Book Report: Thrills and Chills

March 6th, 2011

February was an all-thrillers, all the time month, and I stumbled across some good ones.

DEATH OF THE MANTIS (ARC) by Michael Stanley — I love this series, set in Botswana, and this is the best yet. It won’t come out for a while, but watch for it. Detective Kubu is roped by a childhood friend into a murder that may or may not have been committed by bushmen. With this as a launching pad, Michael Sears and Stan Trollip take readers into the tragic twilight of Bushman culture, and present a crackling good mystery as they do it. This is a fine novel that also happens to be a mystery, and I doubt anyone will put it down without feeling sadness and anger at the ruthlessness with which the modern world discards the old world, with almost total disregard for those whose belief systems are being crumpled up and tossed. Definitely one of the best of the year for me thus far.

WINTER AND NIGHT, S.J Rozan — I love the Lydia Chin/Bill Smith mysteries more than I do the Bill/Smith Lydia Chin books, and this is the latter. That said, I never doubted for a moment that I was in the hands of a master, and Rozan’s characters always jump off the page. Still, for me, this book began to run out of gas about sixty percent of the way through, and didn’t recover its momentum. I’m glad I read it, and if this were the first Rozen I’d read, I’d still be looking for more, but it isn’t the first, and it’s not the best — for me, anyway.  But if you like really classically good private-eye novels and you haven’t read Rozan, do yourself a favor.  Or, as Gary would say, favour.

THE DEVOTION OF SUSPECT X, Keigo Higashino (ARC) — Here’s a confession  — I’m not particularly fond of Sherlock Holmes. In fact, the only purely cerebral detective I like unqualifiedly is Nero Wolfe. So this book, which pits two deductive geniuses against each other, kind of left me at the starting gate. There’s some excellent character work, especially in the figure of the former bar worker now being pursued by her scumbag ex-husband, but I’d had enough meticulous deduction by the time I was halfway through.  Actually, I knew I wasn in trouble in the first scene, in which deductive genius number one takes a walk and deduces about the homeless people he passes at every step.  For me, murder is about passion. It may be badly wired, but it’s passion.  And there’s something dry and dusty about this genre.

PAINTED LADIES, Robert B. Parker — Spenser, we hardly knew ye, even after 37 novels (some not so good, some brilliant) in which you virtually never changed. Your pleasures remained fresh and your author’s writing was always crackerjack. Yes, I grew weary of both Susan and Hawk, not to mention the various Pearls, but Hawk’s not in this one and Susan is on best behavior. “My first client of the day . . .” the book begins, and I am SO SAD to know that this is the last first client of the day for Spenser. What will I do without you?  (Disclosure: Robert B. Parker once wrote me a fan letter, one of the great surprises of my life.)

HOUSE DIVIDED, Mike Lawson — Well, how come I don’t already know about Mike Lawson? This is as tidy an all-business political thriller as I’ve read in years, apparently the second or third to feature Joe DeMarco, a refreshing non-Superman who survives it intact, although just barely, a complicated brush with some very high-placed spies who are, nominally, at least, on “our” side. Very clear on just what kind of Pandora’s Box was opened by Mr. Bush’s Patriot Act (thanks for re-upping it, Mr, Obama). Really clean, beautifully paced writing.

OUR KIND OF TRAITOR, John LeCarre — As always, perfectly written and unforgettably peopled, but — SPOILER ALERT!!!! SPOILER ALERT!!!! — I’ve grown intolerant of the dark, disillusioned outcome. I knew this was coming all the way through the story, hated it in advance, and hated it even more when it arrived. Maybe it just goes with the LeCarre territory. Maybe I’m through reading LeCarre. If you like him, though, the good news is that he’s writing better than ever as he enters his eighties. He just might not be for me any more.

And I’ve been reading Jenny Milchman’s as-yet-unpublished OUT OF NOWHERE, which is a little like hitching a ride on a torpedo, except that that description doesn’t pay tribute to the emotional complexity of the characters. Milchman is an assured writer, exploring territory that takes us well into the blank areas of the emotional map, into the regions where we can only hope we’ll behave well.  This book will find a home, I’m certain of it.

One of the advantages of having written books is that I’m sent copies to blurb, and some of them are wonderful — the Michael Stanley (actually two great guys named Michael Sears and Stan Trollip) and the Jenny Milchman — are fine examples.

And finally, I normally refuse to read unpublished novels on the advice of my agent, my publisher, and their lawyers, but I’ve known Jenny virtually for a few years, so I said yes.  I’m glad I did.

11 Responses to “Book Report: Thrills and Chills”

  1. Lil Gluckstern Says:

    The important question is how are you feeling?
    I would love for Jenny Milchman’s book to find a home. She is one of the most consistently positive, supportive people I’ve met online. I need to check out Michael Stanley’s books. Talk about taking a trip to a far off place.
    Hope you’re better.

  2. micael hallinan Says:

    ORMACH DPILL! For once captcha and I agree

  3. Suzanna Says:

    Seven books in one month? I haven’t read that much since I had to comply with reading assignments in school. And you remembered them well enough to give each one a blurb. I see movies like you read books…so back to my show.

