May 1, 2016 Booklist 35 #mysterymonth
drawn to this violent world of debt collection
by the quick money and gaudy life. Oliver fits
in right off. On his way to the top, he shows
the stone killers a thing or two. Alex has a
nicer side. Though handy with a knife—as he
demonstrates in one shocking scene—his conscience is tearing him apart. Of course, the two
are on a collision course, and Mackay’s narrative
gathers force as it proceeds, like an avalanche.
The action finale, when it comes, is heartrending as well as violent. —Don Crinklaw
No Good to Cry.
By Andrew Lanh.
July 2016. 301p. Poisoned Pen, $26.95
(9781464206399); paper, $15.95; e-book, $9.99.
Two elderly gentlemen walking along a sidewalk in Hartford, Connecticut, are attacked
from behind. One of them dies. The survivor owns the detective agency Rick Van Lam
works for, and Van Lam is asked to find out
what happened and who’s responsible. Two
teenage boys appear to be the culprits, playing the cruel “knockout game, coming at old
guys and punching them in the head.” Skeptical PI Lam suspects there was more going on.
Author Lanh manages to get 300 pages out
of this mini-mystery by turning it into an examination of a Vietnamese family’s struggles
in America. Interestingly, the family turns out
to be a recognizable version of miserable families anywhere. Father so pressures the kids to
succeed that one retreats into airy aestheticism
and the other—a mugging suspect—is drawn
to the gangs, and the beautiful daughter falls
for a boy who is definitely not good for her.
The lack of crime-story tension in this long
section may lose some readers, but those who
hang on will be rewarded both by the richness
of the family story and by a furious, suspenseful finale. —Don Crinklaw
Not Dead Enough.
By Warren C. Easley.
June 2016. 302p. Poisoned Pen, $26.95
Lawyer Cal Claxton fled his life in Los Angeles for a more agreeable one in Oregon’s wine
country. He fishes; plays with his pup, Archie; samples local pinot; and, when he needs
bucks, takes on a not-too-demanding case. But
troubled people find him. In Easley’s fourth
Claxton novel, a Native American woman
needs his help. Her grandfather died more than
half a century ago as he was protesting a dam
that flooded his village. He was a drunk who
fell in the water—that was the verdict then, at
least—but the woman found a cache of letters
that tell a different story. Claxton tracks down
old-timers who remember that bad day, but
they are murdered one by one. The narrative
spends much time absorbing sights and smells
of the glorious outdoors and detailing the political fights they engender. Some may find this
slows the murder plot, but fans of Tony Hillerman and C. J. Box won’t mind—the plot is still
there and capable of delivering a jolt or two.
Advise readers not to jump to that last page.
Easley deserves his surprises. —Don Crinklaw
Nothing Short of Dying.
By Erik Storey.
Aug. 2016. 320p. Scribner, $25 (9781501124143);
e-book, $12.99 (9781501124174).
Clyde Barr, hero and narrator of this immensely enjoyable novel, lets us know he’s an
ex-jailbird, ex-mercenary, and all-around bad
boy. Like everybody in the book, however,
we’re not fooled. We know he’s a Grail Knight
in disguise, rescuing the good and punishing
the bad, and when he gets a call from his sister asking him to roar into the Rockies and
save her from a kidnapper, what’s he going
to do? Clyde is joined on his quest by a sassy
lady bartender (she asks him if the zoo knows
he’s escaped), and unexpected things happen.
When their jeep breaks down, she’s the one
under the hood while he stands by helplessly. Clyde displays a visceral fascination with
odors. Cheap coffee “smells like a parking lot
puddle.” A public park is “dried leaves and
dumpster trash.” Encounters with bad guys
along the way are appropriately, cinematically
violent, and the rich, sensory descriptions enhance a well-told story. The bartender does,
too. She says she wants to “see how the Clyde
Barr movie ends.” So do we. —Don Crinklaw
Of Sound Mind.
By James Waltzer.
May 2016. 362p. Medallion, paper, $14.99
A man hears a murder taking place inside
an apartment. But because of his unique sense
of hearing (he can hear sounds other people
cannot), Richard Keene knows he won’t be believed if he tries to report the crime, not unless
he has some proof. So he decides to play amateur sleuth and solve the case himself. It sounds
like an unwieldy premise for a novel, but actually this is a cracking good read, with a story
that feels increasingly real and frighteningly
plausible. The story has thematic similarities to
the films Rear Window and The Conversation,
but it looks like the author is aware of them,
and Waltzer’s ability to keep us guessing about
key elements of the story—even the identity of
the murder victim is deliberately unclear for
much of the book—keeps us racing through
as fast as we can turn the pages. —David Pitt
Pierced By the Sun.
By Laura Esquivel. Tr. by Jordi Castells.
July 2016. 216p. AmazonCrossing, paper, $14.95
Mexican writer Esquivel, best known for
Like Water for Chocolate (1992), ventured into
historical fiction in Malinche (2006) and now
uses the structure of a thriller to dramatize
love and loss in another woman’s life, this time
bringing readers into Mexico’s corrupt, drug-plagued present. Unlike Chocolate heroine Tita,
a dutiful daughter who stays home and cooks,
Lupita is less likeable and less well behaved,
though she becomes more sympathetic as details of her brutal childhood (including being
raped by a stepfather) gradually emerge and
help explain some of her more horrendous past
behavior. The tale begins with Lupita witness-
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“Strikes a fine balance.”
“[L]ight and playful.”