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Books: Shakethrus: 2005 | 2004 | 2003 | 2002 | 2001

December 1, 2001

Death in Paradise

Robert B. Parker, G.P. Putnam's Sons

Rating: 2.9

The third installment in Parker's Jesse Stone series, and a far cry from the infinitely more-satisfying Trouble In Paradise. The plot -- involving the murder of a young girl -- is Parker at his most formulaic -- had this been an early Spenser novel, the boilerplate plot would be forgiven. But one doesn't read Parker for the plot these days anyway; it's the characterization (the strong suit of the long-running Spenser series) that grates here. Parker's becoming known for his co-dependent romances (is anyone else noticing a pattern?), but Jesse Stone's wobbly relationship with his weathergirl ex-wife is just pathetic. Stone's boneheaded, durable love for this unsympathetic head-case severely lessens the enjoyment of an otherwise likable series. A real disappointment.

 

::: Kevin Forest Moreau

 

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November 4, 2001

Hope to Die

Lawrence Block, Morrow

Rating: 4.0

Ex-alcoholic Matthew Scudder gets his own potential arch-nemesis, a crafty killer who's a little too clever for his own good. Hope To Die doesn't bristle with the mean-streets intensity of earlier works -- Scudder's transformation from struggling, unlicensed avenger to well-off dilettante drains the series of some of its edge, and it'd be nice if some of the jarring impact of the brutal, life-changing Everybody Dies were still in evidence. And at times, the jump from Scudder's POV to the killer's mires the proceedings in the stilted, melodramatic territory of James Patterson's Alex Cross series (yes, Virginia, that's a bad thing). Still, this is a solid, well-crafted and intriguingly plotted chapter in one of the more unique crime series being published today.

 

::: Kevin Forest Moreau

 

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October 15, 2001

Pain Management

Andrew Vachss, Knopf

Rating: 3.5

Burke, Vachss' longtime antihero, is still hiding out in Portland, presumed dead, after the events in Dead And Gone. Tracking down the runaway teenage daughter of an affluent ex-hippie, he crosses paths with Ann O. Dyne, a crusader in the war against the unnecessary pain suffered by victims of conditions that fall through the cracks of insurance coverage. Filled with the usual intricate machinations and grittier-than-sandpaper noir atmospherics Vachss is known for, but not as compelling as the best Burke entries.

 

::: Kevin Forest Moreau

 

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October 12, 2001

Money, Money, Money

Ed McBain, Simon & Schuster

Rating: 4.5

As he approaches his fiftieth year chronicling the adventures of the 87th squad in the fictional city of Isola, Ed McBain loses none of his power. In fact, like its predecessor, The Last Dance, this is one of his best works yet. Breaking with his established police-procedural style only slightly, McBain lets the plot and the POV wander in Elmore Leonard fashion. Federal agents, a Gulf War pilot, a burglar, lions, Middle Eastern terrorists, Mexican drug dealers and a small book-publishing company that's much more than it seems all come together in a tale involving counterfeit money and a covert anti-terrorist organization. References to Osama Bin Laden and a bombing attempt seem eerily prescient in the wake of September 11th. Even without that angle, however, this is an exceptionally solid crime novel, especially when detailing Detective Steve Carella's flirtation with emotional burnout. Damn near perfect.

 

::: Kevin Forest Moreau

 

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October 12, 2001

Captains Outrageous

Joe R. Lansdale, Mysterious Press/Warner Books

Rating: 3.6

Lansdale's Edgar Award-winning 2000 work The Bottoms showed the journeyman author near the top of his dark, horror-tinged Texas thriller game. But Outrageous, the sixth full-length installment in the adventures of Hap Collins and Leonard Pine, finds the writer earthbound. Lansdale retains his wry gift for dry, laconic dialogue, but it's not enough to make up for the by-the-numbers sluggishness that weighs down most of the book. Collins, the hapless forty-something under-achiever, is working at his latest dead-end job (security guard at a poultry processing plant) when he saves a young girl from a crazed assailant. The girl's rich father rewards Collins with a Caribbean cruise, and Hap's best friend, black gay Republican thug Pine, tags along. Soon the pair is tangled up south-of-the-border with a lovely young senorita and her fisherman father, in a plot involving a callow American cad and a ruthless nudist mobster. Things ratchet into higher gear when the duo returns home and tragedy strikes a close friend, but the finale is almost entirely devoid of suspense. Engaging, but without the zip of past Collins/Pine forays, most notably Rumble Tumble.

 

::: Kevin Forest Moreau

 

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 Ratings Key:
 5.0: A masterwork
 4.0-4.9: Great read
 3.0-3.9: Well done
 2.0-2.9: Ordinary
 1.1-1.9: Sub par
 0.0-1.0: Horrendous

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