The Bomb Maker by Thomas Perry

I started this book, and after a few pages of VERY intense and detailed narrative about bombs, bomb making,  and what they can do, I just put it aside. I just wasn’t in the mood for something so dark. Then my husband picked it up and he REALLY liked it and thought I would as well. He was right! So, with thanks to Grove Atlantic/Mysterious Press and NetGalley, I give The Bomb Maker four enthusiastic stars – and I will be reading more o Perry’s work.

The story opens with a threat called in to the LAPD Bomb Squad, and the results of the detailed bomb-making in the opening of the book result in a horrific event. Half the entire bomb squad (including the man in charge) has been obliterated, and they need a hero. The protagonist, Dick Stahl, is asked by a friend and former colleague to come and take over on a temporary basis until they can get things somewhat up to speed (it takes a full year to train a bomb squad technician).

Stahl was both a cop and in the military and he knows about people as well as bombs, so he is the perfect guy to figure out the process and techniques of the extremely evil villain, a guy who has been recruited by an unnamed organization who promises to pay him ten million dollars for his skills.

Along the way, Stahl gets involved with co-workers in various ways, and although I don’t think many people are as ideal (smart, beautiful, thoughtful) as the two main characters, it actually didn’t seem weird to me that they hooked up right away.  It was handled fairly well, even though there was a bit of male fantasy fulfillment in the actions of Diane at the end of Stahl’s first day on the job. But it’s going to make a great movie – in fact, as the tension mounted and the situation with the bomb maker was resolved, I found myself thinking that if it ended in a certain way, it was probably written with a screenplay in mind. It did, it probably was, and I will most likely go see it when it comes out.

The Wanted by Robert Crais

Let’s just get this out of the way: I have been a diehard fan of Robert Crais/Elvis Cole/Joe Pike for THIRTY YEARS. Seriously, when The Monkey’s Raincoat was published in 1987, I was working in a public library, grabbed it as soon as it came in, and was HOOKED. Since then, this has been one of the most reliable series in the mystery genre – consistent as in “OMG, <blank> has a new book coming out! YAY!” So I was happy to receive a copy of The Wanted from G.P.Putnam’s Sons and NetGalley in return for my honest review.

In this latest installment, a single mother named Devon Cole comes to Elvis Cole because she is concerned about her teenage son, who suddenly has cash, which makes her suspect he might be dealing drugs. Devon’s mom reveals that her son Tyson has serious anxiety issues and has been failed to succeed at several schools, finally landing in an alternative school. His mom first notices he is wearing new shirts from Barney’s, an extremely expensive store. Tyson tells her that one of his friend’s parents runs a studio’s wardrobe department and got them a great deal.

After the shirts, Tyson acquires an Xbox and a new computer with three monitors. Elvis discovers hidden cash totaling tens of thousands of dollars, and a Rolex watch worth upwards of $20,000. So clearly he is up to SOMETHING. The truth is that he and two friends have been burglarizing the houses of rich folks, getting lots of cash and new clothes in return. As it turns out, the Rolex provides a clue for Elvis, as it is registered to a specific person, and with that clue, Elvis is off and running. But the happen to steal the wrong thing from the wrong house, and one of them is murdered.

The victim, who REALLY wants his property back, hires two killers named Harvey and Stems, who are frantically looking for Devon and his girlfriend. Elvis, determined to find Devon and the girl before the bad guys do, brings in Joe Pile and Jon Stone.

In addition to just absolutely loving Elvis, I love Robert Crais’s writing, including structure, setting, character and plotting. The structure is terrific, going between Elvis Cole and two hired killers, Harvey and Stems. Each time the story shifts to another character’s point of view, we get another clue. The various areas of Los Angeles are familiar, and well described as Elvis searches for the missing teens at places including “…celebutante clubs with a squad of paparazzi camped at the door…”He not only captures the vibe of Southern California, he is great at describing people: one potential witness is “a flea market regular, this older woman with sun-scorched skin and liver spots…” and Devon “…carried herself with so much tension she might have been wrapped with duct tape.” Elvis is his usual intuitive self: “…something about her bothered me, but I wasn’t sure what.”

Then there is the scene where Harvey and Stems are passing time in the car, discussing the movie Psycho while staking out a house, watching for Elvis: one guy’s take is “The message was women are powerless. Here’s this lunatic, he’s stabbing her, what did she do, the chick in the movie? Just stood there. So what’s being modeled? Whatever some guy does to a woman, they’re supposed to take it. That’s the message.”

The plot is complex, as the story races forward at a pace that kept me up til nearly dawn when I got to the final reveal that felt just right. Robert Crais is one of the very best mystery writers out there, and although there are recurring people and places in this series, this story can be read as a standalone. I had huge expectations for The Wanted, and it met (or exceeded) them all. Five stars!

 

Snap Judgment by Marcia Clark

Cover Clark Snap Judgment

Last fall, I reviewed Moral Defense, by Marcia Clark (yes, THAT Marcia Clark, of OJ Simpson trial fame), which was the second in the series featuring criminal defense attorney Samantha Brinkman, based in Marcia’s turf, Los Angeles. Sam first showed up in Blood Defense, the first title in this series, in which she defended a decorated homicide detective accused in a double murder. That defendant is a recurring character in the series, as are Sam’s two associates (one of these is a genius ex-con, and the other is Sam’s closest friend since childhood).

