MP Review: The Redeemer by Jo Nesbo

If you’ve ever engaged me in a conversation about crime fiction, you know my feelings about Jo Nesbo and his Harry Hole novels. I am an unabashed champion of this series, and for good reason. My high praise for this series has a lot to do with Nesbo’s writing style and attention to detail. Often times crime fiction is plagued by the stereotype of being low-brow or kitschy, but those stereotypes ignore the deeply rooted themes carried by crime fiction. Themes like love, loss, the fear of death, and the stark realities of the world we live in are ones every reader can relate to, and authors like Jo Nesbo tackle them with grace and poise.

First of all, let’s address the elephant in the room; it’s been more than a little frustrating to be a Nesbo fan in America. The seemingly random publishing schedule for the Harry Hole novels have forced readers to experience the series out of chronological order; some of us like to read a series in order! The Redeemer is the sixth Harry Hole novel, falling in line between The Devil’s Star and The Snowman, which means fans of the series will need to wrack their brains trying to remember what took place way back when. Honestly, it’s not that hard to recall the past exploits of ne’er-do-well detective Harry Hole and Nesbo (as always) does a great job of reminding his readers without going into full on review mode. Okay, now that we’ve talked about how annoying reading series books out of order is, we can move on to the task at hand.

In The Redeemer we are taken back to the early days of Harry Hole; before the effects of age and substance abuse really started to catch up with him. The story begins with Harry having the unfortunate task of informing a family that their son, a heroin addict, has committed suicide. In typical Nesbo style, the books beginning functions as a launchpad for the events to come. The main plot line is about an assassin who has traveled to Oslo to complete a contract. Things go badly when the assassin, codenamed The Little Redeemer, discovers that the target he has eliminated is actually the brother of the intended target.

If you’ve read the other books in this series and think The Redeemer is worth skipping, you are dead wrong. This novel fills in a lot of the gaps left after The Devil’s Star and Nemesis, and is a must read if just for the sake of continuity. If the gap-filling aspect of The Redeemer isn’t enough to entice you then maybe the fact that this is also a fantastic mystery will do the trick. It has all the hallmarks of a great thriller; atmosphere, intriguing characters, plot twists aplenty, and Harry Hole’s reckless detective style.

The Redeemer also contains a lot of my favorite aspect of Nesbo’s books; a lot of time is devoted to the perspective of the antagonist. As the novels comes to a close you truly understand the motivations of each and every character, and that’s something that many crime writers choose not to do. If there’s one thing Nesbo does well it’s giving readers a holistic view of the story. All the pieces fall into place, and all of your questions are given a satisfying answer.

If you’re already a fan of this series, picking up The Redeemer should be a no-brainer. If you’ve never read a Jo Nesbo book, it’s probably not a great idea to start with The Redeemer, but luckily Vintage Books has just published the first Harry Hole novel, The Bat, as a paperback original. So run, don’t walk, to your local bookstore and get cracking on what is arguably the best detective series currently available.

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MP Review: THE RIGHT SIDE OF WRONG by REAVIS Z. WORTHAM

Reavis Wortham’s debut, The Rock Hole drew comparisons to Harper Lee and Joe R. Lansdale. In his third book, The Right Side Of Wrong, he moves into the territory of Cormac McCarthy. The books have grown darker and the characters confront more ambiguous themes, which amps up the atmosphere and fun.

The book starts with Center Springs, TX constable, Cody Parker driving in a freak snow storm to answer a domestic disturbance call and getting shot off the road. Left for dead, Parker is saved by Tom Bell, an elderly man who has taken up residence in Center Springs. Ned, Cody’s uncle who is a semi-retired constable asks for the help of John Washington, the black deputy in nearby Paris, Texas, to look into the crime. The investigation leads to two murdered moonshiners. As the investigation continues Ned’s niece and nephew, Top and Pepper, start up a friendship with their mysterious new neighbor, Mr. Bell, which is a concern to Ned.

Like McCarthy, Wortham deals with the idea of borders with this novel; things escalates when any of the characters cross into Oklahoma or Mexico. The theme fits well in the series, which looks at the 60s effect on a small Texas town that has changed little over the years. The Beach Boys and Johnny Rivers are pushing Hank Williams and Johnny Rodgers off the radio and the drug racket is moving in on the moonshine trade. Like its title suggests, The Right Side of Wrong looks at the lines crossed when good men have to do bad things; something that culminates in a bloodbath near the end. For Wortham’s characters, you don’t cross those borders and come back the same, if you come back at all.

Reavis Wortham’s talent as a writer lies in his ability to bring light into this dark story, giving us a full human experience. Much of this is done by employing humor (something lacking in much of McCarthy’s work). This seems to be the main reason to have Top and Pepper, especially with the chapters told through Top’s perspective. Wortham is able able to bring everything down to character; there is a conversation between Ned and Tom Bell that holds as much tension as the gunfights.

The Right Side Of Wrong is so involved with its time and place, it transcends it. In the the first two books we watched the citizens of Center Springs confront changing times, but now we see they are beginning to change themselves. I’m curious to see what lines they’ll cross in the future.

