Catriona McPherson – “The Day She Died”

the day she diedThe Day She Died is slow-burn creepy. Jessie Constable is three-dimensional and one of a kind.

She is both cheery and easily troubled, confident and easily thrown. She’s alert and analytical when time calls and equally willing to trust and go-along. To help.

Catriona McPherson infuses Jessie Constable with a unique point of view—the attitudes and feelings of a woman who suffers from Pteronophobia, a.k.a. fear of feathers. (Yes, it’s a real thing.)

Jessie lives it. We soon have her radar for the triggers. We’re soon on alert for where feathers or feather-like things might pose trouble. A walk on a beach? You never know. We soon learn that “none of the worst stuff is ever in the kitchen.”

A new house would certainly be a concern and when Jessie is suddenly thrust into the life of a man whose wife has disappeared, her world opens up to new horizons. And new kinds of darkness. When Jessie’s wife turns up dead (in a car wreck), Jessie has also sorts of reasons to give Gus King the benefit of the doubt. It certainly looks like an accident. Or suicide. But for this and but for that. Little things. Yes, you’ll find yourself saying, just go home Jessie and leave well enough alone.

All of Jessie’s senses seem to fire all the time. She’s thoroughly alive, reading every scene and moment. She’s good with details—a trait that will come in handy. McPherson’s deft touch, chock full of Scottish quips and idioms, makes the moments crackle on the page. “I sat down too then, right down on a stranger’s bed, and I could feel the stale close air of a stranger’s bedroom pressing in, the private smell of sleep and worn clothes.”

Jessie’s phobia has roots in a childhood incident and it’s not one she wants to discuss in depth. To trust Gus, she has to get over her belief that “guys are just guys” who “hate making mistakes.”

The story puts Jessie smack in the lives of Gus’ two children who cope with the loss of their mother and then learn about Jessie’s unusual fears. The kids bring out Jessie’s inner child (though it’s really never very far away). McPherson’s touch is nearly magical as we watch Jessie shape-shift from fill-in mom to shaky new girlfriend. Jessie goes further and further down the rabbit hole. She turns from outsider to insider to detective to prosecutor.

The clues are delicious. McPherson’s story never sags. There’s energy on every page; no hand-holding allowed. Jessie might be a bit too easy when it comes to falling for Gus, but she’s razor sharp if given the time to think things through. To survive, she has to confront the foundation of her own fears and burrow down below the surface (literally) where the dark secrets are kept—even the ones she keeps from herself. Jessie has breathing mantras to calm herself. As the creeping dread mounts, you might need your own.

Q & A with Pat Stoltey – “Dead Wrong”

DeadWrongFront 264x408Who doesn’t love a chase scene? Planes, buses, cabs, rental cars and all your systems on high alert. Every move matters. Every decision is critical. Patricia Stoltey’s Dead Wrong starts with one bad assumption and puts the wheels in motion. In this case, the wheels on a jet plane heading down a runway. You read Dead Wrong and wonder what Alfred Hitchcock might have done with it. The story includes a touch of Elmore Leonard (deliciously quirky bad guys) and a hefty dose of jeopardy. A review follows. First, Pat was kind enough to answer a few questions about the tale.

Question: What inspired Dead Wrong?

Stoltey: The criminals in the novel, boss Benny Ortega and his not-so-trusty gofer, Fat Ass Sammy Grick, are involved in a check theft ring. Sammy is the courier carrying checks stolen in Florida to his boss who’s waiting in California to deposit them through a California bank then pull the money right back out to purchase precious metals. A situation like this actually happened to a company I worked for many years ago, although Benny and Sammy were not involved. I’m not sure where they came from — it might indicate my imagination has gone a little crazy. Anyway, I was privileged to serve as witnesses in two federal cases, one civil and one criminal, so I had some first-hand education in how it all works.

Question: Did you find yourself thinking about the plot differently when writing a ‘thriller’ compared to writing a ‘mystery’? What’s the difference, in your mind?

