Her Last Move by John Marrs: This Thriller Left Me Feeling Gobsmacked and Awestruck

(that’s too tiny to read, sorry, click here to embiggen. There are a lot of great writers here — you’re going to want to check out those other posts.)

Her Last MoveHer Last Move

by John Marrs

eARC, 352 pg.
Thomas & Mercer, 2018
Read: November 8 – 12, 2018

           The very fact people were talking about him and taking him seriously was proof he was on the right path. But branding him a serial killer was lazy. Serial killers and psychopaths murder out of compulsion, he reminded himself. They do it because they have no choice. He killed with purpose. And eventually, everyone would understand why.

This is one of those books that I’m not going to do justice to. I know that now, and if not for the deadline of posting in a few hours, I’d probably walk away now and come back daily for until next Tuesday and post something I don’t like. But I do have that deadline, so I have to post something I’m not satisfied with in a few hours. I just like this one so much; and have so much that I want to say, but won’t because it would ruin your experience, that I know I’ll want a couple of mulligans to this post.

This starts off with one of those chapters we’ve all read too many times — a budding serial killer is preparing to make his first kill and is indulging in some interior monologue beforehand. This is where we start to get an understanding of the character, why he thinks he needs to be killing, why he’s so wonderful/special/different. But this chapter isn’t quite that — and by the time you realize this isn’t following the standard template, Marrs has his hooks in you — and this book is off to a startling and bloody start.

DS Becca Vincent is a young detective just trying to get somewhere in her career — it seems that her superiors, including (infuriatingly enough) women, are holding her back because of her devotion to her daughter. Not that her mother considers her that devoted as she’s doing most of the hands-on care while Becca is at work. She’s in the crowd when the first killing happens and is the first police presence at the scene. She also is the first to tie that victim to another murder victim. She leverages this into a spot on the investigation team, where she hopes she can make enough of a difference to lead to more responsibility in the future.

The first thing she’s assigned to do is to go over the CCTV tapes with a “super-recogniser.” I don’t know if this is a real thing or not, and don’t care. It works really well in this book — these are a select team of people with near-eidetic memories for faces who spend every shift pouring through security footage for faces — either to track down suspects or identify people who are near too many crime scenes to chalk up to coincidence. We meet DS Joe Russell as he recognizes a suspect on the street while riding a bus and chases him down. Becca meets him in less exciting circumstances — a dirty squadroom in a less-than-impressive looking building. She doesn’t buy the concept originally, but Joe wins her over pretty quickly.

The investigation doesn’t move quickly, there’s a lot of manpower put into it (more and more all the time), but progress is slow. A friendship develops (not without a few bumps) between Joe and Becca much more quickly, and they clearly work together well.

The killer’s spree does move quickly on the other hand. He has a plan, he’s been developing it, nurturing it, and getting it ready to carry out for a very long time. He’s spent years setting up these dominoes and when he knocks the first over, the rest fall quickly. As we watch him do that, we learn what shaped him throughout his life into the monster he’s become. Nothing that happens to him justifies what he’s doing — nothing could — but it helps the reader understand him, and empathize with him to a degree (until he gets to a certain point and you can’t empathize with him anymore).

The book is full of sincere and devoted professionals trying to get the job done in the best way to protect lives and stop the killer — we focus on a couple of them, but they’re clearly all over the place. Unlike the people on TV, these professionals have family, friends, medical issues, children, pasts, problems and joys outside the job who will distract from and inform their performance on the job. Watching Becca and Joe unsuccessfully balance these parts of their life (particularly given the pressures as the number of bodies rises) is just one of the things that Marrs does right. Come to think of it, you can say the same thing about our killer (for most of the book anyway). I’m really impressed at how much genuine tension and drama Marrs is able to mine from this.

Each death is increasingly horrific — seriously, these are some of the most gruesome murders I’ve read. Each reveals more about the killer and what’s driving him. The reader (as we have more information than the police) will put the pieces together before the Becca and Joe do. But when things start to click for the police, they’re able to figure things out quickly. It’s a very satisfying moment — the question is, do they figure things out in time to save anyone on the killer’s list?

