The other day, I was telling a friend that Robert Crais had evolved from writing novels that reminded me of Jeffrey MacDonald’s Fletch to writing novels that reminded me of Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch. After reading Chasing Darkness, I may be little off with the Connelly comparison. This was another real good book, but there were some plot twists that left me shaking my head, something I never do with Connelly. Without giving things away, the book features detective Elvis Cole, an awesome character, like Bosch. Cole becomes involved in the investigation of an old murder and things progress nicely. Toward the end of the book, Cole does something that could land him in prison, but the aftermath of the incident just doesn’t work for me.
Posts Tagged Los Angeles
After making a brief appearance in Michael Connelly’s previous novel, The Brass Verdict, Los Angeles Times reporter Jack McEvoy returns with a novel of his own in The Scarecrow. It’s hard to believe it’s been 13 years since Connelly — and presumably McEvoy — published The Poet, a case McEvoy solved while looking into the death of his brother. Similar to The Poet, where homicides of law enforcement officers were made to look like suicides, The Scarecrow features a trunk murder where the killer frames an unwitting suspect. Again, McEvoy makes the connection and once again, FBI agent Rachel Walling risks her job as she helps McEvoy investigate and falls in love with him. In true Connelly fashion, the Times newsroom scenes are totally realistic as Connelly worked as a crime reporter for the paper in the late 1980s before leaving the profession to become a novelist. As someone who left the newspaper industry in 2001, Connelly’s portrayal of the dying print business strikes a chord, as does the book’s polar opposite setting, a high-tech data center in Arizona. As Connelly and McEvoy turn the page on print journalism, I look forward to a future novel where we can see Connelly’s take on — and McEvoy’s work in — Web journalism.
In my review of The Concrete River, John Shannon‘s debut novel, I used the word “zany” to describe the characters in that book. In The Cracked Earth, Shannon’s second novel, we are once again treated to some rather odd characters, but this time it was the plot — in particular, the ending — that proved to be zany. Missing child detective Jack Liffey is hired to find the daughter of Lori Bright, a sex-starved 1960s movie starlet who still longs for the spotlight. Liffey’s search takes him across Los Angeles where he avoids both earthquakes and a Jamaican hit man whose accent is so thick, it’s unintelligible even in print. Liffey finds the runaway without too much trouble, but gets in the middle of a feud between rival video game companies. And that’s pretty much it, except for the ending, which features a bunch of cracked earth in the City of Angels. Personally, when I read a mystery novel, I’m not in the mood for a natural disaster and characters trying to survive it. There were numerous explanations of how each city block looked afterward, but after a while, it just got to be too much and I was relieved when I finally got to the end of the book. Part of me likes Shannon’s wacky — and possibly whacked out — writing style, but the other part of me only puts up with this type of thing when the author is Hunter S. Thompson.
Dirt, the debut novel by Sean Doolittle, drew rave reviews and was chosen as a Top 100 Editor’s Pick by amazon.com in 2001. That mean’s I loved the book, right? Well, not so fast. The book was well-written and Doolittle obviously did meticulous research when it came to cemeteries and mortuaries, which was the setting for this book. All-in-in it was a damn good book. However, there was something about it that just didn’t click with me. It was as if something was missing. In trying to figure out how I felt about Dirt, I checked out Doolittle’s Web site and here is what his bio says: “Sean Doolittle is the award-winning author of Dirt, Burn, Rain Dogs, and The Cleanup. His latest book is Safer. He lives in western Iowa with his family.” Well, there you go. Like the bio, Dirt is technically sound but it just didn’t have the charisma, character or soul I expected. Has Doolittle ever been to Los Angeles, where the book takes place? Probably. But I just don’t think he’s lived there or experienced the city enough to take this book to the next level. The main character, Quince Bishop, is a slacker and Doolittle pretty much nailed that character. But when it came to ex-cons Billy Guilder and Carl Rosen, I wasn’t sold. The story starts as Bishop is at the funeral of his best friend. Through a series of events, Bishop gets involved in a mystery involving the cemetery and also gets involved with Marie Casteneda, a funeral rights activist. The relationship between Bishop and Casteneda is interesting. Things progress nicely until we learn Casteneda is hiding a secret. But since Bishop never finds out and there isn’t a confrontation, what’s the point of mentioning it? Bottom line, if you’re looking for realistic, bad ass characters, Pelecanos or Bruen are for you; if you don’t mind the obvious flaw of your typical good guy from the Midwest trying to write about bad guys and bad things and want a very solid, well-written mystery novel, Dirt is worth reading.
