Monday, April 21, 2014


Jo Nesbo's The Redbreast is a complex, violent, well-written novel.

The story starts with a mistake. Whether the mistake is the mistake of the bureaucracy or of the protagonist Harry Hole is up to the reader to decide. But to avoid embarrassment, Harry's superiors promote him. He becomes an inspector in the Norwegian Security Service.

From there, the book spins into at least six murders, one of them especially tragic for Harry.

Along the way, Nesbo alternates between the WWII backstory and the present day. The backstory unfolds in tandem with current events.

Harry falls in love. That further complicates the matter (in ways you have to read the book to know).

The Redbreast has a lot of in-betweens. The backstory deals with the time when Norway was torn three ways. Patriots and others had to decide between their loyalty to Norway, defecting to the German invaders, or turning to the Russians as they gained the upper hand.

Circumstances like that cause stress. People never forget the betrayals, the promises made and broken. And if someone is inclined to insanity, that kind of situation could well make it worse.

So this book deals with murder, insanity, and working systematically to trace killer-weapons and their consequences. It also deals with corruption in the Norwegian bureaucracy and police. It deals with the bureaucracy covering up, not just for Harry, but for others along the way.

Even The Redbreast's “solution” is not what it appears to be.

The Redbreast is over 600 pages long (in my Kindle version). It was easy, but slow, reading, at least for someone like me. (That's why it has been a while since I've posted.)

Jo Nesbo is a bestselling author. This is my first Jo Nesbo to read.

If you are looking for a violent, complex, well-written story, I recommend this book.  


“That's capitalism for you. The small guys slog away while the rich get fatter whether it's boom time or a slump.”
Only the dead escape unscathed.
“ throws up bizarre coincidences,” Rakel said. “So bizarre that you would never get away with it in fiction, anyway.”

NOTE: I couldn't figure out how to make that Norwegian O in this program. You'll have to put up with English spelling. 

Monday, April 7, 2014

TOO LATE TO DIE by Bill Crider

Blacklin County, Texas, Sheriff Dan Rhodes is a good man.

In Bill Crider's 1986 Too Late to Die, Rhodes makes all kinds of mistakes, but he makes most of them because he is the right man to be sheriff.

This is the first book in the Dan Rhodes series.

Someone kills Jeanne Clinton. Later, there is a second murder.

All this occurs in the middle of an election. Rhodes is already dealing with an accusation that a deputy beat up two innocent men.

It looks as if Rhodes can't even stop small, routine break-ins at a dying town's mercantile store.

And Rhodes' personal life is changing...again. The widower Rhodes finds a woman he might come to love almost as much as he loved his wife. He is about to send his daughter off to work in the city.

Rhodes stumbles through a series of investigations. The whole thing ends with one of the most different endings to any story I've read.

So there's a little bit happening in Too Late to Die. But to me, the real issue, is--What makes a good sheriff?

Is the best sheriff the one who wears a cowboy hat and boots, the one who can give a good speech, the one who will stay away from the hard decisions and favor the usually-favored people in the county?

Or is the best sheriff the one who, despite his mistakes, reflects Blacklin County values?

Blacklin County values sometimes call for you NOT to enforce the law. Blacklin County values call for you to consider the people more important than the way things look, even to the voting public.

Blacklin County values call for you to be honest, to sometimes share the things you want to hide.
And Blacklin County values often mean you have to risk your life doing the right thing even when you won't gain much by it.

This story was different than the first Dan Rhodes story I read. The first one (which was the second in the series) had several movie and detective story references. A few of the scenes even echoed movie scenes.

This story leaves most of that out. This story is more surprising.

Too Late to Die was an Anthony Award winner for best first-time mystery.

At first, I found the story slow. Small town elections don't much interest me. But when the action starts, it really starts.

So, Too Late to Die is another good Dan Rhodes Blacklin County Sheriff story. 

Saturday, April 5, 2014


Bill Crider fills 1987's Shotgun Saturday Night with action.

Blacklin County, Texas Sheriff Dan Rhodes lets the bad guys and their women overpower him at least three times. A couple of times they use ax handles on him. One time Rhodes' seemingly-staid girlfriend saves them with her motorcycle-riding skills.

If I remember correctly, women help to save Rhodes all three times.

