The City of Devils

Reviewed by Linda C. Brinson

ALL THE DEVILS ARE HERE. By Louise Penny. Minotaur Books (St. Martin’s). 439 pages. $28.99.

Among the many things I missed during the year of COVID was a long-awaited new novel from Louise Penny, one of my favorite authors. Sometime in 2020, All the Devils Are Here, the latest mystery starring Armand Gamache, was published, and I apparently didn’t even know it.

But the grievous oversight has now been corrected, and I am delighted to report that in All the Devils Are Here, Louise Penny and Gamache are at their best.

Armand and his wife, Reine-Marie, travel to Paris for what should be a joyous family occasion: Their daughter Annie and her husband, Jean-Guy Beauvoir, are about to deliver their second child, a daughter.

The trip also allows a reunion with their son, Daniel, and his wife and two daughters.

Like Jean-Guy and Annie, Daniel now has a career in Paris.

But on their first night in Paris, things go badly awry. The extended family gathers for a bistro dinner with Stephen Horowitz, Armand’s godfather, an influential billionaire who raised him after his own parents died. As they contentedly stroll through the streets of Paris after their dinner, bound for their various lodgings, they are shocked and horrified as Stephen is run down and critically injured.

Armand, drawing on many years of detective work and finely honed intuition, knows what he saw was a deliberate attempt to murder his beloved godfather.

And with that, Armand, and soon the rest of the family members, are caught up in a frightening, confusing, perilous web of – what?

Paris has never seemed less like the City of Light. Dark shadows are everywhere – within the police, in the offices where Jean-Guy and Daniel work, in Stephen’s life… . Armand, Jean-Guy and the others don’t know whom to trust or how far the evil, whatever it really is, might extend.

Jean-Guy, formerly Armand’s second in command at the Surete du Quebec, slips back into detective mode.

Even Daniel, whose long estrangement from his father has been a source of sadness and some bewilderment for Gamache, is drawn into the effort.

The quest takes them to some of the most iconic sites in Paris, and into dark recesses where devils lurk.

A great deal is not as it seems, and Gamache must deal with doubts about old friends and even family, as the stakes grow higher and the danger increases.

By the time all becomes clear, and it eventually does, everyone, including the reader, is glad when the Gamache family heads back to the – usually – peaceful if eccentric village of Three Pines in Quebec.

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A treat for Spenser fans

Bob Moyer reviews the latest in a venerable detective series that has outlived its creator.

Reviewed by Robert P. Moyer

Robert B. Parker’s SOMEONE TO WATCH OVER ME. By Ace Atkins. Putnam. 306 pages. $27.

Since Ace Atkins took over the Spenser franchise, he has aptly inhabited not just The Spenser voice, but the habits, peccadillos, and even geography of Boston’s most-loved private eye. He continues apace in the latest installment:  24 beers, nine literary quotes, two “eeks,” a clutch at his fake pearls, and doughnuts galore. Of course, there’s also the sexy innuendo between Spenser and his main squeeze, Susan, the BFF banter between Spenser and Hawk, and the barrage of insults laid upon Spenser by various law enforcement officers. It’s all that Spenser fans can ask for, and more.

Readers also expect a decent plot, and the one Atkins provides is adequate, albeit predictable. It can be summed up in two words — Jeffrey Epstein. If you have followed the arc of this serial pedophile, the details will be familiar.

Never afraid to introduce new characters, Atkins gives Spenser a new sidekick. A slip of a girl when Spenser helped her out of a jam, Marty is now a young woman determined to be a detective. Incensed, she comes to Spenser with the case of a friend’s 15-year-old sister. Groomed by a billionaire’s assistant, the girl was then assaulted by the rich guy, and threatened when she tries to get her laptop and backpack returned. Within a short time, Marty and Spenser uncover wide-ranging exploitation of underage working-class girls, all centered in the billionaire’s mansion on Commonwealth Avenue. The two gumshoes start collecting victims willing to testify, law enforcement willing to prosecute, and, fortunately for the sake of entertainment,  thugs. The rich guy sends an assortment of ruffians to dissuade the victims and Spenser from pursuing the investigation. Needless to say, the average ruffian is no match for Spenser, and numerous very satisfying brawls ensue.

