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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

Quick reads before taking on George R.R. Martin

Next on my reading list is A Dance with Dragons, the fifth massive tome in Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire fantasy series.  At almost 1,000 pages, I wasn’t quite ready to commit, so I slipped in a couple of books that I bought at sales recently.  Here are there reviews:

Death and Faxes by Leslie O’Kane

Okay, while I read a lot of different genres, this is not one that I usually venture into.  Cozies are usually just too cute and touchy feely for my tastes.  So why did I read this?  I don’t know, but I did and here is my review.

While her husband is out of the country on business, Molly Masters returns to house-sit her childhood home with her two young children.  Molly, a greeting card designer, has to deal with former high school teachers, friends, rivals, sinister threats over her fax machine and murder.  Much angst and humor ensues (I did mention former high school acquaintances, right?) as Molly tries to figure out who dunnit.  As usual, the humor is just a little too cute for me, but characters were well drawn and it was a pretty good mystery.  My one comment is my surprise at how fast technology has progressed.  Written in 1996, this book has the plot centered on the use of a fax machine.  Molly uses it as her primary communication method for her business and receives her threats appear there.

The Captain by Seymour Shubin

If you read my post last week, you know that I have processed almost 800 books in the last six weeks.  There are always titles that look interesting to read, but they get put on a shelf or in a box and I forget about them until I sell them and say “I meant to read that.”  So, when I finished several books on my reading list, but wasn’t quite ready to tackle the 1000 pages of A Dance with Dragons, I looked in my pile and pulled out The Captain.

Not so much a mystery, as a character study, this is the story of a longtime head of the detective bureau in the police department, now retired and living in a nursing home.  He is referred to as The Captain by residents and staff, but is not happy at all with how old people are treated.  This is a very interesting story of murder, investigation, how aging people are viewed in our society and nursing homes.  I thought it was well written and thoughtful, as well as suspenseful.

Pronto by Elmore Leonard

I have read a lot of Elmore Leonard novels over the years and always enjoyed them.  They are always well paced, with interesting characters, and Pronto is no exception.  I pulled this one off the shelf when I found out that Raylan Givens is a featured character in the book.  For those who don’t know, Raylan is the main character in the TV series Justified on the FX network.  I had heard that it was based on a Leonard short story and didn’t realize that Raylan had also appeared in books.  Indeed, he is in Pronto and its sequel, Riding the Rap.  According to articles, and verified when I spoke with Dutch at a Michael Connelly book signing last April (see my report below), while Leonard is an executive producer of the show, he does not work on the scripts.  Even so, viewers will recognize a scene toward the end of the book!

Trade secrets…

“Where do you find all of these great books?”  I almost always hear this question when we have a booth at a book fair or when some customer finds their way to our home, which houses our inventory of first editions, rapidly approaching 11,000.  It’s really not a big secret, so I won’t have to kill you if I tell you.  In fact, it’s all very public and I’m always jostling other dealers, collectors and readers to find treasures.


There are two busy times of the year for book buying for me, spring and fall.  This is when all of the Friends of the Library and AAUW groups have their fund-raising book sales.  Also, throughout the year, I buy books from various internet sites, used book stores, dealer catalogs, estate sales, customers looking to thin their collections and library shops.  Here are my statistics for the last six weeks:

25 library and AAUW sales

2 used book stores

2 dealer catalogs

3 old boxes purchased in some previous year, but never processed

1009 miles on the van

794 books processed into inventory


Triple Crossing by Sebastian Rotella

Every so often, Shar reads a review of a book that really gets her attention.  The next thing you know she’s off to the library and back home reading it in her favorite chair.  It didn’t take her long to finish this one and tell me I had to read it.  She is rarely wrong and certainly isn’t on this one!

This is a gritty, fast-paced thriller about the criminal underworld and corruption at work along both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border.  At the center of the story is Valentine Pescatore, a rookie Border Patrol agent trying to survive the trenches of The Line in San Diego.  He gets in trouble and finds himself recruited as an informant.  Things spiral out of control and he finds himself deeply involved with the smugglers in Mexico and South America’s Triple Border area.

The writing is terrific, with great pacing and many well drawn, complex and ambiguous characters.   I felt completely immersed is this world and happy that I live in the midwest.