In Moral Defense, I realized Sam is a REALLY great character, with opinions that I suspect reflect how Marcia may have felt during her legal career: “I’d been trashed on cable for dressing like a bargain-basement rag doll. Someday, women won’t have to put up with it. Someday, people are going to care more about what we say and do than what we look like. But that day didn’t seem to be coming any time soon…”

So we meet Sam again in Snap Judgment, #3 in this series. In this one, the seemingly perfect daughter of prominent civil attorney Graham Hutchins is found with her throat slashed. Her spurned ex-boyfriend seems the likely suspect, but he is found dead soon after in an apparent suicide. The person of interest in the boyfriend’s death is Hutchins, who hires Sam & Associates.

We learn that the boyfriend was uber-controlling and a creep who posted revenge porn online. The investigation quickly focuses on the daughter’s friends and classmates as well as perhaps some of her off-campus neighbors at USC (or, as many of us refer to it, “University of Spoiled Children.”): “For all that USC is a richy-rich kid school, the campus is in a shitty ‘hood where anything can happen.

Graham is a tough client. As a specialist in civil litigation, his perspective differs from Sam’s since “…in criminal court, the worst people are on their best behavior, and in civil court, the best people are on their worst behavior.” The investigation into the parallel mysteries takes the reader around Southern CA, areas Marcia Clark knows well. Good location detail, lots of interesting characters (and we feel like we are getting to know Dale, Greg and Michy VERY well), and a super twisty plot with great suspense make this a really good book.

In my prior review, I confessed my fascination with Marcia Clark, going back to the early 90s when she was a media star as well as a legal star as she battled to convict OJ . In her other series of novels there is also a female protagonist, Rachel Knight, but Rachel is on the other side, prosecuting cases (something Marcia knows inside and out). Placing Sam in the role of criminal defense attorney has allowed Ms. Clark to explore the “anything goes as long as you don’t get caught” side of the courtroom battles.

I am totally hooked on the Samantha Brinkman series, and this one reinforced my opinion that Sam is a much more interesting character than Rachel Knight, just IMHO. Thanks to Thomas & Mercer and Net Galley for an advance copy of this title in exchange for my honest review. Five stars! Can’t wait for the next one!

 

Everybody Had An Ocean: Music and Mayhem in 1960s LA by Wm McKeen

cover-mckeen-everybody-had-ocean

I grew up on the beach in Southern California in the 60s (San Clemente High, Class of ’65!!) so I LEAPT at the chance to have an advance copy of Everybody Had an Ocean: Music and Mayhem in 1960s Los Angeles by William McKeen (thanks to Chicago Review Press and NetGalley) in exchange for my honest review.

For starters, I wanted to LOVE this book. Music was one of my best friends in my teenage years, and I retain vivid memories of artists, radio stations, TV shows, and all just hanging on the beach with transistor radios blaring music (unless the Dodgers were playing, in which case it was like a battle of the bands between the music and Vin Scully). Spoiler alert: I DID love it!

Just glancing at the cover made me happy: there were the 1960s images of some of my favorites: the Mamas and the Papas, Beach Boys, Joni Mitchell, Jan & Dean, Charles Manson – wait, WHAT???  Yep, it’s true: while this book is a detailed history of the 1950s and 19060s and the migration of the music industry to Los Angeles, it also is a fascinating look at the dark side of the time, including Manson, the kidnapping of Frank Sinatra, Jr., the murder of Bobby Fuller, and more. As McKeen notes “Los Angeles was fecund with corruption. As it became the American capital of crazy, it also became a reliable source of ghastly crimes…Los Angeles was the promised land and a pathetic and brutal place.” And there is acknowledgement that the stories about Manson’s rejection by the music industry may have led directly to the Manson Family murder spree are in fact true. In addition to Manson, the book includes juicy stories about personalities including Fatty Arbuckle, Charlie Chaplin, and that very weird Phil Spector.

One of the most interesting aspects of the story of the development of rock music is its relationship to race. “Black America met White America through music…once we were all dancing to the same beat, Jim Crow didn’t have a chance and walls came tumbling down.” Some claim that “rock ‘m roll is just black folks’ music played by white boys,” but the bottom line is that “the musical revolution…led to a social revolution.”

Segregation and bigotry are vividly described, especially in the way “the music industry’s official term for black music was “race” (as in “race records” on the radio)”” ...and for white country music it was “hillbilly”.” The term “rhythm and Blues” gave way to rock ‘n roll. It was Alan Freed who changed things: “Freed liked the way it sounded. “Rhythm and Blues,” the new industry term for black music, still bore the stigma of “race records” and Freed saw it as his sad duty to push his particular boulder uphill, trying to introduce the masses (mostly white kids) to this music he loved.” Once he coined the term “rock ‘n roll” for this new music, it stuck.

This book is absolutely packed with stories about the music and people surrounding the music industry. To be honest, I learned way more about Brian Wilson and Jan & Dean than I needed (or wanted) to know, but nothing in the book feels like it is over the top – the stories about the icons of “surf music” are often wild, but are an essential part of the story McKeen tells. Yes, I did love this book, and I’m pretty sure I won’t listen to Sirius Channel 060 the same way again! Four stars…if the final version has pictures, it would likely be 5.