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Teaser Tuesdays: Laidlaw by William McIlvanney

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading.


Laidlaw was originally published in 1977, and is back in this new reissue, due out in June. McIlvanney has a unique style, literary and lyrical but also gritty and dark. I liked these lines for their nuance and contradictions…

The entry was dank. The darkness was soothing. You groped through smells. The soft hurryings must be rats. There was a stairway that would have been dangerous for someone who had anything to lose.

…by which I mean, Hemingway, right? Short sentences and a lots of sensory detail; and an almost tongue-in-cheek overdoing of the tension in that final line. I like it. Stay tuned.

This quotation comes from an uncorrected advance proof and is subject to change.

Never Go Back by Lee Child (audio)

never go backI believe I said earlier that this may be the sexiest Reacher novel yet. Possibly it’s just been a while since I read (or listened to) one, but I still think that may be true. He finds a beautiful woman in just about every book, and I appreciate that Lee Child always makes sure that the woman is intelligent, knows her own mind, and enjoys their relations as much as Reacher does; no bimbos or advantages taken. I’ll just say that this installment in Reacher’s saga is no exception, and leave it at that.

Never Go Back follows on the action of 61 Hours, in which Reacher talks on the phone with his successor, a Major Susan Turner, now the commanding officer with his old military police unit. He liked her voice; and now he’s gone looking for her. He travels by hitch-hike and bus to his former headquarters and approaches his old former office, but behind his old desk is not Major Turner but a man who tells Reacher that Turner took a bribe and is now under arrest. He then promptly recalls Reacher to his old command – back to being a major and serving in the army again! (This was a jaw-drop moment for me.) …and tells him about not one, but two cases being brought against him; thus the recall to service, so that the military can arrest him themselves.

This is how Reacher finds himself in a cell in the same unit as Turner; and if we know Reacher, we know he won’t stay there. He breaks them both out and they set out on the road to prove themselves both respectively innocent. There is a matter of a Los Angeles drug dealer with a 16-year-old head injury; a woman who claims to have known Reacher in Korea, around the same time; a bank account in the Caymans; and rogue military officers with access to every level of security. Reacher has to kick a bunch of butt, and Turner is equally awesome. I don’t know what to say about this book that is necessarily new. In fact, these books are absolutely formulaic – but if you like the formula, they remain pleasing. I like this formula. I don’t like romance novels, so I respectfully hand them over to the readers who like that formula; and we can all be happy. And I should point out that despite the formula (we know Reacher will get the girl; we know he’ll win the fight; we know Right will be restored), there is always suspense: we don’t know how the mystery resolves, necessarily. But we do know how it will end.

I did have some concerns. Reacher has always been interested in numbers and calculations, which is one of those intriguing character traits of his, but also contributes somewhat to his implausibly perfect persona. In this volume I think Child overshoots it considerably: there is a running game being played, both within Reacher’s head and out loud, involving 50/50 chances, coin tosses, equal probabilities one way or the other. But Child has the 50/50 concept badly mixed up with having two options. Just because there are two options – binary – does not mean the chances are equal both ways; I think very few of the 50/50 scenarios Reacher plays with in this book are actually equal probabilities.

But all in all, Never Go Back is more of the same, in the best possible way. I hope Child lives a long, long life and produces another 18 Reacher novels (at least); and I hope Dick Hill sticks around and keeps reading them, too. No other voice could ever be Reacher for me. And there is already another Reacher novel promised for this September!! I am content.

Final conclusion: if you like the Reacher model, you’ll be pleased with this installment.

Rating: 7 cars.

Teaser Tuesdays: Never Go Back by Lee Child

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading.

never go back

Call me crazy, but I think this might be the sexiest Reacher novel yet. It’s early days, of course; I’ve only just begun. I had a long car trip alone up to a mountain bike race at some of my most favorite trails in Texas, and chose to start this latest Reacher book (narrowly edging out Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods, which I think is up next). I am not disappointed. For one thing, I was thrilled to learn early on that Reacher has been recalled – he’s back in the army! This can only mean excitement…

My teaser for today:

Reacher led the way. Sullivan went next. The tall guy brought up the rear. They walked in single file, through the dog-legs, left and then right, to the cell door, which was unlocked and unbolted, because Reacher wasn’t in it. Reacher pulled it open and held it for the others. The tall guy smiled and took the door from him and gestured: after you. He was dumb, but not brain damaged.

Stay tuned; I don’t think this will take me long.

A Burnable Book by Bruce Holsinger

A medieval scholar takes a fictional turn in 14th-century London, in a story full of murder, literature, politics and intrigue.

burnable book

A young prostitute watches horrified from the bushes as a woman is beaten to death–then looks down at the book in her hands, placed there by the victim moments before. A London “fixer” and minor poet named Gower is asked by his friend Geoffrey Chaucer to track a missing book. The court surrounding the new and untested King Richard II worries over the new games of playing cards and a book rumored to contain a series of verses circulating London regarding the deaths of kings past and present. This one book that troubles bawdyhouse prostitutes, the royal court, bureaucrats, poets and criminals holds potentially great consequences for England’s future. It is treasonous, a “burnable book.”

