Discount: <i>Collecting the Dead</i> by Spencer Kope Discount: Collecting the Dead by Spencer Kope Crime HQ Get a digital copy for only $2.99! Review: <i>The Temptation of Forgiveness</i> by Donna Leon Review: The Temptation of Forgiveness by Donna Leon Doreen Sheridan Read Doreen Sheridan's review! <i>Black and White Ball</i>: Excerpt Black and White Ball: Excerpt Loren D. Estleman PI Amos Walker and hitman Peter Macklin together for the first time! Review: <i>Dodge City</i> by Tom Clavin Review: Dodge City by Tom Clavin David Cranmer Read David Cranmer's review!
From The Blog
March 19, 2018
Q&A with Christi Daugherty, Author of The Echo Killing
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Adam Wagner
Showing posts by: David Cranmer click to see David Cranmer's profile
Mar 19 2018 12:00pm

Review: Dodge City by Tom Clavin

Now in paperback, Dodge City by Tom Clavin is the New York Times bestselling story of the taming of the Wild West—set in Dodge City, the most depraved and criminal town in the nation.

The Wyatt Earp myth is spent, taking its place alongside Bingham’s Washington crossing the Delaware and Paul Revere shouting “The British are coming!” Sure, there’s an element of truth to the timeworn renditions, but we’ve finally passed over a transom where the reality is now far more entertaining and gripping than the bullshit, in short, we’ve grown up. In the author’s note, Tom Clavin writes, “... most research sources revealed that legend and fact often overlapped and that the facts about the lives of Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson before, during, and after Dodge City were usually at least as satisfying as the fictions.”

Earp’s myth, via Hollywood mainly, has seen a lot of mileage out of the honorable-above-reproach-lawman song, who even at his worse (see, for example, Wyatt’s vendetta ride) appears merited in all that he did—that the ends justified the means. Even as I write this, you can bet your Buntline Special that a screenwriter is putting the finishing touches on yet another stagnant showdown at the O.K. Let’s hope the producers rip up that script and read Tom Clavin’s clear-headed novel. And the beauty is that in a gifted historian writer’s hands (ala David McCullough and Joseph Ellis), the fact sheet can still have a cinematic thrust. Observe this meeting between Old West titans:

[Read David Cranmer's review of Dodge City...]

Feb 8 2018 4:00pm

Review: Girl Gangs, Biker Boys, and Real Cool Cats: Pulp Fiction and Youth Culture, 1950 to 1980, Edited by Iain McIntyre and Andrew Nette

Girl Gangs, Biker Boys, and Real Cool Cats: Pulp Fiction and Youth Culture, 1950 to 1980, edited by Iain McIntyre and Andrew Nette, is the first comprehensive account of how the rise of postwar youth culture was depicted in mass-market pulp fiction—a must-read for anyone interested in pulp fiction, lost literary history, retro and subcultural style, and the history of postwar youth culture.

I enjoy delving into a book that I previously would have thought I’d have no interest in sampling and then spending hours reading and rereading the passages. Understand, I love pulp, but teenage angst, women behind bars, and titles like The Hippy Cult Murders and Skinhead Farewell are not normally my preference. Actually, I had zero interest until Girl Gangs, Biker Boys, and Real Cool Cats: Pulp Fiction and Youth Culture, 1950 to 1980 landed in my lap.

I’ve known Andrew Nette for years now (he’s a superb fiction writer himself), and I’ve appreciated the various pulp covers he posts on Twitter almost daily—how he can dig and unearth such lost treasures is quite admirable. And along with Iain McIntyre (who also collaborated on the forthcoming Sticking It to the Man: Revolution and Counterculture in Pulp and Popular Fiction), they have crammed a lot into 336 pages, ranging from the lost and forgotten authors to legends like Harlan Ellison, S. E. Hinton, and Salvatore A. Lombino, aka Evan Hunter. Hunter would find everlasting fame with his 87th Precinct series that became the modern blueprint for the police procedural, and he later penned the screenplay for Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds (1963). But first came The Blackboard Jungle.

