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

    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

    The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi

    The Collapsing EmpireThe Collapsing Empire

    by John Scalzi
    Series: The Collapsing Empire, #1

    Hardcover, 329 pg.
    Tor Books, 2017

    Read: March 28 – 29, 2017

    I can’t think of a SF release more highly anticipated this year than The Collapsing Empire, the first in a new series (there’s a really good chance that I’ll be saying the same thing in 3 months about something else that I’m spacing at the moment). Thankfully, it surpassed my expectations (which were, admittedly, pretty low — this just didn’t sound that interesting) — I can’t speak for the rest of his fanbase who were anticipating it so highly, but I can’t imagine that most weren’t wholly satisfied, and predict he picks up a few fans from this.

    The Interdependency is the empire that is made up of the descendants of the people of Earth, it’s been in place for centuries — and, as the title of the book (and series) states, it’s on the verge of collapse. Not from political pressures or outside threats, or anything of that nature. Instead, it’s the Flow. The Flow is the way that humanity travels between the stars — a extra-dimensional field that can be accessed to facilitate travel between planets. And it’s on the verge of changing — not disappearing, just connecting different planets and leaving millions of people without access to the rest of the Empire.

    Tricky to explain briefly — but that’s okay, the characters in the book are (with 3 exceptions) learning this about the same time as the reader is and those who explain it do a much better job. Basically, the Empire as they know it is facing the End. There to help the Interdependency through this trying time (not that citizens know about it) is a brand-new, untried Emperox. She and her allies (intentional or otherwise) are going to have to deal with political, business and religious groups to try to help some of humanity survive.

    I’ve gotta say that Emperox Grayland II (Cardenia to her friends) is a delightful character — you cannot help but root for her. She’s brave, smart, relatable and an underdog (how someone who rules several planetary systems can be thought of as an underdog is a neat trick). The scientist who travels the length of the Empire to help her understand what’s going on, Marce, is clever, overwhelmed, and the only one who really knows what’s happening (shades of Jor-El?). There’s another character, Lady Kiva, a junior member of a ruling family of one of the largest guilds who is just too much fun — she swears enough to make Marshall Mathers take a step back; has no tact, no diplomacy, and shows no mercy to her enemies (especially if they stand between her and a profit). Really, she’s a horrible person (at least in this book),but a fun, fun character.

    These three are our focus, they’re who we cheer for and pin our hopes on. If they can survive the political, scientific, religious, and humanitarian turmoil that’s beginning to bubble — there’s a shot for humanity. Not much of one, honestly, but a shot.

    Somehow, Scalzi’s able to take societal collapse and tell it in an entertaining, suspenseful and frequently funny way. He’s able to give a thinly disguised commentary on environmental catastrophe and keep it from getting preachy. Basically, he threads the needle just right to keep people enjoying themselves as they read what would be a heavy, off-putting book in many author’s hands.

    Is it perfect? No. Am I crazy about everything he does/tries to do in this book? Nope. But man, such a fun, quick ride that I can’t help but like it and recommend it to everyone I can think of. I was so wrong not to be interested in this book — I’m more than interested in the sequel.

    —–

    4 Stars

    2017 Library Love Challenge

    The Forgotten Girls by Owen Laukkanen

    The Forgotten GirlsThe Forgotten Girls

    by Owen Laukkanen
    Series: Stevens & Windermere, #6

    Hardcover, 355 pg.
    G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2017

    Read: March 25 – 27, 2017

    I’m really of two minds about this one — it was a pretty rock-solid thriller, full of suspense and all the other things you want in a book about a serial killer being hunted down over several states. On the other hand, it’s a lousy Stevens & Windermere novel — it could have literally been any other detectives/agents/maverick cops and the book would’ve played out the same way.

    For years — women who no one will miss, women who are pretty much expected to leave town at any moment — have been the target of “the rider.” He’s a presence — some would say an Urban Legend — on the “High Line” (a railroad route in Montana, Idaho, Washington), and is responsible for the deaths of many: small town waitresses, prostitutes, runaways, train hoppers. Since these women weren’t noticed by many, were expected to be seeking opportunities out of the small towns they live in, and so on — no one raises a fuss over their disappearances (or the eventual discovery of their remains after the snow abates. A girl named Ash feels like she has to ignore the warnings about the High Line to make it somewhere in record time. She becomes one of “the riders”‘ victims — her friend decides to get a little vengeance and goes off to hunt “the ride” and make sure no one else forgets these women.

    About the same time, Stevens and Windermere learn about Ash’s murder — and soon the begin to learn about others. So while Mathers stays home to handle the technical and research portions of the investigation, the agents hit the road to dig up some better clues. Which leads to uncovering many, many more deaths; a Herculean effort to save the friend’s life (hard to do while she’s running from the law); and a showdown with “the rider.”

