Thursday, March 5, 2015

The Whites - Harry Brandt

My review of The Whites by Richard Price, writing as Harry Brandt, first appeared in Shelf Awareness for Readers. I am posting it today with their permission. Hope you enjoy.

First line: "As Billy Graves drove down Second Avenue to work, the crowds worried him: a quarter past one in the morning and there were still far more people piling into the bars than leaving them, everyone coming and going having to muscle their way through the swaying clumps of half-hammered smokers standing directly outside the entrances."

Billy Graves is a Manhattan Night Watch sergeant. He and a small band of misfit detectives tend to the city's crime in the wee hours. It's not glorious, but on a good shift, Graves makes it home in time to take his two young sons to school. Billy Graves doubts he'll be making that school run the morning after St. Patrick's Day, however, when he's called to Penn Station at four a.m.

The blood-streaked tableau is a cop's nightmare. Drunk revelers traveling home on the trains have repeatedly trampled through the crime scene where a young man was stabbed to death. "It looked to Billy as if the guy had been trying to jump the turnstile, bled out mid-vault, then froze like that, dying in midair before dropping like a rock."

The real sucker punch sneaks in when Billy recognizes the victim, Jeffrey Bannion--a haunting memory from his days as a member of the South Bronx anti-crime unit Wild Geese. His life was forever altered as a WG when he inadvertently killed a young boy. While Billy doesn't know it yet, the reemergence of Bannion means it's about to be razed once again.

With The Whites, Richard Price (Lush Life), writing as Harry Brandt, delves into the psychological conflict of his battered and scarred protagonist with a honed scalpel, cutting and prodding and poking, leaving cop and reader painfully uncomfortable with ugly truths. Brandt's style is vivid and succinct, creating strong atmosphere that seamlessly melds with the plot. Cop corruption is an intractable theme, but wow did Brandt forge an extraordinary story with it.


The Whites is available in hardcover (ISBN: 9780805093995) from Henry Holt and Company. There is also an unabridged audiobook version (ISBN: 9781427213143), narrated by Bobby Cannavale from Macmillan Audio.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Wanted - Chris Hoke

My review of Wanted by Chris Hoke first appeared in Shelf Awareness for Readers. I am posting it here today with their permission. I also interviewed Chris and you can read that here. This book is the most powerful book I've read so far this year, and while it is early in the year, it's going to be hard to top. I hope you'll check it out.

First line: "Someone called the cops on Ricardo Meja as soon as he was born."

In the Introduction to his humbly powerful debut work, Chris Hoke says he is trying to "paint God" through a series of "WANTED posters." These posters share the vulnerable and human side of individuals written off by society and cast aside--to prisons, deportations, even locked trash dumpsters. The character sketches also illustrate Hoke's own spiritual awakening.

Drawn to prayer early in life--but not in a way that was easy to define and pursue--Hoke tries formal college studies and informal conversations with church leaders, but it isn't until he undertakes a volunteer position with Tierra Nueva, a Christian ministry in Washington State, that he finds the fulfillment he is seeking.

At Tierra Nueva Hoke helps migrant workers navigate the legal system and serves as chaplain in a men's correctional institution. He meets with hardened criminals in Bible study groups and one-on-one prayer sessions, learning who they are beyond the tattoos and rap sheets. As this young man, dubbed "pastor" by his flock, grows in the role, he experiences amazing connections--both emotionally and mystically--that continually drive and devastate him.

Wanted is Chris Hoke's story of self-discovery as defined by the people he encounters. It is a beacon of faith and hope, but it's also a compelling commentary on the US penal system and the callous disregard for the bodies and souls crushed by it. Hoke notes a parallel between his life and that of Saint Christopher, the patron saint of safe travels, but readers are likely to identify a parallel with another famous shepherd--and wanted man--in Christianity.