The case and dozens of illicit encounters lead from Commonwealth Avenue all the way to the Bahamas, where the creep owns an island. It is inevitable that Spenser and Hawk will end up there. The drama lies in how they get in, and whether they will get out. The satisfying ending is, in the book cover blurb’s terms, a “final epic showdown.” Although he spends a bit of time pondering his mortality, Spenser does manage to rally one more time. The only demise likely for him is whether Atkins will continue the series, or will Spenser have “eeked” at his last tough guy.

Stay tuned.


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A house filled with tears

Rob Moyer loves detective fiction, it’s true. But from time to time, his interest in human nature – including its darker sides – takes him into the serious nonfiction realm, and particularly into the horrors of the Holocaust.

Reviewed by Robert P. Moyer

LETTERS TO CAMONDO. By Edmund de Waal. Farrah, Straus and Giroux. 182 pages. $28.

Edmund de Waal is a potter by trade. “Pottery,” however, is a crude word for the delicate pieces of porcelain he produces, and exhibits around the world — below ground, above ground, carefully arranged, often in the context of other works of art. His work is exquisite.

So are his books. His first, The Hare With Amber Eyes, is a sine qua non of memoirs cum musings. In it he traces the decimation and devastation of his family, the Ephrussis, and their fortune by the Nazis. Titans of the financial world, the extended family owned mansions in Vienna, Paris and Minsk, filled with invaluable works of art and books. All that was left after the war was a collection of Japanese netsuke, small carved objects attached to a kimono sash. By tracing their history, de Waal brings back the lives that touched them, saw them, owned them.

In Letters to Camondo, de Waal approaches the destiny of a family intertwined with his in the French belle epoque, the Camondos. They lived at 63 rue de Monceau, just down the boulevard in Paris from his family at 81. In 1936, Moise Camondo willed that house to the French nation to commemorate his son, a fighter pilot who died in WWI—the Musee Nissim Camondo. He filled it with the greatest private collection of 18th century art, dictating that nothing should ever be moved, nothing loaned, even detailing how objects should be dusted. Remarkably, thanks to a (secret) Jew in the World War II Vichy government, the house was spared the brutal expropriation of the Nazis. In a series of 58 letters to Moise, all in present tense, de Waal illustrates French Jewish history, collecting, and the nature of memory.

He seems to have unlimited access to the house and its archives. In his writing, he inhabits the objects, inhabits the house, and, ultimately, the mind of Camondo.  He unearths lists of luncheons sponsored by the patriarch, organizations and societies he contributed and belonged to, the artists he supported, purchases of objects for the collection, all documenting how much he gave to France, not to mention the life of his son. He roams the house, sits in the room where Moise sat, learns “Objects are not seen by themselves but discovered among others.” He notices that “You put this here  and set off small chords… . You put it there and it is just stuff…”. De Waal realizes “It is what I do in my studio.” Camondo has made the whole house work together:  “The whole place acts as a vitrine where ‘memory weaves, unweaves the echoes.” As he senses later, ”The space holds the chance that they have not gone.” Camondo struggles against dispersion, wants to “… bring things back together.”

De Waal intuits that Camondo chose the late 18th century for that reason; all that royal art at the height of the enlightenment was dispersed by the French Revolution. He also chose the period because it was then that France was the first European country to give citizenship to the Jews. Banishing any work that suggested his Oriental roots, Camondo made a French house, because he, just like the Ephrussis, the Rothschilds, the Reinachs, all feel that they are French, not French Jews. De Waal portrays just how much Camondo gave to his country.