Stoltey: I felt as though I’d started all over again. The genres are very different. My amateur sleuth mysteries are very close to a traditional mystery format with properly placed clues, everything revealed to the protagonist is also revealed to the reader, and there’s a proper resolution at the end of the story.

The suspense/thriller is a lot more flexible in my opinion. There’s a threat to the main character or to a larger community. The main character is drawn into that threat, often unwillingly, and all effort is applied to escaping or defusing the threat and returning life to normal. There may be a mystery to solve along the way (who’s behind the threat or plot, for instance), but if there are multiple points of view, the reader often knows things the main character does not. The threat is eliminated at the end of the novel, but there’s not usually a formal denouement as with the traditional mystery.

Question: This seems like a very timely topic, since Dead Wrong starts with domestic violence and events spiral out of control. Is there a message here?

Stoltey: I wanted Lynnette to be vulnerable but not play the victim. We see so many stories of folks who forgive violence over and over until the abuser kills or maims them. Lynnette wasn’t about to forgive Carl for punching her in the face, but she was scared enough to be smart. She stayed calm, did not fight back or antagonize him, and picked a safe moment to get away. I want the reader to give Lynnette credit for leaving and for doing it without getting hurt any worse than she already was.

Question: Without giving anything away, it seems to be the biggest challenge for this story was figuring out how to justify Lynette’s not running right to the cops? How did you go about thinking this through?

Stoltey: That’s a question I had to ask myself in almost every chapter as I put Lynnette in one bad situation after another and made her find her way out. Why didn’t she go to the cops after Carl punched her? She’s a newspaper reporter and she knew of many stories where the police protected their own in cases of domestic violence. She didn’t know the men and women who worked with Carl, so she feared Carl would be turned loose and she’d have to face his wrath again.

By the time Lynnette realized the danger she was in from Sammy the thug, she had a runaway girl following her around for protection. Her compassion (and a bit of gullibility) kept her from turning the kid over to the police and Social Services. She wanted to get the girl to a safe place before involving the police in her own situation.

Pat StolteyThe other factor is Lynnette’s messed up emotions. That combination of fear, sadness, and stress can lead to some strange decisions, ones we don’t think we would make. The truth is, we might do even crazier stuff under that kind of stress. I hope we don’t ever have to find out.

Question: What’s next?

Stoltey: I’m finishing up the first draft of a novel I classify as psychological suspense. It’s not a sequel, but I took the young female cop from Dead Wrong, Maggie Gutierrez, aged her five years, promoted her, and staged a murder for her to solve on her first day as detective.

I also have a manuscript of historical fiction I’m revising (for about the 20th time). I hope to have it ready for submission soon.

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Patricia Stoltey is the author of two amateur sleuth mysteries, The Prairie Grass Murders and The Desert Hedge Murders, featuring 60-something ex-judge Sylvia Thorn and her older brother, Willie Grisseljon. A retired accounts payable manager, Patricia currently resides in Colorado with her husband and their best friend, Katie Cat. Patricia is a member of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, International Thriller Writers, and Northern Colorado Writers. Visit her blog or find her on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads and Google+.

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Review:

From the opening sentence, Lynette Foster is staggering. Reeling. “She raised her head and stared at her fingers, now smeared with red streaks. Liquid oozed down her throat when she tilted her head back. She gagged and coughed.”

Patricia Stoltey starts Dead Wrong mid-fight—a domestic dispute. Her husband, a cop, has been demoted for over-zealously trying to break up a fight. “Punks.” (Talk about a theme ripped from today’s headlines.) Carl, the cop, starts slamming doors and acting ornery, then taking it out on Lynette when she tries to get him to settle down.

Meanwhile, Sammy Grick is just trying to do his job. He’s a courier. He works for a man named “Mr. O,” Mr. Ortega. He’s a “vicious slimeball.” Sammy has got an assignment that might be his “best chance to make good and get more responsibility, do something more respectable than smashing fingers with a ball-peen hammer or hoisting bodies into dumpsters that reeked of rotten meat.”

