A Brilliant Death is a Brilliant Book

A Brilliant DeathA Brilliant Death
Robin Yocum
Seventh Street Books
Trade Paper $15.95 US/$17.00 CAN
ebook $9.99

First I’d like to thank Seventh Street Books for the review copy of A Brilliant Death.  This book reached out, grabbed me, and pulled me in like no book has done in a long time.  Robin Yocum has just been added to my Read-Anything-He-Writes-Including-His-Grocery-List List.  A Brilliant Death catapulted me into a time and place and made me feel like I was there.

The narrator is Mitch Malone, and his best friend is Travis Baron.  They’re high school students in the town of Brilliant Ohio in the late 1960s and early 1970s.  Brilliant is a real places, Mr. Yocum’s hometown in fact.  That’s proably a main reason the town described in the book seems so real.

Travis’s mother Amanda died when he was a baby, killed when a barge sunk a riverboat she and her lover were on in the middle of the night.  At least, that’s the story everyone believes.

Travis’s father, Big Frank, is a long haul trucker who was on the road the night his wife died.  He doesn’t have much time for his son, unless it’s to beat him.  So not surprisingly, Travis spends a lot of time at Mitch’s house.

Also not surprising is the desire Travis has to know more about his mother.  He can’t help but overhear the stories people in town tell about how she died.  It doesn’t help that her body was never found, nor was the body of her lover.  And since no one turned up missing in the area, it’s widely believed that he managed to swim to shore and is still alive.

What is surprising are some of the things Travis learns about his mother.  Not everything everyone “knows” turns out to be true.

Yocum does a great job of peeling the layers of the mystery away, like digging through the layers of an paleontology dig.  There are plenty of twists in this one, each one believeable and completely logical.  Mitch and Travis come across as thoroughly real people.  They each have their motivations and quirks.  The amount of detail is especially well handled, with things you think are there just for background turning out to be important.  Pay close attention to the memorial service in Chapter 2.  Most of what follows is flashback, and there are some details that are significant in that chapter.

The author bio on the back cover of A Brilliant Death says Mr. Yocum is a former crime and investigative reporter.  It shows in his writing.  From the disgraced detective who treated Amanda’s death as a hoicide to the ways the boys go about gathering evidence, there’s a clear logic in what we’re told and when.  Remember, details.

In academic circles, there are arguments among people with too much education and too much time on their hands over whether genre can also be Literature.  That’s with a capital “L”.  I submit that A Brilliant Death is Literature.  And a fantastic read.

There’s a prologue in which Mitch setting the stage where he mentions he has two cousins.  All three were born a few months apart.  He says that all three of them had a common bond between them and that was murder.  But their stories aren’t his to tell.  (The cousins pop in and out of this story.)  I really hope that means we’re going to see two more novels from Mr. Yocum.

A Brilliant Death is highly recommended.

What Happens When Promises are Broken

Broken Promise
Linwood Barclay
Penguin
mass market paper $9.99
ebook $9.99

I’d seen Broken Promise in Wal-Mart and considered picking it up.  But at the time, I wasn’t familiar with Mr. Barclay’s work, and I had a ton of stuff to read, and…you get the picture.

Then last week Richard Chizmar, publisher of Cemetery Dance,  tweeted that he couldn’t put the book down.  So I went and picked up a copy over lunch.  Then I was a bit under the weather over the weekend.  So I read it.

I get what Chizmar meant about not putting it down.  Broken Promise has a lot going for it.  I’ll be reading more of Mr. Barclay’s work.

After his wife died, David Harwood had left the town of Promise Falls and taken his son with him to Boston.  But he spent all his evenings at work rather than with his son, so now he’s back.  His first day on the job, the newspaper where he works closes.

So he’s got some time on his hands and agrees to take some of his mother’s soup over to his cousin Marla.  He finds a bloodstain on the door and Marla with a baby boy.  She says an angel brought the child.  Marla had lost her own baby about 10 months prior, had tried to steal a baby from the hospital, and isn’t the most reliable of witnesses.  It doesn’t help that she has a mental condition that makes it hard for her to remember and recognize faces.  (This is a real condition, not something Barclay made up.)   Something that works against her when the child’s mother is found brutally murdered. Continue reading

Where It Hurts

where it hurtsWhere It Hurts
Reed Farrel Coleman
Putnam
harcover $27.00
ebook $13.99

I’ve been a fan of Reed Farrel Coleman for years, ever since I read Walking the Perfect Square.  So when I saw he had a new series, I didn’t hesitate to pony up the cost of a hardcover.

It was a good investment, I’m looking forward to further installments in this series. Continue reading

John D. MacDonald’s Death Trap

john d macdonald death trapDeath Trap
John D. MacDonald
Fawcett Gold Medal, 1957
mmpb, 191 pgs.,

If you recall, I picked up some old John D. MacDonald paperbacks last summer, which I wrote about here, with one reviewed here.

Well, while I was laid up with the flu last week, I got the hankering to read another one rather than the fantasy novel I’m susposed to be reading for review.  (I blame it on the pharmaceuticals.)

This is one of MacDonald’s earliest novels and went through a number of reprintings, as evidenced by not only several different covers, but several different prices on the same cover illustration.

