Tag Archives: Edgar

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

 

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Adrian McKinty’s Rain Dogs up next

raindogsSo, Adrian McKinty is quite thrilled with his Edgar nom for the second year in a row in the Best Original Paperback category.  Last year’s nominees included his Gun Street Girl, which lost out by MWA and Literary Lunchbox-wise to Lou Berney’s Long and Far Away Gone.  That being said, I really liked Gun Street Girl.  And he has a pretty darn good shot at the Edgar this year for Rain Dogs.

The book is the fifth in the Detective Sean Duffy series.  Duffy’s an Irish police detective (Carrickfergus CID) in late-1980s Ireland.  He got to work security detail on Muhammed Ali’s visit to Belfast (good stuff), but his younger girlfriend’s moving out, he has to look under his car before he gets into it to make sure he’s not about to be blown up (those mercury bombs, one slip-up and you’re history), and his inept boss can’t even unravel a who-lifted-the-Finnish-big-shot’s wallet case (solution: one of his own traveling companions).  On the plus side, he has a great team in Sgt. “Crabbie” McCrabban and DC Alexander Lawson.

One of the thing I love about the Duffy series is the tone – it’s written in the first person, and Duffy is a great character.   He’s smart, capable, funny, wry, and eminently human.  Bad stuff, scary stuff happens, and he handles it, but there’s not a hint of noir bleakness.  (Not that I don’t also love noir!)

And the “misplaced” wallet cracks open a doorway into a much darker and complicated crime.  The Finnish entourage include Mr. Laakso – a very big deal in Finland – and his colleague Mr. Ek, the twin nephews of the company owner, Nicolas and Stefan Lennatin, as well as reporter Lily Bigelow, on the scene to cover the visit, and Duffy’s former colleague Tony McIlroy, providing security.  The Finns are there ostensibly to evaluate the  location as a potential site for a mobile phone factory.

While in town, the group heads for the one real tourist destination, Carrickfergus Castle.  And the next morning, Lily Bigelow’s body is found at the castle, an apparent suicide.  Duffy has strong doubts about the suicide, but can’t figure out how she could have been murdered, because there is no way the murderer would not have been discovered along with the body.  It’s a locked room mystery of the highest order.  And it’s the second locked room mystery that Duffy’s faced in his career.  Hmmm, what are the odds?

It’s not much of a spoiler to reveal that Lily did not kill herself.  But why she was killed, what she was looking into, and how Duffy, Lawson and McCrabban figure it all out is a great read.  It’s especially frustrating, once the truth is revealed, to see Mr. Ek slip out of Duffy’s clutches, and then particularly satisfying to learn how justice is served, quietly and without fanfare.

I understand that McKinty originally planned for the Duffy series to be a trilogy, and especially with this fifth book, how wonderful it is that he kept going!  He is an assured writer, the book is well-plotted, the characters and camaraderie a plus, and the emotional connection growing.  The break-up subplot has a twist at the end the ensures a new phase of life for Sean Duffy in book #6, which I anticipate eagerly – it’s out March 7 and titled Police at the Station and They Don’t Look Friendly.

Compared to the other books nominated, Rain Dogs is just the work of a more mature and well-developed author.  It’s the whole package and takes the top spot in the Literary Lunchbox Edgar ranking!

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. The 7th Canon – Robert Dugoni
  4. Heart of Stone – James W. Ziskin
  5. 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

Last Up: Canary to win.

canarySo I’m squeaking in under the wire… tomorrow night’s the Edgar Awards Banquet in New York City.   And I just re-read the last book that’s up for the MWA Edgar for Best Novel, Duane Swierczynski’s Canary.

