Thursday, November 18, 2010


Sadly, author William G. Tapply passed away in July of last year.
He is best known for his 26 novels featuring lawyer/sleuth Brady Coyne. (Three of these were collaborations with friend and fellow author Philip R. Craig, featuring Coyne in alternating chapters with Craig's series character JW Jackson; Mr. Craig passed away in 2007.)

While I read a few of the Coyne novels and liked them well enough, for whatever reason I never really got "into" them. Such was not the case, however, when I discovered Tapply's second series character, Stoney Calhoun, in his 2004 debut novel, Bitch Creek. Truth to tell, it was the title that first attracted me. After that, however, it was the setting of the tale, the plot, the crisp writing style, and as much as anything the character of Calhoun  himself that hooked me and kept me on the lookout for more.

Stoney Calhoun is a true man of mystery. After surviving a lightning strike, he leaves a hospital in Arlington, VA, with only fragments of his memory intact. He is told his name is Stonewall Jackson Calhoun and that he grew up in South Carolina. He is discharged with $25,000 in his pocket, along with a Visa credit card in his name. Further, he is promised that monthly deposits of money --- enough so that he will never have to work another day in his life if he doesn't want to --- will be made in a bank of his choosing as soon as he settles down somewhere ... The people telling him these things avoid clearly identifying themselves, leaving Calhoun (and the reader) to speculate they must be some kind of government spooks and that Stoney, in his former and forgotten life, must have served them in some way that leaves them highly indebted to him.

Despite his alleged ties to the south, Calhoun feels irresistably drawn to Maine and it is there that he heads and there that this series becomes anchored. He takes on a part-time job (and eventually co-ownership) of a small bait-and-tackle shop on Casco Bay near Portland, mainly because he is attracted to the shop's proprietor, lovely Kate Balaban.

Altough there are huge gaps in Stoney's memory there also are flashes of deeds, faces, and skills from his past. He can't associate any direct links to the deeds or faces, but certain skills that he possesses --- self-defense capabilities, knowledge of firearms and criminal investigation techniques --- indicate he's had extensive training by some sort of law enforcement agency. This, in addition to his proficiency at mechanics, carpentry, tying lures, fishing, boating, and other outdoor activities.

All of these skills --- especially in the area of his criminal investigation abilities --- are brought into play as this series of three books unfolds.
In the first, Bitch Creek (2004), Stoney helps investigate the murder of a fellow guide as he all the while fights a gnawing suspicion that he himself may have actually been the intended victim.
In Gray Ghost (2007), the local sheriff asks for Stoney's assistance investigating a series of grisly murders where the victims' bodies are set on fire and left to be found as charred remains.
In Dark Tiger (2009), the mysterious government spook who has periodically been checking up on Stoney to see if any significant parts of his memory are returning, shows up once again. Only this time his purpose is more than just to check up --- he coerces Stoney into going undercover as a fishing guide at a high-end fishing lodge in remote Maine. Once in place he is to determine what a government operative was doing at the lodge --- where he wasn't supposed to be --- and what brought about his death, which has been rigged to look like a murder/suicide.

All of these books are finely plotted, the writing is terrific, and the locales and characters are distinct and memorable. But most intriguing of all, as mentioned above, is the character of Calhoun himself.
One can only wonder how Stoney's character would have further evolved and what future adventures Tapply may have had in mind for him.
These novels are available through Amazon, AbeBooks, etc. If you haven't read them, they are definitely worth tracking down. Highly recommended.

Persevere --- WD

Thursday, November 11, 2010


The Weight is Andrew Vachss's latest powerful novel. There are crime and mystery elements here, to be sure, but as much as any of that it is a character study and, ultimately, a love story. Its central character and narrator is Tim "Sugar" Caine, an old-school professional thief who takes the weight for a crime he didn't commit rather than provide an alibi that would have blown the whistle on others who were involved with him in a big-money jewel  heist. It is Sugar's narration of this sequence of events and then his subsequent reflections while serving  his prison time that give the reader a deep insight into the people and prior events that have shaped him into what he is --- a man on the wrong side of the law, yet someone with a very strict set of values and rules that he adheres to at all cost. Further complicatons stemming from the long-past jewel heist arise after Sugar has served his time and his subsequent efforts to tie off this loose thread forces Sugar to face danger and duplicity --- yet at the same time find trust and love --- in ways he never expected.
As usual, Vachss's prose is scalpel-sharp, his characters are memorable, and his descriptions of the intricacies of criminal life are fascinating.
For more details, you can read my full review of this book on Amazon.

