Book Review

The Concrete Blonde by Michael Connelly

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ConcreteBlondePBOkay, I’m hooked.  Connelly is great at the noir cop novel and this Harry Bosch series keeps me entertained on the long runs.  From the opening line: The house in Silverlake was dark, its windows as empty as a dead man’s eyes. to the end I was entertained.

In this continuation (although all the novels can stand alone) of the Harry Bosch saga, Harry is in civil court, accused in the wrongful death of Norman Church the “Dollmaker.”  Harry shot and killed Church when he reached for what Harry thought was a weapon – it turned out to be his toupee.  Church’s apartment where he was killed is found to contain several pieces of women’s make-up that he used to ‘paint’ his victims after they were dead – thus his nickname.

Church had a thing for prostitutes and poetry. He sent poems to the police and the papers giving clues as to where his victims might be found.  Harry’s actions, though noble, force the LAPD to demote him to Hollywood Homicide for the incident.  He is then further humiliated when the prosecuting attorney in the civil case reveals that his mother, a hooker, was murdered when he was 12.  Telling the jury that Bosch’s actions were a revenge killing.

Re-living his mother’s death, the aftermath and questioning himself for the events in Church’s apartment send Harry on a self inflicted retrospect of his life.  Then, as if on cue, another poem arrives from the Dollmaker!  It can’t have come from Church because he’s been dead for 4 years.  The poem leads the LAPD to a storage locker where they find a bleach blonde street walker encased in cement.  Forensics determines she’s been there for two years – again, it can’t be Church.  This of course forces Harry to re-look at the case.  Did he pop the wrong guy?  As he continues to attend the civil case by day, at night he hunts for what ultimately is a copy-cat killer.  It’s a great read (listen) with a few big surprises.

Spooks the hell out of a runner on a lonely road in Iowa too…

The Girl Who Played With Fire, by Stieg Larsson

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Picture 2Months ago I read Larsson’s “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” and loved it.  This is the sequel to that novel and it is equally as good.

From Publishers Weekly
A few weeks before Dag Svensson, a freelance journalist, plans to publish a story that exposes important people involved in Sweden’s sex trafficking business based on research conducted by his girlfriend, Mia Johansson, a criminologist and gender studies scholar, the couple are shot to death in their Stockholm apartment. The punk hacker savant Lisbeth Salander, who has a history of violent tendencies, becomes the prime suspect after the police find her fingerprints on the murder weapon. The crusading journalist Mikael Blomkvist strives to clear Salander of the crime, some far-fetched twists help ensure her survival. Powerful prose and intriguing lead characters will carry most readers along.

I found this novel so easy to follow on my runs.  With my Jet Lag etc., etc., it was perfect.  The dialogue had me laughing, the plot was intriguing enough to hold my interest and I found myself cheering for Salander.  This book also has one of the best last lines I’ve heard in a while.

The Camel Club by David Baldacci

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The_Camel_Club_David_BaldacciI started listening to this book in Hong Kong and had trouble getting my head around all the characters.  I think it was a combination of jet-lag and running on a treadmill.   Later I found out I wasn’t wrong about the cast of characters.  This is a review from Publisher’s weekly.

Arab terrorists, nuclear threat and political perfidy drive bestselling Baldacci’s latest. The Camel Club, a four-man group of Washington, D.C., misfits (their leader has taken the ironic pseudonym “Oliver Stone”) gathers every week to discuss political conspiracies they believe exist and what actions they might take. One night, while meeting on Roosevelt Island in the middle of the Potomac River, club members witness the murder of Secret Service employee Patrick Johnson, thus thrusting the wacky crew into the middle of a bigger conspiracy than they could ever have imagined. There are scores of characters and subplots to keep track of while the story veers back and forth between venues and villains, forcing readers to remain alert yet patient while awaiting the high-concept payoff. When it finally appears, it’s a doozy: kidnappers who harm no one and are reasonable people with a legitimate gripe bring the U.S. to the verge of nuking Damascus. Baldacci maintains interest during the long buildup by supplying fascinating historical facts, amusing characters, high-tech spy lore and the backstories of his super agents, both good and evil. As fans of this writer know, years of experience have made him an author who promises a good story and then delivers it.

