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Clea's Moon by Edward Wright

Publisher: Berkley Publishing Group ISBN: 0425195228

Ex-Hollywood cowboy hero John Ray Horn is now a down-and-out ex-con.  His wife left him, the movie studio blacklisted him, and the only job he can get is collecting gambling debts.  He has been hired by Joe Mad Crow, his former Indian sidekick in the movies.  Scott Bullard, another old friend , looks him up to show him some kiddie porn photos he found in his dead father's desk.  One of the photos is of Horn's stepdaughter Clea.  Scotty is murdered and Horn learns that Clea has run away from home.,  He must find her before something dreadful happens to her.

Wright has given the reader a book with main characters who are very likeable.  Horn, in spite of the fact that he has served time for assault, is a man with a soft heart.  Mad Crow feels duty bound to keep Horn from losing his temper and smashing someone's face in.  Between the two of them they fumble through the clues to find Clea and Scotty's murderer.

This book gives the reader a close look at how the movie industry changed after WWII and how Los Angeles changed from a small town to a movie metropolis.  GREAT READ!

 

Tough Luck by Jason Starr

No Exit Press, 2004

Reviewed by Paul Kane

Jason Starr remains that rare and precious phenomenon: a crime writer who doesn't depend on a series character.  Instead, his protagonists tend to be - as in his previous novel, Hard Feelings - tormented losers or seemingly naïve innocents, lost in an evil pernicious world.  In Starr's novels (as for Sartre, and most likely for Patricia Highsmith too if it comes to that) hell is other people; and these people are likely to be your friends.

Starr’s fifth novel has an apposite title.  For Tough Luck is not only a tale of misfortune, it is also a phrase that expresses and conveys indifference to another’s plight.  When we say to someone, "Tough Luck," what we mean is something like, “It is a hard-ass, malevolent world out there.  Deal with it.”  And this seems to be the author’s attitude toward his protagonist, Mickey Prada, an adolescent on the cusp of adulthood.  Appropriately enough, Tough Luck is set in New York in the 1980s.

The milieu of a predominantly Italian-American community is well described, and there are 1980s cultural references aplenty.  For example, when Mickey plucks up the courage to talk to Rhonda, his soon-to-be girlfriend, she responds by singing the Toni Basil song, “Oh Mickey, you're so fine, You're so fine, you blow my mind, Hey Mickey!” when he tells her his name.  Or again: one evening, unable to get Rhonda on the telephone, Mickey consoles himself by lying in bed and watching The Odd Couple on TV, “the one where Oscar goes to the fat farm”.  Posters of Mario Andretti the racing driver, Led Zepplin and (unforgivably) Rush are on his bedroom wall.

Mickey is both hero and victim, held in the clutches of a serpentine noir plot that tightens its grip and never lets go.  He is to experience many travails and torments in the course of the novel: a gambling scam-cum-cruel prank, an abortive burglary, multiple murders, at least one attempt on his life, the deaths of those close to him, unhappiness and rejection in love, loss of his job, humiliation … to be sure, Mickey has a lot of Tough Luck. 

As might be gathered, Tough Luck works well as a kind of dark burlesque; however, it is as a character study that the novel really comes into its own.

Indeed, it is Starr’s attitude toward his protagonist that lies at the dark heart of this novel.

At the beginning of Tough Luck, Mickey Prada is, we are led to feel, a virtuous young man.  Mickey is 18 years old, and is holding down a job; he works at a fish market in Brooklyn.  He has also delayed going to college to care for his father, an elderly man afflicted with Alzheimer's Disease.

Throughout the novel too we can see that Mickey has a good heart.  When Charlie, an African-American lad who works alongside him, is suspected of stealing, it is Mickey who speaks up in his defense.  He is also the one who comforts Mrs Turner when her son Chris (Mickey's best friend) goes missing:

Mrs. Turner stayed with Mickey for a while longer, crying, and Mickey kept telling her, “Don’t worry, they’ll find him,” and “I’m sure he’s fine,” and anything else he could think of to make her feel better.  145

(This is a good example of Starr’s prose, by the way.  Outwardly this sentence - and note: it is a single sentence only - is unpretentious; still, it has a spare elegant quality.)

Soon, though, we begin to see the cracks - or, perhaps more precisely, the defects - in Mickey’s character; and to do this, Starr uses a subtle narrative technique.  The story is told from Mickey's point of view, but in such a way that the reader is made aware of his shortcomings, his blind spots and his gullibility.  One small reader-friendly illustration of Mickey’s gullibility:  On a night out with Chris, Mickey is encouraged to makes sexual advances toward a hooker.  He discovers too late that "she" is a transvestite.

As the tale of Tough Luck is played out, Starr’s attitude toward Mickey oscillates from sympathy to a muted contempt for his chronic weakness, before finally settling in its last pages for a tone of cold brutal fascination.

