Wednesday, 30 July 2014

The Heckler

'She came in like a lady, that April.'
McBain follows the poetic line with a calm, hopeful beginning in this 12th visit to Isola. He brings an air of shy innocence to the intro chapter with the cool, pale personification of the early Spring month being a gentle lady that cheers the populace with her approach. But on with the mayhem.
Carella is trying to solve the case of a close range shotgun killing - the victim stripped down to his socks. Meyer Meyer investigates a spate of threatening calls. It's good to see Frankie Hernandez getting a fairer crack of the whip than his first appearance.
This one really is a corker, with a villain who towers above the usual brand of none to smart lawbreakers, a Moriarty figure, a master of probability and percentages, who flaunts his complex scheme, inspired by the Sherlock Holmes stories, one of which Detective Kling coincidentally reads in the squad room -  "The Adventure of the Red-Headed League".
 McBain's writing is great here with so much going on from the absurdly intricate caper to the captivating collection of characters that doesn't end with just the regulars. Speaking of regulars - where's Cotton Hawes got to? Not that I'm missing him at all. From the gentle beginning, through the tangled investigation, true suspenseful tension and climactic finale I've got to say this was one of the best so far.
My edition had a fascinating little afterword by McBain on the book and the series so far. Miss at your peril.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Hell is Empty

 When you open the show with some law enforcement types transporting a bunch of psycho killers across country in a van you pretty well know what's coming. One of those law enforcement types is my old buddy Sheriff Walt Longmire and the country is the foothills of the Big Horn mountains in Wyoming, alreaded well blanketed in winter's snow and there's more on the way. Deputy Saizarbitoria (Sancho) is working his way through a bunch of book lists provided by his friends and colleagues (the full set of lists is published at the back). Currently he's mired in the substantially weighty tome of Inferno. Before long the prisoners turn the tables and wreak havoc before high-tailing it into the mountains. Walt sets off in pursuit, with Dante's masterwork his most constant companion. Now at this stage I'd usually start grumbling about Johnson breaking the Longmire formula again by dropping the usual ensemble cast into their off stage limbo waiting for their curtain call at the epilogue but this one is really well done. Yeah it's pretty much a solo piece following Walt's pov, with a few cameos from a few familiar faces but it's far from being a cliched thriller despite the somewhat stock-plot opening. It's actually very well realised, fusing the themes and philosophical ideas of Dante's allegorical satire with Walt's relentless strivings to save the innocent, get up close and personal with his spirituality and basically come to terms with his own place in the world. It's a voyage of self discovery as much as a cops and bad guys chase through the snow. 
It works on both levels though. It's also a big plus that the chase up the mountainside actually takes place in a real place. There really is a Cloud Peak and it's just as Johnson describes.
In the previous book the author gave the readers what they wanted; a full ensemble, a light humourous tone and no damn flashbacks. Walt's propensity for getting a bit beaten up was duly sent up but in Hell is Empty Johnson takes things to a new level and it's no joke. But Walt's wry style of humour is still there. Walt wouldn't be Walt without it. 
I do wonder though how things would have turned out if Sancho had plumped for The Poems of Emily Dickinson.