Valley of Refuge

Valley of Refuge, the new thriller by John Teschner, starts off like a mystery. At least it was a mystery to me, with three intriguing stories evolving at once. Social media magnate Frank Dalton is doing something Big on the Big Island of Hawai`i, a woman passenger on a Hawai`i-bound airplane has completely lost her memory and doesn’t recognize the person her passport says she is, and a young Hawaiian woman, Nalani, is at risk of losing her ancestral lands, which the magnate wants.

As the stories move forward—and especially as the memory of the woman called Janice Diaz gradually returns, these strands weave into a tightly constructed, complex plot. Because the action—and Teschner packs plenty of it into the novel’s seven-day timeline—takes place almost exclusively in Hawai`i, you’re treated to elegant descriptions of the topography and plant life, the fishing and surfing, the sunsets and weather—including a cataclysmic rainstorm at the climax that will leave you feeling drenched.

Frank Dalton heads a company called Sokoni that dominates the social media world. Make that “the world.” But for someone who amassed his fortune enabling people to make connections with each other, his project in Hawai`i is the antithesis of that. He’s building a no-expense-spared refuge with the impossible goal of keeping people out.

Janice Diaz is whisked from the plane to a hospital then turned out on the street. No luggage. No reservations that she knows of. No friends or family. She has a phone, but doesn’t remember its security code. And, someone is trying to kill her.

The scenes with Nalani, her mother, and her Uncle Solomon, expert in the ways of nature, contrast starkly with Dalton’s artificial world. The Hawaiians are happy with their meager parcel, while Dalton’s multimillion dollar estate fills him with anxiety.

It takes a while for the characters’ roles in the story to shape up, and Teschner uses short chapters to bounce you from one intriguing plot point to another. The pace gradually picks up steam, acquiring such strong narrative power that the last day’s events rush forward like the storm itself.

All these characters are well realized, and I especially liked Janice Diaz, the homeless woman who helps her, Nalani, and the realtor struggling to finalize the transfer of Nalani’s family’s property. Naturally, it’s harder to warm to Dalton, with his narcissism and conviction he can control the universe, but that portrayal is effectively drawn too. Teschner uses a fair amount of the Hawaiian language—both by the Hawaiians and the whites who want to show how with-it they are—but it isn’t hard to follow. Context usually takes care of it, and he provides a handy glossary, just in case. It’s an exciting and atmospheric read. Loved it!

Dead Drop

James L’Etoile’s award-winning crime thriller Dead Drop takes a 360-degree look at the intertwined issues of illegal immigration, drug and arms smuggling, and unfettered violence plaguing the southwest United States and the challenges they present law enforcement. After a career spent in the California penal system, L’Etoile has seen these problems play out first-hand. In this action-packed story, you do too.

When it comes to the illegal border crossers, Phoenix, Arizona, detective Nathan Parker tries vainly to hold on to the principle, “Yes, they’re desperate, but what they’re doing is against the law.” But when he’s faced with some of the realities the immigrants confront—and, ultimately, when he becomes an illegal border crosser himself—he starts not just to see, but to appreciate the other side of the story.

In this novel, the immigration issue has many troubling dimensions—fentanyl trafficking, rapacious coyotes, weapons galore, disregard for human life, and the spotty coordination of federal, state, and local efforts to combat any of these. The quest for personal and organizational glory makes inter-agency cooperation more difficult, as always.

While the U.S. Attorney is working to create an airtight case against the drug smugglers—a process that’s taking literally years—people are dying in real time. One of them was Parker’s long-time partner, a death for which Parker blames himself. A new lead appears when a cell phone number is found on a dead man. He’s one of four found in the desert, sealed up in 55 gallon oil drums. Parker’s encounter with the owner of that cell phone leads to his suspension from the force.

The barrels were discovered by Billie Carson, a woman living on the raggedy margins of society, scavenging whatever she can find abandoned in the desolate landscape. Billie has learned how to navigate a dysfunctional support system and, contrary to his expectations, Parker learns a lot from her. Suspended, he isn’t supposed to keep investigating any link to his partner’s shooting, but (of course) he does, and Billie and he may be at risk because of their connection with the bodies in the barrels.

