Two Kinds of Truth (Harry Bosch #22), by Michael Connelly

Eight stars

Michael Connelly has been hard at work to bring readers another instalment in the Harry Bosch series. With Bosch having such a long existence in the crime thriller world, some permutations had to be expected with the 22nd novel. Three years away from the LAPD, Bosch has been contentedly working for the San Fernando PD as a detective. His current focus is the piles of cold cases that haunt the region. When Bosch is visited by a former partner and two other officials, he learns that a man sitting on death row that he put away for murder three decades ago has been given another chance by the LAPD Convictions Integrity Unit (CIU). After opening an investigation when another man confessed to the crime, DNA not previously processed was found on the victim’s clothing. Additionally, there is an attempt to sandbag Bosch, citing that he went rogue and planted evidence. As Bosch tries to process this, he is called out on a fresh case, where two pharmacists have been killed at work. With the CIU investigation pushed to the back of his mind, Bosch begins exploring the dark world of drug-dealing by scrip, where plants are sent into pharmacies (sometimes willing) and having hundreds of prescriptions filled for oxy pills, only to have them released on the streets. The deeper he digs, the more complex the web Bosch discovers. While he may be a few years away from dealing with warm victims, Bosch will stop at nothing to get to the bottom of this case. Meanwhile, turning to his half-brother, Bosch engages the services of Mickey Haller to help him through the mess that is CIU and the upcoming hearing to clear the name of a death row inmate. Does Bosch have enough recollection to keep his name clear from the mud? Can Haller pull a proverbial rabbit out of a hat? How can they dismiss the video of a sealed evidence container holding clothing that was stained with DNA that did not belong to the killer? Readers are treated to a wonderful story that does not let go until the bitter end. Perfect for series fans who enjoy a little Bosch with their mystery.

I have long been a Michael Connelly fan and this novel helps support that claim. It is a successful author who can juggle a series for as long as Connelly has kept Bosch going without allowing things to go stale. Connelly finds new angles and approaches for his protagonist to ensure that the grit for which Bosch is so well known does not dull. Pulling on a few threads from Bosch’s background or personal life, Connelly pulls the reader into the middle of the man’s life, as well as his acclamation to a smaller and less vigorous life as a cold-case detective. Bosch is surrounded by many secondary characters, some new and some long-established, all of whom complement (never compliment) Bosch on his journey through the narrative. The story is clean and the premise poignant, as oxy drugs supersaturate the market now. Connelly shows his research is strong and all-encompassing to present such a wonderful story, pulling on various parts of the underworld. I can see Bosch continuing his strong reign within the crime thriller genre, helped by the superior writing of Michael Connelly. Surely Haller fans with also enjoy what the author has done in this meshing story.

Kudos, Mr. Connelly, for this wonderful piece. Some have commented that things are going off the rails, though I cannot see it myself. I wonder if you have ideas about meshing all your L.A. characters in a coming novel.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

Insidious Intent (Tony Hill and Carol Jordan Thriller #10), by Val McDermid

Eight stars

Returning with another high-intensity novel in the Hill and Jordan series, Val McDermid shows why she has been given so much praise for her mystery writing. When a vehicle is found engulfed in flames along the side of the road, questions mount. It is only when fire crews extinguish the blaze that they discover a charred body, later identified as Kathryn McCormick. Forensic examination discovers that Kathryn was likely strangled before being placed in the vehicle and the fire was used to destroy anything that might help. A call to REMIT (the Regional Major Investigation Team) means that the locals are taking no chances. REMIT is a group that has been pulled together by DCI Carol Jordan, a small and very select group that is sure to leave those peering in from outside highly jealous. However, Jordan is also trying to get her life back together after some less than legal maneuvers kept her out of jail, but also allowed some other offenders to slip through the cracks. When Jordan and the team seek to tease out some information about the killer, they discover all forensics at the scene have been destroyed by water and there are very few leads. However, refusing to lay down and give up, Jordan pushes to use CCTV footage and the like to find this killer. When another body is discovered in a vehicle, the team is thankful that the blaze was left to burn itself out, turning the scene into a forensic jackpot. The more REMIT can find, the better the killer’s profile, which is where Tony Hill finds his expertise useful. Hill is able to extrapolate and soon discovers that there may be a wedding crasher killer, preying on vulnerable women. Away from the action, DS Paula McIntyre has come to see that her ‘adopted’ son, Torin, is beginning to exhibit highly confusing behaviour. Not sure if this is tied to his mother’s recent death, DS McIntyre uses Tony Hill’s expertise to crack things open, only to discover another disturbing set of circumstances. With a killer on the loose and scores of weddings all over the place, REMIT cannot be sure of where to turn next, or what might be fuelling these murders. DCI Jordan had best regain her focus, or step aside, as all eyes are watching, some ready to pounce on REMIT failure. A wonderfully plotted piece that seeks to stir up emotion in the reader throughout the experience. McDermid and series fans will bask in the strength of this piece, which is sure to garner new fans, though I recommend they start at the beginning of this impactful collection.

