Previous reviews are at Mack Pitches Up

Friday, January 30, 2009

My Friday's Forgotten Books - Not Crime

Pattie at Pattinase asked if I would like to contribute to her regular Friday's Forgotten Books feature. I first thought I would write about one of the authors I found at Stark House Press. But then decided it would be more fun to go into my past, when I was a teenager in the 60s, and books that helped form my life-long reading habit. My reading then was mostly science fiction and Robert A. Heinlein was a favorite author. So follow the link to Friday's Forgotten Books and see what young Mack was reading. My contribution is below the jump.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Michael Connelly on Crimewav Podcast

The latest Crimewav podcast has Michael Connelly reading Operation Brisket. This was chapter 12 of The Brass Verdict orininally but Connelly removed it on editing. It shows Mickey Haller (The Lincoln Lawyer) trying to get an indecent exposure case he inherited from his dead partner dismissed. It works well as a stand-alone short story.

Crimewav also reports that Connelly's next novel, The Scarecrow, will be available as a limited edition from Dennis McMillan Publications in March or April 2009. It is scheduled for bookstores in May 2009. is a terrific source for short crime fiction. Seth Harwood says he started it because
I want to bring some of the great work that’s out there by people in the crime writing scene to the crime listeners I’ve developed with my podcast series–I want to give my listeners more great crime content– and I want to help the crime writers I’ve met get their work into the podcast realm so they can benefit from what I think is a great promotional opportunity in podcasting and get more readers/listeners.

It has the added bonus that the authors read their own works. If you are curious what Michael Connelly, Megan Abbott, Sara Weinman - who is a blogger (Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind) as well as an author - and many other excellent writers sound like, this is your chance.

This is one of my favorite podcasts and I highly recommend it if you like short crime fiction and have an mp3 player. Well, technically you don't need an mp3 player to listen to it but it is a podcast.

Seth's original work can be found at Seth I'll write about those books later.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

TGWPWF Finally Arrived

My copy of Stieg Larsson's The Girl Who Played With Fire finally arrived today. Now I can be like the cool kids who have already read it. I had a brief moment of alarm when I saw that it came from Libri GmbH in Bad Hersfeld - did I accidentally order the German translation? Nope, it's in English. 569 pages, I'd better get started.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Blogs to FriendFeed to Twitter

Maxine Clarke - Maxine's Book Reviews & Petrona - set up a Crime and Mystery Fiction room on FriendFeed, which I joined. She kindly added this blog as a feed which means that anything I post here is linked in that room on FriendFeed as well as my personal account. With FriendFeed you can also share web pages, post comments, add links, and post photos. They have a bookmarklet that makes it easy to share a page on FriendFeed. It has become one of my favorite resources because of its immediacy as well as content.

I also have a Twitter account with the user name Max46. In the course of a discussion at Detectives Without Borders I discovered that I could use Twitterfeed to link my blog to Twitter.

Watching Maxine's posts on Twitter I learned later that FriendFeed has a tool that will send FriendFeed posts to Twitter.

So, I had my blog going to Twitter by way of TwitterFeed and my blog going to FriendFeed by way of one of its feed filters. Why not streamline things a bit, I thought. I suspended my feeds in Twitterfeed and set up FriendFeed to publish my activity there to Twitter. Now blog posts go to FriendFeed and then on to Twitter.

This post is an experiment to see if everything is configured properly and to see how long it takes a blog post to make it to both places. Also, I thought it would be interesting for bloggers with a Twitter account to see how they can link the two.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Do I want a Kindle?

That's a silly question. Of course I want a Kindle, I'm gadget boy. But $359 is a lot of cat food. What put the Kindle in mind is the copy of Crime and Punishment and An American Tragedy sitting on my desk. I have a hard time keeping track of names in Russian novels and at 856 pages, An American Tragedy will be a challenge to keep sorted out.

