As Texas Sicario by Harry Hunsicker begins, former Texas Ranger
Arlo Baines is back in Dallas and now working as head of security for Aztec Bazaar.
The bazaar is located in a predominately Hispanic area of the city where the narcotic
business is hard at work in seen and unseen ways. The murder of Alejandro
Sandoval behind the bar located next to the Bazaar draws the interest of many
including Arlo Baines.
Still grief stricken over the loss of his family and now a
surrogate parent to a young street kid by the name of Miguel, he doesn’t really
want to be involved in the case. He wants to drink, makes a few bucks, and be
left alone and in peace as much as his mind and grief will allow. But, he knew
Alejandro a little bit from the neighborhood and is bothered by what happened.
Then there is the fact that the murder might mean a problem for another friend
who is not only his boss but a fellow sufferer as that man’s family was killed back
home in Nuevo Laredo. Then there is the fact that stranger who appears to be
some sort of high level cartel enforcer has been making sure that Arlo Baines
knows he is around.
that was not enough, everyone knows that the Dallas Police Department has been woefully
understaffed for years. A homicide in the area will be written off as some sort
drug deal gone wrong regardless of the truth of that. The fact that Texas
Ranger Aloysius Throckmorton is on the case is a sign that there is something
fairly big going on. Not only is he a public racist and does not care who he
offends, he is also the Ranger who pretty much did everything he could to see
Arlo quit even after he was cleared of murdering his family.
Arlo’s being involved, even on the edges, has gotten Throckmorton
interested. Throckmorton is acting as
some sort of go between for the Department of Public Safety and the DEA and he
wants Arlo’s help. The murder could be the first indication of a power play
with the drug cartels for North Texas. That and the fact that Miguel could be
involved in some way drags Arlo Baines into an often violent mess.
Texas Sicario by Harry Hunsicker is another fast paced and often violent read
that rips along through the underbelly of Dallas again exposing the rot beneath
the city’s façade. Author Harry Hunsicker has a long history of exposing
the less glamorous aspects of Dallas in his fiction starting with his very good
Henry Oswald Mysteries. While the chamber of commerce types may not
appreciate his insights, we locals who have been around for decades certainly
While it is not necessary to read the previous book in the series,
Devil’s Country, before reading this one, you really should. You
should read Texas Sicario as well. Both books are really good.
left to win copies of another fun group of mysteries-"A Devious Death":
A Lady and Lady’s Maid Mystery by Alyssa Maxwell, "No Escape Claws":
A Second Chance Cat Mystery by Sofie Ryan, "Seven Deadly Zins": A Wine
Country Mystery by Nancy J. Parra, "Grand Slam Murders": A Bridge to Death
Mystery by R. J. Lee, and "Gown With the Wind": A Wedding Planner Mystery
by Stephanie Blackmoore
ONLY TO SLEEP: A Philip
Marlowe Novel (2018) by Lawrence Osborne
Reviewed by Barry
The time of the story is 1988
and its first-person narrator is a seventy-two-year-old retired private investigator
living in a house he bought in 1984 “a few miles north of Ensenada in Baja.” His
name happens to be—at least for the sake of the book and this review, if not necessarily
by recognized literary standards—Philip Marlowe. The extremely flimsy plot consists
of the elderly detective being hired by a pair of representatives from the
Pacific Mutual insurance company to look into the drowning death of the supposedly
well-to-do—but “profligate” and thus bankrupt and corrupt—seventy-two-year-old real
estate developer Donald Zinn, sometimes referred to as “El Donaldo.” (Does Zinn
remind anyone of a real-life personage of dubious character who is [unfortunately]
active at the time of this review? Did Lawrence Osborne intend it? If yes, it’s
one positive I can cite.)
The retiree agrees to the
job. What ensues, far from being the kind of hardboiled detective story one
might reasonably expect, reads more like a travelogue of Mexico and many of its
lesser-known cities, towns and locales, as the detective trails the Zinns
hither and thither throughout the country, in the process meeting and becoming
smitten with the thirtyish and very attractive Dolores Araya Zinn. His travels result
in relatively little more than encountering a somewhat menacing character who
likes to spin tops on the bars or tables he’s seated at, and an eventual
violent tangle with same. No worries, though, because as he explains early on:
“I also carried the cane that has been my constant servant since I broke a foot
in 1977, and inside which slept a Japanese blade that a master smith had
custom-made for me in Tokyo.”
