One of the most reliable mystery series on the planet

Umpteen books into
this series  (she’s on “V” now, however many books that is), Sue Grafton’s still got it. I marvel at her with each new book
that emerges, because usually, in my experience, authors go kind of flat
somewhere around book 11.
But not Sue Grafton. No, she’s just getting better.

Dang.
How’s she do it?
Well, whatever magic she’s working, it’s all happening in this
book.
One thing I love about this series is that the author has stuck
with the original timeframe to keep the chronology true. So this book is set in
1988. (Retro, baby.)
And there’s a loveliness to that.
The other thing that really works in this series is that Kinsey
Millhone is likeable yet a bit ornery, and that makes her very real.
And I love the affection she has for her landlord Henry, the
retired baker. In this book, he’s out of town due to a family emergency, and
she misses him.
And one other thing, and it’s small but significant. Kinsey
Millhone cleans her home and office, and that stuff’s included in the book. For
some reason, I really like this. I guess because in so many books, it seems
like people are living in a bubble that doesn’t include housecleaning.
Anyway.
This story is one of those classic PI situations, in which someone
hires the detective to look into something, then changes his mind—but the PI is
too far in to let it go, so she keeps investigating on her own time (and her
own dime). And havoc ensues.
Oh, it’s just all too good.
If we believe the alphabet, there’re only 4 more of these puppies
coming down the line. The only consolation is that at least this series is
re-readable. 

Noir. Worldwide Noir.

In the wake of watching the entire 5-season run of The Wire in less than 2 months
flat—during the period of withdrawal—I diagnosed for myself the Reading of Noir.
(Guys, there’s a whole series of this stuff!)   
I started with DC Noir,
for two reasons. No, three.
1. George Pelecanos edited it, and he’s a producer and writer on The Wire. Also, he’s a big-name mystery
author I’d never read and wanted to.
2. Washington,
DC, baby!
3. It was available as an eBook, and I’m making a last-ditch
effort to redeem myself in the eBook reading challenge. (Can she read 5 more eBooks by year’s end? CAN SHE?)
And man, I had a moment of complete and total bliss when I began
reading this book, sitting at a café in front of a fireplace with my Nook and a
mocha. And the book was all noir-y and grim, and horrid things happened to the
characters, and/or they did horrid things to others, and I was oh-so-happy. And
some of these things were happening in DC places I’ve visited, so that made it even better.
Next, I read Boston Noir—edited by my very own favorite
Dennis Lehane. And dear Dennis, I’m sorry, but I liked your buddy’s (edited)
book better. There was something about the stories in DC Noir that just had that certain je ne sais quoi. And some of
them had some killer plot twists.
Next up: Baltimore Noir. I’ve never been there, but
that’s where The Wire’s set, so I’ve
seen it on TV. And Baltimore’s
the world I’m missing during the withdrawal phase from all that TV watching.
Normally I’m not too much of a short story reader, but these
really work for me. Though I find that I’m only interested in the books set in
places I find interesting. (Last Vegas
Noir
? Naaaa-uhhhh.)
My other withdrawal remedy: Reading
Blue Blood by Edward Conlon

Best sellers for a reason

Killing Floor by Lee
Child
For years now—and I mean years—I’ve
been looking up Lee Child’s Jack Reacher books for others. I’ve
been placing holds, finding out the proper order of the series, all that stuff.
And all the while, I was thinking, Not the books for me.
OK.
I’m wrong so often it’s almost a hobby.
After hearing a presentation by Karin Slaughter, in which she said
some really nice things about Lee Child, I stewed on that for a while and then
decided to check out the eBook of his first Jack Reacher novel.
I was not able to put it down.
Despite these facts:
1. Early on, there’s a prison scene. (Usually this is a no-go for me.
Cannot.handle.prison scenes.)
2. Reacher kills without remorse. (That is not normal human behavior. Yet the fellow’s likeable! How’s Lee
Child do this?!)
Whilst I was falling in serious like with this series, two things
were happening in the wider world:
1. Lee Child’s latest book The
Affair
was released, and it tells Jack Reacher’s back story.  (love this!)
2. It was announced that Tom Cruise is slated to portray Jack
Reacher in a forthcoming movie, and that ain’t nothing but wrong, wrong, wrong. First of all: height! I mean,
seriously!
Meanwhile, back in my own little world, I was checking out the eBook of book 2 in
this series. (BTW, these puppies are custom-written for eBook reading, because
they go fast and I get all caught up
in the story and keep turning [swiping] the pages.)

