Tag Archives: A Brilliant Death

Who takes the BPO Edgar?

edgarWell, we won’t know who takes the actual Edgar until the Mystery Writers of America Edgar Awards Banquet, but today’s the day you learn who takes home the Literary Lunchbox  version!  The final nominee for the Edgar for Best Paperback Original is Come Twilight by Tyler Dilts.  Like Rain Dogs, it’s a police procedural, and like Rain Dogs, there’s a love story.  But modern-day California is quite a different setting from late-80’s Ireland.  On the other hand Dilts’ book has a car explosion, so there’s that commonality as well.

twilightThis is the fourth in the series featuring Long Beach police detective Danny Beckett, and the books have been pretty popular, in large part due to the breezy good-natured personality of the main character.  He likes his new girlfriend, spends a lot of nights at her place, but is a little shy about giving her the title.  They watch Downton Abbey and agree that he’s a lot like Mr. Bates.  He worries that his job makes him hard to live with, plus he snores.  He says he’s really only good at two things:  investigating homicides and denial.  And maybe not really denial.

In Come Twilight, Danny’s called to the scene of an apparent suicide, and due to an easily spotted clue (gun in left hand, victim a righty), starts investigating William Denkins’ murder.  Denkins is well-to-do, owns the building, has an ex-wife that he’s on good terms with and a daughter he adores who is married to a not-very-successful restauranteur.  Clues and confusion reigns as Danny searches for Denkins’ tenant, Kobayashi Maru, who turns up dead in a dumpster.  Meanwhile, Danny’s car, which has been having some problems and has to be towed to the shop, explodes in the middle of the night.  Yep, it’s a landmine under the driver’s seat.  Hmmmm…. inept bomber?  Warning?  Hard to say.

Everything’s on lockdown as a  colleague investigates the bombing.  Charming Danny does a number of ridiculous things, including staying at his partner’s house for safety, then taking middle-of-the-night runs to clear his head.   Most ridiculous is stopping by his own house to pick up some clothes, and getting lured by his high-flow showerhead into taking a shower.  One abduction, head injury, and “leave her alone” warning later, Danny’s in the hospital with a concussion.

How Dilts ties up all the loose ends, solves the murder and the bombing, while keeping Danny’s love life intact and his partnership on track is an enjoyable read.  It’s not particularly twisty; the big reveal (which I won’t reveal here)  was heavily foreshadowed.  I liked all the current pop culture references, but they’ll probably date the book in years to come.  At no point is the reader worried that Danny is in any real danger, and there’s not a lot of angst related to any of the other characters situations.  However, it is completely well worth reading.

Where to put it in the ranking?  It’s clearly mid-list.  The question is whether to place it above or below The 7th Canon.  It is truly neck and neck.  While I wish I could call it a tie, I’m going to give Dilts the edge for being slightly less formulaic and more contemporary than Dugoni’s book.

My call:  Adrian McKinty takes the Edgar for Rain Dogs.

mwa_logoLiterary Lunchbox Rankings: Mystery Writers of America Edgar Award, Best Original Paperback

  1. Rain Dogs – Adrian McKinty
  2. A Brilliant Death – Robin Yocum
  3. Come Twilight – Tyler Dilts
  4. The 7th Canon – Robert Dugoni
  5. Heart of Stone – James W. Ziskin
  6. Shot in Detroit– Patricia Abbott

 

Ellie Stone series entry gets Edgar nom

stoneFourth up in the Best Original Paperback category of the Mystery Writers of America Edgar awards is James W. Siskin’s Heart of Stone.  Set in 1961, the series features a young Jewish reporter, Eleonora (Ellie) Stone.  Ellie’s summer holiday with her family in the Adirondacks is interrupted when local sheriff Ralph Terwilliger asks her to photograph two dead bodies nearby.  To all appearances, a teenage boy from an area summer camp and an unknown man of 30 or so both tried to dive off Baxter’s Rock (a good 75 feet above the water), misjudged the jump and died on the rocks below.  Terrible accident?  Or something more sinister? 

While Ellie marvels at the crass ineptitude of the sheriff, she also has the opportunity to renew her acquaintance with Isaac Eisenstadt.  He’s charming, smart, and good-looking, even if he does have a way of assuming that Ellie not as intelligent or cultured as he is.  Isaac’s one of the group at the Arcadia Lodge, a Jewish intellectual community where political discourse and musical performance is accompanied by heavy drinking and lots of sleeping around.  Ellie proves herself a worthy companion for the group, even though Isaac seems more interested in her sexually than in her intellect.

Back to the bodies:  The boy is quickly identified and Ellie learns that he had seen his girlfriend early that morning and was on his way back to camp after their assignation (a little Romeo and Juliet-ish, as he was at a Jewish summer camp and she is the daughter of the local pastor).  The man takes a little longer, but he turns out to be Karl Marx Merkleson, a boyhood friend of the Arcadia Lodge group, who converted to Christianity, changed his name, and became a rich California film producer.

What ties the boy and the man together?  What happened atop that rocky outcropping?  Along the way to discovering the answer, Ellie becomes deeply embroiled in the interpersonal relationships of the Arcadia Lodge group, learning their secrets – some banal, some distasteful and one heartbreaking.  There are plenty of red herrings along the way, although the astute reader may divine the answer earlier than the author expects.  (The relevant clue was not sufficiently buried.)

There’s a lot of Jewish intellectual social milieu in Heart of Stone, and I can only assume it’s accurate – here’s an interview I found online that expounds upon that a bit.  Overall it’s an entertaining read and I’m likely to go back to the beginning and read the three earlier books in the series.

