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The Neon Rain by James Lee Burke

Five years before Michael Connelly began his Harry Bosch series, James Lee Burke started Dave Robicheaux series. Set in New Orleans and environs, Robicheaux is a detective of the New Orleans police force. A Vietnam vet, a recovering alcoholic and a divorcee, Robicheaux’s list of demons is long and one that he constantly battles. The part of Robicheaux that is true is his police work — he is a good detective.

The Neon Rain starts as thus:

The evening sky was streaked with purple, the color of torn plums, and a light rain had started to fall when I came to the end of the blacktop road that cut through twenty miles of thick, almost impenetrable scrub oak and pine and stopped at the front gate of Angola penitentiary.

Burke’s writing is more poetic than most police procedurals, but the character and action are still plentiful and exciting. Along with his fluid prose, Burke’s Robicheaux is a character that is still developing; the detective is far from being a complete man.

On Robicheaux’s visit to the state penitentiary, he finds out there may be hit on him. He is unsure to believe it or not, but with his partner, Cletus Parcel, go to invesitigate with a lot of intimidaiton.

Potts’s eyes were small and hot and staring straight ahead.

“Lighten up,” Cletus said. “You’re a businessman, you pay taxes, you’re reasonable. You just got diarrhea of the mouth and you been spreading rumors around, and we want to know why you been doing that. It’s no big deal. Just straighten us out about this strange stuff we heard, and you can get back to entertaining the perverts. Look at the material you got here. This is classy stuff.” Cletus began to bang through the film cans on the wooden rack. He picked up one in both hands and looked at the penciled title with a critical eye. “This one is state-of-the-art porn, Dave. In one scene a guy kills a naked broad with a nail gun. She screams and begs, but the guy chases her around the house and staples pieces of her all over the woodwork.” Cletus opened the can, held on to one end of the film, and dropped the reel bouncing on the floor. He held the film strip up to the light. “The funny thing, Wes, is sometimes a John goes apeshit and tears a hooker up, and I get the feeling that maybe the guy just finished eating popcorn out there in your theater. What do you think?”

The investigation takes them into the world on Latin American gangsters who basically have everyone scared, even the bad guys. If the Robicheaux series is half as good as The Neon Rain that will give me plenty of reading to do over the next few years.

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High Priest of California by Charles Willeford

Charles Willeford’s High Priest of California is not a book for everyone, maybe hardly anyone. The writing is crisp and the plot moves along page by page, but Willeford’s anti-hero Russell Haxby is a scoundrel, a scoundrel is the most despicable way. Set in San Francisco in 1951, Willeford’s first novel tells the story of Haxby’s sexual pursuit of Alyce Vitale.

The woman was good-looking but her personality was blah. Still, with a figure like she had there should certainly be something there. I might look in the next day, but then that was tomorrow and it would depend upon how I felt.

Most anti-heroes do despicable things, but they have some redeeming qualities. Willeford’s Haxby does not. For instance a typical anti-hero may rob a bank, but usually they only shoot at when shot at first. Yes, even Han Solo shot first, but he wasn’t looking for trouble, he was cornered and he had no way out. Haxby has none of this. He’s a successful used-car salesman and while not lying to womenm he is busy ripping customers off.

If you can bear with this creep Haxby, the writing is great, though the overall story is much to be despised. It seems as though Willeford has several books in sexual conquest genre (yeah, I didn’t know this either), instead I’ll probably focus on his Hoke Mosley series.

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9 Dragons by Michael Connelly

Harry Bosch sat at his desk. He waited. Bosch needed to be moving, working a case, bringing a murderer to justice. The pursuit of a criminal was just as vital to Bosch’s well-being as food and water are to other people.

Now he saw the approaching lieutenant and he instinctively knew that his partner wasn’t going home early. Gandle was holding a piece of paper torn from a notepad and had an extra hop in his step. That told Bosch the wait was over. The call out was here. The fresh kill. Bosch started to rise.

This is what those of us who read the Bosch books what for; this is what we enjoy. The pursuit begins.

