Ghost Hero by S. J. Rozan

Ghost HeroGhost Hero

by SJ Rozan
Series: Lydia Chin & Bill Smith, #11

Hardcover, 325 pg.
Minotaur Books, 2011

Read: October 13 – 16, 2017


So, Lydia Chin is approached by a potential client who is clearly lying about his identity about some paintings that are rumored to be in New York, and potentially on sale soon. This client really wants to establish a name for himself in Contemporary Chinese Art, and owning these paintings — preferably before they go on sale — will go a long way toward that. Here’s the trick, no one knows if they really do exist, or where they might be. Still the rumors persist, and in the “where there’s smoke, there’s fire” kind of thinking, they’ve got to exist. The trick is that the artist was killed in the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989. The client wants her to find them, prove they’re real (ideally), and help him get the leg up on the competition.

Like I said, Lydia doesn’t trust the man, and doesn’t understand why he picked her, but his cash is good and she’s curious (about him, the paintings, why he might want the paintings). So she takes the case, but doesn’t know where to start. Luckily, her partner, Bill Smith knows just the guy to talk to — another Chinese PI. Second generation ABC, from the Midwest, Jack Lee has an art degree and mostly looks into stolen and questionable art. Really, he’s the ideal PI to look for these paintings — and it turns out that someone else thought so, too and already hired him to do that. The three decide to work together on this, each playing to their own strengths.

From there, they dive deep into the New York Art Scene — at least those that brush up against Chinese Art — there are people who care about art, people who care about influence and money, and those who really, really care about art. Some care so much that Jack Lee gets shot at more than once. There are other threats as well — the idea that Chau might still be alive is a pretty hot political topic, and various governmental entities seem interested in what Lydia is up to.

The case is pretty interesting — and the various people that the trio interacts with are so interesting, so colorful, occasionally so despicable. The solution that Lydia cooks up is worthy of Blackadder’s Baldrick, but I kind of liked it. It works as a solution in a novel (I hope nothing like this would happen in real life). The ultimate reveal was a bit too obvious, but I still enjoyed it — and the rest of the mystery made up for it.

I’ve said time and time again, I love reading the back-and-forth between Lydia and Bill — adding Jack to that seems like a gamble. Thankfully, it worked wonderfully, he fits in with the two of them so wonderfully well that you wish he’d been around for a couple of novels previously to this. It almost doesn’t matter if the plot behind the book was entertaining, just get the three of these guys around a beverage or two and it’s worth it.

On the one hand, I’m kind of with Lydia in not understanding why someone would come to her to look for this — art isn’t her thing. On the other hand, she dealt with art dealers in China Trade, Chinese heirlooms in Reflecting the Sky, missing jewels in The Shanghai Moon (which yeah, is sort of precious minerals, but the art aspect of the Moon seems as/more important than the gems). So it’s not like she’s an utter novice. Sure, going to Bill Smith or Matt Scudder would seem like a bad move — but Lydia’s a good choice for this case (not as obvious a choice as Jack Lee, I grant you). And how could I not think of another PI in New York?

There was one thing I was disappointed in: I was truly hoping/expecting that this book would contain a clue (if not more) about why this was the last book to be published in the series — and given the 6 years that have passed since then, it seems pretty likely that this was it for the series. I’m assuming that it wasn’t planned, but can’t find any information about it (which means that someone’s going to come along in half an hour with a link to 15,000 words about the reason for this.) Update: A few hours after posting this, Rozan assured me that the series is not over, which is great to hear

A fun, fast-paced read that is enjoyable, engaging and all around entertaining — which is pretty much a great way to describe any novel from Lydia Chin’s point of view. Give this one a shot and then pick up the others (or pick up the others, and then this one — either way).

—–

4 Stars

2017 Library Love Challenge

Advertisements

IQ by Joe Ide

IQIQ

by Joe Ide
Series: IQ, #1

Hardcover, 321 pg.
Mulholland Books, 2016

Read: September 18 – 19, 2017


The book opens with a criminal in the making, and a very slapstick-y incident. But even while grinning about that, you get the sense that this character isn’t going to be good for more laughs. He’s not — but thankfully, we don’t have to spend a lot of time on him, because Isaiah Quintabe (a.k.a. IQ) finishes his blossoming criminal career. Which is very effective way to introduce Isaiah, the unlicensed investigator, and his world to readers.