    What I liked: the suspense, the way that Laukkanen told the story (although I admit having a little trouble keeping names straight at the beginning) — bouncing between perspectives while ratcheting up the suspense. I’m not always the biggest fan of this maneuver, but Laukkanen nailed it. The world — the culture of train hopping — was fascinating, and I’m willing to bet really well researched and pretty based in reality. Overall, it’s not the best thriller I’ve read lately, but it was very satisfying.

    What I didn’t like: as I said, it could’ve been the most generic pairing of a male/female FBI agents on the hunt for this killer. Until maybe the last 50 pages — but even then, it didn’t need to be Kirk Stevens or Carla Windermere, but it made it easier to handle the emotional beats for them to be the central characters. Also, while I absolutely bought the killer, his motivation, his twisted way of thinking — but when he was responding to questions, explaining himself? Ugh. He sounded like he was reading off of a list of sexual predator prejudices from Wikipedia. Honestly, you take out that one segment where he’s responding to questions about his motivation and the whole book is better.

    I’m still planning on reading whatever Laukkanen puts out for the next 5< years, don’t misunderstand me. This one just didn’t work for me the way I’d hoped. Not a bad book — just a bad seines entry.

    —–

    3 Stars

    2017 Library Love Challenge

    Hide and Seek by Ian Rankin

    Hide and SeekHide and Seek

    by Ian Rankin
    Series: John Rebus, #2

    Hardcover, 272 pg.
    Minotaur Books, 1991

    Read: March 4, 2017


    Now, this is more like it. You’ve got a seasoned detective who sees something that just doesn’t jibe — a routine O. D. that just doesn’t look right. At least to him — everyone else (including the detective who’d normally be assigned to the case) is good with the obvious answer. Not at all shockingly, there is more than meets the eye to this death.

    Rebus’ ex and daughter have moved away, his brother is in jail, Gill is now seeing a DJ (who seems to be pretty popular), and Rebus has a new boss (and a promotion) — so outside of Rebus himself, there’s not a whole lot to tie the two novels together. It’s not just his coply intuition (to borrow Jesse Stone’s phrase), it’s some occult symbolism, a stolen camera, and the testimony of a near-witness that make Rebus continue to investigate. He spends time with druggies, students, male prostitutes, artists, academics, and the upper crust of local society in an effort to explain the death.

    There’s something to Rankin’s prose that elevates it above most of what you find in Police Procedurals — I can’t put my finger on it, but you can feel it. The description of the corpse was fantastic, filled with those little details that will stick with me longer than your typical macabre tableau à la Thomas Harris or Val McDermid. The closing image was just as strong — ambiguous, but striking. I can’t wait to see what he does as he becomes a better writer.

    Rebus isn’t good with people — family, friends, co-workers, lovers — he drinks and smokes too much, and cares more about police work than anything else. Even when he makes an effort with people (not part of a case), it just doesn’t go well at all — we’ve seen this character before, but it still works — readers just like this kind of cop.

    So much of this feels (when you think back on it — or when you start to realize what he’s doing in a scene/with a character) like something you’ve seen before — maybe several times. Even by 1991 standards. But when you’re reading it, somehow , Rankin makes it feel fresh. I should note, incidentally, that a lot of what you think you’ve seen before, you maybe haven’t, if you give him enough time. He didn’t cheat with the solution, or how it was reached — but it felt like it came out of nowhere (it didn’t). That’s good enough for me.

    That’s 2 down, 19 to go. Knots & Crosses felt like a character study, a good crime novel. Hide and Seek, on the other hand, feels like someone is building/introducing a series. It’s a subtle difference, but important. I’m reminded of the difference between Parker’s The Godwulf Manuscript and God Save the Child. It’s only going to get better from here. I really like this character, even if I’m not doing a good job talking about him — I think that’ll change in forthcoming books. Once Rankin stops establishing the character/building the series’ foundation and starts building.Also, I look forward to getting a better understanding of Rankin’s use of the term “Calvinist.” This one was good, solid writing with a satisfying story — not dazzling, but everything you want in a procedural.

    2017 Library Love Challenge

    —–

    3 Stars

    Wires and Nerve, Volume 1 by Marissa Meyer, Douglas Holgate

    Wires and Nerve, Volume 1Wires and Nerve, Volume 1

    by Marissa Meyer, Douglas Holgate (Art)
    Series: Wires and Nerve, #1

    Hardcover, 238 pg.
    Feiwel & Friends, 2017

    Read: March 1, 2017


    So, in the months following Winter, life has progressed as one would expect — Cinder has strengthened her position on the Moon, Scarlet’s returned to the farm with Ze’ev Kesley, and Cress and the Captain are touring Earth. One of the loose strings that Meyer left hanging was the fate of the Lunar military troops all over Earth. They’re still out there, causing trouble.