Relentlessly, he also portrays the French descent into anti-Semitism that lumped all Jews together as “Reinachs,” a derogatory joining into one family. In books, articles, society, Jews increasingly are seen as taking, not giving. Inexorably, after all their giving, comes the taking — the collaboration of the Vichy Government with the Nazis to remove all Jewish properties, all Jews. Throughout the book, illustrations on fine paper have shown families together smiling, a son kissing his dog, Moise’s daughter jumping a horse, a gorgeous desk. As the book concludes, the same attention and weight are given to what was taken away — the lives of Camondo’s family. What was grand in presentation earlier is now brutal — the deportation cards that sent his family to Auschwitz.

What was meant to be a memorial for Nissim, the son, now stands as a memorial for all those who were “dispersed” during the Holocaust. The house, full of what de Waal notes in his epigraph lacrimae rerum, the tears of things, sits this very day, waiting for the family, the dispersed — and visitors. If you can’t go, however, de Waal guides you through an unforgettable visit.


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A voice of pain and passion

Bob Moyer reviews the latest in a venerable detective series that’s set decades ago but, he finds, has much to say that’s relevant to today’s readers.

Reviewed by Robert P. Moyer

BLOOD GROVE. By Walter Mosley/ Mulholland Books. 307 pages. $27.

Long before Black Lives Matter, before George Floyd, a voice articulated the plight of the black man with detail, pain and passion. Here is that voice:

They gave me a ticket, knowing I’d never pay it.

 The whole process took about half an hour. If I added up all the half hours the police, security forces, MPs, bureaucrats, bank tellers and even gas station attendants had stolen from my life, I could make me a twelve-year-old boy versed in useless questions, meaningless insults, and spite as thick as black tar.


He was acting as if I was oppressing him by asking him to do his job. On top of that he was asserting his God-given entitlement as a white man to banish my rights. These responses called up a feeling in me that I can only describe as revolutionary.


I knew that moment all too well. Most black men of my generation do: born as second-class citizens, living third-class lives. The grandsons, great-grandsons and great-great-grandsons of slaves.

That is Walter Mosley’s most loved protagonist, Ezekiel “Easy” Rawlins, speaking. He’s a black detective in Los Angeles, making his life doubly difficult. This is Easy’s fourteenth novel, all of them set in 1960s L.A. It’s 1969, when “The sleeping giant of white guilt was awakening and there seemed to be some kind of hope for the future. If you were innocent enough, or ignorant enough, you might have believed that things were improving in such a way that all Americans could expect a fair shake.”

Not so much for Easy. A Vietnam vet approaches him, obviously “Shell-shocked by war and stunned in civilian life,” who pleads with Easy to find out if he might have killed a man beating a woman he didn’t know in a place called Blood Grove. Against his better judgment, Easy takes the case. It’s not long before what seems simple has Easy with “…two police departments, two dead bodies, maybe three more dead bodies, a gang of desperate heist men, a gangster, and a grieving mother pressing up against me.”

Getting to that point and out again — alive — is as interesting as always. Familiar characters who add many shades of color to the story, like Easy’s childhood friend Mouse the killer, Fearless Jones the enforcer and Feather, Easy’s daughter, show up. Other characters like the courtesan who makes Easy feel “…like a child staring through bamboo bars at a Siberian tiger,” appear a couple of times. Some appear just once to point Easy to his next clue, like the elderly neighbor  who says of his deceased wife, “We had forever and now it’s gone.”

Easy weaves his way to justice through a landscape of violence, much of that aimed at him. “The Civil War had ended more than a century before but the remnants could still be felt, still killed over on any street corner in the country,” he says toward the end of the book. We can feel it in Mosley’s writing; we can feel it in our country today, not just 1969.



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Here’s the buzz

My husband, Lloyd Brinson, was a science teacher for many years, and he’s also become a pretty accomplished gardener. He already knew a good bit about the importance of pollinators – he raises eyebrows in our neighborhood by carefully mowing around patches of blooming clover in our yard – but he still found much to interest him in this new book.

Reviewed by Lloyd Brinson

POLLINATOR GARDENING FOR THE SOUTH: Creating Sustainable Habitats. By Danesha Seth Carley and Anne M. Spafford.  The University of North Carolina Press. 168 pages. Paperback, $24. Ebook, $18.99.

