The Shameless by Ace Atkins: Tibbehah County’s Dark Past, Present and Future Combine for Atkins’ Strongest Novel Yet

The ShamelessThe Shameless

by Ace Atkins
Series: Quinn Colson, #9
Hardcover, 446 pg.
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2019

Read: July 23 – 24, 2019

This just feels like too much of a novel to do an adequate job with. It’s been a week and a half (at the time of writing), and I’m still thinking about this book and everything Atkins did in it. I’m honestly not up to the task of doing it right. But I’ll give it a shot, with the up-front caveat that I’m missing a lot. You just need to read this.

Twenty years ago, when Quinn was in High School, a student a couple of years older than him went missing in the woods while hunting—and everyone came out in droves to look for him. For weeks the town, the media, and the Sheriff’s Department (under Quinn’s uncle) devoted every waking hour to finding him. They eventually found his body near his rifle and ruled it a suicide. But no one was satisfied with that finding. Now, two New York journalists have arrived to re-open the case, look at things from a new perspective, and hopefully come up with enough material (and, better, a satisfying conclusion) for the next season of their podcast about missing people.

Quinn’s new wife, Maggie, had been the boy’s girlfriend and initially helps the podcasters out a lot. The boy’s family isn’t united about this new search for answers, but most people are willing to help (while being suspicious of the two). A lot of old secrets, old prejudices, and unanswered questions and qualms are brought forth from the recesses of the collective memory of the community. A tragedy that had shaken the county decades previously is doing the same thing again.

These two are in town for months, stirring up trouble, stirring up gossip, stirring up emotions (sometimes intentionally, sometimes not), and generally being a distraction for Quinn. He’d frankly love to devote energy, time and attention to solving a cold case, but there’s a bigger, more dangerous, and frankly, very contemporary threat—Senator Jimmy Vardaman. Vardaman’s been on the fringes (and frequently closer) to the problems around Tibbehah County for quite some time, but now he’s running in the gubernatorial primary and is doing much better than expected. If he wins this, he’s a shoo-in for the actual election. Tapping into a false sense of nostalgia for the Mississippi that never was, a healthy dose of racism, and empty platitudes—and a healthy dose of Syndicate cash—Vardaman’s doing better than anyone expected.

There are a number of crimes that Quinn strongly believes are tied to Vardaman, but he can’t find enough proof. Every time he comes close, something prevents it from happening—he has a few opportunities here to bring Vardaman down before primary and devotes all his energy toward them. One of the strongest themes running through this novel is the intersection of crime and politics, and how that affects both enterprises. Too often (in fiction and reality), politics boils down to the influence of and lust for money and power—which is pretty much what crime (particularly the more organized forms of it) is. Vardaman’s not the only example this series or this novel has of it, but he’s the current exemplar in Atkins’ world.

Meanwhile, Fannie Hathcock is still running the show when it comes to illicit materials and licit (but not fully-clothed) women in Tibbehah County. Recent events have left things shaky for her, and Vardaman’s ascent (and those he owes favors to) will make things shakier. We don’t see much of what that means in this book, but I think we will soon. I don’t think Fannie is a woman to be taken lightly—the power structures on both sides of the law may be less-than-welcoming to a woman—and I don’t expect her to go quietly (if she goes at all).

My biggest complaint is about Boom Kimbrough. Yes, Quinn’s best friend and staunchest ally (no offense to Maggie or Lillie), is a presence throughout—but is absent from the major story, and his subplot doesn’t get that much space. Boom’s primarily recovering from—to some extent—the events of The Sinners, and that’s about all we see from him. He and Caddy spend a lot of time together, but if he has more than one conversation with Quinn, I’d be surprised. I should’ve taken notes on that front (but who’d have thought I’d have to?). I assume we’ll see more of him in future books—I just don’t want to wait.

Using the podcast—and the stir it creates—to revisit many of the characters’ storylines, see how they got to where they are now (possibly to look at them in a different light)—is a brilliant move and Atkins uses it very effectively. There are moments recalled because of this podcast that I’d forgotten about or hadn’t seen in relation to the greater story arcs. Also, it’s a great way to help the reader see that other parts of the county may not see Quinn’s actions the same way the reader has. By using the podcast, Atkins is able to create drama with this as well as avoiding several dull information dumps.

