Ovid tells the story of a beautiful sea nymph who caught Jove’s ever roving eye. However, wise old Proteus had predicted that her son would outstrip her father’s glory, and Jove, wanting none of that, sent his grandson, Peleus, to marry her instead, contenting himself with vicarious conquest. A son was indeed born, and hereafter Peleus, despite his own achievements, was known chiefly as the father of Achilles. With all the (deserved) attention being paid to her daughter Megan, I can only hope that a similar fate doesn’t befall Patricia Abbott, who has written a very fine crime novel called Shot in Detroit.
I haven’t picked up a Megan Abbott book since her fine books set back in the 30’s and 40’s – she’s since turned her gaze toward contemporary teen culture and I haven’t been as captivated. This one, however, I picked up just to take a look – it has incredible advance buzz – and was instantly grabbed by the theme: gymnastics. With the Olympics around the corner, what could be more perfect? Of course, being a Megan Abbott novel, this isn’t a happy little story of triumph over tragedy but a study of a family in deep crisis.
This is one of those books that, as you read it, you know is a pinnacle for the author. It’s one of the best things Michael Harvey has written (which is saying a lot) and it may be the best thing he will ever write. It’s set in the Brighton neighborhood of Boston in 1971 and beyond, and focuses on two boys, Kevin and Bobby. Kevin is the secret pride of his family – a baseball star, an honor student who has tested out of Brighton to go to the best school in Boston, the Latin School – while Bobby is a slightly rough character who has been taken in by Kevin’s grandma, the family matriarch who owns a taxi business.
One of the things crime novels excel at is investigating morality. The most common investigation in a more or less classic mystery involves absolute right and wrong. A noir novel tends to investigate the trickier edges of morality, as Steve Hamilton does brilliantly in his new novel, The Second Life of Nick Mason. The book opens with Nick walking out of prison, always a good start to any book.
Then the story backtracks – how did Nick get out? How did he get in? This is a true noir novel – Nick is in no way an innocent though he seems to have some inner core of decency, and he certainly has formulated a set of rules that help him get through each prison day. It’s this formulation that snags the attention of Darius Cole, who has a virtual office set up in his cell, along with a couple body guards and a couple prison guards who serve as his lackeys.
This startling novel by newcomer Vu Tran is a fascinating blend of old school hard-boiled writing and sensitive psychological examination, while still maintaining a distance and sense of mystery about the central characters. I think Tran’s closest writing relative might be Patricia Highsmith, which is high praise; it’s well earned by this terrific novel.
It’s the story of Officer Robert Ruen and his troubled relationship with his ex-wife, Suzy. The novel kicks off with a memory: Vietnamese refugees aboard a boat heading for safety, and also with the intrusion into Officer Robert’s home by two young Vietnamese thugs, who are looking for Suzy. Tran introduces story strands and details but only slowly reveals their meaning as the reader is drawn further and further into his story, one that utilizes Suzy as the virtual McGuffin that keeps the plot humming.
Jan Brogan’s second novel featuring reporter Hallie Ahern finds Hallie making a fresh start in the “small, crazy state” of Rhode Island, at the Providence Chronicle. She’s come down from the heights of the Boston Globe after blowing a big story and is in recovery from a substance abuse problem. Her apartment is crappy, her best friend is her twelve step partner, she owes money to her mother, and the super ambitious, intelligent Hallie hates her new job. In a typical female written mystery novel, this would be a set up for a Cinderella style change, where the heroine uses her guts and brains to pull herself out of her hole. It might include some other memorable or eccentric female friends and even a cat. Author Jan Brogan obviously doesn’t know these “rules” though, and she delivers a very “noir” novel with a heroine who makes so many wrong choices and decisions it’s hard to keep up.
This is a knockout debut. It’s about ex LAPD narcotics detective Will Magowan, who has hit bottom and who has taken a job in tiny Haydenville, California, as their new police chief. The mayor, a little desperate, has reached out to Will as a kind of last resort because of a pervasive methamphetamine problem in town. The source can’t be found, and other things are happening that are seemingly unrelated—this is a mystery, however, so of course every thread ties together.
Really good writers can often get away with some over the top stuff merely because of the force of their narrative and their ability to create wonderful characters. I think if they were movie stars, this might be called “charisma.” Mercer seems to have this writing “charisma”. His character of Will is beautifully drawn with a heartbreaking backstory that Mercer teases out throughout the course of the novel (I’d advise you not to read the dust jacket). This book is absolutely as noir as it gets, except that you believe in Will himself. What’s wrong is everything else; no can be trusted, or be expected to stand up, or to be who they say they are—and if they do any of those things, it doesn’t end well for them.
Considering that it revolves around Ernest Hemingway’s 1961 suicide by shotgun, I suppose it would be indelicate of me to say that Craig McDonald’s Print the Legend blew me away, but in the noir spirit of the book I’ll say it anyway. Most of the action takes place four years later at a 1965 academic conference about Hemingway in Idaho, close to the scene of the crime. Slimy University of Michigan professor Richard Paulson, his spunky wife Hannah, Hem’s friend and fellow manly writer Hector Lassiter and shadowy FBI agent Donovan Creedy all come together with widow Mary Hemingway and a gaggle of fatuous academics to struggle for the great man’s legacy and shed light on his death.
Instead of proceeding chronologically with the events of his protagonist’s life, Craig McDonald has hop scotched around to different eras in his series about pulp writer and Hemingway pal Hector Lassiter. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s hard to see how he could have waited until his fourth installment, One True Sentence, to plunge into the teeming waters of Paris in the twenties, the “Moveable Feast,” the place, as Gertrude Stein said, “where the twentieth century was.”
Bouchercon serves many purposes and offers many pleasures, but one of them is discovering new authors. Attending a panel composed of authors of whom I was already a fan—Theresa Schwegel and Barry Maitland—I encountered Ed Lin. I mentioned him to my pal Jim Huang, and he said, Oh, yes, S.J. Rozan is very enthusiastic about him. After reading his book, I can certainly see why. The mild mannered pleasant fellow on the panel at Bouchercon seems a far cry from the type of hard edged noir that he actually writes.