Category: Suspense

Derrick Ferguson Cozies Up To CURSED FROM THE CRADLE

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Quick description of cozy mysteries: a genre of crime stories where the crime takes place in a small community where everybody knows each other and have long-time, even generational relationships with each other and they’re all up in everybody’s business. The detectives in these stories are generally amateurs and mostly women. The example that most people would be familiar with is the long-running and highly-successful “Murder She Wrote” starring Angela Lansbury as mystery novelist Jessica Fletcher who always seems to be stumbling over dead bodies. In fact, there’s a fan theory that has it that Jessica herself was actually the murderer and framed all the people who went to jail for the crime as there was no possible way she could have encountered all those murders by happenstance.

I myself have very little familiarity with the genre myself as my taste in detective fiction runs toward the hard-boiled. I’m more down with Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett and Chester Himes. But I do believe that with the plethora of good fiction available, there’s simply no good reason to obsessively limit one’s self to one type of fiction. So, when CURSED FROM THE CRADLE: THE ELLIOT LAKE MYSTERIES I became available to me, I thought it a good time to check out what the genre had to offer.

The beautiful town of Alder Bay on the Oregon coast is one of those communities far enough away from the big cities that the inhabitants can cheerfully pretend the outside world might as well not exist. It’s not a big town. In fact, it’s so small it only has one unmarried Chinese-American resident; Elliot Lake, chief reporter for the town’s weekly newspaper. Elliot’s a friendly, easy-going guy, well-liked by the residents and seemingly satisfied with his life and his job. A lot of the pleasure I got out of reading the book is Elliot’s wry, laconic thoughts about the town and its people, most of whom we get to know very well indeed when a series of child kidnappings commence.

This is less a straight-up and down relentless hunt for the kidnapper(s) stealing young children and more of a study of how the kidnappings affect the town and how the inhabitants deal with it and their relationships with each other as it soon becomes apparent that whoever is snatching the kids has intimate knowledge of their movements. It has to be someone living in Alder Bay and for Elliot, the thought that the kidnapper(s) has to be somebody he considers a friend is as frightening as the fact of the kids being stolen. Elliot isn’t just some small-timer. He’s worked for Seattle newspapers and as such he’s trained to observe. How could he be that close to somebody that capable of such a crime and not have seen them for what they are?

Well, that’s possibly because he’s distracted with girlfriend problems as well as dealing with a surprise visit from his parents. Let’s just say that Elliot has issues with them he is neither qualified nor prepared to cope with and we’ll leave it at that. In fact, goodly portions of the novel are taken up with Elliott and his personal problems to the degree that if you decide to read the book (and I do recommend you read it) you may at one point (as I do admit I did) say to yourself; “Well, shucks…they don’t seem very worry about finding these damn kids. And if they don’t care then why should I?”

And that’s where you’d be making the mistake. Because that isn’t the kind of book Cynthia Moyer is writing. Cynthia’s characters are deeply concerned about finding the missing kids. It’s just that life has to go on while they’re looking for them. People still have to go to work. Kids still have to go to school. Dogs have to be fed. Clothes still have to be washed, ironed and folded away.

Cynthia obviously likes these characters a lot and knows her fictional town as well as Michael Jordan knows how to handle a basketball. Yes, there are some characters that wander in and out of the story with no good reason at all save that Cynthia wants them to be there and there’s one character that every time she showed up I wished that the book was a movie I could fast forward through the scenes with her but on the whole, I had a pretty good time with the story and characters. Enough that I’m engaged enough to want to read the sequel. Good job, Cynthia.

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Derrick Ferguson Is Trapped In Mike Baron’s DOMAIN

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About halfway into DOMAIN, the new novel by Mike Baron I was wondering if maybe Mr. Baron hadn’t gotten two versions of the same novel mashed-up together and mistakenly published them as one. Give me a minute and I’ll explain.

In the first version we have Kendall Coffin, moderately successful comic book artist who due to an unexpected financial windfall is able to purchase an extraordinarily lavish and baroque Los Angeles mansion that looks like a cross between 1930’s Art Deco and a Mayan temple. It’s a mansion that was built by an eccentric architect and owned by an even more eccentric Hollywood producer. As in any good haunted house story, the mansion is rumored to have been the location of depraved sexual acts, rampant drug and alcohol abuse, Satanic rituals, pedophlia, necrophila and Great Cthulhu himself only knows what all else went on in that joint. That’s why Kendall is able to buy it cheap.

He settles down to his new life, meeting new neighbors, engages in romantic and business relationships and even gets himself a dog. But as he explores his new house and finds new rooms full of Hollywood memorabilia and remnants of the former owner’s depravities it begins working on his conscious and subconscious mind. Are there spirits of the dead infesting the house and subtly influencing Kendall? Maybe even to the point where he is committing murder without being aware of it?

In the second version Kendall Coffin goes to work for a thinly disguised Disney knock-off as a storyboarder. The studio is moving in a new direction and their latest production is an erotic thriller. While the job pays extraordinarily well, the subject matter is distasteful. And it’s in this version that Coffin wryly and cynically observes and muses on pop culture, comic book culture, Hollywood, TV, The Cult of Celebrity that has infected this country, video gaming, religion, the pros and cons of drug use, mortality and The Meaning of Life.

Don’t get me wrong, the two versions co-exist side-by-side and at times I actually found myself wanting to see more of the version with Kendall navigating his way through Hollyweird, wondering if this is truly the life he wants. There are chapters that are nothing more than Kendall going through his day and rather than being boring they do indeed enhance the story, providing characterization and doing something that a lot of horror stories don’t do; remind us that even though horrible things are happening around us, life does indeed go on. We still have to feed the dog, put out the the garbage and make a living. We still have to deal with loss and we still want to find love and have sex.

This is the fourth novel of Baron’s I’ve read and as always, I enjoy his freewheeling, don’t-give-a-damn prose. Baron writes as if he’s out to entertain himself first and foremost and it’s a tactic I wish more writers would adapt because if the writer is enjoying himself then it can’t help but translate into an enjoyable reading experience. I also like how he’s not afraid to use brand names, the names of real and made up rock groups, movie and TV actors, song titles, movie titles. There’s a name for this, y’know. It’s called “The Fleming Effect” named after Ian Fleming, the creator James Bond. A good case could be made for him inventing Product Placement since he name dropped left and right in his James Bond novels. I like it myself. It gives a novel an added layer when I’m reading about characters eating in the same restaurants I do, reading the same books and watching the same TV shows I do.

 
If you’ve read Mike Baron’s other books then you know what you’re getting and I don’t have to twist your arm. If you haven’t, then I’d recommend you sample “Helmet Head” (which reads like the best John Carpenter movie John Carpenter never made) and “Skorpio” before diving into DOMAIN. But no matter which of his books you decide to start with, you’ll be entertained, trust me. Mike Baron writes in a highly cinematic style that puts me in mind of to best of 1980s movies. True, his books have a lot of build-up but it’s there for a reason and the payoff is always worth the wait. Highly Recommended.

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