Thursday, January 27, 2011


Critical ConditiON
By C.J.Lyons
ISBN: 9780515148688
Mass Market, 300 page
2010 release from Jove

Fourth and last in the Angels of Mercy series. A hospital in Pittsburgh is under siege, both from within and without as a huge blizzard brings the city to a standstill. In the hospital, Dr. Gina Freeman is trying to cope with the problematical recovery of her fiancé, detective Jerry Boyle, suffering from bullet wounds. Elsewhere in the hospital, other capable if flawed women, Charge Nurse Nora Halloran, and student Amanda Mason, prepare to wait out the storm.

A vicious band of armed killers suddenly appears, looking for a doctor who happens to be out of the hospital. She, apparently, holds the key to the continued well-being of a powerful and wealthy political figure from the West Coast. The thugs demonstrate a frightening propensity for killing anyone who gets in the way and the bodies pile up.

Written in an almost breathless, pell-mell style, the novel never sags for more than a page or two. Crisis lands on crisis almost as fast as the bodies pile up. Tension grows to almost unbearable levels and relationships become more entangled, setting up conflicts among the protagonists. In the end, the resolution results in a few more bodies. An excellent novel of type. The characters are well-drawn and have sufficient differences to make them easy to keep track of, the ploys used to confound the gangsters are interesting and varied and appropriate to the venues. The dialogue is logical and understandable and it fits the scenery.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Unusual terrific novel of crime on Midwestern prairies

Big Wheat
By Richard A. Thompson
Poisoned Pen Press 2011
ISBN: 978-1-59058-820-8

World War I is done and Charlie Krueger’s older brother is never coming home. Charlie, his sister and their mother must cope with an increasingly abusive drunken father and husband. The summer of 1919 wanes and vast acreages of the Middle West prairies are thick with ripening grain. Up the long reaches from the banks of the Platte and the Missouri come the contract threshing crews and their machines, most followed by raffish bindlestiffs to supplement a farmer’s friends and relatives. The crews are often peopled by men of questionable backgrounds and are occasionally eyed with suspicion by local sheriffs who rarely chase criminals beyond their county boundaries.

When Charlie Krueger has a final confrontation with his father, he leaves behind a sorrowful mother and sister and the local girl he thought he’d love forever. He becomes a bindlestiff, traveling from farm to farm, learning the threshing business and nurturing his love for machines.

The machines are new, complicated and prone to breakdowns. Charlie hooks up with a marvelously conceived traveling machine repair crew that becomes his new family. But lurking in the background is a killer, a killer who believes Charlie saw his latest brutal deed. He seeks to find and murder Charlie. Meanwhile, the sheriff of Charlie’s home county has developed leads which point him toward Charlie as a murderer.

This then is the roiling plot which moves the story forward. Carefully constructed and set against the vast reaches of the plains states, the novel evokes a time and place and the attitudes of the people and the land in a powerful and moving way. Readers will smell the dust, drip sweat and shrivel under the burning sun right along with the threshing crews. They’ll feel a clutch in the night as the sheriff and the murderer draw closer and they’ll empathize with the casual corruption and the surmounting goodness of the characters the author has created.

A fine, exciting and unusual well-written novel I am pleased to recommend to all readers of crime fiction.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

A Dark Disturbing Novel: Absolution

By Susan Fleet
ISBN: 978-1-4357-0841-9
Pub. 2008, Lulu & Kindle

This brutal, dark and explicit novel has a compelling drive to the third-person narrative that makes it difficult to look away. In part, I suspect, readers may be drawn on by an almost irresistible desire to learn how much farther the author is willing to go.
Set in one of the most suggestive cities on the continent, New Orleans, the author has created a nasty killer of similar proportions. The Sinner stalks his victims with a relentless attention to detail until one begins to wonder if he’ll get away with his crimes. It reveals nothing to mention that he does meet an appropriate eventual end, because the mystery is in his identity, carefully concealed through most of the narrative.
As the title suggests the psycho-sexual aberration at the heart of this killer’s impetus is rooted in an intense religiosity and the issues that raises. The sweaty pre-Katrina summer season in New Orleans only enhances the often oppressive feelings of many of the scenes.
The novel combines a multiplicity of viewpoints with several elements of subgenres of this kind of commercial fiction, relentless if sometimes mis-directed police procedures, multiple murders, obscure and difficult motives and complicated relationships between members of a pretty large cast. The tension between the detectives and a local reporter, for example, is very well explored, as are certain racial elements.
If there are a few lapses in logic, an occasional unexplained coincidence, and some dialogue gaffes, overall, Absolution stands out as a highly credible effort.