Prose as spare as Robert Parker’s at his best


This is one of those annoying books that leaves you wrestling with your own conscience, because you spend most of it rooting for the wrong guys. Detective Constable Max Wolfe watches as the judge at the Old Bailey gives three yobs a slap on the wrist for kicking a man to death on his own doorstep. It doesn’t help that he’s sitting next to the wife and children of the dead man.

The three youths in the dock smirked at me before they were taken down.
I had seen that look before.
Too many times.
It was the look of someone who knows they just got away with murder.

Back at the office, along with his colleagues Max watches a video of a gang of four hanging a taxi driver who was a member of a group of men who kidnapped and raped girls. The body is found near Tyburn, one of the traditional hanging grounds of London. Two more executions are uploaded to YouTube, one of a man who ran down a child in his car and another who mugged an elderly veteran for drug money. Since justice cannot be found in the hands of the law, the Hanging Club has taken it into their own. Parsons challenges you to decide if Max should apprehend the Hanging Club or offer to hold their coats while they get to work. Or you do until they kidnap Max, who is in their eyes equally complicit in protecting the guilty by trying to hunt them down.

Prose as spare as Robert Parker’s at his best and enough ambiguity about Max’s own motives to leave you wondering, not to mention a, well, I guess I’d call him a sidekick worthy of Mouse in Walter Moseley’s Easy Rawlins books. I hope we see Jackson again. Just not in the dock.

More of my Goodreads reviews here.

Lewis is back from the first book, which makes me very happy.


The second book in Petrie’s Peter Ash series, about a vet returned from the Sandbox on the run from PTSD-induced claustrophobia, which is why he’s out hiking in northern California, which is where he stumbles across a grizzly, which is why he climbs a redwood, on top of which he finds June, an investigative reporter on the run from hulking men in black SUVs who are extremely well armed. Finding out who these men are, who is paying them and how to thwart them makes this more of a gallop than a plot, but what a ride. Peter is that guy, the one you want in your corner when you’re in real trouble, June is a marvelous match for him, and Lewis is back from the first book, which makes me very happy. Petrie’s craft is such that even the cameo roles are memorable, like the ER doc

The doc gave him a look. Even with the electroshock hair, it was a pretty good look. Peter figured it took some stones to work the night shift at the ER.

and Jerome at Nordstrom’s

When Jerome came back from the tailor with Peter’s new suit, [Peter] put everything on again and did the little turn his fashion consultants kept insisting on.
“My goodness,” said June.
Jerome looked a little wistful.
Peter put his hands on his hips. “Is that all I am to you?” he asked. “Just meat?”
“Oh no,” June said. “Never just meat.”
And she and Jerome erupted in peals of laughter.

and people we don’t even meet

You could always tell new tech money. They knew so much about some obscure little fucking thing, but were na├»ve as hell about everything else. Half of them felt they didn’t deserve the money, the other half thought they deserved twice as much, and they all loved to write those checks. Proving to themselves and everyone else that they’d made it.

Although that last may have more to do with Chip the Asshole than the tech guys. Recommended, and publishing tomorrow.

At the end of that first chapter he writes “I paid attention. I really did.”


For centuries Hondurans have told their children the myth of the Lost City of the Monkey God, but myths are often rooted in fact, and in the early Oughts cinematographer and inveterate searcher for lost cities Steve Elkins starts looking for it. National Geographic/New Yorker writer and novelist Douglas Preston, in the way nosy journalists do, hears tell of this search and talks his way into the 2015 expedition. Preston begins his story with the briefing by an ex-soldier experienced in jungle travel who passes around a photo of someone on a previous expedition bitten by a fer-de-lance. It isn’t pretty. More news of the local fauna follows in the way of mosquitoes and sand flies eager to pass on lovely diseases like malaria, dengue fever and the dread leishmaniasis. Never heard of it? Me, either, and Preston, either, but he’ll hear a lot more about it shortly. At the end of that first chapter he writes “I paid attention. I really did.” No, he didn’t, or not enough, but it wouldn’t have mattered even if he had.

