My Favorite 2017 New (to me) Characters

A few weeks ago, I started to describe someone as one of the best characters I met this year. Which got me to thinking about and honing this list. I’m limiting myself to characters I met this year, otherwise I don’t think there’s be much room for anyone — Spenser, Hawk, Scout, Harry Dresden, Toby Daye, Ford Prefect etc. wouldn’t really allow anyone else to be talked about. These might not be my favorite people in their respective books (although most are), but they’re the best characters in terms of complexity, depth and story potential I doubt I’d like most of them in real life (and can’t imagine that any of them would enjoy me), but in novels? I can’t get enough of them.

(in alphabetical order by author)

  • Aimee de Laurent from Skyfarer by Joseph Brassey (my post about the book)– she’s smart, she’s driven, she’s compassionate, she’s powerful, she’s fallible. She also flies around in a spaceship and does magic.
  • Lori Anderson from Deep Down Dead by Steph Broadribb (my post about the book)– She’s more than Stephanie Plum without the Lucy Ricardo DNA. She’s a tough lady, a dedicated mom, and more. This bounty hunter will impress you with her guts, get your sympathy with her plight, and make you cheer as she bests her opponents (I should probably add “make you wince as she takes some brutal beatings).
  • Ali Dalglish from In the Still by Jacqueline Chadwick (my post about the book)– Ali is a certified (and possibly certifiable) genius. She’s a criminal profiler working in Vancouver, BC after nearly a couple of decades away to raise her kids. But when a serial killer’s victim is found near her home, she’s drug back into the professional world she left with the investigation. She has the most creative swearing this side of Malcom Tucker, a fantastic and fast mind, a jaded look at life, and a sense of humor that’s sure to please. Early in In the Still, she asks questions of a police officer in a public forum and pretty much ruins the poor guy — it’s one of the best scenes I read all year. If you can read that far in the book and not become a Ali fan at that point, there’s something wrong with you. If I was ranking these, I’m pretty sure she’d be #1.
  • Nick Mason from The Second Life of Nick Mason by Steve Hamilton (https://wp.me/p3z9AH-2NI)– A convicted non-violent criminal gets released early from an Illinois prison only to find himself in a different type of prison to work off his debt for being released, making him lose the “non-” in front of violent. He’s a great character, on the verge (always on the verge) of redemption and falling further.
  • Dervan du Alöbar from A Plague of Giants by Kevin Hearne (my post about the book is forthcoming) — I could’ve named about half of the point-of-view characters from this book, but Dervan eked out a win. He’s a widower in mourning. A former soldier, wounded in duty, turned scholar, turned . . . well — that’s a long story. There’s something about his coming to grips with the new reality, his new vocation, his self-awareness and growth in his personal life just really clicked with me. He’s basically an unqualified fantasy hero, forced to step up and play a role in saving civilization (which actually describes many people in this book, but that’s for another day).
  • Isaiah Quintabe from IQ by Joe Ide (my post about the book)– South-Central LA’s answer to Sherlock Holmes. We meet IQ early in his career and, via flashbacks, see him begin to develop the gifts that will make him the super-detective he’s destined to become. He’s such a great take on this character, I can’t believe no one beat Ide to the punch.
  • Anci from Down Don’t Bother Me by Jason Miller (my post about the book) — yeah, her dad, Slim, is the series start and protagonist. He’s the one that goes trough all the hardship, the beatings, the investigative moves, not his 12-year-old daughter (who isn’t a young Veronica Mars clone, or Rae Spellman). But Anci is the heart and soul of the books — she’s why Slim goes to work in this field, and why he comes back. She’s smarter and wittier than any 12-year-old has any right to be (but believably so), she’s Slim’s conscience, and his reason for doing what he does.
  • LeAnne Hogan from The Right Side by Spencer Quinn (my post about the book)– comes back from Afghanistan after near-fatal injuries, and isn’t fit for the civilian life she’s thrown back into. She begins to deal with her grief and anger while hunting for the child of a dead friend with the help of a stray dog. She’ll break your heart.
  • John Rebus from Knots & Crosses by Ian Rankin (my post about the book)– Wow. How do I sum up Rebus? 2017 was the 30th anniversary of Rebus’ creation and the first year I read him. He’s a wonderful, complex character. He smokes too much, he drinks too much, he ignores the rules and regulations (and maybe even the laws) in his ongoing effort to forget about himself and his life by pouring himself into his work. Tenacious with a capital “T”, he may not be the smartest police detective you ever read, but he makes up for it through not giving up (although he’s pretty smart — especially when not drinking).
  • Hob Ravani from Hunger Makes the Wolf by Alex Wells (my post about the book)– Tough does not begin to describe this biker. She’s all about surviving on this planet that’s not at all conducive to survival — from the environment, to the economics, to the politics — there’s just nothing on the planet that wants her or her fellow Ghost Wolves to survive. But somehow she does.
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Red Dog by Jason Miller

Red DogRed Dog

by Jason Miller
Series: Slim in Little Egypt, #2

Paperback, 316 pg.
Harper Paperbacks, 2016

Read: November 25 – 27, 2017

“And for sixty-flve dollars, too.”