Given all the players—criminals, law enforcement, bystanders, innocent or not—it’s a complicated plot with a lot of characters and a lot of agendas, much like real life, probably. L’Etoile writes convincingly about his law enforcement characters, and some have managed to maintain a sense of humor. Billie’s a solid female character, but several of the other women are less believable.

The way L’Etoile describes the unforgiving desert environment of northern Mexico and south Arizona, for many people and even for a time for Parker, it’s almost as much an enemy as the gun-toting coyotes smuggling people through the tunnels under the “impenetrable” U.S. border wall.

It’s a memorable story, and if you want to read more about this troubled area, I recommend Don Winslow’s The Cartel and Down by the River, riveting nonfiction by the late investigative reporter Charles Bowden.

Order here from Amazon (if you use these affiliate links, Amazon sends me a small payment):
Dead Drop
The Cartel
Down by the River

drugs, El Paso, Rio Grande, narcotraficantes, DEA, Border Patrol, Mexico, Texas
U.S. Border Patrol agents on the Rio Grande (photo: c1.staticflickr)

Pumpkin Spice Reading

pumpkin, book art

Ghostly apparitions, the bloodier and unDisneyfied fairy tales, the scary stories told around a campfire. They all become more spine-tingling as darkness closes in on the days of autumn.

At some time in the next three weeks, if you want to prep for Halloween by more than filling a plastic pumpkin with candy for the kids, here’s a trio of horror short stories designed to shiver your timbers and get you in the mood.

“The October Game” by Ray Bradbury (1948) – A sadistic spouse, a pitch-black basement, a game that just might go awry, Bradbury partners with your imagination to ramp up the chills. Hear it here on the Classic Ghost Stories Podcast, which offers many more.

“Berenice” by Edgar Allan Poe (1835) – Less well known than “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “The Fall of the House of Usher,” or “The Pit and the Pendulum”—all of which are heart-skippingly scary—this one appeals to me because I’ve used it to create two of my own short stories. You can read Poe’s original here. He describes an increasingly unhinged young man who marries his cousin. He obsesses on her teeth. And when she dies, he pulls them out. I’ll let you discover the rest for yourself. My 21st century version, published in Quoth the Raven, is about a meth addict (the bad teeth) obsessed with her twin brother and his girlfriend who has perfect dentition. It doesn’t end happily. My other story based on “Berenice” ends much more happily and appears in a 2021 collection titled Sherlock Holmes: Adventures in the Realms of Edgar Allan Poe. Holmes and Watson to the rescue!

“The Landlady” by Roald Dahl (1959) also invokes the virtue of beautiful teeth. A young man needing a cheap place to stay makes a bad choice. A master class in devious foreshadowing. You know you’re in for it when the first paragraph ends, “But the air was deadly cold and the wind was like a flat blade of ice on his cheeks.” Read it here.

Now, go grab a sweater.

The Plinko Bounce

Fans of television’s classic quiz show, The Price is Right, will recognize the Plinko in the title of Martin Clark’s new legal thriller. It’s a juiced-up game not dissimilar to Pachinko, the Japanese gambling game that similarly titled an award-winning 2017 novel. The connection both these books have to their eponymous games is the notion that seemingly random developments steer someone’s fate.

Patrick County, Virginia, public defender Andy Hughes finds himself saddled once again with the thankless job of representing serial offender Damian Bullins. And these are Bullins’s most serious charges yet. This time he’s accused of murdering the African American wife of Mormon pastor Cole Benson. He’s even confessed. But . . .The book follows the incredible twists and turns (the Plinko bounces) that propel this case from disaster to potential success.

Andy is a smart, caring guy, with a new girlfriend and an eight-year-old son. Early on, one of the county’s persistent drunks and petty criminals—whom staff of the public defender’s office call Regulars—dies in the county jail, and his dog Patches won’t leave the jailhouse property. He’s waiting for Zeb, as always, but this time Zeb isn’t coming for him. Patches ends up part of the Andy Hughes household too.

By contrast, Bullins is a hot mess. Drugs and liquor don’t improve the logic he applies to his situation, but he isn’t stupid. In fact, Hughes and his boss Vikram Kapil believe Bullins may be a little too clever in his ploys to outwit the system. His ability to twist every development in the case to serve his strange logic is simultaneously amusing and horrifying, as he transparently schemes to pervert justice. Apparently, he’s aware this is an era when the more outlandish a claim is, the more likely it is to gain credence. The rascal just might get away with murder.

