Tour’s Books Blog

February 23, 2011

Two New Suspense Mysteries From Old Hands

Two of the most reliable authors in the mystery/suspense genre are the late William G Tapply and William Kent Krueger.  Their styles are profoundly different, Tapply writing lean, tightly plotted, short books and Krueger penning longer books with an almost lyrical quality to his prose that reminds me of Tony Hillerman.  What they have in common is a high standard.  From the late Tapply, who died in 2009, this last book is a complete departure – we have a stand alone suspense novel that is surprising in so many ways.  Krueger offers the 10th outing for Cork O’Connor in a bleak tale of old crimes coming back to haunt another generation with painful remembrance and new deaths.   The two very different books have that common theme – old sins come back and causing new ones that in turn uncover the past.

  • Title: The Nomination
  • Author:  William G Tapply
  • Type:  Suspense
  • Genre: Politics and cover-ups
  • Sub-genre:  Supreme Court nominee wants his past buried – literally
  • My Grade: C+ to B- (3.5*)
  • Rating:  PG-17
  • Length and price:  Full novel – about 80,000 hardcover $15-$17 on sale; list $24.95
  • Where Available:  Available at most bookstores
  • FTC Disclosure:  purchased from online bookstore

William G Tapply was a prolific writer and editor of the Brady Coyne series and other classic style mysteries, as well as non-fiction and working as contributing editor for Field and Stream magazine.  He used his love of fishing with his character Brady Coyne, who was an avid fly fisherman in the books.  He was prolific quality author.  The Nomination is a complete departure from his previous works, but once again, he moves his story quickly, but I was left with a lingering feeling of it being a half bubble off plum.  Because his key characters were all female and he couldn’t quite nail that point of view with assurance, or because this was a manuscript polished by a ghost writer, I can’t say, but lacked something undefinable that made his other work more alive.

Thomas Larrigan is federal judge with an undistinguished, non-controversial, but solid record and is a personal friend and golf buddy of the president.  A Supreme Court judge announces his retirement and the president asks his special assistant, Patrick Brody, to investigate Larrigan and start the informal process of clearing him as a candidate for the position.  Larrigan is from old New England stock, but has none of the usual red flags in his family history or his personal life.  An admitted alcoholic who turned his life around after Viet Nam, where he lost an eye and gained his trademark eye-patch, Larrigan seems to have it all.  But Brody is cautious and sends a very private investigator to watch Larrigan.

Thomas Larrigan is a man with something more than an alcoholic past to hide, and the man he relies on to help him is his former sergeant, Eddie Moran. He tasks Eddie with hunting down the skeletons from Viet Nam, not realizing one of them lived on a farm in Vermont and the other hit the front pages when she saved the life of an abortion doctor from a man on a mission to kill him.  The woman known as Jessie Chang had her photo and new identity spread all over the news.  Her photo is seen by a Asian woman in a wheelchair taking a long, slow slide to the inevitable end of MS.  Her life was a strange combination of poverty, abuse, fame and moderate wealth.  In a wheelchair with her health fading fast, the woman known to movie audiences as Simone sees the photo of Jessie Chang and is sure this is the daughter she gave up for adoption years ago.  She writes her a letter asking her to please come.  Then an attempt on Jessie’s life by a killer hired by an incarcerated mobster she testified against after being undercover, sends her on the run again – and this time she heads to Vermont.

Widower and ghost writer Mac Cassidy has been hired to write the biography of the reclusive Simone.  Still lost after the death of his wife, he’s grateful for the work, but he’s not sure he can do it.  He’s too much of a professional to refuse.  He does what he always does and asks Simone to tell life to him on tapes.  The history of Thomas Larrigan and Simone, as well as Eddie Moran and nurse Bunny spins out against all these different plot lines finally intersecting when Eddie goes after Simone.  But watching Eddie is another man with his own plans.  The lives collide at a farm in Vermont and the dominoes fall for along time.

Overall, the story was a good, if slightly choppy read.  The use of oral history works fairly well here and develops a nice complexity to the story.  But somewhere, the characters, Mac and Jessie in particular, never quite get fully realized.  As a results, I always felt unconnected to the story, like skimming the surface of lake.  The plot was good, but the characters lacked spark.  Despite the largely effusive praise on Amazon, this is not his best work, but it is unique for him and fulfilled the bulk of its potential, but that missing part was critical to make a decent read a great one.

Was The Nomination worth $15?  No.  But it will be worth the price of a paperback when it comes out, or borrow this used.

**********************************************************

  • Title: Vermillion Drift
  • Author:  William Kent Krueger
  • Type:  Mystery – Cork O’Connor series – Noir PI with cultural ties
  • Genre:  A missing woman leads to the discovery of old crimes
  • Sub-genre:  The past and present meet when a dead woman is found with missing bodies from years ago
  • My Grade: B- (3.8*)
  • Rating:  PG-17
  • Length and price:  Full novel – about 100,000 hardcover $15-$17 on sale; list $25.00
  • Where Available:  Available at most bookstores, used bookstores and used online
  • FTC Disclosure:  purchased from online used bookstore

William Kent Kruger is sometimes referred to as a writer’s writer.  His prose is just that damn good.  And the quality of his prose makes the book wonderful and a pleasure to read, the plot just doesn’t stand up to the quality of his past work.

Cork O’Connor is now a widower with all 3 of his children out of the house and making lives elsewhere.  He spends more time doing PI work than tending is the burger place he owns.  Part Ojibwe, he has ties to the land and his working for the mining company causes friction with the tribe trying to prevent the mine becoming a long term atomic waste storage facility.  Like his father Liam, Cork was once sheriff of Tamarack County, now, as a PI, he still has a living to make and he’s at the mine for two reasons, threats against the people at the mine and to help mine owner, Max Cavanaugh, find his sister, Lauren.  Now the two cases have a common answer – where is the second entrance to the mine?  And how has it stayed hidden all these years?

Cork quickly finds Lauren – but he finds so much more – and the more brings back memories that play out in dreams that haunt him.  Dreams about his late father.  The tribal elders, even his friend and mentor, Henry Meloux, only sends him search of answers from another elder.  His memory of The Vanishings – the disappearance of 3 young Ojibwe women some 40 years earlier, was a bit sketchy and she helps, but her biggest gift is his mother’s diaries.   The story that unfolds in that of his mother and father – their meeting, marriage, the way they came to Tamarack County.  But 5 weeks have been cut from the diaries – the 5 weeks around The Vanishings.

When Cork learns that Lauren was killed with the same Smith & Wesson 38 that killed another woman 40 years earlier, a woman Cork suspects was Max and Lauren’s mother, Monica Cavanaugh.  Cork goes back to Henry and asks about his father’s revolver – a Smith & Wesson 38, one he asked Henry to put away from him.  He goes searching for it and it’s gone.  Henry refuses to explain.  Cork must unravel the old and new mysteries, and with it, a part of his past that he can’t recall, but troubles his dreams.

Like Hillerman, Krueger has a style well suited to shaping the complexities of two different cultures existing side-by-side.  Cork O’Connor is neither Jim Chee nor Joe Leaphorn, but he has some similar characteristics.  What is missing her is the anchor his wife and family offered in earlier novels.  I missed that.  The whole novel felt unrelentingly grim – much like the weather in Minnesota.  The other problem I figured it out about about a third of the way through.  There were still a couple of surprises.

Was Vermillion Rift worth the $10 I spent? Yes it was.  Even with figuring out much of the plot, the writing and the research on mining alone are worth it, just be aware, this Cork O’Connor lacks the heart of his previous books.

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