The Night Stalker – Robert Bryndza

night stalkerA police procedural mystery published by Bookouture, 2016 running 382 pages

This is the second novel in the DCI Erika Foster series by Robert Bryndza. During a sweltering summer in London Erika’s homicide group is dispatched to the home of a well-to-do physician where his naked corpse lies strapped in bed with a plastic bag over his head. As Erika’s team begins to investigate, elements of the crime lead senior leadership of the precinct to wrap up what evidence her team has and turn the case over to a group specializing in sex crime. But Erika has suspicions that the case isn’t a crime of passion… that this murder is homicide.

Once again Erika has issues with the senior supervisor Marsh and the rest of the ‘chain of command’ as well… as she is written she is a “direct, driven and brilliant officer who didn’t suffer fools” and this story remains true to that. But she is also shown to be blunt, stubborn and won’t tolerate suck-ups.

In one exchange Marsh tells her not to pursue a person he knows had an alibi for the initial murder being investigated. But Erika keeps pushing him on that and tells him, “You know this kind of thing doesn’t work with me. Keep me in the dark and I’ll find a light switch”

And she also has an issue dealing with people in general. She puts forth her theory of solving crime “Often you have to piss people off to get to the truth,” and at the rate that Erika pisses off people in this novel, she should be up to her ass in truth.

As the heat wave draws on, the bodies stack up. From the initial physician, to a talk-show host, then an author of sadistic fiction… Erika continues to stubbornly pursue the Night Owl regardless of whose toes she’s trampling on.

My Gun Is Quick – Mickey Spillane

my gun is quickWritten in 1950, I’m reading from the New American Library edition published in 2001, 190 pages.

As the novel opens we find Mike stopping at a diner in the wee hours of the morning where he chats up a red head whose currently prostituting to make ends meet. He sees something honorable in the kid and invests some of the profit he’s just made on a case. He gives her some dough to get a new outfit, get a new job and a new lease on life. The next day she’s found dead, apparently by an accident but Mike sees it otherwise. He takes to the streets uncovering a city wide prostitution ring and dispensing cold hard justice along the way to finding her killer.

This novel tells a story whose central theme appears to be the potential for redemption in a gritty city pulled out from under you at the last second. Nancy, the redhead could have made it if crime hadn’t caught up with her. Lola, another central character who Mike encounters seems well on the way to redemption until her young life was snuffed out too. Even Ann who was going to take the cash a blow town, got herself whacked before she could cash the check.

Following up on leads, Mike encounters a wealthy elderly gentleman, the last survivor of his line, erecting a memorial to himself. While Mike explains what information he needs and the nature of the case, the gentleman is moved by Mike’s story feels a renewal of faith in human kindness… and insists on financing Mike mission to find the identity of the redhead, as its unknown to us at the start…

It’s here as the old man discusses the futility of wealthy the Mike offers his insight on what makes a detective.

I nodded, blowing a streamer of smoke at the ceiling, ‘Money is great. Mr. Berin, but sometimes a guy gets pretty damn sore and money doesn’t matter any more. A guy can get just plain curious, too… and money doesn’t matter then either.’

What follows Mike all through the story, like a dog with the sent of a fox, snapping at his heels is this indignation. He isn’t concerned with the ‘big picture’ prostitution ring that his investigation appears to be unearthing. He leaves that to the press and the police to clean up. No, his mission is a personal vendetta… He took up a cause, to give a young deserving lady a chance at redemption and some one… some scum, stole that from her just as it was about to bear fruit.

It’s this feeling of ‘making it personal’ that builds an intimacy with this reader… I feel for these guys and dolls of the noir city.

Trouble In Nuala – Harriet Steel

trouble in nualaPublished August 10th 2016 by Stane Street Press Kindle Edition, 200 pages

I really can’t recall encountering a more complacent and reluctant protagonist in a mystery novel.

This is a mystery of a cozy variety. The setting is colonial Ceylon in the 1930 and I thought that was very nicely set and laid out. The descriptions of the lush garden are a delight for several senses, as well as the author’s treatment of the variety of foods consumed. She paints the picture very deftly.

But for most of the first half of the novel the only thing missing… was a mystery. When we finally got to the discovery of the body, the inspector’s lack of initiative, or even much interest beyond the perfunctory procedural motions had me taking a step back and wondering if rather than the Inspector, Shanti de Silva bein the ”detective’ of this story… perhaps his wife Jane is. She seems to be the more inquisitive of the two, and even enjoys her detective novels from the local library.

“His brow furrowed. Why wasn’t he as angry as Jane about this Renshaw business? It was too easy to dismiss her views as womanly emotion. If a snail was important, wasn’t a man even more so?”

He even dissuades her from speculation…

“‘Anyway,’ he mumbled through a mouthful. ‘I know you too well. You’re just curious to find out how they know each other and it’s really none of our business.’ “

She is the one pointing out to him…

“‘Don’t you think it’s odd he didn’t mention knowing Madeleine Renshaw? “

Even upon finding the body.. The corpus maximus he has this lovely line:

“Where will going round asking a lot of questions get us?”

