Monday, December 31, 2012

Gone, Baby, Gone

Gone, Baby, Gone (Kenzie & Gennaro #4)Gone, Baby, Gone by Dennis Lehane
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When a little girl goes missing and her mother's brother and sister-in-law hire them to find her, Patrick and Angela reluctantly accept. Their investigation drags them through a labyrinth of lies, one they will not emerge from unscathed...

Sweet zombie Jesus this is some good shit! I think Lehane might be the newest member of my crime fiction Holy Trinity with Lawrence Block and Richard Stark. Here's how it all went down.

After the events of Sacred, the previous book in the series, Patrick and Angela have more or less shacked up and have started bringing in big money. When Amanda McCready's family hires them, they take the case for the good of the child. I thought I had an idea where the case would go but it turned out I was way off. Gone, Baby, Gone was like walking down the sidewalk to get the mail and somehow ending up in Paraguay.

Gone, Baby, Gone is the most powerful Lehane book I've read yet. I thought I was desensitized to crimes against children from reading the Andrew Vachss Burke books but I was wrong. Like Mrs. Kemper's husband and I were discussing while I was reading, Angela and Patrick are much better people than Burke so the pieces of excrement they go up against while looking for a missing child seem that much more vile.

Lehane's strength is in his characters and he writes them very well. Patrick and Angela are the same people I've grown to know and love over the past few books. I felt like they dragged me to hell with them over the course of the investigation. Broussard and Poole drove the story forward and were likeable guys. I alternated feeling contempt and pity for Amanda's mother, Helene. Even Cheese was a well-realized character. Once things went pear-shaped, I couldn't believe Lehane had pulled the wool over my eyes so thoroughly, only to yank the rug out from under me so hard that I banged my head on the radiator.

I really can't say much more without giving away too much of the plot. Lehane made a believer out of me on this one. Five easy stars.

View all my reviews

Friday, December 28, 2012


Sacred (Kenzie & Gennaro #3)Sacred by Dennis Lehane
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro are strong-armed and then enticed by a billionaire to find his missing daughter, dead or alive, they have no idea of the web of lies they are about to be entangled in, a web that has already made Patrick's mentor vanish without a trace...

One of the reasons I've gravitated toward detective fiction in my old age is that I'm far more likely to be taken by surprise. This book surprised me more than looking into my rear-view mirror on a midnight drive and finding a homicidal circus clown in my back seat.

Sacred starts off simply enough. A billionaire has Kenzie and Gennaro kidnapped, throws a heaping helping of cash at them, and sends them looking for his missing daughter. The trail leads to a grief counseling center, a cult, and eventually to Florida. Complicating things are the fact that Patrick's mentor was the last guy to look for Desiree Stone and has seemingly dropped off the face of the earth.

Like a lot of good authors, Lehane had me by the nose a few times. I found myself second-guessing myself every time I was close to figuring something out. The true villain of the piece wound up being pretty memorable.

A hallmark of a good detective series is letting the characters evolve. Patrick and Angie moved forward quite a bit in this book, both as individuals and as a couple. Jay Becker and his relationship with Patrick fleshed out Patrick's character a bit more. Lehane has already moved them far beyond what they were in the first book and I still have three books to go. I have to say I missed the old supporting cast of Oscar, Devin, and Bubba. Poor Bubba, winding up in the clink.

The writing was good but it felt a little lighter than maybe it should have. Still, I enjoyed the hell out of it and couldn't wait for everyone involved to get what was coming to them. I don't think it was as good as Darkness, Take My Hand but it was as good as A Drink Before the War.

View all my reviews

Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Mexican Tree Duck

The Mexican Tree DuckThe Mexican Tree Duck by James Crumley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When a biker buddy hires him to find his birth mother, Sughrue takes the case, only to find himself ensnared in a web of drugs, sex, drugs, likes, drugs, murder, and a baby named Lester. Sughrue puts together a band of his misfit war buddies and goes on the hunt. But every damn person he talks to is lying to him...

If Raymond Chandler and Hunter S. Thompson were able to mate successfully, their offspring would be a lot like James Crumley. His books read like Dr. Gonzo pretending to be Philip Marlowe, drug-filled road trips where nothing is as it seems.

Like a lot of PI novels, the case seemed simple at first. However, when a biker's mom happens to be the wife of an energy tycoon and Mexican drug runners are also after her, things get complicated in a hurry.

I found the characters in The Mexican Tree Duck to be much more likeable than the ones in The Last Good Kiss. Jimmy, the hotheaded former postal worker, and Frank, the black/Mexican/Samoan cop dying of cancer, and even Wynona, were much more likeable than the characters from the first book. The Dahlgren twins were a hoot and I hope they make further appearances. I also found myself getting attached to baby Lester, even though everyone connected to him was more full of shit than one of Lester's dirty diapers.

