Private Investigators Subgenre — Second Titles

Title: A is for Alibi
Author: Sue Grafton
Main Appeal Factors: Characterization,writing style, pacing, story line
Mystery Subgenre: Private Investigators
Annotation/Thoughts: Sue Grafton does a good job in establishing a character and launching a series.   Tough talking former cop, private investigator Kinsey Millhone is a likable character.   The reader can identify easily with Kinsey,a  twice divorced loner with few personal possessions and fewer personal attachments, who has set up a modest detective agency in Santa Teresa, California. There are many appealing passages in the book describing the different places Kinsey travels allowing the reader to get lost in the adventure and providing some time to  daydream.  While not hilarious compared with Janet Evanovich the author writes with humor making this an entertaining book for anyone looking for an escape.  The pace of the story was fast moving with short chapters although I thought the solving of the crime was anti climatic.  I would recommend this book to anyone looking for a simple story that is easy to read.  There are plenty of books in the series  to keep the reader interested and the titles of each book make it easy to know  which comes next.

Title: Baltimore Blues
Author: Laura Lippman
Main Appeal Factors: female investigator
Mystery Subgenre: Private Investigators
Annotation/Thoughts: This is the first book in the successful Tess Monaghan series by Laura Lippman.  The action takes place in Baltimore and incorporates local sites of interest as well as a detailed description of the sport of “rowing” which is a sport of our main character. This book also introduces her 2 sidekicks which follow her through subsequent books.  Tess has recently lost her job as a reporter and her close friend “Rock” asks her to “spy” on his fiancée who he thinks is cheating on him.  In this first book, Tess seems to be very sorry for herself and doesn’t seem to know what to do with her life.  I found the actual protagonist to be the least likely of the suspects presented and not very plausible. However, I think this book will appeal to readers who are looking for a mystery that descriptive of a geographical area, intriguing, has “clean” dialogue and “no sex” (which is a pre-requisite for some readers). Obviously this is a successful series for Ms. Lippman so my lack of enthusiasm for this book may be unfounded!

Title: The Big Dig
Author: Barnes, Linda
Main Appeal Factors: Urban frame (Boston, contemporary), first-person narrator (ex-police, from a police family), gritty detail
Mystery Subgenre: Private Investigators
Annotation/Thoughts: Carlotta Carlyle is an ex-cop private investigator. A tall, fit redhead, she has to disguise her striking looks to go undercover as she does here, in the 12th book in the series where she’s hired by another former cop she used to work with, Eddie, to investigate possible criminal activity such as fraud, theft, or graft, on one of the many Big Dig construction sites in Boston in the year 2000. Posing as a new secretary and nosing around, she soon notices signs of a much more serious crime, especially after the dead body of a complaining construction worker is found on the site.
The book is fairly short (270 pages) and the story moves quickly, especially in the last third of the book. Carlotta’s relationships with her adolescent “little sister” Paolina and her son-of-a-mob-boss ex-boyfriend Sam Gianelli come into play a bit, but enough backstory is given to catch up a new reader starting the series with this book.
The urban Boston setting, the private investigator main character, the gritty violence discussed matter-of-factly, and the first-person narration with surprising little use of swearing, make this a good readalike for anyone who likes the Spenser novels by Robert B. Parker. (Like Spenser, Carlotta can be something of a smartass, and follows her own rules.)

Title: Blood Orange
Author: Keskinen, Karen
Main Appeal Factors: characters, fast pace, contemporary issues
Mystery Subgenre: Private Investigators
Annotation/Thoughts: This debut novel is character driven from the female private investigator Jaymie Zarlin and her undocumented personal assistant and cleaning lady, Gabi Gutierrez to detailed descriptions and back stories of victims, suspects, perpetrators, and her network of assorted acquaintances and boyfriends and even pets. Set in contemporary Santa Barbara, California the story is fast paced and has enough suspense to satisfy readers of all ages. There are plenty of details about Santa Barbara for the reader to feel comfortable with the location and the climate to draw in a reader’s interest.
The theme about the summer solstice and the Greek myth of Daphne adds new age atmosphere to the multi-generational plot. Zaymie is reluctant to investigate the murder of teenage Lili Molina who appeared as Daphne in the parade, but her persistence leads to the discovery of a long lasting conspiracy among wealthy and politically connected citizens which threatens her life and endangers others.  Blood Orange has it all, race relations, economic and social status, mental disability and mental health issues as well as the usual law and order conflicts between cops, civilians and lawyers. The characters are all over the place but the author ties up all the threads and fit them together by the conclusion of the story.