[Read David Cranmer's review of Girl Gangs, Biker Boys, and Real Cool Cats...]

Jan 17 2018 2:00pm

Review: Jack Waters by Scott Adlerberg

Jack Waters by Scott Adlerberg is a historical thriller set in 1904 about an American guy from New Orleans—a poker player and fugitive murderer—who joins a Caribbean island revolution for utterly non-political reasons. He has his own reasons for joining the rebellion, based on revenge against someone high up in the country (available January 17, 2018).

In the years after the American Civil War, Jack Waters, a successful Louisianan gambler, lives the high life on a big plantation that he cherishes. Fancying himself a gentleman, he is well-respected within his circles. His trajectory for a life of ease is forever altered, however, when he finds himself running from the law after he kills a 22-year-old poker player.

The boy had the gall to cheat in his house, and then to think he could depart unscathed. In a flash, like a panther, Waters leapt over the round oak table, scattering cards and chips. He jumped onto the boy and they fell to the floor. The others yanked at his arms and shoulders, but they couldn’t get a grip on him. Waters pushed them away. He drew from under his shirt the long retractable knife he always carried for protection, and ignoring the boy’s cries for mercy, stabbed him in the heart.

[Read David Cranmer's review of Jack Waters...]

Dec 18 2017 2:00pm

Longmire 6:10, Series Finale: “Goodbye Is Always Implied” Episode Review

Crow Medicine Woman Marilyn Yarlott (Tantoo Cardinal) visits Longmire (Robert Taylor) with a tempting offer: to take him to Malachi Strand (Graham Greene). She compares Malachi to a Japanese bark beetle spreading, killing everything.

Malachi and his hoods have been hiding out on the Crow Reservation. At first, she had a profitable arrangement selling them deer and elk—until Malachi compared the bullets that killed his men to a slug he found in an elk, which proved she saved Henry Standing Bear (Lou Diamond Phillips). With her camp burned to the ground, she’s hiding out from Malachi and is now willing to lead Longmire to eradicate the invasive species.

She guides him onto the Crow Reservation and is shot. Longmire returns fire, killing the lone security watching that section of the perimeter. The sheriff transports Marilyn to the hospital where she dies from her injuries.

[Read David Cranmer's review of the series finale, “Goodbye Is Always Implied”...]

Dec 15 2017 1:00pm

Longmire 6:09: “Running Eagle Challenge” Episode Review

Vic (Katee Sackhoff) is learning there is often no such thing as closure. After going to a support group and seeing a woman who, rightfully so, is still crying over a lost child a year later, she listens to Longmire’s (Robert Taylor) advice: instead of talking it out, she needs to—in a manner of speaking—sweat it out.

He suggests she should enter the Running Eagle Challenge—a triathlon for women that includes running, canoeing, and horseback riding—being organized by Henry Standing Bear (Lou Diamond Phillips). She likes the idea, and with only a day to prepare, she is coached by Longmire on the ins-and-outs of horseback riding and by The Ferg (Adam Bartley) on proper paddling technique.

[Read David Cranmer's review of “Running Eagle Challenge”...]

Dec 13 2017 2:00pm

Longmire 6:08: “Cowboy Bill” Episode Review

The spavined storyline of Longmire vs. Nighthorse continues. Nighthorse (A Martinez) wants to stay out of the prison population, preferring solitary confinement where the long reach of Malachi Strand can’t whack him. (Hard to believe it’s even a question that they would toss him in the general population considering he’s a wealthy “leading” citizen of the community.) So, Nighthorse shares with Longmire (Robert Taylor) how to get to Irish mob guru, Shane Muldoon (Dylan Walsh), by leaving comments on a website as user “Sitting Bull.”

It works, and Vic (Kate Sackhoff) and Longmire confront Shane at a tourist attraction. Realizing what he’s up against, Shane promises to give up Malachi. He lied. Instead, a few hours later (or the next day … the timeline on this show can be hard to pinpoint, with characters popping in and out like quarks), FBI Agent Decker (Raphael Sbarge) shows up at Longmire’s ranch to thank him because Muldoon has turned himself in.

