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Posts Tagged ‘private eye’

BAD COUNTRY by C.B. McKenzie: Book Review

Talk about your hard-boiled mysteries.  Bad Country is one of the hardest-boiled ones I’ve read in a long time.

From the name Montana Estates, one might think it was a community of elegant houses, perhaps McMansions, on a scenic site in a gated community of Tucson.  Well, one would be quite wrong.  In reality, this section of the city is called El Hoyo, or The Hole.  It’s actually on the outskirts of Tucson, so far out that no one wants to acknowledge it.  It’s an almost-empty trailer park, with dirt roads, a never-completed nine-hole golf course, and piles of cinder blocks at the entrance.  Oh yes, also at the entrance is a corpse lying in a pool of blood.

Rodeo Grace Garnet is the only tenant of Montana Estates, unless you count his elderly dog.  A former rodeo champion, Rodeo (his given name) ekes out a living as a private detective.  But he has no idea about the spurt of murders that is going on in and around Los Jarros County.  There have been three in the last week, including the one by his front door, definitely too high a body count for such a sparsely populated area.

Rodeo’s friend Luis Azul Encarnacion, owner of the Twin Arrows Trading Post that Rodeo frequents, has a job for the private eye.  A cowboy has found the body of a teenage boy near a riverbed.  No one knows if the boy, Samuel Rocha, fell off the nearby bridge or was shot off, and the boy’s grandmother wants Rodeo to investigate.  Interestingly, though, Mrs. Rocha doesn’t appear very upset about her grandson’s death, so Rodeo is not quite sure why he’s being hired.  However, he desperately needs a job, so he accepts his new client and begins his investigation.

The cast of characters in Bad Country reads like a list of people you’d rather not know.  There’s Romeo’s former girlfriend Sirena Rae, a stripper with some severe mental health issues; her father, “Apache” Ray Molina, an ageing sheriff with too many dead bodies in his county; Ted Anderton, a member of the Arizona Department of Public Safety Highway Patrol, who can’t seem to forget or forgive that Romeo beat an escaped criminal to death several years ago; and Ronald Rocha, a psychopathic gunslinger determined to avenge the death of his cousin Samuel.

Definitely not for fans of cozy mysteries, Bad Country portrays a poor, rough part of Arizona, far from the natural beauty of the Grand Canyon or the elegant golf resorts of Scottsdale that the tourists see.  Life in Los Jarros county is, for most of its inhabitants, a struggle against poverty, drugs, and crime.  And Rodeo Garnet is in the midst of it all.

C. B. McKenzie has written a noir novel in gritty, street-wise prose.  No wonder Bad Country won the Tony Hillerman Prize for best first novel set in the southwest.  It’s an honor that is well-deserved.

You can read more about C. B. McKenzie at this web site.!mckenzie/c6yx.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her web site.


DON’T LOOK FOR ME by Loren D. Estleman: Book Review

Alec Wynn is a very wealthy man with a very big problem. His young wife is missing, leaving behind only a note saying “Don’t look for me. C.” Alec knows there have been problems in their marriage–the difference in their ages, her infidelities–but he doesn’t understand why she left and doesn’t want to be found. So he hires private investigator Amos Walker to find the missing Cecelia in Don’t Look For Me.

Alec tells Amos that Cecelia was a serial adulterer, the last affair being with an employee of Alec’s, Lloyd Debner. “I fired him , naturally. ….gave him excellent references,” says Alec. So Amos’ first visit is to Lloyd, who reluctantly admits that Cecelia broke off their relationship because she told him he couldn’t satisfy her sexually.

His next visit is to Cecelia’s best friend, Patti Lochner. According to Alec, “If anyone was born to cause trouble in a happy marriage, her name is Patti Lochner.” After hearing only negative comments about Cecelia’s marriage and affairs from Patti, Amos asks her why she dislikes Cecelia so much. Surprised at Amos’ question, she responds, “Cecelia? She’s my best friend.” With friends like this….

The search continues, with stops at a natural health foods/vitamin store that might be a front for something more dangerous, a studio shooting pornographic videos with Cecilia’s former maid as a performer, and a gambling casino where Amos can talk things over with his friend Barry Stackpole. Cecelia was into some dangerous stuff, or at least sniffing around the edges of some of it, but Amos isn’t really getting anywhere. And then Cecelia calls him.

