Wednesday, May 17, 2017


Wyoming game warden Joe Pickett feels a little bad about the way Dallas Cates wound up behind bars -- but since Dallas' family was a group of murdering psychopaths and attempted to kill several people, it's not a crippling level of remorse. Although Joe proved mistaken about Dallas' role in the attack on his daughter April, there were no mistakes about his role in the rest of the matter.

But now Dallas is out -- will he target Joe and his family for his own revenge? If he does, will the plot be straightforward or involve a more subtle line of attack? And can Joe, working with his friend Nate Romanowski, stop Dallas when he makes his move?

Those are all good questions, but C. J. Box doesn't summon a lot of vitality in answering them in Vicious Circle. His choice to make Dallas' plan a lot cleverer in Dallas' mind than in reality is a welcome one, since nothing we've seen about the man before now suggests he's some sort of criminal genius. And Joe does use some old-fashioned detective work to look for clues to mount his case against Dallas and his remaining family members. But the whole novel has a listless quality and most of the plot developments are telegraphed well before they happen, lessening any real suspense in the narrative. Now that Box has tied up the loose ends of the Cates family, here's hoping the next Pickett novel can find some oomph and feel a little less phoned in.
Lucas Davenport is no longer an employee of the state of Minnesota, investigating its crimes. He's now a United States Deputy Marshal, given a sort of carte blanche to investigate the cases that interest him or where he can lend a special kind of expertise. A drug dealer ripoff in Biloxi, Mississippi that leaves behind five bodies -- including a child -- is just such a case. And when the scanty evidence points to a vicious and exceptionally skillful thief, Lucas is hooked.

But in Golden Prey, the 27th Davenport novel, Lucas is without his usual information conduits and extensive knowledge of his hunting ground and its residents. He knows Minnesota -- but he doesn't know the five states he'll visit to learn what he needs to know about his quarry. It will stretch his abilities in the hunt, and the presence of two cartel enforcers also tracking the stolen money means whatever clues and witnesses he might find could have a very short shelf life

John Sandford does use the new setting to his advantage in freshening what could have been a fairly standard chase story. Lucas himself wonders -- is he any good without his usual contacts and networks? Can he operate in a much less certain environment? These elements help redeem a rather confusing final act and offer hints of some potential as Lucas adjusts to his new role and situations.
Ace Atkins continues to acquit himself well in extending the life of the late Robert B. Parker's iconic Spenser in Little White Lies as Spenser investigates a case brought to him by his girlfriend Susan Silverman.

Connie Kelly fell for a con man, but she wasn't the only one. M. Brooks Welles seems to have pulled the wool over a lot of eyes, passing himself off on television as an intelligence expert and ex-CIA operative. Of course, Connie was the one who wrote him a check for $300,000, and she would like Spenser to find Welles and get her money back.

When Spenser pursues the case, it turns out that Welles has plenty of secrets -- just not the ones he claims to have. It won't make much difference for Spenser, though, because some of the people with whom Welles shares his secrets are more than willing to get rough to keep them. They'll need to learn that getting rough with Spenser and his friend Hawk is a losing proposition.

As mentioned before, Atkins has done the best of the Parker legacy writers by writing the character of Spenser instead of just aping Parker's style. In this, his sixth outing with the cast, he's got firm hold of the way they interact and how to move their story forward. He delves a little into some backstory for Hawk, but not so much he dilutes the charismatic enforcer's impact. Atkins also handles the Spenser-Susan relationship well, navigating them through a potentially thorny conflict of interests as Spenser tries to learn how to help Connie without compromising Susan's professional ethics.

There's every potential for Atkins to step wrong -- as he's done in his own Quinn Colson series -- and Lies relies a little too much on storylines cribbed from some other Spenser novels. But it's still a good interpretation of our old friends and worth continuing to follow.

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