It’s good to be wrong

The Alienist by Caleb Carr
I’m ornery sometimes when it comes to choosing books. So if everyone’s raving about something, I’d apt to avoid it. At all costs.
This was the deal with The Alienist back in the mid-90s. It was all the rage among mystery readers and even non-mystery readers. So I said no, no, no. (Oh, Amy Winehouse. What a crummy deal.)
Just last week, I also saw a rave review on Entomology of a Bookworm. (I read only the first paragraph before I finished the book, then went back after I was done with the book to read the full review. I’m skittish that way.)
The only reason I read The Alienist now is that it was assigned for a genre study. And I was all not wanting to read it.
OK. So I was wrong.
Turns out, this is a darn good little (big!) mystery.
It’s got a neato team of unconventional detectives who are trying to determine who is killing boys in New York City in the 1890s. And they’re interesting, and so are their methods. It’s still early days for things like fingerprinting. And psychological profiling (which is what they end up doing) is pretty much unheard of. So as you’re reading, it feels like you’re witnessing something new that’s just coming into being.
And the way people rave about how Carr captures the place and time period? True.
My best recommendation is: Read a copy that was published since 2006. There’s an amazing Afterword by Carr, written in 2006, in the paperback I read. And reading the Afterword like attending the best kind of author presentation—where the author tells you the story behind the story. And this one is a really, really good one. It gladdened my heart.

To hell and back. In darn good company.

Hell Is Empty by Craig Johnson
Craig Johnson, I love you, I do. But the way you put poor Walt Longmire in peril… it worries me. I swear to the heavens, I nearly did that thing where a person looks ahead to make sure everything turns out OK. (I can’t ever actually do that, so instead I just carried the book with me everywhere I could sneak in a half-page of reading at odd free moments so I could find out what happens without having to wait a moment longer than necessary.)
Usually Craig Johnson makes me crack up, because Walt and his sidekicks have that wonderfully dry humor thing going on. This book, it ain’t funny. And damn, but it still works.
Here, we got Sheriff Longmire headed into the blizzardy mountains to face his demons and to track a truly bad, bad, bad guy who’s on the loose and killing people right and left. And Walt’s solo, just like he was back in The Dark Horse (2 books ago), and I’m here to tell you: He’s wry when he’s with others, and he’s downright valiant when he’s on his own. Here he is: “That’s how I was thinking about myself of late, like a Marine mule that didn’t have enough sense to lie down and die. It wasn’t the most comforting of thoughts, but it got me up the hill.” (p. 256)
Thing is, Walt’s a former Marine, and Walt’s a sheriff who’s sworn an oath. Damn, I love Walt.
This novel has Dante’s Inferno as its basis, and Walt’s descending (yet ascending), with his guide Virgil White Buffalo, into the various circles of hell—fire and ice and the whole darn mess.
I read the Inferno in college, and I don’t hope to ever repeat that feat. But it’s one of those things where I’m glad I read it, in part because I get what’s going on with Walt and the others.
And it made this book even more perfect.
Bookish asides:
Walt’s office is in a former Carnegie library. (Love it!)
The other characters made a reading list for deputy Sancho Saizarbitoria, and it’s included in an Appendix. And the lists are just filled with good stuff: The Ox-Bow Incident (Walt), The Things They Carried (Henry), My Antonia (Ruby), The Maltese Falcon (Dorothy), and A River Runs Through It (Ferg).
One more thing—Guys, I’m poorly edumacated, and here’s more proof: It was only when Googling the title of this book that I learned that it was part of a Shakespeare quote (“Hell is empty, and all the devils are here”). Damn good quote, that. Way better than my usual phrase for such situations: “It is what it is.”
Here’s the thing, though. If I were to be stuck on a desert island, I’d be picking Craig Johnson books way before I’d be picking Shakespeare. There that is.

