Friday, 27 April 2012

Murder in a Time of Siege - short story review

Murder in a Time of Siege

Set in the town of Mafeking, 1899, during the Boer War this is a nice bit if historical fiction steeped in British resolve.

More a tale than a mystery one can try to solve while reading, it still had a satisfying puzzle to it.

This story was collected in:

Past Crimes: Perfectly Criminal 3

The book is sadly out of print but you can still find copies in the used book market; you can start your search HERE. 

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Abandoned book - No Rest For The Dead

There are two kinds of deaths that scare me; trapped in a sinking ship with the water rising and capital punishment.  Both of these scenarios send shivers down my spine.  It must be the wait that terrifies me; the certainty that you are going to die and those critical moments when death is upon you.

In No Rest For The Dead the story opens with the convict waiting in her cell for the warden, chaplain and guards to come and get her.  Then entering the death chamber and seeing the gurney with all the medical equipment waiting to perform a lethal injection.  Gha!  Oh my god! Instant lump in my throat and elevated heart rate!  

The scene was so well written that I had to stop reading for a while just to recover from it.  Oh, and did I tell you?  The execution does not go well.  Shit. 

No Rest for the Dead is an interesting project; each chapter was written by a different author, each one of them best-selling.


The story truly begins long before the events that open the book.  We follow "Christoper Thomas", curator of a prestigious San Francisco art museum, as he steals valuable art and uses a female  staffer for his own gains.

He's arrogant and despicable and I was very happy with the knowledge that he would soon be dead. But the book was taking too long to get to the end of his story and into the meat of novel that I found myself putting it down for days.

It's well written and I have no complaints about that but all if these events were explained on the dust jacket so I find myself wondering when these guys are going to stop with the exposition and get on with the story of righting a wrong.


The discovery of the body - oh boy -  wonderfully disgusting  and scary.

A perfect set up for the Kathy Reichs chapter


Page 118, that's as far as I could get.  Although there were parts of the book that I really liked for the most part I just could not bring myself to care enough to continue reading.  Try as I might I found myself putting the book down for days at a time. 

A big part for my decision to abandon the book was the never-ending exposition (which was explained on the dust jacket) and the never-starting investigation Jon Nunn was supposed to embark on.

And, maybe, that's the real problem; the dust jacket - it gave away half the book in three paragraphs making the reading a chore - I kept wanting to get to something new and then I realized that something new is a different novel.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Book Report #42 - Crossroad Blues by Ace Atkins

 Crossroad Blues

Crossroad Blues was published in 1998, the book is set in a pre-Katrina, Pre-9/11 world of New Orleans, Lousiana and the Mississippi Delta.  Nick Traverse, an ex-NFL player turned turned blues historian, at Tulane University, is asked to find a missing professor.

The whole story delves into, and is influenced by, the life and death of Robert Johnson.  In the book there are nine records that Johnson never released and was hidden in the Delta for decades.  These records would be priceless to whoever could find them; once the hunt is on for the demos the body count begins.

I've got a rule: 50 pages.  If you can't hold my interest after 50 pages then I'm done with the book.  Something made me revise the rule to 75 pages and in those extra 25 I found the story.  Atkins took a lot of time setting up the whole Mississippi blues mystique and in particular the life of Robert Johnson.  It got to the point where I had to read the blurb about the book just to remind myself what the book was about.  Yup, it's supposed to be a mystery but it kept being a history book.  Atkins can be forgiven since this was his first published novel.

Once the action started I was very happy with it.  But Atkins just couldn't help himself and kept stopping the story to give the reader more blues history.  This kind of thing always distracts me; if there is some background needed then it would be better told during the story, like on a drive to the next town, instead of coming to a full stop and filling pages with exposition.

Aside from that complaint, Atkins has a wonderful ability to steep the reader in local sights and sounds; I could practically smell the spilt beer and could feel the heat of the summer nights.  I loved following Traverse into Jo Jo's bar.

In the end I found the whole thing quite satisfying.  I was very happy with the ending and it gave the whole book a warm glow.

I've already purchased the eBook version of Leavin' Trunk Blues.

PS - The reason I read Atkins in the first place was because of the knowledge that he was tapped to pen the next Spenser novel.  Spenser may yet live on without Robert B. Parker; Atkins was a friend and chosen by the family to continue the series.  Read about it here.

Monday, 2 April 2012

Book Report #41 - Case of the Vanishing Beauty by Richard S. Prather.

Case of the Vanishing Beauty

Prather is my favorite author from the paperback area of mystery fiction.  Published in 1950, I was lucky enough to read a 1962, Gold Medal reprint of Prather's first Shell Scott novel.

Being a fan of Robert B. Parker's Spenser novels I've always been happy to know that there are 42 Shell Scott novels waiting for me as well.  Both authors had fantastic dialogue and humor in their books.  I've come to look forward to Prather's opening paragraphs where he typically describes a woman.  

In this book a beautiful woman comes to Scott's office asking him to find her missing sister.  The story then uncovers the world of drug trafficking and cults.  For a fist book this one had plenty of twists and I was surprised at just how relaxed Prather's prose came out.  The book came it at 160 pages making it just the right length for a tight mystery story.

Like I said, I like Prather's style, here's an example:

She looked hotter than a welders torch and much, much more interesting.
She was in her early twenties, and tall.  About five nine, and every inch of it loaded.  Her lips were the dangerous red of a stop light and her eyes were the same black as the masses of black hair piled high on top of her head.  She was slim, but with hips that were amply ample and high, full breasts that she was careless about but nobody else would be.  Plus a flat stomach, a slim waist, and golden skin smooth as melting ice cream.

 Prather was hard-boiled here's a passage that I found chilling:

After so long a time you get a little sick of violence.  You see guys gasp and bleed and die, and it makes you feel a little funny, a little sick while its happening, when it's right in front of your eyes.  But it isn't ever quite real when it's going on, when you're in it.  Maybe a muscle man slugs you, or a torpedo takes a shot at you, or you're pulling the trigger yourself or smashing a fist into a guy's face, and you're hurting or crippling or killing some trigger-happy hood.  But when it's actually happening, you've got adrenalin shooting into your blood stream, your heart pounds, your breath comes faster, pumping more oxygen into your veins.  Glands and body organs start working overtime to keep you sharp, keep you alive, and you're not the same; you're not thinking like the same guy.  It's all kind of blur like a picture out of focus jumping in front of your eyes, and you don't think much about what's going on, just let your reflexes take over.  If the reflexes are trained right, and if you're lucky, you come out of it scared but O.K.  Nothing to it; all over.

But when it is all over, when you've got time to think, that's when you get sick remembering vivid little details you hardly noticed at the time.  The way a body jerked when a bullet ripped through fine skin and flesh and muscle and bone, or the way it jerked just before it stopped being a man and became what they call down at the morgue a "dead body" or the "deceased."  Maybe you even wonder what kind of man he was, what he liked for breakfast,  when he was born, stupid things like that -  and wonder what made him get a gun in his hand and like the feel of it.  Maybe you even wonder what it is that goes out of a man when 158 grains of lead drive into his brain or his heart.  Maybe you get sick and your stomach turns upside down and then it's all over and you forget about it.  Almost.

So to hell with it. 

 I ate it up.  A very good book.