Tag Archives: Michael Connelly

Three new books by old friends

The only thing more exciting than the discovery of a new author you love is the upcoming publication of new books by authors you already adore.  Some fall into the “pre-order this in hardback” category (Michael Connelly, Louise Penny, Ian Rankin, Sue Grafton, and more).

yBittersweet for me was reading Sue Grafton’s Y is for Yesterday, because Grafton has announced that she’ll be retiring upon publication of the Z book (Z is for Zero).  After 35 years and 25 Kinsey Millhone books, she’s ready to be done.  I’ve read every Kinsey book starting with A is for Alibiso slipping between the covers with her new one brought the same pleasures – familiar characters, a little spicy language and potential romance, and a  solid mystery to be solved by the PI with (now) plenty of experience.   The question – who’s blackmailing the ex-con scion of a wealthy family with a sex tape that shows him and several other teens raping a teenage girl?  Fritz McCabe is just out of jail, having done his time for killing one of his classmates, and his parents put Kinsey on the case.  As usual, the story is much more convoluted than it originally appears, and when it all unravels, the ending is a surprise, but not surprising.  Because time passes much more slowly in Kinsey’s world of Santa Teresa, California, the year is 1989.  No internet, no Google, no cell phones – but plenty of shoe leather and face-to-face interviews.  Classic.

glass housesA more thrilling read is Louise Penny’s new Chief Superintendent Gamache novel, Glass Houses.  I came to Penny midseries, but went back to begin Superintendant at the start, with Still Life.  I found it to be full of charm, heartwarming and clever, an original voice.  That has continued through the series.  With Glass Houses, as usual, Armand Gamache has a small band of ultra-loyalists to work with, including his now son-in-law Jean-Guy Beauvoir and newly minted Inspector Isabelle Lacoste, the colorful denizens of the small village of Three Pines, and the trust of those at the highest level of the Canadian government.  There are two questions to be addressed in the book:  why is a costumed figure haunting the Three Pines village green?  And will Gamache be successful in bringing down a drug cartel that is gathering so much power, he expects it will take over the country if it is not stopped?  It is no surprise to faithful readers to learn that the answer to both questions are resolved successfully, but not without great personal cost.  As Penny has ratcheted up the stakes with each Gamache book, it has occurred to me that there can surely only be so many times that the bad guys underestimate our protagonist.  Gamache is always playing the long game against difficult odds.  That, and Penny’s willingness to harm and even kill main characters we have come to know and love, adds a nail-biting quality to the already considerable tension.

late showThird up is Michael Connelly’s The Late Show.  Unlike Grafton and Penny, Connelly is not delivering another book in an already loved series (Harry Bosch, Mickey Haller), but taking a flyer with a new lead character, LAPD detective Renee Ballard.  Brave man to take on a female protagonist, and he does an good job portraying the challenges and the characteristics of this young female.  Connelly’s given her the quirk of homelessness – she surfs and spends many nights with her dog in a tent on the beach – which I found unnecessary.  (I imagine he’ll dispense with this or use it as a pivotal plot point in a future book.)  Ballard’s working mostly on her own on the night shift (nicknamed “the late show”) as punishment for filing a sexual harassment complaint against a supervisor.  Still, she’s does her best for the many victim she meets, and works hard to shine while doing so.  It’s tough, because she’s supposed to hand off the cases she catches to the detectives who work days.  Kind of like a doctor who always does the intake, and never gets to cure anybody.  Still, she’s determined to get to the bottom of the ruthless beating of a transgender prostitute – a victim type that is often marginalized by the police – and also to figure out what really happened in a nightclub shooting.  Needless to say, she does, and it’s a pretty wild ride.  My take – definitely a hit and a series I will be sure to read.   

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Homage to Sherlock Holmes

holmesAs you know, the Edgar nominees are out and I am eager to begin reading, reviewing, and ranking, but first I have a number of other books to address, Lunchbox-wise.

One that caught my eye in the New York Times book review section was In the Company of Sherlock Holmes.  This book of short stories is edited by Laurie King, who writes the Mary Russell series, and Leslie Klinger, a Holmes expert.

