Murder Book, by Thomas Perry*****

Harry Duncan is a former cop, now a private investigator. His ex-wife, Ellen, is the U.S. Attorney for the region, and she asks him to check out a small town that appears to have a racketeering problem. Is it serious enough to warrant the attention of the FBI? Harry agrees to explore the situation, which turns out to be far more serious than either of them imagined.

My thanks go to Net Galley and Random House for the review copy. This high octane thriller is for sale now.

Perry’s feet have hardly hit the ground in this tiny Indiana backwater before he discovers a protection racket. A local businesswoman is determined not to pay; how can a bar or restaurant pay $300 daily and still stay open? The profit margin just doesn’t allow for it. And the thugs know that. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Rather than give anything away, I’ll just say that there’s more to this than meets the eye in this tiny, out of the way burg.

Perry is king when it comes to details involving stealth and unobtrusive investigation. Whereas a cop cannot use the unorthodox (and okay, illegal) methods that Duncan employs, a consultant can and does, or at least, he can and does in this story.

And if one were to criticize this novel, that’s the soft spot—because almost nothing about this tale is realistic. It’s so much fun to read, though, that by the time I thought, “Wait a minute…” the rest of my thoughts shushed my inner cynic as if it were a noisy jerk in the back row at a movie theater.

Highly recommended.

Billy Bathgate, by EL Doctorow *****

I have to admit, E.L. Doctorow is one of those writers whose work is a sure fire hit for me. I love historical fiction, and I admire great word-smithery. Doctorow is skilled with both.

This one is a period piece, a look at a hard time and the ugly risks that some folks took from desperation and perhaps a misplaced idea of what greatness might look like. To be sure, the government wasn’t exactly setting a good example; those who searched for less-than-conventional means were, in my view, right to reject the American Dream as a lot of smoke and mist. But organized crime is another form of corruption. Doctorow shows that pretty well too.

All told, it isn’t the moral I seek in a book like this, so much as a good story. Doctorow is a master storyteller, and the reader will always get his or her money’s worth.

I buy a lot of books used, but for this man, I pay full cover price and am glad it’s available. A treasure.