Pay or Play

“Pay or Play” is the third novel in the Charlie Waldo private eye series. The idea behind the series is that Waldo is an-ex-LAPD Officer who is now a hermit obsessed with global warming and lives in a small cabin up in Idylwild with only 100 things (a pair of socks counts as one thing). He obsesses over his carbon footprint as he bikes around Los Angeles. It’s a goofy premise and by the third book it’s pretty much run its course and is no longer humorous. Here, Waldo has to explore a fraternity hazing from decades earlier and a death of a homeless man in a shopping center fountain. Nothing too exciting or exceptional.

The Devil to Pay

The Devil to Pay is the eleventh book of Fradkin’s Inspector Mike Green police procedural series, set in Ottawa, Canada. Green has been around so long that he’s a now a living legend among the detectives, but a living legend assigned to paperwork and procedures, itching to get back in the game a little bit. Nevertheless, it’s his daughter, a probationary police officer on patrol duty, Hannah Pollack, going by her mother’s name to create her own career, who is the star of this novel. They say curiosity killed the cat, if so, Hannah is close to using up all of her nine lives. She just can’t stay out of the Case, even tackling thorny problems in her off hours in civilian clothes, creating all kinds of ethical dilemmas in the case. Of course, being Green’s protege, Hannah’s instincts are always right on the mark and that’s what leads her to explore things on her own.

The Case all starts as a routine domestic disturbance call, but with no real evidence of abuse, there’s not much the officers can do to Hannah’s frustration. And, when a real live murder connects with the family, Hannah wants to figure it out even though she’s not assigned to the Case and her involvement can muck things up.

The action in this novel takes a long time to pick up as the stage is set, but eventually it becomes a fascinating novel with an exciting conclusion.

Billy Summers

Best known for his supernatural thrillers, King has written a number of crime fiction novels from the Mr. Mercedes trilogy to Joyland and the Colorado Kid. Billy Summers, his 2021 release, is his latest foray into the criminal underworld and King seems to fit quite well with those kind of people. Indeed, Billy Summers is his finest crime fiction to date. Though set in the months prior to the 2020-21 pandemic, Billy Summers could well have been set in the Fifties or Sixties. The story features a caper gone wrong, specifically an assassination in a small city, Red Bluff, possibly in Alabama, though it purports to be a much larger town. There’s a complicated backstory behind the assassination which basically boils down to the fact there’s a guy in county jail in Los Angeles who knows way too much and the guys want to turn off his lights before he makes a deal to escape the gas chamber when he is extradited. The wheels of the legal machinery are turning slowly and it will be awhile before he is extradited.

Enter Billy Summers, an extraordinarily talented Iraq War veteran, best known for his talent as a sniper. The outfit is going to set up Billy in the small town with an alter identity as a writer with an office in a building overlooking the entrance to the courthouse. He is going to be deeply embedded with a house in the suburbs and a regular office hours. No one is going to suspect him while he makes like Lee Harvey Oswald.

Billy may appear to the guys as a dummy, but that’s just his outside face kind of like Thompson’s Lou Ford. Though Billy might be a killer, but he’s not a psychopath. Billy justifies his work because he is taking bad guys off the street though for other bad guys. Billy immediately regrets his involvement in the caper. His secret identity and embeddedness are taking too long. Rather than being in and out quickly like Houdini, this caper requires months-long involvement. There’s that and then there’s the fact that the guys he’s dealing with are too involved and too visible. The whole thing has the wrong vibe to Billy, but having been given half a million in advance, it’s too late to back out. And Billy has several secret identities being established in different parts of town at the same time.

Meanwhile, Billy kind of likes becoming the suburban neighbor who plays Monopoly with the kids next door and dates a clerical worker in the building. See, although he kills people for a living, at heart, Billy isn’t really a bad guy. He maybe just had a bad childhood and got off on the wrong foot. And we get flashbacks to his foster care life and his patrols in Ramadi.

Like all caper stories, it eventually goes a bit southbound and Billy is left to decide who he is going to become. Is the paid killer or a good guy? Is there something meaningful left for him to do with his life?

It is a thrilling easy-to-read but hard-to-put-down story that I wholeheartedly give a big thumbs up to.