Shotgun Saturday Night starts when someone shotguns a local handyman on an otherwise quiet Saturday night. Later there is another murder.

A motorcycle gang is operating in the county. They run a hidden marijuana trade originating in Blacklin County. Rhodes' usually-staid work (his officers spend their time changing light bulbs for little old ladies and corralling drunks) becomes interesting. And the story goes from there.

It took me a while to figure it out, but Shotgun Saturday Night is a pastiche, a serious but humorous take off on the small-county-sheriff sub-genre of the mystery story. Craig Johnson's Walt Longmire series is the best-known current example of this kind of story.

Crider fills Shotgun Saturday Night with movie references. Several of the book's scenes come directly from the movies. And some of the characters refer to mystery novels, especially the Ed McBain 87th Precinct stories.

Rhodes even thinks about naming his adopted dog Carella. (He finally chooses the name Speedo.)

For some reason, over all these years, I missed Bill Crider. When I saw this book offered at a bargain price on Kindle, I didn't know what the Dan Rhodes series was.

I enjoyed this book. It was short, entertaining, and well-written. I have already started on the first book in the Dan Rhodes series, Too Late to Die.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

THE GOOD COP by Brad Parks

Brad Parks' The Good Cop is humorous and macabre.

The macabre part is an illegal after-hours romp through the Newark, New Jersey, morgue to look at a body. That's one portion of the humorous part too.

His editor assigns Newark Eagle-Examiner investigative reporter Carter Ross to cover the alleged suicide of a good cop.

The mystery in the story has to do with whether the good cop was really a good cop. If so, why did he get drunk and commit suicide?

The good cop's wife tells Ross how ethical her husband was, how he stuck to the rules no matter what. And even her minister, a mega-church sleazeball pastor, defends the cop.

The minister calls a press conference. He promises to stir things up big time. Then the minister drops the whole matter and exonerates the Newark Police Department. Why?

When the good cop's partner commits suicide, the plot thickens, and the story goes from there.

I take it that these stories are well-known.

I came across this book through a blog. The book had won awards. The author is an award-winning writer.

One thing interested me especially—Parks' description of the newspaper business. Carter Ross talks about the difference between writing for the “dead tree” version of the Eagle-Examiner and the newspaper's website.

Careful editors still oversee the dead tree version. Ross believes the dead tree version is a dying form. When he writes for the Internet site, he has looser rules.

The Good Cop is a quick read, an enjoyable book. Newark's characters (including a man who sells new merchandise he as stolen using warranties) all play a part.

Ross beds a couple of his female cohorts, and overall, the book just reads along.

Sometimes I think I'm way behind in the “books everybody has read” category. It was nice to catch up a little with The Good Cop.


That, of course, was the reaction of most editors to a big story. Gather up your reporters—they sometimes referred to us as “resources” so we wouldn't be confused with human beings—and then figure out what to do with us later.
You have to know what flavor of ice cream you are in this world, and I am vanilla.
One of the fundamental things I believe as a writer is that words have power to move people. They can make us feel angry or hateful or sad, sure. But they can also uplift us. They can provide hope. They can even comfort the grieving.
I always get a kick out of white people who complain that blacks are “obsessed” with race and talk about it too much. If those white people could, just once, walk into a room like this, where suddenly they were the Other Race, they'd understand the “obsession” a little better.
...if there's one thing working in the hood has taught me, it was to never underestimate a single mom.
“Okay, but let's leave the politics out of this for a second--"

“This is New Jersey,” Hilfiker said. “You can never leave politics out of it.”
“Well, then, who are you?”

“Carter Ross, agent of Satan,” I said, smiling.

I felt my hands and legs being fastened by strips of plastic. After a lifetime of never once being handcuffed, it had now happened to me twice in one day. Suddenly I knew what it was like to be a character in Fifty Shades of Grey. 

Thursday, March 27, 2014


Kwei Quartey's Murder at Cape Three Points is a good police procedural.

Detective Inspector Darko Dawson investigates the brutal murder of a wealthy and powerful couple.

Someone decapitated a rich oil company executive, placed his head on a stick, killed his wife, put the bodies in a canoe, and let the currents take the canoe toward an oil rig.