When attorney Mickey Haller first appeared in Michael Connelly‘s 16th novel, The Lincoln Lawyer, I was a bit skeptical. I just didn’t think I would enjoy a lawyer mystery. Naturally, Connelly delivered and when I saw that Haller was returning three books later, there was no apprehension on my part. Again, The Brass Verdict delivers and long-time readers are not only rewarded with a significant role by LAPD detective Harry Bosch, but writer Jack McEvoy also makes an appearance. Since we last saw him in the Lincoln Lawyer, Haller has battled a pain-killer addiction while recovering from his gunshot wounds. A colleague and rival, Jerry Vincent, is murdered and it turns out that Vincent’s active caseload has been bequeathed to Haller, including a high-profile murder trial involving a Hollywood producer. Haller butts heads with the detective investigating Vincent’s murder, which happens to be Bosch. In addition to the standard murder mystery, the story also examines legal ethics and focuses on the rocky relationship between Haller and Bosch. The human part of the book doesn’t end there as we also look at Haller’s relationship with his daughter and see him take one of his clients – a troubled, ex-surfer facing prison time — under his wing. Great stuff once again from Connelly, who keeps you on the edge of your seat throughout this legal/mystery/police thriller.
In my review of Storm Runners, the previous novel by T. Jefferson Parker, I hoped for the return of a somewhat normal lead character. In L.A. Outlaws, Parker obeys my wish. Sort of. The book focuses on Allison Murietta, a modern day bandit that steals cars, robs fast food joints and gives much of her criminal proceeds to various charities. Imagine a female version of Robin Hood with Spanish ancestry and you get the idea. While it may appear that way in the first half of the book, it turns out the not-so-normal Murietta is not the main character. That distinction belongs to Charlie Hood, a member of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department who previously served in the military with Naval Criminal Investigative Service. Hood becomes involved in the search for some missing diamonds that left several MS-13 and Asian gang members dead. Not much else can said without giving things away other than the fact that I was a little perplexed when I finished this book. I kept expecting some kind of plot twist as the book wrapped up. There wasn’t one. In fact, not only did things end as expected, they just kind of ended. Maybe I’m spoiled from reading the likes of Michael Connelly and Robert Crais, but in retrospect, this book simply seemed a bit flat to me. Well written and well researched, it does a great job chronicling the legend of Wild West L.A. Outlaw Joaquin Murietta, an ancestor of Allison’s. But it just seems that most of Parker’s effort went into telling a compelling history lesson kind and things were somewhat lacking when it came to the modern day mystery part of the book.
I’m not a big believer in coincidences. Maybe it’s my background in journalism or maybe I just over-analyze things. Whatever the case, I need to stop reading too much into things when I’m reading. Case in point: The Overlook by Michael Connelly. The 13th book in the Harry Bosch series, it was originally written as a 16-part series for the New York Times Magazine. A year later, Connelly expanded it into a novel. The story focuses on a murder that is being investigated by Bosch and his young new partner, Iggy Ferras. Before long, the FBI takes an interest in the case and Bosch is reunited with Rachel Walling, a former flame who appeared in the previous novel, Echo Park. As the case unravels, the plot takes an abrupt turn, which is where the coincidences come into play. (In the last book I reviewed, The Watchman by Robert Crais, the story was set in Los Angeles and it also involved the feds and took a similar abrupt turn near then end.) But enough about coincidences. Both writers are writing about crime in post 9/11 Los Angeles and obviously the feds are a big part of that equation. (In fact, Cold Hit by Stephen J. Cannell, written prior to both books, also features a crime story set in Los Angeles and involves the feds.) Like The Watchman (and coincidences aside), I thought The Overlook was very good, but not great. My only real criticism is the brevity of the book, which obviously is due to the fact that was originally written as a serial. I noticed the book was a bit thinner than usual, but what hit me afterwards was the feeling that the book felt rushed and seemed to climax very quickly. The other thing I’m not sure about is the bonus chapter, which was published in the paperback edition. To me, I would feel cheated if I had purchased the hardcover edition which was missing the chapter.
After taking a break with a standalone novel, Robert Crais returns to his signature Elvis Cole-Joe Pike duo in The Watchman. While previous books in the series focus on private eye Cole and his Fletch-like one-liners, this one features the enigmatic Pike. From the 10 previous books in the series, we know Pike is a tough ex-cop who owns a gun store and skirts the law as he helps Cole solve cases. In this book, we learn why Pike left the LAPD and became a mercenary. We also find out Pike has a soft spot beneath his rugged exterior, something that comes to light while Pike serves as the bodyguard for a young woman, which is the premise of the book. As Pike uses his training to keep the woman alive, Cole uses his investigation skills to find out why she is being targeted by assassins and who is responsible. (Pike also enlists the help of LAPD forensic criminalist John Chen, whose hilarious, scene-stealing character reminds me a lot of Vince Masuka, the sex-crazed forensic technician in Showtime’s outstanding series, Dexter.) The result is a book that is enjoyable, although things don’t add up for me. I raved about Crais’ last book, The Two Minute Rule, which I really liked. But an abrupt plot turn near the end of the book followed by an unlikely, unexplained coincidence puts this book in the very good but not great category, despite the awards it has won.