[Read David Cranmer's review of “Cowboy Bill”...]

Dec 11 2017 1:00pm

Longmire 6:07: “Opiates and Antibiotics” Episode Review

Walt Longmire (Robert Taylor) is damn near giddy with relief from being out from under the dark prosecution cloud. He grabs a bottle of libation from his office and heads into the next room to celebrate with his coworkers. I’ve often wondered: if TV characters were flesh and blood and actually went through the colossal amount of shit that they do, how damaged would they be?! Mental breakdowns all around, I’m certain.

So, it’s good to see Longmire happy, but of course, it’s short-lived. Already at full throttle: The Ferg (Adam Bartley), working with Zach (Barry Sloane), has discovered the Irish mob are back in town and partnering with Malachi. Also, Vic (Kate Sackhoff) reveals there’s a 17th puncture in the late Ian Whitmore’s body that wasn’t caused by an arrow but by a syringe—and the contents of that injection, heroin, is what killed him.

[Read David Cranmer's review of “Opiates and Antibiotics”...]

Dec 8 2017 2:00pm

Longmire 6:06: “No Greater Character Endorsement” Episode Review

I had forgotten how much I appreciate Warren Zevon’s singing. His gruff, world-weary rendition of “Back in the High Life Again” opens the show as we follow Walt Longmire (Robert Taylor), who is reading Lucian Connally’s (Peter Weller) letter that admits he killed Tucker Baggett and dictates how to dispose of his remains. A touching, elegiac tribute to one of the finest characters this show has wrought. The opener concludes with Longmire having a shot at The Red Pony, slamming the glass upside down on the bar with the show’s titles playing over. Stylish, fitting.

The Ferg (Adam Bartley) gets called to a residential home because a neighbor has made a noise complaint. Inside, bound to a chair, is the corpse of Ian Whitmore with sixteen arrows plunged into his chest and the phrase “Hector Lives” carved into his back. Ferg interviews the neighbor and discovers it’s none other than former deputy Zach Heflin (Barry Sloane). He’s still a quirky son of a gun, but he drops a clue for Ferg that, yes, he had seen a silver suburban parked out front. He figured there was a drug dealer in the house because of all the vehicles parked outside at odd hours.

[Read David Cranmer's review of “No Greater Character Endorsement”...]

Dec 6 2017 2:00pm

Longmire 6:05 “Burned Up My Tears” Episode Review

This last season of Longmire is pulling out all the stops, resulting in unexpected twists, turns, and drop-offs—literally, in this case, toward the end of the episode. It all begins with Walt Longmire (Robert Taylor) on the first day of his trial and the verbal castration he takes from lawyer Tucker Baggett (Brett Rice). Even Lucian Connolly (Peter Weller), who’s on Walt’s side, said if he was on the jury he would vote to convict.

Overcome with very real chances of losing not just his job but his property, Walt has legal papers drawn to turn his ranch and land over to his daughter, Cady (Cassidy Freeman). He also asks her not to support him by showing up at the courthouse because he doesn’t want her to see him this unhinged.

After a night of drinking straight whiskey at The Red Pony, Longmire gets a call from Officer Mathias (Zahn McClarnon) asking him to come to the reservation where the corpse of Tucker Baggett has been found shot to death. Suspects everywhere, beside himself, include: Vic (Kate Sackhoff), who went on a long drive alone; Henry (Lou Diamond Phillips), who borrowed Walt’s vehicle while he was drunk; Alex (Barlow Connolly’s ex); and someone named Allen O’ Brien, who was listed in Baggett’s schedule planner.

[Read David Cranmer's review of “Burned Up My Tears”...]

Dec 4 2017 1:00pm

Longmire 6.04: “A Thing I’ll Never Understand” Episode Review

Much of the first five seasons in the relationship of Walt (Robert Taylor) and Vic (Katee Sackhoff) had a hollow ring to the sexual tension. Would they, or wouldn’t they? Snooze. Vic ended up with Eamonn (Josh Cooke) and then Travis (Derek Phillips) while Walt found a psychotherapist to pass his time. In this fourth episode of the final season, writing and acting came together and paid off in a big way.

