Briefly Maiden by Jacqueline Chadwick

I’d fully intended on getting this up earlier in the week, but it provoked enough thought that I had to sit on it a bit. Hopefully that comes through.

Briefly Maiden
Briefly Maiden

by Jacqueline Chadwick
Series: Ali Dalglish, #2

Kindle Edition, 317 pg.
Fahrenheit Press, 2017

Read: November 30 – December 1, 2017


Vancouver Island’s Integrated Major Incident Squad has been called out again, and Ali Dalglish is brought along to consult — she’s official now, after the success of the case in In the Still, she got her credentials transferred to her new country. So she can help Inspector Rey Cuzzocrea with his profile of the murderer and get paid for it (which is probably useful after the recent disintegration of her marriage).

There’s a series of murders (not a serial killer, technically) in the perfectly pleasant little city of Cedar River (at least for most of the residents). They’re gruesome, clearly motivated by anger, with a sexual component. Ali and Cuzzocrea quickly note evidence of a pedophilia ring associated with the deaths. Which adds a level of complexity and tragedy to the crime — and makes it difficult to care much about the victims. While no one on the VIIMIS wants to help the killer with their campaign, they want to catch her(?) to help her recover from what they think must’ve happened to her(?). The obstacles standing in their way are not the typical or expected kind, and make this difficult case even more difficult.

As before, Ali is brilliant — not just when it comes to criminology, she’s just smart — she’s witty, she’s a font of trivia, and has a vocabulary that you just want to bask in (and borrow!). [Note: I’m not referring to her “blue”/”adult”/”4-letter” vocabulary, which is enough to put off some readers] Her emotional life is a mess, she’s in a slightly better place after the breakup of her marriage, but not that much. There’s some decent character growth at work here, too. She’s just such a great character I don’t think I can do her justice here.

It would have been very easy to make this a story about Ali, the brilliant psychologist helping out a bunch of cops who are fairly clueless (yet high-ranking and successful). But Chadwick doesn’t do that. The members of the Squad are capable — more than capable — and while they needed the perspective and expertise brought by Ali, there’s a good chance they’d have eventually put a lot of the pieces together on their own. For example, Superintendent Shaw would be easy to depict as a stuffed-shirt, unimaginative, by-the-book, and blind to anything that isn’t obvious — and most writers would depict him that way (I can’t help but think of Irwin Maurice Fletcher’s editor, Frank Jaffe, frequently when Shaw shows up) — but at one point he actually puts things together that no one else on the Squad did (most readers will be faster than him, but we have better information). Ali’s not blind to this either — yeah, she has an ego about her own expertise, but she is ready (if not always eager) to acknowledge when her teammates do good to work.

There were a few mis-steps, but when you’re doing so much right, you can afford a few of those. The one that I don’t understand is how little her friend/neighbor, Marlene, was used. Yes, her contribution was essential, but if Marlene had stayed home, Chadwick could’ve found another way to get those results. If you’re going to bring her along — use her. Her brief appearances were fun or pivotal, but there just weren’t enough.

I’ve spent some time over the last week trying to describe Chadwick’s writing style, because it’s so specific and so original. At one point, I decided that “aggressive” was the best adjective — it’s in-your-face, it grabs you by the scruff of your neck and shoves your nose into the text, daring you to even consider your Real Life responsibilities (family, eating, work, etc.) so it can smack the back of your head like Leroy Gibbs. But it’s also inviting, enticing, so you’re sucked in and love it — you want to wallow in the experience, desperate to find out what happens while not wanting to walk away from reading book for the foreseeable future. She’s entertaining and fun while writing about some of the most depraved and horrible things you’ve ever read — while never making the depravity or horror into anything other than evil and wrong.

Briefly Maiden is not a case of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts — but when the sum of its parts is so great, it can seem to be. If it was just Ali’s acerbic brilliance and skewed (skewering?) sensibilities pushing this story, it’d be something I’d tell you to read. Chadwick’s style is something to behold, no matter the subject. If it was just the heart-breaking and horrifying crime story, I’d give this a high commendation. If it was just for the inevitable but shocking conclusion, I’d say this was well worth your time and money. If it was just Ali’s vocabulary, you’d be smarter for having read it (I learned a few terms/words, and I bet you will, too). You put all that together, plus a few other points I should’ve made and didn’t (for whatever reason), and Briefly Maiden is one of the most effective (and affective) novels I’ve read this year. Stop reading this and go grab it — and In the Still, if you haven’t read that yet.

—–

5 Stars

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The Song of The Swan by Michael RN Jones

The Song of The SwanThe Song of The Swan

by Michael RN Jones
Series: The Victor Locke Chronicles, #2

Kindle Edition, 306 pg.
Fahrenheit Press, 2017

Read: September 13 – 14, 2017

On ending the sentence, his face dropped. “Oh,” he exhaled, “that’s it. I’ve just had one of those TV detective moments.”

“What d’you mean?”

“You know. When some tiny and unrelated fact, like a car door slamming or an answerphone machine flicking on, makes the whole case drop into place. It happens to Jonathan Creek and Adrian Monk all the time…”

In The Accidental Detective, we met Victor Locke and his court-appointed psychologist, Dr. Jonathan Doyle — a modern-day Holmes and Watson in a collection of stories that were partially a tribute, partially a pastiche, partially an update and entirely entertaining. This second episodic novel/short story collection continues in that vein.

