Tuesday, February 28, 2017

indie author moment: The Mountain Man's Dog and The Mountain Man's Bride, by Gary Corbin --the lighter side of crime

There comes a time, yes, even for me, when I have to back away from the darker side of crime fiction and pick up something light.  A steady diet of bleak just doesn't cut it.   So every now and then I'll actually say yes when someone emails me about reading his/her book if it fits my need at a particular moment. In this case,  I've been uber-sick, got better, got sick again by being stupid and thinking I was wonder woman, and on top of everything physical, I've basically been in a mental funk for the last two months.  We won't go there, but the point is that I've  needed a serious break for a long time.  The other problem is that aside from the novel by Camilleri I just finished, I don't think I even own anything on the lighter side. So when Oregon author Gary Corbin asked me if I'd read his book, I had no hesitation in saying yes.  Then I realized it was book two in his series, so I picked up book one since reading books in series order may be the one and only thing I'm actually OCD about. I read the first one on Kindle, but for non-Kindle people, it's available in all formats.  The books are published by Double Diamond Publishing.  He also has another novel out right now called Lying in Judgment, billed as a legal thriller. 

First up - The Mountain Man's Dog, which takes place in the very small Cascade Mountain town of Clarkesville, Oregon, 

where main character Lehigh Carter manages his family's woodland acreage along with that of other customers.  As the story begins, Carter is  in his trusty pickup truck with the intention of heading to the grocery store when he is stopped by a dog limping its way across the road.  He isn't a fan of dogs, but he picks it up and takes it to the Clarkesville Animal Hospital where he runs into an old girlfriend, Stacy McBride.  Stacy just happens to be the daughter of State Senator McBride, currently running for Governor.  Up until a few weeks earlier, she'd been seeing her father's campaign treasurer Paul Van Paten, who has it in his head that he and Stacy should be engaged. She, however, has other plans, and they don't involve him. Paul and the McBrides have a long history together, and he's banking on being a part of this prominent family when the Senator wins the governorship and then runs for president, so he doesn't take the news well when Stacy rejects him in favor of Lehigh.  He puts pressure on Stacy, but for Lehigh, well, let's just say that after some money is accidentally delivered into Carter's hands, Van Paten makes sure that Lehigh knows it's now all-out war between them.

Double Diamond Publishing, 2017
253 pp
paperback -- my copy from the author. Thanks so much!!!

Moving onto book two, The Mountain Man's Bride, we pick up the story not too far in time from the action in the first book.  Lehigh and Stacy are now happily engaged and looking forward to tying the knot.  Everything seems to be on track for returning to normal, and Lehigh is trying to get his life back in order following events from The Mountain Man's Dog.  Things are moving slowly but steadily for the two when their happiness suddenly gets put on hold -- it seems that acting Sheriff Jared Barkley has been killed and it looks as though the police think Stacy is responsible.  But they're not ready to let Lehigh off the hook just yet --  even though he has an alibi, there are a few people who want the crime to be pinned on him, and who will do anything to make sure that he ends up behind bars.  Lehigh, however, has other ideas, and starts his own investigation to clear both of their names.  Unfortunately, what he learns in the process has him beginning to doubt his fiancée -- and not just where murder is concerned.  

Let me get my niggles out of the way first.   I had to wonder why people speak like they're from the deep South in these books when they're in Oregon -- seriously,  it caused me major moments of cognitive dissonance in my head and was hard to get past. And this is just a me thing, but I'm just not a huge fan of sweet romance in my crime, but by now anyone who has taken a moment here and there to read what I post already knows that. But as I said, that's on me -- there are certainly plenty of readers who love it. On the positive side, while there is a murder in book two, and while both books do have their fair share of violence, we're thankfully spared the more gory details as the author chooses to focus instead on his characters and on the main issues at the heart of both, political corruption and the abuse of power.  There is nothing over the top to be found in either book, making for a sort of carefree, non-stress, light reading experience even as the tension grew and as I was left wondering how Stacy and Lehigh were going to get out of their respective predicaments, especially in Mountain Man's Dog.   So for me, in that sense, I enjoyed both and they were exactly what I needed -- two good old-fashioned, lighter-side mysteries that I could just relax and have fun with.  

