Book Review: Robert B. Parker’s The Devin Wins: A Jesse Stone Novel by Reed Farrel Coleman

Title: Robert B.   Parker’s The Devil Wins: A Jesse Stone Novel

Author: Reed Farrel Coleman

Format: Hardcover edition, Putnam

Published: 2015


As I’ve said before, Robert B. Parker is probably the writer that has influenced me as an author and as a fan the most.  Not only because of his Spenser series, what I still consider possibly the best Private Investigator series in the modern era, but also because of ex big city cop turned Paradise, Massachusetts Police Chief Jesse Stone.  Parker’s second best known series is a departure from the insightful, self assured Spenser and presents with its lead character as being skilled, but damaged and the eternal question being which will outweigh the other, the brokenness or the ability.

With Parker’s passing in 2010, other authors have picked up the banner for at least three of Parker’s four existing series and this installment of the Stone books, The Devil Wins, is penned by Reed Farrel Coleman.

A massive winter storm reveals three bodies in a collapsing factory on the industrial side of Paradise. One body is quite recent, while the other two turn out to be two teenage girls who went missing a quarter of a century earlier.  Thrust into the national limelight once again, Jesse is a stranger in a new way in his new hometown.  Although everyone from Paradise and seemingly across the state of Massachusetts, is familiar with this cold case and has an emotional attachment to it, Jesse faces it as someone detached.  That both comes to his aid and to his detriment as Molly Crane, his most trusted officer, turns out to be tied directly into the mystery of what happened to her two friends while they were still in high school.

For walking Parker’s beat, so to speak, Coleman does a fairly decent job.  All the characters ring as true as ever, from Captain Healey to Suitcase Simpson to some of the supporting cast of townspeople that have appeared in other books. The characters new to this volume also fit right in, all seeming to be woven into the weird mix of suburban angst and rural melancholy that makes Paradise so vivid and real.  The storytelling fits in well, too, making this almost feel like a Parker entry into the series.

The only real issue I have with The Devil Wins is actually the portrayal of Jesse himself.  What makes Stone work as such a rich and exciting character is the fact that there are chinks in his armor.  Not subtle little dents, but major gaping holes in the calm and collected persona he struggles to portray, but never pulls off.  Coleman recognizes this, focuses on this, and actually makes it too much a part of the narrative.  Although the underlying theme to any Jesse Stone novel, a definite subplot each time, Jesse’s growth and overcoming of his own demons should be just that, something that occurs as the story prompts, as the mystery moves it along.  What happens in this book is that Jesse’s own issues almost threaten to overwhelm the primary story and take center stage.  Coleman keeps that from happening, but only barely, so fortunately Jesse doesn’t end up seeming as maudlin as he almost does.  But it is really close for comfort.

This is a good read for Stone fans and doesn’t make a bad one time read for people unfamiliar with Jesse and his cast.  But, even with that, it still only garners three out of five pages.

The Devil Wins is an average read for me, so it gets three out of six bullets in my gun.  I read it, enjoyed it for what it was, a new chapter in Jesse’s story, but likely won’t revisit it as I will other books about Stone.

Book Review – Beanstalk

Title: Beanstalk

Author: E. Jade Lomax

Format: Paperback

Year Published: 2015

For a book about Jack the Giant Killer, there is an absolute lack of giants in this book.😉

But I knew that going in.

E. Jade Lomax is the author of those little AU fics (mostly Harry Potter) that you see on Tumblr: Harry is a squib, Neville is the Boy-Who-Lived, my favorite of her “In Defense of-” series, Hannah Abbot, and many, many others. So, since I loved those, I was pretty sure I’d like this book too.

The story follows four unlikely people, paired together as a study group, who end up becoming friends and partners.

Jack Farris – the titular Beanstalk (a nickname given to him by his brothers), a seventh son of a seventh son, Jack, as the back cover says, just wants to save people.

Laney Jones – Laney. What can I say about Laney? I love Laney. She’s so fierce and determined, and if life doesn’t give her what she wants, then she’ll reach out with both hands and grab it.

S. Gray – Gray. Gray is awesome. Gray slots into my “grumpy character with a heart of gold” place in this universe. I love that he is so dedicated to his books, to knowing everything, but all of the secrets that come out of him feel natural.

Rupert Willington Jons Hammersfield the Seventh – it took about three pages for me to realize that Rupert was not going to be the sheltered, stuck-up “rich guy” – he might prefer things to be orderly, but he’s got experience enough to actually lead their little band of misfits.

The novel doesn’t have one huge, over-arching plot to it – in many ways, it feels like a collection of the author’s little shorts all put together. They tie in together, and build on each other, but the biggest arc you get is that they become a team, and no matter what stupid decision one (*cough*Jack*cough*) makes, the others are going to see it through with them.

