BookHound
Reviews and Recommendations by Mel Odom, Professional Writer

Aug
11

Robert B. Parker Fool Me Twice

I got into Michael Brandman’s second Jesse Stone novel on the heels of the first because I had a good time returning to Paradise. Unfortunately, I probably jumped back in too soon in some ways.

Like the first book, this second novel goes down easily and smoothly. Brandman turns in prose that almost reads itself and moves the story from scene to scene. In some ways, I found that made the story almost too mechanical in its progression.

Like its predecessor, Fool Me Twice leans heavily on the three plot line structure. The initial plot line starts out with a girl causing a major accident while texting on her phone, a problem that’s constantly in the news it seems. I thought maybe that plotline would lead to something major, especially when Paradise’s richest couple (who were NOT good people). Instead, that plot thread remains frustratingly simple and ends up getting resolved in a saccharine ending that leaves some of the initial questions unanswered, and the confrontation with the parents in the wind. Trust me, that’s not a big plot spoiler.

The second plot line, which should have been more explosive, quietly forms up and runs out in an expected fashion. Marisol Hinton, movie star, arrives in Paradise to film her latest movie. She’s pursued by her meth-addicted soon-to-be ex-husband who has a million-dollar life insurance policy in his pocket he’s intending to exercise. This one was weird because the husband takes up a lot of screen time and Jesse doesn’t really get onto him until it’s too late. The bright spot in this plot is the return of Wilson Cromartie, but his presence is more a hint than a real guest-starring role.

The third plot line is weird and twisted. It appears the Paradise water department has been overcharging people. That plot line, as thin as it is and seemingly so pedestrian, turns ultra-violent at the end. And weirder still is that when the same scenario comes up earlier in the book, Jesse deals with it in an off-handed manner.

Again, I enjoyed the reading and got through the book in rapid order, but I kept seeing the mechanical process as the writer fit all the pieces together. I like to be able to sink into a story and pretend it’s really happening as the pages turn. That never quite happened for me in this one.

Aug
11

Robert B. Parker Killing the Blues

Since Robert B. Parker died and left a slew of fans clamoring for more books about his iconic characters, a few writers have stepped into the breach to deliver more tales. Michael Brandman is a producer on the Jesse Stone films starring Tom Selleck, which I enjoy a lot. During these productions, Brandman got to know Parker well enough to pick up the reins on the Jesse Stone novels and get the next one onto the bookshelves.

I held back from reading this one for various reasons. The Jesse Stone novels hadn’t been a favorite of mine due to the Jesse/Jen relationship. Every time I read a book, I wanted to slap Jesse and tell him to get over it because a strong hero doesn’t pine away like that. The last book that combined Jesse Stone with Sunny Randall kind of moved the story past that old relationship (for both of them), and I hoped Parker would have developed the two more as a couple.

Well, we don’t know what Parker had in mind. Maybe he talked it over with Brandman, maybe not. At any rate, Brandman rockets past the relationship and onto new turf.

Brandman also settles for a revenge plot this time out that just didn’t hit the spot for me. Our bad guy is off screen too much, and not directly in Jesse’s way. We needed more friction for more tension. At least, that’s how I felt.

The author’s involvement with television storytelling is immediately apparent as well. There are three plot lines that move Jesse along: the revenge one, another that involves a series of car thefts that eventually turn lethal, and a high school bullying investigation that points out the failings of our current school system.

As I noted, the revenge angle just doesn’t grab enough traction even though it requires a visit to Dix, Jesse’s counselor.

The car thefts are good in that they involve Jesse in Spenser’s world, building onto the overlapping geography between the two characters. We get to see Gino Fish and Vinnie Morris (also a fave of mine) in action, though that kind of pulls the teeth on Jesse’s involvement in the solution of those crimes. That was a letdown.

The school bullying thing was kind of wishy-washy to me. We have a victim and a villain, only the villain turns out to be another victim, which muddies the water, and none of this is truly explored enough to satisfy me.

Another weird thing that takes place is Jesse’s move from his apartment to a house that looks exactly like the home where Tom Selleck lives in the series. I figure Brandman just fell in love with the site they scouted and didn’t want to let it go.

The writing is a very close pastiche of Parker in style. The book is short and tight (and maybe the brevity is a problem, looking forward to the Reed Farrel Coleman books because they’re twice as long and I want to see how Coleman handles the characters). The dialogue (and lack of question marks) is pretty close to being spot-on as well.

