibly do worse pretty soon. Both of these guys are ticking psychological bombs.

I have one gripe: the formatting. There are occasional — maybe even rare — white space breaks between sections of the story, but by and large they are conspicuously absent. Which is problematic when the perspective changes from character to character — what’s worse is when the perspective change introduces an entirely new character and you don’t know how this new name connects with anything. It honestly only caused a real problem for me once, but was frequently annoying.

I should stress when your complaint about a book has to do with Kindle layout (who knows what the paperback looks like), there’s a lot that’s working pretty well.

The Death Pictures is a solidly entertaining mystery novel that recaptures a lot of the high points of its predecessor, but isn’t just a repeat of it. This series has legs, that’s obvious, and I look forward to returning to it to see what happens next.

.

—–

3.5 Stars

Needle Song by Russell Day: Great characters, strong writing, and a clever solution to the mystery make this one of 2018’s best.


Needle SongNeedle Song

by Russell Day
Series: Doc Slidesmith, #1

Kindle Edition, 380 pg.
Fahrenheit Press, 2018
Read: July 2 – 4, 2018

He’d changed again in some way. Like he had the night in The Jericho putting out The Jive. But this was different again. The Jive was showmanship. The good Doctor Slidesmith in full sail. This was more intense. I’d see him like thus on occasion in the shop, absorbed in the ink and the song of the needle. I wouldn’t say lost in what he was doing. Lost implies lack of control.

For the first time that evening, it struck me he needed an audience, not to watch him but for him to watch. Like a dial on a machine, not part of the process, just a way of monitoring it.

Back when I posted about the short story featuring Doc Slidesmith, Not Talking Italics, I said that if Needle Song was anything like it, “I’m going to have to go down to the superlative store this weekend to stock up before I write anything about it.” I’m fully stocked (now) and ready to go.

I was disappointed — somewhat — and relieved to see that the all-dialogue, no narration, no other description approach of Italics was nowhere to be seen. I could’ve read 380 pages of that (see my love for Roddy Doyle), but I know it’s not that approachable and will turn off some readers.

Now, I don’t know if anyone but Karen E. Olson has envisioned a tattoo shop as a hotbed of crime fighting — or the staff of such to be the source people would turn to for help with legal difficulties. But it works — all because of the owner of the shop, former psychologist, current Voodoo practitioner and Tarot reader, Doc Slidesmith. On the surface, you see a rough-looking — striking, I think, bordering on handsome — but your basic leather-glad biker type, covered in ink — and will underestimate him. Only those who’ve been in conversations with him, those who’ve given him a chance will see the charm, the intelligence, and the indefinable characteristic that makes people come to him for help in times of trouble. In many hands, Doc’s…peculiar resume, shall we say, would end up this cartoonish mish-mash of quirks. But Day is able to make it work — there’s a reason that Doc ended up where he is, we don’t need to know it, but it makes him the man (and armchair detective) that we want to read about.

Andy Miller — known to many as “Yakky” (he’s not a chatty type, his tattoos are all placed so that he can hide them all with this clothing, like a member of the Yakkuza), is the tattoo apprentice to Doc Slidesmith. He lives with his father — a thoroughly unpleasant and manipulative man, that Yakky feels obligated to care for. While clearly appreciative for Doc’s tutelage, and more in awe of his mentor than he’d care to admit, he’s also more than a little skeptical of Doc’s interests, beliefs and practices that aren’t related to his tattooing. He’s our narrator. He’s not your typical narrator — he’s too frequently angry at, dismissive of and unbelieving in the protagonist for that. Which is just one of the breaths of fresh air brought by this book. Yakky is singularly unimpressed by Doc’s playing detective — but in the end, is probably as invested (maybe more) in the outcome.

Jan is brought by Chris Rudjer (a long-time client and friend of Doc’s) for a Tarot reading, which brings her some measure of comfort/reassurance. So that when, months later, her husband kills himself, she comes looking for another reading — which turns into seeking help in general. Not just for her, but for Chris, with whom she’d been carrying on a not-very-secret affair for months. While it seemed obvious that her husband had taken his own life when she found his body, there were some irregularities at the scene. When the police add in the affair Jan was having with someone with a record for violent crime, they get suspicious. Slidesmith does what he can to help Chris prepare for the inevitable police involvement, and enlists Yakky to help, too.

