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Posts Tagged ‘corruption’

AN UNSETTLED GRAVE by Bernard Schaffer: Book Review

Police detective Carrie Santero is doing her best to be a good cop, but it’s not easy in the small town Pennsylvania department where she works.  Policing there is casual, and it appears to her that it’s much more important to the powers-that-be to keep from prying too deeply into anything that might embarrass its officers than it is to solve every crime.

A case in point is that of Monica Grimes.  She was driving home late at night from her gym when she was pulled over by what appeared to be a police car.  The man in uniform pulled Monica out of her car, handcuffed her, and then raped her.  When Carrie goes to interview her in the hospital, Monica is so traumatized she can’t speak coherently and refuses to answer any questions.

Then, when Carrie attempts to look into the police logs of various nearby communities to see who was on duty at the time of the rape, her chief’s comments tell Carrie where his sympathies lie.  “Some lunatic is claiming a cop raped her?” he asks, and refuses to allow any investigation into the charge.  Instead, to make certain she obeys, he sends her across the state to help with a “nice, simple call for assistance” from another department.  But it seems that Carrie brings “trouble” with her wherever she goes.

When Carrie arrives at the Liston-Patterson Township, she’s told that the police have just discovered part of a child’s corpse buried in the woods.  The only missing child anyone can remember is Hope Pugh, who disappeared from her home more than three decades earlier.

Depending on one’s view of things, there was either corruption or an incredible lack of interest in solving Hope’s case.  In her first night in town Carrie discovers more clues than the police did in thirty years.  And there’s definitely something strange in the fact that the former police chief Oliver Rein committed suicide and the much-revered assistant who took over for him was killed immediately thereafter, allegedly in the line of duty.

To make the situation even more complicated, Oliver Rein was the father of Carrie’s mentor Jacob, and his father and his death are two topics Jacob Rein never discusses.

Bernard Schaffer has written an intriguing novel about what happens when small-town crimes, police coverups, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder collide.  The novel serves both as an indictment of a community’s desire to keep its problems quiet and honors the commitment of those who strive to solve crimes, both old and new, against tough odds.

An Unsettled Grave is the second in the Santero and Rein series, and I hope for a third book soon.

You can read more about Bernard Schaeffer at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.


THE FAIRFAX INCIDENT by Terrence McCauley: Book Review

When a corrupt cop loses his job for not being corrupt enough, that’s a great idea for a novel.  And Terrence McCauley takes that concept and runs with it, very successfully, in what hopefully will be a new series.

Charlie Doherty was a New York City policeman, a bag man and enforcer for the even more corrupt Chief of Police Andrew Carmichael.  Shortly before he was kicked off the force, Charlie had gone against the chief’s express order and successfully investigated the murder of Jessica Van Dorn and the abduction of her brother Jack.  Mr. Van Dorn, to show his appreciation, hired Charlie as sort of a “private detective to the rich,” asking him to look into matters for various wealthy friends in trouble.

Now the detective has been asked to meet with Eleanor Fairfax, whose wealthy husband has allegedly committed suicide in his Empire State Building office.  Despite the fact that Walter Fairfax was found alone in his office with his fingerprints the only ones on the gun that killed him, his widow absolutely refuses to believe that her late husband died by his own hand.

Charlie reminds Mrs. Fairfax that the the official verdict was death by accidental shooting.  But she, wise to the ways of the world, knows that the police chief, who had overseen the case personally, will one day “darken my door…seeking to be repaid for a favor I neither requested not wanted.”   What she does want, she tells Charlie, is proof that her husband was murdered, improbable as that seems to the detective and to everyone else involved in the Fairfax death.

The Fairfax Incident is a noir novel that fits completely in its 1930s time frame.  Charlie Doherty is no angel, even by his own reckoning, but he does have a personal definition of morality.  He is perfectly willing to take on the investigation even though he believes Walter Fairfax did indeed commit suicide.  And having agreed to look into it, he will do his best to find the truth, even if, as it happens, no one besides the widow wants him to.