But Sammy is prone to mistakes. Slip-ups. Details are not his friend. He’s so big he needs two airplane seats. His nickname is “Fat Ass.”

Soon, Lynette and Sammy are on the same plane out of Miami International Airport. They don’t know each other but matching carry-on luggage is about to bring them together in a way that neither really wants. Lynette sips martinis. Sammy sips Jack Daniels. (These drinks don’t mix well; neither do their drinkers.)

When Carl turns up dead, well, by now we are in full-tilt motion. Lynette has the wrong piece of luggage and Sammy, in short, needs it back. Big-time. To complicate matters, Lynette has befriends an eleven-year-old runaway girl who follows her off the plane.

Dead Wrong is all action. We’re soon in Colorado and the weather is frightful. Lynette has stories to sort out, voice mail messages to decipher and hiding places to find. Sammy gets some help in tracking Lynette by a hapless thug named Albert Getz and Stoltey dishes heaps of misery on both of Lynette’s pursuers. Um, more than misery in some cases. Twists of fate yank hard. Dead Wrong is one solid ride.

Warren Hammond – “Ex-Kop”

Ex-KopI liked “Kop,” but “Ex-Kop” is tougher, rougher, meaner, cleaner. It’s gritty, terribly human, and not for the squeamish.

Like its predecessor, this is a fully realized mash-up. Imaginative but grounded sci-fi sprints full-throttle into moody, brooding old-fashioned detective noir.

Juno Mozambe has more issues than there are lizards on the distant planet of Lagarto, where the economy is worse than the sticky weather. He’s got a bum hand, for starters, and all sorts of problems with the past. Brandy, in abundant supply, is a temporary salve. Justice would be better. He was a corrupt cop but now that the ex-chief of police is dead, Juno has been kicked to the curb, no longer part of the police agency known as KOP. “I found good work hiding in closets, peering through windows, exposing scandals when I could and creating scandals when there were none to expose,” says Juno. “It wasn’t glamourous, but the scandal rags paid well. It was a long way down from running KOP but it kept me in the game. Barely.”

Needing money, Juno listens when ex-partner Maggie comes around asking for help. He listens because, well, Maggie isn’t afraid of a little coercion. She is, shall we say, convincing. The start of “Ex-Kop” rocks. Juno strikes a bargain and starts charting his own path back to stability and security. Maybe. Payments for his wife’s artificial spine aren’t cheap. It’s a pay-for-service care situation. His wife is on a respirator in the off-world Orbital, where the medical care is better. She’s arguing to end it all, but Juno won’t hear it.

Juno is asked to help with two cases. One involves clearing a girl accused of murdering her parents. The other involves the possible production of snuff films to entertain “off-worlders.” The plot is rich but easy to track.

The writing makes the whole Lagarto world terribly tangible. “I walked through a doorway into a courtyard covered by a series of tarps that were so pregnant with puddled water that they stretched in all the wrong directions, creating gaping holes in the coverage through which glistening rain came misting down. Souvenir stands ran around the circumference, their spaces overflowing with etched gourds and mini Lagartan-style skiffs made from seedpods. There was a staircase on the far end that led up to a second tier where I could see a window with painted-on jungle vines and tour prices. Standing alongside the door was a stuffed tiger, reared up on its haunches, one of its paws raised like it was about to claw somebody’s heart out.”

That’s a genteel passage, a Disneyland description in comparison with the smashmouth action in much of “Ex-Kop.” There’s a torture scene that will leave you praying for release. The knuckle-hard violence works because the story stays sweat-level close to Juno’s worldview. Of course Juno is not going to earn a badge from the Boy Scouts in morals and ethics anytime soon. Juno sees worse—far worse—including truly evil men with a wicked scheme for those already death row. Like the best anti-heroes, Juno has his own code and his own reasons for every move he makes. More than few times, I thought of Andrew Vachss and his books featuring Burke and his lone-soldier crusade against those who prey on children. In both storylines, the ends justify the tactics. Juno is one pissed-off snake in a nasty nest of vicious vipers.

