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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.

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:

BEST NOVEL
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

BEST FIRST NOVEL
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

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.

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!

The Glass Rainbow by James Lee Burke

I think I’m going to write a Dave Robicheax mystery.  In it Clete will get drunk and punch somebody out.  Dave will get drunk or he’ll really, really want to but will instead drink a Dr. Pepper in a tall glass full of crushed ice.  They’ll both go get po-boys, then they’ll drive to the mansion by the bayou to confront the rich guy.  He’s (pick two): Venal, dissolute, gay, a pedophile, a drug user, a drug dealer, suicidal or murderous.  His significant other will be Dave’s  old girlfriend or nemesis.  White people will treat black people badly. It will rain.  Oh, boy, will it rain!

The Glass Rainbow has it all.  What it doesn’t have is any sort of structure.  There’s no plot line drawing you in, no series of revelations that lead the you through the plot  so that, at the end you can say, “Yes!  Of course!”  No, Dave philosophizes a lot while he and Clete ricochet cluelessly around three counties for 400 pages until the book ends.

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.

My latest Lee Child read

For those of you who already read Lee Child, I don’t really need to say anything. For those of you who don’t, what are you waiting for?

Jack Reacher, our wandering, untraceable, loner hero is sent a message only he can decipher. A member of his former team of elite Army investigators has died and he’s off to California to find out why. You get all you want from these books, plus Jack questions his life style choice. You’ll have to read it yourself to find out what he decides.