Hour Game (Audiobook) by David Baldacci, Scott Brick

Hour GameHour Game

by David Baldacci, Scott Brick (Narrator)
Series: King & Maxwell, #2
Unabridged Audiobook, 14 hrs., 25 mins.
Hachette Audio, 2004
Read: May 1 – 5, 2017


Whoops — it’s been two and a half years since I read the first volume in the series — I really meant to get back to it sooner. Oh well, better late than etc., etc. I don’t have much to say about this, but I have a few thoughts.

This picks up a few months after Split Second, the partnership between King and Maxwell has solidified, they’ve had some success and have settled into their lives. They’re doing some work for a local attorney assisting him defend an accused burglar, when they’re asked to help the local police investigate a murder that resembles a famous serial killer. Soon afterwards, other bodies show up — each following a different serial killer’s M. O. to keep the authorities guessing.

Soon, King and Maxwell are officially involved — as are the national media and the FBI. Naturally, the two cases intertwine — as does another mystery.

The mysteries were pretty easy to guess, but how Baldacci resolved them wasn’t — which was nice. The character moments were okay, actually — the characters were the best part of this book, not just our leads, but pretty much everyone who wasn’t killed within a page or two of being introduced.

Will you hold it against me if I admit it wasn’t until as I was writing this that I figured out what the title referred to? I really hadn’t thought about it, but I really shouldn’t have had to.

I liked this more than the last Scott Brick audiobook I listened to — which wasn’t bad. His accent work was good (have heard him do better), and he made the characters come to life — even giving a couple of characters I could live without enough of a hook that I probably liked them more in audio than I would’ve if I read it.

Hour Game was well constructed, well paced, and kept me engaged and entertained — an improvement over the first one, too. Can’t ask for much more than that.

—–

3 Stars

The Second Life of Nick Mason by Steve Hamilton

The Second Life of Nick MasonThe Second Life of Nick Mason

by Steve Hamilton
Series: Nick Mason, #1

Hardcover, 288 pg.
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2016

Read: May 10 – 11, 2017

After listening to the hype around this book for a year, I finally got around to reading it. I’ll admit, when this came out last year, I didn’t think it was my cup of tea. I think I confused it with something else that came out about the same time. Because after a few pages, I was hooked — it also didn’t even come close to matching the kind of story I thought it was (I didn’t read the jacket copy). I spent the next 280 pages kicking myself for waiting to read this thing.

Nick Mason was a successful, but small-time criminal for years. He and his friends never got violent, but they sure were not “good” in any sense of the world — things happen, people move on and Nick falls for a college girl. She has one rule: Nick picks her or crime. He picks her and the straight and narrow. A few years later, Nick’s making a living, has a wonderful daughter and wife. The friend who moved away comes back and asks Nick to do one final job — one that’ll land him enough money to not have to worry about his family’s future. Nick makes the fatal mistake and goes along — and ends up serving a 25-year sentence.

Darius Cole, a crime boss — the kind you read about or see in movies and hope that doesn’t exist in real life — who’s still running a decently-sized empire from a prison he’ll never leave takes an interest in Mason. He eventually makes Mason an offer — Cole does a few things and Mason goes free. On the outside, he’ll need to serve the remaining 20 years of his sentence, but he’ll do so as Cole’s employee. As his handler will tell him after he’s released:

This isn’t freedom. This is mobility. Don’t get those things confused.

Set up in a very nice house, with a cover job better than he could’ve ever got on his own, Mason looks like he’s got it made — but when Quintero (his handler) calls with an assignment, he has to drop whatever he’s doing and take care of the assignment. Period. His own well-being, as well as that of his (now) ex-wife and daughter, depend on it. The assignment can be as benign as following a rival of Cole’s or as serious as murder — it doesn’t matter, Mason is responsible for carrying it out. Promptly.

His conviction overturned, his ex-still wants nothing to do him — and won’t let him have anything to do with his daughter. One of the detectives responsible for his conviction will not accept what he sees as a travesty of justice and will not stop until he can put Mason back where he belongs.

I cannot stress enough, this is not some tale of a falsely accused man becoming some sort of vigilante working outside the system — we’ve all seen that story and this frequently feels like it. But Mason himself will tell you he deserved what happened to him. He’s under no illusions about what he’s doing and will be doing for the foreseeable future. This isn’t a redemption story, either. He’s not a good man — he’s a criminal who has a set of rules he lives by — even if his new employer forces him to break some of those.

