Winslow’s The Force


The Force
Don Winslow

Don Winslow if not the best crime writer alive, definitely top five. His pacing is always full speed ahead, but without sacrificing character develop, or whip smart dialogue. His two books on the rise of Mexican drug cartels, The Power of the Dog and the Cartel are deeply researched and utterly compelling.

Here, he turns his attention to the NYPD and an imaginary unit of super cops that shares a lot of similarities with the notorious Street Crimes Unit. They’re touted around the city as a team of super cops out to get the baddest of the bad guys, but in reality they’re deeply corrupt and their leader is spiraling out of control.

An ode to New York City and a sympathetic portrait of the NYPD, with its blemishes and all, this book is catnip for a New Yorker like me. Dialogue is on point, story moves at a blazing speed, landmarks all check out. If you like crime novels, or New York City novels, or novels with a plot that flies, this is worth the read.

 

Recommended.

Don Winslow

Review: Mackintosh’s I Let You Go

I Let You Go

Clare Mackintosh

A thriller about a dead child and a battered woman that has a plot twist that’s almost too clever. The writing is excellent, and the pacing in the first two third of the book feels like a perfect mix of long periods of dread and sorrow punctuated by short bits of joy or violence. This isn’t a perfect book, the bad guy, when he arrives is almost too bad, and while the first plot twist is genuinely surprising and well done, future plots twists feel a bit more forced.

Still, if you can handle some of the rougher stuff here (domestic abuse, dead kid) then this is a real top notch thriller. I finished it in a day.

Recommended for the enthusiast.

Clare Mackintosh

Clare Mackintosh

Book Review: Sternbergh’s Shovel Ready


Shovel Ready
Adam Sternbergh

A crime novel set in post-apocalyptic New York City featuring a hit man with a heart of gold as the hero.

New York has been hit with a dirty bomb, and most of the city has fled, or now lives their entire lives jacked into virtual reality. Except our hero, who lives in Jersey and kills people. Except when he teams up with a group of misfits to take on the powers that be and protect a young girl.

A mix of the clever and the trite, this book is by turns clever, and too loose with the corny jokes and crime novel clichés. Still, I enjoyed it for the dark confectionery ride it is. If you have a tolerance for a certain level of crime novel cliché, you’ll probably enjoy it too.

Recommended for the enthusiast.

 

Review: Ide I.Q.

I.Q.

Joe Ide

Cat nip for the crime novel fan. Fast paced P.I. story set in Los Angeles with a compelling protagonist, I.Q. A genius, a high school dropout, black, socially insecure and from Long Beach. He’s an unusual hero in a genre more often populated by misanthropic ex-cop white dudes.  You won’t be surprised to learn its already optioned for a movie.

The plot, focused on the possible attempts to murder a rap star moves, and resolves in a way that is, while a bit over the top, not as absurd as many crime novel crescendos.

But rarely is it the plot that makes a crime novel fun. More often, it’s the detective, or the killer. And here, both are fun. Our detective is wonderfully fascinating. His back story tragic, his intelligence, inspiring, his personality quirks, related-able.  The killer is pleasantly psychopathic and, as is common in these books, a bit overdrawn. But this is a crime novel, and a thriller, its meant to be enjoyed at a breakneck pace for the clever asides, the telling anecdotes, the compelling action.  I enjoyed the hell out of it. If well written crime novels are your thing, you will too.

Recommended for the enthusiast.

Review: Simenon’s Pietr the Latvian

Pietr the Latvian

Georges Simenon

The first of the many, many Maigret novels. Many smart people love these novels, but I’m not yet convinced. The writing is strong, the characters compelling, and the plot serviceable, but there’s more than a whiff of anti-Semitism and anti-immigrant sentiment here. I might give one more a try since they’re so canonical in the world of crime novels, but all in all, I was underwhelmed and put off.

Not recommended.

Sjowall and Wahloo’s Laughing Policeman


The Laughing Policeman, Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo

The fourth novel in Sjowall and Wahloo’s Martin Beck series of Marxian police procedurals.  Set in Sweden in the 1960s and 70s, the Beck series are both page turning detective stories, and indictments of what the writers viewed as a society full of liberal promise on the surface, but rotten on the inside.

 

The Laughing Policeman is the fourth novel in the series (and the only one to win an Edgar). It focuses on the investigation surrounding a mass shooting on a bus which killed seven people, including one of Beck’s colleagues in the police force. The mystery here is of the Easter egg type — where the solving of one opens up others, and as with all the Beck novels, it’s compelling enough. But what makes this and the rest of the series so special isn’t the plot, it’s the characters. The obsessive Beck, the socialist policeman Kollberg, and others. They’re wonderfully drawn and tell us about what it means to live in a Sweden of both social democracy and profound social ills. A place where ostensibly the state cares for all, but in reality, child prostitution flourishes.

 

In the Beck series focus on character, and social ills, against the backdrop of hardboiled crime, we have the beginnings of so-called ” Scandinavian noir” and the obvious inspiration for writers like Henning Mankell and Steig Larson. Both of whom I love, by the way, but neither of whom have prose as clipped and clean, or books as perfectly plotted, as Sjowall and Wahloo. If you liked the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (and I did) then go back to this series, the source of the style, its worth it.
Recommended.

Review: Hamilton’s The Second Life of Nick Mason

The Second Life of Nick Mason

Steve Hamilton

Another Hamilton book, this one debuting a new series and a new brooding protagonist – Nick Mason: noble petty criminal forced to work for evil organized crime boss while valiantly attempting to hold onto his humanity and save from ruin a whole bunch of innocent people.

This is better than A Cold Day In Paradise. Mason is more complex than McKnight, and more interesting (if perhaps less believable). The plotting is better, less predictable, more engaging, and the supporting characters are (besides the criminal mastermind dude) less clichéd. The structure is more complex (whenever a book starts off with your protagonist getting out of prison, there will be flashbacks) but not overly showy. Setting the story in Chicago also helps, at least for me. I’ll take big city over small town every time.

This still isn’t top notch Richard Price level crime writing, but if crime thrillers are your bag, you could do much worse.

Recommended for the enthusiast.