After this, we spend some more time with our modern-day Sherlock of South Central LA. He needs money, not another case that he takes on in return for some homemade cookies or something, he’s got a couple of big bills heading his way and requires cash to take care of things. His need for an infusion of cash forces him to align himself with a former friend (there’s a very good reason for that “former”) with a tie to a well-paying client. The client is a famous rapper who is convinced that someone is trying to kill him — he happens to be right, I should add, which makes the book a lot more interesting. (obviously, an investigator looking into a paranoid delusion isn’t going to be as action-packed as one looking into a person actually trying to kill someone). This investigation will bring Isaiah and Dodson into the not-as-lucrative-as-it-used-to-be music industry, into marital problems, petty jealousies, and a whole lot closer to pit bulls than at least one of them wants to be. The case is at once a showcase for Isaiah’s talents and something almost too complex for him.

We also get a series of flashbacks to the events that set Isaiah on this path, how he honed his natural abilities and inclinations to become the man he his — an unlicensed PI that helps out people in his neighborhood, many of whom wouldn’t turn to the authorities. So often with a Sherlock-type character, we just get the finished product — the Great Detective at the height of his powers, knowing all sorts of arcane information. But Ide shows us how Isaiah gets this information, how he earned it, improved his reasoning and observation skills. Also the why behind it all — why didn’t Isaiah take his genius into something that would make him more money? Why does he stay where he is? The flashbacks also show us Dodson and Isaiah meeting and falling out.

The two stories intertwine and are pretty equally intriguing, which is a real bonus.

There’s what seems to be an authenticity to the world Ide portrays — honestly, what do I know about the realities of LA? But it sure feels real, so either way, I guess Ide did his job. The characters — all of them, the good, the bad, the creepy, the slimy and everyone else are wonderfully conceived and executed. The crimes depicted are varied sophisticated (making them worth Isaiah’s time) — and at least one method of assassination is something I’ve never seen before. Ide does a great job of balancing the moods at work, the grim, the hopeful, the silly and all points in between.

There’s a passage in this book that is one of the best brief pieces of writing I’ve read this year, period. As I reread it (at least 5 times), I kept thinking of the Fiction Writing professors I had in college that would’ve made us study it for at least one class session. It’s during the “origin” portion, where Isaiah’s Geometry teacher is explaining inductive reasoning — these four paragraphs give you a strong character, setting, tone, a minor character (and even a brief storyline), a good idea what she looks like, her past, her relationship with her husband — and you get a good working definition of inductive reasoning, too! It’s really great.

This year (most recently, last week), I’ve also talked about another modern Sherlock — Victor Locke. How would I compare the two of these? There’s some similarities, and more than a few differences. At the end of the day, Victor Locke is a lot more amusing and entertaining. Isaiah, on the other hand, I could believe was real (I know he’s not, don’t worry). Isaiah is driven, he’s brilliant, he’s proud, he’s haunted, he has no obvious addictions (phew! wonderful change), he’s a bit more grounded than your typical Holmes-type. Dodson is the least John Watson-y Watson-figure you’ve ever seen, more of a hindrance than an assistant. Thankfully, also he’s not a narrator, and I’m not sure I could’ve handled a book from his point-of-view. It’s hard to summarize, but he works really well in this role.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book from beginning to end, with not a dull moment in between. Isaiah Quintabe is a keeper, and I’m already counting the days until his next book.

—–

4 Stars
2017 Library Love Challenge

The Western Star by Craig Johnson

The Western StarThe Western Star

by Craig Johnson
Series: Walt Longmire, #13

Hardcover, 295 pg.
Viking, 2017

Read: September 15 – 16, 2017


In the last novel, An Obvious Fact, Johnson plays with lines and themes from Sherlock Holmes while letting us get to know that very important woman in Henry Standing Bear’s life while Walt solves a murder. In this book, Johnson plays with Murder on the Orient Express while letting us get to know that very important woman in Walt’s life while Walt solves a murder. It struck me while reading that as large a shadow that Martha Longmire cast over the books (particularly the first few), we really don’t know much about her. We don’t learn that much about her, really, but we see her interact with Walt and Henry — and you walk away with a much better sense of her as a person, not her as the giant hole in Walt’s life.

How do we get this sense? Half of the novel takes place shortly after Walt returns to the States after his time in the Marines, and he’s been employed by Lucian as a deputy for a couple of weeks. Lucian is attending the annual meeting of the Wyoming Sheriff’s Association, and he brings Walt along. This meeting takes place on The Western Star, a passenger train. Shortly after boarding, Walt meets one Sheriff who is convinced that one (or more) of his fellows is murdering people across the state (sort of a Dexter-vibe to the motive), and he needs someone with fresh eyes and a lack of knowledge of the Sheriffs to help with his investigation. This would be Walt, naturally.

