PositiveThe Los Angeles TimesTo say more would rob readers of the pleasures of discovery in this taut thriller, a story made all the more relevant by the U.S.’s recent withdrawal from Afghanistan. Possessed of both head and heart, State of Terror’s layering of ethical tradeoffs, political intrigue, high-level espionage and pure evil perfectly melds Clinton’s intimate knowledge of the State Department and foreign policy with Penny’s mastery of genre mechanics ... Here and elsewhere in the novel, there is the added frisson of wondering how much of Adams’ opinions and interactions reflects Clinton’s experiences, shared more openly under cover of fiction. That it is hard to tell is a credit to the plausibility of the plot and characterizations that are all too human ... Penny’s contributions are clear and equally effective — intricate plotting, liberal use of quotes from Shakespeare, Heaney, Tolstoy as well as an Easter egg for fans of Gamache, a noted poet from Penny’s beloved series. That, along with a cameo appearance in a scene set in Three Pines, is more than pure fan service; it is a reminder that a refuge from evil still exists in this dangerous world. But occasionally the Penny influence will pull careful readers out of the action, as in a few British/Canadian idioms a U.S. citizen would probably not use. And who knows who’s responsible for an unnecessary portrayal of media ethics that strains credulity and verges on libeling the fourth estate ... There is ample reason to hope that, with more careful editing and further Adams adventures, the Clinton/Penny collaboration will become stronger. State of Terror unites two writers who advocate the same core values while possessing complementary world views across multiple borders.
RaveLos Angeles TimesCosby’s drive to expand the chorus of voices representing the South is on full display in his follow-up, Razorblade Tears ... The novel’s DNA may seem familiar to readers of Blacktop Wasteland or Joe R. Lansdale’s Hap and Leonard series, but its composition feels utterly unique, as if the elements of one’s waking life were scrambled in a dream ... Cosby wisely tweaks the formula, mixing in biting humor and frank confrontations about race and sexuality amid the mayhem — and making Razorblade Tears a more emotionally raw affair than Blacktop Wasteland, which balanced its violence with some nifty car chases. While the automobiles of choice here are pickup trucks of various vintages, it’s rage that drives these characters in their statewide hunt for clues to their sons’ murders ... As interesting as these characters may be, where Cosby excels is in revealing a broader picture of the New South ... Cosby presents them without judgment or artifice, placing the fathers’ prejudices, hang-ups and deep-seated rage in stark relief ... Cosby has an unnerving ability to describe what fists, knives, guns and assorted garden implements can do to the human body, which may make the violence more vivid than some readers can abide. Riding shotgun with the violence, though, is also great beauty — in descriptions of the grief of a community, in the fathers’ stirring awareness of the true meaning of love and even in Cosby’s reverence for the vibrant natural world ... The contradictions in Razorblade Tears suggest the deeper moral ambiguity in this and all vigilante narratives. Unlike another Shakespearean character, who famously said revenge is a dish best served cold, these Southern fathers are well aware of the paradoxes of their mission, even as they are compelled to finish it in the name of justice for their boys.
MixedThe Los Angeles TimesVernon does an excellent of job conveying Haus’ cheap lavender humidity ... The initial chapters of Bath Haus signal that it’s going to be hard to root for many of these people. Flashbacks throughout the novel fill in Oliver’s troubled youth in Tyre, Ind., and although the litany of hard knocks helps to humanize him, it feels somewhat formulaic ... the tension builds to unbearably claustrophobic levels ... To say more would rob readers of the \'no, he didn\'t suspense that makes Bath Haus an unexpectedly twisted, heart-pounding cat-versus-mouse thriller. But as the novel’s central characters, friends and family ducked and dodged their messy truths, I couldn’t help but feel that what had really gone missing, repeatedly, were ample opportunities to deepen the story ... A subplot involving Nathan’s distress over a looming eviction in a neighborhood where he could easily buy another house begs for a writer like Highsmith, who had a knack for skewering the insecurities and rot of the petty bourgeoisie, while the implausible ease with which characters gain access to Schedule II narcotics seemed to skirt meatier issues of America’s prescription drug crisis. A glimpse into the life of Nathan’s best friend takes as a given the intersection of conservative politics with gay culture, which in the hands of more developed protagonists, such as Hansen’s Dave Brandstetter or Nava’s Henry Rios, could have been fodder for meaningful ironies ... But at the risk of sounding hopelessly old-school, most bothersome for me is why so many of these characters, most of them gay, are so relentlessly broken. The tropes Vernon serves up — the sugar baby, insecure older man, bitchy best friend — drown out their deeper humanity in service of the plot’s escalating peek-behind-the-curtain thrills. This shortcoming is most evident in the novel’s carefully engineered denouement, which veers between heart-in-your-mouth suspense and an unintended campiness that undercuts the gravity of the moment ... I’m delighted that Vernon has been able to publish widely a crime novel bearing his unique voice and style, to bring formerly stigmatized themes and corners of gay culture out of the shadows. How can I not be, when so much unsatisfactory straight fiction clogs the shelves already? But if Vernon had actually challenged the stereotypes he was working with and plumbed for truths beneath the easy clichés about gay culture, Bath Haus could have had an impact beyond its sensational details. Vernon’s characters, and readers, deserve better.
