Loren D. Estleman: Black and White Ball

Deep into a now 80 book and counting career, and 27 in to his iconic Amos Walker series, what is Loren Estleman going to come up with that might be new? You might be surprised. In this novel Walker crosses paths with one of Estleman’s other characters, Peter Macklin, who hires Walker to look after his ex-wife. She’s being stalked by his son, Roger, who has gone into the family business – contract killing.

Dividing the segments of the novel into “Me” (Walker), “Him” (Macklin), as well as “Her” (the ex-wife) and “Them” (various, but often Roger) has injected a fresh energy into this novel. As always, Estleman writes tight – this book clocks in at 240 pages – and also as always, his prose and expression are absolute treasures. Reading an Estleman novel is almost like eating a too rich slice of chocolate cake – you have to read slowly, because if you don’t you won’t be able to savor the prose and the witty sleight of hand that comprises Estleman’s dialogue. People in an Estleman novel speak like you wish you could and maybe the way you would if you had a long time to come up with the perfect turn of phrase. Alas, I think there are few human brains that actually operate on that elevated scale, but it’s certainly a delight to encounter it in print. read more

Ingrid Thoft: Loyalty

I have heard the buzz about Ingrid Thoft for awhile now and finally got around to picking up this first novel in her series, and boy, is the hype justified. The central character, a female P.I. who works for the family law firm, bears some similarity to the kick-ass Kalinda on The Good Wife, one of my all time favorite TV characters. Josefina “Fina” Ludlow also has a passing resemblance to Spenser, and as this series is set in Boston, that seems only right. The family law firm is run with an iron fist by her father Carl and staffed by her high powered brothers. While Fina found the law wasn’t for her, she found investigative work was. It’s very much put to the test in this first outing. She runs a business “separate” from the family law firm, but they bring her most of her clients. read more

Stephen Mack Jones: August Snow

As I started this book I have to admit I was a tad suspicious – the author is a poet and a playwright, not always the recipe for creating a down and dirty private eye novel. But as I read this novel set in Detroit’s Mexicantown and featuring half African American, half Mexican ex-cop August Snow, I found instead that the book fitted neatly in with work by Loren Estleman and Steve Hamilton, being a refreshingly straightforward, if gritty, private eye novel and making no bones about it.

Like David Housewright’s Minnesota P.I. Mackenzie, who has a ton of money at his disposal, so does August Snow, who won a settlement against the Detroit Police Department and is using the money in his own way to recreate the warm Mexicantown neighborhood he fondly remembers from his childhood. He’s been on the run – more or less – for a year and is back home, settling into his life in Detroit, when he gets a call from an old client, one who helped cause much of the ruckus that got him on the outs with the Detroit cops. Reluctantly, he makes the trek across town to the woman’s Grosse Pointe mansion to see what he can help her with. read more

William Kent Krueger: Manitou Canyon

manitoucanyon-200This is a long awaited return for Krueger’s beloved Cork O’Connor. Two years between books is really too long for the rabid fan, of which there are many (I live with two of them). One of the things Krueger has done really beautifully with this series is to paint a long portrait of a family – when we first meet Cork, in Iron Lake (1998), he and his wife Jo are separated. They get back together and then Jo is killed in Heaven’s Keep (2009), literally about half way through this long, now 15 novel series. read more

Michael Harvey: The Governor’s Wife

governorswifeThis is a welcome return of Michael Harvey’s now virtually classic Michael Kelly series. Kelly is a Chicago P.I. who reads classical literature to relax (he loves Ovid) and the series is a lean, mean private eye juggernaut that takes no prisoners. There are very few actual private eyes left on the landscape—the remaining P.I.’s are often reluctant like Steve Hamilton’s Alex McKnight, though there are a few holdouts: Loren D. Estelman, Sue Grafton, and Sara Paretsky. All of those series are aging honorably, but the Kelly series is still in full bloom. read more

Tim O’Mara: Dead Red

Dead RedThe Private Eye novel is a purely American invention, and was long the backbone of U.S. mystery writing. The form waxes and wanes – at the moment pure private eyes are almost being co-opted by the reluctant private eye or the private eye who is also something else, like Tim O’Mara’s guy, who is a teacher.

Ray Donne is a teacher who used to be a cop, with an uncle very high up in the police force who makes it more likely that Ray will not only sometimes get inside information but also a bit of a pass. He dates a reporter, which is an occasional conflict with what Ray knows but can’t tell, but all in all Ray is a genuinely good guy who often finds himself at the heart of a problem. read more

Reed Farrel Coleman: The Hollow Girl

hollowgirlWhen Reed Farrel Coleman decided to wrap up his now classic Moe Prager Private Eye series, he didn’t mess around.  This moving novel ties up many threads in beleaguered P.I. Prager’s life and sets him on his retirement path.  The story that goes along with this last entry is a show stopper, hard to put down and a joy to read.

For those readers unfamiliar with Coleman, he’s been a small press sensation, beloved in the mystery universe for his straight up, old school private eye novels featuring Moe Prager, set in Brooklyn.  Fittingly, Coleman has just been tapped to write Robert B. Parker’s Jesse Stone series, and his writing owes a huge debt to Parker’s ground breaking, wisecracking story telling style. read more

Brett Halliday: Murder Is My Business

Murder Is My BusinessHard as it is to believe, there’s a detective out there who has been the protagonist in novels that sold over 30 million copies, starred in hundreds of short stories, radio shows, movies, a television series, had his own digest magazine that lasted almost 30 years, and who at present has exactly one book in print. His name is Mike Shayne, his creator was Brett Halliday and I’ll wager that many of you have never heard of him, much less read any of his books.

I’d seen copies of Shayne paperbacks around, but it wasn’t until one of our faithful book scouts brought in (literally) a boxful of them that I really examined the phenomena. At first I was drawn to the covers, the early ones by master pulp artist Robert McGinnis, little paintings with a dramatic title like Violence Is Golden superimposed over a vivid image of a lush babe, work that if presented in a museum could easily pass for Pop Art. The later covers were much less art and much more camp, the kind of ridiculously posed photographs of random models that were inexplicably popular in the 70s and 80s. read more

Tim O’Mara: Crooked Numbers

I loved O’Mara’s first book, Sacrifice Fly, and I think I like this one even more.  His main character is Brooklyn teacher (now dean) Raymond Donne, who used to be a cop but thanks to an injury sustained on the job is now a teacher.  Ray gets involved with different crimes because (so far at least) they’ve involved his students.

crookednumbersOne of the strongest elements in this new series is not only the very Brooklyn specific setting, but the school setting.  The parts O’Mara the real life teacher adds to his novels about his fictional teacher Ray ring with authenticity and add real emotional texture to his stories.  It’s a weird comparison, but the way cozy writer Denise Swanson brings her school psychology experience to her books, adding detail and interest,  O’Mara is setting his books apart in the same way Swanson has. read more

William Kent Krueger: Tamarack County

Despite the fact that it’s a few days before Christmas, and the snow is deep on the ground, things are pretty hot in Tamarack County. The book seems to take its temperature from series protagonist Cork O’Connor’s son Stephen, who is burning with teenage lust for his new girlfriend Marlee, even though their gropes toward fulfillment are twice interrupted by macabre and possibly deadly attacks. With love interest Rainy out of town indefinitely, Cork finds himself eyeing the prettier women he encounters with appreciative, if somewhat impure, thoughts.  Even daughter Anne, the putative novitiate nun, has apparently renounced her long cherished vocation for, well, that same old thing. read more