After a gunshot wound to the thigh caused major blood loss—and the loss of her unborn child—Vic wakes to Walt in a blood-stained shirt holding vigil by her bedside. So much passes between Robert Taylor and Katee Sackhoff through the windows to their souls. We are waiting for him to tell her she has lost the baby, which he carefully does, and we go from feeling compassion for her realization to strong empathy when she says, “I just feel terrible that I don’t feel more terrible.”

[Read David Cranmer's review of “A Thing I'll Never Understand”...]

Dec 1 2017 2:00pm

Longmire 6:03: “Thank You, Victoria” Episode Review

What should have been a routine, dull day at the courthouse is anything but for Walt Longmire (Robert Taylor) and Vic Moretti (Katee Sackhoff). Jury selection is underway for Walt’s upcoming case, and Vic has shown up to hear the charges leveled against Chance Gilbert (Peter Stormare)—he and his compound thugs had terrorized Vic by putting a motorcycle helmet over her head and beating her with a baseball bat.

Chance overtakes an officer then escapes while donning a gas mask. When Vic and Walt give chase, they run into dozens of people wearing gas masks, losing sight of the fugitive in the crowd. The “accomplices” had answered a Craigslist ad that promised to be “lucrative,” and in the “flash-mob distraction,” Chance chanced an escape. Vic, who is still shell-shocked from her previous experience, blames herself, telling Walt, “I got him a new hearing so he could escape from the courthouse.”

[Read David Cranmer's review of “Thank You, Victoria”...]

Nov 29 2017 2:00pm

Longmire 6.02: “Fever” Episode Review

Henry Standing Bear (Lou Diamond Phillips) agrees to recuperate at Walt’s house if Walt shakes hands on staying away from Jacob Nighthorse (A Martinez). They both agree though Walt takes the wooden stakes used to pin Henry to the ground on the Crow reservation. He turns them over to his perpetually wide-eyed daughter Cady as proof that Nighthorse is no good because he can’t use them as proof in a court of law since the stakes were seized on the reservation without permission. Walt’s trajectory begs the question if Nighthorse is involved with Malachi in kidnapping Henry; why would he use his own stakes that would implicate him? Did I miss something here, or are we dealing with some faulty logic?

Sure enough, my questions are answered when Cady arrives at Nighthorse’s home and repeatedly assaults her boss with one of his own stakes, shouting, “You had Henry tortured?! And Kidnapped?!” Tied to your stakes!” After a security detail sweeps in to save Nighthorse from the wrath of the Longmire family righteous indignation, he explains the stakes were probably swiped from his outlying property lines, not those directly in his backyard where his guards could have stopped any thieves. It seems like a lawyer—even one with inherited hothead temper—would have slowed down to think things through, but we are led to believe that her love for Henry has blindsided her, much like how her dad operates. She later confides to Henry that her father used her to go after Nighthorse.

[Read David Cranmer's review of Episode 6.02: “Fever”...]

Nov 27 2017 2:00pm

Longmire 6:01: “The Eagle and the Osprey” Episode Review

Walt Longmire (Robert Taylor) begins the sixth and final season farther behind the 8-ball than any other time in the show’s five-year history—and that’s saying a lot for this sheriff. Currently, he has a wrongful death suit pending against him, orchestrated by a conglomerate of local businessmen and politicians who are all bolstered by their own greedy interests. And he has only made it easier for them since each and every time he went gathering evidence, he essentially ignored many basic citizens’ rights.

But Walt’s biggest challenge comes halfway through the episode when he discovers that Henry Standing Bear’s (Lou Diamond Phillips) truck has been found overturned and Henry has gone missing. Taken by Malachi (Graham Greene)—partly as payback for scarring his face with a knife—Henry is tied up on the Crow reservation under the scorching hot sun where Malachi and his goon squad leave him to die, but not without taunting him with refreshing bottles of water.

[Read David Cranmer's review of “The Eagle and the Osprey”...]

