Pretty good run of books.
Lucky Supreme – Jeff Johnson
The trick to writing a good crime novel, when approximately eight billion of them have been written, is to find a new angle and/or place the story in an unusual situation. Johnson did that quite well with this book.
Darby Holland owns a tattoo parlor in Portland. He’s kind of the CEO of his little neighborhood, a grimy street in the old industrial part of town that is filled with clubs, ethnic restaurants, and prostitutes. Through both goodwill and sheer power, Holland keeps things running smoothly.
He receives word that a former employee who stole some art from his walls has been spotted in California. He sets off to find the dirtbag and, hopefully, recover his property. This leads him into a confrontation with a much more powerful criminal.
Holland does his best to outsmart his new rival, and does so brilliantly at times. For all this cleverness, though, he still lands in a trap from two sides, from which it takes a pretty fun series of events to escape from.
Johnson takes a lot of elements of classic Noir and puts them in a great new setting. His characters are memorable and rich. This is a solid book, but not my favorite thriller of the month.
A Christmas Story – Jean Shepherd
My 13th annual reading of the classic collection the movie is based on.
Two Girls Down – Louisa Luna
Thriller number two of the month.
It is centered on the disappearance of two young sisters in Pennsylvania. Their family hires a California investigator who has earned acclaim for finding disappeared children when the local authorities couldn’t. She, in turn, hires on a local investigator to assist her. He is a former cop who resigned in disgrace after a suspect being held in custody died on his watch. Now he chases cheating spouses and the occasional bail jumper.
They are an odd match with different approaches and often butt heads. But they begin finding breaks where the police can’t. Their struggle to figure each other out is nearly as compelling as their search for the girls.
Luna surrounds this duo with fantastic secondary characters, and provides just enough horror in the case’s resolution to make the reader squirm. As the father of girls, my heart was beating a little extra hard while reading the pages that determined the sisters’ fates.
As soon as I finished this book, I put several more of Luna’s on my reading list.
Bluebird, Bluebird – Attica Locke
And then I closed this stretch of books with this, which is the best of the bunch. It has a long list of accolades stamped on its cover, and they are all well-deserved.
Darren Matthews is a rarity: an African-American Texas Ranger. He has a drinking problem, is separated from his wife, has disappointed the uncle who raised him with his career choice, and begins the book testifying before a grand jury regarding whether he has aided a man accused of murder.
His badge revoked, he is sent to a small East Texas town by an old buddy in the FBI, asked to look into the murder of a Black man. That murder turns into two – the second of a white woman – and soon Matthews has his Ranger status back in order to dig into the murders.
His investigation puts him on the bad side of pretty much everyone in the small community. The local sheriff, who resents his presence and struggles to accept that a Black man can be a Ranger. The white community, who are either latent racists or members of the Aryan Nation. Even the Black community, who despite his efforts to gain their trust, view him as an outsider first rather than an ally.
Again, the mystery part of the book is fairly straightforward. It’s the extras that Locke adds that make the book really shine. Most of those extras are based on race. Particularly when she dives into how, when people of different races live amongst each other for a long time, what seem like distinct lines between the communities are actually a lot more fluid than outsiders realize. Those blurred lines can make the tragic even more heartbreaking. She also explores the uncomfortable truths that acts that seem suspicious by one group can seem justified for survival by another.
Locke throws in a very nice neutron bomb of a twist in the book’s final two pages, one that blows apart any chance for a nice, tight resolution. I see she’s written a second book centered on Matthews, which I’m excited to read to see how she builds on those final pages.