Mr. Pizza by J. F. Pandolfi: A Winsome Tale of a Rookie Teacher

(WordPress is doing that thing again where it messes up the html in my post header. I think I’ve fixed it, but if the beginning of the post looks ugly, sorry, I’m doing my best)

Mr. Pizza
Mr. Pizza

by J. F. Pandolfi


ePUB, 298 pg.
L&A Publications, 2018

Read: December 4 – 5, 2018

On the verge of graduating from college, Tony Piza (long “I”, and yes, he’s heard all the jokes), decides he’s not ready to head to law school and would like to take a year off. Inspired by a suggestion from his roommate, he applies to teach at a Roman Catholic school near his home. He figures that it’ll be pretty easy — spout some facts and figures from the text-book, assign some homework, do a little grading, catch up on his reading. All while living rent-free with his parents and sister. Despite never having taken an education class, nor showing any previous interest in education, and some iffy interview questions, he’s hired.

Early on, he performs his duties just as he planned — and it’s as successful as you imagine. But before long, he starts to see his students as individuals, not some faceless mass. It’s just a few steps from there to caring about their education and trying to do something about it. Tony also makes some friends with fellow teachers — two other lay teachers (including the other male staff member), and one nun. They start to rub off on him — and even inspire him.

But that doesn’t mean he turns into Professor Charles W. Kingsfield Jr or George Feeny, he’s more like a version of Gabe Kotter or Charlie Moore. Unconventional, off-kilter, and comical — yet challenging. Both his lectures and his assignments bring out the strengths and weaknesses his students (and their parents) were unaware they possessed. They also get Tony in trouble with parents, school administrators and school board members.

Essentially, the novel is a bildungsroman, watching Tony’s development from someone who sees teaching as a vacation from his real life to someone truly invested in it. I don’t want to say that it’s a smooth transition or that he flips the switch and becomes the World’s Greatest 6th Grade Teacher ™. That would make for a very dull novel.

Pandolfi writes in a very smooth, assured style. There’s not a lot of artistic flourishes — that’s not a critique, just an observation. It is charming, frequently amusing, and pretty earnest. I was a little afraid after reading the description that this would be a satire that tried too hard, one of those books where you can see the writer trying to be funny (which almost never works) — but I’m pleased to say that it wasn’t. Tony seemed to try too hard, but not Pandolfi — a character doing that is annoying, but it’s a character trait; a writer doing that is frequently a a deal breaker.

Tony’s antics and judgement are a mixed bag, as I mentioned. Early on, some of his jokes/behavior didn’t seem like fun, they seemed capricious and even mean — but so did M*A*S*H‘s Hawkeye and Duke Forrest (the book and movie versions, anyway). From the get-go the 1973 setting and sensibility put me in that frame of mind, so that’s where my mind went. And sure, part of the book is to show his growth from that, but it’s pretty off-putting. Similarly, I had trouble swallowing how tone-deaf he was when it came to jokes about Roman Catholics (even after being warned), yet he was reflexively sensitive to other people/problems (frequently in a way that seemed at least somewhat anachronistic).

Ultimately, I was able to get past that — and it’s possible that without me putting something about that in my notes, I’d have forgotten to mention it. Because of his growth, by that last third or so of the book, you see almost no signs of this (except when his past comes back to haunt him). So, I guess I’m saying, if you’re put off by some of his early behavior, give him a chance.

His sister, Patty, has Down’s Syndrome. I really appreciated the way that Pandolfi treated her. She’s simply a character — there’s no After-School Special moment with her, she’s not an object of pity — she’s simply Tony’s little sister. There are funny moments with her, some sweet moments with her — just like there are with Tony’s mother and father.

Tony’s students, fittingly, come close to stealing the novel from Tony. As is the case with the Bad News Bears, the Sweathogs, Fillmore High’s IHP class, etc., you have to want to see the kids do well to care about their teacher. They’re a diverse group, each having some distinctive characteristics and/or problems. They come to believe in their “Mr. Pizza” long before the staff, or even Tony — and stay his biggest supporters through the ups and downs that ensue. If you don’t like at least most of the students, there’s something wrong with you and you should seek professional help. Or just re-read the book, because you probably missed something.

