Monthly Archives: June 2012

Double Trouble

By Fred Lichtenberg

http://fredlichtenberg.com/

Plot

Homicide detective Charlie Quinn is on medical leave when he’s involved in an auto accident. The other driver is a smart talking redhead named Jill Walsh. However, it’s Walsh’s male friend, Frankie Marcone who is more interesting. Marcone, apparently, is a dead ringer for Quinn. When Quinn discovers Marcone died in his own auto accident, he starts an investigation that takes him from hisFloridahome toNew York City. There he discovers Marcone was part of the mob, involved with stolen diamonds, and his twin brother about which nobody bothered to inform Quinn. To uncover the truth…and the lies and even to save his own life, Quinn assumes a dead man’s identity.

Lichtenberg doesn’t fool around but gets right into the plot. This is intricate with secrets revealed at every turn. I had to pay attention to what little details were related with each chapter or I’d get lost and have to re-read a few passages. The twin aspect is often seen in both books and movies but I like Lichtenberg’s take on it.

Characters

Charlie Quinn: Fort Lauderdalehomicide detective of ten years. On medical leave for attempted suicide and alcohol abuse. Fiancée changed her mind about marriage. Smokes. Only child, parents divorced when he was eleven and later his dad committed suicide. Drives a 2001PontiacGrand Prix GT Coupe

Margaret Noonan: Police psychiatrist, blue eyes, soft spoken

Marie DiGiorno: Barely five feet tall, niece of the owner of a New York funeral home, wears glasses, long black hair, small lips, bolemic

Antonio Villa: Nicknamed “Lucky”, boss of the mob, short, paunchy, around 70, black eyes, smokes cigars, wears a toupee

There are some very good characters here, ones I can easily see in the mind’s eye. I kept visualizing this as if I were in a theatre watching the actors on the screen. The gangsters, the molls, the flunkies. And the lone hero trying to wade through it all.

Dialogue

Conversations do not drag. Every line moves the story along. There are some typical mobster language and phrasing but nothing too cliché. Some good distinctive voices.

Writing

This book moves along at a fairly good clip without dragging in obvious places. Various lengths to a lot of chapters. There’s always something leading the reader to the next chapter, some new clue to followed. Action scenes are quick and tight. There are instances of profanity. A few punctuation/misspelling errors but nothing distracting. This one had a unique feel to it because at times I felt there wasn’t any depth to it. Then as I kept reading, I realized there was more to it than at first glance. There are subtle layers touched upon every so often. This one travels: fromFloridatoNew YorktoMexico. I should give this a blue belt because of the errors, but because I enjoyed the story throughout, I think I can make an exception with this one and just ask that the editing be more thorough next time.

My ranking:

Brown Belt

What It Was

By George Pelecanos

http://www.hachettebookgroup.com/features/georgepelecanos/

It’s the summer of 1972 and the place isWashington,D.C.It’s the time of 8-tracks, big afro hair, high heels on men’s shoes, incense, soul and funk, bell bottom pants and rayon shirts. It’s the era of muscle cars and drugs and money and prostitutes. Four years after the D.C. riots and shortly before Watergate. It’s what it was and the story of a man starting out in the private investigator business, and a bad man wanting make a named for himself.

 Plot

Derek Strange, ex police officer and now private eye, is hired by a woman wanting to retrieve a lost ring. Robert Lee Jones, aka ‘Red Fury’ has killed a local drug dealer and about to go on a murder spree to become a man with an infamous legacy. Strange’s former partner, veteran Frank Vaughn has caught the case and is soon on the trail of Red. Enter hit men from the mob also looking for the killer of the dealer. As Red and his associates plan to make their getaway forces from all sides are closing in.

A typical Pelecanos plot. It’s all about the time period and the culture, the racial tension, the racial attitude from all sides. I also enjoy the very slightly humorous journey the ring takes throughout the book.

Characters

Derek Strange: Black, former cop, 26 (at the time the main story is set), was 4F out of the military due a football knee injury, born and raised in D.C. Drives a Monte Carlo. Father died of cancer and brother murdered in ’68. The best description of Strange comes from his own lips to his client. “I like soul and funk, the Redskins, good-looking women, Western movies, half-smokes, nice cars, puppy dogs and long walks on the beach. Hot oils, too, if the situation calls for it.”

Robert ‘Red Fury’ Lee Jones: Light black skin, nicknamed after his girlfriend’s car. Grew up inWest Viginia, ex con, unset broken nose, rust colored hair, father never around.

Frank Vaughn: White, 52, ex Marine in WWII, Strange’s former partner on the force. Hound dog look. One son. Married but has a part-time sex partner. Drives aMonaco. Strange’s mother used to be a domestic at Vaughn’s house.

It’s all about characters. The similarities and the differences. Everyone (save for Vaughn) has similar tastes in music, food and alcohol. The good guys aren’t one hundred percent good (Vaughn cheats on his wife; Strange cheats on his girlfriend; Strange smokes marijuana at times.) The bad guys are shown to be a product of their time. Jones grew up poor and fell into the criminal life as if it were the natural thing to do.

Dialogue

Straightforward. A little street lingo with the slang and verbiage of the time period. Conversations are to the point with no more or less than what needs to be said.

Writing

A lot of period details in setting, food, neighborhoods, music, cars, women, drugs, and a way of life. It is what it is with no frills, no nonsense, no sugarcoating. The action is quick and decisive without any overt gore. Profanity is kept to a minimum, but timely. The book, similar to many of Pelecanos’, is a basic, factual, no sensationalism look at the black culture of the time, good, bad, and indifferent. Solid writing. It doesn’t seek to exploit but just shows the time period for what it was.

