The Accidental Detective by Michael RN Jones

The Accidental DetectiveThe Accidental Detective

by Michael RN Jones
Series: The Victor Locke Chronicles, #1

Kindle Edition, 252 pg.
Fahrenheit Press, 2017

Read: March 23 – 30, 2017


I have this section of my Kindle, a corner area, where I put Fahrenheit Press titles to gather dust after I buy them (I imagine the drive like a big patch of land — I know that’s not how things work, but I like it). Only Jo Perry and Charles Kriel have managed to avoid that area (Duncan MacMaster’s Hack never ended up there, because FP gave it to me to read — his other book, however . . . ). There are a handful of books there, and on adjacent plots, that I was going to actually read in January of this year, but well, that didn’t work. Maybe by July? (feel free to pause for laughter here).

I bring this up because The Accidental Detective was purchased on release and placed their next to the other titles and was only FP’s releasing of HER: The 1st Victor Locke Story back in March that got me to read this one so quickly. I didn’t realize at the time that HER was the first story in this collection, I thought it was more of a prequel to this novel. Whoops. Still, HER was a fun story and I had to find out more about Victor Locke and his buddy, Dr. Doyle quickly, so I was able to rescue this from FP corner.

Essentially, this is a short story collection — or a very episodic novel, depending how you want to look at it — about a convicted hacker and his formerly court-mandated psychologist solving mysteries. The stories are very much in the updating-Sherlock Holmes vein. Basically, the stories are a Sherlock-like update featuring a Holmes (Locke) with a demeanor more akin to Elementary‘s Holmes while living a Mr. Robot lifestyle (at least early Season One Mr. Robot — look, don’t go examining these comparisons too far, all right?). Some of the ways that the Locke stories are updates of/tributes to/etc. the Holmes canon are obvious, some are subtle, and some are blatant — and all work wonderfully. I’ve read most of the Holmes stories and all the novels at least once, but I’m not an expert by any means; still, I’m familiar enough to catch most of them without work. I laughed hard at this version of Mycroft in his first appearance.

All that’s background — now to the book itself, HER kicks off the collection with Locke (and his not-sidekick Doyle) being drafted into working for the FBI. The story doesn’t end the way the FBI agents would like, but it seems to give Locke the idea that he could do more of this detecting thing. Unofficially, of course. So he goes looking for further opportunities like this. Most of his work is for friends and acquaintances from his neighborhood, but he does get pulled into doing some work for the police.

Locke’s personality pretty much demands that he will have conflict with whatever authority/official-types he encounters, but, like every good Sherlock, most will recognize his talents and let him get away with it. Doyle is more than a sidekick and chronicler of his adventures, but he’s no Joan Watson. Yet. I don’t think Brown will leave him in his current role. Doyle is brilliant, he’s a great observer of people and things, he thinks and talks fast and doesn’t suffer fools gladly (unless he likes them). This doesn’t mean that he won’t have a blind spot or two, that he can’t use some help from others occasionally, either. He usually knows when he needs the help, too.

Few of the stories result in any public success — Locke gets the solution, but sometimes he can’t do anything with it, or has to keep it under wraps. I love this — it’s be so easy to make him some publicity-seeking type. Or someone who doesn’t seek it, but gets it nonetheless. But Jones lets his hero have public failures pretty regularly, keeping him as a struggling detective, not a superstar of deduction.

Fast-paced, clever, charming, funny, clever, and I should repeat clever. I thoroughly enjoyed these stories and gobbled them up pretty quickly. I know Volume 2 is on the way, and it won’t end up in the dusty and ignored FP corner. You should go grab this one if you’re a fan of Holmes or any of his modern incarnations. Even if you’re not a fan of Holmes, you might find yourself changing your mind after reading Jones’ take on the character.

—–

3.5 Stars

High Heat (Audiobook) by Lee Child, Dick Hill

High HeatHigh Heat

by Lee Child, Dick Hill (Narrator)
Series: Jack Reacher, #17.5
Unabridged Audiobook, 2 hrs., 27 mins.
Random House Audio, 2013

Read: March 16 – 17, 2017


Ahhh, finally — an actually satisfying shorter Jack Reacher story. It’s longer than the others I’ve tried — a novella, not just a short story. That’s probably a lot of it, but there’s something more to it — just don’t ask me what.

Reacher’s on summer vacation before his senior year — pretty much fully grown, has a good head on his shoulders, and is as arrogant and invincible feeling as most teenagers (he’s just big and tough enough to back it up). He’s visiting NYC for the day before going to visit his brother at West Point.

