The Long Count by JM Gulvin

This was a very interesting story. It is set in the late 1960’s. Texas Ranger John Quarrie is a returned vet from Vietnam. He has been called out to travel to another town to look into a crime. Along the way he, comes across a suicide. The town is anxious to close the case but Quarrie believes it is murder not suicide.

The dead man is a WWII veteran and the man’s son, Isaac, has just got back from his third tour of Vietnam and does not believe his father was murdered either. In addition to this, a local asylum for the criminally insane has burnt to the ground and Isaac’s twin half-brother, Ishmael, is missing.
The action from here is full of twists and turns that take place in both Texas and Louisiana. Quarrie is busy running back and forth as well as returning to his home where his young son is being cared for by friends and family as Quarrie is widowed.

The pacing of the book is not hurried which is great because there are a lot of little details to unravel. Even so, there is anticipation and things that pop up that make you consistently re-evaluate what you think you understand about what’s happening.

I read this book reasonably quickly but the print is small in the paperback edition. If you are reading this on your Nook, Kindle or other e-reader, you will have no problem adjusting the font.
A solid 3-4 star thriller and crime procedural.

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Great Movies II by Roger Ebert

Why or why did I find the second book first? The story of my life. Now I have to backtrack and read Book one too. The book is a collection of essays by Ebert discussing some of the greatest movies of all time.

This is not a second tier ranking after the films discussed in book one. It is simply a compilation of essays from Ebert based on his watching and re-watching of many of these films as well as reviews by he alone and those he worked on with Gene Siskel.

One thing I love about Ebert is the emotion he writes with when discussing these films. His true love for the medium as well as his deep knowledge of all things film, comes across in his writing.
The movies cross eras, genre’s and nationalities. From France to China, from Japan to Italy, from the United States and Kingdom’s to Russia, Ebert covers so many films that you are inspired yourself to seek out some of the more difficult to find titles.

Streaming has opened film buffs to a bevy of opportunities to see films that would have been restricted to their home countries or only available to true film buffs in obscure, hard to find places. Netflix, Hulu and others have opened doors not just to great movies but also great directors and character and leading actors who have not worked in the United States.

Roger Ebert’s untimely death was a huge loss for all of us. His love and warmth regarding films just pours out onto the page and you as a reader fall in love with film as you read. It is like having Ebert beside you bringing detail and ideas to your attention as you both eat popcorn with a tall coke and get lost in celluloid.

The Redeemer by Jo Nesbo

As my readers know, I have fallen hard for this author and his main character Harry Hole. Harry continues his off again-on again affair with the bottle and his own demons as well as rubbing everyone he meets the wrong way.

I had a hard time putting this one down. In fact, another all nighter was pulled when I got halfway in and just could not put the book down. So be warned – late nights ahead. Get your flashlight or nook under the blankets and prepare for a wild and thrilling ride.

Somewhere in Croatia, there is an assassin known as “The Little Redeemer”. He has been deeply affected by war crimes against Croatian’s during the dissolution of Yugolslavia and the ethnic cleansing that occurred. He is on the hunt for a member of the Salvation Army with ties to the region.

The Salvation Army in Oslo plays a central role in this story. The homeless shelter, the hierarchy of the Army and the officers housing provide the base for most of the action. Right from the beginning it is difficult to tell who in the army is involved, how and why. Quite frankly, it does not get resolved until the end which is what made this so compelling to read.

Nesbo continues to add depth not to just Harry but many of the usual supporting characters as well. Beatte Lon, the woman who never forgets a face as well as other officers and new characters. One of the things that I love about local writers describing their cities, they are prone to reveal the underbelly.

I think people outside of the region view Scandinavia in general with a poetic vision of egalitarianism, low crime and problem free society. Nesbo dispels it but even at its lowest ebb, one can easily see that a society that takes care of its own is still better than those in which many of us live. That being said, drugs and prostitution as well as homelessness and alcoholism are oft discussed in Nesbo’s books.

The interesting idea of redemption is explored here. From the Christian Army beliefs, it is fiery rhetoric but something that one has to rely on in the abstract. From Hole’s and The Little Redeemer’s position, it is an event that is active, direct and required to even the scales of justice.

Scandinavian Noir opened with The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo series but I am so
happy that it brought us Harry Hole. And yes, I have another two in the queue. Sigh! 

Dead Irish by John Lescroart

3.5 stars. This book was great. I needed a new author to follow and Lescroart provided me with a new character to puzzle over. Dismas Hardy is a hard drinking, former attorney turned bartender/private eye. Like all the best of his ilk, he is flawed in ways that drive you as a reader crazy but that make his story and motivations far more interesting. He has a complicated relationship with his ex and with himself.

The owner of the bar where he works asks Diz to investigate a case related to a family member. The cops are calling it suicide, the family is calling it murder. And while there are some who have motive, these are not clear cut or at all obvious which complicates the case.

The story is set in San Francisco evoking those old Chandler settings with a modern twist. But I loved the fog rolling in and the tours of neighbourhoods where suspects live and work.

This book has a lot of twists and turns and does not forecast the ending so that just a few pages in, you keep changing your suspect list. Right up to the end. Diz’s favorite weapon seems to be a cast iron skillet and frankly, it’s refreshing to see someone bashed over the head the old fashioned way instead of just shot. It lends nostalgia I guess!

The book does start a bit slow. I stuck with it and it picked up fast. It is more character than action driven so it requires a lot of patience to listen to Diz’s inner dialogue. This is the first book in the series so I am guessing that the deeper you go into the series, the more Diz will evolve and that is something important to remember with these series books. Main characters almost never start out fully rounded but become so over time.

I can’t write much more because of the plot twists. But if you love a series with a good flawed main character, this one is for you!

Operation Family Secrets by Frank Calabrese Jr.

Once again I have to beg forgiveness from my followers. Of books, I have read many, of writing, I have done little. I hate myself when I let these reviews back up like this but as all readers and writers are aware….so many books, so little time!

Operation Family Secrets itself is a codename for an FBI operation into the world of La Cosa Nostra in Chicago. Where the New York mob is comprised largely of Italian made men, the Chicago mob is a melting pot of made men. Chicago is well known for its Italian, Sicilian, Polish, Russian, Jewish and Mexican mafia’s in addition to organized multi-generational street gangs whose activities are organized. Add in one of the most notorious hit men Frank (The German) Schweiss and you can see that it is more diverse than some.

Frank Calabrese Sr. is also a notorious hit man. Unlike many of his fellow LCN members who attempt to make enough money to put their children through expensive private schools and colleges in order to steer them away from “the life”, Frank is a paranoid man who only trusts those closest to him – but just barely.

This book is written by Frank Jr. and examines how through his father, he and his younger brother were groomed for “the life” and then immersed in it, much to their chagrin. As his father became more paranoid, Frank Jr., never a true devotee to begin with, tried many times to leave but was always forced back into crime by his father. Finally, Jr. wrote to the FBI after he was incarcerated, endangering himself by wearing a wire to record conversations with his father, himself incarcerated at the same facility.

In a rare unguarded moment for Sr., he outlined his crimes to his son. At times the detail is explicit – at others it is more oblique but with the background, it is easy to read between the lines. Sr’s crew operated out of Chinatown but controlled parts of the downtown entertainment District, Chinatown and Elmhurst. All of the old chestnuts of organized crime are there: loan sharking, extortion, drugs, robbery, jewel theft and the like. And of course, murder.

What I enjoyed most about the book is the look at how most (if not all) organized crime relies on generational participation and how legitimate business’ are busted out (or juiced) until the owner relinquishes them to the mob. This allows the mob to become the owner and establish their own laundry to clean the money as well as give them tax fronts and business” with which to get their medical insurance and provide a sense of legitimacy.

In other words, how the Trump family operates. (Now don’t get crazy if you’re a Trump supporter) I am just pointing out an alternate economic system at work here. And I couldn’t resist the jibe! Trump’s involvement with local mobs in major cities is well known as an adjunct to his “developments”.

Frank Jr. shows remarkable courage in this book. He has the old problem of loving a father but hating the man. Sr. was quite cruel to his children and wife. He was even willing to hide ill gotten gains at his elderly parents home then evict them when he needed to finance his defense.
I hope there are more books about the Family Secrets material from other writers because this is a fascinating glimpse into current mob activities in Chicago which have been more shrouded and lower profile than their New York counterparts.

The Kings of Cool by Don Winslow

My Don Winslow obsession continues with Kings of Cool. This is a prequel to Savages which I previewed at an earlier date. I wish I had read this one first because I think my opinion would have been more favorable towards Savages.

This time, the story goes back in time to the early 1970’s and follows the exploits of Chon’s father, Ben’s mother and father and O’s mother, all who were the first Association to set up the importation and dealing of drugs in Orange County.

I loved the time period, the story made a lot more sense to me and it certainly explained how Ben, Chon and O came to be and the influences they had on them growing up. It made me more empathetic to all three of the younger characters.

The early days cover the time from about 1970 up into the 80’s and currently. Ben, Chon and O are just getting their enterprises and their reputations established and unbeknownst to them, are in direct competition with their parents Association.

The parents have no idea who the new players in the game are but want them taken out. As the story goes back and forth, Ben, Chon, O and their parents make and break alliances, get involved with corrupt cops and unfold the secrets of the past that inform the younger players about how and why it was done.

I actually enjoyed this book and read it very quickly. As I said, had I read this first, I would have had a much better outlook on Savages. Damn you Don Winslow!

Trouble Is My Business by Raymond Chandler

Sometimes you just need to get back to basics. Broads, bourbon, gats and gams. And so, in quick need of a good read to keep the roll going, I jumped into this series of short stories with Chandler’s favorite private eye, Phillip Marlowe.

As usual, he has a series of cunning and crazy clients; run ins with the local cops who all like to slap him around and drink his booze and bad guys who want to know what he knows but also want him dead.

Marlowe always survives. The book is divided into for novellas. In the first, he is hired to protect a young wealthy heir from a potential gold digger. This job takes Marlowe into the world of Los Angeles gaming dens. As usual, Marlowe is completely irreverent with his employer but ultimately successful-ish.

The second novella is all about the world of crooked politics. As usual, Marlowe finds himself in a mess of trouble and running afoul of the wrong people while trying to put together the pieces so he can explain what is happening.

The third story is a great chase looking for two incredibly valuable pearls and Marlowe’s attempts to get them and make a profit on the insurance money. In this story, he travels north to Seattle, Olympia and Westport. It was nice to see Marlowe out of his element.

Finally, there is a story about a man murdered in front of Marlowe in a bar who may be an extortionist. As usual, a dame, and Marlowe’s knight complex in saving dames, comes into play and gets him overly involved in something he should have left well enough alone.

With Chandler, you know what you’re getting and it doesn’t matter how many times you read him, it just keeps getting better. This was a very good book for a compendium of novellas. Each one as good as the last. Pour me a rye and bring me a gat.