MysteryPeople’s Pick of the Month: Next To Last Stand

MysteryPeople’s Pick of the Month is Craig Johnson’s Next To Last Stand. Read on for Scott M.’s thoughts on the latest Sheriff Longmire caper.


9780525522539_90cdc“Unless you know your craft, you can not express your art.” – Alfred Hitchcock

This quote kept popping up in my mind, starting at page one and all the way to the final sentence of Craig Johnson’s latest Sheriff Walt Longmire novel, Next To Last Stand. Johnson tells this story with such a light and humorous touch, it can be easy to miss many of the themes and ideas he explores, seeing it as one of his “funny books.” That said, you would be numb to miss the emotion those themes touch.
It begins with Walt chatting with The Wavers, a group of elderly vets who sit in their souped-up wheelchairs outside the Wyoming Home For Sailors And Soldiers, waving at passing motorists. In Walt’s position we view and understand these men the traveling families don’t see through their windshield. It subtly leads into one of the main themes of the book concerning men who will never stop being soldiers.
One of the Wavers, Charlie Lee Stillwater has passed. A Black vet and amateur student of western history and art, Charlie was a favorite of Walt’s daughter Cady. He appears to have died of natural causes. The mystery concerns a million dollars found under his bed in a shoebox.
Also found in Charlie’s room is an artist’s study of a cavalry soldier fighting a Native American. Walt soon matches it to the painting Custer’s Last Fight by Cassilly Adams, made famous by the Anheuser Busch company from the reprints they sent to practically every bar in the country. History says the original burned up in a fire at Fort Bliss in 1946. However, that may not be the case and Charlie may have had the painting in his possession, brokering a deal. Soon Walt is plunged into the western art world, dealing with high Wyoming society, dangerous Russians, and history versus legend.
Johnson may have given mystery fiction its best MacGuffin since The Maltese Falcon. The painting itself holds a fascinating history that engages both Walt and the reader, his deputy and lover, Vic, not so much. It also has him donning a tux to go undercover at an art auction with comic results. Also, much like The Maltese Falcon, Johnson makes one of the mysteries concern its actual existence.
It also serves as a touchstone for many of the book’s themes. One is the “Print The Legend” controversy often associated with the west. The painting itself holds many inaccuracies, including Custer wearing his hair long and the attacking tribes having shields that were more appropriately carried by Zulu warriors in Africa. One of the funnier chapters has Walt struggling to explain what he was taught about the battle to Vic while his Cheyenne buddy Henry Standing constantly lobs history from the Native American point of view all while the highly inaccurate Custer Of The West plays on the TV above the bar.
He also uses painting and plot to examine the ghosts combatants carry when the war is over. Craig ties this to what Walt is dealing with from the events that occurred in Depth Of Winter that has brought out his darker side of him, partly created by his Vietnam experience. A wonderful moment that ties these themes together occurs during a chess game with Walt and his predecessor Lucian, a World War Two vet, as they discuss how the many famous battles are lost ones.
The book ends poignantly, in a sentence he sets up for in the beginning and alludes to at certain points without drawing attention. Between these chapters is an entertaining yarn of art, history, old soldiers, and the battles they continue to fight. Ironically, his craft has created a finer piece of art than the historic painting he writes about.

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February’s Pick of the Month: The Dark Corners of the Night

9781982627515_ae431Meg Gardiner has proven to be a writer who delivers. She gives thriller fans everything they want, in character, pace, and world building, presenting it all in a fresh way. This is especially true of her latest, The Dark Corners Of Night.
It is the third book in her UNSUB series, featuring FBI profiler Caitlin Hendrix. Her latest case takes her to L.A., putting her up against a chilling adversary dubbed The Midnight Man. The killer attacks families in their homes, murdering the parents and leaving the children to tell the tale. With the help of a girl who thwarted the Midnight Man from breaking in, Cailtin and team begin their hunt.
Gardiner builds the suspense and chills, chapter by chapter. She delves into criminal profiling, portraying it as much art as science when Caitlin goes against the grain of the standard theory, believing it is not the usual suspect. The book gives a great reveal in the identity of The Midnight Man, then cranks up the tension for an intense showdown.
The Dark Corners Of The Night is Meg Gardiner at her finest. She gives us a flawed heroine you can’t help but root for, a villain both complex and undeniably evil, and a plot that constantly puts you on the edge. If she ups her game any more, we might not be able to survive.