By this time in the spring, you probably have already said some pretty unkind words (or worse!) about one insect or another. Before you find occasion to utter another expletive not deleted toward an unsuspecting flying critter, you might consider seeking a remedy for what could be a precursor to insectophobia.

You might consider reading Pollinator Gardening for the South, by Danesha Seth Carley and Anne M. Spafford, a delightful, easy to understand guidebook for keeping pollinating insects in their place – in flower and vegetable gardens that, while attractive, also serve to help shore up our fragile environment.

The authors, both associate professors of horticultural science at North Carolina State University, have combined solid science and delightful art and pictures to help anyone at any level of gardening to begin creating a pollinator-friendly garden of any size at any pace to suit any individual.

Not only is the science impeccable, this outdoor lover’s manual is full of wisdom, history and wonderful observations about nature, even human nature. While describing how some bees behave under differing circumstances in the chapter on “Butterflies, Bees and Beyond,” the authors remind us that:

“With bees, as with angry toddlers, swatting and yelling does not encourage them to settle down.”

As they describe the interweaving life and death struggles for survival of the insects and the plants, Spafford and Carley deliver insights into how dependent we are on the workings of the natural world. Notice I said how dependent we are. They quote biologist O. E. Wilson’s observation about ants:

“We need them to survive, but they don’t need us at all.”

Sometime while reading the first few chapters this book, my mind drifted back more than half a lifetime ago to the few years I spent in Polynesia and southeast Asia, where I regarded with wonder the myriad religious shrines, many surrounded with carefully attended plants of all types.

I believe I remembered those shrines because they were places of peace, reflection and a reminder of the good things in the world, the same feelings you can get while enjoying your pollinator garden.

There are also surprises in Pollinators, one of which puts me in a quandary. I’m a retired science teacher, and the neighborhood kids that come into our backyard to play basketball and frolic with our dog know that. We often discuss nature. They also love to sample the figs on the young trees at the corners of our patio/basketball court. So, as a dedicated, full disclosure scientist, am I obligated, after reading about fig wasps in Pollinators, to tell the whole story of how those tiny fig “flowers” get pollinated?

Probably not….


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What he left behind

Bob Moyer takes on a different kind of mystery – not a whodunit, but a look at the strange realm of human love and relationships.

Reviewed by Robert P. Moyer

MONOGAMY. By Sue Miller. Harper. 338 pages. $28.99



In this fine novel, filled with authentic detail of time, place and demographics, the main characters are or have been married — the larger-than-life bookstore owner Graham, his second wife Annie, his first wife Frieda, and their son Lucas. Only Sarah, the daughter of the second marriage, is not married. Late in the book, she muses about what she wants:


             Not marriage — not all the other promises to be made, and then broken. Not the   children, the difficult growing up. The wounds inflicted, back and forth, the inevitable disappointments, the unbridgeable distances. 

            Not that.

           Not monogamy.

By this time in the book, author Sue Miller has manifested in excruciatingly fine detail a litany of the pitfalls (many) and pleasures (few) of Monogamy. It all  begins when Graham unexpectedly dies in his sleep. He leaves Annie with grief, his son with a sense of distance, his ex-wife with resentment and his daughter with her insecurity. He also leaves behind an act of adultery.

Miller takes a page from Anton Chekov’s playbook here. Chekov said that if you hang a gun on the wall in the first act of a play, you have to use it in the second part. Miller loads Graham’s infidelity up in the first few pages and then fires it off in the second part. With finesse that would make Chekov nod in appreciation, she stages a scene in which Annie comes across the mistress weeping at Graham’s desk, and immediately shifts from grief to anger. Miller takes the rest of the book, up to the very last sentence, to resolve that anger.

