Dachshund Through the Snow by David Rosenfelt: Andy Carpenter gets a Cold Case for Christmas

Dachshund Through the Snow

Dachshund Through the Snow

by David Rosenfelt
Series: Andy Carpenter, #20

eARC, 352 pg.
Minotaur Books, 2019

Read: September 3, 2019


It felt a little weird for the second book I read in September to be a Christmas-centered novel. Sure, it’s an Advanced Reader Copy, but still, it feels ridiculous. However, one thing we learn right off the bat is that Andy’s wife, Laurie, wants to extend the Christmas season into February (I’m sure there’s a touch of hyperbole there)—so I can totally see her not blinking at a Christmas book right after Labor Day.

There’s another case that kicks the book off—Andy sues the Paterson Police Department on behalf of a canine officer whose handler is retiring and wants to bring the dog with him into early retirement due to hip problems. It’s a pleasant way to kick off the book, and Rosenfelt makes it pay off for events later in the book and into the future, too.

But the main event is tied into Laurie’s Christmas spirit. She goes to various local places (like a pet store) and takes the wish lists/letters to Santa left there and fulfills them. This year she gets a letter from a little boy who wants a coat for his mom and a sweater for his dachshund, but before you can say “Awww, how cute,” he also asks for Santa to find his dad and bring him home. A job for Laurie, the P.I., not Santa.

Before Laurie can find him, however, the Paterson police do—he’s arrested for a fourteen-year-old murder. Noah Traynor’s sister had done one of those 23andMe/Ancestry-type things and the police tied her DNA to blood left underneath the fingernails of an unsolved murder (this is such a good idea, and I hope other writers use a similar idea just to prompt discussion about these things). Now we’re talking a job that’s not for Santa or Laurie, it’s Andy’s turn.

By this point, we all know what comes next: Sam hacks into things he should and finds out a lot; Marcus mumbles, intimidates some criminals and does something violent; Laurie cajoles and supports Andy; Hike predicts calamity; Andy watches some sports and thinks while walking Tara and Sebastian; (and works a little). The trial arrives and Andy annoys the judge and prosecutor, amuses the reader and finally gets somewhere with his investigation. Just because we all know it’s coming, that doesn’t mean it’s any less entertaining—in fact, there’s the fun in finding out how Rosenfelt will juggle the standard options; e.g. “what superhuman thing will Marcus do this time?”, “will Sam get to go into the field?”, “how many potential witnesses will Andy alienate before the trial? There’s also a lot that happens this time that the reader isn’t used to seeing during trial prep or the trial itself.

During the trial, something so shocking happened that Andy swore when he learned about it—which didn’t scandalize me, I just don’t remember him doing it that often. I was just as shocked as he was and almost followed suit. I know Rosenfelt has tricked me and caught me off guard before, but I don’t remember anything like this one. At twenty books in, for him to leave me nigh-flabbergasted is an accomplishment. Early on, I’d come up with a theory for both the identity of the killer and the motive—and Rosenfelt had convinced me I was on the wrong track. But it turns out that the events that left me as gobsmacked as our favorite indolent defense lawyer paved the way for me to be proven right. I’m not bringing this up to talk about how clever I was but to say that Rosenfelt was so convincing that he talked me out of being right on both fronts. Few mystery writers succeed there, and that never fails to make me happy to read it.

The book also works as a launching point for the spin-off series expected next year, focusing on Laurie’s new Detective Agency. I’ve been looking forward to it since I saw it announced, but now I’m a bit more interested having a bit more information. But more on that in a few months.

I went without sleep—2 days before seeing my sleep specialist, who saw the data, I should add—to stay up and finish this. It was totally worth the scathing look she gave me because I just had to know how it ended. After a book or two that made me wonder if Rosenfelt was running out of steam, the last few of these books have restored all my faith in him—Dachshund Through the Snow is one of the best in the series. A couple of authentic laughs, a lot of smiles, some warm fuzzies. a very clever mystery, and some good quality time with old friends—it’s a genuinely good time.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from St. Martin’s Press via NetGalley in exchange for this post and my honest opinion—thanks to both for this early Christmas gift (so to speak), but the opinions expressed were not influenced by that, only by the fun read.


