Friday, May 8, 2015

Sink Your Teeth Into "Dry Bones" by Craig Johnson

Somewhere among the rock strewn gulleys and cliffs of Absoroka County the skeleton of a female is discovered. When all the flesh is gone it can be difficult to determine the cause of death, but not in this case. Evidence of a violence so brutal that it left scars in the bones make it clear that this was a crime of murder with more than one suspect. But the killers won't have to answer for their actions.
The statute of limitations just doesn't apply when your victim perished 65 million years ago.

The skeleton belongs to a T-Rex, you see. It's worth a fortune. And that kind of dough attracts a lot of attention. Soon the FBI and the U.S. attorney's office take an interest. There's some dispute over who owns the land on which Jen (the dinosaur's new name) was found. The ranch belongs to Danny Lone Elk, who may or may not have sold it to the Cheyenne Indian Nation. He or they'll get the skeleton, unless the dig site on Danny's ranch crosses onto federal land. In that case, the FBI, aided by a publicity seeking acting U.S. Deputy Attorney General will seize it. Add to this combustible mix the media circus driven by the discovery of the largest T-Rex in history.

And you thought Walt Longmire was going to have a relaxing few days off with his daughter, who's bringing Walt's newborn granddaughter to visit? Think again.

Things go from bad to worse when Danny Lone Elk winds up dead, floating face down in a reservoir on his own land. It falls on Walt's shoulders to solve the mystery of Danny's death and decide if he drowned in an alcoholic stupor, or was killed so someone could make the moves on Jen. Along the way both persons unknown and the unforgiving Wyoming landscape threaten to make Sheriff Longmire extinct.

The writing moves at a quick pace, and entertains even as it educates (did you know that Wyoming once hosted ocean front property?). Walt is joined by many of the same characters that we've come to enjoy, including Lucian, a former Sheriff who both hinders and helps the investigation. Undersheriff Vic appears with her usual take no prisoners approach to crime solving, and like Walt, has little time for a show-boating US attorney who is so media conscious he wears makeup to a press conference and only drags in Walt to appear as a prop. "You didn't mess up his lipstick, did you?" Vic teases Walt after the chaotic appearance on the courthouse steps.

In addition to his professional woes, Walt faces a personal crisis that threatens to take away the one thing he cares most about - his family. Fortunately Henry Standing Bear has his back and while assisting Walt, provides not only physical protection but the kind of personal advice that only a best friend can provide. We should all have some one like him in our corner.

The latest edition of the Walt Longmire mystery series, Dry Bones was 65 million years in the making. But you won't have to wait that long to enjoy this tense, action-filled crime story. The book comes out on May 12th.

By the way, did you know that the acronym F.B.I. has two meanings? One is Federal Bureau of Investigation. And the other one...isn't.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015


Man LIKES His Wanted Poster On Facebook And...I think You Know Where This Is Going.

Levi Reardon, wanted on forgery charges, happened to see his Wanted Poster on Facebook. Apparently he thought it was a pretty good he did what every dumb criminal eventually does to guarantee they are caught.

He "liked" it...on Facebook.

Yeah, you really can't make this stuff up.

DUMB Happens.

He later thought better of his hasty choice, and "unliked" it, but not before the Cascade County Crimestoppers Facebook page captured a screen image of it. It wasn't long before THIS picture appeared on Facebook. Let's hope Mr. Reardon's court appointed attorney has a little more upstairs than his client.

Kansas Denies Victim Compensation to 10 Year Old Girl Murdered in Drive-By

This would be funny if it weren't so tragic and Kafkaesque. The Kansas State Victims Compensation Board has denied financial compensation to the family of a murdered 10 year old to help pay funeral expenses.

The reason? According to the Board, "the victim was likely engaging in or attempting to engage in unlawful activity at the time of the crime upon which claim is based."

In addition, the Board states, "the victim has not fully cooperated with appropriate law enforcement agencies as required for compensation."

It's no surprise that the victim isn't co-operating; she's dead.

And the "unlawful activity" she was allegedly engaging in when she was murdered? She was in her own home watching television when she was gunned down.

So, I suppose she could have been up past her bedtime? Watching a PG-13 rated TV show?

This heartless and insensitive decision goes beyond the pale, even for a conservative Red state like Kansas. How the Board members came to this conclusion defies logic, which is one virtue you would think Board members Suzanne Valdez (an attorney and law professor at the University of Kansas), Nan Porter (therapist with the Wichita State University Counseling Center), and Thomas Williams (Allen County Commissioner and former sheriff) would have in abundance.

If you'd like, you can attend the next meeting of the Victims Compensation Board, perhaps to see how they reach their decisions. The next one is at the State Capitol, Topeka, on May 14th at 10 AM.