Since there isn’t one big plot, it makes it easier in some ways to read, as you can put it down after a chapter or two and not be in the middle of something, but it does make it harder to sit down and enjoy in one fell swoop. (The stories become a lot more interwoven the closer to the end it gets, and that’s when you can get your full-on read going.)

A minor note – as this is a self-published work, there are places that could stand a little bit more editing (a couple of sentences that you can tell were merged from two different ones, a couple of minor grammar things), and the actual book version could stand a bit more gutter space, as the book comes in at a hefty 591 and it’s hard to read portions of it without cracking the spine. But, those are minor issues. (Also, as this book is self-pubbed, it’s available for free as an e-book from the author’s website, and you can purchase an actual paper copy there as well.)

I’m ranking this a solid 4/5, and can’t wait for Echoes of a Giantkiller to get to me.

Book Review: Johnny Staccato by Frank Boyd

Title: Johnny Staccato

Author: Frank Boyd

Format: Electronic edition, Coffee Cup Press

Published: 2015 (electronically)


It’s no secret that I love tv tie-ins.  What may be becoming apparent with each of these reviews I do is that I actually have a preference for tv tie-ins related to obscure shows, the less known the better, actually.   I have plenty of tie-in novels from well known series, but the books based on shows very few remember have a special place in my reading heart.  So, stumbling across the electronic version of Johnny Staccato was a bit of good fortune for me.

Johnny Staccato was a television series that ran for 27 episodes from 1959 to 1960 featuring John Cassevetes. Staccato was a hep Private Eye who had already made a name for himself as a noted Jazz key ticker, a piano player.

In the novel written by Frank Kane, using the pseudonym of Frank Boyd, Staccato is hired by an old girlfriend who has made a name for herself as a singer to prove she is not a murderer. The victim was an influential Disc Jockey who used his ability to make hits for singers to essentially get his way with singers and to make money from the record companies and music publishers, pretty much based on the Payola scandals of the 1950s.  Staccato sets out to figure out who killed the platter spinner that no one likes and has plenty of suspects available to accuse.  All he knows for sure is the woman he once loved with a voice like an angel is not a killer, even as the bodies start to pile up.

Johnny Staccato is a whole lot of fun.   The jazz influence of Staccato being a pianist adds a certain atmosphere to the book, both to the narrative and to the dialogue, which is always cool. The mystery is fairly standard and hits every mark that it needs to: a violent murder to start with, more to follow, plenty of suspects, and Staccato being on the outs with the police.

With all that, the mystery in this book isn’t the only thing that is standard.  There’s nothing about Johnny Staccato that makes it stand out as a mystery, as a tv tie-in, or as a book in general. Boyd (Kane) tells the story in the third person and goes to little to no effort to describe Staccato or anyone else in the story, unless they were female and attractive.  Is it worth a read? Sure, if You enjoy this sort of book.

Johnny Staccato earns three out of five pages.  A definite read for people who enjoy jazz touched Private Eye 1950s/60s type tales, but really nothing to make it a must add to anyone’s list.

It’s also an average three out of six bullets for my own scale.  Because it’s a tv tie-in and because it’s a PI novel, I enjoyed it.  It was worth a read and that was really about it.

Book Review – Brotherhood in Death

Title: Brotherhood in Death

Author: J.D. Robb

Format: Hardback

Year Published: 2016

Another J.D. Robb book, another review.😉 I apparently can’t stop myself. That said, this was a book that involved one of my favorite secondary characters in this series, so I was pretty pumped to read it.

The book starts with said favorite character, Dennis Mira, going across town to meet/confront his cousin, who is planning on selling a house that they co-own – a plan that Dennis is not on-board with. Instead of getting into it with his cousin, Dennis sees his cousin injured, gets hit over the head, and when he comes to, his cousin and attacker are gone.

Dennis calls Eve, and she must find out who would have hurt him, or his cousin. The secret lies in his cousin’s past, and answers will hurt everyone before she’s done finding them.

While Eve pegs the killer fairly early on, the story is still engaging as we try to figure out why and then how and where the next death will occur. And, continuing with the more recent books, we don’t get a laundry list of favorite side characters – the ones that are brought up all have a role to play – and the killer isn’t taunting us and we’re just waiting for them to get arrested, there’s actually uncertainty on our side as well. (This is also another case where we feel more for the killer than we do the victim, which is always a bit… sad.)

So, all-in-all, writing was what I expected, plot-wise, the story falls upper-middle range of the pack, so this book gets a solid 3/5.

