Private Investigator in 1940s Los Angeles

private investigator in 1940s Los AngelesEzekiel “Easy” Rawlins makes a likeable protagonist. As Devil in a Blue Dress begins, he’s just been fired from a job at a defense plant. In order to pay the mortgage payment on his new little house, Easy works as a private investigator in 1940s Los Angeles for a strange, white gangster.

Rawlins’ search for a white, blonde-haired female last seen wearing a unique blue dress takes the reader all over the late-1940s Los Angeles area. He finds the female but allows her to slip through his fingers. Easy benefits to some degree from money stolen by the woman from the white business owner who’s looking for her. Rawlins later learns the woman’s true identity. This factors significantly into the story told to the police and to the white man paying to have her found. Several folks end up killed, including the gangster who had acted as go-between with Rawlins and the businessman.

Over the course of the story, I came to like Easy Rawlins very much. He’s mostly honest, smart and courageous, although the same can’t be said for some of his so-called friends. By the end of the novel, Rawlins has found himself self-employed. He invested some of the “found” money and some of his investigator’s fee into another house that he rents out. And he takes on cases as a private investigator.

Devil in a Blue Dress (written in 1990) handles race relations as a noticeable subplot. Similarities exist between when the plot takes place – the late 40s – and today. “The thought of paying my mortgage reminded me of my front yard and the shade of my fruit trees in the summer heat. I felt that I was just as good as any white man, but if I didn’t even own my front door then people would look at me like just another poor beggar, with his hand outstretched.”

WANTING MORE

Reading more of Walter Mosley‘s Easy Rawlins series will be no hardship. Mosley’s prose style draws you into the story and holds your attention. I look forward to seeing what he’s been up to since this series opener. Judging by the number of books (15, including Blood Grove, published in 2021), Easy Rawlins has gotten himself into quite a bit of mystery and tight spots.

Van Life – A Great Way to Go Vagabonding

Van Life - A Great Way to Go Vagabonding

Here’s a review of a book, Van Life: Your Home on the Road, by Foster Huntington, that is totally different from my norm of mysteries, memoirs and poetry.

I’ve been thinking for a while that once I’m able to do so, I’d like to live in a camper van. (I currently live with and care for an elderly relative.) At least for a while. I’ve always wanted to travel around the U.S. This seems like a convenient way to do that. I’ve had this desire even pre-pandemic – this is not just lockdown frustration talking.

Interesting concept for this book: photos of various style vans and interviews with some of the owners. The author focuses on 20- and 30-somethings who have spent a short time in a van following the surfing or snow. Including some more mature van owners in the mix might have widened the appeal of the book.

He also highlights various types of vans and the modifications made by the owners. Most were bought second- or third-hand and are by no means upscale camper vans. This isn’t about glamping. (You know—those huge campers on bus chasses that contain everything, including the kitchen sink!) I bought Van Life because, as I said, I’m interested in doing some basic camper living in the future rather than going totally upscale. (Who wants to clean a huge camper? You can stay home and do that…)

Someday this may be my style of life. I’d try to do it a tiny bit more upscale, though, than some of the illustrated vans. But, all told, a great book about an amazing lifestyle that’s not for everyone. Also, great pictures of the places visited by the van owners interviewed.

Here’s a fascinating article about Foster Huntington, author of Van Life: Your Home on the Road.

I have no affiliation with the author nor did I receive a copy of the book.

Van Life: Your Home on the Road
by Foster Huntington
© 2017
Hachette Book Group

 

Scribd – a book subscription service

I just subscribed to Scribd – a digital book subscription service – with a one-month free trial. Rather than slogging with several books to the beach or on vacation, I could just take my tablet. Theoretically…

Scribd encompasses books, audiobooks, magazines and podcasts. It also has other categories that I probably won’t use like sheet music as well as documents and photos uploaded by other users.

Also available are other services like Pandora Plus, which is free with the Scribd membership. (Since I already subscribe to Pandora Plus, I’m not sure this is helpful unless I really like the other parts of Scribd. I could then combine these subscriptions.)

At this point, I’m not sure I’ll continue the Scribd subscription once the free trial is ended. That depends on how much I use it – the $9.99 monthly price seems a bit steep for me right now. I already subscribe to print editions of the magazines I most want to read – plus I dislike reading magazines digitally. Also, although I am extremely interested in podcasts, I never seemed to find the time to listen. (Maybe I can change this habit…hmm.)