I’ve never read Marrs before — but I will again. There’s not a wasted word in these 352 pages, not a throwaway line, useless exchange. My notes are filled with “Is he going somewhere with ____?” and “There’d better be a pay off to ___” Every time, without fail, I could’ve gone back and added the page/line that demonstrated he was going somewhere with that idea or paid off that observation. Even in my favorite reads of 2018, there are moments we probably don’t need — most of which I’m happy to have — lines, ideas, scenes that could be cut without hurting things. That’s not the case here — anything you read here is important, even if (maybe especially if) it doesn’t seem so.

I’m not sure how this would hold up to repeated reading — a lot of thrillers don’t. And I haven’t had time to try this one, but I think it’d hold up pretty well, if you’re not distracted by wondering what Marrs (or his characters) are up to, or what’s going to happen next, etc. you can focus on all the subtle little things he’s doing to create the anticipation and tension, and appreciate the skill involved in grabbing the reader and putting them through the paces.

This will suck you in, keep you entertained through the paces of the investigation, and lull you into thinking you know how things are going just long enough for you to get complacent so he can drop the floor out from underneath you. Marrs makes bold choices and will catch you off-guard at least once — I can practically guarantee that. This is one of those books that will lead you to shirk responsibilities at home and work; postpone things like eating and sleeping; and momentarily resent your family for interacting with you — particularly the last thirty percent or so (although you might have to might have to take a quick break to absorb what you just read or catch your breath). One of the best I’ve read this year — I hope you give this a shot and I bet you’ll agree.

—–

5 Stars

My thanks to damppebbles blog tours for the invitation to participate in this tour and the materials they provided — as well as Thomas & Mercer and the fine folks at Netgalley for the eARC.

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Wrecked by Joe Ide: Isaiah and Dodson Face Their Most Dangerous Foes Yet

WreckedWrecked

by Joe Ide
Series: IQ, #3

Hardcover, 340 pg.
Mulholland Books, 2018
Read: October 19 – 22, 2018

At the end of Righteous, Isaiah meets a girl — I don’t remember much about it, but there’s something about her that clearly makes an impression on IQ — and his dog. It was enough to give us a little hope for our intrepid hero after everything he’d just gone through as we wrapped up the book. This book starts with the three of them bumping into each other again — this time IQ definitely is attracted to her and his dog and the woman clearly enjoy each other’s company. Which is great for them, but you feel a little bad for Isaiah.

Before long, Grace comes to Isaiah with a case. Her mother disappeared a decade ago — under a cloud, it should be added — and Grace saw her on the street near her home. Can Isaiah find her? She’s a painter trying to get a start and really can’t afford much — but gives him a painting as payment.

The catch is, Isaiah and Dodson have recently become partners and Dodson is determined to make Isaiah’s business legitimate. They’ve got a web presence, a Facebook page, and a strict policy on minimum fees. These fees have to be money. No lawn care services, cooking, et cetera. Dodson has a wife and child to provide for and he is inflexible on this point. Isaiah makes an exception and ignores Dodson’s complaints, once Dodson figures out Isaiah’s motivation to take the case, he acquiesces — like a good friend would.

What makes this case complicated is that Sarah, Grace’s mom, is trying to blackmail some very dangerous people. It takes a long time for us to get all the details behind the blackmailing (it’s absolutely worth the wait, and Ide does a great job revealing things to us in drips), but what’s important isn’t the why — it’s the reaction to the blackmail. Isaiah, Dodson and their clients have been in dangerous and tough spots before — but I promise you, those pale in comparison to this. These people bring a level of danger, a level of callousness, a level of professionalism, that will demand more from Isaiah than he’s used to — and he’ll have to find new ways to approach things to survive.

Meanwhile, there’s another blackmail story afoot. One of the darkest episodes of the partners’ (and Deronda’s) past comes back to bite them — a criminal act that they’ve gotten away with, primarily because no one knew they got away with anything. Somehow, word has gotten out, and someone wants money from them to stop him from going public with what he knows. If the victims of this crime — a couple of notorious drug dealers — find out, it will likely prove fatal. Dodson attempts to take care of this on his own, with a little help from Deronda.

Clearly, the partnership isn’t off to the strongest start.

There is a drink described here — not that anyone you’re supposed to like drinks it — that is possibly the most disgusting thing I’ve read this year, it’s a mix of vodka, Coke, and things that shouldn’t be consumed with each other. There are scenes of physical violence and torture in this book, horrible things really, but it’s Parks Punch that left scars.

