Archive for the ‘Drugs’ Category

Darren Mathews has been suspended as a Texas Ranger pending the results of an inquiry regarding his allegedly lying to a grand jury. Yet his FBI friend Greg Heglund, knowing that his interest would be piqued by it, told him of two murders in a small Texas town, the first a Black man from Chicago and second a local white girl. The local sheriff was making the former into a robbery/death and the latter into a domestic dispute of some sort. Knowing however, that the Aryan Brotherhood has a strong hold in the town, made for curiosity.

Mathews, despite having to turn in his badge, figures out he has about a day to drive, take a look and return. What he finds reeks of something other than a robbery gone awry. It is a town where everyone knows everyone else and everyone else’s business, where half the town is related to the other half, regardless of skin color and where secrets abound. Being a Black man nosing around, regardless of his law enforcement status, can be dangerous and even deadly.

I’d never read Attica Locke before, despite her book Black Water Rising being nominated for an Edgar Award. I’m sorry I waited so long. Bluebird, Bluebird is filled with musical references, something I love. It’s got colorful characters, both Black and white, many descendants of either slaves or slave owners…sometimes both. Geneva is the Black woman who, having experienced heartache, still mother’s everyone. Wally is the landed gentry whose family homestead dates back to the 1800s and who thinks he runs the town. (He might.)

There is the usual repartee between the rogue cop (Mathews) and his boss, the unheeded warnings and the rebukes. There is the credit starved FBI friend. There is the romance gone south. There’s drugs and beatings and racial tension of the south. In other words, all the ingredients of a good mystery. Bluebird, Bluebird, exceeding my high expectations.


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Sarah Alt (aka Salt) has just been promoted to Detective-Atlanta Homicide Squad. As the only female on the day shift, and known to typically work alone, almost as a hazing ceremony she is given the 10 year old cold case of blues singer Mike Armstrong’s death. Originally ruled an accidental drug overdose, there is new evidence, in the form of convicted felon Dwayne Stone’s testimony, that Armstrong was intentionally given a ‘hot dose’ of heroin. However, it is Stone who shot Salt a year ago, from which she still carries the physical and emotional scars. Stone will be trading his information for a reduced sentence and Salt will be working towards that goal when corroborating his testimony…another emotional scar.OutOfTheBlues

Salt carries other emotional scars as well, especially that of finding her policeman father’s body after his shotgun suicide when she was nine years old.

When Salt’s cold case intersects with a recent high profile murder, everyone gets involved, from detectives to narcotics to SWAT and the action builds up.

Out of the Blues by Trudy Nan Boyce attracted my attention because of its blues orientation and apparently Atlanta was a hot spot of early blues activity. In an era when hip hop and rap are at the top of the charts, the popularity of the blues seems to be declining and the plight of the old bluesmen is going virtually unnoticed, Boyce brings it to the forefront. Readers can visualize the dusty, dirty clubs that the book’s rag tag blues band is forced to play in. One of the characters is a down on her luck, homeless former blues singer.

Boyce’s (a former police officer) debut novel is a great start for a series, which I hope this is. She’s has a great set of characters in Salt, her detective boyfriend Wills and their dogs, the transgender desk sergeant, Rosie, Thing One and Thing Two, etc. There is an adequate split between police procedural and action. All the characters are believable. The book has an evangelical bent to it, which is not one of my favorite subjects, but it wasn’t an overpowering slant to the book.

While Boyce’s prose are a little hard to follow/read at times, Out of the Blues is still quite readable, maybe a little slower read, but readable. Her descriptions, especially blues related sounds or feelings, are a little over the top, kind of like she went to writing school and this is what they taught her…not naturally flowing is probably a better way to describe it.

While I don’t normally give star ratings, I’d probably give Out of the Blues three and a half stars. Boyce has the characters and plot down, now she just has to make the words flow more smoothly. I’d definitely read her next book and am actually looking forward to it.


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TheCompanySheKeptDoug Nielsen and his wife Margie were returning from their winter vacation when they pulled into a scenic overlook in Vermont. However, it wasn’t quite the scenery they imagined when looking up they saw a lifeless body dangling from the metal meshing that was designed to keep the mountain rocks from falling onto the interstate.

Gilbert, Joe Gunther’s cat, was asleep on Joe’s chest, and Joe himself was deep in thought when the phone rang. The first words he heard were “Susan’s dead”, uttered by a stricken Gail Zigman, his former romantic partner and now governor of Vermont. The Susan in question is Susan Raffner, Vermont state senator and Gail’s political advisor, close friend and sidekick. When Joe, as a leader in the Vermont Bureau of Investigation gets a call from the Governor to head up the investigation, he has no choice but to comply regardless of what their past relationship might have been.