Anci rolled her eyes. “Oh, I know. Usually, you get kicked in the head for free. Why not try it for money this time? Besides, this is your chance to do a good deed, pile up some karma.”

“You can’t eat karma, darlin’..”

“No, but it can eat you.”

I really can’t decide what part of these books I like best — Slim’s dogged determinism when it comes to finishing what he’s started, Jeep’s almost-superhuman capabilities (he’s Hawk + Joe Pike, with a better romantic life while not as tied to reality), or Anci. Okay, that’s a lie. It’s Anci — she’s smart, she’s insightful, she’s sweet, she’s got an attitude that just won’t quit.

In this book, Anci takes time out from critiquing The Hound of the Baskervilles to convince Slim to take a case for a couple of odd strangers that show up on their doorstep. They want him to find their dog for him. They’re pretty sure where the dog is, but they don’t think they could retrieve her.

Slim takes the case, and within hours he’s cut off part of a man’s body, had several threats made against him, and discovers a dead body. Oh, he finds the dog, too. But that doesn’t matter, because he’s arrested before he can return the dog.

Things go haywire from there — Slim’s still bound and determined to find the dog while he clears his name (or vice versa). The hunt for the dog and the real killer takes him to all sorts of places he probably shouldn’t go — many of which make the coal mining he left behind seem like a safe alternative to his current job. I hate to say this, but it’s in the publisher’s description (and on the cover image), but one of the places that Slim shouldn’t go is to dog fights. His reaction to them is visceral, and you almost feel it as much as he did as you read.

The characterizations are as deep and wonderful as before (including a couple of characters that’d make Flannery O’Connor balk), the evil that Slim confronts is very dark and twisted, and Slim’s voice is deadly serious one minute, and seamlessly laugh-out-loud funny without giving the reader a sense of whiplash. There’s some violence — brutal stuff — yet it’s Slim’s brain that does most of the work. Basically, it’s the whole package.

The Bonus Story About Those Danged Chickens, “Hardboiled Eggs,” was a hoot — not strong enough to work as a part of the novel, but it tied in well (and best read after the book) and was nice example of Anci and Slim working together.

I hope there’s more to come in this series, because I just can’t get enough. Miller’s style is great — the prose is smooth and fluid, so much so that you don’t realize just how dark and twisted the events are until it’s too late because you’re having too much fun reading. Take some time to visit Little Egypt and you’ll see what I mean.

—–

4 Stars
2017 Library Love Challenge

The Hunger Angels by Jason Miller

The Hunger AngelsThe Hunger Angels

by Jason Miller
Series: Slim in Little Egypt, #1.5

Kindle Edition, 62 pg.
Harper Paperbacks, 2016

Read: September 29, 2017

Taking place sometime after Dead Don’t Bother Me, Slim’s night of Scrabble with his daughter, Anci is interrupted by his friend, Jeep and a former co-worker, Snake.

Don’t you just love the names of these characters?

Anyway, since leaving the coal mines, Snake has made a little money here and there, and has a few rental properties now. His nicest place is being rented by the nicest young couple, but Snake has family that needs it, so he has to evict the nice folks. Which is where Slim and Jeep come in. Because when Snake visits the house, its overrun with bikers and met and all sorts of property damage. The local law stops by everything looks fine and the housewife is as pleasant as Snake thought.

So now, Slim and Jeep need to do two things: 1. See if things are really as bad as Snake thinks, or if the police are right (well, I should say, confirm Snake’s version) and 2. Serve the tenants with an eviction notice. All of which goes just as easily as you’d expect. Excitement and sleuthing ensues.

The best part of this story is Anci — her relationship with her father is wonderful and it’s the kind of thing you want to read more of. Like Spenser and Hawk at their best, or Lydia Chin and Bill Smith, you just want to read pages and pages of their conversations. It took about 6 sentences from Anci for me to note, “Oh yeah, that’s why I loved her.” Slim’s easy to like, too — I’ve got notes aplenty about some of his lines, but I won’t quote any because the story is so short, I don’t want to ruin anything for you. Great dialogue, great Chandler-esque narration, and lot of action. That’s all I need to be satisfied.

This is listed as 62 pages, but I’m guessing at least 20 of those are promotional pages for the 2nd novel — it’s so hard to guess at Kindle length. It was long enough to justify reading, and short enough that you can breeze through it.