Actually, there is something more painful, now that I think of it. Junior, one of the drug dealers that IQ, Dodson, and Deronda stole from before years ago appears frequently. He’s got the right idea — a better vocabulary can be tied to greater success in business and life in general. Sadly, Junior is better at acquiring words than he is using them. Resulting in sentences like:

My domicile has been exfoliated! Excavate the premises!

(when he discovers that his home has been broken into) or

Did you discover anything irrelevant?

(to Isaiah after searching for clues). Say what you will about waterboarding or Parks Punch — for me, those lines hurt (and I gave tame examples).

Well, they make me crack up — but they’re also painful.

The action is taut, the twists don’t stop and you have to hold on tight so the pacing doesn’t throw you from the vehicle in the last few chapters. But not only is this the best suspense that Ide’s given us, we have the some of the best emotional moments and character growth so far in the series. Some real trauma is visited on Isaiah, and it’ll be interesting to see how this impacts him going forward (there’s some indication that ide has something in mind along these lines). Similarly, I don’t think I’ve liked Dodson more than I did in this book and his character keeps growing and maturing — I am eager to see how Ide helps him grow in the future.

Unlike IQ or Righteous, we only have one timeline in Wrecked. This is such an improvement — that worked in IQ seemed a drawback in Righteous — but one timeline allows the reader, the pace and the action to focus on Grace and her case.

I’ve been a fan of Ide’s writing and this series since the moment I finished chapter 2 of IQ, but this book worked for me more than his previous work. I don’t know if it’s because I appreciate the characters and style more — or if it’s that Ide has grown with his experience and is delivering something better, I’m not sure. (my money is on the latter, but you never know) This is a fantastic entry very strong series that everyone should hop on board with (start at the beginning, it’s only 3 books — you have plenty of time to catch up).

—–

5 Stars

2018 Library Love Challenge

Pub Day Repost: Lessons From Lucy by Dave Barry: America’s Funniest Human Tries to Learn a Few New Tricks from an Old Dog

Lessons From LucyLessons From Lucy: The Simple Joys of an Old, Happy Dog

by Dave BarryeARC, 208 pg.
Simon & Schuster, 2018
Read: July 19, 2018

Before I say anything else, Barry has set up an Instagram page (well, probably not him, actually — he states in the book he doesn’t understand Instagram) for his dog, Lucy. You should absolutely check it out and then come back to read what I have to say about the book. Dog Pictures > my blog. Pretty near always.

With that out of the way . . . Dave Barry has been a dog person for most of his life, one of the many reasons I like him. I distinctly, and fondly, remember columns and/or references to Earnest and Zippy (the emergency backup dog) years ago. Those two make a brief appearance in this book, but they aren’t the focus. The focus (if you can’t tell from the title) is his dog, Lucy. At the time of writing, Barry and Lucy are the same age — 70 (or 7 times 10 in her case), which means that both of them have many fewer days ahead of them than behind — which sounds awfully morbid for Dave Barry to talk about, but he does so frequently and purposefully.

As they’re at similar stages in life, Barry notices a huge difference between the two — Lucy is far happier and seemingly better adjusted than he is. So he sets out to try to learn a few lessons about life from her, which he passes on to his readers. Things like Pay Attention to the People You Love; Don’t Let Your Happiness Depend on Things; and Don’t Stop Having Fun. None of these, Barry knows, are original or ground-breaking — they’re pretty much common sense. Yet, they’re the kind of common sense things that he (like many/most humans) doesn’t actually do a great job at.

The result is a mixture of a Self-Help book and a Humor book — humor about himself, his life, as well as dogs. Sometimes the swing between the two genres can be jarring, but that’s pretty rare. For the most part, he moves easily between the two, taking the readers along with him on this ride. I can’t tell you how many times I went from grinning, chuckling or laughing out loud to getting misty-eyed within a couple of pages. It seems that Barry has learned a little bit about writing over the decades.