4 1/2 Stars

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Nightfall by Matt Cowper: The Stunning Conclusion to the Elites Trilogy

NightfallNightfall

by Matt Cowper
Series: The Elites, #3

Kindle Edition, 412 pg.
2019
Read: July 24 – 26, 2019

With The World Savers, I pictured an ongoing series about The Elites, after Rogue Superheroes, I wondered how he could keep it going after raising the stakes so much. Nightfall answers that question (while ruining my hopes for an ongoing series). Cowper brings this trilogy to a close with a conclusion wraps up the storylines well, provides some closure and moves the characters on to the next step in their lives, all while telling an exciting super-hero story.

As we join the book, things are still influx after Rogue Superheroes, Nightstriker doesn’t trust Blaze the way he should (and the rest of his team do), Gillespie is serving as Interim President (and not liking it), and the possible romantic relationship between Gillespie and Nightstriker hasn’t gone anywhere since that initial conversation, and Blaze is still grieving and dealing with everything he did. But after the first chapter or so, progress is made along these lines and it looks like things might be cooling off for the Elites for a while. There’s still a lot of road to go, but positive and realistic steps are being taken.

Which means, of course, it’s time for their newest nemesis to show up. His name is Black Knight and he comes from the future (or so he says). His purpose in coming back in time is to stop one of the Elites before they become too powerful to be stopped, supposedly the damage he’s wrought on civilization in the future is so great that it can’t be allowed to get to the point where they aren’t bound by any kind of ethical cord. But he’s just one man, what can he do against this super team?

Quite a lot, it seems. Between power, reflexes, strategy and a kind of determination usually reserved for Batman and Nightstriker, Black Knight almost accomplishes his goal in the first battle against the team. Coming up with a way to stop him—for everyone’s sake—the team is going to have to lean on a new friend and ally and follow her to a planet light-years away. The Elites in space and on a planet no one has heard of, battling one of the greatest foes they can imagine. A great way to conclude this trilogy! There were several times when I “knew” how it all was going, and the hard choices that Cowper would have to make about some of his characters—and I was wrong every single time. There were a lot of zigs where I expected zags, and I loved every one of them.

As compelling as all that is, the core of this novel has to do with the reaction of the team to hearing that someone in their midst will become a mass murderer. It puts a strain on all relationships (platonic or otherwise) the team is involved with. There’s some horror, some rebellion, but mostly it’s a resolve to back their teammate and help them avoid the solution. There’s some great fodder for thought about choice, determinism, and morality there—Cowper deftly deals with these ideas while not losing the pace of his story.

It’s pretty exciting, and a great way to approach the book, taking these heroes on an interplanetary adventure. After things die down, The Elites return home to start again and some of the heroes are recognized for the forces of good they’d been. Then we get glimpses of where everyone is going forward to start over—some are taking a path far less traveled others are continuing along similar paths, but with renewed focus.. The emotional arcs are great and just what the fans want to read. I was really impressed with the way that Cowper resolved things and yet planted things to harvest later.

This is the third in a series, and I strongly recommend it be read after books 1 and 2, or you won’t get a lot of it. My appreciation for the series has built with each successive novel and it’s hard to find a lot to fault with this one. Some great emotional beats, great characters and a whole lot of fun and excitement as the Elites try to weed the criminals out of society. I’ve enjoyed this trilogy as a whole, but Cowper pulled out all the stops with this conclusion and really blew me away.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this novel from the author in exchange for my honest opinion about it.

—–

4 1/2 Stars

LetsReadIndie Reading Challenge

Reposting Just ‘Cuz: Landline by Rainbow Rowell

The second re-run from 5 years ago this week is from Rainbow Rowell, before she discovered she could make a lot more money on the YA market than she can with “Commercial Women’s Fiction” or whatever silly marketing label this got. I miss that Rowell, oh well.

