Monday, June 19, 2017
The four wise monkeys of ancient oriental myth — hear no evil, see no evil, say no evil, and do no evil — give the killer in The Fourth Monkey by J. D. Barker (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, June 28, 2017) his name. The 4MK abducts women and sends an ear to the next of kin. Two days later, the victim’s extracted eyeballs arrive in the mail. Then the tongue. Two days after that, 4MK positions the victim’s mutilated body where easily discovered.
Hear no evil, see no evil, say no evil, do no evil. Those are the rules.
Detective Sam Porter, on bereavement leave following his wife’s tragic murder by a convenience store robber, receives a phone call from his partner. The Four Monkeys Killer was accidentally killed by a Chicago bus on his way to mail an ear of his latest victim to Arthur Talbot, one of the richest men in the city.
Sam’s chased the 4MK for five years. Seven dead girls he couldn’t save. Now it appears Talbot’s illegitimate daughter Emory will be 4MK’s next victim. The clock’s ticking as Sam assembles his task force and tries to find Emory before she dies of dehydration.
The killer’s diary found on the man hit by the bus tells what it’s like to be raised in a family of psychopaths. Barker effectively rotates POV among Porter, Emory, task force members, and the diary. The burning questions become: Is the diary real? Is the dead man the 4MK? Will Emory survive? What did Talbot do to warrant punishment by 4MK? Who killed Heather, Sam’s wife, and what will happen to him?
Set in metropolitan Chicago, the action delves into underground tunnels once used by bootleggers where thousands of rats thrive and Emory may be sequestered. Will she be eaten by rats, die of hydration, or have her eyes and tongue plucked out before 4MK is through with her?
Suspense builds as time runs out. Sam, who was neither able to protect his wife nor the seven previous 4MK victims, is desperate to reach Emory before she perishes.
The Fourth Monkey is as much a great horror novel as a mystery or thriller. Very highly recommended for readers with strong stomachs, insatiable curiosities, and time on their hands because they won’t be able to stop until the very end.
Monday, June 12, 2017
What a wonderful way to discover series characters and their authors. MatchUp, edited by Lee Child (Simon and Schuster, June 13, 2017). is the International Thriller Writer’s sequel to the best-selling FaceOff. Both books team-up award-winning thriller writers and their series characters to solve life-and-death mysteries or bring killers to justice. If you’ve never met these characters before, here’s your chance.
And who better to introduce you to each of them than Lee Child, Mr. Jack Reacher himself.
Contributors include: Lee Coburn and Joe Pickett in “Honor & …” by Sandra Brown and C.J. Box; Tony Hill and Roy Grace in “Footloose” by Val McDermid and Peter James; Temperance Brennan and Jack Reacher in “Faking a Murderer” by Kathy Reichs and Lee Child; Jamie Fraser and Cotton Malone in “Past Prologue” by Diana Gabaldon and Steve Berry; Liz Sansborough and Rambo in “Rambo on Their Minds” by Gayle Lynds and David Morrell; Jeffrey Tolliver and Joe Pritchard in “Short Story” by Karin Slaughter and Michael Koryta; Harper Connelly and Ty Hauck in “Dig Here” by Charlaine Harris and Andrew Gross; Regan Pescoli and Lucas Davenport in “Deserves to be Dead” by Lisa Jackson and John Sandford; Lucan Thorne and Lilliane Williams in “Midnight Flame” by Lara Adrian and Christopher Rice; Bennie Rosato and John Corey in “Getaway” by Lisa Scottoline and Nelson DeMille; and Ali Reynolds and Bravo Shaw in “Taking the Veil” by J.A. Jance and Eric Van Lustbader.
“Footloose”, although British, is my favorite. It’s filled with tons of wonderful puns, a foot-fetisher’s delight. Should DST Roy Grace, DCI Carol Jordan, and Dr. Tony Hill search for “an evil Elvis impersonator with homicidal tendencies”? Or a podophilic serial killer? Or should they look for both? Ten toes up for this one.
Liz Sansborough and Rambo in “Rambo on Their Minds” by Gayle Lynds and David Morrell is, in my humble opinion, the best-written tale in this collection, a taut thriller with a ticking time-bomb and an impossible task.
But all of the other stories are truly superb and well worth the read.
Several feature their authors’ usual supporting characters (i.e., John Sandford’s Johnson Johnson, Gayle Lynds’ Simon Childs, Lara Adrian’s Gabrielle, Michael Koryta’s Lincoln Perry, J. A. Jance’s Leeland Brooks). If you want a feel for what you’ll get in a Virgil Flowers novel, read “Deserves to be Dead”.
“Past Prologue” by Gabaldon and Berry is a fascinating time-travel story. “Dig Here” and “Midnight Flame” both have supernatural elements. “Short Story” piles complication atop complication. “Faking a Murderer” marries Jack Reacher’s military past with Temperance Brennan’s forensic acumen. “Honor &…” whacks-a-mole. And “Getaway” has a lovable dog that steals the show.
A great collection with new stories from some of the best writers in the business.
Monday, June 5, 2017
The Corpse and the Girl from Miami (Dark Fluidity, 2017) is a mystery within a mystery. It’s noir and a supernatural thriller all in one.
And, despite everything else, it’s also a love story.
It’s set in Boston, MA, not in Miami. There are some displaced Floridians (Ofelia, Mr. Maker, Armando Luis Salazar) prowling the New England darkness one unusually stormy night, but they have no special love for Bean Town. Neither does The Corpse.
Imagine waking up in a cemetery with three bullet holes in your chest and no pulse. You have no remembrance of who shot you or why. You can’t even remember your name.
