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For Everyman

Leader of the Pack: An Andy Carpenter Mystery by David Rosenfelt (Minotaur Books, $24.99, 362 pages)

Sometime attorney Andy Carpenter can afford just about anything that money can buy.   His inheritance has been invested well and it keeps growing, which allows him the flexibility to take on cases as it suits him.   Even though he doesn’t need to work, his conscience has prodded him to maintain contact with one of his past clients.   This client just isn’t any old guy; he’s the son of a mob boss.   Andy is convinced that the client, Joey, who was convicted of murder, is innocent.   While revisiting the case, he manages to get himself thoroughly entangled with the mob while stubbornly pursuing new information that might free Joey from prison.   Andy’s diligence is rewarded with a heart-stopping attempt on his life.

Rosenfelt always includes a part in the plot for Tara, the wonderful golden retriever that provides Andy with companionship and comfort.   This time she is playing the role of therapy dog when Andy needs an excuse to visit Joey’s ailing elderly uncle.   The uncle’s babbling makes just enough sense that Andy knows there’s a reason to follow-up on the murder that landed Joey in prison.

Readers of this delightful mystery series written by David Rosenfelt can be confident that the situations encountered by the characters are both dangerous and baffling.   Rosenfelt uses his quirky writing style to provide amusement regardless of the harrowing situations he creates for Andy.   The lack of pretense or exaggeration in these books is refreshing.   Well, maybe there’s a bit of exaggeration when it comes to the feats of strength performed by Andy’s bodyguard Marcus.   Marcus often comes in handy when villains are reluctant to tell what they know or Andy is trapped in a nasty predicament.

Andy is in some ways an everyman.   He doesn’t come off as a super hero or glamorous leading man.   Perhaps it is the down-to-earth nature of his observations that make Andy so likeable.

Laurie has just gotten on the treadmill, which is a device I completely do not understand.   I don’t like walking anywhere, and in a million years would not walk to nowhere.   This particular treadmill has a video screen that shows fake mountains, I guess under the very misguided assumption that mountain walking is an appealing concept.   It isn’t; in fact, it’s one of the reasons they invented tunnels.   I never really envied the Von Trapp family much.

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   Leader of the Pack was released on July 17, 2012.   “Rosenfelt walks a line between pulse-pounding suspense and laugh-out-loud humor…  One of the best in the business.”   Associated Press

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Disco Inferno

One Dog Night: An Andy Carpenter Mystery by David Rosenfelt (Minotaur Books, $24.99, 400 pages)

A lot of people claim to be able to judge someone’s emotional state by looking in their eyes.   I don’t make eye contact, so that’s a talent I’ve never perfected.   When I talk to people, I generally look at their mouth, so while I can’t judge emotions, I’m pretty good at identifying cavities.

Andy Carpenter is the featured character in last year’s release by David Rosenfelt, One Dog Night.   Rosenfelt spins a most enjoyable yarn, so enjoyable that I read into the night only putting the book down after reading the last page.   This time around, Andy, Laurie, Maurice and the rest of the defense team are challenged by a client who believes he is guilty of a heinous crime, mass murder by fire.

Noah Calloway, the client, has been an upstanding citizen for many years after turning his life around, and away from addiction.   Noah has a deep, gnawing sense of guilt about a fire that killed 26 people; however, he does not remember setting the fire.   His wife, Becky, won’t accept a guilty plea and she takes her case to Andy.   There is, of course, a reason Andy can’t refuse Becky’s request.   Tara, Andy’s beloved dog, was Noah’s dog (nee Hanna) before she was placed for adoption because Noah’s addiction made him unfit to care for the dog.

Once Andy gets to know Noah, he realizes that there is no way this gentle man could have incinerated 26 people in an apartment building.   The task at hand is to find the arsonist and assure Noah’s exoneration.   The plot contains a generous helping of twists and offshoots.   While the main characters are familiar to fans of this series, the rest of the players are an odd assortment of famous and infamous folks who make the story take on a patchwork effect.   Everyone has a piece of the puzzle.

The race to the solution is very engaging.   Rosenfelt’s puns and the smart mouth he has given to Andy make it a page-turning delight.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   One Dog Night is also currently available as a Kindle Edition or Nook Book download, and as an Audible audiobook.   It will be released in paperback form on May 22, 2012.

