Black Cherry Blues – James Lee Burke

black cherry bluesPublished in 2011 by Mulholland Books, 288 pages I read this on my kindle at a very nice price.

This is the third book in the Dave Robicheaux series, and it seems to pick up right after the death of his wife. Her death, as well as her ghost haunts him through this story. But it’s a friend of his from College that brings the former New Orleans homicide detective to check into a pair of oil company men his friend Dixie seems to have gotten himself in bed with.

One thing leads to another as they say, and when thugs send a not to subtle threat involving his adopted daughter, its payback time. Then, when one of the oil lease-men turns up dead, Dave follows the leads to Montana to clear himself and finds that his old friend Dixie has taken refuge with a mafia family who’ve helped him in the past.

With missing Indian activists, oil company land deals and mafia drug transactions… well as picturesque as the landscape is, it may not be the healthiest place for an ex-lawman to be asking too many questions.

I’ve read this book having just finished his novel New Iberian Blues (2019). Its been thirty years between these two books and it’s a clear demonstration of something I’ve been calling the “Stephen King effect”. This novel has a fairly simple linear narrative with a limited number of characters moving through it… whereas New Iberian Blues has several narrative threads weaving through numerous characters over a sweeping story arc, and it shows how James Lee Burke has grown and developed as a masterful storyteller.

And, though this novel is smaller in scope than its latter novels it is no less dramatic in is descriptive landscapes:

“I headed for the Blackfeet Reservation, on the other side of the Divide, east of Glacier Park. In the early morning light I drove up the Blackfoot River through canyons of pink rock and pine, with woodsmoke drifting through the trees from the cabins set back in the meadows. The runoff from the snowpack up in the mountains was still high, and the current boiled over the boulders in the center of the river. Then the country opened up into wider valleys and ranchland with low green hills and more mountains in the distance. I started to climb into more heavily wooded country, with sheer rock cliffs and steep-sided mountains that ran right down to the edge of the road; the canyons and trees were dark with shadow, and by the time I hit the logging town of Lincoln the air had turned cold and my windows were wet with mist. I drove into clouds on the Divide at Rogers Pass, my ears popping now, and rivulets of melted snow ran out of the pines on the mountainside, bled across the highway, and washed off the dirt shoulder into a white stream far below. The pine trees looked almost black and glistened with a wet sheen.”

 

New Iberia Blues – James Lee Burke

new iberia bluesPublished January 2019 by Simon and Schuster, 465 pages of pure scenic detective fiction. I checked my copy out from the library and I sure wasn’t disappointed with this. This is the book I had in mind when I was reading Debbie Herbert’s Cold Waters. There are several threads running through this story and its woven together masterfully.

Detective Dave Robicheaux spies a woman tied to a cross drifting in from the bay while on the deck of his old friend Desmond Cormier’s house. The award winning director Desmond and company are in the area filming a new movie when a series of unfortunate incidents occur. From a dead woman on a cross, to a hanged laborer, then a crooked sheriff’s deputy is killed… as Robicheaux diggers deeper into the people surrounding Desmond the bodies pile up.

Is there a killer amongst Desmond’s friends or could it be a fugitive death row inmate from Texas who has been spotted in the area… or perhaps its an albino mafia contract kill whose also returned to New Iberia. It couldn’t be a young deputy who has a knack for being around just when someone is killed… could it?

The descriptions are wonderfully drawn in a vibrancy of detail and oe of the things that I liked about this story is that there is time in between the events. Everything isn’t cramped together, its spaced out, paced over a series of months, season even. The story starts in the spring and concludes in the fall and Burke gives amble nuanced description of the bayou throughout its transitions.

And its not just the physical landscape, no, the characters themselves are painted with a fine-tip brush. Even the recently deceased get rendered in full dimension:

   By Monday the victim had been identified through his prints as Joe Molinari, born on the margins of American society at Charity Hospital in Lafayette, the kind of innocent and faceless man who travels almost invisibly from birth to the grave with no paper trail except a few W-2 tax forms and an arrest for a thirty-dollar bad check. Let me take that one step further. Joe Molinari’s role in life had been being used by others, as a consumer and laborer and voter and minion, which, in the economics of the world I grew up in, was considered normal by both the liege lord in the manor and the serf in the field.

