Some Rise by Sin

images-4Over the years, Philip Caputo has earned a reputation as a master storyteller. Caputo’s novels are as character-driven as they are plot-driven, and that finely tuned balance seldom fails to make them memorable and moving reads. Regular Caputo readers have come to expect nothing less from the author by now, and Some Rise by Sin, his latest, will not disappoint them.

Father Timothy Riordan, a Harley-riding Franciscan friar, has been exiled by his Order to the small, isolated town of San Patricio, Mexico, where he maintains a church and lives with two other priests. The only other American expat in the town is Dr. Lisette Moreno, a divorcee who studied medicine in Mexico and wants to work where she can make a real difference in the lives of her patients and their families. By now, Riordan and Lisette have settled into the slower pace of life they expected to find in San Patricio, but all of that changes when a local vigilante group and a ruthless drug lord, La Mariposa, go to war.

For Lisette, other than making travel to remote Indian villages in the area more difficult and more dangerous than before, life continues to go on much as it always has from her base clinic in San Patricio. She remains determined to bring medical treatment to as many of the country’s poor, especially the children, as possible, and she readily accepts the new travel risks that come with the territory. It would not, however, be nearly so simple for Riordan.

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Philip Caputo

Because the local economy that has supported the region for generations is a failing one, San Patricio is ripe recruiting territory for a drug lord needing young men to sustain and expand his operation. The area is a predominately Catholic one, and because even the young men now beating and killing for the drug king fear spending an eternity in hell, they tell Riordan things in the confessional box that they dare tell no one else. The young men believe that the sanctity of the confessional will protect them from the law, and Riordan is determined not to violate their trust in him and the church.

But when San Patricio begins to tear itself apart as brutal murder follows brutal murder, Father Riordan is faced with the moral dilemma of his life. By maintaining the sanctity of the confessional, has he become a mere accomplice in the murders of his own parishioners, making it even more likely that more and more of them will suffer and die? When the local police and the army team up to demand that Riordan reveal the secrets he learns in the confessional, the priest finds that the decision he has to make is not as easy as he had expected it would be.

Some Rise by Sin is a story of good versus evil, but as Father Riordan learns for himself, it is not always easy to tell the two apart.

(Review Copy provided by Publisher)

Time Travel Tuesday: L. Sprague De Camp’s “A Gun for Dinosaur”

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This week’s Time Travel Tuesday story is particularly interesting to me for a couple of reasons. First, I love the idea of big game trophy hunters going back in time in order to bag a T-Rex head, or something similar, for their trophy rooms – especially when their own heads ends up becoming trophies that the dinosaur instead takes from them. The second reason that L. Sprague De Camp’s “A Gun for Dinosaur” intrigues me, though, has as much to do with Ray Bradbury’s “ A Sound of Thunder,” the story I featured here two Time Travel Tuesdays ago as it does with De Camp’s story. The two stories, you see, share an eerily similar plot, and I could not wait to compare the way these two masters of the science fiction genre approached their individual stories.

As it turns out, while Bradbury spent a good portion of his story explaining the nuts and bolts of time travel and exploring a time-travel paradox or two (the accidental changing of the present or future by a careless time-traveler), De Camp was much more concerned with his actual storyline and character development. Although Bradbury’s story was published approximately four years earlier than De Camp’s, the plot is not an unusual one in time travel stories, and I doubt that De Camp wrote the story because he remembered Bradbury’s earlier one. In any case, the two stories are very different from each other, and if I had to choose between them, I prefer De Camp’s “A Gun for Dinosaur.”

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L. Sprague De Camp

Two partners, one British and one Indian, run a business in which they contract with Washington University in St. Louis to use the school’s time machine on a regular basis to deliver them, their hunter-clients, and their support crew back to the age of the dinosaurs. As the story begins, our narrator (the Brit) has just turned down a potential customer who is too small and lightweight to handle the large guns required to bring down a dinosaur before the animal has time turn on the hunters and their guides. The guide feels bad about turning down the disappointed man and feels that he owes him a more detailed explanation. And what better way to explain this portion of company policy than telling the man a story of exactly what can go wrong when that company rule is bent or ignored?

As usual, on the hunt in question two hunters were chosen to time-travel with the guides and support crew. One of the two was a blustery loudmouth who got into an argument with our narrator even before signing the initial paperwork, the other a rather puny little man whose girlfriend begged him not to go on the trip at all. Shortly after being deposited on the ground by the time machine operator (where they were scheduled to hunt for the next month), the guides realized that bringing the loudmouth along with them had been a terrible mistake. The man insisted on firing when he deemed it to be to his own advantage to do so rather than waiting for one of the guides to give him the signal to shoot. Unfortunately, the boor was a poor shot, and he often spoiled the shot of his fellow hunter by unexpectedly shooting out of turn. The man was an obvious danger to himself and those around him.

The guides only found out just how dangerous he really was a few hours after they had returned to the present with the now very angry, and threatening, man in tow. But perhaps the hothead should have been more attentive when the potential paradoxes of time travel were discussed with him in the office and around the campfire at night. Let’s just say, that not every millionaire is particularly bright – this one certainly wasn’t.

Brooklyn

1501106473-01-_sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_It took me a while to get around to Colm Tóbín’s 2009 novel Brooklyn, a book I only learned of after having first become aware of the 2016 movie based upon it. After noticing that the movie screenplay had been written by Nick Hornby, a writer whose worked I’ve consistently enjoyed over the years, I realized that it might be fun to read the novel and then watch the movie in order to determine what aspects of the novel’s plot Hornby had changed for the film. That, at least, was my plan. But as it happened, I ended up watching the movie just before I read the last fifty pages of Tóbín’s book – and I’m glad I did it that way because I easily spotted a couple of changes made by Hornby that were more satisfying than the book’s plot. Overall, however, as almost happens to me, I prefer the book to the movie – but highly recommend both, in this case. (And I learned to correctly pronounce “Eilis,” the main character’s first name.)

