Joe Country | Book Review


Joe Country is the eighth installment in Mick Herron’s series about a motley group of disgraced agents whom MI5 cannot fire outright, so it sends them to Slough House instead and hopes the boredom of their tasks there grinds them into resigning voluntarily.

This installment begins at the end of the tale with the murders of two “slow horses,” as Slough House’s denizens are derisively named. A “Joe,” in the argot of the intelligence world, is a spy run by a handler. And Slough House’s “handler,” the incongruously named late-Cold War veteran Jackson Lamb—he’s anything but—doesn’t like others messing with his Joes. The remainder of the novel rehearses the who, what, when, where, how, and why of these murders, and narrates the slow horses’ exaction of, if not exactly revenge, at least something approaching justice.

Mick Herron’s plots are labyrinthine, but his characters, their interactions, and conversations contain sly, dry British humor that result in books that feel, like a cross between John LeCarre and Monty Python’s Flying Circus. This is especially true of Jackson Lamb, whose cunning is exceeded only by a noticeable lack of hygiene, etiquette, and temperance. Lamb doesn’t carry the action in this, or any of the other installments in the Slough House series, but he is their beating heart.

Joe Country, like the previous five novels in this series, is a page-turner, which is my number-one criteria for evaluating good murder/suspense novels. (The novellas are quick reads and provide crucial backstory for the novels that succeed them, but they’re not page-turners, in my book.) I suppose you could read it as a stand-alone book, but I think you would miss out on a lot by not knowing the back story of the characters and their stories. Start with Slow Horses and read your way forward through this excellent series.

Book Reviewed
Mick Herron, Joe Country (New York: Soho Press, 2019).

P.S. If you liked my review, please click “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

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Past Tense | Book Review


Midnight Line, Lee Child’s previous Jack Reacher novel, was a page-turner, but it left me wondering whether Reacher was getting a bit old for all the action Child put him through. I gave it a four-star review, but to be honest, I promised myself I would give Child only one more chance to keep my interest in Reacher. Past Tense kept my interest.

The novel has three storylines. One, Reacher finds himself in Laconia, New Hampshire, where his dad was born and raised. The only problem? There’s little trace of Stan Reacher there. Two, while searching for records of his dad, Reacher beats up a man bullying a woman. Unfortunately, the man is connected to bad actors who come to Laconia looking to settle a score. Three, a Canadian couple find themselves stranded at a remote motel where the owner and his business partners act more than a little strange. The owner’s last name? Reacher.

As always, Child brings these storylines together in an explosive conclusion that kept me turning pages, which is the primary way I evaluate suspense novels. (I read the novel in two long sittings.)

This isn’t the best of the Reacher novels. However, it’s good enough to keep me interested through next year when, come fall, I’m sure Child will publish Reacher’s next adventure. I hope it’s set in San Diego. That’s where Reacher is heading, and lots of interesting happens in San Diego, or could happen, if Reacher were there.

Book Reviewed
Lee Child, Past Tense: A Jack Reacher Novel (New York: Delacorte Press, 2018).

P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Helpful” on my Amazon.com review page.

Y Is for Yesterday | Book Review


Y Is for Yesterday is the 25th installment in Sue Grafton’s long-running Kinsey Millhone Alphabet Series. Kinsey is asked to investigate the blackmail of a young man just released from juvenile detention for a homicide he committed a decade earlier. As she begins to question family and friends, she uncovers a web of secrets and lies that lead to murder.

At the same time, she keeps looking over her shoulder for the serial killer who failed to silence her six months earlier and still wants revenge. (That story is told in Grafton’s previous novel, X.)

I first heard of the Kinsey Millhone mysteries while living and working in Santa Barbara, California more than ten years ago. Santa Teresa—where Kinsey lives and works as a private investigator—is a lightly fictionalized Santa Barbara, so it was easy for me to imagine her pounding the pavement in search of justice, or at least answers. I started with A Is for Alibi, got hooked instantly, and have since worked my way through the alphabet one letter at a time.

It’s hard to believe that Sue Grafton has been at this series since 1982, when A Is for Alibi was published, but I’m glad she’s persisted. This book is a page-turner, and I look forward to reading Z Is for Zero in 2019.

 

Book Reviewed:
Sue Grafton, Y Is for Yesterday (New York: G. Putnam’s Sons, 2017).

P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.

Review of ‘A Murder of Quality’ by John Le Carré


A Murder of Quality is John Le Carré’s second novel as well as the second (of seven) in which ex-spook George Smiley plays a role. When the wife of a tutor at a prestigious public school is murdered, a friend of Smiley’s asks him to look into the case. Smiley’s attention—and everyone else’s, including the reader’s—is focused on a suspect until the very end when the truth comes out. Le Carré describes A Murder of Quality as “a flawed thriller redeemed by ferocious and quite funny social comment” in the Introduction to this edition, and the book is that, although I wouldn’t say it is fully redeemed.


