Resurrection Walk by Michael Connelly Review

Mickey Haller, the Lincoln Lawyer and his half brother Harry Bosch team up to exonerate a woman framed for the murder of her deputy sheriff ex-husband.

Lucinda Sanz’s ex-husband, Roberto, a LA County deputy sheriff, gets shot to death in her front yard after a domestic argument. Her B-grade attorney Frank Silver convinces her the state’s case is insurmountable and steers Lucinda Sanz into accepting a deal and pleading no contest to manslaughter to avoid life imprisonment even though she knows she didn’t kill her ex-husband and maintains her innocence. After spending five years in prison, she turns to Mickey Haller, the Lincoln Lawyer, for help. When Harry Bosch, again working for his half brother Mickey as an investigator, brings Sanz to his attention, Haller knows reversing a nolo contendere plea is as hard as scaling El Capitan. But once he and Bosch interview Sanz in prison, they come away believing she is innocent and against the odds, Haller begins building a federal habeas corpus case leading to some shocking revelations.

I knew I would get around to reading Resurrection Walk eventually, but I confess I am much more a fan of Connelly’s Harry Bosch novels than I am of the Lincoln Lawyer series, so I put it off. But I was in a bookstore this week, picked up a copy and got started. What I got was a pleasant surprise. Having read every Michael Connelly novel, I think this may be one of his best ever, and that’s saying a lot. First, this book is as much about Bosch as it is about Mickey Haller. I think it’s just about even and even Connelly’s newest major cop character, LAPD detective Renée Ballard, puts in an appearance as does Bosch’s LAPD daughter, Maddie. It all combines for an explosive mix of legal thriller and police procedural. Yes, there’s plenty of the Lincoln Lawyer’s usual dramatic, high octane courtroom brilliance. But Harry contributes just as much to the case and the story, with his investigative chops honed over forty years with the LAPD, mostly as a homicide investigator. There are plenty of surprising twists and suspense galore.

Lincoln Lawyer and Bosch fans alike won’t want to miss this one. Despite thirty-plus years in the business, Connelly never fails to impress. I didn’t stop turning the pages after reading the first one until I finished the book.

Little, Brown and Company released Resurrection Walk on October 31, 2023. I purchased the copy used for this review, which represents my honest opinions.

Book rating: ★★★★★

The Ascent by Adam Plantinga Review

The Ascent by Adam Plantinga is the prototypical modern crime thriller. It’s lean, mean, and action-filled without a single wasted sentence, like experiencing the Die Hard films in prose.

The Ascent introduces Kurt Argento, a basically good, honest Detroit police officer, but a man still reeling over the recent death of his wife and full of rage with a penchant for annoying authority figures. After doing the wrong thing for the right reasons, his superiors charge him with insubordination and force him into retirement. With nothing holding him in Detroit, along with his dog, a Chow-Shepherd mix named Hudson, Argento embarks on a cross-country trip to the West Coast to see the Pacific Ocean.

He stops for the night in a small Missouri town called Rocker. With nothing better to do, he takes in the Rocker Summer Festival event the next day before leaving town. At the festival, he observes a pervert attempting to sexually assault a young girl. Not one to observe a wrong without making it right, Argento takes out a little of his anger on the pervert, a man named Donny Rokus, beating him to an unconscious pulp. When deputies arrive at the scene and question Argento, to his surprise, they show no interest in taking a statement or even his contact information from him. Instead, the deputies suggest he immediately leave town. But they don’t go into detail about why they think it’s such a good idea.

Unfortunately, Argento doesn’t take their advice and waits a little too long to leave town. A sheriff’s department patrol car pulls him over and Argento meets Sheriff Rokus, the pedophile’s older brother. Rokus and another deputy administer a beat down to Argento, arrest him, and jail him on trumped-up charges of resisting arrest and assaulting a law enforcement officer. Things quickly go downhill from there. Sheriff Rokus ships Argento to a privately run state penitentiary in the town to spend the weekend while he awaits arraignment. Argento’s luck gets even worse. During intake, the private prison systems experience catastrophic failures, including loss of internal and external communication and electronically controlled doors opening that give dangerous inmates the run of the prison. Argento suddenly finds himself locked inside a cage filled with murderous predators. The inmates begin roaming and hunting for victims. Making the stakes even higher, there are innocents visiting the prison the inmates want to lay hands on. It’s up to Argento to save the day if he or other innocents intend to leave the stricken, understaffed prison alive.

