And Still More Mystery Fiction (old and new)

Part three in my series of recently read mysteries.

Winter is the perfect time for indulging in a mystery. A warm beverage, a blanket and soft music on the hi-fi. No, you haven’t traveled back to 1965, but if your book was written by Agatha Christie, it might seem so.

Livid (2022) is Patricia Cornwell’s 26th Kay Scarpetta novel. Cornwell used her forensic medical training to create the serious-minded doctor/lawyer Scarpetta. The first several Scarpetta books were CSI type mysteries of a medical examiner. The science and rich storytelling were refreshing and established a name for Cornwell.

I quit reading Cornwell’s book about a dozen years ago. The science and plausibility gave way to cardboard superhero melodrama. Apparently, many other readers jumped ship from Livid reviews I’ve read. Given the past success of Cornwell’s Scarpetta character, I decided to give Livid a try. Is it as good as her early book? No. Is it better than the last of her books I read? Sort of.

Most of Livid takes place in CSI mode connected to Scarpetta’s court testimony of the murder of a young woman. The woman’s husband is on trial for the murder. The science is good, the courtroom discourse, melodramatic. To make matters worse, Cornwell again inserts Scarpetta’s niece, “Wonder Woman” Lucy, a cartoonish investigator who can fly helicopters, leap tall buildings and more computer savvy than the most diabolical hacker. Totally unbelievable.

I don’t know where Cornwell can go with the Scarpetta series. Many reviewers comment that Scarpetta and other series characters are not likable. I have to agree. Cornwell’s storytelling wanders between highly technical and wildly melodramatic, like knowing a bipolar person.

Desert Star (2022) Michael Connelly’s next installment in the Bosch series, although it is now a Bosch/Ballard series. Bosch is still retired, but his private detective business ended before it got off the ground with LAPD detective Renee Ballard. She does contact him about working cold cases as a volunteer. He accepts and goes back to work on two cold cases, one of which he worked before he retired. Now he is back in.

The book alternates between Bosch and Ballard, as they investigate these two cold cases, but the primary one is the murder of the sister of a city councilman, who pulled strings to get the cold case squad established. Ballard as the squad leader has to negotiate involvement of the councilman and his chief of staff. Bosch has to contend with having no status at the LAPD and the reputation that still follows him.

Connelly is the best mystery-crime writer in the business. I can’t wait for his annual book publication, I used to have the same anticipation of the late Sue Grafton’s books. I miss her.

At some point, Bosch will fully retire or be killed off, turning the series over to Ballard. I rue that day, not because of Ballard, just the departure of the cranky, but dedicated Bosch. I’ll miss Bosch like I did with Kinsey Milhone.

In my previous blog about new fiction, I wrote about a mystery write I stumbled across: Lee Goldberg.

I tracked down one of his earlier books, The Man With the Iron-On Badge (2005). Aside from the dumb cover, it’s a really great read.

Harvey Mapes is a rent-a-cop, a security guard at a ritzy gated community. He’s a nobody and he knows it. Then one day, a resident hires him to do some off-duty detective work: follow his wife and find out if she is having an affair. What appears to be easy money is anything but.

At first, I found the tone of the book to be annoying, written in first-person by a wannabe private eye, with too frequent references to television and film private dicks. After awhile it became acceptable and part of the goofy charm. Goldberg was having fun writing about a television generation inspired dream of becoming Jim Rockford or Thomas Magnum, but far less successful as he learns on the job.

While the character narrative might seem sappy at first, Goldberg lays out a mystery that keeps the reader guessing. You realize Harvey is a quick learner and gains confidence along the way. By the end, we like Harvey, and enjoyed his journey.

The Boys From Biloxi (2022) is John Grisham’s latest. I used to read Grisham with great fervor, but gave up as the books veered toward pretentiousness. The Firm, The Pelican Brief, The Client and The Runaway Jury – then I stopped. So twenty-some years later, I’m revisiting, like I did with Patricia Cornwell.

Grisham writes legal dramas, mysteries of a sort, but since there is crime involved and these are thrillers – mystery.

Biloxi, Mississippi. Organized crime has grown up around the drinking and gambling businesses. The competition is fierce, as booze, whores, gambling and perhaps drugs, is big business that has corrupted law enforcement and politicians.

Grisham is quite good at developing the backstory of his books, he creates deep background for his characters. The reader gets a lesson in the history and culture of the area as Grisham sets the stage for the conflict point of the story. Grisham reminds me of Don Winslow, who also paints deep and across a broad canvas in stories that span generations and are anchored in culturally and historically.

The Boys From Biloxi is a very long read, which wouldn’t be as concerning if it moved quicker and Grisham had spent less time on the set-up. I went online and the book’s length is a common complaint from surprisingly, longtime readers. At over 450 pages, Grisham gives the reader a lot for the money. That’s both good and bad. The quality of the storytelling is quite good, as I have already mentioned, but the casual reader may get bored and not finish. If you are a fan of Grisham’s work, you will want to read this book. Give yourself time and enjoy the crispness of the detail and soak up the Southern culture.

One thought on “And Still More Mystery Fiction (old and new)

  1. I’m glad you enjoyed THE MAN WITH THE IRON-ON BADGE, which was republished years later as WATCH ME DIE (and with a much better cover. That one makes me cringe). Harvey makes a cameo reappearance in GATED PREY, the third “Eve Ronin” novel, and in the upcoming, as yet untitled, “Eve Ronin #5.”


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