Tag Archives: Jesse Kellerman

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