The oil company is defacing the scenic coast of Ghana, but Darko finds other motives too.

Someone killed an oil executive in another prominent Ghanian oil company earlier. The police arrested a relative, but Darko and his assistant Chikata don't think he did it. There may have been inter-company reasons for the murders.

The wealthy decapitated man refused to help a relative save his dying child. His niece, a medical doctor, also refused to help.

Darko and Chikata (the favored nephew of Darko's superior officer) accuse the local police inspector of covering up what happened.

And the story goes from there.

The Darko Dawson stories are good straight-through police procedurals. In that regard, they remind me of my favorite police procedural stories, Ed McBain's 87th Precinct novels. Quartey has a lot more increasingly high quality books to write to become anything like Ed McBain, but Quartey's factual, straight-through style is a good start.

Quartey's stories deal with social issues, something I like.

Darko is more settled now. His son is recovering from surgery for his heart defect. Darko loves his wife and family including another adopted son. Darko still longs to resume his dependence on Marijuana, but he resists the temptation. And Darko is on the verge of reconciling with his estranged father.

As always, Darko Dawson's superior gives him the explosive case, the one no one else dares touch.

I like the Darko Dawson mysteries.  

Saturday, March 22, 2014


I had forgotten how much I enjoy reading about Jimmy Flannery.

The Flannery books are funny and violent.

In Robert Campbell's Thinning the Turkey Herd (1988) a serial killer is at work. He has killed three beautiful women models in Chicago. Someone is 'thinning the turkey herd.'

Flannery agrees to help when Janet Canarias, a Chicago city alderwoman, asks him to find her missing friend. Canarias is a “lipstick lesbian,” Flannery's description. Her friend was about to move in with her.

Flannery investigates in his usual way. He trades favors with powerful people, finds some of them involved, and meets all kinds of characters.

Among the characters is Willy Dink the rat catcher. Dink uses a menagerie of animals (including a ferret, snake, and raccoon) to rid rat-infested buildings of their vermin.

Animal control seizes Dink's animals. Flannery and Dink break them out of jail. And along the way Flannery takes on a permanent friend—a dog he names Alfie. Flannery saves Alfie from euthanasia.

Flannery, as always, loves his wife, is loyal to his patron, and does his job as sewer inspector (though there's not much to the job). He is a Chicago pol through and through.

These books are humorous and real. They probably accurately reflect the sexism and stilted attitudes of Jimmy and his cohorts in 1988.

One book in the series, The Junkyard Dog, won the Edgar.

I used to look forward to each new Jimmy Flannery book. It was a joy to read this one again.


I don't think there's anyplace in the world but Chicago where a candidate in the primaries would stand up and accuse an incumbent of being helpless in the face of God.
--Flannery describing an aspiring mayoral candidate criticizing the mayor for not stoppping a flood.

“I don't get shocked. The only people what get shocked are the ones who expect other people to live up to their ideas about what is right. I just look at what's what without making up my mind about what it is supposed to be ahead of time. If it hurts somebody else, it's bad. If it don't hurt anybody, it's even. If it does some good... . I let it drift off.”
--Flannery describing his attitude toward private sexual choices.

Note: Earlier I wrote a few comments about the Flannery books here. I found this book and one other Jimmy Flannery among the paperbacks at my local used book store.

Friday, March 21, 2014

THE FAMILY VAULT by Charlotte MacLeod

Many critics consider Charlotte MacLeod's The Family Vault (1979) a mystery classic. I see why.

The Family Vault has one of the most skillful descriptions of a dysfunctional family I have ever seen. I cringed when I read about Sarah Kelling's family.

A deceased uncle wants to be buried in the family vault. When workers open the vault, they find an unusual brick wall blocking the entrance. They also find the body of Ruby Redd, a locally-well-known exotic dancer of almost three decades ago.

The brick wall is a strange design created by Sarah's husband.

Sarah, married very young to a much older man, lives with her husband Alexander and his mother in Boston's elite Beacon Hill neighborhood. Alexander's mother, both deaf and blind, runs the household with an iron hand.

And that ties in with the body the workers find.

I won't ruin the story. Before the books ends, there have been something like six murders. Sarah's life has changed exponentially. And everything is different than it seemed to be.