If anyone hasn't guessed by now, I am a big fan of Andrew Vachss and I'm also proud to count him as a personal friend.
This has been a very busy Fall for Andrew. In addition to the newly released THE WEIGHT, as mentioned above, you'll also remember his novel HEART TRANSPLANT as covered in my October 20 blog.
Furthermore, his very first novel, A BOMB BUILT IN HELL, was released by Amazon Kindle on October 26. This novel was written in 1973, prior to his success with FLOOD (the beginning of his popular Burke series) and never saw print publication. At the time it was deemed unprintable, "too unrealistic", "a political horror story" ... because it predicted things like the turmoil in Haiti, the rise in sex predators, and school shootings such as Columbine and the rest that have followed. It is the story of Wesley, whom readers of Vachss will remember from the Burke books, and it is as hard-hitting and memorable as anything you will ever read --- made even more so by the timing of when it was written.
Finally, if you need just a little more of a Vachss fix, you can check out where you will find an original Vachss short story, "As The Crow Flies", as well as a lengthy review of The Weight and an in-depth interview (both by Ken Bruen).

Vachss's life work is combating abuses against the young and the weak in our society --- and thereby short-circuiting the "monsters" who grow out of these abuses and end up threatening society in return. His voice is strong, his message is strong --- Heed what he has to say.

Persevere --- WD

Sunday, November 7, 2010


The Gentlemen's Hour is Winslow's second novel featuring surfer/PI Boone Daniels. The first book in the series --- The Dawn patrol --- came out in 2008 and introduced the cast of recurring characters we encounter again in Gentlemen's Hour. They are the Dawn Patrol, a crew of hardcore surfers centered around Daniels, all with individual lives that sometimes intersect out of the water, but it is their daily early-morning gatherings on the surf that truly bonds them.
The writing is scalpel-sharp, the chapters come bullet-quick, and the action is relentless. San Diego and vicinity, especially Pacific Beach and (in this book) the Rockpile break at La Jolla, are the settings. Winslow paints these backdrops and the people who pass through them vividly. The plot is intricate and contains a number of surprises. The characters are multi-dimensional and their motives are never quite what t hey appear to be.
Plenty of good stuff here for the PI mystery fan, and a whole different slant on the California PI than most of what we've seen before.
For more details about this book check out my full review on Amazon.

Persevere --- WD

Friday, November 5, 2010


This is the second book in the Joe Kozmarski series. The first, The Last Striptease (2007) was a winner in PWA's Best First PI Novel competition and a Shamus Award nominee for that year.
Kozmarski is a fairly laid-back Chicago PI with an estranged wife, a nosy mother, a live-in teenaged nephew, and a new female partner who's made it clear she is willing for their partnership to be more than strictly business.
At the start of Bad Kitty, Joe's current client turns from a seemingly mild-mannered guy who suspects his wife is cheating on him into a confirmed arsonist and then a suspected killer. The murder victim, discovered by Joe, is Sister Judy Terrano, aka the Virginity Nun. In death, Sister Judy also becomes a link to the Bad Kitty Lounge, a little-known Maxwell Street hangout where, back in the 1960s, drinking, partying, doing drugs, and having sex were its main attractions. But, as everybody knows, the past has a habit of sometimes catching up in ways that can be very unpleasant ...
Wiley's writing is fast-paced, the plot is full of twists and turns, and the action keeps coming.
Both of these books are highly recommended and one is left definitely wanting to see more of Joe Kozmarski.
For a more detailed review of The Bad Kitty Lounge check out my write-up on Amazon.

Persevere --- WD