Terrence McCauley’s prose will capture readers from the first chapter.  As I noted, Charlie is not a poster boy for a morally upright detective, official or private, but both because he feels he owes it to Mr. Van Dorn to do his best and because he has his own standards, he will not let Walter Fairfax’s indifferent son or the vengeful Chief Carmichael stand in his way.

I’m looking forward to reading more about Charlie Doherty and his relationships with the residents of the neighborhood that goes, in his words, “from Park to The Park.”

You can read more about Terrence McCauley at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.


TATIANA by Martin Cruz Smith: Book Review

There aren’t many mysteries that leave you with a smile on your face.  But that’s what Tatiana by Martin Cruz Smith did for me.

It’s not that this novel isn’t frightening.  It definitely is.  It’s simply that it’s so well written, its characters so well drawn, that when the book ends the way you hope it will, you’re totally satisfied. 

There are four main threads that tie the novel together, although at first they seem to be separate, unrelated strands.  First we are introduced to Joseph, a multilingual translator working in the Russian city of Kaliningrad, far from the capital.  He has transcribed notes for the conference at which he was translating, notes not in shorthand but in a secret code that only he is able to read.

The second thread takes us to the Moscow funeral of Mafia boss Grisha Grigorenko, his empire left up for grabs.  Who will be able to claim it and hold it:  his son Alexi, not considered to be the equal of his late father; Ape Beledon and his two sons, all three rival mobsters of the Grigorenkos; or the Shagelmans, a husband and wife specializing in banking and building schemes?

The third is the eponymous Tatiana, an investigative journalist in Moscow.  According to the newspapers and the police, she jumped to her death from her apartment window.  But those who knew her, or knew her simply by reputation, don’t believe that.  They say she was fearless and totally committed to uncovering the corruption rampant in the “new Russia” and would never have killed herself because she valued the importance of her work too much.  There has been no further investigation and no body available, so naturally police detective Arkady Renko gets involved.

And the fourth is Arkady’s semi-official foster son Zhenya, now seventeen and determined to join the Russian Army.  Because he’s still a minor, he needs Arkady’s signed permission to enlist, something that Arkady refuses to give him.  So Zhenya takes matters into his own hands with a bit of extortion.

The four threads eventually combine, tangle, and knot.  Arkady investigates the case, although his superiors tell him numerous times that there is no case; and there’s no body because, either accidentally or deliberately and in spite of written directions to the contrary, Tatiana’s body was cremated.  Still, Arkady plugs on.

Having read nearly all the previous Arkady Renko novels, I’m still in awe of his survival powers, first in the Communist Soviet Union and now in the “new Russia.”  The police are just as corrupt as they were decades earlier, and now Arkady must contend with the forces of the newly mega-rich Russians who have their own agenda.  Their luxury cars, their expensive jewels, their elegant dachas–these Russians don’t want to give them up and will use any means necessary to hold on to them.  How Arkady manages to survive in this world of government ineptitude and corruption and billionaire oligarchs is nothing short of miraculous.

I’ve been a fan of Martin Cruz Smith ever since his short-lived series, Gypsy in Amber and Canto for a Gypsy, appeared in the early 1970s.  I really enjoyed those novels and wish the series had continued.  But I find every Arkady Renko novel a thrilling read, so I can’t complain.

You can read more about Martin Cruz Smith at this web site.

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







THE RANGER by Ace Atkins: Book Review

Almost as exciting as it is for me to read the debut mystery novel of an author is finding an established author whose books I haven’t read. I’ve found the latter in Ace Atkins, author of The Ranger.

Although Atkins is a mystery writer with eight books prior to this one, I wasn’t familiar with his work until I read that he had been chosen to continue the Spenser novels.  But in reading The Ranger, the first of a new series, I’m delighted to have discovered him now.

