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The Bottoms, by Joe R. Lansdale

DETAILS

Title: THE BOTTOMS
Author: Joe R. Lansdale
Publisher: Vintage Crime
ISBN: 9780307475268
Genre: Crime Fiction

BACKCOVER BLURB

It’s 1933 in East Texas and the Depression lingers in the air like a slow moving storm. When a young Harry Collins and his little sister stumble across the body of a black woman who has been savagely mutilated and left to die in the bottoms of the Sabine River, their small town of Marvel Creek is instantly charged with tension. When a second body turns up, this time of a white woman, there is little Harry can do from stopping his Klan neighbours from lynching an innocent black man. Together with his younger sister, Harry sets out to discover who the real killer is, and to do so they will search for a truth that resides far deeper than any river or skin colour.

WHAT I THOUGHT

The Bottoms should be a poignant coming of age story about 11 year-old Harry Collins and his 9 year-old sister, Tom (Thomasina) as narrated by Harry. Sadly though, it isn’t. Lansdale really knows how to set and dress a scene, and is almost lyrical in some of his descriptions of place and people, but again and again, we are jolted out of the story by the use of graphic and vulgar language. And while we are not given a first-person account of what happened to the murder victims as young Harry is our narrator, Lansdale makes up for it in other ways by having others visually describe the victim’s injuries in painful detail. This doesn’t make for tense storytelling, but detracts from the over-all narrative as there seems to be no consequences. Characters wince and nod they are sorry and carry on as if it’s okay because the victims, for the most part, were coloured prostitutes.

I understand Lansdale is trying to show how it might have been during this era, in the 30s, during segregation and the different lives whites and coloureds lived. But at times it comes across as patronizing and a little too cliched. Which is a shame, as the character of Harry is charming, and his interactions with his father are rewarding. As are his interactions with Miss Maggie. There are, some priceless moments.

A frustrating read because this story (at times) unfolded beautifully, and we really feel a sense of place and time, only to be jerked out with what felt like shock value descriptions. Maybe necessary once to make your skin crawl and get across how horrific the serial killer is, but certainly not several more times through out. It’s denigrating on a number of levels.

For me reading The Bottoms was a missed opportunity by the author. It could have been written so differently and, as a result, truly been something of a classic. If, and that’s a big IF, if the racial tensions had been given a little more consideration, and treated with a little more dignity. With a few less cliched depictions of the coloureds, the Klan and, in general, the townsfolk. Instead, what could have been a thoroughly enjoyable read, became tedious.

Not a book I would recommend and, because of my own personal view on the quality of the writing, I would rate it only 3-stars. This is most definitely not To Kill A Mockingbird, as some would have you believe.


Note:
There also seems to be a discrepancy between names, in my version of The Bottoms, Harry’s family name is Collins. Other versions (as reviewed by Kirkus) have the family name as Crane.

A Twist of the Knife, by Becky Masterman

DETAILS

Title: A TWIST OF THE KNIFE (Book #3)
Author: Becky Masterman
Publisher: Penguin
ISBN: 9781250074515
Genre: Murder-Mystery/Suspense

BACKCOVER BLURB

Ex-FBI agent Brigid Quinn has seen it all, and survived.

But nothing can cut her closer to the bone than family…

Now happily retired in Arizona, Brigid gets called back to her home in Florida where her dad is suffering from pneumonia and her mother is suffering from chronic passive-aggression. Spending time with her dysfunctional family is not her fav thing, so when a close colleague asks for her help in overturning the conviction of a man on death row for killing his wife and three children, Brigid’s spirits are lifted.

Taking on the entire criminal justice system is easier for her than dealing with her embattled parents. That is, until Love rears its ugly head and Brigid suspects her colleague is going rogue even more than she ever did…

WHAT I THOUGHT

A TWIST OF THE KNIFE is a good, old-fashioned whodunit updated for modern sensibilities, with enough twists and turns to keep you guessing who did what, and why. But this is no walk in the park murder-mystery, this is also a cleverly written tale of wrong doing, serious, gripping and yes, in places, droll and witty. Thanks in part to Masterman’s two gritty, determined characters, hard-core senior citizen and ex-FBI agent, Brigid Quinn, who isn’t averse to getting the job done, and FBI agent, Laura Coleman.

Two very different women; two very different sensibilities that make for a great dynamic. Both bound by a shared experience that has left scars on both their psyches and souls. Masterman puts Quinn and Coleman through the wringer both physically, and emotionally, as they race to undercover new evidence to save an innocent man, on death row. But nothing is ever as it seems.

