Booked and Printed
Robert C. Hahn
Robert B. Parker, MWA Grand Master and Eye Lifetime Achievement Winner, died in 2010 but his two most iconic creations, Boston P.I. Spenser and the Paradise, Massachusetts, police chief Jesse Stone live on. Author Ace Atkins has put on Spenser’s mantle in five installments including Shamus-nominated Robert B. Parker’s Lullaby in 2012. Michael Brandman continued the Stone series with three novels, followed by Reed Farrel Coleman, whose third Stone novel is Robert B. Parker’s Debt to Pay (Putnam, $27).
Parker began the Stone series in 1997 with Night Passage and wrote nine more before his death. This series became even more popular with the TV adaptations, which starred Tom Selleck as Stone. It should be noted that Brandman was screenwriter and/or producer on the TV shows as well as the first to take up where Parker left off. Reed Farrel Coleman, author of the very successful Moe Prager series, introduced a memorable bad guy, Mr. Peepers, in his first Stone novel, Blind Spot in 2014, and Peepers is back for vengeance in Debt to Pay.
Coleman’s writing style lacks the simplicity of Parker’s, and perhaps inevitably his treatment of recurring characters such as Luther “Suit” Simpson and Molly Crane doesn’t always sit well with Parker’s fans. But Coleman is a very good writer, and he ratchets up both suspense and grit and handles Stone and his friends with a confidence that melds his style and Parker’s creations into a very satisfying hybrid. Debt to Pay starts with a literal bang and builds rapidly and steadily as the confidant Mr. Peepers kills, and taunts Stone, wanting the lawman to know that he is helpless to stop him and helpless to save those he loves.
Hard Case Crime continues to unearth unpublished gems by veteran crime fiction stars as well as some that were published long ago and have been virtually forgotten. Among their recent titles are Erle Stanley Gardner’s The Knife Slipped, Lawrence Block’s Sinner Man, and Max Allan Collins’s Quarry in the Black (each priced at $9.95).
The Knife Slipped was intended as the second entry in the Bertha Cool/Donald Lam series issued under Gardner’s A. A. Fair pseudonym, but it was originally shelved as too shocking for a 1939 audience. Now published for the first time, this chronologically second mystery becomes the thirtieth in the Cool and Lam series.
The publisher calls Sinner Man Block’s “very first” crime novel. It was written and then sat unpublished for eight years before being published under a different title and a pseudonym (which was not revealed). But Block provides a long afterword in which he recounts the tortuous history of the book, its rediscovery, and a bit of reworking and a change from the old title (Savage Lover) to the new.
Quarry in the Black is the thirteenth in Max Allan Collins’s series, and the plot is about as current as it gets, with a presidential election and a hate group out of Ferguson, Missouri, whose problems have attracted almost as much attention as the national election.
Colin Cotterill’s series featuring aged Laotian Dr. Siri Paiboun continues to amuse, inform, and find new material for the former national coroner to investigate. I Shot the Buddha (Soho, $26.95) is the tenth volume in the series set in the late 1970s, a volatile and violent period in southeast Asia.
Siri gives shelter to Noo, a Thai monk on the run from the Thai military. But Noo is kidnapped, leaving behind a note asking Siri to undertake the mission in Thailand that he (Noo) was unable to accomplish. To do so, Siri would have to meet a monk on Donchan Island and sneak him into Thailand.
Siri and his wife, Madame Daeng, journey to Thailand to the remote village of Sawan, a village where the phibob or bad ghosts hold sway. There they meet nine animists with different specialties—all of whom had been bansihed from their own villages because they were possessed by phibobs.
Siri and Madame Daeng take up the task of trying to defend Temple Abbot Rayron from multiple charges of murder, but Siri ends up dealing with a potential suicide, a group of possessed villagers, and an intervention by the animists he’s enlisted in his defense.
Meanwhile two of Siri’s comrades are conducting investigations and encountering problems just as severe. Senior Police Inspector Phosy is trying to find out what has happened to Noo, the kidnapped monk, while Civilai Songsawat, an ex–politburo member, sets out to examine the claims of a man who is said to be a reincarnation of the Buddha.
Cotterill’s assemblage of elderly men and women (the wives play roles equal to that of their spouses) and the combination of spiritual and earthly obstacles they must overcome make for a reading experience that is both highly unusual and immensely appealing.
Ward Just has had a long and distinguished literary career that includes a play, nonfiction works, short story collections, and nineteen novels that have garnered National Book and Pulitzer award nominations. His latest novel, The Eastern Shore (Houghton Mifflin, $25) follows the career of newsman Ned Ayres, who grows up in rural Herman, Indiana, in the 1950s. It is there that Ayres rises from summer reporter to managing editor while still a young man; later, he takes a job as a copy editor in Indianapolis, then it’s on to Chicago and finally to Washington, D.C., as a deputy editor, then editor in chief. Finally, as an old man, he sets out to write his memoirs, reminiscing as he does so.
In a discussion with novelist Michael Ardmore, Ayres says about newspaper stories that they may be “factual enough” but “sometimes cause great harm. . . . That is not its intent. But it’s the result. . . . And we are appalled, those of us in charge. The others turn the page.”
Only gradually does Just return to the seminal incident in Ayres’s career, when one of his reporters learns via an anonymous tip that respected businessman William Grant was actually a man named William Kelly, who as a youth had been sentenced for a violent armed robbery.
Ayers, as city editor of his hometown paper, confers with publisher Carl Kaminski, managing editor Tom Kenny, and reporter Gus Harding on the merits of the story. Reporter Harding writes a sympathetic story painting Grant as a man who has remade himself and is now a successful businessman with a wife and two boys. Harding then is instructed to show it to Grant and get his comments. Grant begs Harding not to run the story, but it does run, with very tragic consequences.
Just takes Ayres into the near present, the rise of the Internet and the decline of newspapers, leading to where he observes that “the paper’s journalism has never been better. And never less read.” Just delivers a moving portrait of the newspaper business at its height and at its best, the pitfalls that await those on even small papers, and the hubris that can bring down those on the largest.