Tag Archives: mysteries

Review: Blind Vigil – Rick Cahill #6 (Matt Coyle)

This is more like it!

The last (and only) Rick Cahill book I read was Lost Tomorrows, and I found him to be a bit of an Eeyore, constantly mired in guilt about his wife’s death.

SPOILER!

He also got shot in the face and that was a helluva way to end things.

He survived, and it’s now nine months later. Cahill is blind – with the chance that his eyesight may or may not return – and his girlfriend Leah (you may remember her as the sister of his former partner at the Santa Barbara PD) is splitting time between Santa Barbara and Cahill’s place in San Diego.

Moira – a San Diego-based PI – gets in touch with Cahill and wants him to come with her on a job. What job? Turk Muldoon, and old friend of Cahill’s, has hired her to spy on his girlfriend Shay, whom he thinks is seeing someone else. Cahill points out he can’t see anything, but Moira is more interested in his ears, and if he can tell what Turk is feeling and how apt he would be to snap and kill Shay if she was seeing someone else. Moira had given news of a wife’s infidelity previously to a doctor (her own son’s pediatrician, no less) who proceeded to off his wife, child, and then himself. She’d rather that not be the case here, and Cahill assures her Turk would never do something like that.

Shay, of course, is then found dead, and all indications are it’s Turk who killed her after an argument overheard by neighbors. Moira rails at Cahill, that he was wrong and now they’ve gotten Shay killed, but Cahill disagrees. Moira exits the case, but Cahilll wants to help his pal any way he can, even if he still can’t see.

Turk is arrested for murder, but Cahill has found information that tells him Idaho is where he needs to go. He ropes Moira back in, and they’re off, to talk to one recalcitrant cowboy but then to a more garrulous one. From there, it’s off to a PI who was trying to track down Shay’s father, who disappeared with over $800K dollars from the sale of the family ranch, leaving Shay and her mother with nothing. Her father was identified as the decedent in an auto wreck in Mexico, under his own name – this after the PI tells them Shay’s father used various aliases.

While all of this is going on, Rick keeps smelling the same man, repeatedly – following him and Moira, following just Cahill. But Moira never sees him, and Cahill dubs him the Invisible Man.

With that information, they head back to San Diego, to figure out a way to find Shay’s maybe/maybe-not dead father and a ranch hand who worked on the ranch prior to its sale. By now, we are all fairly sure Shay found her dad, and that he likely had something to do with her death. I will reiterate for whatever nth time it is that I still don’t like characters going to the bad guy, alone, without telling anyone.

I won’t go into details about the end except to say that “blind vigil” certainly is in play the last 20% of the book

Four and a half stars, dinged for character stupidity. I’m feeling generous, though, and I did like the story quite a lot, so I’m rounding up this time: five stars.

Thanks to NetGalley and Oceanview for the reading copy.

Release date: 01 Dec 2020.

Review: Shadows of the Dead (Spencer Kope)

Magnus “Steps” Craig and his partner Jimmy are part of the FBI’s Special tracking Unit, called upon to assist in tracking everything from bank robbers to, in this case, the driver of a crashed car who had a woman in the trunk. The opening is a tense standoff between the driver the FBI and local authorities have pursued, and that drive, holed up in a cabin deep in the forest.

Promising!

Unfortunately, that promise is blunted by tedious, unnecessary tangents, and a special ability that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

Steps, pronounced dead at the age of eight of hypothermia, but brought back to life, returns from that experience with the ability to see people as colors and textures – this, to me, would be a form of synesthesia, based on grapheme-color synesthesia, but in this book, Steps is told by his father that he has the shine. To me, someone described as having the shine is someone who can see events past and future, and/or talk to other people just using their mind. Neither of those are present in this book, which is the third in a series, although I suppose typing shine is easier than typing synesthesia over and over. This condition is for some reason kept a secret from everyone except Jimmy and their mutual boss, including his own mother, who is never told. In the world of this book, it makes Steps the best tracker in the country. I have some questions about this, which I’ll get into.

Back to the beginning. The authorities have the fleeing driver surrounded in the cabin. Right before someone’s going to launch a tear gas canister into the cabin, we get….a flashback. We get the tale of how Steps died and came back with synesthesia, how he and his father kept it a secret from his mother, how lead crystal glasses help him keep the blinding neon glow of humanity from burning out his eyeballs and giving him migraines. We then get back to the action at the cabin. This was a very weird editorial choice, and it immediately rips the reader out of the action.