Meanwhile, in alternating passages/chapters set in the present, Walt is in Cheyenne for a highly politicized parole hearing (that becomes something a little different) to keep this particular killer behind bars. Johnson’s very good about not tipping his hand about the killer’s identity until Walt uncovers it. While doing so, he stays with Cady and his granddaughter, and annoys some pretty powerful people in the state.

I found the Walt on a Train story entertaining more than intriguing, but the final reveal was well done and made me appreciate it all the more. But while I wasn’t that into the mystery, I really enjoyed watching Deputy Walt and Sheriff Lucian do their thing. It was sad watching Walt’s idealism surrounding the societal/cultural changes that the 60’s promised come into contact with the cold reality that humans take awhile to change. I was really intrigued by the present day story, on the other hand, and wished they could get into more of the details about the case, but it’d have been hard to do while keeping the identity of the killer under wraps.

The events that are revealed after the reveal (in both timelines) will leave fans unsure what to do with themselves until Walt Longmire #14 comes out. I have some thoughts about what that book will end up being, but I’ll hold on to them for now. But it’s going to be something we haven’t seen before.

But this book? Very entertaining, illuminating and the whole time, it slowly but surely reels you in and sets you up for the biggest emotional moments that Johnson has penned to date. Johnson earned the 5th star for me in the last 13 pages.

—–

5 Stars
2017 Library Love Challenge

Black and Blue by Ian Rankin

Black and BlueBlack and Blue

by Ian Rankin
Series: John Rebus, #8

Hardcover, 391 pg.
St. Martin’s Press, 1997

Read: September 4 – 5, 2017


I wasn’t sure if I should open with:

He went into the toilets again, just to steady his breathing and look at himself in the mirror. He tried to relax his jaw muscles. In the past, he’d have been reaching for the quarter-bottle of whisky in his pocket. But tonight there was no quarter-bottle, no Dutch courage. Which meant for once he’d be relying on the real thing.

or:

…Rebus sat on a char in the interview room, watching his hands shaking.
‘You OK?’ Jack asked.
‘Know what, Jack? You’re like a broken record.’
‘Know what, John? You’re always needing it asked.’

Either one of those works to sum up Rebus’ frame of mind in the latter half of this book (and that’s largely because things had gotten worse for him by that point). Not that things were ever going his way in this book.

Following his gutsy political moves in the last book he’s been assigned to the worst police station in Edinburgh and a case he worked early in his career as a Detective with his mentor has come under increased scrutiny thanks to some media attention, and an underdog convicted of that crime who is able to cast some doubt on the original investigation. Meanwhile, a serial killer from the late 60s (who remains uncaptured) has inspired a copycat. Rebus (like every detective in Scotland, it seems) is on the fringes of this investigation. Oh, yeah, and there’s an unrelated suspicious death that Rebus needs to investigate.

Four cases, with more in common than anyone expects until the most tenacious cop east of Harry Bosch starts doing his thing. He starts following threads that take him far from his desk and home — Glasgow and eventually Aberdeen — and the oil platforms north. While dodging the press (more persistent that he’s used to) superior officers and an internal investigation, Rebus moves around the country picking at clues and hunches while getting under the skin of criminals, cops, oil company executives, and one serial killer.

There are so many police officers running around this book, some we know, some we don’t. Siobhan Clarke has a small, but pivotal role to play. Brian Holmes is around helping Rebus unofficially, while things with Nell are at their worst. Jack Morton, Rebus’ old drinking pal plays a significant role in this novel — he’s clean and sober now, and is convinced that’s what Rebus needs to do, too. Gil Templar needs Rebus’ help, very unofficially. There are new detectives and from Glasgow, Aberdeen and Edinburgh for readers and Rebus to meet — the main thing they all seem to have in common is that they don’t want Rebus mucking around in their cities.

I don’t know if I’ve seen Rebus more self-destructive. He’s drinking more than normal (which is saying something) and seems to care less than ever about what his superiors think of him (which is also saying something). Some of his wry sense of humor remains — almost entirely buried under cynicism. Rebus has had doubts about what he and his mentor did years ago, and the renewed attention isn’t helping his sense of guilt. He is far more interested in the serial killer cases than he ought to be professionally, it’s become a habit that threatens to distract him from his actual duties. His personal demons are almost as much of an antagonist than anyone he could possibly arrest in Black and Blue. Yet, he investigates in the same way he always does — and the way he wraps up most of the cases carry his signature style.