LandlineLandline

by Rainbow Rowell

Hardcover, 310 pg.
St. Martin’s Press, 2014
Read: August 13, 2014

If the last few years have taught us readers anything, it’s that if you want quirky, honest, heart-felt romance with real (and usually moderately overweight) people and solid laughs, Rainbow Rowell will consistently deliver for you. And if you don’t think you want that, after you read her, you’ll realize that’s just what you wanted after all. She has two YA books and now two Adult books to her credit. Her latest, Landline delivers the typical Rowell magic in her story, but this time she included something else: actual magic. Sort of.

Georgie McCool is half of a pretty successful TV writing team who are thiiiiis close to being much more successful, all they have to do is crank out a handful of scripts in the next couple of weeks and they’re in a great position to sell their first series. The catch is, this involves working over Christmas — despite Georgie’s plans to go to her mother-in-law’s in Omaha with her husband, Neal and their two daughters. Georgie says that she can’t pass up this opportunity, so Neal and the girls go off without her.

Georgie sees this as a regrettable occurrence, but one of the sacrifices she has to make to get her dream show made. Her mother, step-father and sister see it as her husband leaving her, and Georgie ends up staying with them. Which gets Georgie to worrying — especially when she can never seem to reach Neal on the phone during the day. At night, however, when her iPhone battery is dead, she has to resort to the landline in her old room and she ends up talking to Neal back before they got engaged.

Don’t ask. It makes no sense. She never bothers to explain. And it doesn’t matter. Georgie eventually figures out that’s what’s going on and she rolls with it, and the reader does, too.

These conversations, as well as the absence of her family, lead Georgie on a path down memory lane, reflecting on the beginning of their relationship and how it changed as they did. Maybe Neal had made a mistake choosing her. Maybe she’d ruined her life (and his) by choosing him. Would they have both been better off going their separate ways? Or was there something worth fighting for now? Would that matter? The clock is ticking — for Georgie’s marriage (both now and then) and her career. Is she up for it?

The tension is real, the apprehension, fear, and self-doubt (for starters) that Georgie is wrestling with is very obvious and palpable. Yet while focusing on this, Rowell’s able to create a believable world filled with a lot of interesting people. There’s Georgie’s partner/best friend, Seth and another writer on their current (and hopefully future) show — and Georgie failing to hold up her end of things there, as much as she tries.

Then there’s her sister, mother and step-father. They’re much better developed (probably only because we spend more time with them). Her mother’s a pretty implausible character, yet not a cartoon, she’s a pug fanatic, married someone much younger than her, and generally seems really happy. Her sister’s about done with high school and is figuring herself out (and mostly has) — she’s a hoot, and my biggest problem with the book is that we don’t get more of Heather. Not that there wasn’t plenty of her — and it’d require the book to take a far different shape. We get whole storylines about all the non-Neal people in her life, little vignettes showing us their character, giving us smiles in the midst of Georgie’s crisis, like:

“Kids are perceptive, Georgie. They’re like dogs”–she offered a meatball from her own fork to the pug heaped in her lap–“they know when their people are unhappy.”
“I think you may have just reverse-anthropomorphized your own grandchildren.”
Her mom waved her empty fork dismissively. “You know what I mean.”
Heather leaned into Georgie and sighed. “Sometimes I feel like her daughter. And sometimes I feel like the dog with the least ribbons.”

Not only do the supporting stories, or even the little moments like this fill out Georgie’s world and make it more interesting, they provide a breather for the reader from having to deal with the disintegrating marriage.

I know some people think we spend too much time in flashbacks, where Georgie’s remembering how she and Neal met, got to know each other, and started seeing each other, etc. But we need that. If all we get is Neal in the present, or past-Neal on the phone, we’re not going to care enough. Especially in the first couple of scenes we get with Neal, it’d be real easy to see him as unsympathetic — the guy holding Georgie and her career back. We need these flashbacks so the reader can sync their feelings about Neal with Georgie’s, so that when we read something like:

Georgie hadn’t known back then how much she was going to come to need Neal, how he was going to become like air to her.
Was that codependence? Or was it just marriage?”

or

She needed him.
Neal was home. Neal was base.
Neal was where Georgie plugged in, and synced up, and started fresh every day. He was the only one who knew her exactly as she was.

find ourselves agreeing with her, or at least seeing why she says it.