With an astute eye for detail, she shows how a disturbance like Graham’s resonates through the lives of the other characters. The reader experiences Annie’s anger while she’s in the dentist’s chair, Lucas’ distance from his mother at the dining room table, Sarah’s consternation when she finds a book defaced by her mother. It’s not often that a book about domesticity could be called a page-turner, but Monogamy comes close. There is no mystery here, but there is more drama than one would expect, thanks to Miller’s skill. And many a reader will recognize many of the pitfalls of Monogamy.


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Choosing the words, telling the stories

Reviewed by Linda C. Brinson

THE DICTIONARY OF LOST WORDS. By Pip Williams. Ballantine Books. 371 pages. $28.

Pip Williams’ remarkable debut novel is imaginative, original, intelligent and delightful.

The Dictionary of Lost Words is also a book for our times – really, a book for all times. The questions it raises about the power of words, and the importance of who gets to tell the story, are just as relevant today as they were back in the 1880s and into the early decades of the 20th century when a team of men was laboring over the first Oxford English Dictionary.

Those men who eventually produced the “definitive” dictionary of the English language got invaluable assistance from women – volunteers, contributors, family members – who shared none of the credit.

This novel is soundly based on historical fact. If you’ve never read – as I had not – anything about how the OED was put together, you will find that part of the story fascinating. Williams does a marvelous job of making the work of the dictionary integral to the novel’s larger story.

The lexicographers devoted years to the effort, working in the “Scriptorium,” a garden shed in Oxford, England, behind the home of James Murray, the primary editor. Responding to an appeal from Murray, people across England and around the world mailed in slips of paper with suggested words, often just clippings from some publication.

The postcard-size slips of paper would be reviewed and, if accepted, filed in bundles in pigeon-holes in the Scriptorium. Sometimes slips, carelessly handled, could drift astray.

The dictionary, years behind schedule, was published initially in fascicles –  installments, or volumes. Sometimes by the time a fascicle emerged, developments proved that some editorial judgments had been wrong and omitted words should have been included.

In 1901, an inquiry from a reader revealed that the word “bondmaid” had been omitted from the 1888 first volume, A-B, not by editorial decision but because it was somehow, inexplicably, lost.

From that footnote of history, Pip Williams conjures up her story. The word “bondmaid,” in Williams’ fiction, was taken by a girl who spent much of her childhood beneath the sorting table in the Scriptorium.

Esme’s mother died in childbirth, so Esme’s father often takes the child with him to work in the shed behind the Murray’s home. Until she grows too big, Esme spends hours quietly beneath the table, soaking up the atmosphere of that room where people devoted their lives to words. Though she may not make much noise, she’s bright and inquisitive. One of the life lessons she learns early – and painfully – is that some words are more important, more powerful, than others.

When the slip with the word “bondmaid” on it floats to the floor one day, young Esme retrieves it. Usually when a slip is dropped, the person working with it picks it up, but not this time. Esme assumes it’s a duplicate or a reject  and not important. She doesn’t  really mean to steal it.

But later it turns out that she is, secretly, responsible for the error. Because she learns that the word means slave-girl or bonded servant, an objectionable idea, she’s glad it didn’t make it into the dictionary. Lizzie, a servant who works for the Murray family and is the closest thing Esme has to a mother or big sister, muses that “bondmaid” is what she, Lizzie, is, and seems glad to have been – almost – mentioned.

From this beginning, Esme resolves to collect words that are left out of the dictionary. Often, the  words relate to the lives of women and those on the margins of society. Esme begins secretly to compile her own “Dictionary of Lost Words,” those rejected because they are considered vulgar or improper, or unimportant, or are only spoken rather than written. They are, she realizes, words that have much to tell us. Toward this end, she ventures beyond her sheltered life in the Scriptorium and at school and learns a great deal more about the world.

One person Esme meets, an actress named Tilda, introduces her to the cause of women’s suffrage. That struggle, the world of the theater and the Great War with its upending of British life all become part of Esme’s quest and of her life, with its ups and downs.

