Showing posts with label detective novel. Show all posts
Showing posts with label detective novel. Show all posts

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

New Fiction---The Lincoln Letter: Two Plots and Four Characters Chase A National Treasure in Two Centuries

The Lincoln Letter, William Martin, Tom Doherty Associates Publishing, 450 pages, one map, $25.99.

In a novel that is both clever and precariously balanced, William Martin offers two plots which are separated by 150 years.  Archivist Peter Fallon and media consultant Evangeline Carrrington are modern treasure hunters who are on the trail of a pocket diary kept by Abraham Lincoln which he lost in the military telegraph office during 1862. Does it contain Lincoln's private thoughts as he contemplates the emancipation of those slaves held by Southerners in rebellion?

Fallon has found a letter written by Lincoln that hints that the diary existed.  Is waiting to be found?  Scholars from different academic camps and multi-millionaires with political agendas are on the diary's trail.  Some want the journal for political prestige, symbolic value, or in order to denigrate Lincoln and take him off his pedestal.  Some hope that the diary reveals  the dark truth about Lincoln's emancipation proclamation that may enhance or destroy certain scholars' and politicans' reputations.

In 1862 Lieutenant Halsey Hutchison, wounded veteran of an 1861 battle is a telegrapher and courier in the military telegraph office that Lincoln frequently visits. Upon finding Lincoln's pocket diary, he gaines new adversaries: Pinkerton detectives who may be involved in a coup d'etate with McClellan at its center, a brothel owner who has a lot of politicans in his pocket, and an abolitionist who seeks to keep the diary out of the hands of proslavery Democratic politicians.

The 1862 setting allows for a certain frequency in the use of guns and knives that the 2012 does not allow. Both the 1862 and the modern Washington D.C. are well described and the characters manners and behaviors reflect the eras.  African Americans are key characters in both eras. Civil War reenactors inhabit the modern era.   Martin handles the two plots well; neither gets too far behind or too far ahead of the other. Characters are unique to their era.  Overall, The Lincoln Letter page turner in which readers are offered fine descriptions of Washington D.C. in 1862 and 2012.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Off Topic Novel---Dennis Lahane' Moonlight Mile

Moonlight Mile, Dennis Lehane, William Morrow Publishing, 326 pages, $26.95. So, Dennis Lehane. Shutter Island, HBO's The Wire, Mystic River, Gone Baby Gone, Prayers For Rain. Some of the best of the past twnety years' novels and films have come through his talents.

Moonlight Mile addresses sentimental and rational solutions to problems of child abuse, parenting, and a corrupt and violent world. A native of Boston, Lehane creates characters, dialog, and environments that reveal race, class and gender dilemmas in personal relationships and societial obligation that reflect the Dorchester section of Boston. Once fully Irish, Polish and Catholic and the neighborhood is still that but also black and Vietnamese.

Did Former police detective Patrick Kenzie do the right thing a decade ago when he located missing Amanda McCready, a missing four year old. He returned her to her crack addict mother. Her kidnappers were a stable middle class married couple. He hasn't had it easy time living with his decision.

In Moonlight Mile, Kenzie is now scraping along as a freelance PI, married to his former detective Angie Gennaro and their daughter. Learning that again Amanda McCready’s gone missing his conscience plucks at him. The gifted and manipulative 16year-old is again between two worlds. This time it is the world of her crack addicted mom and her paroled felone boyfriend the memory of being happy for a very short time. Creating a new world where she is happy, safe and out the law, Kenzieonce again is contronted with a decision made over a decade ago. Now local tough guys, Eastern European mobsters, baby smugglers, are now the working environment of Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennaro, former police detectives, recently married and first time parents.

Dennis Lehane has written nine novels, including the New York Times bestsellers Gone, Baby, Gone; Mystic River; Shutter Island.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Off Topic---Detective Fiction: The Quiet Flame of Memory

A Quiet Flame: A Bernie Gunther Novel, Philip Kerr, Putnam Publishing, 389 pp., 2009, $26.95.