Book Review: And Be A Villain: A Nero Wolfe Mystery by Rex Stout

Title: And Be A Villain: A Nero Wolfe Mystery

Author: Rex Stout

Format: Paperback edition, Bantam Books

Published: 1961


I am most definitely a Nero Wolfe fan.  Rex Stout’s creation of Wolfe and Archie Goodwin makes Stout one of the legendary names in Private Detective fiction.  Even with that, though, not even Rex Stout can hit the bullseye every single time.  And Be A Villain proves that point.

When Archie informs Wolfe that the coffers will be empty once income tax is paid, Wolfe undertakes the most hateful thing he can imagine and actually seeks out work.  The latest news involves the death of a man, a publisher of a racing magazine, on a live radio program during the sampling of a soda by himself and other cast members.  Playing on the foibles of both individuals and companies behind the program, Wolfe offers to solve the mystery behind the man’s death for a sizable fee, one that is equal to and will take care of his income tax debt.

What follows is a fairly typical Nero Wolfe mystery, with Archie doing a lot of legwork, investigating all the guests on the program, including the charming hostess, as well as the victim, uncovering that all is not as it seems with the dead soda drinker. Or, with the soda said corpse drank.  Or, with …well, much of anything.

As Wolfe and Archie delve deeper, Wolfe takes on the attitude that much of the work that needs to be done should be and is already being handled by the police, so he relaxes to a degree and lets Inspector Cramer do the heavy lifting. This leads to a frustrated Archie Goodwin, but also results in the tying in of another, seemingly separate murder into the case as well as suspicion being cast around all parties equally.

It must also be noted that this is the first book in the what is referred to as the  ‘Arnold Zeck’ Trilogy.  Zeck appears as the ultimate foil to Wolfe, only by phone at this point, extremely politely warning Wolfe to not decide to be as industrious or successful as he normally is in this matter.  It is intimated that Zeck has called before in another matter years ago and Wolfe identifies him as a man who is most formidable and one he may one day have to deal with…permanently.

Even with the debut of Zeck, And Be A Villain falls short of Stout’s usually phenomenal work.  There is very little of Wolfe in this book, not so much in appearance as in Wolfe doing much of anything. Now, that is presented to the reader as a key point of the plot and a reason for Archie to fume, but I don’t read Nero Wolfe to watch Wolfe do nothing. Yes, there are many times he SEEMS to do nothing in other tales, but in all of them, there is an underlying plotting and thinking going on.  In this book, the point seems to be that Wolfe really is letting the police handle all the work until he absolutely can’t anymore.

Combine this lack of Wolfe being Wolfe with a rather lackluster mystery and a solution that is obvious halfway through the book and And Be A Villain rates three out of five pages. An average read and interesting because it’s Wolfe, but not much more.

This entry by Stout also loads three out of six bullets on my scale.  Enjoyable, but only because the characters and settings are familiar.  Won’t be a reload on this one for me.

Book Review: Shadow of a Broken Man: A Mongo Mystery by George C. Chesbro

Title: Shadow of a Broken Man: a Mongo Mystery

Author: George C. Chesbro

Format: Paperback edition, Dell Books

Published: 1977


Over the years, there have been books, and especially series that i have picked up time and again when looking for something to read that I knew then I should have just taken and started. But, just as I’d decide to do so, something that I was already familiar with would catch my eye and new stories told by a character fresh to me would be put back on the shelf and have to wait.  This was exactly the case with George C. Chesbro’s Mongo mystery series.  One of those that I’ve seen on bookshelves or had recommended to me time after time, but I just never started.  Well, that’s been rectified.

And I’m very glad it has, indeed.

Shadow of a  Broken Man is the first novel in a series introducing the world to Dr. Robert Frederickson, a criminologist who also happens to be a private investigator. Frederickson is better known to the world at large and those close to him as Mongo The Magnificent, due to having had quite a career as a circus performer.  Along with being a criminologist and PI and even having a black belt, Mongo is a dwarf and enjoyed a pretty solid career as a performer.  But, now, having moved on to other things, Mongo is brought into a case concerning an architect thought long dead.  When a building is constructed using techniques that this supposed deceased builder could only do, it appears suspicious to another architect, who asks Mongo to look into it.  As he discovers a possible reason this could have been possible, that someone might have had a glimpse at plans to allow them to mimic the dead architect’s skill, the decidedly different detective unfurls even more of a mystery. One that indicates that death may not be final.  And one that involves shady government dealings, ESP, and everyone involved not being what they first seem to be.

There quite literally is nothing negative to say about The Shadow of a Broken Man. Chesbro quite honestly creates a world so fully realized that a reader can feel the hard asphalt beneath his or her feet and can stand in the shadows cast by Manhattan’s building.  Combine that with the characterization magic that Chesbro works, imbuing everyone who even graces the page with a certain reality that makes them stick to the reader, and you’ve got a fantastic start to a series.

