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We're Ken Hebenstreit and Sharlan Douglas, blogging here about the books we love: Mysteries, suspense, crime fiction. If you want to comment on one of our postings, click on its headline.

Author Archive

We All Fall Down by Michael Harvey

This story about a biological weapon release in Chicago is suspenseful but a bit too economical. The protagonist, Michael Kelly, a former Chicago cop turned PI, too-neatly pulls together the solution to a gang drug deal, a municipal purchasing corruption scandal and the pathogen release. We never see him think or debate multiple options. There are no mistakes or red herrings and little color.

Harvey’s prose is terse to a fault. I frequently had to loop back a half a page to follow the back-and-forth to know who was speaking.

Perhaps the book will work better as the screenplay for which Harvey seems to be seeking options.

Alafair Burke – Denise Mina smackdown

I recently read Alafair Burke’s Long Gone and Denise Mina’s The End of the Wasp Season.  Both authors demonstrated their skill at plotting, laying out complex story lines and clearly guiding us along them to satisfying conclusions. The Burke was a pretty straightforward mystery while I’d call Mina’s (a standalone outside her other series) more of police procedural.

At the end of the day, I have to declare Mina the winner in this duel I’ve invented. Her characters are complex, she understands the nuances of their relationships and observes how those nuances are expressed.

“As Gobby poured three plastic cups of water out, Bannerman turned back and smiled at the camera. It was too flippant for McKechnie–he shifted reproachfully in his seat,” and “It wasn’t the floor wipe McKechnie had been expecting. He had stopped looking at the screen and was checking the crease in his trousers.”



Martin meets Mormon

This in the December 16, 2011 Entertainment Weekly, from George R.R. Martin: “We went to see The Book of Mormon on Broadway. One of the actors recognized me from the stage and during intermission invited me back to sign his book.” I love this for so many reasons. 1) It marries my two passions of Game of Thrones and theater, 2) It proves the obvious: That Broadway chorus boys are, at the core, just a bunch of geeky 20-somethings and, 3) Martin scored some really good seats.

Lunch with Michael Connelly

April 13, 2011 was a beautiful spring day in metro Detroit.  I loaded up the van with two bags of first editions and headed for Birmingham to meet and lunch with one of our favorite authors, one of the few that we actually collect.  The luncheon was a benefit for The Community House and the Baldwin Public Library.  Connelly had a full day with this meet-and-greet luncheon followed by an afternoon event where he discussed The Lincoln Lawyer and an evening event at the Jewish Community Center in West Bloomfield which would up with an overflow crowd of more than 300.

“I might not be here today if it wasn’t for the library,” Connelly said in his brief opening remarks.  Connelly credits the local public library for the many hours he clocked reading as a child in Florida. Connelly’s mother was a bank teller, he said, and in the summer she would drop him off at the library in the morning and pick him up after work.  He said he was “happy to take part in anything that supports the library.”

After his remarks, people quickly lined up to meet Connelly and have him sign books.  Book Beat, a fine local independent book store, had a table of the author’s books available for purchase, including his latest novel, The Fifth Witness.  I think I took the prize for bringing the most books, and I waited until the line diminished before approaching the author.  He very generously inscribed copies for our collection and signed copies that will be for sale shortly.

The bonus round was the appearance of local author Elmore Leonard and his son (and author) Peter Leonard.  I had the opportunity to chat briefly with Dutch about the FX series Justified, which is based on his short story, Fire in the Hole.  Even though he is an executive producer for the show, he has nothing to do with the story line.  However, he is in the middle of writing a novel featuring Raylan Givens and, as he completes sections, has been sending them to the shows writers.  There are times when Shar an I are watching the show, hear some dialog and simultaneous laugh out loud because we know we just heard Leonard’s words.


Where’s Clive?

Today, as with the “Where’s Waldo” children’s books, we ask, “Where’s Clive?”  As in Cussler.  We found him quite close to home.  Cussler’s National Underwater & Marine Agency (NUMA), partnering with Michigan Shipwreck Research Associates, recently discovered the wreck of an 1830s-era sloop in Lake Michigan  between Saugatuck and South Haven.

Cussler’s multiplying his effect through other partnerships.  He writers the Dirk Pitt book with his son, Dirk (cq), the NUMA files books with Paul Kemprocos, the Oregon files books with Craig Dirgo and Jack DeBrul, The Isaac Bell series with Justin Scott and the Fargo adventures with Grant Blackwood.

Snow Angels by James Thompson

What is it about Scandinavia that makes its mystery novels so dark and melancholy and turns their protagonists into gloomy alcoholics?   I see it in the works of Henning Mankel, Jo Nesbo and now James Thompson.  Only Stieg Larson seems immune.  His characters eat sandwiches and drinks lots of coffee.