While definitely not my norm, sometimes light is good for me, and I need to remember that and read more of it from time to time.  If I laugh that's also a plus, and that's what happened with these books since there is also a bit of comedy in each.   Of the two, I liked The Mountain Man's Dog a bit more than The Mountain Man's Bride, since it was a bit more suspenseful all around and because it offers a glimpse at what happens when less-than-scrupulous campaign staff let ambition and power take the wheel, and even there Mr. Corbin makes his point without having to get too down-and-dirty hardcore about it.   Those readers who normally enjoy crime light will be happy with these books.  One more thing -- I especially appreciate that the author didn't feel compelled to join the ranks of those writers who use torture, graphic sexual violence against women, and hardcore violence in general to sell their books.  Applause, and thanks!  

Saturday, February 25, 2017

A Voice in the Night, by Andrea Camilleri

Penguin, 2016
originally published as Una voce di notte, 2012
translated by Stephen Sartarelli
274 pp


I don't think I've ever kept up with a crime fiction/mystery series for as long as I have with this one, but A Voice in the Night is the 20th (!) installment in Camilleri's series featuring Salvo Montalbano. To say that I love this series is an understatement -- it's light but not too light, funny,  and yet at the same time, Camilleri never fails to draw attention to some aspect of political or social issues in his own country.  More importantly, though, Montalbano and his cohorts are like old friends at this point; they are people I enjoy revisiting every now and then. I don't think that there is another crime fiction series out there (and I've read TONS) that has given me so much pleasure, which is another reason that I love these books.

There are two cases at work here, both of which have the dubious distinction of setting Montalbano (and his superiors) between the proverbial rock and a hard place.  First, there is what seems to be an ordinary supermarket robbery, which turns out to be anything but ordinary.  Second, a young man who a) turns out to be the son of the provincial president,  and b) pushes Montalbano's road-rage buttons by driving erratically turns up again to report the murder of his girlfriend.  Both cases have to be handled with kid gloves and Montalbano has to come up with some clever workarounds to ensure that justice is served. Around the action, once again we find Salvo in his own head, musing about old age (the book starts on his 58th birthday), politics, the media, and lack of respect for the elderly among other things.

For me to stick with a series for so long is unheard of -- what I've discovered over the years is that some authors would be better served letting their series run take a rest.  As someone once told me when I was very upset with the end of the excellent Wallander series, sometimes it's better to go out gracefully and leave your readers with good memories rather than to drag something out forever and get stale.  After 20 books I can honestly say that I don't see how Montalbano and his motley crew can go down that second road --  I have so much fun with Montalbano that I've already pre-ordered the next one (due out in August), A Nest of Vipers. As long as Camilleri's novels continue to be published, I'll continue to read them.

crime fiction from Italy

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Six Four, by Hideo Yokoyama

riverrun books, 2017
translated by Jonathan Lloyd-Davies
643 pp


Let's just get this out of the way -- Six Four is not an average thriller, nor is it an average police procedural; there are no kick-ass heroines or scenes of over-the-top violence to be found anywhere in this book.  I finished it in one go in a major overnight, insomnia-fueled reading session and my reaction was this: hooray (!) for something new, something delightfully different, and above all, for an intelligent mystery novel that goes well beyond the standard crime fiction fare -- in short, the sort of thing I crave but don't find much in modern mysteries and crime these days.

Set in 2002, Six Four is the story of Mikami, the director of Media Relations in the police department in D Prefecture.  He used to work as a detective and was on the team investigating the kidnapping and later the death of Shoko, a little girl back in 1989.   Mikami understands the devastation of the loss of a child, since his own daughter Ayumi simply disappeared one day and aside from a few silent phone calls which Mikami's wife swears must have been their daughter calling just to hear their voices, has neither been seen nor heard of since.   The 1989 case was never solved, and from that time on, it has been referred to as "Six Four" because it took place in the Showa year 64.  It was also billed as the "Prefectural HQ's greatest failure," and there is only one year left before the statute of limitations runs out for this particular crime.

Back in D Prefecture, Mikami gets a surprise when he is ordered to go to visit the family of the Six Four kidnapping victim, to let them know that the police commissioner would like to meet with them on the crime's anniversary day and
"make an appeal, inside and outside the force, and to give a boost to the officers still investigating the case, to reinforce our intention never to let violent crime go unpunished."
The real purpose, Mikami's boss tells him, behind the commissioner's appeal is to "reach an internal audience" rather than "the general public." Immediately Mikami realizes that this is all about "politics" more than anything else.

Mikami decides to familiarize himself with the case files, and while going through them sees something odd.  His questions are met with silence in some cases, warnings to back off  in others, fueling his quest to dig further.  But as he is busy trying to find answers, big things are happening at  the prefectural HQ that force Mikami to examine his own relationship between himself and the people he works for, as well as his own personal feelings about the crime itself.

