Daily Archives: May 22, 2011

Loco Motive by Mary Daheim (Review #2)

Loco MotiveReviewed by Caryn St. Clair

Loco Motive is the latest entry in a very long running series by Mary Daheim. For twenty-four previous books, readers have followed Bed and Breakfast owner Judith McMonigle and her somewhat zany cousin Renie as they have become involved in and solved numerous murders. As with many popular series, there are some books that are stronger than others. Sometimes a series just needs a change in setting-to take the characters on the road, to pep things up a bit. That is apparently what Daheim intended to do in Loco Motive.

The book begins with one of Judith’s guests, a stuntman, taking a flying leap from her roof and leaving in an ambulance. Realizing life was bordering on insane at home, Judith readily agreed to accompany Renie on a train trip to Boston. But the madcap action just keep on rolling for the pair as it turns out that the stuntman and his entourage are also on the train, as well as an assortment of other oddball characters. The train is involved in an accident in Montana, but the aftermath of sheriff pursuit carries over into North Dakota and the two women may well have (briefly) stolen a car!

While the idea of having Judith and Renie take a trip was good, the execution was a bit rough from a couple of different points of view. Mostly there is just TOO MUCH of nearly everything-too many characters to keep straight, too many plot threads going on to follow and too much activity to keep up with. The whole book is just plainly over done.

A Drop of the Hard Stuff by Lawrence Block (Review #2)

A Drop of the Hard Stuff Reviewed by Douglas R. Cobb

Matthew Scudder is back once again in Lawrence Block’s latest engrossing novel, A Drop of the Hard Stuff. It’s his most personal case ever, as it involves the death of a childhood friend, “High- Low” Jack Ellery. Ellery took a much different route than Scudder took in life, turning to a life of crime rather than becoming a cop, like Scudder. Jack, though, joined AA and at the time of his death, had been trying to make amends for all of the wrongs he’d committed by going to everyone on a list he’d written out to apologize to them and do whatever he could to make up for whatever wrongs he’d done. Scudder is also a member of AA, coming up on his one year anniversary. In the time since they were children, Scudder had only seen Jack a couple of times, once at a police lineup he was viewing. He’d committed the crime, but the witness identified someone else. In Jack, Matt sees the hard-won sobriety he hopes to achieve, and in Mat, Jack sees the moral man he might have become.

Jack’s death is a gruesome one, as he’s been shot once in the mouth and once between the eyes on his forehead. Was someone sending the message that they didn’t want him to talk, or that he’d seen too much, or both? Ellery had been a burglar, and drug addict as well as being addicted to alcohol, and before becoming a member of AA, Scudder had lost touch with Jack. Not that they would have had much to do with each other, anyway, unless their paths had crossed because of Jack getting busted by Matt, but that never happened. Still, Jack had been trying to turn his life around, and to make amends for his past, and when his sponsor Greg Stillman offers Matt $1,000 to discover if anyone on Ellery’s list was the one responsible for killing him, Scudder takes the case.

In A Drop of the Hard Stuff, Matt Scudder faces personal challenges and demons as well as investigating his boyhood friend’s murder. He deals with his own alcoholism, and we get to learn intimate details about his life and what AA’s 12 Step Program is about. His romantic relationship with Jan, who is also a member of AA and who had wanted nothing to do with him while he was still drinking for fear of setting back her own recovery, develops, though it goes through some rough spots. Scudder is a character who is easy to identify with, someone maybe like Sam Spade, if he ever got off of the “hard stuff” also. He’s a man with problems, but he doesn’t let them get in the way of his investigation.

Hangman by Faye Kellerman (Review #2)

Hangman by Faye KellermanReviewed by Caryn St. Clair

In any police officer’s career there are a few cases or people who stick with the officer through the years. It may be an unsolved case. It may be a heart wrenching victim. It may be an innocent man convicted. In Hangman, Kellerman uses the last scenario to set up one of the plot threads. Years ago, a friend of Peter’s confessed to a crime he didn’t commit the save someone else the ordeal of a trial. Eventually the truth came out and he was released from prison, got married, changed his name and became a hired killer. Peter has maintained contact with his wife over the years and now, she turns to Peter for help. The other plot thread follows a well liked nurse who goes missing only to be found hanging from at construction site. As it turns out, the nurse had a second life-a life on the wild side that few of her colleagues knew about.

This book takes a long time to set up and get moving. There is really not a lot of action until well past the mid point of the book and even then there are long passages of dialogue that do nothing to move the plot forward. This series isn’t read as thrillers anyway, so the slower pacing might well be fine for readers who are primarily interested in the procedural angle to the series. But for people who want more of a moving storyline or are primarily interested in Rina, the family drama and the inclusion of the Jewish Orthodox religion elements of the series, there is bound to be some disappointment. Rina is trying to plan a sixtieth birthday celebration for Peter and Hannah is preparing to leave for Israel to study, but overall, Rina, the family and the religion play a fairly minor role throughout Hangman.