The above illustration, "Blowing Bubbles," has been adapted for use here by generous permission from the artist, Cyril Rolando.

June 19, 2010

Reviews in brief.

THE DAMAGE DONE by Hilary Davidson. Travel writer Lily Moore has been called back to New York. By the police. Lily's sister, Claudia, has been found dead in Lily's apartment, drowned in the bath. Estranged from her sister, who is a heroine addict, Lily is yet devastated by the loss of her only family. Then Lily's rich ex-fiance starts trying worm his way back into Lily's affections. A mysterious man has been hanging around her apartment building. A pushy new neighbor seems to know a lot more about Lily's private life than any stranger should. Then Lily is attacked on two separate occasions. And if that's not mystery enough, Lily declares that the body in the bath wasn't Claudia, although the neighbors and police insist it was. Who was the dead woman? And if that wasn't her, just where is the unpredictable Claudia?

Fans of Hilary Davidson's short stories won't suffer a let down with her debut novel. Here is a crime novel not based on a serial killer nor containing unending pages of stomach-turning violence toward women. The author instead provides an intriguing, complex plot with a company of well-defined characters with dark and varying motives.(Release date is October, 2010.)

THE GOOD SON by Russel D. McLean.  PI J. McNee's life could be better. Having friends and family might help. Oh, wait, he does have friends, he just won't talk to them. He has family in the form of in-laws but he's a widower and he isn't talking to them either. Into McNee's life comes farmer Robertson, who recently found his brother hanged, a suicide. Robertson wants to know about his late brother's life, the two of them not having seen each other in 30 years. Shouldn't be a big deal. But the threats start coming, the body count rises, and innocent blood gets spilled in McNee's office. The cops really want to help but guess what? McNee isn't talking to them either, the laconic bastard.

McLean's debut novel, set in Dundee, Scotland, is everything a fan of PI novels most enjoys. It has an angst-ridden PI who can't help acting against his own best interests. There are plot twists and awesomely bad bad guys. One of the things I most like about this book is that the author doesn't get in the way of his story. He knows when to shut up. That means this story clocks in at a lean 200+ pages, but trust me, every word counts.

BUY BACK by Brian M. Wiprud. Insurance investigator Tom Davin is assigned to look into the theft of three paintings. Tom's very good at his job. Tom's also up to his eyeballs in hock to a loan shark, thanks to his inability to refuse to help a gorgeous woman who has since dumped him. Tom also arranged for the theft of those paintings in order to pay off his debt. The heist went down perfectly, nary a hitch. Except -- someone stole the paintings from Tom's crew. Now sniper bullets are flying, but the cops have this notion that Tom is the shooter. So does the mob. Not to mention someone has stolen Tom's four cats. How's a guy supposed to get through all this with only tantric yoga and a friendly masseuse on his side?

Wiprud has written an entertaining comic crime novel full of wisecrackery and positive energy. A fun read.

THINNING THE TURKEY HERD by Robert Campbell. Thanks to Joe Barone for prompting me to read a book in the Jimmy Flannery series by the late Robert Campbell. When Chicago alderman Janet Canarias asks Jimmy - who works in the city sewer department - to look into the whereabouts of her missing lesbian lover, it's because the case isn't a high priority with the cops, who have missing children to look for. As a political precinct captain, Jimmy has a reputation for getting things done, and finding things that need finding. Oh, sure, Jimmy finds the missing woman and predictably she is dead and it isn't too hard to guess who the killer is. What isn't predictable are the twists and turns -- including a raid on an animal shelter and a wonderful character named Willy Dink. Worth reading just for Willy who probably should have had his own series.

THE LION by Nelson DeMille. At last, the sequel to DeMille's The Lion's Game. Fans of DeMille's series featuring former NYPD homicide detective John Corey will be delighted to have Corey facing off once again against the notorious and elusive terrorist, Asad Khalil. The politically incorrect, obnoxious, and altogether hilarious Corey is in for the fight of his life, starting from the breathtaking skydiving sequence in which he and Khalil renew their acquaintance. John has always known this day would come, and that before it is over, one or both of them would die.

Fast-paced with some terrific action sequences. Terrorist Khalil has become a trifle predictable (Why would anyone work with this guy? It'd be safer to work with the ebola virus.), but the story works. Overall, the book lacks the emotion of DeMille's Night Fall, which I consider his best work, and the precision puzzle work of that book, but the bloody duel between Corey and Khalil is still enough to keep thrill-seekers reading. And that skydiving scene is a masterpiece of villainy and heroism that fans of James Bond films should love.

STRIP by Thomas Perry. Strip-club owner and mid-level money launderer Manco Kapak was robbed at a bank night-deposit. His search for the robber, spurred by the need to maintain his image by making an example of the robber, leads him to one Joe Carver. Joe, new to LA, has no idea why these people are trying to kill him, but he objects -- strenuously. In fact, he decides to make an example of Kapak. Meanwhile the robber decides that robbing Kapak was so lucrative that he needs to do it again. And again. Meanwhile, the bigamous LAPD detective assigned to investigate the robberies clearly has his own issues, as offspring from two marriages are about to require funds for college.

The comic aspect of Strip harkens back to, but isn't as lively or as ingenious as some of Perry's earlier books, notably the classic and incomparable Metzger's Dog and the con caper Island. While this is a fun read, the story takes some turns that don't necessarily fulfill the initial promise of the Joe Carver character, so that while I enjoyed the book I wasn't entirely satisfied by it. In fact, this book with its wild intersections of characters and coincidences compares closely, but unfavorably, to the hilarious and ultimately very satisfying mix of caper and characters in Declan Burke's The Big O. Strip is a certainly a fun read, but The Big O is belly laughs.


  1. I agree with you about McLean's The Good Son - it's really good. The follow-up, The Lost Sister, is even better!

  2. Tania, I'm looking forward to reading Lost Sister.

  3. I look forward to Hilary's debut novel. You know how I like Perry's STRIP (my first), and Metzger's Dog and The Big O. are novels I want to get to soon. Thanks, Naomi.

  4. I think you'll love Metzger's Dog, it's another book in which LA plays a significant role.