The Family Vault is a Sarah Kelling-Max Bittersohn book. So where does Max Bittersohn come in? The book tells us.

I have long enjoyed Charlotte MacLeod's Peter Shandy books. I thought I'd try her Sarah Kelling-Max Bittersohn books. I'm glad I did.  

Sunday, March 16, 2014

INFERNO by Dan Brown

Dan Brown's Inferno is more of the same old thing.

Harvard professor of symbology Robert Langdon wakes up in a Florence, Italy, hospital. Someone shot him. He has lost his recent memory. He doesn't know how he got to Florence or why he came.

Then a paid assassin tires to kill him. A genius-IQ medical doctor Sienna Brooks saves him. They take off together to go from monument to monument following the clues of a crazed scientist who wants to destroy a large part of the world's population.

At least three groups chase them, the Italian police, a secret organization protecting its own interests, and the disaffected paid assassin of that same organization.

The clues are passages and images from Dante's Inferno.

The cities range from Florence to Venice to a city way beyond.

Brown gives detailed descriptions of the artistic and religious monuments, even describing the secret passages in the buildings along the way.

A part of Brown's schtick is to claim that these details are factual.

Brown wrote this with the movies in mind. In the closing scenes, Langdon and his allies take part in a series of chase scenes by airplane, bus, and boat. Brown even specifies the background music for one part of the book's climax.

Finally we learn that most of the people were not who we thought they were. Even the purpose of the quest is different, a disappointing outcome for me.

I have only read Brown's The Da Vinci Code. If I remember correctly, I picked Inferno up at a bargain price. I always enjoy Brown's tedious descriptions of cities and monuments I'll never see.

Inferno is not as effective as The Da Vinci Code. The ending disappoints. Along the way, I found myself thinking, “Sensible folks wouldn't have done what these folks just did.”

Also, I didn't understand why the villain was so psychotically public. If he had kept his mouth shut and acted quietly, he could have done what he wanted to do without anyone knowing.

I doubt I'll read another of these books, but that doesn't matter. Brown's books are wildly popular. They will sell tens of millions without me.  

Saturday, March 8, 2014



More and more, I see series mysteries as TV programs with individual episodes.

The whole story is the story. Each book is one episode. (The Clare Fergusson books seem to be a prime example.)

I don't think it used to be that way, at least quite so much. Each book was more distinct. Authors used continuing characters and some connections, but I don't remember the 87th precinct or Dalziel and Pascoe as so clearly episodic (except maybe in the later books).

My guess? More writers use screenwriting software to plot their books. They write with the idea that these books could be made into TV episodes or episodic movies. They write scenes they think would film well.

This will sound crazy. In one way, episodic mysteries remind me of erotic books. I've read a couple of the popular erotic books which have sold millions. In those books the gimmick seems to be that "submissive" sex leads to love. In previous romances, most often, love led to sex. (I say this as someone not much interested either in erotic books or romance novels.) Authors have changed the whole plot line around.

Maybe, in some cases, a similar thing has happened in a different way with series mysteries.

Friday, March 7, 2014


If you like exciting endings, you should like Julia Spencer-Fleming's A Fountain Filled With Blood.

Seemingly-organized thugs in Millers Kill, New York, are terrorizing homosexuals, attacking them, beating them almost to death.

Then someone kills a gay resort developer in town to oversee the building of a luxury hotel.

Police Chief Russ Van Alstyne investigates with the local Episcopalian priest Clare Fergusson in tow. (Except that Clare is never in tow. She determinedly presses into the investigation.) Together they solve the crime.

Clare, of course, does all kinds of impulsive things. She investigates where she should not investigate. She and Russ close the story with hair-raising heroics.

The books ends with one villain still in place waiting for later episodes in the series.

My wife and I are reading through this series. (I think she has read all the books written so far.) She likes the books for their characters. Though she doesn't often read violent books, she does like these.

And I like the portrayal of an impulsive woman minister who tests the limits of ministerial ethics. She cares for people more than doctrine, something I admire, but she gets herself in some surprising fixes.

Clare sings hymns, does worship services using The Book of Common Prayer, and even struggles with the church board. Clare is also a retired Army helicopter pilot.