McDermid never falters when she sits down and dedicates herself to a series. The Hill-Jordan collection is full of great aspects of crime, character growth, and personal struggles, which leaves the reader fully committed, but always wanting a little more. Carol Jordan receives a great deal of the focus in this novel, tackling some of her guilt related to having her drunk driving charge swept under the rug, but also having to come to terms with the pressure of REMIT and that many want it to die a painful death. McDermid allows this thread to float around through the narrative, including an angle of journalistic integrity when someone gets ahold of the previously buried information. While she and Hill remain committed to not committing, Tony is able to remain on the periphery and do what he does best, climb into the minds of killers and those who need a psychological analysis. The banter between these two and the other strong, secondary characters permits McDermid to forge ahead with a strong crime thriller. The story itself has some interesting aspects, as the reader is given full view of the killer and their attempts to lure vulnerable women at weddings. Building up their confidence and preparing the foundation for a wonderful relationship before killing them, symbolic of a larger issue at hand. McDermid weaves the story around the killer and REMIT, creating a wonderful cat and mouse game, but not turning it into anything too laborious. Peppering the narrative with that secondary criminal situation, involving Torin, keeps the reader on their toes and sharp-minded throughout. The delivery is strong and, as I have always come to find with McDermid, leaves little time to rest. There is always something going on and the reader cannot tune out for a chapter or three, for fear of missing essential information. Without getting specific, the ending leaves fans begging for another instalment, as loose threads dangle. This series has it all, without dragging things out for 500+ pages, just to get to the end.

Kudos, Madam McDermid, for all your hard work. I find that a few of your series with which I have familiarised myself remain strong and full of forensic spark. Keep it up and your fan base will grow exponentially.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

Murder in the Manuscript Room (A 42nd Street Library Mystery #2), by Con Lehane

Six stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Con Lehane, St. Martin’s Press, and Minotaur Books for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Returning to the majestic building of the 42 Street Library in New York City, Con Lehane continues the adventures of Crime Fiction librarian Raymond Ambler. In this story, Ambler finds himself in the middle of quite the conundrum. Tasked with preparing a display of crime fiction over the past century and a half, Ambler must come up with a collection that taps into all aspects of crime. In waltzes a former cop and aspiring author, Paul Higgins, who wishes to donate his private papers to the cause, but seeks a promise that they will not be shared with anyone. Ambler holds them in trust, but it is only then that the real trouble starts. Working alongside Adele Morgan has helped foster a close friendship, which may have more to it. However, when a murder occurs within Ambler’s own office, Adele’s closeness to the victim proves more an impediment than help. Leila Stone seems to have been working at the library under an assumed name and on a mission. As NYPD Homicide begin their investigation into the Stone murder, they are shoved aside when the Intelligence Division takes control of the case and quickly snatches up a suspect. Adele’s ongoing interest in this man, an Islamic scholar, leaves Ambler concerned that she might be shielding the truth out of a sense of romantic desire. Meanwhile, Ambler is trying to process having his grandson living with him while in a custody battle with the boy’s maternal grandmother. Seeking to uncover the rationale for this murder and if it might have ties to a case three decades in the past takes a back burner, as Ambler attempts to keep his personal life from falling apart. There seems to be more to every story in his life, but Ambler can find neither index nor cliff notes in an attempt to set it straight. Lehane offers some interesting sleuthing insight in this piece that meanders as much as this summary review. Possibly of interest to those who like a little mystery with the protagonist’s angst-filled journey.