Yakky takes Jan home to stay in his spare room. She can’t stay at home — the memories are too fresh, there are problems with her husband’s family, and (she doesn’t realize it yet) there are people following her and Doc and Yakky are worried. The dynamic between Jan and Yakky, and between Jan and Yakky’s father, end up providing vital clues to her character and psychology. This will end up proving vital to their case.

As Doc and Yakky begin digging around in Jan’s life, it’s immediately obvious that very little is as it seems. Now, if you’re used to reading Crime Fiction featuring serial killers or organized crime, you’ll think a lot of what they uncover is pretty small potatoes. But it actually seems worse — it’s more immediate, more personal — serial killers have their various pathologies, mobster’s are after profits and power — these people are just about hate, cruelty and control. Maybe it’s just me, but it seems worse in comparison.

There’s a depth to all of these characters that I could spend a lot of time thinking/writing/reading about — for example, our narrator, Yakky. I have at least a dozen questions that I feel I need answers to about him. At the same time, I think at least eleven of those answers could ruin the character for me. Ditto for Doc, Gina (another artist in the shop), or Chris. It’s a pretty neat trick — one few authors have been able to pull off, creating a character that you can tell has a compelling backstory, but that you don’t really want to know it (see Parker’s Hawk or Crais’ Pike — or the other mercenary Crais has had to create now that we know too much about Pike). I know who these people are now, and look forward to seeing what happens with them — and that’s good enough. It’s hard to tell, always, just why Doc’s working on this — is it for fun, is it out of a sense of obligation to Chris, does he feel bad for Jan, is it some of all three? Yakky will frequently talk about The Jive — the showmanship that Doc brings to Tarot readings, conversations, and dealing with difficult witnesses — it reminds me frequently of B. A. Baracus’ complaining about Hannibal’s “being on The Jazz.”

The plot is as intricate as you want — there are twists, turns, ups, downs — both with the investigation and in the lives of those touched by it. This doesn’t have the flair of Not Talking Italics, but the voice is as strong, and everything else about the writing is better. It’s a cliché to say that Day paints a picture with his words, so I won’t say that. But he does etch indelible patterns with the tattoo-gun of his words — which isn’t a painless process for all involved, but the end result is worth whatever discomfort endured. Day doesn’t write like a rookie — this could easily be the third or fourth novel of an established author instead of someone’s talented debut.

I’m torn on what I think about the details of the ending, wavering between “good” and “good enough, but could have been better.” It’s not as strong as the 94% (or so) before it, but it’s probably close enough that I shouldn’t be quibbling over details. I’m not talking about the way that Doc elicits the answers he needs to fully explain what happened to Jan’s husband (both for her closure and Chris’ safety), nor the way that everything fits together just perfectly. I just think the execution could be slightly stronger.

Whether you think of this as an amateur sleuth novel, a look into the depravity of the suburbanite, or an elaborate Miss Marple tribute/pastiche, the one thing you have to see is that this is a wonderful novel. I’m underselling it here, I know, this is one of those books that you best understand why everyone is so positive about it by reading it. You’ve got to expose yourself to Doc, Yakky and Day’s prose to really get it. One of the best books I’ve read this year. My only complaint with this book? After reading so much about the “song of the needle,” the shop, the work being done there — I’m feeling the pressure to get another tattoo myself, and soon.

—–

5 Stars

BOOK SPOTLIGHT: Needle Song by Russell Day

Today we welcome the Book Tour for the fantastic Needle Song by Russell Day — I’m just hoping this stop matches the quality of the rest of the tour (seriously, check out the graphic below to see some of the other posts). Along with this spotlight post, I’ll be giving my take on the novel here in a bit.

Book Details:

Book Title: Needle Song by Russell Day
Publisher: Fahrenheit Press
Release date: April 28, 2018
Format: Paperback/ebook
Length: 380 pages

Book Blurb:

Spending the night with a beautiful woman would be a good alibi, if the body in the next room wasn’t her husband.