The stories are inspired by Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories and were written by some mighty familiar names, including Sara Paretsky, Jeffrey Deaver, Denise Hamilton, John Lescroat, and Michael Connelly, among others.  Andrew Grant contributed “Dr. Watson’s Casebook,” a story told social media-style, including thumbs up and thumbs down, invitations to events, and chat rooms.  There’s a story told in graphic novel style, by Leah Moore and John Reppion, with illustrations by Chris Doherty and Adam Caldwell.  I will admit that neither of these two genre-benders were my favorite!

Sara Paretsky

Sara Paretsky

That honor goes to Sara Paretsky, whose twist on Holmes (in “The Curious Affair of the Italian Art Dealer”) pits the acknowledged expert against the even more clever American detective, Amelia Butterworth.  Holmes underestimates Miss Butterworth, who handily outsmarts him.  The Butterworth character was created by American crime novelist Anna Katherine Green ten years or so before Holmes made his appearance, so this clever pairing of dueling detectives works on two levels!

Sherlock Holmes is clearly enjoying a resurgence of popularity – I love both the  Benedict Cumberbatch/Martin Freeman and the Jonny Lee Miller/Lucy Liu versions on TV – and both casual and committed fans should enjoy this book!

Martin Freeman as Dr. Watson and Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes in Sherlock.

Martin Freeman as Dr. Watson and Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes in Sherlock.

Lucy Liu as Watson and Jonny Lee Miller as Sherlock Holmes in Elementary

Lucy Liu is Dr. Watson and Jonny Lee Miller plays Sherlock Holmes in Elementary.

New Lincoln Lawyer from Connelly

godsLife gets busy, I keep reading, but reviewing falls by the wayside.  I’ve got a stack of books to tell you about that is embarrassingly high.  I’m starting with Michael Connelly’s The Gods of Guilt because it is a) new and b) totally gift-worthy.  It’s the fifth novel in the Lincoln Lawyer series (I’m not counting Mickey Haller’s brief appearance in the Harry Bosch book, Nine Dragons).

Here’s the set-up:  As usual, Mickey is scrambling for cases.  He still prefers to work out of the back seat of his town car, with his driver up front, but now he’s got a bit of an entourage.  Bills to pay.   And he’s got a new client – an Internet pimp named Andre La Cosse is accused of murdering one of his girls, Giselle.  The twist is that the person who recommended Mickey to Andre is the murder victim.  Turns out she was an old client who supposedly left the life after testifying against a big-time criminal.  Mickey is soon convinced that he has that rarest of clients: an innocent man.  Not a nice man, of course.  But not guilty.

As always with Connelly, the book is very well-plotted, the characters are three dimensional, and the danger is real.  It’s a legal thriller- and boy, does that courtroom work shine.  How Haller gets unnamed bad guy A to flip on unnamed bad guy B – bad guy names withheld to avoid spoiling your enjoyment – is smart and risky, just what you’d expect.

The Lincoln Lawyer series has a lighter feel and a lot of humor in comparison to other courtroom dramas, but Connelly doesn’t rely on formula.  Where Mickey was as sassy as a newly-minted penny at the start of the series, he’s now a bit more burnished, more self-reflective, and a little sadder.  He’s got a lot of baggage and made some bad decisions.  It only serves to make the character deeper and more interesting.

So hie thee to your local independent bookseller for a copy or two, wrap them in brightly colored paper and place gently under the tree for opening Christmas morning.  Guaranteed to make for a comfy afternoon by the fire.

Printers Row membership pays off with Michael Connelly – update!

You guys remember this post, right?  Where I kvetched about being a chump for joining Printers Row and paying extra for something that I thought should be a regular part of the Chicago Tribune?  Even worse was seeing that the price went down, down, down for people who just subscribed to the journal, rather than paid for membership… the perks of which I never took advantage of.

Until now.  Yes, I went as a VIP to the Printers Row Live event where Julia Keller, whom I adore, interviewed Michael Connelly.  Third row.  Great view.  Then, thanks to my purple member wristband, I was third in line to get my book signed. He smiled.  He wasn’t tired yet.  Awesome.

Want more pics of Connelly and the event?  Check out Trib Nation’s Facebook page.