The setup in this one is pretty straight forward.  MacReedy works for an international construction company.  A few years ago he was in charge of widening a highway from two to four lanes outside a small college town.  While there he meets a young woman named Vicky Landy, whose whiz-kid brother is a freshman at the college.  Vicky and Alister are orphans, and Alister is one of those brilliant kids who hasn’t quite caught the knack of fitting in socially.

MacReedy seduces Vicky, a seduction that culminates just as he is finishing the job.  Vicky had hoped to marry him, and he leaves her with a broken heart.  MacReedy spends the next three years in Spain on a major project, but he can’t get Vicky out of his mind.

Upon his return, he is planning on taking a couple of months off to do some fishing when he sees a small story on the back page of the paper.  Alister is set to be executed for the rape and murder of a 16 year old girl. Continue reading

When a Thousand Crows Fall

Thousand Falling CrowsA Thousand Falling Crows
Larry D. Sweazy
Seventh Street Books
Paperback $15.95
ebook $ $11.99

I love noir, especially Depression Era noir, and most especially when it’s set in my home state of Texas. So A Thousand Falling Crows was my pint of hooch. Many thanks to the good folks at Seventh Street Books for the review copy.  Seventh Street has an outstanding line, and I need to get caught up on a number of their titles.

Sonny Burton is a Texas Ranger in the Panhandle who has been forced to retire after a shootout with Bonnie and Clyde in which he took a bullet in his right arm. Now the arm has been amputated, Sonny is no longer a Ranger, and he’s got to figure out what to do with the rest of his life.

He befriends the janitor, Aldo Hernandez, at the hospital. Aldo’s daughter has stolen her father’s recipe for bathtub gin and run off with a couple of minor league bootleggers, twin brothers. Aldo is afraid she’s going to end up in serious trouble with the law. He’s right. His daughter and the brothers are about to set out on a Bonnie and Clyde crime spree that is only going to escalate. Continue reading

A Different Take on St. Nick

StNick_FrontCover-200x300St. Nick
Alan Russell
Thomas & Mercer
Paper $14.99
ebook $3.99

I was looking for a noir novel with a Christmas theme.  Something similar to the book I reviewed last year.  While browsing some of Amazon’s Christmas offerings, I came across St. Nick by Alan Russell.  It wasn’t quite what I was looking for, but I’ll get to that.

The book opens on Thanksgiving afternoon.  Disgraced San Diego cop Nick Pappas has gotten up and is trying to decide what to eat, the bowl of cereal he’s just poured…or his service revolver.

So far, so good.  This is a good opening, and I’m wondering what is going to keep Pappas from offing himself.  The phone rings, and it’s his first partner, who is retired from the force and is in charge of security at a large mall.  There have been some violent muggings at the mall.  Can Nick go undergover? Continue reading

Happy Birthday, Cornell Woolrich

cornell woolrich smokingMystery and suspense author Cornell Woolrich was born on this day (December 4) in 1903.  He died in 1968.

Although he started out in the 1920s writing jazz age stories in the vein of F. Scott Fitzgerald, he soon began writing stories of crime and suspense.

His work is characterized by protagonists who often feel as though they are at the mercy of forces beyond their control.  In much of his work from the 1930s, the Depression was a major theme.  Few writers were capable of ratcheting up the tension like Woolrich.  He never wrote a sequel, so there was never a guarantee that any of the characters would survive until the end of the story, including the protagonist. Continue reading

Mr. Finn Returns in Scar Tissue

51-nAutN4ML._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_Scar Tissue
Trace Conger
paper $12.95 ebook $4.99

A few months ago I reviewed the first volume in a new PI series, The Shadow Broker by Trace Conger. At the time it was a finalist for the Shamus Award for best independently published novel. Since then, it has won the award. So congratulations to Mr. Conger for the win. It was well deserved. I’d also like to say thank you to him for the review copy of Scar Tissue.

The story picks up about three months after the end of The Shadow Broker.  Finn has moved from his house boat into an apartment in Cincinatti that he shares with his father.  He still spends weekends with his daughter.  He also spends a considerable amount of time with his new girlfriend, who just happens to be the nurse at his daughter’s school.  His ex-wife is still living with the doctor she left him for, but that’s about to change.  It seems the doctor has a little secret. Continue reading

Strolling Through the Devil’s Garden

91NSUhiOT5LDevil’s Garden
Ace Atkins
Putnam
paper $16.00
ebook $11.99

At one point in The Lost Detective, Nathan Ward mentioned that Hammett had worked for a time on the Arbuckle case. And that reminded me that Ace Atkins had written a novel about Hammett’s work on the case which I had been wanting to read.  So I did.

For those who may not be aware of the Arbuckle case, and I’m assuming that’s going to be many of you because Arbuckle is pretty much forgotten these days, it changed Hollywood and the studio system forever. Continue reading

Finding The Lost Detective

TheLostDetective-HC-catThe Lost Detective: Becoming Dashiell Hammett
Nathan Ward
Bloomsbury
hardcover, $26, 214 p.
ebook $9.99

I’m a huge fan of Dashiell Hammett, particularly the Continental Op stories.  So when I saw The Lost Detective come across my recommendations on Amazon, I preordered it.

This isn’t the first biography of Dashiell Hammett, nor will it be the last.  He’s too fascinating a figure to be summed up in one biography.  What caught my attention about The Lost Detective is that the book doesn’t focus on his relationship with Lillian Hellman or his life after he became famous. Continue reading