Nice Try, Afton by Brent Jones: Afton’s life gets stranger, more violent, and more open?

Nice Try, AftonNice Try, Afton

by Brent Jones
Series: Afton Morrison, Book 3

Kindle Edition, 111 pg.
2018
Read: July 18, 2018

           I could’ve screamed, knowing that I was the only person in the room working toward a peaceful resolution. Me, Afton Morrison, the disturbed murderess, suggesting that everyone take a deep breath, and find an answer that didn’t include violence.

Things have gone from bad to worse for Afton Morrison, the would-be murderess — not only is she being framed for a murder she didn’t commit, but didn’t; her home has been violated; her understanding of her childhood and family has been shattered; and so many buildings in her town have been burned over the last few days that the police have ordered a lockdown.

Again, this is hard to talk about without spoiling Book 1 and/or 2, so I’ll dodge it. Afton’s pushed about to her limit — maybe past it. And pushes herself in new ways. Ultimately, she embraces the violent tendencies that almost pushed her into her first kill back in Book 1 and sets out to put an end to the chaos that surrounds her home town and threatens to burn it all to the ground.

There is a hand-to-hand fight scene toward the end of the novella that was fantastic. I’d stack it up against Child, Sharp, Finder, or the like any day.

Beyond that there’s some compelling character-focused material. There’s some interesting discussion between the characters on the eternal nature/nurture debate. Afton gets very self-reflective — and maybe grows a little as a result. The emotional beats between the Afton and her family/friends (or the closest things she ahs to friends) are deeper than I expected, and hard-earned.

I’ve enjoyed and appreciated the series to this point, but Jones has found a new gear here, and has produced something markedly better than the rest. I’m not sure what he did here that was better — but every scene, every character, every thing, every theme is better written, better focused, sharper — if part 4 lives up to this, it’s going to be a great ending.

—–

4 Stars

Advertisements

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

The Tainted Vintage by Clare Blanchard: A Promising Introduction to a series about crime fighting in the Czech Republic


The Tainted VintageThe Tainted Vintage

by Clare Blanchard
Series: Dvorska & Dambersky, #1

Kindle Edition, 159 pg.
Fahrenheit Press, 2018
Read: September 11, 2018

In the first chapter, we’re treated to a better synopsis than I could cook up, so let me just borrow it. One night in the little town of Vinice, in the Czech Republic, the mayor dies during his birthday party:

Dvorska was sure that she and Ivan had been sent there for the sake of appearances, because a dead mayor was by definition high profile, and of course because no-one else wanted to touch it. She wondered why they had been called out at all, so soon. The fat feminist and the misogynist – what a team. And of course Dambo, as the senior of the two, would call the shots, so her hands would be tied. Perfect. The sudden death of a rich and powerful local figure was hardly a magnet for rising-star detectives.

Dvorska picks up a clue or two that convinces her — and then Dambersky — that this death was not due to natural causes. The Powers That Be don’t want to hear such a thing, and rule otherwise. So this very unlikely duo has to embark on an unauthorized investigation — not just unauthorized, but prohibited — into the murder.

Finding the murderer of a man who died of natural causes isn’t the easiest thing to accomplish, obviously — it’s hard to ask too many questions without a “Hey, he wasn’t murdered, why are you asking?” coming up. So the partners have to be wily — not just with their superior officer, but with witnesses, possible suspects, and everyone else they encounter.

The investigation takes them to various cities, a variety of social classes, and even ends up giving them a few history lessons. The mayor’s home has ties to significant (at least to Vinice) historical movements, going back to World War II, the Communist takeover, and then once the Republic took over. This really helps the reader — particularly the reader who knows almost nothing about the Czech Republic — find themselves, not only in the geography but the history (cultural and otherwise). obviously, I’m no expert on the Czech Republic,, but I can understand a little more than I used to. Just the first couple of usages of “Perv” to indicate an illegal drug threw me — but between the narrator finally calling it Pervityn and a search engine, I got a little lesson in drugs during WWII.

It doesn’t take long for the book to try to get the reader on the side of these two characters — maybe there’s more to them than the “fat feminist and the misogynist.” I really found myself enjoying them as people, not just as detectives. We spend — for reasons that will become clear when you read this — more time with Dvorska than her partner, and she is a charming, dedicated detective, fully aware of her limitations and sure how to overcome them.

The writing was good but I thought it could be sharper — there’s an odd word choice or two (early on, the detectives start talking about the mayor’s death being an execution, not a murder); there’s a lot of recapping/rehashing something that was just done/considered/decided a page or two earlier — the kind of thing that makes sense for serialized novels, but this doesn’t appear to be on. Still, the voice is engaging, as is the story — and you get caught up enough in it that you can easily ignore a few things that’d normally bug you.

