Wake Up and Die, by Jack Lynch****

wakeupanddieThis book is the fourth in the series featuring Peter Bragg; the series was nominated for the Edgar Award and twice for the Shamus Award. I’ve read three others in the series already, so imagine my delight when I located this book, formerly published as Sausalito, among the DRC’s offered by Brash Priority Readers Circle.

And apologies to my readers: I originally published this review under a different title. I use my Goodreads account to organize my shelves, a lazy, easy way to keep track of what I am reading (usually 6-8 books at a time); what is waiting to be read next; what I have, own, and intend to read later; and even what books I don’t have and hope to get. The weak link, as was proven here, is that when a book’s title changes, Goodreads’s new owner, Amazon, is very restrictive about accepting new titles. In years past, since I am a Goodreads volunteer librarian, all I had to do to personally add a title and book jacket was either scan it physically, or send a relevant link to the superlibrarians (the ones that get paid), and they would drop it into the website.

Not anymore.

Before I knew it I was confused, and since I knew I had two Bragg titles to read and had just finished one, I assumed it was that of the single book jacket on my Goodreads page. There is a cost to letting someone else’s system organize one’s reading, and this is it. So this review was originally published on this blog as The Dead Never Forget, which is the first Bragg title and which I have not yet read. My apologies again to my readers and to Brash Books.

Like most Peter Bragg mysteries, this one is set in the Bay Area. A huge development is about to built on the waterfront, complete with a convention center and any number of hotels and restaurants. The problem arises when the residents of area houseboats protest the likelihood that they will be shut out. Bragg is working a different case, one involving pornographic photos that have been sent to the subject’s father, when he finds himself on the waterfront near his home helping to get people and pets to safety after a suspicious fire breaks out. A murder is discovered and before you know it, all hell has broken loose.

The setting is the 1990’s, shortly before the internet changed all of our lives. It is actually a contemporary setting because this is when the mystery was written, but now as it is re-released, it feels like a noir setting, because all of the telephones are land lines and all files are on paper buried in metal cabinets. In this sense, I think the series actually benefits from the time lag.

The novel is ambitious, bouncing us from one setting to another and introducing a large number of characters. I had trouble keeping track of them all. I might have wondered whether my mind was getting old and rusty but for the fact that I was reading a different galley at the same time with even more characters, and the latter left me with no doubt whatsoever who each one was.

On the plus side is not only our opportunity to meet the detective in his first criminal investigation, but I also like the way issues of race and gender are treated; appropriate and at times quite zesty without ever appearing to be self-consciously PC or awkward. There is a moment toward the end that made me want to stand up and cheer! This moment took what was about to be a three star review and bounced it back up to four stars.

On the downside, in addition to the confusion engendered by too frequently hopping between undeveloped characters and situations, there’s an over-the-top moment that some readers will enjoy, but that I found was too much for me: too much vigilantism, too violent, and over the top on my personal ick-meter.

Those that are fans of Jack Lynch will want to read this newly-republished mystery in order to introduce themselves to a kick-ass series. Those that love good mysteries and/or fiction set in the San Francisco area should also get this book and read it.

Why not spend a weekend curled up with Peter Bragg?

Die for Me, by Jack Lynch *****

dieformePeter Bragg, old-school detective, gets a visit from someone he used to know. She’s working as a psychic now, and the spirits are restless indeed. Not only does she see disquieting visions of dead people that haven’t been discovered yet, but she also sees a threat that is closer and more personal. She fears she may become a victim as well. Thanks go to Brash Books and Net Galley for permitting me to read this via DRC; originally written in the latter part of the 20th century, they are being re-released digitally now.

I confess that a few times, in reading this absorbing novel, my BS meter started ticking. This detective apparently has no income, yet he is spending plenty and refuses to bill Marianne, the psychic with the unsettling news. And as the hillside is combed by legions of cops, I wondered where the cadaver dogs are. Couldn’t they just bring them out to the site, once it is found, and let them sniff up the bodies?

But as I may have mentioned before (and before, and before), a really good writer can make me believe anything, and a lousy one can’t sell me a thing. And the fact is, Lynch is a good writer. So I set aside my snarky moment of disbelief and dove in to see where this story was headed.

Ultimately, there are a surprising number of unquiet spirits resting in the hills near Sonoma. Who could have a grudge against this many people? Is it possible Marianne is involved in it somehow? The suggestion that one person may have been the intended victim and the rest merely killed as window dressing is quickly laid to rest. That’s not it. And just wait till you see what’s behind it all!

Well my friends, the world is full of crazy folks. Fortunately, it’s also full of mystery and detective novel mavens. And as I gnawed voraciously at this episode in the Bragg series, I found myself wishing Lynch were still among us so he could introduce us to a few more fictional nut bars.