It’s pretty interesting that at least three of the four books so far in this category are set in the pastA Brilliant Death in 1963, The 7th Canon in 1987, Heart of Stone in 1961.  Even Shot in Detroit, while published just last year, is set in 2007.   Overall, while Ellie Stone is a bright and likable main character, I found Siskin’s Heart of Stone to be less compelling than the Yocum and Dugoni books – so it takes the #3 ranking, while Shot in Detroit keeps its spot at the bottom.

mwa_logoLiterary Lunchbox Rankings: Mystery Writers of America Edgar Award, Best Original Paperback

  1. A Brilliant Death – Robin Yocum
  2. The 7th Canon – Robert Dugoni
  3. Heart of Stone – James W. Ziskin
  4. Shot in Detroit– Patricia Abbott

 

 

Next up: Dugoni’s The 7th Canon

dugoniAfter the first two nominees in the Best Paperback Original category of the MWA Edgar awards, I was totally ready for a legal thriller.  That’s a genre that experienced author Robert Dugoni is familiar with (see his David Sloane series).  Dugoni’s  The 7th Canon is a classic of that genre.

Young, idealistic, talented lawyer?  Check, Peter Donley. Experienced mensch of a mentor?  Yep, Uncle Lou Giantelli.  Dirty cop?  Check, Dixon Connor.  Unethical politician?  Of course, and for variety, it’s a father/son duo.  Experienced private detective on hand to save the lawyer’s bacon?  Yes, Frank Ross.  Innocent client accused of heinous murder?  Absolutely, and he’s a priest!  Father Thomas Martin.

The action is set in 1987, but the plot is timeless, and frankly, I kept looking for a plot point that would require that time frame and couldn’t find one.  The crime in question is heinous indeed.  Someone has tortured and murdered a male teenage prostitute and the body is discovered in Father Martin’s homeless shelter.  A cop at the scene breaks into Father Martin’s study and discovers the murder weapon as well as a cache of violent pedophile pornographic photographs.

It looks bad, and Donley is thrown in over his head when his Uncle Lou suffers a heart attack.  Still, he does his best, and is mystified when it appears that the prosecutor is hinting at a plea agreement – a guilty plea for 25 years to life, with a recommendation for 25 years.  Donley may have only three years of experience, but this sets off his radar – it just doesn’t make sense.  The prosecutor should be all-in for the death penalty.   This might be tempting for the lawyer, but Father Tom would rather be put to death than say he is guilty when he is not.  That leaves the legal team with only one option:  find the real killer.

The legal maneuvering is first rate, the plot escalates nicely, and dangerous situations abound.  Dugoni gives Donley a compelling backstory – at age 18, he may have murdered his abusive father.  The story has numerous twists and turns, but moves forward to the expected victory on the side of justice.  In fact, that may be my only quibble – that the discoveries are too easily made along the way.  It reminds me of the Rockford Files character played by Tom Selleck, who would declare “it’s time for a clue!” and one would handily come forward.  That Lance White led a charmed life.

Still, it’s almost too harsh to wish for more dead ends.  And I’d probably complain about a  switcheroo ending (the priest really did it!).  But how does The 7th Canon stack up to Shot in Detroit and A Brilliant Death?  It’s clearly superior to Shot in Detroit just for quality of writing and plot coherence.   When it comes to A Brilliant Death, I’m really quite fond of the framing device of looking back to past events, and Yocum does an excellent job of it, maintaining the suspense and holding back critical information in a way that feels natural (not like cheating).   For me, it’s neck and neck between Yocum’s and Dugoni’s books, and I give a slight edge to A Brilliant Death for the creativity of the plotting.  It keeps the lead.

mwa_logoLiterary Lunchbox Rankings: Mystery Writers of America Edgar Award, Best Original Paperback

  1. A Brilliant  Death – Robin Yocum
  2. The 7th Canon – Robert Dugoni
  3. Shot in Detroit– Patricia Abbott

Abbott and Yocum: Both new to me

The first two books I’m reading, reviewing and ranking for the Literary Lunchbox Best Paperback Original Edgar are Patricia Abbott’s Shot in Detroit and A Brilliant Death by Robin Yocum.

Yocum’s got great credentials:  he’s a former crime and investigative reporter, winner of more than 30 awards for journalism, and the author of several previous novels, one of which was USA Today’s 2011 book of the year for mystery/suspense.  On the other hand, Abbott has published 65 short stories, has won the Deringer award, and is the mother of Edgar award winner Megan Abbott.  I expected a pretty tight race between the two.

I’ll go ahead and cut the suspense:  Yocum crushed it.

shot-in-detroitShot in Detroit has a great concept:  Late-30s, single white female photographer is living on the edge and looking for her artistic edge when her African-American boyfriend calls to ask her to photograph one of his corpses.  (It’s okay because his a mortician and the family is requesting it.)   Voila!  An artistic hook.  Plus, she really gets into portraying the dark variety of death.  But there’s no central crime, no mystery to be solved, and when photographer Violet Hart photographs her own boyfriend’s crushed corpse, it’s jump the shark time.  This is a book that could have been so much more.  Best part:  a real understanding of Detroit and its neighborhoods.

brilliantMeanwhile, Robin Yocum’s A Brilliant Death is reminiscent of John Hart’s Down River (although not as dark).  Mitch Malone, the narrator, promises to relate a story that he has kept a secret until the death of his best friend’s father… the story of how he and that friend, Travis Baron, investigated the disappearance (and as becomes evident, the murder) of Travis’ mother.  How their graduation night took a tragic turn.  And how ultimately, justice prevailed.  The book is suspenseful, well-plotted, characters compelling and believable (both heroes and villains), and the writing first-rate.

A Brilliant Death takes the top spot.

Literary Lunchbox Rankings: Mystery Writers of America Edgar Award, Best Original Paperback

  1. A Brilliant Death – Robin Yocum
  2. Shot in Detroit – Patricia Abbott

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