Clark’s characters are interesting and highly individual, with just the right amount of backstory. The beautiful areas of rural southwest Virginia on the North Carolina state line are woven into the story, as are its small towns and small-town sensibilities.

Author Clark is a retired Virginia circuit court judge who served on the bench for some 27 years. His experience shows in several riveting courtroom scenes. No questioning the legal underpinnings of this tale, either. Clark makes clear the limits and strains on the public defender system when it’s faced with a penniless, manipulative defendant like Damian Bullins. Yet, despite giving every respect to the legal intricacies of the proceedings, Clark never gets bogged down. His writing is clear, and the story moves forward briskly. Watching Andy Hughes try to live up to the ethical tenets of his profession in the face of a thoroughly reprehensible defendant is a struggle worth witnessing.

Order it from Amazon here. (As an Amazon affiliate, I receive a small payment for products ordered through this website.)

A Twisted Love Story

If only the main characters of Samantha Downing’s new psychological suspense thriller, A Twisted Love Story, would tell the truth once in a while, a lot of their problems would be solved and maybe even avoided. Wes Harmon and Ivy Banks have been an on-again, off-again couple for almost a decade—ever since college—and their breakups are every bit as passionate as their reunions. But if they each harbor secrets, they also share a growing list of them. And those shared secrets put them on a slippery path leading straight to prison.

Early on, Wes meets the couple’s main antagonist, Karen Colglazier. She’s a detective with the Sex Crimes Unit of Fair Valley, California, the featureless mid-sized town where Wes and Ivy live. It seems Ivy has accused him of stalking her and described to Colglazier the ominous notes, presents—including a box of half-eaten chocolates—and pictures, she’s been receiving. Nothing against the law, technically. Not so far, but Colglazier believes a visit from the police often puts a stop to such low-level harassment. Wes denies doing any of it, but then he would, wouldn’t he?

Ivy, fierce and funny, has perhaps the weakest impulse control you’ll ever encounter in fiction, and Wes believes that reporting the alleged stalking was her way of getting his attention. In the past, she’s used some dramatic, even damaging, ways to do that. He’s obviously on Ivy’s mind because when he shows up at her apartment the night of Colglazier’s visit, she gives every indication she was expecting him. The relationship, heavily burdened with the baggage of past mistakes, is on again.

Detective Colglazier is far from convinced by Ivy’s new forgiving attitude toward Wes. She believes Ivy’s denials are further evidence of how afraid and beaten down she is. Her prominent blind spot may be in the wrong place in this instance, but her instinct that more is going on here than meets the eye is correct. Wes and Ivy may seem doomed to keep reenacting their breakups and reconciliations, but it’s Colglazier’s doggedness that creates the book’s tension. Can they ever be free of their past mistakes without being free of each other? If you like thrillers involving dangerous secrets and struggling relationships, this may be a good book for you.

Samantha Downing, born in California, has made a specialty of psychological suspense since her successful 2019 debut novel, My Lovely Wife.

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What Makes a Fiction Writer? Jo Nesbø

Norwegian crime writer Jo Nesbø recently gave The Guardian a rundown of the books he counts among his greatest influences. His dad grew up in New York, so the household included a wealth of books by America authors, which exposed him to early favorites Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn –“food for the imagination for a kid like me.” With Tom Sawyer, he found his first murder mystery.

(Note that Huckleberry Finn is number 33 on the American Library Association’s list of books most frequently challenged in libraries and schools from 2010-2019.)

As a teenager, Nesbø’s perception about what literature can and should deal with evolved, in part due to reading Jean Genet’s classic, The Thief’s Journal. He says he knew he wanted to be a writer after reading some gritty works—On the Road by Jack Kerouac and Ham on Rye by Charles Bukowski—which may have inspired some of the noir strains in Nesbø’s own writing, especially the Detective Harry Hole series (the only works of his I’ve read).

What a big debt most successful writers owe their early inluencers! Like me, you may be surprised when self-proclaimed authors say that they “don’t read,” or that they don’t read in the genre they want to write in. As a friend has said, “reading is like breathing in; writing is like breathing out.” Writing requires reading. Nesbø endorses this notion, even saying that “writing is a result of reading, like making music is a result of listening to music.” He calls it a social reflex, the way people tell stories around the dinner table, or the campfire, or in the foxhole. Storytelling was a strong tradition in the southern United States, which could be why so many great storytellers have southern roots.