I was caught totally off-guard by the ending. I didn’t expect that to happen at all — my notes toward the end feature short words like “what” and”why?” But primarily my notes consist of question marks, exclamation points, and combinations thereof. This is a great sign for mystery and thriller novels. Blanchard did a great job setting things up so that there’s a dramatic reveal and one that isn’t seen chapters away. I do think some more ground work could have been laid early on so that it didn’t seem quite so out of nowhere. But it was effective enough, that I really don’t want to complain about it.

This is a pleasant read — it’s close enough to being a cozy that I could recommend it to friends who predominately read those, and twisted enough that those with more grizzled tastes can sink their teeth into it, too. The characters are winning, charming and the kind that you want to spend time with. It’s a good introduction to a series exotic enough for most English readers to feel “alien” and yet full of enough things so you don’t feel cut off from what you know. There are obviously future cases for these two in the works, and I plan on getting my hands on them when I can.

—–

3 Stars

BOOK SPOTLIGHT: The Tainted Vintage by Clare Blanchard

Today I welcome the Book Tour for The Tainted Vintage by Clare Blanchard, which adds a little international flavor to my typical fare. Along with this spotlight post, I’ll be giving my take on the novel here in a bit.

Book Details:

Book Title: The Tainted Vintage by Clare Blanchard
Publisher: Fahrenheit Press
Release date: July 7, 2018
Format: Paperback/ebook
Length: 159 pages

Book Blurb:

In the small Czech town of Vinice the mayor has been found dead in his wine cellar.

Detectives Jana Dvorska and Ivan Dambersky are called to the scene and soon realise that despite appearances, Mayor Slansky’s death was most definitely not from natural causes.

Almost immediately, the close-knit community closes ranks to try and brush the unexplained death under the carpet with the minimum of fuss.

Dvorska & Dambersky are drawn deeper and deeper into secrets that many hoped would remain buried forever and they’re forced into pursuing an investigation where their own lives are put in danger.

The Tainted Vintage is the first book in a wonderful new series set in and around The Czech Republic, an area rich in history, literature and culture that still remains largely unexplored by contemporary crime fiction fans.

About Clare Blanchard:

Clare BlanchardOriginally from the North Yorkshire coast in England, Clare Blanchard spent half her lifetime in the Czech Republic, where her books are mainly set. Inspired by Nordic noir, where the settings are often like another character in the plot, she writes crime mysteries and other fiction, usually with a historical twist. She loves beautiful landscapes and architecture, cross-country skiing, the wine of South Moravia, and of course Czech beer. When she’s not being literary she knits funky socks.

Clare Blanchard’s Social Media Links:
Twitter: https://twitter.com/CBcrime
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ClareBlanchardBooks/
Website: https://www.clareblanchard.com/
Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=dp_byline_sr_ebooks_1?ie=UTF8&text=Clare+Blanchard&search-alias=digital-text&field-author=Clare+Blanchard&sort=relevancerank

Purchase Links for The Tainted Vintage:
Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Tainted-Vintage-Dvorska-Dambersky-Book-ebook/dp/B07FC1MM58/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1534608727&sr=1-1
Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/Tainted-Vintage-Dvorska-Dambersky-Book-ebook/dp/B07FC1MM58/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1534608804&sr=8-1&keywords=the+tainted+vintage
Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/ca/en/search?Query=the+tainted+vintage
Nook: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-tainted-vintage-clare-blanchard/1125886642?ean=2940154344606
Fahrenheit Press” http://www.fahrenheit-press.com/books_the_tainted_vintage.html


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

When Archie Met Lily

80 years ago today, Archie Goodwin — one of my top 5 All-Time Favorite Characters — met the only woman who could keep his attention for more than a few months, Lily Rowan. Lily shows up several times in the series and threatens to steal every scene she appears in (and frequently succeeds). Check out this post from Today in Mystery Fiction for the details — one of my favorite scenes, from one of my favorite books in possibly my favorite series — (I think I have 3 or 4 copies of it), so I had to say something.

How they met 80 years ago, when Archie’s only in his mid-30’s, is beyond me. But Math was never my strong suit, I’m sure it makes sense, surely Charlie Epps (or Larry or Amita) could explain it to me.

Pub Day Repost: Miss Kopp Just Won’t Quit by Amy Stewart: Deputy Kopp faces her biggest challenges yet — a new Sheriff and an Uncertain Future

Miss Kopp Just Won't QuitMiss Kopp Just Won’t Quit

by Amy Stewart
Series: The Kopp Sisters, #4
eARC, 320pg.
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018
Read: August 8 – 9, 2018

So it’s been roughly a year for Constance Kopp working as the ladies’ matron for the Bergon County Jail. In that time she has investigated crimes, tracked down murderers, sought justice for women of all walks of life, and put her life on the line more than a few times. She’s gained nationwide notoriety, and caused more than a few scandals at home. About now, some of those scandals are coming back and are in the forefront of local elections.

Because of New Jersey law, Sheriff Heath, Constance’s boss and chief defender, cannot run for another term of office without taking one off — so no matter what, after Election Day, Constance will have a new boss. Heath’s former Sheriff is running for the position again, and is the expected winner. He finds the idea of a female deputy silly, and while he won’t take Constance seriously, he’ll probably leave her alone. His opponent is a current detective in the Prosecutor’s office who has been opposing Constance’s position and person since Day 1, he’s essentially running a campaign against Heath (even if Heath isn’t the opponent), and Constance is the easiest way to do that. Clearly, the future isn’t bright for Deputy Kopp.

While this is going on, Constance makes a couple more headlines — she runs down a burglar single-handedly, she jumps into a river to apprehend a potential escapee under their custody when another deputy is injured. Constance has to take a woman to an insane asylum, after her husband and doctor get a judge to commit her for a while. This isn’t the first time this has happened to the woman, and it seems clear to Constance that this woman is as sane as anyone. So Constance attempts to find out what’s behind this commitment so she can free this woman. She’s very aware of the trouble that this could cause for herself and for Sheriff Heath, she tries to do this under the radar. Under the radar isn’t something that comes naturally to her, and her results aren’t stellar (but better than one would expect).

The story was a bit flat, honestly. A lot of things seemed to be foregone conclusions (not necessarily the way that various characters saw them working, either). The one case that she really gets herself into is really pretty tidy and doesn’t take a lot of effort — although she does take plenty of risks. So really, the novel isn’t about Constance sinking her teeth into a case, into helping a woman through some sort of problem, or any of the usual things. This is primarily about Constance worrying that she’ll do something to jeopardize Sheriff Heath’s Congressional campaign by giving his opponents something to harp on, while contemplating her future in the jail under the upcoming term of office for either candidate. Which is fine, really — it’s just not what I’ve come to expect from these books — I expected the case of the poor committed woman to take the bulk of the attention, so the problem is my own. But it comes from being conditioned by the previous books.

Constance’s sisters have a background role in this book — Fleurette in particular, she’s around frequently, but she plays a very small role. I appreciate that she seemed to have her head on straight and wasn’t the cause for trouble (inadvertently or purposely). Norma seemed to primarily be a conduit for comic relief in this novel. But it never feels right to laugh at her, she’s the most practical, she’s the only realist in the family — it’s her blood, sweat and tears that’s kept the family going. On the other hand, her obsessive nature does lead her into some strange preoccupations.

This is not to say it’s a bad book — Stewart is probably incapable of writing a bad book. Miss Kopp Just Won’t Quit feels very different than the others in the series (although, really, each has felt different than the others), and it left me feeling dissatisfied. Still, it was an entertaining and compelling read. The ending is likely the best the series has had thus far — we just have to go through some meandering passages, and some dark times for our favorite Deputy before we get to it. I don’t know what comes next for Constance Kopp (I’m deliberately not consulting anything to tell me, either) — but it’s going to be very interesting to see what Stewart does next.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this.

—–

3.5 Stars

Pub Day Repost: Colorblind by Reed Farrel Coleman: Jesse Stone is Clean, Sober and in Dire Straits

ColorblindRobert B. Parker’s Colorblind

by Reed Farrel Coleman
Series: Jesse Stone, #17
eARC, 368 pg.
G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2018
Read: July 18, 2018

This is Coleman’s fifth Jesse Stone novel, the seventeenth in the series overall and Coleman has really put his stamp on the character here. He’s made the series his own already, adding depth and shades of color to characters that’ve been around for years, don’t get me wrong. But everything he’s done could be changed, dropped, or ignored in the next — like an old Star Trek or Columbo episode. But following up from the closing pages of The Hangman’s Sonnet, in Colorblind he’s enacted permanent change on Jesse — yeah, things might not go smoothly from this point — he may stumble. But things won’t be the same — cannot be the same without some sort of Star Wars Expanded Universe level retcon. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

First we need to start with the crime part of the novel — it’s ostensibly what people are buying this for, and the novel’s focus. I can absolutely see this happening in Real Life ™ — a white supremacist group from New York is attacking mixed race couples (and by “mixed,” I obviously mean one white person and one person from another race — they wouldn’t care if an Asian man and a Hispanic woman were together) and spreading propaganda in Paradise, of all places. There’s a reason Paradise was chosen — several, actually, and it actually makes sense in context — it’s not just a convenient way to get it into a Jesse Stone novel. Only one of the crimes involved is technically something that Jesse is supposed to be investigating.

Once one of his officers becomes embroiled in this series of crimes — and the possible target of an elaborate frame job — Jesse stops really caring about things like jurisdictions, and will stop at nothing to find the truth. If there’s a connection between the different crimes, he’ll find it. The question he has no answer to is: for what end? Why are these people in Paradise? What do they have to gain from framing his officer?

Yes, certain elements of this story stretch credulity a bit — but in context it absolutely works. And while I say something stretches credulity, I can’t help but wonder if it really does. The actions of this particular supremacist group might not be that much different from the dreams of too many. Also, the race-based crimes, the murders, the vandalism — everything that Paradise or Massachusetts can prosecute people for — are not the biggest evil perpetrated by the members of that group. There’s a deeper darkness working here, something that people with radically different views can also perpetrate — Coleman could’ve gone the easy route and made it all about “Them,” but he points at something that everyone can and should recoil from.

While Jesse works to prevent things from getting out of hand in Paradise, he is struggling to prevent himself from doing what he’s so often done before — retreat to the bottle. He has several reasons to, several excuses to — and decades of experience telling him to do so. Fresh (Very, very fresh) off a stint at rehab, Jesse starts attending AA meetings (in Boston, nothing local that could cause problems for himself or anyone else in the meeting). I absolutely loved this part of the book — I think Coleman’s treatment of Jesse’s drinking (and his various attempts to limit/stop it) has been so much better, realistic and helpful than anything that came before. Colorblind takes that another step up, and sets the character on a path that he needs to be on. Jesse’s not a rock, but he’s working on becoming one when it comes to this addiction. I don’t know (don’t want to know) where Coleman is going with this — but I love it. Character growth/development, an actual healthy approach, and Coleman’s own stamp on the series. Even if Jesse relapses in the future, he’s actually been sober (not just taken a break from drinking) — I love it (have I mentioned that?). It may have been a little too on-the-nose to have Jesse’s new AA friend be named Bill, but, it made me smile.

As for the regulars — we’ve got some good use of Healy (retirement can’t stop him!); Lundquist is settling in nicely to this world (very glad about that, I’ve liked him since his intro back that other Parker series, whatever it was called); Molly was outstanding (it’s hard to mis-write Molly, but it’s very nice when it’s done correctly); and Suit is still the guy you want riding shotgun when things get harry (ignoring the fact that someone else was actually carrying the shotgun when it came to it — it’s a metaphor, folks!). Surprisingly enough, given the B-Story, Dix doesn’t make an appearance — but Jesse can’t stop thinking about him, so he’s here, he’s just “offscreen.” That was a nice touch (and hopefully not too much of a spoiler), it’d have been very easy to have almost as much Dix in this book as Jesse. Coleman has not only got the original cast of characters done well, he’s introduced a few of his own regulars and has merged them into this world well (e.g., Mayor Walker, Monty Bernstein). And it’s not just characters he’s blending, this book is full (not overstuffed) of call-backs to the oldest Stone novels as well as Coleman’s — this universe is alive and well and whole.

As far as the writing — it’s Reed Farrel Coleman, I really don’t need to say anything else. I will say a little bit, though, he balances the various stories and tones of these stories well — the book feels like a natural outgrowth of every book that came before, however minor the stylistic choices and depth have changed over the last few years. Parker could have written this. I don’t think (especially in the latter years) he would have, but he could have. Yet, it’s undeniably a Coleman book. It’s impressive the way that Coleman can do this (see almost everyone that’s tried a Bond novel [honestly haven’t tried one in years, maybe someone has], or Robert Goldsborough to see that not everyone is capable of it). There is one moment, I thought, that Coleman faltered a bit and got into some pretty heavy editorializing — if this was a first person book, it would have worked; or if he had been obviously channeling one of the characters, I wouldn’t have said anything; but when your omniscient third-person narrator gets that opinionated, it’s not good.

A solid crime story that resonates near the too-close-for-comfort zone given the cultural events (which probably is how some people felt with 1970’s Parker), some great character development — and plenty of fodder for Coleman’s next (I ignored one storyline above because I don’t think I can talk about it without ruining it). This is a must for Jesse Stone fans and a decent entry point for new readers, too — it’ll get you to go back and read at least a few older books (I’m more than willing to help a new reader with an “Essential Jesse Stone” reading list — just let me know). Give this one a look folks, it deserves it.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Putnam Books via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this.

—–

4 1/2 Stars