Doc Slidesmith has a habit of knowing things he shouldn’t. He knows the woman Chris Rudjer meets online is married. He knows the adult fun she’s looking for is likely to be short lived. And when her husband’s killed, he knows Chris Rudjer didn’t do it.

Only trouble is the police disagree and no one wants to waste time investigating an open and shut case.

No one except Doc.

Using lies, blackmail and a loaded pack of Tarot cards, Doc sets about looking for the truth – but the more truth he finds, the less he thinks his friend is going to like it.

About Russell Day:

Russell DayRussell Day was born in 1966 and grew up in Harlesden, NW10 – a geographic region searching for an alibi. From an early age it was clear the only things he cared about were motorcycles, tattoos and writing. At a later stage he added family life to his list of interests and now lives with his wife and two children. He’s still in London, but has moved south of the river for the milder climate.

Although he only writes crime fiction Russ doesn’t consider his work restricted. ‘As long as there have been people there has been crime, as long as there are people there will be crime.’ That attitude leaves a lot of scope for settings and characters. One of the first short stories he had published, The Second Rat and the Automatic Nun, was a double-cross story set in a world where the church had taken over policing. In his first novel, Needle Song, an amateur detective employs logic, psychology and a loaded pack of tarot cards to investigate a death.

Russ often tells people he seldom smiles due to nerve damage, sustained when his jaw was broken. In fact, this is a total fabrication and his family will tell you he’s has always been a miserable bastard.

Russell’s Social Media Links:
Twitter https://twitter.com/rfdaze

Purchase Links for Needle Song:
Amazon UK https://www.amazon.co.uk/Needle-Song-Russell-Day-ebook/dp/B07CR9SJ5T/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1526549901&sr=1-1

Amazon US https://www.amazon.com/Needle-Song-Russell-Day-ebook/dp/B07CR9SJ5T/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1526549972&sr=8-1&keywords=needle+song

Fahrenheit Press http://www.fahrenheit-press.com/books_needle_song.html


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

The Naming of the Dead by Ian Rankin: Rebus and Clarke find themselves in (well, next to) the middle of Global Politics.

The Naming of the DeadThe Naming of the Dead

by Ian RankinSeries: John Rebus, #16

Hardcover, 464 pg.
Little, Brown and Company, 2006
Read: June 22 – 25, 2018

           “Know what I think? I think all of this is because there’s a bit of the anarchist in you. You’re on their side, and it annoys you that you’ve somehow ended up working for The Man.”

Rebus snorted a laugh. “Where did you get that from?”

She laughed with him. “I’m right though, aren’t I? You’ve always seen yourself as being on the outside–” She broke off as their coffees arrived, dug her spoon into her cappuccino and scooped foam into her mouth.

“I do my best work on the margins,” Rebus said thoughtfully.

Rebus is on the verge of retirement — really, he’s about to be forced out, he’s at the stage of his career where many detectives would be just coming into the office and doing nothing — if not outright retiring already. And, truth be told, that’s precisely what everyone in the force seems to want (except for a few allies/friends), particularly the top brass. None of which Rebus has an interest in. He’s going to have to be pulled out, kicking and screaming — probably with someone barring the door after he’s out.

So when the G8 comes to Edinburgh in 2005, the police have their hands full with security, protests, riot preparations, and whatnot. They’re importing help from all over Scotland and even England. Everyone has plenty of assignments to deal with, everyone but John Rebus, that is. So when a clue comes up that might turn into something interesting on months-old murder case, he’s ready and raring to go. That evidence seems to point at multiple victims, too — so Siobhan Clarke is put in charge of that investigation, just please keep it quiet until all the important people have gone home (and yes, everyone is fully aware of the insult of putting the DS in charge of the DI on this one). Thankfully, there’s a suspicious-looking suicide that’s related to the G8 for Rebus to focus on.

At least one of the victims in Clarke’s case has an obvious connection to Big Ger Cafferty, too. Because why not make this all interesting? Big Ger’s the target of a local politician who happens to be making a lot of waves thanks to being in all the right places during the G8 protests, sticking up for his constituents and the cause of civility in the face of civil unrest. Rebus and Cafferty do their usual thing — Cafferty wants information so he can get his form of justice taken out of the murderer, Rebus needs information from Cafferty so he can prevent that. But at the end of the day here, Siobhan spends more time with Cafferty, despite everything Rebus tries to do.

