Down Don’t Bother Me by Jason Miller

Down Don’t Bother MeDown Don’t Bother Me

by Jason Miller
Series: Slim in Little Egypt, #1

Paperback, 270 pg.
Bourbon Street Books, 2015

Read: April 26 – 27, 2017

She was about my age, early forties, though I had to look at her hands to tell it. She was good-looking, too. Good-looking is putting it mildly, maybe. I looked around vaguely for a priest to strangle. She was tall and lean, with the kind of green eyes a lazy novelist would describe as “piercing.” Her copper hair was pulled back from her face with a strip of brown cloth. I imagined that its more honest self was touched here and there with gray, but that was just a guess. . . . I put down the picture. She looked at me and it and frowned the kind of desperate, exhausted frown that turns the room upside down and shakes the sympathy from its pockets.

Yeah, the spirit of Raymond Chandler is alive and well in the Midwest.

I first heard about Jason Miller through this episode of Mysterypod and thought his conversation with Steve Usery was fascinating. I finally got the chance to read his first book this week — We spend the first 3 and change pages with Slim in a coal mine in Little Egypt, Illinois. There were so many things in those pages I just didn’t understand — but somehow, Miller still created a fantastic sense of place. Claustrophobic, dark, dirty, and dangerous. I was hooked almost immediately. Then we started meeting people — and it got better.

Slim works in the Knight Hawk — one of the remaining coal mines in the area — he’s known for tracking down a couple of people that no one else seemed capable of finding, and was willing (and able) to get violent as necessary. More importantly, Slim’s a single father to a 12 year-old named Anci. He’s dating a teacher and has a best friend named Jeep, who’s sort of a Joe Pike-figure.

Matthew Luster is the owner of the Knight Hawk — and probably just as ethical as you’d expect. Just as rich, too — at least by small-town standards (and then some). He talks Slim into looking for a newspaper photographer who went missing about the same time as the reporter he worked with was found dead inside the mine. Roy Beckett, the photographer, is married to Luster’s daughter — and it doesn’t really seem like they’re really close. Why Luster wants him found is a bit murky, too — primarily, he seems curious about the story that Beckett and the photographer are working on.

The top contender is a blossoming meth trade in Knight Hawk and another mine in the area. But there’s an environmental group making noise, too. Throw in Beckett’s reputation as a womanizer, and you have any number of potential reasons why he’s scarce. Slim makes a token effort in tracking him down — when bodies start piling up, and bullets fly near Slim, his girlfriend and daughter. Which just makes him buckle down and get to work.

Overall, it’s a pretty standard PI tale from this point out. Entertaining enough in and of itself, a solid story that will keep mystery fans reading. But what makes this book shine and stand out is Slim and his perspective — like any good PI novel, it’s about the narrator primarily. And Slim is, right out of the gate, right up there with Spenser, Walt Longmire, Patrick Kenzie, and so on. Right there, Miller’s given people a reason to enjoy this book and come back for a sequel or three.

But it gets better — the way most of these people talk. I loved it — I’m not saying Little Egypt is full of Boyd Crowders, but it’s close. A ritzy-subdivision’s security guard, one of Beckett’s mistresses, Slim, and others — I made notes to quote them all, but I won’t — just a sample of the dialogue (and narration, which is pretty much just internal dialogue):

  • That old man is so bad, they’ll have to come up with a new definition of the term just so ordinary bad men won’t get all full of false piety.

  • You ever see one of these Taurus Raging Judge Magnum things? . . . I know it sounds like a gas station prophylactic, but let me tell you, it’s enough gun to kill the Lincoln on Mount Rushmore.

  • …the public defender system is a good thing–but you got the feeling that, in this guy’s hands, you could walk into to donate to the policeman’s fund and end up tied to a metal table.