There is almost an happy ending - and it seems as though Mickey may have escaped relatively unscathed from his many tortures and travails - but not quite.  The very last sentence of Tough Luck is a killer; and it is not an artificial plot twist, but rather a revelation of character.  Mickey, we are made to see, has learnt nothing.  His blind spots, especially with regard to Rhonda, and his strangeness - now all too apparent to the reader - ensures that his troubles are not at an end.  The downward spiral of his life will continue.  His future casts a disquieting shadow.

Tough Luck, an enthralling character study, is perfect car-crash literature; spiritual sustenance for the "inner rubber-neck" in all of us.

 

Scaredy Cat by Mark Billingham

Publisher:  Avon  ISBN: 0061032204

It’s winter time in London, and when two bodies turn up in separate areas, Inspector Tom Thorne is the first to realize that not only may there be a serial killer at work, but two; one who leads, and one who follows.  It’s been a year since Thorne’s last serial killer, and he still has nightmares.  But his crew is a bit older and wiser, and hopefully this time they can stop the killing before the body count climbs much further. 

While it seems that there is an over abundance of serial killer novels these days, this one still stands out from the crowd.  What makes it special is Inspector Tom Thorne, a 41-year old man whose life is centered around his job, but who still feels compassion and fire.  The rest of the characters are also well defined, especially Dave Holland and new team member Sarah McVoy.  The personal glimpses into their lives are fascinating and sometimes disturbing, rounding out this novel and making it more humane and encompassing.  Another home run from Billingham, this second in the series should not be missed.    

 

The Lake House by James Patterson

Publisher: Warner Books ISBN: 0446615145

Reviewed by  Narayan Radhakrishnan

Patterson’s latest thriller The Lake House is one that is bound to keep the connoisseur of suspense mysteries reaaaaaaaaaaaaallll happy.

Patterson it seems has taken a break from the ever-popular Detective Alex Cross thrillers. The author’s last two works The Jester and Four Blind Mice were superb mysteries, though in a totally different footing from that of the Alex Cross thrillers.

This time around Patterson offers a spine chilling, and by spine chilling I mean SPINE CHILLING tale of six extraordinary children who though are from different places, different background and different culture has a strong unifying force that’s connected with the ‘lake house’. Well the connecting force is something evil, that I will reveal, but anything more about the plot- and I will be spoilsport No.1. So lets leave the plot there. One thing I can assure you, its marvelous- and chilling.

The Lake House somewhat reminded me of the Sixties movie Village of the Damned and of the horror works of Ira Levin, in particular The Stepford Wives and Rosemary’s Baby- I can’t explain how- the plot setting is different, the background is different- might be the element of ‘spine-chillingness’. Read the book to feel it. Loved it. Absolutely loved it!

                                               

 

Trial by Ice and Fire by Clinton McKinzie

Publisher: Dell  ISBN: 0440237270 

Antonio Burns, a cop with a questionable past, is sent to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, to protect Cali Morrow, a prosecutor who is being stalked.  Still reeling from his last case in which he shot three men, and doubtful of his relationship with his lover Rebecca, he hopes this case will bring him redemption and a new lease on life.  With more than one suspect to follow, and a possible attraction to the victim, Burns has further reason to doubt his instincts,  which may just lead to some catastrophic mistakes.  And when a fire attacks the mountains, he must once again put his life in danger to save his career, his relationship, and possibly his own life.  

One can’t help but think when reading a McKinzie thriller that it would make a great movie.  This latest is no exception.  With heart-stopping suspense, breath-taking climbing scenes, vulnerable yet untamed characters, and just a tad of romance, this one has it all.  The wildly stunning climax is in itself worth the read.  One can’t help but like Antonio Burns, flaws and all, which only make him more captivating.  And one can’t help hoping that he gets it together and marries the girl, and then again, hoping he doesn’t.  Another success in a great series from McKinzie, this comes highly recommended.     

 

Presumption of Death by Perri O'Shaughnessy

Publisher: Dell Press  ISBN: 0440240875

Lake Tahoe Lawyer Nina Reilly has decided to spend the summer with her long-time boyfriend PI Paul van Wagoner in Carmel.  Hoping to figure out a future that involves Paul, her teenage son,  and her law practice, she plans to spend her time relaxing and thinking.  But when her Tahoe assistant's son Wish is accused of murder and arson, she must go back into the fray to save him.  Following a group of citizens against development in Carmel Valley, and up against a police department looking for easy answers, Nina finds herself in one of her fiercest battles yet. 

Although this latest from the duo of O’Shaughnessy isn’t as good as the last, that isn’t saying much, as all it means is that this latest is merely great as opposed to incredibly awesome.  For die-hard fans, it’s difficult not to miss the beautiful setting of Lake Tahoe and Nina’s continuous Tahoe inspired battles.   She does well with the Carmel Valley setting, however, especially her delicate approach to the continuous struggle between developers and locals.  And as this is a growing problem nation-wide, her sensitive addressing of the issue is highly welcomed.  Also appreciated is the increased attention paid to Nina’s personal life, her struggle to commit to being part of a couple, and her adaptation to compromise.  Another recommended read from this dynamic duo in what is one of the best series in the genre.             

