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Friday, June 27, 2014


3 stars out of 5

I've never read a book by Ed McBain, one of the pseudonyms of crime fiction author Evan Hunter, who died in 2005. When I had an opportunity to get this one for $1.99 through a special offer at, I read the description and it sounded interesting. Even though it's the second in a series featuring beat cop Bert Kling (who in future books gets promoted to detective), I hoped it would stand alone and I'd discover a great new series. In any event, at just 214 pages, I figured I could plow through it even if it isn't the best I've ever read.

Frankly, it ain't even close, but neither is it the worst book I've ever read. I guess if I had to sum it up in a single word, it would be "blah."

The book takes place sometime in the 1950s, and it was a hoot to learn that a police officer earned not much more than $5,000 a year, eyeglasses cost a couple of bucks and an Allstate tire from Sears could be had for around $18. Those were the good old days, and yes, I remember them well (the car I drove when I first got my license was my dad's metallic pink '57 Chevy Bel Air).  It begins as Kling and his 87th Precinct buddies are trying to catch a mugger who preys on women - usually giving them a few punches and always bowing as he says, "Clifford thanks you" before he runs off with the purses.

Then, an old friend cajoles Kling into doing some surreptitious investigating of the murder of his pregnant wife's beautiful younger sister, who's been living with them. Because of the circumstances, there's some indication that the mugger has gone too far this time, but Kling isn't so sure he's the guy. Kling also intruding on another department's turf, which is likely to ruffle a few feathers, if not cost him his job. His own department, meantime, is trying to solve a string of cat thefts (yes, you heard that right - live cats are being stolen right under their owners' noses). 

McBain is an excellent writer in the technical sense, but that's nothing more than the bottom-line requirement (in my book, if your grammar, punctuation and spelling aren't top-notch, don't even try to call yourself a writer).  Still, I found it hard to get into this one. The time period may have been a factor, but it seemed as if there was an overabundance of background that really wasn't relevant to the story, there was precious little action or suspense and I really couldn't relate to Kling or his buddies. And that cat theft caper? The solution was almost an insult - devised only for the purpose of delivering a silly punch line to an old joke.

Needless to say, think I'll pass on the sequels.

The Mugger by Ed McBain (Thomas & Mercer, December 2011); 214 pp.

Friday, June 20, 2014


5 stars out of 5

Nothing beats knowing within the first few pages that you're going to enjoy a book from start to finish. That pretty much sums up every book by Stephen King I've ever read, and this one is no exception. It starts when a car plows into a crowd of unemployed folks who are lined up to get into a job fair - killing eight, including a mother and baby, and seriously injuring a number of others. Months later, the perpetrator hasn't been found and the woman whose Mercedes was stolen and used to commit the horrendous drive-through commits suicide - presumably because she is consumed with guilt for leaving her car unlocked and the key inside.

Then, retired police officer Bill Hodges gets a letter from someone who claims to have been the driver and threatens to do something even worse. Hodges, who finds retirement boring and unproductive, rises to the challenge of finding the culprit, with more than a little help from his 17-year old neighbor and the sister of the woman whose car was stolen and driven through the crowd.

Of course, it's quite a chase that leads to dead ends and, not insignificantly, dead people. Whether Hodges and his under-the-table crew will identify and stop the killer before something awful happens kept me on the edge of my recliner for the duration.

In between the action is some fun stuff: The lyrics for the song "Kisses on the Midway" are by King and Shooter Jennings, the child of country music stars Waylon Jennings and Jessi Colter (for those who don't know, King has some serious music chops, from playing in a rock band to collaborating on music videos and plays with heavyweights like Michael Jackson and John Mellencamp). And, King manages to get in a few zingers here and there as well; the perp's note to detectives, for instance, "...may not be high-class literature, but his writing is a lot better than the dialogue in shows like NCIS or Bones."

I must point out, though, that those who are expecting spooky stuff, supernatural critters that go bump in the night or cars that drive themselves will be disappointed. In fact, this one is an almost straightforward police procedural that is, dare I say, a bit predictable despite plenty of action and angst. But it's still classic King, and by golly, that's plenty good enough for me. 

Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King (Scribner, June 2014); 448 pp.

Friday, June 13, 2014


5 stars out of 5

This book, a compilation of short stories, gets 5 stars from me not so much because of enjoyability, but rather because it's such a unique work. Where else - except for previous versions featuring different authors - could you possibly find so many top-notch thriller writers in the same book, not to mention with characters paired up as never before and probably never again?