They capture the driver, who rattles on about the woman being number Eight, how he was going to “fix” her, and we discover there’s someone out there actually taking the women and holding them before turning them over to the crazy guy so he can experiment on them.

Things shift into trying to find the Onion King, as he’s called. Why is he called that? Is this really number eight? If so, who are the first seven? And where are they – or more accurately, whree are their bodies?

Throughout this, we get a lot of metaphysical discussions – good versus evil, the story of the two wolves – and a lot of references to books Steps has read, movies he and Jimmy watch, and I have to say that all of that really reduces the energy of the investigation, not to mention yanking the reader right out of the story. Nothing seems urgent here, despite the fact they’re hunting for a serial killer, until the last 10% of the book.

Another irritant was that everyone in the book – except, again, the IT person in charge of the systems someone breached – had some kind of witty banter moment, or more than one moment, and some of it wasn’t funny. That sort of thing is supposed to be used sparingly, and it really did seem as if some scenes were there merely to pad the book. Ditto for the main character’s constant meandering off into the weeds about everything from Archimedes to Zeno.

All of the IT people are genius hackers, trawling the dark web as easily as looking up something in a database – except the IT crew that manages the courthouse servers, where crazy man’s bail was reduced from $10MM to $2K, and apparently no one notices this.

A note here about the “shine”: if Steps can see people through their color, and he has never met the missing women, I kept wondering just how he knew each woman’s color. He couldn’t get this from the women themselves, and as they make their way to the homes of each woman, he immediately says “She was here, this is X” based on…just seeing a track of color where the woman has walked. How would he know? What if they had a roommate? Lived with family? A bunch of ifs ran through my mind during some of these scenes.

I didn’t hate the book, but I didn’t love it, either. Thirty minutes after finishing, I couldn’t remember the title of the book, and errantly searched for “Death in the Shadows”, which is not the name, of course. There are two books previous to this, and based on the epilogue, a fourth is upcoming. I’m afraid I’m not invested enough in Steps and Jimmy to read what came before or what comes after.

Three point five stars, rounded down to three because of the issue noted. Sorry folks, this just wasn’t for me.

Thanks to NetGalley and Mintaur for the advance copy.

Comanche – Brett Riley – review

There are going to be spoilers galore here, so if you want to read this book without any knowledge beyond the blurb, you should stop reading this review now.

The legend of the Piney Woods Kid is this: he was a murdering bastard, and a posse caught up with him, making him dead. That was back in the 1800s. Fast forward to modern times, and someone/something is killing off descendants of that posse, and witnesses say it was a gray-looking man dressed in Old West garb who did it.

Enter Raymond Taylor, who recently lost his wife and decided alcohol was the way to go to blunt that pain, and his partner, Darrell LeBlanc, of New Orleans, called in by Raymond’s sister, who lives in Comanche with her husband, the mayor. They want to know what’s going on in this small town, and they want whoever is responsible brought to justice. Sounds kind of like a posse to me.

Turner and LeBlanc arrive in Comanche with their medium sidekick – and by medium, I mean the crystal ball-toting kind – and a professor from LSU.

This isn’t a mystery that’s a intricate puzzler. We know immediately who is killing the folks in Comanche, and the motive is very straightforward: revenge. That it’s a ghost as the murderer is fine – someone has to be the bad guy, so why not the original bad guy?

The story overall was just ok. There was a lot of wasted potential here, and I found the story itself repetitious and a bit cringey as I went through it. There’s a lot of male posturing/alpha nonsense again and again, like frat dudes at a kegger telling their pals to hold them back so they don’t kick the shit out of another dude. There are also not that many sightings of the ghost, which is a little odd since it’s at least tangentially a ghost story, and if the Piney Woods Kid is pissed off, his ghost wandering the town where he was killed would have been something I’d have liked to see.

I found the pacing tedious, and the try/fail, try/fail repetition annoyed me. Parts of the book went on longer than they could have, and reading those parts, I don’t understand why they weren’t chopped down.

One big annoyance is the complete lack of quotation marks to denote dialogue. This made the action scenes in particular very difficult to follow, because they also shifted viewpoints. If a reader – or, specifically, THIS reader – has to backtrack at times during these sequences to figure out who the hell is saying what, you’re going to have an annoyed reader, or one who just stops reading the book and gives it a DNF. I did finish it, but I imagine others will not. As the author is a professor of English at the college level, he knows there is a reason certain standards exist – quotations and punctuation, as well as no head-hopping in scenes among them – and that to stray from these things means the writing must be superior. Alas, I did  not find it to be so.

