Sunday, 25 September 2022

GERRY BOYLE - LIFELINE (1996)


Synopsis/blurb ...

The tendency toward mayhem that follows Jack McMorrow like a shadow finally sends his girlfriend Roxanne fleeing to the relatively stable urban center of Portland, leaving Jack to nurse a sore heart and mull an ultimatum alone in the wilds of Maine. In an effort to clean up his act, Jack takes a job as a courthouse reporter for the Kennebec Observer. What seems like a safe choice becomes dangerous when Jack is drawn into a domestic abuse case that leaves a woman dead and McMorrow tangled in a messy web of innuendo, conflicted emotions, and mortal danger. It’s time for Jack to grow up, but can he do it? Is it his destiny to follow his subjects into a life of rancor and violence, or will he be able to escape the call of his darker side and find some measure of peace?

Lifeline is the 3rd book in author Gerry Boyle's Jack McMorrow series. McMorrow is a former New York Times reporter, who is now living in Maine, with his days of burning ambition and career building behind him. He still has a nose for a story though.

McMorrow takes a part-time gig as a court reporter for a local paper. His first report concerns a domestic abuse victim who is seeking the court's protection from a drunken boyfriend. Boyle's report on Donna Marchant, ruffles a few feathers at the newspaper, with the powerful local prosecutor who seems to run the court as her local fiefdom and with the boyfriend himself.

Threats of violence follow and after an escalation involving further menace - physical and verbal - to Donna and McMorrow,  Donna winds up dead. McMorrow feeling compelled by guilt and a sense of responsibility continues the search for answers, not believing the police narrative of the boyfriend's obvious guilt.

I found this book a lot more absorbing and interesting than the first couple in the series. This time around we either get where we're going a bit quicker, or maybe I've gotten used to Boyle's storytelling and was invested enough in the tale to enjoy the journey.

I like McMorrow as a character. There's a tenacity and resilience about him. He's experienced and very capable as a reporter, which isn't necessarily the kind of journalist which the Kennebec Observer is looking for. The editor just wants to do non-reporting and to ruffle no feathers. Jack's style isn't a good fit and serves to enliven the local newsroom. He's loyal to his girlfriend, who incidentally has just moved further away from him for work purposes. He's feeling a bit abandoned here and is jealous of the new friendships his girlfriend is making in Portland. He does also have a fondness, if not exactly a reliance on a beer or two at the end of a day.

McMorrow tackles the boyfriend, the victim's sister, and the ex-husband in a bid to get to the truth. He does the hard yards tracking down witnesses and accounts which the police don't seem to have covered. He stands up to bullies and intimidation and eventually uncovers the truth behind Donna's death.

I liked the twists in the story. I had a feeling the outcome was heading in a certain direction, but Boyle wrong-footed me while keeping the outcome plausible. I enjoyed the narration from Michael A. Smith.

4 from 5 

Bloodline and Deadline have been previously enjoyed. 

Read - (listened to) August, 2022
Published - 1996
Page count - 360 (11 hrs 18 mins)
Source - Audible purchase
Format - Audible



Friday, 23 September 2022

FÉLIX SÉGUIN and ERIC THIBAULT - INSIDE THE MONTREAL MAFIA (2022)

 


Synopsis/blurb….

A groundbreaking, exclusive inside look at the North American Mafia and the Rizzuto family

For the first time in Canadian history, a high-ranking mafioso agreed to break the code of omertà by talking to journalists. From October 2014 to October 2019, Félix Séguin and Eric Thibault held multiple secret meetings with Andrew Scoppa, getting an exclusive inside look at the inner workings of the North American Mafia. This book is the culmination of their perilous investigation. It sheds light on the life — and death — of one of the most influential organized crime figures in recent years.

At exactly 2 p.m., there was a knock at the door. It was him: the source every journalist dreamed of having. The short man was armed and placed his gun on a table.

“Are you impressed?” he asked with a broad grin.

“Yes. Very much.”

Before me was Andrew Scoppa, close confidant of the late mafia boss Vito Rizzuto, international heroin trafficker and cold-blooded killer.

An okay splash of true crime which I enjoyed, but perhaps not as much as I had hoped to. Two journalists meet with a key Montreal Mafia man over a period of about five years until he was gunned down. Andrew Scoppa and his brother were leading players in Montreal’s criminal underworld. Both died violently.

Scoppa unburdens himself to the journos, documenting feuds, vendettas, and schisms in the organisation. Most of the book concerns the death of A, B, C etc arranged by X, Y and Z on this date, that date, at such and such a place. After a while the names become a blur and are indistinguishable from each other. Scoppa never actually confesses to playing a role in any of the killings. It’s more a kind of oral history of who did what to whom and when.

One thought struck me. Law enforcement could have diverted resources away from Organised Crime surveillance and monitoring and just left them alone to kill each other, until it was a case of last man standing. The organisation was riven by rifts, and jealousy, and disputes and a constant jostling for power. It seemed like they spent more time battling each other than they did making any money.