I’ve loved Barry’s humor longer than either of us would probably care to admit. One of his strengths is finding a way to take an old joke, or at least a joke everyone’s made before — like, say, I dunno, dogs sniffing each other’s hind-quarters — and make it feel fresh and new. More importantly, funny. He’s also able to make jumps from premise to punchline that no one expects. There is, for example, a Hugh Hefner joke where one doesn’t even come close to belonging — and it works perfectly. Even knowing that, you won’t see it coming until you’re snickering at it.

As for the heart-felt material? It works pretty well, too. I don’t think anyone will walk away from this book thinking “Wow! That was insightful. I never would have thought of it on my own!” Nor do I think Barry was trying for it. But, readers will appreciate the reminders to live like Lucy (or their own dog), and the way Barry phrases things might add some freshness to the concept. Which is all anyone can really ask.

I really don’t know if this is Barry’s best — but it’s up there. The ratio of Attempted Joke to Funny Joke is pretty high, I’m not sure if I can think of a higher one in his ouvre. Lessons From Lucy is, without a doubt, his most mature, thoughtful and touching work (that’s a pretty low bar, I realize — a bar he’s worked hard to keep low, too). Couple that with me being a sucker for a Dog Book — even if it is a semi-Self Help book — and I can’t help but give it 5 Stars. This is a winner, no matter what.

—–

5 Stars

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Simon & Schuster via NetGalley in exchange for this post — which is my honest opinion and pleasure to give — thanks to both for this.

Exit Music by Ian Rankin: Rebus has one more shot at Big Ger before he retires

I got off-track with these books when I took my trip out of state for my son’s transplant (I was due to go to the library to pick this up the day we got the call), and it took me a bit to get back on top of things. I’m so, so glad I was able to return to this world. I missed it.

Exit MusicExit Music

by Ian Rankin
Series: John Rebus, #17

Hardcover, 421 pg.
Little Brown and Company, 2007
Read: October 17 – 18, 2018

Before I get into this, last week my son was playing some EASports game — FIFA something, I think. Anyway, I notice that he’s playing Hiberian, and my first thought is, “Hey, that’s Siobhan’s team.” That’s a sign that I’m probably reading too many Rebus novels, right? Anyway, on with this post…

           “No sign of any abandoned cars in the multistory?”

“Good point, Shiv, I’ll have someone check. Talk to you later.” The phone went dead, and she managed a little smile, hadn’t heard Rebus so fired up in several months. Not for the first time, she wondered what the hell he would do with himself when the work was done.

Answer: bug her, most likely–phone calls daily, wanting to know everything about her caseload.

I think many readers, like DS Clarke, have wondered just what Rebus will do after retirement — which is looming as this book begins. Actually, it’s more than looming — it’s 10 days away. Ten days of Rebus trying to squeeze in any last-second mentoring he can, ten days of him trying to get Clarke invested in cold cases he can’t let go of, ten days of Rebus trying to stay relevant, active . . . ten days of John Rebus trying to remain John Rebus.

John Rebus has no family left, few friends, only a handful of colleagues that trust him, no plans for retirement at all. He’s going to have to come up with something, he knows, but he can’t really contemplate that reality, much less plan for it.

But first, there’s a murder — a man without any identification on him has been found by a few pedestrians out for a late-night walk, apparently beaten to death. A literately-inclined morgue worker recognized him as a Russian exile and poet of note. Plunging Rebus and Clarke (named to lead the investigation, only because of Rebus’ impending retirement *wink*) into an investigation with international implications.

Funnily enough, a contingent of Russian businessmen is in Edinburgh looking for investment opportunities, all of which are welcomed and encouraged by members of Scottish Parliament — especially by those MSPs seeking independence. None of the MSPs have any interest in their Russian friends being hassled by detectives over a pesky little thing by murder. Even if the victim was drinking in the hotel they were staying at shortly before the murder.

But once Di Rebus finds not only a link between the victim and their hotel bar, but a link between the poet and Gerald Cafferty, and links between Cafferty and the Russian delegation? All bets are off. The clock is ticking on his career — and the ticking is getting really loud — but here’s Cafferty with some sort of connection to a murder victim? There’s no way that John Rebus can let this go (not that Siobhan Clarke is that interested in letting this opportunity pass by, either).

The investigation isn’t making too much progress, but maybe is getting far enough, when someone else connected to the case is killed. And the investigation looks like it’s dealing with a web of drugs, prostitution, blackmail, international interests, politics, a large national bank a poet, and Cafferty. Which would be a lot to deal with even without Rebus’ deadline.

