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Snakes Can’t Run by Ed Lin
Publisher: Minotaur Books ISBN-10: 0312569882
Reviewed by Dana King, New Mystery Reader
Americans have great short-term memory, lousy historical perspective. To listen to the vitriolic comments of many commentators, illegal immigration is a modern, uniquely Hispanic problem. Ed Lin’s newest novel, Snakes Can’t Run, serves as a reminder that’s not the case.
Summer, 1976. New York cop (not quite detective) Robert Chow is investigating two homicides in Chinatown that lead him into the world of human smuggling. “Snakes” are the human cargo; “snakeheads” are the smugglers. Chow’s investigation takes him into the gray areas of what’s legal, ethical, or moral as he learns the history of illegal Chinese immigrants in New York. Along the way he examines his shifting and ambivalent feelings toward his late father, about whom he learns more than he really wants to know.
Lin is turning over relatively fallow ground. Chinese American detectives are not a staple of the hard-boiled oeuvre, though Snakes Can’t Run shows there’s a wealth of material available for use. It’s clear from the different facets of Chow’s investigation that the story only scratches the surface of Lin’s research. New York’s Chinatown contains a vein that can be mined for quite some time.
While Lin’s research and knowledge of his subject is impressive, it’s also a sticking point in some ways. He tries to pour a little more history into the book than the vessel can contain, which can slow things down. His characters are prone to make speeches more than conversation, with the midget who runs the toy store a refreshing and notable exception.
Snakes Can’t Run is not facile entertainment; solving the mystery is often subordinate to the social issues Lin wants you to think on. He succeeds through detailed information and obvious sincerity, putting forward hard questions with no easy answers in a format that sneaks some knowledge and perspective in amidst the mystery. The crime story potential of his Chinatown would give Jake Gittes pause.
Expiration Date by Duane Swierczynski
Publisher: Minotaur Books ISBN 978-0-312-36340
Reviewed by Don Crouch, New Mystery Reader
Duane Swierczynski wrote two of the most entertaining books of the last decade. The Blonde and Severance Package are a one-two punch from a guy tied in at DNA-level to the noir zeitgeist. Exciting, character-driven and hi-freaking-larious, they scream to be filmed, and they transcend recommendation.
Expiration Date is Swierczynski’s first novel since joining the Marvel Comics bullpen, and its’ essence is highly informed by those days spent telling stories in such a stylized environment. The roots of the story were created for a serialization that he was preparing for the New York Times. That fell out, but now we have this, and good for us!
Our hero is one Mickey Wade, hard-bitten former journalist, currently-transitional-something. Circumstances have dictated the need for him to reduce operational overhead, resulting in a move to his grandfather’s apartment. “Grandpop”, you see, is laid up in the hospital right now....
So here’s Mickey, back in his old neighborhood, nadir-bound, attitude sour. He goes to sleep and wakes up in the 70’s.
Yeah, there it is. At this point, you are either in or you are out, right?
We’ll just say this...STAY IN!
Swierczynski is just getting started, folks. He creates in Mickey Wade a character that makes this journey seem plausible, and after a while you’ll be powering through the current-day sequences waiting for the next leap. Character growth is not something we often pay attention to, but in Expiration Date, the growth (or, perhaps, awakening) of Mickey Wade is a key factor in just about every aspect.
His partner-in-time is Meghan, the ever-patient friend-who-is-a-girl that coaches him through some wild situations that Swierczynski has tied together in almost Escher-like fashion; a case of domestic abuse, the death of Wade’s father, and a Green River-style serial killing spree....not to mention the great character beats of Wade simply absorbing his new reality.
The result is action-packed, thought-provoking and pays off with a depth you weren’t even paying attention to until, well, you feel it.
At its’ core, Expiration Date is a valentine to family. The journey to that core is what gives a seeming flight-of-fancy its narrative tension as well as its’ authenticity. At the end, you will feel the value of that journey, and you’ll have had BIG FUN on the trip!
2 in the Hat by Raffi Yessayan
Publisher: Ballantine Books ISBN: 978-0-345-50263-6
Reviewed by Jim Sells, New Mystery Reader
A few years earlier, Boston had been rocked by a series of murders by an unknown assailant dubbed “The Prom Night Killer”. He got this handle because of the way he posed the young couples he chose as his victims. As suddenly as the murders started, they stopped.
