Sunday, August 26, 2012

Where the schemers and the meth addicts roam

Title: Death Without Company
Author: Craig Johnson
Bookmark:  I shouldn't even bother anymore.

Sheriff Walt Longmire had a rough month.  He nearly lost an ear to frostbite, his best friend to a twitchy and paranoid young man with a target on his back, and his (smoking hot) deputy to three prestigious job offers.  He kept all three of them, but the woman he loved is gone and his prime suspect in a recent series of killings stuck the barrel of a high-powered rifle under their chin and pulled the trigger.

Naturally, there was a period of adjustment.  He grew a beard.  He adopted the woman's dog when it arrived on his back porch (though he still hasn't given Dog a real name), and he hardly ever itches his ear anymore.  Henry Standing Bear has recovered from his injuries, and Santiago Saizarbitoria is on his way up from Cheyenne to interview for the position vacated when Branch joined the highway patrol.  Vic is her usual (gorgeous) foul-mouthed self, and nobody would have her any other way, but her husband is gone and the divorce finalized.

Walt is doing much better.  His friend and predecessor Lucian Connolly is not.  Mari Baroja has died in her room at the Durant Home for Assisted Living, and Lucian suspects foul play.  Walt isn't convinced at first, but he plays along and soon learns there was far more to the Basque woman than met the eye. Like her three-hour marriage to Lucian, the granddaughter who owns a bakery in town, and the millions she holds in  mineral rights on her land.

As Walt and Vic keep digging (with able assistance from Saizarbitorio--rechristened "Sancho" by Vic--, Henry, and Dog), they find that this mystery spans generations, and includes more bodies than anyone would have guessed.  Lucian won't tell what he knows, key players are brutally attacked, and more subtle attempts are made on other lives.  Walt has to find his way through all of these obstacles to find out who is behind the killings, and why.  Meanwhile, an official from the treasury department is in town to go through abandoned safety deposit boxes, and she has her eye on the sheriff of Absaroka County.

I could go into the list of reasons I love the book, but they're the same reasons I love The Cold Dish.  Great characters who work well with one another, an intriguing and believable plot, and Wyoming.  It's still not Oregon, but it's close enough to make me homesick in the very best of ways.  Reading Longmire books is like taking a trip back west for me, even if my days were never so exciting as Walt's.

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posted by reyn at 3:56 PM


Thursday, August 23, 2012

I knew it was you, Steggy

Title: Hot and Sweaty Rex
Author: Eric Garcia
Bookmark: library receipt.  I haven't been very creative here lately.

This is the third book in a series I started reading... well, a very long time ago.  I think it predates this online collection of Everything I Read.  Anyway, I was much younger, and the idea of dinosaurs living in human disguises in the modern world really appealed to me.  Almost as much as it still does.  Sure, Julia Roberts doesn't seem like a Stegosaurus, but according to Garcia, the cheekbones give her away.  The trick in accepting this premise is to not think too much about how much the various species must have shrunk and adjusted to be able to fit inside human-sized costumes, even with their various horns, tails, claws, and unusually long necks tucked inside.

Vincent Rubio, our long-time hero, is a velociraptor private investigator, and he's really stepped in it this time.  Sure, he's cleaning up his act, he's joined Herbaholics Anonymous and goes to regular meetings.  His creditors don't bother him nearly as much as they probably should.  Things are looking better for the scaly protagonist, even if business is slow lately.

Then he gets conned into attending the party at Frank Tallarico's place.  Worse, he is requested to join Frank for a private conversation.  You wouldn't think that was so bad, but only if you didn't know Frank was the west coast boss of the velociraptor crime family.  Naturally, after Vincent has been a guest at his house, eaten his food, and listened to the second-rate musical talent, he is obligated to hear Frank's job offer, and after hearing it, he is compelled to accept.  It seems simple enough, and comes with a hefty sack of cash when Vincent leaves the meeting, but Vinnie knows it's never simple when you deal with the dinosaur mafias.

The sack of cash is quickly distributed to most of the places and people to whom Rubio owes money, with some left over for new clothes.  His task is to follow the second-in-command of the Miami Hadrosaur family for two weeks and regularly report back to Frank.  Then Hagstrom, his mark, leaves town and Rubio is ordered to follow him back to Miami.

When he lands he is taken in by Frank's brother Ernie, who runs a decidedly seedier operation in the East, and is told that his two-week contract extends to whatever Ernie decides Vincent should do.  Vincent quickly finds himself deeply embroiled in two rival dino crime families, a stack of illicit dealings as high as your tail, and hasty preparations as a hurricane nears the sunshine state.

It was certainly more entertaining than most mob books, if only for the dinosaur angle and Rubio's constant noir-style wisecracks, but I never got as excited about the book as I had the other two.  Maybe it's been too long, or I've gotten too jaded, or maybe the hook has been played out, but I've finished the trilogy, I feel good about that, and now I can go back to Absaroka County.

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posted by reyn at 10:20 AM


Saturday, August 18, 2012

Crime, Crime on the Range

Title: The Cold Dish
Author: Craig Johnson
Bookmark: Library receipt.  I'm pretty sure that's why they provide those things.

By the third page of this book, Sheriff Walter Longmire was drinking a beer as he drove across town to meet his deputy, a foul-mouthed young lady from Philly.  That was about two pages after I decided I really liked the book, and Craig Johnson.

