Spring (2022) reads

The past two months have not been as prolific, reading-wise. I believe that in that time, I’ve only crested two texts. The first leg of the tripod was finished way back, in late September. Lying Beside You was another top-notch thriller from Michael Robotham. Being the third book in his Cyrus Haven series, his characterisation and use of language remained sharp. Following this, I got my hands on the Chris Herring ebook. These past few months, Blood in the Garden was the book I’ve yearned to read and I managed to purchase the soft copy. Finally, I beat procrastinating and borrowed The Late Show ebook. The opening salvo to Connelly’s Ballard series, this is a much needed introduction to his latest protagonist.

1. Lying Beside You (Robotham). This instalment has the hallmarks of its earlier brethren. The setting is present-day England. Forensic psychologist, Cyrus Haven, and Albanian teen, Evie Cormac, once again headline the plot. There are a few new characters added for good measure, including Haven’s new beau. The story alternates between the two leads’s viewpoints. So far, this has been the case for the entire series. There is likewise much backstory provided, both between Haven and Cormac.

Cyrus’s brother is about to be released from hospital, where he’s been for the last few decades. This was the same hombre who murdered Haven’s whole entire family. There are some parallels between this crime and one that transpired decades ago in Sydney. The son murdered his parents and his older sissy. The latter had only dobbed him in as he was failing classes. In turn, his parents grounded him, removing his car privileges. ‘Gosh,’ my friend said after hearing of the crime. As usual, this being a thriller, there are a few dead bodies that turn up. Cyrus has to mobilise his great Sherlock attributes to bring the bastard to justice. While so doing, he would have to rethink his relations and thread the needle looking for clues.

Evie is a decent sidekick. She wants to be more than friends with Cyrus, who inherited the big house from his slain parents. She has little memories of her sad childhood, but cherished a black button. This was her only keepsake of her mum. When this gets lost, she grows an extra size in her attempts to locate the precious item. Cyrus tries his best to make her fit in, even enrolling her in a course. However, the pot mouthed Evie always gets in trouble. She does get a job as a bartender and dotes on her dog. Like before, her greatest asset is that she can tell if someone is lying. Robotham’s writing remains compelling. This is one burgeoning series to watch out for.

Rating: 4.4/5

2. Blood in the Garden (Chris Herring). This is his debut effort, but you wouldn’t notice it from the way he writes. Reading the ebook was a good compromise for the avid b-ball fan in me. Herring chronicles the 90s lives of the rough and tumble Knicks. That decade saw Jordan going six out of six in NBA Finals. What’s often forgotten was how New York (NY) made two NBA Finals. They were a collection of gritty, hungry veterans whose defence never rested. They were a product of super coach, Pat Riley, who moulded them into tenacious defenders. He went the extra mile, pushing them beyond their limits with overbearing practices.

The book was more than a homage to their vaunted defence. Herring describes the players who made it happen. He showed how the late Anthony Mason was misunderstood, how he bought his mum a home and never refused an autograph signing. He depicts John Sparks’s early career struggles, playing in the minor league, before breaking through with the Knicks. Herring likewise analyses Xavier McDaniel, who – as a lottery pick – had a swagger. The author also shares the tragedy of Charles Smith. He was denied thrice in a possession that all but sums up 90s NY basketball. Following his difficulty against the Bulls, Smith was never the same player again. Finally, he charts Patrick Ewing’s journey from Jamaica to Georgetown and then NY. Ewing admitted that he honed his automatic jump shots by hours of practice.

This is quite the cartography. Aside from the Knicks, Herring likewise pinpoints the era’s other great teams. He elucidates on their rivalry with the Pacers. Reggie’s theatrics against Spike Lee are posited front and centre. He also touches on the Houston Rockets, whose two chips the Bulls sandwiched. The author has great praise for Hakeem, whose first love was football. Herring concedes that NY’s greatest rivalry of the era was with the Miami Heat. Coach Jeff won three of four against his mentor, Riley (then the Heat’s bench boss). Often, there were fights, suspensions, and even conspiracy theories. At one stage, half the Knicks were levied for leaving the bench area. Moreover, he also talks about the change of ownership and how this impacted not just the team but everyone involved.

This is a worthwhile read since I know a lot of the central characters and squads. I still remember Ewing and his menacing scowl, even in his twilight years. I recall Marcus Camby’s swats and caught the last seasons of backup Greg Anthony’s minutes. Though Mason was no longer with the Knicks, I do remember watching him. He was even an All-Star while with the Heat, at the time the oldest such honouree. I caught Reggie’s ‘last dance’ with the Pacers. Still a deadeye from deep,he had clearly seen better days. I had the privilege of taking in his final game as a pro, where the Pistons bested them to advance to the conference finals. When he checked out for the last time, he got a huge ovation from the Detroit crowd, and the Pistons on the court joined in. Shame he didn’t get to win a ring.

Rating: 5/5

3. The Late Show (Connelly). The title is apt for this list, as it has been a delayed addition to my personal library. I’ve noticed this book when it was first released. However, the blurb didn’t convince me. I kept putting it off and have since crested the series’s middle three books. With the newest instalment getting released, I thought giving this a chance was worthwhile. This is where Renee Ballard’s story commences, where she is stuck on the graveyard shift in Hollywood. As a homicide detective, she works with Jenkins, her partner, in solving piles of deadly crimes. Her attention is brought to this tranny prostitute who was left for dead after a deal gone wrong. Ramona was unconscious but Ballard vows to find the guy who did this.

While trying to unravel this mystery, Ballard gets called out to a triple homicide at a joint. The trio, who had ties with the mob, were gunned down while at a rendezvous in a booth. The officers and technicians admitted that it was a very clean hit. We got to know that Ballard was bred by the sea. She loves wakeboarding, lives in Ventura, and sleeps on a shoreline tent. Perhaps her most loyal friend is Lola, her dog. True to form, Lola was rescued from an abusive owner. We learn that Renee filed a harassment claim against Olivas, her former boss. She was unnerved that Chastain, her former partner, did not back her up.

Ventura, California

Ballard eventually narrows in on Ramona’s attacker, a guy named Trent. She approaches him as a zealous client. Trent works in an auto dealership. By giving him a false name, Ballard is overly confident but this soon backfires. Renee learns that Trent had an ex-wife who hates him. He also has a million dollar house in a nice area. Eventually, Ballard will kill for the first time though she doesn’t regret using lethal force. There is a scene near the end where the protagonist blackmails a lieutenant who had been passing information about her case to the press. It was priceless.

This was a blazing hot introduction into another Connelly microcosm. Late Show had short but bitey chapters. The book was stacked from cover to cover; a lot was happening. The characters were well-made and the language, easy to follow. I could have read the trade paperback as soon as it was released. The ebook though wasn’t too bad, as this was another masterful effort from the king of crime fiction.

Rating: 4.7./5

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