Homicide detectives Alves and Mooney worked the case then. Now they have been reunited to try and stop the serial killer. Systematically they work their way through leads, but seem little closer to solving the crimes.
Meanwhile the killer continues choosing his victims from the college students partying in the city each night. His skills grow and the murders become that much easier.
Yessayan has created an interesting puzzle for the reader to solve. Calling upon his years of experience in the Boston DA's office he has created a realistic crime story without the monotony sometimes found in procedurals. All-in-all a superior read.
Off Track by Clare Curzon
Publisher: Minotaur Books ISBN-10: 0312375328
Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader
Good writers mature and change over time, and Clare Curzon is a preeminent example of this. Her police procedurals about the Thames Valley Serious Crime unit have become increasingly complex over the years, and she has drawn more and more on her own background in psychology to look at the motivation of crime rather than just the fact of it.
“Off Track” starts with a simple problem: train driver Lee Barber overshoots a station slightly, having been distracted by a colleague who’s hitched a ride in the cab. It would have ended there had a passenger not reported the problem to the railway HQ, which leads to a black mark on Lee’s work record. Enraged and irrational, he tracks down the tattle-tale and half-kills him before he comes to his senses.
The man he has attacked is not the man who reported him: he’s a scientist on the run, laden down by a guilt burden about what the private lab he works in has been doing. Lee and Piers Egerton strike up an unlikely friendship, with the scientist hiding out at Lee’s house while he decides what to do. Lee’s family is away, but when they come home unexpectedly, Lee and Piers are in a mess, telling Kathy , Lee’s wife, confused stories about what’s been going on. The last thing they want her to know is that between them they have killed and disposed of a housebreaker, who may have been a common thug—or who may have been after Pier’s briefcase, containing proof of the lab’s nefarious activities.
Things go from bad to worse when some very bad people kidnap Lee’s daughter, perhaps under the impression that she’s Pier’s child and can be used to put pressure on him—or perhaps for some darker purpose. Piers takes the easy way out, leaving Lee holding the bag in more ways than one.
Meanwhile at the police station, Superintendent Mike Yeadings is trying to find the missing scientist; his off-sider Rosemary Z is in trouble because the higher-ups think she’s leaked sensitive information to her partner Max who’s a journalist, and then the kidnapping case is added to the mix.
This is a fast-moving adventure which should not be undertaken at the end of a long tiring day; read it when you’re on your mental toes and able to follow the plot.
Eye of the Mountain God by Penny Rudolph
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books ISBN-10: 0312545460
Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader
When on her way to a new life from Pittsburgh, Megan Montoya and her daughter Lizzie end up in New Mexico's high desert after their car breaks down. While not the destination Megan had in mind, as a burgeoning photographer and with old family ties in the area, Megan decides to put down roots in this beautiful but desolate area. It doesn't take long, however, for things to go wrong when not long after settling in, she finds some emerald arrowheads wrapped up in her morning paper.
Entrusting the gems to a local man she met while hiking and photographing the surrounding hills, she's shocked to learn that they might be worth millions of dollars. But with this new found treasure comes a load of danger as, unbeknownst to her, a group of Hispanic radicals who want to reclaim New Mexico as a land of their own are searching for the treasure and will stop at nothing to get it back.
Megan is hoping with a few of the new friends she's met in her new home, she'll be able to put this mystery to rest sooner than later. But trusting these new friends might prove deadly as one or more of them have loyalties that are far from what she hoped for. And when people start to die, the race is on to find the answers before everything she has grown to love is lost in a violent uprising motivated by dashed hopes and despair.
Written by an author who lives in New Mexico, this tale, while peppered with wonderful descriptions of the beautiful locales of New Mexico, falls short of being completely authentic and convincing. As a life-long resident, finding native Hispanics who speak in such a manner as put forth by Rudolph would be in truth hard to find, and it's irksome to read her depictions of such natives as speaking and acting as if from an entirely different country than a state that's located in the good old U.S. of A. While the communities she depicts are small and isolated, they are far from foreign.
