Tag Archives: crime drama

Indiana Wants Me

13 Million Dollar Pop: A Frank Behr Novel by David Levien (Doubleday; $24.95; 304 pages)

“I know these streets/ I’ve been here before/ I nearly got killed here…/ Something always/ Keeps me coming back for more.”   Bob Dylan (If You Go to Houston)

David Levien’s 13 Million Dollar Pop is, in many ways, a typical crime/mystery/thiller-type tale.   Short chapters move the reader along at a brisk pace, action scenes are piled upon action scenes, and a number of engaging plot twists and turns make for intrigue along the way.   However, what separates this book from others of its kind is that it is more than an action tale.   The main characters are developed at a deeper level than most books of this genre, and the reader actually gets close to and begins to care about what happens to them.

Ex-Marine Frank Behr works for a security guard agency in Indianapolis, and when he’s asked by a co-worker to switch detail, he nearly takes a bullet.   Behr is unable to let the wheels of justice turn on their own terms and takes matters into his own hands.   While in pursuit of the facts behind the attempted hit, Behr encounters a multitude of shady characters, including politicians, assassins, real estate agents, lobbyists, hookers, and porn pushers.

Throughout his quest for the truth, and the killer (who turns his attention to Behr in an attempt to clean up a job gone wrong) Behr must balance a delicate personal life that includes a pregnant girlfriend.   Few are left standing when the dust settles.

To author Levien – “Job well done.”

Well recommended.

Dave Moyer

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   “Levien is the new must-read thriller writer.”   Lee Child, author of The Affair: A Reacher Novel.

Dave Moyer is the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel.

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What Goes Around Comes Around

On September 19, 2010, we posted a preview-review of On the Line: A Bill Smith/Lydia Chin Novel by S. J. Rozan (St. Martin’s Press).   The book was released 9 days later, and we’ve learned that the author posted this reaction to our review on her blog:

Success!

“If reading a suspense thriller by David Baldacci is like driving in a new Porsche, reading a private investigator thriller by S. J. Rozan is like riding through the streets of New York City in a turbo-charged go-kart.   You never know what you’re going to bump into!”

Now that’s a review!   Seriously, since what I was going for was a whole new style – and exactly that one – it’s a gas to know that, at least for one reviewer, I’ve succeeded.

Read the whole thing here – https://josephsreviews.wordpress.com/2010/09/19/hold-the-line/ .

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California Dreaming

Hangman: A Decker/Lazarus Novel by Faye Kellerman (William Morrow; $25.99; 422 pages)

The Kellerman family crime drama franchise is alive and well.   In this case, Faye Kellerman’s devoted couple Peter Decker and Rina Lazarus are once-again faced with decisions regarding family and duty.   After 24 years of Decker and Lazarus stories, this book feels more like getting caught up on news with old friends than a gory murder mystery.   Maybe that’s because Ms. Kellerman’s side of the house focuses on family values, the power of faith and genuine caring, regardless of whether someone is actually kin.

The requisite murder is by hanging, or so it would appear, and the list of suspects is just long enough to create confusion for the investigators.   Of course there is the usual second plot line with a personal twist involving Peter’s willingness to help others, even if it means putting everyone around him in danger.   The other bad guy is a character he encountered many years ago on the job as a member of L.A.’s finest.  

Gabe, the 14-year-old piano prodigy son of the exonerated murder turned hit man, is the one in need of protection to keep him from becoming collateral damage from the angry interaction of his parents.   Gabe and his mom have fled the east coast for California and the masterly assistance of Peter Decker.

Fortunately for Gabe, who needs to keep up his piano practicing, Rina Lazarus is well-connected with the doctor of a world-famous pianist associated with the University of Southern California (USC) and, well, you can fill in the blanks.   As a member of the USC Trojan family by marriage, this reviewer is always happy to encounter the usual reference to the university in the Kellerman novels, whether it’s Jonathan or Faye who is telling the story.

The take-away from this episode is that family counts and the choices that need to be made are farther reaching than planning vacations or having fun.   A loving community, whether as small as a family or as large as a school, accepts others and is inclusive – very simple but very hard to put into practice.

Recommended, though there are no huge surprises here which is just what a Kellerman reader expects.   This one is like returning to a warm, comfortable bed on a cold Winter’s day.  

This review was written by Ruta Arellano.   A review copy was received from the publisher.   Note:  Although they generally write separately, Jonathan and Faye Kellerman have written two novels together (Capital Crimes, Double Homicide) and one Young-Adult novel with their daughter Aliza (Prism).

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Win Blind Man’s Alley

Thanks to Judy at Doubleday, we have a copy to give away of Blind Man’s Alley: A Novel by Justin Peacock, the author of A Cure for Night.   This book has a retail value of $26.95 and this is a first-run hardbound copy.   The novel is said to be “an ambitious and compulsively readable novel set in the cutthroat world of New York real estate.”   Here is the official synopsis:

A concrete floor three hundred feet up in the Aurora Tower condo development in SoHo has collapsed, hurling three workers to their deaths.   The developer, Roth Properties (owned by the famously abrasive Simon Roth), faces a vast tangle of legal problems, including accusations of mob connections.   Roth’s longtime lawyers, the elite midtown law firm of Blake and Wolcott, is assigned the task of cleaning up the mess.   Much of the work lands on the plate of smart, cynical, and seasoned associate Duncan Riley; as a result, he falls into the powerful orbit of Leah Roth, the beautiful daughter of Simon Roth and the designated inheritor of his real estate empire.

