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Posts tagged ‘Robert Crais’

Finding good new authors

Anyone who reads a lot of books, particularly novels that feature a series with the same characters, runs into the problem of running out of new authors to read. You find an author you like and end up reading every book they’ve written, becoming attached to the characters and their lives. But after you’ve finished the entire series, then what? You find another author that writes equally gripping tales and read all of those books, and then try to find other authors in a similar vein. For whatever reasons, some click and some don’t. I’ve read a lot of books in the past few years, but sometimes I can’t make it past the 50-page mark without becoming either bored or annoyed. Those are the books I don’t finish.


In the past six months or so I’ve devoured the latest novels from favorite authors such as John Sandford, Robert Crais, Dennis Lehane, Jonathan Kellerman, Michael Connelly, and Lee Child. Loved them all. I’ve recently started reading Daniel Silva’s series of novels featuring the Gabriel Allon character, and find those to be top-shelf fare too. Allon is certainly one of the more unusual and multi-dimensional characters in crime/espionage fiction these days. He’s an artist who works as an art restorer in various locations around Europe. But he’s also an Israeli citizen who is employed by that government in various spy-related activities, including the assassinations of “bad guys.” An intellectual hit-man with artistic skills.  Not your normal plot premise, but seriously addictive stuff.


Among the new authors that I’ve discovered — and liked— this year are Jess Walter and Greg Hurwitz. I’d actually read one Jess Walter novel, Over Tumbled Graves, about a year ago and enjoyed it. It was more of a standard crime fiction story, but two others that I’ve read since then are even better and have more depth than the usual mystery. One novel, The Zero, is set in New York City, shortly after the Twin Towers disaster of 9/11. The main character is a police officer who was hailed as a hero after 9/11 and becomes a minor celebrity around town. But depression soon takes its toll and the man wakes up one day to discover that he had shot himself in the head the night before during a drinking binge. The wound wasn’t fatal, of course, but he can’t remember exactly what happened that night, and in the days and months afterwards he continues to have memory lapses, at times not even sure why he is at a certain location or what he is supposed to be doing, or who he is talking with. Walter’s skillful prose takes the reader inside the mind of this troubled man as he deals with his frustrating issues. Some passages are moving, others totally hilarious, and some quite frightening. Altogether, a very powerful and moving novel.  


I read a third Walter novel earlier this month, Citizen Vince, that I also thought was superlative. In this novel the main character, Vince, is a career criminal who somehow gets involved in a mafia scheme. He ends up testifying against the mob and enters a witness protection program, given a new identity, and relocated to Spokane, Washington. Vince trains to be a baker and ends up working at a donut shop, a job he actually enjoys very much. But to supplement his income he also starts dealing in forged credit cards again. This novel is set in the fall of 1980, in the days before the US Presidential election between Carter and Reagan. The idea of voting in the election becomes an exciting prospect for Vince; due to his previous convictions he has never been able to vote in previous elections. Adding to the election fervor, a person from his criminal past discovers Vince living in Spokane. Lots of intrigue, a few laughs, and more great writing from Jess Walter. He has written several other books too, so I’m excited that there are more waiting to discover.


As for Greg Hurwitz, he’s one of those names I’ve seen on the shelf for years but I’d never read anything until I started a novel called The Crime Writer last month. The basic plot is a twist on the typical whodunit: a fellow who writes crime fiction novels is charged with murdering his girlfriend. The evidence at the scene of the crime suggests that this is a no-brainer: this guy definitely did it. But due to a brain tumor he had at the time, the man really can’t remember if he had done it or not. Some things about the crime don’t add up in his mind, so he ends up investigating his own case, turning up some baffling and disturbing facts. In addition to the clever plot, the novel is populated by some very interesting characters (ones that are so engaging that you hope Hurwitz does a sequel), and some seriously funny dialogue. On top of that, Hurwitz is one of those crime fiction authors — like Jess Walter — who also a very good writer; a definite step above the rest of the mystery pack. I just started a new novel by Hurwitz, Trouble Shooter, more of a traditional cops and robbers tale, but still very well written and absorbing. He’s also written more than a handful of books, so I look forward to reading those also.


Looking for a Good Book

I had just devoured the latest Robert Crais novel — another excellent Elvis Cole and Joe Pike adventure called The Sentry — and was looking for a new book to read, preferably something in the crime/mystery vein. I’ve actually been reading a lot more non-fiction lately — all the Malcolm Gladwell books, the most recent Jared Diamond, Freakonomics, Naomi Klein, and some other political stuff — but on this day I had the itch for a mystery and wanted to try a new author instead of one that I’d read before. I noticed this book called The Bricklayer by a new writer named Noah Boyd. The blurb on the cover by James Patterson was what caught my eye: “Move over Jack Reacher, here comes The Bricklayer.” Even Lee Child himself, the creator of the famous Jack Reacher character, chimed in with: “Non-stop action and non-stop authenticity make this a real winner.” I’ve enjoyed all of Child’s novels very much, but invariably I end up not liking books that he recommends. And this one was no exception. It was so lame and unexciting that I didn’t even finish the thing. The characters were shallow, the attempts at humor weak, and the plot lacked tension. Jack Reacher has nothing to worry about.


Next try was a novel by Joseph Wambaugh, famous for the true crime classic The Onion Field and novels such as The Choirboys, all set in Los Angeles … and all written about three or four decades ago. Wambaugh may once have been a very good writer, but based on Hollywood Crows, a book published in 2008, his best days appear far behind him. I hesitate to say that the cause is old age — Wambaugh turned 74 earlier this year — because mystery writers such as Ed McBain and Donald Westlake never lost a beat and remained sharp well into their seventies. Even Elmore Leonard is still going very strong in his eighties, although his last book, Djibouti, I thought was one of his weakest. For the most part, though, Hollywood Crows is pedestrian stuff that never takes off or captures the imagination, and Wambaugh’s attempts at humor fall flatter than a pole-vaulting sumo wrestler. Yeah, it was that bad.


But finally, I found a book that hooked me: A Quiet Flame by Philip Kerr. This is one of the author’s Bernie Gunther novels, a series he’s been writing about a Berlin police detective, set mostly in the 1940s. In this novel, however, the story rotates from Berlin in the early 1930s to Buenos Aires, Argentina in 1950, where Gunther has relocated after the war is over. I have almost zero desire to read books about Nazis and Hitler or World War II, but Kerr’s deft writing and use of multi-faceted characters helps to make this a compelling tale. He uses real Nazi villains such as Eichmann and Mengele, along with Argentina’s famous first couple, Juan and Evita Peron, which adds more spice to the story and gives the plot added validity.   


Another pleasant new discovery was Daniel Suarez, an author I stumbled upon after reading the teaser on the back cover Suarez has written two books thus far, Daemon and Freedom, and I raced through both of them this past month. They tend to fall into what’s been dubbed the “techno-thriller” genre, but basically they don’t stray far from the typical mystery novel, leaving you hanging with anticipation until the very end. There are lots of scary “this could really happen” examples of cyber shenanigans and government eavesdropping in the plot, enough disturbing examples to either keep you off-line for a while, or cast yet more suspicion and distrust on that famous “freedom-fighting” government. If nothing else it will stop and make you think about what “Big Brother” is actually doing.

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