Monthly Archives: November 2012

The Cut

By George Pelecanos

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

Plot

Ex Marine and Iraq vet Spero Lucas works as an investigator for a Washington, D.C. defense attorney. He also has a sideline business finding lost items for people. Drug runner Anwan Hawkins, in jail awaiting trial, hires Lucas to find two shipments of marijuana stolen from drop-off sites.

Lucas discusses the problem with Hawkins’ employees, who are laid back and easy going. The picture quickly changes. Lucas must use his intelligence and various contacts because the stakes have been raised and the people he’s up against are serious about keeping him from receiving his ‘cut.’

It’s a basic plot, but so are many of Pelecanos’. There’s nothing new here, but there’s nothing worth dismissing either.

Characters

Spero Lucas: 29, Marine who fought in Iraq. Investigator for a defense attorney. He was adopted by Greek parents. Low key. Intelligent. Respectful.

Troubled by his father’s death.

Anwan Hawkins drug runner, thirty-something. Not a crime boss, not a gang boss, just does a low key business.

Larry Holley Washington D.C. officer in Narcotics and Special Investigations. His ex cop father, who left when Larry was a child has returned and sucked Larry into illegal dealings. Larry, okay with the small time drug business, is upset when his father condones murder to take care of business.

They’re basic, but I don’t mean they’re flat. Without knowing quite how or why, I kind of understand the characters without really knowing them, or needing to know them too in depth. Pelecanos scrapes below the surface to show you a little of what’s underneath. Every good guy has little faults and every bad guy knows the potential consequences of his choices.

Dialogue

Basic, to the point. No long soliloquies or philosophizing.

Writing

If you’ve read Pelecanos before you know what to expect. Straight forward, no extraneous detail. The urban culture is presented as ‘It is what it is.’ He puts a lot of emphasis on music, food, alcohol, and books. The details are basic and not lavish. There’s no hype, no flash, no sensationalism, but with “The Cut” you don’t mind. If the protagonists from his stories all gathered in the same room, you’d find many similarities. I tend to view Pelecanos’ stories as ‘A Day in the Life of’ or time elapsed snapshots of a chapter out of the lives of the characters, with a little flavor and spice added to keep it interesting.

My ranking:

Blue Belt

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The Night Gardener

By George Pelecanos

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

 Plot

Ex cop, now chauffer Dan Holliday stumbles across the corpse of a teenage boy in a community garden in Washington, D.C. Detective Sergeant Ramone, though not primary on the case, assists in the investigation. Both quickly realize the killer’s signature is similar to one investigated twenty years ago by a master detective, T.C. Cook. Holliday contact Cook, who still has the unsolved cases on his mind and, with Ramone and his partners, start to unravel the clues. This case may also have a connection to another slaying in the D.C. area. Meanwhile, one cousin looking to make a reputation for himself and another looking to try to stay on the straight and narrow are out shaking down drug dealers and runners for money.

Pelecanos adds his unique style to a classic plot of unsolved serial killings making a return in the future. There are several layers and subplots and the author does a fine job of keeping everything in line.

Characters

T.C. Cook: Black, bald, retired cop, suffered stroke a few years previous, widower, has a daughter, likes to wear a brown Stetson

Giuseppe ‘Gus’ Ramone: White, 42, married with son and daughter, wife is black, medium height and build, college dropout, Detective Sergeant in Washington, D.C., black wavy hair, fit

Dan ‘Doc’ Holliday: White, 41, college dropout, blond, ice blue eyes, thin but with a beer gut, womanizer, smokes and drinks, ex cop now chauffer, has an older more successful brother, sister and parents dead

There are many other characters including Ramone’s partner and a couple of bad guys who like to rob drug dealers of money. Each character is very well defined. yOu don’t have to guess on what these people look like because Pelecanos give basic descriptions and, when important, background information. As with many Pelecanos’ books, no good guy is a superhero and no bad guy is totally evil. There is a lot going on with these people and I find myself interested in each one.

Dialogue

Straightforward. No jacking around with anything unimportant. Most of the time you can tell individual voices although many sound similar.

Writing

A few instances of profanity but the usage is not overdone. Basic details and descriptions. Pelecanos gives us the facts with no holding back or subtlety. He just lays them down in front of you and you take them and run with them. The story is basic, similar to his other books in that the important factors include race, music, food, and alcohol. I did like the added mystery of trying to find a killer.

My ranking:

Blue Belt

Sherlock Holmes And The Whitechapel Vampire

By Dean P. Turnbloom

http://www.amazon.com/Sherlock-Holmes-Whitechapel-Vampire-Turnbloom/dp/1780921233

Plot

1888. 600 year old vampire, Baron Barlucci is in England seeking an eminent scientist in the hopes the doctor can cure his vampirism. Meanwhile, Barlucci is disposing of the victims of his bloodlust in a heinous manner, confounding the police. He is also falling in love with the beautiful daughter of friend Sir Charles of Scotland Yard. Inspector Abberline, investigating the series of murders in Whitechapel, is urged to contact outside counsel, namely in the form of private detective Sherlock Holmes. Holmes and Watson, upon returning from a case involving artist Van Gogh latch onto a case of an Italian immigrant falsely accused of murdering a young girl while aboard ship. Soon after, they receive the details of the Whitechapel murders. As more bodies appear and the papers start referring to the killer as the Ripper, Holmes, Watson, and Abberline move ever closer to discovering the killer. Barlucci, however, struggles against his ever growing need for blood while succumbing to love. It’s a race against time for both parties.