Something that I don’t particularly enjoy—but respect and appreciate—is the way things ended. I’ve seen several people call it a cliff-hanger of an ending. I don’t really see it that way, but I can see where they’re coming from. Now, I’m not going to get into the details for obvious reasons (for one, I’m not a monster), but I can say that it was a very noir ending. Which fits, this is a dark series—fun, sometimes funny—but a real Southern noir. This is Colson at the noirest, particularly the last chapter. It was a perfect ending to a great book—so don’t take my not particularly enjoying as a complaint. I’d prefer an ending where justice triumphs, evil is vanquished, and Quinn rides off into the sunset. That ain’t the world we live in, that’s not the world of Tibbehah County, and this novel is better at showing us than the others have been (not that things like a tornado wiping out huge parts of the county are exactly rainbows and unicorns, either).

Can this be read as a jumping-on point? I actually think it can—it easily serves as a “Where We Are Now/Where We Have Been” novel. But just know that you’re going to want to go back and read the others to understand everything talked about (much of which is alluded to, rather than explained—the way you’d talk to an old friend about something that happened four years ago). Obviously, the best thing to do is get The Ranger and work your way up to this point, but this would be the best jumping-on point since The Ranger.

The Shameless is the longest novel in the series, easily the most ambitious, and very possibly the best (I can’t think of a better one, but I’d have to re-read them. Which isn’t a bad idea, actually.). It feels like a change in the series—which is hard to describe without spoiling, but if Chapter One was Quinn’s struggles against Stragg, Chapter Two would be everything up to this book until Stragg went to prison, and then Chapter Three is whatever comes after The Shameless. Something tells me this small-town sheriff is missing the days when his biggest problem was Stragg.

I really can’t recommend this enough—Quinn Colson and Ace Atkins are some of the best in the genre today and The Shameless is the best proof of that.


5 Stars

2019 Library Love Challenge2019 Cloak & Dagger Challenge


Thirteen by Steve Cavanagh: Eddie Flynn, a Serial Killer and a “Trial of the Century”


by Steve Cavanagh
Series: Eddie Flynn, #4
eARC, 336 pg.
Flatiron Books, 2019
Read: July 26 – 29, 2019

I wanted this posted a day ago, but just a couple hours after finishing it, I wasn’t capable of discussing it in a meaningful way—unless you consider gibberish with intermittent “squee”s and a lot of exclamation points meaningful (and, I suppose it is, in a fashion). I think I’m a bit better now, but I’m still having a hard time organizing my thoughts. I’ve discussed each of the prior Eddie Flynn books in the last couple of years here—and each one has been a little better than its predecessor. This is no exception—but I’m not sure if Eddie Flynn #5 will be able to top this one (equalling it will prove difficult enough).

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Before he’s had time to fully absorb—much less react to—some devastating personal news, Eddie Flynn is approached by one of the biggest, flashiest, best-known defense attorneys in New York to be his second chair in an upcoming murder trial. He’s not interested, at all—even after the money on the table is mentioned. But he eventually agrees to meet with the accused to decide if he believes in the client’s claims of innocence.

Robert (Bobby) Solomon is an actor on the verge of super-stardom. He’s one-half of a Hollywood power-couple with a reality show and a couple of movies together that are responsible for this status. He also stands accused of killing his wife and their security chief after finding them in bed. Eddie believes him and signs on. The media (social and otherwise) is abuzz with the killings and is circulating plenty of rumors, innuendoes and speculation about Bobby and his wife at this time, as they cover “The Trial of the Century.”

The prosecution’s case is almost overwhelmingly strong, but with some creative thinking, Eddie and his investigator dive into the case, coming up with a strategy for his defense—including ways to attack the prosecution’s case. His investigator is the FBI Agent Harper from The Liar, who has since quit the Bureau and is doing PI and security work with her former partner (this was a great move by Cavanagh, she’s the best character from that book not named Flynn).

Still, that’s a daunting target and an almost impossible feat. But what makes it worse? The actual killer—a serial killer, mind you—is on the jury and is committed to getting a guilty verdict. What a great hook, right?

