Record Scratch has writing that’s crisp and direct, with wit, humor and darkness

Screen Shot 2019-06-24 at 3.12.12 PMIn JJ Hensley’s compelling Record Scratch, Trevor Galloway takes a case from the sister of a murdered superstar musician, who expects him not only to solve her brother’s eight-month-old homicide, but to recover a vinyl record she believes could ruin his reputation and his legacy. The client closes the meeting by putting a gun under her chin and pulling the trigger. Galloway’s sense of obligation drags him down a path he may not be ready to travel.

This is the second in the Trevor Galloway series, beginning with Bolt Action Remedy (2017), and following up later this year (Oct. 14) with Forgiveness Dies.

I’m a bit late to the party, not having read the first Galloway thriller, but I never felt lost in the plot, and Hensley keeps the action going. The writing is crisp and direct, with wit, humor and darkness as the trail to what really happened to rock star Jimmy Spartan unfolds. It probably isn’t a spoiler to note that things get violently out of hand for Galloway, but I’ll leave it at that.

As Galloway pieces together the final days of rock and roll legend Jimmy Spartan, he struggles to sort through his own issues, which include having the occasional hallucination. He’s not certain how bad his condition has deteriorated, but when Galloway is attacked in broad daylight by men he assumed were figments of his imagination, he realizes the threat is real and his condition is putting him and anyone nearby at risk. The stoic demeanor and ironic distance that earned Galloway the nickname The Tin Man works well as a device for carrying the story forward, even as that detachment is tested.

Pittsburgh, PA, itself plays a role in this thriller. Like Stephen Mack Jones’s Detroit, the author guides us through the city, its neighborhoods and its denizens with familiarity, exasperation and love. I enjoyed every page of Record Scratch, and I read the final third in one night. The picture of a man slowly coming unmoored from the codes to which he had adhered and that gave his life meaning is fascinating, compelling and darkly satisfying. The novel begins and ends ominously: “There are two types of men you must fear in this world: Men who have everything to lose—and men like me.” 

The stakes and the conflict are real. Recommended for anyone who likes forceful, intelligent thrillers.

 

This is one of an occasional series of mystery-thriller book reviews, archived here.

James McCrone is the author of the Imogen Trager NoirPolitik thrillers Faithless Elector and Dark Network.  The third book, working title Emergency Powers, is coming soon.

JMc-author2.2017

Link to REVIEWS

If you live in Philadelphia, pick up copies at Head House Books -or- Penn Book Center or in Princeton at Cloak & Dagger Books.
For a full list of appearances and links to reviews, check out:

JamesMcCrone.com

 

 

In Below the Fold, every life, and every passing, has its meaning.

Every human life is supposed to be important. R. G. Belsky’s latest Clare Carlson mystery,

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Below the Fold, begins with the death of “a nobody,” the kind of news that falls “below the fold.” Carlson is a veteran TV news reporter, and she knows all about the deaths that matter…and those that don’t.

But Carlson—a TV news director who still has a reporter’s instincts—decides to dig deeper into this seemingly meaningless death. She uncovers mysterious links between the murdered “nobody” and a number of wealthy and influential New York figures. Their names, together with that of the murdered homeless woman, turn up on a list left at a second murder scene. There’s no obvious connection between any of the prominent citizens, but soon there are more murders, and more questions.

Along with a being a compelling murder mystery, Belsky’s novel successfully describes the large and small effects people have on one another, like ripples in a pond, radiating outward, colliding and intersecting with the ripples other lives produce. Those resonances prove key to solving the mystery, so I won’t say more.

Readers who like an engaging, well-crafted mystery with fascinating twists will love Below the Fold. The writing is crisp and economical, and I felt pulled forward into the story as it delved deeper into the mystery. It’s the second in the Clare Carson series, but it can easily be read as a stand-alone. Along with Clare herself, the most engaging character is the policeman-with-a-past Scott Manning.

In less skillful hands, murder mystery victims can often feel like mere plot points; but in Below the Fold, Belsky gives the dead back their humanity. Every life, and every passing, has its meaning.

Highly recommended.

 

James McCrone is the author of the Imogen Trager NoirPolitik thrillers Faithless Elector and Dark Network.  The third book, working title Emergency Powers, is coming soon.

JMc-author2.2017

Link to REVIEWS

If you live in Philadelphia, pick up copies at Head House Books -or- Penn Book Center or in Princeton at Cloak & Dagger Books.
For a full list of appearances and links to reviews, check out:

JamesMcCrone.com

 

 

Buzz Killer pries open a door on a world that has taken shape and taken hold while few of us were looking

A New York City public defender, Macie Wild, takes the homicide case of a burglar the tabloids have named the ‘Buzz Killer’ for his MO of lobby-buzzing apartments to select his burglary targets. But when he’s the victim of an attempted jailhouse killing and then someone tries to kill Macie, her murder case becomes something much bigger, and more dangerous. Stonewalled by a hostile DA and shut down by a code of silence among her client’s criminal circle, she crosses paths with Gunnar Cody, an ex-detective dismissed from the NYPD’s surveillance unit who seems to be working a similar case.

Screen Shot 2019-06-24 at 3.04.21 PMIn spite of her misgivings about his methods—and initially unsure of his aims—Macie and Gunnar form an uneasy partnership. Throughout, Macie holds desperately to principles she worries are eroding even within her: “Is this how it begins?” she wonders at one point. “A blind eye to ethical breeches until you eventually become inured,” seeing dishonorable practices as standard procedure? Their collaboration and need for the truth will put them on a crash course with more than ethics.

Buzz Killer is a taught and compelling story, well told by a skillful author. The characters are well written, their struggles and qualms are real. And the story doesn’t skimp on atmosphere. New York City itself is a character in the drama. Early on, as Macie Wild, the protagonist, prepares to meet her client, she muses that New York, rather than a divided city of haves and have-nots has become in fact “a tale of three cities.” Through twists and turns, Macie and Gunnar’s quest will take them through all three cities, from the people who work for a living, to the rich and powerful, and into the roosts of the global elite, those silent perches throughout Manhattan, a third of which are vacant more than ten months each year.

Buzz Killer is excellent. It delivers on the standard mystery-suspense, and serves up more, prying open a door on a world that has taken shape and taken hold while few of us were looking. It’s familiar, yet new, and it’s chilling. As strong as the two leads are, the supporting cast offers an intriguing array of characters.

Highly recommended.

 

James McCrone is the author of the Imogen Trager NoirPolitik thrillers Faithless Elector and Dark Network.  The third book, working title Emergency Powers, is coming soon.

JMc-author2.2017

Link to REVIEWS

If you live in Philadelphia, pick up copies at Head House Books -or- Penn Book Center or in Princeton at Cloak & Dagger Books.
For a full list of appearances and links to reviews, check out:

JamesMcCrone.com

 

 

Sailing too close to the wind: Guest post on The Reading Cafe

Sailing Too Close to the Wind, by James McCroneblog.ReadingCafe

A well-crafted political thriller should feel “real.” To do so, it has to flirt with real events. But sometimes I worry I’m sailing just a bit too close to the wind.

Read the full post…and enter to WIN a giveaway for one free, signed copy of Faithless Elector
-or-
Dark Network