RaveThe Los Angeles TimesThe identity of the boy is revealed early on, but The Kindest Lie is less concerned with solving that mystery than examining the complex forces of racial inequity and the fateful decisions that can make or break a family, or a community. On those terms, the novel is a triumph, a deeply affecting work of truth and reconciliation over what it means to live the American Dream — and not just for the winners.
RaveLos Angeles TimesAshley Audrain indelibly implants her narrator in the reader’s mind ... Through Blythe’s struggles and the slow-motion implosion of her marriage, Audrain cleverly examines and exploits women’s near-universal anxiety that they won’t measure up to some internalized standard of maternal perfection dictated by society ... There are enough novels about unreliable female narrators and neglectful mothers to fill a minivan ... But what makes it stand out from the rest is Audrain’s nuanced understanding of how women’s voices are discounted, how a thousand little slights can curdle a solid marriage and—in defiance of maternal taboos—how mothers really feel, sometimes, toward difficult children. Women who have experienced such trying circumstances, or even just imagined them, will see themselves depicted authentically, without the judgment and hand-wringing that so often accompanies typical genre fare. Just as satisfying was the buildup to the resolution ... These broader investigations make The Push more than a novel of suspense, the sum of its parts speaking to the burdens we all carry, whether we are mothers or simply children of women who did the best they could, however far their best efforts may have fallen short.
RaveLos Angeles Times...his hypnotic debut novel, The Nightworkers, unearths not just the gritty mechanics of organized crime but the collateral damage it inflicts on perpetrators and victims alike, damage that outlasts the acts for as long as a lifetime ... As in a painter’s pentimento, they peep though the present narrative, subtly revealing the author’s awareness of the world’s cruel ironies. Selfon’s ability to give each character his or her own perspective, desires and demons makes The Nightworkers a resonant work of fiction, one that rises above its crimes to tell bigger truths about family, love and hope.
RaveAltaThe theme of living to the fullest, regardless of how narrow that may look, animates and propels these stories in a way that expands our definition of Black manhood. Some of the results are sublime ... Some stories, involving fateful letters that change the trajectories of the protagonists’ lives, have a timeless quality that evokes both past and present masters of the story form. Others take a turn into science fiction ... These stories are thought-provoking even as they strain credulity ... correcting the canon is an ongoing effort. In the brilliant and bracing The Awkward Black Man, Mosley has given us food for the journey.
PositiveLos Angeles Times... a mesmerizing novel ... The reader gets an immersive tour of Japan — not just sites like Tokyo, Mt. Fuji and Sapporo but also the country’s legal system, which made Rina’s problems worse.
Mi-ae Seo, Trans. by Yewon Jung
PositiveLos Angeles Review of BooksFor all its strengths, The Only Child might lose something in translation — especially as it relates to Korean serial killers. Although Seo compares the angel-faced killer to the similarly good-looking Ted Bundy, it would have enriched my understanding to have more context on how the notorious Korean murderers she names have impacted the Korean culture, something Seo knows well from an article she wrote for a popular Korean newsmagazine. There is also occasionally a clumsiness in the language that I don’t know whether to ascribe to the translation (by Yewon Jung) or Seo’s style. Either way, this promising author deserves better from her editors on either side of the Pacific ... A chilling, nuanced examination of today’s and tomorrow’s serial killers and the families who spawned them, The Only Child is nevertheless a valuable addition to the growing list of Korean crime fiction available to American audiences.