And while, yes, some of the read was fascinating and some of it outright beautiful, those who want a clearer and more authentic taste of New Mexico might be better served to try something by the likes of Sandi Ault. Or better yet, visit this wonderful state and listen to the locals, eat some of their food, go to some of their churches and meet some of their family members. There is much more to be found here beyond the stereotypical descriptions provided by Rudolph, with a plethora of long-standing communities that remain as true to their culture as to their country.
The Killer by Tom Hinshelwood (TWO REVIEWS)
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books ISBN: 978-0-312-55804-8
Reviewed by Ray Palen, New Mystery Reader (4 bolts)
In the Jason Bourne series of novels by the late Robert Ludlum readers (and later viewers) were introduced to a character that had extraordinary skills and the ability to get out one life-threatening situation after another. As it turns out, he was a covert operative or ‘super-spy’ who suffered from bouts of amnesia whereby he did not know who he was or how he gained the skills of a professional killer.
With the debut thriller from Tom Hinshelwood, THE KILLER, he introduces readers to a nameless assassin who also has an uncanny ability to work his way out of any situation and successfully kill anyone who stands in his way. The only names the readers are given for this lead character are the first name, Victor (which may not even be his real name), and the code name he goes by in the espionage circuit --- Tesseract.
Victor operates as a free-lancer with no real allegiance to any government or political faction. At the opening of the novel, he follows through on an assignment whereby he kills a member of the Russian government in a Paris back alley in an effort to retrieve a flash drive that his employers are in need of. Not being connected to the big picture, Victor does not realize that once that act was accomplished he would now be expendable (in an effort to cut all ties to the deed he committed.). The first several chapters of this fast-paced novel follow Victor’s escape from a team of hired assassins who were sent to his Parisian hotel to eliminate him.
Other story lines bounce back and forth throughout the novel that focuses on members of the U.S. Intelligence community as well as those of the Russian underground. Victor eventually connects with a woman named Rebecca who is somehow tied to conspiracy he finds himself in. She had recently left the ‘game’ but still had enough connections to be valuable. Even though neither trust each other, both Rebecca and Victor recognize that they will be much safer if they combine their resources to find out what is actually behind the job he was given and why he is now a target for elimination.
Victor and Rebecca are diligently pursued by a British assassin known as Reed who is another freelance killer known for his ability to eliminate every target he is given. The cat and mouse game goes international as the action travels between Europe, Russia and eventually ends in a brutal showdown in Tanzania. Once the ultimate goal of those who hired Victor is revealed --- the selling of nuclear weapons to the highest bidding country
--- the big picture now has a global scope and the far-reaching after effects could change the balance of world power significantly.
Tom Hinshelwood does an admirable job in his debut novel and creates interesting characters and a plot that continuously drives forward at break-neck speed. The one thing that I found most interesting is that, unlike the Bourne novels, by the end of THE KILLER you still know nothing more about Victor than when the novel started. This not only opens the door to successive novels but also displays significant restraint on Hinshelwood’s part to not reveal everything at one turn and keep the reader wanting more.
Reviewed by Jim Sells, New Mystery Reader (3.75 bolts)
Victor is a calculating, precise professional killer - precise enough to know the exact number of shots left in his weapon and professional enough to leave no evidence while collecting what he is sent to retrieve.
Victor has just finished his latest assignment – the execution of a Latvian in Paris. The job was easy – maybe too easy for the high fee Victor charges.
Upon arriving back at the hotel, Victor spots two members of his profession in the lobby. Not one to believe in coincidences, he eliminates the assassin team one-by-one, but is no closer to finding out the why. Searching the assassins’ body yields little more information. Since only his broker for the contract and the client knew anything of his itinerary, he starts a combined effort to leave the city and find out why.
Meanwhile, the CIA is interested in the turn of events. The Latvian was going to sell them information about the location of sunken Russian frigate carrying six of the latest missiles. They aren’t sure who killed the Latvian and what ignited the killing spree at the hotel.
Hinshelwood is extremely skillful at serving small portions of information as the story unfolds. A first-rate mystery is created as a result. Add to that, the pleasure of having a rather likable main character – even if he is a contract killer. The complexity of the storylines and the plot twists are entertaining, but require the reader to pay close attention.