This is, I believe, the twenty-third novel that features Amos Walker, Detroit’s best-known private eye. Amos hasn’t lost a bit of his quick wit, although that doesn’t go over so well with his present client. When asked how big his agency is, Amos responds, “About six-one and one-eighty….I lied about my weight.” Alec’s response–“The humor I can take or let alone.” But the snarky remarks and quick comebacks are part of the Walker persona. He’s been in the business long enough not to be cowed by his clients, no matter how wealthy or powerful they are. After all, they came to him, didn’t they?

Don’t Look For Me brings back two men who form the basis of Amos’ “family.” One is John Alderdyce, now an inspector with the Detroit Police Department, a big bear of a man with a sense of fashion. The other is Barry Stackpole, an investigative journalist wounded a few books back by the Mob, who now has a bad leg and a steel plate in his head. John and Barry might not always agree with Amos or with what he’s doing, but they always have his back.

Loren D. Estleman recently received the Eye, the lifetime achievement award given by the Private Eye Writers of America. That should come as no surprise, as Amos Walker is surely one of the best known and best loved private eyes in America.

You can read more about Loren D. Estleman at this web site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads blog at her web site.



DRINK THE TEA by Thomas Kaufman: Book Review

A foster child without a name or birthdate.  A man who may or may not have fathered a child.  A missing young woman. They all come together in this fast-paced, hard-boiled mystery by Thomas Kaufman.

Willis Gidney, a name he made up himself, has had a tough life. Abandoned by his parents as an infant, he spent years in foster homes and state institutions that might have been found between the pages of a Charles Dickens novel.  The only thing that saved him from a life of crime was the intervention of a Washington, D.C. police captain.

During his first ten years Willis learned to lie, steal, play truant, and fight.  During his years with Captain Shadrack Davies, he learned to love books, slowly developed a moral code, and found a career for himself.

Now Willis is trying to make it as a private detective on the tough streets of our capital; Willis thinks its initials stand for Dysfunctional City. He’s approached by an old friend, jazz saxophonist Steps Jackson, to find a young woman Jackson may or may not have fathered twenty-five years ago.

Willis manages to track down the woman whom Jackson says is the mother of the young woman he’s looking for.  Collette Andrews, the woman who had a one-night affair with Steps Jackson, is now cool, beautiful, married to a wealthy State Department diplomat, and refusing to acknowledge that she’s the mother of Bobbie Jackson.  She demands that Willis leave her house.  A few hours later she calls Willis, saying she needs to talk to him, but when he arrives at her house the police are there and she’s dead.  And Willis is under arrest.

There’s a lot of plot in this debut novel. The agri conglomerates come in for bashing, as do corrupt congressmen, suspect political donations, inept or uncaring welfare officials, and mysterious “abandoned” city rental properties that are using extraordinary amounts of electricity each month.

And then there are the mobsters who first try to cajole, then threaten and beat up Willis, and finally try to force him off the road.  He’s used to the hard-knock life, but this is getting out of hand.

On the positive side, there’s a new romantic interest in his life. Lillian McClellan, cyber sleuth, wears her hair in dreads, has dimples, and smells of sandalwood.  Who could resist?  Willis tries for a while, but it’s a lost cause; he’s smitten.

Thomas Kaufman is an Emmy award-winning cinematographer, and I’m guessing he likes short, quick shots because that’s how he writes.  It can get a bit confusing, as Drink the Tea goes back and forth from Willis’ childhood to the present and back again, all in the same chapter.   It can be frustrating when you’re trying to find the name of a character who appeared in a scene several chapters back or trying to remember just how a particular minor character is related to Willis.

But that’s a small quibble about a very well-written, fast-moving novel.  It is not, however, a book for those who like cozies; it’s more a book that will make you shake your head about the cruelties people inflict on each other. Drink the Tea won the PWA’s (Private Eye Writers of America) award for the Best First Private Eye Novel in 2010.

You can read more about Thomas Kaufman at his web site.

BODY WORK by Sara Paretsky: Book Review

V. I. Warshawski is back, and that’s great news. The heroine of more than a dozen previous mystery novels, this tough Chicago P.I. never disappoints.

As she’s done in her previous books, Sara Paretsky puts layer on top of layer of motives and crimes for Vic to unpack. Vic’s young cousin Petra, whom we met previously in Hardball, is back.  Petra is young, spoiled, and needy, but she’s a relative, and Vic has a hard time saying “no” to her.  This time Petra has a part-time job at a very edgy nightclub in Chicago that is featuring The Body Artist as its main attraction.