Wanted is available in hardcover (ISBN: 978-0062321367) from HarperOne. While there is no audiobook version of Wanted (at least at this point), Chris Hoke has done some NPR shows that feature him telling stories that appear in the book. I encourage you to check them out here. Hearing him tell these stories is quite amazing.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Long and Faraway Gone - Lou Berney

My review of Lou Berney's The Long and Faraway Gone first appeared in Shelf Awareness for Readers. I am posting it here today with their permission. If you missed my interview with Lou, be sure to check it out here.

First line: "In summer, season of the Hollywood blockbuster, Bingham got to work at eight in the morning and didn't leave until long after midnight."

The Long and Faraway Gone is Lou Berney's third novel, a standalone that deviates dramatically in genre, tone and style from his first two caper novels featuring Shake Bouchon. By trading Shake's madcap humor and exotic locales for a dark, psychologically suspenseful crime story set in Oklahoma City, Berney proves his writing skills reach long and far.

Wyatt Rivers and Julianna Rosales both experienced traumas during the summer of 1986. Wyatt has spent his life running from that past, while Julianna desperately searches for answers, agitating sleeping dogs best left alone. When his job forces him to return to his hometown twenty-five years later, Wyatt's pulled back into the violent tragedy he tried so hard to escape. Meanwhile, Julianna learns recently released felon may be the key to all her questions. She'll go to any length to find out, even if it puts her life at risk.

The dark, ominous tone, coupled with convincingly creepy and immoral suspects makes The Long and Faraway Gone an intensely spine-chilling mystery. But more than that, it's an emotional dissection of crime and those impacted by violent losses. Berney's compassion for each character makes an entire cast of delectably authentic and dimensional people.

Some elements of Berney's style remain the same. Dialogue continues to flow naturally, reflecting character and setting. A strong sense of place triggers vivid imagery. And his subtle, well-placed humor cinches the novel's realism. Readers who haven't discovered Lou Berney yet should take this golden opportunity to get acquainted. Those who have will certainly relish this story-telling gem.


The Long and Faraway Gone is available in trade paperback (ISBN: 9780062292438) from William Morrow.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Anthonys Information

Hi all, just a quick post to pass along some important information from the Bouchercon organizers for anyone who attended Bouchercon 2014 in Long Beach or is already registered for Bouchercon 2015 in Raleigh:


To all Bouchercon attendees: 

If you were registered for the Long Beach Bouchercon last year, or the one upcoming in Raleigh, you will be receiving ballots Saturday, Feb 28 to nominate books and stories for the 2015 Anthonys to be awarded in Raleigh in October. They are trying something new, and testing the process for future Bouchercons, using a survey site called Survey Monkey to send and collate the nominations. Those who have attended past Bouchercons may be familiar with the surveys you received afterwards. (Some of you may have opted out of Surveys, and if so, you won’t receive the ballot unless you opt back in.) However, the links to the ballots are being sent via email, and emails being what they are, it will be inevitable that many won’t receive them because of spam filters, firewalls and other reasons. So if you can set your emails and servers to allow mail from Survey Monkey (www.surveymonkey.com) or Bouchercon or Anthony Ballots, or just check your spam traps, that will hopefully cut down on undelivered ballots. If you want some further info, and a sneak peak at the ballot worksheet, check out http://www.bouchercon.info/process.html . Remember, you are all members of Bouchercon, and the success of the Anthonys, being a fan-based award, are directly related to your participation.

Happy Nominating!...and Thank you.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Hush Hush - Laura Lippman

First line: "Transcript of interview with CAROLYN SANDERS, March 3."

Hush Hush marks Laura Lippman's return to her beloved Baltimore private eye, Tess Monaghan. And boy what a return this is.

Now juggling a rambunctious toddler, a household that includes three dogs, and her investigative career, Tess is pulled somewhat begrudgingly into a security consulting job. Tyner's client, Melisandre Dawes,  stood trial twelve years ago for killing her infant daughter but was found not guilty by reason of temporary insanity. After her release from the medical facility she was sent to for treatment, she left the country, her ex-husband and her two other daughters. Now she's returned in hopes of reuniting with the children she abandoned and making a documentary about herself.