The case looks like a no-brainer as a Chinese liquor store owner is shot dead in his store that is located around 70th and Normandie near where the 1992 LA riots took place. But with any Bosch story, it is never as simple as it looks. As Bosch investigates, the case takes into the world of the triads and even to Hong Kong as his daughter mysteriously disappears.

This the twenty-first book of Connelly’s that I have read. Yeah, I am a bit of a fan boy. With 9 Dragons, Connelly continues to write fast-paced police procedurals that are exciting and well-plotted. Connelly’s LA universe was exactly what I needed after the debacle of Megan Abbott’s The End of Everything. I could easily read the rest of Connelly’s books one after another, but I will slow down and read a few other books before I move on to my twenty-second book of Connelly’s, The Reversal.

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The End of Everything by Megan Abbott

As I said in my review of Tess Gerritsen’s The Surgeon, I was out looking for other mystery writers to read other than white men. One female writer who came up time and time again was Megan Abbott. So I grabbed The End of Everything since it was a past read of the Pulp Fiction community on Goodreads. Usually I don’t pay attention to the Goodreads’ ratings as I find them a bit inflated, considering my average rating for books is 3.27 out of 5 while most of the Goodreads friends are somwhere above 4.  The End of Everything came in at a 3.37, the lowest Goodreads ranking of a book I read.

But it was not that I was ignoring the numbers, rather I paid no attention to them and set forth Megan Abott’s 2011 novel. A couple of days later and I was perplexed with all the praise for Abbott. I was half-way through The End of Everything and only one thing had happened, the abduction of the narrator’s friend. Meanwhile there are too many passages like this one:

There was something here, something that might mean something. Something found, something that put an aha catch in my throat, but I can’t reckon it now. I can’t hold the ends together and lift it to my eyes.

I stumble around to the back of the house, stubbing my toe three times, the last time feeling a hot push of blood under my toenail.

Something’s there, wedged beneath my foot.

I bend down and look upon it.

The fluorescent bend of the garden hose, the spike from its hard nozzle.

But it reminds me. It puts form to that hovering thought.

If these passages were less frequent, maybe my reading of the second half of the book might have been more attentive.

Maybe I don’t get this whole “domestic noir” scene lead by Gone Girl and Girl on a Train, neither of which I have read, but Abbott’s The End of Everything is not helping on the decision to pick up these books.

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The Apprentice by Tess Gerritson

I definitely enjoyed the Tess Gerritson’s first novel, The Surgeon, in the Rizzoli and Isles book series, so I was looking forward to the second installment, The Apprentice. In the latter book, Jane Rizzoli becomes the main character while Maura Isles is introduced only as a significant minor character. So even in the book two, the Rizzoli and Isles series really isn’t about Rizzoli and Isles yet.

Another big misconception that I had from occasional glimpses of the TV show of the same name was that the cop and the pathologist were fast friends; at best they could be considered work acquaintances. Yes, yes, I am aware that TV shows are not books and books are not TV shows, but I thought it was a deviation I should point out.

Before delving into The Apprentice, one should have read The Surgeon prior to it; not because the reader would be lost, but only because of spoilers regarding The Surgeon that are sprinkled liberally throughout The Apprentice. I will try to keep the spoilers of The Surgeon at a minimum in this review of The Apprentice.

Rizzoli finds herself overwhelmed at work; the murders are literally piling up. Naturally, the Newton Police contact Rizzoli to have her come out to see another murder outside her jurisdiction. It turns out Rizzoli is definitely interested as this murder and missing person case is almost an exact copy of the work by the Surgeon who happens to be behind bars. Rizzoli is now off to find the killer as she battles with her peers in Boston, new cops in Newton, and an FBI agent who may or may not be freelancing. And the hunt begins.

The Apprentice like its predecessor is a fun and entertaining read. There is nothing wrong with that. And, by the way, the books are much better than the TV show — much, much better.

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The Surgeon by Tess Gerritsen

I was putting together a list of mystery books to read, specifically looking for mystery authors that were not white men – those are kind of easy to find. One of the authors that came up in various lists to read was Tess Gerritsen, best known for her book series Rizzoli and Isles. If you have happened to seen a bit or two or even all the episodes of the TV show Rizzoli and Isles, the books are nothing like the show.