There’s talk of the importance of control of ‘the book’ which was the major revenue source – illegal sports betting. The profit margin and risk was a lot better and lesser than the danger and profit margins inherent in dealing drugs. Some of the margins Scoppa reported on for kilos of cocaine seemed really tight, even for a wholesaler. (Not that I've ever wholesaled drugs.)

I expected there to be some time spent discussing protection schemes and prostitution, but these topics never came up. Scoppa tried to use his journalistic contacts to try and glean police information and similarly the police tried to see if the journalists were feeding back to Scoppa, by planting false information to see if they were playing one off against the other. The journalists kept a straight bat.

The most interesting part of the book for me was the evolving relationships between various players in the underworld – the Hells Angels, the Rock Machine Motorcycle Club and the Italian families. There was an out and out war between the biker gangs for several years from the mid-90s to the early 00s which resulted in about 160 deaths. Incredible really. At various times the Hells Angels were in alliance with the families and worked for them, other times it seems as if the Angels were the ones on top.

Scoppa often seemed discontented with his life of crime, but never actually made the effort to give it up to try lead a normal life with his family, probably far away from Canada. Eventually he becomes another victim of the violence.

3 stars from 5

Read – (listened to) August, 2022

Published – 2022

Page count – 230 (7 hrs 39 mins)

Source – review copy from Net Galley

Format – Audible


MARC OLDEN (aka ROBERT HAWKE) - DEATH OF A COURIER (1974)


Synopsis/blurb…

To break the mafia, Bolt must face his murderous ex-partner.

Narcotics agents aren't supposed to ride horses. But today John Bolt is tailing a drug courier in Central Park, and in two feet of snow, horseback is the only way to ride. When he hears the pop-pop-pop of a .32 pistol, he knows his man is dead. Bolt charges to the scene, and the gunmen open fire. They kill his horse, and Bolt avenges the animal. As one of the killers bleeds into unconsciousness, he says they were sent by Apache.

Apache. Codename for Paris Whitman, a former top man in Bolt's department who flipped to the other side. Now a mafia enforcer, Apache is working his way up the mob ladder by targeting his old colleagues. Once, he and Bolt were partners. Now they fight each other in a duel to the death that will determine whether the trickle of drugs into this country stops, or becomes a flood.

Death of a Courier is the second of nine books featuring John Bolt, a narcotics agent. I enjoyed the first, Narc a few months ago.

New York and a 70s setting and vibe (unsurprisingly as it was written and published then), drugs, violence, conflict between rival gangs for control of the market, and a former agent turned rogue, after an undercover operation went horrifically wrong. Paris Whitman aka Apache felt abandoned by his colleagues and has gone over to the other side, vowing vengeance on those he felt failed him. `   

Best book ever? No, but enough in the storyline that kept me invested and entertained. The events that caused Paris to turn against his employers are quite brutal and disturbing. Olden writes some muscular prose at times. 

I like John Bolt as a main character. He's quite happy to meet fire with fire when confronted by danger and imminent violence. Not especially a shoot first, ask questions later policy, but if it's a case of them or him, it's definitely going to be them.

I'll be back for the third in the series when time allows, which is one benchmark of whether I've enjoyed a book or not? Do I want to read more from the author and this series? In this case - yes.

3.5 from 5

Read – August, 2022 

Published – 1974

Page count – 169

Source Kindle Unlimited

Format - Kindle

Thursday, 22 September 2022

LAWRENCE BLOCK - THE BURGLAR WHO PAINTED LIKE MONDRIAN (1983)

 


Synopsis/blurb ...

Bernie Rhodenbarr - By day he sells books in his Greenwich Village store - by night he's a master of illegal entry. But this time Bernie didn't do the burglary ... but one missing painting worth a cool quarter of a million dollars, two corpses and a very clever frame up put him on top of the most wanted list!

Another caper in the Bernie Rhodenbarr series and this time it concerns a painting. There's the usual cast of characters in addition to Bernie himself; we have Carolyn and the inevitable appearance of Ray, the purchasable cop. This time his lawyer, Wally makes more than a fleeting appearance and Bernie gets to consult with him, usually when jogging - something which Bernie tries to avoid. Par for the course there's also a body or two.

I think I'm running out of things to say about the series. 
Repetition, repetition, repetition. That's me, not the books, though there is a kind of formula to the plots. 

Bernie gets wind of or is hired to steal something. He gets his hands on the goods or he doesn't, or when he does they get reappropriated from him very quickly. Either way there's a dead body and Bernie half in the frame for the murder and having to solve the crime himself, to escape the clutches of the law. It's usually achieved with the connivance and the greasing of our aforementioned cop's palm. 