At the end of the book, there’s a lot of plot lines dangling — some very important ones, actually. Enough so, that normally, I’d devote a paragraph to complaining about it. But I won’t this time — it works for Landline. There’s a lot for Georgie to work out herself, she’s really only settled on the one most important thing, leaving the rest to be resolved another day. And that’s got to be good enough for the reader.

Not her best, but Rowell on an off day is still really, really good.

—–

4 1/2 Stars

A Dangerous Man by Robert Crais: A Routine Errand leads to a Rescue Mission for Joe Pike

A Dangerous ManA Dangerous Man

by Robert Crais

Series: Joe Pike, #7/Elvis Cole, #18
Hardcover, 339 pg.
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2019
Read: August 8, 2019

Pike clipped his .357 to his waist, and went to his Jeep. Sometimes Pike enjoyed silence. Sometimes the silence scared him.

There’s nothing like a riveting scene to start off a Thriller, right? So naturally, Robert Crais starts this Joe Pike novel with Pike waiting in line to make a deposit at his bank. Talk about a nail-biter.

Yeah, that was snarkier than it needed to be. Honestly, I thought the scene was amusing — you don’t think of Pike doing routine things like that, and having the tellers gossip about him was cute. Right after that, this becomes a Pike kind of story—as he’s getting into his Jeep, he sees the teller who’d just been helping him being violently forced into a vehicle that drives away. Pike calls the police and intervenes before the kidnappers can do anything to Izzy.

The kidnappers are arrested, and Joe Pike has become a hero in a young woman’s eyes. Just another day for Pike, really, except his opponents are breathing okay. Neither the police, Izzy or Pike can figure out why she was taken — it’s not for money, she has none; there was no indication of sexual assault; and no one to ransom her to. Yet these two men committed this brazen act in mid-day with many witnesses around (including one witness that decides not to just watch).

A few days later, the kidnappers have been shot and Izzy is missing. Pike is spurred to action — and calls in Elvis to handle the investigation side of things while Pike secures her home and tries to insure her best friend is safe, before trying a different tack than Elvis to discover who took Izzy. It’s not long before Elvis finds himself entangled in a web of family secrets, lies, and murder — in addition to kidnapping.

It’s then a race to find out why Izzy was taken, as well as by whom and where. Despite not knowing her well, Pike’s devoted to saving Izzy and making sure those who took her won’t be in any position to threaten or hurt anyone again.

Joe Pike is in full-on protector/sentry/guardian angel mode here. He feels responsible for Izzy after rescuing her once, and once she goes missing, it’s a given that he’ll devote all his time and energy to rescuing her again. Elvis isn’t quite as invested, but he’s close and catches just enough brakes to get a full picture of what might drive people to kidnap Izzy and who they just might be. He’s also back to being full of quips and isn’t afraid to tweak the LAPD’s nose a little bit.

This is possibly the best John Chen story arc yet, it’s tertiary to the main story, but pivotal when it comes into contact with the primary story. But there’s more drama, more real emotion and tension of John than we’re used to. It was pretty cool to see how this one wrapped up, and how other characters worked to get it there. Do I expect that this will have any change on John’s character in the future? Of course not. But it was a good use of the character.

Very frequently, the clients that Joe and Elvis take on are utterly hopeless and are aware they’re totally dependent on the Joe and/or Elvis in their situation. Usually, part of Joe’s interaction with them is to show them they can rely on themselves, to find their strengths, maybe develop some. But Izzy and her best friend, Carly, don’t need that. Yes, they’re clueless about how to act in this dangerous situation — kidnapping, guns, and violence, in general, aren’t parts of their world, and they need experts to help with this (as 90+% of us would). But otherwise, they’re confident, they know their place in the world and are enjoying life. This does not stop the two of them doing things that are monumentally stupid (understandable, but stupid). But it’s a different arc than we’re used to, and it was pleasant to see these kinds of characters.

Without ruining anything, I’ll just note that Crais is better at bringing back — even if it’s just by dropping their name — old clients than most PI series. I’ve always liked that, and this book is no exception.

