Cross Justice by James Patterson

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The Alex Cross series by prolific author James Patterson has remained a consistent favorite of mine over the years. It has become a kind of tradition that I get the copy of the latest installment as a Christmas gift. As expected, I was gifted a copy of the latest novel Cross the Line this past holiday. I opened the pages of the book and was faced with a shocking realization. Somehow, I had missed the previous novel, Cross Justice! I raced to my bookshelf, and there it sat. I definitely remember opening it as a gift the year before, but for some reason I never got around to reading it. And so before reading and reviewing the latest novel, I present my review of Cross Justice a year later than expected.

Cross Justice finds Alex and his family heading to Starksville, North Carolina. Alex and his elderly grandmother Nana Mama are particularly anxious about returning to the town they once called home. Violence and drug addiction were motivating factors in the pair moving to Washington D.C. many years ago. They haven't returned to the town since that move, but now the family needs help.

Alex's cousin Stefan is in prison awaiting trial for the brutal murder of one of his students. Despite the damning amount of evidence to the contrary, Stefan maintains his innocence. At the urging of his niece Naomi Cross, a lawyer who fans of the series may remember from her part in the novel Kiss the Girls, Alex has come to lend his investigative prowess and clout. As he digs deeper into the odd circumstances of the murder, he finds more than he ever imagined . . . secrets of his own disturbing past.

Cross Justice, the twenty-third novel in the Alex Cross series, has all the trademarks of a James Patterson thriller. Short chapters and non-stop action make the book a quick and easy read. I've always noted the focus on family life and character development as one of the reasons I enjoy the Alex Cross series. In this case, I'm afraid we have too much of a good thing. The novel spends so much time focussing on the drama of the Cross family, that it distracts from the main mystery. There is even a subplot about a male killer who dresses as a woman to commit his crimes that seems to only exist to pad the book. We gain a much deeper insight into Cross's backstory, but a rushed resolution and hokey emotional ending make Cross Justice into one of the weaker installments in the series. That being said, I'll always be a fan of the series and look forward to as many Alex Cross novels as James Patterson can produce.

For more information, visit the author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads.

(2017, 11)

Ill Will by Dan Chaon

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"What do you call it when someone can't tell the difference between what's real and what's not real?"

Dustin Tillman's life is in a crisis. The sudden death of his wife to cancer has left him with little control of his actions and emotions. This is particularly troubling because Dustin's work as a psychologist sees him guiding patients through their own difficult situations. Without the support and better judgement of his wife, Dustin has taken a particular interest in his patient Aqil.

Aqil is a former police officer who is obsessed with a series of drownings. In each instance, a young college-aged man disappears after a night of binge drinking. They turn up days later, drowned in local waterways. All of the investigative authorities have concluded that these deaths are accidental and unrelated, but Aqil has other theories. Blinded by his grief, Dustin willfully encourages Aqil to explore the case and even joins in the investigation. Is Dustin on the heels of a serial killer who has evaded any notice by the authorities, or is he simply supporting the delusions of a madman?

To add to Dustin's emotional stress, we learn that his childhood was no walk in the park. Along with his twin cousins, Dustin stumbled onto the bodies of his murdered parents, aunt, and uncle. We learn that his older adopted brother, Rusty, was convicted of the crime and sentenced to life in prison. Dustin's descriptive testimony of  both Rusty's abuse toward him and participation in satanic rituals played the largest role in the conviction. Now, 30 years later, Dustin receives word that Rusty has been released and exonerated of all crimes. Dustin is sure that Rusty is guilty, but he can't recall specific details of that horrific night. Has he repressed these gruesome memories from his mind? Did all of the things he testified even happen?

"In the end it is the mystery that lasts and not the explanation."
                                                            - Sacheverell Sitwell, For Want of the Golden City

Ill Will is told from the shifting perspectives of various characters in the novel. While the central focus surrounds Dustin and his ironic descent into the kind of madness his profession fights against, the supporting characters are also allotted time to develop. By moving to different characters and times within the story, author Dan Chaon disorients the reader and creates a murkiness to his consistently suspenseful narrative. In a device that is as equally unique as it is satisfying, Chaon presents portions of the novel in columns. This allows different pieces of the story to unfold concurrently across perspective and time.