Seriously? You forgot you
legally owned at least one handgun before and after your retirement? More
seriously, does like this sound like the Philip Marlowe any reader has ever heard of?
Hardcore fans of the
genuine Marlowe novels know that you read Raymond Chandler far more for style,
tone and characterization than for plot, the latter element being often rather
difficult to make sense of depending on the particular novel. In the confusing
ones—i.e., most of them—you simply coast along for the colorful, absorbing, and
entertaining ride. But you needn’t concern yourself about a tumultuous journey through
Only to Sleep. The ride is sluggish
and largely uneventful. Lawrence Osborne reads stylistically and tonally like
Chandler about as much as Ernest Hemingway sounds like Geoffrey Chaucer. The plot
is practically non-existent, not at all a mystery, and the characterizations are
very superficial. The protagonist could as well have been named Tooraloora Birnbaum,
considering how little he resembles Philip Marlowe.
What we have here is a
considerable distance from the kind of hardboiled private detective novel one
expects from a pulp pioneer/master of the genre, let alone most writers’ modern
take on the form. Osborne’s is a self-consciously literary approach that
includes more extended, descriptive, and philosophical moments than the kinds
of crackling scenes and intriguing, well-delineated characters found in the
works of Chandler, his finest predecessors and legitimate successors. It
reinforces what I said in my
review of Benjamin Black’s The Black-Eyed
Blonde: authors’ estates and their publishers should stop trying to
cash in on inferior products about classic characters from imitators who should
stick to their own creations.
One thing is certain: the
title of this one is unquestionably appropriate. The Big Snooze would have worked, too, because I truly yawned and
fought to stay awake while plodding through its verbal Ambien.
Barry Ergang’s mystery novelette, along with some of his other works, is
available at Amazon
and Smashwords. One
such work is “Nocturne,” included in Dances of the Disaffected, in case
anyone wants to call him out about his take on Marlowe, and the publication of
which had nothing to do with a major
publisher or Chandler’s estate.
Ice by Matt Goldman (Forge Books, 2018) is the
second book about Nils Shapiro, a former police officer who has joined forces
with former police colleague Anders Ellegaard to establish a private detective
agency in Minneapolis. Anders brings business sense and marketing know-how to
the partnership, and Nils contributes investigative skills and acute intuition.
They are both fully realized characters; of the two, I liked Anders more. He is
at a loss sometimes as to the moral ambiguity of the situations to which their
work leads him. Nils, on the other hand, isn’t especially troubled by such
Two teenage girls are missing from the area and
Nils is retained to find one of them, Linnea Engstrom. The two girls aren’t particular
friends but the connection between the two events is unmistakable. While
interviewing Linnea’s parents, the other girl is found dead in the St. Paul
caves. Feeling increasing pressure to find Linnea quickly, Nils and Anders go
to the scene to learn whatever they can that might apply to their search. Standing
outside the cave entrance talking to the police, Nils is hit in the shoulder by
an arrow. Not just any arrow, but one meant for big game hunting, with lethal
razorlike edges. The medical examiner was leaving the cave as he fell and took
prompt action to keep him from bleeding to death.
Nils arranges to leave the hospital with a
full-time nurse, whom he escapes as soon as possible to continue his
investigation, which takes him to a small town near the Canadian border known
as the Hockey Capital of the World. Playoff season is in full swing and many of
Linnea’s friends are there. Two more people connected to Linnea turn up
gruesomely dead, and Nils is constantly on the look-out for the archer to come
back to finish him off while he conducts interviews and visits Linnea’s known hangouts.
New information about halfway through suggests
a different motive for Linnea’s disappearance than earlier assumed and leads
Nils into Canada with an interesting pair of travelling companions. The
supporting cast of characters in this book is one of its strong points.
This new series is a pleasant addition to the
catalog of fictitious private investigators in general and to the Minnesota
collection in particular. (Why is Minnesota so saturated with crime fiction? We
don’t hear anything about private investigators in Idaho.) I noticed three or
four jarring typos in the book. “Grilled leaks” instead of leeks and “Char road shotgun” instead of rode for instance. Someone used spellcheck instead of an actual
proofreader. I expect better from a prominent publisher like Forge.
