First off, in my last entry I mentioned that I had forgotten to include a book in my December updates. But I had also forgotten the book’s title, so I could not mention it at all. Fortunately the author of the book blurbed one of this entry’s books which jogged my memory. This is my official recognition that I read and enjoyed Blake Crouch’s Dark Matter. It’s a terrific, mind-fucky novel.

The Blaze – Chad Dundas
I find new books to read in strange places. I learned of this one via a golf writer on Twitter. The writer, Kevin Van Valkenberg, played football at the University of Montana, and through that has some connection with Chad Dundas. KVV blurbed this on Twitter, I added it to my list, and I’m glad I did.

The Blaze is focused on Matthew Rose, an Iraqi war vet who returns home with most of his memory wiped out following an IED attack. After spending time with his mother in Florida, he returns to his native Montana following his dad’s suicide. He reconnects with high school friends with little idea what their previous relationships entailed. He also stumbles across a house fire that kills a grad student at the local university. The fire elicits a memory of a fire from his youth, and soon he and his high school girlfriend, a reporter for the local paper, are digging into possible connections between the two. As they unravel the mystery the outcome is a little telegraphed. But that only takes away slightly from what is a pretty solid, easy read.

Golden State – Ben H. Winters
The former Butler professor with another novel placed in a slightly different version of the modern age. He wrote the Last Policeman trilogy based on a world that was about to end thanks to a collision with a comet. Underground Airlines imagined a modern US where the Civil War had never been fought, and the country was split in two.

Golden State takes place now, or maybe slightly in the future, in the fictional “Golden State,” which is the name for the new nation that occupies the physical space California once held. We never really learn what caused the split, but the Golden State is a land where lies are not allowed. The truth must always be told, because when people do not tell the truth, terrible things happen. Like whatever destroyed the old US of A.

Laszlo Ratesic is a member of the Speculative Service, policemen who are allowed to male informed guesses to help solve crimes. While investigating a pretty normal death – a worker has fallen off the roof of a building – Laszlo stumbles into a very messy case that involves the standard police, a high-placed judge, and the Experts who run the Golden State. What makes the case so messy is that he uncovers a rot at the core of the country that shakes everything he believes in.

Winters does a nice job of combining crime writing with sci-fi and speculative fiction. This book feels uneven, though. He was on the path to something potentially great and just missed his mark. A coda where Laszlo is banished from the Golden State and discovers some of the reality of what happened to the rest of the former US felt tacked on and unnecessary.

Night Boat to Tangier – Kevin Barry
I forgot that I read Barry’s Beatlebone a few years back. After I read this book I looked back on my review of Beatlebone and saw that I didn’t like it very much. I guess I’m 0–2 on Barry’s books now.

This is a story centered on two middle aged Irish criminals who are holed up at the Spanish port of Algeciras, hoping to find a daughter who has been missing for several years while she lives a nomadic life. Barry jumps back in time to show how the men got to that point: how they made it, briefly, big importing drugs; how they crashed both in terms of addiction, personal failures, business disasters; how they went through rehab together; and even when one of them stabbed the other. We come to learn why the daughter might not have any interest in reconnecting with her father and his best friend. Barry introduces the daughter late in the book, as she sees the men waiting and avoids them thanks to a change in her appearance. She boldly walks by them and stares directly into their faces before boarding a boat to Tangier. All the men can do is admire her boldness and wonder, moments later, if she didn’t somehow look familiar.

This is a pretty tight book. But I struggled with it. Part of it is the patois that Barry writes in. These are relatively uneducated, Irish tough guys and his printed dialogue is exactly how they would speak. Some sentences I honestly couldn’t make sense of.

But I also struggled to connect with the story. There were parts that were funny, but none of it was all that compelling to me. I didn’t feel sympathy for the men. While I hoped that the girl got away, I wasn’t super invested in her, either.

All that said, I must admit that I read this the week of March 16, our first week of home schooling and limited lockdown. I was a little distracted. I often found my attention drifting either to whatever horrible news story I had just read, or toward the next BBC news bulletin. I think this novel is a bit tough, but I still wasn’t able to give it my full reading powers.

The Wanted – Robert Crais
I haven’t had a one-day book for awhile. And on a day when I was able to spend time outside, no less! But I did start this last Friday afternoon and finished it mid-evening Saturday.

I’m sure I’ve read some of Robert Crais’ work before, but it was in the days before I tracked every book I read. Which is a damn shame because this was a terrific read and I really should have sprinkled his books over the past 15 years or so.

Crais has two characters that populate most of his books: private investigators Elvis Cole and Joe Pike. Here Cole is hired by a single mom to investigate why her teenage son has a room filled with expensive clothes, a Rolex, and other things he has no business possessing. Cole quickly determines that the boy is involved in a series of burglaries of rich, LA residents’ homes.

However, Cole is not the only one seeking the boy and his partners. In their burglaries they took a laptop loaded with damning evidence of a murder an LA business tycoon covered up, and he has hired hitmen to track down the laptop and kill anyone with knowledge of it.

The book is a brisk race between Cole and the hitmen to find the boy and his partners first. There is, naturally, a highly violent and satisfying confrontation at the end.

I’m about to finish the stack of books I grabbed from the library before it closed. I’m pleased to see they have a number of Crais’ books in Kindle format. I believe I will be wearing out that list between now and when the library is able to open again.