For a book with Sherlock Holmes in the title, the eminent detective is seen only once in the first 100 pages, and only to let the reader know he wasn’t going to be around until later. I know it’s common to build up the crime(s) and the clues before introducing the detective, but this is Holmes. Also, I was a bit disappointed because the villain is known right from the beginning. I didn’t get a chance to look at the clues and guess along with Holmes. Writing another version of the Jack the Ripper incidents is nothing new.

Characters

Sherlock Holmes: British detective with a fondness for pipes, cocaine, and logical deduction

John Watson: Doctor and assistant to Holmes, chronicler of Holmes’ cases, often suffers twinges from war wound from his time in Afghanistan

Antonio Barlucci: Italian Baron, vampire, turned in the 13th Century, has amassed a fortune throughout the centuries, villa in Milan and a residence in England, carries a sword cane, six feet tall, wavy black hair, would like to be cured of his vampirism, likes opera, tutored in Latin, Greek, and French, former Templar

Garrett: loner, nose broken multiple times, frequenter of dockside bars, wife and daughter died during childbirth, prominent facial scar, longshoreman

Carlino Gaetano: Italian, father a fisherman, running away to England to start a life of his own

Barlucci is an interesting character. He enlists the aid of a scientist to cure him yet he isn’t averse to using people to continue to survive. Of course, there are the obligatory deductions and explanations from Holmes as well as his proficiency at disuguise. Some nice background for some of the characters, including Barlucci and the Scotland Yard investigator.

Dialogue

Turnbloom does a fair job of presenting the flavor of 19th Century speaking and language. Dialogue fits the characters and there isn’t any confusion to voices.

Writing

Chapters are headed by specific dates. Fairly quick scenes, doesn’t drag. Unlike many stories with Holmes, this isn’t presented as a mystery chronicled by Watson. Good use of descriptions and detail, especially regarding Scotland Yard. However, I didn’t get a ‘feel’ for London or even Paris at the beginning. A couple of repetitious phrases that may be overused. Watson calling Holmes, “Old boy.” The romantic exchanges between Barlucci and his amore and each calling the other ‘my love’ was a little much. I didn’t think this pastiche lived up to the quality of others.

 

My ranking:

Green Belt

Thereby Hangs A Tail

By Spencer Quinn

http://www.amazon.com/Thereby-Hangs-Tail-Mystery-Mysteries/dp/B0052HKK1K/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1327229844&sr=8-1

Plot

Chet and his owner Bernie Little are hired to protect Adelina Borghese’s prizewinning pooch, Princess. After Chet steals Princess’ treat, they are summarily fired. However, soon after both Princess and her owner disappear. Then Bernie’s on again off again girlfriend, Suzie Sanchez, a reporter, also disappears after a desperate phone call. The trail leads to an old ghost town where Bernie is arrested and Chet is knocked out. Chet gets separated from Bernie and begins his own adventure. Discovering first Adelina’s dead body, then finding Princess, he subsequently runs into two hippies who sells him to man bound to take Chet to Alaska. Who killed Adelina? Where is Suzie? Where did Princess disappear to for the second time? How does a strange acting sheriff and his deputy in the next county tie into the case? Chet and Bernie track down the clues.

All right, I admit it, I love mysteries involving animals. You just can’t go wrong when animals are involved, especially as either the main character or are intricately involved in the plot. The plot of this book is not new, but who cares? It’s a fun mystery because of the narrator.

Characters

Bernie Little: Private investigator, divorced with son, trying to quit smoking, likes bourbon, slob, drives an old Porsche, used to pitch baseball for Army, marksman, father dead, mother far away and remarried. Limps every now and then from a war wound

Chet: Bernie’s dog, has mismatched ears, loves bacon and the odor of cigarette smoke. Dislikes cats.

What can I say? Chet is a hoot. Quinn does an excellent job of getting into a dog’s thinking. The rest of the characters are pretty standard fare with some humorous personalities, but they are enhanced because they’re seen through Chet’s eyes.

Dialogue

Standard conversations. Could have done with a little less profanity from some of the characters. Voices come through pretty well.

Writing

First person, or rather, uh, dog, POV from Chet. Quinn does an excellent job of unfolding the case while showing both Chet’s intelligence and his lack of knowledge in certain areas such as human language, memory on certain cases, and his inability to realize when he’s done something because it’s instinctual. Apparently, even though this is only the second book in the series, Chet and Bernie are veterans of investigative work with Chet remembering a lot of previous adventures. I love the humor and Chet’s quirks. I so wanted to read the first book and when I had the chance to buy the second I took it. I will definitely be buying the third and fourth books in the series and hope there will be plenty more.

My ranking:

Red Belt