It is hard, almost impossible, to give readers a serial killer as unique as this one. He’s not as charming or intelligent as Dr. Lecter (but close on the latter), he’s not as obviously sick and twisted as most fictional serial killers. There’s not a trace of sexual sadism or anything like that to his modus operandi (which is not to say there’s none in his past). He’s smart, he’s careful, he’s strategic and committed to his vision. He’s got some natural gifts that help him—and an ally that assists him (a non-lone wolf serial killer, I don’t know if I’ve seen that before).

What separates this killer from the rest is the motivation behind his killings and victim selection (and how he makes them a victim). Yes, he’s clearly mentally ill—psychopathic/sociopathic tendencies (if he’s not diagnosable with either), and he enjoys his work. But there’s an ethos, an ideology behind his work. He’s got a message for the world, a lesson he’s trying to teach people. Everything he does is toward this goal, toward living out this ethos. I absolutely loved this, and the more Cavanagh showed this was behind the killing (and eventually, killings), the more we saw of the motivation, the more I liked it (and the more impressed I was with the creation of this killer).

I want to go on a few more paragraphs about him, but I can’t without spoiling everything—so let me stress this is a great, and unique, serial killer.

While dealing with this case, Eddie also has some family problems he’s trying to address, and there are some NYPD cops out for him after embarrassing a detective on the witness stand. Eddie spends more time in danger from members of the NYPD than he does from the killer.

Harry, of course, is back—which is great. He’s more involved in this case than he has been since the first book, The Defense. He’s a judge, Eddie’s former mentor and current self-appointed guardian of Eddie’s alcohol intake. He’s a great friend and ally for Eddie. We also see the return of Arnold Novoselic, the jury consultant that caused so much trouble for Eddie in The Defense, this time, however, he’s on Eddie’s side. From a one-dimensional bad guy in book 1, he’s transformed into someone Eddie has to—and then can—rely on. There’s a new prosecuting attorney, and he’s a great character and a worthy competitor for Eddie.

No matter who’s writing the legal thriller, one of my favorite parts of the book is the narrator/protagonist giving the reader insight into how the judicial system functions—the nitty-gritty stuff about scheduling trials, deciding who to put on your witness list, the order you call the witnesses in, and so on. The reader gets plenty of that here—along with two (complementary) explanations why attorneys on either side of the case just don’t want anything to drive a judge to sequester a jury. I’d never thought of that before, but it rings so true. Eddie also gives a very detailed explanation about how the skills that made him a successful con artist make him a successful trial lawyer. Because I enjoy it so much, I could’ve read a whole lot more of this “behind the scenes” material if it’d been possible for Cavanagh to work it in. Still, I think we get more of that here than we have before.

The pacing on this book is intense—Eddie being hired, investigating, the trial and the outcome all take place in a week. A business week, Monday – Friday, to be specific. That’s just insane—and improbable. But you don’t stop to doubt it while reading. Even after finishing the book, I can’t be bothered to spend too much time wondering about that, because Cavanagh sold the timeline so well. It doesn’t feel rushed at all, however, it just feels like an intense thriller.

While driving the pace that hard, no corners are cut in the intricacy of the story. There are surprises, twists and turns enough to satisfy every reader, and enough courtroom shenanigans to compete with Mason or Haller. The penultimate reveal got me calling Cavanagh some pretty terrible names—not because I didn’t like the reveal, not because Cavanagh cheated in the way he told the story, but because he fooled me. It was all there, ready to be seen, but like a good magician, Cavanagh kept my eyes on what he was doing with one hand and ignoring the —he totally hoodwinked me. I admire that in an author but despise myself for falling victim.

Is Thirteen a decent jumping-on point to the series? Oh yeah, a great one—but you might find yourself a bit underwhelmed if you then go on to read the previous books (just a bit, that that’s only in comparison to this). For those of us who’ve been with Eddie for a while? This is a noticeable progression in quality. Cavanagh’s no longer a promising new author, he’s a reliable established veteran. Cavanagh’s been accumulating plenty of awards lately, and Thirteen demonstrates why and absolutely deserves the critical and award attention it’s been receiving. But better than all of that? It’s a riveting and rewarding read—entertaining, tense, and satisfying. Go get yourself a copy now and you can thank me later.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Flatiron Books via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this.