No Good Deed

No Good Deed is the second book in Swain’s Beth Daniels and Jon Lancaster series, pairing Daniels, a by-the-book FBI Agent with a former Navy SEAL and former police detective Lancaster both on an investigation basis and on a romantic basis. This is an action packed thriller focusing on thwarting a human trafficking ring which ties in with Lancaster’s near-childhood abduction.

Although coincidences like the reappearance of Lancaster’s long Lost convict brother are too coincidental and Lancaster’s endless resources through a secret organization dedicated to saving trafficked children seems too good to be true, the action is intense enough to accept those discrepancies and not to harbor on them.

Part of the storyline throughout this series is that Lancaster’s shoot-from-the-hip Wild West ways don’t fly with the buttoned-down FBI and Daniels constantly has to tread carefully lest her work with Lancaster costs Daniels her career.

There is also a lot of high tech hijinks through the use of Daniel’s niece Nikki as a computer consultant and some other things that may make you think twice about information you expose over the net.

All in all, a fun exciting read where the good guys and the bad guys are clearly delineated.

Bad News Travels

Bad News Travels is third book in Swain’s Daniels and Lancaster series. If you are used to Swain writing about gamblers and con artists as he does in his Tony Valentine series, then this series will be a change of pace for you. Daniels and Lancaster are a couple, but they are both law enforcement officers, with Beth Daniels being a crack FBI Special Agent and Jon Lancaster being a retired police officer. Set in St. Augustine, Florida, this fast-paced action sequence involves the suicide bomber of Daniels’ father and a ring of pornographers and blackmailers that hit too close to home. This is an easy read, filled with action.

The Sacrifice Of Lester Yates

Yocum’s “The Sacrifice Of Lester Yates” is a top-notch exciting legal thriller. You have to begin with the caveat that the legal system functions quite well in reality and the prisons are filled with guilty men, not innocent ones, and that no death row inmate would be without a team of government-paid lawyers picking apart their trials to the last second while few even have a clue what the victim’s names were. However, this is fiction, not reality, and exciting fiction is set up when you have a state attorney general fearing that the wrong man is due for execution and time is ticking away.

This novel is incredibly well written and, if this is a good example of Yocum’s work, then we have lots more good reading ahead. The pace is tremendous and the characters well thought out. Van Buren is not the tilting at windmills type of crusader. He’s the average guy who wants to do the right thing. He just doesn’t realize when he starts what a giant can of worms he’s opening.

The description of what Van Buren feels as he ascends political office and loses touch with what matters is great: “I could see the skyline through my own reflection on the tinted windows. There were mornings when I wasn’t sure I liked the man staring back at me. It was not the creases that ran away from the corners of my eyes, the flecks of gray or the softening of the jowls that I found troubling. It was my eyes, and it was what I didn’t see that troubled me. They had lost their fire.”

Lester Yates himself was an all-time loser, resigned to his lot in life: “His brown eyes weren’t sad, but simply resigned to a world that had dictated terms from the day he was born. I doubted anyone had ever taken the time to teach him how to throw a baseball or put on deodorant, or had helped him with his math homework. What he knew about life he had absorbed from the sidelines, never quite sure how to get in the game. His entire life had been spent taking orders from teachers and bosses and prison guards.”

Also, the novel shows the reader in this legal -political thriller the different areas of Ohio from the cosmopolitan Columbus to the Ohio River Valley where rotting factories and opioid addiction dots the landscape: “The Ohio Valley was a mere shadow of the one that I had known. There were a pitiful few steel mill jobs left in 2007, and the once-smoking behemoths that lined the banks of the Ohio River were mostly cold and silent. The air was clean now, but good jobs were few.”

An absolutely great read.

The Horizontal Man

Eustis’ Horizontal Man was her award-winning debut novel, originally published in 1946. Famed as one of the earliest psychological studies in murder mystery format, it’s at its best when it goes inside the mind of young Molly, a lovestruck Freshman at a small women’s college where the girls all swooned over a poetry professor, a heart-breaking wolf whose demise comes very quickly in the novel with a fireplace poker. Molly over dramatizes everything and is whisked off to the infirmary where in short order she confesses to a reporter who snuck in to interview her. Unfortunately, much of the book is clunky and dull and it’s a chore to slog through.

