Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Latest Alex Delaware

I know I'm late with it, and most of you guys have already read it but, I just started the most chilling Alex Delaware novel in awhile.  This one is shaping up to be a good one.  I'll be giving you my "unbiased" opinion in about a week or so.  Stay tuned.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Mary Higgins Clark's "The Lost Years; A Review

I.  Why This Murder Book May Grab Some Of You (A Summary)

Mary Higgins Clark's book "The Lost Years" is an 84 chapter "who-done-it" quest to find a lost artifact and a deranged killer.

Jonathan Lyons is a retired college professor who is an expert in the field of archaeology and ancient manuscripts.  He is shot to death in his home.  His wife Kathleen is discovered by their daughter Mariah, hiding in a closet clutching the victim's gun.  Kathleen, who is suffering from advanced Alzheimer's, is covered with her husband's blood. 

It all seems like a no-brainer to detectives Simon Benet and Rita Rodriguez.  Kathleen quickly becomes the only suspect in her husband's murder.  The motive is the oldest in the book:  Jonathan has been having an affair.  She's arrested, and sent to a medical facility for psychiatric evaluation.  Bail is not included! 

But, as in all murder books, things are not always as they appear to be.

It seems that before his death, Jonathan was asked to translate an ancient parchment that had been found in a long closed church.  The parchment was alleged to be a letter written by Jesus Christ to Joseph of Arimathea.

In this letter, The Christ is thanking Joseph for all his many years of friendship and protection.  If the authenticity of the letter could be proven, it would be the only known sample of The Christ's writing.  As such, it would be priceless.

Jonathan had the parchment appraised by, as yet, unknown sources.  He believed the letter to be authentic.  He also had some misgivings about the motives of one of the appraisers.  He even admitted to one of his closest friends that he had a premonition of his own death.

Now Jonathan has been murdered, and the letter is missing.  His daughter, Mariah, raises this possible motive to the police who reluctantly pursue the lead.

Kathleen Lyons isn't off the hook, however.  Far from it!  Bergen County Detective Simon Benet, a hard, blunt talking individual is convinced that in spite of her illness, Kathleen is fully capable of murdering her cheating husband.

It is only after another murder, and two kidnappings, that Simon and his partner Rita begin to seriously reconsider the possibility that they are wrong.

Meanwhile, Mariah Lyons finds herself betrayed by someone she has every reason to trust.

II.  My Judgment Of This Murder Book

What grabbed my attention from the beginning was the police's stubborn refusal to admit that Kathleen Lyons was innocent.  Chapter after chapter I witnessed this tormented woman being accused of events she could barely comprehend.

What bored me somewhat was the fact that there were so many characters to keep track of.  It took time to tie all these people together.  You even had a couple running around playing amateur detective.  This was complicated by the fact that they were doing a better job (in some ways) than the professionals.

Now, this brings me to the characters themselves.  I won't describe all of them; just the main ones.

The killer was introduced early, but you won't recognize this person as such, until the very end.  The old saying is true:  people are usually murdered by someone they know.

Most of you probably won't agree, but I found myself liking Lillian Stewart, the mistress of the victim.  Yes, she was greedy, and hated by Jonathan's family.  But she was genuinely in love with him and devastated by his murder.

Of course I embraced the victim's wife Kathleen Lyons.  How could I not?  She was suffering from Alzheimer's and was justifiably enraged by her husband's affair.  Confused and hounded by the police, she was truly a tragic figure in this tale.

I also liked the victim, Jonathan Lyons, even though he was "fooling around".  He was loved and admired by everyone in his circle...except the person who killed him, of course.  Once he'd determined the authenticity of the Joseph of Arimathea parchment, he could have sold it on the black market.  Instead, he was determined to have it returned to its rightful owners, The Vatican.

Then there was Mariah Lyons, daughter of the victim.  She was torn between outrage over the affair, and the natural loyalty a daughter usually feels for her father.  She was also furiously protective of her mentally ill mother, and determined to find the real killer.

Two characters I didn't like were Rory Steiger and Charles Michaelson.