I continued this book when I got home and as the review promises the book has a great ending.  Baldacci has written five of these novels and I will definitely try part two – ‘The Collectors.’  Not sure I’d recommend this as an audio book.  Keeping track of everyone is pretty wild – if I was to read it I’d have a to take crib notes to keep up.

Bump, by Diana Wagman

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9780786712762I read this book on the flights to Iowa and China.  It’s very dark material but somehow compelling.  Wagman brings us into the worlds of four people who all happen to be at turning points in their lives.  They all meet one afternoon in a traffic accident and are brought together again several days later by a twist of fate.  I’d recommend this.

Here’s a review from Amazon:

Wagman’s newest book follows the lives of four total strangers whose paths have crossed after a three-car accident on an L.A. freeway. Dorothy, a hapless twentysomething, is about to marry a man she doesn’t love; Madelyn is a depressed, unhappily married mother of two who has fallen in love with a client at the suicide hot line where she volunteers; Leo, who survived a nasty childhood with an abusive father, lives in his car; and Ray is a Beverly Hills cop obsessed with suicide whose wife has recently left him. The characters all have a slightly morbid quality, not a lighthearted one in the bunch. However, despite the relentlessly dark subject matter, Wagman’s writing has a hypnotic, rhythmic quality that keeps the reader interested till the end.

The Scarecrow by Michael Connelly

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Picture 1Los Angeles Times Newspaper man Jack McEvoy is downsized in the digital age.  Given two weeks to clear out his things and find employment in the shrinking world of traditional journalism, he stumbles across a murder case that he thinks might be a good subject for a novel.

What starts as a story about the wrongful arrest of a young gangbanger for the brutal rape and murder of an exotic dancer turns out to be just the tip of an iceberg that takes McEvoy from the Nevada desert to a futuristic data-hosting facility in Arizona. FBI agent Rachel Walling, with whom he worked on a serial killer case in 1996’s The Poet, soon joins the hunt, but as the pair uncover more about the killer and his unsettling predilections, they realize that they too are being hunted.

This book contains some pretty gruesome descriptions of what the killer does to his victims.  I would not recommend it to everyone.

The Black Echo by Michael Connelly

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n56700A friend of mine pointed out the other day that running in San Francisco is like running in your own movie.  It’s a perfect description for a sunrise run down the Embarcadero.  I ran with this novel in San Francisco and as the noir detective Harry Bosch unfolded the case, the city became a supporting cast.   Even though the story takes place in Los Angeles, the hustle and bustle of Market Street and Columbus Avenue in San Fran, have such texture and vitality that I put the story in “my world” and it really added to the novel.  For the opening of this series (14 total) Connelly does a great job of setting up the character.  He’s a brooding Vietnam Vet with his own brand of justice.  Not Dirty Harry but a man with a 6th sense about suspects and the evidence that surrounds a case. He takes his lumps but never gives up.

I started the series out of order.  Trunk Music is actually the 5th novel in the series.  I’m going to take a break from the noir for my next read but will be back for more.  Again, if you like a good detective series, try this one!

This is the back jacket description for this novel.

LAPD detective Hieronymous (aka Harry) Bosch is a loner and a nighthawk. Called out on a routine drug overdose case, Bosch soon realises that the victim found lying in the Mullholland Dam drainpipe is no accident case. Billy Meadows was a fellow ‘tunnel rat’ in Vietnam and Harry swears to bring the killer to justice.

Nobody Move, by Denis Johnson

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I actually finished this book prior to San Francisco.

I bought this book on Audible because I loved running with Michael Connely’s character Harry Bosch.  I thought what better way to keep the noir theme going.  About 3/4 of the way through I realized there was no way Johnson was going to wrap the story up – too many loose ends.  I was right.  This is a great novel with fun characters and some good writing.  If you like a good bad guys chasing bad guys story, this one is for you.  I of course went looking for part two and after a little research I came across this article in the NY Entertainment Magazine.  I guess I have to wait until its published or get a subscription to Playboy – oh well, I guess waiting isn’t so bad.