And do you know what? I don't actually care. 
I enjoy Block's writing ...... his characters, his wit, his New York of the 70s, 80s and 90s as I run through the series.... the bars, the subway journeys, the cab rides and the chats with the drivers and the regularity with which the same driver seems to keep appearing whenever Bernie needs a cab, the coffee shops, the customers in the book shop, the lunches with Carolyn, the trysts with various women that flit in and out of his life, never lingering too long, the games with the shop cat Raffles, the mentions of books and authors that he or Carolyn might be reading, or that he might have sold to a customer.

I like the mechanics of Bernie's illegal profession - the different locks, the different techniques he uses and the methods and routines he undertakes, pre-burglary and during the commission of his crimes. I enjoy his furtiveness and his cunning and also his aversion to violence. For a bad guy, he's a good guy.

Another solid series entry and like the previous ones - 4 stars from 5

Previously enjoyed...

Read - August, 2022
Published - 1983
Page count - 320
Source - owned copy
Format - Paperback

Wednesday, 21 September 2022

ALLEN ESKENS - THE STOLEN HOURS (2021)


Synopsis/blurb…

Lila Nash is on the verge of landing her dream job—working as a prosecutor under the Hennepin County Attorney—and has settled into a happy life with her boyfriend, Joe Talbert. But when a woman is pulled from the Mississippi River, barely alive, things in the office take a personal turn.

The police believe the woman’s assailant is local photographer Gavin Spenser, but the case quickly flounders as the evidence wears thin. It seems Gavin saw this investigation coming—and no one can imagine how carefully he has prepared.

The more determined Lila is to put Gavin behind bars, the more elusive justice becomes. Battling a vindictive new boss and haunted by the ghosts of her own unspeakable attack, which she’s kept a dark secret for eight long years, Lila knows the clock is ticking down. In a race against an evil mastermind, it will take everything Lila’s got to outsmart a killer—and to escape the dark hold of her own past.

The Stolen Hours is my latest encounter with author, Allen Eskens’ work. Needless to say, having enjoyed all my previous reads of his - The Life We Bury, The Heavens May Fall, The Shadows We Hide, The Deep Dark Descending - Mr Reliable doesn’t let me down here.
  
It's a cracking story which combines a murder investigation with elements of a legal thriller and also has a sort of cold case feel along with a sympathetic heroine, overcoming events of her past while slaying a few demons in her present.

Story, pacing, twists, surprises, a small reliance on a little bit of coincidence perhaps, a creepy super smart predator, and a super smarter adversary. Blended, meshed, mixed up and gelled to perfection. 

Eskens gives us - court scenes, prison scenes, back story, a methodical investigation, planning taken to the nth degree, strategies, plans, control, fear, suspicion, family issues, career, ambition, victimisation, strength and healing, and more.

I liked the dynamics between the prosecuting office and the police detectives on the case. Lila's past traumas added an extra dynamic to the proceedings. 

Tense, exciting, gripping and deeply satisfying. Definitely recommended. 

Lila's boyfriend here, Joe Talbert has a minor role. He's a regular feature in some of Eskens' earlier books.

4.5 from 5

I'm revisiting the TBR stacks to see what else of Eskens I may be inadvertently sitting on.

Read – (listened to) August, 2022
Published – 2021
Page count – 321 (10 hrs 1 min)
Source – Libro trial
Format - Audible

Tuesday, 20 September 2022

LAWRENCE BLOCK - THE BURGLAR WHO STUDIED SPINOZA (1980)


Synopsis/blurb ...

Bernie Rhodenbarr is after the prized coin collection of one Herb Colcannon and he has the inside information to help him liberate it ... or so he thinks! But the Colcannon house is a set-up and he's not the first to think of the heist. What's more the collection consists of just one coin ... worth over $250,000 ... so who is Bernie going to sell it to and how is he going to get away with it?

Another enjoyable outing in the company of Lawrence Block, Bernie Rhodenbarr and best friend sidekick, Carolyn. Well, I think it was enjoyable as I can't actually recall too much about it a little more than six weeks after reading it. 

Hmm. either I read too much and things kind of blur into one, particularly as it was the fourth Bernie book in a matter of a month and I've since read another three in the series, or I have to accept that I'm getting on a bit and my memory is diminishing. I can't recall feelings of boredom, disappointment or anxious page counting until the end. 

Anyways, it was Lawrence Block and never having encountered a book of his I didn't enjoy, a good time was almost certainly had.

Bernie, a coin to steal and a burglary and something inevitably going pear-shaped. 

Block's trademark wit, characters, New York setting and an entertaining if not gripping story were undoubtedly present. I like the lighter touch of the Bernie books compared to the Matt Scudder series. I like them both equally though. I don't have a favourite, I can just enjoy the differences between the two while savouring an author who never lets me down and has a multitude of strings to his bow.

4 from 5

The first three in the series were - Burglars Can't Be Choosers, The Burglar in the Closet and The Burglar Who Liked to Quote Kipling. Hopefully I can remember more about the next one when I come to pen a few thoughts.

Read - August, 2022
Published - 1980
Page count - 224
Source - owned copy
Format - Paperback

Sunday, 18 September 2022

ADAM PLANTINGA - POLICE CRAFT (2018)

 


Synopsis/blurb...