  • Anci, I have to say, is the coolest kid in Crime Fiction today — that’s not saying a whole lot, I grant you. But she is. I like Maddie Bosch, but she’s no Anci (and outside of Bernie Little’s and Andy Carpenter’s sons are okay, too — but we don’t get that much time with them). She’s smart, she’s brave, she’s vulnerable, funny, well-read . . . and more mature than Flavia de Luce (and doesn’t seem to go looking for trouble). All without being too cute and therefore annoying — she’s a kid, but an important part of Team Slim.

    The novel ends making it clear that there are more stories about Anci and Slim to tell. There’s another novel and a short story in this series — hopefully with more to come. I had so much fun reading this and totally dug this one and can’t wait to read the others. Give this a shot, folks.

    —–

    3.5 Stars

    2017 Library Love Challenge

    High Heat (Audiobook) by Lee Child, Dick Hill

    High HeatHigh Heat

    by Lee Child, Dick Hill (Narrator)
    Series: Jack Reacher, #17.5
    Unabridged Audiobook, 2 hrs., 27 mins.
    Random House Audio, 2013

    Read: March 16 – 17, 2017


    Ahhh, finally — an actually satisfying shorter Jack Reacher story. It’s longer than the others I’ve tried — a novella, not just a short story. That’s probably a lot of it, but there’s something more to it — just don’t ask me what.

    Reacher’s on summer vacation before his senior year — pretty much fully grown, has a good head on his shoulders, and is as arrogant and invincible feeling as most teenagers (he’s just big and tough enough to back it up). He’s visiting NYC for the day before going to visit his brother at West Point.

    It’s 1977, a summer in NYC known for two things: incredible heat and Son of Sam. Both have an impact on this story (no, Reacher doesn’t stop the killer or anything — phew). Reacher flirts with some college girls, breaks up a fight with a mobster and an undercover FBI agent, survives a blackout, spends some quality time with one of the college girls and helps the FBI agent out — while engaging in a few solid fights.

    The action takes place in one night — probably 14 hours or so, but Child manages to cram a lot into those hours. Is it realistic? No, not even by Reacher standards. Is it compelling — yup. Will it keep you interested? Oh, yeah.

    Dick Hill sounded to me like he as having a lot of fun reading this one — which is fitting, it’s probably the most “fun” Reacher story I’ve come across (well, maybe the Reacher/Nick Heller story in FaceOff is a little more so). He does his typical job, satisfying in his delivery, keeps you engaged, doesn’t wow with technique.

    It’s a fun story, nothing to get excited about, but something that Reacher fans will enjoy, in a complete-feeling story. Good enough for me.

    —–

    3.5 Stars

    Tooth and Nail by Ian Rankin

    Tooth and Nail Tooth and Nail

    by Ian Rankin
    Series: John Rebus, #3

    Paperback, 293 pg.
    St. Martin’s Paperbacks, 1996 (first published 1992)

    Read: April 14 – 15, 2017

    She drives home the knife.

    The moment, she knows from past experience, is a very intimate one. Her hand is gripped around the knife’s
    cool handle and the thrust takes the blade into the throat up to the hilt until her hand meets the throat itself. Flesh upon flesh. Jacket first, or woollen jersey, cotton shirt or T-shirt, then flesh. Now rent. The knife is writhing, like an animal sniffing. Warm blood covering hilt and hand. (The other hand covers the mouth, stifling screams.) The moment is complete. A meeting. Touching. The body is hot, gaping, warm with blood. Seething inside, as insides become outsides. Boiling. The moment is coming to an end all too soon.

    And still she feels hungry. It isn’t right, isn’t usual but she does. She removes some of the clothing; in fact, removes quite a lot of it, removes more, perhaps, than is necessary. And she does what she must do, the knife squirming again. She keeps her eyes screwed tightly shut. She does not like this part. She has never liked this part, not then, not now. But especially not then.

    Clearly, this is someone who needs to be stopped. And The Powers That Be have brought John Rebus from Edinburgh to London to help the hunt for the Wolfman (yeah, those who tagged the killer with that moniker may have made some assumptions). Thanks to the events in Knots & Crosses, many (who don’t know all the details) believe that Rebus is somewhat of an expert in Serial Killers. He knows he’s not, but no one asked him — he was just told to show up. It’s not long before this case gets under Rebus’ skin and he’s no longer in London to kill a couple of days as a show of support for the local police, but he’s off to catch a killer.

