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Category Archives: Mystery / Thriller

The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt

So, this book has been waiting to be reviewed for ages. And it has nothing to do with the quality of this book. Or, actually, it does. It’s like a negative correlation: the better the book the harder it is for me to review it. Ah, first world problems.

What I’m trying to say is that this book is really good. It’s about these two brothers – Charlie and Eli Sister – who are basically hired guns in the mid-1800s. They are the de facto arm of the law in the western territories where state or federal government hasn’t really been established. I know what you’re thinking: vigilantes? No, fanks! But guys, these brothers don’t only answer to money or their boss. They operate under a higher and more sacred system: honor. You know when honor is involved, things get real. And quick.

So: these Sisters brothers are on their way West (near present-day California) looking for a gentlemen who has wronged their boss. And everywhere they encounter greedy-eyed cut throats in search of gold:

This perhaps was what lay at the very root of the hysteria surrounding what came to be known as the Gold Rush: Men desiring a feeling of fortune; the unlucky masses hoping to skin or borrow the luck of others, or the luck of a destination…To me, luck was something you either earned or invented through strength of character. You had to come by it honestly; you could not trick or bluff your way into it. (115-16)

Because this is the gold rush and money is what it’s all about. And whores. There are plenty of those, too. So, a little something for everyone. Well played, Mr. DeWitt.

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The Burning Soul by John Connolly

The Burning Soul by John ConnollyWithout checking, I think I can safely say that John Connolly is the most-mentioned author on this blog.  But that’s for a very good reason – he’s one of my all-time favorite authors and people.  Plus he’s been kind enough to publish two books per year recently and still finds the time to tour and do interviews to talk about them.  So we, in turn, keep reviewing his books and posting his interviews.

Normally I don’t like to review books in a series, unless it’s the first title.  I’m the kind of person who has to start a series from the beginning, and unfortunately I often abandon some series because they have too many books and I too little time.  This being the 10th Charlie Parker PI novel that Connolly has put out, I can understand that it’s easy for people to feel overwhelmed if they haven’t read any of his previous mystery novels.

Have no fear.  You can start the series at the beginning, with Every Dead Thing, and enjoy your way up to the newest installment.  But The Burning Soul, more than any of the others in the series, I believe, can be read on its own without the preceding books.  Of course, once you’re done, I still recommend spending the next year reading the series from the beginning in anticipation of his next release, but hey – I’m biased.

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Killing Kate by Julie Kramer

Killing Kate by Julie KramerThe Riley Spartz books are exactly the kind of wonderful mid-list offering that I never would have stumbled across anywhere other than a bricks and mortar bookstore.  The bright covers drew my attention when shelving and lent themselves to being a centerpiece of any display.  And, invariably, I read the cover blurb, flipped open to the first page, and found myself hooked.  I took Riley Spartz home with me, spent a few tense hours with her, and have never failed to pick up each new title on publication day since.

These are not serious, high brow mysteries, but nor are they your grandmother’s cozies.  They manage to strike a happy medium of being witty and intensely entertaining, while having real suspense and depicting actual violence.  Protagonist Riley Spartz is an investigative reporter for a Minnesota TV station, and as such she is just as worried about ratings and sweeps as she is with finding murderers.  Her job makes her an interesting “amateur sleuth” in that she’s not actually an amateur at all.  Riley knows all the tricks on digging up dirt on people and getting the information she needs out of interviews and well-placed contacts.  But her goals are different than most murder investigators: she is more interested in telling a good story than finding justice, though both always seem to happen in the end.  The mechanics of how reporters go about building a story for their television audience are given in detail and add authenticity to the story, along with providing insight into a world most readers have never visited.  In a way, these books are a workplace dramedy, with reporters and networks in constant competition for stories and ratings numbers, not to mention budget cuts and unsympathetic bosses.  Unlike most P.I./homicide detective characters, Riley always has her plate full of concurrent ongoing investigations, and the subplots, usually involving animal mysteries, are just as intriguing without distracting from the lead story in any way.

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The Two Deaths of Daniel Hayes by Marcus Sakey

The Two Deaths of Daniel HayesIn an interview last week, Chicago novelist Marcus Sakey said ideas for his books emerge from “sheer panic” and called the challenge of finding an idea to write about every day for a year “daunting.”  When he does choose an idea to work with, however, you can be sure it’s a good one, and that his execution will do it justice.

In that same interview, Sakey cites his inspiration for the driving force behind his newest thriller, The Two Deaths of Daniel Hayes, as coming from fellow Chicago author Sean Chercover.  Apparently Chercover quoted Negro League baseball player Satchel Paige (1906-1982), who once said: “How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you are?”  Sakey explains, “I just took that and I thought, who would you be, if you didn’t know who ‘you’ was?  …I really tried to keep that front and center, [that] this guy is literally inventing himself as he goes along.”  The Two Deaths of Daniel Hayes revolves around a man who finds himself nearly dead with no memory of himself or his life prior to that moment.  As he finds clues to his identity, however, and learns more about the circumstances that left him mostly drowned on a beach in Maine, he begins to wonder if he is really capable of the acts others claim he has committed.

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Heads You Lose by Lisa Lutz and David Hayward

Heads You Lose

Heads You Lose by Lisa Lutz and David Hayward

Lisa Lutz, author of the Spellman Files series (which you should pick up if you haven’t) teams up with an unlikely partner for her latest novel: David Hayward, a poet she dated briefly in the 90s.  The resulting book is described by Lutz as “a real crime novel with a dead body and all” – but also eschews as many traditional elements of crime novels as it upholds.

This wacky journey begins when Lacey and Paul, two orphaned siblings in their 20s, find a headless body in their backyard.  Except they can’t call the cops to their home due to the marijuana crop growing in the basement.  The brother and sister decide to investigate on their own, though these investigations manifest themselves very differently and often lead them in opposite directions.

Having two authors with dueling styles and plot development was a bit frustrating for me at first, but as the book found its rhythm a few chapters in I began to enjoy the ride.  Included after each chapter are email exchanges between the authors that shed light on the actions of their characters.  By the end of the book, it is virtually a tug of war between Lutz and Hayward, to the point I wasn’t convinced there was any way to salvage what was left of the plot, clues, and suspect list to form a cohesive ending.  Luckily, I was proven wrong as the loose ends were tied up expertly for a clean finish.

Recommended for anyone who likes serious crime fiction, but isn’t afraid to have some fun with it!

EDIT: I meant to include this video in my post.  It should give you an idea of the back-and-forth that drives this book.

This book was reviewed from an advance copy sent by the author/publisher.

 

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