Walk A Crooked Line by Susan McBride

It has been a long while since a police procedural has rocked my boat, kept me on the edge of my seat and made me say, “Wow.” Walk A Crooked Line did all of those things a more!

TBR Thursdays

#TBRThursdays is the day that I reach back to my To-Be-Read list, read a book and review it. Then, hurrah, it’s not on my ever growing list any longer!

Why I waited so long to read Walk a Crooked Line is a puzzle to me. If I had known how great it was going to be, I wouldn’t have waited! This is the second installment in the Jo Larsen series. Normally second books are not as good as the first and I’ve come to expect that. This one, however, is even better than the first!

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Jo Larsen is an amazing detective who once had a very bright future ahead of her. She made some critical errors in judgement and had to pay the price for them. Now, she trying to rectify her mistakes and continue with a job she loves and is good at but in a much smaller town. Much. Smaller. When she is called out to the scene of what appears to be the suicide of a 15 year old girl, she cannot let things go until she knows “why” the girl would take her own life. Was it willingly, did someone push her or did someone bully her into doing so. These are the questions that Jo wants answers to and she will investigate until she finds that answer – unless someone stops her first.

McBride has created a very sympathetic protagonist in Jo Larsen. She is smart, capable but flawed with a gambling addiction and a sister who always has been a thorn in her side. As we explore the reasons why this girl might have killed herself, we also unravel more of Jo’s back story and the more we learn, the more wonderful and brave she becomes.

There are multiple story arcs throughout the book: the suicide, Jo’s sister who has returned to town, dog-nappings and subsequent abuse but never does the book get muddled or confusing. Each story line is handled deftly and thoroughly as the book roars toward its climactic conclusion. In the genre of police procedurals/suspense, Walk A Crooked Line stands out as a winner.

Thank you to #Netgalley, @SuzMcBrideBooks and #Thomas&Mercer for my copy of this well written tale.

Ohio by Stephen Markley

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Stephen Markley’s first fiction book, OHIO, is definitely not for the faint of heart. Having written previous non-fiction books, Markley undertakes an ambitious project writing about a rural, Northeaster, Ohio town suffering from the Great Recession, the opioid crisis and the after-effects of 9/11.

OHIO centers around the story of four high school friends who are reunited a decade after their graduation. It also circles around the story of one of those friends who was killed in Iraq. In fact, the entire beginning of the book is one long running commentary on the funeral parade for this man which occurs months after his actual burial, and which features an empty casket on loan from Wal Mart. There were many part of this exegesis that reminded me of Garrison Keillor and his Tales of Lake Wobegon. The writing flows with excess and verbiage that is both descriptive and, well, over-the-top. To a certain extent, though not as talented, it also reminds of William Faulkner who could describe a scene to death.

After this opening finally ends, Markley presents us with characters that are quite nearly a stereotype for small, Midwestern, rural towns. I should know, I live in one and I’ve known many from the area from which Markley is drawing his inspiration. In fact, Markley was reared in such a small town very much like the one he is describing – but he has been living in L.A. for  many years.

OHIO is an examination of the fervor  that occurred in many small towns after the attacks on the World Trade Center. Smelling blood, military recruiters swarmed into these towns whipped up “patriotism” like a spell across the land. Those who were poor, bored or looking for a way out of these towns, eagerly bought the lies that these recruiters were dishing out like candy. As a result, the Midwest now if faced with higher numbers of veteran homelessness, drug addition to the crisis point and crime, which is needed to feed their addictions.

This is a very dark, very descriptive – overly so – account of war, drugs, addiction and despair.

However, while I like the premise of the book, my criticism is two-fold.  Markley claims that the book is an accurate description of the war battles and recruitment during this time – he also admits that he “once was very anti-war.” His anti-war sentiments don’t come through for me in OHIO. His remarks about why he is not as adamantly “anti-war,” disturb me on a very deep level. Americans only now are beginning to look at 9/11 as “history” rather than current events.  Any time an author writes about it, their own biases and leanings are revealed. The fact is, many – too many – young men were lied to, sold a bill of goods that were rotten and the “war in Iraq” was nothing except a military exercise to build the American Empire. You can not talk about the “rust belt” of America without directly talking about the massive loss of jobs, the cut back in education funding, the lack of medical treatment – ALL courtesy of the American government. The darkness here, in my mid-west, is very real. The opioid crisis is staggering. But Markley’s views are merely more fiction added to the mix, militarily accurate according to the recruiters with whom he spoke, but we all know how truthful they can be.  For the record, I’m the wife of COL (ret) so I’m very familiar with the military, the war and the lies that were told after 9/11.

Secondly, one complaint that I have regarding Southern writers is that they use thirty words to describe what could be brilliantly written in ten. Markley writes more like a southern writer than one from the mid-west where words never are wasted and verbosity is, quite nearly, considered a sin. This book is too long, too drawn out, too much of everything that is not quality. Readers who think that the book is dark would see a more fitting picture of the Rust Belt if they didn’t have to wade through the unnecessary muck. I wanted to scream: “edit, Edit, EDIT.” Sadly, there was none.

If you want to read an astounding account of what reality is like in a rural rust belt town, I suggest instead that you read “Fast Falls the Night” by Julia Keller. It also is a very disturbing read but one based on fact, expertly written and staggering in its accurate  description of what it really is like to live in such a town as mine.

OHIO was given to me by #Netgalley in exchange for a review of the book.