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Posts Tagged ‘former police detective’

RUNNING OUT OF ROAD by Daniel Friedman: Book Review

Buck Schatz is the very personification of a grumpy old man.  Actually he was a grumpy young man too, but he’s gotten more cranky and gruff as he’s aged.  He makes no apology for this, as he believes he has sufficient reasons:  he has dementia, needs a cane to manage even hesitant steps, his wife has terminal cancer, they are living in a studio apartment in an assisted living facility, and their only son died years earlier.

Despite all that, Buck is determined not to give in or give up.  He was once a tough detective on the Memphis police force, a man who faced anti-semitism at every step of his career, as well as questions as to his treatment of those he arrested, and he feels that his reputation for solving murders is pretty much all he has left.

One particular arrest from decades ago has come back to haunt him.  Chester March is on death row for the murder of his wife Margery, and he has enlisted the aid of an NPR reporter, saying that the reason he confessed is that Buck beat the confession out of him.  Now Buck is afraid that March and the reporter may take his reputation away from him.

When he was investigating the case, Buck wondered if Margery was March’s first victim.  He went through the list of unsolved cases of murdered women in the area and found one that appeared similar.  Cecilia Tompkins was last seen getting into a white man’s car, a car that matched the description of the one that belonged to March, and sometime later her brutalized corpse was found.  The killer had tried to dissolve her body using lye, and when that proved impossible her corpse was thrown into the Mississippi River.  Buck thought that the case wasn’t pursued very vigorously, if at all, because she was a black prostitute.

During his investigation Buck visited the street where Cecilia worked and talked to the friend who reported her missing.  When he showed the woman fifteen newspaper photos of various white men, she pointed to March’s picture without hesitation.  Now Buck was more sure than ever that March was responsible for the deaths of both Cecilia Tompkins and Margery March.  Although it couldn’t be proven that March had killed Cecilia, he was convicted of murdering his wife and condemned to be put to death by electrocution.

Running Out Of Road is a portrait of a man whom time seems to have passed by.  There’s virtually no one on the Memphis police force who remembers him, and a police union rep isn’t any help.  At the end of the novel there’s a very telling conversation between Buck and Carlos Watkins, the NPR journalist who brought March’s upcoming execution before the public.  The two men have totally different points of view regarding justice and society, and it makes for riveting reading.

In Watkins’ view of justice, the problem is that the entire system is oppressive, corrupt.  “If you repair or dismantle oppressive systems, you solve your Chester (March) problem.”  But to Buck Schatz, justice is very different.  “There are always going to be monsters.  The systems don’t make them.  We make the system to protect the rest of us from them….That was justice as I understood it….”

Daniel Friedman has written a fascinating book that explores the American justice system  and the sometimes irreconcilable differences between those on opposite sides who hold tightly to their version of right.  It’s a mystery that will make you question your own beliefs.

You can read more about Daniel Friedman 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.

LET ME LIE by Clare Mackintosh: Book Review

Clare Mackintosh’s latest mystery, Let Me Lie, will hold you from the first page until the last.  It is as good as I Let You Go, her novel I reviewed in June, 2016, something I didn’t think was possible.

Let Me Lie opens with the voice of a dead person, but we don’t know who that person is.  That voice is interspersed between chapters told in two other voices–Anna Johnson’s and Murray Mackenzie’s.

Anna is a new mother.  She’s thrilled with her lovely daughter Ella and happy with her partner Mark, but she is grieving the loss of her parents.  Both committed suicide seven months apart at the infamous cliff at Beachy Head, and as the novel opens it’s the first anniversary of Anna’s mother’s death.  Neither body was recovered, but witnesses saw both husband and wife on top of the Head, loading their pockets with stones.  Her mother’s suicide was an exact replica of her father’s, something that is making Anna even more distraught.  Knowing how her mother had suffered after her husband’s death, Anna wonders how she could have done the same thing herself, leaving Anna bewildered and lost.

On this sad day, Anna is horrified to receive a Happy Anniversary card in the mail.  Who would do such a cruel thing, she wonders?  And the message inside is even worse.  Suicide?  Think again.

Both Mark and Anna’s Uncle Billy think the card is a despicable “joke” someone with a warped sense of humor is playing on her.  But Anna, who never felt that her parents were suicidal types, now thinks she has something concrete to go on.  She and Ella go to the local police station where they encounter Murray Mackenzie, a recently retired detective who is now a civilian volunteer on the force.

Bored with his retirement and moved by Anna’s sincerity in her belief that her parents were murdered, he agrees to look into the matter, although he does not plan to share his investigation with the active detectives.  Time enough to tell them when I find something significant, if in fact I do, he thinks.

Now for my confession:  at least four times while reading this novel I “knew” the next turn the story would take and how the book would end.  In each case I was totally wrong.  Just when I was certain someone was guilty and just when I could tell what the next wrinkle in the plot would be, I was wrong again.  Let Me Lie is like a roller coaster ride, but every twist and turn is believable.

Clare Mackintosh is a master in leading you astray so skillfully that you don’t even realize what’s happening.  Not until I had finished the book did I realize how much I had misread and how often I had jumped to conclusions.  I am delighted to have been so mislead so cunningly.

