Tag Archives: reviews

McKinty’s Gun Street Girl Enters the Ranking

imagesSo thrilled to find Adrian McKinty‘s Detective Sean Duffy series with this entry to the Mystery Writers of America Edgar Award for Best Paperback Original.  I’m a fan of British, Irish, Scottish, heck, even Wales-ian police procedurals, and Gun Street Girl was my introduction to a great series.

It’s 1985, and Sean Duffy’s a Belfast cop, and a Catholic one at that.  As a result, he never gets in his car without checking underneath for a car bomb.  He’s evidently had a checkered past.  (Totally going to check out the backlist.)  He’s got a new boss who’s a bit of a wuss, and a team that includes a trusted #2, DS McCrabban, also known as Crabbie; and two new constables, the brainy but still-wet-behind-the-ears male half of the pair, Lawson, and Fletcher, the straight-arrow female officer who seemed not too quick on the uptake.  Add in the Special Branch agent who’s trying to recruit him away from the RUC, a not-too-committed reporter girlfriend, and a wide range of characters associated with both sides of “The Troubles,” and it’s an entertaining mix.

Gun Street Girl starts out with a cock-up of an inter-agency sting to capture American gunrunners.  Duffy sees what should be done, watches those in charge not do it, observes the ensuing mess, and wanders away, mid-sting.  Thus does McKinty ably showcase Duffy’s skill and attitude.   

Back in Carrickfergus, Duffy and his team are called in to investigate the murder of a man and his wife and the disappearance of the couple’s adult son, Michael Kelly.  The son had frequent arguments with his dad, and the easy answer is that Michael did it.  And while he probably did, there are some things – especially the cold, clean crime scene – that indicate a professional hit.  Michael’s body is subsequently discovered at the bottom of a cliff, a suicide note in his car, an open-and-shut case is not so clear-cut to DI Duffy.  The team’s subsequent investigation uncovers a cover-up related to a heroin overdose, stolen Javelin missiles, and possible CIA skullduggery.  That Duffy gets to the bottom of it all is unquestioned.  But the unravelling is not without cost.

Here’s where McKinty gets full marks from me:  plotting, the main character (love him!) and snarky humor (ditto!).  I will definitely read the other books in the Duffy series.  Needs work:  many of the minor characters are drawn in very broad strokes (boss McArthur and American spy guy John Connelly) and the women characters, in particular, are cardboard cut-outs (reporter girlfriend Sara and special branch recruiter-slash-sexpot Kate).

Comparatively speaking, though, Gun Street Girl is pretty compelling despite these shortcomings.  It’s a strong contender and excellent for its type.  Not quite up to Berney’s book, though, so I’m going to rank it #2 on the list.

mwa_logoLiterary Lunchbox Edgar Ranking: Best Paperback Original

  1. The Long and Faraway Gone by Lou Berney
  2. Gun Street Girl by Adrian McKinty
  3. Woman with a Blue Pencil by Gordon McAlpine
  4. What She Knew by Gilly MacMillan
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Edgar list is out!

mwa_logoEvery year, the Mystery Writers of America bestow Edgar awards in various categories, including Best Novel, Best First Novel by an American Author, Best Short Story, and so on. The nominees come out in January and the Edgars are given at a star-studded banquet (think Oscars, but with a lower glamour quotient).  This year’s ceremony is April 28; as always, it’s in New York City.  Oh, I wish I could go!  As an MWA member I get an invite and it. would. be. a. thrill.

This will be my sixth year of reading, reviewing, and ranking the nominees for Best Novel and Best First Novel.  My track record, in terms of agreeing with the MWA, has been mixed.  But since I’m not trying to predict who WILL win, but instead, letting you know who SHOULD win, that’s not a big deal.  Although when we agree perfectly (which has actually happened), I feel a certain smug satisfaction.

And the list of finalists is out!  I’m pretty excited to get started reading.  I see some familiar names, including Michael Robotham, Philip Kerr and Lori Roy.  On the newbie side, I’ve only read Jessica Knoll’s Luckiest Girl Alive.

Best Novel

  • The Strangler Vine by M.J. Carter (Penguin Random House – G.P. Putnam’s Sons)
  • The Lady From Zagreb by Philip Kerr (Penguin Random House – A Marian Wood Book)
  • Life or Death by Michael Robotham (Hachette Book Group – Mulholland Books)
  • Let Me Die in His Footsteps by Lori Roy (Penguin Random House – Dutton)
  • Canary by Duane Swierczynski (Hachette Book Group – Mulholland Books)
  • Night Life by David C. Taylor (Forge Books)

Best First Novel

  • Past Crimes by Glen Erik Hamilton (HarperCollins Publishers – William Morrow)
  • Where All Light Tends to Go by David Joy (Penguin Random House – G.P. Putnam’s Sons)
  • Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll (Simon & Schuster)
  • The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen (Grove Atlantic – Grove Press)
  • Unbecoming by Rebecca Scherm (Penguin Random House – Viking

I may even attempt to get to the Best Paperback Novel, but don’t hold me to it.  Here are those nominees.