    George Flight is the detective who’s serving as Rebus’ contact — and is leading the investigation. Rebus notes that he’s a better policeman than he is — meticulous, detailed, going through things step by step. Which isn’t doing him a lot of good at the moment, he needs something more. Enter Rebus. By and large, Flight’s the only one that wants Rebus’ help — his superior, another detective on the case, and the press liaison are pretty united in their lack of interest in bringing in someone from “Jockland” to meddle in the crimes of the big city.

    As Rebus arrives in London, another body is discovered, so he shows up at the crime scene with his luggage, from there, they head to an autopsy — rushed, no doubt given the likelihood that this is another Wolfman victim. The autopsy scene — the sights, sounds and smells — is one of the best (possibly the best) that I’ve seen along these lines. It felt real, it felt disgusting, it felt sad. Between this and the opening paragraphs (quoted above), I’m again reminded that Rankin knows what he’s doing when it comes to writing. He nails this stuff.

    While he’s in town, Rebus visits his ex-wife and daughter — things go poorly there, as one would expect. Things go worse when his daughter’s boyfriend comes around. When Rebus is able to connect said boyfriend to a career criminal . . .

    I’m no expert on this, but I’ve read more than a few serial killer novels, it strikes me that 1992 was still pretty early in serial killer fiction-terms, and it shows. Both in Rebus’ attempts to draw the killer out, as well as Flight’s attempts to catch him. We also get to see both detectives trying to understand the serial killer — or at least how to apprehend one. Flight’s more old-school in his approach and is pretty disdainful of Rebus’ efforts to get inside the head of a serial killer. Which is not to say that this particular killer isn’t destructive, sick and really creepy.

    Rebus is spurred on to this track because of who he is — but the attractive psychologist, Lisa Frazer, who wants to help him out certainly doesn’t hurt. It could be argued by some (including some characters in the book) that Rebus is far more interested in pursuing her than the Wolfman.

    Rebus mostly stumbles around, indulging his infatuation with Frazer, looking for his daughter’s boyfriend, and occasionally chatting with Flight about the case. Now eventually, enough things happened that allow Rebus to put things together and figure out the identity of the Wolfman (sorta like when Wilson made a stray comment to Dr. House that got him to make the right diagnosis). Sure, it was clever, but hard to believe.

    Early on, I thought this might be the book that turned me into a Rankin fan, not just some guy reading these. It came close, but I just couldn’t totally buy the ending and the way Rebus solved the case. But man, Rankin can write. I’m not totally sold on what he’s writing, but I’m really enjoying the craft. I was hooked throughout, but that ending just didn’t work.

    —–

    3.5 Stars

    2017 Library Love Challenge

    Deep Down Dead by Steph Broadribb

    Deep Down DeadDeep Down Dead

    by Steph Broadribb
    Series: Lori Anderson, #1

    eARC, 350 pg.
    Orenda Books, 2017

    Read: April 4 – 5, 2017


    Crime Fiction blogger turned novelist, Steph Broadribb’s debut novel, Deep Down Dead is the story of a bail enforcement agent (bounty hunter) making a pickup that will change her life in a fairly dramatic way. Lori Anderson couldn’t be in worse financial straits — her daughter’s medical bills from Leukemia (currently in remission) treatment are so far past due that future treatment is in jeopardy, and they’re about to get evicted from their home. So when the bondsman she works for offers her the largest amount she’s ever been offered for a job, she has to jump at it.

    It’s supposed to be a simple midnight run, go pick up the fugitive from another agent not licensed in Florida (or he’d drop off the fugitive himself) and deliver him to the police herself. Almost immediately, problems start (none that deter Lori from the cash reward waiting) — her sitter has plans, so she has to take her daughter, Dakota, with her. Secondly, the fugitive in question is her former mentor, JT — the one who taught her everything she knows, who’s inexplicably got a criminal record now. Then when she arrives at the pickup, the agent she expects isn’t there — instead three very aggressive ruffians (best word I can think of) are there and decide to rough her up a little.

