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review 2017-09-18 22:16
Lightning Men
Lightning Men: A Novel - Thomas Mullen

Darktown #2

By:  Thomas Mullen 

ISBN: 9781501138799

Publisher: Atria 

Publication Date: 9/12/2017

Format: Hardcover 

My Rating: 5 Stars + 

 

From the acclaimed author, Thomas Mullen who introduced readers to the hit, Darktown landing on my Top Books of 2016 —racial integration of Atlanta’s police department in 1948 — with an explosive multi-layered complex follow-up: LIGHTNING MEN. 

Racial violence and corruption continue in 1950’s Atlanta, with African-American police officers, Boggs and Smith. 

As they say in the South, these two find themselves in a "heap of trouble.” (Among others). 

“Hot Atlanta” is not just sizzling. It is blistering. Fiery. Tensions and emotions run high. Loyalties are tested between family and law. Color lines are threatened. Moral lines are blurred. 

The second in the Darktown series, Mullen uses his hard-boiled crime, cop procedural, to explore post-WWII racism in the South. 

The highly anticipated character-driven LIGHTNING MEN is much more than just a crime-fictional thriller. It is infused with critical historical details and timely controversial subjects we face today.

“Any candid observer of American racial history must acknowledge that racism is highly adaptable.” – Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow 

Highly-charged, Mullen turns up the intensity with characters facing moral, family, social issues and compromises. 

Tensions rise. From racial prejudice, moonshining, drugs, greed, conspiracy, Klansmen, fascist Columbians, white supremacist, corruption, bigotry, violence, Jim Crow laws, preachers, shootouts, paybacks, fear, power, and segregated neighborhoods.

In Darktown, we met rookies: Officer Lucius Boggs and his partner, Tommy Smith. 

From different backgrounds, their office was housed in the basement of the Negro YMCA, a makeshift precinct. They were not even allowed to arrest white men, nor allowed to drive a squad car. They could not patrol outside of the Negro neighborhoods that constituted their beat. No respect and little support. 

Only ten black officers patrolled those thousands of souls. A third of Atlanta were black, yet they were crowded into only a fifth of the land. 

Boggs and Smith had not taken bribes; however, with two years on the force, it appeared half of the white officers took bribes, so how long would the Negro officers resist? 

They were tiring of their powerlessness. The son of a preacher, Boggs was all too familiar with the fallibility of men, even men with power. 

Denny Rakestraw (white) is distrusted by his fellow officers for his suspected role in the disappearance of his former partner, Lionel Dunlow. 

Rakestraw is not a racist but finds it difficult to fit in with his fellow white cops and work with the ten black cops. Neither side, fully trusts him. 

Denny’s problems increase when his Klansman brother-in-law, Dale Simpkins, gets involved in a plot to stop the influx of African-Americans into his neighborhood, Hanford Park. 

Some cops are part of the Klan. Will they accuse one of the richest men in Atlanta of selling moonshine and marijuana?

Boggs had come to respect McInnis over the last two years. He had stuck up for his charges during a few disputes with white officers. How far can he go to protect them? 

Boggs (preacher’s son) is dating Julie with a young son, Sage. Soon to be married. His family opposes the relationship since she is not of their social status. She has a secret past. She is intimidated by their prestigious family. 

When a black man, Jeremiah is released from prison after five years, things get personal. Boggs life gets complicated when he learns the connection. 

Two years earlier, Boggs came close to resigning his position and had second thoughts after a near-death experience. Now, he is unsure again.

Too many mistakes that weighed heavily on his soul. He is sure there would be more guilt and an awkward relationship with his partner. Can he remain as a cop? 

Events will lead each character to major soul-searching. Smith had crossed another line as well. He was afraid. 


. . . The Armor. The façade victims’ families typically wore when they needed to protect themselves or the memory of their loved ones. Folks who wore The Armor sometimes had secrets to hide. 

The Armor was firmly in place as they parried the officer’s attempts to learn more about the deceased. They wore The Armor to keep the cops from learning things. The secrets. . . 

The Armor was worn by the innocent, who had nothing to hide but their dignity, and they were so deeply offended to be questioned by these employees of the corrupt City of Atlanta, these paid enforcers of Jim Crow, that they refused to play along. They may be innocent, hurt, or protective. 

. . . “And lines are only ideas people dream up, to govern what should be possible, to keep you from moving toward the forbidden.”


Three policemen struggle. Each has an agenda and react in different ways to protect. Loyalties are tested. Family versus law. 