While preparing for Rebus’ departure, Clarke takes a uniformed PC under her wing — he has talent and ambition — he was one of the two initial officers at the site of the original murder and wants to be a detective soon. Clarke brings him along with her to many interviews and visits to various places in the investigation, as him run errands and even do some of the grunt work (scouring through hours of audio recordings that may or may not hold relevant information). He’s an interesting character — he adds some emotional weight to some scenes, and comic relief in others.

It’s possible that Rebus is at his most introspective in these pages — he knows his career is finished and that in no time at all he’ll be forgotten by just about everyone. What’s been the point of it all?

           Outside in the car park he unlocked his Saab, but then stood there, hand on the door handle, staring into space. For a while now, he’d known the truth–that it wasn’t so much the underworld you had to fear as the overworld. Maybe that explained why Cafferty had, to all purposes and appearances, gone legit. A few friends in the right places and deals got done, fates decided. Never in his life had Rebus felt like an insider. From time to time he’d tried–during his years in the army and his first few months as a cop. But the less he felt he belonged, the more he came to mistrust the others around him with their games of golf and their “quiet words,” their stitch-ups and handshakes, palm greasing and scratching of backs.

Still, he perseveres, he gets into hot water with his superiors, with Clarke, with government officials, and — of course — Cafferty. In the end, despite the large number of detectives eventually working on the murders, Rebus is the only one to focus on the important facts (it helps that he’s not worried about what happens after the arrest, like everyone else is) and makes the important conclusions so that the cases can be closed in time for him to leave the force. It’s really a nice bit of storytelling by Rankin here, and I’d be very happy reading it even without all the hubbub around Rebus’ retirement. And then Rankin ends it with a jaw-dropping final chapter and a last line that just about floored me.

I’m so glad that I’m discovering these books now — when I know that there’s a future for Rebus (even if I’m not really sure what it is, but there are 5 books to come, at least). It can’t have been easy for Rebus fans to close this book not knowing what Rankin was going to do next.

At the same time, this remains a decent entry-book — like every other book in this series. Sure, you get more of the emotional weight if you’ve been reading about the DI for several books, but Rankin writes them in a way that the weight can be seen regardless.

I think if this were any other Rebus book, I’d rate it 4 stars for the case work, the internal squabbles with the hierarchy and the politics — but when you add in Rebus counting down the last ten days of his career, the hope of this case leading him to one more shot at Cafferty, the reflections on what he’s done and why he’s done it and what it cost . . . essentially, all the intangible things, the parts of a novel that are hard to pin down, much less describe. All that combined with a strong story, some excellent non-Rebus/Clarke/Cafferty character development (not that theirs isn’t strong as usual, but this is a new characters) — and it’s easy. Rebus retires with a 5.

—–

5 Stars

2018 Library Love Challenge

Lies Sleeping by Ben Aaronovitch: Things get Intense in the Ongoing Conflict between The Faceless Man and The Folly.

Lies SleepingLies Sleeping

by Ben Aaronovitch
Series: The Rivers of London, #7

eARC, 304 pg.
Daw Books, 2018
Read: October 3 – 5, 2018

I’ve got to say, I’d much rather be talking about this book in detail with someone else who had read the series than talking about it in spoiler-free form, so much of what I feel strongest about with this book cannot be discussed. Aaronovitch has outdone himself this time — it’s the best book of the series thus far, and that’s no mean feat.

It’s easy — far too easy — when thinking about this series to think of the lighter aspects — the humor, the heart, Peter’s growing pains, the snark, the pop culture references, and whatnot. That’s typically where my mind goes, anyway. But time after time, when picking up the latest novel, or even rereading one, I’m struck by how carefully written, how detailed everything is, how layered the text is — and I feel bad for underestimating Aaronovitch. Not that I have anything against breezy, jokey prose — but there are differences. Nor am I saying these books are drudgery — at all — the stories are fun, the voice is strong, and the narration will make you grin (at the very least, probably laugh a few times, too). In Lies Sleeping part of that care, part of the thoroughness of this novel is how there is a tie — character, event, call-back, allusion — to every novel, novella, comic arc involved in the Rivers of London up to this point — if you haven’t read everything, it won’t detract from your understanding of the novel — but if you have read them all, if you catch the references — it makes it just that much richer.