Quinn Colson is a member of the Army’s elite Rangers. He’s come home to northeast Mississippi for the first time in six years for the funeral of his Uncle Hamp, sheriff in the rural town where Quinn grew up.  He’d been very close to his uncle, especially after Quinn’s father deserted the family and his parents divorced, and he’s finding it hard to believe that his uncle put a .44 in his mouth and pulled the trigger.  But that’s what everyone tells him.

When Quinn enlisted in the Army, he knew he wanted to be a Ranger.  He also wanted to leave as much of his past behind as possible–his missing father, his mother’s obsession with Elvis, his drug-addicted sister, his high-school sweetheart who jilted him while he was in Afghanistan.  But, of course, much of that is waiting for him when he returns to Jericho, Tibbehah County, Mississippi.

Quinn’s father is still nowhere around; his mother still plays Elvis’s songs night and day, except when she’s listening to gospel; his sister is turning tricks to pay for her drug habit and has left her toddler son with their mother; and his former sweetheart is married to the town’s very successful doctor.  It’s no wonder Quinn stayed away as long as he did.

But things will get even worse before they get better. The land that Hamp owned, which has been in the family for generations, is being claimed by Johnny Stagg, a bully with lots of seedy businesses.  Stagg shows Quinn a scrap of paper with Hamp’s signature on it that allegedly makes Stagg the owner of the land in lieu of repayment of a loan.  Quinn doesn’t believe that the document is valid, but even if it is he’s determined not to give the land away.  “I’d rather burn the house and timber,” he says.

Since Quinn’s father’s disappearance from his life, his uncle had been his mentor and guide.  It’s painful for Quinn to hear that corruption had flourished so blatantly while Hamp was sheriff, that he ran up huge gambling debts that he was unable to repay, and that the sleazy Stagg is now a power to be reckoned with in Jericho.  What had Hamp been thinking and doing while Quinn was away?

The characters in The Ranger are fascinating. As in real life, some have overcome and some have failed to overcome their problems, and the most sympathetic ones continue to fight to improve their lives.  The ones who don’t succeed, like Quinn’s sister, can almost break the reader’s heart when attempt after attempt fails.

Ace Atkins’s second book in the Quinn Colson series, The Lost Ones, has just been published, and you can read more about it on his web site.

THE DROP by Michael Connelly: Book Review

Everybody counts or nobody counts. That’s the mantra that propels Harry Bosch.  The Los Angeles police detective is still in the Open-Unsolved Unit, better known as the Cold Cases Unit.  Any unsolved murder, even one going back fifty years, can be reopened.  There’s no statute of limitations on murder in California.

As the novel opens Harry receives a new case.  It’s one in which it looks as if someone made a serious error.  A young woman, Lily Price, was grabbed on her way home from the beach one day in 1989 and brutally raped and murdered.  Her killer left only one identifying mark, a spot of blood on her neck, apparently transferred by the belt he used to strangle her.  Now that blood spot is reexamined using today’s techniques, and it comes back identified as belonging to a convicted sexual offender.  There’s only one problem with this identification–at the time of the crime, the suspect whose blood was on the victim’s body was only eight years old.

Harry is called away from a meeting about this case by a phone call from his former partner Kiz Rider, who is now the assistant to the chief of police.  She tells Harry he’s about to be called onto a case involving Irvin Irving, a former deputy chief in the department who had been forced out and is currently a city councilman.  Irvin is now seen by the department as an enemy, getting his own back by cutting the department’s budget whenever possible.

Irvin’s only son, George, was found early that morning on the sidewalk in front of a hotel after a drop from the hotel’s seventh floor. Was it an accident, a suicide, or a murder?  In spite of the antagonistic past Harry and Irvin shared, Irvin claims he wants Harry as the chief investigator on this case.  He says he’s willing to accept whatever the truth is.  Harry is wary, but he has no choice–the case is his.

