NIGHT WATCHMAN by Tony Dunbar

This is the 8th in the Tubby Dubonnet mystery series.  Tubby is a lawyer  working and living in The Big Crawfish, AKA New Orleans, who seems to have enough time on his hands to investigate an old cold case.  In fact, it isn’t so much a cold case as it is a nothing case.  Back when he was a kid, he saw a young war protester  get murdered in the French Quarter, it has haunted him all these years, and for some reason, he starts to investigate it.  As in all the Tubby Dubonnet stories, he gets himself involved in police corruption, government messes, and people with secrets.

The title comes from a mysterious person who seems to be helping fate along.

“I remember hearing he drowned in Katrina.”  “Yeah, but he had some help.  Don’t you know that the Night Watchman got him?”

Lots of great characters, a decent mystery.  What I like about mystery series is you get to know the several main characters, and you feel like, “Hey,  hi!   Haven’t seen you in a while.  How’re you doing?”  So, yeah.  Another fine offering.  I got no complaints.

“Take one cup of Raymond Chandler, one cup of Tennessee Williams, add a quart of salty humor, and you will get something resembling Dunbar’s crazy mixture of crime and offbeat comedy.” – Baltimore Sun

If you want to see what else is in the series, just put in Tony Dunbar in the search window and you will get the list of the others in the series that I have read.

 

 

THE CUCKOO’S CALLING by Robert Galbraith

Why were you born when the snow was falling?
You should have come to the cuckoo’s calling,
Or when grapes are green in the cluster,
Or, at least, when lithe swallows muster
For their far off flying
From summer dying.
Why did you die when the lambs were cropping?
You should have died at the apples’ dropping,
When the grasshopper comes to trouble,
And the wheat-fields are sodden stubble,
And all winds go sighing
For sweet things dying.
              Christina G. Rossetti,  “A Dirge”
I really like literary allusions.  Adds a touch of highbrow-ness to what would otherwise be a typical genre detective novel.  And of course, you know who Robert Galbraith is, right?  That is the pseudonym for …… ta dah …..  J. K. Rowling.
Really good book, good mystery.  Did you expect less from the redoubtable Mz. Rowling?  Of course not.   After losing his leg to a land mine in Afghanistan, Cormoran Strike is barely scraping by as a private investigator. Strike is down to one client, and creditors are calling. He has also just broken up with his longtime girlfriend and is living in his office.
His last temp secretary/receptionist left, and into his life walked Robin Ellacott, temping only temporarily until she found a real job.   What a surprise both were to each other, as he whipped open the door to rush out just as she was about to knock.  Turns out she is a treasure, I tell you, a treasure.  She is clever and resourceful, and has always secretly wanted to work as a detective, so this job is just the ticket.  Except that Strike has no money, and can only find money to pay for one more week of temp service.  And then, in walks a client … well, talk about fictional good luck!  It seems that his sister,  the famous supermodel Lula Landry, known to her friends as the Cuckoo, famously fell to her death a few months earlier. The police ruled it a suicide, but her brother refuses to believe that.
So it is a lot of fun, the world of the rich and famous and sometimes stupid, the world of designers, and ambition, and …. oh, never mind.  It is a murder mystery.  Go enjoy it.
I think Rawlings suffers from being Rawlings in that her critics tend to do too much comparison.  Some people don’t like her writing style.  For me, it was fine.  It was a British detective fiction; I guess I expect the characters to all sound like they just stepped out of an Austin novel.

 

TRUTH by Peter Temple

Peter Temple is fast becoming another one of my favorite authors.  He is an award-winning Australian crime writer,  and so far, his works have an intriguing mix of character development and a mystery to be solved, and it is not clear which is more important.  Really nice stuff.

Truth is his second novel, but is set in time before the events in The Broken Shore, which I wrote about here.   It features DI Stephen Villani, who has only a peripheral role in The Broken Shore.  The city is Melbourne, there is definitely a body, in a classy apartment, in a bathtub.  The body is of a young woman, who reminds Villani of his own daughter.  The dead woman is famous and rich, and has a dubious boyfriend.  There are actually three more bodies.  Not a decent crime novel without a minimum of two bodies, right?

