EVERYTHING BURNS by Christopher Klim

Boot Means is a photojournalist who is trying to find the deadly pyromaniac who is terrorizing Concho Texas. Oscar Van Hise is revealed as the arsonist who is systematically working out his vengeance on the town and the people that he holds responsible for his messed up life. His masterpiece will be destroying the Concho Art Museum. Will Boot figure it out before it is too late?

The story moves quickly, at times taking us into the disturbing mind of a pyromaniac. Boot also ends up in a romantic relationship that is simply no good for him or her.

Great read, and not exactly a mystery, as we know who done it immediately, but it is more about the orphaned Boot who has come in contact with his father in a nearby Texas town to the fires.   It did not end on a happy note, particularly, which was a nice change, a bit more realistic.  It is the second in a three volume series.

 

HOSE MONKEY by Reed Farrel Coleman

“When former NYPD detective Joe Serpe hit bottom, he just kept on going. Having lost his career to charges of corruption, his family to divorce, his partner to suicide, and his fireman brother to the tragedy of 9/11, Serpe’s world is nearly empty but for his cat, Mulligan. Living in a basement apartment in a blue collar town on Long Island, Joe spends his days filling tanks with home heating oil and his nights filling his belly with vodka.

But when a young retarded man who worked for Joe’s oil company is cruelly murdered, Joe Serpe rediscovers purpose and grasps for a last chance at redemption.

Along with his former Internal Affairs Bureau nemesis, Bob Healy, and Marla Stein, a brave and beautiful, group home psychologist, Joe wades into the world of street gangs, anti-immigration organizations, and the Red Mafia.

Hose Monkey is a rough and tumble ride through a violent, often cruel world–a world where it’s hard to tell the bad guys from the good guys without a scorecard. It is a world of murder and extortion, but one in which an innocent Down Syndrome girl may hold the key that unlocks the mystery.”

A detective crime novel.  It has all the tropes – unfairly accused cop with a dirty partner,  who is now an ex-cop, thanks to the dirty partner, psychologically damaged, not the least because of the divorce, the never-seeing-his-kid-trope, his fireman brother being killed in the 9/11 disaster, meeting a lovely educated and independent woman who instantly falls in love and lust with him.  Yeah, that’s really common … fall for a damaged and weird-o guy right from the start.  Sigh.  Anyway.  The title refers to the guy who rides with the delivery tank driver and drags the hose from the truck to the customer’s nozzle.

I found it a bit too noir for my taste, with the final chunk just being violence after violence that frankly I didn’t need to read.  I preferred Coleman’s Prager series.

But he is an award-winning author, and the plot was, aside from the gratuitous violence, interesting, where I learned about the heating oil industry, and how every drop is closely regulated from the field to the final customer’s tank.

THE GUN SELLER by Hugh Laurie

You know Hugh Laurie.  He is Dr. House.  And a consummate performer, writer, actor, musician, etc. etc.  He partnered with Stephen Fry for years in several comedy shows in Great Britain, one of which was Jeeves and Wooster, which aired in the US as well.  Well, he wrote a novel in 1998, a thriller, which was kind of nifty.

OK, somewhat trope-ridden, and a little too cutesy-funsy, leaning heavily on British music hall humor at the beginning, but it got better as it went on.

Typical good guy/bad guys, international conspiracy by the capitalists kind of thing, but enjoyable none the less.  I believe it was his only offering in the novel genre.

Interesting how often a person talented in one genre also is talented in other artistic areas.

RELIC by Douglas Preston

Just days before a massive exhibition opens at the popular New York Museum of Natural History, visitors are being savagely murdered in the museum’s dark hallways and secret rooms. Autopsies indicate that the killer cannot be human.

But the museum’s directors plan to go ahead with a big bash to celebrate the new exhibition, in spite of the murders.

Museum researcher Margo Green must find out who-or what-is doing the killing, along with FBI hotshot Aloysius Pendergast.

That’s the official plot description.  Actually, it starts off with a couple of scientist explorers in the Amazon hot on the trail of a hidden tribe.  They find artifacts, and an elderly woman warns them off.  One of them disappears, the other sends his finds back to the ship via their native guide/helper, and continues to look for his vanished partner and the tribe itself.  One of the things he has found is a relic — a small statue of a creature presumably the god of this tribe.  He also is never heard from again.

