The fifth installment of the series finds Sea Haven, New Jersey police officers John Ceepak and Danny Boyle in Atlantic City. They are there to depose a con artist named Gary Burdick in connection with an Ohio homicide case involving John’s father, Joseph Ceepak. Burdick and Joseph Ceepak shared a drunk tank one night years ago and supposedly Joseph Ceepak detailed how he had gotten away with murder. The trip to Atlantic City allows Danny to bump into his old flame, Katie Landy, who is working as a nanny for a couple of magicians.
It also means Boyle and Ceepak are around when Katie is found dead hours later in a room at the Xandau Hotel and Casino. Quickly cleared as a suspect, Boyle is soon forced to confront the twin ideas that Katie might not have been as innocent as she seemed and their relationship might have not been what he thought it was. Allowed to assist in the murder investigation, nothing is as it appears with magicians, and this case won’t be easy to solve.
What started as a series that featured plenty of humor has evolved into a grim fictional reality. What humor is here is the grim bitter kind of humor that before the last two books was pretty much nonexistent. This shift in the series clearly could be due to the subject matter as Iraq and the murder of Katie aren’t laughing matters. It could also be due to the that Danny Boyle is steadily maturing and seeing more and more of what folks will do to each other. The sprit of melancholy that appeared in the previous book blooms into a full flower here and creates a backdrop of Boyle questioning the past while trying to cope in the present.
“Mind Scrambler: A John Ceepak Mystery” is a good read that tells another strong Ceepak tale featuring plenty of action, interesting characters, and misdirection. But, it sadly lacks funny humor and what little humor present is a bitter sweet laughing with tears variety. The result is a good book that misses a vital element critical to the series.
In just days Erica McDill was supposed to finally takeover the advertising agency Ruff-Harcourt-McDill in Minneapolis. With Ruff having died sometime back and Harcourt retired and finally willing to sell his stock to McDill the agency was almost in her grasp. Once he sold his shares, she would have seventy-five percent of the outstanding shares under her control and she would finally be able to get rid of the dead weight and move the agency forward. She was going to terminate employees at work and was thinking about terminating her relationship with her longtime lover, Ruth. The takeover of the agency would change everything and McDill had big plans. That was until a bullet tore through her head, ending her life, while she sat in a canoe-kayak hybrid on Stone Lake.
The bullet that ended McDill’s life ended Virgil Flowers’ vacation as well. Both Virgil and Johnson, his fishing buddy, were fishing in a tournament on Vermillion Lake in far northern Minnesota. With a fifteen year old girl, Little Linda Pelli, missing and resources tied up with that thanks to heavy media coverage, Lucas Davenport has no choice but to send Virgil to take a look. Not only is the local Sheriff, Bob Sanders, asking for help, McDill was a big Democrat and the Governor wants answers. Virgil has no choice and leaves the tournament to conduct the investigation.
Beyond the fact that the killer made a very good shot to kill McDill, actual clues at the scene are few. The investigation isn’t completely dead as there are links to a local band and its lead singer, a local lodge known to be frequented by lesbians, and various residents of the area. Because of the lesbian lifestyle practiced by many of the characters and other factors, Virgil is constantly blatantly lied to and misdirected as he conducts an investigation that for most of the book goes nowhere fast.
In between taking shots at Fox News and Liberals (an interesting combination, obviously created to hide author’s feelings), Virgil spends much of the novel in pursuit of not only the case, but a certain married woman whose husband has temporarily left her. While the language isn’t as crude as it has been in several of the most recent Lucas Davenport novels, there are nearly constant references to lesbianism in this book which is certain to offend some readers. All the references to the lesbianism of many of the characters as well as his pursuit of the married woman slows down the small amount of action in the novel considerably while at the same time padding word counts and page lengths.