Reavis Wortham will be at BookPeople, discussing and signing The Right Side Of Wrong, July 22nd for our Lone Star Mystery Panel that also includes George Wier and Tim Bryant.

 

MP Review: THE DOLL by TAYLOR STEVENS

Taylor Stevens’ Vanessa Michael Munroe is an informationist, able to obtain the information you need, no matter how clandestine, if the price is right. If you haven’t read about her you’re missing out. Steven’s has a knack for placing her protagonists in plots that challenge their internal conflicts as well as their physical, like no other in the field. Her latest, The Doll, is further proof of her talent.

The book hits the round running when she is kidnapped from the Dallas streets and taken to Croatia. There she is brought before a creepy shadowy white slaver, The Doll Maker, who feels Munroe owes him for something she did in her past and must deliver one of his “dolls”, Neeva, to a client in France. If she doesn’t take the assignment they will torture and kill Logan, her lover whom they have also kidnapped, who runs Capstone, a Black Water type organization

The book skillfully follows two story lines. The main one has Munroe on her road trip with Neeva, that includes many action packed stops as she tries to figure out a way of being in a situation that goes against her principals, and why she was picked to do it in the first place. She uses the gritty side of the European locales to ground the story with skill. We also get the Capstone team in their search for Logan, giving Stevens a broader canvas to work with. Usually regulated to her lone wolf character, she seems to relish sketching out the characters that work as a team. It also allows her to use her sense of humor more often.

That said, as always, it is Munroe who makes these books tick and Stevens pushes her further than ever before. Vanessa has always had the ability to shut down her emotions to do the job with cold professionalism, but here she is given a moral dilemma where she must deal with them. She’s forced to really think about how much Logan means to her, and if loving Logan is right for her. All of this is expressed through action and terse dialogue; like the fantastic discussion Munroe has with Neeva on how to survive.

The Doll builds on a body of works that puts Taylor Stevens in the company of Jeff Abbott, Lee Child, and her hero Robert Ludlum. She knows how to turn a phrase, whether it is Munroe’s actions or speech, entwining her in a well-paced plot that challenges her on all levels. With Vanessa Michael Munroe, Stevens has given us an unpredictable heroine who goes places we never imagined. The only thing you can be sure of, it won’t be boring.

Taylor Stevens will be speaking and signing copies of The Doll on Wednesday June 12th at 7pm at BookPeople. Stevens will be joined by Jon Steele, author of Angel City.

MP Review: THE BROKEN PLACES by ACE ATKINS

Ace Atkins’ Quinn Colson series has gotten to be one of my current favorites, right up there with Walt Longmire and Moe Prager. Following the army ranger-turned-sheriff of his hometown of Jericho, Tibbehah County, the books are influenced by the Southern set action films of the Seventies that starred the likes of Burt Reynolds, Joe Don Baker, and Bo Svenson, but updated for today. In his latest, The Broken Places, he aims for an all out blockbuster.

The book starts out with an exciting prison break, partly on horseback. The three prisoners are out to get back the money from the armored car robbery they pulled; their destination, Jericho.

It isn’t as if Quinn has enough trouble. Jamey Dixon, a convicted murder has returned to town after pardoned by the outgoing governor, setting up a church in town. Ophelia, the daughter of one of his supposed pressures Quinn to put back in prison. As much as he’d like to, the situation becomes complicated when Dixon becomes involved with his sister Cady. Dixon is also the reason those convicts are headed to Jericho.

What comes across in this book is Atkins skilled hand at delivering a strong piece of entertainment. Fans of the television show, Justified, will love the convicts as well as Quinn’s nemesis, town kingpin Johnny Stagg. Their dialogue is ripe with humor, Southern homilies, and menace, often all at the same time. Atkins gives us some well placed action set pieces. A standout is a chase on four wheelers through the woods. If it wasn’t enough, we even get a tornado. None of this feels like an onslaught, there is a flow to all of it. Even moments with Quinns’s friends and family are weaved in for a perfect balance of character, plot, and honest looks at faith and redemption. By the end it has a feel of a solid action film crossed with a Johnny Cash song.

The Broken Places is further proof of Atkins talent. He takes to a world off a rural route that sits between a classic hard boiled novel and the realities of current small town America, breathing life into it with detail and dialogue. It’s a story of white hats and black hats, but everybody’s brim is a bit worn and dirty. The Broken Places is escapism at it’s smartest.

 

 

 

MP Review: WONDERLAND by ACE ATKINS

Last year, Ace Atkins continued Robert B. Parker’s Spenser series with Lullaby. He captured the voice of the urban knight for hire, coming as close to Parker’s portrayal as anybody could. In his follow up, Wonderland, he picks up where Parker left off in his last Spenser novel, Sixkill.

Henry Cimoli, an old boxer who runs the water front gym, asks Spenser for help. A gambling tycoon wants the property his condo is on for a casino and some thugs have been sent to move negotiations along with him or the other seniors who are holding out. Since his usual back up, Hawk is out of the country Spenser uses Sixkill; the Cree Indian bodyguard he’s been mentoring. It’s not long before the two are up against both the Boston and Vegas mob and one of the major players are murdered.