Oooo oooo ooooo: another great mystery author

Pocket-47 by Jude Hardin
While reading Pocket-47, that thing happened that only happens when a book is really, really good: I just kept smiling. I’m sure makes me look like a complete goofball, but I’m so happy I don’t even care.
So I’m announcing that this book (pub date 2011) really must become the first in a long series. Otherwise, I’m going to have a mini-tantrum that probably will involve energetic housecleaning. (Dear heavens, no! Not that.)
The main character’s voice, plus the rip-roaring plot, are the things that make this book amazing.
Nicholas Colt is a washed-up, once-famous blues guitarist who’s living in a motorhome out in the middle of nowhere. And while he dodges bill collectors, he also does the PI thing. And when a young woman asks him to find her missing teenage sister, all heck breaks loose. All kinds of seamy stuff gets dug up, and lots of people ain’t pleased about that.
And then surprising things happen.
So we got ourselves a fine plot here.
But it’s Nicholas’s voice that made me fall in love with this book. He’s got that wonderful smart-aleck thing I really adore in a detective.
I’m so, so happy to add Jude Hardin to the list of authors who write that way. I’m talking Craig Johnson, Dennis Lehane, Thomas Kaufman, Jack Fredrickson, Donald Harstad.
These people make this world a better place. That’s all I’m saying.

Cold and cozy

Though Not Dead by Dana Stabenow
I’m a fervent believer that each person who reads a given book actually ends up reading a different book from everyone else who reads the same book. (Dear heaven! There’s no easy way to convey that thought!)
(photo credit: Voyageur Quest and the Algonquin Log Cabin)In other words — We bring our own experiences and interpretations to each reading experience, which is why I can say this:
Dana Stabenow’s Kate Shugak mysteries are some of the most domestically cozy books I’ve ever read.
Yes. I mean what I say.
I am fully aware that Kate kicks some serious you-know-what as a private investigator and tribal leader. I get that.
But really, the thing about her that most fascinates me is that she has the domestic skills down pat. Not only can this woman butcher her own moose and do maintenance on her snow machine, but she can bring home the bacon and fry it up in a pan.
Maybe because the setting is so stinking freezing cold, Stabenow’s descriptions of Kate’s cabin and her home life are crazy cozy. All those books and quilts and all that home cooking.
Anyway, this book also had a plot, and it was a darn good one that kept me reading into the night over the weekend.
Kate’s uncle Old Sam has died (side note: Stabenow is not shy about killing off her characters, which kind of puts a reader on edge a bit, you know? I mean this in kind of a good way), which is sad stuff right off the bat. But then he’s also left Kate a mystery to solve, and I swear, he was wise to do so. This book is good, good, good. Kate’s digging into the past and uncovering old secrets, and we learn that lots of people ain’t what they’ve always seemed.
The other great thing about this book is that Jim is called back to southern California after his father’s death. So Kate is solo (greater danger and suspense!) and Jim also is solo, discovering his own family’s secrets.
Dana Stabenow—still gots it after all these books. (We’re on, what, #18 here? Impressive.)

Big honking bestseller

Step on a Crack by James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge
I confess: I picked this puppy because John Slattery is one of the readers of the audiobook. And I love John Slattery, even/especially when he’s being the horrible—yet wildly entertaining and therefore wonderful—Roger Sterling on Mad Men.