Now that Nesbø is older and an acclaimed writer himself, some authors no longer hold appeal (Hemingway), though he’s still making discoveries (Joseph Roth’s The Radetzky March) and has returned to some authors with new appreciation—he cites his fellow Norwegian Henrik Ibsen, (whose play, An Enemy of the People, is one of my favorites). Currently, he’s reading Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind, which would seem to be feeding the same impulse that made him think about what literature should deal with. It will be interesting to see if some of Haidt’s ideas about how people make moral judgments find their way into Nesbø’s fiction.

Nesbø is the popular author of bestselling crime thrillers like The Snowman and The Son, has a new horror novel out later this week, The Night House, available for pre-order. Tagline: When the voices call, don’t answer.

Image: By Elena Torre – Flickr: Jo Nesbo, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=19747762

Deep Roots by Sung J. Woo

Deep Roots is an entertaining soft-boiled PI story, second so far in a series by Sung J. Woo that features Korean American detective Siobhan O’Brien. If the name and the ethnicity seem at odds, it’s because Siobhan was adopted by an Irish-Norwegian couple in Minnesota, as was her African American brother, Sven.

O’Brien inherited a private investigation business from her deceased boss (whom she misses), and a former client suggested billionaire Philip Ahn might benefit from her help. Ahn’s illustrious Korean lineage traces back to the late 1500s. At least. His estate—Woodford—is on a San Juan Island he owns in the far northwest United States, near the Canadian border.

Ahn wants Siobhan to come to Woodford to perform a delicate task. Now over 80, Ahn has been married three times. These alliances have produced three daughters and one son, Duke, a college student. If something happens to Ahn, Duke, the youngest of his children, will take over the businesses, something it is immediately obvious the young man is unprepared to do, intellectually or temperamentally.

Ahn, his three wives, Duke, and his daughters and their partners, along with two grandchildren, all live at Woodford together. If you’re familiar with the Zhan Yimou’s wonderful movie, Raise the Red Lantern, which Woo cites as an inspiration, you’ll be alert to the desperate rivalries and other difficulties enforced spousal proximity can engender. Siobhan’s principal contact in the family is Ahn’s daughter Lady Mary. You won’t go far wrong if you keep in mind the elegant and self-contained Lady Mary of Downton Abbey—another source Woo credits as contributing to his early ideas.

The issue Ahn wants Siobhan to resolve is Duke’s identity. He makes the rather extraordinary statement that the boy “is not who he purports to be.” If Duke were booted from the line of succession, though, which mother, and which daughter (or grandchild) would take his place? Thus, a lot is riding not only on what Siobhan discovers, but how she goes about discovering it.

Siobhan can summon ‘SiobhanDrone’ to lead her to any remote corner of the estate as she goes about interviewing family members. SiobhanDrone also will bring her anything she wants (under two pounds), etc. The support system and technology at Woodford is over-the-top, but if you loosen your grip on reality just a bit, it’s at least almost plausible and a lot of fun!

Told by Siobhan, the story depends for its success on how engaging she is as a character. I liked her a lot—her wit, her wits, her ability to say the wrong thing and move on, and her strong desire to do the right thing. Once Philip Ahn disappears and is presumed dead, her investigation has multibillion-dollar consequences for everyone in the family.

There’s a brief secondary plot involving her brother Sven and an unlucky business venture that isn’t really needed, and the setting of the climactic moments truly stretches the imagination, but on the whole, the characters are so nicely built out and act in ways so consistent with their personalities you will play right into Soo’s capable hands.

Raise the Red Lantern – Find ways to see it here.

Come with Me by Erin Flanagan

In the new psychological thriller Come with Me by Erin Flanagan (cover pictured), a woman, put simply, is forced to grow up. She hasn’t realized she needed to until circumstances make her come to terms with her responsibilities. Taking charge of your own life, when you’re accustomed to letting others make the important decisions for you, isn’t easy. In her case, not doing it might prove deadly.

Gwen thinks she has what she’s always wanted, a devoted husband, a lovely daughter, a nice life in Boulder, Colorado. The tiny cracks are only at the edges, and at least she’s far from the confines of Dayton, Ohio, where she grew up.