The subject matter is extremely grim. If you are looking for a "light" read, this may not be your cup of tea. Chaon writes of sexual and emotional abuse, drug addiction, and mental breakdown with a clarity that brings the characters to vivid realization. Despite the difficult subject matter, I was immediately sucked into the story and wasn't released until the very end. Ill Will works as both thriller and character study, shedding light upon dark situations. Chaon's dexterity with the material and inventive methods of presentation make Ill Will a disturbingly riveting read.

For more information, visit the author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads.

(2017, 10)




Book Blast/Giveaway: Pistols and Petticoats by Erika Janik

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A lively exploration of the struggles faced by women in law enforcement and mystery fiction for the past 175 years

In 1910, Alice Wells took the oath to join the all-male Los Angeles Police Department. She wore no uniform, carried no weapon, and kept her badge stuffed in her pocketbook. She wasn’t the first or only policewoman, but she became the movement’s most visible voice.
Police work from its very beginning was considered a male domain, far too dangerous and rough for a respectable woman to even contemplate doing, much less take on as a profession. A policewoman worked outside the home, walking dangerous city streets late at night to confront burglars, drunks, scam artists, and prostitutes. To solve crimes, she observed, collected evidence, and used reason and logic—traits typically associated with men. And most controversially of all, she had a purpose separate from her husband, children, and home. Women who donned the badge faced harassment and discrimination. It would take more than seventy years for women to enter the force as full-fledged officers.
Yet within the covers of popular fiction, women not only wrote mysteries but also created female characters that handily solved crimes. Smart, independent, and courageous, these nineteenth- and early twentieth-century female sleuths (including a healthy number created by male writers) set the stage for Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple, Sara Paretsky’s V. I. Warshawski, Patricia Cornwell’s Kay Scarpetta, and Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone, as well as TV detectives such as Prime Suspect’s Jane Tennison and Law and Order’s Olivia Benson. The authors were not amateurs dabbling in detection but professional writers who helped define the genre and competed with men, often to greater success.
Pistols and Petticoats tells the story of women’s very early place in crime fiction and their public crusade to transform policing. Whether real or fictional, investigating women were nearly always at odds with society. Most women refused to let that stop them, paving the way to a modern professional life for women on the force and in popular culture.

Book Details:

Genre: Mystery, NonFiction, History
Published by: Beacon Press
Publication Date: February 28th 2017 (1st Published April 26th 2016)
Number of Pages: 248
ISBN: 0807039381 (ISBN13: 9780807039380)
Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

Read an excerpt:

