Category Archives: Thillers

Cemetery of Forgotten Books

Or was it The Confession by Grisham?We gathered up a stack of books to drop off at a nearby library’s used book room. Among them: The Reversal, a recently published crime thriller by the great Michael Connelly. We had purchased it only a few months ago and read it straight through. One gulp. The last word on the last page had barely finished resonating before we stuck the bestseller on a shelf and returned to the grim demands of daily life.

Until this morning when it came off that shelf (where we found it next to Grisham’s The Confession) we had not given The Reversal a moment’s thought. We’d forgotten we owned it. We couldn’t swear that we had even read the novel. Flipping through the book, examining a passage here, a passage there, brought nothing of the story back to mind.

Okay, we know it featured a regular Connelly character named Mickey Haller, the “Lincoln Lawyer,” an ethics-challenged defense attorney, half-brother to Connelly’s police detective hero, Harry Bosch.

But we know all that mostly because it says so on the cover. We also spotted both names while we searched the book to jog our memory. Memory remained otherwise unjogged. What “reversal”? What crime? Who did what and why? How did Haller and Bosch triumph, and over whom? No image, no episode, no snatch of dialogue bubbled up from the depths. We were stumped.

We dropped The Reversal back atop the stack of books to be recycled and thought, “That has got to be the very definition of a great read.”

The Reversal by Michael Connelly. Highly recommended.


Rocky Peak Adventure

Just outside of Nome.What you see here is the photo I took at the summit of Rocky Peak. At 2,750 feet, this rugged promontory, well-deserving its petrological title, is the third highest point in the Santa Susana Mountains which form part of the northern boundary of Los Angeles’s San Fernando Valley.

If you want to enjoy the same vistas I gazed out upon from this lofty aerie — once, by the way, part of the vast real estate holdings of entertainer Bob Hope — your desire can easily be satisfied. All you need is a stout trek pole, sturdy boots, a boonie cap with a chin strap, three water bottles, two chicken sandwiches, a backpack full of Cuties™ mandarin oranges, an iPod loaded with I, Sniper, a Bob Lee Swagger novel by Stephen Hunter, a smartphone equipped with GPS, a camera for bringing back the proof of having reached the summit and the iron determination to plod wearily up thousands of feet of not-too-step yet all-too-steep much-fissured fire road.

My little guidebook calls the Rocky Peak Road an easy hike. So it is. Easy to take exit 32 off the Ronald Reagan Freeway. Easy to park in the turnout located to the south on Santa Ana Pass Road. Easy to cross north on the bridge over the Freeway to reach the trailhead.

After that less easy: an hour and half of glute-stressing climbing, followed — after a chicken sandwich break en plein air during which you can admire the view of the Pacific far to the west — by a wobbly-legged descent of similar duration. But not too demanding, even considering the cold, unceasing, buffeting wind way up top which may possibly slap you so silly that you, too, forget to snap the evidentiary photo celebrating your conquest.

Half-way twixt summit and trailhead — at the juncture of the Rocky Peak Road and the Hummybird Trail — a thoughtful park ranger has installed a restful bench.

Cold Case File

In one of the books, not this one, there are two detectives named Champaign and Urbanik.

If you are snuffling around for a new mystery series, and the Alex McKnight series by Steve Hamilton set in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is new to you, and you happen to like the same stuff I do, I have a recommendation for you: the Alex McKnight series by Steve Hamilton set in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

There’s the cover [see above] of the fourth book in the series, or what I think would be the cover if the book does indeed exist in the real world and not only on my Android phone. And there’s the cover [see below] of the fifth one, which I am in the middle of.

Take my advice and read them in order.The first book in the series is called A Cold Day in Paradise. It sets the scene: a one stoplight town called Paradise situated on the icy southern shore of Lake Superior in the U.P.. You also get the cast pretty much assembled, most notably Alex McKnight, a Detroit cop retired on full disability — with one of the disabling bullets still lodged near his heart — who mopes around in the snow, chops wood for the snowmobilers who rent his cabins, drinks gallons of Molson’s Canadian, and solves crimes. Many crimes. It turns out murderers swarm on the shores of Lake Superior even more than they do in the vast empty deserts of Tony Hillerman’s New Mexico, which is saying a lot.