As her father lays dying in the hospital, Brigid has to contend with not only new revelations about her childhood, and more, both parents. But the fact that Laura just might be more involved with a convicted murderer, than she cares to admit. And as the pair try to race the clock, time ticks down, leads fizzle and die, and just when you think they might save the day, the plot takes a nasty twist.

With a great cast of well-delineated characters that range from a small-time loan shark, to Brigid’s brother, Todd, who she has some snappy arguments with, to the crusading Alison Samuels hellbent on seeing Creighton executed, Brigid has her hands full. Never mind her confessional mother. It’s the glimpses inside Quinn’s head that makes A Twist of the Knife a cut above the rest and how the story unfolds through her eyes, showing us how the characters not only develop but react and move the plot forward.

An excellent read and, it must be said, an excellent series from Masterman. Another solid four-star outing you’re not going to want to put down!

Note:
#1 Rage Against The Dying
#2 Fear of The Darkness

Deep Blue Trouble, by Steph Broadribb

DETAILS

Title: DEEP BLUE TROUBLE
Author: Steph Broadribb
Publisher: Orenda Books
ISBN: 9781910633939
Genre: Thriller/Suspense

BACKCOVER BLURB

Single-mother Florida bounty hunter Lori Anderson’s got an ocean of trouble on her hands. Her daughter Dakota is safe, but her cancer is threatening a comeback, and Lori needs JT—Dakota’s daddy and the man who taught Lori everything—alive and kicking.

Problem is, he’s behind bars, and heading for death row.

Desperate to save him, Lori does a deal, taking on off-the-books job from shady FBI agent Alex Monroe. Bring back on-the-run felon, Gibson “The Fish” Fletcher, and JT walks free. Following Fletcher from Florida to California, Lori teams up with local bounty hunter Dez McGregor and his team. But Dez works very differently to Lori, and the tension between them threatens to put the whole job in danger. With Monroe pressuring Lori for results, the clock ticking on JT’s life, and nothing about the Fletcher case adding up, Lori’s hitting walls at every turn. But this is one job she’s got to get right, or she’ll lose everything.

WHAT I THOUGHT

Steph Broadribb does it again. She’s followed up a hugely successful debut novel featuring bounty hunter, Lori Anderson, and goes one better—knocking this out of centre field for a sure-fired home run! It’s difficult for any author to follow up a debut novel and score lightning in a bottle once, but twice? Oh, yeah, trust me when I say this one is electric from beginning to end.

Broadribb’s sophomore novel picks up a few days after where the first one ends, and just keeps on going at full-throttle. The pace and tension never give up, never stop, and make for a fast, nerve-jangling read. As Lori puts it all on the line for her daughter and love, JT.

Along with a few returning characters, FBI agent, Malone, whose pressuring Lori on one side, and JT now banged up in prison awaiting trial, we meet Red, a retired PI who’s a voice of reason to Lori. And fellow bounty hunter, and his team, Dez McGregor. At first, Lori locks horns with McGregor and the idea of working in a team—at Malone’s insistence—but, in the end, after a botched raid into Mexico to capture Fletcher goes sideways, both begin to trust and respect each another. But not without a few bumps in the road. Not to spoil it for readers, we know from book one how strong willed and single minded Lori can be, and working with others has never been in her skill-set, which just adds to the tension.

Throw into the already charged mix Fletcher’s mistress, Mia, and her volatile gangster-associate husband, and you have several subplots and tightly woven threads, that unravel and tighten as Broadribb leads us on a merry chase. Unlocking clues along the way and blindsiding us, the reader, never mind Lori.

The dialogue is smart, snappy, tense, and spot on, while the characters themselves are as real and flawed as they come. Brittle, tough, antsy, everyone is hiding a personal secret. Secrets that are slowly revealed through out, which just add great layers to the cast, who you can readily identify with. Yes, even Fletcher and Mia who, in the end, are two star-crossed lovers who you can at least sympathize with, in part, due to their circumstances.

Broadribb, gives everyone a complexity that you don’t often see and does it with ease. Her characters pop along with the story, that leaves you breathless as we ride along on Lori’s emotional roller coaster ride—racing from Florida to San Diego, Mexico and back. Leave your tourist guides at home, and strap on your body armour, this is going to get rough.

Can she figure it out, can she find the strength get the job done, and can she put all the fragmented pieces together in time? You bet your damn life she can.

Up there with the best of them, Steph Broadribb is one to watch for. Don’t miss out on some great writing, join the fan club now!