The Last Adam by Brandon D. Crowe

The Last AdamThe Last Adam: A Theology of the Obedient Life of Jesus in the Gospels

by Brandon D. Crowe

Paperback, 215 pg.
Baker Academic, 2017

Read: February 19 – March 19, 2017


I just don’t know how to sum up this book succinctly honestly. After a few attempts that are best never seen by anyone, I decided that no one does it better than Crowe does in the first three paragraphs:

What is the purpose and significance of the life and ministry of Jesus in the Gospels? At one level, this may seem like an obvious question. The Gospels are all about Jesus. Moreover, given the structure of each of the four Gospels, it is difficult to miss the central role played by the Passion Narratives. And yet there is much more in the Gospels beyond the Passion Narratives. Jesus is amazingly active. He preaches, heals, exorcises, prays, rebukes, forgives, calls, authorizes, confounds, challenges, rejoices, weeps, blesses, curses, prophesies, and more. In addition, he consistently draws attention to himself as he does these things.

And then there are the Christmas stories (that is, the infancy narratives). These are among the more familiar parts of the Gospels in today’s culture. But what is the relationship between the infancy narratives and salvation? Jesus appears to be quite passive lying in the manger as he is adored by shepherds, and we do not find him to be very active when the magi come and prostrate themselves before him in Matthew 2. But can we look even to the infancy of Jesus and say that Jesus was somehow already beginning to accomplish something of significance? To ask this question is to lead us back to the driving question of this volume, since Jesus did not bypass infancy, childhood, adolescence, or adulthood on his way to the cross. Why? What was it about the life of Jesus that was necessary for salvation—from the manger to the cross and everything in between? Do the Evangelists themselves give us any indications that this is a question they have in view as they write their Gospels? I will argue that they do.

In this volume I will argue that we find a shared perspective among the diversity of the four Gospels that the obedient life of Jesus—in its entirety—is vicarious and salvific in character. More specifically, I will argue that Jesus is portrayed in the Gospels as the last Adam whose obedience is necessary for God’s people to experience the blessings of salvation. In pursuit of this thesis, I will consider what the Gospels themselves say about the lifelong obedience of Jesus, which concomitantly involves considering how Jesus’s life and ministry are related to his passion. By concentrating on the Gospels I do not intend to imply that these are the only documents in the New Testament that speak to this issue. I do believe, however, that a focus on the Gospels qua Gospels is important because of the way they narrate the life of Jesus, and because their testimony to the significance of Jesus’s life for salvation has often not been given sufficient attention. Thus a sub-aim of this book is to help us read and interpret the Gospels theologically.

So, there’s his aim, rather, there are his aims. How does he go about it? Here’s the Table of Contents to give you a look at how he’s approaching his arguments (yeah, I’m quoting a lot here, but you try to tackle this book in a blog post rather than a dozen or so page review and see how easy it is):

1. A Tale of Two Adams in the History of Interpretation
2. The Last Adam and the Son of Man in the Gospels
3. The Last Adam as the Obedient Son of God
4. The Last Adam and the Fulfillment of Scripture
5. The Glory of the Last Adam in the Gospel of John
6. The Last Adam and the Kingdom of Righteousness
7. The Death and Resurrection of the Last Adam
8. The Last Adam and Salvation: Theological Synthesis and Conclusions

This is primarily an exegetical work — dealing with the text of the Gospels directly. But Crowe leans upon historical and systematic theology as well (especially in Chapter 8). Outside of Chapter 5, he’s primarily dealing with the Synoptics — but not exclusively. It is not impossible to read for the dedicated layman — I’ve read more difficult works in the last few months, but it’s not something you can skim with profit. There are issues that I’m not sure I understand the purpose of addressing, as I’m not aware of all of the academic controversies he’s addressing, but even when you don’t understand everything about those portions of the book, you can still gain from working through them.

I learned a lot. I thought about passages in a way I haven’t before — seeing things in a new light, or at least a different light. I really don’t have a lot to say about this particular book — primarily I just wanted to post about it to maybe get a reader or two to look at it that might not have otherwise. I loved it, even when I had to work a little harder than usual to get what he was saying, it was worth it. This is the kind of thing the Church needs more of.