(Yes, you have just witnessed a shameless Reading Madly plug!)
Also I picked it because I’d never read anything by James Patterson, and probably there’s a law against a public librarian never having done so.
And while I suspect this book would not have worked so well for me as an actual (printed) book… as an audiobook, it was fabulous.
Why, you may ask, is that?
Well, first of all, we’ve got the Slattery effect. And he’s brilliant at reading the character of Mike, the smart-aleck police officer.
Next, it’s the kind of story that’s set up to hold your attention. And for some reason, suspense novels work for me as audiobooks even when they’d never work as books-to-read-with-my-eyes. I think it’s the whole nature of hearing a story told to you. There’s something about that.
Also, since I tend to listen to audiobooks when I’m exercising, I can work off all that nervous tension that builds up in me when reading suspense novels. I’m a skittish thing.
So, here’s the quick plot summary (without any big secrets revealed): A NYC police officer named Mike Bennett (husband to Maeve, who’s dying of cancer, and father of 10 children—so there’s so stress in his personal life whatsoever) is called to the cathedral where a former First Lady’s funeral was underway. Some bad, bad guys have hijacked the funeral and taken high-profile hostages. So Mike gets to talk to the hella creepy guy, Jack (wonderfully voiced by Reg Rogers), who seems to be calling the shots.
Now, I don’t know if this is Patterson or his co-author Ledwidge, but there are some nice bits of dialogue and turns of phrase in this book. (Sorry, Mr. P.; I may have mis-under-estimated you.) And at two points I even almost teared up. (At the track. Dear God.)
This thing’s a great blend of good (Mike and Maeve and their family) and evil (Jack and The Neat Man), and fast-paced, adrenaline stuff (all that hostage business) mixed with cozy, comforting, yet chaotic, family life.
I now get why this Patterson series hits the top of the bestseller lists from time to time.
Audiobook read by John Slattery and Reg Rogers; 7 hours

First great fiction book of the year

The Girl in the Green Raincoat by Laura Lippman
When reading this book (which I did all in one evening), I had that blissed-out feeling. Before I started, I wasn’t sure I was still in the mood for it. Just a few pages in, though, I was so darn happy.
First off, the book begins with Tess on bed rest during the final stage of her pregnancy. (Hello? How did I miss this news? Did Lippman just spring it on us, or was I really, really not paying attention earlier?)
And it’s totally an homage to both Rear Window (love it!) and The Daughter of Time, so complete happiness ensued.
Here’s how it starts: Tess is watching a woman in a green raincoat who walks her dog while talking with intensity on a cell phone each day, and then this scene happens:
“‘Is there anything else you need to make your haven perfect?’ Crow asked. ‘Binoculars,’ Tess said.” (p. 16)
It was then—on page 16—that I fell in love with this book. And I thought, Why can’t all books be this darn good?
Here’s the thing: This book is short (123 eBook pages, but 176 pages on paper apparently), and it’s a gorgeous little gem of a thing. It’s got the bedridden detective, the disapproving yet still helpful sidekicks, and the mysterious people she investigates from her chaise longue… none of whom is what s/he seems. Plus, there’s comic relief, such as the moment when Tess’s best friend Whitney buys Tess a diaper bag that has pockets for her two cell phones, gun, and pick locks. (“‘I have just the thing,’ Denise said, not the least bit phased by the mention of a gun. She truly was a pro.” [p. 67])
In addition to being a perfect diversion and a kick*** return by Tess, this great little mystery surprised me in the end.
Thanks to the good people of NetGalley for getting this ARC into my hot little hands.

Lehane book: On the street

OK, yes, it’s election day, and I’m voting and you should do it, too.

But, guys, there’s another big thing happening today.
Yes, I’m talking about the release of Dennis Lehane’s long-awaited Kenzie/Gennaro mystery, Moonlight Mile.
If I hadn’t already been given an ARC (oh, joyous day!) I’d’ve had a copy pre-0rdered at Amazon. This, from a woman who dudn’t buy books.
Get thee to your polling place, and then to the nearest bookstore. I’m serious. You’ll thank me.