Review Catch Up: Walking the Perfect Square; The Drop; and A Bitter Feast

Time for another catch-up post because: A. I should’ve had these taken care of months ago, and B. because I’m having a really hard time writing up Butcher’s The Aeronaut’s Windlass

Walking the Perfect SquareWalking the Perfect Square

by Reed Farrel Coleman
Series: Moe Prager, #1

Hardcover, 264 pg.
Permanent Press, 2002
Read: April 19 – 23, 2014

Moe Prager is waiting to call his daughter on her birthday, but before he can do that he answers a phone call that may lead him to solving an old missing persons case. It’s a case that he investigated twenty years previously, shortly after an injury forced his retirement from the NYPD. We spend most of the novel in the 70’s, with brief looks at Prager’s present, tracing his work on the case.

As a mystery novel, it’s okay. Nothing special, but it kept my attention, kept me guessing, and was entertaining enough. Which is a decent start for a series. By the end, I’d really started to enjoy Prager and wanted to see where he goes from here — either the 70’s or 90’s (although I’m pretty sure the series sticks with the latter).

Stylistically, this was pretty cool. Though published in the early 2000’s, the flashback segments feel like they could’ve been written in the 1970’s/80’s. The present day material felt like it was written in the late 1990’s, and yet they were definitely of a piece. I’m very impressed that he pulled that off.

The last few paragraphs turned this from a decent mystery novel into a really good one — and if my mood had been a bit different at the time, they could’ve earned it a 4-start rating. The ending really does elevate the whole — while it sends you reeling from a serious gut punch.

I really should’ve gotten back to this series, but I didn’t want to color my take on him as he started his tenure with Jesse Stone — but that’s passed now, time to get busy.
3 Stars

The DropThe Drop

by Dennis Lehane

Paperback, Large Print, 229 pg.
HarperLuxe, 2014
Read: September 30 – October 01, 2014

For Lehane, this was light and breezy. Bob Saginowski is a bartender in his cousin Marv’s bar (well, it’s not really Marv’s anymore — the Chechen mafia owns it now, Marv just runs it). Bob’s down-on-his luck, living in his deceased mother’s house, going to her Church, and trying to get by. A couple of days after Christmas, he finds a dog in a trash can. He takes the dog home and finds himself a reason to keep going — it doesn’t hurt that there’s a woman tangentially involved, but he’d be a devoted dog owner regardless. There’s a possibility for romance on the horizon, but there are a few obstacles.

Said Chechen mafia, for one. Marv’s dreams for getting one over on them. A couple of armed robbers. A Boston PD detective that attends the same Masses as Bob. The guy who disposed of the dog and seems to be having second thoughts. And Bob’s own mysterious past — and penance can’t seem to erase it for him.

But if Bob can manage all that, he just might find himself a little slice of happiness.

It’s not a typical Lehane story, but it works. Lines like these help:

Happiness made Marv anxious because he knew it didn’t last. But happiness destroyed was worth wrapping your arms around because it always hugged you back.

and

The traffic had thinned considerably as they drove past Harvard Stadium, first football stadium in the country and yet one more building that seemed to mock Marv, one more place he’d have been laughed out of if he’d ever tried to walk in. That’s what this city did — it placed its history in your face at every turn so you could feel less significant in its shadow.

(the movie based on this novel — adapted by Lehane — ain’t too shabby, either.)
4 Stars

TitleA Bitter Feast

by S. J. Rozan
Series: Lydia Chin & Bill Smith, #5

Hardcover, 309 pg.
Minotaur Books, 1998
Read: December 11 – 13, 2014

Throughout this book — but especially in the first chapter — if you don’t feel the foreign-ness, the other-ness, of Lydia’s Chinatown, you aren’t reading it right. Which doesn’t really make it different from the other books in this series that are from Lydia’s POV, it just seemed particularly strong in this one.

There’s more than a clash of cultures with this case — there’s a clash of generations. Between those who think like transplanted Chinese, and those who think like American Born Chinese. Some restaurant workers are trying to unionize, and some owners (who may or may not have less-legitimate other businesses) aren’t too keen on it. There are some bullets and some bombs involved — which is pretty much where Lydia comes in. If she can identify, once and for all, who is taking this clash and making it violent, it can be stopped (and, well, the other side will probably end up carrying the day).

I’m not really certain that I need a case — or a plot — I could read a short novel-length work of Lydia and Bill just chatting over tea and espresso. Outside of Wolfe and Archie — or maybe early Spenser and Hawk — I can’t think of two characters I enjoy “listening” to more conversing with each other.

Narrative-wise and character-wise there’s nothing particularly interesting here, instead it’s just what you expect from a Lydia Chin book. Good, solid entertainment from a very reliable author.
3 Stars

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FaceOff by David Baldacci, ed.