The rest of the cast of characters are well-drawn and believable. There are a few that I’m glad we didn’t get much time with (Tony’s extended family, for example). His friends, fellow teachers and principal are strong characters, a couple of them are better developed. But that’s simply due to time spent with them. Pandolfi has a gift for good characters, which is half the battle in a novel.

Mr. Pizza is a charming tale of a young man maturing at a turning point in his life. There’s some good laughs, some uncomfortable moments, and some earnest emotional beats. The book is a pleasure to read and it — and it’s protagonist — will win you over and get you rooting for them both.

Disclaimer: I received this book from RABT Book Tours in exchange for this post and my participation in the book tour.

—–

3.5 Stars

✔ Read a book with your favorite food in the title.

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Pub Day Repost: Blood Feud by Mike Lupica: Sunny Randall’s Back in this Promising Reintroduction

Blood FuedRobert B. Parker’s Blood Feud

by Mike Lupica
Series: Sunny Randall, #7
eARC, 352 pg.
G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2018
Read: October 5 – 9, 2018

I have a complicated relationship with Sunny Randall. Readers of this site have been frequently exposed to my love for Robert B. Parker’s Spenser and Jesse Stone novels, both by Parker and the continuations by Ace Atkins and Reed Farrel Coleman (let’s overlook Michael Brandman’s contributions for the moment). I enjoyed his stand-alone works, and I thought the first couple of Virgil Cole & Everett Hitch books were fun (I haven’t tried the Robert Knott continuations). Which leaves us with Sunny.

Sunny Randall, the story goes, was written to be adapted into a film series for Parker’s chum, Helen Hunt (incidentally, I’ve never been able to envision Helen Hunt in a single Sunny scene, but that’s just me). She’s a private investigator; a former cop; part-time painter (art, not house); emotionally entangled with her ex-husband, but can’t live with him; lives in Boston; and enjoys good food. But she’s totally not a female Spenser — she doesn’t like baseball, see? I’ve read all the books — some multiple times — and while I enjoyed them, I’ve never clicked with Sunny the way I have with others. Including every other Parker protagonist. Most of her novels are mashups and remixes of various Spenser novels, entertaining to see things in a different light — but that’s about it. Frankly, the most I ever liked Sunny was in the three Jesse Stone novels late in Parker’s run (but both characters are better off without each other).

So when it was announced that Mike Lupica would be taking up the reins of this series I was intrigued but not incredibly enthused. I only know Lupica from having bought a few of his books for my sons when they were younger. I didn’t get around to reading any of them, so he’s really a new author for me. And sure, I was a little worried about a YA/MG author taking the reins of a “grown-up” series. But not much — if you can write a novel, you can write a novel, it’s just adjusting your voice and language to be appropriate for the audience.

Enough blather — let’s talk about Blood Feud. Since we saw her last, Sunny has had to move, Richie (her ex-) has gotten another divorce (giving them the chance to date or whatever you want to call it) and has replaced her late dog, Rosie, with another Rosie. Other than that, things are basically where they were after the end of Spare Change 11 years ago (for us, anyway, I’m not sure how long for her, but less time has passed you can bet).

By the way — does anyone other than Robert B. Parker, Spenser and Sunny really do this? Your dog dies, so you go and get another one of the same breed and call him/her the same name? Is this really a thing?

Then one night — Richie is shot. It’s not fatal, but was done in such a way that no one doubts for a moment that it could have been had the assailant wanted it to be. For those who don’t know (or don’t remember), Richie is the son of an Irish mob boss, although he has nothing to do with the family business. He’s given a message for his father — his shooter is coming for him, but wants him to suffer first. This kicks off a race for the shooter — Sunny, the Burke family and the police (led by Sgt. Frank Belson) are vying to be the one to find the shooter.

Before long, the violence spreads to other people the Burkes employ — both property and persons are targeted by this stranger. It’s clear that whoever is doing this has a grudge going back years. So Sunny dives into the Burke family history as much as she can, so she can get an answer before her ex-father-in-law is killed. Not just the family history — but the family’s present, too. As much as the roots of the violence are in the past, Sunny’s convinced what the Burkes are up to now is just as important to the shooter.