World War II is over but times in small-town Ireland are still tough, especially for young men and women searching for work. Because her three brothers have already moved to England to take jobs there, Eilis Lacey, the youngest of five children, now lives at home with only her sister and widowed mother. Rose Lacey has a real mind for numbers and has succeeded in finding a coveted office job for herself where she is both loved and respected for the quality of her work. The best that Eilis has been able to come up with, however, is a part-job clerking in the tiny general store belonging to one of the most unlikable human beings walking the face of the earth, Miss Kelly. And that’s about the time that an Irish immigrant priest visiting from his parish in Brooklyn comes calling upon the Lacey household with an offer to sponsor Eilis for the purposes of her permanent immigration to the U.S., including even a department store job that he can pretty much already guarantee her.

Almost before she knows it, Eilis (who gets the distinct impression that her mother and sister both believe this is the best chance at a good life Eilis will ever get) is on a ten-day voyage to New York. And, although in this case the old saying that “getting there is half the fun” does not even begin to apply, when Eilis arrives in Brooklyn she learns that everything Father Flood promised her is ready and waiting.

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Colm Tóibín

Thus begins the big adventure that will be the rest of Eilis Lacey’s life. Because she knows no one in New York other than the good Father Flood, Elis will have to adjust to her new life with little help from anyone, including her prudish and standoffish landlady and the five women she shares her meals with every day. Eilis finds her life in America as very different, if not necessarily better, than the one she left behind in Ireland. And then things get complicated: she meets and slowly falls in love with Tony at a Sunday night church dance – complicated because Tony is Italian, not Irish, a fact that neither his family or her friends will easily accept.

Bottom Line: Brooklyn is a memorable novel about the immigrant experience and those brave enough to undertake it. Tóibín has filled it with striking characters, a few perhaps a bit on the stereotypical side, that give the novel the feel of a much longer family saga. All in all, I rate this a 4-star book, about one-half a star more than I award to its movie version, beautifully filmed as that may be.

Short Story Saturday: Sara Paretsky’s “The Curious Affair of the Italian Art Dealer”

517smtmudul-_sx329_bo1204203200_Sara Paretsky’s “The Curious Affair of the Italian Art Dealer” is the second short story I’ve plucked from the In the Company of Sherlock Holmes collection as one of my Short Story Saturday offerings. The other story I used, Michael Connelly’s “The Crooked Man,” took an entirely different approach in paying homage to Arthur Conan Doyle’s Holmes stories than the approach chosen by Paretsky. Connelly decided to use Holmes-like and Watson-like characters in a modern setting, where Paretsky has chosen instead to use the actual Holmes and Watson characters in their natural setting. She even writes very much in the Doyle style to tell her story.

As the story begins, Holmes is in the midst of one of those dangerous moments when he is bored with life because he cannot find a crime investigation that challenges him, much less one that even sounds interesting. He is content to just stay at home, usually sleeping the day away until rousing himself in the early hours of the new day to annoy his neighbors with incessant hours of sawing away on his violin. And now Watson fears that Holmes’s drug habit is about to rear its ugly ahead again if he can’t find something for Holmes to tackle.

Coincidentally, Watson’s wife Mary has “been called to the bedside of the governess who had been almost a mother to her,” freeing Watson temporarily to move back into his old room inside Holmes’s apartment where he can keep a closer eye on his friend. Watson, though, has regular patients he still needs to see and an arrangement with a local hotel to call him when their guests need medical attention. As it turns out, it is one of those hotel patients, a man who claims to have been accosted in his room overnight, who presents Watson with just the crime mystery that might draw Holmes from his stupor.

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Sara Paretsky

The hotel guest is an American in the city to have an old family painting authenticated and appraised by a respected London gallery-owner. The family believes the painting to be the work of the sixteenth-century artist Titian, and that it is worth a fortune – a rather large fortune, at that. And now the painting is apparently in the hands of the unidentified thief who pummeled the American in the process of wresting it from his hands during the night. Fontana, the American, remembers Watson saying that he could be found at the Sherlock Holmes residence if any follow-up treatment were required, but when the man shows up on Holmes’s doorstep to ask his help in reacquiring the painting, Holmes smells a rat.

The case turns out to be a complicated one that sees Holmes having to pull out all the stops to solve it, including the use of disguises for himself and Watson and his gang of young “street rabble” to keep tabs of the various suspects. Holmes is even a bit shocked to meet his intellectual and investigatory match in the guise of Miss Butterworth, the godmother of one of the story’s victims.

(As the story notes at the very end, Amelia Butterworth was the detective assistant created by novelist Anna Katherine Green (1846-1935) to aid her detective character Ebenezer Gryce, an investigator who used methods similar to those of Holmes to solve his mysteries. It should also be noted that the first Gryce novel was published almost ten years prior to publication of the first Holmes story.)

Three Nights in August: Strategy, Heartbreak, and Joy Inside the Head of a Manager

511fb0w0ycl-_sy346_This is just about the perfect time of the year to read a book like Buzz Bissinger’s, Three Nights in August: Strategy, Heartbreak, and Joy Inside the Head of a Manager. As I write this, teams have just reported to Florida and Arizona for Spring Training, beginning the long 2017 baseball season that will ultimately crown one team as the year’s World Series champion. Veteran players now have six weeks to work themselves back into playing shape while a handful of top minor leaguers are hoping to make enough of a positive impression to stick with the big club when camp breaks.

But players and umpires are not the only ones who use Spring Training to work themselves back into regular season form. Managers, already faced with making the tough player cuts required of them every spring, must also get themselves mentally prepared to make all those little game-time decisions that might add up to winning an extra five or six games a season – more than enough to mean the difference between participating in the playoffs and watching them on television with the rest of us.

But what counts, of course, is what happens during the regular season, and that’s what Three Nights in August is all about. The book frames itself around an August three-game series between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Chicago Cubs that was played at a point late in the 2003 season when the Cardinals, Cubs, and Houston Astros were virtually tied for first place. Cardinals manager Tony La Rusa gave Bissinger the kind of access to himself and his team that writers usually only dream about, and the resulting book is an interesting look at what makes La Rusa one of the best managers the game of baseball has ever seen.