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Puppy Love

New Tricks: A Novel by David Rosenfelt (Grand Central Publishing, $24.99, 320 pages; also available as a Mass Market Paperback for $7.99)

You are in for a doggy treat – not to be confused with Milk Bone biscuits.   Author David Rosenfelt is a master of timing, understatement and spoofing.   This Andy Carpenter novel, New Tricks, is an all-around good read; a mystery complete with an attorney who has a reputation for defending dogs (of the canine variety), a temperamental and outspoken judge nicknamed Hatchet and a lady police chief from Wisconsin who just happens to be the attorney’s long-distance girlfriend.   The cast of characters is enhanced by a friend who communicates with the attorney by singing the lyrics of popular songs.   The center of attention is Waggy, an eager and energetic Bernese puppy whose ownership is in dispute.

An exploding mansion with collateral damage that murders the owner is the attention-grabbing action that marks the beginning of the mystery story.   The plot twists, turns and then doubles back on itself.   There are plenty of red herrings, hidden motives, puns and double entendres that give an appreciative reader cause to laugh out loud.  

The plot twists and turns are worthy of The Rockford Files and 77 Sunset Strip.   For readers under the age of 50, author Ellen Raskin (The Westing Game) comes to mind.

Highly recommended.   A charming tail wagger!

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   “Packed with shootings, explosions, murder, and gritty courtroom drama…  a treat.” USA Today

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Barking Up the Right Tree

Dogs Tags: A Novel by David Rosenfelt (Grand Central Publishing, $24.99, 368 pages; also available in a Mass Market Paperback edition for $7.99)

Attorney Andy Carpenter is once again dragged into a criminal defense case that threatens to derail his laid back lifestyle.   This time his client is a former cop who is also a disabled Iraq war veteran named Billy Zimmerman.   But Andy actually sees his most important task as freeing Billy’s dog, Milo, from a cell at the animal shelter where he’s under 24-hour watch by an armed guard.   Milo is also a former badge-wearing cop who aged out of the canine division.   Just because a fellow is too old or disabled doesn’t mean he can’t use his skills in a new, second career.

Both Billy and Milo have turned to robbery to supplement Billy’s pension.   Milo’s police training in disarming suspects has been modified to include snatching valuables from the hands of their mark.   The serious trouble erupts when a simple robbery set-up goes bad and a shady figure is murdered.   Billy stays with the body until the authorities arrive.   Milo has grabbed an envelope and high tailed it away from the scene.   Since witnesses accuse Billy of the  murder, he is whisked off to jail.   The federal government plays a role in the ensuing investigation as do the local authorities.

Andy is drawn in deeper and deeper until everyone in his immediate life is involved in freeing Milo and Billy.   Helping Andy with the case becomes life-threatening for each member of the group.   The story can easily be dismissed as a light-weight mystery full of action and intrigue, but the reader will also come to appreciate the bonds of loyalty and friendship between the attorney, his investigator and the others in the group.   They form a family of sorts not unlike the ones that come together in tamer workplaces.

Author Rosenfelt is a master at understatement and the not-so-obvious.   He uses sharp wit and sarcasm to infuse his story with sentiment.   He also introduces new characters to keep the story fresh.   As is the case with his most recent Andy Carpenter mystery, New Tricks, he deftly avoids boring repetition to bring the reader on board.   These two books can easily stand alone.

There are multiple ruthless killings, savage attacks on kindly folks and an elusive villain who is known as “M.”   The reader will not suffer the pain inflicted by an author like Nelson De Mille who seems nearly sadistic in his long, drawn out scenes of torture and killing.   Rosenfelt knows his audience and he resists harming them unnecessarily just for the sake of shock value.

Dog Tags is the type of book to take to work in order to enjoy reading it during the lunch hour and/or quiet break periods.  

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   “Laugh-out-loud humor mixed with suspense.”   Associated Press

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Heart of a Killer

Heart of a Killer: A Thriller by David Rosenfelt (Minotaur Books, $24.99, 304 pages)

Author David Rosenfelt has added another winner to his long lists of credits with his latest effort, Heart of a Killer.   This reviewer has written about two of his Andy Carpenter mystery novels.   This time out, there is a different and unlikely hero.