College student Sarafina Holland’s a good girl.  Sarie’s book-smart, savvy enough to fake her way through a college party without getting drunk or high, and a total pushover when it comes to a cute, foul-mouthed guy.  That’s why she says yes when red-chinos-wearing Drew asks her for a lift all the way across town to “pick up a book.”  Even when it’s the night before Thanksgiving, it’s late, and she has to pick up her rehab-counselor dad from the airport early in the AM.  So no surprise that it’s a big shock to her when Drew runs in “for a minute” and comes back out without a book.  And that she panics when a cop stops her and questions her on her third circle around the block, while Drew runs in to “pick up a cheesesteak.”  (That’s an actual cheesesteak, not a euphemism.)  She’s stupidly desperate to protect him, and the next thing she knows, he’s run off and she’s down at the station.  The next thing she knows, she’s a confidential informant.  CI #137.

Her handler is Philly narcotics cop Ben Wildey. His plan is to use Sarie to get through her boyfriend to his dealer, the clever and elusive Chuckie Morphine.  Chuck has ties to some major drug gangs, so it would be a big boost to his career.

And Sarie turns out to be a darn good CI.  Wildey mockingly calls her “Honors Girl,” but it’s a good thing she’s is so smart, because Wildey gets her in deep.  Without her ability to think three or four steps ahead, and to improvise in the heat of the moment, Sarie’d be dead.  (She also has the nerve to step up to a fight, not run away.  It’s a useful attribute).  It’s lucky that she’s also so plucky and likable, because on at least two occasions, those characteristics convince a bad guy to switch to Sarie’s side.

When all is said and done, Sarie comes through and the baddest of the bad guys get their comeuppance, but not without collateral damage.

I’ve simplified the plot tremendously.  Other facts that come in to play in Canary include:

  • Sarie’s mom is dead, her dad is grieving, and 12 year old brother Marty’s kind of lost.
  • Her best friend is dating an older guy.  A mobster.
  • The mobster is hooked up with a cop and they’re killing CIs with reckless abandon.
  • Wildey suspects his own partner of being that cop, but she’s only guilty of being stalked by her ex.  (Sad end to that one.)
  • Space cadet Drew wises up too late.  (Ditto.)
  • Dads and brothers can rise to the occasion.
  • A girl can find living a double life very energizing.

The plot’s great, the primary characters are compelling and even the minor characters are generally well-drawn and engaging.  And one of the things I liked best about Canary was Swierczynski’s way of narrating Sarie’s POV -as a kind of diary-slash-letter to her mother.  (That brother Marty later finds the notebook and tries to call in the calvary is a plus.)  This device allows Swierczynski to have what amounts to a second protagonist in Ben Wildey, who starts out heartlessly using Sarie and ends up growing a heart.

Compared to all the other nominees, Canary is an absolutely fresh take on the crime novel.  Duane Swiercynski‘s a 44-year old guy who has written a pulp fiction series featuring a ex-cop as well as many hard-boiled Marvel comics (including Deadpool  and The Immortal Iron Fist).  Where does he get the insight to write a believable 19-year-old girl?  Sheer talent, I guess.   

Who will win?  For fun, I went and looked up how these books are faring on Amazon.  Canary has 4.2 stars, Night Life 4.7, Footsteps 4.0, Life or Death 4.4, Strangler Vine 4.3 and Lady 4.2   If the Edgars were crowd-sourced, Night Life would win.  As of yesterday, I agreed.  Despite this, I’m giving Canary the top spot.

mwa_logoLiterary Lunchbox Edgar Ranking: Best Novel

  1. Canary by Duane Swierczynski
  2. Night Life by David C. Taylor
  3. Let Me Die in His Footsteps by Lori Roy
  4. Life or Death by Michael Robotham
  5. The Strangler Vine by M.J. Carter
  6. The Lady from Zagreb by Philip Kerr

 

Kerr Again Nominated for Best Novel

zagrebShades of 2012!  Philip Kerr is up again for an MWA Edgar Award for Best Novel for a Bernie Gunther historical crime novel.  This year’s entry is The Lady from Zagreb.  In 2012, it was Field Gray.   He didn’t win in 2012 – the award went to Mo Hayder’s Gone, which I adored – and I had ranked Field Gray fourth on my list.  Click here to read that review.