FaceOffFaceOff

by David Baldacci

Hardcover, 384 pg.
Simon & Schuster, 2014
Read: July 15-25, 2014

When I was a kid, one of the go-to moves to increase circulation/awareness of a comic book title was to have it cross-over with another title. Or if you had two already well-selling titles, and you wanted a little spike in the selling, that’d work, too (particularly if one title was from DC and the other from Marvel). I, as I was supposed to, grabbed a lot of these. They tended to follow a pattern — Group/Individual A runs into Group/Individual B, for no explicable reason they start to fight. Eventually, they figure out they’re all heroes fighting for good and turn their collective energies to defeating the bad guys. This was fine, because it let you see who would win in a fight — Thor or Superman (answer: neither), Halo or Starfire — that kind of thing.

That’s what a lot of these stories reminded me of — classic cross-over tales, and many fit that pattern. Which was okay, but thankfully not all of them did. At the end of the day, there were 2 stories I wanted to read, a couple of others that I was somewhat interested in, and the rest — well, might as well take a look at them, as long as I had the book. I picked up a couple of new names to try — and a couple to avoid. All in all, this was a mixed bag.

    Some specific thoughts:

  • Red Eye by Michael Connelly and Dennis Lehane (Harry Bosch vs. Patrick Kenzie)
    This first story was the primary motivation for me to get my hands on this book. Two of my all-time, personal Hall of Fame characters together. The story was a bit . . . meh. The criminal was definitely in the wheelhouse for both Kenzie and Bosch, but it was a little too easy to find him — and once the two detectives decided to work together, the solution was a bit too quick and easy (yet just the kind of ending that I could see either character coming up with on their own — so together it absolutely made sense). I’m pretty sure (without taking the time to verify) that this was the shortest story in the collection, and it needed at least another 10 pages to be satisfactory. Still, I’m putting this down as a winner.
  • In the Nick of Time by Ian Rankin and Peter James (John Rebus vs. Roy Grace)
    This was so dull, so predictable, no actual detective work was done here — all of it happened “off screen” so to speak. Maybe, maybe if you liked Rebus or Grace on their own, this would appeal to you. But even then, yawn.
  • Gaslighted by R.L. Stine, Douglas Preston, and Lincoln Child (Slappy the Ventriloquist Dummy vs. Aloysius Pendergast)
    I think you’d need a lot more familiarity with these characters (particularly Pendergast) to enjoy this one — really to understand it all.
  • The Laughing Buddha by M.J. Rose and Lisa Gardner (Malachai Samuels vs. D.D. Warren)
    Okay, after two novels and now one short story, I still don’t see what D. D. Warren brings to anything. Did she do much at all here? It was an interesting enough story, and if I hadn’t spent so much time waiting for Warren to do something, I might have enjoyed it more. Then again, I’m not sure how much I can buy the whole setup for Samuels’ character.
  • Surfing the Panther by Steve Martini and Linda Fairstein (Paul Madriani vs. Alexandra Cooper)
    Neither one of these lawyer characters appeared all that terribly interesting — but the crime in question, the way it was presented, and the solution to it? That made this one worthwhile. Very clever stuff (even if, again, most of the action took place off-screen).
  • Rhymes With Prey by Jeffery Deaver and John Sandford (Lincoln Rhyme vs. Lucas Davenport)
    Early on in the story, I jotted in my notes, “What this story really needs are more unfamiliar characters whose names start with an ‘L’.” But once I got past that, it was probably the most complex and compelling story in the book and the most likely to provoke further reading — I’m interested in following up with both series. Not sure it’ll happen soon, but it’ll happen.
  • Infernal Night by Heather Graham and F. Paul Wilson (Michael Quinn vs. Repairman Jack)
    Doubt I’ll misquote the “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned” line again, because like Repairman Jack, I “just like to get things right.” After reading the introduction, I wasn’t at all interested in these characters. But the story intrigued me, and I’m pretty sure I’ll check out both series. I have one friend I really see getting into Repairman Jack. The story was creepy and cool. And slightly predictable. But still, creepy and cool.
  • Pit Stop by Raymond Khoury and Linwood Barclay (Sean Reilly vs. Glen Garber)
    Perfect start to this kind of story – – killer first sentence, and the closing sentence of the first section is almost as compelling. The ending wasn’t as good as wanted it to be, but it seemed like they needed an easy ending or another fifty pages — so easy ending, it had to be. The stuff in the middle was pretty fun. Garber’s daughter is the coolest little girl this side of space/time constraints. Garner’s daughter is the coolest little girl this side of Flavia de Luce.
  • Silent Hunt by John Lescroart and T. Jefferson Parker (Wyatt Hunt vs. Joe Trona)
    A couple of law enforcement guys on fishing vacations. Didn’t do much for me — my guess is that fans of Hunt and Trona would probably enjoy this, like I did with Bosch and Kenzie. More for the experience of seeing the two together rather than for the strength of this pretty tired tale.
  • The Devil’s Bones by Steve Berry and James Rollins (Cotton Malone vs. Gray Pierce)
    The way their target talked was the only false note in this action-packed story. And man, oh man, was it false. But the action, the interplay between Malone and Pierece, the story, everything else worked really, really well. One of the best things in this book.
  • Good and Valuable Consideration by Lee Child and Joseph Finder (Jack Reacher vs. Nick Heller)
    I’ve never read Finder before, but probably will now (of any in this book, he’ll probably be first). I loved this one, it may not be the best-written story in the collection, but it’s my favorite. Funny (very), yet true to Reacher’s almost-never funny character (and I assume also true to Heller’s). The banter and cooperation between the two was great. The way they came to a consensus without speaking about how to help the poor guy they met in the bar brought a smile to my face. It was a decent story, too, but one of those that didn’t have to be, because the character work was so fun. It was the perfect thing to close this with.