Do the names Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, James M.Cain, and Ross MacDonald ring a bell? How about Steven Saylor, John Maddox Roberts, Max Allan Collins? James Crumley? All writers of detective fiction whose entire series are on CWL's personal bookshelf. Hammett, Chandler, Cain, and MacDonald founded and extended the 'hard boiled/noir' genre of detective fiction. Saylor and Roberts have set this genre in the Roman Empire. Collins offers Prohibition/Depression/WWII and post WWII era Chicago, Crumley has set his his hard boiled/noir detective in Montana and Texas. They are masters of their trade.

Philip Kerr's detective, Bernie Gunther, fought as a late teen in the WWI trenches, joined the Berlin police force during the Wiemar Republic era and made some very difficult choices during the early 1930s as cop who did not kowtow to the Nazi regime. Kerr does not 'grind out' a Bernie Gunther novel every year. March Violets (1989), A Pale Criminal (1990), A German Requiem (1991), The One From The Other (2006), A Quiet Flame(2009), If The Dead Be Not Raised (2010).

The political violence and crimes as well as the sexual cabaret of Berlin in the 1920s and 1930s is the environment of Bernie Gunther. The cast includes historic and fiction characters. A Quiet Flame combines two stories, one set in the early 1930s Germany and one set in the late 1940s Argentina. Josef Mengele, Adolf Eichmann, Otto Skorzeny, and Hans Kammler have crucial parts in the plot but Kerr does not make it about them on every page. One of Kerr's many strengths is that he shows these Nazi in small glimpses that are crucial to the plot.

Bernie Gunther is not a high minded copper weighted down by dogmas. His notions of justice, fairness, love, duty and honor develop through the course of his lifetime and in the context of the society and culture of his era. Gunther relies on what he has learned from his father, his police mentors and the women in his life. Gunter's search for criminals is also a search for a 'usable past' (to borrow a phrase from American historian Carl Becker who coined the phrase in his 1935 essay Every Man His Own Historian). It is an immediate past of the victim, the recent past of the perpetrator and personal life history of the detective.

Readers of Kerr's 'Berlin Noir' series enjoy a fine detective story, an immersion in German social history and the complexity of very subtle evil.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Off Topic Novel---Old School Detective Story: Rizzo's War

Rizzo's War: A Novel, Lou Manfredo, Minotaur/St. Martin's Press, 290 pp., 2009, $24.99.

After 27 years on the force, Joe Rizzo becomes wise, nurturing uncle to recently promoted street cop Mike McQueen. A young, handsome, skilled and lucky, McQueen replaces Rizzo's long time partner Morelli, an alcoholic and gambler. Rizzo and McQueen tackle assaults and the occasional homicide. They are called a upon to find a missing teenager whose father is a Brooklyn councilman. Nothing is simple or obvious. Realistic urban settings in the courthouse and on the beat help pace the novel. Husband and dad Rizzo plays master to McQueen the student.

Lou Manfredo, the author, brings 25 years of experience in Brooklyn's criminal-justice system to the novel. A uniformed court officer and a court clerk, Manfredo conveys the ethical and moral situations of police work; Joe Rizzo's deals with such situations with the philosophy that "There is no right, there is no wrong, there just is." The reader wonders how often those words echo through the halls of NYC justice systmem. McQueen develops a crush on a woman who has been sexually assaulted in the subway. Vowing to capture the man who abused her, McQueen and Rizzo locate the man, who he is a junkie but has overdosed about a half an hour before their discovery. Rizzo explains to McQueen what must be done. A report is written that the man confessed to the assault before he died and they get credit for the detective work and the capture. The case is officially closed. Rizzo's art of trimming corners includes a free meal from an Italian restaurant and the performance guard duty late at night as the restaurant's staff later takes the day's profits to the bank. There are many day-to-day details like this that ring true. Rizzo's War is much like the Ed McBain's paramont 87th Precinct series of novels. CWL met McBain once and asked him what part of the writing effort was the most enjoyable. McBain said that it was living and riding with the cops that he enjoyed the most. CWL believes that Manfredo would probably answer the question in the same manner.