Sick Like That by Norman Green
Publisher: Minotaur Books ISBN-10: 0312385439
Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader
Since the last case in which Alessandra (AKA Al) Martillo’s boss PI Marty Stiles was shot and left paralyzed, Al has been working on cases with Sarah Waters, the woman hired by Marty to take Al’s place when Marty had fired Al in a fit of anger. But with Marty in a wheelchair and with no desire to live, Al and Sarah have been running the NYC detective agency surprisingly successfully, with their opposite personalities providing what’s needed to keep the business alive.
But when things get personal, the modicum of success they’ve achieved will be sorely tested. It begins when after Sarah’s ex-husband Frankie gets involved with a dubious group of foreigners allegedly importing wine and disappears after a sidewalk shooting kills one of his new coworkers; a situation that Sarah and Al can’t help but get involved in. In addition to this unsettling case, they’ve been approached by a woman dying of cancer who’s looking for her long lost stepson so that she can reconnect and ensure he gets what’s remaining of her estate. But something isn’t quite right with that case either, as the mysterious accidents surrounding this particular family seem questionable at best.
And so it will be up to these two very independent and daring women to not only solve these baffling cases, but to also figure out how to get along with each other, bring their boss back from the brink of death, deal with their not-so-happy love lives, and come to terms with their not-so-glorious pasts as they work towards a better future without being killed in the process.
Not being a big fan of “noir” type mysteries, I had some trepidation when starting this read. But, and this is a big one, Green’s twist of positioning this from a female point of view turns what has always seemed to be a male-dominated and somewhat old boy’s club type of read into something fresh and unique. So while the pace and setting are similar, he manages to take the best of the genre, get rid of the worst, and provide something completely new that still echoes comfortably of the familiar.
This is a take on the old-fashioned noir that will no doubt engage readers of every genre. His ability to recreate realistic Brooklynese dialogue, his depictions of the seedier sides of NYC and its outskirts, and his creation of two of the most kick-ass females to come along in fiction in awhile will have fans clamoring for more. And if you’re like me, you’ll be asking yourself, “Really, a man wrote this?” because Green is a man who seems to get the whole female psyche in a way that’s almost supernatural. If not for the crazy veer that results in a Bruce Willis type of movie ending, this book would be just about perfect. As it is, though, it’s close enough to make this one of the better reads this year.
The Fallen by Mark Terry
Publisher: Oceanview Publishing ISBN-10: 1933515759
Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader
In a scenario whose complexity and premise remind one of Robert Ludlum at his best, readers are dumped into the deep end of the thriller pool and left to swim for shore as best they can.
Terrorists and hostage stories are pretty common these days, but author Terry takes this one to a whole new level of scary. A posh resort in Colorado is the venue for this year’s G8 summit, and is full of important people from around the world, including the US President. Keeping a discreet eye on things is Derek Stillwater, working undercover as a maintenance man at the Cheyenne Resort.
Derek was nearly killed in a previous adventure, and it suits his bosses to let it be thought that he did in fact die. Few people know that Derek is alive and is one of the good guys, which sets the scene for some dangerous misunderstandings when the rescue attempts and shooting start.
It doesn’t take ESP to foresee that author Terry has brought these fictional politicians together in order to put them into desperate danger. The conference has barely started when terrorists called The Fallen Angels take over the resort, lock down the main conference area, and start shooting hostages to establish their mala fides. Assisted only by a pretty girl who works for the hotel food service, Derek must find a way to stop the terrorists before more world leaders are killed. Meanwhile, in the outside world, a rather dimwitted and dangerous Vice President is taking steps that many people could live to regret—or not.
Derek and Maria make a likeable and believable team, despite being pushed to what we might think are unrealistic physical extremes. The bad guys are a complex group with two different agendas, which makes Derek’s job even more difficult, especially when he learns that one of the Fallen Angels is an old friend. The tagline “It ain’t over til it’s over” was never truer than in this book. Just as Derek thinks his job is nearly done, a final horrific booby-trap is discovered which makes everything that’s gone before look trivial.
This book moves so fast your eye muscles may suffer RSI. It’s another ripping yarn from the folks at Oceanview.