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Hold the Line

On the Line: A Bill Smith/Lydia Chin Novel by S. J. Rozan (Minotaur Books; $14.99; 320 pages)

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!

Rozan writes in a style that is part 1950s detective magazine, part retro (think of Denis Johnson’s Nobody Move), part Miami Vice/Hill Street blues and more than a bit of Batman and Robin.   In order to follow her story you will need to suspend reality or believe in – as does the main character – miracles.

As the story opens our protagonist P. I. Bill Smith receives a mysterious message on his cell phone telling him that his partner and love interest Lydia Chin has been kidnapped.   Smith doesn’t know who’s behind this but he correctly suspects that it’s someone he helped put in prison.   He’s soon provided with a “clue” that leads him to an abandoned building in Manhattan in which he finds a dead girl.   This, naturally, is a set-up.   The NYPD officers arrive just after Smith does and suspect him of murder.   Smith has to fight with and escape from the cops just as he’s about to begin his frantic search for Lydia.

The person who has kidnapped Lydia has set a clock on this “game” of cat and mouse.   Smith must find Lydia before time runs out, because her kidnapper has promised to kill her once the clock reaches double-zero.   Smith needs to figure out who exactly has taken Lydia, and where she’s been taken while he hides from the police and – oh, yes – as new crimes take place and the police suspect him of being the perpetrator.   Smith would have little chance of dealing with this all by himself, but two young assistants come to his rescue and he’s also got a friend inside the NYPD who performs a few of the miracles he needs.

Rozan’s writing style is rapid and breathless.   As the story begins, the reader will likely feel (as with Nobody Moves) that too much is happening too fast.   But if you accept the fact that dramatic events are going to happen every few pages, the read becomes a highly entertaining  and exhilarating one.   If you’re like this reader, you will begin On the Line wondering if you will be able to finish it.   On doing so, you will be calling a bookstore to order one of the nine previously released Bill Smith/Lydia Chin novels.

Recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was received from the publisher.   On the Line was released in a trade paperback version on August 30, 2011.  

“A high-velocity entry in a reliable series.”   Booklist

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Over Under Sideways Down

Fragile: A Novel by Lisa Unger (Shaye Areheart Books, August 2010)

“The sins of a family always fall on the daughter.”   P.F. Sloan

“She already knew the hard edges of the world, knew that life disappointed and that most people’s dreams never did come true.”   Lisa Unger

This one is a stunner.   In Fragile, author Lisa Unger tells the story of four fragile lives that are joined together by events separated by twenty years.   Unger’s genius is in plotting the story so that the reader never knows what’s coming next.

The story starts with a look-in at what appears to be a crime being committed, although the facts are not clear.   What is clear is that a young woman, Charlene, has gone missing.   She intended to run away from her sleepy community, The Hollows, in New York State in order to make music in Manhattan.   But she’s suddenly fallen off the face of the earth.

The residents of The Hollows, including the young woman’s mother and her boyfriend Ricky’s parents, are forced to revisit their memories of a high school girl named Sarah who disappeared two decades earlier.   She was found dead, mutilated; a crime to which a male classmate confessed.   But the young man who said he killed her was troubled and perhaps mentally unstable.   He went on to spend years in state prison, before he died by his own hand.

With this background we fear that Charlene has been abducted or murdered by the evil force or forces that killed Sarah.   Charlene’s mother was a classmate of Sarah’s, as was Ricky’s mother, Maggie, and his police detective father.   These adults are all keeping secrets about their lives both now and at the time that Sarah was killed.

Others in the community also know things about the events surrounding the past crime, but they’re not talking.   The residents of The Hollows become frozen with the fear that they are reliving a nightmare and decide to hide rather than speak.   With little information to go on, the local police force begins to suspect Ricky’s involvement in Charlene’s disappearance.   Charlene did, after all, stand him up on the night she left home and had informed her friends about another boyfriend in New York City.

As the tale proceeds, we see that there are no perfect families in The Hollows.   The parents criticize their children for doing the very things they did when they were young, and this simply piques the desire of the young to escape as soon as they can.   The current mystery, the apparent crime that surrounds the disappearance of Charlene, will only be solved by confessions.   Because there may very well be links between what may have happened to Charlene and what happened “twenty years time ago” to Sarah.

“As  she told them all about her buried memory, she felt an awe at how all their separate lives were twisted and tangled, growing over and around one another…  And how the connections between them were as terribly fragile as they were indelible.”

There will be no hints here – no spoiler alerts needed – as to the fates of Charlene and Ricky, except to note that Unger convinces us that everything in life is so well-connected (if hardly explainable).   The past is, indeed, prelude.   This is a read that will stay with you.

Unique, stunning.   Highly recommended.

This review was written by Joseph Arellano.   A review copy was provided by the publisher.   Fragile was released on August 3, 2010.

 

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Have Ducati, Will Battle

Mace Perry is out to clear her name.   After years of dedicated service as a police officer on the Washington, D.C. force, she was set up to take a fall for a nasty crime.   Even her sister, the police chief, was not able to spare Mace the injustice of two years in prison.   Back on the street, well, more accurately back aboard her beloved cherry red Ducati racing motorcycle, she’s raring to go and knows just what it will take to clear her name.

This is no ordinary story and author David Baldacci, who has a spectacular list of writing credits to his name, is very adept at portraying spine tingling action.   The twist for this story is its remarkable likeness to the shoot ’em up cowboy movies this reviewer enjoyed at the Orinda Theatre on Saturday afternoons, albeit a long time ago.   True Blue (with the title song sung by Rod Stewart) would make an excellent movie with our heroine, her trusty sidekick – an attorney who is an ace at basketball and drives an Audi, plenty of villains – driving black town cars rather than wearing black hats, and more than an afternoon’s worth of fistfights.

Everything in this book is bigger than life and supercharged.   Not over the top, mind you, just close enough to keep a reader’s attention.   The 454 pages literally flew by and it was worth staying up quite late to finish the book.

Highly recommended – True Blue is the equivalent of a fast fun ride on a Ducati, make mine yellow!

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

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Coming Up Next…

A review of True Blue, the latest crime novel from David Baldacci.

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