If you’ve clicked, you know that I struggled mightily with that book.  This one has many of the same issues, but I went into it bound and determined to give it a good shot. It’s set mostly in 1942/43, although the book opens in 1956 with Bernie in a movie theater, watching a film featuring the lovely Dalia Dresner.  This leads him in a reverie, remembering his time together with the movie star.

How did Bernie Gunther, the reluctant Nazi, get hooked up with Dalia Dresner, who was even more fantastic than Hedy Lamarr? It’s a long story.  Very long, given the side trips that Bernie has to traverse to tell it.

Here’s a quick overview:  Bernie is tapped to give a speech at an international police conference at the Villa Minoux. Attorney Heinrich Heckholz wants Bernie to to snoop around while he’s there,  to find some evidence he needs to help Lilly Minoux, who used to own the house, get it back (complicated story).  Bernie’s game.  He finds tons of info, but nothing helpful to Minoux.  When he goes to report, he finds Heckholz is beaten to death with a bust of Hitler in his office. This is treated as black humor.

Fast forward a year.  Joseph Goebbels asks Bernie to help movie star Dalia Dresner locate her estranged father. Goebbels, who is in charge of the German Film Industry, has it bad for Dalia.  Dalia’s married, uninterested in Goebbels romantically, but willing to let him help her.  Sure enough, Bernie is besotted by Dalia and would do almost anything to help her, include traveling to Yugoslavia to find her father.  We get the hint that he might not be the nicest guy.  In exchange for a great car to drive to Yugoslavia in, Bernie also runs an errand for General Schallenberg.

Along the way, Bernie witnesses some horrific cruelties, mass murders that makes the concentration camp gas chambers look humane.  He finds Dalia’s dad, and the man is a monster.  He gets kidnapped and almost tortured by American spies, but gets saved by the Gestapo, who also want to murder him.  Fortunately, they want to get him drunk and throw him off a cliff, and thanks to the highly flammable nature of the drink and the bad guy’s naiveté regarding a final cigarette, Bernie prevails.

Back in Germany, he and Goebbels agree to lie to Dalia.  But of course Daddy dearest comes looking for her, and when he does, he gets a big surprise.  As does Bernie.  Being endowed with great insight,  Bernie deduces the truth.  He figures out a way to save the day, but it requires him to give up Dalia, the love of his life, or at least, his loins.

As I noted in 2012, Kerr has a wonderful way with words.  His convoluted plot, if presented in a straightforward manner, would be dark, depressing, dour…  Fortunately, he has given Bernie a wry sense of humor and the dialogue is often surprisingly breezy.   And as I also admitted, I am not a very good historian.  I do poorly when it comes to the yellow pie slices in Trivial Pursuit.  So I am always distracted by trying to figure out which characters are real and which are not, and if the real ones were really like that, or if Kerr is taking liberties.  I’m pretty sure nobody talked like Kerr makes them talk.  Anyway, the author’s note at the end is very helpful in clearing up details like that.

What did I think this time around?  I definitely liked it way more than Field Gray.  I like the Bernie Gunther character and the plot was much more constrained (although still filled with what-the-heck? moments).  And there’s a final twist that I definitely did not see coming, so props to Kerr for that.

Comparatively speaking, I definitely preferred Lori Roy’s novel Let Me Die in His Footsteps, which has an equally surprising plot twist but is much more character-driven.  Does Lady have an edge over Life or Death?  Not quite, the stakes are much higher for Audie Palmer.  You never really think that Bernie’s in any danger, and you don’t really care about any of the other characters.  And I really was surprised by how much I liked The Strangler Vine.  So here it goes to the #4 spot, where Kerr was last time.  