Nov 21 2017 1:00pm

Review: The Best American Mystery Stories 2017, Edited by John Sandford

From an isolated Wyoming ranch to the Detroit boxing underworld, and from kidnapping and adultery in the Hollywood Hills to a serial killer loose in a nursing home, The Best American Mystery Stories 2017, edited by John Sandford, hosts an entertaining abundance of crime, psychological suspense, and bad intentions.

I wouldn’t envy Otto Penzler’s task in compiling these “Best Of” anthologies. Not these days, anyway. In what once may have been a more manageable feat, the flourishing of webzines over the past decade means there must be thousands of stories published in any given year that are arguably in the “Best” category. Whittling down to a tight, chosen few (20 for 2017) might feel like an exercise in futility. Just the same, long-time series editor—and legend—Penzler has done an exceptional job over the last quarter of a century, give or take, in assembling collections of the best short stories that have crossed his desk. 

[Read David Cranmer's review of The Best American Mystery Stories 2017...]

Nov 17 2017 2:00pm

Review: Stealing Ghosts by Lance Charnes

Stealing Ghosts by Lance Charnes is the second book in the DeWitt Agency Files series.

The DeWitt Agency opens for business again, and I, for one, appreciate the clever way that author Lance Charnes jumps into the plot with his protagonist Matt Friedrich eyeing an attractive lady.

The first thing you notice is her eyes.

Big, dark, luminous. She’s no blushing ingénue; those eyes grab you and pin you to the wall. Think you got what it takes? they say. Come find out.

If you don’t fall in, you see the face around those eyes. High cheekbones, a razor-sharp jaw, a long semi-Roman nose, full lips parted just a bit.

Mr. Charnes goes on to emphasize the woman’s creamy skin, and I thought, here we go: a male writer getting lost in the overboard and often cringy explanation of a female character. But then comes the kicker: “Her names Dorotea. She’s ninety-one years old. One look stole my heart. Now I’m stealing her.” Ha! 

[Read David Cranmer's review of Stealing Ghosts...]

Nov 14 2017 4:00pm

Review: Blood Run by Jamie Freveletti

Blood Run by Jamie Freveletti is the fifth book in the Emma Caldridge series, where the biochemist and her team must stop the spread of a smallpox virus and avoid the ruthless government attempting to stop her.

If Jamie Freveletti had arrived on the literary scene ahead of Raymond Chandler, the famous quote instead may have read, “When in doubt, come through the door with a grenade launcher.” In her latest novel, Blood Run, her biochemist protagonist, Emma Caldridge, is three hundred miles east of Dakar, Senegal, when the armored vehicle she and three others are riding in is ambushed.

The heavy car shuddered when a second grenade exploded near the roof, and another rain of bullets hit the driver's side window. It failed in a shower of tiny glass slivers and shrapnel. Emma watched in horror as a splash of red washed over the clear divider between the driver and the passenger area.

“The driver's been hit,” Emma said to the two others.

She pressed the button to lower the glass divider, like those found in limousines, to access the front seat. She was glad that it still moved. That meant that the car hadn't yet lost power. She knew that a car taking fire, even an armored car, had seconds to escape the first hit. A vehicle that didn't move while under attack would eventually be breached, no matter how extensive the armoring.

[Read David Cranmer's review of Blood Run...]

Nov 13 2017 1:00pm

Review: The Savage by Frank Bill

The Savage by Frank Bill is an unnerving vision of a fractured America gone terribly wrong and a study of what happens when the last systems of morality and society collapse (available November 14, 2017).

Vladimir Nabokov’s Bend Sinister was published in 1947, three years after the allies defeated the axis of evil and two years prior to George Orwell’s more heralded 1984. Completing an essential 20th-century dystopian triumvirate is Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, which arrived in 1986 during the waning years of the Cold War. All three books at the time of publication were viewed as masterpieces set in the near future. I can remember discussing 1984 in that titular year and my mother’s cautionary remark that it could still happen “a few years from now.”