Can they continue to work with one hand tied behind their packs without the proper support to do their jobs? Will the latest emotional events, their actions, and tensions make them second guess their current careers? Will they continue to serve and make Atlanta a better city, or is it a useless effort? 

After violence and a shootout, will Hanford Park be transformed? Will the lines between white and black be blurred after the postwar crowding, pushing blacks into areas formerly considered whites-only (without violence)? 

From racial politics and struggles of history, Mullen does not miss a beat! 

The complex emotions of each character are portrayed in depth, making the characters jump off the page. Others threaten lives. Others protect. Struggles both interior and exterior. 

Complications. Affairs interrupted. Old scores settled. Blood feuds magnified. Pride. Costs were high. Greed. 

Hard-boiled. Explosive. Riveting. Timely! 

Love this enthralling series and looking forward to seeing what is in store next for Smith and Boggs. 

When reading of Boggs at his dad’s house for dinner with Julie, reminds me strongly of Greenleaf (a favorite show) and their preacher/family dinners. Heaven forbid, their children do not follow their well-laid controlled plans. 

Movie-worthy! For those who enjoy good crime fiction, and historical fiction as Mullen meticulously traces the civil rights movement through his well-written crime stories and cop procedurals, that involve "real" characters you come to care about. 

Fans of TV mini-series: Underground, Greenleaf and Queen Sugar will enjoy this intense series as well as Michael Connley’s Harry Bosch and Greg Iles' Penn Cage series. 

In addition to the early digital reading copy (thank you) provided by NetGalley and Atria, I also purchased the audiobook, narrated by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II – for an award-winning performance. Just finished. 

Move this series to the top of your list. If you reside in the South, this is a “must read.” Especially for those of us who found (find) Atlanta our home for many years. Another Southern winner! 

JDCMustReadBooks

****
Due to post-Irma, residing in South Florida with water damages, power outage, cell towers, and loss of internet for nine consecutive days; no gas, grocery, or mail service – late posting my review on pub day. Let's hope Maria does not pay us a visit. 

Yay! Today we have internet restored, power, cell towers, and mail service! Back in business. Ordered the hardcover copies of both DARKTOWN and LIGHTNING MEN for my personal library. So excited, they are out for delivery today, from Amazon! (Love the covers) Looking forward to receiving my copies. (Now, I have to figure out how to get the author to autograph) my copies. 

Busy catching up with posting reviews and my blog. Thanks everyone for your patience.
 
 
 

City on the verge of a race riot in ‘Darktown’ sequel


Thomas Mullen’s new novel examines brotherly hate  

By Tray Butler - For the AJC

 
 
 
 
Source: www.judithdcollinsconsulting.com/single-post/2017/04/19/Lightning-Men
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review 2016-11-18 12:54
361 by Donald E. Westlake
361 (Hard Case Crime ) - Donald E Westlake

After Raymond Kelley, a recently discharged Air Force soldier, witnesses the murder of his father and is horrifically maimed in the aftermath, he decides it’s time for paycheck. With only one word and a vague description of the murderer’s car to go on, Raymond and his brother quickly find themselves waist-deep in a web of danger, deceit, and mobsters. Little do the brothers know that they’re being hunted, too…

 

361 is, without a shadow of a doubt, the quintessential hard boiled crime novel. Westlake’s writing exemplifies the stylized grit and action-packed drama of the genre, almost to a fault. Between the endless comma splicing and endless descriptions of everything Raymond finds remotely interesting, it’s clear that the meat of the book lies in its style more so than its story. Yet even so, Westlake’s narrative never loses its quick pace nor does it ever delve into pointless sleaze like many other pulpy crime stories of the time. The greatest strength of his writing, however, is the characters. Westlake is a master at throwing flawed individuals into an impossible situation without sacrificing their likability. Everyone feels realistic at the end of the day, which is a rare find in an otherwise pulpy outing.

 

While the short standalone novel sometimes flirts with interesting themes, such as regret and old age, it never does deeper than the occasional subtext. Westlake’s ideas on what the post-Prohibition mob scene was like is also quaint in hindsight, as history has since shown us that the real-world Mafia didn’t simply fall apart after the legalization of booze. The problem's not on Westlake, though—it’s not his fault the book was published a year before Joseph Valachi’s tell-all testimony as the first mob informant for the FBI. Considering how badly most stories from the 60s age, inaccurate gangster representation is far from the worst sin such a book can commit.

 

On a side note, the Kindle port is lazy. The first 3% of the kindle edition contains an excerpt from the beginning of the book, so the reader might end up reading it twice if they don’t realize what they’re looking at.

