Death without Tenure
Monday, April 26, 2010
Death without Tenure
Saturday, April 24, 2010
Publication Date April 27, 2010
In the first five pages we neet Dru, he protagonist, and Lake, her lover, sound asleep on a rare weekend together.A train horn wakes Dru -- "the seven A.M. from Birmingham was smack on time." Lake lives on the third floor of an old cotton warehouse. Trains shake the building and their horns are "loud and long like an off-key contralto." To Dru the horns are like a piece of familiar music and she knows the"signature sounds of seven air horn maestroes."
A couple of phone calls later Dru is out of the shower, Lake has strapped on his cop gear, and they're on their way to a fire where two people are dead and two young girls are missing.The girls are foster children and the youngest is hearing impaired.
We learn that Dru and Lake were partners at the Atlanta PD until he was promoted to the homicide unit and she quit to start Child Trace and search for missing kids.
It's a chaotic scene: emergency vehicles, cops, firemen, curious neighbors, reporters, two search dogs with their handler, helicopter clattering overhead, The fire captain declares the fire an arsonist's work, using a delayed starter. Dru and Lake work the neighborhood. Everybody knows a little something but nobody wants to talk. Before long there's an "eeny-meeny-miney-moe of suspects."
Is the kidnapper Conrad, the universally disliked head of Child Protective Services? Is Doonan, the property-rich architect next door, a child molester? How about Dwight, the ex-con who may or may not have been wrongly convicted of pedophilia? How about Miss Goddard, also known as Gossiping Goddard, who keeps secrets? And who is "Santa," the person the two missing girls were seen chatting with earlier?
This is a busy novel, with the scene shifting from neighbors' houses, to the cemetery, where local families went for picnics, to the rail yards. A second explosion takes place. A family dog turns up dead. More murders confuse the cops. Rumours surface about other missing children.
For me, the pleasure of reading this novel comes from its adherence to old-fashioned police work. Dru and Lake study crime scenes, ask questions and cross-check gossip. Dru does have a computer hacker working for her who feeds her information, but again, it's nothing fancy, just a case of following leads. At first they find it slow going. People are too caught up in their own affairs to notice what goes on in the world around them. Everyone remembers something, however trivial, but fear getting their neighbors in trouble.
Dru and Lake finally get a break from a mysterious informant. Dru meets him in the local cathedral. His information is detailed and credible, and the chase is on.
One brief exchange gave me a chuckle. Dru asks the mysterious informant how the various players communicate. He says: "How does everybody communicate? E-mail."
The search for the missing girls kicks into high gear, but to say more would be a spoiler.
Two of my favorite characters were the sniffer dogs: Buddy, a German shepherd who sniffs the air, and Jed,a black Lab who's a ground-tracker. The author works their special skills into a scene without resorting to an information dump.
This book won the 2009 Malice Domestic contest for best first traditional mystery. Publication date is April 27.
My thanks to the author and her publisher for an ARC.
ABSINTHE OF MALICE (Krill Press 2008)
Now on Kindle $1.99
Monday, April 19, 2010
Occasionally, because there are books and authors that bear remembering, I will submit reviews of books that were released years ago. But I always edit them to remove dated references. This is one of them. - Carl Brookins, Reviewer
by Richard Barre
published by Berkley Prime Crime
a 1996 release
For you who have been waiting for the paperback of this fine novel, it is now available.
Bearing Secrets is a superb novel. One has a tendency to ladle on accolades and fulsome adjectives until the feeling that no book can be THAT good becomes a barrier to readers. Expectations can be raised too high. But this is a superb novel.
This complex, rhythmic, multi-textured novel reaches out to the reader and inexorably draws one tighter and tighter. It starts with hard-nosed PI Wil Hardesty and an anguished cry for help from a prickly, vulnerable, twenty-year-old hard-case named Holly Pfeiffer. Hardesty’s marriage is coming apart and he doesn’t know how to stop it. Mostly to distract himself from his personal troubles, he agrees to see Holly. But when he gets to her cabin near Lake Tahoe, he is repeatedly, rebuffed.
This woman is a product of her radical father’s teachings. He was a veteran of Viet Nam, and then returned to Berkley where he used his considerable intelligence and skill to harass the authorities and teach military tactics to a violent splinter group of dissidents. Naturally, his activities draw the attention of the establishment. When Holly’s father Max, dies in a fall from a high ledge in the mountains, Holly accuses the FBI of killing him. After all, the gospel according to Max had taught her that years earlier the FBI engineered her mother’s death via a car bomb. In spite of her attempts to rid herself of Hardesty, in Holly’s view just another establishment lackey, Hardesty begins a patient, earnest attempt to learn some truths.
For a time, the only secrets he bares make Max look guilty. But of what? And then....
Read Bearing Secrets and you will be appalled, exhilarated, horrified and energized. This way lies death, explicit and terrible; here lies corruption and there is exploitation. You are quickly caught up in wheels within wheels. Barre builds tension and suspense cleanly and handles both with dexterity and believability. Fully-formed characters strive against insidious power, fail under the weight of crushing secrets, and strive again. Yet author Barre does not dwell lovingly on the horror. This book is cleanly written, carefully plotted and very, very intense. It will require attention and careful reading, but Bearing Secrets will reward you in full measure.
Monday, April 12, 2010
But here’s the thing. The woman watching the boy doesn’t speak English; and Derek doesn’t speak Russian.
Derek’s an action hero, sure, although he’s prone to panic attacks and a nice variety of neuroses and superstitions. If you stick a gun to his head, he knows how to act. If you show him a bomb, he might freak a little, but he knows what to do. Bring him to a scene of a chemical weapons attack, once he’s done with his panic attack, give him a biohazard suit and send him on his way.
Have him try to give a stuffed toy to a two-year-old boy in front of the boy’s grandmother … we’ve got problems.
I just know I’m going to be tweaking this chapter for the next year. You just know when you’re writing a scene like this that you’re cranking open a window into the character’s soul in a way that’s very different from everything else you’ve done. This scene’s damned important and it’s got to work. It’s got to hurt.
And that’s the hardest part of being a novelist.
What do you think? What’s the hardest part for you?
Wednesday, April 7, 2010
A hunt for two young sisters propels Finger's compelling if at times sobering debut, which won the 2009 Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery Novel Competition. When Jessie and Dottie Rose vanish after their foster parents, Ed and Wanda Barnes, die in a fire that destroys their home in Atlanta's Cabbagetown neighborhood, Portia Devon, a juvenile judge, turns for help to Moriah Dru, a former cop who runs Child Trace Inc. Dru and her detective boyfriend, Lt. Richard Lake, who's officially assigned to the case, conclude that Wanda and a neighbor friend of hers, Millicent Goddard, may have known the predator who took the Rose sisters—and other girls in the area over the years. Millicent's murder and a tip that a child prostitution ring is involved raise the stakes. A well-researched plot and snappy dialogue—plus some fine rail-yard K-9 detecting by Buddy, a German shepherd, and Jed, a Labrador retriever—keep the action moving. (May)