The pivotal three games are covered in great detail, so much so that at times it seems as if an entire inning is being replayed pitch-by-pitch as La Rusa tries to out-think Dusty Baker, his counterpart in the Cubs dugout. The two men have known each other for decades and neither of them has any new tricks not already seen by the other. A baseball game between them is akin to watching two chess masters play each other for the five-hundredth time over the course of their two long careers.

But as indicated by the book’s subtitle, Strategy, Heartbreak, and Joy Inside the Head of a Manager, La Rusa was prepared to reveal much more about himself than the strategies he employs against Dusty Baker. The book explores La Rusa’s long managerial career and the sacrifices his wife and children have made in order to make it possible for the manager to achieve what he has. During the season, Tony La Rusa was all about baseball and had time for little else. He is a private man, comfortable with being alone, and even when the Cardinals were playing at home he often stayed in a local hotel rather than sleeping at home – especially when the Cardinals lost a tough game or series.

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DK

Love him or hate him, Tony La Rusa has achieved the status of baseball legend now, and that alone makes Three Nights in August an interesting read for baseball fans. But the part of the book I will remember most is the section dealing with the sudden death of Darryl Kyle, the great pitcher who died in his sleep at age thirty-three on June 22, 2002. Cardinal players and coaches (and their fans) were hit hard by such a stunning loss, and that they were able to overcome their grief and hold the season together at all was a fine tribute to the dogged attitude about the game that DK always displayed. (As a side note, fans and players in Houston were equally devastated by news of his death.)

Bottom Line: Three Nights in August is a great way for anxious baseball fans to prepare themselves for the 2017 season, a little “Spring Training” all of our own.

Time Travel Tuesday: Richard Matheson’s “Death Ship”

 

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Richard Matheson

This week’s Time Travel Tuesday story was written by another of the genre’s great ones, Richard Matheson. Matheson began to make a name for himself in 1950 with the publication of his very first story, “Born of Man and Woman,” and he is probably still best known today for I Am Legend and The Shrinking Man, two of his earlier novels.

I have a real soft spot for today’s story because it so reminds me of my teenage years when everything was fresh and possibilities still seemed endless. Back in 1963, Twilight Zone was my favorite television series, and I doubt that I missed more than an episode or two during the several successful seasons the series enjoyed. As it turns out, one of the 1963 shows was an adaptation of “Death Ship,” the Richard Matheson story I am featuring today. The show also featured two of my favorite Twilight Zone actors, Jack Klugman and Ross Martin, so it is one of those that particularly stick in my memory. (I doubt, however, that I noticed at the time that it was from a Richard Matheson story.)

The story is about three future space explorers (way up in 1997) whose mission it is to find other planets upon which humans might survive. They are in the process of doing a low-altitude scan of a potential planet when a sudden flash catches the eye of one of the men. Deciding to land near the spot of the flash in order to see what caused it and to collect the usual surface samples, the men are about to get the shock of their lives.

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They discover that the flash of light that earlier caught their attention was a reflection from what seems to be the remnants of a crashed space vehicle much like their own. They are certain that no one could have survived the kind of impact that pushed the rocket’s main structure some fifteen feet below the surface of the hard ground they are standing on, but decide to explore the wreckage anyway. But almost miraculously, they find that the main cabin is still largely intact and manage to pry open its twisted door – where they find three dead crewmen.

Although all of this happens in the first six pages of this twenty-page story, I am going to end my plot summary here so as not to risk spoiling the story for those who have not yet read it. The remainder of the story focuses on the efforts of the three space explorers to understand the meaning of what they have discovered on this nameless planet. As the men consider several theories and the possible personal repercussions of each, the reader has to wonder right along with them as to what it all means.T

So is this a Time Travel story, or is it something else? You’ll have to read “Death Ship” (or watch Twilight Zone) to know the answer to that one.

Our Souls at Night

1101875895-01-_sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_Our Souls at Night, coming in at only 179 numbered pages, is a little book that packs a big wallop. As it turns out, the 2015 novel is also the last one written by author Kent Haruf who died a few months prior to its publication. That alone is enough to make this a special book.

Let me begin by saying that for such a short book, Our Souls at Night tugged along a wide range of my emotions, all the way from joy to anger to sadness – and pretty much everything in between.

Louis Waters was surprised early one evening to receive a visit from Addie Moore, one of his neighbors. After all, despite living on the same street for decades, the two of them had not socialized in years – and not at all since the deaths of both their spouses. He was even more surprised, almost shocked speechless, by the proposal that Addie had come to make:

“I’m listening, Louis said.

I wonder if you would consider coming to my house sometimes to sleep with me.

What? How do you mean? 

I mean we’re both alone. We’ve been by ourselves for too long. For years. I’m lonely. I think you might be too. I wonder if you would come and sleep in the night with me. And talk.

He stared at her, watching her, curious now, cautious. 

You don’t say anything. Have I taken your breath away, she said.

I guess you have.

I’m not talking about sex. 

I wondered.”

This deceptively simple passage from page five of Our Souls at Night is indicative of the style used throughout the rest of the book by Haruf, but don’t let it deceive you into thinking that this book has little or nothing to say. Our Souls at Night is, in fact, a sensitive study of what life is like for those living in their seventh or eighth decades of life after having lost their life-partners. And what happens next is simply beautiful.

Louis surprises himself, and probably Addie, by accepting her offer. At first, Louis tries to make sure that no one sees him entering and leaving Addie’s home, but Addie is quick to set him straight. She tells him that neither of them have anything to be ashamed of because they are doing nothing wrong, they are hurting absolutely no one, and what they do together is no one’s business but their own.   And after the almost-nightly conversations they have allow Addie and Louis to get to know each other better, they find that they genuinely like and enjoy each other’s company – and that they still have a whole lot of the rebel in them. They even sometimes feel so radical that they dress in loud colors when they go out in public so that all the wagging tongues around town will be sure to spot them.

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Kent Haruf

In my favorite section of the book, Addie’s small grandson comes to live with her when his parents separate while they consider divorcing. Watching Louis work his magic on the confused and terrified little boy is wonderful. Before long, Louis has introduced him to his first baseball glove, outdoor camping, and his first dog (a shelter acquisition that has lost most of the toes on one of her paws and has to wear a special boot when she goes outdoors). The bond that forms between the seventy-something Louis and the little boy is one that neither of them is ever likely to forget.