On the whole, it looks like this may have started as a short story or novella years ago, was trunked, then was brought out and used as the basis for a novel without rewriting the original material. That can be good, sometimes. This was not one of them.  Although the last 50 pages or so finally have some action, the ending was a letdown and one we’ve seen any number of times in 80’s horror flicks with magical talismans or cursed toys/books/whatever.

Two stars out of five – one for writing it in the first place (my default), and one for an intriguing, but not well executed, idea.

Thanks to NetGalley and Imbrifex for the reading copy.

Review: House Privilege (Joe DeMarco #14)

One of the best things about reading is stumbling across a series you didn’t know existed.

One of the worst things about reading is stumbling across a series you didn’t know existed.

I would say House Privilege falls into both of those categories for me. The first, because I do enjoy books like this, where a fixer works (mostly) behind the scenes to do things to support an Important Person, whether that Important Person is a politician, a big business/union leader, an athlete, and so on. The second, because it means that I don’t know the canon of that fixer: their history, their strengths or weaknesses, and how successful they’ve been in the past to fix something for their employer. As this is number fourteen in a series, I’d be inclined to guess that Joe DeMarco is fairly successful.

House Privilege opens with DeMarco returning to Washington, DC, after his equivalent of a mob no-show job was discovered with the political winds having changed the US government, and his Democrat boss John Mahoney lost his role as Speaker of the House. Those winds have changed again, and Mahoney is poised to reclaim the gavel and, by extension, return DeMarco to his post as Mahoney’s personal fixer. His first job seems relatively easy: check up on Cassie Russell, the only survivor of a small plane crash that killed her billionaire parents and that left Mahoney as her legal guardian, as Mahoney’s wife is out west, seeing to a terminally ill friend.

DeMarco dutifully heads to Boston, where he meets the girl and the Russell’s housekeeper, and finds Cassie thinks she will just stay in her parent’s home and doesn’t understand that isn’t quite how it’s going to work. But he doesn’t disabuse her of that thought, and heads out to meet the manager of the Russell’s trust, Erin Kelly, who appears to be capable enough, and when DeMarco asks her about a few things, has ready answers for how to handle them. He leaves, fairly confident that other than the girl’s ideas about where she will live, everything is fine.

Spoilers ahead….skip to SPOILERS END for the summary.


On his return to the Russell’s house to check in again on Cassie, the housekeeper gives him a name: Jerry Feldman. She overheard a conversation the Russells were having that indicated all may not have been well with Erin Kelly’s management of the trust, and that a CPA named Jerry Feldman was auditing the books for it. DeMarco heads out to find Feldman.

Feldman, unfortunately, has met his demise during a robbery of a convenience store, which seems rather coincidental, and DeMarco digs around, only to find that Erin Kelly is the niece of Mike Kelly, a notorious mobster in Boston. This raises the question for him – although not for us, having already received scenes between Mike and Erin that detail how angry she is that Cassie was not also killed in the plane crash and that she wants someone else killed as well – that perhaps Erin is not the chipper go-getter she appears to be.

DeMarco finds out that Feldman has been killed and believes Cassie may also be in danger, so he takes her up to a property owned by the Russells – a cabin in the woods, with few neighbors, and what neighbors there are a good bit of distance away. Pat McGuire, Mike Kelly’s top guy, has followed them there and attempts to kill Cassie. He is interrupted by a couple of teenagers (a young man and woman), and flees after shooting the young man and trying to shoot at Cassie as she swims away. One problem: McGuire has left fingerprints on the inflatable raft he used while there.

Now sure that Erin Kelly is a very bad person, DeMarco tells a Boston PD detective about all of it, but of course, jurisdictional problems are a thing. The NTSB, investigating the plane crash, won’t have a findings for awhile, and there are no direct links between any of it that he can prove.

DeMarco learns from Mahoney that there’s someone attempting to blackmail him with what are supposedly Mahoney cheating with a woman. Knowing that Mahoney does cheat on his wife, DeMarco meets with the blackmailer, who, it turns out, is a guy who was fired from his job for excessive absenteeism due to being an alcoholic, but who is now sober but in desperate need of money. He decides he just doesn’t have the heart to be a bad guy, and tells DeMaarco to forget it.

Meanwhile, McGuire, knowing he will be arrested once his prints are lifted, makes Mike promise that if anything happens to him that Mike will take care of McGuire’s elderly mother. Mike by now knows that his niece is in charge of billions of dollars and is considering how much he can wring out of her to keep her secrets – like the fact she came to him to get people killed, which has been captured on tape.

