What I've been reading
Black Widow by Randy Wayne White (2008)
The latest installment in a long-running series about biologist and secret agent-type Doc Ford, and my first venture into the series. In this story, Doc manages the money drop for a woman he's known since she was a girl who's being blackmailed on the eve of her wedding. Of course, things go awry, and the plot, as they say, thickens. Doc finds himself amid a truly bizarre cast of characters on a Carribean island. The plotting is solid, if a touch slow-paced at times, and Doc is an enjoyable, competent protagonist. The secondary characters tend toward the excessively eccentric, which is sometimes distracting, and the plot sprouts more offshoots than it can easily resolve. The prose style is generally clean, although there are several overly expository segments presented as "background material" compiled by Doc or one of his cohorts; I'd have preferred that info be woven more seamlessly into the narrative.
Goodbye Sister Disco by James Patrick Hunt (2008)
This is the second novel featuring St. Louis police detective George Hastings (I haven't read the other one). The plot involves a murder and kidnapping by some kind of radical group of anarchists, and there's the usual whining by the local cops about the intervention of the FBI (nothing you haven't read before a dozen times: the plastic, stuffed-suit FBI guys think the locals are a bunch of yahoos; the streetwise locals think the FBI guys lack instincts and common sense). Hastings himself is fine, if a bit morose for a lead character. The most compelling character in the book is one of the kidnappers, a femme fatale with wicked leadership skills whose portion of the story comes to an abrupt, dissatisfying conclusion. And the resolution of the plot is ultimately slightly disappointing as well; Hastings doesn't really flex his investigatory skills until very near the end, and the group of kidnappers does as much damage to itself as Hastings does when he practically stumbles upon the already-escaping victim. For a police procedural, this is generally well written, but ultimately falls somewhat short on procedure. (And I have no idea what the Who lyrics have to do with anything; it's a serious stretch of a title.)
Bad Blood by Linda Fairstein (2007)
Stepping in late to yet another well-established series, this one about NYC prosecutor Alexandra Cooper. Starts reeeeeeally slowly, with an interminable courtoom scene in a case I don't care about. This book sets a record for ridiculously expository dialogue. The characters talk like wikipedia entries, when they're not engaging in overly jocular, fake-seeming banter. At some point there's a way-violent prisoner escape and an exhumation and some mostly-off-screen violence, and the plot gets just interesting enough to hold your attention. But just barely.
Nobody Runs Forever by Richard Stark (2004)
Donald Westlake has written about three million books, including many under the name Richard Stark about a career criminal named Parker, of which this is one -- and the first Westlake/Stark book I've read. This book reminds me very much of Lawrence Block's Hitman series. Parker has the same disinterested (not meaning uninterested), professional demeanor as Keller, the hitman. Parker is a criminal because he's good at it, and he's supremely competent and startlingly unemotional. The book has a dry, detached tone, and super-clean prose. It's well-plotted and interesting throughout; Parker is my kind of criminal. It's not the kind of book that grabs you emotionally, but it's a very, very pleasurable read.