So, stay tuned…

Scribd – a book subscription service – provides access to an extensive array of books, audiobooks, etc. If you’re interested in actually purchasing audiobooks, though, try Chirp, which I reviewed here.

Please Pass the Guilt by Rex Stout

Please Pass the GuiltThe Wolfe Pack, which I joined recently, offers discussions about a Wolfe novel every other month. So, I picked up Please Pass the Guilt, the book scheduled for discussion in June.

I’m interested in the Wolfe canon although I have only read one or two, many years ago. I don’t even remember which books I read(!) However, I remember enjoying the witty banter of Wolfe’s assistant, Archie Goodwin.

Rex Stout was prolific – his works run the gamut from mainstream to science fiction. But he is probably best known for his mysteries. Although he wrote non-series mysteries and short stories, the most well-known is the series featuring Nero Wolfe.

In Please Pass the Guilt,  an executive gets killed in another exec’s office. Who was the intended victim? Who was the perpetrator? Even Nero Wolfe is confused at first.

Not one of my favorite mysteries. Even though I’ve enjoyed one or two Wolfe mysteries in the past, this one seemed to run in circles and not really head for the finish line until rather late in the book. Plus, Archie Goodwin, Wolfe’s assistant, has a rather strange conversation and interaction with a female (feminist) suspect he was interviewing.

I did enjoy visiting the brownstone, again, and hearing about the gourmet meals served there. Although not as famous and Holmes’s 221B Baker Street, Wolfe’s brownstone on West 35th Street in Manhattan is very much a character in the Wolfe novels.

If you’ve always wanted to read the Wolfe mystery series by Rex Stout, don’t start with this one. Dedicated Wolfe fans may enjoy this one.

Please Pass the Guilt
by Rex Stout
© 1973
The Viking Press, Inc.

Connubial Corpse – Ghost Wedding Victims?

Thomas J. Thorson‘sConnubial Corpse Connubial Corpse, the second book in the Malcom Winters series, pulls the reader quickly into the story. Sparse but sufficient backstory clues the reader into what’s gone before. (See my blog post about Thornton’s Heirs Apparent.)

Thorson’s spare prose grabs the reader and drives the story inexorably forward. Who’s killing Asian female university students? Winters gets sucked into the mystery when Lily Cheng, an Asian student Vinn (Winters’ girlfriend) teaches, goes missing. What follows is a chase through Chicago’s Chinatown section. Of course, Winters’ eccentric tenants, Leo and Ted/Rebecca, give an assist. So do another of Vinn’s students and an assortment of offbeat acquaintances of Rebecca. The actions of this motley group set in motion a succession of falling dominoes. Included in these tumbling dominoes are Hop Leung, head of the local tongs, and a severed head.

Malcom and Vinn’s relationship has advanced since the series’ debut. It’s stable enough for Malcom to even have some snarky thoughts about Vinn: about “her off-the-charts intelligence” and “ravishing beauty.” Or better yet, when thinking about the larger size of Vinn’s university office compared to Malcom’s: “She also needs the room to hold her outsized intellect.” (Shades of an unreliable narrator here, maybe?)

Other than some minor grammar glitches (using I and myself instead of me in several instances) and nomenclature of Chinese names, this second outing in the Winters series rolls along. It’s also great fun meeting Leo and Rebecca again. And the assorted secondary characters. Nice pace to the plot and great characterization. I’m looking forward to the follow-up to Connubial Corpse.

I received a free copy of Connubial Corpse from the author. All opinions are my own.

Connubial Corpse: A Malcom Winters Mystery Malcom Winters
Thomas J. Thorson
© 2021
Thorshammer Books

Orca and Ayers – Predatory Killers

 

Orca and Ayers - Predatory Killers

Orca by JC Norton does a slow, stealthy burn. Stone Ayers stalks a man as they cruise to Antarctica aboard Polar Adventurer, a luxury expedition ship. Like the orcas, Ayers, a former Special Forces Ranger, is not faint-hearted when it comes to conflict and death. Ayers plans to kill another passenger, of whom he has been contracted to dispose. Orcas and Ayers, predatory killers, is the theme here.

As time passes in Orca’s milieu, Ayers morphs from a ski-loving, IT guy into a contract killer. He works for Dominic Balducci, who has businesses on both sides of the law. Shades of the mafia? Characterization of Ayers and a few of the secondary characters stands out as well done. The story’s pacing is steady, but somewhat sluggish. Much is said about penguins, with other wildlife in that region, such as the huge elephant seals, given short shrift. In fact, only one mention is made of an orca pod. Considering orcas, and by extension, Ayers, are alpha killers, that’s an indirect connection that hits below the radar. 