Richie’s father, Desmond, isn’t happy about Sunny sticking her nose into things. Not just because of the crimes she might uncover — but he really wants to leave the past in the past. But as long as someone might come take another shot at Richie, Sunny won’t stop. This brings her into contact with several criminal figures in Boston (like Parker-verse constants Tony Marcus and Vinnie Morris) as well as some we’ve only met in Sunny books.

There are a couple of new characters in these pages, but most of them we’ve met before — Lupica is re-establishing this universe and doesn’t have time to bring in many outsiders, but really just reminds us who the players are. Other than the new Rosie, I can’t point at a character and say “that’s different.” He’s done a pretty good job of stepping into Parker’s shoes. Not the pre-Catskill Eagle Parker like Atkins, but the Parker of Sunny Randall books, which is what it should feel like (( wouldn’t have objected to a Coleman-esque true to the character, just told in a different way). I think some of the jokes were overused (her Sox-apathy, for one), but it wasn’t too bad. Lupica did make some interesting choices, particularly toward the end, which should set up some interesting situations for future installments.

The mystery was decent enough, and fit both the situations and the characters — I spent a lot of the novel far ahead of Sunny (but it’s easier on this side of the page). I enjoyed the book — it’s not the best thing I’ve read this year, but it’s a good entry novel for Lupica in this series, a good reintroduction for the characters/world, and an entertaining read in general. If you’re new to this series, this would be as good a place to hop on as it was for Lupica.

I want better for Parker’s creation (but I think I’d have said that for most of Parker’s run with the series), and Lupica’s set things up in a way that we could get that in the near-future. He’s demonstrated that he has a good handle on the character he inherited, the question is, what can he do with her from here? I was ambivalent about this series coming back, but I can honestly say that I’m eager to see what happens to it next.

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

—–

3.5 Stars

Dry Hard by Nick Spalding: Who needs to drink when you can have this much fun reading?

Dry HardDry Hard

by Nick Spalding

eARC, 293 pg.
Amazon Publishing UK, 2019
Read: November 19, 2018

Kate Temple’s in PR, Scott Temple’s a marketing director for a distillery. Both of them rely on alcohol to get through their days (and nights). They used to have each other to rely on and curb their use, but as they’ve become more successful, they have to do more things away from each other and they really don’t have anyone to watch out for them. Also, because they spend less time with each other, both have a hole they need to fill throughout their days — which usually involves more drinking.

Things are getting bad enough that they both endanger their jobs (not to mention the property and safety of others) thanks to drunken escapades. But this doesn’t give either of them much pause — if anything it drives them to the bottle even more. Their teenaged daughter, Holly, can’t understand why these two can’t see how bad their drinking is, how much it’s hurting their marriage, how much it’s affecting her life. So, at Christmas, she decides to secretly film them at their drunken worst (which starts pretty early in the evening) and then she shows it to them, hoping this video intervention will awaken them to their problem.

It doesn’t work — her parents defend their drinking, downplay the mortifying things they do on video and generally blow her off. So in a fit of adolescent pique, she uploads the video to YouTube so her friends can see it. But the video catches the attention of a couple of popular YouTube celebrities and next thing they know, Kate and Scott are a viral sensation.

This very public shaming convinces them that they need to make some changes, and decide to cut out drinking totally. Holly tries to get them public support by uploading videos chronicling their efforts to live dry for a year, attaching the hashtag #DryHard. Things do not go well — well, maybe well, but not smoothly.

Now, here’s where Spalding distinguishes himself from almost every other writer on the planet — he makes all of that hilarious. Yes, Holly’s going through a lot because of her parents, but even in the way that Spalding describes it, her hardships are funny. At the 14% mark, I wrote in my notes “I have no idea if he can tell a story, but Spalding can make me laugh!”

I can thankfully report, he can tell a story — and still makes me laugh. The comedy comes from the situations, from the slapstick-y way his characters navigate the situations, and just the way he narrates (typically through the protagonists’ voices). It’s not just one thing that he does well — he can bring the laughs through multiple channels. Yes, the couple are careening toward rock bottom, but you laugh about it; yes, they’re dealing with very serious life and death issues — but Spalding makes you find the humor in the situations; they have monumental struggles that don’t go away just because they sober up, but you’ll ber chuckling and chortling while watching them flounder.

Oh, also, this has nothing to do with the plot, but Spalding’s description of Gin Fawkes — a flavored gin using orange peel and cinnamon produced by Scott’s distillery — is enough to make me consider becoming a teetotaler. Fantastic stuff. Funny and horrifying in equal measures.