So what is this novel about? Well, after years of chasing The Faceless Man (and The Faceless Man II), Peter Grant (now a Detective Constable) and Nightengale have his identity, have several leads to follow to track him down — or at least his supporters and accessories (willingly or not). Better yet — the Metropolitan Police Force have given them the manpower they need to truly track him down and interfere with his funding and activities.

During this operation, Peter, Guleed and Nightengale become convinced that Martin Chorley (and, of course, former PC Lesley May) are preparing for something major. They’re not sure what it is, but the kind of magic involved suggests that the results would be calamitous. How do you prepare for that? How do you counter the unexpected, but dangerous? There are two paths you follow: thorough, careful, borderline-tedious policework; and bold, creative, innovative thinking. The two of those employed together lead to some great results — and if Peter Grant isn’t the embodiment of both, he’s . . . okay, he’s not perfect at the former, but he can pretend frequently (and has colleagues who can pick up the slack).

Not only do we get time with all our old friends and foes — we meet some new characters — including a River unlike anyone that Father or Mama Thames as yet introduced to. Mr. Punch is more involved in this story than he has been since Midnight Riot, but in a way we haven’t seen before. Most of the character things I want to talk about fit under the “spoiler” category, so I’ll just say that I enjoyed and/or loved the character development and growth demonstrated in every returning character.

There’s more action/combat kind of scenes in this book than we’re used to. I couldn’t be happier — Peter’s grown enough in his abilities and control to not need Nightengale to bail him out of everything. Nightengale and Peter working together in a fast-paced battle scene is something I’ve been waiting to read for 7 years. It was worth the wait.

As I said before, Lies Sleeping is the best and most ambitious of the series — the richness of the writing, the audacity of the action, the widening scope of the novel, the Phineas and Ferb reference, the epic battle scenes, the growth in Peter, Bev, and Guleed (and maybe even Lesley), the ending rivals Broken Homes‘ — all add up to a fantastic read. Yeah, I’m a fanboy when it comes to this series, and Lies Sleeping made me a happy fanboy. I have no idea how Aaronovitch moves on from this point with these books, but I cannot wait to find out.

—–

5 Stars
Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Berkley Publishing Group via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this.

The Puppet Show by M. W. Craven: The debut of one of the best pair of characters I can think of in a truly compelling novel.

The Puppet ShowThe Puppet Show

by M. W. Craven
Series: Washington Poe, #1

Paperback, 352 pg.
Constable, 2018
Read: July 23, 2018

‘First impressions?’ Flynn asked.

He studied the slash marks again. Not including the messy number five, he counted forty-two. Forty-two wounds to spell out ‘Washington Poe’. Forty-two individual expressions of agony. ‘Other than the victim wishing I’d been called Bob, nothing.’

‘I need you to come back to work,’ she said. She looked around at the desolate fells he now called home. ‘I need you to re-join the human race.’

He stood up, all previous thoughts of resigning dismissed. There was only one thing that mattered: the Immolation Man was out there somewhere, selecting victim number four.

Washington Poe was a Detective Inspector who either made a very, very, very horrible mistake or is a DI or did a very, very, very bad thing — it depends who you ask. Either way, he’s on suspension until he either quits or the internal investigation is complete. He doesn’t quit, but he doesn’t expect to be brought back to work anytime soon.

Until his former DS, now his replacement, shows up — there’s a serial killer afoot, burning people alive — after some torture, it seems. What led to him being brought back (aside from being the kind of investigator who will be able to track this guy down) is that the last victim had Poe’s name cut into him before he was burned. This is a message to him — and possibly a threat. So, potential bad cop or not — for his own protection, he needs to get reactivated. Sure, it’ll be a little awkward, he’ll be acting as a subordinate to his former DS — but he frankly knows he was better at that anyway, so he’ll get used to it.

One of the first things he does is meet an analyst working with the police — she’s the one who developed the model to make sense of the wounds and found his name on the corpse. Tilly is a fascinating character — she’s a mathematical genius, a whiz with computers, and socially awkward. That actually is an understatement — clearly from a young age, Tilly’s mom sheltered her from the worst of society so that her genius could flourish. Now an adult, she decides to work with the police so her mathematics could see some immediate benefit to society — but she still is an outsider (and mom is determined to keep her that way).