RaveLos Angeles Times... by the novel’s midpoint, when our naive narrator has melded personalities so thoroughly with her employer that all boundaries are blurred, we question her motives ... In addition to its riffs on real-life fame and celebrity emulation, this unsettling novel also pays homage to films ... Yet it is literature, particularly fairy tales and other folklore, that give the novel its nightmarish pull and eerie resonance. \'Rapunzel\' and \'Bluebeard\' come most readily to mind ... Fame and power, artifice and beauty—Emily Beyda has a lot on her mind, suffusing The Body Double with a power that will linger with readers ... a dazzler, definitely on my personal list of best debuts of the year.
PositiveLos Angeles TimesThe author is skilled at developing the humanity of every character, regardless of their perspective. It’s a hallmark of Ide’s evolving style that allows Hi Five to stand on its own for first-time readers, even as the series deepens longtime fans’ engagement ... Most affecting is the journey of Juanell Dodson, IQ’s ride-or-die sidekick ... Dodson’s resentment of, yet yearning for, connection with IQ and fulfilling his destiny as a slickster Watson to IQ’s more cerebral Sherlock is one of the novel’s many ancillary pleasures. Hi Five offers a rich tableau of community stalwarts and criminal riff-raff. But with so many characters and plot points to manage, the novel sometimes lags in it[s] pacing and stumbles over some nuances of geography even as it dares readers to keep up with IQ’s Holmesian inductions. But these are minor quibbles because High Five succeeds on so many fronts as it sets IQ and the series’ characters on an uncertain path down darker roads.
RaveThe Los Angeles TimesLocke deftly moves between past and present action to portray the young lovers as well as re-create the tension between the black and white radical groups on the University of Houston campus ... These forays into Jay’s past also serve to illuminate his persistent paranoia and his reluctance to talk with police about the bayou murder while deepening the reader’s understanding of the crossroads at which he and Cynthia find themselves ... Black Water Rising4 is a near-perfect balance of trenchant social commentary, rich characterizations and an action-oriented plot that, after it kicks in, moves rapidly toward some explosive revelations well-suited to the growth-crazed Houston that Locke so accurately evokes.
RaveThe Los Angeles TimesThe plot of Heaven, My Home may be complex, but it’s worth every blistering word Locke puts on the page ... Locke makes us understand Ranger Darren Mathews, even forgive him as he tries to find forgiveness for various characters in this riveting novel. That alone makes it one of the most affecting mysteries of the year.
T. Jefferson Parker
RaveLos Angeles TimesThe novel steers readers through one of the most time-honored tropes in the hard-boiled genre ... The Last Good Guy is the best Roland Ford mystery yet, and one of Parker’s strongest. It’s a twisty cautionary tale that will leave readers pondering the damage done in the name of misguided religious fervor and patriotism and yearning for more good guys like Ford to bring justice to our world.
Juli Zeh Trans by. John Cullen
PositiveLos Angeles TimesWith so much political context backgrounding the plot, Empty Hearts explores interesting ideas about the price of failure to act against tyranny and the moral complicity of people who capitalize on a bad situation, or do nothing in the hopes that it will all go away. On this level, Empty Hearts works as a cerebral thriller, even if the logic of some characters’ actions doesn’t quite hold together. At times I wished Britta would just kick someone’s butt. The novel also could have benefited from a closer look at the leaders and inner workings of the CCC and more examination of the deeper conspiracy at play.
Still, Zeh challenges readers to consider how complicit we are in our current political dilemmas.
PositiveLos Angeles TimesMore than anything, a Pavone thriller can make a reader worry whether the heroes will be OK, even after the book is finished, an unsettling thought for genre fans ... While marital distrust is another feature of Pavone’s literary tradecraft, the stakes in The Paris Diversion are considerably higher ... Diversion is Pavone’s specialty, which he employs here with panache, clockwork precision and a great command of Paris locales.
MixedThe Los Angeles Times...Harkness brings her keen historian’s eye to the American and French revolutions, drawing parallels between the two periods through not only the vampire witnesses to history but the appearances of historical figures ... But without the quest to find Ashmole 782 that drove the first three books, Time’s Convert feels aimless and is susceptible to Harkness’ tendencies to cram her novels full of interesting details of questionable value to the plot and myriad characters who are name-checked but never appear in the flesh. The result is a novel that feels bloated instead of buoyant as it carries a new generation of de Clermont offspring on their own adventures.
