02 April 2018

It Ain't Carter Ross, and I Don't Care

Closer Than You Know - Brad Parks


Meet Melanie Barrick, a woman whose life is quite frankly a mess. Like many a fictional heroine, she’s been through “the system” and pulled herself up by her bootstraps. But wait, she managed to go through college on scholarship money, but combine her graduation year (2009) with her utterly ridiculous choice of major (English Lit? what good is an English Lit degree?), and yet she’s been able to work her way up from homeless Starbucks barista to dispatcher at a trucking, errr, logistics company. On top of that, Barrick was raped in her little apartment a year ago…     
…which doesn’t mean she doesn’t absolutely adore the result of that rape, her 3-month-old son, Alex. Which makes it all the more distressing when Barrick is tossed in the clink for possession of coke (with the intent to sell) and her baby is removed from her care and inserted “into the system.” Fortunately for the kid, a wealthy couple was all prepared to give him a home.

Barrick’s troubles, on the other hand, are just getting started. Pretty soon, she finds herself back in stir, charged with murder. Yes, murder! What English Lit graduate aver murdered anyone? Oh, and her husband disappears – but not before she discovers he's been lying to her about his whereabouts for months. Will the plucky heroine manage to get free and  get her baby back before she stops lactating? 

Of course she will…

Yes, Brad Parks has strayed from his Carter Ross series for the standalone Closer Than You Know. Well, he did manage to namecheck his hero as “a wisecracking investigative reporter” at one point, but hey: everyone whores themselves these days. I haven’t read any of that series, but given the crooked path of the current novel, I’m not sure I’d be “grateful for the temporary respite… from reality,” even if Melanie was.

I’m not certain for a number of reasons. One of them is that although I’m a fan of mystery novels, I’m not a fan of mysteries in which a villain’s identity is crystal clear so soon after his/her first appearance. I mean come on, Parks, give us at least a couple of red herrings, OK? Second, I am not a fan of the style of writing sometimes known as “the house gave another lurch as the termites finished the east wing.” All the bullbleep coming down on Barrick’s poor little head is just… it’s just too, too if you know what I mean. 

Oh, yeah, and there are holes in the plot large enough for a Peterbilt. For instance, Melanie’s phone is found in the closet with the paraphernalia that makes her a “dealer”: scales, bags, and a little black book filled with the phone numbers of “known drug users.” Gimme a break: did anyone ever look at her call history to see how many calls had been made to and from those numbers? Did her lawyer even ask? And a rapist who keeps track of his victims in hopes of scoring a kid? Are you kidding?

No, this is about as tightly plotted as a pair of fishnet hose. Yeah, yeah, Barrett’s a sympathetic victim, but the construction of the mystery left me cold (so did the namecheck thing, actually).  I might check out the Ross series some day if I don’t have anything else to read, but I’m sure not gonna run out and look for it now that I’ve finished Closer Than You Know
copyright © 2018 scmrak

18 February 2018

Maybe the first Davie Richards mystery should've been the last...

Pacific Homicide - Patricia Smiley


Pacific Homicide
I happen to be someone who devours mystery-thriller novels, and if you’re going to read somewhere between fifty and 100 of them a year, you tend to have fairly loose standards. I know that not every writer can be Michael Connelly; but I certainly hope that not every writer is Tim Downs, either. My most recent read, sadly, is closer to the latter: that’s why I’m assigning a mere two stars to Pacific Homicide, the first Davie Richards mystery.

Richards, the newest detective of LAPD’s Pacific Division homicide squad, is a second-generation cop. Her dad, however, was unceremoniously drummed out of the department after he shot a teenager and paralyzed him. Unfortunately for Davie, the lawyer who lost the civil case is the newly appointed head of the police oversight board.

Not that this has anything to do with Davie’s current case, which is that of the beautiful teenaged Russian blonde whose mangled body was found in the LA sewer system. The diminutive (of course) but gorgeous (likewise) redhead with a streak of rebellion (I’m seeing a pattern here) will get the job done, though. That’s regardless of her recent officer-involved shooting (duh) while saving the life of the partner with whom she was having a fling (…). Never mind the complication of her ex's sudden reassignment to Davie's division.