The Drop is as good as it gets. Harry Bosch is back in top form.  He’s a man who doesn’t suffer fools gladly, if at all, and he doesn’t bend.  When the Irving case takes him to places he doesn’t want to go, he’s aware of the dangers ahead but goes anyway.  It’s his job, and he’s going to do it right.

The “high jingo,” as Harry calls orders from his superiors, is that Harry should hold off on the cold case for a while and concentrate on the Irving case.  But that’s not Harry’s style, and he’s determined to handle both cases simultaneously.  When he sets out to interview Clayton Pell, whose blood was found on Lily, he also meets Dr. Hannah Stone, a psychologist who works with sexual offenders.  There’s an immediate spark between them, something Harry hasn’t felt in a long time, and in spite of their different views about sexual predators they begin a relationship.  But can it survive their opposing points of view toward Clayton Pell, plus a secret that Hannah is keeping?

Michael Connelly has again penned a fast-paced, well-written novel about Harry Bosch, a man with a many-faceted personality. He’s a loving father, an excellent policeman, but also a man who is unforgiving to his enemies.  He is certain of the right way to do his work and which path to take, and when others don’t meet his standards he writes them off.  There is my sense that in The Drop Harry Bosch is mellowing just a bit, but you’ll have to read the novel to see if you agree.

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

BAIT by Nick Brownlee: Book Review

A friend recently sent me an e-mail about the current craze for international mysteries.  It seems that publishers are rushing all over the globe to find the next Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and they’re including the African continent in their search.  I don’t know if Bait will be among the next world-wide best sellers, but it’s certainly a fascinating, well-written thriller that looks deeply into a country not too well known to most American readers.

Kenya is a country that has been independent for decades, but it is a country that has been rife with tribal rivalries, riots, crime, and corruption in recent years. Enter Mombassa detective Daniel Jouma, perhaps the only honest cop in that city.  Enter from the other side of the stage ex-detective Jake Moore, who left England five years ago after a bullet wound and ended up in Mombassa running a charter fishing boat with a partner.  But now Moore’s business is in deep financial trouble, and his partner Harry is dealing with some very dangerous characters in order to keep afloat (pardon the pun).

The book opens with the death of another fishing boat captain, Dennis Bentley, and his young African assistant in a suspicious explosion that the police of the nearby city of Malindi are quick to call an accident.  What follows is another string of murders, all seemingly unconnected but which are, in fact, part of the underworld of Mombassa. When Bentley’s daughter Martha flies in from New York to see about her late father’s business and learn the details of his death, more murders and attempted murders follow.  There’s an unsavory cast of characters in Mombassa–an unctuous hotel owner, a former South African policeman kicked off the force for brutality in the post-apartheid days, a city crime boss who thinks he’s benevolent because instead of murdering one of the prostitutes he controls he merely cuts off one of her fingers–all of whom are involved in the city’s corrupt ways.  And then Martha’s boyfriend flies in from New York despite her wishes, bringing a new set of of complications.

The corruption in Mombassa is deep and wide and reaches throughout the country and abroad.   Where there’s money to be made, apparently, there’s no level too low to go to in order to get a piece of the action.  But as is made clear in the book, corruption is an equal opportunity employer.  Although we see the effect of crime in Kenya, the repercussions actually reach around the world to Europe and America.  No country’s hands are clean, it seems.

Brownlee’s characters are well-described and their motives are realistic. There are some clear lines between “good” and “bad” behavior and some fuzzy ones, as is true in life.  The author’s description makes the city and its people come alive, and the poverty that is almost everywhere makes the corruption easier to understand, if not to justify.  Two other books follow Jouma and Moore’s adventures in Mombassa, and I hope there will be more.

Jouma and Moore are an interesting pair, reminding me in some ways of a latter-day Kramer and Zondi by James McClure, an excellent series that takes place in pre-apartheid South Africa.  I hope Nick Brownlee will follow in McClure’s footsteps and give readers more insight into another African country.

You can read more about Nick Brownlee at his web site.