    Things really go downhill from there — before Lori knows it, she’s got bigger problems than getting her money. She has to deal with a criminal enterprise running from one of the state’s largest amusement parks; a mob with a long-standing grudge; corrupt law enforcement officials; and being a suspect in violent crimes. This is intertwined with the story of Lori and JT’s past association, how he saved her life and set her on the path that she’s on now.

    By the time I got to a whopping 12% my notes started using the word “brutal.” This was like if Pierce Brown took a crack at writing Stephanie Plum. Most of the time the violence (gun play or hand-to-hand) was brtual, but not overwhelming — just heightened enough to fit a crime novel.

    You like Laurie almost instantly, Dakota will charm you and grab your heart, and you’ll even appreciate JT (maybe more . . . ) and his crusade — at the very least, you’ll get the connection between he and Laurie. The villains are evil, no two ways about it — but not in the mustache-twirling way, just in the kind of evil that we like to pretend doesn’t exist in this world.

    It’s not just in her characterization, but it’s in her plotting, pacing and interweaving the stories of present and past that Broadribb displays more skill than your typical debut novelist. This lived up to every expectation I had from the interviews, reviews, etc. that I’ve heard and read, which was a relief. I sorta feel like I’ve been giving too many 4 Stars lately, like I’ve been overly generous, so I tried to rate this lower. But I just can’t — this is a 4 Star book, easy — and with a little more experience under her belt, Broadribb (and Anderson) will be knocking out 5 Star reads regularly. I can’t wait to see what’s next.

    Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Trafalgar Square Publishing via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this entertaining and almost traumatic experience.

    —–

    4 Stars

    Remnants by Carolyn Arnold

    RemnantsRemnants

    by Carolyn Arnold
    Series: Brandon Fisher FBI, #8

    eARC, 260 pg.
    Hibbert & Stiles Publishing Inc., 2017

    Read: April 4, 2017


    After some strong storms go through the area, some dismembered body parts are discovered in and near the Little Ogeechee River in Savannah, Georgia. While the local law enforcement is unable to quickly identify who the parts belonged to, it was clear that multiple victims were involved, and a FBI team is called in to investigate. The limbs don’t come with any identifying marks outside of DNA, making it incredibly difficult to identify the victims — which increases the difficulty in determining why they were chosen, and therefore who might be doing the dismembering.

    It’s going to take some out-of-the-box thinking, and no little bit of luck, for profiler Brandon Fisher and the rest of his team to come up with suspects before the killer strikes again.

    Once a theory of the crime is starting to develop, one team member displays a fairly detailed and technical understanding of a fairly esoteric subject. Which was convenient in that it helped flush out the theory, but was a little hard to swallow. Something we learn later about that character (long-time readers probably know it already) makes it a little easier to accept, but not totally (at least for me). It’s a minor thing, and it didn’t detract from anything — just made me roll my eyes.

    The one complaint I have with the writing is the voice — it doesn’t change whether the chapter is in the first person (as Brandon) or third person (focusing on other agents or the killer). Other than that, the pacing is good, the twists come at the right moments and the plotting is strong, Arnold’s a good storyteller.

    I’m not sure if it’s typical for Agent Paige Dawson, but she really connected with the victim’s families. It’s not often — or at least not often enough — that this kind of attention is given to those characters. That was a nice touch. I’d like to spend more time with all these characters, Paige probably most of all.

    There are a few nuances I missed since I haven’t read the previous 7 books in the series, but only nuances. There’s nothing keeping someone new to the series — or someone looking for a standalone — from getting everything you need to from this book. Arnold’s kept this very newbie-friendly, which is nice.