Which is why he’s so compelling — Hamilton has created a great character here. There’s no reason to like Mason, there’s little reason to root for him, we’re supposed to be hoping that Det. Sandoval figures things out, puts Mason and Quintero away and dismantles Cole’s business. But nope. Not a bit. Sandoval’s a good guy, decent cop — and most readers are going to want him to succeed except where it makes Mason’s life difficult. That dynamic is just another part of what makes this book work.

I’m really at a loss to describe how well this book sinks its claws into you. It grabs you by the scruff of your neck (mixing metaphors, I know, hooks, claws, grabs . . . it does all three) and drags you along — and you don’t care. In fact, you enjoy it so much that you try to move faster than the book’s pace.

The one good thing about waiting so long to read this is that I don’t have to wait too long for the sequel — Exit Strategy was released this week, and I’m licking my chops until I can get to it.

I’m on the verge of going overboard here, so I’m going to stop — this is a heckuva thrill ride, and readers of thrillers, crime novels would be foolish to make the mistake I did by not reading this.

—–

4 1/2 Stars

2017 Library Love Challenge

Strip Jack by Ian Rankin

Strip JackStrip Jack

by Ian Rankin
Series: John Rebus, #4

Hardcover, 206 pg.
St. Martin’s Press, 1992

Read: May 3 – 4, 2017


This is the one — the book that finally sold me on the John Rebus series (I say “finally” as if it’s been a years’ long effort, not just book 4). Everything worked for me here.

Rebus is trying to track down a rare book thief, and puts as much effort into that as you’d imagine most fictional detectives putting into it. Thankfully, it doesn’t eat up so much of his time that he can’t accompany others from his station — including Chief Superintendent “Farmer” Watson — on a raid of a brothel in a pretty nice part of town. Most of the men can’t believe they’re doing this raid, Rebus is chief among them. But, an order is an order, so they suit up and go in. While there, Brian Holmes finds a pretty popular MP in a room with one of the “employees.”

This is MP is named Gregor Jack — his background is pretty similar to Rebus’ and the detective has always admired him (at least his public persona), and something just doesn’t feel right about the way things went down with the raid and Jack’s involvement (and exposure), so he starts checking in on Jack at home. There’s something strange going on with Jack’s wife, Elizabeth — she’s not at home, and Jack doesn’t know if she even knows about the headlines about the raid and ensuing controversy. Rebus finds it a bit odd that someone like him would know so little about his wife’s whereabouts, between his curiosity and interest in the MP, he starts poking around a bit — which turns out to be fortuitous later on.

The ensuing mystery is pretty good — especially when it becomes Rebus vs. the higher-ups as they narrow the list of suspects. I liked Rebus’ method this time a little more than the previous books, it’s a bit more methodical (even when he’s mostly going with his gut, there’s still thinking behind it). Could the mystery-solving — and the novel as a whole — be a bit meatier? Yeah, but it’s not to sketchy on details. I just think that the Rebus novels would be better if they were Bosch-length.

In the previous books, I thought there were a couple of passages that were so well written that they lifted the quality of the whole book. I didn’t come across anything in particular like that, not that the writing was bad, but there wasn’t anything that jumped out at me. One very nice touch — not in the language, but in the idea and how it worked — was when Rebus was interviewing one of the Jacks’ old friends in a mental hospital and the friend asks Rebus to touch the ground for him, since that’s something he doesn’t get to do any more. When Rebus does this, and when he tells the friend about it later — just perfect.

I really would’ve liked more time with Gregor Jack and his staff — I liked the interactions between Rebus and each of them, but it’d have been hard to pull off. Most of the rest of the suspect pool weren’t terribly interesting. The friend in the hospital, isn’t really a suspect (for obvious reasons), but he does give some insight into the case — he was a well-written character and I liked the way that Rankin was able to work him into the story in a couple of ways.

Holmes reminds me of Luther‘s DS Justin Ripley (although I imagine Holmes as taller — not sure there’s a reason for that) — I like the fact that he’s sticking around, I expected him to vanish after his first appearance. I don’t know if he and his girlfriend will stick around, but I’m enjoying him as an errand boy/accomplice/hindrance for Rebus. He’s not the only returning face — Gill Templer is a pretty significant factor in the off-the-clock Rebus story, which primarily centers around his growing (yet, I expect, doomed) relationship with a doctor.

Oh, I should mention that Rebus does find the book thief (with book obsessed readers like we have on this blog, you have to assure people that the books are okay), and it (naturally) has plays a role in the novel’s greater story.