A veteran police officer gives his thoughtful, balanced views on police shootings, racial profiling, community relations, and every other aspect of policing―and he’ll change what you think about the police. From the author of the acclaimed 400 Things Cops Know, Police Craft is a thought-provoking and revelatory examination of policing in America, as seen by a working police officer. Adam Plantinga, a 17-year veteran sergeant with the San Francisco Police Department, gives an inside view of the police officer’s job, from handling evidence and conducting interrogations to coping with danger, violence, and death. Not hesitating to confront controversial issues, Plantinga presents the police officer’s views on police shootings, racial profiling, and relationships between police and the community―and offers reasoned proposals on what the police and the public can do better.

A bit of non-fiction with some reflections on policing in the community from a serving sergeant in the San Francisco Police Department.

Thoughtful, topical, interesting, and entertaining, even though not all of Adam Plantinga's attempts at a bit of brevity hit the mark. I was interested in what he had to say and it was good to get a perspective on modern policing in the US from one of the boys in blue.

He discusses training, tactics on the street, interviewing techniques, evidence gathering, protocol, family, neighbourhoods, public interactions, cameraderie, experience and how the job changes people, 9/11 and a lot more besides.

Most of the times you read about the police in the US and the UK, where I live, it's because of some catastrophic event, usually a failure - an abuse of the power entrusted to them, an over reaction to a protestor, or the use of racial profiling in stop and search tactics disproportionately affecting minority communities and racism in the ranks, not always punished by the authorities. In the US, it will often be because of a controversial and always saddening fatality.

You don't very often read about the vast majority of serving officers, who do just that - serve their community. Plantinga tells their stories and presents examples of his colleagues that have gone above and beyond during his years of service.

He doesn't shy away from condemning the rotten eggs that we've heard about though he perhaps comes across as a bit defensive at times of his colleagues. That said I don't envy the job he or his colleagues does in serving the public. What's the saying? Unless you've walked a mile in another man's shoes....

Educational, informative and a really worthwhile read with a great narration from Steve Marvel.

4 stars from 5

Read - (listened to) August, 2022    
Published - 2018
Page count - 250 (10 hrs 26 mins)
Source - Audible download during Libro trial
Format - Audible

KEITH BRUTON - THE LEMON MAN (2022)


Synopsis/blurb...

TASKS:
1. Buy Food. 2. Visit Ma. 3. Kill Henry O’Neil

The Lemon Man is Patrick Callen, a bicycle-riding hitman with mild O.C.D. in Dublin, Ireland whose carefully ordered life is totally upended when he becomes the accidental caretaker of a baby boy. Now he’s got to balance his daily to-do list of errands and murders-for-hire with his unexpected domesticity, which impacts him and his work in ways he never expected…and that could get him killed.

"Keith Bruton's passion for his hometown of Dublin and for crime fiction shines like a beacon in hiis glorious debut novel ... bringing to mind some of Donald E. Westlake's vintage efforts. His quiet, domestic set pieces are as rewarding, and as exciting in some ways, as his riveting action scenes." Mystery Scene Magazine

Dublin - my old home town, a hitman (I do like a hitman book) and a baby - not his own but one he has assumed responsibility for - what's not to like? I'm also a list-maker and the main character is exactly the same. I could easily identify with him. 

Really good fun. Great storyline where our hero, Patrick Callen seems beset by accidents, misadventure and pure bad luck, while he cycles around the city doing his thing. His thing being killing people. 

And after making a newborn an orphan, acquiring the additional title of kidnapper and stand-in-dad-parent-unofficial guardian. It's kind of hard to strike the correct work-life balance when you've a newborn baby to care for and you haven't got a scooby on how to go about it.

I loved seeing Dublin through Keith Bruton's eyes. I never knew it had so many rivers. 
Why should I though - I haven't lived there for over 50 years.

Fresh, funny, original, satisfying. I look forward to seeing what Keith Bruton turns up with next.

4.5 from 5 

Read - August, 2022
Published - 2022
Page count - 268
Source - review copy from publisher Brash Books
Format -  Paperback

Saturday, 17 September 2022

LAWRENCE BLOCK - THE BURGLAR WHO LIKED TO QUOTE KIPLING (1979)

 


Synopsis/blurb …

Bookseller, thief – Bernie Rhodenbarr can’t resist the lure of a long lost Kipling poem, even if it locked inside a millionaire’s high security library. So Bernie goes browsing and sure enough he liberates the object in question … but also finds a dead redhead and is caught with the proverbial smoking gun by those boys in blue, who are ready to book Bernie for Murder One!

Another day, another Bernie burglary and another Block curveball that sees Bernie minus the loot and coming to after being slipped a mickey. He has a gun in his hand, a dead dame opposite him and the cops are kicking down the door.

