Tag Archives: Jeff Shelby

‘Dead on Arrival,’ by Jeff Shelby

I’ve liked most of the Jeff Shelby novels I’ve read. He seems to be proliferating series, and they span several sub-genres, from humorous cozy all the way to hard-boiled. So I figured I’d check out the first book of his Capitol Cases series, starring Washington DC-are private eye, Mack Mercy.

This series is a spin-off of a series starring “Rainy” Day, who was Mack’s office assistant, but has now moved out on her own. At the beginning of Dead on Arrival, Mack is searching halfheartedly for a replacement for her. He’s having trouble finding anyone competent, and he hates office work in general. A middle-aged bachelor, he’s not the most organized guy in the world.

So when Glen Pulaski, an insurance agent and passionate home gardener, calls him about following his wife to see if she’s cheating, Mack is happy to jump on that case instead. Except that when he goes to see Glen at his home, he finds him dead of carbon monoxide poisoning, an apparent suicide. But Mack is suspicious. He doesn’t have any strong evidence, but he has a sense that something’s off. Might Glen’s wife have killed him? Or her lover? Or someone with more obscure motives?

In the course of the case Mack finds a new assistant, a near-clone of the departed Rainy, and he gradually starts trusting her to help him with actual investigations, beyond office work.

Dead on Arrival was a pleasant mystery in the “cozy” tradition. I found it amusing, but I  also found Mack a little dull as a character – laid back, non-motivated people don’t generally make good fictional heroes. I also figured out the culprit early on – though I didn’t guess the motive.

Dead on Arrival was okay. Cozy fans may enjoy it very much. It looks like some romance may develop between Mack and his new assistant, and I might even read another book to see where that’s going. But it’s not at the top of my reading list.

‘Deep Water,’ by Jeff Shelby

I really like Jeff Shelby’s Noah Braddock mystery series, and am delighted that he’s revived it after a brief hiatus. Deep Water is the second book in the new “season,” so to speak, and I think it’s my favorite to date.

I would have never thought I’d warm up to a series about a surfer detective, but author Shelby makes it work with Noah Braddock. Noah went into a tailspin a while back, after a personal loss. He avenged the loss, and then went back to work because he couldn’t think of anything else to do. In the previous book he found a new girlfriend, and step by step he’s coming back to life.

In Deep Water, he gets an offer from San Diego State University to investigate a student death. A young woman, Emma Kershaw, died as a result of falling down some stairs at a fraternity party. It looks like a clear-cut accident, with the only culpability being Emma’s own for being extremely drunk. But the university wants to be sure they won’t be surprised by any unguessed liability. Noah is to ask questions and find out about Emma and her world.

It’s quite a world. It turns out Emma was almost universally disliked. As an officer in her sorority, she was bullying and tyrannical. Her romantic relationships were volatile. Lots of people wished her harm, but did anyone hate her enough to push her down those stairs?

This book was a nice change in literature for me. There was precious little violence; just systematic questioning and analytical thought (not really what you’d expect from a surfer, but preconceptions exist to be punctured). Noah is a sympathetic person, and his final resolution of the mystery was an empathetic one that made me want to stand up and cheer.

Also, the book contained a plot element that mirrored (at least for me) a similar element in the overarching plot line of several of Robert B. Parker’s Spenser books. I didn’t like the way Parker handled it (one of the main reasons I stopped reading him), but I loved the way Jeff Shelby dealt with it here.

So Deep Water gets my unreserved endorsement. Minor cautions for language and adult themes.

‘Close Out,’ by Jeff Shelby

Tonight’s review will be even shorter than last night’s. I’ve got a big translation project (at last), and deadlines loom. Posting may be sparse for the rest of the week. We’ll see how it goes.

Fortunately, this is another Noah Braddock book, Jeff Shelby’s series about a lonely surfer/private eye in San Diego. When Close Out begins, Noah and his giant friend Carter have been reduced to doing bouncer work at a local night club. Business has been slack. But one night a woman lawyer, Cynthia Guzman, comes in to talk to Noah. She has clients she’d like him to meet. But they can’t just get together. They need to meet in a secret place.

Cautiously, Noah agrees. He is introduced to two illegal immigrants, a middle-aged man and woman. They’ve been paying a mysterious “benefactor” who promised to clear up their legal problems and get them legalized. But he’s long on promises – and demands for payments – and short on results. They now realize they’ve been cheated. Can Noah help them recover their money?

It doesn’t look like a high-paying job, but Noah is interested. He agrees to look into it on a preliminary basis. The trail will lead to unexpected quarters, and to risk for himself and his clients.

Like the other books in the series, Close Out is a fairly low key, enjoyable read. The author is on his immigration crusade again – again there are no non-admirable “undocumented immigrants” in sight – but the politics aren’t too heavy-handed, and Noah and Carter are fun to hang out with.