Not everyone is happy about her return--she's been receiving threatening notes--so Tyner wants Tess and her partner Sandy Sanchez to evaluate the security of Melisandre's new apartment. Agreeing partly for the money and partly for her family ties to Tyner--he's married to her aunt--Tess agrees to go over the situation but wants to make it perfectly clear that they are having no part of Melisandre's movie and they are not security consultants by trade.

Tess wants to meet with Tyner and Melisandre then wash her hands of the whole deal, but a series of events leading up to new murder, in which Melisandre is the prime suspect, continue to pull Tess and Sandy back into the thick of a mad woman's life of drama.

While the issues dealing with child murder are often hot buttons for readers, Lippman treats this case with careful reverence. Tess's constant reflection on her own struggles as a mother tie her uncomfortably to this woman she simply cannot understand. She considers her actions but decides it's safer to just not think about it: "Of course it was crazy, but what did crazy mean?" In addition, Lippman has included a personal stalker for Tess. Someone is leaving her notes. Notes that start out relatively harmless but progress to judging her parenting skills, which in turn make Tess question her fitness as a mother. She contrasts her disorganized, exhausted skills to Crow's seemingly effortless approach. While most mother's don't have an anonymous stalker, they can likely empathize with Tess, whether receiving "advice" or flat out criticism in their own experiences. Putting on a strong mask in front of those people is much easier than controlling the self-doubt that permeates thoughts and fears.

While it is only a few sentences, Sandy's reaction to Melisandre's crime is also powerful. A former police detective he says, "it's the kind of thing--Guys who could make jokes about anything, they didn't joke about that. Cases like that, they can really screw you up." Horrendous crimes like the one Melisandre Dawes commits can affect so many people on different levels, and Lippman looks at several of those levels in this novel.

Equally engaging are the two daughters left behind by Melisandre. Alanna and Ruby weren't much more than toddlers when their mother murdered their baby sister.  Now teenagers, each has dealt with their multiple losses in different ways. Additional secrets seep out as the book progresses, but both girls are sympathetic characters and trying to envision their lives is an emotional element of the story.

Lippman is exceptional with complex, gripping characters who illicit a host of strong responses from readers: compassion, revulsion, adoration, empathy. Stimulating internal dialogue for the audience makes a rewarding reading experience. And Lippman delivers more than just stellar characters.

The plot of the novel is authentic and riveting. The twists and suspense make for a thrilling read that's still grounded in reality. It's a bit of a thief, though. Readers are likely to find hours missing unexplainably once they sit down with this books. Tess Monaghan is a Baltimore fixture, but this novel could be set almost anywhere given the storyline. Horror stories about filicide aren't relegated to a geographic area and Lippman does a exemplary job of touching her reader, regardless of age or gender or race or any other categorizing factor--this is a human story.

Whether you're a long time Tess Monaghan fan or you've never read the series before, Hush Hush can be read and enjoyed by any number of kinds of readers and on many different levels. It's books like Hush Hush that remind us all of our commonalities and human connections.

Tess Monaghan is back, and that's a very good thing.

Hush Hush is available in hardcover (ISBN: 9780062369758) from William Morrow. It is also available as an unabridged audiobook (ISBN: 9780062372352), narrated by Jan Maxwell, from Harper Audio.

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Check out the Tess is Back microsite where you can listen to excerpts, see Baltimore locales from the series, learn about the characters and best of all, enter to win digital audio or ebook prizes from the series.

Hopefully you already know you can find Laura Lippman on Facebook and Twitter, but if not, connect with her there or her website.

My review today kicks off the TLC book tour for Hush Hush. Check out the schedule of blogs and see what others have to say about the book.

Disclosure: I do some contractual work for one of the owners of TLC Blog Tours. My work with them does not obligate me to a specific kind of review. The reviews are still my own opinions and reflect only my thoughts on the novels. If you care to read more, you can find more information on my Disclosure page.

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