    This isn’t the most exciting or revolutionary – or, thankfully, most disturbing — serial killer novel you’ll find. It is a solid procedural with believable characters (on either side of the law), an interesting solution, and some credible emotional beats. This is an entertaining read and if the rest of this series is of similar quality, it’s worth your time to check out the others, too.

    Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from Hibbert & Stiles Publishing in exchange for this post. I appreciate the opportunity to read this book.

    —–

    3 Stars

    The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag (Audiobook) by Alan Bradley, Jayne Entwistle

    The Weed That Strings the Hangman's BagThe Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag

    by Alan Bradley, Jayne Entwistle (Narrator)
    Series: Flavia de Luce, #2

    Unabridged Audiobook, 9 hrs., 49 min.
    Random House Audio, 2010

    Read: March 21 – 27, 2017

    I think I’d have phrased things a bit differently, but in the interest of time, I’m just going to copy and paste from my thoughts when I read the book a couple of years ago and add in a bit for the audiobook:
    The plucky young chemist with a nascent obsession with death is back in action. The case is a little less personal for Flavia de Luce this time, but that doesn’t stop her from jumping in whole hog to get to the bottom of it.

    Flavia runs into a couple of traveling performers with some car trouble and before you know it, she’s got them some help–and a gig. While she hangs around the TV star and his assistant, she finds herself surrounded by some of her town’s darker history and then face to face with a murder. And Flavia being Flavia, she can’t resist sticking her nose in and making sure all the knots are untangled–particularly the ones adults are ignoring, despite them being painfully obvious to her.

    We get less of Flavia’s sisters (and the rest of the household, come to think of it) in this installment–but when they’re around, their impact is greater. Clearly, as this series continues, there’s going to be some serious drama on the homefront with some major implications for the de Luce family, I hope Bradley tackles that quickly, the foreshadowing’s getting old quickly.

    Unlike with so many other amateur sleuths (particularly juveniles), it’s nice to see that her reputation and track record are acknowledged by some in the community — which is both a help and a hindrance, I hope to see more of that in the future.

    Entwistle really impressed me again with her narration. Not just the way she nails Flavia — both the good and the bad aspects of her personality. But her work on the rest of the characters — the TV star’s assistant in particular — really won me over, showing a little more range than we got to see, er, hear last time.

    My only major quibble with this installment is that it takes far too long to set the main action of the novel up–in a 348 page mystery novel, you’d better get to the central crime before page 150 or so. Unless you’ve got a heroine like Flavia to focus on, I can’t imagine being patient enough to wait that long to get the ball rolling. Entwistle’s performance helps, but, man, it drags on awhile before Bradley’s done setting things up and gets things moving.

    Another fun (occasionally hilarious) read, with a mystery satisfyingly twisty, with just enough red herrings to get you through it.

    —–

    3.5 Stars

    Not a Drill (Audiobook) by Lee Child, Dick Hill

    Not a DrillNot a Drill

    by Lee Child, Dick Hill (Narrator)
    Series: Jack Reacher, #18.5
    Unabridged Audiobook, 1 hr., 27 min.
    Random House Audio, 2014

    Read: March 14, 2017


    Reacher sets out for the Canadian border, to make it as far north on this Interstate as possible, just because. Not too far south from there, he stops in a tourist-y town, a haven for backpackers, hikers, wilderness types in general. Before he leaves, a whole lot of military types show up and block access to the forest from the town (well, they try to — the forest is pretty big, it’s impossible to block access to the whole thing).

    This gets Reacher’s curiosity piqued and he starts poking around to see if he can understand why.

    I don’t want to sound bloodthirsty here, but not a single fight. No threat of violence breaking out. Mostly, it’s Reacher walking around and observing things before making a heck of a guess/deduction that proved to be right.

    Dark, cynical ending — one of Child’s more political statements.

    Hill was okay, not terribly interesting, but I think that’s Child’s fault this time.

    It’s not bad. It’s just disappointing, short and . . . bleh. Proof that they can’t all be winners, I guess.

    —–

    2 1/2 Stars