Recommended with minor cautions for language.

‘Wipe Out,’ by Jeff Shelby

This will be a short review, but I’m giving you two posts today, and the other one is awesome.

I’m continuing reading Jeff Shelby’s Noah Braddock mystery series. This one is Wipe Out (cue background music – you’ll understand if you’re old enough). Noah, you’ll recall, is a California surfer/private eye, who’s spent many years overcoming his exceedingly dysfunctional upbringing to become a responsible and decent man. He’s still recovering from a personal tragedy that made him a fugitive for a while.

Mitch Henderson was the proprietor of a beach motel in San Diego, and served as a badly needed father figure for Noah in his youth. So when Mitch dies suspiciously, another friend, Anne Sullivan, who worked at the motel, asks Noah to investigate. Curiosity becomes something like desperation when Anne – instead of Mitch’s widow – is left the motel in Mitch’s will, and she becomes the target of threats and malicious vandalism.

This story looked at first like kind of a standard “surprised and threatened heir” story, a staple in the genre. But it worked out in surprising ways, and was resolved in a pretty satisfying manner.

I enjoyed Wipe Out, and recommend it, with mild cautions for language.

‘Impact Zone,’ by Jeff Shelby

Having finished Jeff Shelby’s “Thread” books, I moved on to his Noah Braddock series, which I’ve also enjoyed. Noah Braddock is an implausible private eye – a surfer who investigates in his spare time. But author Shelby does some interesting character development with him. Noah is the product of an especially dysfunctional background, fumbling his way to maturity. A few books ago he suffered a personal tragedy and had to flee his California home for a while. As Impact Zone begins, he’s back in San Diego, trying to rebuild his life.

A girl he once dated asks him to travel up to rural northeast San Diego County to talk to her father, who is a big avocado farmer. He’s installed closed circuit TV in various locations in his orchards, and one of the cameras took a picture that bothers him. It’s a young blonde girl who’s running, and looking scared. Can Noah see if he can find out who she is, and if she’s all right?

Noah feels intensely out of his element on a big farm, far from the ocean. But he hasn’t gotten far in his investigation when one of the farm workers disappears. There’s a ransom demand. Noah and his friend Carter find themselves facing a conspiracy involving surprising people, some of whom are playing for keeps.

The subject of illegal immigration is prominent in Impact Zone. Author Shelby obviously has strong opinions on the issue, because another book in the series, which I’m reading now, also deals with it. His is a pretty rose-colored view, in my opinion. In his world, there are no criminal “undocumented immigrants.” No drug cartel members, no gangsters, no human traffickers. Only hard-working, incredibly decent people, an example to us all. I think it hurts his storytelling a little, because we know from the beginning that certain possible scenarios just aren’t going to happen. If you have strong feelings about immigration, you may have trouble with these books.

The editing falls down occasionally, and at one point a firearm starts as a rifle and then somehow transforms into a shotgun.

But I like Noah Braddock, and I enjoyed the book anyway. Mild cautions for language.

‘Thread of Truth,’ by Jeff Shelby

I’ve been going through Jeff Shelby’s “Thread Novels,” starring former cop and current lost kid locater, Joe Tyler. This is the last book published to date, as far as I can tell, so tomorrow I’ll have a review from a different Jeff Shelby series. His books aren’t without their flaws, but I like the writing and the damaged main characters.

In many ways, Thread of Truth is a riff on the same theme as the book I reviewed last night. Again a young man has disappeared, and Joe Tyler is asked to try to find him. Again the lost kid is a recovering drug user, who has been clean for a while, but may have been involved in something else dangerous.

Joe Tyler has given up teaching now, a career he never really liked much. So when Desmond Locker’s parents ask him to find their missing son, he takes the job. The boy’s girlfriend has just given birth to his baby, and he had lots of plans for the future. He had not gone back to drugs, everyone insists. He’d been working hard and saving his money.

But his boss says he hasn’t given him the overtime he’s been talking about. So where did his money come from?

There will be no easy answers, and little good news. Many people are hiding secrets.

These books are pretty low key for their genre, but I like that just fine. I enjoyed Thread of Truth as I have the rest of the series. Recommended, with minor cautions for language.

‘Thread of Doubt,’ by Jeff Shelby

Plowing through Jeff Shelby’s interesting “Thread” series of mystery/thrillers. The hero, Joe Tyler, as you know if you’ve been following these reviews, is a former cop in Coronado, California. His life changed when his little daughter was kidnapped, and he spent years single-mindedly chasing her down. In the end he did locate her, now a teenager, and brought her home. At the beginning of Thread of Doubt she’s just back from college for Christmas break. She wants to talk to Joe about something, but he has trouble making time. He’s been teaching high school, and is behind on his class work. On top of that, he’s got a new investigation to look at in his free time.