Clearly it is an effort to put Virgil in a bit of a bind. A notorious womanizer, Virgil has no chance of conquest with many of the female characters due to their lesbianism. In case the reader isn’t able to figure that fact out on his or her own, there are constant references to the situation and how difficult it must be for Virgil not to have a chance. Heterosexuality stands out in this novel and, of course, Virgil finds himself heavily attracted to the one character with an absent husband. The feeling is mutual because Virgil Flowers has that effect on all women—regardless of their sexual preference.
The Flowers series has never had the intensity of the “Prey” series books and that isn’t changed here. Virgil Flowers spends much of his time insulting various folks while conducting his investigation and chasing after the married woman when he isn’t investigating the crime. “Rough Country” is weaker than the previous Flowers series novels (Dark of the Moon” and “Heat Lightening”), and one wishes that John Sandford would get back to the hard hitting suspense of the early “Prey” novels. This one not only doesn’t do that trick, it doesn’t rise to the level of a mediocre Lucas Davenport novel. If, as some have said, the various series are now being written by his son, it is unfortunate for the authors as well as readers.
Eighteen years ago, as a patrol officer, Jack Carpenter responded to an assault call at the Sunny Isle apartment complex. He made several mistakes that fateful day in 1992 and didn’t stop the abduction of Naomi Dunn. That event haunted and shaped his career with the Broward County Sheriff’s Department.
These days he is divorced, his daughter plays for the Lady Seminoles of Florida State Basketball team, and he has been booted off the police force leaving him free to run a business investigating missing persons. After single handily solving the latest child disappearance for his old unit (all members that he picked and trained and are frequently overwhelmed and call for his help despite the fact that he isn’t wanted around the department) his daughter asks for his help with a stalker problem. A creep is hanging around the team taking pictures and she is a bit rattled. That request leads to abduction and a chance to redeem himself regarding Naomi Dunn.
This latest in the Jack Carpenter series (“Midnight Rambler” and “Midnight Stalker”) features two brief appearances by the author’s signature and far more complex character Tony Valentine. Those brief appearances do little to help this book and come across more as author self indulgence more than anything. Despite the secondary title label of “a novel of suspense” there is very little suspense since it is clear from early on who the bad guys are. The read reminds one of a John Sandford’s Lucas Davenport series novels of recent years in that the character depth is non-existent, the bad guys are known virtually from the start, and the whole point is action, followed by more action, and still more action in hopes the reader doesn’t notice how weak the plot is. While Davenport has his team and Jack Carpenter is a one man band, both characters thrive off of coincidence, making routine mistakes that shouldn’t happen, and continuing the chase far longer than it should have needed to go on.
That being said, while it isn’t a Tony Valentine novel, it does provide cotton candy escapist reading for however long it takes you to finish the book. Considering the state of the world and publishing these days that might be the new normal standard.
It is another summer in Sea Haven and police officer Danny Boyle and John Ceepak soon are involved in another case. While the tourism industry in Sea Haven seems safe this time around, little else is including their own lives. It begins at a party at a local rental house with a disturbance call.
Ceepak is off duty and Boyle is out on patrol with part time summer cop Samantha Starky. At the house are five very drunk soldiers on leave from Iraq. It would have been six. But, Corporal Smith is dead up at the Exit 52 of the Garden State Parkway in the rest area restroom due to what appears to be a self inflicted gunshot to the head.
Something doesn’t sit right with Boyle at the scene so he takes a couple of pictures using his cell phone camera. After all, it is out of his jurisdiction and he doesn’t have a way of involving himself in the case. Ceepak takes a look at the cell phone pictures and quickly sees what was subconsciously bothering Boyle. Not only does he see what is wrong with the scene, he also sees a way to involve Boyle and Ceepak in the investigation. An investigation that quickly leads into the fog of war and the differences between Ceepak and other men who call themselves patriotic Americans.
Missing a lot of humor present early in the series, this is a harder edged novel in tone and subject natter. It plays off of recent news headlines from the last couple of years in disturbingly familiar ways for readers. Unlike earlier books in the series, this isn’t escapist reading. Instead, especially in the last stages of the book, there is a certain preaching tone of work that conflicts with earlier books in the series. At the same time, some of this isn’t surprising because Danny Boyle has grown up quickly. He had seen more then a couple of dead bodies, been shot at, had the woman he loved leave town, along with a few other things. Besides that, he is partnered with John Ceepak who will never be confused with a class clown. So, it was some what inevitable there would be at least some tone shift in the series as Danny Boyle matured.