Walt is sheriff of Absaroka County, Wyoming.  I loved the book because it was well-written, had great characters, a very good, very believable ending, and because I enjoyed the sparse dialog between Walt and Henry Standing Bear; a language borne of decades of friendship and two-sided sarcasm.  I also loved it because, although Wyoming is not Oregon, it is similar in many ways, and reading Johnson's descriptions of the mountains, people, wildlife, and weather made me a little homesick.

Full disclosure: I discovered this series because I found episodes of Longmire on Hulu, enjoyed them, and found that they were based on a series of books.  One of the episodes ("Unfinished Business") lifts its major plotline from this book, but there are significant changes, so that the two or three people I naturally suspected were not guilty of the transgressions for which I suspected them.  I liked that.

Walt commits his open-container violation on his way to either visit a scene where was body was discovered or dispatch Deputy Victoria "Vic" Moretti to same.  Vic gets the case.  A young man had been shot in the back with what turns out to be a large bore rifle round.  The weapon is rather particular; a .45 caliber Sharps rifle (according to Walt, the source of the term "Sharpshooter," thanks to its extraordinary range and accuracy, though Wikipedia is less clear on this point) which, except for some Italian reproductions which lack the legendary accuracy, are all historic weapons.  In most areas, the rarity of such a rifle would alone break the case, but as Walt point out, this is Wyoming.  Everyone has a good rifle, and most know how to use them.

They originally hope that it may be a simple hunting accident, but Walt and Vic both suspect otherwise; the victim was one of four boys convicted a year earlier for raping a young Cherokee woman with fetal alcohol syndrome.  They try to reach the other three boys, but two are twins in a family apparently on vacation; the last was deemed least guilty in their collective crime, and his own family is tearing itself apart at the seams.  He is the only one they are able to secure in protective custody, and he seems more broken than the Indian girl.

When a second boy is killed, Walt and Henry go into the mountains to find his twin brother, braving an early Wyoming blizzard swirling in off the mountains.  Walt must fight the boy's urge to run, withstand the elements, and contend with an ancient, priceless, and possibly haunted Cherokee rifle which could be the murder weapon, were it not safely alibied.  Plus, he has lady troubles.

Because there are other books in the series (this is the first), you know he survives, and probably prevails, but I think the book really excels because Johnson, like Walt, is from Wyoming, and he knows that people scar.  Walt has scars, he bleeds, he hurts, and though he prevails, he still needs time to heal.

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posted by reyn at 10:52 AM


Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Jack Bauer-esque

Title: The Overlook
Author: Michael Connelly
Bookmark:  I finished it in two days; I really just tucked handy items inside while I got up to make dinner and do other chores.

Harry Bosch is a pretty great, if less well-known, literary detective.  He doesn't have quite the hang-ups of so many others, and isn't over-the-top with a narrow field of brilliance, like the ones who eventually end up with TV shows these days.  Bosch is determined, and maybe narrow-minded.  Rather, he's focused.

When a body found on the Mulholland Drive overlook is discovered to have access to radiologic materials used in hospitals, the FBI becomes interested in Bosch's case.  Then a large quantity of cesium is discovered missing, and the FBI quietly bulldozes Bosch out of his case, demanding access to everything he finds while sharing nothing they have.  This makes Bosch rather... uncooperative.  And who could blame him?  The federales are so consumed with tracking down the cesium before it finds its way into a dirty bomb that they keep all their information from Bosch, who still wants to find the man's killer.  He has a job to do, and whether the FBI likes it or not, nobody stops Harry Bosch from doing his job.

A few days ago I was at a bookstore and was disheartened to find that while there were only single copies of two or three books each by Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett, there were entire shelves full of modern tripe by James Patterson and Janet Evanovich.  I'll be fair: while I know that both authors are ridiculously popular, I've never read any Evanovich, so I'm in no position to judge her, but I've read a lot of Patterson, and I've never been impressed.  Chandler and Hammett may not have been as prolific, but they were founders and masters of the craft, and some credit is due.  At the risk of disproportionate praise, I'd like to see more shelf space dedicated to Connelly.  The man knows how to write a good mystery, and as I'm finding in my own recent efforts, it's much harder than I ever realized.  The characters are solid, with long shared histories and distinct personalities, and the plot, which covers only about twelve straight hours, is taut, well-executed, and all too believable.

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posted by reyn at 6:29 AM


Secret Agent Gal

Title: Blowing My Cover
Subtitle: My Life as a CIA Spy (and Other Misadventures)
Author: Lindsay Moran (I assume that's her real name, but who knows?)
Bookmark: page from a day-to-day desk calendar

Aren't library book sales fun?

The title is a little misleading.  Most of the book is about how Moran became an operative: applying to the CIA, taking two polygraphs, her training at The Farm, and eventual posting in Bulgaria.  She has misgivings from the very start, but she still goes through with it, apparently, to prove that she can.  Despite some weird sentence structure and occasional spots where her proofreader fell asleep, it's a very entertaining book.  Moran has a good sense of humor and pace, and is pretty blunt about her misgivings with the job and her ability to do it (although from the way she rockets through the application and training process, she's either one of the best they've ever had, or the CIA's standards are MUCH lower than anybody realized), but I wondered several times while reading it whether a female reader would appreciate it as much.  Despite Moran's taxing training and later employment with The Company, her greatest focus in life is always finding a man, which makes the whole book feel far less empowering than it probably could have been.

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posted by reyn at 6:03 AM