This is written from a Confessionally Reformed perspective, but not necessarily for the Confessionally Reformed any more than other Evangelical/Evangelical-ish readers. Although, the Reformed will be more used to thinking in some of the categories he uses than others (as Crowe indicates late in this interview).

This is not an easy read, this is not a quick read, but it is a good read (why do I feel like Lewis’ Mr. Beaver now?). This is theology that will lead to doxology — as well as more theological and doxological reflection and study. I wasn’t sure what I expected to get out of this book, but Crowe delivered it and more. I’m not doing a good job summing things up here, just get this book and read it (as well as all the books Crowe writes that you can afford, I’m pretty sure I never got around to posting about his book on the General Epistles which was almost as good as this one (and easier to read)).

—–

4 1/2 Stars

Robert B. Parker’s Little White Lies by Ace Atkins

Really, all I want to say about this book is: “Yes! Atkins did it again — it’s just so good, folks. Long-time fans’ll love it, new readers will likely see the appeal of the series. A lot of fun with a great ending!” But that seems a little surface-y and is just bad writing. But really, that’s everything I’ve got to say.

Little White LiesRobert B. Parker’s Little White Lies

by Ace Atkins
Series: Spenser, #45

eARC, 320 pg.
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2017

Read: March 16 – 17, 2017

Pearl and I were off to Central Square . Her long brown ears blew in the wind as we drove along Memorial Drive against the Charles. Rowers rowed, joggers jogged, and bench sitters sat. It was midSeptember and air had turned crisp. The leaves had already started to turn red and gold, shining in Technicolor upon the still water.

I debated about what quotation I’d open with — I went with this Parker-esque (and Atkins-esque) description. Little White Lies is one of the better of Atkins run on this series, because (like here) he did something that feels like something Parker would’ve written, but not quite what he’d have said (the more I think about it, the less I think that Parker’d have said “bench sitters sat”).

Actually, that’s true of the other quotation I almost used, too:

I nodded , adding water to the new coffeemaker sitting atop my file cabinet. I’d recently upgraded from Mr. Coffee to one of those machines that used pre-measured plastic cups. I placed my mug under the filter, clamped down the lid, and returned to my desk. Demonic hissing sounds echoed in my office. Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?

This is Atkins sixth Spenser novel, and you’d think he’s got enough of a track record that I could stop comparing him to Parker. Well, you’d be wrong — I can’t stop. This, like most of Atkins’ work on this series, is so reminiscent of early Parker novels that it makes some of the latter Parkers look more like they were written by a hired gun. Still, I’m going to try to keep it to a minimum because it doesn’t seem fair to keep doing.

Susan has sent one of her clients to Spenser for some help that she can’t provide. Connie Kelly had been dating someone she met online, invested in one of his real estate deals — and he vanished, taking the money with him. Could Spenser track him down and get her cash back? Sure, he says. It doesn’t take long for the investigation to show that he owes plenty of people money — a couple of months rent here, hundreds of thousands of dollar there.

Here’s the fun part: M. Brooks Welles, the deadbeat in question, is a silver-haired, silver-tongued mainstay on cable news. He’s former CIA, and an expert on military and national security issues — one of those that producers call on regularly when they need a talking head. Why’s a guy like that flaking out on real estate deals? Spenser knows something fishier than expected is going on — which takes him into a world of mercenaries, gun deals, and the ATF.

Then someone tries to kill him. A couple of times. And the book stops feeling like a semi-light adventure, poking fun at the blowhards on cable TV and the state of American Journalism, and how we shouldn’t trust as many people who have cameras pointed at them as we do. Things take on a different tone, bodies start piling up, and a darkness slips in to the book. This also brings in Belson and his new boss — who’s still not a fan of Spenser. About the same time, Connie starts to waver in her conviction that she wants her money back and Welles punished. Spenser, naturally, doesn’t care and plows ahead. Hawk is able to connect Spenser with some mercenaries that travel in the same circles as Welles and the chase is on. Eventually, the action moves from Boston and its environs to Georgia. Which means that Teddy Sapp is going to make an appearance.

