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Los Angeles

THE MUSEUM OF DESIRE . . . Between the covers

MOD coverThe strange-looking empty mansion in the dry hills above Los Angeles is rented out as a venue for everything from cancer charity fundraisers to wild parties. As the much put-upon guy from the agency wearily pushes his cart of cleaning materials up the hill, he is expecting the usual joyless cocktail of spilled food, used needles and condoms. What he actually finds causes him to part company with his breakfast burrito.

In a stretch limo parked in front of the house, he finds four people, each very, very dead, and with the floor of the car swimming in blood. Cue another case for LAPD Detective Milo Sturgis and psychologist Dr Alex Delaware. Veterans of the long-running series (this is book number 35 since When The Bough Breaks in 1985) will know the basic set-up. Delaware’s day job is in child psychology, while Sturgis is, in now particular order, gay, unkempt, a brilliant cop and eternally hungry.

The four corpses in the limo seem to have nothing at all in common aprt from being dead; a thirty-something professional bachelor with an insatiable – but perfectly legal – love life, and elderly chauffeur, a gentle and harmless man with mental problems who lives in sheltered accommodation, and a rather unprepossessing middle-aged woman who, it transpires, had drink and drug issues, and lived mostly on the streets. To add to the mystery, the forensic team analyses the blood on the floor of the car – and it is canine.

Delaware and Sturgis are convinced that the killings took place elsewhere, and the interior of the limo was an elaborate stage set. But who is the director of this hellish drama, what is the message of the play, and who was the intended audience?

jonathan-kellermanBit by bit, one slender thread at a time, the tangle of the mystery is unpicked. As per usual Kellerman (right) gives us a spectacularly complex solution to the quadruple murder. It’s almost as if we are passengers on a train journey, and some of the sights that flash by the window before we reach our destination include erotic Renaissance paintings, a chillingly damaged autistic teenager and a brief glimpse of Herman Göring’s fabled collection of looted art.

There will be, no doubt, some people who will look down their noses at this book – and others like it – while dismissing it as formulaic. Of course it is written on a certain template, but that’s what makes it readable. That’s why readers turn, again and again, to books that are part of long running series. We don’t want John Rebus to start behaving like Jack Reacher, any more than we will be happy for Carol Jordan to turn into Jane Marple. The Museum of Desire is slickly written, for sure, but I think a better word is ‘polished’. Both the dialogue and interaction between Delaware and Sturgis crackle with their usual intensity, and we are not short-changed in any respect in terms of plot twists and deeply unpleasant villains.

The Museum of Desire is published by Century/Arrow/Cornerstone Digital, came out in hardback  and Kindle earlier this year, but this paperback edition will be available from 12th November.

GATHERING DARK . . . Between the covers

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indexCandice Fox (left) is an Australian novelist who is perhaps best known for her collaborations with James Patterson, but back in 2019 I reviewed her solo novel Gone By Midnight, and if you click the link you can read the review. That book was set in the Queensland city of Cairns, but in her latest, she goes Stateside to Los Angeles for Gathering Dark.

To borrow a cliché much loved by sports commentators, Candice Fox leaves nothing in the changing room here in the way of characters. The larger-than-life cast includes former top paediatrician jailed for murder and now working in a fast food joint, her kleptomaniac and drug-addicted chum from prison, a fixated female cop whose career seems to be spiralling out of control, and a six-foot black female gangster and strip-club owner.

What brings this formidable quartet together? The search for the missing daughter of Sneak, the aptly named kleptomaniac. After randomly robbing Blair Harbour at her greasy take-out counter, Dayly has disappeared into the nightmare neon slick that is the criminal underbelly of Los Angeles.

gd014We all love a good coincidence, and cop Jessica Sanchez just happens to have been gifted a sumptuous LA property which sits next door to the house where Blair’s son Jamie has been fostered since his mother’s unfortunate spell in jail. And who was one of the cops involved in Blair being put away for ten years? Christian name begins with J and surname starts with S!

Fox has woven a wonderfully complex web of a plot. Blair isn’t sure why the gangster, Ada, is offering to help, but she thinks it might be because she is returning a favour notched up while the two were in jail together. We eventually learn, a little way before Blair does, that Ada doesn’t do gratitude, and has an ulterior motive.

The cop, Jessica, is pretty much loathed by LAPD colleagues, and she is warned that if she accepts the multi-million dollar mansion, she will be drummed out of the force for accepting bribes.