It’s 1977, a summer in NYC known for two things: incredible heat and Son of Sam. Both have an impact on this story (no, Reacher doesn’t stop the killer or anything — phew). Reacher flirts with some college girls, breaks up a fight with a mobster and an undercover FBI agent, survives a blackout, spends some quality time with one of the college girls and helps the FBI agent out — while engaging in a few solid fights.

The action takes place in one night — probably 14 hours or so, but Child manages to cram a lot into those hours. Is it realistic? No, not even by Reacher standards. Is it compelling — yup. Will it keep you interested? Oh, yeah.

Dick Hill sounded to me like he as having a lot of fun reading this one — which is fitting, it’s probably the most “fun” Reacher story I’ve come across (well, maybe the Reacher/Nick Heller story in FaceOff is a little more so). He does his typical job, satisfying in his delivery, keeps you engaged, doesn’t wow with technique.

It’s a fun story, nothing to get excited about, but something that Reacher fans will enjoy, in a complete-feeling story. Good enough for me.

—–

3.5 Stars

Tooth and Nail by Ian Rankin

Tooth and Nail Tooth and Nail

by Ian Rankin
Series: John Rebus, #3

Paperback, 293 pg.
St. Martin’s Paperbacks, 1996 (first published 1992)

Read: April 14 – 15, 2017

She drives home the knife.

The moment, she knows from past experience, is a very intimate one. Her hand is gripped around the knife’s
cool handle and the thrust takes the blade into the throat up to the hilt until her hand meets the throat itself. Flesh upon flesh. Jacket first, or woollen jersey, cotton shirt or T-shirt, then flesh. Now rent. The knife is writhing, like an animal sniffing. Warm blood covering hilt and hand. (The other hand covers the mouth, stifling screams.) The moment is complete. A meeting. Touching. The body is hot, gaping, warm with blood. Seething inside, as insides become outsides. Boiling. The moment is coming to an end all too soon.

And still she feels hungry. It isn’t right, isn’t usual but she does. She removes some of the clothing; in fact, removes quite a lot of it, removes more, perhaps, than is necessary. And she does what she must do, the knife squirming again. She keeps her eyes screwed tightly shut. She does not like this part. She has never liked this part, not then, not now. But especially not then.

Clearly, this is someone who needs to be stopped. And The Powers That Be have brought John Rebus from Edinburgh to London to help the hunt for the Wolfman (yeah, those who tagged the killer with that moniker may have made some assumptions). Thanks to the events in Knots & Crosses, many (who don’t know all the details) believe that Rebus is somewhat of an expert in Serial Killers. He knows he’s not, but no one asked him — he was just told to show up. It’s not long before this case gets under Rebus’ skin and he’s no longer in London to kill a couple of days as a show of support for the local police, but he’s off to catch a killer.

George Flight is the detective who’s serving as Rebus’ contact — and is leading the investigation. Rebus notes that he’s a better policeman than he is — meticulous, detailed, going through things step by step. Which isn’t doing him a lot of good at the moment, he needs something more. Enter Rebus. By and large, Flight’s the only one that wants Rebus’ help — his superior, another detective on the case, and the press liaison are pretty united in their lack of interest in bringing in someone from “Jockland” to meddle in the crimes of the big city.

As Rebus arrives in London, another body is discovered, so he shows up at the crime scene with his luggage, from there, they head to an autopsy — rushed, no doubt given the likelihood that this is another Wolfman victim. The autopsy scene — the sights, sounds and smells — is one of the best (possibly the best) that I’ve seen along these lines. It felt real, it felt disgusting, it felt sad. Between this and the opening paragraphs (quoted above), I’m again reminded that Rankin knows what he’s doing when it comes to writing. He nails this stuff.

While he’s in town, Rebus visits his ex-wife and daughter — things go poorly there, as one would expect. Things go worse when his daughter’s boyfriend comes around. When Rebus is able to connect said boyfriend to a career criminal . . .

I’m no expert on this, but I’ve read more than a few serial killer novels, it strikes me that 1992 was still pretty early in serial killer fiction-terms, and it shows. Both in Rebus’ attempts to draw the killer out, as well as Flight’s attempts to catch him. We also get to see both detectives trying to understand the serial killer — or at least how to apprehend one. Flight’s more old-school in his approach and is pretty disdainful of Rebus’ efforts to get inside the head of a serial killer. Which is not to say that this particular killer isn’t destructive, sick and really creepy.

Rebus is spurred on to this track because of who he is — but the attractive psychologist, Lisa Frazer, who wants to help him out certainly doesn’t hurt. It could be argued by some (including some characters in the book) that Rebus is far more interested in pursuing her than the Wolfman.