I had a good time reading the book, but it was over quick and I didn’t really feel connected. It’s one of those quiet, by yourself reads during the rainy days.

Aug
11

Chuck Dixon Levon's Night

After the first Levon Cade book, I really hoped that Chuck Dixon wasn’t going to just walk away from the character. I felt like there was a lot more story to tell, and there is!

Levon Cade is an ex-military guy who is violent and lethal, and fights for the underdog. He’s deeply attached to his young daughter, Merry, and no one will stop him from making sure she’s protected.

These books are short, quick reads that would have fit in perfectly with Pinnacle Book’s old action-adventure line. I’m betting Dixon is very familiar with them. He’s one of my top three comic book writers of all time, and the best at page-managing story for artists.

In this book, Levon has settled in for the winter, taking a cover job as a handyman in a small community that often gets cut off from civilization. On one of those nights, a high-stakes robbery crew with a long line of dead victims behind them breaks into one of the houses, catching Levon and Merry in the sights.

After a deliberately slow-paced build-up (like watching a winter storm build on the horizon and knowing there’s nowhere to run to escape it), the killing starts. Levon finds himself up against a group of hardcore thieves who are totally lethal.

The plot line in this one bounces around a bit, feeling like a very well done suspense movie. Once the pace moves into the red line, the violence keeps coming until the lost shot is fired.

I’m really enjoying this series. Levon Cade feels individualistic, but he’s the loner hero Dixon does so well (he also does an excellent job with teams). Anyone who has read any of Dixon’s work is going to enjoy this one.

Aug
11

John Benteen Bandolero 2

Bandolero starts out differently than a lot of Fargo books. (They’re tagged as Westerns, but since they take place in the early 1900s, I don’t see them as Westerns. Although the West was still getting settled during that time.) Neal Fargo is not only engaged in action, but he’s losing, something you don’t see much of in the series. He’s a man of action and usually accomplishes whatever he’s set out to do.

In this one, he goes from being a much-admired military man providing Pancho Villa’s soldiers with machine guns to ending up in front of a firing squad basically overnight. That’s new too. Of course, Fargo doesn’t get shot, because that would have made the book really short and disappointing. As it turns out, Pancho Villa has a whole new mission Fargo has to perform.

Since Mexico is in such turmoil and worldwide war looms in Europe, Villa hopes to send Fargo into the United States to lobby on his behalf. As it turns out, Germany and Japan are both trying to line up Mexican presidents to declare war on the United States to make sure America doesn’t join the international fracas when bullets start flying.

Fargo gets saddled with a mean-tempered, self-serving prostitute as well, and that unwanted partnership brings a lot of friction and double-crosses into play. Author John Benteen serves up his usual cocktail of action and history mixed solidly with adventure, and even throws in a villain who claims to be the “new, improved” Fargo.

I’ve read several other books in the series and enjoyed them, and I liked this one quite a lot too. It doesn’t pay to read the books too close together because Benteen has some stock pieces that tend to get repetitive (such as the ambidextrous abilities of the hero, the fact that his shotgun was given to him by Theodore Roosevelt, etc.), but spacing the out allows you to sit down with an old friend and catch up on the news.

 

Aug
06

Thor Goddess of Thunder Vol 1

 

I remember all the hoopla that went along with the debut of the female Thor. There were arguments on all sides, that it was just a gimmick, that it was to build onto the diversity package Marvel was hoping to bring to the brand. I didn’t buy into any of it. I figured it was a mixture of all of the above. And probably a little wish fulfillment on part of the writer to create something new and different out of something that had so many years and so many incarnations under its belt.

When Thor first came out on the spinner racks under the name Journey Into Mystery, I was there. I read the books and loved Jack Kirby’s art splashed across those pages. I remember all those early adventures and the unrequited love between Dr. Don Blake and nurse Jane Foster. I liked all that.

But I had trouble understanding how Blake and Thor were the same person. Or maybe they were two different people. The concept was much easier to understand when Captain Mar-Vell and Rick Jones did it in Captain Marvel, and when Dr. Bruce Banner and the Hulk swapped back and forth in that strip.

It got even more confusing when Asgard became more and more of Thor’s story. I enjoyed the Warriors Three stuff a lot, featuring Thor before he lost his hammer and had to find it again on Midgard (Earth).