Fourth in the series, this installment written by Anthony Award winner Chris Graberstein is another good read. Different then earlier books, many of the same elements are still there, and the character growth continues at a steady pace. The result is a read that will keep you involved right to the end.
The card game wasn’t supposed to be high stakes enough to attract the “Big Guy” but it did. A simple poker game undercover operation designed to net lower level casino cheats has drawn “Khun Pan” one of the richest men in Thailand. Offended, he isn’t one to just let things go. A deal is struck and Raffery
gets Pan’s permission to write his autobiography. He wants to do it without interference from Pan. That is because, as the French writer Balzac pointed out long ago, behind every great fortune lays a great crime.
For Raffety interference in the form of increasingly violent threats toward himself and his family is all he gets. While Pan seems to be going along with the book project by giving him some controlled access to his life, others clearly are violently opposed to the idea. With his wife, Rose, and his adopted daughter, Miaow at stake along with his close friend police officer, Arthit feeling the pressure, Poke Rafferty walks a tight rope between opposing forces while he attempts to find the leverage to set everyone free.
Against a backdrop of race and economic conflict in Bangkok in particular and Thailand in general, Timothy Hallinan weaves a tale where the motives of the players seen and unseen aren’t very clear.
Third in the Poke Rafferty series, the novel brings the region to life in the way that only those who live there, as the author does, can do. The political and economic elements in the story are always present and quickly become a major character in the story.
That fact, coupled with plenty of action, intrigue and mystery creates a fast paced read. While it is third in the series and does cover a little of the back story familiar to series readers in the second half of the novel, it can be read as a stand alone if so desired. For once the promotional blurbs on the back of the book can be believed as this is a very good book.
It begins, as many in this series do, in the classic way of a new client visiting the office of the private investigator. This October morning finds attorney Elizabeth Shaw at Spenser’s office. Referred to him by a mutual friend, Rita Fiore, she seeks Spenser’s help on behalf of a group of women who are being blackmailed.
It seems that a number of women have all been having an affair with a man by the mane of Gary Eisenhower. Things go well for varying periods of time and then he decides its time to cash in. He tells each one that he has proof of the adultery and will expose it unless they pay up. The women can’t afford to have it exposed publicly, or for their husbands to know, but can’t pay because their husband’s control the money needed to satisfy Eisenhower’s demands. What they want is for him to go quietly away and for Spenser to make it happen.
With limitations on what he will do and won’t do Spenser takes the case. Gary Eisenhower quickly proves to be an interesting man intent on keeping what is, for him at least, a good thing going. As the weeks pass and the sordid mess gets worse, Eisenhower begins to learn that there really can be too much of a good thing.
Formulaic and predictable, this is the usual Spenser type novel. Driven forward by dialogue and minimalistic descriptions, the case drags for months as things slowly deteriorate for the parties involved. Robert B. Parker ploughs no new ground for any of the major characters and that isn’t surprising. Much like Stuart Woods with his Stone Barrington character, Parker’s Spenser went two dimensional some time ago and that isn’t going to change. The same process seems to have attacked all of his characters as everyone in this book, good or bad, is a two dimensional and often stereotypical character.
That being said, this fast read will give the legions of Robert B. Parker fans exactly what they want and demand. There is no mistaking the fact that the author consistently delivers what a certain segment of the mystery reading community wants and from a business stand point that makes sense. Apparently there are legions of rabid readers who want light weight mystery fluff and they will surely love this latest effort. Those of us who like more substance to a read will be disappointed. The bottom line is that “The Professional” should be read by you for what it is. Expect nothing more and you too can be mindlessly happy.