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Book Reviewed:
P.S. John Le Carré, A Murder of Quality: A George Smiley Novel (New York: Penguin, 2012; orig. 1962).

P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.

[REVISED] Review of ‘Death Comes for the Deconstructionist’ by Daniel Taylor


Death-Comes-for-the-DeconstructionistDaniel Taylor, Death Comes for the Deconstructionist (Eugene, OR: Slant, 2014).

Daniel Taylor’s Death Comes for the Deconstructionist is a story about a man, a murder, and a movement.

The man is Jon Mote, grad school dropout (all but dissertation), soon-to-be ex-huband and researcher for hire who is asked to look into the death of his former dissertation director, Richard Pratt. The murder victim, Pratt, was a Deconstructionist literarature professor whose luster, once avant-garde, is already becoming passé. The movement is Deconstructionism, which is complex and hard to explain, but for the purposes of this book holds that words point only to other words, not a reality outside themselves. Assertions of inherent meaning are really, then, just power plays between groups. In killing off Richard Pratt, then, Daniel Taylor kills of Deconstructionism too.

Taylor is an insightful stylist. Any number of sentences caught my eye, but this one about Baptists made me laugh out loud: “But they were Swedish Baptists, not Texas Baptists, so even though they thought you were going to hell if you didn’t believe in Jesus, they at least felt bad about it.” There’s a lot of truth—about Baptists, Swedes, and Texans—wrapped up in that sentence. And it’s made by Mote, who’s recovering from his fundamentalist upbringing and narrates the story throughout.

The book contains interesting characters and descriptions of events. Though Mote narrates, his mentally handicapped older sister Judith steals the show. She is the counterpoint to Mote’s anguished internal dialogue and Pratt’s decadent sophistication. The description of her putting on her winter clothes is hilarious. The description of Mote’s breakdown in a black Pentecostal church down by the river is engrossing. The solution of Pratt’s murder has a Paul-de-Man quality to it, which you’ll understand if you know who that is. On the plus side, I didn’t see it coming until it was just climbing on top of me.

And that brings me to a criticism of the book. It is full of literary allusions, some of which Mote draws readers’ attention to. Many of which he doesn’t. If you’re familiar with the stories or with postmodern literary theory, you’ll understand a lot of Mote’s internal dialogue and the tensions between characters. If not, you may not appreciate this book as much. (If you don’t know who Paul de Man is, or if you know but don’t see why Pratt’s past feels like an allusion to de Man, this might not be the book for you either, which, by the way, does not mention de Man explicitly.)

That said, I still read Death Comes for the Deconstructionist in one sitting (give or take a few coffee and bathroom breaks). My number one test for murder stories is whether they keep me turning pages. This one did. I liked it a lot.

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P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.

P.P.S. In an earlier version of this review, I criticized the book for a confusing chronology. The author kindly replied (see below), and I now realize the only confusion was mine. I’ve revised the review accordingly. Thanks, Mr. Taylor, for taking time to read my review!

Review of ‘City of Bones’ by Michael Connelly


City-of-bonesMichael Connelly, City of Bones (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 2002). Hardcover | Paperback | Kindle

City of Bones is the eighth installment in Michael Connelly’s series of novels featuring Los Angeles homicide detective Harry Bosch. It opens on New Years Day, when Bosch is called to a home in Laurel Canyon. A dog has found a bone, and its owner, a medical doctor, is certain that it’s human. Bosch begins to investigate and unearths the majority of a skeleton. Forensic examination reveals that the body belonged to a young male who had suffered physical abuse throughout his short life.

Within days, Bosch knows the name of the victim, Arthur Delacroix, and the year of his murder, 1980. But who killed him, and why? Connelly leads readers through Bosch’s 13-day investigation with storytelling skill, leading us down investigative rabbit trails, only to corner the killer in the last pages of the book. In addition to the identity of the killer, those 13 days uncover secrets that destroy lives and families and threaten to end Bosch’s career.

I was familiar with the plot of City of Bones before reading it. This book, along with Concrete Blonde, is the textual basis of the first season of Amazon’s Bosch series. The TV series took quite a few liberties with Concrete Blonde, but it hewed closely to the narrative of City of Bones, with a few, important exceptions. Still, it is a testament to Connelly’s storytelling skill that he captured my attention through the book despite the fact that I knew who the killer was all along.

I’ve reviewed a number of books in Connelly’s Harry Bosch series, together with books in his Mickey Halley and Terry McCaleb series. With one exception, I think each of them is well crafted and engaging. As a guy who likes to read mystery series featuring a lead character and returning cast of characters, I thoroughly enjoy Michael Connelly’s books and recommend them to people with similar tastes to mine.

Read the books in order, though. Each mystery is self-contained, but the character arc of Harry Bosch is worth making the time and effort to start from The Black Echo and work your way forward.

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P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.