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review 2016-11-07 22:35
Bronx Requiem
Bronx Requiem - John Clarkson
ISBN: 9781250047250
Publisher: St  Martin's Press
Minotaur Books
Publication Date: 11/8/2016 
Format:  Hardcover
My Rating: 5 Stars +++ 

Top Books of 2016

 

A special "big" thank you, to St. Martins' Press, Minotaur, and NetGalley for an advanced reading copy in exchange for an honest review. 5 Stars +++

Talented crime writer, John Clarkson returns following the sensational thriller, Among Thieves (2015) with my favorite tough guy, James Beck, (My hero) who runs a slick operation in Red Hook, Brooklyn- to give employment and a second chance to his fellow ex-cons . . .

BRONX REQUIEM —Multi-layered, non-stop action, suspense, twists, adrenaline-fueled; a true “murder mystery,” with an unstoppable inner circle, of unconventional friends, led by Beck; you most definitely, want him in your corner. "I LOVE these guys!"

Top 10 Books of 2016!

Hard-boiled crime fiction, "at its finest." If you could only read one thriller this year, this would be "the one."

James Beck met Packy Johnson (Paco) in prison.

They forged a friendship and an unbreakable bond. Packy Johnson had been incarcerated for most of his life and had earned his status as a respected, righteous con. Beck had never asked Packy why he had decided to help him along ago.

Packy never questioned him. How a man with no criminal record had killed a cop? In Clinton maximum-security prison, James Beck learned the meaning and value of a true friend.

Beck knew two things: He would never return to prison. And no person, or institutions or circumstances would ever stop him from being the man he wanted to be.

Presently, as the book opens, it is nine years later. Packy was being released, after a seventeen-year sentence. Plans were made. Walter (parole officer) had taken care of the arrangements. Beck was to pick up Packy at the bus station. He was one of them.

However, he does not show.

Later they find out he has hitchhiked when the bus broke down. Now, he is dead. How could this have happened?

Why now, less than a day out of prison, not far from his mother-in-law’s apartment, beaten to death and shot in the head? No robbery (money in his pocket with his ID). Left in a gutter, seventeen hours later in Northern Bronx. What went wrong?

Packy had lived 42 years, 32 of which had been spent in juvenile institutions, foster homes, or prisons. 80% of his life confined, focused on simply surviving. Now was the chance to finally experience life. They have to make this right and find the killer. Justice for their loyal friend.

Who shot Packy Johnson? What made him risk his parole hitchhiking into town, and then rush over to the housing project minutes after he arrives, ready to take on a whole crew?

At the same time, there is a girl named Amelia Johnson(street name, Princess) who is trying to escape the clutches of an evil monster, Derrick Watkins—a pimp. A low-echelon criminal like many of the young men in her neighborhood – the Bronx River Houses-who dealt in drugs, theft, and prostitution. She knew the game.

When he took her in to give her food, clothes, and a place to stay, Amelia knew she had entered into a dangerous game. But knowing the game did not make her able to win at it.

A sixteen-year-old, girl trying to escape first her mother’s boyfriend at the age of twelve. A father she never knew who should have protected her. A hopeless selfish "drug addict" mother who died and left her alone. A crazy grandmother; angry, volatile, and a nag—a poor foster system which failed her and now- prostitution, control, and abuse.

Packy’s daughter (she is hilarious). He has not seen since she was three years old.

Her unstable grandmother, Lorena Leon told her she was useless, finally forcing her to be in this inescapable situation before they would finally kill her. She has to find a way to escape the clutches of Derrick, Tyrell, Johnny Morris, Eddie, Jerome, Eric Juju Jackson, and Whitey Bondurant. Someone had sent for her. A criminal enterprise.

 

 



Detective John Palmer is on the (Paco Johnson) case with his partner, Raymond Ippolito. Ippolito was the senior detective, whereas Palmer had been a detective for a little over a year. Palmer saw this case an opportunity for advancement – he was overly ambitious. (what a dick).

It ran in the family since Palmer’s father, John Palmer senior had a reputation for being a hard-charger, a well- known lobbyist, lawyer, and political operator. A well know advocate for law enforcement and his influence extended to the NYPD, the Department of Corrections, NY Police, the Justice Department, and Homeland Security. (do you smell corruption?)

There was no drugs or burglary involved. This is a homicide. Murder. The parole officer assigned to the case was Walter Ferguson.

James Beck and his team, (Manny Guzman, Demarco Jones, Walter Ferguson) have their offices out of an old oak bar on the ground floor of the building at the far end of Red Hook, on the waterfront, providing a measure of safety and security for them.