But as much as I regret to report it, those in the real world are not always prepared to accept this kind of relationship between the elderly, especially their suspicious adult children – and those children have a nuclear weapon in their arsenal: control of access to the grandchildren. This is the point in the story where anger was the chief emotion I was feeling as I read – and if that feeling of anger has somewhat lessened now, it is only because it has been replaced by my sadness for Louis and Addie.

Bottom Line: Our Souls at Night is a must-read for everyone, regardless of age. It is simply a beautiful little book, one that will be long remembered by those lucky enough to discover it.

Short Story Saturday: Ruth Rendell’s “A Dark Blue Perfume”

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The Rather Ominous Cover of Collected Stories

This week’s Saturday Short Story is from a favorite author of mine, Ruth Rendell, who died very suddenly in May 2015. “A Dark Blue Perfume” was part of Rendell’s 1985 short story collection The New Girl Friend, but it can also be found in the really wonderful compilation of her work titled Ruth Rendell: Collected Stories that was published in the U.S. in 1987. That collection encompasses the short stories from four previous Ruth Rendell collections: The Fallen Curtain, Means of Evil, The Fever Tree, and The New Girl Friend (38 stories in total).

“A Dark Blue Perfume” is the story of a man who, for over forty years, has been obsessed by the woman who left him for another man. Hardly a day has gone by that he has not relived the moment that his young wife came to him and told him that she was carrying another man’s baby. Now he is sixty-five years old, recently retired back to England, and finds that he cannot get the woman out of his mind even though he has not spoken to her since their divorce.

Should he surprise her with a phone call? Is she even still alive? What about the man she married – is he dead now? Where does she live? These are the thoughts and questions that dominate his days, and a simple check of the local phone book covering the area of the last address he remembers for his ex-wife answers some of them. Not only is she still alive, she is living in the same house she and her second husband first moved into, and the phone is listed in her name only, giving him hope that her husband is now dead.

Unable to resist the pull of that home address, he discovers a wooded area behind her house that includes a trail used by commuters to get from the local train station to their front doors. Already teetering on the edge of insanity, he sits himself down on a bench conveniently placed along the trail to see if she might come along one day. And she does. Or does she?

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Ruth Rendell

“A Dark Blue Perfume” is typical of Ruth Rendell’s crime fiction in the sense that she was always more interested in what makes a criminal do the things he does than in the crime itself. In this story, the author places the reader firmly into the head of a man who can think of only one thing: being rejected for another man by the only woman he ever really loved. The rejection may have occurred four decades earlier, but the pain he feels is as fresh today as the day it happened to him all those years ago. The reader senses that something has to give, that the man is on the brink of doing something crazy that he will regret, but we are just along for the ride he takes us on.

This little nine-page story has all the makings of a movie from another master of psychological suspense, Alfred Hitchcock. It would have been a good one.

Assassins

1627040358-01-_sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_Mike Bond’s Assassins is a political thriller with an attitude. But who would expect less from Bond, an author whose books are never afraid to take on the tough issues of the day while directly pointing fingers at those who pull the strings from the shadows?

This time around, Bond tackles the entire thirty-year history of the bloody war still being waged by radical Islam against the countries of the West. Each of the novel’s seven sections (Afghanistan, Pakistan, Lebanon, Paris, Desert Storm, Baghdad, and ISIS) covers a specific moment in the evolution and growth of the Islamist terrorism threat that is so familiar to the world today. And every step of the way, one man – a member of the “military ops” division of the Home Office – has been doing his best to limit the damage inflicted upon the West.

From the moment in the book’s opening pages when Jack and his men drop into a mountainous region of 1982 Afghanistan in order to offer support and weapons to the Afghani clans fighting the Russian invaders, to the book’s last pages describing the commando’s experience with ISIS terrorism in Paris, Assassins packs one thrilling punch after the other. But equally important in making the novel an especially memorable one, are the numerous supporting characters Jack encounters as he wages his one-man battle against radical Islam. Particularly intriguing are the French woman doctor working in Afghanistan and her Russian soldier lover; Jack’s Afghani blood brother and that man’s corrupt warlord brother; and the female British reporter who is much more than she seems at first glance to be.

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Mike Bond

Assassins dares to ask the hard questions about who and what provoked the rapid rise in radical Islamist terrorism, and some of the thought provoking answers expressed by the book’s main character and others may surprise some readers – and some others, I suspect, not so much. To what degree was the Saudi government involved in the planning and financing of the 9/11 murders? Did the Bush administration deliberately let Osama bin Laden escape from his Afghanistan hideout as part of the justification process for invading Iraq? Did President Obama’s pre-announcement of the exact day he would abandon Iraq to its fate spur the growth and worldwide success of ISIS?

And finally, we come full circle back to the book’s title, Assassins. Let’s just say that the “assassins” referenced by Bond in the title are not whom you might at first believe them to be.

Bottom Line: Assassins is a first-rate thriller that delivers a painless history lesson – and a whole lot to speculate and argue about over a beer or two with friends.

Time Travel Tuesday: Ray Bradbury’s “A Sound of Thunder”

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This week’s Time Travel Tuesday story is a true classic from the pen of Ray Bradbury. Bradbury wrote fantasy and science fiction stories for more than fifty years and, as evidenced by his Grand Master Award, he is considered to be one of the finest writers ever to work in that genre. “A Sound of Thunder” first appeared in the June 28,1952, issue of Collier’s magazine and later was included in Bradbury’s story compilation The Golden Apples of the Sun (1953).

Time Safari, Inc. is ready to take its patrons back as far into the past as they need to go to bag the animal of their choice – and that includes all the way to back when dinosaurs dominated the earth. So when Eckels shows up prepared to pay ten thousand dollars to shoot a T-Rex, the game is on. It’s a bit of a celebration for Eckels because he is so happy that the country has just elected another president who believes in democracy, rather than the potential dictator the new president was running against. Even after being warned that twelve hunters and six guides have been killed on time safaris in just the past year, Eckels can’t wait to get started.