Bernie and lesbian friend Carolyn must get to the bottom of the mystery while dodging cops and an assortment of miscreants and their henchman seeking a Kipling book, of which there is only one known copy.

New York, a bookstore and Bernie a bookstore owner, an unsuccessful shoplifter who pays, a friendship, a job, an initially successful caper, a rude awakening, a death, an escape, a hideout, more amateur sleuthing, a phone that doesn’t stop ringing, a jealous girlfriend, a car that keeps getting stolen, a wealthy Maharajah, a Sikh heavy, a book dealer gone AWOL, some tiresome poetry, a handy Polaroid camera, a few more B&Es, and a familiar cop willing to help as long as his palm gets greased.

Good clean fun. I like the dynamics of Bernie’s friendship with Carolyn. I liked her willingness to break the law to help Bernie. I enjoyed the denouement when Bernie has the cast of possible murderers all assembled at his bookstore.

I’m not that familiar with Rudyard Kipling’s work. I’m intrigued enough to see if the scarce book that causes Bernie’s problems here – The Deliverance of Fort Bucklow - exists or is a figment of Lawrence Block’s imagination. I did also like the references to Richard Stark’s Parker capers throughout this one. (Another series I ought to get reacquainted with.)

Roll on #4 in the series. 


4 from 5

Burglars Can’t Be Choosers and The Burglar in the Closet were previously enjoyed.

Read – July, 2022

Published – 1979

Page count – 208

Source – purchased copy

Format – Paperback

Friday, 16 September 2022

MARC OLDEN - KILL THE REPORTER (1978)

 


Synopsis/blurb….

Harker uncovers a cult whose members believe in peace, love, understanding, and torture.
Rudolph Franklin thinks his biggest problem is re-election. A battle with a fellow senator about military spending is getting ugly, and if he can't scrap out a victory, his career will be dead in the water. He calls Harker, a crack investigative reporter, to leak a story for him. Franklin thinks his problems are political -- until his daughter disappears.

In Barbarann's bedroom, Harker finds pamphlets for the Children's Crusade, a hippy-dippy cult best known for selling buttons and hard candy on street corners. But Harker learns about the crusade's darker side -- the enforcers charged with keeping members in line, and keeping the press from asking questions. His first warning is a dead cat, hung from the ceiling of his hotel room, paw sliced off. If he crosses the Crusade again, the next paw they take will be his own.

Another outing with investigative journalist Harker tackling a cult with overlaps into a big money defence contract coming up for renewal and the rumours that the $100m defence spend is going to be wasted on a turkey.

70s, politics, a missing report, an imminent contract, big bucks, pressure, influence, control, a cult, brainwashing, kidnapping, secrecy, a gang of violent enforcers, a missing person, torture, coercion, blackmail, and more.

This one is the fourth and last in the Harker series and it's a book and series that I've really enjoyed. I liked Harker as a man, with his belligerent refusal to bow to intimidation or pressure, though when his ex-wife is threatened here he's just about to throw the towel in. Something breaks, which conveniently offers another way out. 

There's a decent blend of action and intellect as the story runs its course. Harker at various points is intimidated over the phone, burgled, has a dead cat with a missing paw to contend with, is drugged while confronted on an exposed high rise hotel under renovation and forced out the building over the edge and is also kidnapped and held under gunpoint. In the course of his investigation we have the usual verbal sparring and confrontations with his powerful targets.

There a real one man against the machine vibe that I like. Though again, Harker has his allies and can't do it all single-handedly.

A great book and series.

4 from 5

The first three are - The Harker File, Dead and Paid For and They've Killed Anna. I'll be continuing to work through another of Olden's series - Narc - about the drugs trade and a lead detective. The first in the series, the cunningly titled Narc has been enjoyed as well. 

Read – July, 2022
Published – 1978
Page count – 160
Source – Kindle Unlimited
Format – Kindle

Thursday, 15 September 2022

LAWRENCE BLOCK - YOU COULD CALL IT MURDER (aka MARKHAM) (1961/1987)


Synopsis/blurb …

A missing person case brings private eye Roy Markham to the remote winterbound college town of Cliff’s End, New Hampshire, but what began as a routine investigation quickly becomes dark and dangerous. Six pornographic photos and a tidy little blackmail scheme result in a brutal and baffling murder, and no one is safe, especially Markham himself. Lawrence Block’s energetic storytelling and drop-dead dialogue will whisk fans through this suspenseful tale, right up to its unexpected ending.

An early Lawrence Block PI novel which has seen the light of day under two (possibly three) different titles. Markham, on its original publication in 1961. You Could Call It Murder in 1987. (Fantastic Fiction has it titled as The Case of the Pornographic Photos.)

Roy Markham is a PI. He’s also a family friend of Edgar and Marianne Taft. Daughter, Barbara has gone missing from her New Hampshire college and not wanting to involve the police, Edgar wants Roy to investigate. Roy heads north. A day or so later, he’s called back. Marianne’s corpse has been fished out of the Hudson, suspected suicide. Edgar Taft won’t accept it and wants Roy to keep digging.