The Dark Corners of the Night is available for pre-order now. And don’t miss your chance to meet Meg Gardiner and have your book signed when she’s in-store on Saturday, February 22nd at 5PM.

MysteryPeople’s January Pick of the Month: Hi-Five by Joe Ide

9780316509534_a2c98For the past few years, I had been meaning to read one of Joe Ide’s I.Q. novels. Friends and writers I admire have been raving about this series that follows Isaiah “I.Q.” Quintabe, a young, black man who services his East Long Beach area as an unlicensed detective with Sherlock-level skills. When I got the opportunity to read his latest, Hi Five, I became hooked.
The book gives us a great premise that immediately puts I.Q. in a tight spot. Angus Burns, a white supremacist gun dealer, comes to him. His daughter Christiana is the main suspect in the murder of his right hand man. I.Q. has to clear her name or Angus will break the hands of his violinist girlfriend, Stella. Christiana witnessed the killing, but suffers from multiple personality disorder. I.Q. must bring out each of them and piece together what each of them saw. If that’s not enough, we also have a power struggle in the illegal arms centered around a modern Gatling gun.
As great as the plot is, it’s the human elements that pull you into the book. Ide’s East Long Beach community is as rich and holds as many many human beings with heart as Craig Johnson’s Absaroka County and Louis Penny’s Three Pines, with I.Q. as it’s protector, who sees it as something worth protecting. His friendships and relationships have both a messiness and deep emotion to them that make them feel real and flow instead ofmerlin_143890122_2a338504-b9ea-4f1a-bb84-c01d462e9faf-jumbo

remaining static. This is very much with his buddy Cahill who knows I.Q. needs to have someone watching his back even though he doesn’t always understand where he’s going. The danger he puts Stella in has I.Q. wondering if he should be with her. It’s a relationship that gets further tested when his old flame returns.

Ide put me in tune with this world and these people so well, I felt like I had read all the previous books. That said, I look forward to reading the others. Hi Five is one of those fine genre novels that work on so many different levels. Most of all, it has beautifully rendered people dealing with their place in life and connection to others, something you need to be smarter than I.Q. to figure out.

About the author: Joe Ide grew up in South Central Los Angeles, where his favorite books were the Conan Doyle Sherlock Holmes stories. He held a variety of different jobs — including Hollywood screenwriter — before writing IQ, his debut novel, which went on to win the Anthony, Macavity, and Shamus awards. Joe lives in Santa Monica, CA.
You can pre-order Hi-Five now and catch up on the IQ series now by ordering online or shopping with us in-store.

MysteryPeople’s December Pick of the Month

9781608092451_79262No genre can tap into melancholy like the private eye novel. From Marlowe and Archer, to Matt Scudder and Moe Prager, there is a poetic sadness the detective can wear as easily as a trenchcoat and fedora. One of the best sad sack eyes of late is Matt Coyle’s Rick Cahill, and in Lost Tomorrows, he is delivered to an emotionally messy past.
When hearing the death of his former partner, Krista Laudingham, Cahill returns to his old police beat in San Diego after leaving the force when accused of killing his wife. Her sister, Leah, doesn’t believe her death was accidental and hires Rick to look into it. Now Rick finds himself in the place of his darkest past, up against cops who think he is a killer and some who could be the killer.
Coyle does a reverse on Rick’s usual dilemma. In many of the books, Cahill is dealing with the past to clear his name or his father’s of something they were innocent of. Here, the past comes at him with something he can not deny. He has to find forgiveness as well as justice, something that is difficult to get when the women he wronged are dead.
Cahill’s search for the killer and absolution are entwined in his relationship with Leah. They are two wounded people who could either heal or further hurt the other. The dance they have with each other throughout the book subtle, poignant, and even harrowing at times.
Cahill may solve the case at the end of Lost Tomorrows and may have found a path to mending his heart, though we know the journey is far from over. Someday, maybe he’ll walk alone down those mean streets, but be a little less lonely.