All the characters were great — I would’ve liked some more time with some of Welles’ co-conspirators in Boston, I think it’d have helped round out our picture of his crimes. But it’s a minor complaint. We also got plenty of interaction with his Georgia-based colleagues. Even the characters that show up for a page or two as witnesses to the crimes were interesting — it’s the little things like those that add so much. It was nice to see Teddy Sapp again, too. He was the best part of Hugger Mugger (faint praise, I realize). The Hawk material was very good — maybe Atkins’ best use of the character yet.

I fully expect that people are going to spend a lot of time talking about the ending — it didn’t feel like a Parker ending. That said, it felt like an ending that pre-A Catskill Eagle Parker might have tried. It was satisfying, don’t misunderstand, it’s just not the kind of ending that Parker employed. Honestly, there were two other perfectly acceptable places to end the book — and if not for the progress bar at the bottom of my screen, I might have believed that thee ending was earlier and equally strong.

Now, because Atkins and the Parker estate aren’t stupid, there are certain characters that you just know are safe, no matter what shenanigans that they’ve let Atkins and Coleman get away with when it comes to killing off long-term supporting characters. But there was a definite feeling of peril when it comes to [name redacted] and [name redacted]. Sure I knew they’d live to be read about another day, but I wondered how healthy they’d be in the meantime.

This is sharply written, as usual. Atkins knows what he’s doing (in this series or anything else) — a great mix of character moments and plot. Spenser’s voice is strong — as are the voices of the other regulars. It was just a pleasure to read through and through. Let me leave you with one more snippet that is could’ve come from an early-80’s Spenser just as easily today’s, a voice like this is enough reason to read the book — the rest is just gravy (and there’s plenty of gravy):

I returned with sore legs back to my seat on the steps. I spent the next fifteen minutes watching women of all ages, sizes, and colors walk past me. I liked the way most women walked. I liked the way they dressed. And talked and smelled. I was pretty damn sure I was a fan of women in general. Did this make me a sexist or a feminist? Or somewhere in between.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Putnam Books via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this.
N.B.: As this was an ARC, any quotations above may be changed in the published work — I will endeavor to verify them as soon as possible.

—–

4 1/2 Stars

Cold Reign by Faith Hunter

Cold ReignCold Reign

by Faith Hunter
Series: Jane Yellowrock, #11

eARC, 384 pg.
Ace, 2017

Read: March 6 – 9, 2017


Lee Child (and others, I’m sure) has said something along the lines of the key to writing a long-running series is that in each book you give the readers exactly the same thing, only different. Here in book 11 of the Jane Yellowrock series, that’s exactly what Faith Hunter has delivered — Jane Yellowrock up to her neck in revenant vampires, schemes within schemes within schemes, and dealing with the Big Cat that shares her body — but in a new way, with different (yet the same) schemers, a different kind of revenant, and new challenges and revelations about her Beast.

The tricky part of this is coming up with something to say . . . I mean really, the fact that I’m still reading the series 11 books in pretty much demonstrates that I’m a fan and that I’m predisposed to like this — both in its sameness and differentness. I like spending time with Jane and the rest (particularly Eli, Alex and Bruiser), seeing her navigate through this wold, and beating people up/taking out vampires. The “same” stuff is as good as always (maybe even a little better), so what about the “different” stuff?

There’s a lot to cover on that front, actually — I can’t cover it all, that’s Hunter’s job (and she’s so much better at it). But I can do a little. This book takes place sometime after Curse on the Land (yay, multi-series continuity!), and long enough after Shadow Rites that Jane’s started to come to terms with her expanded household and all that it entails (please note the use of the word, “started” — I’m not sure she’s quite finished even at the end of this one). But that’s just the beginning. There are a handful of revenants popping up — but they’re not the kind that Jane is used to dealing with. And their presence might be signalling something significant.

The Youngers have evolved somewhat — Alex is maturing, and even getting out of the house a little — but he’s still the same dude. Eli — wow, we see so many sides of him here that we hadn’t before (maybe saw hints of, but not like this), I loved every bit of the Eli material here — and man, did he make me laugh. He also made me get a little bleary eyed at one point — something I couldn’t ever imagine that I’d say.

