Archive for August, 2010

Read It And Reap

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

Want to know how many ways there are to unravel a mystery? Solve a crime? Catch a murderer? Crack a case? Piece together a puzzle? Well, if you do, you’ll find most all of them in one novel that’s a rocking good read. Bad Things Happen by Harry Dolan.

What makes this mystery more fun than other mysteries, is that the author has constructed not just a series of crimes that may or may not lead to to other crimes, but also a series of theoretical ways the crimes may have gone down resulting in even more theories about motives, suspects, and more. The icing on the potentially, but actually not, convoluted cake is that the whole meal is cooked in a mystery writer’s oven.

Here’s the story in a nutshell. Without revealing anything an unsuspecting reader wouldn’t want revealed. The publisher of a mystery magazine hires a mysterious individual to be one of his editors. The publisher winds up dead. Was it suicide or murder? The mysterious individual just happened to be having an affair with the publisher’s wife. The publisher, prior to his death, asked the mysterious editor to help him bury a body. Whose body was it? Other people start to die. People connected with the mystery magazine. Some publicly. Some not so publicly. Are their deaths connected to the publisher’s death? How many of those deaths are murder or suicide? Who’s killing who? And for what reason? Or reasons.

Writers, editors, secretaries, interns, wives, lovers, ex-cons, ghost-writers– everyone’s a suspect. The police, particularly an appealing single-mom detective with a spunky (but not cloyingly cute) teenage daughter, do their best to try to untangle the tangled web of deceit, danger and death. More scenarios abound than a cop can shake a nightstick at, but which ones are possible, plausible, even probable? Within the confines of the narrative, the author shows us an infinite variety of things that might have happened or could have happened. But which ones really did? And of course, the big question…who’s responsible for whatever the hell happened?

Rather than creating confusion, Harry Dolan, the author, has actually created an intricate Rubik’s Cube of possibilities that reminds the reader that nothing is as simple as it might seem. Simultaneously, he’s also brought to life an appealing cadre of characters to enliven the pages of this most appealing whodunit. There are bitchy authors, beautiful babes, good men gone bad, bad men gone straight, hoods, hangers-on and a very mysterious protagonist. The entire book is fun to read, hard to put down, and easy to come back to.

I will admit, that at least for me, I found the ultimate conclusion (make that conclusions) something less than credible. Not impossible. Just not particularly believable. But it’s easy to forego credibility when a reader is having so much fun getting caught up in all the real and potential goings-on. And, to be honest, I found the very last sequence of the book a bit unnecessary, added perhaps for literary effect or ultimate closing of the loop. But still, it didn’t add anything other than a few more pages. These are mere minor offenses however when compared to the entertainment you will experience when you decide to let Bad Things Happen in your reading room.

Trust The Fiction Fortune Hunter. Read this one and you’ll reap lots of rewards.

Time Neither Forgets Nor Forgives

Friday, August 13th, 2010

The cliche is that “time heals all wounds.” I’ve just read a novel that hangs that hoary phrase out to dry like an animal skin tacked to the side of a barn. In a perversely meandering psychological tale entitled The Insult, the passage of time does little more than continually circle back on itself to avenge wrongs. And it’s not just the wrong doers who suffer. Anyone foolish or unlucky enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time is just as likely to incur the wrath of this particular cosmic conscience. No one is totally immune.

The novel, by Rupert Thomson, begins realistically enough–a man walking through a supermarket parking lot is shot in the head. Would that such random hideousness never occurred. But we all know too well such things happen. In this instance, the man, Martin Blom, recovers, but finds himself totally blind. His doctor informs him his sight will never return. And Martin believes him. Until strangely enough, Martin develops an ability to see at night. A fact he hides from his doctor, who has told him he may experience hallucinations that make him believe he is really seeing when in fact he isn’t. So, does he see or doesn’t he? That’s for the reader to find out. And that’s just one of the questions raised in this evocative narrative.

Alienation is a theme that runs throughout The Insult. Even though his doctor and the hospital staff are kind, competent, and caring, Martin separates himself from them as quickly as he can. Even though his mother and father and fiancee are sympathetic, loving and willing to help in every way they can, Martin leaves them too. Isolating himself in a run down hotel, he is determined to be alone, independent, and self-sustaining. He looks upon his injury as a chance to start a new life. It may not be what his former life offered him, but it will be something of his own making.

In this new life, Martin meets a girl, Nina. A girl unlike he has ever met before. Nina is in no way put off by his blindness. In fact, she seems to be attracted to it. As their relationship builds, Martin maintains his secret of nocturnal sight. Savoring the edge it seems to give him. An edge not only on Nina, but on all who see him as just another blind man.