This is the story of a family in crisis and the great lengths they go to to preserve that family. That right there sells me on the book — everyone wants the same thing — Kate and Scott’s marriage to recover. There’s not one person in the family thinking of pulling away, there’s not one more committed than the rest — both spouses are flawed and fallible, even Holly makes mistakes and loses her way, however briefly. No one’s blameless, no one’s to blame, Scott and Kate have got themselves to this point together, and together they’ll make it out. Too many books like this will take the “side” of one spouse — one is committed, one is faithful, one is stupid and blind to their own faults and one is the bigger/wiser person, etc., etc. Spalding doesn’t do that — he presents the Temples as mutually dysfunctional, mutually aspirational, and human.

Unlike a lot of similar authors, if Spalding had the opportunity for an honest, heartfelt emotional scene or a series of laughs — he’d pick the laughs 99 times out of 100. Thankfully, if he could go for a fairly honest and quite heartfelt scene with laughs, he’d go for that too. If he’d gone for fewer laughs and more of the honest and heartfelt moments, he might have a more complex, realistic, and substantive novel. Something more akin to Jonathan Tropper or Nick Hornby at their best. Instead, Spalding produced an entertaining, funny and frequently hilarious novel. The substance is there — but it’s hidden and easy to miss between the chuckles.

If you take the time to look for the substance/depth — you’ll find it and appreciate its presence. If you don’t and just laugh, you’ll be fine and have a good time — either way, you win.

This was my first Nick Spalding book — it will not be my last. Fast and funny — I had a blast reading this and laughed out loud more than I can remember doing in a long time. Read this. You’ll enjoy it.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Amazon Publishing UK via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this.

—–

3.5 Stars

Two Kinds of Truth by Michael Connelly: Bosch Enters New Territory and Revisits some Old in Two Very Different cases

Two Kinds of TruthTwo Kinds of Truth

by Michael Connelly
Harry Bosch, #20

Paperback, 402 pg.
Grand Central Publishing, 2018
Read: October 12 – 13, 2018

…he had never planted evidence against any suspect or adversary in his life. And this knowledge gave Bosch an affirming jolt of adrenaline and purpose. He knew there were two kinds of truth in this world. The truth that was the unalterable bedrock of one’s life and mission. And the other, malleable truth of politicians, charlatans, corrupt lawyers, and their clients, bent and molded to serve whatever purpose was at hand.

Harry Bosch continues to work as a volunteer San Fernando cold case detective until a very hot case comes in — a murder. Harry steps in to guide the full-time detectives through this investigation at a family-owned pharmacy. Quickly, they determine that there’s a tie between this killing and a criminal enterprise involving prescription drugs (opioids, to be specific). Soon, Harry’s doing something he’s never really done before to find some answers and hopefully bring the killers to justice. It’s a great setup to a story. There’s a blast from Harry’s past involved in the prescription drug side of the investigation, and I never thought I’d see this character again. It was a nice surprise.

That’s not only blast from the past in this novel. An old case of Harry’s is being re-opened (by “old” I mean pre-Black Echo, I think) — supposedly some new evidence has come to light exonerating the man Harry and his old partner arrested. Harry’s last LAPD partner, Lucia Soto, is one of the detectives being used by the DA in the re-opening of the case — but that doesn’t mean Harry’s getting much of a break. The position of the LAPD and the DA’s office is that Harry and his partner put away the wrong man — framed an innocent man — and it’s just a matter of time until he’s released and Harry will be sued for his role. Harry does the smart thing right away and gets Mickey Haller involved, he’s going to need legal help — and emotional support — to get through this.

The resolution to the Drugs/Murder story was a bit too easy, a bit too rushed for my taste — which is a shame, because I thought there was a lot more that Connelly could’ve done with it, and I was really enjoying it. That said, other than the resolution to it — I thought it was a great story, and if it even skews toward the truth when it comes to how these pills are procured/distributed, it’s one of the more disturbing stories that Connelly has ever told.