Crais is at the top of his game — this book takes place over a very short period of time and the urgency of the story is reflected in the prose. If you don’t get sucked in and gripped by the neck by this story, there’s something wrong with you. I tried to take my time and savor it, knowing it’ll be a while before we get another. But nope, Couldn’t do it, I had it finished about 13 hours after I started it — and it’s only family/work responsibilities that kept me from making that even briefer. There are some laughs; some quiet, reflective moments; but mostly, it’s pedal-to-the-metal action. Which is exactly what you want in a Joe Pike novel. The writing is crisp and compelling from the opening scene to the superb closing line.

Is this accessible for a new reader? Yup. Don’t let the fact that this is the 18th novel with these characters dissuade you, this is a perfect way to meet them and to see why Crais has been a bestseller for quite some time now. A Dangerous Man is as close to perfect as a thriller can be, and is probably the best thing Crais has done since 2013’s Suspect. Don’t waste time, go get it.

—–

4 1/2 Stars

2019 Cloak & Dagger Challenge

Paper Son by S.J. Rozan: Lydia and Bill in their most foreign setting yet — Mississippi

Paper SonPaper Son

by S. J. Rozan
Series: Lydia Chin & Bill Smith, #12eARC, 352 pg.
Pegasus Books, 2019

Read: June 12 – 17, 2019

One thing I’ve said (possibly too often) as I talk about this series is how much I enjoy the conversations between Lydia and Bill — but I think one of the conversations between Lydia and her mother tops anything the partners have to say (until the last conversation, anyway), and the rest weren’t far behind. We start off with Mrs. Chin telling Lydia that she has to go to Mississippi — and take Bill along — to investigate a murder. Long-time readers of this series will be forgiven the need to re-read that sentence, I assure you that it’s correct. One of Lydia’s cousins (yes, she has cousins in the Mississippi Delta — she’s as shocked as you are) is accused of murdering his father. Her mother wants Lydia to go down and prove his innocence. That he’s innocent isn’t ever in doubt for a moment — he’s related to Lydia’s father, ergo, he’s innocent. Lydia doesn’t accept her mother’s logic, but feels obligated to try to help this cousin she’s never heard of before now, so she and Bill set off for the Delta. It’s simply a dynamite first chapter, and the hook was set immediately.

Upon their arrival, Lydia and Bill find themselves neck deep in a tangled web of history, race, meth, gambling (both your more traditional varieties and purely 21st Century versions), politics and a even more race (it is Mississippi). Lydia’s cousin Jefferson is in his mid-20’s, a computer whiz of some sort with questionable ethics. He’s called to come to his father’s grocery store for some reason — they argue, and Jefferson leaves to cool off. When he returns, he finds his father bleeding out from a knife wound. Naturally, that’s when the police arrive, taking him into custody immediately. He’s bloody, standing over the victim and weapon — and sure, his fingerprints are all over the knife. Seems like an open and shut case, right?

Jefferson’s uncle, Captain Pete, is at the front of the line of those who doubt this — which is why he called his cousin’s widow to get her PI daughter down to help. Pete’s a professional gambler — precisely the kind of person Mrs. Chin wouldn’t like to acknowledge, but is friendly, hospitable and charming. Lydia and Bill warm to him quickly and he becomes a source of comfort as well as a source of information for the duo as they dive in to the investigation. Soon after arriving in Mississippi, they also meet another of Lydia’s cousins — a nephew to Pete, who is running in the Democratic gubernatorial primary.

Lydia can’t believe she’s related to a candidate for governor and she’s never heard of him. What else has her mother been keeping from her? Just from her conversations with Pete and Raymond Tam (the candidate), Lydia’s overwhelmed with family history that she didn’t expect to exist, much less be able to understand it all. It doesn’t derail the work that she and Bill are doing at all, but it threatens to distract her more than once. Adding the candidate into the mix guarantees that the water will get a lot muddier before it starts to become clear.