This book opens with Doyle and Locke being arrested for bank robbery, which is not really what I’d expected. It’s, as is the case with many of the stories in this book, a chance for Doyle to stretch his investigatory skills and do a lot of the work. The two are not equal partners in any sense, but it’s nice to see that Doyle is more than just the sidekick (see Archie Goodwin and Joan Watson for other examples of this kind of relationship).

Not only is Doyle on his way to becoming a proper investigator, his write-ups of the cases are gaining him a greater degree of notoriety. I particularly enjoyed watching various characters go out of their way to fawn over him — or try to work their way into his writings.

At the same time, Doyle is wondering how well he actually knows his friend — and frequently discovers the answer is, “not that well.” At the same time, everyone (including Locke himself) regards him as the world’s expert on Victor Locke. Locke is just fun to watch in the varied situations he places himself in. As much as I appreciated Doyle’s larger role in things, I missed Locke when he wasn’t “on screen.” There’s a greater depth to the character than we’ve seen previously (or maybe I just missed it last time — that’s possible)

I’ve talked a lot about the characters and not much about the cases — there are two reasons for this, primarily, you read things like this for the characters. Secondly, Jones can tell you about the cases in a much more interesting way than I can. I’ll just say that they’re clever, enjoyable and Holmesian (in the best sense).

I’ve gotta say, I didn’t like the ending. I thought it was well done, it flowed organically from the events leading up to it, it fit the characters, it was earned — and so on. I just didn’t like it.

I enjoyed The Accidental Detective and if The Song of the Swan had been more of the same, I’d have been satisfied. But, Jones kicked everything up a notch — Locke was stranger, more clever, and funnier; Doyle was a better version of the guy we’d met previously, and the crimes were more interesting. All in all, a fun read, a great way to spend a few hours and one of those sequels that delivers on the promise of the first. Heartily recommended.

—–

4 Stars

Dead is Good by Jo Perry

Dead is GoodDead is Good

by Jo Perry
Series: Charlie & Rose Investigate, #3

Kindle Edition, 282 pg.
Fahrenheit Press, 2017

Read: August 3, 2017

Oh, and after all this time I learned something else about being dead.

Death is failure.

Death is loss.

Everything—who you are, what you know—goes.

Whoever you thought you were, you weren’t and you’re not.

When he was alive, Charlie Stone was married multiple times to pretty horrible women (if we’re to believe him — and we might as well, he seems pretty upfront and honest about this kind of thing), not that he was any catch, either. But he really only loved one person, Grace Morgan. Grace broke things off with Charlie and moved on with her life, but apparently after hearing about his murder, she was moved to change her approach to art — deciding to challenge the audience, forcing them to realize how close to death they are.

Yeah, it sounds pretty silly and pretentious to me, but hey…that’s not the important part of the story. Maybe if we got more examples of her art, I’d care more and maybe even understand. What is important about Grace, for our purposes, is that her life is in danger, it’s because of this danger that Charlie and Rose have been brought from their afterlife-limbo back to Earth.

The book opens with one of the more blatant suicide-by-cop scenes you’ve ever read, which is intended to serve as protection for Grace. It doesn’t work out, or the book would be really short. Powerless to do anything but watch and hope things turn out okay, Charlie and Rose travel around L.A. discovering for themselves what it was that endangered Grace in the first place — which brings them into a world of drugs, sweatshop workers, deceptive piñatas, and smuggled birds.

This is a very tangled story, it takes Charlie quite a while to put the pieces together — Rose has her own priorities in this mess and spends some time away from Charlie, unwilling to turn her focus on his behalf. The way that this criminal enterprise is eventually revealed to work not only seems like something that really exists, but is revealed in a way that is narratively satisfying.

Charlie will tell his readers over and over that there’s no character growth in death — that’s nonsense. Post-mortem Charlie is a much more emotionally mature and self-sacrificing kind of guy than pre-mortem Charlie was. In this book we see him come to — or at least acknowledge — a greater and deeper understanding of what love is, and what he allowed his previous relationship to become. It may not do him any good in the afterlife, but Charlie is better for it, and in someway we can hope that Grace is better off having gone through all this, so that whatever life has in store for her can be tackled face-on.

I love these characters — even while we readers don’t fully understand their circumstances, how they know where to go, what brings them to this world at certain times. Even while they don’t have much better of an idea than we do (at least Charlie doesn’t). I love how while they can’t interact with their environment, the people they see and events they watch unfold, they are driven to find answers, driven to care about what’s happening. There’s something about that compulsion — and success they have in figuring things out — that matters more than when Bosch or Spenser or Chin and Smith put all the pieces together to thwart someone.

This wasn’t as amusing as previous installments, but it was just as satisfying — maybe more so. For a good mystery with oddly compelling characters, once again, look no further than Jo Perry.

The L.A. County Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner has a gift shop?? Why isn’t anyone investigating this? It may be real, it may be popular and legal. But surely that’s a crime against tact, right?

—–

4 Stars

Fahrenheit Press is Not Your Father’s Publisher

(that is, if your father had a publisher)

Fahrenheit Press is a new publishing house with a “punk ethos” that describes themselves as:

…intent on doing things differently and we’re building a publishing company that’s heavy on curation and deadly serious about marketing.

And yeah, they’re doing something different with their second book, to be published at the end of this month. Take a look at the Amazon listing:

One day, I hope they’ll explain how they got Amazon to play along. Be sure to click the link to get more details on this book.

Their founder, Chris McVeigh, explains the deal, the thinking behind it and a few more things in this post at fromfirstpagetolast. I hope this experiment works for them (and that the book is worth the effort), if only so I can see what they try next.