Almost immediately upon meeting her, Poe shakes up her life. He defends her from some teasing/bullying by some police officers and then he insists that she’s coming to the field with him. Tilly’s never done anything like that before, but jumps at the chance. The two of them build a strange partnership — and a strong friendship — as they work this case, along with DI Flynn and an old friend of Poe’s, Kylian Reid) who is one of the few police officers in the country who aren’t suspicious of him.

Poe is a great character — there’s no two ways about it — you put him in a novel by himself (or with Flynn or Reid) and I’m reading it. He’s in the Bosch/Rebus kind of vein — he’s going to get the job done, and will annoy/offend whoever in the chain of command, city government, press, etc. to get the job done. This quotation describes it best:

He knew some people thought his reputation for following the evidence wherever it took him was because he felt he held some sort of moral high ground. That he had a calling to a purer version of the truth that was unattainable to other, lesser, cops. The truth was simpler — if he thought he was right, the self-destructive element to his personality took over. It frequently allowed the devil on his shoulder to shout down his better angel. And at the minute, the angel couldn’t get a word in edgeways . . .

His face turned to granite. If he didn’t do it, who would? Sometimes someone had to step up. Do the unpalatable so others didn’t have to.

That’s the kind of character I can read any time.

But what makes this book (on the character front, anyway) a must read is Tilly Bradshaw. Actually, no. It’s the combination of Tilly and Poe. Yeah, Poe largely uses her the way he’d use anyone to get the job done (see Rebus/Bosch) — but there’s some genuine affection for her at work, too. He truly seems to like her and wants to protect her — and maybe push her a little to fend for herself. Tilly clearly adores him — I should stress that this is a platonic thing for both — he protects her, treats her like an adult (something her mother doesn’t allow anyone to do), and relies on her brain (which most people do). Tilly is a character worth one’s time, no doubt about it — and I can’t imagine anyone who reads this book to not like her a lot. But the two of them together are as good a pair as you can imagine.

Now, that’s all well and good — but what about the plot? What about the killer? The plot is as intricate as you can hope for in a serial killer novel. As the police start to compile a theory of the case, a profile of the killer, it quickly becomes clear that there’s a dark root, a strong motivating factor behind the killings. At one point, I put in my notes “Okay, I’d be absolutely fine not learning anything else about the killer’s backstory. Can we just get to his arrest now, leaving the rest of the uncovering to the prosecutor’s work after the novel is over?”

Naturally, the answer to that was a resounding no. You learn more about what drove this man to kill — and frankly, it’s hard not to wonder if he’s justified. Not justified in how he goes about the killing, because that’s just horrible. But you might wonder if it’d be okay for him to get away with it. To get to that point — and to find out if Poe and Bradshaw are able to stop the killing — there’s some great twists and turns to the case, and some very compelling reveals to get through. The reader will be hooked throughout.

Not only can Craven create great characters, and tell a good story — but his writing is compelling, too (yes, there is a difference between those last two). The first description given of one of the corpses The Immolation Man left was horrific, it really made me ill. Another description that stood out was an older suspect — and her home — without giving anything else away, Craven’s description of the two together was so well done that I felt I could see them as clearly as I could see the room I was in at the time. I loved the voice, the style, his use of words — really just about everything.

Oh, yeah and when — I can’t believe I almost forgot this — when you figure out why Craven used this title, you’re going to need some help picking your jaw off the ground. There’s at least one other reveal that may require that as well, come to think of it. Any good Crime Fiction is going to have some good reveals embedded in the story — the skilled writer revealing them properly is what makes a good Crime Novel into a great one. Craven delivered the latter.

Craven’s writing, the compelling story, the fantastic characters — you put these elements together and you have an unbeatable combination and the makings of one of the best crime novels — novels, period — that I’ve read this year. I’m not really sure I read it — it was more of a semi-controlled devouring. There are few sequels I’m looking forward to as much as the next Washington Poe book. While I’m waiting for it, you should go grab The Puppet Show so you can join me in anticipating its arrival.