He’d lived in New Iberia all his life, smoked four packs of cigarettes a day, and worked for a company that did asbestos teardowns and other jobs that people do for minimum wage while they pretend they’re not destroying their organs. He’d had no immediate family, played dominoes in a game parlor by the bayou, and, to the best of anyone’s knowledge, never traveled farther than three parishes from his birthplace. He had gone missing seven days ago.

Spells And Cells – Sam Short

spells and cellsShort, Sam. Spells And Cells: A Spellbinder Bay Cozy Paranormal Mystery – Book Three (Spellbinder Bay Paranormal Cozy Mystery Series 3) (pp. 49-50). Sam Short Books. Kindle Edition.

“Just look around you,” said Judith, her hair shining gold in the sunlight. “Adults are just big kids at heart.” This appears to be an idea that keeps coming through in this very dramatic story. This is the third, and I don’t know if it’s the final, installment in the Millie Thorn “Spellbinder Bay” Young Adult Paranormal Cozy mystery series, and it seems to tie up many of the loose ends from the previous two books. Suffice it to say, I actually believe that the death under investigation in this story, is actually a subplot compared to the other threads being tied together.

There is an apparent death of a werewolf while in police custody.. Is our beloved Sargent Spencer really the guilty party? Or is there some force that might be working through him? And what will the other werewolves think?

In this story, we really get to see a side of Spellbinder Bay and its paranormal community that we didn’t get in the prior two novels. It shows a stratification within the community, ad it shows to some degree internal conflicts within this community. Much like we see different interplay between groups in The Planet Of The Apes, here we get a similar education.

We also delve deeper into the back stories of some of the power players in the politics of Spellbinder Hall… while Henry, the de facto leader of this community is away, such as Frederick, the ‘head vampire in charge’ and Edna a witch who evidently does autopsies as well.

But mostly, this is THE story of Millie, her past, her present, and a possible future with a new set of familiar relations. Well, spoiler alert, as with most cozies this one has a happy ending. But not just A happy ending, there are several happy endings spanning many of the diverse story threads weaving themselves through this third tome.

SERIOUS spoiler alert here, and, although I don’t usually chime in on what should or shouldn’t be done… on a personal note and most certainly in my humble opinion… I think the story would have had more punch, a real moment of reflection, if Rueben didn’t survive the Chaos.

Fredrick gave another smile. “Because of politics, Miss Thorn. All is not what it seems in Spellbinder Hall. I’m content in the job I perform here in the hall, I like teaching the children… it is the one joy in my existence, and I’m content with being on The Board of Governors, but to retain the positions I hold, I must keep on proving my competence. Henry left me in charge, and if I did nothing in the wake of a murder committed during his absence, other people who hold a dislike for me, or who covet my position on the Board, would speak against me, perhaps persuading Henry to remove me from my responsibilities. And I happen to enjoy my responsibilities.”

Broomsticks And Bones – Sam Short

broomsticks and bonesShort, Sam. Broomsticks And Bones: A Spellbinder Bay Cozy Paranormal Mystery – Book Two (Spellbinder Bay Paranormal Cozy Mystery Series 2) (p. 89). Sam Short Books. Kindle Edition.

“Sergeant Spencer took a deep sniff of the crisp morning air. ‘I’m hungry,’ he stated. ‘We should have breakfast before beginning a murder investigation.'”

And that’s the sentiment that defines the ‘cozy’ subgenre of mystery fiction. First muffins, then murder. And it is murder, make no mistake about that. After the discovery of a mysterious skeleton unearthed by a treasure hunting beachcomber, the arrival of the alien hunting group ASSHAT, yup, ASSHAT (Alien Search Syndicate and Hazard Alert Team) and an midnight covert incursion by the Spellbinder Sand Diggers group, the body of the beachcomber is found. Who, or quite possibly what killed him puts a recently deputized Millie on the case.

I find myself really enjoying the cozy flow in this series. Broomsticks and Bones is the second in the Millie Thorn ‘Spellbinder Bay’ mysteries. It has quirky characters that quickly draw you in and the narration flows along. This is a wonderful book for a lazy spring day sacked out in the hammock and an ending that satisfies our curiosity, and small town justice as well.

