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Secret

Anna Blanc

The Secret Life of Anna Blanc: A Mystery by Jennifer Kincheloe (Seventh Street Books, $15.95, 367 pages)

Sweat beaded on Wolf’s brow as he led Anna among the desks to meet the man in charge. His lips stretched in a tense smile, his skin a little paler than before he had hired Anna. “Captain Wells, may I present Mrs. Anna Holmes, our lovely new assistant matron. She types, speaks Spanish, but most importantly, she’s nervy. I say that’s a vital quality for a matron who will be venturing into unsavory territory.”

Fans of the history of southern California will find this remarkably charming mystery an accurate period piece. The opening chapters of The Secret Life of Anna Blanc offer a well-described glimpse into the life of Miss Blanc. Anna is the only daughter of Christopher Blanc, a wealthy banker and business leader in Los Angeles. Mr. Blanc treats Anna as though she were an asset/possession. Who she marries means more to him than does her happiness.

The time is 1907 and the locales for the tale include Riverside and both the wealthy and shabby areas of Los Angeles. The action begins when Anna has eloped from her father’s Bunker Hill mansion with Louis Taylor. They hop onto a train bound for the historic Mission Inn located in downtown Riverside where they plan to marry in the chapel. Due to the strictness of her Catholic upbringing, Anna has never actually touched a man without wearing gloves. The exception is her father. As she and Louis sit in a third class rail car rolling toward their destination, the action speeds up and one thing leads to another.

Jennifer Kincheloe

Author Jennifer Kincheloe infuses Anna with equal measures of spunk and cleverness. Our heroine longs to be a lady detective just like the ones she reads about in the contraband books she hides by using the covers of books that meet her father’s approval. Fate throws Anna into a controversial encounter with the Los Angeles Police Department. This encounter leads to the opportunity she has been dreaming about. Trickery and abundant guts are all Anna needs to launch her career!

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The novel is way too well written to give away any more than the barest of plot details. It’s rare that a thrilling mystery is also a laugh out loud read.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

“Fast, funny, and fabulous. You’re going to love this book!” Lori Rader-Day, author of Pretty Little Things. “A madcap frolic through turn-of-the-century Los Angeles, Jennifer Kincheloe’s debut mystery is an addictive read.” James W. Ziskin, author of Stone Cold Dead.

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Here Comes the Night

Full Black: A Thriller by Brad Thor (Pocket Books, $15.00, 379 pages)

If Barry Goldwater were alive today, he might well identify Brad Thor as his favorite author.   For it was Goldwater who said, “Extremism in the pursuit of liberty is no vice.   And moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.”   Thor’s action-thriller protagonist, Scott Harvath, lives by these words; Harvath’s a former Navy Seal Team 6 member who’s now a covert counterterrorism operative for a CIA contractor.   Harvath does not wear kid gloves to work.   He often goes “full black” – meaning that his undercover missions officially do not exist.   He not only hunts down and kills terrorists, he maims and tortures them to get the information he  needs, and may kill them after promising to spare their lives.

There are no shades of grey in agent Harvath’s world and there’s more than a touch of paranoia:

“The only way to disrupt the enemy, and beat them so far back that they couldn’t attack, was to relentlessly hunt them down like the animals they were and unceasingly take the fight to them.   That meant the gloves were off.   It also meant that certain operations had to be kept secret from grandstanding politicians…”

As Full Black opens, there’s been a deadly home invasion – seemingly involving former Russian secret policemen – at the residence of a Hollywood documentary producer.   This does not seem like a major development but interest on the part of the media builds when the producer suddenly disappears.   And the company that Harvarth works for sees this as the signal preceding a major terrorist attack – the largest since 9/11 – financed by a billionaire who hates the U.S.

“If we began hanging traitors, we’d lose a good many of our politicians, business and union leaders…”

Harvath is sent to Los Angeles to begin unraveling the mystery of the home invasion which he views as beyond the capabilities of the LAPD to solve.   He’s got several resources on his side, including a computer genius and a highly-experienced mentor, but it’s hard to separate the good guys from the bad in Harvath’s world.   For Harvath, paranoia equals a very principled loyalty to the U.S., and he believes that the means are always justified by the end.