The story has a lot of characters, so if you are looking for an easy read, look elsewhere.  This one you have to pay attention to.  It all starts with this murder of a young woman in the city’s newest luxury high-rise, followed by horrific torture killings of three hard-core drug-dealing criminals.  As Villani and his fractured team investigate, he finds himself heading into murky political waters.

The dialog is sparse, spare and terse.  The politics rough.  The connections between the two story lines seemingly non-existent.  But as in all good crime fiction, little by little, it gets woven together.  It features the requisite flawed homicide detective.  If I ever read a police procedural where the detective is an average Joe with a healthy relationship with the wife and family, I will probably fall over in a dead faint.

What I like about this writer is that he just dives into the story.  The dialog and exposition suggest back stories which are never fully explained, but eventually you catch on.  An interesting technique, which adds to the verisimilitude of the story.  How do you like my ‘verisimilitude’?  See how it plays on the title, Truth?

This is all about truth, what is, what isn’t, what passes for, what bypasses it altogether.   Really good book.

TERRADOX by Craig A. Falconer

Falconer wrote Not Alone, which you can read about here, and which I really loved. Now, although I did not mention it in my comments on Not Alone,  the writing wasn’t the best, but good enough, and the story line was so good it carried the book.

I am sad to say that although most of the story of Terradox was good,  the actual writing was not even as good as in Not Alone.  It is hard to explain what I mean by this.  It didn’t have a really polished, professional tone.  Almost juvenile, in a way.  I am not talking about typos or grammar or those kinds of issues;  it was very well edited.  I am talking, I guess, style.

The story is about an earth that has been so badly destroyed that a single governing body has been created.  There is awful pollution and a raging world wide famine.  The space program which had begun with an outpost on ummmm Venus, yeah, Venus.  (I hate it how I tend to forget these little details.)  Holly(wood) was the face of the space program, until the head of the program sent her and some others on what the crew thought was a doomed space landing, only to discover later (after two of their number died on that landing) that it was a fake (think fake moon landing, dudes), to test how people behaved in dire situations.

Now she is escorting some high profile elite passengers on a flight to the station on Venus, but at some point, something goes wrong and the ship crashes on an unknown and unseen planet, a whaddyacallit oh yeah, cloaked planet.

As they explore the planet, they discover some strange things….. strange as in earth artifacts that shouldn’t be there, strange as in weather zones which are exact quadrants, with one weather system terminating exactly on a line where a different system begins.  Gol-darn!  This looks like a created planet.  By whom?  For what?

It all ties into politics and Evil Persons and seems scarily like today’s current political situation.  Without the space program.  I am not mentioning any names, being politically neutral as I am.

Final verdict:  this author has a great imagination and can certainly work out some mighty fine story lines.  But the writing…. the writing.  Sigh.

WILD LIFE by Molly Gloss

It is the early 1900s and Charlotte Bridger Drummond is a thoroughly modern woman. The sole provider for her five young boys, Charlotte is a fiercely independent, freethinking woman of the West who fully embraces the scientific spirit that is sweeping the nation at the dawn of the industrial age. Thumbing her nose at convention, she dresses in men’s clothes, avoids housework whenever possible, and proudly supports her family by writing popular women’s adventure stories. Ready to show off her knowledge of the local flora and fauna and have an adventure of her own, Charlotte joins a search party for a child who has disappeared in the deepwood wilderness on the border between Oregon and Washington. But when she gets lost herself, she is thrust into a mysterious world that not only tests her courage but challenges her entire concept of reality.

Starving and half dead from exposure, Charlotte is rescued by a band of elusive, quasi-human beasts. As she becomes a part of the creatures’ extended family, Charlotte is forced to reconsider her previous notions about the differences between animals and humans, men and women, and above all, between wilderness and civilization.

Yeah, I lifted that plot description directly from Goodreads, because I am behind in writing up my thoughts on what I am reading, and I am also lazier than the guy who drew the Japanese flag. So, in keeping with my motto not to put off til tomorrow what you can put off til the day after tomorrow, I kind of got backed up in my posts.

So.  This book.  It was great until about 2/3 through it, telling the story of of Charlotte, who is definitely a chick you would want to know.  It also has a lot about the logging industry back in the turn of the other century, and gives the reader a real taste of what life must have been like out in the far west as the country was beginning to grow up.  Had the flavor of Angle of Repose  which was based on the life of Mary Hallock Foote.   