It was a great event.  Michael Connelly is a wonderful crime novelist.  His main character is LA homicide detective Hieronymus Bosch (Harry), who is motivated by his mother’s murder to solve crimes.  The new Harry Bosch book is The Black Box, wherein Harry revisits a cold case to solve the 1992 murder of a Danish photojournalist during the LA riots following the Rodney King verdict.  (I can’t believe this was 20 years ago.)  I am on page 106.   Review to come.

In the meantime, here are 10 things I learned about Michael Connelly at tonight’s event:

  1. Connelly was influenced by reading the work of James Lee Burke – and when he saw that Burke actually dedicated a book to his agent, he submitted his first novel to that agent, figuring he must be a darn good agent.  Amazingly, that agent is now Connelly’s agent.  Who is that agent?  He didn’t say, but it looks like Philip Spitzer.
  2. First memorable book read:  To Kill a Mockingbird, foisted upon him by a librarian.  He went into the library to get out of the Florida summer heat, but was required to read.  He saw it as a crime novel.
  3. He doesn’t expect the Bosch series to end with Harry’s death.  “Ten years ago, maybe.  Now I think he deserves better than being killed off.”
  4. There’s a TV series featuring Harry Bosch in the works, and evidently Connelly may have some say in who is cast.  He’d like it to be someone fabulous, but currently unknown, like Hugh Laurie was before House.  Julia Keller thinks Ed Harris (but not today’s Ed Harris, Harris when he was younger).
  5. Connelly always wanted to be a crime writer.  He’s not a journalist who turned to fiction; he’s an author who deliberately went after the crime beat in order to get closer to cops.
  6. The spark for a book almost always comes from a story.  “Cops are great storytellers,” he says.  They spin the story and the way they tell it informs the plot and the dialogue. Thus, the authentic voice.
  7. He deliberately picked 1950 as the Harry’s birth year because the cops he knew all had a similar background, similar perspective of having served in Viet Nam, and he wanted that point of view for his main character.  The books are always set in the year they are originally published and Harry ages through the series.  In the new book, Bosch is 62.
  8. The upcoming book in the works is a Mickey Haller (Lincoln Lawyer) book.  Harry Bosch is in it, as is his daughter Maddie.
  9. When he writes a book, Connelly knows the start and the end, but the middle is the “dream fugue state.”  He doesn’t outline, but because of his experience in journalism, he’s ruthless about cutting, and the books get shorter as he edits the first draft.  “I dump stuff all the time.”
  10. What book did he read recently that he really liked?  There’s one coming out in April 2013 called Amity & Sorrow by Peggy Riley.  He doesn’t read much crime fiction these days, more nonfiction.

Starvation Lake scores, edges out A Bad Day for Sorry

I’m halfway through the Mystery Writers of America Edgar nominees for Best First Novel by an American Author. Chicago’s own Bryan Gruley is the author of Starvation Lake, a mystery that features way more hockey than I ever thought I’d put up with.

The blurbs on the book are notable.  Harlan Coben is long one of my favorites, and his promo is not surprising given the sports connection – his protagonist Myron Bolitar is a former pro basketball player and sports agent.  Other blurbs come from Michael Connelly, C.J. Box, George Pelecanos, and the lesser-known Michael Harvey.  Gruley’s book had the paradoxical effect of making me want to remind myself what  Michael Harvey’s written.  Answer: The Chicago Way and The Fifth Floor.

Starvation Lake’s a town in Michigan, a place where small-town newspaper editor Gus Carpenter grew up, played junior hockey for the legendary Coach Blackburn’s River Rats and personally lost the team’s only chance at a trophy, and came home to lick his wounds after being fired, amid much reporting-related scandal, from the Detroit Times.   Details of the scandal are doled out slowly in the first section of the book, then build to help ratchet up the tension.

