Spot-Lit for February 2021

These titles – from established, new, and emerging authors – are some of the most anticipated new releases of the month, based on advance reviews and book world enthusiasm.

Click here to see all of these titles in the Everett Public Library catalog, where you can read reviews or summaries and place holds. Or click on a book cover below to enlarge it, or to view the covers as a slide show.

Notable New Fiction 2021 (to date) | All On-Order Fiction | 2021 Debuts

Heartwood 10:4 – Return Trip Ticket by David C. Hall

As Donald Westlake’s introduction notes, David C. Hall’s 1992 novel, Return Trip Ticket, is grounded in the pulp style first introduced by such writers as Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett, but the character of the classic PI is updated and extended here in the figure of Wilson who is both more worldly and more self-critical than his predecessors. So instead of the hardball patter of Philip Marlowe or Sam Spade, in Wilson we get a man who is frequently fatigued and put-upon by his work, but who is also resourceful, diligent and a keen observer. Indeed, it is the detached descriptions of the world around him that first drew me in, and kept me there even as the plot began to grow in complexity and intrigue toward the end of the book.

Wilson is an overweight, balding, forty-something, Vietnam-vet now working as a private detective on a case involving the disappearance in Spain of a wealthy Denver businessman’s daughter. The story is set in both Barcelona and the American desert southwest in that distant past (1988) just before the era of web browsers and cellphone ubiquity. Wilson interacts with an interesting variety of individualized characters as he attempts to track down the young woman, plays cassettes of Thelonious Monk and Ornette Coleman in his drably oppressive hotel rooms, and looks forward to reading Dickens or Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire when he had a bit of time to himself.

Return Trip Ticket is a quick read that has a fine balance of characters, plot, language, and setting. The ending struck me as a little anticlimactic but also realistic in its insinuation of the all too common corruption of those who hold power.

I don’t want to say much more about what happens in the book (that’s what you read a mystery to find out), but maybe this sample passage, in which the detective and his quarry stop at a southwestern 24-hour pancake house, will give you a bit of its flavor:

            The waitress came over and said, “Good morning,” without a trace of sarcasm, poured them some coffee and went away.  She was wearing a short, pleated uniform with a little white apron and a lot of strawberry lipstick, and she had a frazzled smile that she turned off and on.  A couple of old men in cowboy hats were drinking coffee in another booth and yelling at each other in slow dry voices, and a drunk was sitting at the counter with his chin sinking slowly toward the dish of apple pie in front of him.  It was the kind of place Wilson remembered sitting in all night when he was a kid, getting high on cup after cup of lousy coffee and listening to the piped-in music.  It made you feel grown up, for some reason.

Pulp detective stories are in no short supply. Based on limited online reviews, I don’t see that David C. Hall has been able to achieve widespread popularity (though he has won some crime fiction awards). But that is neither here nor there. I’d say, if you’re in the mood for a finely written chase novel, and like your noir with a dose of attention to detail and humility, this will certainly do the trick.

She Lies Close

A lot is going on for Grace in the novel She Lies Close by Sharon Doering.

After her husband has an affair, Grace buys a house in a new neighborhood with her two young children Wyatt and Chloe. As they are getting settled in and starting to meet people, she begins to hear rumors that her new neighbor Leland is suspected in the disappearance of a young girl. Is she really living next door to a kidnapper and murderer?

Grace can barely sleep, and becomes obsessed with the case of sweet, missing Ava. In the wee hours of the night she repeatedly watches a video that was posted of Ava singing and dancing, desperately looking for clues to her disappearance..

After she discovers that Chloe has a pocket full of tootsie rolls that she got from Leland while she was playing in their adjoining back yards, Grace begins having nightmares and sleepwalking, with reality and dreams blurring the fine line of sanity.

The police have no leads in Ava’s disappearance, and Grace continues to talk to the neighbors, asking questions to try and find the truth of what happened. Then, a body is found, and everything changes. Grace finds herself on the other end of the investigation.

I got to the last 60 pages and could NOT put the book down.

If you like a good page turner, you will really enjoy this book!

Spot-Lit for December 2020

These titles – from established, new, and emerging authors – are some of the most anticipated new releases of the month, based on advance reviews and book world enthusiasm.

