Blog editor note: Nowadays, Lia Matera is a friend on Facebook. Although I still have not met her in person, and we can't go out for coffee together because we live a couple of thousand miles apart, we actually are as good friends as two can be on Facebook, chatting, cross-commenting, and liking a lot of the same things. I was really honored to have her accept me as a friend, given that I am "just a fan". But it's true, her books are some of my favorites amongst contemporary crime drama.
In a previous post, I bemoaned the lack of good, independent bookstores in most of Britain. Once Upon A Crime, in Minneapolis, is one of the type of bookstores I was thinking about. On my recent trip there for the birth of grand-daughter Savannah, I visited OUAC and purchased five books, reviews of which follow.
Bad Boy Brawly Brown, by Walter Mosley, is a book you will expect to be good if you are already familiar with Mosley's Easy Rawlins series. And it doesn't disappoint. The Easy Rawlins books are all in chronological order, so the story develops, society in multi-racial Los Angeles changes through the decades, and characters grow, change and in some cases die. This is the first novel after the death of Mouse, Easy's criminally violent but strangely endearing oldest friend. The ghost of Mouse haunts the story, plaguing Easy and giving him strength at the same time. This story takes place in the early 1970s, and concerns Easy's attempts to save a young boy from falling into a life of criminality through the strange politics of black power in that era. It is full of all the things you want in an Easy Rawlins story: tender family dramas and piercing sociological insights alternating with anatomically described fight scenes and thrilling car chases.
Star Witness, a Willa Jansson Mystery, by Lia Matera, is one in a series that is a personal favourite of mine. Willa Jansson is a lawyer with a colourful past. She is what we used to call a "red diaper baby"; her parents are 1960s radicals, her values are unashamedly leftist, and her heroes are secular and intellectual and revolutionary, like her parents. The early books in the series featured Willa working for a leading leftist lawyer and then, when he died in an early book, an idealistic legal cooperative. Now she works for a corporate firm, and so gets into those typical nineties-naughties conflicts of belief vs. livelihood. In this story, a bit of a departure, she gets roped into the world of alien abductees and conspiracy theorists, and gets herself tied up in some Gordian knots of legal ethics and personal responsibility. The thing that really shines about Lia Matera's books is the dialogue, both internal and external. I cannot recommend them highly enough.