Which is the crux of this novel, really. Rebus is at his career’s end, he knows it. The closest thing he has to a legacy is DS Clarke — and he wants it to be a good legacy. He wants to keep her from Cafferty’s clutches, from the dirt that’s dogged him for years due to guilt-by-association — as well as his actual influence. At the same time, he wants her to maintain that “work on the margins” attitude, while staying in good graces with TPTB. He wants Clarke to be everything he is, just without all the bad that comes from it. (I think she wants that, too, actually). Bringing me back to the point that this novel features Rebus fighting all involved for Siobhan’s soul.

In an interesting parallel, Siobhan’s actual parents are in town to take part in the G8 protests. There’s a young woman hanging out with them, almost like a temporary daughter (which really gets under her skin). She’s determined to spend some time with them, to show herself that she can have some sort of personal life — a family — and still be a good cop. To not be Rebus. At the same time, she so wants her parents to see her as a capable detective, not just someone in the midst of a defiant reaction to her parent’s lifestyle and beliefs.

Eric Bains shows up in a light I don’t think anyone expected, and I’m hoping that things turn around for him soon. I like the guy. He’s not Brian Holmes, but he’s a nice character to have around. There’s a reporter, Marie Henderson, involved in all of this, too (that’s her opining in the opening quotation) — I really liked her, and hope we see her again. Rebus seems to actually enjoy her company and intelligence — at the same time, as the co-writer of Cafferty’s biography, she represents everything that Rebus fears for Clarke.

I’ve not spent a lot of time talking about the cases — which are interesting enough, and watching Rebus not be careful around Very Important People from all over the world is fun. But on the whole, the cases felt familiar. Like we’ve been down these roads before — not exactly, and both held plenty of surprises, but they seemed like familiar Rebus/Clarke investigations. I might have been tempted to give his a 3-Star rating and move on.

BUT, Rankin won’t let me — because putting all of this right smack in the middle of the G8 conference — and the hullabaloo surrounding it (protests, concerts, marches) — the Bush bicycling incident, the London bombings, and the announcement of the Olympics coming to London — added so much to the novel. It grounded it in reality, it presented so many obstacles to the investigations (as well as distractions from the investigations) — as well as unexpected sources of help (police officers from other jurisdictions that had just the right kind of information). Plus all the “keep Siobhan from becoming Rebus” elements of the novel just captivated me.

Another winner. What else is there to say?

—–

4 Stars2018 Library Love Challenge

The Question of the Dead Mistress by E. J. Copperman, Jeff Cohen: Samuel Answers a Question a G-g-g-g-host

The Question of the Dead MistressThe Question of the Dead Mistress

by E. J. Copperman, Jeff Cohen
Series: Asperger’s Mysteries, #5

eARC, 288 pg.
Midnight Ink, 2018

Read: June 26 – 27, 2018

“Is my husband having an affair with a dead woman?”

That doesn’t seem to be the kind of question that Samuel and Ms. Washburn would tackle as Questions Answered. They typically take on things that require esoteric research, problem solving, and occasionally something that takes some investigation that looks a lot like the kind of thing a P.I. would do. Paranormal investigation is not in their wheelhouse. Samuel is almost reflexively dismissive of the idea — but his associate, Ms. Washburn makes him listen to the prospective client’s story. And then he tries to reflexively dismiss the question, but she won’t let him. While Samuel is convinced there’s nothing supernatural afoot — in fact, the notion is impossible — Ms. Washburn had an experience she can’t explain as a teenager, and refuses to rule it out.

So Samuel let’s her try to come up with an answer to the question and goes back to whatever he was doing before. Before she can get very far into her research, the husband is murdered. Suddenly, the question doesn’t matter as much as the replacement question, “Who killed my husband?” Given Ms. Washburn’s involvement, Samuel gets interested in things again — and the two get involved in a very twisty and complicated mystery. As far as twisty-turny-keep you guessing-mysteries go, this is the best that the duo has encountered and will easily satisfy the most puzzle-obsessed of readers.