Bruce Holsinger, a prolific and respected medieval scholar, turns his hand to fiction with A Burnable Book. His academic background makes him well suited to render diverse settings in 14th-century London, from the Southwark stews to the grand halls of Westminster. The young woman murdered outside the city walls is only the first victim, and Gower is not the only one searching for the book in question, for scruples are scarce when the stakes are so high: England’s royal command itself is under threat. Murder mystery, political intrigue and the engaging world of Chaucer’s London are brought to life with a cast of complex, sympathetic characters who are far removed from and yet also familiar to our modern world. Holsinger’s expertise with medieval times is put to good use in a thriller filled with suspense and literary taste.

This review originally ran in the February 25, 2014 issue of Shelf Awareness for Readers. To subscribe, click here, and you’ll receive two issues per week of book reviews and other bookish fun!

Rating: 7 quatrains.

Rosarito Beach by M.A. Lawson

A sexy renegade DEA agent’s past resurfaces at the worst possible moment in a new series from (a barely disguised) Mike Lawson.


Mike Lawson, creator of the Joe DeMarco thrillers (House Odds et al.), uses the pen name M. A. Lawson to launch a new series, Rosarito Beach, with a new protagonist: DEA agent Kay Hamilton. Hamilton brings a take-no-prisoners attitude to her investigations, and though it’s clear she makes a better field agent than supervisor, she’s assigned to lead a team in Southern California investigating Caesar Olivera, the boss of a major Mexican drug cartel. After arresting the kingpin’s little brother, Tito, Hamilton’s main concern becomes keeping him locked up. Even after Tito is transferred to the brig of a vast Marine base, however, Caesar’s army threatens.

Hamilton dislikes authority figures, enjoys a drink or four, picks fights with every other law enforcement agency in town and knows exactly how to use her good looks and hot body to her advantage. She follows her own personal code, pleased to be beholden to no one except herself, involved with her career and personal pursuits–mainly her sex life–until a mystery from her distant past resurfaces. This new addition to her short list of concerns reorders Hamilton’s priorities and drives her to actions, and crimes, she never thought possible. The DEA fights to keep Tito locked up, the cartel arms itself for action and Hamilton rejects protocol in an accelerating race toward the end game, which concludes with all the fireworks and upheaval a thriller fan craves.

This review originally ran as a *starred review* in the January 3, 2014 issue of Shelf Awareness for Readers. To subscribe, click here, and you’ll receive two issues per week of book reviews and other bookish fun!

Rating: 5 stiletto heels.

To expand a bit on my review, above: this thriller was suspenseful, had pace and momentum, and kept me interested and engaged. Its fault (and the reason my rating isn’t higher) relates to the caricatures of the characters. Hollywood-style, they were all beautiful, had smokin’-hot bods, and dressed like magazine spreads. Similarly, the hero’s coldly detached interest in sex without strings struck me as unrealistic and a little stereotyped – career-obsessed woman not interested in relationships but able to seduce her way into the most highly-guarded yadda yadda. There was a cartoon element to it, is what I’m saying. On the other hand, though, I stayed up late reading avidly to see what would happen next. So I may have rolled my eyes, but Lawson gets the win in the end.

The Murder Code by Steve Mosby

A series of murders force a seasoned detective to reexamine his understanding of evil.

murder code

The Murder Code, British author Steve Mosby’s American debut, opens with the brutal but seemingly straightforward bludgeoning of a young woman on her way home from work. Detective Andrew Hicks immediately looks to her abusive ex, because he knows all murders are committed for reasons–bad reasons maybe, but reasons that make sense at the time to the killer. But when the bodies start piling up–clearly the work of the same hand or, more precisely, the same hammer–Hicks is forced to reconsider his theory. And when he receives a letter from the murderer, Hicks must confront everything he’s understood for years about the reasons people kill each other.

Story lines overlap and tangle tantalizingly in Mosby’s capable hands. The reader glimpses teasing flashes of various characters and their backgrounds before returning to Hicks’s increasingly troubled life. His pregnant wife knows there’s something Hicks isn’t telling her, but doesn’t know what, any more than the reader does. Something disturbing in his past threatens to resurface.

While other sympathetic characters are briefly sketched, Hicks is very much at the heart of this psychological thriller. Mosby expertly spools out and retracts details, keeping the reader breathless with anticipation as the body count rises and Hicks asks himself questions he thought he’d answered long ago. The Murder Code offers not only a surface-level mystery to be solved, but the deeper mystery of how the pieces fit together–and the central question of whether innate evil is real.

