Tag Archives: Ace Atkins

Third Quinn Colson book a winner

brokenThe new Ace Atkins novel featuring ex-Ranger-turned-Sheriff Quinn Colson came out on May 30, and I have to say, it’s a winner.  The Broken Places is a much more focused and compelling narrative than Atkins’ book The Lost Ones, and easily rivals his first Colson outing, The Ranger.   Both previous books were nominated for MWA Edgars for Best Novel; you can read my reviews here (Ranger) and here (Lost Ones).

The plot’s compelling.  Quinn’s sister Caddy has cleaned up her act, is back in town with her son, and has a new love interest:  fundamentalist preacher Jamey Dixon.  The downside:  Dixon’s a murderer who found Jesus in prison.  Is it all a con?  And what’s going to happen when Esau Davis and Bones McGee get to town?  Their prison break was successful, they’re armed and dangerous, and they think Dixon is their key to big money.  Talk about tension.

Of course, recurring characters recur and are used effectively:  Quinn’s married soul-mate, Anna Lee, is back in his life, further messing with Quinn’s mind.  Buddy Boom is on hand for heavy lifting and unquestioning support.  And nemesis Johnny Stagg’s involved with the Dixon-Davis-McGee storyline, stirring the pot and making the most of a big situation.  Add a tornado to ratchet up the tension, and The Broken Places is a book you won’t want to put down.

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Gone Girl rockets to top of list

gone-girl-book-cover-medI read Gone Girl before the hype, and I want full credit for the discovery!   Amazingly, I did not review it at the time.  (I don’t always review everything I read, mostly due to time constraints.)  So, no proof.  Sigh.  Reading Gillian Flynn’s twisty novel of suspense was perhaps even more enjoyable the second time around.  It was a bit like seeing The Sixth Sense for the second time – you don’t get the shock (What?  You mean Bruce Willis has been dead all along?) but you do get the fun of seeing how well the movie is put together.  And Ms. Flynn has done a bang-up job putting Gone Girl together.

Here’s the premise:  Nick Dunne and his wife Amy are madly in love.  They’re happy with their bookish life in Manhattan, but tragedy strikes in the form of job loss for the couple and a fatal illness for Nick’s mom, so they head back home to Missouri, where Amy invests the last of her trust fund in a bar for Nick and his twin, Margo, to run.  Then Amy disappears on their fifth wedding anniversary, and all indicators point to a kidnapping.  Or do they?   The reader begins to suspect that Nick has killed his wife.   And so do the cops.  Even faithful sister Margo has her moment of suspicion.  But no!  Nick’s a self-centered jerk, no doubt about it, but not a killer.  So what’s up?

Spoiler alert.

For those who have somehow not heard the secret to Gone Girl, Amy’s not dead.  In fact, she’s a conniving psychopath.  She knows Nick is having an affair, and she wants to punish him.  Her plan: to set Nick up for “murdering” her, even going so far as to kill herself in a way that makes determining the time of death difficult, so that the discovery of her body removes all reasonable doubt.   Not surprisingly, the suicide plan falls by the wayside.  And, as she intends, Nick realizes he’s been set up.  He feels the jaws of the trap.  But knowing her as well as he does, he is able to  manipulate her into coming home.  All is well!  Not.  For just as he looks forward to leaving the marriage, Amy schemes to tie him to her even more tightly.  How?  A baby.

Needless to say, the plot is killer and the characters are extremely compelling, including sister Margo, Amy’s parents, whacky hottie/paramour Andie, and especially Nick’s crafty lawyer.  In the final pages, you shudder for Nick and Amy’s unborn baby.  Gone Girl has taken the lead in the race for the MWA Edgar for Best Novel.  Also, I’m totally going to see this movie.

MWA Edgar for Best Novel rankings:

  1. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
  2. Sunset by Al Lamanda
  3. The Lost Ones by Ace Atkins
  4. Potboiler by Jesse Kellerman

Al Lamanda’s Sunset up for Best Novel Edgar

sunset“When you’ve already lost everything, you have nothing left to lose.”  It may be a common trope – the broken man, wracked with guilt because he brought about the murder of his wife and family – but Al Lamanda makes the most of it in Sunset.  Sunset is Lamanda’s fifth book and his first Edgar finalist, for Best Novel.