Lost Tomorrows is available to pre-order from BookPeople now.

Pick of the Month: ‘Galway Girl’ by Ken Bruen

9780802147936_bb963Ken Bruen has described his latest Jack Taylor novel, Galway Girl, as a penultimate book with his anti-social, drink and drug addicted finder who drops further and further into the abyss. We definitely see him possibly finding a road to hope. That said, he will walk through fire to get there.

We pick up with Jack still in understandable anguish from events in The Galway Silence. He is pulled into duty when someone is bumping off guards, one he knew. The murders are connected to a trio of killers linked to his past. Jack, who has been more of a reluctant survivor, takes what he’s developed by in his hard life of being one and with the help of a bird he rescued comes at Jericho with a vengeance, resulting in one of the best crime fiction endings of the year.

Jack may be rising from the depths, but he’s not flying out of the ashes phoenix style. It is more like he hovers just above them, his flapping wings kicking up some of those ashes around him. With a second year of Trump and Brexit fallout playing in the background, he’s not just striking out at Jericho, but the entire mad world.

More and more with each Jack Taylor book, Ken Bruen works directly with his time. It has become an important part of the character’s fragility. We identify with the pressure and insanity these days have done to us. Despite his faults, like our own, we want him to make it and find peace. Maybe that’s why he hovers, Ken keeps him close to us.

You can grab your copy of Galway Girl from BookPeople in-store and online now at bookpeople.com

October’s Pick of the Month: ‘Dry County’ by Jake Hinkson

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Jake Hinkson is an author deserving of more attention. A cross between Jim Thompson and Flannery O’Connor, his people do bad things while often negotiating their religious faith. Recently landing on the prestigious Pegasus imprint  with one of his finest, Dry County, he may finally get his due.

The dilemma of Richard Weatherford, an upper-middle class teacher in the Arkansas Ozarks, drives the story. He is being blackmailed by Gary Doane, a parishioner he had an affair with, for twenty-thousand dollars. In an attempt to get the money, he tells Brian Harten, a local screw up who wants to open a liquor store, that he will move his vote on the town council on its dry law for the cash. In pursuit of his dream, Brian decides to rob his boss, who owns the bar outside the county line and has his fingers in a few questionable pies. All get caught up in a chain of violence and black comedy including the minister’s wife and Gary’s girlfriend, all over an Easter weekend, that leads leads to one of the best last lines this year.

Hinkson follows these characters at a perfect distance. We’re close enough to feel their desperation and understand their thought process, but never so intimate to completely stand with or predict them. It allows for the satire to never play broad. We are also able to easily switch sympathies when more is understood. Like a good Elmore Leonard character, you know them, but never know where they are going.

Not only does the story tie them together through plot, but through the idea of faith. Hinkson not only deals with religious faith faith, but faith in love, money, politics (it takes place during the 2016 Primaries) and family. Much of the characters’ actions are driven by their beliefs in at least one and the justifications they use when that faith is challenged.

Dry County will hopefully earn Jake Hinkson the fanbase he deserves. He’s subtle in his preciseness, revealing an evil that doesn’t seem so threatening at first glance. By the time we’ve reached that last line, we’ve stared straight in the eye, and maybe chuckled.


You can purchase Dry County at BookPeople in-store and online now.

September’s Pick of the Month: Land of Wolves by Craig Johnson

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The Land of Wolves by Craig Johnson
The latest in Craig Johnson’s Sheriff Walt Longmire series, Land Of Wolves, rewards readers who have followed the big man with the bruised heart ever since his debut in The Cold Dish. It contains echoes of that book and several others as Walt finds himself at an uncertain place in his life, yet feeling a touch of deja’ vu as well. The events from the previous book, Depth Of Winter, have left him with physical and psychic wounds with a mystery that has him facing a mystery with possible international implications, a renegade wolf, and himself.