Fools’ Gold

Fools’ Gold, originally published in 1958, is Hitchens’ dark brooding caper gone wrong story about a trio of youths out to grab a suitcase full of money before the professional hoods move in. Hitchens nails it right in her portrayals of Skip, Eddie, and Karen and the greed that propels them down that fateful path. At first, it seems like nothing more than another juvenile delinquency tale which were popular back in the day, but slowly but surely Hitchens carves this one into something deadlier and gone more wrong than any of the principals could ever imagine. And, in the end, nothing could have been planned less wisely or gone more sideways.

City of the Dead

City of the Dead is the 37th book in Kellerman’s long-running police procedural series set in Modern Los Angeles and featuring as its main character a court-consulting child psychologist Alex Delaware who often rides along with Homicide Detective Milo Sturgis. Despite the plethora of corpses starting with naked man running into the moving van, this is not a shoot-em-up, action-packed book. It has a more realistic feel to it as Delaware goes through the humdrum aspects of being on top of a homicide investigation that seems to lead nowhere but into a mysterious past. One of the victims in particular is quite interesting as a fake psychiatrist from Delaware’s past and current internet sensation is murdered and suspected by her elderly neighbors of running a high class brothel. Delving into her past is like peeling into an onion cause it doesn’t get prettier the deeper you dig. Pay attention though cause nothing is set out by accident.

Quarry’s Blood

Coming out November 16, 2021, with cover art by Ron Lesser, is the final Quarry novel. This one ought to be subtitled Reminiscing or Quarry’s Greatest Hits (but that was already done). It revisits Quarry’s past endeavors, from LuAnn in Biloxi to the Quad Cities. Like another character of Collins’ (Nolan), Quarry, through no fault of his own can’t stay retired.

Set in post-Covid 2021, Quarry nearly becomes a target of a pair of hunters, leaving him wondering who from decades in his past, carries a grudge after all these years. This Quarry, though, has some wrinkles and gray hairs and moves a step slower than he used to. He doesn’t know who wants to ring his number, but you better believe he’s going to figure it out even if it’s the nosy reporter/ true crime writer who has figured out his secrets.

Quarry was an ex Vietnam Vet who came became a contract killer for the broker and later solicited business from intended victims preventing their demise and hopefully ferreting out who ordered the hit. But that was decades ago and all in his past.

Fast-paced, action-packed, and a veritable trip down memory lane for Quarry fans.

Dark Horse

Dark Horse is the latest Nowhere Man novel. Evan Smoak is the Nowhere Man, formerly known as Orphan X. Plucked from a nasty orphanage at a young age, Smoak was trained to be a super secret assassin until one day he got tired of taking orders and went AWOL. The conceit is that he flies under the radar, has a secret identity like Batman, endless supplies of cash, and a penthouse lair in Hollywood that would make Batman jealous. He has a phone number people can call if they need help and nowhere else to turn. All he asks is that the number be passed on to someone else. Accept all these things and you’ll do fine with thus series. Otherwise, you’ll be stuck in a well of despair trying to make logical sense out of how this guy is invincible, ultrawealthy, and still flies under the radar.

Here, Smoak gets a call from someone he’d least expect, someone he might not think worthy of his attention, a cartel smuggler who has no one left to turn to with his beloved daughter’s disappearance. Smoak finds a place among these people and takes on a whole cartel of baddies in the wake of rescuing the missing princess. Again, don’t question how he works his way as an outsider into the Leona cartel. Suspend your disbelief and go along for the adventure. It’s fast paced action that definitely will hold your attention.

Blood World

Blood World sounds like a science fiction thriller along the lines of a Mad Max society. It’s actually a modern-day thriller with the twist being blood, well, special blood that you can’t just get out of any blood bank. It comes from those with special genes and acts like a fountain of youth coupled with a high dose of ecstasy. Of course, it’s an underground pleasure and siphoned off of carriers housed in hidden blood farms and sucked dry to feed a growing market. Different criminal gangs are at odds trying to seize the burgeoning market. Into this maelstrom we find Ellie, whose twin brother was kidnapped years earlier, but she never gave up trying to find him. Ellie us now an LAPD officer who wants to join the fabled blood squad and break the organizations involved. Much of the exciting story is her undercover journey into the heart of the criminal enterprise which plays out similarly to many undercover stories. All in all, an exciting thrill ride.