The Kindle has several features that attract me:

  • Search - you can search for a word or phrase. After I finished The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo I couldn't remember the text on a T-shirt Salander was wearing and that seemed important at the time. I finally found it on page 262: ARMAGEDDON WAS YESTERDAY--TODAY WE HAVE A SERIOUS PROBLEM. It would have been a matter of moments to find with a Kindle.

  • Bookmarks and Annotation - When I sit down to write a blog post about a book I've read I find myself spending a third of the time flipping around trying to find that interesting passage or intriguing plot point. The Kindle lets you highlight, annotate, and clip passages for export. No longer would I have to remember to carry around a notebook - which I mostly forget. See below for an interesting use of the search function.

  • Wireless Access to Wikipedia - I refer to Wikipedia frequently. It would be nice not to have to get up from the couch, boot the computer, and hope I remember what it was I wanted to look up.

  • Built in Dictionary - a dictionary is always useful.

The future of digital books is looking brighter thanks to the success of the Kindle. Academia, in particular, looks ripe for exploitation. But as this post on The Kindle blog points out, Kindle looks to have serious competition in the academic market.
The Amazon Kindle’s success has validated the market, and now the hordes are storming in. In retrospect, the supply chain fiasco might have prevented Amazon from getting a good hold of the market. 2009 is going to determine just how much of an impact that’ll have on the kindle’s future.

I found this post on an interesting use of the Kindle find feature - Kindle “find” function unearths poor editing. The writer noticed the repetitive use of a phrase in a book and used "find" to see how many times the author used that phrase. He found 17 instances. He concluded by wondering "The question is, will these digital advances force novelists to change their writing style? I can’t wait to see."

Will I get a Kindle? Well, there are many Kindle titles I would like to read so there wouldn't be a lack of material to download. Some are really cheap; I could get Crime and Punishment for .99. But there is that pesky matter of $359 plus an average cost of $9.99 per book. With the review of our retirement funds we had today, let's just say that cat food might be a better investment right now.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Adjusting my blogging and reading habits

I'm not an author but I followed a link from Clea Simon's blog to Candid Canine where she wrote Writing Tip 13: Exercise. Wrote Simon, "the ability to write is like building a muscle. The more you exercise it, the easier it will become." That's true regardless of what one is writing. I spent the weekend staring at the screen desperate to finish writing up the last few book of 2008. "Why is it so hard to begin", I asked. Now I would answer, "because you are not writing enough" and probably would have added an expletive. So here I am seeing what I can come up with between reviews.

From the reviews I post you can deduce that I mainly read recent crime/mystery/suspense novels. I'm working on changing that in two ways.

First - I just finished two book each by Dorothy B. Hughes and Elisabeth Sanxay Holding. All four books were published in the mid-1940s. They are good reads and I decided that I should balance reading recently published with older works. One aim would be to get a better sense of how the genre has evolved,or not evolved. David Thompson of Busted Flush Press pointed me to Stark House Press. Both are reprint companies and I recommend looking at their titles. Good stuff there.

Second - Leonard Cassuto's book, Hard-Boiled Sentimentality, showed me that I can combine my love of the crime genre with Literature with a capital "L". Cassuto discusses Theodore Dreiser's classic about the American dream gone bad, An American Tragedy. It is a story of murder and Clyde Griffiths' motivation for murder isn't different from what we read as crime stories. R.N. Morris is kindly sending me a copy of his latest book, A Vengeful Longing. His character is Porfiry Petrovich, the investigating magistrate from Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment, another classic that involves a murder investigation.

I have both books in front of me and they will test my resolve. An American Tragedy resembles a brick and and has 856 pages. Crime and Punishment has 536 pages and the type is tiny. We will see if there is anything of the literature major left in me.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Review: fifty-to-One, Charles Ardai

Hard Case Crime, 2008, ISBN 978-0-8439-5968-0, 329 pages.

Fifty-to-one is the fiftieth book published by Hard Case Crime and Charles Ardai made sure it was a great, fun read. He begins by imagining that Hard Case Crime was started fifty years ago rather that fifty titles.