Cut to New York and the Museum of Natural History, where we meet a cast of interesting personages, and are stunned to learn that a couple of kids have been murdered in a vicious manner.  Then another.  What the deuce is happening?

It all hinges on a theory propounded by one of the museum’s scientists.  He says:

”Every sixty to seventy million years or so, life starts getting very well adapted to its environment. Too well adapted, perhaps. There is a population explosion of the successful life forms. Then, suddenly a new species appears out of the blue. It is almost always a predatory creature, a killing machine. It tears through the host population, killing, feeding, multiplying. Slowly at first, then ever faster.”

Random mutation is very well known, and if a mutant form develops in the right environment with the right food supply, anything can happen.  He is proposing that what appears to be a creature with the intelligence of a human is living in the museum.  It appears it may have come in with the shipment from the Amazon sent by the disappeared scientist explorers.

The final third of the book is essentially thriller, with the creature stalking and killing, and the ending has one tiny twist that is a nifty surprise at the very end.

Although I am not usually a fan of evil slime-dripping creature stalking and killing stories, but because of the basis of this, I found it great for about two-thirds, and  generally OK after that.  Well, heck, I read it all the way through, didn’t I?   With relish.

 

 

THE MINOTAUR by Barbara Vine

Barbara Vine is a pseudonym for the author Ruth Rendell, and under this nom de plume she publishes novels of psychological suspense. This one was published in 2005, and has elements of modern Gothic horror.

The official plot description, for your edification and review:

As soon as Kerstin Kvist arrives at remote, ivy-covered Lydstep Old Hall in Essex, she feels like a character in a gothic novel. A young nurse fresh out of school, Kerstin has been hired for a position with the Cosway family, residents of the Hall for generations. She is soon introduced to her “charge” John Cosway, a thirty-nine-year-old man whose strange behavior is vaguely explained by his mother and sisters as part of the madness that runs in the family.

Weeks go by at Lydstep with little to mark the passage of time beyond John’s daily walks and the amusingly provincial happenings that engross the Cosway women, and Kerstin occupies her many free hours at the Hall reading or making entries into her diary. Meanwhile, bitter wrangling among Julia Cosway and her four grown daughters becomes increasingly evident. But this is just the most obvious of the tensions that charge the old remote estate, with its sealed rooms full of mystery. Soon Kerstin will find herself in possession of knowledge she will wish she’d never attained, secrets that will propel the occupants of Lydstep Old Hall headlong into sexual obsession, betrayal, and, finally, murder.

This was a terrific book, containing everything I like:  British understatement, that slightly off-center story, characters that are so strange you just have to love them, and mystery.

Kerstin is told by the friend of the Cosways, who recommended her for the job, that the house has a labyrinth, and Kerstin spends a lot of time roaming the grounds looking for it but is unsuccessful in finding it.  Finally, one of the daughters of the house explains to her that it is in the library, and when taken there, Kerstin discovers it is indeed a labyrinth, set up by one of the great grandfathers, a mazi of isles created by book.  There are thousands of books, in the dimly lit room, narrow aisles, teetering piles, dusty shelves.  The aisles eventually lead to a center cleared area where a statue of one of the atheistic philosophers stands with his hands positioned to hold a book, and in them is placed a bible.

The mentally challenged son she is supposed to be caring for turns out to be autistic, which was not widely known about in the setting of the story, the 70s.  He has been drugged by his mother who dislikes him, and her elderly boyfriend doctor, who could be censured for prescribing these inappropriate drugs.   He loves the library, and after the murder of one of his sisters, for which he is blamed, retreats to the library.  The law enforcement people have to find him in there and drag him out, hence the title of the book.

For me, it was a total page-turner, and was one of the books I was sad when it had to end.

 

THE GREAT IMPERSONATION by E. Phillips Oppenheim

Another great read from my LIST of the best sellers of the last 100 years.  This one was published in 1920.