Once, just out of college she did briefly strike out on her own with a four-month internship at a Dayton media company. While the other two interns paired up as leader and acolyte, Gwen stayed outside their circle, preoccupied with her upcoming wedding.

Ten years later, but early in the story, her husband Todd has a fatal heart attack, leaving Gwen bereft. His death isn’t the only blow. Solely in charge of their finances, Todd has sunk all the couple’s money into his start-up business and run up huge debts. Gwen now has no husband, no money, no house, and no job experience. She’s forced to move back to Dayton into the home of her increasingly debilitated, prickly mother.

One lucky thing, though. Online research reveals her fellow intern from a decade earlier, Nicola, the leader in their little trio, is still at the company, and, better yet, is still a leader. She’s moved up smartly in the organization. When Gwen calls her to explain her plight, Nicola starts throwing out lifelines.

If you have ever had a manipulative friend, if you’ve learned the hard way that favors often come with strings attached, and if you recognize the signs someone is seeking power and control, you will wish fervently that Gwen were more aware. But even she has limits and a mother’s instincts for danger. Watching her complete trust in Nicola crumble ever so gradually is one of the chief pleasures of this story. And, while we might wish it would happen sooner, that’s not who Gwen is.

The story is focused pretty tightly on a small cast of women: Gwen, her daughter, her mother, and, of course Nicola. In a few interspersed chapters, Nicola’s own difficult upbringing. By the time of the internship, Nicola has developed five rules for living and Gwen knows them well: Don’t let anyone make you feel small; know your friends (that’s a biggie for Gwen); trust your instincts (ditto); never look back; and truth, not facts.

Author Erin Flanagan lives in Dayton, Ohio, and writes about life in the town with great authenticity. She is also a professor of English at Wright State University in Dayton and won an Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America for her debut novel, Deer Season, which I thought was wonderful—complex, well imagined, indelible characters.

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Like Printing Money by R.A. Cramblitt

You may have a pretty good guess what the wonks working after hours at 3D printing company 3Make are up to—after all, only a few activities are likely to be Like Printing Money, the name of RA Cramblitt’s new technological crime novel. But, don’t worry, the technology isn’t so dense that it obscures the basic human motivation at work here—greed.

Set in Baltimore, Maryland, the story does evoke the city’s row houses and freeways and the backwoods countryside that’s not really that far away. Baltimore is coming into its own as a location for crime stories, building on the success of author Laura Lippman and the television series, Homicide: Life on the Streets and The Wire. It’s definitely a city, it has distinct neighborhoods, but it’s not so big as to be fictionally unmanageable—it doesn’t take three hours to drive across town, for example.

An interesting set of characters, Black and white, negotiate Cramblitt’s city streets, and you can be forgiven for not spotting who the star of the show is going to be. At first you may think it’s Bernard Jamal, college hoops player and successful venture capitalist, who’s kidnapped in the first chapter, his long legs folded into the uncomfortable confines of an automobile trunk. In fact, however, the story’s main character is Charlaine Pennington, an investigator in a private detective agency.

Charlaine is working on a case assigned to her by the detective agency owner, Tony Mancuso. It involves 3Make in some way, but she’s received precious little information about what the job entails. She doesn’t like it and objects, and if there’s one thing Charlaine is good at—several things, actually—it’s sticking up for herself. It turns out that Tony himself doesn’t know as much as he’d like to about why the sketchy Russian has hired them.

Something is very wrong at 3Make, and Charlaine and Tony are determined to find out what that is, even before they find the first body. And Jamal may have escaped his captors, but he hasn’t shed his desire to find out who they were and what they were up to. I loved the charming elderly Black man who helps him. Great character!

Cramblitt has a habit of overloading the narrative with back story. He’s good at showing, and I for one could do with a lot less telling. I like to see a novel’s characters in action and figure out their strengths and weaknesses for myself. Like Printing Money is Cramblitt’s first crime novel, though, and he may realize he doesn’t need all that history. The narrative screeches to a stop every time. You can certainly hope there aren’t any technological wizards like 3Make’s Barrett and Chen, working after hours on projects akin to the one exposed in this novel, but the sad truth is, there undoubtedly are. The book gives you fair warning.

confiscated drug money
Confiscated drug money (photo: wikimedia.org)

Two 5-Star Thrillers: Her, Too and Sleepless City

Her, Too
Perhaps inevitably, the Me, Too movement would uncover complicated situations that go beyond simply punishing sexual predators (which is hardly simple in itself), and in Bonnie Kistler’s new thriller, Her, Too, she reveals a bundle of them.