Off the train from Aberdeen, South Dakota and needing a job right away because she just got conned out of most of her money, Patricia (Tricia) Heverstadt take a job as a dancer at a mob connected club. She really wants to write for the New Yorker. She lives in an office that has been converted into a dorm for several women in show business. The dorm just happens to be across the hall from the publishing company Hard Case Crime and the man who conned her out of her stake. Carter Blandon took her money because he needed to pay his printer but agrees to pay her back if she will do some work for him.

Blandon wants her to find someone who will talk about Sal Nicolazzo, the owner of the Sun where Tricia, now called Trixie, will be dancing. He wants a mob expose along the lines of I,Mobster and will pay Tricia a penny a word for the guy's story. Unfortunately, Trixie finds absolutely nothing useful at the club so she decides to invent a narrator. She borrows from other Hard Case Crime books,researches mob activity at the library, and creates a character who rises in the organization before getting sick of his boss and staging a daring and complicated robbery of a month's proceeds from all the operations.

Trixie never tells Blandon that she made up the story which is published with great success as I Robbed the Mob! by Anonymous. Then the office is visited by some thugs who want to know who wrote the book. It seems Sal's safe was robbed in the exact manner described in her book.

Trixie turns out to be tougher than you would think likely for an eighteen year-old woman fresh from South Dakota. She is your hard-boiled female character doing what it takes to keep her and Carter a step ahead of the mob and avoiding torture, certain death, or arrest.

It has everything I like in a hard-boiled story, great characters, interesting plot, terrific writing, and thrilling action. And some humor as well.

Ardai added some extras to make the book fun. He incorporated the titles of all fifty Hard Case Crime books into the story, either as chapter titles or within the story. It was quite a challenge when you consider that these past titles include A Diet of Treacle and Lemons Never Lie.

The cover shows a hard boiled character with a beautiful red-head in the offices of Hard Case Crime looking at selected titles scattered on the desk. Inside is a handy checklist so you can keep track of titles used in the story as well as pictures of all fifty covers.

Review: The Innocent Mrs. Duff &The Blank Wall, Elisabeth Sanxay Holding

Academy Chicago Publishers, 1991, ISBN 0-89733-366-7.
These two books are published as a reversed double volume.
The Innocent Mrs. Duff was originally published in 1946 and has 199 pages.
The Blank Wall was originally published in 1947 and has 231 pages.

The Innocent Mrs Duff
Jacob Duff is a man incapable of forming a healthy relationship with others. His attraction to his beautiful second wife, Regina (Reggie) Riordan, a former photographer's model, has turned to revulsion. For her part, Reggie is devoted to Jacob, tries to please him, and is working hard to learn to be the wife of someone with a higher social standing. Jacob is frustrated when his wealthy Aunt Lou won't see how wrong Reggie is and, in fact, both likes and defends her, urging Jacob to be fair. She tells Jacob "You don't know how to be married, Jacob. you don't like it. You're not domestic" and pointing out that he didn't much like his first wife Helen. Nonetheless, Jacob continues to find fault with everything Reggie does and is determined to find a way to get rid of her. He first tries to frame her in a compromising situation with the chauffeur but that fails badly. He finally decides that she must die.

Duff's increasingly irrational behaviour fueled by his alcoholism is nicely balanced by Reggie's bewilderment with what is going wrong in their marriage. Suspenseful, well plotted, well written.

The Blank Wall
Lucia Holley is the wife of a naval officer at sea for three years during WWII. She is living in a lake community with her teenage son, David, daughter, Bee, and father, Mr. Harper. She writes her husband Tom dull letters every night.

David, fifteen years old, is embarrassed her (she goes out in the motorboat by herself) and treats her as if she isn't capable of managing herself.

Bee, sees her life as miserably dull and is rebellious toward Lucia. She thinks her mother is old fashioned, doesn't understand anything about life, and is determined not to follow the path Lucia took in life.

Lucia is the blank wall of the title, frightened by her life and inability to move through it smoothly, and not taken seriously by her children. Her only real support comes from the maid Sibyl.