I first learned of Adam Plantinga when I heard a favorite author who hosts a podcast interview him shortly before the release of Plantinga’s debut crime thriller, The Ascent. Plantinga immediately piqued my interest when I learned from the interview that he is a serving San Francisco police patrol sergeant. There are a handful of authors without law enforcement experience, mostly former crime beat newspaper reporters like Michael Connelly, who write compelling and authentic crime fiction I enjoy. But in the realms of authenticity and vividly realistic prose, it’s hard to beat an author who is or once was a police officer. I grew up reading Joseph Wambaugh novels long before I began my career in law enforcement. And now, after spending over twenty years in the profession, I understand the cop life, cop speak, and especially the gallows humor civilians could never understand. Take the word of someone who knows, The Ascent is as authentic as it gets.

Interestingly, the primary setting of this book is the inside of a prison. It’s interesting for two reasons. First, as I read this book, I felt pretty sure as a cop and before writing the book, Plantinga knew no more than I do about what goes on inside a penitentiary. Once a convicted criminal goes to prison, the police are usually through with them. Detectives sometimes visit prisons to interview inmates about crimes they may have been involved in besides those that sent them to prison. But a patrol officer’s experience with incarceration is usually limited to municipal and county jails. So, it’s obvious to me that Plantinga did some very thorough research because of the realistic description he gives of prison life, and especially about the conditions inside privately run prisons. Coincidentally, I recently researched extensively a privately-run prison in Arizona for one of my own books. That’s how I know how authentic Plantinga’s descriptive narrative is all the way down to electronically controlled doors malfunctioning and sometimes opening when they shouldn’t. That really happens with some of the same results mentioned in this novel.

What makes us choose to read crime thrillers like this one? Is it curiosity? The opportunity to witness or experience terrifying situations from the comfort and safety of our favorite reading chair? Or is it a fascination with the question of what goes on in the minds of criminals? Why do they do what they do? That brings me to the second thing I find interesting about Plantinga’s choice of a prison as the major setting for his novel. A penitentiary and its inhabitants is truly a microcosm that encapsulates the society that we all live in.

We would all prefer to believe that if people like those Plantinga describes in his novel even exist (which most people hope they do not) then at least we believe they must all be locked safely behind bars somewhere. Unfortunately, as any cop can tell you, that isn’t true. Something I learned quickly when I became a cop is the vast majority of civilians, just as I once did, live under an illusion of safety. Not only are there people like Plantinga describes inhabiting prisons, but plenty are also living in the same cities and walking the same streets as the rest of us. Predators seeking prey. As one of my field training officers once remarked, if civilians knew what cops know, they would never leave their homes and that still might not save them. He wasn’t wrong. That’s why I can only laugh whenever I hear some foolish person or self-styled activist group advocating for defunding the police. I’m sorry to be harsh, but those who do that are complete morons with no clue about the kind of society they live in. Those who believe we should abolish the police are encouraged to spend a few days in Juárez across the Rio Grande from El Paso. It’s not that distant from anywhere in the country. That way, they would gain some useful firsthand experience with what it’s like to live in a society without functioning law enforcement. Of course, it’s unlikely that they would survive to return home after even a few days in Juárez, or at least they wouldn’t return whole. But I think their perspective on the need for cops in society would change dramatically. Without the police, the predators would have no obstacles at all.

Now, back to the book specifically. What I find atypical about this novel is the duplicity of our protagonist, Kurt Argento. On one hand, he is a diamond in the rough, risking all to save victims and serve justice. But few people that encounter him know that his motives are not entirely pure. He seeks violence as an outlet for his pent-up rage. We can only feel good about it because he targets individuals worthy of the violence he visits upon them. And that provides the basis of our engagement with him and our willingness to view him sympathetically.

Make no mistake. The violence depicted in The Ascent is not just conceptual. There are stomach-churning scenes that are graphically depicted. Once the shocking gore truly ramps up though, Plantinga has already ensured that the reader is engaged by Kurt Argento’s keen intellect, resourcefulness, and traumatic backstory. What I think makes the story so compelling is Argento’s hyper-awareness of how wrong his compulsions and actions are, his ongoing battle to control his anger and urges for violence so as not to hurt those who don’t deserve it, along with his fear of being exposed for who he truly is.

The Ascent reminds me much of the early Bruce Willis Die Hard movies. I see many similarities between the John McClane (Bruce Willis) and the Kurt Argento characters. This novel is perfect for crime thriller fans looking for nail biting suspense and nonstop action from the first sentence to the very end. There are few books these days that I find I can’t (or won’t) put down after beginning to read, but this is one of them. I hope this is only the first in a Kurt Argento series because I certainly want to read more from the talented and skillful storyteller Adam Plantinga.

I purchased the copy of The Ascent used for this review, which represents my honest opinions. Grand Central Publishing, an imprint of the Hachette Book Group, released The Ascent on January 02, 2024 and it’s available from all booksellers.

