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.

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Marked by Benedict Jacka: Alex Verus takes some of the biggest risks of his life

MarkedMarked

by Benedict Jacka
Series: Alex Verus, #1

Mass Market Paperback, 310 pg.
Ace Books, 2018
Read: July 5 – 9, 2018

“So who was it this time?” Anne asked as I walked over to inspect the device.

“I can see the future not the past.” The bomb was a stack of plastique packed into the gym bag, the wires ending in contacts stuck into the blocks. It was crude but powerful, enough to blow apart the house, the victim, and anyone else unlucky enough to be within thirty feet or so of the front door. “I suppose I could get Sonder or someone to track down whoever it was, but honestly, I don’t think it’s worth it.”

“It feels a little bit strange that you don’t even bother identifying the people trying to kill you anymore.”

“Who has that kind of time?”

This is one of those books that I wait so long for (not that it was delayed, I simply couldn’t wait to read it) and then after reading it, the draft has spent too many days open with out words filling the space. I don’t know why — I had and have many opinions about what transpired here, but can’t seem to get them out. So, let’s start with the publisher’s blurb and see if that helps:

           Mage Alex Verus is hanging on by a thread in the ninth urban fantasy novel from the national bestselling author of Burned.

When Mage Alex Verus ends up with a position on the Light Council, no one is happy, least of all him. But Alex is starting to realize that if he wants to protect his friends, he’ll need to become a power player himself. His first order of business is to track down dangerous magical items unleashed into the world by Dark Mages.

But when the Council decides they need his help in negotiating with the perpetrators, Alex will have to use all his cunning and magic to strike a deal–and stop the rising tension between the Council, the Dark Mages, and the adept community from turning into a bloodbath.

This is not a book for someone to jump into this series with; I guess, technically it could work — but man . . . there’s just so much you wouldn’t get. But for those who’ve dipped their toes in the water — or have fully submerged themselves in the deep end — this is going to scratch that itch.

Typically, there are more balls in the air than you can easily track — there’s all the new political moves and movers that Alex has to contend with, his continuing efforts to prove to former friends and allies that he’s trustworthy (well, that he shouldn’t be intensely distrusted anyway), there’s a rising sense among the adepts that they need to organize — and Alex is dumbfounded that none of the Light mages seem to see this as something worth paying attention to — and then there’s Richard’s continuing efforts to disrupt Alex’s life. And then there’s all the stuff that Alex hasn’t figured out that’s going on around him yet.

Due to the political office (however temporary) that he finds himself in, and the nature of the threats he’s facing down — this is one of the least personal stories in the series. At the same time, Alex is driven to risk more of himself to save his friends and maybe even save a foe.

I don’t know how to talk about this without spoiling much. I can tell you that as nice as it is for Arachne not to have all the answers — I wanted more of her and that the rest of Alex’s friends get to shine in ways they normally don’t. Also, given where things end, I’m already impatient to get my hands on the next one.

So, I don’t have much to say, but it’s good. Alex Verus fans should grab it, and people who aren’t yet, should check into the series and catch up.

—–

4 Stars

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

The Sinners by Ace Atkins: Atkins’ take on the Dukes of Hazzard(??) is another stellar installment in the Quinn Colson series.

The SinnersThe Sinners

by Ace Atkins
Series: Quinn Colson, #8


Hardcover, 365 pg.
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2018

Read: September 4 -5, 2018

They sat there in silence for a bit, enjoying the warm breeze, the empty, quite sounds of the hot wind through the trees. He and Boom could be together for a long while without saying a damn word, same as it had been hunting and fishing when they were kids. They didn’t feel the need to fill that silence with: bunch of empty-headed talk.

“This place is a lot different from when you got back,” Boom said.

“People in town said for me to burn the house down,” Quinn said.

“Took us two days just to clear out your uncle’s trash,“ Boom said. “Nothing good in here but some old records and guns.”

“And a suede coat and a bottle of Fine bourbon from Johnny Stagg.”

Boom nodded, silent again for a while. Quinn drank his beer watching Hondo, now just a flitting dark speck among the cows as he worked them a little, letting them know who was in charge. Nearly ten years Quinn’d been back and he wasn’t sure he’d made a damn bit of difference.