DeMarco realizes that the only solution is to keep the audit going, so it can be shown that Kelly was embezzling. He approaches the other two members of the three person board overseeing the trust (Mahoney is the third), and they agree the audit should proceed. A team shows up at the trust, taking everything and kicking Kelly out.

Before they get things locked down, Kelly accesses the trust funds electronically and transfers out over a hundred million dollars, then transfers those funds into other accounts at other banks, attempting to hide the trail. She then flees to London on her own passport and then to Montenegro under an assumed identity.

DeMarco turns to the investigative firm that had fired the blackmailer, and hires them to find Kelly, on the condition they hire the guy back and have him work on this case. They agree, since he had been one of their top investigators. They track Kelly to Montenegro, and DeMarco and his (now) crew, including the wannabe blackmailer, another operator from the investigative firm, and a disgraced doctor, head there. Mike Kelly also sends a crew there, to grab his niece.

The end is a caper. DeMarco and company put on a show to lure the bad guys into getting arrested, and act out their plan to grab Erin Kelly and hustle her out of the country. Back in the US, Erin Kelly is arrested for financial crimes and McGuire is arrested for attempted murder. Kelly thinks she’s maybe get four or five years, max, and McGuire is prepared to keep his mouth shut to protect Mike Kelly, but after he learns his mother has died while Mike Kelly was supposed to be overseeing her care, thinks Mike murdered her and considers talking. He then talks himself into believing she died of natural causes, given her age, and is prepared again to keep his mouth shut. He is stabbed while in jail, but survives, and tell DeMarco that all the dirt Mike Kelly has collected over the years on powerful people, and the tape with Erin Kelly saying she wanted people dead, is in a safe on a property he owns. Everyone is toast at this point except McGuire.

The book ends with Mahoney’s wife spending time with Cassie, and telling DeMarco Cassie will live with her in the Mahoney’s home in Boston, and the housekeeper and her husband will move with them. DeMarco is then sent off to Minnesota to deal with another matter.

SPOILERS END

Overall, it’s a good, fast read, and fun, too, if you enjoy stories about fixers that involve capers. While this is a book deep into the series character DeMarco, it can be read as a standalone, as enough information is given on DeMarco to know who he is and what he does. There’s only one infodump, and it’s a bit of a required one, to describe the no-show job Mahoney had created to stash DeMarco so he would be around to do whatever things Mahoney needed him to do.

I liked this quite a bit and will be going back to the beginning to read more about Joe DeMarco.

A solid 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Thanks to NetGalley and Atlantic Monthly Press for the advance copy.

Review: Past Deeds (Brandon Fisher FBI #8)

Special Agent Brandon Fisher of the FBI’s BAU team investigates the sniper death of a prosecuting attorney in Arlington, VA.

That’s a bit misleading, as Fisher is not the AIC (Agent in Charge), but rather a member of the team under Jack Harper, who is the AIC and who I found to be both unlikable and annoying. This book is labeled a Brandon Fisher book, though, and we spend a lot of time in his head as we do in the head of Kelly Marsh, formerly Miami-Dade PD and who is (based on us getting hit over the head with it multiple times) new to the team.

Darrell Reid is killed by a sniper as he’s leaving a residential building. For some reason that isn’t made entirely clear, the BAU is called. But out they roll, to the scene. It’s pretty difficult to me that they would be, since at this point, there’s a single victim. It’s a real “it’s in the script moment”, to be honest.

In any case, back at the BAU, there’s the requisite computer geek who can pry records out of any system, anywhere, and soon it becomes clear there are three other killings, in other states, that match this particular one. The team splits up, with Jack and Kelly staying in Virginia, and Brandon and Paige (with whom he apparently slept with in a previous book) sent out west to revisit the previous killings to see what links they can find.

From there, it’s a standard procedural whodunit, with the agents going around to scenes, interviewing people, checking for video, and so on, until they make the connection and close in for the arrest.

I can say it’s reasonably well written, although there is more than one character who says “In the least” instead of “At the least” – a quirk of the writer, perhaps. I’m afraid I didn’t really care for any of the BAU agents. Jack’s an asshole (in my opinion), and maybe I just think that because I’ve not read the seven books in the series before this. Kelly does way too much second guessing of herself instead of just realizing Jack is an asshole, making her feel small. Brandon is wishy-washy and annoying, constantly going back to the time he and Paige slept together while he was still married, as if one, he’s still married to his wife and two, he doesn’t have a new girlfriend. Paige was just eh, she’s there and throws in her two cents now and again, although she nearly gets herself and Brandon killed by an oncoming vehicle because she’s zoned out, thinking about her and Brandon. The characters were cookie cutter and could be swapped out in any other book of this type without a beat being missed by anyone.