Book rating: ★★★★★

Wedding Bandits by Oswald Black

Wedding Bandits by Oswald Black is a unique and intriguing tale about a crew of serial romance scammers. When the crew unwittingly targets the daughter of a mobster, stage a fake wedding, and decamp with all the wedding gifts, including a brand new Porsche 911 convertible, the mobster and his son are soon in hot pursuit and the outcome is likely to be deadly.

Oswald Black’s Wedding Bandits was an entertaining break from a steady diet of crime fiction novels centered on the usual murder mysteries and jewelry heists. Here, readers get instead a unique crime like “catfishing” without the online component. They roll into town, identify a wealthy family that includes a portly, unattractive daughter with slim chances of matrimony and get to work. After the crew of con men have established fake personas, Clyde Morrison, the leader, a handsome devil, courts the ugly duckling until she quickly accepts his marriage proposal. Then, after organizing a scam wedding with a fake officiant, Clyde abandons his “bride” on their wedding night. The crew absconds immediately with all the cash and wedding gifts they can lay hands on and heads to the next town to seek their next mark. Unfortunately for Clyde and his crew, they unwittingly target the daughter of Sylvester Robertson, who they mistakenly believe is an ordinary wealthy construction company owner but is actually a mobster. Once Angie Robertson awakens the morning after the wedding and realizes Clyde has decamped with all the wedding gifts, she calls her daddy. Soon Robertson and his son Sebastian are off in hot pursuit of Clyde and his gang with murder in their hearts.

Wedding Bandits has many characters, and Black does a phenomenal job with the cues the reader needs to keep everyone straight. Each character has a unique voice and personality that shines through, which helps the reader stay engaged with the narrative.

The novel is primarily a slow-burn thriller, and Black skillfully sets up the plot with its interwoven crimes. This isn’t your usual murder mystery or heist crime fiction tale, but that’s part of the appeal, and there is plenty of action.

As Clyde Morrison and his crew finish swindling Angie Robertson and her father with a sham marriage and decamp with the cash and other wedding gifts, they head for another town to seek the next mark unaware of the menace from Angie’s father and brother who are hunting them down for a little payback. Unfortunately for Clyde and friends, the Robertsons are mobsters concealing their criminal interests behind a legitimate construction business, and the romance scammers must evade a genuine threat once it becomes painfully clear.

Wedding Bandits also features an interesting subplot. The Robertsons have troubles of their own besides the jilted Angie. They are the target of an FBI investigation and while they are chasing down Clyde and his crew; the FBI is hot on the heels of the Robertsons. The book quickly establishes what’s at stake for all concerned, and the stakes are high, indeed.

This debut novel by Oswald Black is one of the most skillfully written novels I’ve read this year. The book will please crime fiction fans with its tight plot and engaging narrative that includes plenty of suspense, unexpected twists, and a helping of dark humor that I much appreciated. I eagerly look forward to more from Oswald Black in the future.

Wedding Bandits, independently published, is available in print from June 4, 2024, and the electronic version goes on sale June 11, 2024. I received an advanced reader’s copy of the book from the publisher used for this review, which represents my honest opinions.

Book rating: ★★★★★

The Midnight Feast by Lucy Foley Review

The MidnighList t Feast by Lucy Foley is a mind-bending psychological thriller that explores themes of personal identity, how social influences can determine a person’s ultimate destiny, and a quest for redemption.

Both of Lucy Foley’s bestselling novels The Guest List and The Paris Apartment were obviously popular with readers and critics alike. Having read neither, I’ve only admired her work from afar, so this is my first book from the British author. The popularity of those previous novels boded well for me enjoying her latest novel The Midnight Feast and motivated me to request an advanced reader copy. The novel seamlessly blends mystery and suspense and is chock-full of twists and more than a little creepiness.

I must confess that I disliked almost all the characters in this book, yet that didn’t affect my interest in them or my enjoyment of the story. I’m tempted to believe Foley may have intentionally drawn these characters as a challenge to the reader to engage with them despite their lack of likability. Foley puts the reader in the heads of many of the characters of this book, so we learn who they are and what they are like first hand, as well as from the opinions of the other narrators. This multiple narrator approach made it a challenge to identity the protagonist of the book, but there was never any doubt about the identity of the antagonist, although it wasn’t until near the end when the reader learns just how villainous the person is.

Besides the multiple narrators, Foley also relies on a diary kept by one character to help the reader understand and follow the plot. And the novel alternates between three significant time periods (one period via the diary) throughout, sometimes abruptly, but always adeptly.

Foley delays revealing several secrets until the very end, including what motivates two of the key characters in their respective quests for redemption. It’s a twisty read most certainly and happily there’s satisfying closure at the end where justice comes late.

I found The Midnight Feast a pleasant introduction to Lucy Foley, whose style I found somewhat reminiscent of Agatha Christie. I definitely plan to read more from this author.