I dipped into the series occasionally, enjoying the brief run of Thor in Oklahoma as he rebuilt Asgard, but I never really got hooked.

So, after all that controversy over the female Thor dating back to December 2014, I finally picked up the graphic novel (it was on sale at Amazon) and dug into it.

Although I knew who the female Thor was, I still enjoyed the mystery of who she might be, and Thor’s subsequent investigation into her identity. And I enjoyed the female Thor’s own shock at discovering she now wielded Mjolnir. What Nick Fury whispered into Thor’s ear remains an enigma that gnaws at me, but I’m betting we don’t find that out for a while.

Jason Aaron had already pulled a stint on the Thor comic, and he’s obviously in love with Asgard and all the machinations of the nine (now ten) worlds on Yggdrasil, the World Tree. He’s got his own Game of Thrones going on between the realms as the movers and shakers shift their pawns.

The new Thor is complete and three-dimensional, with plenty of clues in place for long-time readers to guess again and again at who she is. Aaron has a blast planting his clues and teasing his audience, and who can blame him.

When Blake picked up the walking stick and became Thor, his speech patterns were pretty much his own. Then they changed, more and more. Supposedly, as I recall, it was because the Thor persona was growing stronger, returning to be in control.

I always wondered where that left Dr. Don Blake.

In this incarnation of Thor, we have those same archaic speech patterns that must be a part of Thor, also this woman obviously can’t be Thor because the true Odinson is still knocking around in these pages as well.

Mjolnir has learned some new tricks as well, but the familiar threat of being out of Thor’s hand too long and returning this Thor to her true identity tantalizes readers as the story unfurls—and for once I think we’re all hoping it happens! Which would have been a bad thing.

Aaron’s choice of villains for this story is an interesting mix of mortal (Roxxon—though, as it turns out—not really) and Asgardian linked characters. Odinson’s own mixed feelings about the “pretender” provide an extra dimension to the frenetic events unfolding in this first graphic novel.

Russell Dauterman and Jorge Molina’s art is really good at pulling the reader from panel to panel and into this new fabulous world. The shift in angles is dramatic and subtle, depending on the mood of the scene.

I’m looking forward to continuing the saga. On one hand, I’m thinking eventually Odinson will once more have to take up Mjolnir, but since Marvel is currently giving us two Captain Americas, I’m not sure that’s going to happen. I hope the Goddess of Thunder is with us for a while.

Aug
01

Steve Hamilton The Second Life of Nick Mason

 

The Second Life of Nick Mason is a strange and uneven book, but it’s one of those that once I started reading, I had to follow it through to the end to see what happened next. Which is the pull at the heart of every successful thriller.

I’ve read and enjoyed Steve Hamilton’s Alex McKnight series, and some of his stand-alone stuff, and figured this one would be an easy pick. I settled in with it and rolled with the flow for a while, but I started asking questions. A lot of questions, which I shouldn’t be doing while reading.

For me, there was too much left unexplained. I had to swallow pretty hard at the whole get-out-of-prison early angle, but I went with it because overlooking such things is necessary to enjoy a larger-than-life story. However, as I went along, things became more and more unbelievable.

You see, Nick agrees to an early release through the machinations of Darius Cole, a crime kingpin who is currently behind bars for the rest of his natural life, in order to get back to his family. I figure Cole’s situation behind bars will change at some point and Cole will become a total head-on villain. And I know that sometimes smart criminals can run organizations from within the walls of prisons.

However, I struggled to see how Nick could step into the life of an assassin so easily. During his own criminal days, Nick worked hard to make sure no one got killed. It was one of his rules.

The motivation is there, sure, but the change within the man was more like flipping a switch. There are certain skills to acquire before taking on this kind of life, and a definite mindset that a guy has to slip into. Nick has got his plate full of trying to balance his old life and his new life, probably too much to transition the way it happens in the book.

However, Hamilton keeps the story moving along, provides Nick with muscle car after muscle car for the nostalgia buffs among his readers, and throws in several wrinkles and curves out of left field.

This novel isn’t cut from the same cloth as the McKnight series. Hamilton definitely veers into new territory. Backtracking the book’s history, I discovered that Hamilton had changed publishers because of it. It’s an interesting story and I encourage those of you who might be interested to look it up and see what you think.

