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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.

Archive for February, 2011

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.