He hadn’t intended to look for another kid, but the request came from an old cop friend, Mike Lorenzo. Mike’s nephew, for whom he was a sort of father figure, has disappeared. The young man has a history with drugs, but had seemed to have cleaned up his act. He was a musician, and his band looked to be on the brink of a commercial breakthrough.

Joe talks to the young man’s friends and girlfriend. What he learns brings him to a grim discovery, and grim solution to the mystery.

Thread of Doubt was a fairly by-the-numbers effort, and the end surprisingly low-key. But I like the characters and have had a good time following Joe’s odyssey. I enjoyed Thread of Doubt, and recommend it, with only minor cautions.

‘Thread of Revenge,’ by Jeff Shelby

Somehow I’d gotten the idea that Jeff Shelby’s “Thread” series of mystery/thrillers had come to an end. I was even more surprised to find that I’d missed one. By which I mean that I’d missed the book before the last book I reviewed here, Thread of Danger. I have a vague idea that I noticed at the time that something big had changed. Turned out I’d skipped an episode.

Anyway, Thread of Revenge is the book I skipped, which I’ve now read. I almost think I might have bypassed it purposely, because some awful things happen and I enjoyed this one least of them all.

It’s always necessary to give you deep background, especially with this series. It started out with the hero, Joe Tyler, searching for his daughter Elizabeth, who was snatched from his front yard just before Christmas one year. After years of searching, he did locate her (with an unaware adoptive family in Minnesota), and now the family is almost back together. He and his wife Lauren, now divorced, have been reconciling.

But in his quest to find Elizabeth, Joe desperately asked a favor of a very bad man in Minnesota. The bad man asked him for a favor in return. Joe did not keep his part of the bargain, and lied to him about it.

Now the bad man knows. And he’s kidnapped Lauren. Jack must do the awful thing he promised to do, or Lauren will die.

That’s a pretty horrifying scenario. Joe has to do his best in a lose/lose situation, and things will get very nasty indeed.

I found this story unpleasant, and somewhat unsatisfying. Also, a major plot element didn’t make sense to me – though author Shelby is likely setting up a return visit to the situation in a future book.

But the writing’s good, and I like the characters. I’m continuing to read the series, as you’ll learn with tomorrow’s review.

But Thread of Revenge was a bit of a downer. Cautions for the usual stuff.

‘Thread of Danger,’ by Jeff Shelby

Thread of Danger

I was almost surprised there was a new installment in Jeff Shelby’s Thread series. Thread of Danger is a well done, exciting book, though it seems to me the series is looking to find a new direction.

Years ago, Joe Tyler’s daughter Elizabeth was kidnapped. He left his job as a Coronado, California policeman and devoted himself to hunting for her, financing his existence by searching for other missing children as well. He succeeded well (except, for a long time, with his own daughter), but his marriage fell apart.

Over the course of several books, he finally located Elizabeth, and managed to bring her home and reestablish a relationship. Now he’s adrift in life, not looking for work, caring about little except his daughter, who – he can hardly bear to think about it – will be going to college soon.

So he gives in when she asks him to help him look for her boyfriend. The boy went camping in the mountains with a friend, and now the friend says he’s disappeared. Without enthusiasm, Joe drives to the camp site and starts searching with the two young people – and soon discovers something that puts them all in imminent peril.

Thread of Danger is a well done novel, like all Jeff Shelby’s books. Joe’s scenes with Elizabeth are especially memorable and poignant. But Shelby is either going to have to find a new direction for the series, or leave his characters in peace. A new character who appears in this installment may provide a way for him to do that.

I recommend Thread of Danger (though you ought to read the series in sequence. Don’t start with this one). Very little objectionable content.

‘Locked In,’ by Jeff Shelby

Locked In

Author Jeff Shelby has several mystery series going, but my favorite is his Noah Braddock series, featuring a surfer/private detective in San Diego. Noah defies all your (or at least my) presuppositions about surfers, being a thoughtful and highly ethical character.

A couple books ago, Noah killed the man who murdered his girlfriend, who was a San Diego cop. The last novel found him living incognito in Florida, surfing unfamiliar waves. But now his ethics have caught up with him, and the beginning of Locked In finds him heading back to San Diego with his friend Carter. He has decided he can’t live as a fugitive. He needs to face up to this.

He contacts his girlfriend’s old partner, who puts in a word with the District Attorney’s office. The DA, an imperious woman, offers him a deal – an “assault” is rumored to have happened at the University of San Diego, during a party involving the baseball team. He is to find out what he can about it. She will tell him nothing more. If he satisfies her with his answers, she’ll see that the charges against him are dropped (he killed a cop killer, after all). He agrees, with some discomfort, and steps into a world of lies, cover-ups, and self-serving deception, all the while mourning his lost love.