It’s old home week for us Joe Gunther fans as he gathers the normal VBI team of Sammie Martens, Willie Kunkle, Lester Spinney and chief medical examiner (and Joe’s current girl friend) Beverly Hillstrom, along with various other law enforcement officers. The problem is that, regardless of all the high tech equipment and analysis, the investigation (which is high profile) is dead in the tracks (pun intended) pretty soon. So Joe gets the idea of having the team plod through all the analysis, interviews and paper, with the exception of Willy Kunkle, a loner by nature, to whom he basically gives carte blanche…as long as he stays under the radar.

As all Joe Gunther mysteries, The Company She Kept has twists and turns. I did not guess the end…but I don’t typically. The characters have developed personalities over the years that readers can count on, and they don’t fail us in this endeavor. I like series in which the characters age and develop and you see that clearly in this book. Willie, always  the rebel and outsider, is softening with the birth of his daughter. Joe has moved on from his first wife’s untimely death from cancer and his break up with Gail. Gail has progressed from real estate agent to gadfly to a politically savvy governor.

There’s not a lot of action in The Company She Kept. It’s enough to satisfy but not overload. There’s not a lot of forensic analysis either. Mayor has produced a more rambling, move slowly type of story. But that’s OK. In an Archer Mayor book it’s the characters that carry the story, not necessarily to murder.

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I’m a Reed Farrel Coleman mystery fan, especially the Moe Prager WhereItHurtsseries. So I was saddened when that series came to a sad but honest end. But Coleman has followed it up with a new protagonist, different but equally as good, Gus Murphy. While Moe was based in Brooklyn, Gus is based in Suffolk County, Long Island, much closer to my home and much more familiar, which always makes for fun reading.

Gus is ex-Suffolk County police. It’s been two years since his son suddenly died and Gus’ life has been a disaster. He dealt with bouts of depression. His marriage collapsed. His daughter, Kristy, once a ‘good girl’, has been acting up. He lives in the low class hotel for which he drives the van to and from the Long Island Railroad Station. Things really couldn’t get much more depressing.

When, an ex-con, Tommy Delcamino, who Murphy arrested several times, approaches him to find the killers of his lowlife, druggie son, TJ, because the police haven’t followed up on any leads, Murphy thinks he’s playing the ‘dead son’ card and tells him to fuck off. However, after ruminating over it and discussing it with his therapist, he realizes Delcamino had no one else to turn to. So, he decides to apologize to Delcamino for his insensitivity. However, arriving at his trailer, Murphy finds it tossed and Delcamino brutally murdered. So, of course, Murphy has no option but to pursue both Tommy and TJ’s murder. Being warned off by both policemen and drug dealers alike only reinforces Murphy’s resolve.

Murphy is a real person in the sense that he goes through a range of emotions. He’s lost his faith in God. He’s been wallowing in self pity for the past two years. And when his investigation seems to give him renewed life, he doesn’t understand it and finds it hard to swallow.

I particularly like Murphy’s cynicism regarding God and religion, the various inequities on Long Island, police corruption and life in general. His descriptions of various Long Island neighborhoods, the rich ones and the poor ones, is spot on, cynicism included. The ancillary characters are a mixed bunch, from honest to corrupt police, savage drug dealers, and folks down on their luck. All of this makes for good reading. I’m trying to think of who to compare Gus Murphy to, but can’t come up with anyone.

After reading the Moe Prager series, I read all of Coleman’s other series, which is probably something you should do. It won’t take long to read, but the enjoyment should keep going for a long time.

According to Coleman’s website, this is Book 1 of the Gus Murphy series. That’s good to know. It gives me something to look forward to.

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I’ll readily admit, I’m betwixt and between on this one. BetrayedWe all like to get involved with the characters in a book and in a series, such as Scottoline’s Rosato & Associates, there are a few we really like such as Judy Carrier, the non-conformist of the bunch. We like to see them grow and change over time. We like to get into their personal lives, not just the legal or mystery aspect. But sometimes, the personal life intrudes too much, as it did in Betrayed (at least for me), especially when the mystery portion isn’t all that compelling.

Judy has just received some shocking news–her Aunt Barb has breast cancer and is undergoing a mastectomy in two days. She’s kept it a secret from Judy and her mother, Delia. Judy races to her home. Delia has already flown in from the West Coast. When she arrives, she meets Aunt Barb’s best friend, Iris Juarez, an undocumented Mexican who does chores for Barb and gardens with her. Iris is just leaving for another job.