The first book in Gerritsen’s popular series is The Surgeon. There are a few caveats with this. First the character Maura Isles never appears in the first book of the Rizzoli and Isles series. Second, as Gerritsen explained in an interview,  Rizzoli was supposed to be a minor character in the first book.  An odd start for a very successful book franchise.

The Surgeon begins from the point of view of the killer, “Today they will find her body.” The story jumps ahead one year and there is a new murder,  but now we are getting the cops point of view especially that of Detectives Thomas Moore and Jane Rizzoli. Moore looks at Rizzoli in the autopsy room:

She was the only woman in the homicide unit, and already there had been problems between her and another detective, charges of sexual harassment, countercharges of unrelenting bitchiness. Moore was not sure he liked Rizzoli, or she him. So far they had kept their interactions strictly business, and he thought she preferred it that way.

One of the issues I have with mystery/crime novels is the silliness that occurs when a character goes off on their own and puts themselves in danger. There is this issue as Rizzoli heads off alone to find to track down the serial killer but other than the rather bad use of this horrible plot device, I found Gerrisen’s The Surgeon well done.

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The Scarecrow by Michael Connelly

The Scarecrow by Michael ConnellyI do enjoy reading Michael Connelly’s novels and it will be a sad day when I finally catch-up to Connelly’s newest release. I have got a ways to go. In the meantime I finished reading Connelly’s The Scarecrow.

Jack McEvoy, who appeared as a main character in The Poet is a police reporter for the Los Angeles Time. The book open with McEvoy being laid off. In great capitalistic form, McEvoy even gets to train his younger and cheaper replacement.

The novel is told from two points of view: McEvoy and the criminal, Wesley Carver aka The Scarecrow. Carver, who runs a server farm, has a very peculiar taste in women as well as a partner. Carver and McEvoy’s worlds collide, and without giving anything away with the plot, Connelly does another wonderful job. Connelly has the ability to effectively keep the reader guessing, always changing things up, and always surprising the reader.

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Feed by Mira Grant

Mira Grant’s Feed is the first book in her Newsflesh series. Sadly, it will be the last I read from this zombie series. I get that, when reading a zombie novel, one must suspend disbelief considering that zombies are not real. But Grant’s novel, set in the mid-21st century, seemed implausible on so many levels.

First, I should set the stage for you: the zombie uprising has occurred, but civilization still thrives. If I remember correctly, the zombiefication of most of the world happened a few years prior to 2016. The book places us in 2040 and there is a presidential election underway. Our story focuses on a trio of bloggers who are following one candidate. The trio is made up of a newsie, a fictional and an Irwin. The Irwin goes out a pokes zombies for a living. The writing, the style of speaking was straight out of today rather than something else, something different, something change due to, say, a zombie uprising.

In this world that is half zombie and half civilization, most people do not like to gather in groups as people can spontaneously turn into zombies without being bit. And yet, manufacturing of cars and computers continues as well as gasoline production and electricity is plentiful. There are no shortages. People continue on with their lives in their fortified cocoons with the only inconvenience being a myriad of blood tests and, well, zombies. They still have that problem. Otherwise, no explanation of how life continues with out a hitch.

The story moved along well, but the reader should be able to easily guess who is behind all of the intrigue and subterfuge. And then the ending of Feed is pure B-movie action with plenty of B-movie plot holes.

I am still looking for a good zombie novel to read.

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The Brass Verdict by Michael Connelly

I do not remember how I came across Michael Connelly, but I suppose it probably has to do with the 2011 Matthew McConaughey movie The Lincoln Lawyer. Though I didn’t see the movie until several years later.

The Brass Verdict is Connelly’s second “Lincoln Lawyer” (or Mickey Haller) novel which is major part of Connelly’s fictional universe that takes place mainly in Los Angeles. You might be more familiar with Connelly’s original character, a police detective named Harry Bosch. There are other minor series featuring the characters Jack McEvoy, Terry McCaleb, and Cassie Black. Not surprisingly, Connelly’s website has a chronology of his books. When reading a mystery series, chronology is somewhat important.