Gus is managing the  just fine with the help of a too-ballsy-for-her-own-good junior reporter named Joanie, has the chance to redeem himself if he can earn a promotion, and is right back where he used to be, half in love with former girlfriend Darlene and playing hockey with his former River Rats teammates, now all grown up.  Like little acorns make mighty oaks, the friends (good guys) and foes (bad guys) haven’t changed much.  But then one day, Coach Blackburn’s snowmobile emerges from the lake where it had fallen through the ice a dozen years ago… with a bullet hole in it.  Blackburn had been buried in absentia, as the body was never found, and the whole thing was written up as a tragic accident.  Was the coach murdered?  Or was it an accident, as one of Gus’ friends maintains?

Newspaper reporting skills equal mystery-solving skills, and Gus goes to work, uncovering information that he was too naive to see the first time around, including answers to long-buried questions like “Why won’t mom let me overnight with Coach Blackburn at his billet?  All my friends’ moms let them go!”  and “Why did Coach Blackburn suddenly shut out my friend who’s the best player on my team?”  and “Where do some of these guys get all the money they spend?”

Gus solves the mystery and justice prevails, but not without a lot of anguish and tragedy.   Starvation Lake is a tightly plotted and immensely readable book; even the hockey is so well-done I didn’t skip over it.  As many mysteries are, it’s written in the first person and the character’s voice is clear and engaging.  Here’s a sample:

Soupy was what hockey players admiringly call a “dangler,” with hands that cradled the puck as if it were no heavier than a tennis ball.  He could dangle it between his skates, behind his back, one-handed, backhanded, skating backward, on one knee.  All the while the puck stuck to his stick like a nickname.  He had a thousand moves that he’d practiced for hours in his basement or late at night on a patch of ice behind his garage.  He liked to practice in the darkness, the darker the better, so he was forced to rely not on his eyes, but on simply feeling the puck on his stick blade with his amazingly sure hands.  That way he’d never have to look down, he could always be scanning the ice for an opening or an open man, and he’d always be ready when the opposing defenseman was lining him up for a hit.

The mystery’s weakness is too-heavy signaling of the motivation related to Gus’ childhood backstory… pretty early on, I had Coach Blackburn pegged and the reader is always suspicious when they bury an empty casket because they can’t find the body.  But it’s a skillful book, and like A Bad Day for Sorry, has the makings of a series.  It’s a bit of a close call, but Starvation Lake takes the lead in the Literary Lunchbox Edgar competition.

  1. Starvation Lake – Bryan Gruley
  2. A Bad Day for Sorry – Sophie Littlefield
  3. The Weight of Silence – Heather Gudenkauf

Still to read: The Shadow of Gotham, The Girl She Used to Be, and Black Water Rising!

A literary Christmas morning

It’s Christmas and as usual there are DVDs, CDs, and books under the tree – even a Kindle.  (And the ubiquitous Borders gift cards, of course.)

For the older son: Stephen King‘s Under the Dome.  It was all I could do to keep him from buying it himself three days ago.  (He doesn’t get the “don’t buy anything until after Christmas” idea that was passed down to me from my parents!)

For the younger son (vocal performance major at Columbia College Chicago)- Performance Success:  Performing Your Best Under Pressure by Dr. Don Greene.

Arty progressive husband got Inside the Painter’s Studio from the Museum of Contemporary Art bookstore and Thom Hartmann’s book, Threshold.  Kindle-wise, he has loaded three Harry Bosch books by Michael Connelly already on his device.

And I got Sue Grafton‘s U is for Undertow (I have owned everything from A is for Alibi on at one time or another, and the last few are arranged alphabetically on my bookshelves in hardcover).  Plus, PD James’ book, Talking About Detective Fiction, which is getting rave reviews and will help me motivate up for more writing!

I gifted a couple of books, too, including Lorrie Moore’s A Gate at the Stairs, which was the first book in a long time which made me say, “Wow, that was a good book,” when I closed the cover for the final time.  I read a copy from the library, so by purchasing the book and mailing it to my mom, I was both sharing the experience with her and making sure Ms. Moore got at least a little $$ for her work!   As Christmas morning is the time for gift-opening in the Branshaw family, I’m safe posting this because she’s already opened her present.

I also bought a really fun book (and one that I own personally) for my friend Nancy.  If you’ve seen the TLC Show, What Not to Wear, you’ve seen Clinton Kelly and Stacy London.  They co-wrote a book Dress Your Best which is just fabulous for helping you figure out your own fashion rules according to your body shape.  Read the book, and you will never again buy something that looks better on the hanger than on you.