  4. Jenny Milchman Says:

    Please let me say here that Tim’s reading my manuscript has been one of the biggest thrills of my pre-career. To be spoken about in this company–I love SJ Rozan, and like Lil am excited to check out the due of Michael & Stan–is an honor that won’t be forgotten. Thank you again, Tim. And thank you, Lil, for your wishes. They are held close, believe me.

  5. Debbi Says:

    Tim, I’ve read one of Jenny’s short stories, so I can just imagine. Jenny, I hope you either self-publish or find a publisher soon (your choice, of course).

    BTW, I also read OUR KIND OF TRAITOR. I’m a big le Carre fan. I wrote this review for Mystery Scene Magazine: And, yeah, I could see the ending coming pretty early on. I didn’t hate the book, but it was really clear that things were not going to end well at all. But we’re talking le Carre, so … 🙂

  6. barbara macdonald Says:

    Has anyone read John Lawton’s Troy series? British, 2nd WW just before and just after and during, detective mingled with espionage.


  7. Beth Says:

    Tim, I didn’t like the two most recent Bill/Lydia books WINTER AND NIGHT and ON THE LINE, but THE SHANGHAI MOON is a wonderful story, especially the first part that is in pre-World War II Shanghai. Bill and Lydia come in at about the half way point.

    I don’t like Sherlock Holmes but I am looking forward to the new Michael Stanley book.

    Barbara, I like the John Lawton’s Frederick Troy series. I read them as they were published and it didn’t make for easy reading because, chronologically, they jumped all over the 1930’s, 40’s, and 50’s. In my blog, sorry Tim, I wrote the following after finishing SECOND VIOLIN:

    If anyone has not yet read any of the books in the Inspector Troy series, please start with SECOND VIOLIN, then BLUFFING MR CHURCHILL, BLACK OUT, A LILY OF THE FIELD, OLD FLAMES, FLESH WOUNDS, and, finally, A LITTLE WHITE DEATH. I recently read SECOND VIOLIN so I am going to start re-reading the series with BLUFFING MR CHURCHILL.

    I reviewed SECOND VIOLIN and LILLY OF THE FIELD; I do plan on re-reading the series so that I can get the full sense of the time and place Lawton created.

    I don’t put my website address on these posts because a) it gets boring and b) when I press “publish” everything is erased.

    The blog address is

    All the Poke books, CRASHED, and THE MAN WITH NO TIME are there.

  8. Beth Says:

    My apologies. I just checked to see if the link to the blog works. It does but it goes to the home page. To find the reviews of Tim’s books, click on the tab at the top marked Authors and Titles.

    The authors are listed in alphabetical order with the links to the reviews.

  9. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Hi, everybody. Sorry for the lag — I overestimated my energy yesterday and did 1400 words on THE GROWING YOUNGER MAN, and felt like I’d been poleaxed. So today I decided to kick back a little — ergo, the post on Charlie Sheen.

    Thanks to all for being so nice. Lil and Debbi, I agree completely about Jenny Milchman. She’s a tremendous person and a tremendous writer, too. It still amazes me that we can make friends as we do online without ever laying eyes on each other.

    Debbi, very good review. I admire LeCarre enormously as a writer and have for forty years but I no longer go out of my way to be reminded that the world has been tarnished almost out of existence. I can see that in the papers every day.

    miceal, thank you once again for moving the entire discussion to a new level. Not necessarily a higher level, but undeniably a new one.

    barbara (from now on I’m going to lump all you e.e. cummings/no caps, please correspondents together – I have indeed read John Lawton, and I’m crazy about him. He doesn’t write quite like anyone else; one of the things I like best is that the actual mystery is often sort of tucked away into a corner of a much broader canvas, and he’s really good at broad canvases. I’ve read and kept all the books Beth has reviewed on her site (check the site out — she’s got great taste, and not just because she likes me), and my only regret was that he appears so sporadically in the US that I read his books in totally random order. He’s so good I’ve been thinking about going back and starting over from the first.

    And by the way, the “newest” one here in the US, FLESH WOUNDS, is actually a 2004 novel originally titled BLUE RONDO that apparently was written right after BLUFFING MR. CHURCHILL. Talk about being badly served by your publisher – to be released in the US any old way, sometimes 6-7 years late, and with different titles to boot. Lawson should be publisher-shopping.

    Suzy, you know me. I reads and reads and reads. and then i writes and writes and writes. once in a wile i eats.

  10. Suzanna Says:

    Uh huh, ya sho nuff, do. Dats whys you a dang good writser alrat.

  11. G Thomas Gill Says:

    Congratulations on your Edgar nomination, Tim, and good luck next month in NYC.

    Like you, I’ve been a LeCarre fan for years, but decided to drop out for exactly the reasons you mentioned. The last one I read was THE TAILOR OF PANAMA some while back.

    And I’ve been a fan/friend of Jenny’s for several years. She allowed me to read COVER OF SNOW, an earlier work, and it is just as good. All the best to both of you.

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