That said, the whydunnit was okay, and the sniper clearly nuts but doing the killing from what in her mind is a rock solid foundation. The fact that not one agent guessed at what the killer was going to do at the end of the book was disappointing, considering that they had all the information on the killer and certainly could have done a profile on that. That they didn’t says to me they may not be very good at their jobs.

There are some gratuitous “thank you for your service”s and a short commentary by Kelly on providing for veterans after they’ve exited the services. Neither did anything for the book or the characters.

Will I pick up earlier books in this series? Unlikely. But if you like Criminal Minds the show, you’ll probably enjoy this much more than I did.

Three stars out of five.

Thanks to NetGalley and Hibbert & Stiles for the advance copy.

Review: One Minute Out (Gray Man #9)

Court Gentry (aka the Gray Man) is in Croatia to snipe a war criminal. As he watches the old man through his scope, though, he decides that far away through a scope just won’t do, and this man needs an up close and personal visit. Despite the presence of a small personal army and a couple of dogs guarding the war criminal, Gentry makes his way into the house only to find the old man not in his bed. Following sounds he hears, he makes his way into a basement and finds over twenty women and girls chained to the walls there. One woman, who was loose because the old man was about to bring her upstairs and assault her, runs out of the house (despite the presence of that small army and a couple of dogs). Gentry kills the old man and then wants to free the women, but one of their number tells him to leave, as he can’t protect all of them, and they will be punished worse if they leave and are recaptured.

Gentry reluctantly leaves them but vows to find them again and free them, and also to bust the human sex trafficking ring he has stumbled across.

The story moves from Croatia to Italy to the US, as Gentry follows the pipeline of women moved from country to country. Along the way, he picks up an ally – one of the womens’ sister, who works in financial fraud for EUROPOL – and she heads off on a side trek to engage the services of a hacker. after telling Gentry that not only is there a sex trafficking ring, there’s an ocean of bad money being laundered in the process. Meanwhile, Gentry keeps dogging the pipeline, killing quite a number of people in his path and getting beat up at various locales.

SPOILERS FROM HERE

The evidence continues to pile up, and when it points to a US-based businessman and movie exec as the ringleader, Gentry calls his office – the CIA – and asks for help. When it’s denied for reasons he isn’t told, he requests help from another, more personal source: a bad guy in Italy, where the women will be sold at auction. The bigshot US businessman will also be in attendance at this particular stop even though his head of security advises him against it, and Gentry wants to get to him somehow, and kill him. On the evening of the auction, Gentry spots members of a special ops team, realizes they’re hunting him, and eventually there’s a big firefight, with the bad guys hoping on a private plane with two women marked for “special handling” – that is, to serve as sex slaves for he crooked businessman.

Gentry makes his way back to the States via a pretty humorous (considering the circumstances) method, and gets to California. Based on information provided by the EUROPOL analyst, he makes his way to the bigshot’s house. He realizes he can’t take the entire compound by himself, so enlists the help of some old operators (and I mean older in ago, as in, this sort of thing is a young person’s game). After killing some more bad guys, and talking the bigshot’s personal security out of protecting the bigshot, Gentry has come face to face with the bad guy – but he promised the CIA he wouldn’t kill the guy, because the guy is an asset to the CIA, providing information on the flow of money and arms around the world. Since Gentry can’t kill the bad guy, he shoots the bad guy right in the crotch, blowing his junk off. I guess that means no more sexytimes for him, assaulting or otherwise, although the way medicine is these days, and the fact that he’s a billionaire, it could be entirely possible bad guy could get his nether regions redone and go right back to his evil ways. On the other hand, it’s made clear in the last few chapters that the gad guy needs ED drugs and coke in order to be able to perform, so maybe not.

Gentry then walks away from the house, despite the LAPD showing up in huge numbers. He climbs into a van holding some CIA dudes, and they drive off into the sunset.

END SPOILERS

The end of the book evokes The Shawshank Redemption (or, for the pedants, “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption”) with a litany of “hopes”. This book really does seem to be one of the more adaptable ones of the series for the big screen, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see it adapted into a screenplay and made into a movie starring some actor everyone will either love or hate, with the hate side pointing out all the ways X could not possibly be the Gray Man.

Overall, if you like the Gray Man series, you’ll like this book. I do, and I did.

Four solid stars out of five.