Lydia’s voice is as strong, engaging and entertaining as ever — possibly better than ever. I want to compare it to vintage Spenser, but that seems wrong (I’m not sure why I want to compare it to Parker at his best or why I shouldn’t — but that’s where I am). She’s funny, she’s smart, she’s insightful, she’s in a very alien place and is doing her best to acclimate. Bill seemed under utilized a little bit this time around — but (as he himself would point out), this was Lydia’s family, her case — he was just around for support. And he did come to her aid at pivotal moments — laying his native Southern accent on a little thick to help pave the way with some of the locals and to diffuse tense situations. Captain Pete is a great character, and I wish he wasn’t designed to be a one-and-done kind of guy, but I can’t see him coming up to Chinatown anytime soon to have tea with Mrs. Chin. Actually, I could easily read another novel or two with this cast — from the Public Defender staff to the people that hang out at the grocery store and all points in between. I’m not sure how Rozan could orchestrate those novels without feeling a bit contrived, but I’d be in for them.(*)

(*) Sure, I’d be in for Lydia and Bill Go Grocery Shopping or Bill and Lydia’s Day at the Recycling Center, but that’s beside the point..

I enjoy tea, but I’m no expert on it — I’m no where near the tea aficionado that Lydia is (even keeping Bill’s cupboards better stocked than he understands), but I loved her reaction to Sweet Tea (not just because I think she’s right). Using food is a great shortcut to revealing character traits, and Rozan does a great job throughout this book, but particularly on this point, of using that peculiar Southern version of tea to show us sides of Lydia.

Rozan’s at her strongest when in addition to the mystery, she’s using the circumstances around it to have Lydia and/or Bill explore another culture/sub-culture. She’s displayed this strength when helping her readers understand the Jewish refugees in the 1930’s who fled to Shanghai (The Shanghai Moon), Hong Kong (in Reflecting the Sky), Small Town High School Football (Winter and Night), the Contemporary Chinese Art scene (Ghost Hero), and so on. Here we get a Yankee perspective on Mississippi black/white relations (and a glance or two at how it differs from neighboring states), as well as a fascinating look at the Chinese in the Mississippi Delta in the late Nineteenth Century (which left me almost as shocked as Lydia). You give us that kind of history and commentary while delivering a solid mystery? It’s hard to ask for more.

As interesting as that is, the heart of the novel is in the idea of family. It’s a strong theme throughout the series, actually — whether it be Lydia’s strong sense of family, or the found family in the partnership of Bill and Lydia — or the many damaged families they encounter in their work. In Paper Son family shapes the warp and woof of the narrative — it’s Mrs. Chin’s confidence in the innocence of her husband’s relations, and Captain Pete’s call for help that brings the duo to the Delta. Lydia fights the impulse to believe Jefferson and Pete (and others) just because they’re family, yet wants thing to be the way her mother believes they are (even when — particularly when — the facts don’t seem to support it). Bill even encounters a fellow Smith, and while no one believes for a second they share anything beyond the name in common, there’s a connection. At it’s core, Paper Son is a story about the sacrifice, support, trust, and dysfunction that comes along from strong family (blood relation or found family) — not to mention all of the unintended consequences of that sacrifice, support, trust and dysfunction. I’m tempted to keep going, but I’d end up revealing too much.

The mystery itself is up to Rozan’s high standards — you may guess the identity of the killer fairly early on (and you may not), but you will not see the motivation coming until it’s past the point of inevitability. The ending feels a little rushed, but I can’t think of a way to improve upon it — and any rush was actually probably just me trying to discover how things would play out. The first half of the denouement with Lydia’s family is heartwarming — and, sure, borderline cheesy, but Rozan earned it. The second half is less cheesy and will fill even jaded readers with hope and joy. It’s just a great way to close the book.

If Paper Son isn’t S. J. Rozan and the series at their best, it’s hard to tell. For book 12 in a series to be this good almost defies the odds, the years that separated this book from it’s predecessor didn’t slow her down a bit (I honestly was afraid we’d be looking at something like Lehane’s return to Kenzie and Genarro in Moonlight Mile after 11 years). Long-time fans will be delighted in the return of this pair. I don’t know that this is the best introduction to the series, but it’d work just fine — you learn everything you need to know here. Fans of PI fiction starring smart, capable (and yes, mouthy) women will find a lot to reward them in these pages.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from W. W. Norton & Company via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this.

