Sometimes when an author is writing an historical series, his or her rhythm gets so in tune with the time they are writing about, that the story they are telling takes on the tone of the actual time period. D.E. Johnson’s third novel set in 1912 Detroit takes on a gothic feel and the whole tenor of the story is enriched by it. The first two books were set inside the automobile industry, this one takes the scion of the electric car company, Will Anderson, and sets him inside the gigantic mental hospital known as Eloise.
Steve Hamilton keeps getting better and better, and in this latest Alex McKnight novel he seems to have hit a fast paced groove. This book is so spare and so elegantly assembled it seems effortless. The dialogue snaps and crackles, the action doesn’t let up, and underneath it all is the drumbeat of Alex’s heart as he searches for his friend, Vinnie.
Vinnie, as readers of this series will know, is Alex’s nearest neighbor, an Ojibwe who has moved off the reservation to be on his own. His family is a bit puzzled by this behavior but things are in a state of uneasy truce, though Vinnie’s sisters aren’t big Alex fans.
I guess I believe in doing my best, trying to be a good guy, be nice to my mom, take care of the people I love. Is that good enough?
One of my favorite things about selling books is watching an author grow not just career-wise, but grow as a writer. Each book of Bryan Gruley’s is better than the last, and this third in his Gus Carpenter series really hits it out of the park.
His first novel, Starvation Lake, established Gruley’s character. Gus has come back to Starvation Lake from a big time Detroit paper to run the tiny Pilot. The balance of kinship, friendship, and community ties and history are finely drawn in the first two novels (the second is The Hanging Tree), but in this third installment Gruley goes to the heart of the matter: family.
In olden times Loren Estleman would have been regarded as a master craftsman. He’s sixty plus books into a more than impressive career, setting the bar high in both the Western and the Private Eye genres, while also writing the occasional standalone as well as a couple other mystery series (Peter Macklin, Valentino). This outing is the 22nd in his Amos Walker franchise, the present gold standard for private eye mysteries. Sure, there are other private eye masters at work right now – Robert Crais, Steve Hamilton, and S. J. Rozan come to mind – but for the pure, traditional private eye experience no one can beat Estleman.
Mystery fans like to kvetch when an author takes a break from a beloved series in order to write a stand alone. At our signing for The Lock Artist, his fans practically wouldn’t let Steve out of the store until he promised that his next book would be an Alex McKnight.
But the fact is that there are many upsides to stand alones. One, of course, is the possibility that the book in question is an instant classic that, say, wins the Edgar award for best mystery novel of the year. (To put it in sports terms, Steve has now won the equivalent of Rookie of the Year and MVP.) Another is that writers are often able to return to their beloved series refreshed after a stand alone, gaining a new focus and perspective after stepping away for a while.
Some writers (and no doubt their editors) feel the need to begin a book with an ostentatious bang, something along the lines of a graphic torture killing or a dramatic explosion. True masters like Loren D. Estleman know how to ease into a narrative, gradually turning up the heat until things are at an irresistible boiling point.