Beast does something that I don’t think we’ve seen before — she has something going on that she’s keeping from Jane. There’s something she knows, maybe something she did, that she’s blocked Jane’s knowledge of . That’s scary — kinda cool — but mostly scary. The repercussions of Beast doing things without the human part of her knowing, there’s a couple of books right thee.

Naturally, the biggest differences come from growth and changes to Jane herself — at one point, she says

My life was so weird I scarcely recognized it.

The only reason readers can recognize it is that we’ve followed the series — if someone made the strange decision to read Skinwalker and then jump to Cold Reign, I bet they’d barely recognize the protagonist. The changes in her abilities, her shifting (but not totally shifted) feelings towards vampires and their practices, her love life, her friends, her understanding of her past, etc., etc. — she’s come a long way, mostly for the good, I think. There’s even a sentence I identified in my notes as “possibly the sweetest, sappiest thing to come out of Jane’s narration.” I decided not to include it here, but fans will gush over it. I just know it.

None of that means that when it comes time for bringing the pain that Jane’s not up to it — in fact, thanks to recent events, she’s better at it than ever. Her use of the Gray Between (which is bordering on being over-used), is improved here — she’s able to handle it better and uses it to her great advantage. Yeah, she might be not be that recognizable, but she’s a better character for it.

The core of this book — plotwise, anyway — comes back to the looming summit with the European Vampires, while Leo continues preparing for it, some things start happening that make he and his Enforcers begin to think that maybe the EVs are already in New Orleans and doing what they can to undermine him before anything official happens. Hunter, like many authors, has really taken advantage of the long-lived nature of vampires and how they’ll use that for long-range planning. In Cold Reign we see that used very well — as I mentioned before, there’s a new kind of revenant running around New Orleans — and there’s no good explanation for how that’s happening (there’s a pretty diabolical explanation, however). This brings us back to the first time Jane stuck her toe in the water of Leo Pellisier’s plans, and the early defenses against insurgents that Jane mounted on his behalf. Plots and schemes that we thought we were done with (if only because the plotters and schemers were no more), are brought back up and put into a new light in a very convincing manner. If Hunter said that she’d been planning these moves since book 2 or so, I’d believe her — I’d also believe her if she said that she needed something for this book and took advantage of some of material from her early books. Either way, she does a very clever job of it.

There’s a little bit of Soulwood in Cold Reign. We get a mention or two of Nell Ingram. Rick LaFleur is around doing PsyLED stuff — without the rest of his team, sadly. Soul is seen a few times, but doesn’t do much (but what she does is pretty cool).

I’ve long enjoyed Jane’s calorie-rich dietary needs and the abandon with which she dives into her food — and I think I’ve noted with both books, how fun it is to watch Nell Ingram sample junk food. But I think in Cold Reign, Best trumps them both — she eats her first taco. And I found it delightful, really, literally laughing out loud. I’ve decided that what Hunter’s fans need is a Food Network-style show featuring Jane, Nell and Beast trying various foods — I’d just love it.

The ending came a little quicker than I expected (possibly was confused thanks to the Soulwood preview at the end tweaking the percentage — but even without that, it seemed sudden). Which isn’t a bad thing, and probably says more about me than anything about the book — maybe I just wasn’t ready to say “see ya later” to Clan Yellowrock yet. Without spoiling much, there wasn’t a lot of resolution here — there was enough — but not as much as you might expect. The threat to Leo is still out there, and Jane et al. have their work cut out for them to prevent a European Vampire takeover.

Another winning tale of Vampire Politics, New Orleans weather, Magic, Big Cats and blood — lots and lots of blood. At this point, I’m not sure Hunter can do anything wrong with this series — and I hope she doesn’t prove me wrong anytime soon. Get your orders in now folks so you can dive on it on May 2.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Berkley Publishing Group via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this.
N.B.: As this was an ARC, any quotations above may be changed in the published work — I will endeavor to verify them as soon as possible.