Police Detective John Bekker’s been in the bottle since the brutal rape and murder of his wife twelve years previously, which was witnessed by his five-year-old daughter.  The daughter, Regan, hasn’t spoken since and lives in an institution.  He’s living the semi-functional heavy drinking life in a trailer on the beach and his closest friend is Oz, who is similarly inclined.  And then one day, Bekker is kidnapped and held captive for days.  In fact, just enough days to get him clean and sober.  Which is just how Eddie Crist wants him.

Eddie’s dying.  He’s also the mob boss that John’s been blaming all these years for the death of his wife and ruination of his daughter.  But Eddie denies it and gives Bekker an assignment:  find out who really did it.  Because Crist is worried that it was his son, and he’d really like to die knowing for sure.

Sure, it’s over the top.  But boy, does Lamanda nail it.  The characters are real.  The situations they get in are not just words on the page, but suck you in and make you feel it.  And when the plot twists are exactly what you expect, it’s still okay because he does it so well.   Example: John Bekker is attracted to his sister-in-law Janet and feels terrifically guilty when they get involved, but it turns out that Janet feels even guiltier because she’s been secretly in love with him all along.  I mean, really!  But I ate it up.  With a spoon.

The only annoying downside:  I guessed way in advance who really did it.  Because the cop who is betrayed by those closest to him is also a trope.

So how does Sunset stack up against Potboiler (currently #2) and The Lost Ones (at #1)?  For voice, I’m going to say it’s a 3-way tie.  They could not be more different, and yet they are all excellent.  For plot, I’m giving it to The Lost Ones, but for most-likely-to-be-made-int0-a-movie, it’s Sunset all the way.  For charm and innovation, it’s Potboiler.  But when it comes down to sheer enjoyment, I’m moving Sunset to the top of the rankings.  So here we are.

MWA Edgar for Best Novel rankings:

  1. Sunset by Al Lamanda
  2. The Lost Ones by Ace Atkins
  3. Potboiler by Jesse Kellerman

It’s the Ace Atkins:Jesse Kellerman smackdown for the Edgars

Ace Atkins

Ace Atkins

Jesse Kellerman

Jesse Kellerman

The guys are up first, with Ace Atkins and Jesse Kellerman as the first two writers under for consideration for the Mystery Writers of America Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best Novel.  As promised, I am reading, reviewing and ranking the nominees.

The first book in Atkins’ Quinn Colson series was a finalist for the Edgar for Best Novel last year, ultimately losing out to Mo Hayder’s Gone.  In my review of The Ranger, I liked the voice of the novel, the characterization, and found the plot suitably twisty, and it ended up #2 in my list.

lost onesThis year’s finalist, The Lost Ones, has the same positive attributes of The Ranger.   The plot revolves around gun-running, with Quinn’s high school buddy Donny Varner up to his neck, and possibly over his head, in the business.  He comes by it naturally – after a stint in the armed forces, Donny came back to town and opened a shooting range and gunshop (although the guns in question are Army issue and plenty illegal).  A side plot has Quinn and his kickass lady deputy Lillie Virgil investigating a foster-care scheme that’s really a baby-selling ring.  Of course, the two plots intersect.

While the book’s not a compulsive page-turner, it’s pretty engaging and I loved the ending.  Let’s just say true love blossoms in some unexpected places and Donny turns out to be not such a blackguard after all.

Jesse Kellerman also comes by his accolades naturally; although he probably doesn’t love to think that writing mysteries is in his DNA, his parents are Jonathan and Faye Kellerman, each of whom have penned many a best seller.  In fact, Père Kellerman won the Edgar for Best First Novel back in 1986 with When the Bough Breaks.

potboilerJesse Kellerman’s Potboiler is a particularly charming book, especially for writers.  Protagonist Arthur Pfefferkorn was a literary wunderkind… now he has written the first 20 pages of his second novel dozens, if not hundreds of times.  Back in high school, Arthur was editor-in-chief of the high school paper; his best friend Bill was business manager.  In college, Arthur was once again editor-in-chief, Bill served as his ad manager.  That’s why it was particularly tough for Arthur when Bill not only became an internationally acclaimed thriller writer, but married Carlotta, the girl Arthur loved.

