M is for Malice

One of the reasons I like Tony Hillerman and Sue Grafton so much is the continuity of the main characters. Almost all of their books have the same main characters and it’s fascinating to witness their development.

With Hillerman, I came along in the middle of the stories about Navajo tribal policemen Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn. I read them out of order, so even though Hillerman is the top dog as far as I’m concerned, it would have even been better if I’d started them in chronological order and went from there (something I will do before I die).

My experience with Grafton has been ideal. I started at the beginning, with A is for Alibi, and have grown with Kinsey Millhone, the main character, over the last 13 books. This book, M is for Malice, is probably the most in-depth study thus far of Kinsey’s emotional state. Grafton really digs into Kinsey’s familial relationships and dredges up some past loves, and the mystery at hand hits especially close to home for this single, thirty-five year old, female private investigator who loves fast food. I’m not going to dig into the plot but to say that it was another solid effort and I enjoyed it thoroughly.

I think that Grafton sometimes tries to hard to make Kinsey kind of quirky cool. Kinsey is cool enough without hearing more about how she doesn’t care about her hair or only has one dress-up outfit (unlike your average woman I guess). I’m not sure why I perceive this, but it could be because I read so few books by women. I just noticed it near end of this book; in the last 34 books, I’ve only read two female authors, Grafton and Casey. And there are none in the hopper, save for more of Grafton. It’s not intentional, but what does that make me? An idiot? A chauvinist? Or are there just more male writer’s than female so I don’t have any choice?

I think of my taste in books as flexible, wide-ranging, varied, open-minded, but am I fooling myself? I gotta dig into this issue…


By Order of the President

Boy oh boy, I’m fired up. I’ve never read any W.E.B. Griffin, but the guy can spin a yarn. It fires me up because it’s a new discovery for me in the genre of military fiction, which is something I’ve gotten away from the past few years. I read the first five or six Tom Clancy novels as soon as they came out, but I just tired of them. I think it was because I felt the characters were kind of hollow and there were too many military and intelligence technicalities.

Not so with Griffin. He has created a pretty deep and complicated character in Charley Castillo. This is the first one of what is called the Presidential Agent Novels. Castillo is a decorated army officer working for the director of Homeland Security and the President asks him personally to follow up on the disappearance of a plane from an airport in Angola. This sets off a huge, inter-agency, global search for this plane. Terrorists, shady Russian arms dealers, the FBI, the Philadelphia police, the CIA, the NSA, Delta Force, and Castillo’s ultra-cool half-brother are involved. It’s an excellent story.

Besides the story, I love Griffin’s methods. First of all, there’s a ton, I mean a ton, of dialogue. The story rages along with conversations on cell phones, radios, and fact-to-face. He often will only let you hear one side of the phone conversation because it’s usually interrupting another conversation happening at the same time.

Second, there is a lot of first-person thinking going on. The reader knows it’s one of the characters thinking because he just italicizes it. It’s often a conversation within a conversation but very easy to follow. I really liked the technique a lot.

And finally, he just peppers this thing with interesting, humorous, and often touching military stories. They are not necessarily part of the plot line, but added to expand on a certain issue. I have to believe they are based on the truth. For instance, he tells the story of an ex-military guy that becomes a millionaire after starting a hi-tech communications company and eventually donates some serious communications equipment to Delta Force because he feels duty bound to do so. It was really a cool short story that I did not see coming.

I can’t wait to read the other books in this series. In fact, I may grab another Clancy or Ludlum along the way. I am not sure why I have forsaken the spy/international intrigue/military intelligence novel. But I think they’re back in.


Skeleton Man

If you would have told me 20 years ago that my most enjoyable and anticipated reading experiences would be crime novels about two Navajo tribal policemen that take place in the area where Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Arizona meet, I would have called you crazy. I would have grabbed my Robert Ludlum or Tom Clancy novel and laughed in your face.

But here I sit, having just finished another fine story about Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn, and I can safely say that in my estimation, there is no other fiction writer that fires on all cylinders as consistently as Hillerman. Here are a few of the great things about Tony Hillerman’s writing.