—–

4 1/2 Stars

Pub Day Repost: Say Nothing by Brad Parks

Say NothingSay Nothing

by Brad Parks
eARC, 448 pg.
Dutton Books, 2017
Read: January 19 – 21, 2016

Since his debut novel, Faces of the Gone in 2009, I’ve considered myself a Brad Parks fan — but when I heard that he was going to step away from his series for a stand-alone, I got a little nervous. Maybe I wasn’t a Brad Parks fan — maybe I was just a Carter Ross fan. Honestly, the parts of the Carter Ross novels that he doesn’t narrate aren’t my favorite. Also, we all know all too well that for every Suspect or Mystic River, series writers can give us a The Two Minute Rule or Shutter Island — maybe grabbing this book was going to be a mistake.

Thankfully, it wasn’t.

While working on this post, I saw this from Sue Grafton talking about Say Nothing: “Terrific book. Truly terrific. Tension throughout and tears at the end. What could be better than that?” I’m a little annoyed by this, honestly. That’s pretty much how I was going to sum up things for this post. Frankly, I wish Grafton would focus her efforts on finding another 5 letters between X and Z rather than preemptively stealing my lines.

We meet Judge Scott Sampson a few minutes after the biggest crisis of his life has started — and a few minutes before he leans about it. Once you get to learn Sampson a little, you’ll see that the bar for biggest crisis for him is set a little higher than for most. He’s informed that his twin children have been kidnapped and is provided some pretty compelling reasons to believe that he’s under surveillance (and will soon be given even more reason to believe that). Basically, the message he gets is this: if you want to see you children alive and well, you will do what we tell you to with a case. There are a few tests he has to pass to demonstrate his compliance — tests that may do lasting damage to his career. But Sampson is eager to prove that he will do whatever he’s asked for his children, consequences notwithstanding.

This isn’t going to be an overnight escapade — in fact, for Sampson and his wife (how have I failed to mention Allison?), this is an ordeal of indefinite duration. The stress, the worry, the intense reaction to this situation begins taking its toll almost immediately. These pressures test their individual ethics, bring secrets to light, expose and exacerbate problems in their marriage, and generally bring them both to the breaking point. They are also both driven to discover their inner-Liam Neeson in order to get their daughter (and son) back — neither, really possess a particular set of skills fitting this goal, sadly. These attempts just make their personal and interpersonal woes worse — and their lives continue spinning out of their control.

There is a relentlessness to the pace that’s a pleasure — and a drain. Jack Reacher gets a good night’s sleep and enjoys coffee (and the less than occasional romantic interlude), Harry Bosch has jazz to relax him, Elvis Cole has that cat and Tai Chi — as intense as things may get, by and large these guys get a break. But for Scott and Allison — their children don’t stop being kidnapped, and whatever solace they might find in alcohol, sleep or family — it’s a temporary band-aid at best.

This doesn’t mean that it’s not an enjoyable read — Scott is a charming character and you will like him as you learn more about his life and family. You will not approve of every move he makes here (I guess you might, but I hope you don’t), but on the whole you will understand why he makes them and won’t judge him too harshly. Whoops, I was talking about tone here — I had fun with this, even as I was feeling a shadow of the pressure Scott and Allison are under, I even laughed once. There’s a real sense of peril when the narration focuses on the children — but it never feels exploitative.

Like most readers will, I had a couple of pretty compelling theories about who was behind everything (and why), and focused on the correct one pretty early on. Which didn’t stop me from being taken aback when it Parks revealed it — he really handled that well. Another weakness comes in the last couple of pages where Parks ties up a few loose ends, and a couple of them feel too tidy. But it’s instantly forgivable, and you want these characters to have something tidy after all they’ve gone through. On the whole, however, the characters and situations are complex and real (if heightened) — Parks nailed this whole thing. I think this will hold up to at least one repeat reading — the second read might even be more rewarding since you can appreciate what Parks is doing without being distracted by wondering what’ll happen.

The tears that Grafton mentioned? Yeah, she got that part right, too.

This is a thriller filled with real people and situations that you can believe. You’ll run the emotional gamut a time or two while reading this and will wish you could read faster just so you can make sure these kids make it home. I think I like the Carter Ross books more than this, but it’s in Say Nothing that Parks finds his stride as a crime fiction writer. Really well done.