William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins, will publish The Midnight Feast on June 18, 2024. I received the advanced readers copy of the book used for this review from the publisher via NetGalley, which represents my honest opinions.

Book rating: ★★★★

Death at the Sanatorium by Ragnar Jonasson Review

Research interviews for an academic dissertation turn into the investigation of a thirty-year-old double murder cold case.

Fresh off the standalone Reykjavik, co-written with Icelandic PM Katrín Jakobsdóttir, Ragnar Jonasson presents an absorbing classic whodunit spinoff from the upcoming television series, The Darkness.

Graduate student Helgi Reykdal and his partner Bergthora have returned to Iceland from the UK, where he will finish his dissertation for his post-grad degree in criminology. Helgi’s topic is a pair of thirty-year-old deaths that occurred in the northern Icelandic town of Akureyri in 1983 at a former tuberculosis sanatorium turned research facility. While doing the research for his paper, Helgi wants to interview the surviving staff members who worked at the sanatorium at the time of the suspicious deaths. As the story progresses, Helgi accepts a position with the Reykjavik police and his dissertation research efforts transition into a full-on re-investigation of the deaths that happened at the sanatorium thirty years before. While the police had closed the case in 1983 as a murder-suicide, some were not completely satisfied with the results. When someone murders one of the surviving sanatorium staff members in Reykjavik, thirty years later, Helgi’s new boss at the police assigns him to look again at the old case to determine whether the recent murder has a connection with the old case in Akureyri. 

This is a slow burner of a mystery, and it took me some time to get into the flow of the book. The early part of the book sets the backdrop for the present-day story with a look back in time at the deaths of two staff members that occurred at the former tuberculosis sanatorium in 1983. Ragnar takes his time in establishing the circumstances of the thirty-year-old case, which is central to understanding the present one set in 2012. The book covers two major timelines, 1983 and 2012 (present-day), and touches on a third, 1950. And while Helgi is the main character and principal narrator, Jonasson presents the viewpoints of many other characters as the story plays out. Having read many of Jonasson’s books, shifting timelines and multiple points of views are techniques he often incorporates in his writing. Sometimes multiple timelines and narrators can make a story complicated and hard to follow, but Jonasson uses these techniques skillfully. In this instance, the story moves along quite seamlessly without undue complexity.

Death at the Sanatorium reminded me of Jonasson’s early works, particularly the Dark Island series featuring Ari Thór. While Helgi Reykdal is a unique character with his own set of foibles, he did at times remind me of the Ari Thór character, my favorite Jonasson character creation, and I enjoyed this book more than some of Jonasson’s more recent novels for that reason.

Jonasson isn’t shy about admitting the time he spent translating Agatha Christie’s novels from English to Icelandic before he began writing his own books made Christie a significant influence on his writing style. As a result, like Christie, Jonasson’s works most usually take the form of classically crafted whodunit mystery novels. That is certainly true of Death at the Sanatorium. Like Christie’s novels, Jonasson’s books feature intricate plots, attention to detail, and clever twists, especially at the end. Again, we find that here.

Fans of classically crafted whodunit mysteries will enjoy this book. If you are a fan of Jonasson’s Dark Iceland series, this book will definitely appeal. Jonasson has a direct writing style with no wasted efforts and skillfully weaves the somewhat remote and forbidding Icelandic setting into his books that add great suspense and keep the pages turning.

Minotaur Books, an imprint of Macmillan Publishers, publishes Death at the Sanatorium September 10, 2024. Victoria Cribb translated the book from the original Icelandic into English. I receieved an advance reader’s copy of the book used for this review, representing my honest opinions, from the publisher via NetGalley.

Book rating: ★★★★

Ghosts of Waikiki by Jennifer K. Morita Review

GHOSTS OF WAIKIKI tells the story of unemployed newspaper reporter Maya Wong, who reluctantly returns home to Hawaii to ghostwrite the memoir of a dodgy real estate developer. Before she can settle into the assignment, a man dies under mysterious circumstances and Maya gets plunged into the middle of a murder investigation. Maya clashes with the lead homicide detective, who happens to be her ex-boyfriend, while finding herself in the sights of the killer as she digs for the truth before she becomes the next victim.

Ghosts of Waikiki by Jennifer K. Morita is an entertaining murder mystery chock full of contemporary issues in Hawaii, including the impact of tourism and out-of-state investment that is pricing the locals out of paradise.

Unemployed journalist Maya Wong reluctantly returns to her native Hawaii to ghostwrite the memoir of dodgy real estate developer Parker Hamilton. But when Charles, the Hamilton family patriarch, dies under suspicious circumstances, Maya can’t resist involving herself in the investigation. The deeper she gets involved, the more she clashes with the lead homicide detective, her ex-boyfriend Koa, and the greater risk Maya runs in becoming a killer’s next victim.