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5 Stars

Pub Day Repost: Dear Mr Pop Star by Derek & Dave Philpott: Hilarious, Unique, Addictive are some Adjectives I use to describe this Incredibly Entertaining Book

Dear Mr Pop StarDear Mr Pop Star

by Derek & Dave Philpott
eARC, 412 pg.
Unbound, 2018
Read: July 24 – August 7, 2018<br/

In my intro post for this Tour Stop, I said that this book was “almost indescribable” and I really mean that — the blurb for the book says, “deliberately deranged letters to pop stars from the 1960s to the 90s to take issue with the lyrics of some of their best-known songs.” And that’s right, but it doesn’t seem to get to the heart of it. The answer to the first question in the Q&A is a pretty good description, though. But if you don’t want to read that (which I get, you’re wrong — but I get it), I should probably try to convey what you’ll find here.

Let’s take a look at the letter they wrote to Starship. I don’t feel too bad about talking about this letter in detail because their take on their song “We Built this City” is common (I used to own, for example, a t-shirt that made the same joke, just in briefer form). Now, their letter goes into a great amount of detail about the nature of foundations, different types of them, etc. and how this makes their “design project” the “most ludicrous” in the history of architecture. This kind of thing is funny, and a collection of these sort of letters — as well-written as these are — would be worth the time to read and would make you laugh — I’d give it a pretty high rating, encourage you to get it, etc.

But what separates this book from similar tomes, what makes it special is that on the very next page, you get to read a response from Martin Page, who co-wrote the song. Page mounts an impassioned defense of the song — full of references to Rock classics as proof. I’ll spare the details so you can appreciate Page’s inspired choise in response. Each letter printed in this collection is answered by a songwriter, musician, or other representative of a musical act. Some of these responses debate the premise of the Philpott’s letter, some answer in the same vein, others take the premise and run with it in their own way — some appear to be in on the joke, others appears to be flummoxed that anyone would take their lyrics in this insane manner.

In particular, Tears for Fears, The Knack, and NuShooz/J. Smith had great responses — Kimberly Rew (of Katrina and the Waves) is my current favorite. EMF must have either absolutely loved or utterly hated writing their response, I cackled at it. The Human League and Wang Chung composed very long responses — some are as short as a paragraph or three. I really could keep listing some other distinctives about the responses, and great ones to look for — but this is already getting pretty long.

They also include some lIttle notes or postcards like the one to ELO, talking about the impossibility of their name; to “Mr. John” about the unacceptability of violence on any night; or to John Parr (involving canonization of a particular Muppet, and the danger of exposing him to flame) — I just reread that one and cracked up, again. These probably couldn’t support being stretched into a letter of any length, and there are no responses printed — but are very likely the most funny parts of the book.

There’s an elevated vocabulary used by the Philpotts — this isn’t an uneducated reaction to lyrics. The letters are frequently erudite and earnest. The letters don’t come across as something written for comedic effect — yes, they’re funny. But that’s not the intention. Somehow, that happens without turning the joke back on them for misunderstanding the lyrics, either. They’re a strange kind of tribute, but this kind of close reading of a lyric is a form of flattery.

Many of the acts haven’t made much of an impact in the States, and I clearly don’t know enough about British Pop Music to understand each of these — but thanks to youtube and lyrics websites, I was able to get the gist of what I was supposed to be reading about (and I was able to enjoy those I was feeling too lazy to look up). But by and large these are acts and songs that are well-known enough that this book is accessible to readers from around the English-speaking world (and maybe larger, I’m not an expert on music listening habits). The acts run the gamut from Herman’s Hermits to Judas Priest and many, many points in between.

I cannot stress enough how much fun I had with this book — I read whole letters or notes aloud to family members, and/or forced them to read one for themselves. These are the perfect literary equivalent of potato chips, you can eat a handful at a time and then leave the bag for later (along those lines, it’s possible to read too many at once). The letters are short enough that you can just dip in and out of the book. And, I can assure you, these are the kind of thing you can return to later and still enjoy — not unlike a good pop song (huh, wonder where I got that imagery?) A combination of satire, analysis, tribute and comedy — without any meanness or cruelty — Dear Mr Pop Star will appeal to music lovers from all sorts of eras. Do yourself a favor and grab this today.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the authors in exchange for my participation in this tour stop.

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5 Stars