With high heels clicking across the hardwood floors, the diminutive woman from Chicago strode into the headquarters of the New York City police. It was 1922. Few respectable women would enter such a place alone, let alone one wearing a fashionable Paris gown, a feathered hat atop her brown bob, glistening pearls, and lace stockings.
But Alice Clement was no ordinary woman.
Unaware of—or simply not caring about—the commotion her presence caused, Clement walked straight into the office of Commissioner Carleton Simon and announced, “I’ve come to take Stella Myers back to Chicago.”
The commissioner gasped, “She’s desperate!”
Stella Myers was no ordinary crook. The dark-haired thief had outwitted policemen and eluded capture in several states.
Unfazed by Simon’s shocked expression, the well-dressed woman withdrew a set of handcuffs, ankle bracelets, and a “wicked looking gun” from her handbag.
“I’ve come prepared.”
Holding up her handcuffs, Clement stated calmly, “These go on her and we don’t sleep until I’ve locked her up in Chicago.” True to her word, Clement delivered Myers to her Chicago cell.
Alice Clement was hailed as Chicago’s “female Sherlock Holmes,” known for her skills in detection as well as for clearing the city of fortune-tellers, capturing shoplifters, foiling pickpockets, and rescuing girls from the clutches of prostitution. Her uncanny ability to remember faces and her flair for masquerade—“a different disguise every day”—allowed her to rack up one thousand arrests in a single year. She was bold and sassy, unafraid to take on any masher, con artist, or scalawag from the city’s underworld.
Her headline-grabbing arrests and head-turning wardrobe made Clement seem like a character straight from Central Casting. But Alice Clement was not only real; she was also a detective sergeant first grade of the Chicago Police Department.
Clement entered the police force in 1913, riding the wave of media sensation that greeted the hiring of ten policewomen in Chicago. Born in Milwaukee to German immigrant parents in 1878, Clement was unafraid to stand up for herself. She advocated for women’s rights and the repeal of Prohibition. She sued her first husband, Leonard Clement, for divorce on the grounds of desertion and intemperance at a time when women rarely initiated—or won—such dissolutions. Four years later, she married barber Albert L. Faubel in a secret ceremony performed by a female pastor.
It’s not clear why the then thirty-five-year-old, five-foot-three Clement decided to join the force, but she relished the job. She made dramatic arrests—made all the more so by her flamboyant dress— and became the darling of reporters seeking sensational tales of corruption and vice for the morning papers. Dark-haired and attractive, Clement seemed to confound reporters, who couldn’t believe she was old enough to have a daughter much less, a few years later, a granddaughter. “Grandmother Good Detective” read one headline.
She burnished her reputation in a high-profile crusade to root out fortune-tellers preying on the naive. Donning a different disguise every day, Clement had her fortune told more than five hundred times as she gathered evidence to shut down the trade. “Hats are the most important,” she explained, describing her method. “Large and small, light and dark and of vivid hue, floppy brimmed and tailored, there is nothing that alters a woman’s appearance more than a change in headgear.”
Clement also had no truck with flirts. When a man attempted to seduce her at a movie theater, she threatened to arrest him. He thought she was joking and continued his flirtations, but hers was no idle threat. Clement pulled out her blackjack and clubbed him over the head before yanking him out of the theater and dragging him down the street to the station house. When he appeared in court a few days later, the man confessed that he had been cured of flirting. Not every case went Clement’s way, though. The jury acquitted the man, winning the applause of the judge who was no great fan of Clement or her theatrics.
One person who did manage to outwit Clement was her own daughter, Ruth. Preventing hasty marriages fell under Clement’s duties, and she tracked down lovelorn young couples before they could reach the minister. The Chicago Daily Tribune called her the “Nemesis of elopers” for her success and familiarity with everyone involved in the business of matrimony in Chicago. None of this deterred twenty-year-old Ruth Clement, however, who hoped to marry Navy man Charles C. Marrow, even though her mother insisted they couldn’t be married until Marrow finished his time in service in Florida. Ruth did not want to wait, and when Marrow came to visit, the two tied the knot at a minister’s home without telling Clement. When Clement discovered a Mr. and Mrs. Charles C. Marrow registered at the Chicago hotel supposedly housing Marrow alone, she was furious and threatened to arrest her new son-in-law for flouting her wishes. Her anger cooled, however, and Clement soon welcomed the newlyweds into her home.
Between arrests and undercover operations, Clement wrote, produced, and starred in a movie called Dregs of the City, in 1920. She hoped her movie would “deliver a moral message to the world” and “warn young girls of the pitfalls of a great city.” In the film, Clement portrayed herself as a master detective charged with finding a young rural girl who, at the urging of a Chicago huckster, had fled the farm for the city lights and gotten lost in “one of the more unhallowed of the south side cabarets.” The girl’s father came to Clement anegged her to rescue his innocent daughter from the “dregs” of the film’s title. Clement wasn’t the only officer-turned-actor in the film. Chicago police chiefs James L. Mooney and John J. Garrity also had starring roles. Together, the threesome battered “down doors with axes and interrupt[ed] the cogitations of countless devotees of hashish, bhang and opium.” The Chicago Daily Tribune praised Garrity’s acting and his onscreen uniform for its “faultless cut.”
The film created a sensation, particularly after Chicago’s movie censor board, which fell under the oversight of the police department, condemned the movie as immoral. “The picture shall never be shown in Chicago. It’s not even interesting,” read the ruling. “Many of the actors are hams and it doesn’t get anywhere.” Despite several appeals, Clement was unable to convince the censors to allow Dregs of the City to be shown within city limits. She remained undeterred by the decision. “They think they’ve given me a black eye, but they haven’t. I’ll show it anyway,” she declared as she left the hearing, tossing the bouquet of roses she’d been given against the window.
When the cruise ship Eastland rolled over in the Chicago River on July 24, 1915, Clement splashed into the water to assist in the rescue of the pleasure boaters, presumably, given her record, wearing heels and a designer gown. More than eight hundred people would die that day, the greatest maritime disaster in Great Lakes history. For her services in the Eastland disaster, Clement received a gold “coroner’s star” from the Cook County coroner in a quiet ceremony in January of 1916.
Clement’s exploits and personality certainly drew attention, but any woman would: a female crime fighter made for good copy and eye-catching photos. Unaccustomed to seeing women wielding any kind of authority, the public found female officers an entertaining—and sometimes ridiculous—curiosity.
Excerpt from Pistols and Petticoats: 175 Years of Lady Detectives in Fact and Fiction by Erika Janik. Copyright © 2016 & 2017 by Beacon Press. Reproduced with permission from Beacon Press. All rights reserved.