Here's their phone number: (785) 296-2359

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Take A Deep Sip From "A Dram of Poison" by Charlotte Armstrong

A Dram of Poison won the Edgar Award for Best Novel in 1957, and after reading this novel, it's easy to see why. It's a complex tale of love, disappointment, jealousy, and carelessness that leads to catastrophe. Not your traditional whodunnit, but a story packed with so much suspense you had better read it on your day off, or consider calling in sick. Once you've reached a certain point, there is no stopping until the final page has been turned.

Trouble isn't long in coming when Ken Gibson, a middle-aged English professor suddenly decides to marry Rosemary, a 32 year old woman  who has been left homeless by the death of her invalid father. At first things go swimmingly, as they used to say. But the real trouble starts when Ken is injured in an auto accident (while his wife is driving...a mishap that will cause her much hand-wringing in the weeks to come) and Ken's strong willed sister Ethel comes to live with them and help care for Ken.

It doesn't take a psychologist to realize that most family dynamics only allow one woman to dominate a household (safely), and Charlotte Armstrong is a genius for milking the tensions that erupt when the dominant one is not the wife. Ken, caught between two women he loves, decides to end his life to escape what has become intolerable, especially after he observes Rosemary developing a close friendship with a man much closer to her own age. Convinced that his wife would be happier with their neighbor, Ken procures some odorless, tasteless, fast acting poison which he hides in a bottle labeled olive oil.

Then, disaster strikes. A bottle of poison can be a dangerous weapon in the wrong hands.

In resolving his dilemma, Ken gets a strong assist by, of all people, a bus driver. This man's intimate knowledge of the city streets becomes crucial in the story as the suspense builds to an intolerable level. And he proves to be more than a stick figure character. He debates philosophy and the human condition with Rosemary, and more than holds his own.

It's typical of Armstrong to sculpt every character with such depth that they could easily substitute for the main character. Any baseball manager would envy such a deep bullpen.

A Dram of Poison is a real treat. Put the cell phone on silent...this story screams for your attention.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Craig Johnson Book Giveaway!

Update: The winner of the random drawing for Any Other Name is Rosanna Sharp. Congratulations! And thanks to everyone for entering. I'll be giving away more books in the near future. I wish you luck in any future drawings.

To celebrate the new release in paperback of Craig Johnson's novel Any Other Name I'm giving away a free copy! To enter the contest, just post a comment here on THIS blog post saying you'd like to have Craig Johnson's new paperback Any Other Name, or send me a tweet on twitter to @patrickbalester, to have your name entered. The contest starts at 5 PM Central Standard Time on Wednesday April 29th, 2015 and runs for 48 hours until 5 PM Central Standard Time on Friday, May 1st, 2015. The entries will be picked at random and the winner will be announced Friday night at 10 PM CST May 1st, 2015.

Rules (stuff the lawyers make me say):

1) One entry per person. Post your entry on this blog post or send me a tweet to @patrickbalester. Include either the author's name, Craig Johnson, or the name of the book, Any Other Name.
2) Must be a U.S. resident to enter.
3) Deadline will be determined by time stamp on the blog comment or twitter tweet.
4) If you win, you agree to have your name only published on my blog, Facebook and on Twitter (but not your personal address; though I will need that to send you the prize, it will not be shared).
5) Entries from my relatives are ineligible (although most of them love to read...sorry).
6) Entries from YOUR relatives are most welcome!
7) Winner will be chosen randomly from all submitted entries placed in Craig Johnson's cowboy hat (or a close facsimile).
8) This giveaway is subject to state and local laws and not sponsored by Google, Facebook or Twitter.
9) Giveaways may be taxable, but your name will NOT be given to the IRS, CDC, FBI, CIA, or the NSA (although the NSA probably already has it). Reporting taxable prizes is the responsibility of the winner.
10) No pushing or shoving. The Marquess of Queensberry Rules shall apply at all times. I thank you!

Tuesday, April 28, 2015


It's an old cliche - Crime Doesn't Pay. But is it really true?

As J. A. Konrath says, "Well, Not Exactly".

A recent study found that while drug Kingpins can rake in an average of 1.7 to 2.5 million dollars a year, the average corner drug peddler nets a mere $4,756.00 annually.

That's less than the minimum wage. And it's the corner drug pusher who stands the highest risk of being arrested or killed. Not very good odds for a job that forces most pushers to live at home because they can't afford a home or apartment. This disparity between the highest and lowest paid workers in the drug trade is much greater than the one in corporate America. Where's the outrage?

Bank robbers fared a little better. A study done in the United Kingdom whose findings were published in Scientific American found that the average take per bank heist was $31,600. Divided among the gang, it netted each participant $19,700 - "roughly equivalent to a coffee shop barista's annual salary", according to the study. However, the study also found that by the fourth robbery, most participants had been caught and were looking at long prison sentences.