5 Stars

2019 Cloak & Dagger Challenge

Base Cowboys by Mark Farrer: Enjoyable Scottish Crime Novellas about a wandering antihero

Base CowboysBase Cowboys

by Mark Farrer
Series: Cullen, #1

Kindle Edition, 356 pg.
Funny Business Press, 2019

Read: July 22, 2019

This is a collection of three novellas featuring Farrer’s character of Cullen in and around a city near the Scottish border — Dirty Barry, Bronchial Billy and Pale Ale Rider. As you can probably guess from the plays on Eastwood film titles, we’re supposed to be thinking of an Eastwood-hero type, wandering into the midst of someone else’s (or several someone elses) life and setting things right, stopping a crime, etc. Also, from the play in the titles, they’re of a lighter tone — they’re described as comic, I didn’t particularly find them that, but they are clearly written for the fun side of Crime Fiction, not the serious, dark, or brooding side.

Dirty Barry tells the story of the world’s sleaziest dentist. For sport, he has affairs/one night stands/flings with as many married patients as he can — blackmailing them to continue as he sees fit. Until one day, Cullen walks in with some tooth pain. We meet Big Paul here (more on him later), and three other characters who more than make up for the sleaze brought in by Barry.

Bronchial Billy is about a boorish octagenarian would-be-slumlord (if he had more than one house he rented, he might qualify). He annoys Cullen one night due to his drunken revelry, which ends up toppling a series of dominoes — Billy’s family, hobbies, and livelihood will never be the same. Big Paul’s around for some of this and has a connection to one of Billy’s tenants.

Pale Ale Rider is probably my favorite of the three. It’s the story of a teenage petty criminal with the eyes of a serial killer, the young woman who puts him on a trajectory toward more serious crime and the small brewery (and some employees thereof) that unwittingly provide him a home base and the means for his crimes.

The central character, who really isn’t around as much as you might expect is Cullen, an ex-police detective anti-hero type. Homeless by choice, and living entirely off-the-grid (and unaware of much happening on the grid), he wanders around the country righting wrongs and living life on his own terms (like TV’s David Banner — without the gamma-radiation-induced temper issue). I don’t particularly mind or dislike him, I just don’t think he’s that interesting — I see where he’s supposed to be, but he never clicked for me. I think I need a little more of/about him before I could be hooked.

On the other hand, there’s one other character who shows up in each story that I did find pretty interesting, and would happily read more of — Big Paul/Beep (a nickname we see explained repeatedly, but not used) is a laid-back carpenter, with a very casual attitude toward life, money and punctuality. He’s not the most educated of men, but later shows some signs of effort to change that. He’s just a fun character, someone you’d probably like to hang out with.

Almost every other character is pretty well-drawn and fleshed-out. Yeah, we learn a bit too much about them in info dumps, but Farrer does a good job of building on those descriptions and rounding out the characters in the following pages. From the titular characters to their victims, family or friends these characters are what make the novellas compelling and interesting. They’re the real stars of the various novellas and the reason to keep reading.

Aside from a pretty non-compelling protagonist, my major complaint is the amount of crass descriptions and depictions of sex. Yes, sex is very important to one plot and is a powerful motivator in the others, and thankfully we’re not given a detailed description of the act. But it’s too pervasive for me, particularly the way it’s talked about (by both characters and narration). Call me a prude, or whatever, but it just struck me as distasteful.

These are fast, off-beat, readable works full of compelling characters (if you ignore the protagonist, who isn’t bad, he’s just not as interesting as the rest) — this book/these novellas are just the thing for a quick, refreshing read — not a full meal, but a hearty snack. I do recommend reading them separately, I think they’d be more enjoyable not read back-to-back-to-back, but that’s tough to say with any degree of certainty. Give them a shot.


3 Stars

LetsReadIndie Reading Challenge 2019 Cloak & Dagger Challenge

My thanks to damppebbles blog tours for the invitation to participate in this tour and the materials (including a copy of the collection) they provided.

BOOK SPOTLIGHT: Base Cowboys by Mark Farrer

Today I welcome the Book Tour for the entertaining Base Cowboys by Mark Farrer. Along with this spotlight post, I’ll be giving my take on the novel here in a bit. But before I get to talking about the book, let’s start by learning a little about this here book, okay?