Later that evening, the police knock on Barb’s door with the sad news that Iris had an apparent heart attack while driving and died at the side of the road. Barb is devastated. Avid gardeners both (Iris and Barb), Barb decides to plant a rose in Iris’ memory and asks Judy to go into the garage to find the bush that she and Iris were going to plant that weekend. Ever the curious lawyer, Judy stumbles across two coolers and looking inside one finds a significant amount of money—later determined to be almost $10,000. Of course, Judy thinks/realizes that Iris’s death and the money are related, leading to, in this reader’s humble opinion, a truly unbelievable, unrealistic story.

So, why am I betwixt and between? Because towards the end there were some touching family related scenes between mother and daughter. And those few pages were emotional enough to salvage what otherwise was an average tale.

A side plot concerns new business the firm received–determining settlement amounts for victims of asbestos. Unfortunately, they are on the manufacturer’s side, not the victims’, thus their goal is to minimize damage payments. Since Judy is concerned about her aunt and whether she will survive surgery and possible radiation, determining the ‘value of human life’ is not something Judy wants to do, is totally against the firm taking the business and her actually handling the settlements. While this would have been a more compelling story, it is wrapped up way too easily and totally unsatisfactorily, in my opinion.

As I said when reviewing The Burning Room by Michael Connolly, I think series authors get tired. There’s an expectation of a new book every 12 – 18 months, so they write but their enthusiasm wanes and that’s how I felt about Betrayed. I just didn’t feel any author enthusiasm.

Let me close by saying that if you think I’m getting persnickety in my old age and nothing will please me, I have read some great mysteries in the past year. Gripping stories. Great writing. Endearing characters. They are out there. Maybe just not from the old tried and true authors we’ve been reading for years. (Sermon over.)

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Kiri is spending July alone at home while her parents are on a month long anniversary cruise. WildAwakeHer older brother is away at school. She is supposed to be practicing piano non-stop for a competition she’s entered. But one call upsets all of her plans.

The call is from Doug Fieldgrass and he slurs “Lissen, I ain’t going to call again. You want her stuff (Kiri’s older sister Sukey who supposedly died in a car accident when Kiri was 10), you get yourself down here and take it.”

Kiri is perplexed. She idolized her artist sister. She also knew that Sukey and her parents were at odds and Sukey was thrown out of the house. But no one ever speaks of Sukey. Kiri decides to track down Doug and find out what happened.

Along the way she befriends Skunk, a guy a few years older, with his own problems.

Wild Awake, Hilary T. Smith’s debut novel, is certainly an interesting read. However, I found the beginning slow going and by the end I just wanted to find out what happened, so I guess a little more editing might have been a good thing. Also, if it’s meant to be realistic fiction, there were some parts in which you have to suspend your belief and rely on imagination.

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When I reviewed Sara Gran’s previous book, Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead, I described the main character as: ClaireDeWitt“She’s rough, tattooed, pot smoking, gritty and unorthodox.” Well, in Claire DeWitt and the Bohemian Highway, she’s graduated to a full fledged drug addict, constantly snorting coke, popping pills and drinking. The constant references to these activities detracts from what could have been a really good book.

Having moved from New Orleans in the first book to San Francisco in the second, Claire is trying to find out who killed her friend Paul, someone she’d been with before she relocated suddenly to Peru. Knowing Claire you’d realize that relationships are not her thing and she and Paul were getting too close for her comfort level. During her stay abroad, Paul started going out with Lydia, who he ultimately married. Along with Paul found shot to death in his den, it was discovered that several of his guitars were missing. And the search begins.

Along with this storyline are flashbacks to Claire’s teen life in Brooklyn, NY where she, Tracy and Kelly were detectives. One day, Tracy disappeared and has not been heard of since. Kelly has never given up trying to find her and occasionally Claire or Kelly uncover clues as to Tracy’s whereabouts.

Lastly, Claire reminisces about a case that she and Tracy worked on, the disappearance of their friend Chloe.

I really like the way Sara Gran writes. The interweaving of current and past are done artfully. The plot is interesting and the characters are so in keeping with Claire’s lifestyle. Her references to Jacques Silette, the greatest detective ever, continuing from her previous book, add an unusual element. I would have loved to read his book, Detection, if it existed. It would be a mind blower.

But, if you added all the drug/alcholol references in the book together, I’d estimate that they make up 25-50 of the slim 280 pages. A little too much, in my opinion. We know Claire is like no other detective. That’s she’s pretty screwed up emotionally. And we still love her. No need to dwell on drugs.

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