Piecing together his identity and solving the mystery of his murder turns into a herculean task for the dead man. There’s another walking dead man and a burgeoning cast of characters, some of whom may be aligned with powerful supernatural forces, to complicate the plot.
No one tells the truth. Ferreting out who killed whom, who is working for whom, and who’s a good person and who’s a bad person keeps the reader turning pages.
If you like a good mystery in an urban fantasy with supernatural elements, you’ll love The Corpse and the Girl from Miami.
Tuesday, May 30, 2017
I signed books at WisCon’s SignOut in the second floor ballroom of the Concourse Hotel in Madison, WI on Memorial Day, May 29, 2017, from Noon until 1:30 PM. I do so every year, although few people at WisCon ask for my autograph (I do, always, have at least one; and one is all I need).
I attend WisCon as a learning experience. Not only do I learn about authors and books I would not hear about otherwise, rubbing shoulders with diverse writers and readers takes me out of my normally complacent comfort zone, therefore allowing me to grow both as a person and as a writer and reader of science fiction and fantasy.
Each year I come away from WisCon filled with fury. I — a privileged white straight male - am seen there as the hated enemy, the quintessential dirty old man, the has-been, the exploiter of the marginalized and vulnerable downtrodden. I am, at WisCon, The Invisible Man, not H. G. Wells’ fictional character but James Ellison’s. And that makes me angry.
WisCon is filled with angry people of all ages, races, gender identities, political persuasions, and disabilities. People like me have always been in the minority at a gender-bending feminist celebration. It doesn’t matter if I support feminist ideals or love the works of Russ, Tiptree, Nisi Shawl, and Nora Jemisin. I am, nevertheless, an outsider at WisCon.
Outsiders, in my biased opinion, make the best writers. We’re able to observe, not necessarily more objectively but more intensely, events and relationships.
One of the cherished events I always look forward to at WisCon is the gathering of mid-career sf and fantasy authors who meet to share survival secrets. We have all been published by major NY houses sometime in the past, but we’ve been affected by changes in the book industry and changes in our own lives that have adversely affected our careers. At one time, we may have been the darlings of the book trade, winners of awards and inspirations for wannabe writers who have since replaced us on bestseller lists. We may or may not still look like our photos on book jackets or that decades ago appeared in Locus. Living up to our reputations has made writing more difficult for many of us. We often become our own worst critics. It’s nice to know I’m not alone in my self-doubt.
Maybe I’m not as much of an outsider as I think I am.
WisCon teaches me that we all fear being left out or left behind or simply ignored. We all want to matter, to be important, to make a difference.
That’s a good lesson for a privileged white straight male to remember.
Monday, May 22, 2017
Two Nights by Kathy Reichs (Bantam Books, July 2017) introduces Sunday Night, a traumatized ex-cop on a mission to find a missing girl and save her life.
Although Sunnie Night allegedly lives in Charleston, SC (actually on Goat Island, just offshore), the first half of the story takes place in Chicago. As a Chicago native, I followed Sunny around the city waiting for the author to make an obvious mistake. She didn’t, which means either she was familiar with Chicago from book signings or she did her research.
I love the brilliant images Reichs creates: “Across Lake Shore Drive, the city hummed with all the notes of a midnight symphony.” Made me wonder if she didn’t listen to Gorden Jenkins’ Manhattan Tower while writing this novel.
The action, however, doesn’t remain in Chicago. Sunnie follows the alleged kidnappers to LA, to Washington, DC, and then to Louisville, KY.
Sunnie has a nasty a scar over one eye. Some asshole stabbed her in the eye with a knife, and she had to shoot and kill him in self-defense. That’s why she was forced to leave the Charleston PD: they wanted to stick her on permanent desk duty after she’d killed an unarmed citizen (he had no gun and the knife didn’t seem to count) and she wanted back on the streets but they wouldn’t let her back with only one eye.
So she quit.
Sunnie has other scars, too, though the others aren’t quite so visible. Scars from the military. Scars from her own childhood.
Oh, and did I mention that she’s unusually tall for a woman?
The title refers to Sunnie and her twin brother Gus — Sunday and August Night. Gus is black and Sunnie can pass for white. Although twins, they look as different as day and night. Their mother was a white immigrant from Ireland and their father was an African-American preacherman. There are other meanings to the title, but you’ll need to read the novel to learn what they might be.
Sometimes the tension becomes so taut it’s almost painful, as if there’s literally a ticking timebomb that will explode any minute now. The author doubles the tension by running parallel mysteries that threaten to intersect: the current mystery Sunnie and Gus must unravel and the mystery of what happened to them as children.
Once I started reading, I couldn’t put the book down. Highly recommended for mystery and thriller lovers.
Thursday, May 18, 2017
Good horror builds expectations. There are a lot of little boos that set the scene, but you know right from the get-go that the big fright comes on Halloween. Everything else is a warm-up or a red-herring.
“I think the environment in our apartment complex had everything to do with what happened,” Harris Naylor admits. “Not just our management policies and our neighbors, but maybe even the issues that had been swimming within our own family.”
Is the apartment complex haunted? Just when you think it is, a logical explanation pops up. But then something else weird happens, and the suspense builds until you’re sure the place is haunted by evil spirits.
Or maybe by crazy people: not just the children but adults, too.
Harris again hits the nail on the head: “If a place is going to be haunted, it’s more likely to be an apartment building, since there’s a high turnaround in tenants and folks from a variety of backgrounds will bring different quirks and neuroses and illnesses with them. Going with the odds, an apartment building simply has more opportunities for crazy, haunted people to live there.”
Or die there.
So who are the Halloween Children really? Mattie and Amber? Ghosts? Evil spirits?
Read the novel and see with your own eyes.