Book Details:

Book Title: Base Cowboys by Mark Farrer
Release date: July 22, 2019
Format: Paperback/Ebook
Length: 356 pages

Book Blurb:

BASE COWBOYS is a comic crime trilogy set in the Scottish Borders. It is the sixth laugh-out-loud book in the CULLEN series written by Borders author Mark Farrer and will appeal to readers of Christopher Brookmyre, Carl Hiaasen, Nick Spalding or Tom Sharpe. The book tells the stories of three amoral ne’er-do-wells, their unfortunate and accidental intrusion into Cullen’s life, and the imaginative ways he finds of ensuring (his) justice is done:

Dirty Barry
The first casualty of adultery is… the tooth!

Barry Sullivan is a sordid dentist who resorts to blackmail to keep his string of married women in line. But now Cullen has toothache – and a very different interpretation of the dental code of practice.

Bronchial Billy
Meet Billy – the fastest gun in a vest.

Billy is a geriatric slum landlord desperate to win first prize in a Country & Western gunfight competition. But his trigger-happy birthday celebrations provoke Cullen, and now Billy must pay. Will he meet his High Noon at the Grand Ole Opry or will he go out with a bang? Whatever happens, there’s sure to be fireworks.

Pale Ale Rider
There’s trouble brewing…

Tyler is a teenage tearaway with the eyes of a serial killer. But when he decides to rob Big Paul’s local pub, he gets more than he bargained for. Will Tyler lose his bottle, or just get smashed? Cullen thinks he’s seen dead eyes like those before, and now he has a plan: he’s not bitter, he’s just a little twisted.

About Mark Farrer:

Mark FarrerMark Farrer is the author of six comedy novels and novellas, each set in the Scottish Borders with a distinctive Scottish backdrop – whether salmon farming, textile mills, Rugby Sevens or the Scottish criminal justice system. His books are multi-stranded storylines involving larger-than-life characters, whose plans and incompetence inevitably exceed their wits. All feature an itinerant loner, Cullen, who lives off the grid and finds himself inadvertently drawn into someone’s crazy scheme, only for his own (very individual) sense of right and wrong to be offended. That’s generally when things start to go wronger.

Mark Farrer’s Social Media:

Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Website ~ Amazon Author Page

Purchase Links:

Amazon UK ~ Amazon US

My thanks to damppebbles blog tours for the invitation to participate in this tour and the materials (including a copy of the collection) they provided.

Heart of Barkness by Spencer Quinn: Chet & Bernie are Back in Action as they Work to Clear a Country Music Legend

Heart of BarknessHeart of Barkness

by Spencer Quinn
Series: Chet and Bernie, #8
Hardcover, 299 pg.
Forge Books, 2019

Read: July 9 – 10, 2019

It’s been 4 years—4 long years (28 dog years!) since the publication of Scents and Sensibility, so it’s understandable (but personally troubling) that I’d forgotten it ended on something of a cliffhanger. It came back to me rather quickly as Quinn resolved it in the opening pages, but I’d still encourage those whose memory might be equally sketchy to re-read at least the last chapter of Scents before starting this.

For those who aren’t familiar with the series, Chet’s a very large mixed-breed dog, who flunked out of Police Dog Training at the very end of the course. Since then, he was adopted by Bernie Little, a Private Investigator. The two make a fantastic team, and Chet narrates the novels recounting some of their adventures. Chet’s a fantastic character and a very good dog. He’s got a short attention span and will frequently lose track of what he was talking about, he is utterly devoted to Bernie and is convinced that everything his partner does is the greatest. Bernie seems to be a pretty good PI, thankfully (but you have to read between the hagiographic lines from Chet).

The core of this novel revolves around an elderly legendary country singer, Lotty Pilgrim (I see her as latter-day Loretta Lynn-type). She’s fallen on hard times (a tried and true mix of being too trusting and bad business management) and is playing in a dive bar in Phoenix when she meets Bernie and Chet. Bernie foils an attempt to steal her tip jar, and then when he attempts to follow up on that attempt, he learns somethings that disturb him. Soon after this, Lotty’s current business manager is killed and Lotty is the chief/only suspect — and is even on the verge of confessing to it.

Bernie doesn’t believe it for a second—neither does Chet, I should add—and can’t stomach the idea of her confessing like that. So he launches an investigation of his own—despite very insistent suggestions from local Law Enforcement to mind his own business. Bernie’s investigation involves a lot of digging into the past as well as the expected digging into the present. The more he digs, the more questions it seems to raise Chet would interject here to say that’s Bernie’s plan.