Click here to see all of these titles in the Everett Public Library catalog, where you can read reviews or summaries and place holds. Or click on a book cover below to enlarge it, or to view the covers as a slide show.

Notable New Fiction 2020 | All On-Order Fiction | 2020 Debuts

Classic TV

Even as a person who was raised on sixties television, I can be put off by the thought of watching shows produced during that time. Acting styles, writing, pacing and sets were often different from today’s standards. And, hold on to your girdles, programs were sometimes shot in black and white! My brain often decides, on its own, that these shows are inferior, and thus I hesitate to watch them.

But every now and then I’ll talk myself into taking a chance. My latest find is Ironside starring Raymond Burr. Now, I’m a long-time Perry Mason fan, but for some reason Ironside never appealed to my finer senses. Well, let me tell you: It’s fabulous!

Burr plays the San Francisco chief of detectives who, in the show’s first episode, is shot in the spine and rendered unable to walk. Robert T. Ironside is a firecracker of a person, not one to accept physical limitations, and he’s soon working as a special consultant to the SFPD. Along with officers Ed Brown and Eve Whitfield and personal assistant Mark Sanger, Ironside looks to crack a case each episode.

Plots are well-crafted and fascinating, often delving into issues of race and discrimination. At a time when freedoms of Americans are potentially eroding, it’s pretty eye-opening to see a 50-year-old tv show embracing diversity. It’s also educational to see how much the world has changed in those 50 years. One episode features a criminal who steals a machine that issues payroll checks. He uses it to forge checks and then takes them to about 20 grocery stores each day. In San Francisco 2020, I’m guessing you’d be hard pressed to find a grocery store that would cash a payroll check from a stranger.

But perhaps the most intriguing aspect of Ironside is the man himself. If you’ve ever watched Nero Wolfe, you’ve seen a character who is set in his ways, unwilling to bend, brilliant, unpleasant and prone to tirades. There is nothing particularly likable or sympathetic about him. Ironside, on the other hand, has many of the same qualities, but his bluster is tempered with a side of compassion and sarcastic humor. The result is a character who you like and admire, perhaps fear a bit, but definitely respect. I’ve not seen another TV character of this same ilk.

Over the years, I’ve not heard too much buzz about Ironside. But let me tell you uncles and aunties, it’s a cut above most of the crime shows that have been produced for television. Intelligent, often riveting, not too predictable, a breath of fresh air in my TV viewing world. As Bob Ironside himself might say, “What’s your flaming excuse for not watching it?!?”

Spot-Lit for November 2020

These titles – from established, new, and emerging authors – are some of the most anticipated new releases of the month, based on advance reviews and book world enthusiasm.

Click here to see all of these titles in the Everett Public Library catalog, where you can read reviews or summaries and place holds. Or click on a book cover below to enlarge it, or to view the covers as a slide show.

Notable New Fiction 2020 (to date) | All On-Order Fiction | 2020 Debuts

Spot-Lit for October 2020

These titles – from established, new, and emerging authors – are some of the most anticipated new releases of the month, based on advance reviews and book world enthusiasm.

Click here to see all of these titles in the Everett Public Library catalog, where you can read reviews or summaries and place holds. Or click on a book cover below to enlarge it, or to view the covers as a slide show.

Notable New Fiction 2020 (to date) | All On-Order Fiction | 2020 Debuts

It’s a Mystery: Hollywood

I have this strange fascination with early Hollywood. Watching an old timey black & white show shot in southern California, wellsir, that’s about as good as it gets. And as we all know, I do love me a mystery. Fortunately, there are plenty of mysteries set in early 20th century Hollywood.

Group1

And the Killer Is … by G. A. McKevett is the 25th and latest entry in the Savannah Reid mysteries series. While not all titles in this collection focus on Hollywood, And the Killer Is… moves between flashbacks to the golden age of Hollywood and the present. In this tale, 90-year-old former silver-screen siren Lucinda Faraday is found murdered, strangled with a pair of vintage stockings, and it’s up to PI Savannah Reid of the Moonlight Magnolia Detective Agency to bring the killer to justice.

Close Up by Amanda Quick is 2020’s addition to the Burning Cove mysteries series. Set near Hollywood in the 1930s resort town of Burning Cove, Close Up finds crime scene photographer Vivian Brazier in danger as she investigates the deadly Dagger Killer. Along with private eye Nick Sundridge, who solves cases with help from his dreams, Vivian is caught in the killer’s crosshairs and must find the murderer before she becomes his next victim.