On the other hand, the resolution of the False Conviction story was never in doubt — Connelly’s not going to do that to Harry. The only question was how he was going to be cleared/how the murderer was going to be proven guilty again. The way it involved the work of Harry, Cisco, and Mickey together — especially with some wily moves on Mickey’s part was a whole lot of fun. I do think Harry’s reaction to his half-brother’s craftiness reeked of hypocrisy — he’s not above some of the same kind of moves (just not in a courtroom). The difference laying (in Harry’s eyes) in that he’s a cop, seeking justice and that Mickey’s a lawyer, seeking a win. Honestly, that reaction annoyed me a lot — which is one of the best parts of this series, I frequently am annoyed by Harry Bosch — he’s arrogant, hypocritical, and blind to his own faults. In other words, he’s human. He’s also dedicated, determined and generally honorable — qualities you can’t help but admire.

I know that this novel is one of the books that’s going to be the basis of the next season of Amazon’s Bosch, and I couldn’t help wondering throughout — how? Both storylines depend on an older Bosch than Welliver (the wrongful conviction story less-so), and one of them involves Mickey Haller, and I don’t see how they could use that character (but it could be done without him, if necessary). There are probably umpteen articles easily found online about how they’ll do it, but I’ll just wait to watch it. Still, the thought nagged at me throughout reading.

This is typical Connelly/Bosch — a strong, well=constructed story with compelling characters, a good pace and some twists that you won’t see coming. If this was written by anyone else, I’d have likely given it more stars. Maybe that’s wrong of me, but . . . something tells me Connelly will be fine no matter what I say. It’s a strong book, it’s an entertaining book — there’s a lot of good moments, but it could’ve been better.

—–

3.5 Stars

Blood Feud by Mike Lupica: Sunny Randall’s Back in this Promising Reintroduction

Blood FuedRobert B. Parker’s Blood Feud

by Mike Lupica
Series: Sunny Randall, #7eARC, 352 pg.
G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2018
Read: October 5 – 9, 2018

I have a complicated relationship with Sunny Randall. Readers of this site have been frequently exposed to my love for Robert B. Parker’s Spenser and Jesse Stone novels, both by Parker and the continuations by Ace Atkins and Reed Farrel Coleman (let’s overlook Michael Brandman’s contributions for the moment). I enjoyed his stand-alone works, and I thought the first couple of Virgil Cole & Everett Hitch books were fun (I haven’t tried the Robert Knott continuations). Which leaves us with Sunny.

Sunny Randall, the story goes, was written to be adapted into a film series for Parker’s chum, Helen Hunt (incidentally, I’ve never been able to envision Helen Hunt in a single Sunny scene, but that’s just me). She’s a private investigator; a former cop; part-time painter (art, not house); emotionally entangled with her ex-husband, but can’t live with him; lives in Boston; and enjoys good food. But she’s totally not a female Spenser — she doesn’t like baseball, see? I’ve read all the books — some multiple times — and while I enjoyed them, I’ve never clicked with Sunny the way I have with others. Including every other Parker protagonist. Most of her novels are mashups and remixes of various Spenser novels, entertaining to see things in a different light — but that’s about it. Frankly, the most I ever liked Sunny was in the three Jesse Stone novels late in Parker’s run (but both characters are better off without each other).

So when it was announced that Mike Lupica would be taking up the reins of this series I was intrigued but not incredibly enthused. I only know Lupica from having bought a few of his books for my sons when they were younger. I didn’t get around to reading any of them, so he’s really a new author for me. And sure, I was a little worried about a YA/MG author taking the reins of a “grown-up” series. But not much — if you can write a novel, you can write a novel, it’s just adjusting your voice and language to be appropriate for the audience.

Enough blather — let’s talk about Blood Feud. Since we saw her last, Sunny has had to move, Richie (her ex-) has gotten another divorce (giving them the chance to date or whatever you want to call it) and has replaced her late dog, Rosie, with another Rosie. Other than that, things are basically where they were after the end of Spare Change 11 years ago (for us, anyway, I’m not sure how long for her, but less time has passed you can bet).

By the way — does anyone other than Robert B. Parker, Spenser and Sunny really do this? Your dog dies, so you go and get another one of the same breed and call him/her the same name? Is this really a thing?