Both my wife and I like the way these books involve real issues. The stories aren't distant or remote. We see violent homophobia, PTSD, the human feelings ministers often hide from their parishioners.

All in all, the Clare Fergusson books are good reading.



“Don't be afraid or embarrassed to reach out to God the Comforter if you feel the urge. You can always go back to being an agnostic after Emil is well. I won't tell on you.”
          --Clare to a man whose partner has been beaten almost to death.
There's 'I'm right' and there's 'what's right', her grandmother Fergusson had always said. You can't have but one of them. Which one will it be?
“I'm discovering that I have to work at making this my place of worship, and not just my place of employment.”
          --Clare's comment which many ministers will understand.

Monday, March 3, 2014

THREE TIMES LUCKY by Sheila Turnage

Sheila Turnage's Three Times Lucky is an excellent pre-teen mystery story.

Eleven-year-old Mo LoBeau and her friend Dale Earnhardt Johnson start a detective agency.

They investigate the murder of a ne'er-do-well man in their hometown Tupelo Landing, North Carolina.

Mo herself is an orphan. A Tupelo Landing resident found the infant Mo tied to a broken billboard washed up during a hurricane.

The Colonel and Miss Lana, two more left-out sorts, take Mo in. The three of them run the only restaurant in Tupelo Landing, a town of exactly 148.

The Colonel named Mo “Moses” because she came from the water. Then he gave her his last name LoBeau.

As it turns out, the murder ties in to the Colonel's past life. He too is an outcast. He hit his head in an automobile accident and remembers nothing of his past.

The story comes to involve a stolen half million dollars and how that half million got to Tupelo Landing. But if this story sounds tame, don't be deceived.

Dale's father beats Dale and his mother.

Mo wants desperately to find her mother. She collects empty bottles to put notes in. Then she asks traveling friends to toss those bottles into far away streams. She hopes her “real” mother will find one of her notes and call her.

The book's climax comes amdist hurricane winds and violence too.

Some have said the story is too violent for pre-teen readers. I don't agree. Some pre-teens (way too many) face violence in their homes. Many endure bullying (another theme in Three Times Lucky). And others see violence in games and movies. Very popular young adult books like the Harry Potter books or A Wrinkle in Time are violent.

Turnage fills her story with humor and hope. In a sense, Mo finds her mother. Dale begins to work out the problems in his life. And they both do it with strength and courage.

At the beginning of the book, Mo tells you why she thinks she is three times lucky. By the end, she knows how true that is and more so.

The Amazon page for this book tells me that Three Times Lucky was a Newbery honor winner, and Edgar Award finalist, and an E.B. White Read-Aloud Honor book.

I learned about the book from a fellow blogger. I'm glad I did.


When Dale sings, even the wind stops to listen.
The Colonel told Mo--
“We're born over and over, day by day. When you feel lost, let the stars sing you to sleep. You'll always wake up new.”
Dale can choose not to worry like he chooses not to wear socks.
I never forgive. I like revenge too much.
“We can't change the past, Soldier. We can only be grateful for the life of a new day, and move on”
     --The Colonel to Mo.
“Without strife, we had nothing.”
     --Mo describing her relationship with an uppity classmate.

Friday, February 28, 2014

THE MAID'S VERSION by Daniel Woodrell

Daniel Woodrell's The Maid's Version is an excellent short novel centering on a dance hall fire.

The West Hall, Missouri, Arbor Dance Hall explosion of 1929 killed 42 dancers.

A maid, Alma DeGreer Dunahew, tells her grandson her version of the story. She tells about her family, her sister Ruby, and then Alma's husband and sons.

The story flashes back and forth in time. We see events from several points of view. And we come to understand one of the central points of the book—The wealthy and powerful exploit the poor. It has always been that way.

At one point, the book says about the county sheriff, Sheriff Shot Adderly--“About half of what a sheriff does is to bend laws a little to keep the right people out of jail...” The right people include many, rich and poor, but Adderly has less choice with the rich.

It doesn't matter that someone murdered Alma's sister in the fire, taking 41 others with her. The murderer is a person who has done and continues to do good things for West Hall.

It doesn't matter that the murders drove Alma insane or that they later cost her a son.

It doesn't matter that a modicum of justice occurs when someone kills a local hellfire-and-brimstone fundamentalist preacher.