This book is simply packed with information on a dozen different topics, to begin with a history of archeology in Central and South America and the world, legal and not

It must be said that, in general, if archaeologists refused on principle to work with governments known for corruption, most archaeology in the world would come to a halt; there could be no more archaeology in China, Russia, Egypt, Mexico, most of the Middle East, and many countries in Central and South America, Africa and Southeast Asia. I present this not as a justification or an apology, but as an observation on the reality of doing archaeology in a difficult world.

a history of Central American pre-Columbian civilizations–or at least the discovery of their existence–which were much more wide-spread than previously thought and why that is important to Hondurans

While the Spanish history of Honduras is well known, its pre-Columbian history is still an enigma. People need history in order to know themselves, to build a sense of identity and pride, continuity, community, and hope for the future. This is why the legend of the White City runs so deep in the Honduran national psyche: It’s a direct connection to a pre-Columbian past that was rich, complex, and worthy of remembrance.

a story about the politics between archeologists, which from an outside perspective looks a lot like jealousy on the part of the people who didn’t discover the Lost City of the Monkey God directed at the people who did than it does legitimate differences between academics; a brief but uncomfortably vivid history of the US in Honduras which kind of makes you feel like it may be more than time for the American empire to just, you know, stop with that shit now; and new technology in the form of lidar stabilized by a kind of top secret electronic gyroscope that pings lasers at the spaces between leaves to reflect back the features of the ground beneath them. FYI? The rain forest has a lot of leaves, but the lidar confounds even that dense canopy and discovers the Lost City (and maybe two) just three days into the mapping process.

I could see Sartori’s spiral-bound notebook lying open next to the laptop. In keeping with the methodical scientist he was, he had been jotting daily notes on his work. But underneath the entry for May 5, he had written two words only:


If John McPhee writes the way Yo-Yo Ma plays the cello Preston is at least first chair. When I finished the book I immediately went on line to look at the expedition photos on National Geographic’s website and from his descriptions was easily able to recognize the people, the artifacts and especially the place, this stunningly, dangerously beautiful tropical wilderness untouched for five hundred years. Preston is clearly a man in love

Once again I had the strong feeling, when flying into the valley, that I was leaving the twenty-first century entirely. A precipitous ridge loomed ahead, marking the southern boundary of T1. The pilot headed for a V notch in it. When we cleared the gap, the valley opened up in a rolling landscape of emerald and gold, dappled with the drifting shadows of clouds. The two sinuous rivers ran through it, clear and bright, the sunlight flashing off their riffled waters as the chopper banked…Towering rainforest trees, draped in vines and flowers, carpeted the hills, giving way to sunny glades along the riverbanks. Flocks of egrets flew below, white dots drifting against the green, and the treetops thrashed with the movement of unseen monkeys.

I’m glad he’s that good a writer because the only way I want to experience this place is through his prose and the photos, thanks. I certainly would never even attempt to keep up with Chris Fisher or Dave Yoder in the jungle, that’s for sure.

And then there is leishmaniasis, a ghastly disease which infects Preston and half of the expedition. It’s like cancer in that the cure is as bad as the disease and as of writing the book Preston’s has recurred. In even cheerier news, due to the enabling offices of climate change leishmaniasis is steadily making it way north, occurring now in Texas and Oklahoma. Goody. Although Americans dying of it may be the only way to get the drug companies working on a cure, because why bother if it’s only killing poor people in the Third World? I mean that’s no way to make money.

But the leishmaniusis gives him the final clue to perhaps solve the puzzle: Where did the people of the Lost City go? And why did they leave, and, especially, when? Also known as: Disease as destiny.

Impossible to recommend this book highly enough, and it publishes tomorrow.

All my Goodreads reviews here.

He doesn’t quite run away to join the circus, but close


I’m not a big fan of short stories–I like the elbow room a novel gives my imagination–but I’ll read pretty much anything by Michael Gilbert. I wasn’t disappointed here, in a collection of shorts about Patrick Petrella (star of stand-alone novels Blood and Judgement and Roller-Coaster), following his career from his first case as a boy (he doesn’t quite run away to join the circus, but close) through detective constable to detective sergeant. Lots of twisty plots and, always my favorite, Gilbertian wit and commentary on life, the universe and everything, as in

Petrella dozed. Behind him, Matrix Street slept the deep sleep of clear consciences and small incomes.


[A murder investigation] is a system which involves an enormous amount of work for a large number of people, and has only got one thing in its favour. It is nearly always successful in the end.

and a lovely little inside joke

[how a thief moves his goods to market]”He gets in touch with Mrs. Coulman. And informs her where he has placed the stuff. Gives her the key, or cloakroom ticket, and leaves the rest to her. It is not even necessary to give her the name of the receiver. She knows them all, and gets the bet prices. She gets paid in cash, keeps a third, and hands over two-thirds to the author of the crime.”

“Just like a literary agent,” said Farmer, who had once written a short story.

There is one real tragedy in the death of a good boy gone bad that wrung my heart, a terrific mini-whodunnit in a German spy turned transporter of stolen goods, and there is a cameo appearance by everyone’s favorite headmaster, Wilfred Wetherall (star of Gilbert’s Fear to Tread and may I just say, squee!). More than a Gilbert fan could ever want.

All my Goodreads reviews here.