Williams, who was born in London and lives in Australia, beautifully blends the themes of the power of language, the implications of who gets to tell the story and the challenges women face. Wrap that all up into a carefully researched historical novel and a compelling, imaginative story of one woman’s life, and you get a novel that’s sure to please many readers.

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A good story – that raises questions

Bob Moyer, aficionado of mysteries and thrillers, also has an abiding interest in nonfiction books about the Holocaust.

Reviewed by Robert P. Moyer

THE SPIRAL SHELL: A French Village Reveals Its Secrets of Jewish Resistance in World War II. A Memoir. By Sandell Morse. Schaffer Press. 239 pages. $24.95.

Sandell Morse did not know what she was going to write when she arrived at the artists’ retreat in Auvillar, France. She knew the village was a center for the Resistance in World War II, many Jews  sheltered there, including 70 children, and one family had her surname, Hirsch. When she began searching for landmarks and locations of that period, she was met with denial, feigned ignorance, and frequently, “Je ne sais pas.”  In short, her efforts to uncover the carefully buried history of the village’s Jewish affiliation was met with — well, resistance.

Nevertheless, she persevered. Not a journalist, with only fractured “Duolingo” French, she set off to dig up the story. She pulled on strings that stretched back to events repressed or forgotten, pulling stories into the present. One of those strings was Germaine,  who worked in le colonie, the home that sheltered the Jewish children.  She recounted stories of taking the children into the woods when the Gestapo arrived, of transporting children around the countryside. Germaine offered her another string —Yvonne, one of the 69 children who survived the war. All along the way, Morse encountered systemic anti-Semitism, even amongst the locals she befriended over the years of her research. Each thread led to another revelation. Her namesake family was arrested and transported. The father returned after the war, buying up property in the village where he had sheltered. Over the years, he became an object of scorn and dismay because of his handling of the property, and, Morse surmises, his constant presence as a reminder of the Vichy past.

While researching how Jews were concealed in the village, the author searches for the Jew concealed within herself. Growing up in a family that assiduously sought assimilation, she gave up wearing her Star of David pendant at the age of 8; “Why advertise?” said her father. Now, she encounters Jews who do not present their Jewishness to the public. When she asks Germaine’s daughter, who was born during the war, why she is reticent, she replies, “You cannot do that here.”  Throughout the book,  the author recalls all that she herself did not do, in order to cover her Jewishness.

As the book proceeds, the author becomes more empathetic and passionate about this history, these people denied recognition. With a sharp eye for detail, and a nose for a good story, she ventures into territory that verges upon inappropriate — making up stories from those who have suffered. Since the Holocaust, scholars and many others have questioned the appropriateness of writers and artists to mine that material in their work. As they say in the South, her heart’s in the right place, but there is a fine line between exploration and exploitation. She takes many a moment, both factual and anecdotal, and follows it up with “I imagine…”, “Perhaps…”, and, even further afield, “I fancy…”. The resulting frequently lengthy writing is vivid and imaginative, but just that—imaginative. The reader must be careful to separate fancy from fact:  The story must be honored, but not elaborated.

Morse goes one step further into controversial territory. Her deep engagement with her source, Germaine, leads her to a conflation between their lives:  “We were linked, Germaine and I, by our rebellious spirits and by our struggle, when young, to be both women and mothers.” How uncomfortable that this housewife from suburban New York, barefoot, wearing hippie clothes, equates her experience with that of a post-war, penniless Germaine cycling through Paris streets with her three children on the bike.

Passionate? Yes. Informative? Yes. Well-written? Yes. Questionable? Yes. The journey into Vichy France and the journey into her heritage are interesting; they are not equal.


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The boy is back

Bob Moyer takes a look at the latest book by one of America’s most respected mystery and thriller writers.

Reviewed by Robert P. Moyer

EDDIE’S BOY. By Thomas Perry. Mysterious Press. 274 pages. $26.

Thomas Perry never fails to produce a pager-turner. His protagonists, whether in stand-alone novels or series installments, Native American females or Boston-bred white guys, go about their likable and lethal ways at breakneck speed. Perry fans cheer them on, eagerly awaiting the next clever means of maiming or dispatching the bad guys—and wondering why they enjoy all the mayhem so much.