Throughout the series, Chet will compare what they’re doing with to something they did in a past case—usually not one that’s recorded in a novel. We learn a lot about Bernie through these quick flashbacks. Chet seems to reveal a lot more this time then he has in the past, and I’m glad we don’t get the full story about at least one of those cases—it sounds pretty grim.

The one thing I want to mention that separates this from the rest of the series is pretty tricky without giving anything away. But there’s something that happens in every book—a well that Quinn returns to too often for my taste. And it’s absent in this book. I loved that. Variety is good for the fans.

I don’t want to take the time to talk about all the new characters—but as the plot centers around Lotty Pilgrim, I want to talk about her for a moment. She’s not technically Bernie’s client, but his efforts are focused on keeping her out of trouble—especially if she doesn’t deserve it. She’s an intriguing character—an object of admiration and pity at the same time; she’s still actively writing and performing, while relegated to a trivia quiz answer in the culture; she’s fiercely independent and feisty, but she’s also clearly the victim of her past, several people in the music industry, and (as I said before) a trusting nature. She’s ridden with guilt, and a lot of her problems may be self-inflicted in a twisted form of penance. All said, I liked her as a person. I wouldn’t think that there’s more for Quinn to do or explore with her, I’d be happy to be proven wrong

Of course, the book’s not all business for the Little Detective Agency. Bernie’s been divorced for a while and sees his son (Chet’s second-favorite human) regularly, and started seeing Suzie in the first novel. There are big developments on the Suzie front here—but that seems kind of par for the course over the last two or three novels, and while I’m not crazy about them, I don’t know that I’m opposed to it. I think the next book (thankfully, I’ve seen Quinn state it’s finished) will tell me a lot about that

Is this a decent jumping-on point? Yeah, it’d work—almost the entire series works as one (I’m not sure Paw and Order or The Sound and the Furry would be). But obviously, you’d pick up on nuances, background, and so on if you start at the beginning. It was so good to spend time with these two again, and the book itself is one of the best in the series—both in terms of plot and character moments for the protagonists. It’s funny, heartfelt, clever, suspenseful, and satisfying. And it features a dog. Really can’t ask for more.

At one point, Lotty writes a song about Chet, cleverly entitled “Song for Chet.” It was recorded and a video made with clips provided by Quinn’s fans. I just can’t leave this post without sharing it:


4 Stars

2019 Cloak & Dagger Challenge

Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey: A PI, a Horrific Death, and a Magical High School combine for a solid novel

Magic for LiarsMagic for Liars

by Sarah Gailey

Hardcover, 333 pg.
Tom Doherty Associates, 2019

Read: June 24 – 25, 2019

           But this? A real murder case? This was the kind of thing that private detectives didn’t do anymore. It was what had made me get my PI license in the first place―the possibility that I might get to do something big and real, something nobody else could do. I didn’t know the first thing about solving a murder, but this was my chance to find out if I could really do it. If I could be a real detective, instead of a halfway-there failure. If this part of my life could be different from all the other parts, all the parts where I was only ever almost enough.

I won’t try to pinpoint the first lie I told myself over the course of this case. That’s not a useful thread to pull on. The point is, I really thought I was going to do things right this time. I wasn’t going to fuck it up and lose everything. That’s what I told myself as I stared at the old picture of me and Tabitha.

This time was going to be different. This time was going to be better. This time, I was going to be enough.

I can’t describe the book more succicently than the blurb does, so let’s use it and save us all some time (if you ignore the 4 drafts of it that I’ve abandoned):

When a gruesome murder is discovered at The Osthorne Academy of Young Mages, where her estranged twin sister teaches Theoretical Magic, reluctant detective Ivy Gamble is pulled into the world of untold power and dangerous secrets. She will have to find a murderer and reclaim her sister―without losing herself.

Ivy is a PI (much more on that in a moment), a Muggle (if you will allow me to import a term), who is totally not jealous of her twin sister, Tabitha, a gifted magic user. Except that she’s absolutely jealous and angry with her sister for somethings she did and didn’t do back in high school. But she knows about the world of magic―at least that it exists―which makes her the best candidate to come in and investigate the murder that has been officially described as an accident.