Unlike the setting of a dreaded near future found in this esteemed trio, Frank Bill’s The Savage feels like the desperate now. It’s not just 21st-century geopolitical fears as two world leaders seem hellbent on taking us down a real Fury Road, it’s also families throughout the American landscape being gutted by the opioid crisis, facing anxieties over losing health care, and befalling the horror of psychotic cretins shooting up music concerts and halls of worship.

[Read David Cranmer's review of The Savage...]

Nov 9 2017 1:00pm

Review: Trading Down by Stephen Norman

Trading Down by Stephen Norman is a fast-paced cyberthriller set inside an investment bank under cyber-attack.

A novel on the banking infrastructure and what could happen if it was obliterated is certainly appropriate to modern times. Seems like a week doesn’t pass without news of another treacherous breach of everything from our financial systems straight up to the presidential election. Unfortunately, Trading Down has a shaky start at its foundation, trundles along, never reaching its full potential.

The story begins in Dubai, 2007. A scene of horror as a woman douses herself with gasoline, making her sari “wet, almost see-through. It clings to her full breasts and buttocks.” A hapless guard is splashed with the fuel as she goes on to ignite the gas.

Halfway he falls over and lies writhing. He has made the mistake of breathing in. Pale blue and orange flames caress his face.

Behind him, the figure of the woman can be seen. She could be dancing in a nightclub. Her hands are together, above her head. The sari is gone, the hair ablaze, strangely floating upwards in the flames. One leg on the ground, the other lifted, every part of her is on fire.

[Read David Cranmer's review of Trading Down...]

Nov 7 2017 4:00pm

Review: The Midnight Line by Lee Child

The Midnight Line by Lee Child is the 22nd book in the Jack Reacher series.

I dip into the Jack Reacher novels every few years and have enjoyed these visits with the wandering, destructive, one-man tango. Lee Child's latest plot is a decent one. On a stop while traveling toward the Lake Superior region, Reacher spots a 2005 West Point graduation ring in a pawn shop window and contemplates why someone would have hocked such a prized accomplishment. He starts threading his way to an answer when his inquiry leads him to the anemic trope of a name, Jimmy Rat, and you guessed it, violence follows:

Jimmy Rat said nothing. Reacher watched the window with his left eye. With his right he saw Jimmy Rat nod. The reflection in the glass showed the guy behind winding up a big roundhouse right. Clearly the plan was to smack Reacher on the ear. Maybe topple him off the chair. At least soften him up a little.

Didn't work.

Reacher chose the path of least resistance. He ducked his head, and let the punch scythe through the empty air above it. Then he bounced back up, and launched from his feet, and twisted, and used his falling-backward momentum to jerk his elbow into the guy's kidney, which was rotating around into position just in time. It was a good solid hit. The guy went down hard. Reacher fell back in his chair and sat there like absolutely nothing had happened.

[Read David Cranmer's review of The Midnight Line...]

Oct 15 2017 3:00pm

Executed 100 Years Ago: Who Was Mata Hari?

Exotic dancing and espionage are the twin peaks that come to mind when the name Mata Hari is mentioned. But what is her full, true story? Lost to time and blurred in key passages, for sure. Fact and fiction began cross-pollinating quite early, furthered in great part by her own exaggerations in efforts to hype her lascivious career. Journalists lapped it up for purple prose lines like, “so feline, extremely feminine, majestically tragic, the thousand curves and movements of her body trembling in a thousand rhythms.” Today's Hollywood publicists have nothing on Ms. Hari when it comes to self-promotion and aggrandizement. She discovered early in her stage career that the more outlandish a rumor reported by the press, the more people paid to see her dance.

It all began for the modestly named Margaretha Zelle on August 7, 1876, born in the Netherlands to well-to-do parents. Her father—a haberdasher made even richer by successful speculation in the burgeoning oil industry—provided a comfortable existence for the family until 1889 when he nosedived into bankruptcy. Poverty sparked a chain of events that guided her ill-fated trajectory: her father remarried, her mother died when she was fifteen, and a young Margaretha was left to drift from a godfather to an uncle, never regaining her family stability.

[The spy who loved money...]