Sadly, he isn’t, and he can’t, but the good news is that you can get this one. If you love a good detective novel, you should snap up the whole series. It’s hard to put down once you begin! And it’s available in August. I’ll bet you could order it now. By the time it comes, it will be a surprise, one you gave yourself.

Are you still here? Go! Get this story. You’ll be glad you did.

Truth or Die, by Jack Lynch *****

truthordie“These fellows in their cammies offering their guns for hire would know about things like T-ambushes, wind drift and long-range rifle fire, and maybe a boobie trap or two. I knew about close-in fire, street work and fear.”

Originally published under the title “Monterey”, this is the sixth installment in the Peter Bragg series, and the pace is as taut as piano wire. Don’t count on falling asleep just after you finish it; allow time for your heart to stop pounding and your blood pressure to ease up a bit. It’s an outstanding thriller that left me breathless.

It’s a shame the writer is no longer living and can’t write a bazillion more novels for us to enjoy; he could wiggle a finger and I would follow him anywhere. His series does not have to be read in order; this one is great as a stand-alone novel. And by now I am also supposed to have told you that thanks to Net Galley and the lovely fellows at Brash Books, I read this free as a DRC. Had it cost me actual dollars, it would have been well worth it.

Bragg is back in California where he belongs, and he’s spending some time with girlfriend Allison Stone. Whilst on vacation, however, an old friend of Bragg’s is widowed, and is a suspect in her husband’s murder. She’s not a very nice person; in fact, she’s a pain in the ass. But Bragg is convinced of her innocence, and she has even gone to her relatives, hat in hand, in order to come up with his fee. He’s in it now, and Bragg always plays to win.

Though it’s set in the 1980’s, the lack of technology (no satellites; when you are stuck out there alone, you are seriously alone!) and Bragg’s hard-boiled demeanor give this series a strong noir flavor. I appreciate a detective that knows he needs to have his gun handy. This is the USA, for heaven’s sake! Bad guys always pack heat. We retired school teachers can stay inside, lock the door, and let the dog guard our homes, but Bragg is chasing bad guys, and he goes in prepared. It’s a good thing he does.

When things start to heat up, he tells Allison that the situation has become dangerous, and she should hop a plane to San Francisco. He’ll take her to the airport himself. And she says she’s not doing that anymore; she needs to know what it’s like to live with his vocation. They’re getting serious; he wants her to marry him. Let’s find out right now what this whole thing is like.

Turns out, that’s a terrible idea.

Bragg is such a strong protagonist, and the way Lynch bounces his street-smart persona off the smug, wealthy folk that live in Carmel, Bel Sur, and other hoity-toity beauty spots is masterful. The climax made me want to stand up and cheer. What a total bad ass! Way to go.

The best news of all is that this little hummer was released digitally in February, so you can have it right now.

Don’t leave home without it!

The Missing and the Dead, by Jack Lynch *****

themissingandthedeadJerry Lind is missing, which is especially strange, given that he knows he is about to inherit a small fortune. It seems unlikely that he would take off for a long time without letting someone know about it. He ought to be back by now. Moreover, the next people in line to inherit his share are also wondering if he is okay. Not that they hope he isn’t. Of course not! And at this point I have to break my narrative to let you know that I was fortunate enough to get this DRC free, courtesy of Net Galley and Brash Books. It was previously published in the 1980’s and is just now being released digitally.

Back to Jerry. No, never mind, forget him for a minute. Let’s talk about our assassin.

Our assassin is not getting any younger, and his wife is exhausted from all the moves. Every time he carries out a contract, they have to either abandon their stuff or get a truck, and over years and years of professional killing, it wears a woman down. She wants a garden. From now on, he needs to either make do with the significant amount he’s squirreled away from his successful if messy business, or he’s going to have to goddamn hide the bodies.

It’s the least he can do for her.

Peter Bragg is our man. Jerry’s sister hires him to go to Barracks Cove, where Jerry was supposed to be running a professional errand, and see if he can’t track him down. And Bragg goes in prepared. If you are sick of reading wussy narratives that give flimsy reasons for the intrepid sleuth not to carry a gun and make sure he has bullets, this is your guy, and this is your story. Has he ever fired that thing? Oh yes. But not just for practice…in the line of duty? Again, oh hell yes.

And it’s a good thing, as it turns out.

By the time the thing is over, a great deal of action has taken place, and though I am a six-to-eight book-at-a-time reader, the urgent, taut narrative (reminiscent somewhat of the Richard Stark detective novels from about the same period) grabbed me by the front of my shirt and held me there until the last page was turned.

It was nominated for an Edgar, and the clever juggling of setting and character development, along with a plot line that is unbelievably lean and compelling, will probably leave you wondering, as it did me, why he was denied and just who exactly did get it.

The consolation? If you have a kindle, you can read this book right now. Change the window on your screen and order it up. You’ll have an excellent weekend…if you can wait that long!