There’s a Hogwarts joke on page one, which was a relief for me―it was going to be that kind of book. Yeah, there’s magic and fantasy elements, but there’s also SF/F fiction and an awareness of it. So there’s a Potter-esque element to this, but there’s a very The Magicians feel, too. The magic in it is at once like most Fantasy/Urban Fantasy magic, but Gailey puts a distinctive stamp on it―it’s as fantastic as you want it to be, but it’s also pretty dull (except in a couple of scenes). Dull’s not the right word, but most of the time you see magic, it’s not as exciting as it was the first few times you saw it in Hogwarts (or Diagon Alley) or in Brakebills. Which is because the focus isn’t on the magic―the focus is on the relationship between Ivy and Tabitha, Ivy coming to terms with her Muggle-ness/place in the world, and events and relationships with the students. Now, when the story calls for magic to take center stage, it does so in a wonderful way―but typically, the magic takes a back seat to other things.

Ironically enough, given the setting, Ivy Gamble might be the most realistic PI that I’ve read about lately. The types of cases she works, her financial situation, her awareness of her liabilities (as quoted above, she knows the case she’s taken on is beyond her grasp―but that doesn’t mean she won’t try), the way she thinks about life. She screams authentic―at least compared to most fictional counterparts. She’s good at what she does, but she’s no Spenser, Elvis Cole or Lydia Chin―she’s close to Kinsey Millhone, but not quite. I love listening to her talk about being a private detective:

           Here’s the truth about most detective work: it’s boring, grueling, and monotonous. It involves a lot of being in the right place at the wrong time. But if you spend enough hours being in the right place, eventually, it’ll be the right time. You have to be able to recognize it.
           The other active cases were small potatoes-two disability claims, three cheating spouses, one spouse who wasn’t cheating after all but whose husband couldn’t believe that she had really taken up pottery. She was pretty good at it too.
           I’ve always had a good memory for names. Someone once told me at a conference that’s all it really takes to be a private detective: a good memory for names and faces, an eyeball for details, and. a halfway decent invoicing system.

And while Ivy may not be the best detective in the world, she’s good―and she knows how to put on enough of a show that she can convince everyone else that she’s good enough for the task at hand. While she’s lying to herself about a lot, she’s lying to everyone around her, too. She’s not the only one who’s gifted at self-delusion/self-deception. The word “Liars” is in the title for a reason, and the attentive reader (even the half-awake reader) will see why.

The book’s about a lot more than self-deception, there’s a lot about the role of/importance of family to one’s identity―and how a lack of communication coupled with poor assumptions can warp that.

Gailey kept the plot moving quickly―even as the emotional and familial aspects of the story took their time to work things out. Which is a pretty neat trick, a lot of authors would’ve let things slow down so Ivy and Tabitha could rebuild their relationship, so Ivy could do the soul-searching she needed to, to get deeper into some of the high school relationships, etc. And Gailey hits all those beats (and more), but she does it while keeping the pace going, so you’re turning the pages as fast as you can even while you want to explore the quieter aspects of the story.

Magic for Liars is well-written, well-paced, with a great solution―both to the main plot and to the other storylines, in a wonderful world told in a creative way. But I wanted a little more from it. I can’t put my finger on just where it came up a little short for me, but it did. But make no mistake―I recommend people go read this, because I think most readers will like it more than I did. And I did like the book, I just wanted to like it more. I can’t imagine that Gailey will return to this world (or to these characters, anyway)―but if I’m wrong, I’ll definitely read a sequel. Either way, I’ll definitely be on the lookout for whatever Gailey’s got coming next


3.5 Stars

2019 Library Love Challenge2019 Cloak & Dagger Challenge

Indie Crime Crawl: Ad Fontes — The Publishers

Okay, for my last couple of posts for the Indie Crime Crawl, I’ve decided to go back to the sources—the authors and publishers of the Indie Crime books I’ve been thinking about/talking about all this week. Check them out. Without them, we wouldn’t have anything to talk about.

I’ve put a few in bold that you definitely want to check out—but I’ve enjoyed offerings from all of these.

(N.B.:this is not an exhaustive list, nor is it intended to be—there are a lot of indie publishers out there, I’m not going to pretend to know them all; I just pulled these lists from glancing through my logs and I might have not recognized some as indies without checking further; I couldn’t find an active site for some; and/or avoided some that I wasn’t that impressed with.)