Kari Vaara is a brooding Lapland police chief (did I mention he drinks too much?) investigating the  gruesome murder of a Somolian pop star during the sunless, bitterly cold winter.  The sources and suspects include Vaara’s ex wife and her boyfriend, a dissolute playboy and the simple folk in his district.  The solution comes a bit too conveniently, but the overall story and atmosphere are compelling.

Rogue Island by Bruce DeSilva

You saw it here first:  Keep your eye out for this new author.  He’s one to watch.

A book about a traditional, hard-boiled, big city reporter will always tug at the heartstrings of this journalism school graduate but it better keep pulling me in after that initial tug.  Rogue Island delivers.

Reporter Liam Mulligan grew up in the working class neighborhood of Provincetown, RI which is now beset with a series of deadly arsons. He drives a beat-up car with a name, smokes Cuban cigars and loves the Red Sox beyond all reason.   DeSilva’s other characters are right out of noir’s central casting — a bookie who is the neighborhood philanthropist, mobsters in shiny suits, the beautiful, young ambitious girl reporter and the eager beaver copy  boy.

The plot is tight, the prose is spare but sufficient.

The fact that the book refers gratuitously to Loren Estleman early on gave it a leg up.  And what could be more Estleman-esque than the following?

“Polecki lit a cheap black stogie with a disposable lighter, leaned back in his oak office chair, and thunked his weary wingtips on a green blotter scarred with tobacco burns.  The chair groaned under the weight he’d packed on since the wife left and Kentucky Fried wasn’t just for breakfast anymore.  His assistant, a bum named Roselli, who got the job because he was first cousin to the mayor,  sat stiffly on a gray metal chair under a cracked window skimmed over with ice on the inside.”

Dead Letter Hell or Going Postal

It all started the day before Thanksgiving, 2010 when I took a package to the Royal Oak post office to ship 11 books to a new customer, who lives less than a two hour drive north of me.  Let’s call him John.  Two days later, the USPS website showed that the box had made it to the right post office, but was deemed undeliverable as addressed.  Then the fun really began.

Imagine my surprise when, instead of being returned to me, the box showed up in Atlanta, then Memphis, then Allen Park, MI, then Warrendale, PA, then Atlanta, then Memphis, then Allen Park, then Atlanta.  I must admit that I have had no experience with this.  I’ve been packaging and shipping books for over fifteen years and have never had a problem.

Of course, during this period, I had several conversations with John (my customer) and with post office personnel.  None of us were worried, it being the holiday shipping season, so it wasn’t until after the holidays that things escalated.  John, his local postmaster and I had a conference call and some form got filled out to try to find the package.  No success.

The local clerk gave me a phone number for a group that resolves issues.  When my call was never returned, I asked about it one day while shipping packages.  The clerk next to us asked what number I was calling and, when I showed it to her, said that was her old number and she had not been replaced, so no one was answering that phone!  She made copies of my receipt and delivery confirmation slip and said she would call Atlanta.  Several days later someone finally answered her call and the package was found.  More than several days after that, the package finally was delivered to John.  I’m not sure why it wasn’t forwarded from Atlanta using overnight shipping and at least priority mail, but after 10 weeks on the road its journey was over.  John was a great sport during all these shenanigans.  He said the box was battered (see photo) but the books were intact.

Indigo fantasy series by Louise Cooper

By Clint Hebenstreit

I just finished reading the “Indigo” series by Louise Cooper, a series of eight books starting with Nemesis, published in ’88, and ending with Aisling, published in ’93.  They tell the story of Princess Anghara who, in violating a millennia old taboo, releases seven demons upon the world.  Her family slaughtered, her fiancé’ captured, she is tasked by the Earth Mother to seek the demons out and destroy them.  This series keeps you guessing from the beginning to the end.  I found it to be exciting, inventive, romantic, and heart-warming.  Each book was unique and didn’t subject the reader to formulaic high fantasy with cookie cutter plot lines. In fact my only true complaint about the series is the main character’s occasional bouts of self-loathing. As with Thomas Covenant, these times can seem to drag the story down a bit and make it difficult to get through. However the good far outweighs the bad and, though it has its flaws, I still highly recommend the series as a whole. I t varies from book to book but I rate the series a 4 out of 5.

Featured in Fine Books Magazine blog

At opening night of the Washington Antiquarian Book Fair, we met Christopher Lancette, blogger for Fine Books Magazine.  He featured Ken in that night’s post.  See it here