—–

4 1/2 Stars

2019 Cloak & Dagger Challenge

State of the Union by Nick Hornby: Love on the rocks, Ain’t no surprise

State of the UnionState of the Union: A Marriage in Ten Parts

by Nick Hornby


Paperback, 132 pg.
Riverhead Books, 2019

Read: June 4, 2019

           [Louise says,] “Underneath it all, I love you.”

“Underneath it all.”

“Yes.”

“Great.”

“To be honest, I think you should be happy with that. You’re lucky there’s anything still there.”

Tom and Louise are in trouble — they’ve been married for years, have kids, and on the outside seem to be doing fine. But the marriage is in trouble — and it has been for awhile. Recent events have demonstrated just how bad the situation is, and Louise has talked Tom into counseling. Each week before their session, they meet in the pub across the street for a quick drink and to talk about what they’ll discuss in the upcoming session — also reacting to the previous session, what’s gone on in the week since, and discuss their future — if such exists.

Ten sessions. Ten very short chapters. More than 10 pints and glasses of white wine. 10 fantastic, intriguing, character revealing, entertaining conversations.

I guess I tipped my hand a bit there, didn’t I? It’s not much of a surprise that I loved this book because it’s written by Nick Hornby. And even when I’m not crazy about the novel in the end, there are few writers out there I enjoy reading as much as Hornby (alas, most of his novels predate this here blog, so you’ll have to take my word for it).

But it’s Hornby that takes what could be a maudlin exercise, a too-jokey experience, or an all-around failure and turns it into an experiment that’s successful, entertaining, and emotionally rich. I see Tom’s point of view, understand his pain and get his reluctance to do the work he needs to. I also understand Louise’s take, I get (don’t approve of, but get) her reaction to Tom, and appreciate her willingness to do the work (while seeing her own weaknesses — at least some of them). A lot of times in this kind of scenario, the reader will end up “taking the side” of one of the characters (frequently the one sharing their gender). But very quickly I noticed that I wasn’t rooting for Tom or Louise here, I was rooting for Tom and Louise.

But best of all? I loved reading their conversations — open, honest (an honesty borne from realizing they’ve got no choice at this point, what could would anything else do?) full of that love that’s “underneath it all” for both. And somehow, still entertaining for the reader.

I typically limit myself to one quotation from a book, but I there’s another I want to share to give a flavor for the way the book works on the mechanical level.

           “How are new starts possible?” Louise says. “When you’ve been together for a long time, and you have kids, and you’ve spent years and years being irritated by the other person? But if they stop being irritating, they’re not them anymore.”

“My text was me not being me.”

“Exactly.”

They walk to the door.

“So I’ve got to stay as me.”

“Yes.”

“While at the same time being different, somehow.”

“It’s a conundrum.”

One, count ’em, one dialogue tag. Five words of description. Which is pretty typical of the book (maybe a little heavy on the description). That’s practically nothing — and dialogue tags pretty much only show up after description so you know who’s starting the back and forth — it could easily be a page or more before the next one. It’s like Hornby’s version of an acoustic recording — a story stripped down to its essence. Maybe that’s not the best metaphor — it’s the literary equivalent of espresso, the bare minimum, concentrated. Ian Shane called it “a literary play.” I like that, too.

The minimalism makes this a deceptively quick and easy read — you start flying through the text, caught up in the conversation and then realize just what it was they’re being breezy about, just in time for a line that emphasizes just what’s at stake.

This was also a show on Showtime recently — ten 10-minute episodes, as I understand. I don’t know which came first — the show or the book. If it was the book, I don’t know that a script would really be necessary — just hand them this book and say “go.” And if it was the other way around, it’d be about the easiest adaptation from a script ever.

At the end of the day, this is exactly what you want from a Nick Hornby book (except the length — I wanted more, always): funny, heartfelt, charming, (seemingly) effortless, and makes you feel a wide range of emotions without feeling manipulated. I loved it, I think you will, too.

Note: I won a copy of this from Riverhead Books via Goodreads — and I thank them both for that. But my library got me a copy first, so I haven’t read it yet. But it will be the copy I re-read (and I think I’ll be doing that a lot).