I must congratulate Con Lehane for putting together the foundation of what looks to be a highly intriguing and captivating novel. This is the second in the series and I enjoyed the debut novel, though this piece seemed to lack a strong connection to the core essentials. The characters develop well, for the most part, particularly Raymond Ambler and Adele Morgan, though outside of their emotional tug-of-war, I found a number of the other characters out of sync with the story arc. Their personalities were present, the backstories seemed to fit, but the delivery seemed less than what I might have hoped to see. It was as though Lehane let his characters scurry around like ants and used the narrative to zoom in and offer some commentary before panning out and looking elsewhere. The story had the potential to be strong and well grounded, but meandered too much to really connect for me. Surely the present and past murders that are developed throughout have something that ties them, for that is the flavour that the narrative offers. However, nothing seemed to bring it all together smoothly for me. While some might say it is petty, I felt that Lehane did not use gaps in time effectively. Where some authors might use a set of asterisks or symbols to denote a delay in the narrative or even an empty line or two, Lehane seems to steamroll ahead two days between sentences. Yet, he does use the aforementioned ‘gap symbols’ on other occasions as well. This inconsistency left me wondering if the draft of the book was posted to the galley site before proofreaders or editors had done the job for which they are paid. I cannot be sure whether Lehane should be shamed on those who received payment for shoddy work. Either way, there is a glimmer of possibility here and I may return if a third novel surfaces, though I cannot promise to add it to my watchlist.

Kudos, Mr. Lehane for a valiant effort. The pieces may not have worked too well as a cohesive unit, but they were far from jagged and destructive.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye (Millennium #5), by David Lagercrantz

Eight stars

Commissioned to continue the Millenium series, David Lagercrantz seeks to carve out his own niche while remaining true to Stieg Larsson’s foundation. Here, the reader remembers some of the issues that faced Lisbeth Salander, now sitting in prison for the computer crimes she committed. While on the inside, Salander shows her highly aggressive side as she protects a vulnerable Muslim prisoner who is accused of a murder, but espouses her innocence. When the prison gang leader learns that Salander will not back down, brutality seems the only option. That said, no one can tell when Salander will blow her lid and the damage that she’ll bring about thereafter, which leaves this leader rushed to the infirmary on at least one occasion. Salander has been doing some research into her past, tied to something called The Registry, an organization she remembers worked alongside her mother years ago. Turning to investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist, Salander points him in the direction of an elderly lawyer who may possess a vast number of documents tied to her time with The Registry. When Blomkvist locates the lawyer, it is too late, as someone’s come to kill the man before he can reveal much of anything. When Salander is released from prison, she has numerous groups looking to exact revenge on her, from a devout Islamic community through to those who ran The Registry and cannot allow their secret to come out. Will Salander and Blomkvist learn enough to provide answers and discover just how deep The Registry goes and how many others might be suffering the consequences? Lagercrantz weaves not only a highly educational piece about genetics and human behaviour, but returns to Larsson’s intense style as the story morphs in wonderful twists that provide just enough angst to sustain the series’ trademark style. Series fans can breathe a sigh of relief that everyone is back on track and those who have an interest in the series can pick this one up to whet their appetites.

I will be the first to admit, I was in the minority when it came to people who was displeased with David Lagercrantz taking over the series. I have had bad experiences when authors take the reins from an author who is either deceased or has chosen to fade away. Larsson’s work is on a pedestal for a reason and when Lagercrantz sought to spin it his own way, I could not help but be upset. I was tentative in choosing to continue with the series, but held my breath after seeing so many positive reviews. I am glad that I did, for Lagercrantz has done a wonderful job working through threads in the series (namely Salander and Blomkvist), as well as injecting some interesting tangents in this novel, primarily building on Lisbeth’s twin sister Camilla. I will venture not to speak too much about the scientific or experimental aspects of the story, for fear some will scream ‘SPOILER ALERT’, but can say that I was quite curious to learn all about these studies from the past number of decades. The characters in the story are wonderfully crafted and quite unique, tapping into many aspects of the story. Lagercrantz keeps Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist as central, though many of the periphery characters also enrich the larger story. Salander receives some long-awaited aspects to her backstory, including discussion of her curious tattoo, which is finally addressed at length. Speaking of the narrative, it flows nicely, hampered at times with some translation issues that appear to slow the momentum, but there is an overall high quality to the story and its direction rarely wanes. Lagercrantz has some wonderful ideas that he weaves into the narrative and does not let up until the very end, permitting the reader to feel a strong connection to the overall themes the series has to offer. Readers looking for high quality writing need look no further, as Lagercrantz has compiled strong pieces from the Stieg Larsson playbook to deliver a knockout punch.