    Cinder can’t send any troops down — in the aftermath of a failed invasion, the optics alone would be bad. But . . . she can send a single operative, and Iko nominates herself for that. She spends weeks taking out pack after pack, helping local authorities take them into custody.

    But they’re not just going to roll over, there are some that are preparing to strike back against Iko — and Cinder.

    Throw in a love story, an examination of Iko’s true nature, and some nice catch-up with our old friends, and you’ve got yourself a fun story. It’s fun, but it’s light. If it were prose instead of a graphic novel, it might take 40 pages to tell this story. Which doesn’t make it bad, just slight.

    The art was . . . oh, I don’t know — cartoonish? Not in a bad way, but I see why some people I know weren’t impressed. Once I got used to it (after about 30-40 pages), I even kind of liked it.

    Basically, I’m saying that the book was okay — I enjoyed it, but man, I wanted more. At the same time, I think it delivered everything that Meyer and Holgate were looking for, so I can’t complain. Fans of the series may enjoy it, but it’s not a must read. People who haven’t read the books had best avoid it — but should probably go back and read the novels.

    —–

    3 Stars
    2017 Library Love Challenge

    The Shanghai Moon by S. J. Rozan

    The Shanghai MoonThe Shanghai Moon

    by S. J. Rozan
    Series: Lydia Chin & Bill Smith, #9

    Hardcover, 373 pg.
    Minotaur Books, 2010

    Read: February 16 – 18, 2016


    Oh, man . . . things got away from me and I haven’t been able to reconnect with Lydia or Bill for too long now (14 months between books I think) — I missed them. Thankfully, it took no time at all to get back in the groove.

    Speaking of breaks, following the shattering events of Winter and Night, Bill Smith pretty much took a break from everything — including Lydia. She understood that but didn’t like it one bit. So when he does come back into he life early on in this book, she doesn’t exactly welcome him with open arms, and makes him jump through a few hoops to get back into her good graces (but not nearly as many hoops as she intended).

    But before we get to that, a one-time mentor and occasional colleague, Joel Pilarsky asks Lydia to help with an investigation. Some jewels have recently been uncovered in China, stolen and theoretically brought to New York to be sold. The client wants Pilarsky to track them down — he suggests that he’ll cover the Jewish jewelry shops that might buy them, and hires Lydia to do the same with Chinese jewelers. What makes these jewels special is that they belonged to Jewish refugees in the 1930’s who fled to Shanghai, and were probably owned by the same person who owned a legendary piece of jewelry from that time — The Shanghai Moon. Not that the client, a lawyer focused the recovery of Holocaust items, bothers to mention The Shanghai Moon (she has a lame excuse for that oversight when Lydia brings it up later).

    Yes, I did say Jewish refugees in Shanghai. I felt bad about not knowing anything about that until Lydia confessed it was news to her, too. She’s intrigued by this notion — and the story of the owner of these jewels, much of which is preserved in letters she wrote to her mother after fleeing from Europe and are now part of a collection of Holocaust documents. We get these letters to, and read them with Lydia and slowly we’re drawn in to the saga of this poor woman and the Chinese man she marries while Lydia and Joel search for her heirlooms.

    The investigation soon focuses on The Shanghai Moon — and the murders that appear to be connected to this crime. Bill returns to Lydia’s life in time to help with this investigation. Before you know what’s happening, we’re immersed in a mystery that stretches over decades and involves Nazis, Communists, Japanese military, NYC Chinese gangs and much, much more. The threads that connect all these to the jewels and the family tied to them are so many in number and complex in nature, that I wouldn’t try to explain it even if it wouldn’t spoil the book.

    I didn’t get as invested in the historical material as Lydia did — but i came close, and I think most readers will, too. If for no other reason than Bill and Lydia do. There’s a history professor that the pair interview for some more context that I’d love to meet again (I can’t imagine how that’d happen) — he’s a fun character that’s much better developed than most characters filling his role would be in detective novels.

    I don’t know if I’ve liked Lydia’s mom as much as I did in this book before (or enjoyed her as much) — it took Lydia far too long to understand what her mother was doing throughout the novel, and the growth/change it represented, but I thought it was great. I’m actually looking forward to reading about her in the next novel (I’ve never disliked the character, just have never been that interested in her).

    Best of all, as normal, was the banter and other types of conversation between Lydia and Bill. I’ve said it before, I’ll probably say it again, but I’d read a couple hundred pages of them just talking over tea and snacks. There was a lot unsaid between them about the months between the novels, but Rozan had them not say it in a great way — and what they said was as good as usual.

    Throw in a juicy mystery, good characters and a missing treasure? You’ve got yourself a winner. No surprise that I liked the ninth novel in a series I’ve enjoyed the previous eight in — but that doesn’t make it any less good, it just means that Rozan’s consistently on target. I strongly recommended The Shanghai Moon along with its predecessors.

    —–

    4 Stars

    2017 Library Love Challenge