 

At this point I practically spoke to the book saying “A Clue! Perhaps asking some questions might get you a clue or two..”

Eventually he does take on the mantle of ‘detective’ and set about questioning suspects and pointing out the clues in the story… but up to this point I seriously had my bets on Jane as the detective.

But all’s well that ends well. I do like him as a character, and the scenes where he has interactions with his wife are warm and cozy, like a mystery of this stripe should… and despite the slow start, I will be reading the second in this series shortly.

Lady Go Die! – Max Allan Collins / Mickey Spillane

lady go dieA hard-boiled noir novel published by Titan Book 2012, running 241 pages.

In the Mickey Spillane ‘Mike Hammer’ universe, this novel is set to take place between the original Mike Hammer novel “I, The Jury” written in 1947, and “My Gun Is Quick” written in 1950.

Shooting a gun out of a crooked cop’s hand in his own police station with the chief watching… even in a small town like Sidon, that takes balls. So much so that I’m amazed Mike can walk through the front door without turning sideways. But here we are, and Mike Hammer continues to be a champion of the downtrodden, and of a local beachcomber on the receiving end of some ‘enhanced interrogation’ by local cops. This mind you, is Mike on vacation.

Max Allan Collins does a great job of writing this story, published in 2012, as if it were written in the late 1940’s timeline. There is a scene in the novel where Mike is sitting down with his friend Pat, a homicide detective and they are discussing the various aspects of what defines a serial killer. This conversation is written into the story because the writer, of a work in the late 1940’s wouldn’t assume that his readers would know well what a ‘serial killer’ is. It reminded me very much of how Poe had to lay down the various aspects of what a detective is when he wrote the Murders In The Rue Morgue because he couldn’t assume that his readers would know.

Reflecting on this collaboration of Spillane and Collins, I can’t recall if there are references to Mike’s war-time service in this novel. Mickey makes sure to underscore Mike’s ease around violence by referencing his service record fighting the ‘Japs’. The first three novels were written right after the war, with a reader base of veterans who had served.

But Max makes a point of Mike being more introspective of the violence that he needs to employ to meet out justice to those who richly deserve it.

   “And Mike – you’re the goddamnedest, most cold-blooded killer I have ever seen in my life. And… you’re good at it.”

I looked down at my hands and suddenly the weight of the .45 under my left shoulder seemed a little too heavy. When I looked up my face was tight.

“I’ve had judges tell me that more than once. I can’t say I liked it.”

He didn’t back off an inch. “Well, tough shinola, sport! Because it happens to be true. I know you. Any time you pull the trigger, you are in the right. The bleeding hearts will never understand people like us. So feel flattered instead of getting touchy about it. I’ve killed people too and never lost sleep over it.”

That was more than I could say.

“Anyway,” he said with an awful casualness, “you’re a killer, not a murderer… and murderers need killing. Somebody has to do it. And I’m electing you.”

Mike is aware that there is a price to pay, and internal toll that all this takes on him. He’s perfectly willing to take that on, and not show that cost to others, and even as others blasely brush it of as a necessary evil… its easy for them, they don’t actually have to do it. Mike is there, and Mike will do it, because that’s how he rolls. But contrary to popular opinion, he doesn’t go looking for it.

But another reason I love reading writing like this…

Bill was one of those medium guys – medium build, medium height, medium weight, with the kind of face they build crowds out of.

C’mon, how can you NOT love a line like that. And this novel is littered with those gems at almost every turn of the page…

An Unwanted Guest – Shari Lapena

an unwanted guestPublished by Pamela Dorman Books; 1st Edition edition, August 7, 2018 with 304 pages.

In a word – wow! Right from the start of this novel I had a feeling of closeness, of inclusion, of a tightknit cast of characters, and that something, something was going to happen. Even before the actual commencement of the murders to come, there is a thread of suspense. You could not have struck that chord quicker than if you had started with: “It was a dark and stormy night”, because, though it is a dark and stormy night, our cast is assembling during the day.

We are quickly introduced to the cast of characters and get to know them at a superficial level. One thing that I really liked here is that we are introduced to the characters mostly in pairings, such as; Gwen and Riley, a pair of friends on holiday; Matthew and Dana, an engaged couple, Lauren and Ian, an unmarried couple; Beverly and her husband Henry, an older couple married for several years; James and his son Bradley who own and operate the inn, and then there are two other guests unrelated to any others David and attorney who has had charges of murdering his wife dismissed due to lack of evidence, and a writer Candice who is already a guest at the inn.

In quick work the cast is snowed in with a storm outside cutting the inn off from the rest of the world, as well as its electricity. The plot moves quickly. First an apparent accident (or is it David is quick to point out) has the guests openly speculating if a murder or an accident has occurred. Then, when the second body turns up later that day, there is no doubt that homicide stalks the guests. They congregate in the inn’s ground floor lounge with a large fireplace an ample seating for the perception of protection as much as for heat.

It here, in this setting that we begin to get a more in-depth look into the lives of our characters. Everything is laid out in such a flowing narrative, there is just enough detail to give the story lift. I had a feeling of sailing through the story taking it all in and feeling the tension growing, reaching its height at the start of the final third of the story.