Black and Blue is intense, it is ambitious — for most of the book, it’d be easy to see this as being the end of the road for Rebus (if I wasn’t fully aware that 13 other novels had been published with at least one more announced) — not that you’re all that worried about him living through the end, you’re more worried that he’ll be unemployed by the end. It’s one of those novels that makes you want to ignore obligations, work and family — none of which can be as interesting or pressing as the book. You could cut out half the murders from this novel and it’d still be a winner, including all of them makes this something more than that.

I went into this one with a mix of trepidation and anticipation — I’ve heard that this was where the series took a turn for the better. I recently heard an interview with Rankin where he described it that way — sales, awards, critical acclaim, all came with this book. So I was worried that I wouldn’t see what so many had before — but was excited to try. This one lives up to expectations, as high as they might be. Just a stunning work. I honestly don’t know how Rankin will top this — I’m not sure how easy it’ll be to equal it.

—–

5 Stars
2017 Library Love Challenge

Wait for Signs by Craig Johnson

Wait for SignsWait for Signs: Twelve Longmire Stories

by Craig Johnson
Series: Walt Longmire

Hardcover, 183 pg.
Viking, 2014

Read: August 28, 2017


We’ve got a collection of twelve stories here — 1 new story and 11 previously published, with a nice introduction by Lou Diamond Phillips. As Johnson describes the collection, “some are mysteries, some have mysterious elements, and others are no mystery at all, just glimpses into Walt’s life.”

That’s pretty much all you need to know — if you’re a fan of the series, you’ll find plenty to appreciate. If you’re new to the world of Walt Longmire, I’d try the novels first.

There are a couple of stories that deal with Walt’s ongoing grief over his wife, Martha, one of which I found pretty moving. There’s some decent action, a good deal of Walt being really clever. All the regulars make an appearance (however brief in some cases): Sancho, Lucian, Lonnie Little Bird, Cady, Vic (less of her than you’d expect), and lots of Henry. There’s not a loser in the bunch — yeah, there’s a couple that could be better, but even they were enjoyable. “Messenger” is quite possibly the funniest thing that Johnson has written to date — and that’s saying something. Ridiculous — yet with a little bit of good action.

Perfect for those who need a quick fix of Absaroka County, Wyoming’s Sheriff.

2017 Library Love Challenge

—–

3.5 Stars

The Blinds by Adam Sternbergh

The BlindsThe Blinds

by Adam Sternbergh

Hardcover, 382 pg.
Ecco, 2017

Read: August 17 – 19, 2017


I just finished this and am not sure how to talk about it. I don’t know what I can say without ruining things, so I’m just going to copy and paste from Sternbergh’s page:

Welcome to Caesura, Tx, aka The Blinds, a dusty town in the Texas Panhandle cut off from the outside world and populated entirely by former criminals and witnesses put in protective custody. The twist: None of these people know who they are, because all of them have had their memories of their pasts erased. All the better to give them a fresh start and a second chance. But one thing is clear to them: If they leave the Blinds, they will end up dead.

For eight years, Sheriff Calvin Cooper has kept an uneasy peace—but after a suicide and a murder in quick succession, the town’s residents revolt. Cooper has his own secrets to protect, so when his new deputy starts digging, he needs to keep one step ahead of her—and the mysterious outsiders who threaten to tear the whole place down. The more he learns, the more the hard truth is revealed: The Blinds is no sleepy hideaway. It’s simmering with violence and deception, aching heartbreak and dark betrayals.

If I say one more thing about the plot/premise I’m afraid that I’ll ruin things for you. The book starts off with a whole lot of exposition, setting up the world (well, town, to be accurate) it takes place in — but Sternberg works that in well with the plot, so it doesn’t get bogged down with the exposition. Then once the dominoes are all set up, he knocks them down and you just sit back and watch.

But you don’t actually sit back — you lean forward in your seat and turn the pages quickly. At one point there are four or five conflicting plans at work, and it’s a footrace to see which will get accomplished first (and hopefully not get supplanted by another). At times it seems like any of them will end up working out — they’re all plausible.

It’s just so great. So compelling. Such a fun ride.

Yeah, the characters could be a bit more fully-developed, but that’s hard when part of their history, part of their personality — part of them — has been deleted. So, I’m not sure I can actually complain about that. We do get plenty about who the characters are in the here and now — definitely enough to get you invested in them.

In this driving plot, there’s some exploration of the nature of memory, of personality, of the nature of man, of evil. There’s some moments of triumph, of despair, heartbreak, and more than a couple of instances of “what??” You will learn a Russian phrase that will chill you to your bone and you will be ever so happy that Sternberg found gainful employment in journalism rather than turning to a life of crime.