What makes this even better — is that given the supernatural/supernatural-adjacent nature of the instigating question, the two are approaching things in very different ways and decide to operate largely separately. Samuel interviews people with assistance of other to drive him places or via the Internet, while Ms. Washburn goes on her own, trying to use Samuel’s methods. This change in modus operandi is refreshing for the characters and the readers, and will lead both Samuel and Ms. Washburn to re-evaluate the way they do business in the future.

The danger level in this one is great — and there are direct threats made against Ms. Washburn and Samuel’s mother and father. Which just makes Samuel more determined to come up with definitive answers quickly. The possible supernatural elements stay with the story throughout and it’s only near the end that all the characters come to the same conclusions about it. This novel features a great puzzle and the solution is very satisfactory — and one I didn’t see coming (but in retrospect makes complete sense).

So much for the mystery — there’s also plenty going on in Samuel’s personal life. On the whole I thought they dealt with it well, but…

I appreciated Samuel pointing out that Asperger’s is no longer a diagnosis, but he still claims it s a shorthand way to describe the way he acts/thinks to others. Which is just a great — and realistic — way to handle the change in status for the label. Let me follow that observation with this one — what frustrated me about this one — and I will admit I was very frustrated at times — is how little Samuel’s mother seemed to understand him. Ms. Washburn, too, but she hasn’t known Samuel as long — or as well as his mother. Dealing with the father who abandoned his family decades ago suddenly reappearing and trying to merge back into his life, would be difficult, complicated and messy. For someone like Samuel? Well, I’m guessing it’d be just as difficult and complicated — but he’d tell you exactly what’s going on with him. And Samuel does so — repeatedly. His father doesn’t believe him; Ms. Washburn seems to try to believe him, but doesn’t; neither does his mother. His mother has been with him every day of his life, devoting more of her life and energy to her son than most parents do — how does she not know him well enough to not double-guess his emotions? If Samuel says he feels “X,” then that’s probably exactly what he feels — unless you force him to look at things another way. Over and over again, his mother shows less awareness of Samuel’s reactions to things than almost anyone. It just didn’t ring true. Samuel’s Asperger’s isn’t new to her (or Samuel) — she shouldn’t act like this.

I should add — the authors know a whole lot more about all of this than I do, and their depictions of this are probably spot-on, I guess they just didn’t convince me about those depictions like they usually do. Also, in the overall-scheme of things, this was a relatively minor quibble and didn’t detract a lot from the pleasure I had in the book — it just took a lot of space to describe.

The trick to Samuel is to give him a little personal growth, a little greater awareness, a little understanding of himself and the emotional needs of others. Yet, only a little bit. I do think this is depicted faster (possibly unrealistically so) in the books — because outside of Nero Wolfe, Sherlock Holmes, or other Golden Age/Golden Age-like characters who don’t grow and evolve by design, we expect some sort of noticeable personal growth in our series characters (particularly the central characters) from book to book. Samuel shouldn’t give us much in that way — his evolution/growth/whatever you want to call it is going to happen on a glacial pace. And over the last three books (I really need to double back and read the first two in the series), he’s taken significant steps forward — so much so it’s like Ms. Washburn has slipped into forgetting that he’s not neurotypical a few times here. That makes sense, because their relationship (in every sense) is pretty new. Thankfully, she catches herself and deliberately attempts to accept that — and generally does – and recognizes when he’s trying. Because we readers get a direct pipeline to Samuel’s thoughts, we might have an easier time with it than she does, but she does a decent job (and his mother usually does, too). It’s a heckuva trick to pull off narratively, and Copperman/Cohen nails it, time and time again.

Another clever mystery, well-told with one of Crime Fiction’s most original and convincingly written characters (not a detective, just someone who can easily be mistaken for one) — this series is a consistently pleasant and rewarding read. The Question of the Dead Mistress is a great jumping-on point, and a welcome-return read for those who’ve spent time with the crew from Questions Answered before.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Midnight Ink via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this. My opinions are my own, however.