Orcas and Ayers – predatory killers extraordinaire

Although likeable, Ayers’ compartmentalization of what he really does, is off-putting. He considers his body a machine and killing as “just a job.” To others, he says he works as an IT consultant—true enough as far as it goes. He does have a college degree in information technology. What will happen to his budding relationship to Gudrun, one of the naturalists leading the expedition, if and when she finds out? Granted, Ayers becomes personally involved with a few of the crew members. He even starts considering their passions and feelings. Hopefully, this change continues as the Ayers series progresses.

For me, the ending was anticlimactic. The plot plods a bit too slowly to be suspenseful. For fear of spoilers, I’ll leave it at that. 

Orca
by JC Norton
© 2019

Caribbean Mystery – Strange Characters

Caribbean mysteryA junk-filled, foot-ball-shaped house was all that Calvin Batten inherited. Or so he thought. Then why did every islander he met talk about hidden treasure, high finance, and golden elixirs when speaking about his father, Rhodes Batten? Cal Batten was on Blacktip Island to finalize his late father’s estate. But, Cal finds, things rarely go so smoothly or quickly on Blacktip. What’s going on in The Secret of Rosalita Flats, a Caribbean mystery by Tim W. Jackson?

Blacktip Island is an out-of-the-way, down-on-its-luck Caribbean misfit. It’s small community, from hardscrabble to nouveau riche, is filled with daydreamers and slouchers. A few, it appears, are looking to strike it rich by finding Rhodes Batten’s hidden treasure.

Strange Characters and Stranger Goings On

Who was Rhodes Batten, besides a loner who seemed to have no visible source of income, yet could afford to support a wife and son? Why had Rhodes Batten’s wife suddenly pulled up stakes and moved to the U.S. with her young son, Cal?

Who is Rosie Bottoms and why does she insist on continuing to clean the house after Rhodes’ death? Why are Rich Skerritt and Sandy Bottoms so eager to buy the weird-shaped house and rather useless patch of land? Tensions mount as Cal’s new home is broken into several times during his short stay on the island. Again, why? Cal’s search within the house leads to several rather befuddling clues. Why have significant amounts of money, a computer, flash drives and a satellite phone been stashed in unique hiding places?

When Rosie Bottoms eventually tracks down Rhodes’ will and other important papers, Cal hopes he’ll finally be able to move quickly to close his father’s estate. And resume his so-called-normal life in the U.S. But to what does he have to go back? His divorce is finalized while he’s on Blacktip Island. His small clock shop is virtually moribund. He’s growing accustomed to the oddball house and becoming interested in Marina, a friend from his childhood on Blacktip.

Tim Jackson does a fairly good job illustrating a variety of eccentric and not-on-the-up-and-up characters in this addition to his Blacktip Island series. Pacing gets slightly sluggish in parts, but still pulls the reader towards the culmination of the mystery.

I found The Secret of Rosalita Flats an entertaining Caribbean mystery, overall. I look forward to reading other offerings in the Blacktip Island series.

Private Investigator: New-found friend

Private InvestigatorsIn a recent post I mentioned that what I read leans more toward the exploits of the amateur detective than the private investigator. Well, I guess that’s about to change with Arlana Crane‘s Mordecai’s Ashes.

Extensive forest cover; few main roads. Small waterfront towns and villages where everyone knows just about everyone else. Tourist sites and local pubs, but not many places to disappear. Doesn’t sound like a prime spot for a heavy-weight drug ring to hide in plain sight. But that’s just what Karl Larsson finds in Crane’s debut novel. A drug bust is Larsson’s first big case after inheriting his grandfather’s investigation agency.

Divorced and a bit down on his luck, Karl grabs the chance to leave his combative, estranged family and take up residence in Victoria on Vancouver Island, Canada. Background checks and serving papers to deadbeat dads make up the bulk of Larsson’s initial cases. That is, until an investigative reporter from Vancouver comes calling about a drug cartel. Then, it’s a quick study in undercover methods for Larsson. Good thing he hires his young cousin, Kelsey, as his assistant to keep track of him. After reporting his findings to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, they recruit Larsson to continue his surveillance. What follows is quickly paced and engaging.

KUDOS ARE IN ORDER

Arlana Crane’s depiction of the main characters, Karl and Kelsey Larsson, is spot on. Supporting characters Percy Meiklejohn and Alex Dyson also resound truthfully and strong. Hopefully, we’ll see more of Meiklejohn and Dyson in future installments.

