Ah suburban living! You’ve got the privacy of your own home, but the community experience of next door neighbors. You’ve got safe places for your kids to learn and play. It’s an idyllic paradise where everyone is living a happy, normal life. The truth of the matter is though that there is just as much darkness in the suburbs as there are other places human congregate. It just knows how to hide better in the suburbs. It lurks behind closed doors and a facade of secrets and lies that suburban dwellers tell themselves. Some very compelling and memorable stories have shined a light on the darkness that lives and grows secretly in the suburbs. My favorites of these types of stories include the television show “Twin Peaks,” the movie “American Beauty,” and now Megan Abbott’s latest crime novel “The End of Everything.”
In “The End of Everything” we see things through the eyes of Lizzie Hood, who serves as a first person narrator. When we meet Lizzie she’s 13 and growing up in the suburban midwest of the 1980s. Her home life is not the best. Her mother is still struggling to find happiness in the wake of a divorce, and her older brother is distant and aloof. So Lizzie spends most of her time next door with her best friend Evie Verver and her family. Evie and Lizzie are so close that they are practically sisters, but Evie’s biological sister the beautiful and tough Dusty also plays a part in their lives. The family member that looms largest though in Lizzie and Evie’s life is Evie’s father, Mister Verver, who even though she never directly admits it to us readers Lizzie has started to fall in love with.
One summer right before she graduates 8th grade Lizzie’s world is shattered when Evie disappears on her. Having been one of the last people to see her friend Lizzie feels personally responsible and wracks her brain for clues to where Evie may have gone. What she uncovers is the strangeness and dark side to her neighborhood and the Verver household. As the days goes on and Evie does not reemerge Lizzie grows desperate and begins to carry our her own investigation into what happened to her friend based on the secrets that best friends tell each other.
Lizzie’s desperate quest and how it forces her to reevaluate her life and her surroundings is what makes “The End of Everything” so readable and so haunting. It gives the story a sense of urgency and dread. The mystery of what happened to Evie is of course intriguing because you like the characters, but throughout the book there’s a palpable feel of shocking and forbidden knowledge lurking just outside the reader and Lizzie’s grasp. You desperately want to know that secret, but the way Abbott fires your imagination you’re not sure you want to know. So in a sense “The End of Everything isn’t just a good crime novel, it’s also a really good horror novel in a way.
What makes “The End of Everything” even better is Lizzie and Abbott’s vibrant description of everything. Lizzie’s entire world is brought to life in crisp colors, textures and feelings. So it’s even more effective when you start to get the sense that something is rotten in it. Abbott blends that with a fairly quick pace which gives the “The End of Everything” an almost ethereal feel. It’s like a beautiful and frightening fever dream.
I like to keep my reviews spoiler free so all I’ll say about the end of the book is that it offers up a conclusion that is satisfying, realistic, and haunting. So all in all “The End of Everything” was a mesmerizing and compelling novel that shined a light into some of the twisted, uncomfortable feelings, corruption, and darkness that grows and thrives in the dark places of suburban communities.
The desire for revenge can be a powerful one. Especially if those that wronged you take almost everything away from you. In Christa Faust’s 2008 novel “Money Shot” readers got to see an ex-porn star named Angel Dare get her revenge on a group of criminals that beat her, raped her and left her for dead. It was a very powerful and captivating novel. I try to avoid spoilers in my reviews, but in the end Angel got her revenge and on a visceral level it was pretty exciting to read about. What happens after you gain your revenge though? How does it affect you on emotional and psychological level? And what kind of life awaits you after you complete your long bloody journey to revenge? In her latest novel “Choke Hold,” Faust brings Angel Dare back to answer those questions and more. The result is a fast paced, compelling, and ultimately haunting read.
Like “Money Shot,” “Choke Hold” is also a first person narrative from Angel Dare’s point of view.. Angel is a great character with a very interesting perspective. She’s also a very human character and easy to identify with. If “Choke Hold” is your first time meeting Angel you’ll be rooting for her in just a couple of pages, and if you read “Money Shot” you know what I mean and will be happy to reunite with the character in this novel.
In “Choke Hold” Angel is still the same character we know and love. She still has her sense of humor and interesting perspective from her former profession, but she’s quite haunted by what she sacrificed to get her revenge in the previous novel. She’s mourning what she lost of herself.
When the novel begins she’s doing that mourning incognito in a diner in Arizona. The reasons aren’t quite clear at first, but that’s okay because Angel doesn’t have time to explain herself. She’s caught off guard by a former boyfriend who recognizes her. Minutes later that boyfriend is gunned down and Angel is escaping a firefight with the son her lover never knew he had. With his dying breath Angel’s former lover asks her to look after his son.
So Angel has a purpose once again and she sets out fulfill it. Fulfilling that purpose means getting her ex-lover’s son, Cody, to Las Vegas where he has a shot at a television show that would launch his career in the world of Mixed Martial Arts. To get him there Angel will have to navigate a world of underground fighting run by a drug dealing mobster while trying to steer clear of the Croatian gangsters who are hunting her because of what she did in “Money Shot.”
One of the best things about journeying with Angel through this world is the characters she meets. Faust populates “Choke Hold” with an eclectic cast of extremely interesting characters. There are memorable minor characters like a forger that is trying to become a painter and major ones like my favorite supporting character in the book Hank “The Hammer” Hammond. Hank is Cody’s teacher and an expert fighter who’s taken one too many head shots. He’s a larger than life character who made a lot of bad choices in his past, but is trying hard to be good and noble. Faust does an amazing job with the character. In every scene he’s in you get a sense of what kind of life he’s lead and his inherent nobility is pretty moving.