The Widow Wore Red (The Hanging Heiress)


Originally published in 1949 as the Hanging Heiress, later re-published as The Widow Wore Red, Richard Wormser presents a black humor parody of a detective story. The plot revolves around protecting a widow who only stands to inherit a bevy of companies if she survives thirty days. Marty doesn’t realize what he’s got himself into when he starts what with hitmen and others gunning for his charge, but eventually he works things out. It’s a novel that never takes itself seriously and therein lies the problem. It’s a house built without a foundation. There’s nothing supporting the humor.

Hell Ship to Kuma / Barge Girl

Calvin Clements is best known to the world as a screenwriter of Westerns both for television and the movies. His working life actually started with manning a fireboat in New York harbor after several years in the Navy. After that, he wrote four paperbacks, several of which were nautical themed. Half of all his novels are found in this two-book volume.

Hell Ship to Kuma is the gem of the pair. Set in the post-war Far East, it’s the story of a man, once a proud captain of a merchant marine, reduced by a scandal, to begging for crumbs. Captain John Roper can’t get a job with any real shipping company and is reduced to living off what his girlfriend brings in as he waits for someone to take a chance on him. It’s a story of dreams dashed against the rocks and desperation and it’s about what lengths desperate people will go to to survive.

Penniless as he is, Roper never imagined he’d sign on to Murdoch’s he’ll ship, a rusty old freighter run by a man who is out to prove that at sea he is God and the ship his domain.

Nothing could have prepared Roper for the scared helpless crew aboard the freighter who shivered at the sight of the tyrant running it. Murdoch is a character like no other, half-mad, hell-bent, and crooked.

Falling for the one passenger locked in her cabin, a dancer who has no understanding that she’s being sold into virtual slavery in Kuma, a fiefdom Run by another madman and would be king out to humiliate anyone who would stand up to him.

Hell is a ship and an island from which there’s no escape, not when no one has your back and no one will stand up to the twin tyrants. Indeed, the freighter is also an old Chinese slave ship with holds for chaining slaves out of sight of inspections, holds that Murdoch threatens to fill with anyone who stands up to him, including his duplicitous wife and her young lover.

There is also a fortune in heisted metal to be pirated to Red China, but that fortune is almost an afterthought compared to the desperation felt by Roper and Karen, the dancer.

Barge Girl is the second novel and it seems rather pedestrian in comparison. It is set on the tugboats and barges plying the Hudson River. It involves a passionate love affair with a married woman and a love triangle out of Postman Always Rings Twice.

This novel has all the right elements, including a yacht built by hand over five years. But, Clements never seems to quite wind up the tension enough except for a few points towards the end of the story.

The Sailcloth Shroud/ All The Way (The Concrete Flamingo)

This double novel contains two masterpieces by the great craftsman, Charles Williams, one from 1958 and one from 1960. The two novels are nominally connected through their nautical themes, the Florida Keys, and Panama, but approach the crime novel from entirely different angles.

The Sailcloth Shroud is a story, as so many are, about an innocent man up to his eyeballs in trouble from being blamed for killing a man at sea and stealing his fortune to being accused of lying about t by deadly serious mobsters. Sailing a small ketch from Panama to a Texas shouldn’t mean much trouble, but the crew of two don’t survive long. One man dies if a heart attack at sea and is given a watery burial. The other beaten to death days after landing, but not before this penniless bum flashes literally thousands in cash. Captain Stuart Rodgers is one of the good guys, but quickly everyone turns on him. It’s only on his say so that Baxter died at sea. No one else can vouch for what happened. The FBI have a few questions for the Captain, least of all who Baxter was and what happened to his money. The mobsters who hit to the surviving mate don’t believe Rodgers’ tale of a heart attack at sea and are out yo force the truth out of him no matter what it takes. You can feel the walls closing tightly around Rodgers as he has few directions left to turn.

The Concrete Flamingo” by Charles Williams was first published in 1958 under the title “All the Way” and then published in the United Kingdom in 1960 under the title “The Concrete Flamingo.”

What happens when Jerry Forbes, a guy who has been drifting between jobs, ends up in Miami Beach, and meets a Marian Forsyth, a woman who just wasted six years of her youthful vigor on a wealthy executive before being dumped for a younger model? Marian knows everything about Jerry and he is just the guy she has been looking for – – to pull off a murder and a complicated con job on her ex-boss, the guy who dumped her. Why is he the perfect guy for this part in the con? Well, Marian heard Jerry talking and, on the phone, he is Harris Chapman.