Rebus mostly stumbles around, indulging his infatuation with Frazer, looking for his daughter’s boyfriend, and occasionally chatting with Flight about the case. Now eventually, enough things happened that allow Rebus to put things together and figure out the identity of the Wolfman (sorta like when Wilson made a stray comment to Dr. House that got him to make the right diagnosis). Sure, it was clever, but hard to believe.

Early on, I thought this might be the book that turned me into a Rankin fan, not just some guy reading these. It came close, but I just couldn’t totally buy the ending and the way Rebus solved the case. But man, Rankin can write. I’m not totally sold on what he’s writing, but I’m really enjoying the craft. I was hooked throughout, but that ending just didn’t work.

—–

3.5 Stars

2017 Library Love Challenge

Deep Down Dead by Steph Broadribb

Deep Down DeadDeep Down Dead

by Steph Broadribb
Series: Lori Anderson, #1

eARC, 350 pg.
Orenda Books, 2017

Read: April 4 – 5, 2017


Crime Fiction blogger turned novelist, Steph Broadribb’s debut novel, Deep Down Dead is the story of a bail enforcement agent (bounty hunter) making a pickup that will change her life in a fairly dramatic way. Lori Anderson couldn’t be in worse financial straits — her daughter’s medical bills from Leukemia (currently in remission) treatment are so far past due that future treatment is in jeopardy, and they’re about to get evicted from their home. So when the bondsman she works for offers her the largest amount she’s ever been offered for a job, she has to jump at it.

It’s supposed to be a simple midnight run, go pick up the fugitive from another agent not licensed in Florida (or he’d drop off the fugitive himself) and deliver him to the police herself. Almost immediately, problems start (none that deter Lori from the cash reward waiting) — her sitter has plans, so she has to take her daughter, Dakota, with her. Secondly, the fugitive in question is her former mentor, JT — the one who taught her everything she knows, who’s inexplicably got a criminal record now. Then when she arrives at the pickup, the agent she expects isn’t there — instead three very aggressive ruffians (best word I can think of) are there and decide to rough her up a little.

Things really go downhill from there — before Lori knows it, she’s got bigger problems than getting her money. She has to deal with a criminal enterprise running from one of the state’s largest amusement parks; a mob with a long-standing grudge; corrupt law enforcement officials; and being a suspect in violent crimes. This is intertwined with the story of Lori and JT’s past association, how he saved her life and set her on the path that she’s on now.

By the time I got to a whopping 12% my notes started using the word “brutal.” This was like if Pierce Brown took a crack at writing Stephanie Plum. Most of the time the violence (gun play or hand-to-hand) was brtual, but not overwhelming — just heightened enough to fit a crime novel.

You like Laurie almost instantly, Dakota will charm you and grab your heart, and you’ll even appreciate JT (maybe more . . . ) and his crusade — at the very least, you’ll get the connection between he and Laurie. The villains are evil, no two ways about it — but not in the mustache-twirling way, just in the kind of evil that we like to pretend doesn’t exist in this world.

It’s not just in her characterization, but it’s in her plotting, pacing and interweaving the stories of present and past that Broadribb displays more skill than your typical debut novelist. This lived up to every expectation I had from the interviews, reviews, etc. that I’ve heard and read, which was a relief. I sorta feel like I’ve been giving too many 4 Stars lately, like I’ve been overly generous, so I tried to rate this lower. But I just can’t — this is a 4 Star book, easy — and with a little more experience under her belt, Broadribb (and Anderson) will be knocking out 5 Star reads regularly. I can’t wait to see what’s next.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Trafalgar Square Publishing via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this entertaining and almost traumatic experience.

—–

4 Stars

Remnants by Carolyn Arnold

RemnantsRemnants

by Carolyn Arnold
Series: Brandon Fisher FBI, #8

eARC, 260 pg.
Hibbert & Stiles Publishing Inc., 2017

Read: April 4, 2017


After some strong storms go through the area, some dismembered body parts are discovered in and near the Little Ogeechee River in Savannah, Georgia. While the local law enforcement is unable to quickly identify who the parts belonged to, it was clear that multiple victims were involved, and a FBI team is called in to investigate. The limbs don’t come with any identifying marks outside of DNA, making it incredibly difficult to identify the victims — which increases the difficulty in determining why they were chosen, and therefore who might be doing the dismembering.

It’s going to take some out-of-the-box thinking, and no little bit of luck, for profiler Brandon Fisher and the rest of his team to come up with suspects before the killer strikes again.

Once a theory of the crime is starting to develop, one team member displays a fairly detailed and technical understanding of a fairly esoteric subject. Which was convenient in that it helped flush out the theory, but was a little hard to swallow. Something we learn later about that character (long-time readers probably know it already) makes it a little easier to accept, but not totally (at least for me). It’s a minor thing, and it didn’t detract from anything — just made me roll my eyes.