So many murders it takes a SEVEN McKnight mysteries even to begin to describe them. Start with the first one, Cold Day, continue with Winter of the Wolf Moon, proceed to The Hunting Wind, then the two pictured above and finish up with two more after that whose names I don’t know.

If you are anything like me, after kicking through the six foot snow drifts for a volume or two, you will phone the author and say, “Author Hamilton, you have done well. Very well indeed, sir. I applaud you.” If you are unlike me, I cannot predict how you will react. Perhaps you will weep. Perhaps you will warble like a nightingale. If you are exactly like me, you will have read the books already and are even now writing an identical post.

Bookreview: The Fallen by T. Jefferson Parker

Not to be confused with Thomas JeffersonI wearied of the adventures of Spenser, the hero of many many many many detective stories by Robert B. Parker, so I switched to another mystery adventure and another Parker. This one is named T. Jefferson [pictured in inset above] and the book I selected pretty much at random from the author’s large ouvre was The Fallen. The title refers to the protagonist who fell out of a window. I suppose it carries some psychological weight, too, since everyone in the book leads crumby lives — fallen creatures all, you see — but mostly the hero, whose name is Robbie, gets to be the Fallen because when he was a young cop some nutcase threw him out of a sixth floor hotel window.

Now Robbie is a homicide detective in San Diego. The fall onto the sidewalk from 72 feet didn’t hurt him much — he popped through an awning; it even gave him a minor super power. He can “see” people’s emotions. Aggression looks like little black ovals, deviousness like red squares, and so on. The imaginary shapes seem to bob around in the air when people talk to him. Robbie uses his “synesthetic” mental mix-up, along with more traditional detective techniques, to figure out who killed some guy. His wife, a hairstylist who once cut Mick Jagger’s hair, runs away to Las Vegas. He meets another synesthete (she hears faces as music) at a Synesthesia Society meeting and life goes on.

There were lots of names to remember, but I never much did get them straight. I kept forgetting who Arliss Buntz was and you sort of need to remember her. If you care about following the mystery part of the novel — not just about poor Robbie’s moping about his failed marriage — I recommend dog-earring pages or marking first appearances of characters with a highlighter.

Spenser With an S

Cat portrait on tray by Lesley Anne Ivory, author of 'Meet My Cats,' Puffin Pied Piper, 1989Forgive the long hiatus, gentle reader. No book reports for you these many days because I’ve been working my way through Robert B. Parker’s series of detective books featuring Spenser, everybody’s favorite Liberal muscleman, pounding “to whipped cream” all the religious (i.e. Christian) nuts (i.e. Christians), anti-gay (i.e. Christian) bigots (i.e. Christians), and Bostonian “rednecks” (i.e. Christians) who are so racist (i.e. Christian) as to oppose forced busing. The savages.

I had said all I wanted to say about Robert B. Parker and Spenser in a previous post, and nothing new has cropped up in the next six or seven books. It’s television. You like Hawk and Susan and Quirk and Spenser this week, you’ll like ’em next.

The Los Angeles Public Library failed (as not unusual) to supply me with early Spensers, and eReader, my source of “electronical” books was also a bit spotty in its spenserian offerings, and so I had actually to spend real American dollars getting titles like Pale Kings and Princes and A Catskill Eagle from this bookshop and that. Had to shell out for the one pictured above, Looking for Rachel Wallace. Not the best of the bunch so far, maybe the weakest. Women’s Lib circa 1980. Ho ho.

Still, Spenser keeps driving left hooks and right jabs into ugly mugs and making with the wiseapple comebacks, so I got what I paid for. Whether or not you will like it, I can’t say. If you want a free copy, check my recycle bin (blue) before the pickup on Friday.