This tale of the determined and dogged detective who keeps on trying, even when he has no reason to, really worked for me — clicked every one of my procedural buttons. I hope Rankin delivers more like this book.

—–

4 Stars
2017 Library Love Challenge

The Catch (Audiobook) by Taylor Stevens, Hilary Huber

The CatchThe Catch (Audiobook)

by Taylor Stevens, Hillary Huber (Narrator)
Series: Vanessa Michael Munroe, #4

Unabridged Audiobook, 13 hrs., 35 min.
Random House Audio, 2014

Read: April 4 – 10, 2017


After the events of The Doll, Michael had to hit the road. She bounced around a little, before landing in Djibouti — doing some small time work for a security company. She’s forced into working guard duty on a ship bound for Kenya — which turns out to be a gun-smuggling vessel that’s attacked by Somali pirates. Michael being Michael, after determining that she couldn’t prevail on her own, she gets off the boat, taking the captain with her.

This sets her off on a solo adventure — she makes phone contact with Miles a couple of times, briefly, but he’s really not a factor here. It’s Michael, her wits, her skills and a couple of allies she makes along the way that will try to rescue the ship, her fellow guards and the captain from the pirates and a crew of Russians with an unhealthy focus on the captain.

This novel pushes Michael to her physical limits — but pretty much leaves her psychologically undamaged. She has to prove herself to both herself and her allies here. She doesn’t have the resources she usually has, she doesn’t have the backup readers are used to her having, and she’s more out of her depth than usual (she almost seemed more in control of things in as a captive in The Doll).

I really enjoyed this — knowing that Miles wasn’t going to be in this too much, I wasn’t as interested as I could’ve been (I didn’t realize how much of a draw he was for me). But Michael on her own actually worked for me — and I liked seeing her having to scramble to survive.

Huber did a great job as usual — handling several accents with (seeming, I’m sure) ease, while maintaining both the emotions of Michael and the tension and suspense of the novel’s action.

Another satisfying entry in the series.

—–

3 Stars

Pub Day Repost: Nearly Nero by Loren D. Estleman

Nearly NeroNearly Nero: The Adventures of Claudius Lyon, the Man Who Would Be Wolfe

by Loren D. Estleman
eARC, 192 pg.
Tyrus Books, 2017
Read: March 24 – 30, 2017

I’ve heard about the stories in this volume for years, but have never tracked one down before — and then a whole collection of them show up on NetGalley! How could I not request it? I’m so glad this book exists so that those of us who don’t get the magazines, etc. that publish short mystery fiction can have them (and even those who do have access to those magazines, etc. can have them in one handy volume).

Anyway, here’s the setup: Claudius Lyon is a huge fan of Nero Wolfe — he reads every one of the reports that Archie Goodwin’s literary agent Rex Stout publishes. He’s such a fan that he wants to be Wolfe (like the guys dressing up in Batsuits in The Dark Knight Rises) — he’s fat, fairly clever, and wealthy enough not to need to work and still indulge himself. He renovates his townhouse to include a greenhouse, an elevator, and a first floor floorplan that pretty much matches Wolfe’s. He hires a private chef — a kosher chef of dubious quality (not that Lyon needs to eat kosher, it’s just what Gus can cook), changes his name to something that approximates his hero’s and hires a “man of action,” Arnie Woodbine. Arnie’s an ex-con, small-time crook who doesn’t mind (too much) putting up with his looney boss for a steady paycheck and meals.

The number of ways that Lyon isn’t Wolfe is pretty large and I won’t spoil your fun in discovering them. Now, Lyon’s unlicensed as a PI, so he can’t take on paying clients — but he occasionally gets people who will take him up on his free services. He’s decent at solving puzzles and low-priority mysteries (not that he doesn’t find his way into something bigger on occasion). Once he gets a client (non-paying, Arnie’d have me stress), he goes through whatever steps he needs to figure it out (including his own version of Wolfe’s lip movement and sending Arnie on fact-finding missions), and goes to some lengths to assemble some sort of audience for his reveal. I can’t help smiling as I think about it, really.

The whole thing is a tongue-in-cheek tribute to the Nero Wolfe/Rex Stout — recognizing the brilliance of the Stout’s work (how can you not?), while poking fun at it. Lyon’s really a goofy character and Woodbine is great at pointing that out — while begrudgingly admitting that he gets things right every now and then. There’s a lot of fun to be had in the story telling — the mysteries aren’t all that much to get excited about, it’s in watching Lyon stumble through his cases that the entertainment is found. Well, that and Woodbine’s commentary.