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Ray Bradbury

And then he gets his first look at the Tyrannosaurus rex that has been chosen especially for him – the guides already know it is going to die in just two minutes anyway when a huge tree will fall on it. This is also the moment that Eckels discovers that this animal is just too much for him, that he has more than met his match – and panic ensues. Without even realizing it, Eckels does the main thing he is forbidden to do; he steps off the floating hunter’s path and walks toward the jungle, crushing plant life all the way as he sinks into the muddy earth.

Can, as the guides of Time Safari, Inc. fear it can, the future be changed by something as minor as killing a few plants or insects while traveling sixty million years into the past? For his own sake, Eckels had better hope not, but now it’s time to see what awaits the hunters when they get back to 2055.

The Wrong Side of Goodbye

0316225940-01-_sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_Ex-LAPD detective Harry Bosch, his lawsuit against the Los Angeles police for wrongful termination still undecided, has pretty much resigned himself to the idea that he is now a private detective rather than a cop. Harry, though, manages to keep himself in the game by spending several days a week working as a volunteer detective (as in unpaid) for the tiny San Fernando police department. It should be noted that Harry’s personality and idea about what constitutes effective policing has not changed – meaning that, hard as one might think it to do, Harry has in just a few months put himself in danger of being fired even from this job without a paycheck.

Harry’s understanding with the San Fernando police is that his volunteer hours will be worked around the time required for his private investigations, so when a Southern California billionaire wants to hire him, Harry is quick to accept the case. The never-married and supposedly childless Whitney P. Vance is now an old man justifiably worried about what will happen to his fortune upon his death. He hates the idea that management of his personal fortune might fall to his company’s Board of Directors. But when he was just eighteen years old, Vance got a young Mexican girl pregnant, and now he wants Bosch to determine whether or not she actually aborted that baby. If she did not, Whitney Vance might have a living heir or two – and that’s where he wants his money to go.

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Michael Connelly

In the meantime, Bosch’s hunch that several relatively recent San Fernando rapes are the work of the same man proves true, meaning that the community has a serial rapist on its hands, a major crime requiring the level of investigation the understaffed police cannot possibly handle without Bosch’s fulltime support. Now Bosch has to find a way to keep both investigations moving without letting either slow down the other – and when things go crazily wrong in both cases, he has to deal with a self-imposed guilt trip.

The Wrong Side of Goodbye is classic Michael Connelly and that means that it is classic Harry Bosch. The LAPD really stepped in it when they forced Bosch’s resignation, because the man has barely lost a step. Thankfully for Harry – and his thousands of fans – the little San Fernando police department appreciates the man and wants to put him on the payroll. Hopefully, this means that there are many more Harry Bosch books in the pipeline.

Note: As in The Crossing, which preceded The Wrong Side of Goodbye, Bosch’s half-brother Mickey Haller (aka The Lincoln Lawyer) makes an appearance in this one to work in partnership with Bosch on one of the two investigations.

Short Story Saturday: “Red Eye” from Michael Connelly and Dennis Lehane

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Michael Connelly

This week’s Short Story Saturday entry was co-authored by two of my favorite detective fiction writers: Michael Connelly and Dennis Lehane. “Red Eye,” as published in the 2014 short story compilation FaceOff, centers around the premise that Connelly’s Harry Bosch and Lehane’s Patrick Kenzie find themselves simultaneously searching for the same bad guy.

FaceOff is a collection of eleven co-authored short stories that was published as a fundraiser benefitting the International Thriller Writers group. Because the group’s almost three thousand members are bound by contract to a variety of publishers, and the publishing rights were a little complicated, this one reminds me a bit of what sometimes happens when recording artists from different labels are allowed to collaborate on a single project.

By the time of this story, Harry Bosch is an elder statesman (although some who know Harry would not use such kind words to describe his relationship with the department) of the LAPD. Harry, with retirement staring him in the face, spends his days working cold cases that now have a chance of being solved because of new technology, such as DNA testing, available to the police. Meanwhile, young Patrick Kenzie is doing his thing as one of Boston’s many private detectives. (Note: Lehane’s Kenzie and Gennaro series, although abandoned by the author in 2010, is still missed by those Lehane fans who consider the six books to be his best work.)

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Dennis Lehane

Fate draws the two detectives together when Bosch decides to run some old fingerprints through the various crime databases again, and comes up with a match that did not happen when an old murder was first investigated. Bosch is always determined to close any cold case he works on, but because this one involves the murder of a young girl, he is even more determined than usual to get his hands on the person responsible. So, with a name and an address in hand, Bosch arrives in Boston with high hopes that he is about to catch a murderer.

Bosch is so anxious, in fact, to check out the last known address of the man whose prints he carries that he drives to the address even before his mandatory check-in with the Boston cops. And then, after an hour or so of watching the man’s house from his car, Bosch notices that someone else is doing the same thing from just down the street – or is he watching Bosch? This, of course, turns out to be one Patrick Kenzie, who is desperately searching for the abductor of different young girl who disappeared three days earlier.

The case worked jointly by Bosch and Kenzie turns out to be a rather straightforward one, but the real fun of “Red Eye” is in watching these two very different detectives bond as they get to know each other. Bosch is more than a generation older than Kenzie and he is an experienced big city cop; Kenzie is still in his mid-twenties and generally makes his living working the kinds of cases the Boston police don’t have time to take on. The two men may have very little in common, but by the end of the day each has earned the respect and friendship of the other. It’s easy to envision these two checking in with each other for many years to come.

The Color of Lightning

05b85e1d5015dc0593134525741444341587343I only discovered the novels of Paulette Jiles this past February when I attended her presentation of her 2016 novel News of the World at the San Antonio Book Fair. That novel went on to become a Book Chase Top Five at the end of 2016, and it is a novel I still think about from time to time. Jiles is an adopted-Texas writer who writes the kind of serious western fiction that I’m always hoping to find, so I knew I had to read more of her work.  I am pleased now to report that 2009’s The Color of Lightning is another high quality western with an unusual plot based upon a real life figure from Texas history.