So again, your results may vary — but overall, a worthwhile read — some real highs, and some moderate lows. Good fodder for a TBR list.

—–

3 Stars

Dusted Off: Prayers for Rain by Dennis Lehane

Prayers for RainPrayers for Rain by Dennis Lehane
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

better than Sacred, but not as good as the rest of the series. Some of the character development was more of a reset to pre-Gone, Baby, Gone status. How odd was it that Bubba was the only character to really have any growth?

Patrick Kenzie talks often of his tiring of the PI biz, not sure if he had it in him any more, it wasn’t fun. How much of this is Patrick and how much is Lehane speaking through him? Tough call. ‘tho the decade or so that Lehane took away from the series is a pretty good hint, I think.

Good read, creepy bad guy, with an iffy ending. Still better than many things I’ve read this year, while not Lehane’s best.

Dusted Off: Moonlight Mile by Dennis Lehane

Moonlight Mile (Kenzie & Gennaro,#6)Moonlight Mile by Dennis Lehane
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I don’t think I’ve the original context of the remark, but I’ve seen it often enough that I don’t doubt the veracity. But at some point Dennis Lehane characterized his Kenzie/Gennaro series as the kind of books that a guy in his twenties would write, as an explanation for why he’d moved on. Now, first of all, I don’t blame a guy for not wanting to get stuck in a rut, to only write one thing his entire life (no matter how good he is at it). But that always struck me as an uncharacteristically dumb thing to say. What’s that say about 1. the authors outside of their 20s who are writing the same kind of thing and 2. those of us out of our 20s who like to read that kind of thing.

Frankly, I thought that Shutter Island was more like something a guy in his 20s would write (particularly the ending) than anything else he wrote.

But hey, it’s his opinion, and he’s entitled to it — as long as he writes things more interesting than The Given Day (which, to be fair, I haven’t been able to get too far into, it’s fully possible that if I’d read another two pages, I’d have loved it).

Still, imagine my surprise when I learned that a new Kenzie/Gennaro book was coming out.

It’s a lighter read than the previous five books in the series, but it still carries that trademark Lehane punch. This book sure seems like a self-conscious attempt to stress the fact that our heroes, like the author, aren’t in their twenties. They’ve aged, matured, get tired more easily want nothing to do with the violence that so marked their younger years. They’re not the only ones who aged, Amanda McCready, the kidnapped girl from Gone Baby Gone is missing again, and again, he aunt calls upon Kenzie to find her.

By the end, Lehane takes his characters to an interesting (and predictable place) that probably closes the door to future installments — not unlike what Riordan did to Tres Nevarre and what Koryta may have done to his PIs. I hope it’s not the last I see of these two, but can understand why it would be.

In the end, a satisfying read. Better than many PI novels that came out this year, but not as good as it could’ve been.

Dusted Off: Gone, Baby, Gone by Dennis Lehane

Gone, Baby, Gone (Kenzie & Gennaro, #4)Gone, Baby, Gone by Dennis Lehane
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Kenzie and Gennaro are hired by the aunt of a missing 4 year old girl, who’s been missing so long that good news is almost impossible. Following a trail started by her worthless mother leads the pair and the police to drug dealers (small time and large), child molesters and other monsters and a tangled web so intricate that it makes what the protagonists have been through before seem like a picnic.

This book was my first exposure to Lehane, and turned me into a devotee for life (probably). Even though I’ve read this 4-5 times, it had me on the edge of my seat, and got me choked up and horrified by the evil depicted.

Best.Thing.He’s.Written. (not that I’ve read the new one yet)

Dusted Off: Sacred by Dennis Lehane

Sacred (Kenzie & Gennaro, #3)Sacred by Dennis Lehane
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Easily the weakest Kenzie/Gennaro book, and I don’t know why. On this, like every other, re-read, I’ve tried to a. convince myself I really like this one or b. put my finger on what seems wrong with this one, and I can’t do either.

Drives me crazy.

Oh well, Gone, Baby Gone is up next.

Dusted Off: Darkness, Take My Hand by Dennis Lehane

Darkness, Take My Hand (Kenzie & Gennaro, #2)Darkness, Take My Hand by Dennis Lehane
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’ve read this 4 or 5 times now, still got tense at all the right spots (thankfully, it was the middle of the day this time so I wasn’t quite as jumpy as usual). Pretty sure that’s a sign of an author who knows what he’s doing. Not the best of the series, which isn’t taking away anything from this one, just saying how good some of the others (like Gone, Baby Gone) are.