Sergeant Spencer coughed, the sound hiding his laughter, but unable to conceal the mirth his wide smile exposed. “It’s his uniform,” he explained. “He’s from a —”
“I’m quite capable of explaining who I am, and what organisation I represent, thank you, Sergeant,” said the man. He smiled at Millie and Judith. “I’m Mister Anon, which is a clever pseudonym, of course — I like to keep my real identity a secret. I have to keep it secret. I represent a group known as the Alien Search Syndicate and Hazard Alert Team.”
“Erm,” said Judith. “You’re from a group called ASSHAT?”
Mr Anon sighed. “You’re quick at working out acronyms. Very good. Most people don’t pick up on it. The group was named before I joined it. That mistake would have never slipped past me if I’d been in charge at the time.”
“You could change it?” said Millie.
“Too late,” said Mister Anon. “We’ve got headed paper, business cards — the works. We don’t have the funds to make such sweeping changes.”

For All Our Sins – T.M.E. Walsh

for all our sinsI’m on chapter nineteen of this train-wreck, almost one third through… and I just had to shelve it at this point.

I don’t know if the author intended this story to be ‘Young Adult’ fiction, but based on the childness of the main characters, and other dysfunctional relations within this police office, I just can not take it anymore.

This snippet below, an exchange between the team lead Detective Chief Inspector (DCI) Claire Winters and her subordinate Detective Sargent (DS) Michael Diego is a typical one for these two… its petty, vindictive, antagonistic, its like watching spoiled children… we are introduced to these characters in this state, and it isn’t getting any better. There appears to be no adult in this police station. Detective Inspector (DI) David Matthew outwardly gloats over having a current case reassigned from DS Diego like a child being given another child’s toy.

I’m one third into this soap opera and I feel I’ve given it a fair shot. It opens with a young woman killing a priest with her switchblade and that opening chapter closes out with a line of such promise “The dead cannot cry out for justice. It is a duty of the living to so so for them.” And I thought the chapter well done. But then… we meet DCI Claire Winters smack in the middle of some ‘mysterious’ undefined sub-plot and being called into work because of the homicide. Then we meet more of the cast and the characters come onstage antagonistic and unnaturally confrontational right from the start.

Then we get to interviewing a person of interest, and following up on their dysfunctional family life with runaway daughter and ‘mysterious’ foster children… there is the questioning of the daughter, and then thrown into this mix is an aside… a chapter with an inmate escaping from a local asylum for the criminally insane… and since that scene has none of the main characters in it… it stands as a well written chapter, much like the promising first chapter, but right after that, its back to the juvenile detectives.

So, being that there is so little time and so many more reading options, I’ve shelved this book in favor of starting the third DCI Erika Foster novel…

  She called Michael to her office.

She stared at him as he sat in front of her desk, his hair messy and his face unshaven. He had dark circles under his normally clear eyes and his shirt didn’t look like it’d seen an iron in a long time.

‘Nice weekend?’ she asked. ‘Or should I say, eventful?’ She eyed him up and down. He shot her a sleepy look but ignored her question. ‘Judging by the look of you shirt, I’d say eventful.’

He stared down at his notepad, vacant expression on his face. Claire grew annoyed.

Leaning forward she clicked her fingers in front of his face. ‘Are you even fit to be in work, Diego? I’ve called a team briefing in twenty minutes and you’re looking fucked.’

‘Sorry,’ he managed. ‘I guess I overdid it.’

She stared hard at him and felt the slight twinge of jealousy.

She remembered that look of his. It hadn’t been that long ago that she’d been on the receiving end of his wild nights out. It was obvious to her that this weekend he’d been showing someone else a good time, and she hated the thought of it.

Red Chameleon – Stuart Kaminsky

red chameleonThis is the third Inspector Rostnikov novel. Published in 1985 I found it interesting that the novel mentions the transitions in Soviet leadership through the span of the prior novels, Death of A Dissident (1981) and A Black Knight in Red Square (1983) From Brezhnev to Andropov and then the death of Chernenko. From the climax of the second novel to the start of this third novel finds Chief Inspector Rostnikov demoted to simply Inspector Rostnikov, and it is due to this demotion that Procurator Khabolov, who succeeded Procurator Timofeyeva, assigned Rostnikov, along with his new leg-man the uninspired Comrade Zelach, to investigate an insignificant murder of an old Jew.