Britt Johnson and his family left Kentucky for Texas in 1863 with Moses Johnson, the man who owned all of them. By the time they arrived there, Moses had signed their manumission papers and the family was free. Britt and Mary brought their children to the western edge of settled North Texas country, to Young County (approximately fifty free blacks were already living there) where Britt planned to raise cattle and Mary hoped to start a school for the county’s children. But the Comanche and Kiowa warriors who considered all of Texas theirs to raid and exploit any time the spirit moved them to do so, would have plenty to say about what kind of life Britt and his fellow Texans would be allowed to enjoy.

It didn’t take long for things to go very, very wrong for Britt and Mary because, while all the settlement’s men were in Weatherford buying supplies, a 700-man army of Kiowa and Comanche warriors rushed into the Elm Creek community and virtually destroyed it. By the time Britt made it back to his little ranch, his eldest son was dead and the raiders had taken the rest of his family captive.

And Britt would not rest until he got them back or made someone pay for their ultimate fate, whatever that fate might prove to be.

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Paulette Jiles

Jiles largely tells her story from three points of view: the women and children who have been taken captive; Britt Johnson as he searches for his wife and children; and Samuel Hammond, the prominent Philadelphia Quaker sent west to assume the role of agent of the Office of Indian Affairs. As she recounts Britt’s patient struggle to reclaim his wife and children, Jiles exposes the utter brutality of life in much of Texas during the 1860s and 1870s, a period during which two very different cultures, neither of which understood the motivations and desires of the other, claimed the same homeland as its own.

The historical fiction of Paulette Jiles often includes rather incredible plots, but the most incredible thing about those plots is that they are based upon Jiles’s meticulous research of real life historical figures. Britt Johnson really was a man whose family was, for all practical purposes, destroyed by a raiding army of Comanche and Kiowa. The traveling newspaper reader and central character of News of the World (who makes a cameo appearance here in The Color of Lightning) was a real man who made his living traveling from community to community reading the latest newspapers he could get his hands on. Jiles’s books are an entertaining blend of fact and fiction that, in the end, provide a realistic picture of what “the good old days” were really like.

If you haven’t already discovered the work of Paulette Jiles, you really need to fix that.

Time Travel Tuesday: Steven Utley’s “Where or When”

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Steven Utley

This week’s Time Travel Tuesday story is from Steven Utley, an American writer who died from a brain tumor in 2013 at the age of sixty-four. Utley was a prolific storyteller whose work was often found in magazines such as The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Analog Science Fiction and Fact, Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, and Galaxy. “Where or When,” today’s story, is part of a series of time travel stories started by Utley in 1976 featuring a method of time travel he called “chronopaths.” This 1991 story first appeared in Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine and was also included in Where or When, the 2006 compilation of the chronopath stories.

As implied by its title, “Where or When” tells of a time travel trip that went wrong for two travelers right from the start. The two travelers, (one man, one woman) were part of a group expecting a soft landing in 1851 London, but after somehow getting separated from their fellow travelers, the pair experienced a rude crash landing in the middle of a thick forest. Now they no longer have any idea where they are – or, for that matter, when they are. What they do know is that two huge armies are fighting a pitched battle just a few hundred yards from where they are hiding amidst the thick trees.

wild03Our lost travelers are not at first particularly concerned about their predicament because they know that their guide will almost certainly be able to track them down as soon as he notices that they are no longer part of his group. But when bullets start scarring the trees near them, they realize that it is time to run for their lives – despite their guide’s instruction not to wander if they ever find themselves lost. And when the whole forest starts to burn (Civil War amateur historians will now know exactly where the lost travelers have landed), they can only hope it’s not too late to save themselves.

Despite the horrors of battle Utley describes in “Where or When,” the story is not without its humorous moments, especially the scene in which the male traveler is trying to extract the female traveler from the small tree into which she has crash-landed. The woman, already unhappy about the period undergarments she is wearing, is not feeling particularly cooperative at this point:

“Who in eighteen fifty-one’s gonna get to see what I wear under my dress?

“Well, you just never know do you?” and I gave her a wryly apologetic grin that absolutely failed to endear me to her, took out my trusty pen-knife again, and got around behind her. View from that side, she rather resembled an enormous blossom. Her legs, sheathed in long, lace-trimmed drawers, were the stamens, and her numerous petticoats, the petals.

I said, “Good God, how many petticoats are you wearing?

“Eighty or ninety.”

“There’s enough silk here for a parachute battalion”

 Steven Utley was a talented fantasy and science fiction writer, and “Where or When” is a good introduction to the author’s work. Utley managed to pack a whole lot of plot into this thirteen-page story that I have not touched upon here – curious readers can perhaps find the story most easily in the more recent (2013) compilation from Tor titled The Time Traveler’s Almanac.

Paradise Sky

0316329371-01-_sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_I have been a fan of Joe Lansdale’s work for a number of years and still consider his 2012 “hillbilly noir” novel Edge of Dark Water to be one of my all-time favorites. I mention that one here because Paradise Sky reminds me of Edge of Dark Water in tone, its bigger-than-life characters, and a generally outlandish plot that keeps the reader on the edge of his seat for several hundred pages.

Paradise Sky serves as the fictional autobiography of Nat Love, an African-American cowboy who after winning most of the events in a Deadwood, Dakota Territory, rodeo was given the nickname Deadwood Dick by his friends (taken from the already popular dime novel character of the same name). The fictional Nat Love of Paradise Sky, in fact, becomes the hero of a series of dime novels all his own (but as a white cowboy and not as the black man he really is), but points out on Paradise Sky’s first page that he is here “to set the record straight.” It will be up to each reader to decide just how “straight” Nat then proceeds to tell his story. But what a story it is.

It all begins a few years after the Civil War when twenty-year-old Willie, while running a town errand for his ex-slave father, lets his eyes stray for precisely the wrong moment in time. Before he knows what’s hit him, Willie is running for his life, his father has been murdered, and the family home is burning to the ground. Thus begins the great adventure that will transform Willie from ex-slave to one of the most famous cowboys in the country.

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The Real Nat Love

Along the way, Willie (who takes to calling himself Nat Love after this man) will stumble upon the white man who becomes a second father to him; spend some time fighting Indians as a Buffalo soldier; twice meet the woman of his dreams; befriend Will Bill Hickok, Calamity Jane, and Charlie Utter; become a U.S. Marshall working out of Ft. Smith, Arkansas, a railroad porter, and finally, a writer. But no life story runs in a straight line, and Willie’s is no exception.