The mystery ends as the police are finally able to reach the inn and begin their investigation. This is what covers probably the last ten percent of the novel. The motivation for the initial murder is revealed here… it wasn’t something that could be gleaned from the story itself. But… the clues are there for the reader to determine the most likely suspect before the police arrive. David knows, but he won’t tell you till its all over, and I won’t spoil it here… you just have to read it for yourself.

The main theme here is ‘you never really know anybody’. This is wonderful, clear, straightforward writing and a masterfully crafted story… THIS is why we read mysteries!

“Henry gives this some consideration. His wife has a lot of irritating qualities, but stupidity isn’t one of them. … [he’s] learned a thing or two this weekend. He’s learned that he himself has it in him to be a killer. He finds it’s not tat big a leap, after all, to imagine anyone else as a killer either.”

Victim Six – Gregg Olsen

victim sixPublished in 2010 and running 429 pages. A Mystery of the police procedural subgenre. A novel of a graphic violence graphically depicted. You’ve been warned!

 

Gregg Olsen is quite the writer. I will say the level of detail is impressive. He paints his characters with such clarity and dimension you get a feeling that he’s writing a true-crime novel based on real people he really knows. But this is a work of fiction and a wonderful story of a serial killer preying in and around the community of Port Orchard in Washington state. As a woman disappears, detectives Kendall Stark and her partner Josh Anderson begin investigating what will become a series of violent sexual serial killings.

 

In bringing us these killings, Olsen is also bringing us a series of relations and relationships that are at the heart of this story. The relationship between the two detectives and their relation to the local newspaper. The conflicts and the cooperation of these two institutions. Then there’s the relationship between Stark and her husband and her autistic son and Josh’s relationship to a younger local newspaper reporter Serenity, and how this later relation ties into the larger police/press relation, and then how the killer plays into this relation.

 

Then there is the killer and his relationship with his wife, and how they fit in relation to the victims that make up this story. Then Olsen digs into the relation between the killer’s wife and their son. This will be a little nugget we’ll see develop in the epilogue, not to give anything away… and how the killer’s wife relates to her estranged sister. It would seem that all the characters he’s creating have numerous connection throughout the novel, except the killer himself. He, with the exception of his wife, isn’t really explored in as much detail… even as it come to his own son. But we do get quite the view of what’s going on inside of him… and that’s a view we as readers will not easily forget.

“You know the beginning and the ending, Serenity.”

“I think so. I guess so.”

“You want to know the middle, don’t you?”

Serenity nodded.
“Everybody does.”

“Tell me,” Serenity said, her eyes welling with tears. She Knew that the woman on the other side of the glass was no longer her sister. She was an imposter. A shape-shifter. A Thief of all her memories.

Witch Way To Spellbinder Bay – Sam Short

witch way to spellbinderAmazon – Kindle – Witch Way To Spellbinder Bay

This whole paranormal-YA-cozy mystery genre appears to be quite the rage these days, if my kindle recommendation feed has any say about it. So I bought a copy of this book as it’s a first in a series and gave it a quick read.

It starts with the introduction of our main character a down-on-her-luck young lady, Millie, living in a basement flat in London. She is the victim of an employment scam and has been conned out of her money but unwilling to accept defeat and set sail for Australia where she would go back to living with her aunt and uncle. She comes off as likeable, plucky and somewhat skeptitacle about the turn her life is about to take.

But curiosity wins and the story progresses as Millie begins taking steps to explore her new position in life, and the mysterious town of Spellbinder Bay. This is where she encounters many quirky denizens, a taxi driver, an elderly lady, a policeman and the sharp witted cockatiel, who assure her that things going on there will be explained to her later, and later, and later… which fortunately they do over time as the story progresses.

As Millie settles in to her first day here in town she is introduced to an elderly neighbor. Its his tragic accident that Millie witnesses. An accident? Or is it something more? And that is where the mystery is afoot! As Millie helps the policeman with his investigation she comes to learn more and more about herself, and her past, and her place in this strange new town.

The mystery ends in a well conceived way. I was left with a sense of completion as far as that goes, but then there are other levels to this story which help to sell me on the sequel to come… So, I do look forward to consuming the next of these sweet confections.

As George started the engine, he shouted to Millie. “Enjoy the walk back. I’ll see you around.”
“I’m not sure how long I’ll be around,” said Millie, her voice competing with the engine’s grumble. “I don’t think I’ll be staying.”
“Wait until the Board of Governors have spoken to you before you decide to leave,” said George. “They’ll explain the things you want to know.”
“The Board of Governors?” yelled Millie, as George pulled away in a spray of gravel and sand. “What’s that?”
“You’ll find out!” shouted George, speeding away in a cloud of dust.
Millie frowned. What on earth was going on? The day before she’d been living in a basement flat, unsure of how she was going to pay the rent, and now she was about to take a scenic walk from a lighthouse, back to a beautiful seafront cottage which she’d been told she owned. She pinched her thigh. The sharp pain told her that she was indeed awake.