Potboiler opens with the news of author William de Vallée’s disappearance and presumed death at sea, followed shortly by the funeral, where Arthur and Carlotta reconnect and Arthur discovers that even after all these years, Bill still worshipped his talent.  In Bill’s office, Arthur discovers an unpublished manuscript… and of course he steals it and publishes it as his own.  This leads to the discovery that the books were actually spy code and responsible for the upheaval in West Zlabia, and Arthur’s transformation into potboiler author-slash-spy.  Madcap adventures follow.

Pluses for Potboiler:  Pfefferkorn is fantastic and the voice of the novel – pretty much Pfefferkorn’s personality – is engaging.  It’s filled with interesting and quirky characters, among them a crazy third world dictator and his put-upon spouse.  And the ending avoided the clichéd happily-ever-after with the lovely, aging Carlotta.  On the downside:  The last half of the book was entertaining, but not compelling.  And the ending was not particularly satisfying, in my opinion. As a result, despite my affection for Potboiler, it’s The Lost Ones at #1.  (So far.)

Best Novel Edgar Rankings:

  1. The Lost Ones by Ace Atkins
  2. Potboiler by Jesse Kellerman

 

Pondering the international flavor of this year’s Edgar nominees

Of the authors who have books nominated for the Mystery Writers of America Edgar Allan Poe award for Best Novel, only one’s American:  Ace Atkins.  Mo Hayder is British, Keigo Higashino is Japanese, Anne Holt is Norwegian, and Philip Kerr is British.  Hmm.  It got me thinking – is this an unusual year, or is there usually such an international flavor?

Let’s check it out.  I visited the MWA Edgar website, which has an awesome, searchable database.  Seriously, check it out here.  Want to know if your favorite author ever won an Edgar?  Want to know who won every year for the last ten years so you can make a library run?  Whatever you want to know, it’s there.

From 2003 to 2011, there were 48 books and 44 authors nominated for a Best Novel Edgar.  Michael Connelly, Ken Bruen, Laura Lippman and John Hart were all nominated twice – and John Hart won in both years!  Connelly, Bruen, and Lippman did not receive the award either time they were nominated in the last ten years.

Of the 44 nominees, 29 (or 2/3) are American.   The other 1/3 are not.  Of these: 4 are British.  4 are Irish.  3 are Scottish.  1 is Japanese. 1 is Norwegian.  1 is Swedish. 1 is South African.

So – yay!  I’m not nuts.  This year’s MWA nominees for Best Novel are definitely skewed towards the international.

But how does a book get nominated, anyway?  The work must be submitted for consideration, and to be considered, it must have been published in the United States for the first time during the year previous (so 2012 submissions must have been published in 2011).  Publishers must have met the MWA criteria.  For Best Novel, publication must have been in hard copy. Publishers are expected to submit the works, but authors or agents may do so.

And from here, it’s a big blur.  The MWA website is weak in this regard, it appears that either how the works are judged is considered common knowledge or it is considered proprietary.  I do know that many people read the submissions and there is an ongoing process to winnow it down to the top six and then the ultimate winner.  There’s no nomination committee and then voting – it’s all done by the same people.

Here’s a blog post from last year from Bruce Hollingdrake at The Bookshop Blog.  It’s pretty helpful.

Field Gray the Final Entry in MWA Edgar Race

Are you an 80-year-old guy, like my dad?  You’ll probably love Field Gray, the 7th Bernie Gunther novel in the series by Philip Kerr.  It’s the final nominee for the Mystery Writers of America Edgar for Best Novel.  I suppose you would classify it an “historical thriller.”

This novel opens in 1954, with the much-traveled Bernie in Havana.  He’s not on the right side of the law, but nobody seems to be, including the gorgeous girl he’s been blackmailed into taking with him on a boat to Haiti.  Gorgeous Melba may be, but she also murdered a man for Castro and when they’re stopped by the U.S. Navy, its off to Guantanamo Bay for the two of them.