The early works of Robert Crais featured wise-cracking detective Elvis Cole, who reminded me a lot of Gregory Mcdonald‘s hilarious book and movie character Fletch, and Cole’s bad ass sidekick Joe Pike. After eight novels of smooth sailing featuring the duo, Crais shifted into another gear with a couple of standalone novels, including Hostage, which was made into a movie starring Bruce Willis, and Demolition Angel, which was probably too gritty and realistic to become a movie, even though it should have been. The Two Minute Rule is the third novel without Cole and it may be Crais’ best work to date. The story centers around Max Holman, a bank robber just out of prison who joins forces with Katherine Pollard, the FBI agent who put him away. That idea may sound far-fetched but don’t let that scare you. Everything about this novel works, from the characters which could be in a George Pelecanos novel to the story, which brilliantly unfolds and beautifully comes together. The book made me laugh and it also brought tears to my eyes, it was that good. I know Crais goes back to the awesome Cole and Pike duo, but I really hope he brings back Holman and Pollard for a future novel — even if it’s only for a cameo appearance.
Like just about every kid who grew up during the 1980’s, I was a fan of the A-Team. Along with Riptide. And 21 Jump Street. And Hunter. All of those TV series were created by Stephen J. Cannell. And one day in the book store, I recognized his name and decided to buy one of his books, The Plan. Like his TV shows, I got a kick out of his first novel. Whether it is TV or a book, the guy can flat out write. And his characters are always great, not to mention the fact that they always have the perfect name. For example, Cold Hit is the fifth book in the series featuring L.A. detective Shane Scully. From that name alone, you can tell he is a rugged, bad ass and it doesn’t surprise you that he is married to a smoking hottie — who happens to be his boss at the LAPD. In Cold Hit, Cannell combines the detective novel, which he does so well in the Scully series, with the espionage novel, which he does so well in a couple of non-Scully novels. (My favorite non-Scully book is King Con, which features a bunch of gypsy con men who cross the mafia.) The mob is also featured in Cold Hit, but this time it is the ruthless Russian mafia. And some equally as ruthless FBI and DHS agents. Not much else can said about the book without giving things away. Other than just like his TV shows and his first 10 novels, I laughed, I was engrossed and I totally enjoyed Cold Hit.
What can you say about a Michael Connelly novel that hasn’t already been written before? Good question. But I’ll give it a try. Echo Park is the 12th book in the Harry Bosch series (and his 17th work of fiction) and like a lot of people, I’ve read them all. Unlike a lot of people, I stop reading a popular series when the author gets a big head or his main character becomes an unbelievable super hero — Tom Clancy and Jack Ryan, raise your hand. I also stop reading when the Hollywood ending is 10 times better than the book’s ending — John Grisham, you lost me at The Firm. Bosch, meanwhile, is the same crime-fighting bastard he’s always been. And Connelly still refuses to sell Hollywood the rights to his famous character based in Hollywood. And, of course, he keeps pumping out quality stuff. In Echo Park, Connelly starts with a flashback to a case Harry and Jerry Edgar worked in 1993, one that still haunts Bosch 13 years later. And it’s Bosch’s pig-headed persistence that puts things into motion in this story. In addition to the cameo by Edgar — and the far-too-coincidental introduction of his cousin, Gary — reporter Keisha Russell and long-time nemesis Irving Irving make appearances. Connelly obviously enjoys having Bosch interact with a top-notch Los Angeles Times crime reporter, which he himself once was. The mention of Irving, meanwhile, reminds me of how Connelly has grown as a writer. In one early book, Connelly described Irving in cartoon character-like form — as a buffoon who clenched his jaws and golf balls formed. That character is now a strong, very serious nemesis to Bosch, just as Connelly is a strong, very serious player in the crime fiction arena.
In The Concrete River, author John Shannon introduces us to an atypical gumshoe, who specializes in finding missing children. In typical detective fashion, Jack Liffey is divorced, has a child and is behind on his child support payments. He is also a Vietnam vet, who had a real job before his current gig. Set in Los Angeles, the grandmother of one of the children Jack found several years earlier asks him to look into the disappearance of the child’s mother. When the woman is found dead, Liffey becomes a “full-fledged” detective and has run-ins with some unsavory characters on both sides of the law. Similar to a Carl Hiaasen novel, the book features some zany characters. In one scene, a midget and a very skinny guy trade jokes in a bar. Of course, when the midget makes a Nietzche reference — which goes over my head — I start to wonder if I’m enough of an intellectual to read this book. I was also taken back a bit by Liffey’s romantic interludes with two middle-aged women — one with humongous breasts and one who is a virgin. As the first novel in the series, the book was a bit rough in places and I even found a typo. But I liked the Jack Liffey character and there were interesting supporting characters in addition to the aforementioned zany characters. The story wasn’t the most imaginative nor did it feature a huge plot twist, but things tied up nicely at the end. And it was entertaining enough that I’ll keep reading.