When the story opens, Boston-based defense attorney Kelly McCann has just won a major case. Scientist George Carlson Benedict—the beloved Dr. George—is a pharmaceutical researcher whose discoveries related to Alzheimer’s Disease have short-listed him for the Nobel Prize in Medicine. Could such a valuable and visible member of society be guilty of raping a subordinate? In the trial just concluded, his former colleague Reeza Patel said yes. And so did three other women whom Kelly silenced with payoffs and non-disclosure agreements (NDAs). Benedict is a toad, really, but Kelly doesn’t consider him an actual rapist, until his next victim—her.

Kelly sets out for revenge. And she knows who can help. The three women who signed the NDAs, except that they hate her.

The story lays bare the manipulative and inequitable way NDAs are handled. A former executive at Benedict’s company received more than a million dollars, the office cleaner only $20,000. Kelly doesn’t draw Reeza Patel into the group’s sketchy plans—the way Kelly eviscerated her on the witness stand is just too recent, too raw. Soon, there’s no choice: Patel dies from a drug overdose. Was it really suicide? And her death is just the first.

You might think Kelly is pretty unlikable, someone who’s taken advantage of women at their most vulnerable. But the author takes pains to show she isn’t a monster. In other parts of her life, she bravely faces difficult issues involving care, caring, and letting go. These are big subjects, and in this provocative, well-written novel, the author doesn’t shrink from them.

In so many ways, the Kelly McCann you meet on page one is not the same person you leave on page 304. Go with her as she works her way through some of the most consequential social issues of our times. Bonnie Kistler is a former trial lawyer whose previous books were The Cage (or Seven Minutes Later) and House on Fire.

Sleepless City
Reed Farrel Coleman’s new crime thriller Sleepless City is for readers who like their noir black as ink and thick as pitch. You can’t really call it a police procedural, although the main character—Nick Ryan—is a detective working in the New York Police Department’s Intelligence Bureau, because he doesn’t follow any procedures learned in the Academy or that the higher-ups would publicly condone. Early in the story, he’s recruited to do exactly that—help the city solve intractable situations by, you might say, coloring outside the lines.

The department is beset by difficulties. The city’s waiting to erupt into chaos with the next cop-on-civilian killing. An investment fraudster has stolen billions, including police pensions, and won’t reveal where the money is. A reptilian right-wing podcaster is intent on sowing social discord and anti-police feeling with wacko conspiracy theories. Nick’s bosses would like to clear up these messes through normal channels, but it’s impossible.

Someone, Nick never knows precisely who, approaches him to use his creativity, initiative, and fearlessness to work out difficulties such as these. He’ll get whatever weaponry and manpower he needs plus access to files and security footage. Like a latter-day 007, he has a license to kill. I’m guessing, the powers-that-be hope he’ll use it.

This set-up creates a no-holds-barred fantasy of vengeance, a “simple” answer to complex questions. Although I used the word fantasy, Coleman’s writing is anchored in a gritty reality. Blood is shed. Bones are broken. Explosions dismember victims. Dirt is smeared.

Yet Nick doesn’t simply march through the city brandishing weapons and mowing down bad guys. He takes into account the consequences of his actions, their moral aspects, and selects his approach based in part on the lesson it will impart to other malefactors. In other words, he seeks justice more than revenge. Seeing his various clever plots unfold—and how he has to think on his feet when something goes awry—is one of the story’s chief pleasures. Plus, I chuckled to notice Coleman’s discreet nod to his fellow NYC crime writers Tom Straw and Charles Salzberg.

As a reflection of breakdowns in the social order, crime writing deserves the kind of attention to what makes the social order actually work that Coleman gives it here. Nick Ryan may be a fantastical creation, in terms of his deeds, but in terms of engaging with the quandaries facing big-city policing, he’s wrestling with modern reality. Sleepless City leaves you wondering, is this what it takes? Sounds to me like a series in-the-making.