On page 119, I wrote, “I’m either going to hate this ending or I’m going to be recommending this book for months.” And I didn’t hate it — Sternberg’s got another winner here. If his Shovel Ready wasn’t your thing, this is different enough that you should give it a shot. He’s got a strong voice, a twisted imagination and a knack for story telling — this book as secured him a place on my “auto-read” list.

Just go read the thing, I’m going to stop before I ruin something.

—–

4 1/2 Stars
2017 Library Love Challenge

Let it Bleed by Ian Rankin

Let it BleedLet it Bleed

by Ian Rankin
Series: John Rebus, #7

Hardcover, 287 pg.
Simon & Schuster, 1996

Read: August 9 – 10, 2017

He stood there shivering after the warmth of the pub and his car. He was a few yards from where the boys had jumped. The area was cordoned off with metal barriers, anchored by sandbags. Two yellow metal lamps marked off the danger area. Someone had climbed over the barriers and laid a small wreath next to the broken rail, weighing it down with a rock so it wouldn’t be blown away. He looked up at the nearest of the two vast supports, red lights blinking at its summit as a warning to aircraft. He didn’t really feel very much, except a bit lonely and sorry for himself. The Forth was down there, as judgmental as Pilate. It was funny the things that could kill you: water, a ship’s hull, steel pellets from a plastic case. It was funny that some people actually chose to die.

“I could never do it,” Rebus said out loud. “I couldn’t kill myself.”

Which didn’t mean he hadn’t thought of it. It was funny the things you thought about some nights. It was all so funny, he felt a lump forming in his throat. It’s only the drink, he thought. It’s the drink makes me maudlin. It’s only the drink.

Yeah, right.

Before we get to this moment of self-deception (or self-mockery, it could go either way with his sense of humor), we’re treated to what’s quite possibly the most action-packed few pages in the series thus far — more happens in the first 6 pages of this novel than can happen in chapters of Rebus novels. Two suspected kidnappers are leading the police on a high-speed chase, and no one’s relishing it more than Chief Inspector Frank Lauderdale. No one’s hating it more than Inspector John Rebus. Things go really bad from there, but not in the way that anyone expects (least of all the reader, as jaded as we might be from too many crime novels).

While the police are still trying to sort out what exactly happened there, a man walks into a (poorly attended) public meeting with a Councilman and shoots himself in front of the Councilman. Once Rebus visits the widow, something starts bugging him. There’s just something wrong with that suicide (more than just what has to be wrong to lead to a suicide). Rebus starts asking some questions. Before he realizes it, he’s investigating two incidents of suicide connected to two Councilmen.

And then pressure comes down on Rebus to stop. Which works about as well as you’d think. He’s “encouraged” to take a few days of leave, which he uses to dive in without restraints to get his answers. This series as dabbled in political intrigue, power brokering and the like before, Let it Bleed takes it up a notch. What can happen to Rebus if he falters — or what can happen to him if he makes all the right people happy — shows that he’s in a whole other league now.

And then after all the action at the beginning of the novel, Rankin gives us an incredibly talky ending. And it works. Not many novels about police officers or detectives end with as much dialogue, as many meetings, as this does, but it’s entirely satisfying. No one’ll be sitting there for the last couple of chapters just wishing for a car chase, a gun fight, or anything like that. Rebus being smarter, wilier, and unwilling to bend is what makes this ending not only inevitable, but just what the reader needs.

There are a lot of criminals in this novel, but most of them aren’t your typical mystery novel “bad guys.” They’re guys who take advantage of the system, manipulate the system, and then try to protect their assets (that last one is the most problematic). There are textbook villains — and not all of them pay for it — but with Rebus around, you know that some justice will be meted out.

Our favorites are back — so is Patience — Rebus’ daughter’s back in Edinburgh, on her own now. Siobhan Clarke, Farmer Watson, Gill Templer, and Brian Holmes all are involved. Clarke is the most interesting, yet again, her determinism and ability to stay (pretty much) in line with her superiors while helping Rebus make her a fun character to spend time with. She’s more involved in these cases than she has been in the past — and it’s good to see Rebus having someone allied with him. Thankfully, she’s a good police officer, too. Because, honestly, Rebus is a horrible police detective. He’s just too much of a lone wolf, too intuitive, not the kind of detective you want building a case for you. With Templer, Farmer and Clarke around, at least he’s got some good, capable help.

A gripping, tense, intriguing, and frequently funny, novel. Let it Bleed is just a great book. This series has been growing on me, little by little for seven books now, that’s pretty clear. Let it Bleed is above and beyond the best of the bunch, and I am looking forward to what’s coming up.

—–

4 1/2 Stars

2017 Library Love Challenge