“The Silent Hour: A Lincoln Perry Mystery” opens with Private Investigator Lincoln Perry working solo while his partner Joe Pritchard mends in Florida. Perry is receiving letters from Parker Harrison, convicted murder, who is seeking his help. When the letter campaign doesn’t work, Harrison comes in person. Simplifying greatly, Harrison wants Perry to find the woman who owned the home “Whisper Ridge” where Parker Harrison first stayed on his release from prison. The home was unique as were its owners, Alexandra and Joshua Cantrell. She disappeared along with her husband, twelve years ago, and Harrison wants her found for a variety of reasons.
Harrison wants an ending to the story. He says he wants to know what happened to her. He claims there wasn’t a romantic interest and yet, it comes across to Perry that something was going on between the two. Along with being able to get under Perry’s skin and push his buttons, Harrison has the ability not to tell all while saying he is telling all. He manages to pull Perry into the case, one agonizing step at a time, and once he is in, not let go for anything.
While the book jacket states that, “… Michal Koryta has crafted an intricate, lightning paced thriller, ratcheting up the tension as he explores just how dangerous the offer of a second chance can be.” I would disagree. Intricate---it certainly is. Thriller -- it isn’t. Nor would I agree with the idea that the book has a lightning pace. Instead, this slow moving mystery novel is primarily a psychological character study of Lincoln Perry. As befitting fitting a fourth book of a series, usually a major turning point for the primary character, Perry is at a major crossroads. Guilt and fear have rightfully so become increasing burdens and Perry spends much of this book in contemplation regarding the human costs of his actions. Such mental gymnastics heightens the tension considerably and strengthens the complexity while also making it very important for readers to have read this series in order starting with the Edgar nominated first novel, “Tonight I Said Goodbye.”
Such mental contemplation of the past does noting to make the novel either a thriller or lightning paced. The fact that the jacket copy is so obviously incorrect does nothing to disprove the notion that this is a very good book. As long time readers know, Michal Kortya writes complex novels full of deep storylines, action, and intricate plots that create storylines that carry over from book to book. “the Silent Hour: A Lincoln Perry Mystery” is yet more proof that if you aren’t reading this author, you are missing one of the big names these days and for some time to come.
Mark the _third_ Monday of every month for the Writers' Guild of Texas meeting.
Monday, 16 November 2009 7-8:30 p.m. Topic: Revision Hell in 14 Days Speaker: Candace "Candy" HavensRichardson Public Library900 Civic Center Dr.Richardson TX 75080Basement Room
Revisions can be hell at times, but there is a way to get through them. Candace will lead us through several steps, and provide ideas of things to look for as you revise and clean up your manuscript. In less than two weeks you could have a polished manuscript ready to send to agents and editors.
Candace "Candy" Havens is a best selling and award-winning author. Her novels include /Charmed & Dangerous/, /Charmed & Ready/, /Charmed & Deadly/, /Like A Charm,/ and /The Demon King and I/. She is known for writing strong female characters who save the world, but aren't exactly perfect. She is a two-time RITA, Write Touch Reader, and Holt Medallion finalist. She is also the winner of the Barbara Wilson award. Candy is a nationally syndicated entertainment columnist for FYI Television. A veteran journalist, she has interviewed just about everyone in Hollywood from George Clooney and Orlando Bloom to Nicole Kidman and Kate Beckinsale. You can hear Candy weekly on 96.3 KSCS in the Dallas Fort Worth Area. Her popular online Writer's Workshop has more than 1000 students and provides free classes to professional and aspiring writers. Check out http://www.candacehavens.com/.
A MESSAGE FROM THE FRIENDS OF THE WRITERS' GUILD OF TEXAS: The Guilded Pen
wwww.theguildedpen.ning.htm a social network developed for writers, offers an open forum that welcomes writers of all levels and writing mediums. Come join the fun. Create, develop, and promote your work. Get support and inspiration and share in an open, non-threatening environment. Be a resource for those looking for collaborators for joint works. Friends of the Writers’ Guild of Texas.