It had taken them a year to renovate the place with the help of local workers and ex-cons. He had restored the ground floor bar, gutted the second and third floors to add bedrooms, bathrooms, storage rooms, workout space, with an open loft, divided into an office space, kitchen/dining, and seating area. (What a cool place, adding to the intrigue)!

Walter, a distinguished African American man as part of their group is devastated since he was responsible for Packy. Packy was one of them. They have to call in the "big gun" for help: Ciro Baldassare, the strongest of the crew.

Beck and his team, who operate out of his Red Hook saloon, set out to find who killed Packy. In the meantime, they are trying to help Amelia and Queenie (older madam) who work for pimp Derrick Watkins, one of the Bronx’s most vicious criminals.

A race against time, Beck and his gang, not only have to face some of the most violent gang leaders, now they have to go up against politics, corruption, and power; Detective John Palmer, the ambitious cop not above skirting the law, who has his own agenda. He wants to send a cop killer back to jail. Forever. Does he know who he is messing with?

Intense, suspense, gritty! Wow, having read Among Thievesenjoyed listening to the interview with Clarkson afterward, and his inspiration for the character, James Beck, and his inner circle continuing with Bronx Requiem (see below). Please, please let there be more....Loving this series!

Clarkson has created a unique, captivating series, with believable topics and flawed characters--inspired by our society. You root for them. These guys (brotherhood) know the ins and outs of crime.

Beck is a complex character. He has a heart of gold. A loyal friend. A hero, even though he is not a bully and can stand up to bullies. Intelligent and street smart. He is not impulsive. He carefully plans, looking at all options before he acts. A man with a past, and relies on his group of friends for support—and did I mention, what an awesome backdrop setting?

So vivid and realistic, I want to pull up a bar stool, have a drink, and better still feel the spine tingling action within these walls, spend the night, and have their yummy breakfast the following morning, and be a part of the well-laid plans, to take down the bad guys.

Meticulously written, a plot "out of this world", and well-developed characters. Mixed with lots of humor, action, and emotion. The good (bad guys) taking down the (really) bad guys; and helping the innocent in the process.

The strong bond between Packy and Beck, the inner circle, the loyalty of friends, and the added addition of Amelia (so good)--with the crew taking her under their wing, which was quite challenging after she was set on revenge; Amelia, Queenie, and Lorena brought a nice balance of female kick ass emotion and which sets the novel apart from the norm.

All the ingredients for a blockbuster movie hit. (keeping fingers crossed)

Not only did I LOVE the book, and was beyond excited to receive an early reading copy; I always pre-order the audiobook, as well. Peter Berkrot is my all time favorite narrator. He was exceptional in Among Thieves, and cannot wait until Nov 8 to listen to the highly anticipated performance of Bronx Requiem. (stunning cover)

A huge Clarkson, Beck, and Berkrot fan! This is "as good as it gets, folks." A hero you will not soon forget. Fans of true crime, hard-boiled fiction, mystery, and suspense thrillers will devour! Move over Lee Child, David Baldacci, and Michael Connelly.

From the Author:

 

"Around 2011, John became interested in the fact that the US incarcerates more people than any other country in the world. With 5% of the world’s population, we have 24% of the world’s prisoners. There are over 2 million people in prison and over 4 million on parole or probation.

How did this happen? What are all those people doing? How do they survive in and out of prison? Out of all this grew the idea of writing a crime novel with ex-cons as the heroes. The result: Among Thieves and Bronx Requiem."

JDCMustReadBooks

Source: www.judithdcollinsconsulting.com/single-post/2016/07/02/Bronx-Requiem
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review 2016-08-30 09:01
Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World
Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World - Ian Porter,Adam Sims,Alfred Birnbaum,Haruki Murakami

Eh, I use the tags "science fiction" and "fantasy" very loosely with this novel.

 

As with all of Murakami's works, it skirts the edge of this and that. It is difficult to follow if you are not paying attention, moreso when you are trying to pay attention to an audiobook as it turns out. There are two narrators that switch off on chapters due to the split narrative of the story. I found their voices pleasant to listen to, but their accents for different characters and their pronunciations of certain Japanese words grated on my ears to the point that it ruined those parts of the story for me. I think that I would have preferred to read this one.

 

I enjoy the themes of reality vs. non-reality that Murakami regularly explores in his stories, this one especially delving into the Russian philosophical side of things, haha. The particular flavor of, ah, graphic detail is definitely an acquired taste though.

 

Alas, I will not be counting this one for any of my on-going challenges.