The book even begins with Walt and deputy Vic Moretti out in Wyoming back country discussing how they’ve been here before and wondering how that turned out. They’ve been brought in due to the disappearance of sheep; the investigation leads to a large wolf prowling the area, who Vic dubs Larry after Lon Chaney Jr.’s character in The Wolfman, and a shepherd hanging from a tree. The man, Miguel Hernandez, worked for the Extepares, a Basque sheep herding family who was responsible for blowing off the leg of Walt’s predecessor, Lucian Connally. Hernandez was also a political dissident in Chile with reasons and people at home and abroad to kill him.

Larry also plays a major part in the story. Much like his Universal Horror namesake, the town is after him. There are several questions about who he is and where he came from. Walt’s Cheyenne pal, Henry Standing Bear, believes the animal is connected to Virgil White Buffalo, the Vietnam veteran Crow Indian who has served as a spiritual guide for Walt in times past. Walt has doubts, but less than he usually does, yet wonders what he’s trying to say.

Walt is in one of his most fragile states. In Mexico, he pulled out a darker side he’s having difficulty contending with now. A fugue state has taken over him and he finds himself disconnected from those he loves, particularly his daughter Cady. He fears he is returning to that person who shut people off after his wife died and he doesn’t want to go back to to that. The title comes form the Basque proverb “A land of strangers is a land of wolves.” Walt has returned to a land of strangers he knows.

If this all sounds depressing, the book is far from it. Vic gets many great moments, particularly  when being forced into the role as Walt’s life coach. Fans of Dog will be happy to see he gets a lot of attention on the page, including one with Walt trying to get him into the bullet that is both funny and poignant. There is also the subplot with Ruby and the deputy’s teaching him to use the desktop computer forced on him, something he fears will lead to a phone.

Land Of Wolves allows Craig Johnson to do what he does best. He is able to to take his time, take in Walt’s friendships and the lay of the land. The result is the reader taking in the life of a survivor and see the benefits and price of being one.


You can purchase Land of Wolves from BookPeople here now.

PICK OF THE MONTH: END OF THE OCEAN BY MATTHEW MCBRIDE

Matthew McBride is a crime fiction voice I always look forward to hearing. Not only is it fresh and unique, it carries a great range. His first book, Frank Sinatra In A Blender, was a satiric, ultra violent, stylized masterpiece while his follow up, A Red Swollen Sun delivered a brooding rural noir gem. His third, End Of The Ocean, gives us an introspective South Seas ballad with a perfect balance of humor and dread.

End of the Ocean Cover ImageThe tale plays on the interaction of three people. At the center is Sage, a hard luck guy, who has traveled to Bali to drink his wounds away from a rough divorce. He falls for Ratri, an island woman whose culture blocks them from being together. Sage also strikes up a friendship with Wayne, a questionable businessman plugged into the country. When Sage realizes the only way out of his dilemma requires a lot of cash, Wayne offers him a job. It involves a run to Thailand for him, a country where drug smuggling is punishable by death and that may be better than being thrown into their prisons.

McBride takes his time building these relationships and this seemingly simple plot in entertaining fashion. He wants us to know these people and the country they move through. We experience Bali and Ratri like Sage, with his romance unfolding for both in a heartfelt way only a damaged man can feel. Wayne’s point of view provides the initial plot and suspense as we watch him hustle and gather a network of people to work for him. He could be one of the Miami hustlers from an Elmore Leonard novel forced to leave the country. We never know how much is talk and how much is the real thing, however like Sage, we want to trust him even though we probably shouldn’t.

When Sage takes the risk, we are in and it’s tense. The plan has more than a few hiccups. One of them lands him in a jail we pray he gets out of. We are so invested in these characters, we cringe at every obstacle in Sage’s path. He then delivers an ending that dovetails beautifully with its theme  to punch us in the gut.

End Of The Ocean continues Matthew McBride’s chain of stand out crime novels that demonstrate the breadth of the genre. Questioning the nature of love, it is also his most personal. Hopefully we won’t have to wait long to see what’s next from him.

PICK OF THE MONTH-CONVICTION BY DENISE MINA

Denise Mina is mainly associated with dense, dark crime novels that delve into society’s ills. Her last novel, The Long Drop, was a chilling portrayal of a true crime and trial in fifties Glasgow. In her latest, The Conviction, she follows the Monty Python saying, “And now for something completely different.”