She takes up with Ted Darby, someone she sees as leading an interesting life, who knows all sorts of people. He is also married and a swindler, parts of his life of which Bee is unaware. Lucia tries to get Darby to leave Bee alone but he laughs at her. He comes to meet her in the boat house at the lake one evening but is confronted by Mr. Harper who shoves him so he falls into a boat. What Mr. Harper doesn't realize is that Darby landed on an anchor, and dies.

When Lucia finds the body, immediately decides that she must hide it. If her father found out what he did he would immediately want to take responsibility. Also why Darby was in the boat house would come out and the family would be in the tabloids. She takes the body out to a remote island in the motor boat and drags it into the marsh.

Soon a coarse man named Nagle arrives, a friend of Darby. He knows Darby was at the lake the night before and that he didn't return to the city. He implies something bad will happen if he isn't told what happened to Darby.

Things get worse when a man named Donnelly arrives at the house, in possession of letters Bee wrote to Darby. He wants $5,000 to return the letters. By today's standards the letters wouldn't be anything to worry about but then they could have ruined the young lady in society.

When Darby's body is discovered Lucia finds herself trapped between the law and a blackmailer.

This begins Lucia's struggle to save her family. She shows that there is more to her than the blank wall she presents to the world. The Blank Wall is a well written, nicely plotted story with believable and interesting characters. Lucia's personality is explored wonderfully and you want to give both her kids a smack.

The Blank Wall was turned into a movie called The Deep End staring Tilda Swindon. The screenplay maintained the noirish feel but gave the son David a homosexual experience and made him the focus of blackmail.

Elisabeth Sanxay Holding is another author I learned about from Megan Abbott's A Hell of a Woman: An Anthology of Female Noir from Busted Flush Press. The essay by Maria DiBattista says "Holding is expert in the dread that seeps through the meshes of the everyday, disarranging the neat look of things."

Does Holding have a place for today's readers? Raymond Chandler called Holding "the top suspense writer of them all" and I'd say that the stories and the writing hold up very well. I recommend both titles highly both as good reads and as examples of the craft of suspense.

Review: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Stieg Larsson

I'm not going to write a full on review of this book. It is probably the most written about book appearing in 2008 and is appearing on top ten lists all across the blogosphere. You find excellent reviews and discussions on these blogs. Be sure to read the comments as well.

The Rap sheet and here.

Crime Scraps and again here.


Mysteries in Paradise

Oh, just do a search in your feed reader on Dragon Tattoo and you'll find an abundance of discussion.

Some of my observations:

I liked the UK cover better but that is usually the case with me.

The first two hundred pages did drag on a bit but I didn't mind too much. I listened to it on my iPod during a long dental procedure and later on a long road trip to Florida. Besides, I like to read Charles Dickens' novels. Bleak House and the case of Jarndyce and Jarndyce prepared me.

The character Lisbeth Salander fascinates me and is why I put Dragon Tattoo on my top ten list. Declan Burke, on the other hand, said (here and here) that Salander was looking like the "idealised fantasy of a middle-aged man" and "The Lisbeth character, meanwhile, came on like a goth Modesty Blaise who was simply too good to be true." I don't know about the middle-aged male fantasy bit (yes I do but don't want to admit it) but I don't disagree with the second statement. Of course, I have a weakness for goth and would probably dabble in it if I were a teenager today. And I read Modesty Blaise as a teenager - talk about male fantasies. I also didn't find Salander's technical skills too far off.

I too believe that the original title, Men who Hate Women is more descriptive but probably failed the marketing test in favor of the sexier Dragon Tattoo.

I found it riveting when Blomkvist and Salander's investigations really got going in the last third. It was worth the wait.

I liked enough to order the UK edition of The Girl who Played With Fire and purchased a print copy of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo for reference and probable later re-read.

Review: Ride the Pink Horse, Dorothy B. Hughes

Canongate Books Ltd, 2002, ISBN 1-84195-277-X, 248 pages. Ride the Pink Horse was originally published in 1946.