Up in KRL
this morning reviews and giveaways of another fun group of mysteries-"A
Devious Death": A Lady and Lady’s Maid Mystery by Alyssa Maxwell, "No
Escape Claws": A Second Chance Cat Mystery by Sofie Ryan, "Seven
Deadly Zins": A Wine Country Mystery by Nancy J. Parra, "Grand Slam Murders":
A Bridge to Death Mystery by R. J. Lee, and "Gown With the Wind": A
Wedding Planner Mystery by Stephanie Blackmoore
Just over seven years
ago this review by Barry Ergang first appeared on the blog as part of FFB.
Seemed like a good time to again draw your attention to it. Especially these days when
humor is in short supply. For this final Friday of February 2019 make sure you
head over to Todd’s blog for
more reading suggestions.
GOD SAVE THE MARK
(1967) by Donald E. Westlake
Reviewed by Barry
Fred Fitch is a con artist's wet dream. He seems to radiate
an aura of gullibility that any and every grifter can see or sense: "Con
men take one look at me, streamline their pitches, and soon go gaily off to
steak dinners while poor Fred Fitch sits at home and once again dines on gnawed
fingernail." It has been this way for him since his childhood in Montana "when I
returned home from my first day of kindergarten without my trousers. I did have
the rather vague notion they'd been traded to some classmate, but I couldn't
remember what had been given to me in exchange, nor did I seem to have anything
in my possession that hadn't already belonged to me when I'd left for school, a
younger and happier child, at nine that morning. Nor was I sure of the con
infant who had done me in, so that neither he nor my trousers were ever found."
Now thirty-one and living in an apartment in New York City, fleeceable
Fred works as a freelance researcher. Because he's been conned so many times,
he's become a good friend of Bunco Squad detective Jack Reilly. Thus, when he
receives a letter from a lawyer named Goodkind that says he's inherited half a
million dollars (three hundred seventeen thousand after taxes) from his Uncle
Matt, Fred immediately assumes that Goodkind is another scammer working an
angle and calls Reilly to let him know about it.
As it turns out, however, Goodkind is legitimate, and so is
Fred's inheritance. He calls his mother and learns that he really did have an
Uncle Matthew Grierson, a man who was the black sheep of the family. Jack
Reilly tells him that Uncle Matt was a con artist who was known by the monicker
Matt "Short Sheet" Gray. After the irony of the situation leaves Fred
a little hysterical, Reilly voices concern about what will become of the money
if Fred actually gets possession of it because he's afraid it won't remain in
his possession for long.
Mass Market Paperback
Then he tells Fred that although Uncle Matt had cancer, it
wasn't what killed him. A blunt instrument did.
Things begin to happen rapidly and wildly after that, as
Fred encounters an array of offbeat characters, among them lovely Karen Smith,
who accosts him in the street and asks him to kiss her; Gertie Divine, the Body
Secular, a stripper who was Uncle Matt's nurse and companion; Grant and
Wilkins, the other two tenants in Fred's building; Homicide cops Steve and
Ralph, who come across like comic vaudevillians but who, Gertie says, aren't
candidates for sainthood; the elusive Professor Kilroy, Uncle's Matt's former
partner; Dr. Osbertson, who goes to a wacky extreme to avoid talking to Fred; Gus
Ricovic, who's always willing to trade information for cash; the menacing Coppo
brothers, whose father Uncle Matt swindled during the years he lived in Brazil;
and former senator Earl Dunbar, who began the Citizens Against Crime
Fred may be gullible, but he's not stupid. He realizes that
he's suddenly become Mr. Sought-After now that he has money. When someone trails
and then takes some potshots at him, and after he discovers another murder
victim, he questions whether he can trust anyone, even the police, as he tries
to decide what to do with the money, how to avoid being murdered himself, and how
to determine who is behind all of the chaos.
Written relatively early in a long and illustrious career, God
Save the Mark is a fine example
of why Donald E. Westlake is generally acknowledged as the all-time-greatest
writer of comical crime stories. A well-plotted tale, its situations develop primarily
from its delightful cast of
idiosyncratic characters. I highly recommend it to readers who enjoy a brief
and breezy page-turner that will keep them smiling and sometimes chuckling
LONDON: WATER WEED by Andrew Cartmel and Ben Aaronovitch,
by Linda Wilson
dealing on the River Thames takes on an added dimension when a pair of
goddesses get involved.
CIRCLE by Elly Griffiths, reviewed by Sharon Wheeler
Dr Ruth Galloway and DCI Harry Nelson encounter some unwelcome echoes from the
past when bones are discovered on an ancient Norfolk site.