There is, however, one constant in Willie’s story: the white man who one day imagines that he catches Willie staring at his wife’s generous rear-end as the woman strains to hang their wet laundry out to dry. When he first ran for his life, Willie believed that this insanely-jealous man would loose interest in him soon enough, and that he would be allowed to make a new life for himself as long as he never returned to his East Texas home. But that is not what happened – and by the time Willie figures out that the chase will end only with his death or that of his persecutor, it is almost impossible for him to protect himself from the madman.

Bottom Line: Paradise Sky, a bit reminiscent of Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove (the highest compliment I can pay it), is a rousing western adventure that from page-to-page is equally likely to have the reader laughing out loud as shedding a tear or two. This one is great fun.

Short Story Saturday: James Lee Burke’s “Uncle Sidney and the Mexicans”

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James Lee Burke

 

This week’s Saturday Short Story is a particularly interesting one to me because it is one of the earlier pieces of James Lee Burke’s writing to feature the Holland family that has become such an important part of Burke’s work since 1997. “Uncle Sidney and the Mexicans” was first published in the Atlantic in 1980 and is also the first story in a compilation of James Lee Burke short stories titled The Convict and Other Stories from 1985. From what I can tell, the only older Burke writing featuring one or another branch of the Hollands is the 1971 novel Lay Down My Sword and Shield.

The story is set close to 1947 Yoakum, Texas, and its narrator is a high school kid trying to earn some cash by spending his summer picking tomatoes in the fields belonging to the town’s only Baptist preacher. Hack, as he is known to his friends, also has his eye on a young Mexican girl working the same job, and finally finds the nerve to ask her to accompany him to the local root beer stand. But 1947 Yoakum is not ready to accept that kind of biracial relationship, and because Juanita’s father is also an organizer for the pickers union, it is inevitable that Hack will pay a heavy price for his tolerance.

convictIt doesn’t take long for Hack and his Uncle Sidney Holland to pay that price. One gets the tar beaten out of him; the other has a huge cross burned on his property during the early morning hours. Those familiar with the various branches and generations of the Holland family featured in Burke’s later novels already know, however, that this is not going to end well for the racist teens and their cross-burning elders. Just not going to happen.

James Lee Burke had been a published author since at least 1965 but in relative terms he had published very little (three novels and perhaps a handful of short stories) prior to “Uncle Sidney and the Mexicans.” Burke has become a fairly prolific writer since those early years, and is now known primarily for his long crime series featuring Cajun detective Dave Robicheaux. He has, however, not published a Robicheaux novel since 2013 and seems now to be focusing on standalone novels featuring various members of the Holland family (Billy Bob, Hackberry, or Weldon).

“Uncle Sidney and the Mexicans,” early as it is in the evolution of the Holland family story, holds up very well and should not be missed by James Lee Burke fans.

The Roanoke Girls

1101906669-01-_sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_The Roanoke Girls is author Amy Engel’s first entry into the adult fiction market. Engel is also the author of a two-book dystopian series known as The Book of Ivy series. I have not read Engel’s YA books, but I suspect (and hope) that they are very different in both tone and content from The Roanoke Girls, a novel that even many adults are certain to find disturbing.

After her mother’s suicide, there was simply no place for sixteen-year-old Lane Roanoke to go. She had never known her father, or for that matter, any other blood relative she may have had, and it appeared likely that she would be spending the next two years of her life with foster parents. And then someone found the Kansas grandparents Lane had never met, and she was off to a new life in rural Kansas. There she discovered Allegra, a cousin who could have been her twin; a generous and affectionate grandfather; a somewhat standoffish grandmother; and the cook from hell, a sour-faced woman who could not have been a worse cook if she had worked at it. For a while, it looked like Lane had found the perfect place in which to finally turn her life around.

But then she started to notice that everything about life at Roanoke was not what it seemed, and when she learned the horrifying history of the rest of the Roanoke girls on her family tree, Lane ran for her life, intending never to set foot in Kansas again. For ten years, she did not go back. Then came her grandfather’s phone call asking Lane to come home because her cousin Allegra had disappeared. Now, because she already feels guilty about having abandoned Allegra to her fate at Roanoke, Lane knows that the only way she can possibly make things right again is by finding Allegra – or figuring out what happened to her.

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Any Engel

The Roanoke Girls is set in a rural Kansas town, one that is culturally and economically dominated by the one wealthy family in the area, the Yates Roanoke family. Engel paints a bleak picture of life in the community, and an equally bleak one of its inhabitants. The young women are portrayed generally as losers caught up in a cycle of losing family situations, and even the two central character young men are so weak or damaged that it is difficult for them to do the right thing consistently.

The book’s plot is not a pretty one. The Roanoke family secrets it reveals are horrifying and disgusting ones – and those secrets scar four generations of the family. For that reason, the book makes for rather difficult reading at times as the reader comes to grips with the reality of the situation being described. That, though, is the least of the book’s problems. The Roanoke Girls depends so heavily upon a high degree of willfully suspended disbelief on the part of readers that I doubt that many of them will take its out-of-control ending very seriously.

Bottom Line: The Roanoke Girls should come with a warning label or two so that readers will know what they are getting into. The writing is often skillful, and at times the book is a page-turner, but good grief, this one demands a bit too much of its readers.

(Review Copy provided by Publisher)

Time Travel Tuesday: E.F. Benson’s “In the Tube”

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E. F. Benson

This week’s Tuesday Time Travel story comes from the pen of E.F. (Edward Frederic} Benson, a British writer perhaps best known for his Mapp and Lucia series written between 1920 and 1939. Benson died in London in 1940 at age seventy-two. Today’s story, “In the Tube,” first appeared in a 1923 issue of Hutchinson’s Magazine.  

The story’s narrator recounts an evening he spent in the home of one Anthony Carling, a man known among his London acquaintances as a great storyteller and gentlemanly host. As the story begins, the formal evening has ended and all the guests but one are making their way home under terrible, icy conditions. The narrator is the only guest who will be spending the entire night in the Carling home. Now, even though it is very late, the two men are enjoying the warmth of a comfortable fire when Carling begins to tell his guest of a recent experience on the London Tube.