At my count, The Brass Verdict is the nineteenth Connelly novel I’ve read. Though this a Mickey Haller book, The Brass Verdict features Harry Bosch in several chapters as well as the newspaper reporter Jack McEvoy. Like The Lincoln Lawyer before it, this book is told in the first person by Mickey Haller. To say that Haller has his demons would be a understatment, but the reader roots for him nonetheless.

One of the exercises I run through will reading a mystery novel is that I try to guess how the story will unfold. As in all good mystery writers, Connelly is able to place red herrings through book which are quite deceiving and even though The Brass Verdict ended in a logical way I was unable to guess the ending.

Connelly’s books are well researched, rather, they appear to be well researched. Though I am not a lawyer (or even a police detective), Connelly’s fictional world seems real and filled with plenty of ridiculous policies and procedures that the characters must jump through in their professional world. How believable? The wife and I were watching an episode Suits the other night and based on my reading of Connelly’s Mickey Haller’s series I was befuddled by apparent court-room histrionics that seemed driven by an implausible plot rather than real life. Yeah, yeah, I know, it’s only TV, but those shows, movies and books that have a basis in reality are always just that much better.

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Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

While reading the Halloween chapter in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, I came across this line while Oliver Wood was describing Quidditch to Harry, “He handed Harry a small club, a bit like a short baseball bat.” Baseball bat? I know that Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry is a magical place, but I assumed, rightly so, that the Harry Potter Universe takes place in England. So what is a baseball-bat-like club doing in Harry’s hand?

As many know, the UK version of Rowling’s first Harry Potter book is called Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, while in the US, Scholastic Books changed the name to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. As Rowling wrote on a BBC wechat back in 2001:

They changed the first title, but with my consent. To be honest, I wish I hadn’t agreed now, but it was my first book, and I was so grateful that anyone was publishing me I wanted to keep them happy…

https://downandoutbooks.com/bookstore/goldberg-slow-down/

The general consensus, but one I could not find any documentation for, is that the American publisher thought that US children would be uninterested in reading a book with philosopher in the title. A philosopher’s stone is a real thing, actually, a thing people sought in their study of alchemy.

Robert Scholes points out the difference between a philosopher’s stone and a sorcerer’s stone is that the first is true and the latter is false.

Or, to put it more circumspectly, that word “philosopher,” in the English edition, connects the magic stone to the actual history of human thought in a way that the word “sorcerer” in the American edition does not. Before the attempt to gain power over nature fragmented, in the seventeenth century, into the empirical sciences, on the one hand, and fruitless magic, on the other, the study of alchemy was a kind of magical science. It was the ancestor of modern chemistry and the physical sciences in general, which were called “natural philosophy” for some time before being given their modern names.

The title was subsequently changed, even the movie has the Americanized title, and Rowling regrets the change, but as I mentioned earlier this wasn’t the only change in the US version of Rowling’s first book. The baseball bat line was the first that caught my ire, but it was definitely not the first Americanized translation of the first Potter book. The website, The Harry Potter Lexicon, lists plenty of differences. In an essay published in The New York Times, Peter H. Gleick lists three types of American substitutions: spelling, common words or phrases, and “the metamorphoses of truly English experiences or objects into something different, but distinctly American”. Gleick mentions the US “English muffins” opposed to the English “crumpets”.

I got a hold of the UK version of the first Harry Potter book and restarted the Halloween chapter and got to read the following line, “He handed Harry a small club, a bit like a rounders bat.” I was off and reading.

This was my first reading of Rowling’s debut novel. It’s strange reading a book 20 years after its release and one that is so ingrained in the consciousness of the pop culture. I could not help but picturing the various film actors as the characters, but I still found the world enchanting and strange. I enjoyed the book greatly and was only disappointed in the fifteenth chapter where Harry and his cohorts, as part of their detention, are forced to go into the forbidden forest at midnight to find an injured unicorn. This was a rather dangerous punishment for young children and also very much out of character with the book. Still, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is a very important book in the history of English literature and, at the very least,  a pleasant adventure story for all to read.