The set-up is just an excuse to get Bernie into the hands of the Americans, who question him closely about his past as a policeman – a real cop, who solves crimes, not a fake cop who uses his badge to commit them on the behalf of Nazis – during WW2.  It emerges that over the years, Bernie had twice saved the life of the man who is now a much-reviled East German security chief.  The CIA would love to get their hands on Erich Mielke.

Here’s a sample of the book:  It was easy to forget that we were in Germany.  There was a U.S. flag in the main hall and the kitchens — which were seemingly always in action — served plain home-cooking on the understanding that home was six thousand kilometers to the west.  Most of the voices we heard were american, too: loud, manly voices that told you to do something or not to do something – in English.  And we did it quickly, too, or we received a prod from a nightstick or a kick up the backside.  Nobody complained.  Nobody would have listened, except perhaps Father Morgenweiss.

The novel is in first person, and everything we see is through Bernie’s eyes.  The plot is terrifically wide-ranging and has the knotty twists of a John LeCarre spy thriller.  It’s packed with action, has a love story, includes real historical figures, and addresses the key sociopolitical issues of its time, while at the same time playing in the gray area between black and white, good and evil.  It’s getting great reviews.

So why didn’t I like it?  Why was reading it like doing homework?  Disclaimer:  I’m not a good historian.  The time frame – the 30s to the 50s – is not a time I lived through and while I adored Schindler’s List, the thrill of a story that was set everywhere from Cuba to New York to France to Germany to Russia is not very thrilling, in and of itself.  Field Gray is dense, very talky, and I found myself wondering as I read it just what the mystery was.  I certainly wasn’t in suspense, because I knew darn well Bernie was not going to get killed and other than that, I didn’t care about anybody else in the book.

Needless to say, Field Gray is not my fave.  Boy, will my face be red if it wins the Edgar!  But I have to call them as I see them, since the name of this game is “If Literary Lunchbox gave out Edgars…”

For the quality of the writing and in recognition that Field Gray is just not my cup of tea and so perhaps I am judging too harshly, I put it above 1222, but below The Devotion of Suspect X.  Come April, we’ll see.

  1. Gone by Mo Hayder
  2. The Ranger by Ace Atkins
  3. The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino
  4. Field Gray by Philip Kerr
  5. 1222 by Anne Holt

Edgar nominee Gone – the one to beat?

Faithful readers will know I flipped over Mo Hayder‘s crime novel, Gone, last year.  Enthusiasm galore documented here.  Explored the backlist, with subsequent thoughtful gushing here. So it was with great delight that I saw it was on the nomination list for the Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best Novel.  And as I have been reading the other nominees, in the back of my mind has been the nagging thought that I might be predisposed to rank Gonehighest just because I “discovered” it.   This led to a great deal of reflection on the options – do I read it last so the other novels have a fair shot?  Do I read it first and get it over with?  Read it somewhere in the middle?  In the middle it is.

And I have to say, rereading it was a pleasure.  The second time around with any mystery, the pressure’s off.  You know how the plot will turn out, so the page-turning is not quite so frantic.  You can enjoy the turn of the phrase, the character interaction, the turning points in a way that you never can the first time around.  Which of course, leads me to posit that I need to re-read all the other nominated books to make an even playing field.  Bah, enough.

I won’t rehash my previous review, except to say that Gone is well-written.  The characters of Flea Marley and Jack Caffery are so real they jump off the page.  The twists and turns are smart and you don’t feel like a dummy for not guessing the bad guy, because nobody else does either.   So how does Gone stack up against the other nominees?

When it comes to plot, characterization, and reader engagement, Gone has it all over the other entries.  For voice, The Ranger may edge it out, just because Atkins’ voice is so distinctive.  Still, with only Phillip Kerr’s Field Gray left to read, it looks like Gone‘s the one to beat.  Here is the Literary Lunchbox ranking for the Edgar to date:

  1. Gone by Mo Hayder
  2. The Ranger by Ace Atkins
  3. The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino
  4. 1222 by Anne Holt