Kat Smith, Membership Chair, is developing a membership directory to help members find members with similar interests, etc. to partner for critique or support. The membership form will provide a clear picture of each member's profile. Take the opportunity to talk to her at the next meeting.
Pay annual 2010 WGT dues of $20.00 (not prorated) on 1 November 2009 or later so you can be a voting member by December 2009. This also makes you eligible to be a reader at the December Read-In.
* *_Monday, 21 December 2009_. Regular meeting: Annual WGT All-Stars Read-In* *and Election of WGT Board members. All are welcome; only paid-up members may read and vote.* * *_Monday, 18 January 2010_. Regular meeting: TBA *
Writers' Events Calendar (contact firstname.lastname@example.org to have your conferences, meetings, or other writing-related event listed here--no individual book signings, please): * 10-11 April 2010_, DFW Writers' Conference 2010! Grapevine, Texas. http://dfwwritersworkshop.org/
The Writers' Guild of Texas is a nonprofit professional organization whose primary purpose is to provide a forum for information, support, and sharing among writers; to help members improve and market their writing skills; and to promote the interests of writers and the writing community.
Permission to forward this email is not only granted, but encouraged. Let's get the word out to as many in the writing community as possible.
Carol Woods, Communications Writers' Guild of Texas
Mysteries come in many forms. Sometimes they are straight forward and easy to figure out as the author hits all the expected points one by one. Like dominoes, each plot or storyline point is hit in turn and they fall in a story by the numbers precision. Other times, not at all because the author weaves complexity and misdirection into the tale in such a way to keep the readers guessing all the way to the end.
Then there are those books that don’t fit easily into categories while clearly containing some crime and mystery elements. Novels and stories that might be classified more in the horror, supernatural, fantasy, etc genres and yet also contain a few elements of crime and mystery. Tales and books that don’t easily fit into the classifications created by libraries and book stores because the stories cross genres. Such is the case here with this intriguing and often disturbing anthology edited by Colin Harvey. If the stories in the “Killers” anthology share anything beyond the basic genre elements, they also frequently feature characters questioning their own sanity. Or not, as the book opens.
The very disturbing story titled “Doctor Nine” written by the multi Bram Stoker award winning author Jonathan Maberry begins the eleven story anthology. A very hard to describe story that features a child responding to a telepathic call to commit murder. This story powerfully sets the tone of what most will follow in the book.
“Dead Wood” by Sarah Singleton, also a winner of awards including the 2005 Children of the Night Award, comes next. Long ago someone once wrote of the woods being dark and deep. Chris has his own issues with sleep and these woods will slowly give up their secrets one by one.
Philip J. Lees heads to the virtual world for his story “Virtual Analysis.” Listed last month as an honorable mention finalist for the Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year Anthology, his tale tells of a plan to study the thought processes of a serial killer while he kills in a virtual world. Of course, things will go disastrously wrong- at least for some of the study participants. But why?
Multi award winning Bruce Holland Rogers contributes next with “Pushover.” Beware those that appear meek and naïve as not only can appearances be deceiving, they also have jobs to do.
“Beautiful Summer” by Eugie Foster works on the angle that the fashion world is always looking for a fresh new face. Nominated for numerous awards, her story is haunting as well as highly entertaining.
Editor Colin Harvey steps into the author shoes with his own story titled “Just Another Day.” Set in Iceland, this story has a feel of being ripped from the head lines type of read to it. More straight forward than most in the collection, it features a police officer trying to figure out who killed the woman he loved set against the backdrop of genetics and cloning research.
“Losing Paradise” by G. C. Veazey follows next in a tale set in a hospital ward. Virginia may work among the patients and staff, but she isn’t really one of them.
Mental health also plays a role in “Visibility Less Than Zero” by Paul Meloy. Mr. Meloy is a mental health nurse in Bury St. Edmunds and one gets the feeling that he is writing well of what he knows. A tale that shifts in points of view and explores the idea of whether anyone really knows if he or she is sane.