Rory was the 62 year old caregiver for Kathleen Lyons.  Actual, you might call her the caregiver from hell.  She hated her job and her patient.  But there was more to her than an unpleasant personality.  She had hidden motives and agendas for being employed in the Lyon's home.

Charles Michaelson, a professor and expert in ancient parchments was a friend and colleague of Jonathan Lyons.  He was also a hot-tempered bully with a dishonest past.

The characters that this case really revolves around were all members of Jonathan's inner circle.  They include the two individuals I just named plus:

  • Albert West, another professor and expert of ancient documents
  • Greg Pearson, a businessman and amateur archaeologist who was secretly in love with Mariah
  • Richard Callahan, a professor of biblical studies and also secretly in love with Mariah
Along with the mistress Lillian Stewart, these people were trusted by the victim without question.  But, if you read the book, you may find that some of them were not worthy of that trust.

Toward the end, Mary Higgins Clark manages to tie everything together so that it makes sense.  It started happening with a house burglary, where a killer's identity may be exposed.

And a dinner party at the Lyon's home reveals that someone close to Jonathan has been lying about knowledge of the parchment's where-a-bouts.

These two events begin to shift the focus away from Kathleen Lyons as a suspect, thank God.

So, is this book worth it?  In my humble opinion, this was not a great book, but it had its moments.  Like all murder books of the "who-done-it" variety, the identity of the killer is supposed to be a surprise.  Mary Higgins Clark has succeeded in surprising me.

It was obvious from the beginning that the murderer would be someone close to the victim.  I must admit that I had my eye on one such person, and I was totally wrong.  That just goes to show you that you should never go with the obvious in a "who-done-it".

Something else that made this book worth reading really had nothing to do with murder.  It was the author's treatment of Kathleen's deteriorating mental condition.  Her dementia was not the cause of Jonathan's murder.  One of the oldest emotions, greed, was the culprit.

However, what Ms. Clark reminds us of is the pain that Alzheimer's inflicts on the sufferers and their families.  It's all so damn sad, especially the treatment that some patients receive at the hands of people hired to care for them.  

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

John Sandford's Buried Prey; A Review

I.  Why This Murder Book Will Grab You (A Summary)


The bodies of two young girls, missing for 20 years, and presumed dead, have been discovered buried in a construction site.  Lucas Davenport, who worked the original case when the girls first disappeared, has long been convinced that the wrong man was held responsible for these grisly murders.  Terry Scrape, a homeless, paranoid schizophrenic, was deliberately set up to take the fall.  This man was a real patsy if there ever was one.

As the investigation gets underway, you can sense the guilt that Davenport feels.  This guilt has it's origins in the fact that 20 years ago, Davenport was encouraged by his superiors to put aside his misgivings.

In reading this, I felt Davenport's frustration; this is one of the few times I've encountered a Lucas Davenport who actually doubts himself.  He simply can't give himself a break, and remember that he'd only been a cop for about 3 years.  This was his first assignment in plain clothes.  He wasn't even a detective at this point.

The first half of this murder book is a flash-back to 20 years earlier when the girls first disappeared.  I must admit that at first I wasn't in the mood for a stroll down memory lane.  After all, I've been a fan of Standford's "Prey" series since the beginning.

But, as I continued to read, I was reminded of the importance of one central figure in Davenport's life and career:  Del Capstock.

Everyone needs mentor-ship, and I suspect Del was that for Lucas.  Del was a 9-year veteran when he was teamed up with the young rookie.  Davenport always had raw talent as an investigator, with his persistence, thoroughness, and enthusiasm for the work.  But, like all youngsters, he needed seasoning.

Working with Del in the early years taught the young investigator-to-be, empathy, patience, and the ability to gain the cooperation and respect of neighborhood people when he need help.

Another important character in the first half of this book is Quentin Daniel, the homicide lieutenant.  I didn't like Daniel much.  Although he was smart, and ambitious, I found him to be the kind of person who would rather safely navigate his career path than to listen to the ideas of a young, inexperienced "rookie".

