Blindsided and Sacrifice, Clyde Phillips, Harper Torch, $7.50/$7.99, and Cold Pursuit, T. Jefferson Parker, Harper Torch,
Another bookseller - a woman of few words - dropped some Clyde Phillips books on my desk and said "These are good, you'll like the characters". Since she and I share a similar taste in authors from Karin Slaughter to Val McDermid to Leslie Glass (her comment on Glass was "intense"), I eagerly picked one up and was a goner for the two or three days it took me to read both books. I read them backwards - it's probably preferable to read Blindsided before Sacrifice because things do happen to the characters, but I didn't really care. And the fellow bookseller was right - the character's relationship in both novels is an interesting one. In the first novel, Blindsided, homicide detectives Jane Candiotti and her partner Kenny Marks are on the hunt for a cop killer who, recently released from prison, appears to be picking off all the cops he feels were responsible for putting him there. Candiotti and Marks are "in a relationship" - the opening sections detail Marks' moving in with Jane - and the contrast in their two families and lifestyles is a theme throughout the book. In the second book, Sacrifice, Candiotti has been promoted: she's now Kenny's boss.
This set-up reminded me a good bit of Sandra Scoppetone's early classic, Donato and Daughter, where the daughter is the father's boss; Phillips and Scoppettone also share a straightforward, absorbing storytelling style that takes no prisoners and includes few extraneous details. The story in Blindsided moves like a locomotive - the portrait of the cold hearted, careful killer honed to a fine point by years in prison setting up his kills is extremely effective; it becomes more so when one or two of the victims is a character that Phillips has taken the time to establish and rouse some affection for (a good reason to read Blindsided first is to avoid discovering the identity of one of the victims). The police work is well detailed and fast paced; like any good cops in any good mystery novel they function on little sleep, high stress, bad food and good instincts. When the wrap up finally occurs - with an excellent twist at the end - you'll have been not only surprised but entertained and are probably more than ready for the next book.
Sacrifice has a little bit different set-up, and the clues are more difficult, as is the resolution; the journey Candiotti and Marks must take to unravel the secret behind the killing of an apparently beloved businessman and philanthropist is long, involved, and ultimately, fascinating. Phillips manages to throw in quite a few surprises that kept me flipping the pages and the relationship between Jane and Kenny, now boss and employee, is a complicated one that begs for another book. Kenny, while acknowledging Jane's prowess as a detective, at the same time has difficulty with his life-partner being his boss: who wouldn't? Seeing them at home as well as at work only deepens this interesting and unusual relationship. Both partners are strong and intelligent people, and Phillips plays very fair: neither partner is given an unfortunate personal or work habit that sets them at a disadvantage.
T. Jefferson Parker is a better known writer than Clyde Phillips - he even won an Edgar for best novel a few years ago (a travesty, but I won't go into that here) - but their skills are similar and both writers, I think, exemplify American crime writing: straightforward, fast paced, free of (much) emotional entanglement or deeper meaning. If you want a good story, here are two guys to reach for. Parker's recent paperback release, Cold Pursuit, is a good example of his writing, it has a gripping and clever story with some good twists, and the main characters keep you guessing (or at least one of them does). The set-up is this: Detective Tom McMichael catches the case of a murdered millionaire, Pete Braga. The McMichael and Braga families have a long standing feud rooted in the death of Tom's grandfather and the beating of Pete's son. The beating left the son, Victor, functioning forever at the level of a ten year old. This, however, doesn't stop McMichael from a careful investigation of Pete's death; it also brings back into his life his former girlfriend, Pete's granddaughter, a powerful and wealthy woman in her own right, and someone who Tom has never quite gotten over. Complicated enough for you? Don't worry, you're in the hands of a master storyteller who makes all elements of his fast moving story comprehensible and gripping.
The red herring (or is it?) - is Pete's gorgeous housekeeper, Sally Rainwater, who by lots of circumstantial evidence should by all rights be the killer. Tom's suspicion that Sally is innocent isn't just related to his growing attraction to her (or is it?) - and it's frustrating to both his partner and his boss, and at a certain point it becomes more than frustrating - it becomes dangerous. The convolutions and the cleverness of the plot are excellent - while Parker isn't quite up to Jeffrey Deaver or Harlan Coben in the many-twists-you-never-expected department, he's very close; and if you'd rather not have Deaver's vicious intensity or the really impossible to put down quality of the latest Coben standalones, Parker is an excellent (and luckily prolific) bet. I've read several of his novels, and he's incredibly and consistently entertaining.
I think the differences between American and British writing are pretty clear - and they both have their place. For a thoughtful novel laced with themes, angst and gorgeous writing, turn to a Brit; for a good story, well told, turn to an American. All four writers described here are worth a look - and hopefully, more than one. Happy reading!
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