Friday, March 25, 2011

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Monday, March 21, 2011

A story worth revisiting

by Lawrence Block
pb from Avon, 373 pgs, pub 2/98

The Grand Master does it again. Now a licensed private investigator, Matthew Scudder is faced with a most perplexing case. Even if, strictly speaking , he has no client. Of course, for those who follow the tracks of recovering alcoholic, ex-cop Scudder, know that the absence of a client, indeed, the absence of much of anything that might be called a case has never stopped him from pursuing whatever fragile thread captures his attention. Part of the time, he does have a client, other times, not, it's just one of the fascinating aspects of this book.

As always, Block's writing deftly brings the nature and the ambiance of the city right off the page and into your immediate presence. His principal secondary characters, as usual, play important roles in moving the story forward and adding fine texture to the mix. Block's writing remains as smooth as ever was.

With the publication of the first letter in a local newspaper, the city's attention focuses on someone who calls himself the Will of the people. He suggests that certain criminals whom the law of the land has thus far been unable to snare, ought to be disposed of, done away with, dispatched. Who would care? Who indeed. So the Will of the people announces his targets and begins his cleanup campaign. And even though Scudder has no client connected to the Will of the People, as his erstwhile partner, TJ points out, "Dude's the whole city's problem." But all too soon the Will of the People becomes Scudder's immediate problem, and a complex, cerebral as well as action-filled adventure begins as Scudder pursues a serial killer through the city. EVEN THE WICKED is a thoughtful examination of parts of our society which need more light. It invites reflection on certain aspects of our life and is a distinct pleasure to read.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Lambda Nominee is a worthy novel

The Cruel Ever After
by Ellen Hart
A Minotar (St. Martin’s Press)
2010 release. Hard cover, 320 pgs.
ISBN: 9780312624768

This, Hart’s nineteenth Jane Lawless mystery, is probably the darkest and most shocking of the series. Difficult to read it is chock full of, painful, difficult relationships and actions. The extensive cast of characters, many of whom fans will have met before, are almost all revealed to have seriously dangerous dark sides. And even when those troublesome and even illegal dimensions of their characters are revealed and confronted by other individuals in the book, they persist in their ways, ways that sometimes tread close to the abyss.
The shocks begin very early when Lawless’s former husband, a man she hasn’t seen for twenty years, appears in Minneapolis. Not only are we more than a little surprised to discover that Jane was married many years ago, she is upset by his appearance, supposedly ‘simply for old times sake.’ It becomes quickly apparent that Chester Garrity, one of the most facile liars and con men you’ll ever meet, has a specific personal agenda. Garrity is a user of anybody and everybody within reach. That he is such, should, it seems to this reader, to be more apparent to Jane than appears to be the case.
That Garrity is also fairly incompetent also becomes obvious. Part of the tragedy is that his incompetence visits appalling harm on the people around him. Almost immediately plans go awry and spiral out of control. Murder results. Garrity demonstrates such a high level of impotence in the face of disaster that it is hard to believe he has managed to stay alive and out of prison for this long.
At roughly the same time that Garrity begins his ill-managed plan to sell antiquities of questionable provenance, a lethal cabal of shadowy vigilantes makes its presence known by murdering a popular gallery owner. Is there a link here? Of course there is, but readers will require almost infinite patience to figure out the links and resolve the tangle of threads and relationships. Patience is particularly important in the first half of the book. After that, with the background and setup in place, the action and the pace pick up. Logic takes firm hold and as the complications and resolutions of the many plot lines become clearer, the author’s grip on her story becomes firmer. The second half of the novel as revelation bangs in on top of revelation and explanation explodes, is all vintage Hart, an excellent writer who is almost always in full command of her work.
There were times however, when I wanted to scream at Jane Lawless, and wondered who was really managing that usually incisive and clever mind.