A Chicago hood named Sailor arrives in a nameless New Mexico town looking for his former boss, Senator Douglass. Sailor had been hired by Douglass to kill his wife but Sailor knows it was the Senator who actually did the deed. Sailor wants to be paid what is due him for his silence. Also in town is McIntyre, a homicide detective from Chicago who is watching the Senator. McIntyre has known Sailor since he was a patrolman and has always hoped that Sailor could overcome his upbringing.

Unfortunately for Sailor, it is Fiesta time and there are no rooms at any price. Much of the book is Sailor interacting with townspeople and Fiesta attendees as he tries to find a place to stay and prepare himself to confront the Senator.

He forms an odd relationship with the owner of a hand-cranked merry-go-round. The man is an Indian named Don Jose Patricio Santiago Morales y Cortez but Sailor calls hum Pancho. Pancho is "fat and shapeless and dirty, but his brown face was curiously peaceful." When Sailor befriends a fourteen year old Indian girl, Pila, paying for her to ride the merry-go-round on the pink horse, Pancho decides that Sailor is his friend; Sailor didn't try to use ride to have sex with the girl. In his own harsh and bigoted way, Sailor has empathy for the girl and her low status with everyone else.

This isn't a book with action and gun-play. What we see is someone who finds himself in an alien culture and his big city biases and prejudices challenged. Sailor could be more than a hood but seems unable to break away from a path to destruction. We see a lot of inner conflict working at Sailor and at a time of desperation the one person he turns to for help is Pancho, someone not of his world.

For me, the pleasure in reading this book was not the plot but the writing. The descriptions of the town, Fiesta, the people, the out-of-his-element flounderings of Sailor are wonderful to read. Hughes was educated and worked in New Mexico and she writes movingly about the relationship of the Indians to the land and how they will endure.

This is another book I learned of from Megan Abbott's anthology, A Hell of a Woman: An Anthology of Female Noir From Busted Flush Press.

Review: In a Lonely Place, Dorothy B. Hughes

The Feminist Press, 2003,ISBN 1-55861-455-9, 250 pages. In A lonely Place was originally published in 1947.

Dickson (Dix) Steele thinks that he got a raw deal in life. His Uncle Fergus makes him work for every dime, while the "rich stinkers" don't have to lift a finger to live the high life. During his two years a Princeton, Dix learns he can get money without working for it by toadying up to wealthy classmates but that just exacerbates his resentment toward anyone better off than him. They don't deserve it, he does.

When WWII starts, Dix joins the Army Air Corps as a pilot. There he never feels more in control, as good about his life. He has money and status. He also feels the "power and exhilaration and freedom that came with loneness in the sky."

When the war ends, Dix convinces his uncle to support him for a year in Los Angeles while he writes a detective novel. Dix meets Mel Terriss, one of the "rich stinkers" from Princeton and soon after moves into his apartment, drives his car, and uses his charge accounts while Mel is in Rio.

In a moment of weakness, Dix calls a buddy from the service, Brub, now a homicide detective, who is married to an all too perceptive Sylvia. He also meets and falls for Laurel Gray, a beautiful and tough woman who isn't a pushover for Dix's charm.

While Dix isn't actually writing a detective novel, he is a serial rapist and murderer, haunting the headlines as "The Strangler." Dix's inflated sense of his own superiority leads him to think he is too clever to be caught, that he has his tracks covered.

This is a book about a rapist and serial killer that contains no violence and graphic language. The excellent afterword by Lisa Maria Hogeland makes several interesting points. First, although written in the third person, we see the story unfold entirely from Dix's viewpoint. We see what he sees, hear what he hears. Second, and unusual for the time the book was written, the female victims are not shown as contributing to their murder. Third, Dix's motives are not fully explained. His upbringing and relationship to his mother are not made a cause for his actions.

Hughes was a wonderful writer. There is nothing overdone with her dialog and descriptions. Dix moving through the night, stalking his victims, is suspenseful and chilling but written quietly and creating an atmosphere that makes the reader feel the night and fog about them as they read.