Title: By a Spider’s Thread
Author: Lippman, Laura
Main Appeal Factors: New author for me
Mystery Subgenre: Private Investigators
Annotation/Thoughts: Story line was good, but the protagonist was a little generic:  new to the field, had big hair, had bad hair, used a swipe of mascara for makeup, drives beat up cars, always in a bad relationship.  Nothing unique about her.

Title: The Intruders
Author: Michael Marshall
Main Appeal Factors: Unusual concept, suspenseful verging on horrific
Mystery Subgenre: Other
Annotation/Thoughts: It started with the TV series and after the first few episodes, I had to read the book.  Suspenseful, edgy, verging on X-Files.  Has a little bit of everything to make for a good book.

Title: Nightcrawlers
Author: Pronzini, Bill
Main Appeal Factors: Desciptive text, multiple story lines, diverse characters and topics
Mystery Subgenre: Private Investigators
Annotation/Thoughts: As a book far down the line in the “Nameless Detective Novel” series, this is a good stand-alone story but does give some spoilers to earlier books. It was a good mix of detective work and gritty tough guy action. I would recommend to a wide range of readers. There is a bit of vulgar language from the villains, and other than a very graphic violence scene in the very beginning to the book, there isn’t much outward violence in the book. Descriptive text, and good for a reader looking for a modern setting and contemporary topics. Mix of first-person and third-person narrative.

Title: Lullaby Town
Author: Robert Crais
Main Appeal Factors: Gumshoe private investigator, realistic
Annotation/Thoughts: A private investigator named Elvis Cole is asked to locate a famous Hollywood director, Peter Alan Greene’s  ex wife Karen and his son, Toby.  After much investigation, he locates them on the East Coast and realizes the two of them have a stable, secure life… he thinks.  He and his trained killer sidekick  Joe Pike,  later find out Nelsen’s ex is a bank manager dealing with laundering money for the Mob.  She wants out of the business, but knows her life as well as her son Toby’s is at stake.  Cole steps in and uses all of his charm and sleuthing skills to protect Karen as well as trying to keep her out of the Witness Protection Program.  She is in way over her head, Pike is the heavy and winds up killing some of the mobsters. Nelsen realizes all of his money is not going to help him when his assistant is killed and the Mob could care less who gets in their way.  Elvis Cole, the clever, likable guy, saves the day, but not until after there was quite a bit of bloodshed.

Title: The Snatch
Author: Pronzini, Bill
Main Appeal Factors: Time and Location – late 1960s & San Francisco
Mystery Subgenre: Private Investigators
Annotation/Thoughts: This was a relatively quick read and the first of the Nameless series by Pronzini.  “Nameless” is portrayed as being somewhat down and out due to lack of steady business, problems with his girlfriend and the inability to quit smoking cigarettes.  He also feels out of place when dealing with his clients, whose son has been kidnapped.  He does solve the case despite personal injury and it would seem that the future may be brighter.  The style and pacing seemed similar to that of Robert Parker.

Title: The Way Some People Die
Author: MacDonald, Ross
Main Appeal Factors: Tough guy private eye, hard-boiled fiction, pulp fiction, classic LA noir
Mystery Subgenre: Private Investigators
Annotation/Thoughts: This book hits on the knight errant themes prevalent in the PI genre, best exemplified with this  quote: “I knew if I didn’t go back for her I wouldn’t be able to forget her. A teen-aged girl with heroin in her veins was the stuff bad dreams were made of.” The tough-guy detective with a moral code, the duplicitous women, the brutality of violence, the economy of words matched with a poetic turn of phrase (“I was a sucker for underdogs, and dead men were at the bottom of the heap”), it’s all here, and done well.
MacDonald is considered one of the finest writers of the detective fiction genre, and this book is one of his best. Focusing on a conventional private eye plot (detective Lew Archer searching for a woman (“crazy for men”) who left home in the company of “small-time gangster Joe Tarantine, a hophead hood with a rep for violence”), the book moves from the particular (where is Galatea and Joe?) to the philosophical effortlessly, with incredibly well-rounded characters all along the way.


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