Noah Braddock is an excellent, sympathetic continuing character, and I enjoyed Locked In very much. Cautions for language and adult subject matter.

‘Assisted Murder,’ by Jeff Shelby

I’m a fan of mystery writer Jeff Shelby, especially his Noah Braddock novels (of which I’ll be reviewing the latest tomorrow). He also writes a “cozy series” called the Moose River Mysteries. This is probably a good economic decision – “cozies” written for a female audience comprise, as far as I can see, more than half of the mystery market. I keep trying to cultivate a taste for this genre, but alas, no joy.

The Moose River series involves the Gardner-Savage (blended) family, Jake, Daisy, and four kids, who live in Moose River, Minnesota. But in Assisted Murder they fly to Florida, for Jake’s grandmother’s 100th birthday, and also to do Disney World. They encounter Grandmother Billie (grumpy) and Aunt Gloria (high-energy and ditzy), who both live in a retirement community. They also encounter several of their friends, who prove as driven by competition, lust, and jealousy as any assemblage of younger people. This is underlined when Aunt Gloria’s worst enemy is discovered murdered in her (Gloria’s) house, and the police make her their chief suspect.

I suspect that Assisted Murder would be a highly amusing read for members of its intended audience, with the cute, bickering kids and the not-so-cute, bickering geriatrics running amok in their various ways. Didn’t work for me, of course, but I have no objection to make for those who like this kind of thing. Pretty family-friendly.

Thread of Suspicion, and Thread of Betrayal, by Jeff Shelby

One of the delights of owning a Kindle is that often, when you’ve finished a book in a series and just have to find out what happens next, you can go online and download it in a couple minutes. That’s what I did when I’d finished Jeff Shelby’s Thread of Suspicion, and went on to Thread of Betrayal.

I reviewed the first book in this series, Thread of Hope, last year, and gave it high praise. It was the story of a driven man, Joe Tyler, a former San Diego cop whose life got upended when his daughter was kidnapped from his front yard just before Christmas. He stopped being a cop and he stopped being a husband. Instead he became an investigator searching for lost children. He found every one he looked for – except for the one who mattered most.

But at the end of Thread of Hope he got a surprise – a cop friend handed him a photo taken from a seemingly unrelated missing child file. The photo was taken in Minneapolis, and showed two little girls, one of whom was clearly Elizabeth, his own daughter.

Thread of Suspicion finds him in Minneapolis in the bitter mid-winter, trying to locate the family of the other girl in the picture. When that trail fades out, he’s referred to a local woman who’s devoted her life to helping street kids. She agrees to use her contacts to help him, but in return she wants a favor. A homeless boy she’d been particularly close to has disappeared, and because of his very special family situation he may be in serious danger. Solving that problem, Joe discovers a new trail of his own to follow. But he also gets a surprise that causes him to suddenly mistrust people he’s believed in up to now.

In Thread of Betrayal he teams up with his ex-wife Lauren in Denver, again on the trail of a daughter who now seems to be on the run from something. Repeated near-misses and disappointments make this one a real nail-biter. It ends with a kind of a resolution, but unanswered questions remain, so I suspect there’ll be at least one more book in the series.

I highly recommend all the books in Jeff Shelby’s Thread series. I agonized with these people and sometimes wept with them. Jeff Shelby creates characters with blood in their veins, and that blood sometimes gets shed. Also I may have missed something, but I thought the language was pretty restrained.

My highest recommendation. Loved them.

Jeff Shelby’s Noah Braddock novels

I reviewed Jeff Shelby’s Killer Swell a while back, and reported my surprise at finding such quality in a novel about a surfer detective, something that just struck my prejudices as inevitably lightweight.

Recently I got the opportunity to pick up Drift Away free or very cheap (I forget which) for Kindle, and I read that. It turned out to be a minor mistake. The problem is that Drift Away is the fourth novel in the series, and a very important character had died in the third novel. So that was spoiled for me.

Nevertheless, I went back and bought two and three, Wicked Break and Liquid Smoke.

And my conclusion is that Shelby is a very good author indeed, producing a substantial series here. Noah Braddock, the hero, is a tough guy with serious life issues (his mother is an alcoholic and his felon father abandoned them). But he works hard to live with integrity and be useful through his detective work (which, it must be admitted, he only does when he feels like it). He’s capable of great empathy and great courage. There’s a mix of nobility and cynicism in his character that’s worthy of classic hard-boiled. His relationship with his dangerous giant friend, Carter, is great buddy stuff.

The direction Shelby chose to take in the third Noah Braddock novel raised it, in my opinion, to the level of tragedy, and Drift Away, which entirely alters the setting, follows that up very effectively.

I found a few flaws; homonym errors and a tendency to fall back on stock (minor) characters and detective story tropes. But all in all I was most impressed, and sometimes genuinely moved.

As usual, cautions for language, violence, and adult situations.