Readers Are Loving Pistols and Petticoats!

Check out this awesome article in Time Magazine!
“Erika Janik does a fine job tracing the history of women in police work while at the same time describing the role of females in crime fiction. The outcome, with a memorable gallery of characters, is a rich look at the ways in which fact and fiction overlap, reflecting the society surrounding them. A treat for fans of the mystery—and who isn’t?” ~ Katherine Hall Page, Agatha Award–winning author of The Body in the Belfry and The Body in the Snowdrift
“A fascinating mix of the history of early policewomen and their role in crime fiction—positions that were then, and, to some extent even now, in conflict with societal expectations.” ~ Library Journal
“An entertaining history of women’s daring, defiant life choices.” ~ Kirkus Reviews

Author Bio:

authorErika Janik is an award-winning writer, historian, and the executive producer of Wisconsin Life on Wisconsin Public Radio. She’s the author of five previous books, including Marketplace of the Marvelous: The Strange Origins of Modern Medicine. She lives in Madison, Wisconsin.

Catch Up With Our Ms. Janik On: Website, Goodreads, Wisconsin Public Radio, & Twitter!

 

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Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King

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"I'm like the curious cat. You know what they say --- satisfaction brought him back."

Every cop has that one case that stays with them throughout their career. For retired detective Bill Hodges, his case remains unsolved. A lunatic in a Mercedes drove through a crowd of people who were lined up outside an auditorium for a job fair. Eight people, including a mother and her infant, were killed, and many others were injured. Despite his best efforts, Hodges was never able to make any headway on the case.

Now that he's retired, Hodges life is on an increasingly downward spiral. His wife divorced him years ago, his daughter refuses to speak to him, and he struggles to find anything useful to occupy his time. Hodges normally spends his days sitting at home watching T.V. and playing with his gun. The more he wallows in the boredom and sadness of retirement, the more enticed he is to turn that gun on himself. But then he gets a letter in the mail from a person claiming to be behind the Mercedes attack. Reignited by the possibility of finally catching the murderer, Hodges begins an incognito investigation.

Brady Hartsfield has many issues of his own. He is a technology wizard, but his job doing house call tech support for a local electronics store does little to engage his true abilities. Instead, Hartsfield uses his heightened intellect to psychologically manipulate his customers and co-workers. He lives at home with his mother, an alcoholic who emotionally abused him as a child. The single event in his life that has given him the most joy and satisfaction is the day he stole a Mercedes and drove it into a crowd of innocent people. The high from that event is beginning to wane. Now Hartsfield is determined to do something even more violent and malicious to satiate his new found hunger.

Mr. Mercedes is a cat and mouse thriller by one of the most skillful and prolific authors working today.   King devotes equal attention to Bill Hodges as to the man he is hunting. The end result is two characters who are both flawed and well developed. These kinds of mysteries can be made or broken by the quality of the bad guy. By making Hartsfield as well-rounded as his protagonist, King crafts one of the most intriguing and evil villains that I've ever read. Besides a graphically grotesque and emotionally horrifying death scene, King leaves most of his horror roots out of this story. Instead, Mr. Mercedes is a perfectly paced crime novel inhabited by engaging characters that serves as the start to what is sure to be a fantastic trilogy.

For more information, visit the author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads.

