Friday, October 16, 2009

Mr. Monk and the Two Assistants by Lee Goldberg

TV’s obsessive-compulsive detective, Adrian Monk, has a real dilemma on his hands. His two assistants are vying for his affection; Natalie having been convinced that Sharona wants her old job back. Monk is also engaged in finding out who did the dirty deeds for which Sharona’s husband Trevor is accused.

Monk, who can always tell if something is wrong, carries on his traditionally off-the-wall investigations both in Los Angeles, under the eagle eye of the nonplussed Lt. Dozier, and in San Francisco, under the more familiar, but equally-nonplussed, watch of Capt. Stottlemeyer and Lt. Disher. Lt. Disher seeks the assistance of famous crime novelist Ian Ludlow, who has sold millions of books in his Detective Marshak series, but has not gained the approval of Mr. Monk.
Monk seems to continually fail in the face of the illustrious writer, who always seems to be a step or two ahead of him. And Monk is not at ease with his own failure. But, as so often with Monk, he snatches victory from the jaws of apparent defeat, and exonerates Trevor, springs Sharona and Natalie from jail, and unmasks the plot behind the alligator-killing of a shoe store clerk with unknown ties to one of the assistants.

Lee Goldberg has been a screenwriter for the show, so the voices of the regulars ring true for those who have been fans, as this reader has been. Monk is as infuriatingly endearing an insightful as always, and true to the character played by the talented Tony Shaloob. Fun!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Down River by John Hart

Something said on one of the listservs I subscribe to (Dorothy_L – for Mystery writers, readers, and others) caused me to pick up this book, and I’m so glad I did. It was a real page-turner.

Adam Chase is returning to Rowan County, North Carolina after being thrown out of his home and hometown by his father five years before. Although he’d been acquitted of the murder of Grey Wilson, the stigma of the accusation (made by his father’s second wife, Janice) still attaches to him, and in the first few hours of his return, the word “Killer” is scratched into the hood of his car. After that, many aspects of his life go downhill. The police break up the fight between him and Zebulon Faith, the father of his best friend Danny, and the supposed defacer of the car.

Adam has come home because Danny called him in New York, asking for his help on a matter which Danny wants to discuss with him. But Danny isn’t around when Adam gets to town. So Adam goes to his ancestral home, where he sees his adoptive brother, his father, and a young woman named Grace, who is of obscure parentage, but living on the property as the granddaughter of his father’s best friend, Dolf Shepherd. Adam loves Grace as a sister, and has always felt loved in return, but this time Grace tells him that she hates him, acts seductive, and confuses him considerably. Adam returns to his police officer girlfriend, Robin. But that seems to be an ambivalent relationship as well. When Robin chose not to leave with Adam five years, she relied on her job to keep herself sane, and she became Super cop.
It turns out that Grace has been beaten up and Adam is assumed to be the culprit, so Robin and Detective Grantham, new since Adam left the County, but certainly aware of Adam’s history, arrest him for the violence against Grace. Soon he is let go, but crimes against the people Adam loves soon mount up. And Adam seems to get in the way at every turn.

In fact, Adam finds his friend Danny’s body stuffed into a crevasse in a mountain, and Dolf takes on the burden of that guilt, even though most people realize that he is innocent. Forensic evidence shows that Danny has been dead in the mountain since about the time that he called Adam, so he was not Grace’s attacker, even though his ring was found in the vicinity.

When the police seem to be getting nowhere, Adam begins his own detective work, making the painful discoveries that the people that he loved and trusted, as well as those he did not, have not always been who they seemed to be, and blood is on the hands of more than one member of his family.

This plays out like a Greek tragedy. When it is all over, there are many corpses all around, and many painful revelations. Adam’s family is pulled apart irrevocably, in the name of truth. There are small flickers of salvation and understanding, but the motives, all too human in their origin, have created secrets all too horrible in their depth. Like the classic tragedies, it makes for thrilling reading. Recommended.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Execution Dock by Anne Perry

Execution Dock is Perry's most recent chapter in the Chronicles of William Monk, Victorian Detective, and it is a Duesie! Monk has succeeded his friend Durban, a man whom he admired as a good leader and a good man, as head of the River Police patrolling the Thames and the surrounding docklands of London in the mid-1800's. His predecessor had wanted very much to capture and bring to trial the man called Jericho Phillips, a purveyor of pornography starring young boys he'd picked up around the area. Sometimes, there was evidence that his crimes extended beyond the corruption of the boys: sometimes he tortured and killed them, as was evidenced upon the corpse of Walter Figgis, found floating in the river. As the book opens, Monk and his men are pursuing Phillips over the tops of lighters and barges, capturing him just in the nick of time. He will be sent up for trial and they can rest on their laurels -- a job well done.

But it all goes awry in the courts. Monk is made to look a fool, with a slipshod and less-than-useless force following him. The policies, ethics, morals, and methods of his predecessor are called into question. Even Mrs. Monk, a former Crimean War nurse who runs a clinic for women and children of the streets, and who had testified, with her medical knowledge, at the trial, was made into an over-emotional and hysterical woman who could have no understanding of the case. What's more, the person whose legal expertise allows Phillips to be freed, is a well-thought-of barrister friend of both of the Monks.

Soon things become very knotted, as it becomes clear that the backing of the poronography ring has very deep and high-born pockets. There is a fabric of lies, deception, rumors, and untruths, which threaten to tie the hands of the police, the law, and all well-meaning souls. It is only by trickery, and the use of classes of people mostly ignored by society, that the Right prevails, and that is only after a considerable number of scary events. Just the fear of getting lost in the docklands is painted as a frightening picture in this dark Victorian world, where women and children are treated as less than human and law is easily corrupted.

Perry has always written brilliantly, but the fear in this novel is as palpable as the smells of rotting wood, human excrement, and boiled cabbage, and the web of intrigue has virtually no holes. A tour de force and rapid page-turner, you can be sure. Very highly recommended!