The Bookworm: A nail biter and a whodunit!
- By Lou Berney
- c. 2018, Wm. Morrow
- $26.99, $33.50 Canada; 303 pages
Catch me, if you can! And the chase began, one of you the pursuer, the other pursued, racing through park or playground, across the yard, down the sidewalk in a game that children have been playing forever.
Catch me if you can, and escape wins the game. In the new book “November Road” by Lou Berney, escape means another day to live.
On the day after President Kennedy was shot, everything became crystal-clear to Frank Guidry. For years, he’d been Carlos Marcello’s right-hand man, his fixer, his enforcer, the guy Marcello relied on, but something was up. On the day after Kennedy was shot, Carlos’ assistant, Seraphine, told Guidry that he was being sent to Houston to get rid of a car that could connect Marcello to the assassination.
Guidry knew the rest: get rid of the car, then they’d get rid of him. And so he escaped.
When she was dating Dooley, Charlotte Roy knew he drank too much. Two daughters later, too many nights waiting for Dooley to come home, and Charlotte had enough. The President was dead and so was her marriage. Grabbing her daughters and the family dog, she left Woodrow, Oklahoma and headed for California.
When a guy like Carlos Marcello tells you to find someone, that’s what you do, and finding Guidry should been easy for Barone, Marcello’s newest fixer. Sure, there were wrong trails and a little matter of a badly injured hand but he was smarter than Guidry. Finding Guidry was only a matter of time.
Frank Guidry couldn’t relax for a second. Seraphine knew he’d fled Houston and she likely knew how. He’d tried to keep his head low but he figured that Marcello would know what he was driving long before he hit the Texas-New Mexico border. To avoid the guy who was undoubtedly tailing him, he needed to find some sort of disguise, some way to not stick out. He needed to become a family man, quick.
A future divorcee and two kids was just the ticket. When was the last time you had a manicure? Never mind. You won’t have any fingernails left to manicure when you read this book. You’ll have them all chewed off.
That’s because “November Road” is a nail-biter from the first chapter. By then, author Lou Berney has prepared a deliciously scandalous possibility for his readers, centered in a historically unforgettable backdrop, in a cultural-turning-point year, run by characters who kill as casually as they walk. Those guys are terrifyingly ice-cold, in fact, and their presence will make you want to check the other rooms in your home - and if that’s not enough to keep you perched nervously on the edge of your recliner, put a lovely young housewife-almost-feminist innocently in the midst of this tale, add national turmoil and a slinky female mobster with absolutely zero morals, and you’ve got a book that you’ll stay up all night to read.
You’ve got a book you’ll carry around with you.
In “November Road,” you’ve got the perfect escape.
“Death Checks In”
- By David S. Pederson
- c. 2018, Bold Strokes Books
- $18.95, higher in Canada; 235 pages
A nice little getaway. That’s all you wanted: two days alone, just you and your amour, with nothing to do but follow your whims. It would be perfect, idyllic – until it wasn’t, and responsible you won out over romantic you.
As in the new novel “Death Checks In” by David S. Pederson, it’s back to work. Detective Heath Barrington had it all planned out: he and his boyfriend, Officer Alan Keyes would take the train from Milwaukee to Chicago, grab a cab to the downtown area, check into the Edmonton Hotel, and enjoy a wonderful weekend.
It was 1947 and being gay could get a man in trouble, but Heath knew there’d be more anonymity for him and Alan in a larger city. The weather would be perfect for exploring nightclubs and sightseeing; there was plenty of entertainment nearby and a live show with a band inside the Edmonton. That, of course, meant that Alan would need a tuxedo so Heath offered to purchase one for him – which was when the men met Victor Blount, haberdasher.
Blount was a small man with a French accent and a dramatic way about him. He said he was an expert tailor, that he dabbled in photography, and that he could secure “discreet” entertainment for Alan and Heath. That was odd, but Blount wasn’t the only character at the Edmonton: the hotel’s assistant manager was a blustery guy who had his eye on one of the regular guests, a “full-figured,” flirty widow from New York. A dotty old lady from nearby came to the Edmonton often enough for waitstaff to know her preferences. And the one-eyed piano player and his songstress-wife left an impression on Heath by arguing loudly with Blount, who seemed to be overcharging them.
Two days. That’s plenty of time for a romantic rendezvous, had Heath left work alone. But when Blount was found dead in his back room with “W” scrawled on the floor in his blood and a spool of green thread in his hand, two days was also long enough to solve a crime …
Strictly looking at “Death Checks In” as a mystery, it’s not bad. That it’s a noir whodunit is nice, the main characters are familiar from past books, it has that old-black-and-white-movie feel you know you love, and it’s sweetly chaste, in a late-1940s way.
Charming, in other words. But tedious also describes this novel just as equally since a lot of its action comes through dialog, of which there too much and in too much fussy, stiff detail. It’s wordy and it feels like filler. It doesn’t help that author David S. Pederson added an eccentric old woman in this story, who constantly clucks like a chicken.
Yes, that’s written into numerous sentences. No, it’s not fun.
Overall, if you can avoid doing that “speed it up” movement with your hand, or if you like noir mysteries that are more on the light side, only then will this book fit. For you, then, “Death Checks In” is a worthwhile getaway.
The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.