Welcome to our blog
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.

Archive for the ‘Police procedural’ Category

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.”



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.

Recent reads

Gabriel Cohen – Red Hook

From 2001, this is the author’s first book and was an Edgar Award nominee.  One review called this “a police procedural with heart” and I completely agree.  I liked the protagonist, Detective Jack Leightner of NYPD’s Brooklyn South Homicide Task Force, with all of his family problems, past and present.  The plot plods along (did I mention that it’s a police procedural?) as Jack and his partner try to piece things together, but the personal touches, the history of the setting and the prose keep the reading interesting.  Here is a sample from chapter 26:

“Silence was at the heart of the job.  On TV detectives ran around waving guns, cars screeched and flipped over, bad guys shouted and jumped fences.  In real life there was violence and noise during the crime, and there would be crying and confusion after, but in these first moments of discovery, the scene was still as a painting.”

Cohen has written four more books, including two more featuring Jack Leightner, which I will be adding to my reading list.

C.J. Box – Savage Run

This is the author’s, and his protagonist’s, second outing.  I mostly enjoyed his first book, Open Season, although I thought there were too many red herrings and it was just tried too hard.  Savage Run, however, is much more assured and satisfying.  A solid plot, interesting characters and terrific Wyoming settings make this one a winner and it’s easy to see why Box is such a popular author now.  I’ll be working my way through his subsequent novels!

David Hosp – Dark Harbor

Author’s debut novel, featuring rising star attorney Scott Finn, a friend from the past, two memorable Boston cops and a serial killer.  A pretty good read, without much to complain about.  It’s not giving anything away to say that Finn reappears in subsequent titles and I want to find out what happens next.

2010 Edgar winners

The Mystery Writers of America gave their 2010 Edgar award for best novel to John Hart’s The Last Child, while Stefanie Pintoff’s In the Shadow of  Gotham was chosen as best first novel by an American author.

I read the Pintoff book on vacation and never got around to blogging about it, which is a shame, because I liked it a lot.  It’s a police procedural set in 1905.  The protagonist, Simon Ziele, is a former New York police officer who’s sought a less stressful post in a small town north of the city.  A brutal murder there sends him back to Gotham, where he partners with a university professor who studies the criminal mind.  Writing in the 21st century, Pintoff effectively captures the early flavor of what we now know as criminal profiling.

I’m delighted to see there’s a new sequel, A Curtain Falls.

A Beautiful Place to Die, by Malla Nunn

Nunn started her career as a screenwriter. Gotta make some money before you follow your heart into the poverty-stricken world of book publishing, right, Malla?

No boring exposition here. Nunn gives her characters dialog that economically conveys character and drives the story.

In Nunn’s apartheid-based world, a cop with a secret, on the verge of trouble and insubordination (is there any other way?) navigates the dark pathways between whites and blacks to find a murderer in a South African village.

I’ve been working my way through a number of Edgar nominees and this is yet another worthy candidate.

Kay Scarpetta movie on the horizon

The NY Times reports on 4/24/09 that Angelina Jolie will play Kay Scarpetta on film.  The movie will not be based on a single Patricia Cornwell book; it will combine elements from several.

Bloody Mary by J.A. Konrath

by Sharlan Douglas

Sue Grafton really painted herself into a corner with the Kinsey Milhone books: 26 and she’s done. J.A. Konrath has no such problem. His six books featuring Chicago cop Jacqueline (Jack) Daniels are named for cocktails and my Mr. Boston Deluxe Official Bartender’s Guide lists more than 1,700 possibilities.

I read the first, Whiskey Sour, and I liked the wise-cracking heroine, who shoots pool and perps and also has a tendency to shoot herself in the foot. In the latest, Bloody Mary, I’ve grown a little tired of Jack’s bungling. Whenever Konrath needs to create some action, he just has her do something stupid. How’d she get to be such a hot shot in the CPD? When he needs cheap comic relief he trots out Jack’s oafish ex-partner. And I was hard-pressed to believe that the serial killer in Bloody Mary had gotten away with so much for so long.

Two books by John Burdett

by Ken Hebenstreit

Burdett’s Bangkok series has drawn my eye at the library for several months and I finally checked out the first of the series (Bangkok 8) to read over the holidays. I quickly finished that and immediately went back for the next, Bangkok Tattoo. Royal Thai Police detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep from District 8 is an enticing protagonist. Both books have unusual plots lines and are highly atmospheric, with big dollops of humor, Buddhism, the Thai sex trade and commentary on western culture and, perhaps some insight into Asian culture. Give these a try!

Officer Down by Theresa Schwegel

by Sharlan Douglas

At Christmas I asked Santa for books by Theresa Schwegel and the jolly elf obliged with her first book, Officer Down, which won the 2006 Edgar for best first novel.

The top cops think that our protagonist , Samantha Mack, shot her partner in a raid-gone-wrong. She’s crashing around trying to find the real killer, drinking too much and relying on her married lover and fellow cop to help clear her name.

‘d describe this as more police than procedural.  It captures the politics, paranoia and dark corners of a big city (Chicago) police department but short-changes protocol and rules of evidence.  Nevertheless, Schwegel paces the story well and creates rich details in an award-worthy first novel.