Jerry falls for her hook, line, and sinker. Murder, sure why not? Pilfering brokerage accounts? Why not? As long as they can run off to some Mediterranean isle when its done. Of course, it is never that simple when it’s a pulp novel and there are some twists and turns along the way that the reader does not expect.

Marian, meanwhile, is a different kind of femme fatale. She bewitches Jerry without even trying, but she “was as beautifully adept and as pleasant and as far away and unreachable as ever.” You wonder reading this if Marian had all the life sucked out of her by Harris Chapman and what she has left to give Jerry. She has a one-track mind and is on a mission and she will do whatever is necessary to keep Jerry in the game.

What’s terrific about this novel is the detail that Williams puts in as to the planning and execution of one of the most complicated and detailed scams ever invented. Week after week is spent preparing, rehearsing, getting ready for the role of a lifetime. Marion tells him: “In ten days of extensive study, you could become Harris Chapman.” If he pulls this off right, then Not even Chapman’s own fiancé should suspect anything. Yeah, right. No detail is left unplanned. Nothing is left to chance.

The actual plot line can be boiled down fairly simply, but this book is not about the plot so much as it is about getting there and what happens ultimately when the con is pulled off.

Assignment Suicide

Assignment Suicide, published in 1956, was the second or third Sam Durell espionage novel, taking our secret agent by parachute into the heart of the Soviet Union to track down the suspected first ICBM. It’s a fast paced, action packed novel that has Durell on the run from the minute he lands till the bitter end, playing cat and mouse with MVD agents who have no humor. Luckily, Durell finds allies, loyal to Mother Russia, but not to having mutually assured destruction in the hands of the next Stalin.

Shanghai Flame / Counterspy Express

A.S. Fleischman published only a handful of crime/espionage novels before reinventing himself as a children’s book writer. In this double album, Stark House presents two top notch international adventures, both set around 1950.

Shanghai Flame is set in Shanghai just after the Communist takeover. There are still a handful of Americans and Brits around, but most are intent at escaping to Hong Kong if they can. Much like the chaos in Kabul in 2001. Fleischman throws a star-crossed romance, international espionage, and piracy on the high seas together in this one and it works like magic. It’s filled with breathtaking nonstop action.

Alex Cloud, ace reporter, though, just arrived for no better reason than to chase down the woman he let walk away two years earlier in France. Her name is Flame and she too is another reporter who may have overstayed her welcome in Shanghai. He’s determined to find her, win her heart, and get her the hell out of dodge. But Alex has no idea of what he’s gotten himself into and how many people are out to get something he’s not even sure he has. Like every great espionage story, it’s never clear till the end who to trust or who’s going to backstab whom. The writing though just carries this one along.

Counterspy Express, the second novel in this twopack, is also set around 1950, but in postwar Europe. Jim Cabot, as the secret agent is known throughout the story, is more of your classic spy. His mission is to complete the mission of his deceased predecessor if he can figure out what it was. Cabot is a battle hardened agent who prides himself on shaking tails and thinking ten steps ahead. Much of the story takes place in Genoa where he begins tracing Max’s steps including dating Max’s bombshell nightclub singing girlfriend. A Russian scientist has switched sides and it’s up to Cabot to figure out where he’s been stashed and get him and his secrets to the US operatives. Of course, it doesn’t help that there are several parties in the scent and precious few clues. Counterspy Express is another terrific espionage caper set in a world teeming with exotic locations and fascinating people.

Truth Always Kills

If you are even mildly chewing over the idea of retiring in Florida, then perhaps you haven’t read enough of the Florida noir stories that have been pumped out there for the last sixty or seventy years. From the swamplands to the keys, the place is just filled to the brim with kooks and not the harmless kinds. Ollerman revisits Talmage Powell’s St Petersburg and Ybor City with a nasty piece of business. Ollerman’ protagonist, Jeff Prentiss, is a guy nearing the end of his rope. Prentiss was a Tampa Homicide Detective, who made mistakes big enough to get him drummed out of the force with no one left to protect his back. Across the bay, now on St. Pete’s force, no one trusts him and his every move is watched. To top it off, his wife and daughter have gone and left town with no forwarding address. He’s still facing a board of rights hearing in Tampa and who knows what’ll happen. And, his ex-wife’s first husband Just got released from prison and has been stalking her. Prentiss is on his own, drowning in a barrel of crap, and every move he makes backfires as he tries to make headway on a new homicide with his own life falling apart.