I enjoyed the book a lot overall, but I got the feeling this was more the pilot episode of a summer television series. The story has only gotten underway, but I’m definitely picking up the second book to see where it goes.

Jul
31

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Peter Brandvold has a new Western series out, which is nothing new for him because he is a prolific writer and loves telling stories. This time his hero is Bear Haskell, a US marshal operating out of Denver. His beat ranges from Minnesota to Texas.

With over a hundred Westerns under his belt, Brandvold knows his way around the genre and doesn’t waste any time getting his boots on the ground. The violence is hard and vicious, the gunplay fast and lethal. Haskell takes on a bad bunch in the opening chapter, then doesn’t miss a beat hooking up with a tempting young woman. This is an Adult Western, and Brandvold knows his way around those too. He wrote 30 of them in the Longarm series under the house name Tabor Evans.

The read is breezy and light, moving quickly. There are plenty of desperados in this first book when Bear (to his friends) goes looking for the murderer of his longtime friend Lou Cameron, who was marshal of a small town called Diamondback.

An aside: I don’t know if the Lou Cameron name was picked purposefully or if Brandvold just inadvertently used it. Lou Cameron was a real person and authored over three hundred novels, many of them in the Western and Adult Western genres. And Cameron even wrote some of the Longarm novels himself, so this is probably a tribute of sorts. Just FYI, Cameron’s Renegade series about Captain Gringo is being republished by Piccadilly Publishing, the same publishers that are putting out the Haskell series. If you love rip-roaring books, try them out.

So it jarred me every time I read Lou Cameron’s name. But Brandvold keeps the spurs to his story and hammers through the lies and violence that surround the murder. To make matters worse (or, more interesting), Cameron’s widow, Suellen Treadwell, is still in town too. She was the one who damaged the friendship between Bear and Cameron, although the way she tells it, Bear was the one who made the first move that ended up with them in bed. Both of them were drunk at the time.

The characters are colorful, and the town and surrounding countryside feels real. I was honestly surprised by the motive for the marshal’s killing because I didn’t see it coming. And I was surprised again when I found out who the killer was because even with my eyes wide open at the time, I didn’t see that coming either.

This series is going to be one of those fun reads. Especially now when it’s too hot to go outside, and they’ll be great to curl up with on late winter nights.

Jul
31

hurts

I hadn’t read Reed Farrel Coleman before, although I was aware of his Moe Prager books and the fact that he is currently continuing Robert B. Parker’s Jesse Stone novels. However, I was given a copy of Where It Hurts, his first Gus Murphy novel, and I opened it up, feeling immediately as though I’d dropped into familiar territory.

Gus Murphy isn’t for the weak at heart. He’s a bleak, dark character carrying a lot of pain. That just happens to be the kind of character I can’t help but falling in love with. I’ve seen guys in real life who push through life’s adversities and somehow keep finding a reason to get up the next day. I’ve been in those circumstances before and had to do the same thing. So when I meet a kindred spirit, I’m always drawn to the story and to the struggle, in real life and in fiction.

Gus is truly a lost soul at the beginning of the novel, trying to recover from the loss of a son, his wife, and his daughter. On top of that, he’s lost his job at the NYPD and is now driving a courtesy van for a hotel where he’s living as well. One of the perks of the job. He’s buried himself deep, trying to become numb and distant from the world.

Then the past steps out to meet him and brings with it jagged pain of all that he’s lost. Tommy Delcamino is an ex-con, one that Gus helped put away while he was still working as a cop. Still, as Delcamino says, Gus was the only cop who ever shot straight with him. Delcamino has lost his son too. Somebody murdered him and left him in the woods outside of the city. Delcamino wants answers but the local police aren’t interested.

I thought that would be enough to get Gus moving, but Coleman heaped even more guilt on his hero before bringing him onto the field. After Gus turns down the job, which Delcamino was willing to pay well for, Delcamino turns up dead as well. Even though Gus tries to ignore the whole situation, he can’t. Whatever’s going on is something he can’t simply ignore. Reluctantly, he begins his investigation.

Things get really twisty really fast as Gus digs into the father and son murders. Soon he’s in way over his head, but he can’t back off. For the first time, he’s a man alone, operating against criminals without backup. I was enjoying that, but when Coleman introduces Slava, a heavy-hitting Russian who has a dark backstory only now coming to light. I love this guy! I hope the mystery isn’t stripped away too much.