Edited by equally well-known author David Baldacci, sales from the book benefit the group International Thriller Writers, to which all these guys and gals belong. The anthology includes 11 stories, all co-written by two writers (in one case, three). Now that I've finished them all, I'll say up front that they're not equally good; in fact, only four of the 11 would get more than 3 stars were I to rate them individually. But as I implied at the beginning, this book is truly a Gestalt: The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

I'll also acknowledge the possibility that my subconscious was helping to sway my opinions; when I took a closer look at my four favorites, it turns out all four are by authors whose characters (and writing styles) are quite familiar to me. Hopefully that's not the case; but even if it was, a few characters in other stories intrigued me enough that I intend to look for books by that author with an eye toward reading them. And (beyond beefing up the writers' group coffers), isn't that really the name of the game?

For the record, my very favorite story, "Rhymes with Prey," pitted Jeffery Deaver with John Sandford (John Camp in real life), with Deaver's Lincoln Rhymes meeting up with Sandford's Lucas Davenport. And therein began my suspicion that familiarity breeds familiarity; just recently, I finished Sandford's new Field of Prey and Deaver's The Skin Collector - so maybe, just maybe, those were still on my mind when I made my choice. 

Other noteworthy (to me) collaborations here are "The Devil's Bones" by Steve Berry and James Rollins, featuring characters Cotton Malone and Gray Pierce; "Good and Valuable Consideration" by Lee Child and Joseph Finder with characters Jack Reacher (thankfully, with Tom Cruise nowhere in sight) and Nick Heller; and "Gaslighted" by primarily children's book author R.L. Stine and the team of Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child with characters Slappy the Ventriloquist Dummy and Aloysius Pendergast. 

And for the record, the other stories are:

"Red Eye," by Dennis Lehane and Michael Connelly (characters Patrick Kenzie and Harry Bosch

"In the Nick of Time" by Ian Rankin and Peter James (John Rebus and Roy Grace)

"The Laughing Budda" by M.J. Rose and Lisa Gardner (Malachai Samuels and D.D. Warren)

"Surfing the Panther" by Steve Martini and Linda Fairstein (Paul Madriani and Alexandra Cooper)

"Infernal Night" by Heather Graham and F. Paul Wilson (Michael Quinn and Repairman Jack)

"Pit Stop" by Raymond Khoury and Linwood Barclay (Sean Reilly and Glen Garber)

"Silent Hunt" by John Lescroart and T. Jefferson Parker (Wyatt Hunt and Joe Trona)

Author biographies are at the end, and an introduction to each story provides some background as to how and why the story was developed (all very interesting, BTW). In short (pun intended), this is an excellent effort all-around and I hope the group continues to publish others now and again.

FaceOff by Lee Child, Michael Connelly and others (Simon & Schuster, June 2014); 384 pp.

Friday, June 6, 2014


4 1/2 stars out of 5

This book, named to Kirkus Review Best Books of 2013, is a winner in my book as well. And apparently I'm not alone; as I write this, it had earned a rather impressive average of 4.3 stars from 1,236 reviewers at and
spent more than three months in the Top 100 in the Kindle Store - primary reasons I didn't hesitate when I had a chance recently to snag it for 99 cents through

The story begins as Charlie Beckham, a Boston federal prosecutor just starting as lead attorney on a case that should shoot him to the top of the career ladder, runs into a grungy homeless man who calls Charlie by a nickname known only by one other person - Charlie's much-older brother Jake, who turned up missing 13 years ago and is presumed dead (by everyone except Charlie, that is).

Long obsessed with finding out what really happened to Jake (to the point of seeing a psychiatrist ever since the disappearance), Charlie goes off the deep end trying to find the homeless man - threatening his successful career and jeopardizing his relationship with his fiance, Jessica. who happens to be the daughter of a powerful head federal prosecutor and Charlie's boss. But Charlie is certain the homeless man has important information about the missing Jake - it's even possible, Charlie reasons, that the guy is Jake in disguise. 

Of course, finding the man is far from easy, and the chase takes Charlie into seedy parts of the city and puts him directly in the crosshairs of some of the criminal underworld. Will Charley find the homeless man before either or both of them end up dead? And if he does, will he learn what really happened to Jake? Ah, I'll never tell - if you want to find out, you'll just have to read this one for yourself. I don't think you'll be sorry you did!

Brothers and Bones by James Hankins (Amazon Digital Services Inc., 2013); 365 pp.