Lord Fool To The Rescue

Lord Fool To The Rescue_LLMuir_13317505

YOUR GRACE, HIS GRACE, HER GRACE, WHOMEVER

4 STARS

Lord Fool is really Leland Wescott, the Duke of Stromburg. Young though he is, he is a decorated war hero, having saved many of his men from being burned to death in a building fire. Unfortunately, he did so by holding them at gunpoint so that they could not run foolishly into the conflagration to try and save mates who were already beyond help.

The military may have thought he saved a significant number of lives, but the peerage thought his actions dishonorable. Dubbed “Lord Fool” behind his back, Stromburg spends his days trying to keep his land and crop holdings from the grasping clutches of the Duke of Redmond and feeling like the fool he is called.

When Baron Ledford offers his stepdaughter, Tempest MacIntyre, up for auction as a one-night stand, Stromburg receives an invitation to bid. Infuriated at the Baron’s gall, he goes to warn Tempest of her guardian’s lies about an arranged “wedding.” Though used to the stepfather’s cruelty, the depths of this particular depravity take her aback. And now she understands why so many men are walking around her in the park, looking her over as they would a horse up for sale.

Though thankful for the warning, Tempest assures Stromburg that she has already made arrangement to escape the man’s clutches. She also assures him that, with the new developments, she will be gone before the morning and before the stepfather can turn her into damaged goods.

Well, as you can imagine, the best laid plans, etc. etc…So, for the remainder of this 70-some page short story, we witness the “gone astray” parts from the viewpoints of Tempest as she tries to flee and Stromburg as he tries to protect and save her.

L. L. Muir crafts in this Regency entry, a scenario that alternates tension and fear with bouts of tongue-in-cheek, laugh out loud, tears down the face humor. The scenes involving the auction, the attempt to flee, and the transfer of “goods” to the winner of the auction are all quite seriously plotted. And, as such, the comedy that seems to pop up out of nowhere is both a relief and a true delight.

This short story is not deemed a prequel to any of Muir’s current series. However, numerous and intriguing hooks exist that could lead to future works or even a series should Muir choose to do so.

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Rules of Prey

Rules Of Prey_JohnSandford_9134890

THAT’S SIX!

5 STARS

Three characters control the outcome of this story. One is a cop, one is a lawyer and one is a television reporter. Each one is ruthless, manipulative, vicious, highly intelligent, a player and a killer of either body or soul.

Lucas Davenport is the cop. He is also a highly successful creator of fantasy/combat computer games. His ability to strategize on the fly, to think multiple steps ahead of the current action and to utilize violence with little remorse makes it difficult for him to play nicely in the sandbox with others not of like mind. Even though his ability to lead a squad of officers is virtually non-existent, he is still one of the most successful vice and homicide detectives in Minneapolis PD’s history.

Now a lieutenant, he is a division of one, a specialist in gathering intel from a vast street network, forwarding the tips and whisperings on to the appropriate squads for follow-up. Keeping his own hours and reporting only to the Chief of Police, he often works a parallel path with the official investigation teams. As a result, to date and still in his early thirties, he has killed five men in the line of duty.

Lucas Davenport is a predator, whether the hunted is a suspected criminal or the next intelligent and attractive woman on his dance card. He despises the first and he respects the other. But the quest for either is still a hunt that has well-established rules of prey.

The lawyer is maddog, one word and spelled in lower-case, but his real name is Louis Vullion. He appears to be that sub-genre of psychopath who is broken from birth. And with parents who were as remote and isolated as the Texas ranch on which he was raised, there appears to have been no chance for repair. He has always known he was “wrong,” and he has willingly chosen to play that hand rather than seek psychological help.

Like Lucas, maddog is adept at gamesmanship. Like Lucas, his strategies are focused on the guilty and the women, even if, to maddog, they are one and the same. Like Lucas, his kill count is at five. And like Lucas, as he demonstrates with each raped and knifed body, he has very distinctive and formulated rules of prey.

Jennifer Carey is the TV reporter, and she has been one of Lucas Davenport’s bed partners for about three years now. At her core, Jennifer is a sociopath. She is one of those media people that adds to the callous reputation of the breed. She uses every tool at her disposal – lies, threats, bribes, blackmail, tears, her gender, even her biological clock – to get what she wants personally or professionally.

And she does so without a single care for the consequences or collateral damage to the people she targets in her stories or in her life. She is every bit as adept at gamesmanship as Lucas and maddog. However, with little sense of ethics, she has few rules to limit her actions, and definitely no defining rules of prey.

In this first entry of the Prey series, which is still in production after nearly 25 years, John Sandford creates, in Lucas Davenport, a character that is atypical within the normal detective genre of its time. As far as timelines go, Davenport is a contemporary of Robert Crais’ Elvis Cole and Robert B. Parker’s Spenser. However, he is a cop rather than a PI, and he works out of the Twin Cities rather than LA. He isn’t witty like Cole or Spenser, and he does not have a lethal sidekick.