Denis Johnson Finally Gives Us a Reason to Buy ‘Playboy’

At last, Playboy is sexy again! Novelist Denis Johnson — whose magnum opus Tree of Smoke won the National Book Award last year and whose Jesus’ Son is a minor masterpiece — will write Nobody Move, a short serialized novel, for Playboy, starting in the July issue. Four 10,000-word segments will be written on deadline for the magazine, together making a noir novel in the spirit, according to Johnson, of Dashiell Hammett — but also of Charles Dickens, whose novels were written and published serially.  We haven’t been excited about an issue of Playboy since we miraculously were sold one in ninth grade at a gas station outside Madison. We wonder if we’ll still be as nervous when we buy this one on Friday.

But this time we really will be reading it for the articles!

Trunk Music, A Harry Bosch Novel by Michael Connelly

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trunkDetective Harry Bosch has been running around Los Angeles for a little over 15 years now.  Connelly’s ode to Sam Spade is a hard nosed smart detective who’s usually on the outs with the department but somehow gets his man.  In Trunk Music, Harry finds himself mixed up in a mob hit on a movie producer.  Recently back on the beat after a brief suspension, Harry jumps into the investigation with a gusto he hasn’t had for a while.  Soon he uncovers a money laundering scheme that leads him to Las Vegas where he instantly becomes the ire of many.  The story takes many twists and turns and just when you think you have it figured out Connelly has Harry running down another road.

I like crime novels, especially well written ones.  At times Trunk Music becomes a little over dramatic but I found the tone perfect and who doesn’t like a little noir for their morning jog.   On Sunday morning, as I rounded the corner completing mile 5 with two more to go, Harry was rescuing a former lover from the mob safe house.  She was cuffed to a chair and being guarded by two large Samoens called Tom and Jerry.  The dialogue kept me laughing the rest of the way home.   I won’t tell you what happens but like I said, Harry always gets his man.  The end has a surprise twist that should keep him coming back for another 15 years.

This won’t be for everyone but I found it to be a lot of fun.

Blood Done Sign My Name by Timothy B. Tyson

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A gripping true story of a young boy who lives through the racial tensions and violence that surrounded the murder of Henry Marrow, a 23 year old victim of a hate crime in Oxford, North Carolina on May 11, 1970.  Four months later, the three perpetrators were found not guilty by an all white jury.  Tyson’s recounting of what takes place in the aftermath is riveting.  His in depth research and interviews with the murderers and the subsequent black power militants help to put faces on this tragedy.   Tyson also does a good job of encouraging the reader/listener to confront his/her own indifference to issues of race in America.

Tyson’s musings point to the continued racial divide in this country when it comes to the social programs that could lift the poorest parts of this country out of the depths of despair.  Saying that it remains easier for us to apologize for the past than to address slavery’s lingering impact on our society.

Quoting many writers and poets he finishes the book with a five minute summation that is eye opening and seething with calls to action.  Saying that those who do not want to confront the issues of race in America might want to move to a different planet pointing out that, “no one should under estimate the venom of ancient wrongs.”  He leaves us with a quote from Charles Chestnut, a storyteller who wrote over a century ago, “There’s time enough, but none to spare.”  I’d say that November’s election was a step in the right direction but the work is far from over.

This is a great read.  I recommend it.

Revolutionary Road

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I’m usually not crazy about soap opera kinds of novels but Richard Yates had a style of writing that was (is) so lyrical that I found this audio book a lot of fun.  Yates has a way with words like no other.  He makes the mundane interesting and the melodramatic entertaining.  And he’s captured the time period so perfectly that as you listen you can almost smell the streets of New York and feel the spring breeze as it blows up Revolutionary Hill.  I haven’t seen the film yet but I’m convinced it won’t be on par with the writing.  It can’t be. His characters are so well mapped that their stereotypes survive to this day in so many of our popular television shows – Mad Men being one.

I strongly recommend this Audio Book.