Much of the story deals with Sixkill. Early on, he is roughed up my some of the goons, with his pride being damaged as much as his body. The beating makes him wonder if he’s cut out for this life and if not, what life is he cut out for. Spenser uses the case to test Sixkill and hopefully save him.

Like Lullaby, Wonderland has echoes of Early Autumn, a Spenser book that is a favorite of Ace’s. While in that book he’s helping a young man find direction in his life, here he’s mentoring someone how to deal with a life like his own. It seems we learn the most about Spenser when he his teaching.

In Lullaby, Atkins confronted Spenser with changing times. In Wonderland we see him dealing with by passing what he knows and believes down to the next generation. All of this is done subtlety under some masterful plotting, fun quips and well-defined action scenes. He has taken the last major character Parker created in the series and used him to introduce a new phase in Spenser’s life. It looks likes it’s still going to be one worth following.

Join us as we welcome Ace Atkins to BookPeople to speak about and sign Wonderland, as well as his new Quinn Colson novel, Broken Places, on Friday, May 31 at 7PM.

MP Review: THE CRYPT THIEF by MARK PRYOR

Mark Pryor became a sensation in our store with his debut thriller, The Bookseller. It introduced us to Hugo Marston, the square jawed, bibliophile, head of security for the U.S. embassy. Since October, the book has sold over two hundred copies at MysteryPeople. With his follow up, The Crypt Thief, Pryor proves to be no fluke.

The Crypt Thief begins with one hell of an unsettling first chapter at the Pe’re La Chaise cemetery, with young couple visiting Jim Morrison’s grave. Unbeknownst to them, they have gotten in the way of a demented villain known as The Scarab. They don’t make it to Chapter Two.

Since one of the victims is the son of a US senator, Hugo is asked to look into the murders. His CIA buddy, Tom Green, comes along because they are suspicions of a terrorist hit. When Hugo looks at the evidence he thinks it may be something akin to a serial killer. The only thing he is sure of is that The Scarab will kill again.

With just two novels, Pryor proves to be a master craftsman as a storyteller. The plot moves at a brisk and involving pace, and he gives Hugo an adversary as twisted as he is straight.  He slowly reveals The Scarab’s motivations, keeping us on the edge of what his dark plan is. His use of Paris and French history works so well as a backdrop that there is no other region the story could take place.

The main reason I’ve gotten to love this series is the supporting characters. In most books like this the heroes tend to be lone wolves, but Hugo is partly defined by his allies. The French detective, Inspector Garcia, proves to be smart, capable, and well as strong ally, as opposed to many of the obstructive local cops that show up in thrillers. Claudia, Hugo’s sexy journalist girlfriend is much more than a love interest. Her continental ways make her a perfect foil for Hugo and his Boy Scout ways.

It’s the relationship with Tom Green that puts a great buddy spin on the series with the CIA consultant who is a walking id, creates a great dynamic for their relationship. In The Crypt Thief, he explores that dynamic by creating a rift between the two and showing how destructive Green’s personality can be.

Mark Pryor has created a perfect second book for Hugo Marston. It delivers everything we loved about The Bookseller without being a retread. The Crypt Thief is proof that both Hugo and Pryor should be around for some time.

MP Review: POINT & SHOOT by Duane Swierczynski

A couple years back, Duane Swierczynski started his Charlie Hardie trilogy, where the tough ex-cop-turned-house sitter fell into a one-man war against a secret cabal originally known as “The Accident People”. The First two books, Fun & Games and Hell & Gone, came out in 2011, with Charlie being shot at, beat up, burnt out of a house, thrown into a strange underground prison where he was both captive and guard, and then we were left hanging with him being shot into space. After what has felt like one of the longest waits in crime fiction, he wraps up the trilogy with Point & Shoot.

Charlie has been orbiting Earth in a satellite for over a year now. He knows he’s guarding inside it, but not what it is, agreeing to keep safe so the accident people don’t go after his ex-wife and son. His dull spaceman routine is interrupted by another craft attaches itself to the airlock. He has a visitor.

It’s hard to tell you much more without revealing the many fun twists that come after a great fistfight in the satellite. Swierczynski tosses them about with the swift precision of a circus knife thrower, closing a chapter that has one throwing time and commitment to the wind, going to the next chapter. What I think I can safely say is that the story concerns getting back to Earth and saving his family and that it involves a number of gunfights and fist fights, his doppelganger, and the return of his nemesis, Mann, the ultimate femme’ fatale. We also learn why Hardie as survived everything that’s been thrown at him.

Like the other two books Point & Shoot is flat out fun. Swierczynski keeps the story flying and makes the action non-stop. In the last few years, he has written for about every major comic book company brings and over that top attitude to play. A friend of mine described the series as “a thriller set in the Marvel Universe”. That said, he grounds the story in human emotion as Charlie and his dysfunctional family learn to function in these extreme circumstances.

Point & Shoot delivers what the first two books promised, capping off a modern pulp masterpiece with the trilogy. It wraps up everything we need to know in an entertaining way, dangling a few questions to tempt our imagination. Well worth the wait.