Murder House – James Patterson

murder-houseA Thriller Mystery published by Grand Central running 451 pages

A house with a history meets a cop with a past. Number 7 Ocean Dr in a quiet community of Long Island’s famous Hamptons has seen its fair share of murders. So what makes the deaths of a Hollywood talent scout and an attractive local young lady cause Detective Jenna Murphy to doubt the obvious.

This was a good book to read,.. I liked the split point of view, at times Patterson’s writing with Jenna’s first person narration, which is used for most of the book… but the timeline is broken up and Patterson uses the ‘Holden’ character, the antagonist as the first person narrator. He’s done this before as I recall him doing this in his novel Murder Games… the first person protagonist point of view and the first person antagonist narration. It’s a way of bringing the reader closer to the story.

The story starts off with a bang, literally, telling the tale of an incident some years prior to the ‘present time’. The characters here will be pivotal players as the main story commences. It seems that the evil that inhabits number 7 Ocean Dr is not necessarily confined to the house itself.

In the immediate ‘present time’ a new tenant leasing number 7, and his companion, are found murdered and suspicion falls immediately to a local handyman. But there is something not quite solid about the evidence and Detective Jenna Murphy starts expressing her concerns. She’s a hot shot detective recently dismissed from the New York City Police under scandal. Now she’s here in the Hamptons working for her uncle, and fighting the reverse snobbery of men in her uncle’s police force.

As she works to uncover the truth, the bodies start piling up. But soon the house’s past catches up to its present and in the twists as the climax approaches Jenna needs to expose the evil, or be added to the pile of corpses.

Aiden pushes himself off the wall, straightens himself.

Looks at me, just for a single moment, those darting eyes making contact with minne.

Come with me

Then he walks toward me. No sudden movement, just slowly approaching me.

Come with me

The boy with the scarecrow hair

Aiden places a hand over my gun hand, then carefully removes the revolver from it.

I look up at him, on my knees, helpless.

The Foreigner – Francie Lin

2311150Francie Lin hits a lot a major themes in this novel, love, family, honor, the past, the future, heaven and hell… but, is it a mystery? It’s a mystery in the sense that there are crimes and criminals and even a car chase down a highway in Taiwan. But as for mystery… I find it to be a mystery only in so far and there are things unknown, hidden things, but any story really takes time to unfold. You really don’t get the full picture of a character in a novel all up front… it rolls out over time.

And in The Foreigner, the ‘mysterious’ past is only ‘mysterious’ because it hasn’t unfolded yet.”

As the story unfolds, Emerson, an eldest son who is close to his immigrant Chinese mother in America is thrust into a journey back to his mother’s home in Taiwan after her death of natural causes. There he must find his younger brother who’s cut ties with them years before in order to settle the estate.

Upon finding his brother ‘Little P’, Emerson is drawn into a murky criminal underworld whose dealings are centered around their uncle’s karaoke bar called the Palace.

A keeper of a shared past. That’s how Emerson views his younger brother. Now that thier mother, his mother, has past away Little P is the only one left to validate his memories as he comes to see things.

Having recently lost a parent myself, this thought had a eureka moment for me as I now see my own younger siblings as sojourners traveling on towards the end of days. Siblings, they are the only ones who really knew you when…

Emerson finds Little P in business with Uncle, and two cousins named Poison and Big One. And while Emerson seeks to extricate his brother from the seedy noir world in which he is erythromycin much a Foreigner, he encounters two young women, Angel and Grace. With the help of a friend and compatriot of Uncle named Atticus Emerson hopes to learn some of the things about Little P’s life here in Taiwan that he brother chooses not to talk about.

Yes, it has occurred to me that there is more to the naming of these characters than meets the eye, and I wish I had a better recollection of To Kill A Mockingbird than I do because, although Emerson is about forty years old in this story, it’s really his coming of age story… he may just be the Scout in this journey of discovery.

And for a taste of that ‘noir’ style.. How’s this:

“Only the British would name a strip club The Admiralty,” she said, digging in her purse for the cover charge. “How is that erotic to anybody?”

The stout matron at the door turned out to be the bouncer and cashier both, and as she took our money, she rattled off a little spiel that was meant to be sexy and suggestive (“You look for fun tonigh’, huh? Our girls lot of fun”) but lost something in the bored, dry transaction of money for sex, especially when she and Angel scuffled over the amount of change owed. Inside the bar flanked the sides of a short catwalk illuminated by blue lights, with a pole at either end, and every once in a while a girl in a bikini and plastic heels would clamber onstage and do an indifferent little dance. Mostly, though, the dancers sat around the inside of the bar munching sandwiches and drinking Cokes. The place was not very crowed, which gave it an intimate air of soiled hopes.

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.”