I rarely read murder mysteries featuring amateur detectives because they are often not very realistic. But this one is an exception given the lead character, Maya Wong, is a journalist and her investigative skills as a reporter and her connection to the family realistically applies to the case at hand. She also has an intimate connection with the lead police detective, which gives her access to information about the official investigation even though he continually warns her to stay out of it. But Maya’s curiosity, stubbornness, and the habits she picked up as a news reporter means she just can’t resist getting and staying involved. She quickly learns the only thing more dangerous than hunting a killer is being hunted by one, but Maya persists in trying to find out who killed Charles Hamilton.

I really enjoyed the set-up of this novel. When her California newspaper goes out of business, out of desperation, Maya takes a job ghostwriting the memoir of a controversial real estate developer. This produces angst for her on many levels. As a native Hawaiian who left home for the mainland to pursue a career as a journalist, she feels uncomfortable working with a man she knows does more harm than good for the locals. His huge developments not only force local mom and pop businesses to go under, but developers like Parker Hamilton make it difficult for the locals to buy homes. It’s like she is working for the arch-nemesis of her own people. In addition, Maya must deal with the stress of dealing with the friends and family she left behind when she departed for the mainland.

Maya’s ethical dilemma over writing the memoir gets eclipsed quickly when the patriarch of the Hamilton family, Charles Hamilton II, dies under suspicious circumstances and the cops soon suspect foul play. Unable to resist her past news hound instincts, Maya searches for clues to the killer’s identity, drawing the killer’s attention, and making herself a target. But even when things get dicey, Maya can’t let it go. It almost turns into a full-on cat-and-mouse game, with her never seeming to be fully aware of just how precarious her situation is.

Like most amateur detective murder mysteries, this one aims for the right vibe rather than perfection, but overall, it stays believable. The authentic local Hawaiian manner of speech adds authenticity and makes the characters more relatable to readers. Morita’s endearing writing style reminds me of another California crime fiction writer who has become a recent favorite of mine. I feel she is an exciting fresh voice in crime fiction we’ll be hearing more from. Ghosts of Waikiki is a strong debut which I very much enjoyed reading and recommend to fans of mystery and detective fiction. I hope to meet the character Maya Wong again soon.

Crooked Lane Books, an imprint of The Quick Brown Fox & Company LLC, will publish Ghosts of Waikiki on November 19, 2024. I received an advance review copy of the book from the publisher via NetGalley used for this review, which represents my honest opinions.

Book rating: ★★★★

The Instruments of Darkness by John Connolly Review

THE INSTRUMENTS OF DARKNESS, the twenty-first novel in John Connolly’s Charlie Parker series, is a riveting piece of fiction that seamlessly blends mystery and the supernatural against a shadowy backdrop of horror in an inscrutable, earthy Maine setting.

A young mother, Colleen Clark, stands accused and faces trial for the worst crime a mother can commit, the murder of her child. She claims someone entered the house in the middle of the night and abducted her infant son, and he is still missing. But based on a singular piece of damning evidence, the prosecution, the police, most of her neighbors, and even her own husband Stephen believe she’s guilty and that she disposed of the child’s body. To make matters even worse for Colleen, the local prosecutor and the state attorney general want to use her case to further their political aspirations by convicting her and sending her to prison. But her attorney Moxie Castin believes she is innocent. He hires private investigator Charlie Parker to help him find evidence that exonerates Colleen Clark or at least destroys the state’s weak case. Parker, also convinced of Colleen’s innocence, investigates and soon has plenty of questions about who is responsible for the abduction and possible murder of Colleen’s two-year-old son, Henry, and looks for answers. That puts him on a collision course with the caretakers of an old, twisted house deep within the Maine woods, and the protectors of its evil secrets. As he’s drawn closer to the heart of the mystery and begins to unravel the truth, the greater the peril Parker faces.

Author John Connolly delivers another hauntingly powerful tale with The Instruments of Darkness. This book offers a stark reminder of the folly of regarding everything we cannot explain as phony.

It was only recently that I read my first Charlie Parker novel, Every Dead Thing, the first in the series. By the time I read this one, I had already binged-read the first five novels. I had by then a good feel for the character and had taken the measure of Connolly’s writing style, which I find brilliant. Connolly’s unique strength is weaving together many threads in his stories that add depth and intrigue, and that create apprehension in the reader akin to waiting for an inevitable impending train wreck, as the competing narratives surge toward a shocking climax. 

The background of the Michaud family and the heinous events that take place on their land over generations is an aspect of the narrative that helps create an atmosphere of palpable tension building tantalizingly throughout the story. Connolly blends the compelling supernatural element and adroitly explores the way people’s actions leave an imprint on the earth—whether concrete or ethereal.

