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I've been a house painter, dishwasher, broiler cook, private detective, military intelligence analyst, and I spent nearly 40 years as a reporter covering crime, 26 of them for the San Francisco Chronicle. These days I write science fiction, fantasy, horror and crime fiction, and I blog about books, films and crimes that don't receive sufficient attention from the mainstream media. I would like to be Elmore Leonard, Raymond Chandler, Ross MacDonald, Dashiell Hammett or George V. Higgins, but all of them are dead so I'll just stick with what I am already doing. . .

Friday, May 30, 2014

Knock, Knock -- Who's there? Farrell and Kearns, Crooks Beware!

Sean Lynch
384 pages
( Exhibit A Books (a subsidiary of Angry Robot Press), April 29, 2014
Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.

Last year, Sean Lynch hit the sweet spot with Wounded Prey, a swell little thriller that introduced Iowa Sheriff's Deputy Kevin Kearns and retired SF cop Bob Farrell.

The pair may not have followed the rule book -- though, heaven knows, Kearns tried -- but they still outmaneuvered the FBI nicely and managed to stop a very nasty serial killer in the process.

That was Lynch's first novel. I am delighted to say that Farrell and Kearns are back in The Fourth Motive, his most recent book, and they are after another cold-blooded killer, a man named Ray who has failed at just about everything important he has done in his life.

Ray lives with his drunken mother in a house that is ironically located near police headquarters in the island city of Alameda. He initially has only one target in his sights: Alameda County Deputy D.A. Paige Callen, whose father is a politically powerful Superior Court judge who has raised a fortune through shrewd investments.

The plot is fairly twisted but relatively easy to follow: Ray's motive involves a sexual assault and slaying that took place years earlier. To say much more about the story would risk spoiling it, because the real mystery here is not whodunit, but why.

Remarkably, Lynch accomplishes one of the most difficult things in crime fiction: by the end of the book, he has given us enough of the villain's back story and thinking to make the reason for his crimes understandable. Mind you, his reasoning is twisted and his actions are reprehensible, but at least the reader finishes with a clear notion of what has driven him to kill repeatedly.

Though the villain plans to make Callen suffer for something that occurred in the remote past, he runs up a remarkable body count in the process, killing four key characters at various points in the story and narrowly missing three others. Kearns, through good luck and excellent physical conditioning, avoids becoming one of those victims on three occasions.

The story is told in a stylish fashion, with plenty of local geographical references that should keep Bay Area residents happy. The investigation goes by fits and starts, largely because none of the major characters have a clue why the murderer started this crime spree.

We eventually find out. In the process we get a number of surprises, such as learning about a character's  villainy that Lynch does an excellent job of concealing until the book's conclusion.

And yes -- the touches of humor that made "The Wounded Prey" such a pleasure to read are present in this sequel. In the first book, for example, Farrell tries to win Kearns over and get him to join him as a private eye by repeatedly comparing their partnership to other notable duos:

"We belong together," Farrell said in one of those exchanges. "We're a team, you and me. Like the Lone Ranger and Tonto, or Holmes and Watson."

"More like Gilligan and the skipper," Kearns said.

He does the same thing in The Fourth Motive: "That's the spirit," Farrell says toward the end of the book. "Don't forget: we're a team you and me . . . like Cisco and Pancho."

"More like Dracula and Igor," Kearns muttered.

Farrell, who has cast-iron genitalia and can break into a place looking for evidence like Raffles the gentleman thief, has spent his career watching evil-doers get away with it because of the imperfection of the law, so he thinks nothing of taking it into his own hands. He shows little hesitation in administering corporal punishment, though he takes no pleasure at dispensing his own form of rough justice.

After all, he and Kearns are the only barrier between their client and a psychotic killer who has been planning his wrongdoing for decades. With few exceptions, the police in this book are inept or twisted, sadists who shield their use of violence with their badges or use their authority to rob the taxpayers they are sworn to protect and serve.

Ex-cop Sean Lynch writes a solid thriller with a touch of humor.

 The only flaw in the book is Lynch's propensity for repetition. In the first novel, he frequently has key characters say they want to catch the bad guy because their earlier failure to do so allowed him to kill again. In this one, Farrell keeps mentioning the incompetence of the police and how they are hamstrung by rules, regulations and the law. We get the point the first time around; it doesn't need reiteration.

But the average reader will blow right past these repetitive passages because Lynch keeps the action coming hot and heavy.  It reads like New Year's Eve in East Oakland: every time the reader turns around, somebody else is firing shots.

This is definitely a five-noose special, and at only $1.99 for Kindle, it would be hard to imagine a better buy!

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