 

Monkeewrench by P. J. Tracy

Publisher: Signet ISBN: 045121157X 

In this debut novel from the mother-daughter writing duo known as P. J. Tracy, we get a delightful, suspenseful, and terrifying journey into madness.  Monkeewrench, a Minneapolis software writing team has just come up with a new computer game called “Serial Killer”, but after putting up a test version online they are horrified when murders start occurring around the city that perfectly mimic their software version.  Fearing, but not wanting to believe, that it all may be connected to even more horrifying events from their past college days, the team initially refuses to cooperate with the detectives brought into the case.  But as danger comes even closer, they know that they have no choice but to work with the detectives, because one of them, or all of them, may be next. 

What a wild and altogether fascinating debut this is!  Although there are numerous characters, each and every one of them is brought to full life through this creative and highly talented duo of authors.  Outrageously suspenseful, highly original, and close to perfect, start this one when you have plenty of time to finish because stopping halfway is not a viable option.  We eagerly anticipate the next outing which brings back some of these intelligently written characters, and even if it’s only half as good, it will more than likely be better than most.       

 

Putt To Death by Roberta Isleib

Publisher: Prime Crime ISBN: 0425195309 

Cassie Burdett had quit her caddying job to try for a spot on the LGPA, but unfortunately her golfing game wasn’t quite up to par (no pun intended).  Taking a job at as a golf pro at a country club in Connecticut seems a good way to pay the bills until her game improves, but instead lands her in the middle of on-the-job squabbles, rich people with too much time on their hands, and murder.  

Not a big fan of golf, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this book.  Even though there is definitely a plethora of golf related terms and events, and the mystery itself revolves around the sport of golf (and country clubs), somehow it all seemed somewhat incidental to the gist of the story, as well as the characters.  Isleib has created an endearing, and surprisingly somewhat complicated character in Cassie.  Her issues with her love life, her father, and her career are not so different than what many women her age might face, providing the reader with a realistically and empathetically portrayed character that is easy to relate to. 

Also appreciated is the sardonic look at what goes on behind the scenes of a country club and makes for a wryly amusing read. My only suggestion would be to have Cassie more involved with the solving of the mystery earlier in the story, as for the majority of the book the mystery itself seemed to be something she avoided.  Over much too quickly, this is one character and story-line readers can easily get attached to.             

 

Death in the Family by Jill McGown

Publisher: Fawcett Books ISBN: 0345458494

Lloyd’s and Judy’s baby has finally arrived.  Judy is on maternity leave, yet she still somehow manages to get caught up in a case that has ties to the case Lloyd is currently investigating, this time as a potential witness.  A baby has disappeared, and a woman with a troubled teen, and a disgruntled ex-partner, has been brutally murdered.  The list of suspects is long, and it seems Lloyd is the only one who believes the two cases are tied together.  And as couple prepares for the wedding, adjusts to their new child, they must also find a killer.

 This latest from McGown is ultimately a charming delight.  Sly humor, a cast of very likable suspects, and the nitty-gritty details of police procedures, make this a fun and appealing read.  Not to mention the wonderful relationship between Lloyd and Judy, and the brand new addition of Charlotte, the couple’s new baby.  Judy’s coming to terms with the struggle between baby and career are especially touching, as we watch her mothering instincts come slowly to life.  This is definitely a winner, and has all the consistently enchanting and enthralling elements in abundance that we’ve come to expect from this very talented author. 

 

Cry No More by Linda Howard

 Publisher: Ballantine Books  ISBN: 0345453425

Ten years ago life was pure bliss for Milla Boone.  Young, happily married and with a beautiful new infant to call her own, it seemed impossible that anything bad could ever happen.  But it did.  Living in Mexico with her husband, a doctor, she is viscously attacked one day, her baby ripped from her arms, and her own life left hanging in the balance.   Milla mends her body, but not her mind, and divorce soon follows.  But she never gives up searching for her baby, and develops an agency to help others also find their lost loved ones.   

One day Milla receives a tip that a man in Mexico just might have the answers that will lead her to her baby, and soon she meets Diaz, an enigmatic and dangerous man who quickly becomes her ally, or is he her worst enemy?  When the answers start coming in, she finds that those she has trusted, instead have forsaken her, and it will take all her will to continue the search, and if she’s very lucky, re-build her crumbling life.   

By far, this is Linda Howard’s best novel to date.  Multi-faceted, it serves well as both a riveting adventure, and an emotionally engaging love story.   Racing from scene to scene, with a mesmeric energy, it’s almost impossible to put down.  It’s all here in brilliantly colored detail: grief, loss, rage, and a tender and dark blossoming of love and forgiveness.  Highly recommended, start this one in the morning, otherwise consider yourself up for the rest of the night.