Friday, June 14, 2019

Review: The Shameless

The Shameless The Shameless by Ace Atkins
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I received a free advance copy of this from NetGalley for review.

A spray-tanned sack of crap is about to win a major election because he’s very good at firing up rubes with promises of returning to a time that never really existed, and even when his shady connections and criminal history are exposed all he has to do is claim that it’s all lies by the media to get his loyal followers to ignore the stories.

You know, I usually read crime fiction to escape reality...

Quinn Colson has been the sheriff of Tibbehah County, Mississippi, for almost ten years now, but things aren’t getting any easier for him. The rise of a populist candidate for governor who wants to turn back the clock has excited a whole bunch of deplorable people who feel emboldened to act like even bigger assholes than usual. The candidate also has ties to the Dixie Mafia, and that relationship has caused an internal power struggle in the organization which reaches all the way to the lady running the local strip club. Meanwhile, a couple of podcasters from New York have come to Tibbehah to dig into the mysterious death of a high school boy twenty years earlier. That has personal connections to Quinn because his late uncle, the sheriff at the time, declared the boy’s death a suicide to the satisfaction of no one, and Quinn’s new wife was dating the kid when he died.

This series started with a fairly simple hook of a war hero returning to his hometown and trying to stop the crime and corruption he finds there. However, that summary makes it sound like this is a bunch of books about a bad ass action hero going lone wolf and taking the law into his own hands, and that’s just not the case. While Quinn is definitely a guy who can take care of himself in a fight, the solution is never just a matter of shooting the bad guys. Quinn respects the law and due process even if the people in power around him often don’t, and so the books aren’t just the fantasy of a good guy with a gun being the answer to everyone’s problem.

Another thing is that even though the series revolves around Quinn this is not just his story. Over the course of nine books Ace Atkins has built up the population of Tibbehah County to the point where we’ve spent as much time with Quinn’s family, friends, and enemies as we do with him. By building up every aspect of his fictional county and all of its characters Atkins has made the story about much more than just one sheriff in a small rural community.

That really pays off in this one because Tibbehah is clearly supposed to be a microcosm of America, and it’s obvious who the crooked political candidate is standing in for. The book displays how the promise of preserving traditions and culture as well as returning to some imagined glory days is just racist code used by rich old white men to try and keep their power. It’s also easy to see that as a former journalist Atkins is angry how the media has been smeared to give the faithful an excuse to turn a blind eye to crimes and horrible behavior.

The podcast subplot provides another interesting angle on the media aspect. The two young ladies seem like responsible and decent people who genuinely want to expose the truth about a hidden crime. However, they’re also looking for a good story, and they're just a little too eager to jump on a juicy theory once it presents itself. Again, this seems to be a veteran journalist doing some commentary about how facts are important, but but the context and agenda of who is presenting them also needs to be considered. That's a very valid point at a time when true crime stories are being picked over and analyzed by podcasts and internet sleuths.

This one also ends on a cliff-hanger and most definitely seems like part one of a larger story. There’s always been some on-going threads from book to book that have built up a larger story in this series, but generally we also get a self-contained storyline as well. This time not much is resolved, but I’ll be counting the days until we find out what happens next.

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Thursday, June 6, 2019

Review: Blood Relations

Blood Relations Blood Relations by Jonathan Moore
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I received a free advance copy from the publisher for review.

Lee Crowe is the kind of private investigator who isn’t above taking a shady job from a defense attorney as part of an effort to intimidate a federal witness. While working on that project he comes across the body of a wealthy young Claire Gravesend who fell from a roof and smashed into a Rolls Royce.

Damn, but the rich even get to die in luxury.

Claire had been acting oddly before dropping out of sight. The police are calling it a suicide, but her mother isn’t convinced and hires Lee to find out the truth. Investigating Claire quickly proves to be dangerous business, and when Lee makes a shocking discovery things really start getting weird.

One of the things I loved about this one is that we start with what seems to be a gritty neo-noir tale about a morally ambiguous private detective, and that’s the thread that’s maintained even when the story starts shifting into other territory. While there are elements of other genres brought in, the style and themes are constant throughout the book.

That really works because the main draw here is the character of Crowe who we eventually learn is a disgraced former lawyer who was once on the doorstep of real wealth and power, but he lost it all once his well-connected wife got bored with him. Now Crowe seems to have few lines he won’t cross like after discovering Claire’s body he takes a picture and sells it to a tabloid for a nice payday.

Despite apparently having no moral code we see throughout the book that Crowe is more complex than a guy willing to do any dirty job for money. Having once had a glimpse behind the curtain of privilege to see how rigged the game is he has no compunction about cheating himself. Even as he’s willing to work for the benefit of the wealthy there’s also resentment simmering in the background, and once he starts learning the truth about Claire Gravesend he’s capable of outrage and wanting to see some justice done.

Jonathan Moore has very quickly become one of my favorite writers, and I think this is his best one yet. There’s some very slick genre fusion going on here along with good character work, and the plot makes it a compulsive page turner. But I think the most impressive thing is how he creates an almost dreamlike atmosphere at times, and yet also blend that with much more grounded elements. This is most definitely a hard boiled crime novel in tone, but there are also scenes that would be right at home in a David Lynch or Stanley Kubrick movie. It’s an intriguing mix.

This is one of the best books I’ve read this year, and I’d also highly recommend all these other ones by Moore:

The Poison Artist
The Dark Room
The Night Market
Close Reach

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