Set in the years before World War I, a dissolute aristocrat from England apparently kills a man who allegedly attacked him in the woods near his estate.  The body of the man is never found, and when the aristocrat returns home covered in blood, his wife goes into some kind of shock and goes crazy.  Under this cloud, the aristocrat goes to Africa to spree around and shoot game and generally make a drunken nuisance of himself.

After about ten years, he is found, almost dead, by a German operative, a man he went to college with years and years ago.  Curiously, they look almost identical, a fact noted back in college days.  He is nursed back to health, and the two of them spend a night sharing secret stories of their lives and pasts.  Then the German guy must leave on assignment, and the British aristocrat is sent on his way with supplies.  But those supplies do not include water or food, only whiskey, meant to kill him.

He is found dead, and the German goes to England in his stead, claiming to be the aristocrat.  We the Gentle Readers are never quite sure just whose side this German guy is on.  The Germans are using him as a spy to keep them posted on the temperature of the British people and provide him with money to recover his estate, pay his debts, and no long be the debouched cad he was.  His ‘old’ acquaintances are delighted at this change in him, his deranged wife begins to care for him, but claiming he is a different man, not her husband, the Hungarian princess with whom he (the German count) was having an affair still is desirous of him, but feels he has changed dramatically from the cavalier she once knew who killed her husband in a fight, hence his exile to Africa.

War approaches, and we see the struggle of those English who believe war is imminent, and those who believe that the Germans want peace as much as they do, personified in the personage of the aristocrat’s Duchess cousin’s husband, the Duke, and in the personage of a German salesman, a naturalized British citizen, who befriends the guy on the ship home to Britain, and turns out to be his handler.

So.  Who is alive?  Who died in Africa?  Did anyone die in Africa?  Can a tiger change its stripes.

Fun read.  Well written, cleverly plotted.

E. Phillips Oppenheim was the author of 116 novels, mainly of the suspense and international intrigue type, but including romances, comedies, and parables of everyday life, and 39 volumes of short stories, all of which earned him vast sums of money. He also wrote five novels under the pseudonymn Anthony Partridge and a volume of autobiography, ‘The Pool of Memory’ in 1939.

He is generally regarded as the earliest writer of spy fiction as we know it today, and invented the ‘Rogue Male’ school of adventure thrillers.    More than 30 of his works were made into films.

Well, dang, you could spend  a good many years simply reading his oeuvre.

Magic. Wizards. Spells.  Demons.  You know, everyday stuff like that. Ho-hum.  Yawn.  hahaha  This is the first of the Dresden Files series, of which there are about sebenty-lebenty books.  The genre is fantasy/paranormal/magic/mystery.    Kind of noir wizard detective in the 40’s Raymond Chandler style.  You know, Sorceress in A Red Dress.  As written in 2000.

It was fun, but got a little too evil demon-ish for my taste, a whole lot of whirling and swirling and damage and black magic and stuff like that.  I like my fantasy/paranormal/magic/mystery a bit more subtle, thanks.  Here’s the plot, such as it is:

Lost Items Found. Paranormal Investigations. Consulting. Advice. Reasonable Rates. No Love Potions, Endless Purses, or Other Entertainment.

Harry Dresden is the best at what he does. Well, technically, he’s the only at what he does. So when the Chicago P.D. has a case that transcends mortal creativity or capability, they come to him for answers. For the “everyday” world is actually full of strange and magical things—and most don’t play well with humans. That’s where Harry comes in. Takes a wizard to catch a—well, whatever. There’s just one problem. Business, to put it mildly, stinks.

So when the police bring him in to consult on a grisly double murder committed with black magic, Harry’s seeing dollar signs. But where there’s black magic, there’s a black mage behind it. And now that mage knows Harry’s name. And that’s when things start to get interesting.

Dresden is a wizard working as a P.I., or a P.I. working as a wizard.  A woman calls his office, needing his services.  And that’s where it begins.  Then it continues when the police call him to view a double murder where the victims’ hearts have been …. well …. exploded.  Egad.  Obviously done by magic, and between the chick and the gruesome murder, Harry is suddenly busy.

Fun read, but I’ll take a pass on the remaining series.  I can only take so much summoning of demons before I get hungry and want to summon a pizza.