The whole town knows what happened, and the whole town ignores the truth.

Alma survives by being a maid, working for those who have more than she does (when she can get a job). She knows these people intimately. But finally, she is reduced to telling her grandson the maid’s version of the murder story. She ends up hoping her grandson will pass her story along.

Woodrell writes lyrically. His words are often poetic.

I had a special interest in this book. I was born on the edge of the Missouri Ozarks. My wife and I once lived in one portion of the Ozarks. We have known people from small towns much like West Hall.

I learned of this book from a review in the Kansas City Star. I am glad I did.


She lived scared and angry, a life full of permanent grievances, sharp animosities and cold memories for all who'd ever crossed us, any of us, ever. Alma DeGreer Dunahew, with her pinched, hostile nature, her dark obsessions and primal need for revenge, was the big red heart of our family, a true heart, the one we keep secret and that sustains us.
Preacher Willard accepted the Ten Commandments as a halfhearted start but kept adding amendments until the number of sins he couldn't countenance was beyond memorization.
Alma was fond of many country sayings and she said of favorite here: "A wolf will always look to the woods, no matter what you feed it." 

Wednesday, February 26, 2014


Charles Todd's Hunting Shadows is a classic police procedural with an intriguing ending.

Set in the 1920s, the action begins when someone guns down a social-climbing army captain.

Then the same person murders an up-and-coming politician as he makes a speech. 

With no viable leads, the local constables call in Scotland Yard's Inspector Ian Rutledge.

Longtime readers of this series will know that Rutledge has an alter ego, the voice of Hamish McCloud, Rutledge's soldier friend killed in the war.

Rutledge and McCloud hunt shadows. They go from witness to witness. They interview people peripherally connected to the case. They try to understand how the two victims relate to one another.

Then, the sniper attacks a local farmer.

Rutledge immerses himself in the English countryside. He passes the long-burned-out windmill and, at the very start, he gets lost in the thick fog.

Finally, Rutledge and McCloud understand the connections, but things are different than they seemed.

This book closes in a memorable way.

In so far as I remember, I've only read two Ian Rutledge mysteries. 

I know I am late to the party. Rutledge is a famous mystery character. The books have been best sellers.

I liked the book. I hope to read more about Inspector Ian Rutledge.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

EXIT THE MILKMAN by Charlotte MacLeod

If you enjoy a well-told cozy story complete with word play, humor, literary illusions, and just plain silly fun, you will probably enjoy Charlotte MacLeod's Exit the Milkman.

Balaclava Agricultural College's dairy professor James Feldster disappears. Then someone kills Feldster's wife.

Peter Shandy and his wife Helen are quickly on the case. Balaclava College President Thorkjeld Svenson sees to that.

Feldster is not who they thought he was. It takes Helen Shandy's friend to find that out. But Feldster couldn't be his wife's murderer. He was otherwise indisposed.

This story features a group of people with names like Knapweed Calthrop, Catriona McBogle, and Elver Butz.

And it all takes place at and around Balaclava Agricultural College in Balaclava, Massachusetts.

The setting is modern, but there's no telling exactly what the year is. There are no cell phones in this story. The local newspaper still develops its photographs from film. And the local police chief rides a bicycle.

It is almost impossible to describe the nature of Charlotte MacLeod's Peter Shandy books. Here is one quotation--

“Guthrie did tend to drop arboreal allusions into his conversations. The habit was quite understandable in the president of a forestry school. He honestly did not believe he would ever see a poem lovely as a tree, but that didn't mean he never gave a thought to the spreading chestnut under which the village smith used to stand, nor showed a fleeting inclination to hang his heart on a weeping willow tree.”

Using words like panjandrum, murrain, abattoir, cicerone, doyene, inanition, and others, MacLeod tells a hilarious story.

I started reading these books when a blogging friend suggested MacLeod's Rest You Merry, the first (and probably still the best) book in the series.

Years ago, I had a teacher tell me to avoid the word unique. “Few things are unique,” she said.

Charlotte MacLeod's Peter Shandy books are wonderful. They may even come close to being unique.


All libraries are beautiful to the book lover...
There was too damned much importance floating around here all of a sudden, but what could a man do?

Exit the milkman, on with the mulch.