Davenport writes computer code and bad poetry and he doesn’t flaunt his wealth. He pays as much attention to his mental health as to his physical one. He accepts full responsibility for his actions and their consequences, personally and professionally. Yet, in the end he is a stone cold killer with a badge, a vigilante when justice cannot or will not prevail.

The action in the story – mental, physical and emotional – is well crafted, realistic and logical. Because we know the identity of the killer from the first page, there are no mysteries for the reader to solve, no red herrings to wade through. There are, however, more than enough bumps, grinds and mistakes on everyone’s part to make the story one that builds tension steadily to the point where sleep becomes highly over-rated.

The attacks and murders are vicious and graphically described. Also graphically detailed are maddog’s internal monologues between killings. The man is not an egotistical maniac with delusions of grandeur or superiority. He is an intelligent but broken little man with a psychological compulsion to kill that has besieged him since he was a toddler. Quite frankly, Sandford’s portrayal of maddog makes you feel sorry for the man. Not sorry enough to want him to survive, but sorry for him, nevertheless.

As you reach the final pages of the book, Sandford closes down the story arc without a cliffhanger ending or a police-related hook for the next novel. He does leave a personal hook involving Lucas, however.

Unfortunately, what Sandford does not do is dispatch Jennifer Carey – literally or figuratively. One can only hope that that particular circumstance will come soon. Believe me, she is one character that possesses a kind of evil that every female reader recognizes and has well and good reason to fear.

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Somebody Killed His Editor

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BUG AND WINDSHIELD

4 STARS

Christopher Holmes is an award winning, NYT best selling author multiple times over. At least he was. Now, his long-running cozy mystery series is not so popular, and Holmes’ editor has chosen not to renew his contract.

Trying to revitalize his career, Holmes’s agent has pushed him into revamping his image from that of a stodgy recluse into that of a trendy urbanite. The agent has also pressured Holmes into attending a writer’s conference at a secluded lodge upstate. There, she has arranged for a meeting with the editor to reopen contract negotiations for a new series with a more popular bent.

The only problem with this approach is that Holmes does not care to be a trendy urbanite and he doesn’t want to deal with beginner-level seminars. And he most certainly doesn’t want to write a new series that revolves around nosy cupcake bakers, smart-alecky female PI’s, bounty hunters or demons. However, Holmes doesn’t want his writing career to be over at the age of 40 nor does he want to be penniless, so he agrees to both suggestions.

He should have stayed home!

First, Holmes blows a tire during a driving rainstorm only a few miles from the lodge. Then, the wooden bridge he is crossing by foot collapses beneath him. Soon after, he discovers the barefoot body of a pajama-clad female next to the road. And when he reaches the lodge and reports his grisly find, the victim turns out to be a mystery writer who only recently savaged Holmes in a highly publicized critique.

With the bridge out and the high winds and rain, the police cannot get to the lodge. That means all the conference attendees are stuck on the premises with the body – and probably the murderer. But the body and its murderer are now the least of Holmes’ immediate worries because he is also stuck at the lodge with J. X. Moriarity. Moriarity is an ex-cop turned highly successful thriller writer. He is also a man with whom Holmes had a 3-night affair a decade ago. And that affair ended very badly.

And to add the proverbial insult to injury, Holmes’ editor turns their meeting into a public humiliation in front of all the conference attendees, including Moriarity. Holmes then mouths off a sarcastic remark about poison and drinks when the editor mockingly toasts the demise of Holmes’ career.

Sure enough, the next morning, Holmes finds his editor dead. When Holmes’ ear stud is found under the man’s cheek, the conference attendees demand that he be locked away until the police can arrive. And Moriarity does the honors.

Moriarity is probably the only person at the lodge, other than Holmes’ agent, who believes that Holmes is being framed. But Moriarity has an agenda of his own regarding Holmes. Even though it has been a decade, he has never completely resolved the aborted affair in either his own mind or in his heart. So for a majority of the book, we are wading through 10 years of misunderstandings and the resulting personal and professional acrimony between the two men. As a result, Josh Lanyon provides us with a read that is far more emotional than it is sexual.

Even though the story is told from Holmes’ POV, Lanyon portrays Moriarity as the most injured party in the failed affair all those years ago. And maybe he was, but the tack Lanyon takes with Moriarity made me grind my teeth, over and over, scene after scene. Moriarity doesn’t ask for any explanation as to why things ended the way they did. What he does is use sex as a psychological weapon and then blindsides Holmes with vicious, cruel and demeaning verbal assaults.

I have no use in real life, or in novels, for people who “shoot first and ask questions later.” It was not long into these set-ups where Moriarity claims to be helping Holmes and then proceeds to crush him to rubble that the only words I wanted Josh Lanyon to put in Holmes’ mouth were “Get the H—l away from me and don’t come back.”

However, Lanyon had other plans for Moriarity before the murderer’s identity could be revealed. A little pain, a lot of fear, and a healthy dose of comeuppance did much to level the emotional playing field between the two men. In the end, I still was not a fan of Moriarity, but there are two more books currently in the series. Perhaps, he will redeem himself.

Cover Art From Goodreads