I find C.W. Sughrue to be a very compelling lead character, full of flaws but still with some redeeming qualities. If Philip Marlowe is a shop-soiled Galahad, Sughrue's like Lancelot after he fled Camelot and went wild trying to forget about his feelings for Guinevere with drink and violence (see, I read more than just detective books). It's a shame Crumley only wrote a few books starring him.

The plot was a lot more complex than I ever thought it would be, with Norman, Joe Don, Sarita, and Wynona being who they were. Much like Chandler's books, Sughrue spent a lot of time trying to figure out what the hell was going on. His writing also shows a Chandler influence in the similes.

The Mexican Tree Duck of the title barely makes an appearance but is pretty memorable when it does. I wish I had a replica to put on my bookcase.

After much deliberation, I'm giving this a high 4. I liked it more than the Last Good Kiss but not enough for five stars.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Darkness, Take My Hand

Darkness, Take My Hand (Kenzie & Gennaro, #2)Darkness, Take My Hand by Dennis Lehane
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Just when things are going great for both of them, Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro are hired by a psychiatrist to find out who's stalking her son. Meanwhile, Patrick runs into a troubled girl from the neighborhood. But what do these two things have to do with an imprisioned psychopath who wants to speak with Patrick?

One of these days, I'm going to learn my lesson and have Kemper and Nancy pick out all my books for me. Kenzie and Gennaro are rapidly climbing my detective hierarchy.

Things have changed since the last outing. Angie is finally divorcing her alcoholic, wife-beating husband Phil and Patrick's in a relationship with a doctor named Grace and acting as a father for her two-year old, Mae. Then things start going pear-shaped when it appears a pair of serial killers is at work.

Much like Lawrence Block's marvelous Matthew Scudder series, the things that makes Kenzie and Gennaro stand out are the well-realized setting and the characters. The Boston of Lehane's tales is as rich a setting as Block's New York and I wouldn't be surprised if they existed in the same space-time continuum. Lehane's cast is really growing on me. Kenzie and Gennaro are both three-dimensional, multi-facetted characters that I have no trouble believing in. The supporting cast, namely cops Devin and Oscar and one Bubba Rogowski, are memorable in their own right. I even caught myself giving a shit about Phil, Angie's douche bag ex.

The characters have developed quite a bit since the first book. I'm almost afraid to see what wringer Lehane is going to run them through in subsequent books. Patrick and Angie are a lot more scratched and dented than they were when the series started and I'm only two books in.

The villains were suitably vile but not cartoonishly so, not even for serial killers. I had no idea who the mastermind was until Patrick did, though the mystery wasn't easily solveable. One of the killers reminded me a lot of James Motely from one of the Matthew Scudder books.

I guess that's about all I can say. As much as I liked the first book, A Drink Before the War, this one was even better. It's an easy five stars.

View all my reviews

Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Long Goodbye

The Long Goodbye (Philip Marlowe, #6)The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A down and out friend of Marlowe's flees to Mexico with Marlowe's help, his wife dead under suspicious circumstances. Marlowe's friend soon turns up dead, an apparent suicide. But what does his death, if anything, have to do with a drunk writer Marlowe finds himself watching?

I'm not really sure how I feel about the Long Goodbye. It's Chandler so the writing is great, with Chandler's trademark similes and hard-boiled atmosphere. On the other hand, it's written a little differently than his other Philip Marlowe books. It's more philosophical and less crime-oriented. The two victims in the story seem to be stand-ins for Chandler himself.

It's still crime oriented, though. It took me forever to figure out how the two seemingly unrelated cases were linked. I got there just before Marlowe did but it was a close shave.

What else is there to say without giving anything away? Chandler once again delivers the goods, just not in the same package as usual. Still, it was a very enjoyable read.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Demolition Angel

Demolition AngelDemolition Angel by Robert Crais
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An LAPD bomb squad technician is blown up on the job and Detective Carol Starkey, former bomb squad tech, is on the case. Can Starkey overcome her past and bring the bomber to justice?

I first heard of Demoliton Angel last year at Bouchercon when Robert Crais mentioned working on it in secret after LA Requiem. It sounded okay but I wasn't in a hurry to read it. After Carol Starkey appeared in a couple Elvis Cole books, I knew I had to check out her story. I was not disappointed.

At the beginning of Demolition Angel, Starkey is a wreck. She's a chain-smoker with a drinking problem, trying to forget about a bombing that killed both her and her lover years before. Starkey was resusitated and has been dealing with the scars ever since. When a serial bomber rears his ugly head, Starkey has a chance at redemption. Awesomeness ensues. Starkey's a really good character and I hope Crais uses her as a lead again one of these days. Her relationships with the other characters made the book a joy to read even when things were slow.

The search for Mr. Red takes up most of the book. To be honest, I wasn't that thrilled with the book at first. Then Crais yanked the rug out from under me and crazy things started happening. The last 100 pages blew by at a feverish pace.