By the way, It turns out that I am a fan of Brad Parks. Phew.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Dutton via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this, although my Primary Care Physician probably isn’t crazy about what it did to my blood pressure .

—–

4 1/2 Stars

Death Stalks Kettle Street by John Bowen

Death Stalks Kettle StreetDeath Stalks Kettle Street

by John Bowen

Paperback, 370 pg.
John Bowen, 2016

Read: February 6 – 7, 2017


Nothing against Adrian Monk — either in book or TV form — he was brilliant, fun, and his OCD was treated with sensitivity. But also for laughs — the combination wasn’t easy to pull off. But OCD isn’t really a laughing matter — just ask Greg Unsworth, the protagonist of John Bowen’s compelling cozy mystery. Greg wants to be normal, he doesn’t want to be kept awake because a tea cup might be out of alignment with the others, he doesn’t want to lock and relock and relock and relock his front door just to be sure it took, he wants to be able to cross the road when he wants to. Partially this would be for his sake, but mostly, it’s to help his brother out, because he’s really bothered with Greg’s OCD.

Beth Grue doesn’t believe in normal — she knows everyone is a little not-normal in their own way, she’s fully embraced her non-normality. She just wants everyone else to treat her as no more different than anyone else — cerebral palsy or no.

The two of them meet when they discover the dead body of one of Greg’s neighbors together, which leads to a fairly unlikely friendship. They understand the others struggles, they accept each other for what they are (well, almost, Beth isn’t as patient always as she wants to be). As the friendship develops, they begin to realize that the body they discovered was one of a pretty high number of accidental deaths in Greg’s neighborhood recently. Not only that, but someone has been sending Greg advance notice of these accidents (which casts a shadow on the whole “accident” idea, no?).

There’s a great subplot about Beth taking a class in mystery writing — which allows Bowen to comment on the genre, while helping Beth to think both about her novel in-progress and the murders she and Greg are convinced are being committed.

And the mystery? It was pretty well constructed, and the reveal was wonderful. There’s a handy red herring that was so obvious that the character might as well have been named Mr./Ms. Hareng Rouge. I didn’t mind him at all because Bowen used it well; our protagonists learn how to investigate (and how not to investigate) through wasting time with the false trail; and the way Greg discovered just how wrong he’d been was so much fun.

Right up until a couple of pages before the reveal of the killer I had a 3 competing theories — all of which seemed pretty likely (well, 2 of them did, anyway). I’m glad the killer is who it was, their motive — and best of all, how Bowen handled the reveal. One of the most satisfying conclusions to a mystery that I’ve read in ages.

It wasn’t perfect, but it got pretty close. I enjoyed the characters, their wants, their interaction, their fumbling attempts to solve the mystery – I can’t recommend this highly enough, really. It’s a cozy that has enough of an edge and dept to appeal to those who prefer their detectives a little more hard-boiled, without getting too messy, too violent, too un-cozy for the core audience.

—–

4 1/2 Stars

Say Nothing by Brad Parks

Say NothingSay Nothing

by Brad Parks

eARC, 448 pg.
Dutton Books, 2017

Read: January 19 – 21, 2016


Since his debut novel, Faces of the Gone in 2009, I’ve considered myself a Brad Parks fan — but when I heard that he was going to step away from his series for a stand-alone, I got a little nervous. Maybe I wasn’t a Brad Parks fan — maybe I was just a Carter Ross fan. Honestly, the parts of the Carter Ross novels that he doesn’t narrate aren’t my favorite. Also, we all know all too well that for every Suspect or Mystic River, series writers can give us a The Two Minute Rule or Shutter Island — maybe grabbing this book was going to be a mistake.

Thankfully, it wasn’t.

While working on this post, I saw this from Sue Grafton talking about Say Nothing: “Terrific book. Truly terrific. Tension throughout and tears at the end. What could be better than that?” I’m a little annoyed by this, honestly. That’s pretty much how I was going to sum up things for this post. Frankly, I wish Grafton would focus her efforts on finding another 5 letters between X and Z rather than preemptively stealing my lines.