RaveLos Angeles Times...a knowing insider’s guide to a Los Angeles not usually seen in novels ... While Still Lives is a deeply affecting examination of how our culture fetishizes female victims of crime — be it in art, news, or publishing — it will also have readers feverishly turning pages to discover the fate of engaging characters who are more than symbols of what’s wrong or right about Los Angeles. It’s a stunning achievement for a writer who perfectly captures an outsider’s ambivalence about the city’s pluses and minuses, and most notably its sensational crimes and the dark angels we make of its victims.
You-Jeong Jeong, Translated by Chi-Young Kim
PositiveThe Los Angeles TimesYu-Jin’s constant headaches may remind readers of recent unreliable-narrator mysteries, but Jeong unspools the truth in a way that will make you fear for his community and remaining family. “The Good Son” reminds me of Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley, but Jeong is saying something about the complicated relationships among mothers and sons and siblings that will also resonate with American readers.
RaveThe Los Angeles Times\"Sunburn oozes with domestic unease, with women all around upending the natural order of things ... In a novel this good, it\'s unfair to reveal too much of the plot or its twists, but suffice it to say Sunburn has more than a few, all of them satisfying ... Sunburn is a portrait of a strong woman—equal to any Lippman has created—who has learned the hard way who she is, what she needs and how to defend herself.\
RaveThe Los Angeles Times[Massey] does an excellent job here intercutting the tale of Perveen's romantic courtship, ill-fated marriage and escape from Cyrus and his parents' strict Zoroastrian household in Calcutta with her quest for fair treatment of the three devout Muslim widows. As a result, the novel makes the complex religious and legal diversity of India understandable while illuminating the apparent divisions within religious groups whose members struggle between devotion to the old ways and those of the increasingly modernizing world ... Perveen's dogged pursuit of truth and justice for her clients is reminiscent of the debuts of Anne Perry's Charlotte Ellison Pitt and Jacqueline Winspear's Maisie Dobbs. But the multicultural, multi-faith milieu in which Perveen lives, works and attempts to find love both illuminates a bygone era and offers a thoughtful perspective relevant to today's focus on women's rights and equality.
John Le Carré
RaveThe Los Angeles TimesOne of the principal pleasures of A Legacy of Spies is watching the battle of words and ideas between the old and new agents of Her Majesty’s Secret Service ... Fans of Le Carré’s earlier fiction — or their various film incarnations — will feast at the historical banquet that is A Legacy of Spies, which serves almost as a prequel to the earlier novels. For new readers, the themes Le Carré explores — most notably the toll exacted on the individual’s soul by serving institutions that fail to live up to their professed values — will resonate as they consider past and present covert actions of British and U.S. governments. For as Smiley notes, quoting a Russian joke popular in the 1950s, 'There will be no war, but in the struggle for peace not a stone will be left standing.'”
PositiveThe Los Angeles TimesLaunching a new series and protagonist is hard work, and with so many characters, settings and departmental undercurrents to navigate, The Late Show’s seams show at times ... As she juggles involvement in the three increasingly complex cases, working some officially and others against the direct orders of Olivas and her lieutenant, there are enough reversals, surprises and action to keep fans of the Bosch series happily turning pages long into the night. Equally important, what emerges in The Late Show is a character whose sense of justice, fairness and determination reflect Connelly’s strengths as a storyteller as much as they do his better-known detective ... Welcome Renée Ballard to the City of Angels’ crime fighting pantheon. Barring an 8.0 direct hit on the Hollywood station, we will be seeing a lot more of her.
RaveThe Los Angeles Times...readers will appreciate Harry Bosch not only as an intrepid investigator but a man whose identification with and allegiance to society’s underdogs make him acutely aware of prejudice against Latinos and homosexuals ... While The Wrong Side of Goodbye may not stand shoulder-to-shoulder with some of the stronger entries in the Bosch oeuvre — or boast the high-octane, blood-spattered crimes — it is immensely satisfying to see Bosch’s sustained and deepened passion for his mission undiminished by age or circumstance.
Janice Y. K. Lee
PositiveThe Los Angeles TimesAlthough separated by decades, The Expatriates continues themes Lee first explored in The Piano Teacher, creating a fictional continuum in the changing city of Hong Kong and the people who are forced by circumstance and geography to change with it.