I quite like this one. I liked the investigation, the twists Block threw into the plot, the secondary characters, the slow unpicking of events and the tables getting turned on Markham as he becomes the hunted. Marianne isn’t coming back, but Markham gets painful answers for the family. There’s a final little bump in the book which I think will stay with me for a while.

Family, rebelliousness, disconnection from parents, small town college life in the early 60s, boredom, poor choices, grooming, exploitation, scheming, power, money, secrets, blackmail, guilt.   


4 stars from 5

Read – July, 2022

Published – 1961/1987

Page count – 144

Source – purchased copy

Format - Paperback 

Wednesday, 14 September 2022

DONALD GOINES - CRIME PARTNERS (1974)

 


Synopsis/blurb…

Prison buddies Billy Good and Jackie Walker made time pulling small jobs here and there. Not a bad living if you liked scraping by. The thing to worry about was the next fix. Nothing else mattered.

When Billy and Jackie fell in with Kenyatta, a ghetto lord ready to take back the streets, they thought they'd hit the big time. Dealing with drug pushers and crooked cops in the name of justice sure felt good, but in a world where "kindness was the sweetest con of all", every bullet fired echoed with the sound of payback.

Donald Goines is one of those authors who has been on my radar for a few years without me ever getting around to trying his work. There's over a dozen to choose from. Sixteen in all, most of them penned over a couple of years in the early 70s when he was incarcerated.

Crime Partners is one of about five novels featuring Kenyatta as a Black militant organiser. He's more of a secondary figure in the novel in my opinion, with the main focus on Billy and Jacky, a criminal double act. There's also a couple of detectives  - one black, one white, names forgotten - who drift in and out of the narrative, but whose involvement investigating some of the crimes here, doesn't lead to any significant contribution from them in the outcome. They do play a peripheral part insofar as allowing a junkie who they've been leaning on for street intelligence to peruse their mugbooks to ID a guy. He promptly sells the information for a lot more money than the paltry $20 squeezed from the detectives' own pockets.

I liked the book. It has an incredibly brutal opening. We see the ugliness of drug addiction and the deadly consequences of gettng inbetween an addict and his fix. An innocent pays the ultimate price. Jacky and Billy are appalled and reward it with their own street justice. The cops have three violent deaths to investigate. At the crime scene we get a first hand view of racism up close, as a uniformed cop nearly unloads our plainclothes black detective.

Billy and Jackie get caught up with Kenyatta's scheming, despite not fully committing to his Kill Whitey philosophy. Kenyatta has other targets as well. Firstly killing off the higher ups in the drug gangs. I wasn't quite sure if it was some grand plan to eliminate drugs from black society as they were the scourge of the city, or if it was to create a gap in the market place that he could exploit. 

And secondly wiping out white cops. We have a guerilla style attack on a couple of patrol men that are lured to an isolated location. Two becomes three or four when backup arrives. Kenyatta and his clear don't mess about.

There's a kind of episodic feel to the book, as I don't think the detective's involvement and investigation is over, even as a couple of our character's race is run. Ditto Kenyatta there's more to learn about him.

Violence, street life, poverty, addiction, racism, black militancy, organising, planning, and death. Life seems very cheap. 


4 from 5

Read – (listened to) July, 2022

Published – 1974

Page count – 216 (4 hrs 1 min)

Source – Audible trial with Libro

Format - Audible


Tuesday, 13 September 2022

FRANK ZAFIRO and JIM WILSKY - QUEEN OF DIAMONDS (2013)

 


Synopsis/blurb…

When Ania Kozak hits Vegas, she's only looking for a place to relax and lay low with her stolen cash and diamonds. But Sin City has other plans for "Annie." Cord Needham is a poker circuit champion with an eye for the ladies and a dark secret in his past. Casey Brunnell is a former baseball player fighting the cards and running up debts to a local mobster. When Annie decides to play a dangerous game with both of them, the stakes go through the roof. Everyone scrambles to beat the odds and get out of town with the money…and their lives.

Another Zafiro-Wilsky series collaboration that I enjoyed, though maybe a smidgeon less than the last one. Queen of Diamonds is the second proper novel in a series of three. Post series, they wrote a novella prequel, which I’ve also read. So, it’s my third go of four, with the finale to look forward to.

Ania Kozak is fleeing Chicago and has a choice. This way to Vegas, that way not to Vegas. She plumps for sin city naturally and a two-day stopover. Not her wisest move.

Professional poker, wannabee gamblers and high rollers, and a willy measuring competition between two dudes both seduced and stricken by the allure of our femme fatale. High stakes poker, diamonds, a cop girlfriend with attitude, confidence, luck, mobsters, loan sharks, debt, frighteners, threats, missing pinkies, heavies, our character’s history and the resurfacing of buried skeletons.

I enjoyed the combative nature of the book, between Cord and Casey. Both trying to best each other for big bucks, both thinking they are the light of Ania’s life. They both want to win the game and cement their future with the girl.