We meet Judge Scott Sampson a few minutes after the biggest crisis of his life has started — and a few minutes before he leans about it. Once you get to learn Sampson a little, you’ll see that the bar for biggest crisis for him is set a little higher than for most. He’s informed that his twin children have been kidnapped and is provided some pretty compelling reasons to believe that he’s under surveillance (and will soon be given even more reason to believe that). Basically, the message he gets is this: if you want to see you children alive and well, you will do what we tell you to with a case. There are a few tests he has to pass to demonstrate his compliance — tests that may do lasting damage to his career. But Sampson is eager to prove that he will do whatever he’s asked for his children, consequences notwithstanding.

This isn’t going to be an overnight escapade — in fact, for Sampson and his wife (how have I failed to mention Allison?), this is an ordeal of indefinite duration. The stress, the worry, the intense reaction to this situation begins taking its toll almost immediately. These pressures test their individual ethics, bring secrets to light, expose and exacerbate problems in their marriage, and generally bring them both to the breaking point. They are also both driven to discover their inner-Liam Neeson in order to get their daughter (and son) back — neither, really possess a particular set of skills fitting this goal, sadly. These attempts just make their personal and interpersonal woes worse — and their lives continue spinning out of their control.

There is a relentlessness to the pace that’s a pleasure — and a drain. Jack Reacher gets a good night’s sleep and enjoys coffee (and the less than occasional romantic interlude), Harry Bosch has jazz to relax him, Elvis Cole has that cat and Tai Chi — as intense as things may get, by and large these guys get a break. But for Scott and Allison — their children don’t stop being kidnapped, and whatever solace they might find in alcohol, sleep or family — it’s a temporary band-aid at best.

This doesn’t mean that it’s not an enjoyable read — Scott is a charming character and you will like him as you learn more about his life and family. You will not approve of every move he makes here (I guess you might, but I hope you don’t), but on the whole you will understand why he makes them and won’t judge him too harshly. Whoops, I was talking about tone here — I had fun with this, even as I was feeling a shadow of the pressure Scott and Allison are under, I even laughed once. There’s a real sense of peril when the narration focuses on the children — but it never feels exploitative.

Like most readers will, I had a couple of pretty compelling theories about who was behind everything (and why), and focused on the correct one pretty early on. Which didn’t stop me from being taken aback when it Parks revealed it — he really handled that well. Another weakness comes in the last couple of pages where Parks ties up a few loose ends, and a couple of them feel too tidy. But it’s instantly forgivable, and you want these characters to have something tidy after all they’ve gone through. On the whole, however, the characters and situations are complex and real (if heightened) — Parks nailed this whole thing. I think this will hold up to at least one repeat reading — the second read might even be more rewarding since you can appreciate what Parks is doing without being distracted by wondering what’ll happen.

The tears that Grafton mentioned? Yeah, she got that part right, too.

This is a thriller filled with real people and situations that you can believe. You’ll run the emotional gamut a time or two while reading this and will wish you could read faster just so you can make sure these kids make it home. I think I like the Carter Ross books more than this, but it’s in Say Nothing that Parks finds his stride as a crime fiction writer. Really well done.

By the way, It turns out that I am a fan of Brad Parks. Phew.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Dutton via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this, although my Primary Care Physician probably isn’t crazy about what it did to my blood pressure.

—–

4 1/2 Stars

Pub Day Repost: What You Break by Reed Farrel Coleman

This is one of those I spent a couple of days futzing around with — not sure I made it better (or worse) by doing so — I re-arranged a lot, that’s the best I can say. Both Murphy novels are tough to talk about in the abstract, which I think is a pretty good thing. There’s not a lot of fat on them — just good lean prose.

What You BreakWhat You Break

by Reed Farrel Coleman
Series: Gus Murphy, #2
eARC, 368 pg.
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2017
Read: December 1 – 5, 2016

Why? It’s three letters that permeate this novel. We’re all familiar with the need for an answer to that question. From the time that a toddler starts ever so persistently asking that question until the end, we keep wondering, “why?” Few need the answer as much as someone who has to deal with the unexpected death of a younger family member. In Where It Hurts, we saw just what the lack of an answer did to Gus Murphy and his life. So when a grandfather comes to Gus for help finding out why his granddaughter was brutally murdered, there’s no way that he can turn his back on the request. Especially given the inducements being offered.