Note – not sure what is up with the sheer number of not-set-in-the-present nominees.  So far only Life or Death has been set in present day, the other three are all historical!

mwa_logoLiterary Lunchbox Edgar Ranking: Best Novel

  1. Let Me Die in His Footsteps by Lori Roy
  2. Life or Death by Michael Robotham
  3. The Strangler Vine by M.J. Carter
  4. The Lady from Zagreb by Philip Kerr

Roy’s Let Me Die In His Footsteps

footstepsLori Roy is either living a charmed life or is singularly talented.  Or possibly both.  She’s published three novels, and all three have been nominated for Mystery Writers of America Edgar Awards.  Her first book, Bent Road, won the Edgar for Best First Novel in 2012. Her second, Until She Comes Home, was nominated for best novel in 2014, losing out to William Kent Krueger’s Ordinary Grace. Her latest is in the running for Best Novel.  Let Me Die in His Footsteps is set in a small town in Kentucky, moving back and forth between the 1930s and the 1950s.  The focus is on Juna Crowley, as seen through the eyes of her sister Sarah, and Juna’s daughter Annie Holleran.  Like her mother and grandmother, Annie has the “know-how” – a way of knowing what is coming before it comes.

Annie has known that her true mother is Juna, who went away when Annie is a baby, but could come back at any time.  She is watching for her, expecting her, especially now that Annie has reached her day of ascension.  That’s the day, halfway between her 15th and 16th birthdays, when a girl can look down a well at midnight and see the face of her intended husband.  Annie wants to see her future, but what she finds when she heads to the nearest well is more than she bargained for.  Personal mysteries abound, and for a girl with the know-how, Annie has an awful lot to figure out

In the alternating story, Sarah Crowley is yearning for a young man herself.  A neighbor, Ellis Baine, one of many brothers, is the one who draws her eye.  But it’s her sister, Juna, who attracts the men.  Sensual and selfish, Juna uses a mysterious power to get what she wants.  As Sarah knows, Juna has a way of bending a person’s mind in her direction.  Indeed, Juna wishes to go to the fields to have sex with a local man, but Sarah foils her plan and arranges for their younger brother, Dale, to go with Juna so that Sarah can engineer  a casual meeting with Ellis.  When Dale later can’t be found, Juna tells a story of a passerby who “took Dale.”  When all is said and done, the community is convinced that the oldest Baine boy, kidnapped and beat Dale, and raped Juna.  Sarah is skeptical, thinks Juna is to blame, but still leaves Dale in Juna’s care.  Dale dies.  And Joseph Carl Baine is hanged for the crimes.

The repercussions reverberate.  Indeed, Juna is pregnant, and the father assumed to be Joseph Carl.  The baby – Annie – is born much too early, but full size.  And within just a day, Juna packs a bag and is gone forever, only sending a card or letter each Christmas.  One by one, the Baine boys leave town.  Sarah marries John Holleran, a good man who loves her, and takes Annie as her own.  And life goes on until Annie’s ascension day, when all begins to unravel.

By the end of Let Me Die in His Footsteps, all mysteries are resolved, and in ways the reader definitely does not expect.  It’s not quite Sixth Sense surprising, but I let out an “OMG” at one point. The plot, pacing, and suspense are superb.  Roy has an amazing ability to show inner character through behavior.  She is a master of misdirection- hiding the pertinent facts in plain sight, buried in other facts, but obvious upon the reveal.  And perhaps most importantly, her writing is beautiful.  Her description of lavender fields is so lush, you can smell the lavender.

How does it stack up to Michael Robotham’s Life or Death and M.J. Carter’s The Strangler Vine?  We may be three for three when it comes to good reads, but Let me Die takes the top spot on my ranking.  I have three more books to review and rank before April 28, but Roy’s got my bet as of today.  Well-done.

mwa_logoLiterary Lunchbox Edgar Ranking:  Best Novel

  1. Let Me Die in His Footsteps by Lori Roy
  2. Life or Death by Michael Robotham
  3. The Strangler Vine by M.J. Carter