The Good Thief’s Guide to Amsterdam by Chris Ewan

One of the perks of being a book dealer is discovering authors you’ve never heard of before.  This past Labor Day weekend, while of a trip to NYC, I’m looking for good stock at The Strand Bookstore and come across a couple of titles by this author.  Now, they weren’t in the best of shape, but they sounded interesting.  An hour later, when I decided to buy the paperback copy of his first book to give it a try, I couldn’t remember his name.  So, after getting home and doing a little research, I brought home a copy from our local library and I’m glad I did.

Our protagonist is Charlie Howard, a globe-trotting author who writes suspense novels about an intrepid burglar named Faulks.  Of course, Charlie has a side business stealing for a very discreet clientele on commission.  The humor seemed a bit forced at times, but was amusing most of the time.  The seemingly simple plot had enough twists and danger to keep this reader interested.  My favorite part of the book may have been Charlie’s conversations with his literary agent, Victoria, who picks at the flaws in his latest manuscript and serves as a sounding board for his problems.

For me, this kind of book is just the thing to read between bouts of suspense and thriller novels.  It kind of clears the palate.  I’ll be looking for The Good Thief’s Guide to Paris in a couple of weeks.

2011 Edgar Nominations

The nominations for the 2011 Edgar Allan Poe Awards were recently announced. Winners will be revealed on April 28. Here are two of the categories:

Caught by Harlan Coben
Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin
Faithful Place by Tana French
The Queen of Patpong on Timothy Hallinan
The Lock Artist by Steve Hamilton
I’d Know You Anywhere by Laura Lippman

Rogue Island by Bruce DeSilva
The Poacher’s Son by Paul Doiron
The Serialist by David Gordon
Galveston by Nic Pizzolatto
Snow Angels by James Thompson

Now for something completely different – Deception by Denise Mina

I’m struggling, both to classify this novel and to decide if I liked it or not. Mina’s first three books put you in the world of the Scottish working class, following Maureen O’Donnell in her efforts to survive the murder of her boyfriend and the lingering effects of her sexual abuse at the hands of her father. They were straight forward, if grim, stories. Deception puts you in the world of Lachlan Harriot, whose psychologist wife has just been convicted of murder. The mystery is did she really do it and, if so, why? It is, in equal parts, fascinating, frustrating and compelling. Am I glad I read it? Yes, but I liked her first three better and I am told that her Paddy Meehan series is excellent. The first one is already on my reading list.

Britton’s back!

A couple of years ago I came across a paperback copy of Britton’s first book, The American (2006). It looked interesting, I bought it and read it and immediately went looking for more of his work. I read The Assassin (2007) and The Invisible (2008) and thoroughly enjoyed them. Then I discovered that Britton had died in 2008 of some undiagnosed heart condition at the age of 27. Imagine my surprise a couple of weeks ago when I came across a copy of his fourth book, The Exile, published in 2010. I have just finished reading and, while I don’t think it was as good as the first three, I still enjoyed it. The story is complex and the resolution pretty satisfying. It doesn’t go at the breakneck speed of the Thor book I just finished or the Vince Flynn books. According to a couple of websites, Britton left several manuscripts behind and they will be published. The Operative is scheduled to be out this summer. I’ll be looking for it!

Foreign Influence by Brad Thor

Yet another fine thriller from Brad Thor! Scot Harvath is at the top of his game chasing down terrorists plotting multiple attacks in Europe while Chicago Police Sergeant, and part time attorney, John Vaughan investigates a hit-and-run, which leads him into the Muslim community in Chicago. The action is fast and furious and includes re-appearance from The Troll and the introduction of an Athena Team from the Army. They were terrific and are featured in Thor’s next book: The Athena Project. I’ll get to that one soon!

My latest trip to Wyoming

Being a city boy (suburban Detroit), I always enjoy a book that puts me in surroundings and circumstances that are completely out of my little world. C.J. Box did that in his first two Joe Pickett novels, Open Season and Savage Run, and succeeds once more in Winterkill. They are set in rural Wyoming, where young game warden Joe Pickett struggles with family matters, political bureaucracy, murder, social issues and personal morals in the middle of a bitter winter storm. The writing put me right in the middle of the mountains and made look for something warmer to put on. My only complaint is that a couple of the characters were too over the top. While that works for Elmore Leonard and Carl Hiaasen, I didn’t think it fit here very well. I know that Box made some effort to explain them, but they never seemed real to me. Having said that, this was still a good read and I raced through it and look forward to the next one, Trophy Hunt.