This review originally ran in the December 27, 2013 issue of Shelf Awareness for Readers. To subscribe, click here, and you’ll receive two issues per week of book reviews and other bookish fun!

Rating: 7 data points.

The Gods of Guilt by Michael Connelly

The Lincoln Lawyer returns to the courtroom to solve a friend’s murder from years past.

gods of guilt

Mickey Haller is back at work in The Gods of Guilt, the fifth Lincoln Lawyer novel from Michael Connelly (also author of the Harry Bosch series). When Andre La Cosse requests Haller’s representation on murder charges, Haller approaches it with weary cynicism about his client’s probable guilt. But then he learns who referred La Cosse to him: the victim, a prostitute Haller represented for years, and whom he thought had left the game. It quickly becomes clear this case is bigger than it looks, involving the DEA and organized crime and stretching back nearly a decade, and that La Cosse may be that rare thing: innocent.

At stake for the Lincoln Lawyer: not only his client’s freedom, but also his relationship with his daughter, who has stopped speaking to him because of the results of an earlier case. The murdered prostitute, an old friend, plays an important role as well; Haller thought he’d saved her, only to find that he may have contributed to her death.

The Gods of Guilt is a gripping courtroom drama with strengths that Connelly’s fans will recognize: fully-wrought, likable characters, absorbing action, sympathetic relationships and the exploration of right and wrong and the gray areas in between. The title refers to Haller’s understanding of jury members: that they are gods sitting in judgment of guilt and innocence. These gods of guilt also sit in judgment of Haller’s own choices, and The Gods of Guilt reflects Connelly’s sensitive handling of morality and consequences.

This review originally ran in the December 17, 2013 issue of Shelf Awareness for Readers. To subscribe, click here, and you’ll receive two issues per week of book reviews and other bookish fun!

Rating: 7 men in hats.

book beginnings on Friday: The Weight of Blood by Laura McHugh

Thanks to Rose City Reader for hosting this meme. To participate, share the first line or two of the book you are currently reading and, if you feel so moved, let us know what your first impressions were based on that first line.

weight of blood

I have a delightfully chilling novel to share with you today, although I regret to also tell you it won’t be out til March. Set in a small Southern town unused to the meddling of outsiders, The Weight of Blood is a real treat. Here are the opening lines.

That Cheri Stoddard was found at all was the thing that set people on edge, even more so than the condition of her body. One Saturday in March, fog crept through the river valley and froze overnight.

Lots of atmosphere there, hm? Stay tuned! I should have an author interview to share with you soon.

This quotation comes from an uncorrected advance proof and is subject to change.

Teaser Tuesdays: The Murder Code by Steve Mosby

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading.

murder code

I wanted to share these few lines with you because they made me pause and wonder. The Murder Code is a thriller, and on the bloody side at that; but a line here and there hints at humanity, even romance.

Occasionally, it drives him to distraction, bu he also knows it is one of the things he would miss most about her if she was gone: that ultimately we love the rough edges of people more than the smooth surfaces.

And on the next page:

In such ways, he realises, do relationships grow over time. We begin by looking for perfection; we end up by loving flaws.

I found it remarkable that this author of hard-boiled gore also handles love so deftly. I’ve seen it done far less eloquently and realistically in this genre. And I had to stop and consider the truth of the statements.

Well done, Mosby. Stay tuned for my full review to come.

This quotation comes from an uncorrected advance proof and is subject to change.

did not finish: A Killing in the Hills by Julia Keller (audio)

killing in the hillsI made it less than 20% of the way through this audiobook (28 of 156 tracks, if you like to be precise), so on the one hand I should go easy on it, not having read it to completion (or even close). But on the other hand, the fact that I quit so early does indicate my feelings about it.

I read good things about this debut mystery novel – somewhere – but can’t add to those praises. The setting in the West Virginia hills (or mountains) was promising at the start, and I liked the idea of our small-town female prosecutor and her troubled past; likewise her friendly, almost filial relationship with the much older sheriff. But there the character development ended. Our prosecutor hero, Bell, turns rather flat, and her teenage daughter Carla is far worse: a cariacature of the worst kind of whiny teen girl, she speaks in overly-self-aware brattiness, as if she were her own psychoanalyst which – hello – obnoxious teenagers are not. Similarly, the early bad guy is so hideously ugly in every feature as to be a cartoon – how easy to identify bad guys if they all looked like this! And he somehow simultaneously is a stark idiot, and shares Carla’s preternatural self-awareness. The dialog felt like nails on a chalkboard. And so I gave it up. The mystery remains unsolved, for me, and that’s just fine.

Narrator Shannon McManus was sometimes amusing, but sometimes a little overly dramatic (although a certain amount of that falls to the author, for sure). Her rendition of Carla I found unbearable, but that’s squarely on Julia Keller; that’s how Carla was written, I fear.

I’m happy for those who enjoyed this novel, but I am not among them.

Is it fair to rate a book I read this little of? Probably not.

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