Not unlike many of the Wolfe stories (particularly the short stories).

I wouldn’t recommend reading more than two of these stories in a sitting, I think they work best as solo shots. It’s a difficult call, because I typically wanted to go on for one more. Also, I’m not sure how enjoyable these’d be for non-Wolfe readers — but then again, I think a lot of the humor would hold up and it might entice a reader to learn more about Lyon’s idol. And anything that gets people to read Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe novels is a good thing.

But for readers of Stout’s Wolfe novels? This is a must read. He’s not trying and failing to recapture Stout’s magic (see Goldsborough post-The Bloodied Ivy), he’s intentionally missing and yet somehow getting a little of it. I really enjoyed this book and can easily see me re-reading it a handful of times.

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

The Defense by Steve Cavanagh

The DefenseThe Defense

by Steve Cavanagh
Series: Eddie Flynn, #1

Hardcover, 306 pg.
Flatiron Books, 2016

Read: April 28 – May 1, 2017


Eddie Flynn is a con artist who went legit — mostly. There’s a lot of call in his new life for the skills he developed in his old. He’d been pretty successful until a horrible outcome tied to his last case sent Eddie around the bend — he’d vowed never to get back into the courtroom. He just couldn’t handle anything like what had happened again. Until the head of the Russian mob in New York is up on murder charges.

So what brings Eddie back to defending accused criminals? Well, it’s that old story that we’ve all heard a million times — he’s abducted by the Russian mafia, had a bomb thrown on to him and the only way that keeps that from blowing up is his continued compliance — but that’s not all: Eddie’s daughter has also been kidnapped and his being held hostage. All Eddie has to do is keep the case going long enough for the Prosecution to bring out its big witness from protective custody so that the bomb Eddie’s carrying can be used to kill the witness.

Not a plan Eddie’s crazy about, but it’s not like anyone consulted him. He dives into the defense like his life depends on it (oh, wait . . . ), and comes to a couple of conclusions: 1. He and his daughter are not going to live, no matter what the kidnappers said — unless he pulls a rabbit out of a hat; 2. there’s something strange going on with the case that just doesn’t make any sense; 3. there’s something strange going on with his client’s men; and 4. he just might know how to win the case without anyone having to be blown up.

While we see Eddie’s efforts to defend his client and to get freedom for himself and his daughter, we also get flashbacks to the calamity of the previous year, Eddie’s childhood and criminal career, his relationship with his daughter and more. Cavanagh handles the balancing act between the background and the ongoing action well — the past informing and shaping the present, while keeping things tense for the now. How Cavanagh pulls that off in 300 pages, I’ll never know. And it is tense throughout — Eddie barely gets a chance to breathe, it’s a good thing he has a lifetime of thinking quickly on his feet, or there’d be no hope for him.

I liked Eddie almost immediately — you have to, or you’re not going to enjoy this book. He’s one part Mickey Haller, one part Andy Carpenter, one part Nicholas Fox — a slick, clever and tough lawyer, basically. His friends were interesting and his opponents were just what you want in antagonists. There was real threat, real peril throughout, yet you always knew that Eddie Flynn had a trick or five up his sleeve.

The last chapter felt more like the wrap-up of a stand-alone thriller than it did the first novel in a series. Not that it precluded further adventures, it just didn’t point to them the way series generally do, but clearly Cavanagh didn’t let that stop him — book 3 comes out in a couple of weeks. I’m looking forward to spending more time with Eddie soon, myself.

—–

3.5 Stars

Pub Day Repost: Robert B. Parker’s Little White Lies by Ace Atkins

Really, all I want to say about this book is: “Yes! Atkins did it again — it’s just so good, folks. Long-time fans’ll love it, new readers will likely see the appeal of the series. A lot of fun with a great ending!” But that seems a little surface-y and is just bad writing. But really, that’s everything I’ve got to say.

Little White LiesRobert B. Parker’s Little White Lies

by Ace Atkins
Series: Spenser, #45eARC, 320 pg.
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2017
Read: March 16 – 17, 2017

Pearl and I were off to Central Square . Her long brown ears blew in the wind as we drove along Memorial Drive against the Charles. Rowers rowed, joggers jogged, and bench sitters sat. It was midSeptember and air had turned crisp. The leaves had already started to turn red and gold, shining in Technicolor upon the still water.

I debated about what quotation I’d open with — I went with this Parker-esque (and Atkins-esque) description. Little White Lies is one of the better of Atkins run on this series, because (like here) he did something that feels like something Parker would’ve written, but not quite what he’d have said (the more I think about it, the less I think that Parker’d have said “bench sitters sat”).