Kudos, Mr. Lagercrantz, for this powerful piece of writing. You’ve saved yourself in my eyes and I can relax that the following five novels in the series (if the original ten promised by Larsson remains the plan) shall blossom under your guidance.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

To Kill The President, by Sam Bourne

Eight stars

As Sam Bourne returns with another explosive thriller, he stirs the political pot and is sure to cause an uproar on both sides of the aisle. When the current President of the United States (POTUS) goes on a rampage in the middle of the night, he starts a chain of events that brings the world to within seconds of nuclear annihilation. This proves to be a major red flag for his Chief of Staff, Bob Kassian, who can see that his boss is flirting with absolute disaster. Added to that, POTUS’s Chief Strategist is a diehard supporter and is willing to spin anything in favour of the Leader of the Free World. Crawford ‘Mac’ McNamara is a take-no-prisoners and candy-coat nothing type of guy, whose brash comments in the West Wing have women diving for cover and others picking their jaws up off the floor. One of the few hold-outs from the previous Administration is Maggie Costello, ardent enemy of POTUS’s politics, but hoping to prove the balancing opinion from her perch in the White House Counsel’s Office. When the President’s personal physician is found dead in a Washington park, early signs point to suicide. However, Maggie’s sleuthing skills force her not to stand by waiting for answers, especially with all the inconsistencies. Further poking around leads her to uncover a plot to assassinate the sitting president, news that could change the course of the country. The more she learns, the further Maggie’s conviction that Bob Kassian is at the heart of things. As she tries to transmit the news to the authorities, someone is trying to silence her, which could spell disaster for all involved. With a trained assassin leaving digital breadcrumbs and preparing for the mission of a lifetime, Maggie finds herself persona non grata on the grounds of the White House. When all is said and done, it is not the act that proves most dangerous, but the spin taken by the likes of Mac that serves as the larger weapon. Bourne has done a wonderful job ruffling feathers in this poignant and timely piece, sure to cause much chatter amongst readers. Perfect for those who like controversial topics and fans of political thrillers.

It is likely the similarities to the actual situation in the United States that has everyone up in arms about this book. I have seen some folks scrambling to toss this book and Bourne under the bus, labelling him as a ‘crackpot’ and having ‘churned out this garbage in short order to prove a point’. However, it is this panic that has me wondering if Bourne hit a truthful nerve amongst this segment, worried they finally see the person they chose to back as the man he might well be. Removing the name and exact happenings, Bourne is able to play the Devil’s Advocate and permit fiction to spin the story in numerous directions. Some seem happy to toss out the epithets, but when things get a little too hot, it is time to vilify anyone who differs and paint them as a traitor or idiot. Bourne’s use of strong characters in this novel is surely one of the reasons it has rung true with many folks, from a POTUS who is off the rails through to a Chief of Staff unable to use political and sensible means to calm his boss. Maggie Costello makes her return in wonderful fashion, trying to crack the code and communicate her findings. However, Crawford McNamara provides the most insight into the entire situation here, forcing the reader to digest some of the ideas they may not wish to hear. Bourne uses Mac’s verbal tirades to posit that as much as Americans do not want to admit it, there may be a shard of themselves in this bombastic leader. Racist, pig-headed, refusing to accept other views… and yet, when push comes to shove, it was all through democratic means that this man made it to the White House. Spin or not, there were few legal ways to end the madness people rally against, but it is by no means easy, as Mac makes clear. The story itself is well-paced and keeps the reader wanting to learn more, though the horror of it all might be scarier than anyone wishes to admit. The themes are definitely not hidden, nor are the paths laid out before the reader. I can only hope that some will read this and see for themselves just what a mess things have become, without trying to toss the other side under the bus and point fingers. Bourne may be trying to say (from his British perch), “you got yourselves into this mess… now deal with it.” I would tend to agree, but is killing the man the only way to silence the incessant chirping (or, shall I say, ‘Tweeting’)?

Kudos, Mr. Bourne, for a riveting reading experience. I can only hope that you’ll keep your finger on the pulse and pen some more wonderfully written pieces like this for readers to enjoy down the road.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: