The Burning Room by Michael Connelly

Somewhere along the way someone gave me a Michael Connelly book to read and it sent me into the world of LAPD cop Harry Bosch. Forewarned is forearmed – this is one in a series. I did not start at the beginning and have read two or three novels with this character. It is not necessary to start at the beginning as enough information seems to emerge through the books so that you can piece it together. However, if you are a reader that gets sucked into series’, then be ready.

A mariachi band member was shot several years earlier in the Mariachi Plaza in Los Angeles. The bullet has been lodged in his spine and this has prevented the LAPD from being able to solve the shooting. The guitarist has now died and the cold case unit with Detective Harry Bosch and Detective Lucia Soto is now on the case.

The unfolding story has a backdrop of local Los Angeles politics which of course lead the higher ups in the Department to both cover asses and ward off the detectives on the case. There are also racially sensitive issues that emerge as the focus is on the Latino community both from a political perspective and a criminal perspective.

One of the things I enjoy about the Bosch novels is that they are set in Los Angeles and the author delves deeply into both neighborhoods and the surrounding county. This is interesting for the reader because it expands the normal setting of LA based books into the nooks and crannies that the average visitor would not normally see.

The other thing is that the character of Harry Bosch has been developed over a long period. With series books, this means that long standing characters develop depth and dimensions that don’t happen in single, one off books. Harry has depth.

In one sense, this is a typical police procedural. But it is one with some bulk behind it due to its presence in the series. Just a great, entertaining piece of crime fiction.

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Darkness, Take My Hand by Dennis Lehane

If the author’s name is not immediately familiar, this is the man who wrote “Mystic River”. This is the third or fourth Lehane novel I have read and each one is incredibly gripping and well written. This novel is part of a series featuring Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennaro, two private eyes who have grown up, live and work in the same working class Boston neighborhood.

In this book, a psychiatrist believes she is being targeted by the Irish mob when she receives a picture of him in the mail. She is not the only one being threatened however. After she hires Patrick and Angie, more letters and more pictures appear and part of the sleuthing involves figuring out how everything connects.

Angie and Patrick are supported by a variety of interesting characters. Bubba is a childhood friend who is an enforcer and he is someone to be feared if you are on the wrong side of him. Phil is Angie’s ex-husband. An abusive alcoholic he appears to have changed his ways and is making a re-appearance in Angie’s life.

Several people who have read the book found it quite frightening. Some said it gave them nightmares. I think it taps into our primal fear about someone being able to get into our house and us not knowing. It also taps into that fear of someone finding out all about us and then threatening those who we consider close or vulnerable.

Lehane is a great neo-noir writer. Every book I have read by him has done nothing but whet my appetite for more writing by this author. Additionally, he sets his stories in the Boston area and knows the landscape, people and nature of the characters that inhabit the place inside out. To me, this is an important factor because it makes readers feel as if they also know the place.

Highly recommend.

Native Tongue by Carl Hiassen

Very reader needs one author who they can have in their book pile who provides a laugh or a lighthearted read when necessary. Carl Hiassen has become that author for me. I do not discriminate – I have read both his novels for adults and those for young adults. Both are great for adults and young readers and provide some levity in these strange and troubled times.

A pair of rare blue tongued voles have disappeared from a Florida Keys wild animal/amusement park run by a disreputable, shady owner. A group of local blue haired eco-conservationists are on the warpath and want justice for the missing voles.

Joe Winder, formerly a serious investigative journalist, now hating his job as public relations maven at said park, is fed up with the park, his bosses and the very light public relations releases he is forced to write. Additionally, Joe happens to love the local environment and does not want it further eradicated for golf courses.

Into the mix drop two inept burglars and a character I have written about in previous blogs, Skink. Skink is a former Florida governor who became disgusted with big business, development and the destruction of the environment and has become a renegade who lives off the grid and becomes part of many adventures.

As it turns out, the man who owns the wildlife park is in the Witness Protection Program and has decided to buy up what he considers swamplands in order to develop golf courses to make more money. The problem with Francis X. Kingsbury is that he never quite left his mob lifestyle behind and now he has all kinds of people on is tail looking to get even.

This is a fast paced story with many laughs. At no time do you feel a lag in the story. One of the strengths of Hiassen as an author is his ability to create wonderfully colorful characters and to keep the story rolling. So grab this one and take a reading vacation in the Florida Keys with swamp dwellers.

The Last Testament of Bill Bonnano by Bill Bonnano and Gary Abramowitz

So immediately upon finishing “Casino”, I wanted more mob so I started in on this book immediately. It was very different from what I was expecting but it was refreshing in a wholly different way.

Joseph Bonnano, Bill’s father, was one of the original men who set up the Commission which, for want of a better description, is the oversight committee for organized crime in New York City. Bill was brought up in this environment and the book focuses on the early days – as told to Bill by is father – and the mob heyday in the 1960’s that Bill himself participated in as a fully made man.

What makes this book so fascinating and a departure is that Bill goes to great lengths to provide the reader with detailed background as to cosa nostra in Sicily and parts of Italy. He covers its roots, how it worked and what it meant to the community as well as showing the time it was brought to the United States by immigrants.

This part of the book is an amazing history and really brought to life those early days and the political and social unrest that made organized crime and protection possible in Sicily and Italy. Like most migrants, they simply brought those traditions with them and re-created the system with an Americanized twist.

The second half of the book goes into deep detail about how the Commission worked, historical decisions that were made and the players involved. The work of OC and the structure has definitely been perverted by media and writers. Not in a malicious way but in an attempt to explain how this secret society operates.

Many myths are dispelled and I often thought about Tony and the guys from The Sopranos quoting and misappropriating ideas from The Godfather movies and other mob staples that have contributed to the myth making. Bonnano sets the record straight and explains that even mob guys, copy from the world of literature and film to add to the mystique.

Finally, and most interestingly, Bonnano describes the ceremonial aspects of cosa nostra. Becoming a “made man”, initiations, meetings and other points of interest. This is the most comprehensive description of these events that I have read. I was hooked with the history but so glad I stayed for the big finale.

For Mob-o-philes, a good pick up!!

Casino by Nicholas Pileggi

I knew the minute Sharon Stone threw those chips in the air in the movie Casino that I was going to love this movie. That love affair has never ended and then the book popped up on Bookbub and I was thoroughly excited! So much so that I bought the book, watched the movie, read the book and then watched the movie again.

One main difference is that the book actually uses all the real names of the individuals. This allows the reader to set off exploring more about the real people online and pull up pictures to match names and faces. Of course, you can always use Pesci, DeNiro and Stone as the faces and still be ok.
This is essentially the story of Las Vegas post Bugsy Siegel and pre-current day corporate Vegas.

Although money to build and fund the casino’s initially came through corrupt union bosses and organized crime, it has grown into a multi-billion dollar industry. But in the glory days, it was organized crime, primarily out of Los Angeles and Chicago, who owned Vegas.

Lefty Rosenthal was a handicapper, bookmaker and odds man, trusted by the mob to go out to Vegas and run the Stardust and Hacienda Hotels. The first part of the book introduces Lefty and his background as well as his best friend, Tony Spilotro, a well-known Chicago mobster.

After Lefty moves out to Vegas, he meets Geri McGee (aka Ginger) a well-known casino hustler and escort who works the punters as they come in to Vegas. Lefty fell for her hard and Geri, understanding the potential of a wealthy “sponsor”, let him. This despite her undying love for her ex-boyfriend, baby daddy Lenny.

Tony Spilotro was sent to Vegas to keep an eye on Lefty and to secure their interests in the casino. But Tony, cut free from his leash and keepers in Chicago, became a one crew crime spree. Bringing in his own people, he did burglaries, murders, jewelry heists, armed robbery, loan sharking etc. The town was his for the taking and he took it all – including Geri.

