Monday, September 15, 2014

SHELTER by Harlan Coiben

Harlan Coben’s Shelter is an excellent young adult (YA) book.

Sophomore Mickey Bolitar lives with his uncle Myron.

Mickey’s father died in an auto accident. His mother is hopelessly addicted. Mickey is in a new school.

When Mickey’s only friend Ashley Kent, another new student, disappears, Mickey decides to find out what happened to her. He enlists the help of two “losers” Ema (with a long e) and Spoon.

Both Ema and Spoon are brilliant in their own ways. They, along with Rachel Caldwell, one of the in-crowd, work their way through an awful back story which leads to a startling conclusion. 

Shelter involves Auschwitz, the strange symbol of a butterfly, what Mickey’s parents were actually about, human trafficking, and the stark fact that you can’t save everyone.

The book’s title comes from Richard Jefferies, a19th century English nature writer--“Let us labor to make the heart grow larger, as we become older, as spreading oak gives more shelter.” The quotation plays an important part in the story.

A woman called the Bat Lady helps unlock the story for Mickey and his friends.

I’d forgotten what a wonderful, stylish writer Harlan Coben is. Years ago, I read the Myron Bolitar books and enjoyed them.
I enjoyed Coben’s YA book Shelter too.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

CURSED TO DEATH by Bill Crider

I needed a break.

Just a couple books ago, I had read one frenetic book where every scene ratcheted up the action and one meandering book where the murder only surfaced near the end. 

And I had another book like that in the chute.

I needed something like I used to read years ago, a clearly-written story with interesting characters. Humor along the way wouldn’t hurt either.

Bill Crider’s Cursed to Death (1988) filled the bill.

A local dentist disappears. Blacklin County, Texas, Sheriff Dan Rhodes suspects foul play.

The dentist owned rental houses. Previously, the dentist called Rhodes to his dental office when an in-arrears tenant cursed the dentist, pronounced a hex on him. The hex was just that the dentist’s teeth would fall out, not that he would be murdered.

But the dentist disappeared. Not long after, someone murdered the dentist’s wife.

Along the way, Rhodes deals with other small town problems, things like a food fight in nursing home because two residents rebel. They want to marry and live in the same room. The straight-laced manager refuses to let it happen.

Rhodes sees no problem with the man and woman marrying and living together. They are both competent adults. Besides, Rhodes, himself a widower, has fallen in love. He is all for love and marriage, but he struggles with whether or not to buy his girlfriend a Christmas present. (I kid you not about this!)

Crider fills the book with small town characters. It didn’t occur to me until near the end, how Crider had set me up for the conclusion.

Along the way, Rhodes deals with what would have been the mortal sin in rural Texas towns in 1988. To top things off, Rhodes has to listen to the two old (I want to say old farts, but you don’t use that kind of language in blogs) the two old deputies whose long-winded police reports bore him to death.

Rhodes finds the perfect way to get back at the two men.

This book was what I needed. Cursed to Death was a story in the old fashioned sense, simply-told and interesting.

Monday, September 8, 2014

A short story--"Ring Toss" by Chris Grabenstein


In Chris Grabenstein’s “Ring Toss,” John Ceepak and Danny Boyle go to bust a crooked ring toss game on the Sea Haven, New Jersey, boardwalk.

In the midst of the bust, a more serious crime beckons. An infuriated guest calls the police to the motel Boyle's friend Becca is running for her parents. Someone stole a valuable ring from a dorky bride-to-be.

The young woman’s family reserved one floor of the motel. They (and the other tenant Ceepak and Boyle deal with) are not the ideal guests.

As always, Ceepak holds to his code. He will not lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who do. And Boyle stretches things a little.

“Ring Toss” is available as an inexpensive e-book edition. This short story first appeared in the June 2010 issue of Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine.

Friday, September 5, 2014



Only an insider Chicago pol like Jimmy Flannery could solve the crimes in Robert Campbell’s 1989 book Nibbled to Death by Ducks.

A so-called cousin puts Flannery’s Chinaman (political sponsor) Chips Delvin in a deteriorating Chicago nursing home. Three have died there in suspicious circumstances.

When Jimmy Flannery finds the third man lying face down in the duck pond, he becomes convinced Chips Delvin could be the next to die. Jimmy had asked the murdered man to keep and eye on things and report to him.

Jimmy and his wife Mary struggle with whether to build a house. Jimmy likes living in the flat were they are, among the people he grew up with and serves. His wife wants their own home.

Over the course of the book, Flannery (a Chicago precinct captian who is nominally a sewer inspector) makes promises and cashes political chits to learn the history of the nursing home. Finally, Flannery sneaks Chips Delvin out of the Larkspur Rest Home and solves the murders.

The book’s crisp Chicago dialogue and Flannery’s stark first-person narration make this book fun.

This book gives a disturbing view of nursing homes. 

Nibbled to Death by Ducks and the other Flannery books purport to take us inside ward-level Chicago politics in the Richard M. Daley years.

Sometimes you find gems in your local used book story. That’s where I found this old copy of a book I first read years ago, Nibbled to Death by Ducks.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

THE LONG WAY HOME by Louise Penny


Louise Penny’s The Long Way Home lives up to its title.

At least three major characters take the long way home, the long way to the peace Three Pines offers.

Former Quebec Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, Clara Morrow, and her husband Peter are among those trying to find their way.

Clara asks Gamache to help her search for her husband Peter. They separated a year ago, but Peter did not return as agreed. Clara fears the worst.

Gamache struggles with Clara’s request. Did Gamache retire to escape, to relax and heal, to avoid doing what he has always done? Or does his retirement involve something else?

From what is Gamache coming home? Does it have to do with the book he reads each morning, though he never goes beyond a bookmarked page?

The search for Peter is tedious. Most of the way, Clara, not Gamache, is in charge. Gamache and the others search people’s minds and emotions. (By and large, these are artists’ troubled minds.)

With the help of Three Pines’ Myrna and Ruth, Gamache solves a crime they don’t know is happening until near the end of the book.

Even the catastrophically suffering Peter finds his way home.

I saw The Long Way Home as a book about retirement.

I live in a retirement community. I watch many retired people.

Some retirees want to continue what they have always done. Some want to do yard work and to putter around in the woods. Some are trying to put their lives back together following great stress. Some want to be involved, to be leaders in community groups. Some want to play games, go to dances, or attend parties. Some are simply sick and dying. 

The Long Way Home is about retirees (and others) trying to rebuild their lives. For Gamache, his retirement comes to be something in between relaxation and involvement. 

The Long Way Home was not an easy book to read. It is too thoughtful, too plodding (in the first half, at least). But that’s Louise Penny.

I had wondered what direction Armand Gamache would take in his retirement. Now I know.

In one way, he is like I am. Over the years, he gave too much to other people. He is using his retirement to find himself, to find his long way home.