—–

3.5 Stars

Dead in the Water by Simon Bower: A Vacation Goes Very Awry Giving Some Characters their Just Desserts

Dead in the WaterDead in the Water

by Simon Bower

Kindle Edition, 403 pg.
Middle Farm Press, 2018

Read: June 27 – 30, 2018


I’ll be upfront with you — at the core here, there’s one decent person in this book (at least among the core eight characters), and we don’t spend that much time them. The best you can say about some of the others is that one is an almost-competent professional, a couple of others are a short course of self-improvement away from being decent people — and the rest are just horrible people. I’m not talking serial killers, stalkers, or dog abusers — not vile, evil people; just the kind of people we all would like to pretend don’t really exist. The book blurb describes some of them as “A human rights’ lawyer, an IT geek, a businessman, a waitress, a phone guy and a physiotherapist.” You could also describe them (I’ve shuffled the order to protect the identities of the guilty) as “A creep, a gold-digger, a busy-body, a drunken philanderer, an unscrupulous businessman who ignores international law, and a more successful gold-digger.”

These six people find themselves on a vacation together, all carrying their own histories and circumstances and concerns — on the whole, enjoying themselves — until some sort of calamity occurs bringing them into contact with France’s least-capable police officer, desperate to make his mark on law enforcement. Meanwhile, that one decent person is off living their life, unaware that they’re on the verge of being plunged into all the drama ensuing off the coast of France and in the mountains near Switzerland.

As I’m reading this, I get the impression I’m being awfully judgemental when it comes to these characters — and maybe I am. But that’s only in retrospect (and occasionally while reading, but that was a passing thing). While reading it, they were just “Charlie,” “Ana,” “Scott,” “Mia,” etc. Sure, you’d cringe while Scott makes another poor choice, or something, but you’re not sitting there looking down your nose at them the whole novel.

Beyond the experience of enjoying a story well told there are different things that will attract a reader to a novel. For me, usually, it’s character; frequently it’s voice or style. But sometimes — like, Dead in the Water it’ll be something else — the way the novel is put together. This story is told in a very careful, complex way — weaving multiple Point of View characters (frequently narrating the same events) and time-jumps together to tell this story. I’d accuse Bower of cheating once (and I’d be right, too) having a character show up i the middle of a sequence without any warning/indication that the character was even on the right continent. Still, it made utter sense that X would be with Y in the middle of Y’s plan, so it still worked — and the suddenness of Y’s appearance in the middle of the action was a well-timed and well-executed surprise, that guaranteed the success of story telling.

This doesn’t mean that there’s not a strong voice (or several, in this case), or that the characters were wanting — they weren’t. We have 8 well-drawn characters here, but man, you can tell this was a well-planned and (I’m guessing here) carefully finessed and re-written book to get these dominoes set up just “so.” There is a good deal of setting up — you spend the first 27% or so of the novel waiting for the crime part of this Crime Fiction to get going. Until that point, this could be a General Fiction kind of read. But then the dominoes start to fall, and initially you think that you’ve got a nice little puzzle before you (made more difficult by everyone lying about something), but then a few more fall and you realize that the novel you’re about halfway through is not at all what you thought it was.

The core of the crime part of this novel comes from a few characters trying to cut corners here and there — and then more than corners — to get ahead. Not because they feel life owes it to them, but the opportunities present themselves and these people are too weak/too opportunistic to let them slip by. There are no criminal masterminds at work here (or investigative geniuses on the other side, I should stress), just everyday folk — people you likely work, live and shop with — that decide to take the easy way.

This almost-Everyman nature of the criminals/would-be criminals in this nature leads me to my last point. I do think this novel could’ve been more effective — but not much more. The entire time, it’s never more than a couple of inches away from being a wonderful dark comedy. If Bower had just leaned into the humor just a little bit further, every twist and turn would’ve worked a little better and the novel as a whole would have been better for it. It almost succeeds as one now, it wouldn’t take much. But that’s not the direction Bower went, so we’re left with a pretty good straight crime novel.

This is a wonderfully constructed novel full of characters that are all-too believable in circumstances it’d be easy to see yourself in (assuming you had a pretty wealthy uncle and/or college friend who invited you along) in some fantastic locations throughout the world. This is a fun read that will keep you thinking through all the different things that could be happening next. Give this one a shot folks, I think you’ll be entertained.

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3.5 Stars