Billingham, Mark. Lifeless.

NY: Morrow, 2005.

DI Tom Thorne of the London Metropolitan Police is not a hero. He’s not even an anti-hero. In fact, he can be a very unpleasant sod, even to the few colleagues he actually likes. But when it comes to unraveling a killer’s background and motivation, there are few better. Unfortunately for Thorne, in his last case he went considerably beyond the bounds of professional conduct, and while he seldom indulges in guilt, he’s been wearing a hairshirt for awhile. Add to that the fact that the case involved organized crime and he’s not at all sure whether the death of his Alzheimer’s-ridden father in a house fire was really an accident or retaliation from the mob, and Thorne’s gradual downhill slide may be picking up speed.

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Published in: on 29 March 2010 at 1:28 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Robertson, James I., Jr. Tenting Tonight: The Soldier’s Life.

(Civil War series) Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1984.

I’ve long had a fondness for the many series of heavily illustrated works of history published by Time-Life. I was the copyeditor and indexer for several years on one of the series, so I know what kind of research and fact-checking went into them. On top of that, Prof. Robertson of Virginia Tech is an award-winning and very highly regarded author of some two dozen volumes having to do with various aspects of the Civil War, so you know you can’t go wrong.

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Published in: on 28 March 2010 at 10:01 am  Leave a Comment  
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Grafton, Sue. U Is for Undertow.

NY: Putnam. 2009.

It’s 1967 and a four-year-old girl is kidnapped and held for ransom. But the money is never picked up and the girl is never seen again. A few days later, six-year-old Michael comes across two men burying something in the woods near his home. Now it’s 1988 and Michael — whose adult life has been pretty much a mess — has had a flashback to that childhood experience and he comes for advice to Kinsey Milhone, ace private eye, referred by the cop he approached with his story. Kinsey, of course, gets sucked in. She loves puzzles and she can’t leave it alone. And, in her politely pushy way, she begins slowly to pull at the loose ends of the mystery, identifying a witness here, piecing together a motive there. Oddly, though, Kinsey is much less the focus of the action this time.

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Published in: on 21 March 2010 at 6:35 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Flynn, Gillian. Dark Places.

NY: Crown, 2009.

First off, Flynn’s second novel is a very strange book, filled with odd characters in bizarre situations. But that’s okay. She proved in Sharp Objects that she does “strange” very effectively. Libby Day is thirty-one and still suffering the effects of being the only survivor of the murder of her family when she was seven. Her mother and her two older sisters were slaughtered before her ears (in a truly horrific scene) and now her brother, Ben, who was fifteen at the time, is in prison for life. The undersized Libby has spent her whole life in the dark places. She’s violently aggressive, pathologically lazy, paranoid, a liar, and a klepto. But still, she’s not a bad person.

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Published in: on 9 March 2010 at 3:34 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Indriðason, Arnaldur. Voices.

NY: St. Martin, 2006.

In southern Europe and the U.S., Scandinavians frequently are thought of as dour, depressive, and alcoholic, all as a result of suffering through long, dark, cold winters. Actually, Danes and Swedes think of themselves as cheerful, upbeat optimists and reserve the noted personality traits for the saga-bound residents of Iceland. Erlendur Sveinsson, detective inspector and homicide specialist with the Reykjavik police, probably would agree with him. At least, most violent crimes in Iceland aren’t premeditated — though there’s a good deal more organized crime around than when he was young. Most murders in his country are crimes of passion, committed on the spur of the moment. And he begins with that assumption when a hotel doorman who also dresses up as Santa during the holidays is found stabbed to death a few days before Christmas in his tiny room in the hotel’s basement, with his trousers around his ankles.

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Published in: on 6 March 2010 at 6:45 am  Leave a Comment  
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Wambaugh, Joseph. Hollywood Station.

NY: Little, Brown, 2006.

Somehow, I haven’t read any of Wambaugh’s books since The Onion Field, but I have been working my way through Michael Connelly’s “Harry Bosch” series set in Hollywood Division, so I thought I might get a different take on the place. And, boy, it really is different. First, Bosch is a detective while most of the action in this book involves the patrol units dealing with problems on the streets. Second, there’s a definite dark side to most of Harry’s cases, while Wambaugh’s narrative frequently has a wheels-off style reminiscent of Carl Hiaasen or Elmore Leonard.

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Published in: on 3 March 2010 at 5:13 am  Leave a Comment  
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