Script for Scandal by Renee Patrick is the newest arrival in the Lillian Frost and Edith Head series of novels. Yes, that Edith Head. In 1939 Los Angeles, former aspiring actress Lillian Frost discovers herself entangled in the investigation of a 1936 bank robbery that’s been made into a Hollywood script. And her beau, LAPD detective Gene Morrow, the original investigator of the robbery, is a suspect in the subsequent murder of his partner. It’s up to Lillian to clear his name!

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The Impersonator by Mary Miley, an entry in the Roaring Twenties mysteries series, offers a different kind of intrigue. A 14-year-old heiress disappears and is found some years later by her uncle, acting in a vaudeville playhouse. But is this actress actually the heiress? After concluding that she is simply a lookalike, the uncle plots to use her to claim the fortune.

Girl About Town by Adam Shankman & Laura L. Sullivan, the first book in the Lulu Kelly mysteries series, spins the tale of a destitute woman who witnesses a mob murder and, as payment for her silence, is made into a Hollywood star. Along with a New-York-heir-turned-hobo she attempts to clear herself of attempted murder charges.

Velvet on a Tuesday Afternoon by Clive Rosengren, the third book in the Eddie Collins mysteries series, finds former-actor-current-PI Eddie Collins helping an old flame look for her missing brother. Clues point to the brother’s ties to military police and eventually lead to Skid Row. Will Eddie succeed in finding the man as well as rekindling an extinguished romance?

Spot-Lit for September 2020

These titles – from established, new, and emerging authors – are some of the most anticipated new releases of the month, based on advance reviews and book world enthusiasm.

Click here to see all of these titles in the Everett Public Library catalog, where you can read reviews or summaries and place holds. Or click on a book cover below to enlarge it, or to view the covers as a slide show.

Notable New Fiction 2020 (to date) | All On-Order Fiction | 2020 Debuts

A Little Noir For Yar

Noir

As a diehard reader of detective pulp fiction and a connoisseur of comedy, I may have found religion in Noir by Christopher Moore. Not to be confused with the religion I found in Moore’s Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal.

Lamb

If you’re a fan of Damon Runyon and his unique use of language, Noir might be just the ticket for you.

“He looked like one of those dried-up faces you carve out of an apple in third grade to teach you that time is cruel and we are all just going to shrivel up and die, so there’s no point in getting out of bed.”

Similes and metaphors run wild, like turkeys in search of a barber… Scratch that. Like the Portuguese armada during their defeat in 1588… Well, let’s just say that words are not restrained by the laws of gravity in Moore’s writing.

And speaking of gravity, classy ladies fill the pages of this prestigious tome.

“She had the kind of legs that kept her butt from resting on her shoes — a size eight dame in a size six dress and every mug in the joint was rooting for the two sizes to make a break for it as they watched her wiggle in the door and take a seat at the end of the bar.”

Moore is one of the few contemporary authors who does a credible job of creating Runyonesque prose. Each page is teeming with hoodlums, graft, gats, lookers and betties all ensconced in a miasma of despair and alcohol then rolled in a fine powder of lust and sex.

“It was the kind of kiss that he wanted to wake up to and keep refreshing periodically until he got one long last one, salty with tears, in his casket.”

For my ears, the story is almost inconsequential. Down-on-his-luck guy works in San Francisco as a bartender, is indebted to a gangster, falls for a dame… space aliens ensue, etc. etc. You know the drill, your typical post-war comic sci-fi noir thriller. Moore dots the proverbial i’s with his copious wit, leaving ample opportunity to cross the t’s with abundant atmosphere. It may not be the ride of your life, but Noir is at bare minimum the attempted hitchhike of your youth.

Why, you might even want to read Noir in a book club with your friends, and then orchestrate a moment that echoes a line from the text where:

“…everyone looks up like rats caught in a spotlight eating the brains of a friend dead in a trap.”

Of course, you might choose not to eat your friends’ brains.

So, as pleasant breaks from reality go, Noir is an excellent choice. Perhaps you could even explore Moore’s other writings, all steeped in the same blend of hilarity and repartee, not to mention jocularity. Like a fine Earl Grey tea. Tee hee.