Then one night — Richie is shot. It’s not fatal, but was done in such a way that no one doubts for a moment that it could have been had the assailant wanted it to be. For those who don’t know (or don’t remember), Richie is the son of an Irish mob boss, although he has nothing to do with the family business. He’s given a message for his father — his shooter is coming for him, but wants him to suffer first. This kicks off a race for the shooter — Sunny, the Burke family and the police (led by Sgt. Frank Belson) are vying to be the one to find the shooter.

Before long, the violence spreads to other people the Burkes employ — both property and persons are targeted by this stranger. It’s clear that whoever is doing this has a grudge going back years. So Sunny dives into the Burke family history as much as she can, so she can get an answer before her ex-father-in-law is killed. Not just the family history — but the family’s present, too. As much as the roots of the violence are in the past, Sunny’s convinced what the Burkes are up to now is just as important to the shooter.

Richie’s father, Desmond, isn’t happy about Sunny sticking her nose into things. Not just because of the crimes she might uncover — but he really wants to leave the past in the past. But as long as someone might come take another shot at Richie, Sunny won’t stop. This brings her into contact with several criminal figures in Boston (like Parker-verse constants Tony Marcus and Vinnie Morris) as well as some we’ve only met in Sunny books.

There are a couple of new characters in these pages, but most of them we’ve met before — Lupica is re-establishing this universe and doesn’t have time to bring in many outsiders, but really just reminds us who the players are. Other than the new Rosie, I can’t point at a character and say “that’s different.” He’s done a pretty good job of stepping into Parker’s shoes. Not the pre-Catskill Eagle Parker like Atkins, but the Parker of Sunny Randall books, which is what it should feel like (( wouldn’t have objected to a Coleman-esque true to the character, just told in a different way). I think some of the jokes were overused (her Sox-apathy, for one), but it wasn’t too bad. Lupica did make some interesting choices, particularly toward the end, which should set up some interesting situations for future installments.

The mystery was decent enough, and fit both the situations and the characters — I spent a lot of the novel far ahead of Sunny (but it’s easier on this side of the page). I enjoyed the book — it’s not the best thing I’ve read this year, but it’s a good entry novel for Lupica in this series, a good reintroduction for the characters/world, and an entertaining read in general. If you’re new to this series, this would be as good a place to hop on as it was for Lupica.

I want better for Parker’s creation (but I think I’d have said that for most of Parker’s run with the series), and Lupica’s set things up in a way that we could get that in the near-future. He’s demonstrated that he has a good handle on the character he inherited, the question is, what can he do with her from here? I was ambivalent about this series coming back, but I can honestly say that I’m eager to see what happens to it next.

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

—–

3.5 Stars

Pub Day Repost: The Blue Kingfisher by Erica Wright: Kat Stone — and her wonderful wigs — are back for more danger

The Blue KingfisherThe Blue Kingfisher

by Erica Wright
Series: Kathleen Stone, #3
eARC, 320 pg.
Polis Books, 2018
Read: August 1, 2018

So, Kat Stone, private investigator, is trying something new — she’s being herself. No disguise, no wig, no fake name (well, most of the time). There’s no need, the person she was hiding from has found her. He hasn’t done anything about it — but there’s no need to go to extra effort. But she’s not used to just being Kat Stone anymore — and that’s going to take a little work.

One morning, Kat finds a body — a body in horrible shape in the shadow of the George Washington Bridge. While waiting for the police, she recognizes the body — the maintenance man from her apartment building, Tambo Campion. The police are quick to dismiss the death as a suicide, but Kat’s unconvinced. Why would someone trying to kill themselves miss the water so completely?

This, of course, isn’t enough. So she ignores paying customers for a bit to launch her own investigation, trying to find more evidence. She doesn’t necessarily have to find the murderer, she just needs more evidence to get anyone in the NYPD to take her seriously enough to investigate his death. She plunges into Tambo’s life — partially driven by guilt that she didn’t pay him enough attention in life. It turns out that Tambo is a kingfisher, someone who finds jobs for people who aren’t in the country legally or who are wanting to stay off-the-radar, for a fee. This alone provides several avenues of investigation. But there are others, too, don’t get me wrong. All of these take her into all sorts of corners of NYC society — and gives her an excuse to dabble in different identities.