The thing that really grabbed me about the novel was the first-person narrative. It’s high readable, compelling, and insightful. I didn’t feel like I was reading—I felt like Gus was sitting across from me telling his story. And as I listened, I saw life return to him, but the hurt didn’t go away. He’s a guy I’ll root for every day, and I can’t wait for the next volume.

 

Jul
31

charcoaljoe

I love Walter Mosley’s characters and stories. I remember when he was going to quit writing the Easy Rawlins books and I was disappointed. Thankfully, that didn’t happen and Easy’s uneasy journey continues in the restless 1960s of Los Angeles.

Charcoal Joe is an interesting book. According to the cover copy, Easy is supposed to be looking into a murder involving a young black man who was found standing over the body of a white man. Not an easy thing to explain back in the 1960s, or now for that matter.

The most interesting aspect of the book, in my opinion, is all the changes Easy has undergone since the last novel. He’s part of a detective agency he and a couple friends have set up, is more financially secure than he’s ever been, and is finally able to forgive Bonnie Shay for betraying him (I wasn’t).

The novel seems to be as much about showcasing Easy’s life as it is about investigating this murder. He cycles through the usual list of suspects, touching base with them so that longtime readers can see what those characters are currently doing, and waxing eloquent on 1960s Los Angeles as he treads those mean streets. I remember growing up in those times, though in small towns in Oklahoma, but the stories were in all the newspapers and people were talking about all the violence ready to spill over into the streets.

I got a little lost along the way a few times as Easy moved from plot thread to plot thread, and I figured out the mystery before the solution was given, but close enough to the end that I felt rewarded for my cleverness. The novel is easy to read because Mosley narrates the tale in short, quick scenes with lots of dialogue. I enjoyed it a lot and am looking forward to the next one.

Jul
31

s-l1000

I’m glad Ace Atkins was picked to carry on the Spenser novels. I grew up with that character and I don’t want him to ever disappear.

Atkins comes really close to mimicking Parker’s style with his dialogue and observations (so different from Atkins’ Quinn Colson character), but I noticed in Kickback that the storylines were starting to shift away from the Parker template. More and more, other viewpoint characters are popping up, dividing a reader’s attention. I know this helps a writer show different aspects of the story and provides a means of digging more deeply into ancillary characters, but I think it slows down the Spenser story, and deflects from the momentum.

Occasionally in the past, Parker worked in another point of view, Crimson Joy, comes immediately to mind, and I remember stumbling over those parts as well. I didn’t think they were necessary to the story because the story was about Spenser’s chase of the Red Rose killer. Parker always managed to get those extra bits in through dialogue with one character or another.

I enjoyed the pursuit of the arsonists in the story, but in a way the detective work was plodding, like it is in real life, I know. But this is fiction and I wanted a quicker pace. Also, the arsonists were really small potatoes in the grand scheme of things, not criminals that could seriously threaten Spenser.

This novel seems to delve a little too much into Spenser’s age for my taste. I’ve always pictured him as late thirties/early forties, and never really ageing from year to year. I’ve grown comfortable with the fact that I am now older than he is supposed to be, but the references to letting Sixkill beat him in runs and the replaced knee (while totally believable given Spenser’s line of work) just jars me. I want the detective fantasy.

Throughout the book, readers are treated to more or less a roll call of regulars. Most of them get quick mentions in one capacity or another, then the story moves along. The scene with Marty Quirk in his new office was jarring as well. Sure, promotion is expected, but I like Quirk being Quirk and Belson being Belson.

And then there’s the matter of Sixkill. I guess Atkins is phasing him out, sending him packing for Los Angeles. Maybe to another series. I wouldn’t be adverse to that, but Robert B. Parker is now being packaged as much as James Patterson and Clive Cussler. Not a bad thing. Just…interesting.

I don’t know that Parker had any clear intentions for Sixkill when he introduced him. Sixkill could have just been a character Parker introduced in what is now his last book in the series. One that he might just as easily have said goodbye to in the next book.

We also get treated to another Susan/Spenser “we can’t live together” scenario in this book. It felt way too much like the previous discussions about this, like a chorus to a familiar song.

I’m looking forward to the next book in the series, and I’ll admit that I’m curious about what will change now that these pieces are in play.

 

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