If you decide to read In a Lonely Place I recommend the edition from The Feminist Press. There is in interesting preface discussing the history of women writing pulp fiction and Hogeland's analysis of the book from a feminist viewpoint is even more interesting.

And I'd like to plug Megan Abbott's anthology, A Hell of a Woman: an Anthology of Female Noir from Busted Flush Press, for bringing this book to my attention. At the end of the anthology there is an appendix where "an array of authors, booksellers, critics and film aficionados pay homage to favorite noir writers, characters and performers." Two essays discussing Hughes prompted me to buy In a Lonely Place and Ride the Pink Horse.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Review: Red Riding Quartet, David Peace

1974, Serpent's Tail, 1999, ISBN 978-1-84668-705-1, 295 pages
1977, Serpent's Tail, 2000, ISBN 978-1-84668-706-8, 341 pages
1980, Serpent's Tail, 2001, ISBN 978-1-84668-707-5, 376 pages
1983, Serpent's Tail, 2002, ISBN 978-1-84668-708-2, 405 pages

First off, I liked this series but I'm not sure I will be able to explain why. No other crime novels have made me wish I was more widely read and had a background in literary criticism.

For U.S. readers, riding is a term meaning third part. North, East, and West Ridings were formerly administrative divisions of Yorkshire, England.

The Red Riding Quartet is a story of police corruption set against the activities of the Yorkshire Ripper.

1974 does not directly involve the Ripper. Eddie Dunsford is the crime correspondent for the Evening Post. He investigates and quickly becomes obsessed in the case of a missing girl, Clare Kemplay. He thinks there may be a connection between this case and other missing girls, a theory the police violently reject. In spite of being the crime reporter for the paper, Eddie is assigned to provide background for the story while the investigative reporting is given to Jack Whitehead, who was once Crime Reporter of the Year. Eddie doesn't accept this and continues his own probing into the cases and descent into madness.

1974 introduces most of the characters who will appear in subsequent books in the series.

1977 takes us into the Yorkshire Ripper story that will carry through the rest of the books. The Ripper is back, the attacks increasing in frequency, and the police want someone to pin the crimes on. Here, the main characters are Bob Fraser, a police sergeant in 1974 who gave reporter Eddie Dunford information unofficially, and reporter Jack Whitehead. Fraser and Whitehead have something in common, they both are in love with prostitutes. For Fraser, who, we thought of as one of the good guys in 1974, his obsession with Janice Ryan is consuming.

In 1980, the story of the search for The Ripper is taken up by Assistant Chief Constable of Greater Manchester, Peter Hunter. Hunter is asked to head a Super Squad, a brain trust, to conduct a parallel but secret investigation. Publicly their job will be to advise the official investigation on methods and avenues. Hunter isn't much trusted by most of police force because he has investigated fellow police officers for corruption in the past. Hunter might be too good at his job, someones are nervous, and he soon finds his investigation in jeopardy and and himself the subject of an inquiry.

1983 concludes the quartet. It moves around in time, between 1983 and the events in 1974, 1977, and 1980. The stories are told by BJ, a male prostitute first seen in 1974, lawyer John Pigott, 1977, and senior police official Maurice Jobson, a presence throughout the series. Here most of the questions from the previous books are answered, what happened, who was responsible for what.

The Red Riding Quartet has much vulgarity, profanity, racism, sexism, violence, extreme sexual violence toward women, scenes of extreme police brutality, and no characters this reader could like or identify or sympathize with. The imagery is that of decay, rot, and excrement. The characters mostly display a staggering venality and indifference.

The pages of the books are laid out in in a way that seemed to compel me to keep reading. There will be a left justified sentence or word then under that will be short sentences that pull the reader along with their feverish, frantic intensity.
For example:

69 Newstead View, TV lights on.
Ninety miles an hour up the garden path.
Knock, knock, knock, knock.
'What do you want?' said Mrs. Ashworth, trying to close the door on me.
A foot in the door, pushing it back.