“In Moscow, the investigation of a crime is a question of jurisdiction, and the investigation of important crimes is an important question of jurisdiction. Minor crimes, and no one is quite sure what a minor crime is, are handled at the inquiry stage by MVD, the national police with headquarters in Moscow. Moscow itself is divided into twenty police districts, each responsible for crime within its area. However, if a case is considered important enough, a police inspector from central headquarters will be assigned. The doznaniye, or inquiry, is based on the frequently stated assumption that “every person who commits a crime is punished justly, and not a single innocent person subjected to criminal proceedings is convicted.” This is repeated so frequently by judges, procurators, and police that almost everyone in Moscow is sure it cannot be true.”

An old man is murdered in his bath and the only clues that Inspector Rostnikov has to go on is a very old photograph of four young men, and an old brass candlestick was taken from the scene. A very old photo of now very old men… who are they? Where are they? Are they even still alive? Well, at least one of them isn’t alive anymore. But who takes a simple old candlestick? It’s a question, a puzzle that draws the detective in Rostnikov to solve.

Along the way he, like Prometheus, tries to bring that spark to Comrade Zelach and ignite the detective in him.

“Zelach,” he said as they rode up the escalator, “do you think of me as a violent man?”

“No, chief inspector,” said Zelach indifferently. “There’s a stand on the corner. I have not eaten. Would it be all right if I bought some blinchiki?”

“It would be all right, Comrade Zelach,” Rostnikov said sarcastically, but the sarcasm was lost on Zelach. “Do you want to know where we are going?”

Zelach shrugged as they pressed through the morning crowd.

“In that case, we will let that be your surprise for the day.”

Meanwhile, we find our old friend Inspector Emil Karpo investigating a sniper at large in the city, and Inspector Sasha Tkach investigating a series of luxury car thefts. The pursuits of these investigations enable us a readers to again venture through the streets of Moscow and encounter the unique characters that populate the city… hell, this is as enjoyable as dogging Spenser around Boston!

Crooked House – Agatha Christie

crooked houseA classic British mystery first published in 1949

Charles, a young man striking out on a career in the diplomatic service returns home to England after the war to look up a young woman he knew in Cairo and ask for her hand. But, as is the fashion in a Christie novel, a corpse stands in the way. Well, that’s the lead into Crooked House a mystery of a well-heeled immigrant family three generations living at the family estate Three Gables in Swinly Dean, whose patriarch Aristide Leonides has died in rather uncertain circumstances.

Sophia, Aristide’s granddaughter, whose hand it is being sought, invites Charles to the house to meet her family and discretely see if he can assist the police, lead by Chief Inspector Traverner, as Charles’s father is an Assistant Commissioner at Scotland Yard and perhaps he may be able to see into the heart of the matter as the inspector appears stymied in his efforts to delve into the family secrets.

Of the characters in residence at the estate are Aristide’s two sons Philip (Sophia’s father) and Richard, their wives Magda and Clemence respectively, and Sophia’s younger brother Eustice and her younger sister Josephine. Also, there is Sophia’s great-aunt Edith de Haviland, sister to Aristide’s first wife, and his second wife Brenda Leonides (fifty years his junior).

The story moves at a slow pace… leisurely taking the reader through a series of interactions and interviews with family. Charles tagging along with the inspector on his questioning of the family and their various motives. The real insight into the case come from Charles’s conversations with his father at his home. The old detective offering his insights into murder and murderers. From here the reader can gain a good perspective and a toehold as to the crooked solution to this puzzle.

Although I enjoyed the story (and the movie BTW), it did lag somewhat in its pacing. It was slow to unfold and even as the story’s climax was approaching the pace never really picked up. There really didn’t seem to be any sense of ‘urgency’ to this drama…

“Dad, what are murderers like?”

“Yes, I’ve never met a murderer who wasn’t vain … It’s their vanity that leads to their undoing, nine times out of ten. They may be frightened of being caught, but they can’t help strutting and boasting and usually they’re sure they’ve been far too cleaver to be caught.” He added: “And here’s another thing, a murderer wants to talk.”