Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Saturday, December 27, 2014


With only a few days left before 2015, let me recommend two great books for mystery and thriller fans.

Riders on the Storm by Ed Gorman (Pegasus Books, 2014)

Just about anything Ed Gorman writes will get a big heads up from me, but Riders on the Storm is something really special.  This is (supposedly) the last Sam McCain book.  The McCain series has taken us from 1957 to 1971 in ten novels, each detailing its time period with heart-breaking accuracy.  McCain, a young lawyer from the wrong side of the tracks in Black River Falls, Iowa, supplemented his living as a private investigator, mostly for Judge Esme Whitney.  The judge is not present here and neither is Cliffie Sykes, the bumbling, mean-spirited sheriff who harbored a grudge against McCain.  This is a major indication that Black River Falls (as well as the nation) is undergoing a sea-change.  The Viet Nam war is raging and its effects are being felt back home.  McCain himself had enlisted and was seriously injured in an accident, although he never left the country during his short enlistment.  After many operations and months of rehab, McCain returns to Black River Falls to practice law.  He has finally hooked up with an old girlfriend who is divorced with two young daughters whom McCain adores.  Things are looking good.

But the town itself is being split between those who support the war and those who oppose it.  A right-wing war veteran named Steve Donovan is being groomed for a Congressional seat and another veteran who has been traumatized by what he had done in Viet Nam clash, the traumatized veteran is brutally beaten by Donovan. The injured man, Will Cullen, and his wife are friends with McCain.  When Donovan's murdered body shows up, Cullen is found nearby sleeping, with the bloodied murder weapon next to him.  It didn't help that Cullen confessed to the murder.  To find the truth, McCain must wade through an ocean of secret manners, mores, hopes, fears, greed, and insecurities that a country faces when its people are both war-weary and war-rabid.

Gorman is at his best when he writes of the pain and loneliness that is at the heart of all of us and this is Gorman at his best.

Supreme Justice by Max Allan Collins (Thomas & Mercer, 2014)

From the all-too-well-remembered past, we go to the very near future.  A few years from now, America has become a conservative nation.  Roe v. Wade has been overturned.  Prayer is now allowed in public schools, and thanks to the Sedition Act, anyone who criticizes the Government can be arrested -- all of this was made possible by the most conservative Supreme Court in history, its six Conservatives outvoting the only three liberal judges.  Surprisingly, America has its second Black president, a politically savvy liberal who managed to win over a conservative sitting Vice President.  Even more surprising was the possibility this man might win a second term.

When the most conservative Associate Justice is shot in what appears to be a bungled robbery,  a joint task force is set up to investigate.  Former Secret Service agent Joe Reeder, who was once seriously injured saving a president's life and is now running a successful security business, is contacted by an old FBI friend and is sent security tape of the incident.  Reeder notices something odd that could make this an assassination rather than a random incident.  Reeder is tasked to consult with the joint operations.  The more he learns, the more he realizes that the task force is being guided to certain conclusions by someone adept at pulling strings.  The another conservative judge is murdered, this time through a definite assassination.  Was someone trying to change the makeup of the Supreme Court through violence?  Or was there a deeper purpose?  The twists and turns in Reeder's mental game against his unknown adversary come rapidly.

Max Allan Collins is another professional who gets just about everything right.  This novel, the first in a projected trilogy, further cements him as a must-read author.

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