That's the basic plot in a brief nutshell, and makes for an excellent mystery, but  there's much, much more going on here.  First, the book tackles the issue of the relationship between the press and the police, which in my opinion is one of the best parts of this novel.  Second, it takes a look at the Japanese police force itself, as Mikami finds himself having to try to navigate through,  as author David Peace notes in the interview with Yokoyama at the end of the book (and do yourself a favor and save it for dead last),  "their political machinations and rivalries, internal, local and national...", dealing with ambition and the drive for power on the parts of some individuals.   And finally, it looks at the human costs of crime from the points of view of both the victims and the police.

I've seen so many not-so-positive reviews of this book -- mostly by readers who were disappointed that it was less of a thriller than an insight into everything I've just mentioned above. Well, to each his/her own as I'm fond of saying.    People looking for garden-variety thrillers or crime fiction should probably think twice about reading this one -- thrillers are a dime a dozen these days; books like this one are rarities and should be celebrated.


crime fiction from Japan

Friday, February 3, 2017

*Caleb Williams, by William Godwin

Oxford University Press, 2009
362 pp


"They told me what a fine thing it was to be an Englishman, and about liberty and property, and all that there; and I  find it is all a flam. Lord, what fools we be!"
           -- 195

According to Ian Ousby, author of Bloodhounds of Heaven, this book is the first in English fiction to "display a sustained interest in the theme of detection," and that the book's hero, the titular Caleb Williams, is "the first important detective in the English novel."  Well-known British writer Julian Symons also noted that this book was important in the history of crime fiction, saying that it is in this novel that "The characteristic note of crime literature is first struck," and that it's "about a murder, its detection, and the unrelenting pursuit by the murderer of the person who has discovered his guilt."

Caleb Williams is also the first choice in this year's quest to read early crime fiction through the onset of World War I, which I've tagged as ecfp for early crime fiction project and which will be the asterisked posts for 2017.   It's also very good, and while it works very well as a commentary on social injustice, class and the abuses of power, it's also a novel that finds a man on the run after uncovering some startling information.

The nutshell version is this:  young Caleb Williams finds himself working as secretary for a respected local squire, Fernando Falkland.  He becomes curious as to what's up with his employer, who has taken on a solitary life with "no inclination to scenes of revelry and mirth," avoiding "the busy haunts of men." After about three months of employment, Williams is accused of spying on his master, which leads him to feel "uncommon dejection and anxiety," so for help he turns to Falkland's steward Collins for answers.  What he learns only increases his curiosity, and when Falkland reveals the secret he's been hiding for so long, Williams takes a vow that he will never disclose what he's learned.  He also decides that it's time to move on.  Unfortunately, due to the the nature of what Falkland is hiding, the squire decides that Williams must be punished for what he knows, and starts a relentless campaign of revenge and terror.  The novel follows Caleb through the persecution hell that Falkland puts him through, leading Caleb to fight for his very survival in the process.

There is a vast amount of scholarship on this novel available online, so I'll just throw in a couple of observations.  I'll agree with what Ousby says about this story --  that the detection in this book starts out as "an activity apparently designed to establish moral and intellectual clarity" and that "the detective, voluntarily or involuntarily, assumes the role of an agent of justice, seeking to distinguish good from evil and to identify the source of evil."  But, as has happened in so many of the better crime novels that have come after this book, Godwin reveals that "good and evil" and "the detective and the criminal" are "inextricably linked," growing into what he calls "symbiotic twins."   And in his piece about William Godwin in The Literary Encyclopedia, Andrew McGann notes that this book is also important in another area, the linking of "psychological exploration with political radicalism" which has also long been prevalent in crime novels.

It is a wonderful novel, to be sure, and while some people may find the prose a bit slow going, once you  pick up the rhythm there's a great story in here. It's most certainly a tension-ratcheting piece of work and quite frankly, I was so tempted to turn to the end to see what happens.  I didn't, but the temptation was definitely there.  The novel appeals to my sense of reading crime fiction with purpose, which for me is all about human nature and what it says about the factors (social, political, economical) at work that have everything to do with why people do what they do. Godwin makes this exceedingly clear in Caleb Williams -- making it well worth the time I put into this book.  It's another one that I will say is probably not for everyone, but oh  my gosh -- what a great novel to kick off my reading project!!

Anyone interested in reading about the author will find a great article here by Pamela Clemit, the author of the introduction to this edition of the novel; another excellent source is the Stanford Encylopedia of Philosophy.

Definitely recommended and for me, highly satisfying.