My ranking:

Brown Belt

The Dummy Line

By Bobby Cole

http://readbobbycole.com/

Plot

Jake Crosby: stockbroker, hunter, fisherman. His nine year old daughter, Katy, is growing up tomboy. Elizabeth Beasley: high school senior contemplating her future college education and working out her emotions with her boyfriend. When Jake, Katy, and Elizabeth run afoul of drug dealers out to wreak havoc at a remote hunting camp, the situation turns into a fight for survival. Local and area police search for answers to a confusing set of events while family and friends fret and worry. With killers advancing from two sides, Jake must use every bit of skill as a hunter and woodsman to stay one step ahead.

Another good versus evil in a remote part of the country. The premise is good.

Characters

Jake Crosby: struggling stockbroker, hunter, plagued by a recurring nightmare

Katy Crosby: 9, Jake’s daughter, tomboy.

Elizabeth Beasley: pretty, high school senior, cheerleader

Ollie Landrum: County sheriff, black

These are the main characters. There are so many more and most of them are introduced by page fifty. There is a lot of information given on each character. Background and trivial information. Some of the characters I found interesting, others…I wondered about. One of the problems I had was much of the information given about personality traits weren’t necessary. There was almost too much. Plus, throughout the story, some of the things I thought might matter, didn’t. Jake’s recurring nightmare I thought might play a bigger role. Another oddball thing I discovered was Katy is a tomboy loving hunting and fishing, but we don’t know she’s afraid of spiders until near the end?? Ollie seems to be the only cop with any intelligence and empathy. The other members of the police force and assisting officers seem inept and unprofessional considering the dire situation. I didn’t mind some of the quirkiness, but at times it was a little much.

Dialogue

Cole strove for southern accent and succeeded for the most part. Also, for the most part, the conversations and phrasing fit each character although some of the lines used were standard.

Writing

Short chapters and a lot of action make for a fast read. Realizing I read an ARC, and thereby forgiving some of the mistakes (and I do hope a good editor catches the plethora of punctuation and dialogue tag errors) I found switching POV or ‘head hopping’ to be a real distraction. Cole uses scene breaks, but then will jump back to the previous character in the middle of the next scene while focusing on a new character. If Cole is trying for omnipresent view, I don’t think he made it. Speaking of dialogue tag lines, I also found the placement of them in many instances to not be as smooth as could be. Plus, many times, the tags were unnecessary. Based on the subject being discussed and the tone of the sentence, even when three or more people are in the scene, it wasn’t required to tell us who spoke. I also felt the resolutions to character issues might have been better. Jake’s wife is bored by her marriage and is planning on leaving. Later, there is one mention that after only hours gone and confusion setting in, she now misses him. At the end, nothing is resolved and the reader doesn’t know whether they stay together and work through some of Jake’s faults or if she leaves.

I debated awhile about my ranking, but finally had to go with:

Camouflage Belt

A Dead Ringer

By Al Stevens

www.alstevens.com

 

Plot

Private investigator Stan Bentworth is almost killed by a drive by shooting. Later, he learns a man who looked very similar in appearance was killed. Thus opens up a new case forDelbertFalls’ most famous (or is that infamous) PI. The widow hires Stan to find her husband’s killer. Suspicion falls upon a pair of stepsons who run an Internet video company. Action and danger follow Stan throughout as he gathers evidence on the stepsons while also dealing with a gang of house thieves. What he learns, however, will change his view of family life.

Stevens’ second Bentworth novel doesn’t have as much of a whodunit like quality as the first. He does a nice job of re-introducing the characters to first time readers. I wasn’t sure about the subplot but it did add some action and intrigue and a tie in with the first novel. This is a little more intricate but still harkens back to detective stories of yore. 

Characters

StanleyBentworth: Private investigator inDelbert Falls,Maryland. Former homicide investigator. Divorced. Wears a Mickey Mouse watch. Likes bourbon and cigarettes. Witty repartee. Named his gun Roscoe. Drives a station wagon. Parents dead.

Willa: Stan’s secretary. Fifites, very thin, gray hair, wears square rimmed glasses. Efficient worker. Likes to razz Stan about his problems. Widow.

Rodney: Stan’s nephew. Computer whiz. Tall, gangly.

Bunny: 40’s, pretty, waitress, Stan’s on again/off again boyfriend. Has a son.

Amanda Bentworth: 36, Stan’s sister, Rodney’s mother. Keeps getting into bad relationships with men.

Georgia Farley: pretty, recently widowed. Was on her second marriage.

Sanford: skinny, always wears black, black hair and eyes, enigmatic, loner, Stan’s troubleshooter, formerPhiladelphiacriminal attorney

Many of the same characters as in Stevens’ first book with a nice continuation of the personalities. Rodney is showing signs of maturation in personality and demeanor. It wasn’t too confusing, but normally you wouldn’t see two characters in the same book with the same name. Both Stan’s ex partner and one ofGeorgia’s stepsons are both named Bill, although the latter is always referred to as Billy. I enjoyed the return ofSanford. Also Stan stays true to the old fashioned detective by constantly noticing beautiful women.

Dialogue

Fairly distinctive voices. Not too long conversations.

Writing

Similar to the first Bentworth detective story, a few instances of profanity. First person from Stan’s POV. In the first novel, I enjoyed the repetitive attempts of Stan to quit drinking and smoking. This time it’s his struggle to put together information to develop a website. Stan crosses the legal line a few times but still comes away clean. There are some fun scenes although I would have liked to have seen a little more tension in the action scenes. This one stays within a couple of strokes of being on par with the first book so I can consider an equal ranking of:

Blue Belt