Welcome to Murder by the Book's blog about what we've read recently. You can find our website at www.mbtb.com.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

7 Grams of Lead by Keith Thomson

Anchor, 464 pages, $7.99

Keith Thomson’s “Once a Spy” was one of Murder by the Book’s favorites for the year it was released. The book had engaging characters (a former spy who had Alzheimer’s and his wastrel, genius son), interesting bits of spycraft (when the former spy could remember them), and the best kind of on-the-run storytelling. “7 Grams of Lead” has the spycraft on steroids, two fairly tempting characters, and a James Bond-brand of villain. “7 Grams of Lead” is the supersized version of “Once a Spy.”

The charm of “Once a Spy” was abundantly evident in Charlie and Drummond Clark, father and son, initially both appearing within the normal range of human behavior. Of course, each had hidden talents, but they popped up unexpectedly and sometimes hilariously. In “7 Grams of Lead,” Russ Thornton is an online muck-raking journalist. He has learned the darndest things while cruising the web for stories. Beryl Mallery is a political candidate and computer genius. While these characters don’t scream “take-me-to-your-bosom” immediately, they prove, like Charlie and Drummond, to have strange talents and a fund of weird (but ultimately useful) information. So, bottom line: Charlie and Drummond win, Russ and Beryl definitely second.

In his acknowledgements, Keith Thomson refers to the original manuscript of “7 Grams.” He thanks his editor for cutting down the material. The remaining material is plenty large at 464 pages. It’s packed with the tangled skeins of all the various sub rosa and “super rosa” spy and security agencies. There are all the tricks of the game: infiltrating, breaking in, covering the bases, formulating Plans A, B, C, and defending oneself with everyday objects. I found it all fascinating, but there was a lot of it and it sometimes waylaid the plot.

The plot. One of Russ’s ex-girlfriends, a high-level political assistant in D.C., is bringing him devastating information, but, of course, she is murdered. What was the information? Who is behind her killing? There’s also a super e-bomb (strong electromagnetic pulses that disable everything electronic) being hawked, a shadowy mastermind who has a lot of political pull, implanted devices that put Big Brother to shame, and illegal holding facilities, torture, and general mayhem.

There is something genuine and sweet about the Charlie and Drummond books that’s missing here. But Keith Thomson is a great idea-man, and this book will make one heck of a movie!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Lucky Us by Amy Bloom

Random House, 256 pages, $26

This is not a mystery!

But it is a wonderful book.

Amy Bloom has written a shining novel about family, a family not necessarily connected by blood. Eva’s mother suddenly abandons Eva at her father’s house. Her father’s rich wife has just died, leaving him and another daughter without money. It’s a house of cards that’s falling, leaving Eva and her brand-new family looking for a place to live. Every turn brings a twist, sometimes with humor, sometimes with heartbreak, turning the title “Lucky Us” into an ironic statement.

Bloom takes her family through several years around World War II. She veers away from sentimental but manages to create warmth, slides around despair but depicts some tough times, and never puts Eva's morality on a pedestal beside the failings of others.

Should you desire a break from crime fiction …

Friday, September 5, 2014

Ack! The A&E channel has cancelled "Longmire"

I really mean aaaaack! Really.

Why the cancellation?

So the characters strayed from Craig Johnson's creations. So Henry is shorter and wimpier ... I mean, slighter ... than portrayed in the Longmire books. So Cady never takes off for Philly. So Brand doesn't really exist in print. Etc. That doesn't mean I can't like the television series. In fact, I didn't "like" it; I loved it. It's rare to be able to like the original creation and the spun-off cinematic version.

If you feel the same way and have a Facebook page, post something with "#LongLiveLongmire." You don't even have to say anything, just the hashtag will do.

Some fans are calling their cable companies to ask them to cancel the A&E channel. (That might be a little radical.)

Are you best buds with any AMC execs? Tell him or her that picking up "Longmire" would be a great Labor Day/Thanksgiving/Christmas/Hannukah present for you.

Long Live Longmire!

Monday, September 1, 2014

Veronica Mars: The Thousand Dollar Tan Line by Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham

Vintage, 336 pages, $15.95

As far as mystery books go, this is pretty good. As far as books spawned by TV shows go, this is very good. About ten years ago, “Veronica Mars” was an above-average television show that lasted three seasons. Veronica was a teenage sleuth, but she was nobody’s Nancy Drew. This was definitely a contemporary series with a deeper layer.

In the first season of the show, Veronica’s mother had just abandoned her family and moved to goodness-knows-where. Veronica’s best friend (and also sister of her boyfriend) had been murdered. Her father was the sheriff of Neptune, California, a fictional upscale seaside community. Because he dared to accuse the father of the murdered girl — one of the richest and most powerful men in the community — of having something to do with the murder, Keith Mars was unceremoniously run out of office. He subsequently opened up a private investigation firm, with Veronica as his assistant. Her first big case was figuring out who killed her best friend.

Ten years later and with the help of crowd-sourced funding, “Veronica Mars” went big time as a movie, released last year. The present-day Veronica is a Stanford graduate and high-powered attorney in New York City. She had left Neptune behind. Except, of course, she is the only one who can save a former boyfriend from an accusation of murder back in Neptune.

“Veronica Mars: The Thousand Dollar Tan Line” picks up after the movie. Veronica has re-settled in Neptune, given up her high-paying job, and given in to her passion for investigating, finagling, and making the bad guys pay. Because her father is recovering from injuries (sustained in the story told in the movie), it is up to Veronica, best friend Wallace, and second best friend Mac to make sure the bills are paid.

When spring break hits Neptune, the college kids are going wild. A young girl is reported missing days after she disappeared. (Her belatedly sober friends have suddenly noticed that they haven’t seen her recently.) With a do-nothing sheriff in office (her father’s lame successor's lame brother), there’s very little police investigation. Neptune’s Chamber of Commerce knows that missing teenage girls are not good for business, so they hire Veronica to find her.

Pretty soon there’s another girl missing. This one has a personal connection to Veronica, so she uses all her wiles, connections, Mac’s hacking skills, and Wallace’s good nature to track the coeds down.

When the television show “Castle” was novelized, although I enjoyed the books, they were “Castle” scripts with poorly added narration to bridge the dialogue. I expected something similar for “Veronica Mars.” Jennifer Graham (a Portland, Oregon, Reed College graduate!) has taken the mythology created by show producer Rob Thomas and given it depth and life in this novel. What a pleasant surprise!

Even without having seen the television show or movie, readers can immediately become involved in the story because Graham deftly presents all the ins-and-outs of the various characters. She even manages to avoid awkward pauses in the current story while she relates what happened in the past.

Veronica Mars is a legitimate grown-up and kick-ass p.i.