The Body Artist’s act is composed of sitting on a stool on the stage, nude except for a thong and the exquisite artwork that covers much of her body, while erotic photos are flashed across a screen in back of her and two burka-clad figures dance erotically alongside her.  In addition, members of the audience are invited to come up to The Body Artist and paint whatever they wish on her body.

Petra calls on Vic one night saying that someone has just tried to kill the Artist, but when Vic arrives at The Gouge club the Artist isn’t interested in cooperating and the club’s manager is rude and hostile.  The following week Petra visits her again with tales of more unpleasantness at The Gouge–out-of-control young guys at one table, a rough-looking middle-aged man at another who’s trying to literally get into Petra’s pants, and a sliver of glass found in one of The Body Artist’s paintbrushes.  And again neither the Artist nor the club’s manager wants to speak to Vic or the police.

On Vic’s third visit to the club, a distraught young woman goes up to the Artist and paints a design on her body.  When a man in the audience sees the design, he loses all control and tries to confront her.  She flees the club and Vic runs after her,  just in time to see her shot and to cradle her body while she bleeds to death.

A few days later the young man from the club, who has been under suspicion for the murder, is found comatose in his apartment and admitted to the jail’s hospital.  His father comes to Vic’s office to ask her to investigate.  He doesn’t believe his son is guilty, but as the young man is unable to speak and tell his story, Vic needs to investigate.

There are a lot of intersecting story lines. Everyone from an Iraqi veteran with post traumatic stress syndrome, Ukrainian mobsters, a Mexican-American family coping with the death of a daughter, a big-time lawyer with a strange interest in the aforementioned family, and the owner of Club Gouge makes an appearance.  None of them will talk to Vic or even admit there are any problems.

Vic is surrounded by her usual group:  her landlord Mr. Contreras; her physician friend Lotte; her lover Jake.  Lotte in particular wants to know why Vic is always putting herself in danger, and Vic is trying to figure out the answer to that question herself.  Mortality is creeping into Vic’s consciousness.  She’s getting older and more reflective, and she’s wondering why she has this need to fight all the battles of the world.  Is it necessary?  Is it right?  And can she always win, or is it impossible to right all the wrongs she sees?

You can read more about Sara Paretsky at her web site.

THE CHICAGO WAY by Michael Harvey: Book Review

The Chicago Way seems to be a tough, corrupt way if Michael Harvey’s series opener is any indication.

Michael Kelly, a former Chicago detective who left the force after cocaine was planted in his car, is now a private investigator. His former partner, John Gibbons, approaches him in an attempt to get Kelly to help him find out the truth about a nine-year-old case in which a woman was brutally raped and stabbed.  The day after the attack, when Gibbons went to the hospital to interview the woman, she’s gone, and so is any indication that the attack took place.  Instead, he’s given a medal, a raise, and a promotion, and told to forget that anything had happened the night before.

Now retired, Gibbons’ conscience is bothering him and he wants to find out the truth of the rape.   All this time Gibbons had thought the victim had been killed in the attack, but she has just come back “from the dead” in a letter addressed to him, and he wants Kelly to investigate.  Kelly agrees, but the next morning he gets a phone call that his former partner has been found dead at the Navy Pier.  And when Kelly returns home from seeing the body, the rape victim is waiting for him, gun in hand.

The city of Chicago is brought vividly to life in this book, almost another character, with its buildings, highways, eateries, and bars.  It’s definitely a city that can both enthrall you and frighten you, depending on whether you’re a tourist or a resident, living on the Gold Coast or in the slums.

Harvey has a nice style, reminiscent of Robert B. Parker’s early Spenser books, with a fine mix of violence and humor.  It’s hard to combine these two, but Harvey does it.  He also does a wonderful job with the many characters that inhabit the novel; each one is given a separate and distinct voice. And there are a lot of supporting characters–Nicole, the crime tech whom Kelly has known since childhood; Diane, the news anchor who’s covering the Gibbons murder and provides a bit of sexual tension; Elaine, the rape victim who comes to life after nine years; Bennett, the assistant D.A. with an unrequited longing for Nicole; and two cops, Rodriguez and Masters.

The Chicago Way is the first in this series, with two other novels following. I plan to pick them up very soon and read my way back to the Windy City.

You can read more about Michael Harvey at his web site.