The unholy Trinity of Ada, Blair and Jessica plough a violent and relentless furrow in their search for Dayly, and it all comes to a head in a claustrophobic and bloody shoot-out in a sewer beneath an LA suburb. Fox is a gifted storyteller and this ‘guns and gals’ thriller will guarantee a few hours of excellent entertainment. Gathering Dark is published by Arrow and is out now in paperback.

CHARCOAL JOE … Between The Covers

Mosley

“This money is from me, Easy. I’m the one hirin’ you”
“Cheddar or blue?” I asked, taking the cash.
“Say what?”
“I just wanna know what kind of cheese is in this trap.”

Thus Walter Mosley’s Los Angeles PI Ezekiel ‘Easy’ Rawlins takes a thick wad of cash from his long term buddy Raymond ‘Mouse’ Alexander, as a down payment on his latest case, to extricate 25 year-old Dr – of physics – Seymour Brathwaite from a murder rap. The fact that Easy, like a huge number of fellow Angelinos, could never say “no” to Mouse, is one thing; Mouse may well be the most dangerous man in the city, but the legendary Charcoal Joe is probably next in line. And it’s Joe who had called in a favour of Mouse.

Seymour Brathwaite has been found at a murder scene in Malibu beach with two corpses lying on the floor. When LAPD’s finest catch a black man at the scene of a shooting, that’s normally case closed, give or take a few minutes of paperwork, but this is different. Brathwaite has no connection with either the corpses or crime in general, and he seems to have a very powerful friend in underworld fixer, arranger of violent death and generally lethal string puller Rufus Tyler – better known as Charcoal Joe.

Joe is currently residing in one of LA’s more relaxed and well appointed correctional facilities, serving a short sentence for some minor infraction. Easy pays him a visit to learn more about why young Dr Brathwaite was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and finds Joe attended by his minders and gophers. He asks why Joe is so convinced of Seymour’ innocence.

“The young man is a doctor of science,” Rufus Tyler the prodigy intoned. “He’s teachin’ at UCLA right this semester while he finishes his postgraduate work. Now how’s a man like that gonna be some kinda niggah like the people you and me consort with?”
I could think of a dozen ways. The universities in the late sixties were hotbeds of bombers, Liberation bank robbers and stone-cold killers.

Despite his misgivings, Easy sets about his work. At this point, it may be the moment to bring people new to the series up to speed with the who, what and why of the world of Easy Rawlins. Our man fought for Uncle Sam in WW2, and returned to an America where the yoke of oppression may have been lifted in Western Europe, but not in hometown USA. Battling everyday racism, put-downs and casual affronts, he has survived death on several occasions by the thickness of a cigarette paper, managed to earn the grudging respect of certain members of the LAPD, and has raised a family – albeit an unconventional one. Conscious that his work is always attracting new readers Mosley – like the weaver of dreams he is – fills in the biography with the deftest of touches, as he goes along.

Inevitably, Easy is being lied to by pretty much everyone involved in the case of the naïve Dr Brathwaite. The body count is spectacular, and even as he mourns the loss of his best love, Easy manages to squeeze in a couple of ‘romantic encounters’. The euphemism is mine. One of Mosley’s skills is to dance his way deftly through the minefield that faces writers who tackle sex scenes. Where many tread too heavily and die, Mosley escapes unscathed.

Mosley009The plot, as they say, thickens – to the point where you may need to skip back a few pages just to be sure that you are certain who has done what to whom. To me, this is neither here nor there. Sometimes cliches are unavoidable because they tell a simple truth, and with any Easy Rawlins novel it is all about the journey rather than the destination. An Easy Rawlins tale is what you get when a poet writes crime fiction. If Raymond Chandler were a deity, then I would worship him, but I would be hard pressed to summarise the detailed plots of Philip Marlow’s cases. I could, however, rattle off a dozen one-liners and brilliant descriptions which have made Chandler immortal. So it is with Mosley.

Easy goes to an illegal club called The Black Door Bar, and is reunited with an old flame.

“Hey, Easy,” Louise Lash said.
She was maybe forty with a face that would be beautiful twenty years after her death. Her skin was black and flawless. Even when she wasn’t talking her mouth seemed to be saying something elusive.

Read this book, and cherish it. Mosley is not an old man by today’s standards, but there will come a time when there will be no more Easy Rawlins, and the world will be a poorer place for his passing.

Follow the link to get your copy of Charcoal Joe.

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