I wanted to like George Pelecanos’ The Cut, but it left me a little cold. I’m a huge fan of Elmore Leonard, and Pelecanos has a lot in common with the master. Both rely heavily on dialog to convey character, and both have a good ear for the language. Leonard’s characters come off a little sharper, at least compared to this book, in which the testosterone-drenched wise guys on both sides of law do too much posturing and smart-mouthing.
In the opening of Day Keene’s Bring Him Back Dead, sheriff’s deputy Andy Latour seems to be stuck in the wrong job and the wrong marriage. His wife, Olga, a descendant of the faded Russian aristocracy, barely speaks to him. He had promised her a life of wealth and ease as the oil boom struck southern Louisiana and the Delta Oil Company had opened a test well on his land.
I’m often disappointed by contemporary mystery and thriller bestsellers. The characters are flat and unengaging, the writing is often heavy-handed, as if the author is telling us through a bullhorn what we’re supposed to feel. Many writers jack up the action to make up for a lack of depth, like a bad guitarist turning up his amp to try to bowl us over with power because he doesn’t have the skill to win us over with substance.
These five works show Millar to be a brilliant mystery/suspense writer. I’ve reviewed them all separately, and they’re all four or five stars. She really deserves to be more widely read. Note that the negative reviews of this book on Amazon complain about the small print size, not the content of the works themselves. The print is indeed small. That, combined with large pages and narrow margins makes reading hard on the eyes.
Margaret Millar’s The Listening Walls opens in a room in the Windsor Hotel in Mexico City in the late 1950’s. Two American women are vacationing together. The mousy, deferential Amy Kellogg is feeling some resentment after getting roped into this trip by her domineering friend Wilma Wyatt. Wilma, thirty-three and just coming off her second divorce, is alternately high-spirited and moody, arrogant and temperamental, a drama queen seeking attention and excitement to distract from a life that wasn’t going as planned.
Margaret Millar’s 1957 novel has a simple setup: a bunch of men in their late thirties are meeting for a weekend away from the wives and kids at a remote country lodge to fish, play poker, and drink. Only one of them never arrives. The boys call the wives, and together they reconstruct a picture of where Ron Galloway was last seen and where he was headed. Millar’s novels of the mid to late 1950s are brilliant studies of what actually goes on under the surface of middle-class American and Canadian life.
My designer, the brilliant and stunning Lindsay Heider Diamond, has come up with yet another excellent cover for my next book. We hope to have this one out sometime this summer. My last book, Wake Up, Wanda Wiley, a satire on the romance and thriller genres, was a bit of a departure. The Friday Cage is a return to my usual mystery/thriller story. The plot runs along the lines of Hitchcock’s North by Northwest, in which Cary Grant finds himself pursued by people he doesn’t know for reasons he doesn’t understand.
Charles Brandt, an attorney from Delaware, spent years interviewing Mafia hit man Frank Sheeran. Sheeran was one of the prime suspects in the disappearance of Teamsters president Jimmy Hoffa, but because of all of the suspects refusal to talk, neither the local police nor the FBI could ever gather enough evidence for a conviction. After decades of investigation, the FBI closed the case and left it unsolved. Brandt, who had extensive experience in criminal law and who helped win Sheeran’s release from prison on medical grounds, thought he could draw a confession from the elderly Sheeran who had begun to reconsider his life as he approached death.
John Temple’s American Pain describes the rise and fall of America’s largest pill mill. A pill mill, in case you didn’t know, is a medical practice set up specifically to dispense narcotic pain killers. Patient appointments typically last only a few minutes, just long enough for doctor to write the prescription. Chris George, the wealthy son of a successful South Florida builder, was running a semi-successful shop selling anabolic steroids when he started seeing pain clinics pop up all over Broward County around 2008.
Nick Bilton’s American Kingpin describes the rise and fall of the darknet market The Silk Road, and its creator, Ross Ulbricht. The book focuses primarily on Ulbricht and a handful of agents from the DEA, FBI, IRS, and Homeland Security who wage a semi-coordinated effort to identify and capture the Silk Road leader, who was known online as the Dread Pirate Roberts. Ulbricht grew up in Austin, Texas, a middle-class kid with strong libertarian leanings.
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