“…at some point in the last seventy-or-so years, the political class had become completely disconnected from reality…”

On its face, this may sound like Kill Shot by Vince Flynn and Red Cell by Mark Henshaw, but unlike those espionage thrillers, Full Black does not start out in overdrive.   Thor takes his time building interest in the story, making sure the reader’s fully invested in the tale before building speed.   Once Thor shifts into second, third, four, and fifth gear, you’ll see why his books are found in bookstores, airports and your local grocery store.   His writing style might occasionally be over the top, but as Mitt Romney might say, “You can’t argue with success.”

The end of Full Black is actually the beginning of Thor’s next thriller.   Get ready to put that one on your nightstand.

Well recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   Black List: A Thriller by Brad Thor will be released by Atria Books on July 24, 2012.

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A Hard Day’s Knight

Guilt by Association: A Novel by Marcia Clark (Mulholland Books, $14.99, 384 pages)

It may be a shame that Marcia Clark spent so many years as a prosecutor for the County of Los Angeles.   I say this because she’s such a talented writer, as is made clear by this fun romp of a criminal justice novel.   Because the book’s protagonist, Rachel Knight, just happens to be a Deputy District Attorney (DDA) who works in the L. A. County Criminal Courts Building (the beloved CCB) one would guess that there’s a bit of Ms. Clark in the character.   Maybe, maybe not…  Rachel Knight may be slightly more daring than Clark was in her real professional life.

One surprise will be noted up front.   This is not a courtroom novel.   No scenes take place inside of a courtroom, so this is not a Scott Turow-style read.   Basically, this is the story of a prosecutor who decides to become a covert criminal investigator, off of the time sheets and without the knowledge or approval of her supervisors.   As Guilt by Association begins, Knight is celebrating a victory with fellow DDA Jake Pahlmeyer and LAPD Detective Bailey Keller.   It’s not long before Pahlmeyer is found dead downtown, in a very seedy hotel room with a 17-year-old boy; and there’s a nude photo of the boy in his suit jacket pocket.   Rachel’s supervisors very quickly instruct her to keep her “hands off” of the murder investigation involving her best friend in the criminal justice system.

Being a bit of a rogue, Knight brings Bailey into her effort to clear the late Pahlmeyer’s name in a city where scandals are less than a dime a dozen.   And as she does so, she also has to take over one of Jake’s cases – one that involves the rape of a 15-year-old girl, the daughter of a very prominent physician.   Could the two cases somehow be related?   Maybe, maybe not…  You’ll have to read this criminal justice system mystery to find out and to learn the meaning of the rather intriguing title.

You never know what’s coming around the curve with this one…  Reading Guilt by Association is like taking a ride down the virtually mythical Mulholland Drive in a new Porsche Cayman S.

I would like to offer a bold or not-so-bold prediction for the future of this protagonist.   My money is on Rachel Knight’s getting fired from the D.A.’s office, and going on to become an embittered and newly licensed private investigator – one who uses every contact in her old address book to solve some of the county’s toughest and meanest crimes.   Not only will it make a series of great reads, but quite possibly a new hit TV show.   Rachel Knight, PI – it somehow sounds just right!

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   Guilt by Association was released as a trade paperback book on March 1, 2012.

“Clark’s pace, plot and dialogue are as sharp as they come.”   David Baldacci

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Coming Attractions (2012)

Here’s a sampling of new and upcoming books that might well wind up on the to-be-read stack.

The Bungalow: A Novel by Sarah Jio (Plume; December 27, 2011)

We loved The Violets of March by Sarah Jio and thought it was one of the best debut novels of 2011.   Now Jio returns with a quite different type of story set in Bora Bora during World War II.   Wrote reader Laura Bolin on Amazon: “The Bungalow was an old black and white movie straight out of my grandparent’s generation.   I was swept away by Jio’s vivid descriptions and I loved every minute of it.”