  • The Long and Faraway Gone by Lou Berney (HarperCollins Publishers – William Morrow)
  • The Necessary Death of Lewis Winter by Malcolm Mackay (Hachette Book Group – Mulholland Books)
  • What She Knew by Gilly Macmillan (HarperCollins Publishers – William Morrow)
  • Woman with a Blue Pencil by Gordon McAlpine (Prometheus Books – Seventh Street Books)
  • Gun Street Girl by Adrian McKinty (Prometheus Books – Seventh Street Books)
  • The Daughter by Jane Shemilt (HarperCollins Publishers – William Morrow)

To the nominees:  I know the tension is killing you… who will receive the Literary Lunchbox Edgars?  Watch this space over the next three months to see how you fare against your brethren.  May the odds be ever in your favor.

To the readers:  Ditto.  And  for this who are not up for the tension of reading without knowing who won…  Here’s a list of last year’s nominees AND the winners for your enjoyment.

Three quick reviews: Stuart MacBride, Elizabeth Little, Rebecca Stead

The fines are piling up, so I’m going to do a quick review and cover three library books before they open the Burgess wing of the Okemos Public Library.  (Library fines = still cheaper than buying everything you want to read!

goodbyeFirst up:  A YA book titled Goodbye Stranger, by Rebecca Stead.  Bridget Barsamian, still on the wrong side of puberty but looking across the abyss, survived a deadly accident a few years ago.  Now she wonders, why?  Is there something special she is meant to do?  Bridge navigates the murky waters of middle school, where the cool kids seem unattainably cool, the teachers seem irrepressibly quirky, and long-time friends change before your eyes.  The good news is that guy you’ve always kinda been friends with is looking attractive to you in an unusual and hard-to-understand way.  Stead has a wonderful way of revealing character through plot and alternates the point of view throughout to excellent effect.  I’ve read lightly in the YA field but this is one that’s very worthwhile!

daughterCan you say unreliable narrator?  If you love a suspense novel with a main character who is not necessarily to be trusted, you’ll enjoy the second book:  Elizabeth Little’s Dear Daughter.    Janie Jenkins – former edgy teenage bad girl – is just out of prison, having done ten years for the murder of her mother, socialite  Marion Elsinger.  Now she’s on the run from the paparazzi and on the trail of her mother’s past.  Did she kill her mom?  If not, who did?  And if she didn’t do it, why did her mother write Jane’s name in blood on the floor, even as her life ebbed away?  A strong voice, solid characters, twisty plot that comes together believably in the end – all makes Dear Daughter a thumbs up.

missingLast but not least is Stuart MacBride’s The Missing and the Dead, featuring the ever-hilariously effective despite himself Scots detective Logan MacRae.  I’ve written about MacBride’s series before, here, and I was looking forward to the latest entry (book #9).  Almost 600 pages later, I closed the book and wished it were longer.  MacRae’s been transferred to divisional policing, and he’s on the job when a little girl’s body washes up outside town.  Getting an identification is going to be tough, and MacRae is soon playing nursemaid of a sorts to a lovely, sad woman named Helen, whose daughter is missing.  She both hopes and fears that the body is her daughter’s.   As usual, Logan MacRae bucks the wishes of his superiors to investigate a pedophile ring, and as usual, manages to pull it off with no permanent damage to his own career.  On hand is the irascible DI Steele (happily married lesbian, with two kids thanks to Logan) and an assortment of capable coppers, hapless citizens and various lowlifes.  It’s a terrifically engaging and humorous police procedural.

One for the Money Faithful to Evanovich

The Katherine Heigl movie based on Janet Evanovich’s first Stephanie Plum book, One for the Money, is getting terrible reviews.  Here are actual quotes from some reviews.  I am presenting them as ad “blurbs”  for your entertainment:

So, of course, I went to see it.  I’ve blogged about Stephanie Plum before  (here and here) and I was curious to see how the Trenton, NJ gal translated to the big screen.

I’m not afraid to say it:  folks, it was not that bad.  Really.  It was actually kind of fun.  Katherine Heigl is maybe not quite sassy enough to be Stephanie, but she’s believable.  The “no-name” actor who plays Morelli is cute as all get out.  The actor playing Ranger is no Benjamin Bratt, but he can’t help it that I had cast Bratt in my head when I read the books.  And Debbie Reynolds is not quite ethnic enough to be Grandma Mazur, but she’s still a hoot.

All the minor characters could have been pulled right out of an Evanovich book.  The plot (about which the word “convoluted” is usually used) is totally Plum.  If it’s not 100% word for word what Evanovich wrote, I can tell you, it is completely in keeping.  I gotta say – if you like the books, you’ll probably like the movie.  Since the studio is investing approximately $0 in marketing, here’s the trailer.

One last note:  it’s pretty clear that the market for Janet Evanovich is women over 45.   I’m being generous here, since if the 1:00 movie at the Lake Theater in Oak Park, IL, is any indication, the actual target demographic should be 63.5 years of age.  I was definitely on the young side.  The ladies loved it.  The women’s room was much a-twitter immediately following the show.