While being quite enjoyable, Demolition Angel isn't perfect. The relationship seemed tacked on. Also, Demolition Angel was first published in 2000 and since technology is featured quite a bit, I don't think it has aged as well as Crais' other books written around the same time. Other than that, I've got no complaints. It's right on the line between three and four stars.

View all my reviews

Saturday, December 8, 2012

National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Reptiles and Amphibians

National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Reptiles and AmphibiansNational Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Reptiles and Amphibians by National Audubon Society
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As I've noted on my profile, I take a ton of pictures, mostly of insects and wildlife. The National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Reptiles and Amphibians is my go-to resource when I feel the need to identify something of a creepy, crawly nature.

The book is jam-packed with photos of snakes, frogs, and other scaly critters. In fact, the shear amount of images can be a little overwhelming when you're trying to narrow down the possible species of that frog that just jumped into the watcher and nearly scared the crap out of you.

Another big plus is that the habitats and range of the particular species are mentioned. There have been a few times when I was trying to identify a snake and though "No, they don't come any farther north than Alabama. Better keep looking."

If I had to pick something to gripe about, it would be that I wish this book would fit in a normal-sized pants pocket. It's kind of fat. Other that that, it's a pretty sweet book.

View all my reviews

Uncle John's 24-Karat Gold Bathroom Reader

Uncle John's 24-Karat Gold Bathroom ReaderUncle John's 24-Karat Gold Bathroom Reader by Bathroom Readers' Institute
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Uncle John's Bathroom reader is a fountain of interesting facts. This edition, the 24 Karat Gold Bathroom Reader, is more of the same.

Just a few of the interesting facts contained within:
- Hotdogs were once known as Depression sandwiches
- Banker slang for people who pay their credit cards off every month: deadbeats
- The amount of fat in the total Big Mac's America consumes every year: 35 million pounds
- Jon Stewart's brother is the COO of the New York Stock Exchange
- It is possible to get goosebumps on your face
- A mouse can fit through a hole the diameter of a ballpoint pen
- the average person in the UK drinks as much tea as 23 Italians

View all my reviews

Friday, December 7, 2012

A Drink Before the War

A Drink Before the War (Kenzie & Gennaro, #1)A Drink Before the War by Dennis Lehane
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As a gang war looms on the horizon, private detectives Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennara are hired to find a missing woman who stole some documents from a senator. What they find could ignite a race war and burn Boston to the ground...

When I recently got caught up on Robert Crais's Elvis Cole and Joe Pike series, I wondered if I'd find an acceptable crime series to fill the void. Consider the void filled to the point of overflowing.

A Drink Before the War stars PI team Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennara. Patrick's a PI with unresolved issues with his dead father and not at all secret romantic feelings for his partner. Angie's a tough but beautiful lady with an abusive husband. Their office is in the bell tower of a church. Sound good so far?

The story sees them visiting Boston's dark underbelly in their search for a missing cleaning woman who happens to have some damning documents about a senator and ties to the heads of two rival gangs. The plot is a pressure cooker waiting to whistle. Driving the story along are Patrick and Angela and their complicated relationship. Both characters go through the wringer as they discover the truth about what they're after.

Lehane's writing is a notch above most series detective books. I kept noticing lines I would have read out loud if anyone was around to hear them. I like that Lehane didn't make anything easy for Patrick and Angie. Like a lot of good series detective books, the Dorchester setting was almost a character on its own.

A Drink Before the War is damn near perfect for what it is. I hope I don't devour the entire series too fast.

View all my reviews

Sunday, December 2, 2012


Taken (Elvis Cole, #13 / Joe Pike, #4)Taken by Robert Crais
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A woman hires Elvis Cole to find her kidnapped daughter. Elvis takes the case, only to find himself kidnapped. Can Joe Pike find Elvis before the kidnappers decide to silence him... permanently?

So now I'm finally completely caught up on the adventures of Elvis Cole and Joe Pike. How did this effort stack up to the rest of them? It held its own, that's for certain.

With Taken, Robert Crais put to rest my fears that maybe Crais might start phoning it in. He took a fairy basic kidnapping plot and did great things with it. The thing that sets Taken apart from other kidnapping books is the structure. While I bemoaned Crais's shifting viewpoints in the past, he used it to marvelous effect in this book. The viewpoint shifted between the kidnapping victims, Elvis Cole, Joe Pike, and Jon Stone, not only shifting between characters but jumping around in time as well. It's structure reminded me of Cornell Woolrich's The Bride Wore Black at some points and the movie Boondock Saints at others.

Cole and Pike were their usual selves. Jon Stone, one of Pike's mercenary buddies, has been growing on me in his last few appearances. The kidnappers were a horrible bunch and it was great when they finally got what was coming to them.

That's about it for me. If you've followed Joe and Elvis this far, I can't imagine not reading this book. Four easy stars.

View all my reviews