The NYPD requirement of “more evidence” is a trigger of sorts for her. It reminds her of the constant refrain from her superiors during her undercover days at the NYPD. They always wanted more evidence — even when she becomes concerned for her own safety, they say she hasn’t done enough, she needs more evidence to bring down Salvatore Magrelli. Between the Magrelli knowing where she is now, and this requirement, Kat spends a lot of time ruminating on the times she felt most threatened by Magrelli — and the things she didn’t provide enough evidence on. While she has several other things going on in her life, these are the thoughts that dominate her attention.

As interesting as the murder case is, obviously, it’s the Magrelli (past and present) stories that provide the major emotional hook for this novel. Even while she’s meeting with success at Kat Stone, even when she finds evidence of a crime — multiple crimes, actually. She can’t get out of the shadow of her past or the threat of the present.

I failed to get around to reading the first book in this series, after reading The Granite Moth, which really bugs me, so I can’t really comment between the ties between it and this book, but I’m reasonably certain there are some. Characters from The Granite Moth show up here and events from it are discussed as well, which is always nice, too many PI novels ignore what happened before. I don’t know (but I can’t imagine) that too many people from The Blue Kingfisher will show up down the road, but I’ll be happy to see any of them that do. But several events from this book will show up soon.

I remembered liking Kat Stone – I didn’t remember how much or why I did, and I’m very glad I got to rediscover her. Kat is clever, very clever when she’s not distracted. She’s resourceful. She may not have the skills of Lori Anderson or even Charlie Fox when it comes to weapons or hand-to-hand, but she’s got a mental toughness that’s hard to beat. And I really hope to see how she moves forward — because there’s just no way that what comes next is going to look too much like what’s come before, and I’m very curious about that. The New York she travels in isn’t the one I’m used to seeing (it’s not so different that I don’t recognize it) in Crime Fiction, and the way she sees the world is a fresh perspective.

The writing in this one — and this is not a knock on The Granite Moth — feels more disciplined, the plot more controlled. I took it as a sign of growth, that whatever Wright intended to accomplish in this book was clear to her and she executed things to that end. I’m almost more curious about what she’ll do next than what Kat will do next. Almost.

This isn’t a criticism, this is more of a wonderment: There is a lot of time spent on Kat’s affection for New York City. Do people spend a lot of time doing that, really? Thinking about how much they love/appreciate the town they live in (assuming they do)? Her leaving town was brought up once — indirectly — but it wasn’t like anyone was really suggesting that to her — and even after she made it clear that it wouldn’t happen, there it is again, her love for NYC. I could see it fitting in if people were actively trying to get her to move, or if she’d just returned after some time away (on a job, in self-appointed exile, etc.) — but given her situation, it felt forced. Now, I liked the way she expressed it, and I can understand her affection (theoretically, anyway, I’ve never been there). It just seemed out-of-place and/or unnecessary.

This is a good, satisfying PI novel with a protagonist that you will definitely enjoy. Like its predecessor, it’s a decent jumping on point for a new reader, and a welcome return to the world for someone who’s met Kat before. I’m eagerly awaiting the next book in this series already.

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

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3.5 Stars

Pub Day Repost: The Question of the Dead Mistress by E. J. Copperman, Jeff Cohen: Samuel Answers a Question a G-g-g-g-host

The Question of the Dead MistressThe Question of the Dead Mistress

by E. J. Copperman, Jeff Cohen
Series: Asperger’s Mysteries, #5
eARC, 288 pg.
Midnight Ink, 2018
Read: June 26 – 27, 2018

“Is my husband having an affair with a dead woman?”

That doesn’t seem to be the kind of question that Samuel and Ms. Washburn would tackle as Questions Answered. They typically take on things that require esoteric research, problem solving, and occasionally something that takes some investigation that looks a lot like the kind of thing a P.I. would do. Paranormal investigation is not in their wheelhouse. Samuel is almost reflexively dismissive of the idea — but his associate, Ms. Washburn makes him listen to the prospective client’s story. And then he tries to reflexively dismiss the question, but she won’t let him. While Samuel is convinced there’s nothing supernatural afoot — in fact, the notion is impossible — Ms. Washburn had an experience she can’t explain as a teenager, and refuses to rule it out.