Eddie’s Boy continues the story of The Butcher’s Boy, one of the early entries in the Perry oeuvre. This is the third installment in The Butcher’s Boy series over a 39-year period. The “boy” was brought up and trained in two trades by Eddie —butcher and hit man. He’s been living in retirement in England until someone wants him dead. When the reader first sees him, he’s driving to the airport with three dead bodies strapped into seat belts, and a fourth one in the trunk. He has to get away, but he doesn’t know from whom. After another half-dozen bodies, he decides to go back to the U.S., where obviously someone wants him gone.

When he gets to the States, he not only returns to his home, but he also takes a trip into the past. As he tracks down who put out the hit on him, he travels through the past with his ersatz parent and protector, Eddie. Besides an entertaining trip into the training methods involved in being an assassin—how to use a garrote, what part of the body to put a knife into, how to shoot with two .45 pistols at once — he comes across a lesson that has kept him alive: “He knew that what Eddie had been teaching him was about living,” not killing. He was an expert at staying alive, and that’s what Perry puts into those pages we turn with avidity. He’s not just knocking people off; he’s working his way back home. That’s what we’re cheering.

And, many machinations and funerals later, he makes it. He’s getting a little long in the tooth, but don’t put it past Perry to bring Eddie’s Boy back one more

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Reacher “Just Happens” to be at it again

Bob Moyer reviews the latest in one of his favorite series (and one of mine, also, once he introduced me to it). But, as he explains, this involves a “new Jack Reacher.”

Reviewed by Robert P Moyer

THE SENTINEL. By Lee Child and Andrew Child. Delacorte Press. 351 pages. $28.99

Jack Reacher is the star of the Just Happens School of Mystery Fiction. For 25 installments, he Just Happens to stop off in a (usually)small town, where he Just Happens to notice someone in trouble. It usually Just Happens that he, traveling man that he is, can spend some time making things right. It Just Happens that gangs of bad guys attack him and he dispatches them with violent elan. It almost goes without saying that it Just Happens that these events frequently have ramifications on a national, sometimes international level, no matter how small the town or how far into the country it may be.

And so it goes in the latest installment, The Sentinel. Reacher stops off in a small Tennessee town, and on his way to get coffee always) he Just Happens to notice five people about to attack a clueless man. He adds a few mangled bodies to the pile he’s created over the years, and after a visit to the police station, he goes back for that cup of coffee—and Just Happens to run into the guy he saved. It turns out he’s the disgraced town IT guy, who is blamed for the town’s IT structure being held for ransom. He doesn’t know why anyone would want to kidnap him, but Jack senses he’s in danger.

In the meantime, while Jack and the guy are trying to scope out what anyone could be after, nefarious foreign forces still plan to kidnap him. By this time, it Just Happens that Reacher has decided to stay to protect the guy and his mother. Reacher sets out to set up traps, trying to find out what “they” are after. Shortly, he figures out it’s something on the servers that were held up in the ransom. The IT guy, unfortunately, threw them away. Now they are looking for something they don’t know on something they can’t find. And a bunch of bad guys are after them. Of course it Just Happens that a couple of FBI agents let Reacher know that it all revolves around a threat to national security, a program called The Sentinel. The plot plays out with the usual mangling of bodies, threats to Jack and his cohorts, and, in this case, with Reacher going literally deeper than he’s ever gone.

Two changes about the series must be noted. For the first time in 25 volumes—wait for it—Reacher gets a cell phone. It’s a text-and-talk model, and he gives it back at the end. It’s a temporary change.

The other change is permanent. Lee Child is giving the series over to his brother Andrew. The result here, if any example, reads slower and longer, with more people than it feels like necessary. Time will tell, however. Let’s hope, that like Ace Atkins taking over Robert B. Parker’s Spenser, that Brother Child will master the art  of the Just Happens School of Mystery Fiction.

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