Off Topic---Talking Detective Fiction with a Master Writer

Talking About Detective Fiction, P. D. James, 208 pages, illustrations, bibliography, Knopf Publishing, $22.00.

James wrote Talking About Detective Fiction, at the request of the Bodleian Library, one of the great libraries of the world. As a detective fiction writer and reader for over 50 years James is fascinated by the history of detective fiction and in particular English novels and short stories of the inter-world war years when there was a surge of excellent writing. As representative of the best of British detective fiction written before and during the Golden Era, James offers The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins, Tiger in the Smoke by Margery Allingham, Murder Must Advertise by Dorothy L. Sayers, and Tragedy at Law by Cyril Hare.

In Talking About Detective Fiction James notes that detective fiction came about with the institutionalized of law enforcement in England, France and America in the 1840s. Edgar Allan Poe's four short stories with French policeman August Dupin are credited as being the first detective stories with William Godwin's Caleb Williams (1794) being an antecedent to Poe's work and Wilkie Collins The Moonstone (1868) being an predecessor. She notes that Charles Dickens, a close friend of Wilkie Collins, wrote true crime stories from interviews with police and that Dickens' Bleak House has several of detective fiction's unique features.

The writings of the Scotsman Arthur Conan Doyle, the Englishmen Dorothy L. Sayers, Agatha Christie, Josephine Tey, and Americans Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler are discussed in general by clarifying their individual styles and their talent for creating indelible characters. She examines detective fiction as social history and having distinct stylistic components within itself. James' Talking About Detective Fiction is a fine introduction to the history and elements of detective fiction. Those who are familiar with Otto Penzler's or Julian Symons' works on the history of the genre will find little new here though. Without a doubt, James who is a master creator of story, character and setting does contribute noteworthy remarks regarding other authors' strengths and weaknesses in creating each of these foundation stones upon which any good novel rests.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Off Topic Novel---One From The Big Easy, Circa 1900

Chasing the Devil's Tail: A Mystery of Storyville, New Orleans, David Fulmer, Harcourt Press, 2002, 335pp, $14.00 paperback.

CWL spent a week in New Orleans and while wandering through Bourbon Street, the World War II and the History of Mardi Gras museums an historical detective series jogged his memory. Something published in 2001 or 2002 and set in turn of the 1900s Storyville section in New Orleans. Tracking down a $5 copy of >Chasing the Devil's Tail: A Mystery of Storyville, New Orleansin a bookstore near Jackson Square, it seemed to be the time to start a new detective series set in a city where some time was being killed.

Chasing the Devil's Tail: A Mystery of Storyville, New Orleans, has going for it: 1.) the first in a long running series, 2) a detective mystery of sex, alcohol, drugs, insanity and murder, 3) a tri-racial detective, and 4) corrupt politicians and churchmen. Creole detective Valentin St. Cyr isn't comfortable with the idea that a couple of murders are being pinned on his childhood friend, Buddy Bolden who has risen to fame with the new "jass" music of his horn. St. Cyr watches his friend emotionally and professioanly self-destruct through the use of alcohol and probably opium.

Early 20th-century New Orleans with its large, elegant houses of the madams, its lice infested cribs of prostitution, and its rigid and at times fluid caste system is the setting for historical figures such as political boss Tom Anderson, early jazzman Buddy Bolden, piano player Jelly Roll Morton, photographer E.J. Bellocq whose portraits of New Orleans whores are now famous, and 'the last of the great madames' Lulu White. Each play an important role in the plot which doesn't constrict the characters into stereotypes. It is a tour the cribs, the churches, the saloons, the insane asylum, the dance halls, the morgue and the apartments of New Orleans during the first decade of 1900. The hero is conflicted by race, ethnic, childhood, voodoo and previous career choices that include amateur thief and professional policeman. CWL is now shopping for Jass the second in the series.

The author is a journalist who has written about jazz and blues for National Public Radio, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and other publications. He has also written and produced the documentary Blind Willie's Blues.