On the one hand, it’s easy to argue that with Quinn — even just one of the seven preceding novels would tell you that. But, it’s easy to see where he’d get to thinking that way — Tibbehah County is a very much poster child for The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same Club. The Sinners is full of nice little moments like this — quiet, reflective moments with Quinn and Boom, Quinn and Lilly, Quinn and Maggie. While it’d be easy (and understandable) to focus on the storylines featuring the Pritchards or Boom Kimbrough — the heart of this novel is in these moments. You want to know what Quinn Colson, or this series is about? Focus on these conversations, the quiet in the midst of the storms.

But that doesn’t mean we should ignore the storms.

The first story (not in the book, but here) focuses on Boom Kimbrough, Quinn’s oldest friend. Unwelcome at his old job keeping the Sheriff Department’s vehicles running (among other things), thanks to the county supervisor we met in last year’s The Fallen, Boom’s moved on to doing some interstate trucking. Convinced (wrongly?) that a black man with one arm isn’t going to be hired by anyone else, he’s stuck with one particular company. And once he becomes suspicious about the cargo he’s sometimes carrying, he’s ready to quit — but despondent and frustrated about what he’ll do as an alternative. His boss doesn’t want him to leave — and uses a couple of tough looking employees to convey that to Boom (Boom’s not the only one they’ll threaten — Fannie Hathcock is also a target). Clearly, they don’t know enough about Boom, and before you know it, Quinn is informed about it all. Which brings in FBI agent, Nat Wilkins (more about her in a second). Things get hairy from there. This is the secondary story — and gets that kind of space — but it’s really the more interesting of the two major plots, mostly because it’s what forces Fannie and the Dixie Mafia toughs to get involved in the other story.

The major plotline involves the anti-Bo and Luke Duke. Tyler and Cody Pritchard are a couple of good ol’ boys concerned with racing their stock car, women, and growing/selling the best weed in The South. Things are going fine for them, by and large: they race, they grow and sell, which funds the racing, enabling them to attract women. Sure, they’ve double-crossed Fannie a bit, but that’s really nothing major. Until their Uncle Heath gets out of prison after doing 25 for his part in laying the groundwork of their marijuana growing. Heath, too, is an anti-Duke. He got caught, for one, and he’s not in the habit of keeping his nephews out of trouble, in fact, he makes things worse for them and spurs them into bigger and worse crimes than they’d been accustomed to.

Now, long time readers will have done the math here — Heath did 25 years, Quinn’s been around for almost 10, having taken over for . . . that’s right, his Uncle, Hamp Beckett. Hamp and Heath apparently were quite the cat and mouse for a while (Hamp perhaps being spurred on by his “Boss Hogg,” Johnny Stagg — I swear I’m done with the Dukes now) until he finally got the goods on Heath and sent him away. That story kicks off this book and is a great way to open. To say that Heath has got a chip on his shoulder toward Hamp and his nephew would be understating things a wee bit.

So we’ve got Heath dragging his nephews into bigger and badder felonies, making them targets for the Dixie Mafia, who are having troubles with things at Fannie’s, and one of their transportation venues is being scrutinized thanks to Boom. Oh, yeah, and Quinn and Maggie are a couple of weeks away from tying the knot and Quinn’s mother is becoming a pest about the ceremony and reception. It’s set to be a good time in Tibbehah.

This is told with Atkins’ typical skill, eye for detail, good timing and atmosphere. It’s hard to find something new to comment on. One thing I really appreciated was how clever he had Quinn act when it came to putting the pieces together. We’re all accustomed (especially in film or television) for the police to be close to figuring things out, but needing a vital piece of information from an unconscious, unavailable, or non-communicative witness until the last second. By the time the unconscious witness woke up and started providing the clues and identities needed to put anyone away for their crimes, Quinn had already sussed it out and was in the middle of making the necessary moves. One more Hazzard reference, I lied, get over it — Quinn is very much the anti-Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane.

I spent so much time feeling bad for Tyler and Cody — they aren’t characters I’d typically like. There’s little to commend them — they’re not that bright, not that talented, not that nice, I can’t imagine why any woman would want to spend time with them (not that we have proof that any do), and seem destined to lead quiet little lives of no consequence. But once their uncle forces them into things, I just wanted them to find a way back to their petty little pot farm.

I spent more than a little time worried for Fannie, too. She’s as despicable as they come, too, but as characters go, I like having her around. The way she’s treated by her superiors shows how tentative her situation is — and Quinn could be facing someone worse than her or Stagg pretty soon.

Speaking of worries — I spent most of the novel very concerned about the heath, well-being and longevity of a character that’s been around since The Ranger. I don’t think for a second that Atkins feels the need to keep any one of these characters alive. Frankly, it’s be easy to make the Quinn Colson novels the Tibbehah County Chronicles or the Lilly Virgil novels — no one is safe, including Quinn. Making it very easy for me to spend a lot of time worried about someone I like. Obviously, I won’t tell you how right I was on that front — but I wasn’t wrong.

Naturally, Atkins gets the characters right. You know from the beginning how worthless Heath Pritchard is, how nasty the Dixie Mafia toughs are, how lame the Pritchard boys would be without prodding (lame, but amusing). We meet new federal officer here — Agent Nat Wilkins. I’m glad that Quinn isn’t wholly dependent on the DEA Agent (whose name escapes me for the moment) for outside support anymore. But more than that, I’m glad that Wilkins is who we get to see in this role. She’s brash, she’s smart, she’s fun — she really isn’t like any Law Enforcement type we’ve met in this series to date. I’m sure we’ll see her again, hopefully soon. I’m not saying I need to see her next year, but if I don’t see her again by 2020, Atkins can expect me to lead an online riot.

It was good to spend time back in this troubled county, checking in with our old friends and some new ones (I’m really liking Maggie, and hope she sticks around). As much as I enjoyed Atkins’, Old Black Magic, I think this is his better work this year. As satisfied as I was with the story, I’m already impatiently waiting for the next installment — between how much I liked The Sinners and the way that Fannie’s last line promised to make the next book a doozy, it can’t come soon enough.

—–

4 Stars

2018 Library Love Challenge

Saturday Miscellany – 9/8/18

Odds ‘n ends over the week about books and reading that caught my eye. You’ve probably seen some/most/all of them, but just in case:

    This Week’s New Releases I’m Excited About and/or You’ll Probably See Here Soon:

  • Night and Silence by Seanan McGuire — my favorite ongoing UF series (until Butcher starts publishing regularly again) gets a new installment, it’s intense, it’s good. I’ll probably be a wreck when I finish it.
  • Depth of Winter by Craig Johnson — I’ve been waiting on the edge of my seat since about 30 seconds after reading the last page of The Western Star. This is gonna be huge. Johnson’s doing a reading in town at the end of the month, and a book comes with the ticket, so I have to wait a little longer before I dive in. On the plus side, I didn’t have to choose between this and Night and Silence (that’s a choice that could turn me into Chidi Anagonye)
  • The Man Who Came Uptown by George Pelecanos
  • The Spaceship Next Door by Gene Doucette — a UFO lands and does nothing for 3 years?
  • Voyage of the Dogs by Greg van Eekhout — Homeward Bound in space? Whatever, read that Big Idea article linked above and you’ll see why I feel like I have to read this.

Lastly, I’d like to say hi and extend a warm welcome to Ola G for following the blog this week.

Bearded by Jeremy Billups: A Charming Picture Book about a Bearded Bear

Bearded

by Jeremy Billups

Hardcover, 34 pg.
Billups Creative, LLC, 2015
Read: September 5, 2018
Picture books about bears are everywhere — I have a hard time believing many kids get out of the picture book stage without exposure to at least 4 of them (and that’s before they’re at the Pooh or Paddington stage). But how many of those bears have been bearded?

Enter Jeremy Billups and his little book.

This is the story of a little red-haired girl (no, not that one) traveling the world with her bearded bear, having all sorts of adventures and meeting a bunch of different animals. There really isn’t a lesson, moral or much of a plot — just a bunch of quick looks at the pair. A few quick lines and a picture on each pair of pages.

The art is simple and arresting. They just pop off the page — this is one of those times I wish I had the necessary vocabulary to describe why I like the drawings, but I don’t. I bought a print of what turns ot to be page 16 before I even picked up the book to flip through. I’ve bought a handful of prints this year, and it’s my absolute favorite — I like it even more now that I’ve read the book. Also, If you ever see a better picture of someone making buffalo wings, I’ll eat my hat.

Oh, and the endorsements on the back cover are a lot of fun. If that doesn’t convince you to try it out, I can’t imagine what will.

Great art, cute story, fun rhymes — everything you want in a picture book. Even better — animals with beards are the best animals that aren’t dogs. This is a charming little book that’s sure to please.

—–

4 Stars