You see where I’m getting to, right? Pacific Homicide is so full of tropes that it’s hard not to trip over a new one every page or so. Author Patricia Smiley (back in print seven years after the fourth Tucker Sinclair mystery) definitely didn’t go out on any creative limbs for her police procedural. Even Davie’s domicile is a trope of the female detective subgenre: she lives in a converted garage behind the house of a non-threatening older man: Kinsey Milhone, anyone?
All that derivative prose makes it hard to concentrate on the mystery aspect of Pacific Homicide, but to be truthful it’s not particularly well done, either. While the villain’s identity does come as a surprise, Smiley commits the sin of not providing clues to his identity for her readers to attempt to out-detect the detective. The bad guy’s tipoff? He’s a creep… not that being a creep is actionable in real police work.

     There's also an ancillary plot: the aforementioned lawyer bears a grudge against Richards because, after he lost the case against her dad, the foxy mama of the paralyzed kid didn't spread her luscious legs for him. Give us a break, Patty! the guy hasn't managed to get laid in the past fifteen years? and he thinks it's the hero's fault?

Smiley’s pumped out a couple more books in the series, but given the snore-fest I encountered in Pacific Homicide, I’m gonna give ‘em a pass. I’d suggest you do the same.
copyright © 2018 scmrak

09 December 2017

King's reincarnation tale needs less stitching and more plot

The Dust of 100 Dogs - A. S. King


I don’t know about you, but I don’t always check the published reviews of a book before buying it or checking it out of the library. Oh, sure, I’ll briefly scan the reviews at “the River,” but I know better than to trust most of those people, anyway. Perhaps had I should have looked more closely at Barnes & Noble’s page for The Dust of 100 Dogs (by A. S. King), though. Instead of glowing reviews from the NYT or even "People," there are blurbs from The Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star and "VOYA" (not the financial company – “Voice of Youth America” magazine). The best the site can come up with is the throwaway line from "Booklist," which calls it “An undeniably original book.” When you come right down to it, though, that description might very well have been followed by “that is unfortunately almost unreadable.”

25 November 2017

“Stop That!” I Said to Myself

Before It’s Too Late – Sara Driscoll


Ever heard the joke about the guy who goes to the doctor and tells her, “It hurts when I do this”? The punchline, of course, is that she says, “Well, stop doing that!” Ba. Dump. Bump. I could say the same thing of the Sara Driscoll F.B.I. K-9 series: “It hurts when I read this; so maybe I should stop.” But I didn’t…

I read book two, Before It’s Too Late, and I’m… not sure why. It’s probably because I didn’t have anything else to read (the latest Virgil Flowers novel wasn’t out yet), and it might be because I really, really love Labrador Retrievers and the K-9 in question is a black Lab named Hawk. More likely both. But anyway, about the book:

F.B.I. K-9 handler Meg Jennings is obviously the target of a serial whackaloon: he kidnaps women who look like her (“black Irish” features) and then sends a coded message addressed to Meg, a message that consists of cryptic clues to where he’s hidden the kidnapped woman. Oh, and the woman isn’t dead yet; he’s killing her slowly by asphyxiation. Creepy dude…

18 November 2017

Maybe the Accounting is Right, but the Plot? Fuhgeddaboudit...


Exit Strategy - Colleen Cross




Every day a list of books shows up in my email inbox from a place called BookBub. Most of these ebooks are available at fire sale prices; a couple a week are even free. I have to admit that I try to avoid any titles accompanies by a blurb bragging about the number of five-star reviews at GoodReads, but every once in a while I pick up one of the freebies just to see if the rest of the series is worth buying (or borrowing from the library).

That’s why I have a copy of Exit Strategy, subtitled “Katerina Carter Fraud Thriller Series 1”: I got it free. And I’m here to tell you, it was worth every penny…