Faust also does a great job pacing the action in “Choke Hold.” The book opens with a burst of violence and you’re off running with the characters. Things slow down occasionally to let you catch your breath and offer up compelling character or plot details, but then you’re off and running again. The action scenes in Las Vegas are especially compelling as Angel, Cody, and Hank desperately try to escape the many enemies that are out for their blood.
Then comes the ending. Again, I don’t like to give spoilers, so all I’ll say is it’s a bloody, haunting, and powerful one. The last chapter especially left me pretty mesmerized.
So “Choke Hold” was a hell of a read. I thought Faust set the bar pretty high with “Money Shot,” but “Choke Hold” is even better. It definitely left me wanting more. So I eagerly await Faust’s next crime novel.
Michael Connelly’s premier protagonist, Los Angeles Police Detective Harry Bosh, has been fighting crime for a long time. “The Black Echo,” Connelly’s first novel, was published in 1992 and since then Bosch has starred in or been a major player in 16 more novels. Two things that Harry confronts regularly in his investigations are corruption and evil incarnate. In Connelly’s latest novel, “The Drop” Bosch is saddled with two cases that bring him face to face with these eternal enemies. The result is a powerful and highly satifsying novel.
It’s been awhil since we’ve seen Harry Bosch work a case on his own in the City of Los Angeles. In 2009′s “9 Dragons,” the last pure Bosch novel Harry spent much of the book trying to solve a family crisis in Hong Kong. In 2010′s “The Reversal” Bosch shared the spotlight with half brother Mickey Haller AKA the Lincoln Lawyer. Those were both compelling and exciting novels but I’ve kind of missed getting the chance to see Harry Bosch do what he does best. So it was a lot of fun to be back with Harry on his home turf and seeing him crack cases
In “The Drop” Bosch is actually given two cases. The first one comes to him because of his current assignment as an investigator for the Robbery Homicide’s elite Open-Unsolved Unit, which investigates cold cases. He’s assigned to figure out why the blood of a young boy was found on a victim that was murdered in 1989. Bosch’s second case comes to him from an old enemy that long time readers will remember well, Irvin H Irving. The former Internal Affairs Cop turned City Councilman wants Bosch to investigate the death of his son who fell to his death from a seventh floor hotel room.
The two cases take some powerful and surprising twists and it’s a lot of fun to watch Bosch handle them. Connelly once again proves he’s a master at telling these kinds of stories. The closer Bosch gets to the truth on each of his cases the harder it is to put the book down. The cases are connected thematically, but I can’t say how for fear of spoilers. Some readers may make the frustrating mistake of wanting to find larger connections between them though. I did that at first, but once I sat back and let them be what they were I enjoyed the novel even more.
As I mentioned in the beginning, there seems to be two types of classic Harry Bosch stories the ones dealing with some kind of corruption and the ones wear he confronts evil incarnate. In “The Drop” you get a story that combines both of these tales together and it’s done by a writer who is older, wiser, and better and knows how to spin these classic tales in interesting ways. So the plot, tone, and pacing of “The Drop” are all extremely well done .
The other element that makes “The Drop” so entertaining is of course the characters. Fans get to see all of Harry’s idiosyncrasies on display in “The Drop” and get to be reminded of why we love the character so much. We also get to see Harry spend a lot of time in a new and interesting role, that of Father. “Nine Dragons” brought Harry’s teenage daughter, Maddy, back into his life in a big way, but “The Drop” is the first chance you get to see a lot of that relationship.
It’s a pretty cool and loving relationship too. And Kudos to Connelly for not making Maddy your typical irritating teenager who does stupid stuff and is constantly bickering with her father. In “The Drop” you get to see Maddy is very close to her father and respects him. You also get to see that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, Maddy appears to be a very canny detective for her age and her insight into human behavior often surprises her father.
Connelly also uses “The Drop” to introduce a new character into Bosch’s life Doctor Hannah Stone, a psychiatrist who works to counsel and try to redeem convicted sex offenders. Stone’s occupation challenges some of Bosch’s beliefs about crime and criminals, but he can’t help but be drawn to her. She makes for an interesting love interest for the character and I’m curious to see what else Connelly does with their relationship in future books.
Rounding out the memorable cast of “The Drop” are a couple more compelling and eclectic characters. Connelly spends a lot of time developing Bosch’s relationship with his partner Detective David Chu. The scenes with the two of them felt very real and it was interesting to see the dynamic they have together. The other fascinating character we spend very little time with, but the time you do spend is scary as hell. Near the end of the book readers meet a violent, despicable, and remorseless killer. The character is evil incarnate, but he’s not a cartoon character. His actions and dialogue ring true. That can be hard to do, but I think Connelly pulls it off chillingly well.
Finally, the title “The Drop” refers to the LAPD’s Deferred Retirement Option Plan, which means Bosch is nearing the end of his career. So it’s possible that “The Drop” may be one of the last Harry Bosch books. If that is the case I’ll miss the character, but I’m also excited about that idea. With “The Drop” it feels like Connelly is setting the stage for the final act in one of the greatest police procedural sagas ever. There are several elements of the story that could easily carry over into the next book and I can’t wait to see what happens next. The fact that I can still say that after reading 17 Bosch novels speaks volumes about Connelly’s ability as a writer.