  • The relationship between Leaphorn (sage, retired cop) and Chee (young cop that occasionally bucks the system) is pitch perfect. Nothing is overdone and it’s very believable.
  • You are transported into a fascinating world of unfamiliar Native American customs in the arid landscape of the four corners region of the western US. Each book invariably brings outsiders into this world and the ensuing clash of cultures is an added twist on how the mystery shakes out.
  • Chee’s ongoing struggles with finding the perfect woman provide some great character depth but are never too obtrusive in the mystery at hand.

This current adventure has all of the above ingredients. Chee is months out from marrying former police officer Bernie Manuelito and in the middle of investigating a robbery and murder where the accused is a young nephew of Chee’s good friend, Officer Dashee. Chee and Dashee set off to slot-canyon country to dig up some evidence and Manuelito convinces them to bring her along. What was expected to be a routine evidence-gathering turns out to be perilous, and all sorts of intrigue erupts.

You can’t go wrong.


L is for Lawless

Recently my print selections have been pretty heavy and each took awhile to get through. The last book I read was some complicated sci-fi that I never understood; before that it was a depressing work of fiction by Philip Roth. Maybe that’s why I have been reading so little lately…coupled with the fact that my reading trails off a lot during the summer because I just spend a lot of time outside.

That brings us to Sue Grafton and the twelfth Kinsey Millhone mystery (I’ve read the first eleven in order). As I’ve stated, I’m a big fan of the mystery/thriller genre and Sue Grafton does not disappoint. If I am up for some mindless fiction, I just grab one. In fact, I bought seven of them (in paperback) on eBay about a year ago and I still have two or three left. Just a lotta good fun.

The main character is this surly, 30 something female private detective that lives in the fictional town of Santa Theresa, CA. The town, I think, is really Santa Barbara and Kinsey Millhone is Grafton’s fantasy life had she not gotten married and had kids. There’s all sorts of picking locks, eating fast food, catching bad guys, and other sorts of hooey. Did I just use the word hooey? What the $%*^ is going on?

Rack it up as another good one. You can’t go wrong with Grafton.



This is pure, unadulterated, escapist fiction. The plot is implausible with huge gaps. The women are all beautiful and the bad guys are all huge and ugly. The main character is virtually indestructible, smarter than all of his foes, and quick with the quip. But I do not apologize…because I’m traveling.

That’s right, I’m spending a long weekend out of town. When I travel, I bring along trash fiction in paperback form because it’s easy to carry. When I’m done, I just leave it wherever. In fact, I keep a backlog of paperbacks for travel and just grab one or two on the way out the door. I definitely don’t want to haul around a hardcover and I don’t like reading anything too intense on a trip. If it’s a business trip, I usually work longer hours and I’m not going back to the hotel and reading something that takes concentration. If it’s pleasure, heck, the beach and trash fiction were made for each other.

This is Child’s seventh book and I’ve read them all, in order. The main character in each book is a guy named Jack Reacher. Reacher was an MP in the army for 10-15 years before he got laid-off in the armed forces reduction-in-force that took place in the 1990’s. He doesn’t have any family left and, since he grew up as a military kid, he doesn’t even have a hometown. He took his severance package and his life savings and socked them away in a bank account and now he just sort of knocks around the mainland. He carries no credit cards, has no car, and has no permanent mailing address. If he needs money, he has his bank wire some cash to Western Union or something. Hey, I told you it was implausible.

Let me make this proclamation though: Jack Reacher is the toughest dude in the history of fiction. I’m talking books, film, or TV, excluding sci-fi and fantasy of course. Let me show you my latest ranking of the toughest dudes not endowed with any sort of super powers:

  1. Jack Reacher
  2. Walker, Texas Ranger
  3. Jason Bourne
  4. John Rambo
  5. Dirk Pitt

If you want to debate it, just throw some other candidates at me and I will shoot them down. Once I start regaling you with Jack Reacher stories you will understand.

In this edition, Reacher gets yanked into helping a DEA agent who is trying to bust some bad guys. The DEA agent is a woman, and of course, she’s beautiful. She finds Reacher because he had an old army contact run the plate of a car that Reacher saw a former nemesis enter. This plate popped up on some DEA watch list or something because it’s owned by a bad man. So, coincidentally, the DEA contacts Reacher to help them bust this very same guy. Reacher cannot resist. He, of course, puts himself into dangerous situations despite pleas from his colleagues to get out. Along the way he kills a bunch of dudes and makes the women swoon.

Not much else I can say. I had a good time while I was reading it.