Earlier in the month, Carling tells his guest, on the last train of the evening he found himself sharing an entire car with only one other passenger, a man he feels he should somehow recognize. Arriving at the next station, the two men changed trains, and again they were the only two passengers in their car. Shortly after the train began to move, however, Carling realized that he was the train’s only passenger. The very next evening, Carling was astounded to meet the same man at his neighbor’s home and reminded him they actually met on the previous evening – but the man insists the he arrived in London from the country on this very morning and could not possibly have met Carling the day before.

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Scene from 1920s London Underground

The next evening, while once again catching the Tube’s last westward-bound train, Carling spots the same man standing near where the train will pull into the station. But to Carling’s horror, when the train does arrive, the man steps in front of it and is crushed to death. No one else, however, sees a thing – because Carling, he is certain, has somehow been granted a look into the future.

Now should he try to prevent the man’s suicide, or will confronting him with what he knows, only place the idea of suicide into the stranger’s head? Why does he have this special spiritual connection with a man he has only ever met one time? And what if their connection survives even death?

Benson is known as a writer of ghost stories, and the ending of “In the Tube” is probably more reminiscent of a ghost story ending than that of a time-travel story. But whichever type story you choose to call it, “In the Tube” is one thing for certain: an intriguing look at what the editor of The Time Traveler’s Almanac calls the “theory that time possessed a geography that could be explored.” And explore it, E.F. Benson does.

Rather Be the Devil

3e8e0861de1d5c8596e78716e51444341587343Rather Be the Devil, it should be noted, is the twenty-first novel in Ian Rankin’s Inspector Rebus series – and a whole lot has happened to John Rebus since he was introduced in 1987’s Knots and Crosses. Rebus is no longer the mentally fragile young detective of those early days who struggled with life as much as he did with the Scotland Police crime cases assigned to him. Instead, because of Rankin’s wise decision to allow Rebus to age almost in real time as the novels appear, Rebus is now an ex-cop struggling with the boredom of retirement and suffering the physical ailments of a lifetime of bad habits. The man has COPD and suspects that there could be something even more seriously wrong with his lungs than that.

Rebus cannot picture himself as a pensioner, and fortunately for him, some of his ex-colleagues with the Scotland Police themselves find it impossible to see him that way. This is especially the case with those for whom Rebus was a one-time mentor and for others who remember him as the effective crime-solver he was in his prime. And that explains how Rebus gets his hands on the files of a cold case murder that is destined to remain forever unsolved unless someone like him takes it on. When I say that the heavy drinking, chain-smoking John Rebus has now been limited to half-pints of low-alcohol beer and zero cigarettes, it will be easy for long-term fans of the series to forecast that the angry ex-detective is about to make someone pay for that old murder.

The case involves the 1978 murder of a promiscuous young woman in the hotel room in which she awaited the arrival of her latest lover. Also in the hotel at the time of the murder were seventies rock star Bruce Collier, Collier’s band, and all the hangers-on usually associated with an event like that one. As it turned out, there were so many people with potential access to the death scene and the victim that no one could be charged with the murder. Now, all these years later, the investigation leads Rebus into the world of international finance and banking – and right back to two local mobsters with whom he is well acquainted: his longtime nemesis “Big Ger” Cafferty and the younger thug who is trying to take over Cafferty’s criminal empire.

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Ian Rankin

John Rebus may be more than a bit creaky these days, but he know his turf well and he is willing to bend whatever rule necessary to help him catch a killer, including impersonating a police officer. There are those with the Scotland Police who wish they had seen the last of him on the day he turned in his badge, but even they sometimes grudgingly ask his help. Rebus has contacts, he has snitches, and most importantly, he is just about the only cop that “Big Ger” Cafferty will speak with – both on and off the record.

Although it’s chief character has not physically aged very well, the same cannot be said for the series itself. With good reason, readers are always ready to snatch up the next Inspector Rebus novel, and Rather Be the Devil will leave them anxiously anticipating whatever Rankin has planned next.

(Review Copy provided by Publisher)

Short Story Saturday: Michael Connelly’s “The Crooked Man”

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Michael Connelly

Today’s Saturday Short Story comes from a short story collection that I picked up at a used-book bookstore this week called In the Company of Sherlock Holmes: Stories Inspired by the Holmes Canon. As soon as I saw that the fifteen stories included one each from Sara Paretsky, Harlan Ellison, John Lescroart, and Michael Connelly, I knew I had to have it. I was really pleased to learn last night as I began reading it that “The Crooked Man,” Connelly’s story, features his much-loved character (Former) LAPD Detective Harry Bosch.

Harry and his partner have been called to a murder scene in the biggest house either of them has ever seen. As they arrive, Bosch is pleased to see that the coroner he considers to be “a crime scene artist” is already there and in the process of examining the body. The man is so good at what he does that cops have taken to addressing him as Sherlock. And that’s how Harry gets his attention:

“Ah, Harry. Come in to our little circle here. The game is afoot.”

517smtmudul-_sx329_bo1204203200_The young deputy coroner then proceeds to tell Harry what he has discovered about the body already, including the exact weapon that killed him (which does not appear to be in the room); the exact brand of cognac in the dead man’s stomach (ascertained by manually burping the man); and what state of mind the man was in just before he was struck by the blow that killed him. Along the way, in conversation with Bosch, he illustrates the movements of both the murderer and victim just prior to the crime and announces that the murder weapon is still in the room somewhere. Oh, yes – he also takes a moment to diagnose an illness Bosch is unknowingly suffering from because he has been attributing the symptoms of the disease to the aging process.

This story is great fun and Sherlock Holmes fans will appreciate the numerous nods to the Arthur Conan Doyle character that Connelly delivers. My only disappointment is that almost none of the Bosch personality shows through here. It’s almost as if a generic police detective had had Bosch’s name attached to it instead. That said, the story itself does work beautifully and exactly as Connelly intended it to. Now I’m looking forward to reading other stories from In the Company of Sherlock Holmes.