Throughout the four books the author manipulates the experience to emphasize the nightmarish, surreal atmosphere hovering over Yorkshire. Entire scenes are reproduced from one book to another, italicized internal internalized thoughts or observations from an outside observer intercut the first person narration. In 1977 chapter begins with a bit of conversation between a radio talk show host, John Shark and a caller discussing some aspect of the situation in Yorkshire. In 1980, each chapter begins with narration from the point of view of the Ripper and the Ripper's victim mixed together with no punctuation or capitalization ending in mid sentence and taken up at the next chapter.

These are not easy books to read. Subject matter aside, keeping track of what is happening to whom requires the full attention of the reader. More than once my mind wandered and I found myself having to reread several pages to understand what was happening.

So why can I say that I enjoyed a series populated by characters I didn't like and full of scenes that repelled me but will probably revisit after I read the reviews by other bloggers? I'm still not sure. In Part, I wanted to keep reading to piece together the bits of the story revealed over the four books - ah so that is what happened in that scene in the previous book. I also wanted to know what happened to the characters in the end. Did they survive? Did they get what was due them? And I would say the way the books are written engaged me, the techniques the author used to reflect the horror of the events, not only the murders but the corruption of the police mirroring the degeneracy of those perpetrating the murders.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Review: Salvation in Death, J. D. Robb

G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2008, ISBN 978-0-399-15522-2, 353 pages.

Salvation in Death has a dramatic opening even for the In Death series - Father Flores drops dead during a funeral Mass after a sip of Communion wine, a victim of cyanide poisoning. The priest was well thought of in Spanish Harlem and Hector Ortiz, the subject of the Mass, a highly respected member of the community. Lt. Eve Dallas and her partner Detective Delia Peabody catch the high profile case and begin work through 'who was the target', 'who had motive', 'who had access'. Pretty soon Dallas and Peabody find enough discrepancies between Flores' known history and their dead priest to suspect that this Flores was not who everyone thought he was. Eve's blunt approach causes some conflict with the Church since she isn't inclined to soften her methods of investigation but this isn't overdone.

As with the other books in the series, the language is salty, the dialog punchy, and the humor often crude but the investigation is solid and doesn't rely on gimmicks.

The In Death series has been one of my favorites for several years. The books are a quick, fun read. If you haven't read any of these books, they are futuristic police procedurals with a dose of romance. In Salvation in Death it is the year 2060. The stories are heavier on procedure and investigation using methods common to all procedurals, than science fiction; deep data mining is the technology most often described.

There are now 27 novels in the series but only three years have passed since the first, Naked in Death set in 2058, introduced Eve Dallas. Besides interesting plots and snappy dialog, I've enjoyed watching the author grow the characters. Over the 27 books, J.D. Robb (Nora Roberts) has gradually introduced back story for Eve and her Irish, billionaire, drop dead gorgeously handsome, computer hacker extraordinaire, husband, Roark (a character type straight out of romances). She has also evolved their relationship without sacrificing what makes the characters interesting. Both with extraordinarily strong personalities, Robb has introduced conflict that has evolved the relationship between Roark and Eve. The relationship was initially stormy but has settled down as Eve and Roark have found ways to compromise without losing themselves.

Eve's partner, Dalia Peabody, similarly has been grown as the series progresses. We first meet her as a patrolman. Eve mentors her, making Peabody her assistant, and seeing her become a full detective. The differences in their personalities makes for a lot of the humor in the books. Eve grew up in state care. Peabody is the daughter of hippy parents. Their different views on life and people adds much to the stories.

Besides Peabody, Robb has other characters who provide contrast to the blunt, no nonsense Eve Dallas. Take a look at this Wikipedia article on the In Death characters for a good summary. Mavis Freestone, in particular, is one of my favorites.

Besides the dark and mysterious Roark, another nod to the romances Nora Roberts is known for are the steamy love scenes between Eve and Roark. We are guaranteed several throughout a story. The love scenes are often used to help Eve through difficult times and to anchor her relationship to Roark.

J.D. Robb/Nora Roberts produces dependably enjoyable stories that have been remarkably consistent over 27 novels.