Mongo has everything a hard boiled detective needs, plus a few new polished facets, or at least new when he debuted in 1977.  He has an edge, a haunted past, and a retinue of skills of all sorts that he puts into excellent use, whether he’s coming up against a common thug or a scary man in black from the ‘government’.  He is not only a skilled expert in his fields, but he’s just broken enough, just rough around the edges enough to be extremely relatable for readers and to be an enjoyable character study all his own.

Another gold star for this book is the relationship that Mongo has with his police detective brother, Garth.  Although they do not seem to act as partners in all but name, they also aren’t at each other’s throats.  There is, and here’s this word again, but it applies, a reality to their interaction, an honest to goodness feeling that these two are brothers with all the complications that involves.  This relationship is well done and adds a whole lot of gravity to the tale, especially in a scene at the book’s end.

As if all that wasn’t enough, Chesbro also skillfully takes this mystery out of the hard concrete and steel of ‘normal’ and toys with some rather extraordinary, maybe even paranormal aspects.  Not so much that it nosedives into an occult mystery, but just enough to add a level of intrigue and something extra to what is already a solid mystery.  And, the kicker is, the addition makes this book stand out even more.

Five out five pages is definitely what The Shadow of a Broken Man is worth, and that’s only because the scale only goes that high.  Characterization, plot, and taking chances are all dead on in this book and there’s just the right amount of each.

As for my own personal scale, a definite fully loaded gun, six out of six bullets.  The first book in a series is supposed to make a reader want there to be a second and to come back for it and the next few after it.  This does that and so much more in spades.

Book Review: Storm Front: A Novel of the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher

Title: Storm Front: A Novel of the Dresden Files

Author: Jim Butcher

Format: Electronic edition,  Roc

Published: 2000



I said this not too long ago in a review here, but it’s true again this time around.  Sometimes there are series published that I know about from the time the first book hits the stands.  And many of those series get popular quickly and everyone is reading them and everyone is telling me read them…and I just don’t. For whatever reason, I don’t immediately connect my star to the bandwagon of this particular series of books and come to it later.  The last time I discussed this in a review, I was bowled over when I finally read the first book in that series and couldn’t wait to get to the next one.

I’m going to knock several people over when I say that, unfortunately, that is not the case with Jim Butcher’s Storm Front, the first Harry Dresden novel.

Storm Front introduces Harry Dresden, a wizard for hire.  Now, although Dresden is very much like a Private Eye in many ways, he is most definitely a magic user that uses the various wizarding skills he has to make a living in legitimate ways, including working as a sometimes consultant on ‘strange’ cases for the police department.  Harry lives in a world where maybe magic, at least at this point, isn’t out in the open per se, but it’s also not a hidden secret from the masses.

A woman visits Harry, hiring him to locate her husband, who dabbles in magic, and who has been behaving strangely before his disappearance.  At the same time, Harry’s police contact, Lieutenant Murphy, calls Harry on a case where two people were literally mutilated in the act of sex, their hearts being torn from their chests.  What follows is Harry finding himself in the midst of betrayal, blackmail, and the dangerous trade of the drug ThreeEye, which is mystically base and gives its users ‘The Sight’ for a period of time, essentially opening their minds to a different, dangerous level of consciousness.  Harry quickly moves from consulting wizard to hunted mage, both by an unknown killer and by the Council that oversees the use of magic, to murder suspect and likely victim before the entire case very nearly literally explodes in thunder and lightning.

Storm Front is a good book.  Dresden is a neat character who is well voiced and his first person narration carries the story forward well.  It’s full of creatures, magic, and mystery and the plot moves at a decent speed.  The characters around Dresden, most notably Bob, the spirit trapped in a skull, and Murphy are well crafted and contribute as good supporting characters should.  The mysteries tangled together within the story were solid enough and resolved well.

That’s it, really, and that may be the failing point of this novel for me.  There’s nothing new here to me.  Now, some will say that’s because I came in late and by the time I’ve now read the first Dresden book, all the other authors who do this sort of stuff are just copying Butcher.  But, trust me, I’m not referencing works since 2000 when I talk about this not being anything new.  I could have read this when it came out and, while I might have decided to give the next book a try (which I intend to at some point even now), I would not have found anything ground breaking or overly exciting about the premise or the characters.  Even though the mysteries were well constructed, for instance, the bad guy was almost most certainly telegraphed within the first twenty pages, which is a disappointment, even though many, many books do that all the time.

Storm Front gets three out of five pages.  It’s good, as I said, but in the final wash, it’s nothing but average.

As for my own gun and scale, this one gets three out of six bullets.  Yes, I’ll read the next one, but if I don’t get to it for some reason for another ten or so years, I won’t feel like I’ve missed much.

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