The real money seems to be in public corruption, a fact that politicians have long understood. According to a report by Jo Ciavaglia, a news reporter in Pennsylvania, Bensalem District employee Frederick Lange was convicted of stealing from the school that employed him to the tune of $400,000 over 10 years. But he got to keep his pension, including the contributions from the taxpayer and the interest. And he's not the only public employee raking in the dough. Former PA state representative Mike Veon, who may soon be released from prison after a conviction in Bonusgate, was ordered to pay $219,000 in restitution. So far, he's only paid 1200 bucks. Another former state rep John Perzel was convicted of corruption and sentenced to five years, but withdrew $203,000 in pension benefits AND kept his Philadelphia home. Ordered to pay One Million Dollars in restitution, so far he's coughed up only $960.

Is this a great country, or what? (Well, it is if you're a corrupt public employee or legislator).

Pennsylvania House Bill 17 has been proposed by Rep Scott Petri to outlaw such financial scams on the taxpayer, according to Ciavaglia's report. But I wouldn't hold my breath.

And then there's the crime writer. The men and women who entertain us with thrilling tales of scams, robbery and murder motivated by lust, greed and jealousy. Does crime pay for them? Sadly, despite the hopes of best sellerdom and the examples set by Stephen King and James Patterson, most published writers make less than 5,000 dollars a year from their work.

Now that's a crime. It's almost enough to make a crime writer look for honest work.


Monday, April 27, 2015

The Verdict Is In - The Case Of The Purloined Painting Is Guilty As Charged

Ladies and Gentlemen of the jury have you reached a verdict?

We have, Your Honor.

In the case of Carl Brookins vs the Reading Public, charged with writing a highly entertaining PI novel with malice aforethought on providing historical accuracy without boring the reader, how do you find? Is the defendant Guilty or Not Guilty?

Guilty, Your Honor.

There you have it. The Case of the Purloined Painting is not only entertaining, but (gasp) educational as well. As an added footnote, the novel, which is one of a series featuring the private detective Sean Sean, stands on its own feet without requiring prior knowledge of the character by the reader. However, this charge was dropped in the interest of expediency.

This is my first encounter with Sean Sean (the PI so nice they named him twice). He doesn't fit the typical stereotype of a Private Eye, and that alone is refreshing. He hails not from sunny Florida or the gritty streets of New York, but Minneapolis, Minnesota. It seems that citizens of the upper Midwest from good Norweigan stock have the same foibles as the rest of us...they commit crimes. That's where Sean steps in - all 5 1/2 feet of him (another break with tradition).

A mysterious woman comes to him and claims to have seen a man tossed from a bridge after being accosted by two men. For reasons she won't explain, she is reluctant go to the police and hires Sean to investigate. When a dead body with the name of Manfred Gottlieb does turn up, Sean starts following the trail of clues. They lead to a painting which may have been looted by an American G.I after World War II, a painting that was used to build a huge fortune for a powerful Minnesota family. And as Sean begins to peel back the layers, lots of folks take a sudden interest in art history. The head of a local law firm, the police, and even the Justice Department pay Sean a visit. But they're mere annoyances compared to the shadowy figure that's trying to kill him.

The painting may not even be the grand prize. Sean begins to uncover pages from a ledger written in German that catalogue more pieces of artwork, much of which now rests in museums around the world. Is this a wish list for an art collector, or a crime list of Nazi plunder?

Either way, it may be the list that led to Gottlieb's murder, and the killer has no qualms about adding to the body count. It's up to Sean to keep that to a minimum while trying to solve the crime. How he manages that task provides the reader with a page turning story and along the way proves that art, and art crime, can haunt us long after the artist's paintbrush is put away.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Writers Born Today - Rex Miller

It's the birthday of Rex Miller, born April 25, 1939 in Sikeston, Missouri. He was a popular DJ in Chicago in the 1960s before he started writing novels. Harlan Ellison encouraged him to turn his skills to the typewriter.

His family history included several violent deaths, including an uncle who was murdered by the Nazis and another who died under mysterious circumstances in Switzerland while working as a delegate for the League of Nations.

Rex Miller had this to say about his writing: "I'm writing for realism, the power edge, a kind of dual catharsis I suppose. If I could pass one message along through my work, it's this: those repeat-offenders who victimize the helpless are neither 'sick,' 'troubled,' 'disturbed,' nor 'dysfunctional' They're evil."

Most of his novels featured Chicago detective Jack Eichord who tracks a 450 pound serial killer named Daniel Bunkowski. Bunkowski, also know as Chaingang, is an ex-government assassin who continues to kill once he returns from Vietnam, simply for the thrill of it.

The first novel in the series, Slob, was nominated for the Bram Stoker Award in 1987.

Stephen King described Miller's writing as "terrifying and original". Miller's fiction was a cross between traditional crime and horror. He was popular during the early period that came to be known as splatterpunk, a fiction sub-genre that is experiencing a renaissance with writers such as Christine Morgan and  J. Michael Major.

"You have to have the self-confidence of a rhinoceros to write...", he once said in an interview for the St. Joseph News-Press. "You spend a lot of time alone. You've got to really want to do this."