Despite the hefty length of the book, five hundred plus words, Connolly has crafted a succinct and efficient plot with no wasted pages, taking the time and space needed to develop an absorbing mystery and the host of well-rounded characters. Who knew a mystery and detective novel could be so terrifying? Even horror fans are going to love this novel. And for Connolly’s thriller and suspense fans, this is classic Charlie Parker.

Emily Bestler Books/Altria, an imprint of Simon & Schuster LLC first published The Instruments of Darkness on May 07, 2024. I received an advance reader’s copy of the book from the publisher via NetGalley used for this review, which represents my honest opinions.

Book rating: ★★★★★

Camino Ghosts by John Grisham Review

Celebrated local novelist Mercer Mann and the affable but sometimes dodgy bookseller Bruce Cable return in Camino Ghosts as master storyteller John Grisham takes us back to paradise with the third novel in his Camino Island series.

When you have a plot that includes the last surviving descendant of Africans formerly enslaved on plantations in the region who escaped and adapted to living in isolation for hundreds of years on a tiny barrier island off the coast of Florida plus a greedy Miami commercial real estate developer, it’s a recipe for an absorbing and heart-warming book you won’t regret reading.

I’m a longtime time fan of both John Grisham and his Camino Island series which represents a departure from the taut legal thrillers Grisham is best known for. I found the first two novels entertaining and immersive reads and the third book, Camino Ghosts, doesn’t disappoint. There is enough that takes place in a courtroom to remind us we’re reading a Grisham novel, but the true thrust of the plot lies elsewhere.

The story opens with Mercer returning to Camino Island for her wedding during the summer break from Old Miss where she is a professor. Mercer still hasn’t found a story for a second book to follow up her chart-topping debut novel when the ever-helpful Bruce introduces her to the true story of Dark Isle, and he suggests Mercer could fictionalize the story as her second novel. Dark Isle is one of two deserted barrier islands between Georgia and Florida. Sometime around 1750 it became a sanctuary for runaway slaves from Georgia. And Bruce says around 1760 a few of the surviving slaves from a slave ship returning from West Africa and bound for Savannah washed ashore after the ship broke up and sank during a storm. Bruce presses Mercer to read a self-published book written by Lovely Jackson, the last remaining descendant of the people living a life of isolation on Dark Isle.

Lovely Jackson claims ownership of Dark Isle as the last remaining descendant and heir. She claims in the book she was born there, lived there for the first fifteen years of her life, and all her people are buried there. Mercer reluctantly takes the book, but when she begins reading it on the plane on the way to her honeymoon in Scotland with her new husband Thomas, she can’t put it down. She wants to write a book about Dark Isle, but decides the story is better suited to non-fiction than a novel. After returning from the honeymoon, Bruce introduces Mercer to Lovely Jackson. They strike an agreement for Mercer to “borrow” Lovely’s story and to write a non-fiction book expanding the story of Dark Isle.

The stakes get raised when a Miami commercial real estate developer announces a plan to develop Dark Isle into a resort with a casino. Bruce brings Lovely together with a friend, a semi-retired famous environmental attorney, Steve Mahon. Steve opposes the proposed development of Dark Isle on environmental grounds and sees Lovely’s ownership claims as the best way to keep it from happening. After Bruce brings him and Lovely together, she agrees to allow Steve to represent her in a lawsuit against the state of Florida to gain legal title to the island.

I hesitate to categorize Camino Ghosts as a thriller like many of Grisham’s other books. Yes, there is tension and suspense at play, but I think it’s more of a general fiction literary work. It doesn’t make the book any less of an entertaining and worthy read. In addition to meeting again many of the main and supporting characters from the earlier books, Grisham introduces us to many fresh nuanced characters in this third installment. I’ve been a fan of Mercer and Bruce since the first book, but the character I loved most in this one was Lovely Jackson. I think she really steals the show, and her story overshadows that of the more familiar characters. After reading the excerpts from Lovely’s self-published book on the history of Dark Isle that Grisham sprinkles throughout the narrative, you can’t help but emphasize with her in her battle for justice against the greedy real estate developer. She is such a sympathetic and likeable character even when at times you aren’t completely certain about how much of her story is fact and how much is fiction.

Forget about taut, courtroom drama. Grisham’s signal triumph in this one is a tightly plotted, feel good read with a few nifty surprises in store for Grisham fans who expect nothing less.

Doubleday, a division of Penguin Random House LLC will publish Camino Ghosts May 28, 2024. I received an advance review copy of the book from the publisher via NetGalley used for this review, which represents my honest opinions.

Book rating: ★★★★★

Every Dead Thing by John Connolly Review

Haunted by the unsolved brutal murders of his wife and young daughter, ex-NYPD detective Charlie Parker embarks on an odyssey that leads him to the heart of organized crime, an old black woman living in a Louisiana swamp who hears the voices of the dead, and to a serial killer unlike any other.