WANDERER by Michael Ridpath, reviewed by Ewa Sherman
Jonson is an American Icelander newly returned to the Reykjavik police force.
He’s called to investigate the murder of a young Italian tourist found at a
sacred church in northern Iceland.
AND THE GOOD PEOPLE OF MONTPARNASSE by George Simenon, reviewed by Arnold
Josselin is a retired businessman living a comfortable life and generally
regarded as a good man. It comes as a great shock when he is found one evening
shot dead in his armchair.
LILY by Philippa Stockley, reviewed by John Cleal
strong women, one black, one white, fight to survive amid the depravity,
prejudice and constraints of Jacobean London.
GRIST & SECURITY by Mike Hodges, reviewed by Chris Roberts
novellas combined in a single volume give a very penetrating examination of the
worlds of book writers, the cinema, and personal improvement courses.
KILLS by Antoine Laurain, reviewed by Kati Barr-Taylor
Valentine’s new relationship with cigarettes is about to make him a killer.
HAPPENED by Michael Koryta, reviewed by Linda Wilson
Rob Barrett is brought in to help interview a woman who has confessed to being
involved with the disappearance and murder of a woman and her boyfriend.
Everyone else thinks she’s an attention-seeking liar, but Barrett believes her
– and stakes his career on his judgment.
INHERITANCE by Rachel Rhys, reviewed by Arnold Taylor
Forrester feels herself ensnared in a loveless marriage. She sees no way out of
it and is resigned to living in a gloomy house, with no friends to brighten her
existence. A letter from a firm of solicitors brings unexpected changes.
by Vanda Symon, reviewed by Ewa Sherman
Shepard, the only policewoman in the small rural town of Mataura, New Zealand,
investigates the death of a young mother. Apparent suicide was in fact a
murder, and the victim was married to Sam’s ex-boyfriend. Sam finds herself the
main suspect and suspended from duty but decides to find the killer anyway and
clear her name.
ICE by Rachael Blok, reviewed by John Cleal
body is found in a frozen lake. As the police investigation struggles,
neighbours in a close-knit community turn against each other – and a young
mother’s strange visions may hold the key.
FRENCH GIRL by Lexie Elliott, reviewed by Kati Barr-Taylor
find a girl’s body ten years after she disappeared, Kate Channing’s memories
and friendships unravel in a dark place.
RUN by Douglas Skelton, reviewed by Chris Roberts
Lang awakes to find his girlfriend dead on the bed next to him. When autopsy
results show she has been murdered, the police like him for the crime.
FROST by Danny Miller, reviewed by Linda Wilson
local bookmaker is shot in the head and seriously injured, Denton copper DI
Jack Frost is under pressure from his boss to find the culprit as well as
having to pacify his landlords by tracking down an escaped parrot.
ROULETTE by Sara Sheridan, reviewed by John Cleal
debt collector and amateur detective Mirabelle Bevan becomes involved with a
brutal murder and must cut through an iron curtain of call girls and high
stakes gambling to find the truth.
FIRST FELONY by John Straley, reviewed by Chris Roberts
defence investigator Cecil Younger’s favour for a client gets him into bad
trouble. And when his daughter is kidnapped, he has to take extraordinary
CANVAS by Elizabeth Mundy, reviewed by Linda Wilson
valuable painting goes missing from a London gallery, suspicion falls on Lena’s
cousin Sarika, but Lena is determined to clear her name and find the real
GRAY by Mark Greaney, reviewed by John Cleal
Gentry is back with the CIA and his first mission is to find a defecting
Chinese cyber-expert and bring him or his knowledge back to the US.
JOHN AND OTHER TRUE STORIES OF OUTLAWS AND OUTSIDERS by Christopher Goffard,
reviewed by Chris Roberts
true stories from a Los Angeles Times staff writer sympathetically exploring
the lives of people whose experience has been touched by crime or stress.
NOT WHAT HAPPENED by Kody Keplinger, reviewed by Linda Wilson
years ago, a massacre at Virgil County High School left six traumatised teens
struggling to make sense of what happened. Now survivor Lee Bauer wants the
truth to be told. But the truth is not always welcomed with open arms.
Please welcome Sandra Ruttan with her first guest post here on the blog. My hope is that this post is the first of many from Sandra. In add...
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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.