The movie closely followed the book so it will not disappoint film fans. In fact, it will enhance the viewing experience and make you want to watch it all again – twice!

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond

I think a majority of us today are trying to figure out what is going on politically and socially and how we got to this place in history. A wonderful independent bookstore in Seattle called Third Place Books has started to recommend a book each month to readers wanting to explore these questions. ”Évicted” was the first of these books.

This book examines renters from different ethnicities, with different issues who are all subject to eviction or have been evicted multiple times. The city being examined is Milwaukee, Wisconsin but the conditions that prevail there, are the same as in most large cities.

The system is definitely set up to benefit landlords and because of that, landlords have become expert at rorting their tenants, making a lot of money doing it and leaving renters in situations where it can be all but impossible for them to recover and receive housing.

In one instance, a landlord buy sub-standard housing, makes cosmetic changes and rents to low income holders who have guaranteed social security, section 8 vouchers or other means that they can exploit. They refuse to fix problems and use non-bonded contractors to do jobs. When a tenant complains or attempts to hold back rent in an effort to remedy the issues, they are often evicted.
It shows tenants being denied housing based on the number of children they have; past evictions; criminal records; credit checks which the poor have absolutely no chance of passing as well as a host of other reasons.

Many of those forced into low income housing have generational poverty they are trying to overcome, criminal histories, poor credit and live hand to mouth. Most of the people in this book spent time at local shelters, sometimes using up all the time a shelter would allow before being forced back into the streets.

Although the book is somewhat depressing, I can say that if you have never been in this predicament, this is a good book to read to gain some insight into one of the areas that we have all become acutely aware of: homelessness. It also gives insight to the mentality of slumlords and how this sub-standard housing fosters poor and ghettoized neighborhoods.

We should be able to fix these problems. But first we need to educate ourselves about what the issues are and then be prepared to acknowledge our role in these issues before we can fix them. It is worth exploring.

Tennison by Lynda LaPlante

I have been on a reading binge with no end in sight. I am currently off my feet and have limited movement so I turned to my first love, books, to provide a mental escape from my physical prison. I also realized that I was “behind” in my goal for number of books read this year and suddenly put pressure on myself to catch up. So for those who follow my blog, expect a barrage!!

I am sure many of you immediately recognize the name Tennison (as in Jane Tennison) as being the main character in LaPlante’s series of books turned to tv shows “Prime Suspect” which stars Helen Mirren. If you haven’t seen it, here is my shameless plug for Britbox. This online service curates all British television and has the whole “Prime Suspect” series available.

LaPlante has gone back to show us how Tennison became the cop and woman we know and love. This is very exciting because it takes us all the way back to the early 1970’s when Tennison was fresh out of the academy and at her first posting in Hackney.

Tennison is still green and in uniform when she becomes seconded to the major crimes unit and becomes involved with unraveling both a murder and an armed robbery. There is only one other woman working with Tennison and she acts as a mentor and sounding board for Tennison.

As usual, she is battling both the villains and the powers that be that believe women should not be part of the argy bargy in police work. As the story opens, Tennison is living with her parents and soon to be married sister in Maida Vale. We get a sense of her family and how they feel about her being a cop as well as starting to glimpse the kind of child she was – and we all know that Jane Tennison must have been a stubborn little so and so!

LaPlante does an amazing job recreating both the neighborhoods and the characters who populate her novels. In Tennison, this is an opportunity to answer all those questions we had about her career prior to the first “Prime Suspect” case that many of us discovered by seeing Helen Mirren inhabit the role.

We also get to see how Tennison started out obsessed with her work and how her personal and professional life often crosses boundaries. One thing I can assure readers is that Jane is as feisty and difficult as ever but we also see some of the things that influence her privately.

After I finished this book, I went and bought two more. Yes, throw your book pillows at me now – it IS a series and therefore, if you are addicted like me, you have more reading in front of you! I am delighted to make the acquaintance of Tennison again and the superb writing keeps the pages turning. Five stars.