I started reading Every Dead Thing by John Connolly and had one thought. How had I, a crime fiction book reviewer, never read John Connolly before? It has everything I look for in a good detective novel. The prologue, overuse of metaphors, the gritty prose, and sharp dialogue. I was beyond impressed by Connolly’s tone and quality after the first dozen pages.

There is a reason I’d never read Connolly before. Of course, there is. I’d heard of Connolly, obviously. He’s been a bestselling author for quite a long time. I’d even heard of the Charlie Parker series. But I’d been reluctant to pick up a Connolly novel because I’d read several reviews of his books. Yes, the reviews had been reliably favorable, but most of them included references suggesting this series (maybe Connolly’s work in general) have a paranormal or supernatural undercurrent. Other reviews described the series as a fusion of supernatural thrillers and horror.

Nothing against those genres, they simply aren’t in my sphere of interest, especially horror. When I think of the horror genre, I think of Stephen King. King is a fine and successful writer, but after reading a few of his books, I found the horror genre just doesn’t appeal to me, no matter how well written. So, I had avoided Connolly for the same reason I don’t read King. But recently, while browsing the titles on NetGalley, I read the book description of Connolly’s newest Charlie Parker novel, The Instruments of Darkness (Charlie Parker #21). I found the description intriguing enough to request an advance review copy. Then, I decided I should read some past Charlie Parker novels to gain some background on the character. Naturally, I chose Every Dead Thing, the first book in the series. And after reading it, I can’t imagine how I have denied myself the pleasure of reading Connolly’s work until now.

The book opens with a lengthy prologue. One of the best I’ve ever read. I suppose the quality of the prologue should surprise no one. That’s because, according to Connolly’s introduction to the book, he spent six months writing and rewriting it, unwilling to continue with the rest of the book until satisfied he got it just right. I think he succeeded. The value of prologue is its relevancy to understanding the Charlie Parker character. He’s a man haunted by the murder of his wife and young daughter because he knows he failed them and feels heavy responsibility for their deaths. The evening the murders occurred, Parker had argued with his wife and then left and had gone to a bar to get drunk. He returned hours later to find them horrifically murdered and posed in a grisly, shocking way. This background informs much of who Parker is as a character and his motivations. Unlike many prologues I’ve read, this one grabs you and pulls you right into the story.

Parker is another former police detective turned private investigator, having left the NYPD after the death of his wife and daughter and a descent into his own private hell. Similarly to Lawrence Block’s Matthew Scudder, Parker is an unofficial private investigator with no interest in obtaining state licensing. And like Scudder, Parker reminds me a lot of my favorite private detective character, Robert B. Parker’s Spenser, especially his wise-cracking personality. But Parker is a unique character in his own right with his own flaws. As a protagonist, he is both broken and twisted to the extreme.

The story continues to unfold with Parker trying to apprehend a bail jumper, but he ends up seeing the man and his girlfriend shot and killed outside the girlfriend’s residence and then seeing the killer shot dead. From there, Parker takes on a missing person case as a favor to a former NYPD partner that turns out connected to the opening murders and chasing down a serial killer. Finally, Parker moves on from that case after its resolution into pursuit of the serial killer called “The Traveling Man” who killed his family, and that chase takes him from New York south to New Orleans.

As mentioned, I don’t read books with supernatural elements, fantasy, or science fiction. I simply have no desire to read about other worlds when there is already so much more going on in this one than I can handle sometimes. However, the supernatural elements Connolly features here aren’t the distraction from realism I might have expected. They aren’t fantastical in that his characters don’t even seem certain of what they are experiencing. I think what they are experiencing is not paranormality as much as simply the existence of evil, which, in my experience, is something undeniably real and an existing force in the world. In a similar way, I can’t agree much with the opinions I’ve read that Connolly’s books are speculative fiction regarding some fusion with the horror genre. What his prose describes is certainly dark, but again, it’s simply the evil perpetrated by evil people on others in the same ways those of us who read true crime books understand serial killers doing what serial killers do.

I feel the plot works here as a psychological thriller and detective story without the over-complication of supernatural or horror themes. It’s simply the existence of evil and the evil people we view here, and that’s about as real as it gets. The ultimate villains in the book aren’t demons. They are evil human beings bent on visiting evil on other human beings. There’s nothing supernatural about that. It’s all too common in the world we inhabit.

Connolly’s impressive writing, realistic characters, and a dark, convoluted plot are all on full display here. I enjoyed how the story played out and how the investigations took surprising turns. I came away very satisfied with my first Charlie Parker novel, and a little horrified as well, even though I don’t consider it a horror book. Fans of crime thrillers and detective mysteries able to stomach the intensely dark, explicit narratives will find this a worthy read.