Tuesday Night Miracles: A Novel by Kris Radish (Bantam Dell; January 3, 2012)

An entertaining story about an almost-retired counselor who tries to help a group of four women – all of whom have serious pending matters with the legal system – manage their anger issues in court-ordered group counseling sessions.   The women will have to graduate from the group in order to return  to their normal lives.   Oh, and they don’t like each other at all – which means that the counselor is going to have to take some drastic (and perhaps even professionally unethical) actions in order to get them to a kinder and gentler place.

Gun Games: A Novel by Faye Kellerman (William Morrow; January 3, 2012)

Faye Kellerman once again showcases Peter Decker of the Los Angeles Police Department and Rina Lazarus, likely the most popular husband and wife team in modern crime fiction.   A series of shocking adolescent suicides at an elite L. A. private school is at the heart of this thriller.   As if this isn’t enough, there’s  also the fact that Decker and Lazarus have brought a very troubled teenager into their home: Gabriel Whitman, the son of a psychopath.

The Confession: A Novel by Charles Todd (Wm. Morrow; January 12, 2012)

An historical crime novel, continuing Charles Todd’s World War I veteran, and yet still highly effective Scotland Yard Inspector, Ian Rutledge.   Rutledge struggles with a startling and dangerous case that reaches far back into the past when a false confession by a man who was not who he claimed to be resulted in a brutal murder.

Immortal Bird: A Family Memoir by Doron Weber (Simon & Schuster; February 7, 2012)

Not to be confused with Anne Lamott’s novel Imperfect Birds, this is a moving memoir about a boy born with a defective heart – located on the right side of his chest – who weathers major heart surgeries before being hit with a highly unique, perhaps untreatable disease.   Those who years ago read Death Be Not Proud may be drawn to this account.

Spin: A Novel by Catherine McKenzie (Wm. Morrow; February 7, 2012)

Kate’s an ambitious – if self-damaging – reporter who goes undercover.   She enters a drug and alcohol rehab clinic to find out what’s happening with the popular and troubled young actress Amber Shepard.   “Imagine if Bridget Jones fell into a million little pieces, flew over the cuckoo’s nest, and befriended Lindsay Lohan along the way…”

The Lola Quartet: A Novel by Emily St. John Mandel (Unbridled Books; May 15, 2012)

We gave a highly recommended rating to Mandel’s 2010 novel The Singer’s Gun, which was as gutsy as it was unique and engaging.   Her third novel examines “questions of identity, the deep pull of family, the difficulties of being the person one wants to be, the un-reliability of memory, and the unforeseen ways a small and innocent action can have disastrous consequences.”   It’s bound to be worth the price of admission.

Joseph Arellano

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Hill Street Blues

The Drop: A Harry Bosch Novel by Michael Connelly (Little, Brown and Company; $27.99; 416 pages)

“It was a city where not enough people cared about making it a better and safe place to live.”

Michael Connelly, author of the tremendously successful Mickey Haller (The Lincoln Lawyer, The Reversal, The Fifth Witness) and Harry Bosch novels, returns with what is likely his strongest tale yet.   The Drop stands for the Los Angeles Police Department’s Deferred Retirement Options Plan, which allows police officers and detectives to stay on as retired annuitants working past their normal scheduled retirement dates.   As we join the story, Bosch is bored, underworked, underappreciated and counting the months until the day of his departure from the Hall of Justice.

“Two days ago he didn’t think he could leg out the last thirty-one months of his career.   Now he wanted the full five years.”

Then, suddenly, Bosch is given not one, but two major cases to solve.   One assignment comes to him directly from the police chief.   Without explanation, a powerful city councilman who is a foe of the LAPD in general – and a long-time enemy of Detective Bosch – requests Harry’s services in resolving the death of his son.   The son’s death appears, at first blush, to be a suicide but is it something more?   And will the powers that be in the city permit Bosch to pull the strings even if it unravels a major political power broking scandal?

