Monday, May 26, 2014

The Weight of Blood by Laura McHugh

The Weight of Blood is a surprisingly accomplished first novel by Laura McHugh.  Set in the rural Ozarks, it is the mystery of two women a generation apart, caught up in a small town where secrets tend to stay buried.

McHugh creates an exceptional sense of atmosphere.  She captures the rural setting in all its beauty and its menace.  She pulls you deeply into the story and it takes you awhile to reemerge once you set the book down, which is not easy to do.  The pages fly by and can easily be devoured in one sitting.

When Lucy’s friend Cheri’s cut up body is found in the river near the center of town, Lucy is one of the few, if not the only, person who continues to care what happened to her.  Searching for answers to Cheri’s disappearance and murder leads Lucy to wonder about her own mother Lila’s disappearance when Lucy was a baby.  

The story alternates between the Lucy’s present and Lila’s arrival in town nearly 20 years earlier.  Both timelines are thoroughly engrossing and as they come together the pace continues to heat up.  McHugh does a wonderful job of creating fleshed out characters and an even better job of making you feel the menace, both subtle and overt that exists in the tight-knit community.

This book is both deeply chilling and deeply moving.  The characters are real and complicated.  Do yourself a favor and pick up this book.  It will stay with you.  A powerful novel.  Highly recommended.

I was fortunate to receive an advance copy of this book.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Kill Fee by Own Laukkanen

Kill Fee by Owen Laukkanen is the third Stevens and Windermere book and it’s clear Laukkanen has found a winning formula.  The brilliance of the series is how simultaneously ordinary and extraordinary the criminals are.  The criminals are not from bad families or raised on the street types.  They are ordinary, sometimes affluent, people you might interact with every day.  Something has clicked in their life to make them step outside the law and they discover that they not only have a gift for crime, but a taste for it.

Kill Fee starts with Stevens and Windermere having a casual lunch when a billionaire is gunned down by a sniper right in front of them.  This begins a chase for the shooter which uncovers a high-tech murder for hire scheme.  Stevens works cold cases for the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.  Despite being happily married to a wife who would prefer he stay out of harm’s way, he is drawn to the excitement of the FBI and Agent Carla Windermere.   

Kill Fee takes the two agents from Minneapolis to Miami to Philadelphia and Las Vegas.  Their skills truly complement each other.  Windermere is dogged and thorough and Stevens is insightful and imaginative.  The mastermind behind the kill for hire scheme is meticulous and careful.  One wrong move could provide the thread that unravels everything he has worked for.

Laukkanen provides plenty of action with gunfights and car chases, but where he truly excels is in creating that sense of the noose slowly drawing close around the neck of the criminal as their options and avenues of escape dwindle one by one.  He spends a lot of time letting you get to know the criminals as well as the cops, so even if you don’t exactly feel sorry for them, you understand them.

The odd sexual chemistry between Stevens and Windermere is the one puzzling thing to this book and the series to date.  It would be one thing if Stevens weren’t so happily married, but he takes pains to show that he is.  That makes the attraction and mutual temptation with Windermere just this side of creepy.  

Kill Fee is perhaps the most complete and skilled work by Laukkanen so far.  If you like fast-paced action with skilled cops and robbers, you’ll love this book.  I look forward to many more entries in this series.  Highly recommended.

I was fortunate to receive an advance copy of this book.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

The Dead Man Vol. 6 by Lee Goldberg and William Rabkin

I’ll admit to a certain amount of envy of authors Lee Goldberg and William Rabkin for the entire concept of The Dead Man series of books.  Like them, I grew up reading pulp series.  Among my favorites were The Executioner series by Don Pendleton and the Richard Blade series by Jeffrey Lord.  Goldberg and Rabkin have captured that spirit with Matt Cahill and The Dead Man books.  Each volume contains three stories by three different authors.  Matt, killed in an avalanche, discovered alive after months buried beneath the snow.  He returns with impressive healing ability as well as an ability to spot evil in others, which appears as both visual and olfactory rotting from the inside out.  With his trusty axe he must stop the evil and battle a mysterious evil clown he refers to as Mister Dark, who can exploit anger or despair in others and make it blossom into homicidal rage.

Volume Six of The Dead Man features stories by Anthony Neil Smith, Lisa Klink and Barry Napier.  All are very talented writers and to their credit, the character of Matt Cahill seems consistent across all three stories.  

In Colder Than Hell, something other than the typical work of Mr. Dark is in play as stranded motorists in a severe blizzard are possessed by a mysterious impulse that leads to bizarre, occasionally homicidal behavior that frightens even the evil Dark.  The story moves a little slowly through the first half, but gains momentum and intensity as it moves along.  

Evil to Burn finds Matt on a bus to the opening of lodge on Native American grounds where he anticipates trouble when an incident waylays him and his fellow passengers.  Piecing together the mystery of his fellow passengers helps him figure out a way to get to his destination with only minutes to spare.  Leaving him to search for a way to stop the evil that is still waiting to be unleashed.

Streets of Blood, the final and strongest story of the three, leads Matt to a retirement home in rural Virginia and a town with a streak of unusual and unexplained violent outbursts.  Matt is also beset by odd dreams featuring five young girls and the ever-present Mr. Dark.  Unraveling the cause of the disturbances as well as the meaning of the dreams becomes a race against time as the outbreaks of violence increase and ultimately threaten to engulf the town.

All three stories are entertaining and each story is a little better than the last.  Each suffers from a few narrative flaws, but they remain a lot of fun.  The series as a whole is a great throwback to pulp series of the past, and Volume Six is a fine addition.  If you like a good horror story with the right mix of shock, suspense, mystery and action, then you will enjoy these books.  Recommended read.

I was fortunate to receive an advance copy of this book.