The main character, Jamie Wagner, is a Harvard Law School graduate working as an associate at a corporate firm whose office is located in New Jersey.   Wagner, something of a contrarian, chooses to live in Manhattan on the west side where the atmosphere is urban and enjoyable.  Pro bono cases are often assigned to attorneys who are working their way toward a partnership in the firm.   This is precisely the position Wagner is in when the story opens; however, he sees little hope for attaining partner status.

The pro bono case Wagner is working centers around a woman who pled guilty to the murder of her nasty, evil husband six years prior to the time of the story.   Sheryl has been sitting in a New Jersey prison quietly doing time as a model prisoner while her mother takes care of granddaughter Karen.   Karen has a failing heart and her health has taken a turn for the worse.   She needs a transplant or she will die.   Yes, Sheryl has herself tested and is found to be an ideal match.   The confusion around whether Sheryl has the right to donate her heart provides ample motivation for Wagner to bring his Harvard education and well-honed brief writing skills into the picture.

The mystery revolves around some very seedy and brilliant characters that lack a conscience, hence, the proliferation of deaths by nefarious means.   Rosenfelt is a master of understatement and dry wit.   He aptly displays both in Heart of a Killer.   Rather than a straightforward mystery, this one is an in-depth examination of human nature and personal values.

After three wonderful reads, this reviewer is considering delving into past works by Rosenfelt.   It’s like betting on a sure thing.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   Heart of a Killer was released on February 14, 2012.   Click on this link to read the opening pages:   http://www.davidrosenfelt.com/heart-of-a-killer-first-chapter/

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Burning Down the House

Eyes of the Innocent: A Mystery by Brad Parks (Minotaur Books, $24.99, 294 pages)

“I’m not saying it’s simple to find and tell the truth.   It takes a great deal of hard work, intellectual honesty, open-mindedness, and a willingness to keep listening to people even when your gut is telling you they’re full of it.”

This second appearance of Carter Ross, an investigative journalist in Newark, New Jersey, is a morality tale with a mystery added for good measure.   The worst case fallout from the great housing debacle of the recent past is the theme of this book.   Carter and his protegé, a blonde intern nick-named “Sweet Thang,” set out to fulfill the big boss’s demand for a space heater story to be run in the Newark Eagle-Examiner.   As the reader can easily imagine, this assignment becomes a much greater story filled with heinous crimes and enough anxiety to satisfy the most demanding mystery/thriller reader.

“Editors are 98% full of stupid ideas.”

Author Park’s news background is put to good use as he sets out a primer on choosing  journalism as a career.   He employs Carter’s first-person narrative to poke fun at the others and produce some excellent character development.   There’s also a third-person narrative set off by the use of italics that weaves in the most sinister element of the story.   This other thread serves to highlight Carter’s honesty and commitment to his profession via a stark contrast.

Although the tale is told from a male’s perspective, it is surprising how chatty Carter can be when he considers his feelings, likes and dislikes.   There is a bit of smugness on his part but given the golden professional reputation Park ascribes to Carter, it appears to be well-earned.

There is a strong similarity to the mysteries, Dog Tags and Flipping Out by the writing team of Lomax and Biggs.   Indeed, these books and Eyes of the Innocent are very much like going on a police ride-along.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was received from the publisher.   “This book held me hostage until the last page.”   Michael Connelly

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An Open and Shut Case

There is nothing like a golden retriever.   I know, I know, it’s a big planet with a lot of wonderful things, but golden retrievers are the absolute best.  

This is the first book in the Andy Carpenter defense attorney series by author David Rosenfelt.   If you began reading these books in the middle of the series as this reader did, you will be rewarded by going back to the beginning and reading this one.   Rosenfelt serves up an engaging tale with plenty of mysterious layers and plot twists that are sure to hold the reader’s attention from the beginning to the end of this 292 page book.

The plot takes off after the untimely death of Andy Carpenter’s father.   Andy becomes a very wealthy man with $22 million and not a clue as to how his father came by this staggering amount.   He must go back in time to when his father, a former New Jersey district attorney, began his legendary career.   The book is a wonderful study in character and personal values.   Andy realizes that just because someone is a lifelong acquaintance and a powerful business man or politician does not preclude them from committing evil and destructive acts.

As with the other books in this series, Andy’s faithful companion, Tara, a golden retriever, rounds out the cast of characters.   A fun read – Woof!

Highly recommended.

Review by Ruta Arellano.   This book was purchased by the reviewer.

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