I think I was slightly unconvinced by the professional’s vulnerability to the undoubted charms of our hottie. I perhaps expected him to be a bit shrewder, a bit sharper in reading her. I guess I didn’t expect him to be played so easy. Similarly, Ania was perhaps a little bit reckless when arriving in town, which I couldn’t quite buy. When she arrived at a hotel she was trying to avoid the surveillance cameras initially, but before too long she had every head in the place turned which kind of went against a sensible low radar approach. That said when a girl wants to let her hair down, why shouldn’t she go wild.

The book was exciting though. There’s a thrill attached to having so much riding on the turn of a card – dreams fulfilled or dashed. I liked the bluffing, the attritional nature of the game, the signalling, the reading, the throwaway chat, the diminishing stack of chips, the increasing value of the pot and the subsequent ramping up of the tension.     

Maybe I’m being a bit picky overall. I still really enjoyed the book. Great excitement (not that I understand all the nuances of poker), a fast-paced narrative, enjoyable setting – not that I ever want to go there myself, and an intriguing dynamic between Cord and Casey, Ania and Cord, Casey and Ania. No prizes (or spoilers) for guessing who came out on top!

3.5 from 5

Harbinger (prequel) and Blood on Blood have been enjoyed before.

Read – (listened to) July, 2022

Published – 2013

Page count – 242 (6 hrs 46 mins)

Source – Audible purchase

Format - Audible

Monday, 12 September 2022

TOM PICCIRILLI - THE WALLS OF THE CASTLE (2012)


Synopsis/blurb....

From four-time winner of the Bram Stoker Award, two-time winner of the International Thriller Writers Award, and finalist for the 2009 Edgar Allan Poe Award Tom Piccirilli comes an intense and visceral psychological thriller novella, the first title in the Black Labyrinth imprint. 

In the labyrinthian maze of endless corridors, annexes, and wings of the enormous medical complex known as the Castle prowls a grief-stricken man determined to redeem himself and bring justice for those victims incapable of doing it for themselves. 

During the four months that his son lay dying, ex-con Kasteel lost his job, his wife, and nearly his mind. He became a fixture at the Castle, a phantom prowling the halls in the deep night, a shadow of his former self until he faded from sight and was forgotten altogether. 

Now, without any life to return to, he takes it upon himself to become the Castle's guardian. He lives off the grid hiding among the hundreds of miles of twisting passages, rooms, offices, and underground parking structures. Despair, confusion, and terror are the natural state and trade of any hospital: Not only must the patients endure disease and infirmity, but others are victims of physical and sexual abuse from the outside world or from cruel security guards. 

The Castle was originally a colonial Dutch settlement: a village that grew into a town that grew into a city and at last became a hospital. Kasteel has lost his very identity to this place, taking for himself the original Dutch name for "Castle". Kasteel sleeps in empty operating theaters, sneaks food from the cafeteria, hacks into computers, and is privy to both staff and patient files. Using his skills as a burglar, he tracks down the attackers, the deceivers, and the killers. 

Another Tom Piccirilli novella from Crossroad Press on Audible and it's another one that I enjoyed without being stunned or amazed by it.

Moody, atmospheric, a little bit puzzling insofar as were all the people we encountered during Kasteel's time loitering in the hospital real or imagined? Dead, alive, ghosts? Kasteel has suffered a terrible loss, the death of his son and is eaten up by grief and anger. He spends his time trying to help others, a worthy endeavour, but it is his wife who needs him the most.

I liked it, more than some of his other stuff, and also less than some of his other stuff. Plenty more from the late Tom Piccirilli on the pile.

3 stars from 5   

Previous encounters....

All You Despise The Night Class You'd Better Watch Out Cast in Dark Waters (with Ed Gorman) 
Loss The Last Deep Breath  - The Nobody Sorrow's Crown The Dead Past 

Read - (listened to) July, 2022 

Published - 2012

Page count - 92 (2 hrs 53 mins)

Source - Audible purchase

Format - Audible 


Sunday, 11 September 2022

JIM CHRISTINA and RICHARD PAOLINELLI - THE LAST LONELY TRAIL (2018)

 


Synopsis/blurb …

US Marshal David Crockett Hall and Texas Ranger John Barclay Armstrong have set out chasing men, each for their own reasons. When their paths converge in Kansas, they discover the men they were following separately have now joined together and are heading for a giant payday somewhere, but where, the two lawmen don't know.

This story is about camaraderie, friendship, hardship, and an unerring desire to complete their jobs at any and all costs.

Set against the background of the late 1870s, the story takes us across the Midwest, Southwest, and into Colorado, unfolding a tale of two strangers becoming friends.

Another day, another Audible book, another enjoyable Western novel of payback and justice.