This was especially true once Davenport began to have doubts as to the guilt of Terry Scrape.  When Scrape was shot and killed by a police officer, quite frankly, Daniel was relieved that the "suspect" had been stopped.  He made it pretty obvious that he really wasn't interested in pursuing the investigation any further.  Case Closed!

On a plus note, Davenport's association with Daniel was a boost to his career.  Although still technically a uniformed cop, he would continue to work in plain clothes until he was promoted to detective soon afterward.  He would continue to work the case in his spare time, but eventually he would reluctantly let it go.

The second half of this murder book brings us back to the present.  The bodies of the two girls have been found, and Davenport is determined to reinsert himself into the case.

He can hardly help himself.  The two dead girls haunt him even in his dreams.  He sees "their bony smiles through the yellow plastic at the bottom of the condo excavation."

Technically, this case belongs to the Minneapolis PD, and Davenport's friend and former associate, Marcy Sherrill.

There is the traditional rivalry between agencies.  In this situation it is the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension vs. The Minneapolis and St. Paul police departments.

This is all complicated by the fact that Davenport genuinely likes and respects Sherrill.  There is much history between the two.  He worked with her when he was with Minneapolis.  They also had a brief love affair at some point.  She's a rough and tumble veteran cop who more than proved herself back in the days when women in the force were at best tolerated.

Davenport must taper his excitement for the hunt, mindful not to step on the toes of Sherrill, whom he feels does not share his enthusiasm.  He just knows that Del and he will give this cold case the attention that it deserves.

It is in the second half of this murder book that we are finally introduced to the real killer.  This man is a grossly over-weight, under-achiever, who has never succeeded at anything he's attempted.

He's sleep-deprived, and Xanax addicted.  His computer is filled with child pornography, and on top of everything else, he is flat broke.  He targets young girls, or women, who look very young.  There is no remorse inside him, even when he kills one of his own relatives.

He has a turned-down pout of a mouth which says:  "I'm mad at the world which is forever disappointing me."

There are other characters in this murder book which have lesser roles to play.  There is Lucas's adopted daughter Letty who understands and encourages his desire for the hunt.  She's tough and wise beyond her years and I wish she had more to do here.

Then there is Davenport's wife, Weather.  In this book I find her annoying.  I think she nags a bit too much, especially at the end when the killer is bought down.  Personally, if I'd seen less of her, I'm sure I wouldn't have missed much.

Finally, there are Jenkins and Shrake, who, along with Del, have been partners with Davenport from the early days.  They're good men, who'd go to the wall for Lucas, but I find their personalities are less developed then Del's.

II.  Why You Should Read This Murder Book:  (The Judgment)

Like many of you reading this, I've been a fan of John Sandford's "Prey" series since the very beginning.  However, in recent years, I feel that the series has been slipping a bit.  I think a lot has to do with the fact that Sandford may be getting a bit bored with his creation.  That's just my humble opinion, and I certainly have no way of knowing for sure if that's the case or not.

However, I think that "Buried Prey" brings the Davenport saga back into focus.  As I said before, I thought that the "flash-back" part of the book would bore me (and it did, initially), but after really getting into it, it reminded me of where Lucas came from, and how he became the top-rate investigator that he is.

I should also mention that a major character in the series will be killed.  I won't say which one, but (unfortunately) this kind of thing adds to the realism factor.  Yes, cops lose their lives trying to protect the rest of us.  That is an accurate (although tragic) part of the life they lead.

I also appreciated the fact that Davenport's personal life was kept a bit in the background.  In some murder books (in my opinion) the main character's love life, family difficulties, etc. can distract from the main focal point of the story.

Sandford avoided this in "Buried Prey".  Yes, there was mention of Weather's pregnancy.  And yes, Letty and Weather gave their opinions about the case and Davenport's involvement in it.

Weather, especially put her two cents in (I acknowledge that as his wife she can do that).  And the little stunt she pulled at the very end (as in removing stitches from Lucas's back) was childish to the core.

But, at least we didn't get bogged down with a lot of domestic drama.  This is, after all, a murder book.

Sandford stayed on point, and I, for one, appreciated it.  I think you will, too.