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Two Period Mysteries

The last couple weeks I’ve completed two newer period mysteries and one fantasy title, all through supplied review copies.  Two of them fit together pretty well because they are both period Americana mysteries.

One is “The Good Know Nothing” by Ken Kuhlken, “A Tom Hickey Novel”  set in 1936 Los Angeles, Catalina Island, and other parts of California.  The book is absolutely steeped in Great Depression California history and characters who actually lived in that era.  The language, the settings, the music– everything about the novel feels authentic to the era.  The cover write-up says this is the last of the Tom Hickey novels.  That’s a shame as I am just getting to know this smart LAPD cop and detective.  It will be worth going back to read the earlier books in the series, but this one stands on its own very well.

Tom Hickey is trying to keep his marriage to a Big Band singer together, be a good father to his young daughter, and still be a good detective for the LAPD.  He also tries to be a good brother to his sister who is a personal assistant to evangelist, Aimee Semple McPherson.  Tom had been the responsible “parent” for his sister since their father disappeared after being accused of killing someone.  Years later, a friend of the family receives a manuscript for a book, “The Death Ship” that had been published under another person’s name, B. Traven, but the friend says their long lost father claims to have written.  The book is considered a modern classic and they attempt to woo the author back.  When someone other than their father shows up, Tom and his sister, Florence, believe their father has been killed by someone who then claimed their father’s work as their own.  The search to find out what happened to their father leads them to the likes of Harry Longabough (aka Sundance Kid), William Randolph Hurst and his mistress Marion Davies.  I was hooked almost from the first chapter on “The Good Know Nothing.”

My second mystery read was another in Reavis Z Wortham’s “A Red River Mystery,” “Dark Places.”  This novel is set in the era of flower children in 1967.  Pepper, the 14 year old grandchild of our protagonist, Constable Ned Parker from Center Springs, Texas, decides to run away with her sometime boyfriend, Cale Westlake in hopes of reaching San Francisco to start a new, carefree life.  The trials and tribulations of being on the road with very little money and no food or supplies soon brings both Cale and Pepper face to face with reality, but not before they run into trouble with some underhanded store owners, some pimps and prostitutes and a bunch of hippies, and a motorcycle gang.  Meanwhile, Ned goes after Pepper and meets up with an American Indian named Crow who has some ulterior motives for helping out.

Dark Places” is a nostalgic ride down Highway 66 from Texas to Barstow exploring some of the darker sides of the “summer of love” in 1967.  I enjoyed this book every bit as much as Worthham’s other books in this series.

Liz Nichols

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Review of Miles Corwin’s Kind of Blue

Miles Corwin’s “Kind of Blue” is a classic police procedural with a complex, lone wolf detective, Ash Levine, as the protagonist assigned to LAPD’s Felony Special unit.

Levine is hired back on the force after a suspension and his subsequent resignation. Despite Levine’s ascerbic personality and a tendency to do his own thing, he has long had the best record for solving crimes in the LAPD. The police brass need his ability to solve crimes quickly to boost their positive PR. They particularly want him to solve the murder of a retired cop. Levine’s own agenda is to go back to solving the robbery and murder of a Korean market owner and the witness he had lined up prior to his suspension.

The title of the book refers to Miles Davis’ jazz album, “Kind of Blue,” one of Levine’s favorites, that he plays during a romantic interlude with a Lebanese-American art dealer. There are some pretty funny sequences between Levine and his Jewish relatives on their opinion about his having a Lebanese girlfriend.

Corwin is a former LA Times crime reporter and a creative non-fiction writer. Corwin obviously has a lot of insight into the workings of the LAPD and other large police departments.

Corwin uses a journalistic style that packs a lot of meaning into each short sentence. He has a way with words that can describe a scene, a feeling or event both descriptively and economically. For example, at the end of the chapter where he has gone to see his would-be girlfriend, Nicole, on a whim it ends: “Now an offshore breeze carried the stench of society garlic–wispy purple flowers that grew in a corner of her yard. The scent of a moldering affair.” Nice.

Levine is not a particularly likeable cop. But you feel for the guy. You recognize that in a very flawed police department he is one of the good guys who worries about protecting his witnesses and is relentless in the pursuit of truth and justice. He’s complex and interesting.

Another good read from Oceanview Publishing which supplied a review copy. This book is due to be released Nov. 1, 2010.

Liz Nichols

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