Meanwhile, Riley pursues a seemingly small pro bono case in which he attempts to forestall the eviction of Rafael Nazario and his grandmother from public housing in the wake of a pot bust.   One night Rafael is picked up and charged with the murder of the private security cop who caught him, a murder that took place in another controversial “mixed income” housing development being built by…  Roth Properties.   Duncan Riley is now walking the knife-edge of legal ethics and personal morality.

Blind Man’s Alley is a suspenseful and kaleidoscopic journey through a world where the only rule is self-preservation.   The New York Times Book Review said of A Cure for Night that “(Peacock) heads toward Scott Turow country…  he’s got a good chance to make partner.”

In order to enter this book giveaway contest just post a comment here, with your name and e-mail address, or send that information via e-mail to Josephsreviews@gmail.com .   This will be considered to be your first entry.   For a second entry, tell us who your favorite crime or courtroom drama author is – Scott Turow, John Grisham, Steve Martini, Julie Compton, Jonathan Kellerman, Robert Rotenberg of Canada (City Hall), John Verdon (Think of a Number), David Baldacci or someone else?

You have until midnight PST on Sunday, October 10, 2010 to submit your entry or entries.   The winner will be drawn by Munchy the cat and will be contacted via e-mail.   In order to enter this contest you must live in the continental U.S. and have a residential mailing address.   Books will not be shipped to a P.O. box or a business-related address.

This is it for the “complex” contest rules.   Good luck and good reading!    

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Reeling in the Years

I’d Know You Anywhere: A Novel by Laura Lippman (William Morrow)

There are writers who, like certain songwriters, can be admired more than they can be enjoyed.   In the field of songwriting, the team of Walter Becker and Donald Fagen – collectively known as Steely Dan – has often been praised for their tunes steeped in irony even if their songs are more clever (more intellectual) than charmingly fun.   I kept thinking of Steely Dan and, especially, the song “Reeling in the Years” as I read this latest novel from the prolific writer Laura Lippman.

Lippman’s skills are to be recognized as she persuades a reader to turn over 370 pages of a story that does not amount to a lot.   There are two protagonists.   There’s the now-38-year-old Eliza Benedict, who was kidnapped and raped and held for 39 days by Walter Bowman, who sits on death row in Virginia awaiting his execution.   Bowman is a spree-killer convicted of two murders in two states, but he may have killed as many as eight young girls.   Why he didn’t kill Eliza (then known as Elizabeth) when she was 15 is supposed to be a question that puzzles everyone.   Except that Bowman was captured after a simple traffic stop.   The notion that he might have killed Eliza had he not been taken into custody when he was seems to elude everyone here.

Although Lippman gives her readers a lot of twists and turns and feints, there’s not much drama in this crime drama, and not much thrill in this psychological thriller.   It is interesting enough, but just enough.

Eliza never comes to life, especially as she displays no anger against Bowman.   When Bowman contacts her just weeks before his scheduled death, she becomes his strangely witting accomplice without much effort.   Eliza is a character that’s simply not present in her own life:  “Her time with Walter – it existed in some odd space in her brain, which was neither memory or not memory.   It was like a story she knew about someone else.”

A character in the book, a hack writer who wrote a “fact crime” book about Bowman, complains that he’s just simply not as interesting a criminal as, say, Ted Bundy.   That’s certainly the case as we never come to know what it is that made Bowman a killer, nor how it is that this man with a said-to-be just average IQ is suddenly cunning enough to use his victim Eliza in a last-minute plan to gain his freedom.   Something key is missing here as the author admits:  “(Her) mother had long believed that Walter had experienced something particularly wounding in his youth.”

Since neither of the two characters ever becomes fully realized, it’s hard to care about whether Eliza will, in the end, forgive Walter and/or help him avoid execution.   The reader will, however, wonder why this now happily married woman is willing to risk her contented life for someone who harmed her.   Since Eliza does not know herself, she certainly will never come to know or constructively forgive her former captor.

A significant flaw in this crime drama is that the interactions with participants in the criminal justice system feel like flyovers, neither grounded nor concrete.   The lawyers seem to be portrayed more as actors (attention being given to how they look and dress) than as advisors.

In the end, this reader admires Lippman’s skills, her persistence and her success.   However, reading this novel was a bit like trying to listen to that Steely Dan song “Reeling in the Years” as it plays in another room, down the hall, too far removed to be heard clearly.

This review was written by Joseph Arellano.   A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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Cut and Paste

Cut, Paste and Kill by Marshall Karp (Minotaur Books, 296 pages, $24.99)

Is nothing sacred?   Take scrapbooking – it is so important to some ladies that they tout their pastime on license plate frames, bumper stickers and even personalized plates.   To Marshall Karp scrapbooking is an easy target for a serial killer’s modus operandi.   This is the fourth Mike Lomax and Terry Biggs book from Karp.   Lomax and Biggs, two of Los Angeles’ finest, ramble around the greater L. A. area forsaking a sumptuous bar-b-que and a quiet weekend with family and friends.   Their mission is to scope out the scene in the first of several quirky murders.

Along the trail of the scrapbooking murderer, the cops cross paths with an assortment of characters guaranteed to be found in L.A. but not necessarily anywhere else!   The chapters in this book are short and chock full of snappy dialogue.   It’s easy for a reader to imagine the scenes using the clues Marshall Karp provides.

Be prepared for false stops and restarts as this story ebbs and flows just like the ocean along L.A.’s Pacific Coast.   Recommended.

This review was written by Ruta Arellano.   Reprinted courtesy of Sacramento Book Review.

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