Between reading (with much skipping) these hardboiled novels I’ve also been working my way through The Faerie Queene because its author shares a surname with our tough, but soft-hearted, solver of crimes. They’re not entirely different, these two writers, at least in one respect. The Elizabethan Spenser sends the reader scurrying for frequent footnote consultation. Readers of the 20th century Spenser, if born after 1980, may also need to ask their elders the meaning of various time-bound references. Tell me, aged one, whatever can Parker mean when he writes “people in a bar played Space Invaders?”

My Book Report: These Thousand Islands

Mixed up fellow.I read another book and this is my book report. I forget the name of the book. It was something like O, These Thousand Islands or Thousand Island Dressing or something, I don’t remember. I’m certain it had the word “islands” in it and the word “thousand.”

It was a mystery by Randy White Wayne and I found it very very very engrossing but I can’t remember any details. I do remember a character named Tomlinson who is sort of a mystical doper hippie on a boat. Oh, boy, did he make me laugh. I remember a funny line he says, but I won’t quote it because of the harsh language, but it was funny. It all takes place on the Gulf coast of Florida in the late 1990s. There is an attempted kidnapping, that I remember. Doc Ford is in it! Doc Ford does NOT live on a boat, but pretty near: he lives on the end of a 90 foot pier with octopuses, tarpon and sharks!

You really really should read the book. Just look for something with “thousand islands” in the title. By Randy Wayne White. I’d tell you more, but I always throw away books when I’m done with them and this one (My Thousand Island Home?) was already hauled away by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP). And even if the LADWP hadn’t snatched it away, I still wouldn’t delve through the weeks’ waste to find a pulp novel so I could tell you its name. I mean, c’mon!

UPDATE: Ten Thousand Islands! That’s it!

Oh, all right, I’ll tell you.

Oh, all right. I apologize for getting shirty with you the other day. I shouldn’t have teased you by telling you how much I’d enjoyed a book and then withheld the title from you. I regret my churlishness.

I’ll tell you about it now. The novel, Shark Island, is yet another in the “Doc Ford” series of, well, I guess you’d call them mysteries, by Randy W. White. No, wait, it’s called Shark River. This one, like the others, stars an ex-top-secret-killerman, Doc Ford, who lives in a funky communty of societal dropouts and houseboat-dwellers on an island near Fort Meyers, Florida. The killerman has a PhD in biology, hence the “Doc.” His house is a tin roofed pair of ramshackle shacks at the end of a rickety 90 foot pier where he makes his living collecting marine specimens for labs and schools. Ford’s exacting work suffers continual interruptions by murders, kidnappings, thefts, Colombian drug cartels, secrets from the past and so on. Doc Ford’s best friend is a genius madman hippie intuitive guru named Tomlinson who says funny things like “With some people, their only attempt at art is the way they live their lives.”

Now I happen to get a bang out the the Doc Ford novels. They evoke Florida and I like it plenty when Florida gets evoked. Pink clouds, smell of iodine and so on. Plus, Rastafarians get thrown into shark tanks. But when it came time to do my book report, I paced back and forth all in a sweat, fretting that you, a reader of web logs, would find it tough sledding. You’d have to scroll. You’d have to remain in one place for maybe a minute.

You see, I was trying to protect you from what I feared would be a frustrating experience. Someone like you who is used to skipping around web sites, sampling this and that, reading blurbs, comments, tweets, will surely lack the patience required to concentrate on a full-length book. Not that it’s difficult reading — far from it — but it takes more than 45 seconds. I couldn’t live with myself if a recommendation I’d made caused you to feel restless.

Then I realized my worries were groundless. The actual purchasing of a book, never mind the reading, is beyond the capability of your average web devotee. You, gentle surfer, are unlikely to perform any real world action requiring an expenditure of energy. Also, you are fearsome ugly. And you stink bad, man. Real bad. I can reveal all these terrible truths about you with the calm assurance that your feelings will remain unhurt because, never mind reading an entire book, you never even read to the bottom of a post as long as this one. You’re probably off playing that Google-logo Pac Man game right this very moment. Jerk.

Of course, the two or three of you who did read this far are a better sort and are neither ugly nor foul-smelling. You happy few are gorgeous and sweetly aromatic.