The Persian Cat

Although re-released as the fourth Black Gat book by Stark House Press, Flagg’s The Persian Cat’s claim to fame was its release as the first of the Gold Medals in 1950 (apparently numbered 103). Flagg sets this excellent espionage novel in 1950 Teheran and post-WW2 as the surviving French partisans are still tracking down Nazi collaborators and bringing them to justice. Gil Denby is an ex OSS officer (the forerunner of the CIA), but is now at loose ends and for sale to the highest bidder, which in this case is the French partisans who are hot on the scent of a chic society woman who betrayed her husband to the Vichy authorities. His mission, should he choose to accept it, is to use his wiles to seduce this cold adulteress and bring her to French Algeria for trial and execution. Flagg sets most of the tale in Teheran, which in those pre-fundamentalist revolutionary days was an exotic international locale half modern European and half like a scene out of the Arabian Nights. Flagg uses this setting to his advantage in this swift moving espionage tale where no one trusts each other’s motives and every step could end with a veritable and often literal knife in the back. A very enjoyable read.

Dead Wrong

Originally published in 1957, Hellen’s “Dead Wrong” was republished in 2000 by Stark House Press’ Black Gat Books division. It’s a tough, hardnosed Jersey-style crime fiction that reprises the innocent man framed for murder theme, but also has that Maltese Falcon thing going when a mysterious package disappears. It all starts with Malone getting a call from a sea captain buddy who generally wanted to paint the town from bar to bar. But it’s his long lost daughter who shows up with a letter informing Malone to turn over the package to dear daughter. And everyone wants the package from South American revolutionaries to local tough guys to the homicide detectives. Only problem is Malone never had it and never knew anything about it. Well-written, compelling, fast-moving, and gritty.

Hard to Kill

If you are in the mood for a hard-edged, action-packed thriller, you might want to take a look at Heatley’s latest Tom Rollins thriller, third in the series, and which works just fine as a standalone. Take an ex-black ops asset, plant him Mexico where he can’t help but stumble across a cartel human trafficking operation where young girls are kidnapped and sold into cross-border brothels. Though Rollins is apparently on the run himself from matters that played out in the earlier books in the series, he can’t just sit on his hands when he could be a one-man wrecking crew to such an operation. It’s a fairly short, quick read with nearly no let up in the action and there’s no question about who the good guys and the bad guys are.

Strangers When We Meet

Evan Hunter is best known to crime fiction readers as Ed McBain. Hunter, an early pseudonym, became his legal name although it wasn’t his birth name. Strangers When We Meet was a popular 1958 novel, two years later turned into a hit movie starring Kim Novak and Kirk Douglas. It’s not exactly a crime novel except for the adultery. Rather, it’s a novel about the meaning of life and what exactly is the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

The centerpiece of the novel is, of course, the torrid elicit affair between Larry and Maggie. They both married young, but now after all these years find that the fresh coat of paint has dulled and it’s not bright and shiny and new. On the one hand, it’s indictment of life in all the Levittowns with the cookie cutter houses, taking the kids to school, and waving at your neighbors. On the other hand, Larry gets advice from unlikely sources that he’s throwing away everything and someone warned him that the blonde bombshell Maggie is not the pot of gold. Larry also has a story with his career as an architect and there’s a bit of Howard Roark in him as he storms over changes in his designs. Maggie herself has her own issues. She feels safe with her husband Don, but not filled with excitement. In some ways, still strangers. No one really knows her inside. Her looks make all the other housewives jealous and are misinterpreted by the men as a come-on.

A foil for them and their perilous affair is the happy go lucky life of the rich bestselling writer-client who wants a mansion built to his expectations and who entertains a different woman every weekend. But, he’s terrified of what the critics will say about his next book and he ultimately longs to settle down.

On the surface, this novel sounds like a complicated soap opera, but Hunter makes it into something a bit deeper and more profound.