Charlie Allery uses computers and hackers in her very good story “Hunter-Killer.” While Philip J. Lees went one way with some of the same elements, Charlie Alley went a different way in her own cyber murder tale. Each is equally good in its own right and either vision or both could easily come true.
“Index Of An Enigma” by Gary Fry tells the tale of a professor making a lecture appearance a symposium. The problem is that he is haunted by what is real and what might not be real.
Bram Stoker Award winning author Lee Thomas closes out the anthology with “The Good and Gone.” A hospital is again the setting in this tale of a patient dealing with pain in a rather unique way.
Published by Swimming Kangaroo Books of Arlington, Texas, this 233 page anthology features stories that share a very wide brush stroke link of murder and crime. After that, they have little in common as they showcase different genre elements in tales that feature widely divergent writing styles and tastes, and reader accessibility. Difficult to review or categorize, the “Killers” anthology features no easy tales that are quick reads and forgettable. Instead, each very good tale manages to hint at far more than it explains and makes you think long after you close the book.
This book is clearly a labor of love. Its editor, Vince Emery, is also the publisher, and he obviously took great pains to be sure the book was carefully designed and constructed.
It contains twenty-one stories—though in a handful of cases calling them stories rather than vignettes is stretching the point—not all of which are mystery/crime tales, the type of story for which Dashiell Hammett is most famous. Some display Hammett’s more “literary” side, harbingers of those aspects of his later work that readers and critics have seized upon to justify his “legitimacy” as a writer of substance and significance—as if any justification were needed! Some—e.g., “Laughing Masks”—are wonderful examples of pulp action/suspense stories. Many have not been seen since they first appeared in print. Others have been reprinted, but in abridged or extended versions, depending on the whims of presumptuous editors. Fred Dannay is mentioned more than once as being notorious for “editing”—which is to say trimming—the works of established authors he reprinted in Mystery League and Ellery Queen’s MysteryMagazine.
Perhaps the most intriguing point Emery makes is that Hammett became a writer from necessity rather than from compulsion. There was absolutely nothing in his past to indicate even the slightest literary inclination. That he was never a hack but rather a conscious craftsman who took pride in his work (as his fictional sleuths took pride in theirs) is further testament to his achievements. Despite Carroll John Daly’s preceding him into the pages of Black Mask by a matter of weeks, it is Hammett who genuinely deserves to be called the father of the hardboiled mystery* story, perhaps even of the truly American mystery story. Three-Gun Terry Mack and, subsequently, Race Williams, in Daly’s clumsy prose, brought a fanciful wild-west sensibility to urban settings, whereas Hammett’s carefully-wrought plots and prose rendered them more real and more believable.
Hammett’s importance as an influential Twentieth Century writer, as Emery points out, is undeniable. (A debate has apparently raged for years about who influenced whom, Hammett or Hemingway. I’ve long felt that in The Glass Key, which I consider his greatest novel, Hammett outdid Hemingway at his own game. According to the evidence Emery provides, Hammett published quite a number of short stories before Hemingway arrived on the scene.) Like Raymond Chandler, whom I’d also nominate as a major influence on many of his contemporaries and successors—originators and imitators alike—both in and out of the mystery field, Hammett’s style and vision has had a profound effect on writers in America and around the world.
Lost Stories is highly recommended.
*I use the term mystery here in its broadest sense, since not all of Hammett’s crime tales contained fairly-clued puzzles.
Former Managing Editor of Futures Mystery Anthology Magazine and current First Senior Editor of Mysterical-E, Barry Ergang's work has appeared in numerous publications, print and electronic. He was a 2007 Derringer Award winner.
Hardcover Death at La Fenice by Donna Leon (HarperCollins, 1992) is the first in the police procedural mystery series with Guido Brun...
Supporting The Blog
In my wife's memory and honoring a promise I made to Sandi, the blog continues...at least for now. If you would like to make a donation of support, you can do so at the links below. Most of the donated funds go to the purchase of various short story anthologies and collections which eventually are read and reviewed here.