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review 2016-06-16 13:23
A female protagonist with a secret life, a few issues and a pretty special serial killer
Wings of Mayhem (The Mayhem Series Book 1) - Sue Coletta

I’m writing this review as part of Rosie’s Book Review Team. Thanks to Rosie Amber and to the author, Sue Coletta, who provided me with a free copy of the novel in exchange for an honest review.

I hadn’t read any books by the author before but the description of this novel, the first in a new series, caught my attention. I read thrillers often and it’s sometimes difficult to come across a book that finds a new angle on the subject or has something to offer to make it worthwhile for the avid reader of the genre. In this particular book, the main protagonist of the novel, Shawnee Daniels, is pretty special. She is a forensic computer analyst working for the police by day, but she has a double life and is a cat burglar by night. But although we learn that she used to be a fully-fledged cat  burglar at some point, she’s now a Robin Hood-like figure, stealing from baddies (mostly rich people who’ve committed fraud or come into their money by other devious means) to give to good causes. (Later in the novel somebody tells her that turns her into a vigilante, although she does not use violence and is a complete novice to things like firearms. I understand their argument but I’m not fully convinced.) In one of her nocturnal excursions, she picks ups valuables (gold, diamonds, a puzzle box and other trinkets) from a fraudster’s house. Rather than leaving with her booty she can’t help herself, and making good the well-known adage, her curiosity gets her into a whole lot of trouble. She discovers the hidden lair of the latest serial killer, ‘the Creator’. The description of what this murderer does to his victims (very twisted and extreme) made me think of one of the other reviewers in the team who used to teach Anatomy. Indeed this is not for readers who like tame mysteries, as there is explicit violence and a great deal of detail.

The story is told mostly from Shawnee’s point of view, in the first person, although towards the end we have some chapters from one of the detective’s point of view, Levaughn Samuels, a very attractive cop and Shawnee’s love interest. Indeed the novel is not only a hardboiled psychological thriller, but it has elements of romance (with some sex and all, not the most explicit I’ve ever read but not squeaky-clean either), with a somewhat idealised Leavaughn (he’s not only attractive, but loves Shawnee despite not knowing her very well, and accepts her, no matter how much she lies or the things she hides for him, and he’s OK with her shady life too. And yes, he’s there to protect her, even when she resists his best efforts).

Shawnee is a fascinating character. I hope we’ll get to learn more about her in future books, because although we get some snippets of information (we know her parents died and she was brought up in foster homes where bad things happened, and we learn that she later became a cat burglar and is very good at it. She’s also great with computers), but a lot remains unexplained. She appears strong and savvy, but she’s emotionally frail, has low self-esteem and she alternates between being self-confident to the point of boastfulness, and presenting as insecure at other times. She makes terrible decisions, and at times I wanted to shake her for being so selfish and egotistical, only interested in her survival.  Because of her insistence in dealing personally with everything and not confessing to her double life to protect herself, other people suffer, and are put at great risk, even her loved ones. Her self-control goes to pieces when the serial killer kills one of her cats, and she becomes totally undone when the Creator attacks her best friend (who is a bit of a comedy character, by turns the voice of her conscience but at others completely reckless). Even then, she has a talent for making her troubles worse by talking too much and being rush.

The serial killer, Jack Delsin, is also fascinating, although we only get to know him indirectly, through his actions that at times are also very puzzling. In many ways, Jack and Shawnee are mirror images and parallel characters. Jack has his reasons (I won’t share any major spoilers but when you read the book you’ll see what I mean) for what he does, he is an ‘artist ‘and takes pride in his work (and this is reflected in the comments by some of the policemen and the FBI agent), he also has a hidden life, and loves dogs (Shawnee has her cats). He also enjoys the game of cat and mouse and the challenge(or cat and dog) and is very skilled at tracking people and reading and understanding them. The connection between the two becomes clearer towards the end and it goes some way to explaining Shawnee’s attitude and her comments at the end of the novel (sorry, I can’t say more).

I enjoyed the story, the match of the main characters’ wits ensures plenty of surprises, twists and turns, and there isn’t a moment’s boredom as the pace is relentless. I’d recommend it to readers who enjoy thrillers with a fair share of explicit detail and violence, characters who’ll keep them on their toes, and an element of romance. You’ll be scared and worried, it will make you think, and it even has its comedic moments (two bad decisions don’t make a good one, and taking your friends with you is perhaps not advisable if you’re a cat burglar).  I wasn’t always convinced by the character’s changes and inconsistencies, and I felt that the element of romance and the role Levaughn ends up playing undermined the strength of the main character (I liked the ending but…). The series has plenty of room to explore the main characters’ psyche and there are unresolved issues and mysteries that will make us come back for more. I have the feeling that it will go from strength to strength.

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