We have two separate story strands of lawmen tracking outlaws. One of the pursuits is very personal in that David Crockett Hall’s sister, niece and brother-in-law have been slain on their ranch. His niece and sister have endured vile rapes before death. His sister survived long enough to impart sketchy details on the nine men who attacked her. Hall sees to their burial then sets off after the men, with murder in his heart.

A fair bit later in the narrative we come across a Texas Ranger. He’s on a pursuit of his own, to try and plant the men responsible for the death of a politician’s family member in the ground. It’s a job and a matter of pride as opposed to any personal loss he has suffered.

I like the setting of post-Civil War, the hardship of life in the old west, the distances between town and town, the brutality of the climate and the ruggedness of the terrain. There is a bit of a hangover from the War and some bitterness from those on the losing side, but also a respect between some of the veterans we encounter who fought on opposing sides. We are also coming in to the age of the railways.

There’s law and order and justice, but not as we know it today. There are predators that are comfortable preying on the weak and exerting their will forcibly without recourse to conscience. Justice when it catches up with them is somewhat delayed but also instant and usually final.     

Richard Paolinelli
I liked the main characters, Hall more than Armstrong. I enjoyed the fact that the authorities tried to stop former from his course of action, but he wasn’t having any of it. Eventually, the two cross paths and work together to bring the last of the outlaws to heel. Hall even has a new reason for taking some enjoyment out of life.

Enjoyable narration as always from Theo Holland. I also liked the notes from both the authors, commenting on the origins of the story and how it came to pass. 

3.5 from 5

Read – (listened to) July, 2022 

Jim Christina
Published – 2018

Page count – 149 (3 hrs 28 mins)

Source – Audible purchase

Format - Audible

Saturday, 10 September 2022

MIKE MONSON - RIDE SHARING (2020)

 


Synopsis/blurb….

Ride Sharing is 37 stories, vignettes, and sketches based on Mike Monson's two years working as an Uber and Lyft driver in Northern California. Some of the material is verbatim accounts of events, some of it is completely made up, and some a combination of fact and fiction. At this point, the author can't quite remember what parts are true and what is a lie.

I do like cab driver tales both fact and fictional with their fleeting interactions between the driver and the rider.

Everyday scenarios, people in a rush for a meeting, stressing about work, or health, medical appointments, drug clinic visits or on the odd occasion drug buys. People needing groceries, rides home from work. Trips to airports, trips heading towards or fleeing from families. Dreams alive or broken.

Conversations or silence, dependent on the passenger. Repeat customers sometimes months apart and still spouting the same old nonsense. Musical backdrops or not, station changing passengers. Last minute diversions or altered destinations. Off the books requests and pleas.

Rules, protocols, penalties.

Moods - anger, frustration, tiredness, joy, indifference, solitude and time for reflection.

Scenery – countryside – changing, familiar and urban – Modesto, a city in California I’ll only ever view through Mike Monson’s eyes.

Mike Monson’s fiction has been enjoyed before – What Happens in Reno and Criminal Love and Other Stories

So have some driving stories…. 

J. W. NelsonL. A. Limo Tales 

Dan Fante - Corksucker

Jack ClarkHack Writing & Other Stories

This collection was very good.

4.5 stars from 5

Read – July, 2022

Published – 2020

Page count – 138

Source – purchased copy

Format - Paperback

Friday, 9 September 2022

LAWRENCE BLOCK - THE BURGLAR IN THE CLOSET (1978)


Synopsis/blurb….

It was ridiculous really – there was Bernie Rhodenbarr, pro burglar, locked in the clothes cupboard of a smart New York apartment while he was thieving it. And there was his stash of jewels, all neatly packed, not in hand or at hand but on the opposite side of the bedroom. So by the time Bernie finally picked his way out he wasn’t too pleased to find the rocks gone and their beautiful ex-owner, Crystal Sheldrake, lying dead on the mat with a gleaming steel instrument embedded in her heart. The cops weren’t too impressed either …

This is the second Bernie Rhodenbarr book and another fun read. Another score of Bernie’s goes awry when his latest burglary at the behest of his dentist of all people, ends up with Bernie again departing the scene with a corpse left behind him. The corpse in question is his dentist's ex-wife. The dentist during police questioning naturally fingers Bernie as the possible killer.

Bernie with the assistance of the dental receptionist (also his dentist’s current dalliance) turns amateur sleuth again as he has to unravel the late Crystal Sheldrake’s bed partners and try and recover his swag.

Bar hopping, art galleries, artists, lawyers, more burglaries, a familiar patrolman, New York nightlife, and something a lot bigger than a bit of breaking and entering.

Really enjoyable. As an aside, Bernie’s occupation seems to be NYC’s worst kept secret. A fact which undoubtedly leads to more scrapes in future books. 

Character, wit, setting, story, pace, general human observations, outcome - all plusses for me.

4 from 5

Burglars Can’t Be Choosers was enjoyed earlier this month. I’ll be starting the third one soon.     

Read – July, 2022

Published – 1978

Page count – 194

Source – purchased copy

Format – Paperback