And then it got weird.  The granddaughter of her housekeeper is taken by her father up into the logging camps to see what it was like.  She goes missing, and a massive search is on for her.  Charlotte gets it in her head to go up into the mountains around the camps and join the search, she gets lost, and hallucinates and is taken in by some wild creatures.  It went on and on and on, and not being in an introspective mood, but in a mood for the STORY, I lost interest and skimmed and skipped until she is finally rescued and the thread about the missing girl comes to a conclusion.

I still, even thinking back on the work,  cannot figure out what was the point of (a) a pragmatic women who is the widowed mother of 5 boys choosing to go off on the hunt, and (b) the getting lost part, and (c) what WAS that about the half human creatures?   Did we slip ever so slightly into fantasy there?  Anyway, it ruined the book for me, so if you read it, feel free to skip over that part, because the rest is great.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

hFoote,

JAZZ FUNERAL by Julie Smith

Julie Smith is a prolific writer, with several series going.  This one is a Skip Langdon story.  Skip is a homicide detective in New Orleans.  To read a bit more about Julie Smith  and some of her other offerings, just put in Julie Smith in the search window to your right, and you will get the four or five books of hers that I have read and commented on.

I seem to be reading the Skip Langdon series out of order, and this is I believe the third in the series.  This one was really all about the characters, and I truly enjoyed it.

The head of JazzFest is found stabbed to death in his kitchen days before the big bash is to start.  His extremely talented but troubled  16-year-old half sister disappears, and at first it is not clear whether she has been kidnapped and harmed as well, and it is all connected with the murder, or whether she has simply run away.  If so, why?  Well, she got dumped by her boyfriend,  her mother and father are cold and distant, and she wants a music career.

Each character, including the very popular singer Ti-Belle, the live in girlfriend of the dead guy, have their stories, and it is just a wonderful read.  Who done the dirty deed?  You might guess.  It wasn’t all that hard, but still a great story all around.

I am always struck by the comparison between today’s mysteries, which have a lot of character development in them, and the mysteries of yore, where the puzzle was the principle interest.  In today’s mysteries, we often care about the deceased; in the older books, we don’t give a hoot about them.  They serve merely as a vehicle upon which to hang the mystery.

 

SILVER SPARROW by Tayari Jones

A story about bigamy.  Yeah, don’t see too many of those, do ya.  It is a story about Black families in Atlanta, which started back in the fifties when Laverne, at age 14, gets pregnant in a one night dalliance.  Her parents throw her out, and Miss Bunny, the matriarch of the family of the young boy who is the father, takes them into her home and teaches Laverne how to be a wife and mother.  At the same time, Miss Bunny’s best friend had a son about the same time as Miss Bunny, decided she didn’t care for motherhood, and Miss Bunny took him in, too, when his mother left.

The two boys, James, the reluctant young father, and his abandoned friend Raleigh, are together all their lives.  Sometime in their twenties, James meets a beautiful woman working the gift wrap counter in a department store, and I guess falls in love with her, but with no intention of leaving his wife of ten years.   They begin to see each other, and the woman gets pregnant.  Shortly after, his wife also becomes pregnant, and the two children are born, both girls.  The ‘outside’ woman wants to be married, and she and Raleigh cajole James into getting married across the state line.

The book is the story of the two girls and the two families.  The outside wife and her daughter, Dana, secretly spy on James’ legitimate family, but those two know nothing of the other woman and Dana.

Dana eventually insinuates herself into the life of the legitimate daughter, Chaurisse.   There is back story on all the characters, and of course, it all comes to a head when the outside woman and daughter come to the beauty shop of the legitimate wife and reveal themselves.

What happens next.  Does James get kicked out of both houses?  Does he have to choose?

This is all about the effects of bigamy and secrets and lying have on families, the fallout of desire, and the issue of trying to have one’s cake and eating it too.

I found it extremely readable, and a really well-done look at the issues involved.  Not everything got tied up with a nice ribbon at the end.  There were still some unanswered questions, because like life, the story doesn’t end until the characters do.