He wasn’t recruited to solve the murder — the police have a man awaiting sentencing for the crime. But he won’t tell anyone anything about the crime or his relationship (or lack thereof) to the victim. The grandfather, Micah Spears, rubs Gus wrong from the get-go — if it weren’t for Father Bill’s endorsement, and his understanding of Spears’ deep need to know, Gus would’ve walked. It probably would’ve been better for him if he had. Almost no one — especially her family, the police (many of whom are still angry for what Gus turned up in the last book) — wants him to pursue this. The more Gus learns about Linh Trang (she preferred “LT”), the more he becomes convinced that there’s no reason for the killer to want her dead, which just makes the “Why?” even more pressing.

Before he can really start to work for Spears, Gus has a few other why’s to answer — why did his friend/co-worker, Slava, just drive off with the mysterious new guest at the hotel? Why did a Russian gangster get assassinated before Gus’ eyes shortly after Slava and the guest talk to him? Why is there a very formidable Russian running around Long Island looking for Slava? The focus of the novel is on the Spears case, but this storyline casts a shadow over everything. I didn’t really spend too much time in Where It Hurts worried about what would happen to anyone, and the Spears case is more of a puzzle than anything — but there’s peril to this Russian story, and the reader will become convinced that whatever happens in it, will have a large impact on Gus (and not just because of Slava’s involvement).

Gus has grown a bit, made some steps toward health since we last saw him, but he has a lot of work to do. Things with his ex- are about where they were previously, but with less anger (mutually), his romance is progressing with Maggie, and so on. Basically, Gus is becoming someone different from just the ex-cop with a dead son. That sill the core of his being, but there’s something more to it than that — maybe even some room for happiness. It’s hard to discuss briefly, but simply: Gus was better off by the end of Where it Hurts than he was at the beginning, and at the start of this novel, he was better off yet. As for the ending of this book? Well, read it and decide for yourself.

This book deals with some pretty potent things — as Coleman did when we met Gus — there’s love, friendship, loss, grief, confusion and resentment, to name a few of the ingredients in the emotional cauldron everything in the novel is steeping in. Not just from Gus, Slava and Spears — but everyone in the book is dealing with things that no one should have to, but most of us do. I’d like (but cannot expect) to circle back around and see how LT’s friends are doing in a couple of years, ditto for her sister and ex-step-grandmother. I’d like a lot more time with a judge that Gus interviews, as well as Gus’ lawyer. I expect the latter, at least, will be granted to me.

Spears and Gus do get some answers as to why LT was killed — but, as is so often the case, really those answers don’t satisfy much and lead to further questions. No tidy bows here for anything — which isn’t to say the concluding scenes of the novel won’t satisfy the reader, just that there’s no pat endings or rides off into the sunset. Just survivors (not saying how many of them there’ll be) moving on. The Epilogue will stay with you. That’s really all I can say.

This book put me through the wringer — not as much as Gus and Slava were, but still — Coleman has really topped himself from Where it Hurts, we know these people better now, so he can push them further. I lost sleep with this one, which isn’t that unusual, but I lost more sleep staying up to get through this than I have in a long time. There’s a darkness, an emptiness throughout that wasn’t there in our first encounter with Gus — or if it was, it’s changed in source and intensity. I’m not sure many readers will like where Gus is by the time we get to book 3 or 4 (including me) — but I’ll understand it. Coleman’s making sure his writing and characterization is honest, as real as fiction can get.

Once again, he delivers a crime novel that could be mistaken for a non-genre novel (as if such a thing exists), suitable for thoughtful crime readers or those who don’t mind crime to show up in a novel about a parent redefining himself after the death of a child.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from G.P. Putnam’s Sons via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this. It didn’t change my opinions on the book, I was simply able to form them a couple of months early.

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4 1/2 Stars