Actually, that’s true of the other quotation I almost used, too:

I nodded , adding water to the new coffeemaker sitting atop my file cabinet. I’d recently upgraded from Mr. Coffee to one of those machines that used pre-measured plastic cups. I placed my mug under the filter, clamped down the lid, and returned to my desk. Demonic hissing sounds echoed in my office. Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?

This is Atkins sixth Spenser novel, and you’d think he’s got enough of a track record that I could stop comparing him to Parker. Well, you’d be wrong — I can’t stop. This, like most of Atkins’ work on this series, is so reminiscent of early Parker novels that it makes some of the latter Parkers look more like they were written by a hired gun. Still, I’m going to try to keep it to a minimum because it doesn’t seem fair to keep doing.

Susan has sent one of her clients to Spenser for some help that she can’t provide. Connie Kelly had been dating someone she met online, invested in one of his real estate deals — and he vanished, taking the money with him. Could Spenser track him down and get her cash back? Sure, he says. It doesn’t take long for the investigation to show that he owes plenty of people money — a couple of months rent here, hundreds of thousands of dollar there.

Here’s the fun part: M. Brooks Welles, the deadbeat in question, is a silver-haired, silver-tongued mainstay on cable news. He’s former CIA, and an expert on military and national security issues — one of those that producers call on regularly when they need a talking head. Why’s a guy like that flaking out on real estate deals? Spenser knows something fishier than expected is going on — which takes him into a world of mercenaries, gun deals, and the ATF.

Then someone tries to kill him. A couple of times. And the book stops feeling like a semi-light adventure, poking fun at the blowhards on cable TV and the state of American Journalism, and how we shouldn’t trust as many people who have cameras pointed at them as we do. Things take on a different tone, bodies start piling up, and a darkness slips in to the book. This also brings in Belson and his new boss — who’s still not a fan of Spenser. About the same time, Connie starts to waver in her conviction that she wants her money back and Welles punished. Spenser, naturally, doesn’t care and plows ahead. Hawk is able to connect Spenser with some mercenaries that travel in the same circles as Welles and the chase is on. Eventually, the action moves from Boston and its environs to Georgia. Which means that Teddy Sapp is going to make an appearance.

All the characters were great — I would’ve liked some more time with some of Welles’ co-conspirators in Boston, I think it’d have helped round out our picture of his crimes. But it’s a minor complaint. We also got plenty of interaction with his Georgia-based colleagues. Even the characters that show up for a page or two as witnesses to the crimes were interesting — it’s the little things like those that add so much. It was nice to see Teddy Sapp again, too. He was the best part of Hugger Mugger (faint praise, I realize). The Hawk material was very good — maybe Atkins’ best use of the character yet.

I fully expect that people are going to spend a lot of time talking about the ending — it didn’t feel like a Parker ending. That said, it felt like an ending that pre-A Catskill Eagle Parker might have tried. It was satisfying, don’t misunderstand, it’s just not the kind of ending that Parker employed. Honestly, there were two other perfectly acceptable places to end the book — and if not for the progress bar at the bottom of my screen, I might have believed that thee ending was earlier and equally strong.

Now, because Atkins and the Parker estate aren’t stupid, there are certain characters that you just know are safe, no matter what shenanigans that they’ve let Atkins and Coleman get away with when it comes to killing off long-term supporting characters. But there was a definite feeling of peril when it comes to [name redacted] and [name redacted]. Sure I knew they’d live to be read about another day, but I wondered how healthy they’d be in the meantime.

This is sharply written, as usual. Atkins knows what he’s doing (in this series or anything else) — a great mix of character moments and plot. Spenser’s voice is strong — as are the voices of the other regulars. It was just a pleasure to read through and through. Let me leave you with one more snippet that is could’ve come from an early-80’s Spenser just as easily today’s, a voice like this is enough reason to read the book — the rest is just gravy (and there’s plenty of gravy):

I returned with sore legs back to my seat on the steps. I spent the next fifteen minutes watching women of all ages, sizes, and colors walk past me. I liked the way most women walked. I liked the way they dressed. And talked and smelled. I was pretty damn sure I was a fan of women in general. Did this make me a sexist or a feminist? Or somewhere in between.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Putnam Books via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this.
N.B.: As this was an ARC, any quotations above may be changed in the published work — I will endeavor to verify them as soon as possible.

—–

4 1/2 Stars