Everyone has wandered off to delve into their various presents until lunchtime.  We’ll be continuing our “literary” theme this afternoon, when we head to Cinemark for the new Sherlock Holmes movie. Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law are not exactly my mind’s eye vision of Holmes and Watson, but I’m betting they have the acting chops to convince me.  Happy Holidays!

Thumbs up for the Kindle

June 12th was my wedding anniversary, and my husband surprised me with a Kindle!   Available from Amazon.com, this second-generation device is amazing.  It comes well-packaged and attractively boxed, plugs into the wall to charge up, and has an extremely user-focused guide to getting started on the Kindle itself.  It is always connected to the Amazon store , which has over 300,000 titles available for download.  Downloading a book takes a minute or less!  It appears that books that are only available in hardback sell for $9.99 – I checked the price on Olive Kitteridge, which is now out on paperback, and it was less – about $8.50.  So, about the price of a movie.

I already had an Amazon account; all I needed to do was register my Kindle, connect it to my account, turn on one-click ordering.  I scanned the New York Times bestsellers available for download and chose Michael Connelly’s The Scarecrow for my first Kindle read.

I really like the feel of a nice book, tend to read very quickly and can scan and take in a sentence at a time, so I didn’t know whether I could take to the Kindle.  I wear reading glasses, so I set the text size on the Kindle at a larger size – no need for glasses!  But that means even fewer words on the page, and more frequent “page-turning.”

I found that within the first couple of chapters, “turning” the pages became completely automatic.  When you turn the pages of a book, you don’t think about doing so; you don’t even notice you are doing it. . . same on the Kindle.  And because there is a “next page” area under both the left and right thumb when you’re holding the Kindle two-handed, it’s always convenient.

I did notice that I paid more attention to the quality of the writing and the details of The Scarecrow– a book with a strong plot and interesting characters tends to pull me into digesting it in great gulps.   So in some ways, reading on the Kindle helped me enjoy the process of reading more.  It’s easy to put the Kindle to sleep, and when you wake it, it goes back to the page you were on (very convenient).  The battery lasts several days.

The Kindle has some features that I expect to get into more in the future – the ability to make notes, to upload your own documents, etc.  It’s very comfortable to hold, the type is opaque on the screen, and there is no glare.   From many years experience reading on a computer screen, I expected the Kindle screen to light up – it does not.  (So reading under the covers will still require your Little Bitty Booklight.)

The Kindle holds about 1,500 novel-size books, but Amazon knows that some readers will exceed that number.  So your purchases are permanently archived – you can choose the books you want on your Kindle and the rest will be stored for you – you can swap out as needed.  This is nice security in case your Kindle is ever lost, stolen, or damaged, too!   Business travel for me includes two trips of about a week – and I’m capable of reading five or more books during that time period, depending on my schedule.  Having all my reading material on the Kindle will make traveling much easier – on a recent trip to Miami, I actually abandoned three books because I had too much to carry home!  (Luckily they were used book store purchases.)

There is a downside: You can’t take the Kindle into the tub.  As someone who has been known to actually shower with a book, this is somewhat disappointing.  (Tutorial for those who wonder how it is done:  Hold a paperback book in your right hand away from the spray while you soap with the left hand, eyes fixed on the page.  Rinse while maintaining the book at a safe distance from the water.  When clean, be sure to switch book to your left hand so you can wash and rinse your right arm and hand.  Necessary page-turning is done very carefully, minimizing the contact between your damp hand and the page.)

The Kindle does not come with a cover or a case; there are many available.  I ordered a neoprene sleeve to keep the Kindle protected when I travel, rather than a notebook-cover type, as I very much like the feel of the “naked” Kindle in my hand when reading and did not want to add any bulk.  The sleeve fits well, is very lightweight, and will make carrying my Kindle with me a breeze.  It’s a delight when things are well-designed and work the way they’re supposed to.  The Kindle may not be as popular as the iPod, but it reminds me of it – something that is perfectly designed to do what it’s supposed to do.  Two thumbs up!