So Samuel let’s her try to come up with an answer to the question and goes back to whatever he was doing before. Before she can get very far into her research, the husband is murdered. Suddenly, the question doesn’t matter as much as the replacement question, “Who killed my husband?” Given Ms. Washburn’s involvement, Samuel gets interested in things again — and the two get involved in a very twisty and complicated mystery. As far as twisty-turny-keep you guessing-mysteries go, this is the best that the duo has encountered and will easily satisfy the most puzzle-obsessed of readers.

What makes this even better — is that given the supernatural/supernatural-adjacent nature of the instigating question, the two are approaching things in very different ways and decide to operate largely separately. Samuel interviews people with assistance of other to drive him places or via the Internet, while Ms. Washburn goes on her own, trying to use Samuel’s methods. This change in modus operandi is refreshing for the characters and the readers, and will lead both Samuel and Ms. Washburn to re-evaluate the way they do business in the future.

The danger level in this one is great — and there are direct threats made against Ms. Washburn and Samuel’s mother and father. Which just makes Samuel more determined to come up with definitive answers quickly. The possible supernatural elements stay with the story throughout and it’s only near the end that all the characters come to the same conclusions about it. This novel features a great puzzle and the solution is very satisfactory — and one I didn’t see coming (but in retrospect makes complete sense).

So much for the mystery — there’s also plenty going on in Samuel’s personal life. On the whole I thought they dealt with it well, but…

I appreciated Samuel pointing out that Asperger’s is no longer a diagnosis, but he still claims it s a shorthand way to describe the way he acts/thinks to others. Which is just a great — and realistic — way to handle the change in status for the label. Let me follow that observation with this one — what frustrated me about this one — and I will admit I was very frustrated at times — is how little Samuel’s mother seemed to understand him. Ms. Washburn, too, but she hasn’t known Samuel as long — or as well as his mother. Dealing with the father who abandoned his family decades ago suddenly reappearing and trying to merge back into his life, would be difficult, complicated and messy. For someone like Samuel? Well, I’m guessing it’d be just as difficult and complicated — but he’d tell you exactly what’s going on with him. And Samuel does so — repeatedly. His father doesn’t believe him; Ms. Washburn seems to try to believe him, but doesn’t; neither does his mother. His mother has been with him every day of his life, devoting more of her life and energy to her son than most parents do — how does she not know him well enough to not double-guess his emotions? If Samuel says he feels “X,” then that’s probably exactly what he feels — unless you force him to look at things another way. Over and over again, his mother shows less awareness of Samuel’s reactions to things than almost anyone. It just didn’t ring true. Samuel’s Asperger’s isn’t new to her (or Samuel) — she shouldn’t act like this.

I should add — the authors know a whole lot more about all of this than I do, and their depictions of this are probably spot-on, I guess they just didn’t convince me about those depictions like they usually do. Also, in the overall-scheme of things, this was a relatively minor quibble and didn’t detract a lot from the pleasure I had in the book — it just took a lot of space to describe.

The trick to Samuel is to give him a little personal growth, a little greater awareness, a little understanding of himself and the emotional needs of others. Yet, only a little bit. I do think this is depicted faster (possibly unrealistically so) in the books — because outside of Nero Wolfe, Sherlock Holmes, or other Golden Age/Golden Age-like characters who don’t grow and evolve by design, we expect some sort of noticeable personal growth in our series characters (particularly the central characters) from book to book. Samuel shouldn’t give us much in that way — his evolution/growth/whatever you want to call it is going to happen on a glacial pace. And over the last three books (I really need to double back and read the first two in the series), he’s taken significant steps forward — so much so it’s like Ms. Washburn has slipped into forgetting that he’s not neurotypical a few times here. That makes sense, because their relationship (in every sense) is pretty new. Thankfully, she catches herself and deliberately attempts to accept that — and generally does – and recognizes when he’s trying. Because we readers get a direct pipeline to Samuel’s thoughts, we might have an easier time with it than she does, but she does a decent job (and his mother usually does, too). It’s a heckuva trick to pull off narratively, and Copperman/Cohen nails it, time and time again.

Another clever mystery, well-told with one of Crime Fiction’s most original and convincingly written characters (not a detective, just someone who can easily be mistaken for one) — this series is a consistently pleasant and rewarding read. The Question of the Dead Mistress is a great jumping-on point, and a welcome-return read for those who’ve spent time with the crew from Questions Answered before.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Midnight Ink via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this. My opinions are my own, however.

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3.5 Stars