You can read more about Clare Mackintosh 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 COVENANT by Jeff Crook: Book Review

A former police detective/former Coast Guard officer/former heroin addict, currently a virtually homeless photographer blessed and/or cursed with the ability to see ghosts, Jackie Lyons has more parts than a jigsaw puzzle.  Reduced to living in a lower-than-low budget motel and eating ramen noodles or nothing at all, she’s surprised by a call from a woman she met briefly a year earlier and hasn’t heard from since.

Jenny Loftin has called to say that the pastor of her church needs photos taken of an old house that he plans to turn into the parsonage of his new church.  Arriving at Stirling Estates, Jackie is waiting to meet Deacon Falgoust when she sees a man approaching her, his arms waving, his steps uncoordinated.  Suddenly he stumbles over a cliff into a body of water, and Jackie dives in after him.  His body is cold when Jackie pulls him out of the lake; in fact, Sam Loftin had already been for dead several hours when Jackie “saw” him on the cliff and then fall in the water.

Jackie has had visions all her life of people both recently dead and long deceased.  She no longer tries to explain this to others, and her hesitant description of what she saw, trying to avoid saying she saw the ghost of Sam Loftin, lands her in jail overnight.  In the morning she’s released and finds out that Sam’s death quickly has been ruled a suicide, allegedly due to his despair over the death of his young daughter five years earlier.

Deacon Falgoust is certain that Jackie will be able to help Jenny in her search for answers about her husband’s death.  To help them both, he suggests that Jackie move in with Jenny and her family in the Estates and pay a small amount of rent; it turns out that Sam has left a lot of unpaid bills, surprising in view of their upscale lifestyle and the fact that he never complained about business problems.  Nevertheless, Jenny is fearful of losing her home and seemingly wants more from Jackie, whom she suspects of having special powers, than Jackie is willing to give.

The title, The Covenant, refers to the rules, regulations, and restrictions that homeowners in Stirling Estates must agree to when they purchase their houses.  The restrictions are many and are clearly meant to tightly control who buys into the development and how they live.  But, as Deacon Falgoust tells Jackie, there are ways around anything, if the Lord is on your side.

Jackie Lyons is beset by demons, many of which are unexplained in this second novel of the series; that leads me to hope for an early third entry in the series.  Did she quit or was she fired from the Memphis Police Department?  Who was her husband and why did they divorce?  Why did she turn to heroin and how was she able to kick the habit?

The Covenant is a great read with a fascinating heroine and a gripping plot.  Its ending will have you wondering how you missed all the clues that led up to it…I certainly did.

You can read more about Jeff Crook at various sites on the web.

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


THE DROWNING RIVER by Christobel Kent: Book Review

I must stop reading mysteries about foreign places–my “must visit” list is getting way too long.  Now I’ve added Florence, Italy to it.

If you like the Inspector Brunetti series by Donna Leon, you’ll definitely enjoy The Drowning River.   Christobel Kent has created Sandro Cellini, a middle-aged former police detective, soft–spoken and much in love with his wife, a man with a great deal of humanity. Perhaps too much, as it was his humanity that caused his forced resignation from the Florence police.

After a child was kidnapped and found murdered, Sandro Cellini kept the child’s father informed about the suspect’s life, the suspect against whom there was not enough evidence to bring charges although the police knew he had killed the child.  Then, years later, the suspect was found murdered, and the breach of trust that Cellini had committed came to light.  He was allowed to resign so as to not blacken the reputation of the police force.  Unhappy and guilt-ridden, Cellini is at loose ends until his wife Luisa tells him his skills should be put to use as a private investigator.

Four days after he opens his office, a woman walks in and tells her story.  Her husband was found dead in the river, and the police believe it was a suicide.  Lucia Gentileschi doesn’t.  Her husband was eighty-one, considerably older than she, and had the beginnings of Alzheimer’s, but she is sure he wouldn’t have killed himself.  “Why,” asks Cellini, “are you so sure?”  Her answer is simple.  “He never would have left me behind.” But, of course, although they were married for more than forty years, she doesn’t know everything about him.

At the same time, Cellini’s wife brings him a case of a missing English girl, Ronnie Hutton, who has disappeared from her Florence apartment and the art school where she was a student.   The owner of the apartment the girl and her roommate were renting told Luisa Cellini about her disappearance, how the girl’s mother was in Dubai and couldn’t leave, and could Luisa’s husband look into the matter?  Sandro Cellini doesn’t want to, but when he sees a photo of the missing girl in the newspaper he realizes that he had actually seen her in person, from his office window, early on the day she disappeared.  So he’s already involved and has no choice but to get more involved.  And then the two cases intersect.

There are several subplots going on as well.  Luisa Cellini has found a lump on her breast, and there’s the obvious dread of what the biopsy will bring.  And Ronnie Hutton’s roommate feels the police are getting nowhere and that she should become a small part of the investigation.

There’s an amazing sense of place in The Drowning River.  The author takes you street by street, piazza by piazza, until the reader feels that she’s actually walking through the city.  That apparently is due to the fact that English Ms. Kent has spent quite a bit of time in Florence, speaks Italian, and obviously loves the city.  The novel is slow-paced, the story going back and forth between the man who drowned and the girl who disappeared.

This is definitely not your typical private eye mystery, with guns and violence, but a thoughtful look into a city and its people, both natives and visitors.

Unfortunately, Christobel Kent doesn’t have her own web site, but you can read more about her at International Noir.