I’ve been nagging myself lately to get around to Red Dog, and getting this short story only served to make that a more pressing desire. Which I’m pretty sure was most of its purpose — I’ve got to spend more time with Slim, Anci and the rest in Little Egypt. Read this and you’ll feel the same way.

3.5 Stars

Down Don’t Bother Me by Jason Miller

Down Don’t Bother MeDown Don’t Bother Me

by Jason Miller
Series: Slim in Little Egypt, #1

Paperback, 270 pg.
Bourbon Street Books, 2015

Read: April 26 – 27, 2017

She was about my age, early forties, though I had to look at her hands to tell it. She was good-looking, too. Good-looking is putting it mildly, maybe. I looked around vaguely for a priest to strangle. She was tall and lean, with the kind of green eyes a lazy novelist would describe as “piercing.” Her copper hair was pulled back from her face with a strip of brown cloth. I imagined that its more honest self was touched here and there with gray, but that was just a guess. . . . I put down the picture. She looked at me and it and frowned the kind of desperate, exhausted frown that turns the room upside down and shakes the sympathy from its pockets.

Yeah, the spirit of Raymond Chandler is alive and well in the Midwest.

I first heard about Jason Miller through this episode of Mysterypod and thought his conversation with Steve Usery was fascinating. I finally got the chance to read his first book this week — We spend the first 3 and change pages with Slim in a coal mine in Little Egypt, Illinois. There were so many things in those pages I just didn’t understand — but somehow, Miller still created a fantastic sense of place. Claustrophobic, dark, dirty, and dangerous. I was hooked almost immediately. Then we started meeting people — and it got better.

Slim works in the Knight Hawk — one of the remaining coal mines in the area — he’s known for tracking down a couple of people that no one else seemed capable of finding, and was willing (and able) to get violent as necessary. More importantly, Slim’s a single father to a 12 year-old named Anci. He’s dating a teacher and has a best friend named Jeep, who’s sort of a Joe Pike-figure.

Matthew Luster is the owner of the Knight Hawk — and probably just as ethical as you’d expect. Just as rich, too — at least by small-town standards (and then some). He talks Slim into looking for a newspaper photographer who went missing about the same time as the reporter he worked with was found dead inside the mine. Roy Beckett, the photographer, is married to Luster’s daughter — and it doesn’t really seem like they’re really close. Why Luster wants him found is a bit murky, too — primarily, he seems curious about the story that Beckett and the photographer are working on.

The top contender is a blossoming meth trade in Knight Hawk and another mine in the area. But there’s an environmental group making noise, too. Throw in Beckett’s reputation as a womanizer, and you have any number of potential reasons why he’s scarce. Slim makes a token effort in tracking him down — when bodies start piling up, and bullets fly near Slim, his girlfriend and daughter. Which just makes him buckle down and get to work.

Overall, it’s a pretty standard PI tale from this point out. Entertaining enough in and of itself, a solid story that will keep mystery fans reading. But what makes this book shine and stand out is Slim and his perspective — like any good PI novel, it’s about the narrator primarily. And Slim is, right out of the gate, right up there with Spenser, Walt Longmire, Patrick Kenzie, and so on. Right there, Miller’s given people a reason to enjoy this book and come back for a sequel or three.

But it gets better — the way most of these people talk. I loved it — I’m not saying Little Egypt is full of Boyd Crowders, but it’s close. A ritzy-subdivision’s security guard, one of Beckett’s mistresses, Slim, and others — I made notes to quote them all, but I won’t — just a sample of the dialogue (and narration, which is pretty much just internal dialogue):

  • That old man is so bad, they’ll have to come up with a new definition of the term just so ordinary bad men won’t get all full of false piety.

  • You ever see one of these Taurus Raging Judge Magnum things? . . . I know it sounds like a gas station prophylactic, but let me tell you, it’s enough gun to kill the Lincoln on Mount Rushmore.

  • …the public defender system is a good thing–but you got the feeling that, in this guy’s hands, you could walk into to donate to the policeman’s fund and end up tied to a metal table.

  • Anci, I have to say, is the coolest kid in Crime Fiction today — that’s not saying a whole lot, I grant you. But she is. I like Maddie Bosch, but she’s no Anci (and Bernie Little’s and Andy Carpenter’s sons are okay, too — but we don’t get that much time with them). She’s smart, she’s brave, she’s vulnerable, funny, well-read . . . and more mature than Flavia de Luce (and doesn’t seem to go looking for trouble). All without being too cute and therefore annoying — she’s a kid, but an important part of Team Slim.

    The novel ends making it clear that there are more stories about Anci and Slim to tell. There’s another novel and a short story in this series — hopefully with more to come. I had so much fun reading this and totally dug this one and can’t wait to read the others. Give this a shot, folks.

    —–

    3.5 Stars

    2017 Library Love Challenge