Happily, I’ve just discovered a massive series already written and just waiting for me to dive into. I liked Parker and want to get to know him more. After finishing this novel, I immediately purchased Dark Hollow, the second in the Charlie Parker series. While I haven’t yet received the publisher’s approval on NetGalley for the advanced copy of The Instruments of Darkness, I’m certain I’ll read the book at some point even if it’s after working through the other nineteen existing books in the series first.

Simon and Schuster first published Every Dead Thing in October 1999. I purchased the copy used for this review, which represents my honest opinions.

Book rating: ★★★★

When the Sacred Ginmill Closes by Lawrence Block Review

In the dark days, in a sad and lonely place, ex-cop Matt Scudder is drinking his life away and doing “favors” for pay for his ginmill cronies. But when three such assignments flow together in dangerous and disturbing ways, he’ll need to change his priorities from boozing to surviving.

For me, discovering Lawrence Block and his Matt Scudder series reignited my interest in the simple, but by no means boring, hardboiled mystery genre. When the Sacred Ginmill Closes is the sixth book in the series and the sixth I’ve read. A little trivia. This novel was first published on January 1, 1986, four years after the fifth book in the series, Eight Million Ways to Die. This one evidently resurrected Block’s interest in the Matthew Scudder character since he went on to write twelve more Matt Scudder books, the last in 2013.

Usually, I review recently released crime fiction books or those pending release. At first blush, it may seem a little strange I’m reviewing a novel first published in 1986. But I’m doing so for two reasons. I find Scudder and his world so vivid and alluring that I’ve quickly become addicted to the books. I’ve binge read the first six. And it seems only fair to bring them to the attention of other hardboiled mystery fans who haven’t heard of Lawrence Block and his Matthew Scudder character. Fans of Robert B. Parker’s Spenser novels will find the Scudder novels just as enjoyable for similar reasons. Also, it seems there is a renaissance of interest in hardboiled detective mysteries. As an example, a recent check of the book page for When the Sacred Ginmill Closes on Goodreads showed that 247 Goodreads members were currently reading the book and that another 1,803 members have marked it as “want to read.” There are many very good new release novels out there that can’t boast numbers like that.

The Matt Scudder series is classic hardboiled fiction. When you read a hardboiled novel, you have no doubt about what you’ve got in front of you. It’s a unique genre, and a well written hard-boiled novel sets the pace right from the jump. There is something fascinating about the dark, seedy, and deeply cynical style the genre has. Hardboiled stories show us a view of a society where corruption and immorality are the norm, and no one is truly innocent. While the protagonist is usually a detective or someone who takes on the role, we find we are dealing with a deeply flawed individual, and his or her own morality or lack thereof is as much a part of the story as the mystery itself. This protagonist is most often a cynical person who has seen it all and for whom the line between good and evil has long since blurred. Usually, the protagonist has adopted and follows his or her own personal code of right and wrong.

Matt Scudder ticks all the boxes we expect from the protagonist of a hardboiled novel. He’s a loner, has a cynical worldview, and has the predictable flaws. He’s an alcoholic, divorced, and lonely. Yet he prefers his solitary existence. But Scudder has unique characteristics that set him apart from characters like Spenser and Marlowe and Sam Spade. He does private detective work, but isn’t an actual private investigator. Scudder is an ex-NYPD detective who does “favors” for people he encounters, but favors he collects payment for. He simply has no interest in obtaining a private investigator’s license, filing expense reports, or paying taxes. Yet his police training enables him, between bouts of drinking, to solve the cases that come his way in a professional manner.

By the end of the fifth book in the series, Scudder’s habitually hard drinking is causing him physical problems, and he comes to terms with being an alcoholic. But Block, perhaps after returning to the series after a four-year break, wrote When the Sacred Ginmill Closes a little like a flashback to a time when Scudder was still drinking heavily and before he began experiencing serious blackout spells.

The book opens with Scudder having drinks at an unlicensed after-hours bar with acquaintances when two masked armed men rob the bar. The two Irish bar owners want Scudder to find out who robbed the bar and to give the owners the names so that they can take things from there. Scudder reluctantly agrees to do the “favor” but he knows taking a payment for identifying the robbers if he finds them will be the same as accepting blood money. He has no illusions about what type of retribution the Irishmen have in mind. As the story plays out, Scudder ends up doing “favors” for two other acquaintances and eventually the three cases come together in unexpected ways with some rather shocking results.

I enjoyed this book as I did the previous five and will read the rest of the books in the series. Scudder reminds me a little of my favorite gumshoe, Robert B. Parker’s Spenser, but Scudder is a unique character in his own right. And this book and the others are classic hardboiled mysteries, and that’s right down my street.

Book rating: ★★★★