The second matter is a cold case investigation into a murderer, seemingly lost somewhere in southern California, who may be a rival to Ted Bundy as a dangerous serial killer.   While spending virtually every minute of the first 48 hours cracking the first case, Bosch and his partner also find and create the time to solve the mystery of the second.

Boomers will identify with Bosch, who is conflicted over whether he should remain on the job, retire immediately or stay on longer.   It will be familiar territory for some mature readers.   As Harry says to his 15-year-old wise, prospective-detective daughter, “I’ve been chasing my tail all week…  and you know what?   I think you were right.   You called it at the start and I didn’t.   I must be getting old.”

In this 22nd novel from Connelly, we find a protagonist who has never seemed more likable, more flawed and more human.   This is about as good as it gets when it comes to fiction set in the City of Angels.   And don’t just take my word for it:

Thank God for Michael Connelly…  (He) retains his journalistic gifts; his eye for detail is spot on…  his 22 novels form an indispensable, compelling chronicle of L.A.”   Los Angeles Times

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   The Drop will be released on November 28, 2011, and will also be available in e-reader form (Kindle Edition and Nook Book), and as an unabridged audiobook on CDs.   “Connelly is a master of building suspense.”   The Wall Street Journal

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Coming Up Next…

A preview-review of The Drop: A Harry Bosch Novel by Michael Connelly, which will be released on November 28, 2011.

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Coming Attractions

This is a quick look at recently released books, and soon-to-be-released books that I’m looking forward to reading.

Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson (Simon and Schuster; 10/24/11)

This is already the best-selling book in the country, based on pre-release orders at Amazon.   Isaacson earlier wrote the mega-selling Benjamin Franklin: An American Life and the recent, tragic death of Steve Jobs will only heighten the interest in this almost 700 page biography.   This is an authorized bio, as (according to Reuters) Jobs knew that his death was imminent and wanted his kids to know him through this expected-to-be definitive work.   Jobs had made clear to his friends and co-workers that nothing in his personal or professional life was off-limits.

Steve Jobs will also be available as an audiobook; unfortunately, an abridged one.

Freedom: A Novel by Jonathan Franzen (Picador; 09/27/11)

If you’re like me, one of the two dozen or so individuals who did not read this book when it was originally released, you now have a chance to pick it up as a Picador trade paperback for just $16.00.   USA Today called Franzen’s novel about a troubled marriage, “Smart, witty and ultimately moving.”

Blueprints for Building Better Girls: Fiction by Elissa Schappell (Simon and Schuster; 09/06/11)

This is a hybrid between a short story collection and a novel, as Schappell has penned eight interlinked tales (“Spanning the late 1970s to the current day…”) about the experiences that turn girls into women.   Tom Perrota, author of The Leftovers and Little Children, says of Blueprints for Building Better Girls:  “Elizabeth Schappell’s characters live in that zone where toughness and vulnerability overlap.   In this remarkable, deeply engaging collection of stories, Schappell introduces us to a wide variety of female characters, from reckless teenagers to rueful middle-aged moms, and asks us to ponder how those girls became these women.”

The Marriage Plot: A Novel by Jeffrey Eugenides (Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 10/11/11)

The Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Middlesex and The Virgin Suicides returns with a story about a not-so-calm year in the lives of three college seniors (one female and two males) attending Brown University in the early 1980s.   It’s about love lost and found, and the mental preparations that young people must make before entering the stolid world of adults.

The Drop: A Harry Bosch Novel by Michael Connelly (Little, Brown and Company; 11/28/11)

From the author of The Lincoln Lawyer and The Reversal, comes the latest thriller involving LAPD Detective Harry Bosch.   A bored Bosch is getting ready for retirement when two huge criminal cases with political and other implications land on his desk.   Both cases need to be solved immediately and, as usual, Bosch must break some major investigative rules in order to do so.

“Connelly may be our most versatile crime writer.”   Booklist

Joseph Arellano

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