(2017, 9)

Things We Lost in the Fire: Stories by Mariana Enriquez

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In the past couple of years, I've gained a new appreciation for short story collections. The quick narratives make for easy reads during my brief reprieves from the hustle and bustle of life. They also are the perfect cure for a reading slump. It is much easier to finish a short story than a full-blown novel. As I've delved into more short stories, I am consistently pleased with the level of detail and development that some of them achieve. Beyond the satisfaction that comes with reading these short works, short stories have introduced me to new authors. From acclaimed Pulitzer winners like Adam Johnson to indie authors like Eric Shonkwiler, short stories have turned me into a fan of authors who I would have otherwise never read. After reading Things We Lost in the Fire, I'm excited to add Mariana Enriquez to that list.

Enriquez draws upon the history and legends of Argentina to compose a collection of stories that balance on the edge of myth and reality. In The Inn, my favorite story of the group, two girls are struggling to come to terms with their sexual orientation. Beyond the difficulties that their relationship brings, one of the girls is facing a new challenge at home. Her father was a model employee as a tour guide for a local inn. That's why the girl finds it so hard to believe that the owner fired him. Thirsting for revenge, the two girls decide to break into the inn and enact a plan that will have long-lasting implications on the establishment. Unbeknownst to them, more sinister entities are at play.

I really enjoy the way that Enriquez combines supernatural elements into these portraits of Argentinian life. The people in her stories are all facing different challenges that are only made more difficult by the fact that they live in the slums. The problems that the characters face, crumbling relationships, poverty, disability, all touch upon universal themes that are easy to relate to. By giving these stories a tinge of fantasy, Enriquez adds a sense of urgency and suspense to what would have otherwise been rather pedestrian tales. There is no denying the unique voice and place that fill the stories in Things We Lost in the Fire. With this collection, Mariana Enriquez makes a bold statement about who she is as an author and the kind of writing we can expect from her in the future.

For more information, visit Amazon and Goodreads.

(2017, 8)


The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith

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As a book blogger and reviewer, I receive countless requests from authors and publishers to read their latest offerings. These requests flood my inbox with such volume that it is impossible read every book that I'm asked to. My "to be read" pile is already unmanageable! Every once in a while, I pass on a request that I end up regretting. I'm still kicking myself for not jumping at an advanced copy of Colson Whitehead's The Underground Railroad. Now that I've read The Cuckoo's Calling, I can add it to my list of regrettable passes.

I remember reading the summary and request for the debut novel by Robert Galbraith. I had so many books on my schedule that I couldn't justify adding one more to the list. I didn't thing about The Cuckoo's Calling again until the news broke that Robert Galbraith was actually a pseudonym for the famed author J.K. Rowling. I instantly added the novel to my languishing pile of books to read.

The novel follows two people who are searching for their place in society. Cormoran Strike lost his leg in Afghanistan. In coming to terms with his physical condition and the stress of adjusting to civilian life, he ended up losing the woman he loved as well. Now he lives out of the office where his fledging private investigation business is beginning to look like another failure in his life.

Robin is searching for a career. With her impending marriage, she is close to building a perfect life. While she continues the job hunt, Robin takes on various duties from a local temp agency. She is beginning her first day as a secretary for private investigator Cormoran Strike when John Bristow enters the office. Bristow's sister was the famous model Lula Landry who tragically died in what has been ruled a suicide. Bristow suspects foul play and wants to hire Strike to investigate. Desperate for any way to keep his struggling business afloat, Strike agrees to investigate the mysterious details surrounding the superstar's death.

The Cuckoo's Calling is a refreshingly straightforward murder mystery. Rowling allows the details of the characters and the investigation unfold at a natural pace without relying on any narrative tricks for suspense. Instead, the thrill of reading the novel lies in the way the protagonists battle their personal demons while dealing with the family drama that surrounds Landry's death. True to form,  Rowling fills the novel with the kind of detailed descriptions and tangents that readers either appreciate or loath. I feel like these details ultimately add to the overall story, even if the pace of the action is occasionally sacrificed. The Cuckoo's Calling is a fantastic mystery that kept me guessing until the very end. With this novel, Rowling proves her flexibility as an author and provides a start to what promises to be a great detective series.


For more information, visit the author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads

(2017, 7)


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