Conviction Cover ImageShe introduces us to Anna McDonald, though that is not her real name. Living as a trophy wife with children, she turns to true crime podcasts for her daily escape. Soon her life will become one.

Her husband reveals he has been having an affair with her friend Estelle, and the two of them are leaving with the kids. Her latest podcast, Death On The Dana, interrupts her suicidal despair. It tells of how millionaire Leon Parker and his children died on their yacht. The ships cook was convicted, but the podcast host believes Parker did it. Anna disagrees, since she knew Parker in her former life and doesn’t believe he would have been capable. By the time she decides to look into the crime to get her mind off of her crumbling life, Finn Cohan, Estelle’s anorexic former pop star husband is at her door. With as little to live for as Anna, he joins her in her quest for the truth, doing a complimentary podcast to reignite his fame. Their search leads to revelations that are also connected to Anna’s secret past and brings out a group of killers hired by  someone who wants everything to stay covered up.

Mina delivers many of the trappings of a modern thriller. Our odd investigators travel across Europe, hounded by hitmen, dealing with secrets. She taps into a woman finding her courage and conviction under the threat of her life. She even has a quirky sidekick.

She takes all of that and goes deep. As the plot grows grander in scope, it becomes more intimate with our heroine. A chapter with a Russian killer after them becomes a short story inside the book, with humor and pathos. When Anna’s true identity is revealed, it is devastating information that has us rooting even more for her. Mina is able to hit many of her known themes of class and media, seen from a different angle as she celebrates the power of damaged people.

Her humor is used to standout effect. While we know of her ability to use it, particularly in her Patty Meehan series, she’d never had a subject that allowed her to fully draw it from her literary palette. She uses it in her love-hate relationship with Anna and Flynn and as a crutch to deal with their personal pain.

Conviction is not only proof of Denise Mina’s talent, but of her range. It’s her David Bowie’s Let’s Dance, a possibly more accessible piece that will hopefully draw a larger audience that doesn’t compromise her artistry and themes. She provides the quintessential summer read with a forward momentum driven by it’s broken and bickering leads. I hope she can come up with another case for these two to crack.

 

Pick of the Month: Night Watch by David C. Taylor

David C. Taylor is fast becoming a go-to author—along side Max Allan Collins and James Ellroy—for crime fiction set in the post-war era. His Michael Cassidy, an NYPD  detective in the the fifties whose back ground allows him to be familiar with high society as well as the street, proves to be a complex hero who finds himself caught up in his country’s shadow history. Both author and character have solidified their standing in the latest novel, Night Watch.

This third story takes place between the first and second, Night Life and Night WorkCassidy catches a double homicide that has a precise and unusual M.O. Before he gets any chance to work it, a mysterious assassin is out to get him. His search for both killers involves the CIA and a real government program linked to the days after World War Two.

Night Watch Cover ImageTaylor has created Cassidy as a cross between, Sam Spade, The 87th Precinct’s Steve Carella, and James Bond. He’s a smart, capable cop, who is a bit of a wise-ass (only for those who deserve it), who works well with his fellow detectives. His good looks, charm, and elegance that come from being born into wealth (His father is an immigrant who made his fortune as a Broadway producer.) allow him to move in circles your average street cop can’t and bed many a beautiful women. However the war seems to have affected him. He has an attitude with authority, particularly at the national level, and seems to be in search of a purpose.

Another character that stands out in the series is the New York of that era, and Taylor goes deeper with this story. He gives us the gritty barrios and ghettos that have echoes of early Sydney Lumet films like The Pawnbroker as well as penthouse parties where Gershwin plays. That and everything in between gives off the feeling of the crowd and noise, depicting New York as the center and provider for its country’s culture for that period. If Cassidy believes in anything outside his family, it is protecting his town.

With Night Watch, David C. Taylor has proven the reliability of of the Michael Cassidy series. There is a confidence and clean voice to the writing with a hero who can go in several intriguing directions in plot, history, and his own character journey. Taylor balances both sides of Cassidy and his world, resulting in one hard boiled cop tale with a touch of class.