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4 1/2 Stars
2019 Library Love Challenge

The Liar by Steve Cavanagh: Another Fantastic Ride with the Wiliest Lawyer in Print!

The LiarThe Liar

by Steve Cavanagh
Series: Eddie Flynn, #3

Paperback, 327 pg.
Orion Books, 2017

Read: May 6 – 9, 2019
Eddie’s being sued in a way to attack the legacy — and the finances — of his friend/mentor Judge Harry Ford for a case he had back in his days as a defense attorney. Harry’s client was found guilty — and insane — and died about a decade later in a treatment facility she’d been sentenced to for murder. This is an important case for Eddie and Harry for multiple reasons, but as interesting as this case is, it takes a backseat to the main case in this novel.

Leonard Howell’s a former marine who runs a security company — who specializes in K&R (kidnap and return) — that Eddie knew back when they were both kids. His nineteen year-old daughter was recently kidnapped herself and Howell has a plan to retrieve her. He just needs to get around the FBI to pull it off. Enter his need for his old acquaintance Eddie Flynn — both to help him trick the FBI and to represent him because he’ll no doubt be arrested for carrying his plan out. But he doesn’t care too much about that, as long as his daughter is saved.

Eddie remembers what it feels like to have your daughter kidnapped and signs on — let’s be honest, he probably would have anyway. It’s a good thing he does, because Howell’s plan goes awry in fairly significant ways and he finds himself arrested for a lot more than anyone expected. Which is just the beginning of the book — it gets a lot more tangled, interesting, and exciting after that.

You know, for legal thrillers there’s a lot of action in the Eddie Flynn books. Sure, a good deal happens inside the courtroom — but Eddie’s not Perry Mason. What happens outside the courtroom is frequently more interesting than what happens inside. Which is saying something, because Cavanagh captures what’s most exciting about the cases and trials procedures as well as anyone does. As exciting — and important — as what happens outside the courtroom can be, for me, a legal thriller needs to land the courtroom stuff, or why bother? When Eddie is playing to a jury, interacting with a judge, messing with opposing counsel or questioning a witness? He’s fantastic (not infallible, as he proves here) — I’m not sure Mickey Haller could’ve handled this one any better (and likely not as well).

Just because the title uses a definite article, don’t make the mistake of thinking there’s only one in the book. You’d be better off not trusting anyone, including our beloved protagonist — well, almost anyone (I’ll have to leave that vague so as not to ruin anything).

One thing I want to note, and can’t think of a smooth way to work this in — what Eddie accomplishes in this book have more to do with his being a good lawyer and a smart guy than his past as a con man. He gets opportunities to flex those muscles, yes, but it’s not what defines him as a character here. Eddie the mostly-reformed con-man is a great character, don’t mistake me. But Eddie the scrappy lawyer, appeals to me more.

That said — early on, Eddie does something to help his client using the principles of Three Card Monte — and the wise reader would learn from this, because Cavanagh does the same thing. You will think that Cavanagh is doing one thing — and if you’re the type to try to figure out ahead of time where the mystery is going, whodunit, etc. (like I am), you will think you know where he’s going. And then when a Major Reveal happens which is pretty surprising, but really confirms all your theories — you start to feel smug and confident. Which is when Eddie and his creator probably start smiling — because within thirty pages of that, another Major Reveal comes along and totally blindsides you. I really never recovered from that for the rest of the book, honestly. Most of my theories remained largely intact, but they all had to be interpreted differently, and the motives behind them all changed.

I’ve never had a complaint about Cavanagh’s writing before now, but I didn’t realize he was nearly as clever as he is. I absolutely loved the way he fooled me — without cheating — and kept the tension mounting throughout this book in unexpected way after unexpected way. It’s just a great ride — right up to the point where Eddie demonstrates, again, just how stupid it is for people to make him angry. You’d think word would get around NYC courts about what happens when people challenge Eddie… A good series that gets better every time — do yourself a favor and pick this up. It’s a decent jumping on point to the series, too — you don’t have to know the first books, I shouldn’t forget to note).

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4 1/2 Stars

2019 Cloak & Dagger Challenge