As Martin works with the police who are trying to find out who fired the shot that cost him his sight, Nina vanishes. Was she kidnapped? Killed? Did she just leave? All of a sudden the police investigation into Martin’s injury becomes an investigation into Nina’s disappearance–with Martin as a prime suspect.

Physical and psychological questions abound. Can Martin really see or is he just imagining it? Does Martin want to find out what happened to Nina because he loves her, or did he himself have something to do with her disappearance? He doesn’t think he did. At least not on a conscious level. Which is why he leaves the city and seeks out the people in Nina’s past she told him about. A mother from whom she’s estranged. A father who may not be her father at all. A friend who’s told her he will do anything for her–even kill.

Two-thirds into the novel, the focus which has been on Martin, seems to change to the checkered history of Nina’s lineage. A virtual book within a book emerges to detail Nina’s familial past. Some readers may be annoyed at the fact that the tome has seemed to leave one story in mid-air and switch to another. But is that truly the case, or are they intertwined? And can the present mystery be solved without unearthing the tragic events that occurred so many years before, but now lead inexorably to both Nina and Martin.

The author, Rupert Thomson, is interested in more than simply constructing a mysterious maze. He wants to explore issues like fate, sin and its consequences. Not just for the sinners, but for those who come after them as well. It’s disconcerting to think that something someone else did long ago, might have a direct effect on our own lives. But it’s certainly possible. And actually quite credible. The Fiction Fortune Hunter finds it also compelling and unforgettable as delivered via The Insult.

Call A Cab, Get a Mystery

Tuesday, August 3rd, 2010

The novel is set in big city America. Chicago, to be specific. Where, like most cities, people, places, and things have changed. Some for the better. A lot for the worse. The hero, protagonist, and narrator of the story is Eddie Miles, a cab driver who knows the city just about as well as any city can be known. He’s addicted to it like some men are addicted to booze or bad women. And he’s addicted to driving his hack. A job he bitches about, but can’t seem to quit.

The plot of Nobody’s Angel is rather straightforward. Hookers are getting killed. More frequently than usual. Cabbies are becoming casualties too. The mean streets of Chicago have gotten a lot meaner. And one cabbie, Eddie, isn’t content to count on the cops to bring it all under control. Not when he’s likely to find himself looking up from the wrong end of a cold slab in the morgue.

Luckily though, this is not a novel about the Taxi Driver as avenger. There are too many avenger novels anyway. Eddie’s the kind of guy who wants to set things right, but he’s not the kind to go on a Death Wish mission to take out all the low-lifes who might be possible suspects. Rather he watches, and waits, and listens. And as he does, we learn a lot about the Midwest’s biggest city. We learn that cab drivers never go South. That they never go West when they can avoid it. And they don’t go East because there’s nothing there except Lake Michigan. They ply their trade in the North part of the city. Back and forth to O’Hare airport. The streets and roads that intertwine through the Loop, Downtown and Uptown, River North, Old Town, Lincoln Park, the Gold Coast, Lake Shore Drive to Sheridan or Evanston, maybe even Skokie. But never toward Cicero. That’s south and cabbies don’t go South.

To those who know Chicago, as does The Fiction Fortune Hunter, having been a resident for ten years, you quickly realize all of the cabbie creed is really about race. The South Side of Chicago is predominantly black. Poor black. You avoid it simply because that’s where the trouble is. Shootings. Stabbings. Gang assault. Armed robbery. That’s what you’re avoiding, just as any war zone would be. Do the good, descent people of the South Side get a bad deal because of that? Absolutely. But that’s just the way it is. Nobody wants to drop off a cleaning lady in the middle of the night and have to deadhead back through neighborhoods even the cops stay away from unless they get a call. Nobody’s Angel was written in the mid nineties. But things hadn’t changed that much when I was there from 2000 to 2010.

A cabbie’s life is fraught with peril. There’s always the risk of robbery or worse. There’s mean, or sick drunks in the back of the cab. There’s the tricksters who con you into taking them where they want to go, then bolt when it’s time to pay the fare. There’s long hours, low pay, and lots and lots of restrictions. The author, ,Jack Clark, uses those “do’s and don’ts” from the City of Chicago, Department of Consumer Services, Public Vehicles Operations Division to start each chapter. Often juxtaposing the good intent of the directive with the unintended consequence of actually following it. He’s very familiar with both. Still being a taxi driver as well as a novelist.

The Angel of the title is actually Eddie himself. You have to determine, once you’ve come to the end of the ride, whether it’s a proper label or not.

Tight. Fast. Hard-hitting, Nobody’s Angel delivers an urban mystery cold as its icy streets and cutting as Chicago’s raw wind. There’s little to no sympathy in this tale. But there is humanity. And that’s something you take wherever you can find it.