The one complaint I have with the writing is the voice — it doesn’t change whether the chapter is in the first person (as Brandon) or third person (focusing on other agents or the killer). Other than that, the pacing is good, the twists come at the right moments and the plotting is strong, Arnold’s a good storyteller.

I’m not sure if it’s typical for Agent Paige Dawson, but she really connected with the victim’s families. It’s not often — or at least not often enough — that this kind of attention is given to those characters. That was a nice touch. I’d like to spend more time with all these characters, Paige probably most of all.

There are a few nuances I missed since I haven’t read the previous 7 books in the series, but only nuances. There’s nothing keeping someone new to the series — or someone looking for a standalone — from getting everything you need to from this book. Arnold’s kept this very newbie-friendly, which is nice.

This isn’t the most exciting or revolutionary – or, thankfully, most disturbing — serial killer novel you’ll find. It is a solid procedural with believable characters (on either side of the law), an interesting solution, and some credible emotional beats. This is an entertaining read and if the rest of this series is of similar quality, it’s worth your time to check out the others, too.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from Hibbert & Stiles Publishing in exchange for this post. I appreciate the opportunity to read this book.

—–

3 Stars

The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag (Audiobook) by Alan Bradley, Jayne Entwistle

The Weed That Strings the Hangman's BagThe Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag

by Alan Bradley, Jayne Entwistle (Narrator)
Series: Flavia de Luce, #2

Unabridged Audiobook, 9 hrs., 49 min.
Random House Audio, 2010

Read: March 21 – 27, 2017

I think I’d have phrased things a bit differently, but in the interest of time, I’m just going to copy and paste from my thoughts when I read the book a couple of years ago and add in a bit for the audiobook:
The plucky young chemist with a nascent obsession with death is back in action. The case is a little less personal for Flavia de Luce this time, but that doesn’t stop her from jumping in whole hog to get to the bottom of it.

Flavia runs into a couple of traveling performers with some car trouble and before you know it, she’s got them some help–and a gig. While she hangs around the TV star and his assistant, she finds herself surrounded by some of her town’s darker history and then face to face with a murder. And Flavia being Flavia, she can’t resist sticking her nose in and making sure all the knots are untangled–particularly the ones adults are ignoring, despite them being painfully obvious to her.

We get less of Flavia’s sisters (and the rest of the household, come to think of it) in this installment–but when they’re around, their impact is greater. Clearly, as this series continues, there’s going to be some serious drama on the homefront with some major implications for the de Luce family, I hope Bradley tackles that quickly, the foreshadowing’s getting old quickly.

Unlike with so many other amateur sleuths (particularly juveniles), it’s nice to see that her reputation and track record are acknowledged by some in the community — which is both a help and a hindrance, I hope to see more of that in the future.

Entwistle really impressed me again with her narration. Not just the way she nails Flavia — both the good and the bad aspects of her personality. But her work on the rest of the characters — the TV star’s assistant in particular — really won me over, showing a little more range than we got to see, er, hear last time.

My only major quibble with this installment is that it takes far too long to set the main action of the novel up–in a 348 page mystery novel, you’d better get to the central crime before page 150 or so. Unless you’ve got a heroine like Flavia to focus on, I can’t imagine being patient enough to wait that long to get the ball rolling. Entwistle’s performance helps, but, man, it drags on awhile before Bradley’s done setting things up and gets things moving.

Another fun (occasionally hilarious) read, with a mystery satisfyingly twisty, with just enough red herrings to get you through it.

—–

3.5 Stars

Not a Drill (Audiobook) by Lee Child, Dick Hill

Not a DrillNot a Drill

by Lee Child, Dick Hill (Narrator)
Series: Jack Reacher, #18.5
Unabridged Audiobook, 1 hr., 27 min.
Random House Audio, 2014

Read: March 14, 2017


Reacher sets out for the Canadian border, to make it as far north on this Interstate as possible, just because. Not too far south from there, he stops in a tourist-y town, a haven for backpackers, hikers, wilderness types in general. Before he leaves, a whole lot of military types show up and block access to the forest from the town (well, they try to — the forest is pretty big, it’s impossible to block access to the whole thing).

This gets Reacher’s curiosity piqued and he starts poking around to see if he can understand why.

I don’t want to sound bloodthirsty here, but not a single fight. No threat of violence breaking out. Mostly, it’s Reacher walking around and observing things before making a heck of a guess/deduction that proved to be right.

Dark, cynical ending — one of Child’s more political statements.

Hill was okay, not terribly interesting, but I think that’s Child’s fault this time.

It’s not bad. It’s just disappointing, short and . . . bleh. Proof that they can’t all be winners, I guess.

—–

2 1/2 Stars