A Devil For O’Shaugnessy/ The Three-Way Split

A Devil For O’Shaugnessy is Brewer’s lost unpublished novel unearthed for the first time. It has a feel and pace unlike anything else Brewer published. Although like other Brewer novels, it is set on the edge of Florida’s steamy swamps, it is an odd story set in a crumbling mansion by the Gulf where an old grandmother kept on living in spite of all who sought to be bequeathed an inheritance. Of course, a crazy monkey who apparently is the reincarnated spirit of grandma’s ex-husband is the most exciting presence in the house. But there’s also the homicidal granddaughter and the hot-to-trot personal secretary. Into this maelstrom, Brewer threw a hapless conman who had no iron in his veins. That’s O’Shaugnessy, you know. When he’s not dancing with mad femme fatale granddaughter Miriam, he’s impersonating the long lost grandson, Joseph, who grandma dotes over, so he can get close to grandma. In some ways, a comedic set-up with Miriam impatiently crowing at her soft conman to finish the job and he hesitating and uncomfortable with the arrangements. While this story lacks the unending passion Brewer usually filled his tales with, you can still feel O’Shaugnessy sinking into the trap and realizing he’s now locked into the plot with no escape.

Three-Way Split is the other full-length novel in this volume, separated from conman and monkey thriller by a couple of shorts. Three-Way Split, originally published in 1960, is a more traditional nautical noir thriller of the type Charles Williams was known for. It features a down on his luck guy with a small boat who can’t meet the rent for his boat slip and a spotting of a buried Spanish galleon out there. Of course, it wouldn’t be much of a conflict if our hero didn’t have a bad news guy for a father, mean, ornery, and selfish, and on the run from a pack of mobsters for something he didn’t quite do a few states over. The interplay between Jack Holland and his old man is terrific. Sparks fly whenever they’re in the same room and Jack will never trust that old guy who won’t just take off and leave Jack alone.

Stark House Press

Turnabout/ Shallow Secrets

Stark House Press offers us a Terrific double feature in an unassuming cover by a writer who should be better known than he is. It’s not often you come upon a two-fer with two “A” sides, but Rick Ollerman pulled it off with two powerful Florida crime novels.

Turnabout is set in the Nineties around the beginnings of the Internet explosion as the General public and criminals as well are just starting to wrap their heads around networking and computer security, but it might as well have been set in the late Fifties or early Sixties. It has the look and feel of one of those early paperback originals.

Frank O’Neill is an ex police officer making a living as a computer security consultant. He got burned out working nights in all the worst neighborhoods, never leaving the job behind, never relaxing. It nearly cost him his marriage. But, as these stories go, retirement is just a fantasy cause the crap has a way of following you wherever you go.

The opening scene will leave your jaw dropping open as O’Neill’s best buddy takes a nose dive into the Gulf of Mexico from a small plane and nothing about is right. O’Neill can’t let this go even if it costs him everything and it nearly does. With a team composed of a born loser working a late night cleaning crew and a 300 pound pickpocket, O’Neill finds the twisted trail to hell as his hunt for his buddy’s killers leads him into the deadly Florida swamps.

Even if O’Neill’s painstaking investigation seems to lead nowhere at first, hang on tight because you are in for a harrowing thrill ride filled with breathtaking twists and turns and it becomes just as action packed as anything.

Shallow Secrets also features a Florida ex police officer, but one who leads a special team investigating a serial killer, leads it, that is, until the new suspect in custody who was caught red handed turns out to have been a houseguest of Officer Robinson. All of a sudden, Robinson becomes a bit of a suspect himself and his career goes down the tubes. You don’t really know through much of the story whether Robinson is Lou Ford or just an innocent guy connected to the wrong person at the wrong time.

This one at first seems to be a bit slower to get going, but rest assured the twists and turns are just beginning and the action when it comes is fast and furious.

Better Off Dead

Better Off Dead is the 26th thriller in Lee Child’s long-running Jack Reacher series, now cowritten with his younger brother who will eventually take over the franchise. Reacher is a Six foot five trained ex military police officer who has never exactly settled into civilian life. He has no home, no car, no regular job. Instead, he’s on permanent walkabout wherever whim takes him. Reacher never finds trouble is too far distant and he has a penchant for helping others.

This one finds Reacher in the border zone of Arizona where he comes upon a Jerome smashed into a tree and ends up in a plot which puts him on the slab in a morgue.

Reacher finds a villain Bond could be proud of and his loyal crew in a plot with far-reaching international implications. He shouldn’t be involved. He had every opportunity to walk away. But he keeps poking around in the hot dry desert, looking for things that don’t make sense.

of course, there’s lot of action and the pace is rather deadly. The plot though is at times a bit confusing, particularly who is working for who and why.