Kudos to Crane for the characterization and pacing in this debut in her Larsson Investigation series. Steady and quick pacing, with a bit of humor thrown in. I didn’t want Mordecai’s Ashes to end. Karl and Kelsey became friends. I’ve found myself two new private investigator companions.

Mordecai’s Ashes
by Arlana Crane
©2020
Big Tree Press

Private Investigators – Search for Justice

When reading mysteries, amateur detectives grab my attention—Miss Marple, Hercule Poirot, Miss Silver—rather than PI series like V. I. Warshawski or Kinsey Millhone. But recently I read two nonfiction books about real-life private investigators. A Suitable Job for a Woman: Inside the World of Women Private Eyes by Val McDermid and Becoming a Private Investigator by Howie Kahn aim to set the record straight. Private Investigators search for justice, truth and the end of corruption.

Private Investigators - search for justice

These books demonstrate that investigators’ lives don’t run to fast cars or blazing guns. Boring hours-long, sometimes fruitless, stakeouts. Frustration from waiting for a call that doesn’t come.  These irritants are more the order of the day.

As the title indicates, McDermid’s book focuses on female private eyes. They worked from the mid to late twentieth century, at a time when women were just entering the private investigation field. Much is made of the difference of approach between some male and female investigators. Machismo, sexism and sleaze cropped up more than once. A bit too much, possibly. Also revealed was that male PIs tended to carry a gun while the female PIs did not.  McDermid’s book was published in 1995. I wonder what, if anything has changed in the intervening 25 years.

Private Investigators - search for justiceKahn’s offering shares part of the work life of a female and male investigator. Both PIs persist over the course of several years to find answers for their clients. Each kept circling around the facts in a case when the facts offered by the authorities didn’t seem to fit. In addition, both worked diligently to change the attitude of the authorities involved. 

MURDER MOST FOUL

The featured PIs’ cases entailed murder and abuse, including rape and child molestation. But cases also run the gamut of financial malfeasance and stock shortages to industrial espionage. On a more upbeat note, long-lost relatives have been reunited through a PI’s efforts. How much more is available for PI surveillance in the current age of online databases for tracking almost anyone? To say nothing of cornering computer hackers. 

A search for justice and truth by all the investigators was a theme throughout both books. Despite working with the sordid ills of humanity, these folks took a deep breath and forged on.

Both books were an interesting read. In McDermid’s book, some of the female PIs read and enjoyed a few of the fictional PI series extant at the time. The only fault found with the fictional PIs? They (or their authors on their creations’ behalf) needed to get a personal life. So, I may begin reading up on Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone or Sara Paretsky’s V. I. Warshawski, or even McDermid’s Kate Brannigan.

 

Audiobooks – Thrills for Your Ears

Audiobooks-thrills for your earsSo far, my blog posts have been about printed material and, occasionally, e-books. But, I have come across a new audiobook service, Chirp. Affiliated with BookBub, Chirp offers an alternative to Audible. A variety of genres are available in a range of prices. Being a lover of Sherlock Holmes, I purchased The Valley of Fear for $1.99 (plus New Jersey sales tax). The narration of this work is excellent. I noticed that prices for the daily deals ranged from $.99 to $4.99. Plus, there is no monthly or annual membership fee. That makes audiobooks thrills for your ears–and your wallet.

The likes of Dashiell Hammett (The Maltese Falcon), David Baldacci (The Fix, Total Control), and Michael Connelly (The Night Fire) are but a few available. I also noticed titles by James Patterson, David Sedaris, Charles Dickens and even Geoffrey Chaucer amongst the offerings.

Others, such as Audible, Scribd and Spotify, offer audiobooks, but at a price. To get the most of these apps, you need to have a membership (Audible, Scribd and Spotify) plus maybe pay for the audiobooks (Audible). At Chirp, the only monetary outlay is for the audiobook itself. With Chirp, you own the audiobook, but who knows what will happen if Spotify decides to discontinue offering them. There are other sites, like LibriVox, that offer free audiobooks, but the narration quality is spotty. Your local library may have books on CDs and offer audiobooks through OverDrive and Hoopla, but do they really have what you want to listen to? And how long is the wait list?

So far, I’m happy with Chirp for the selection of audiobooks, the quality of narration and the price. I’ll continue to scour the digital book world for other audio options. In my opinion, Chirp can bring thrills to your ears, and wallet.