There’s ample recap material in this sequel, but to get the full effect start with “Kop” so you fully understand Juno’s world. And his issues.

On to “Kop Killer.”

Q & A with Helen Thorpe – “Soldier Girls”

Soldier Girls(Note: the following was originally published Nov. 13 on Telluride Inside … and Out.)

Soldier Girls was named as an Editor’s Choice in the New York Times and one of the best books of the year by the Washington Post.

Following Just Like Us, Helen Thorpe’s moving portrait of four Denver high school students whose parents entered the United States illegally from Mexico illegally, Soldier Girls again demonstrates Thorpe’s remarkable ability to disappear inside a subculture and vacuum up details like a whole squadron of top-flight reporters.

Soldier Girls tracks three women who signed up for the Indiana National Guard—Michelle Fischer, Debbie Helton and Desma Brooks. The book tracks these women for ten years, from 2003 to 2013.

As the New York Times wrote, “Ms. Thorpe’s sharply drawn portraits are novelistic in their emotional detail and candor, underscoring the very different philosophical and political outlooks held by these three women before they went off to war, and the transformative effect (positive and negative) that their service would have on their daily lives, their sense of self and their relationships back home.”

An interview of Soldier Girls follows.

First, Thorpe was kind enough to answer a few questions about the book and the work that went into it.

Question: When did this idea occur to you? What was the spark? And how did you even begin the process of finding these women?

Thorpe: My first book was published in 2009, and the entire time that I was working on it, I was acutely aware that there were two wars going on, and that I couldn’t follow the news very well. I felt frustrated by my inability to comprehend what we were doing in Afghanistan and Iraq, and what was happening to the people we were sending over there. After Just Like Us came out, I started interviewing veterans who were coming home from the two conflicts, trying to see if there was a story there that I could tell. When I met Michelle, Debbie, and Desma, I felt I had found the right veterans for me, because we all got along so well together. These are three very funny and very smart women who lived through dramatic, historic developments, and came home struggling but still trying to find ways to laugh about it all, so that they could get through the experience. I admired them tremendously and was drawn to their humor and resilience.

Question: How many candidates did you screen or interview before deciding on these three? Was there ever a point in the process where you were worried that one of them might walk away?

Thorpe: I think I interviewed about two dozen veterans before settling on these women. I found it easier to speak to women in general, during the early screening interviews. The men were more wary of me. I’m obviously a) a civilian and b) female and also c) center or left-leaning, depending on the issue, and so I think many of them must have felt as though I might not be the right person to open up to. I didn’t have that issue with Michelle, when I met her early in 2010. We just fell into talking right away. And when she introduced me to her two friends, I also developed strong relationships with each of them fairly quickly. I think it mattered a lot that we were all women and that they had strong female friendships. Once they took me into their circle, they started speaking to me as if I was one of the club, almost.

Question: Soldier Girls focuses on how females struggle to find their way in a male-dominated culture, but it’s also about the transition back to their homes—the mental fortitude required to endure the adjustments going in and going out. Were you surprised that the return was as difficult as the induction?

Thorpe: I knew that it would be hard to come home, but I didn’t understand exactly why. In fact, that was one of the aspects of the experience that I felt the most curiosity about. We all know that veterans struggle to come back after going to war—but it’s hard for a civilian to empathize properly, because the struggle is foreign and unknown to us. I wanted to know more about why it’s so hard. I think the answer has a lot to do with time and change. It’s impossible to return to the person you used to be. You can come home, but you can’t go back. And so coming home means confronting in so many ways the fact that you have changed, and so have the people that you left behind. Everything is different, including the veteran. It can almost feel as though home is gone, in a sense. You have to build a new home.

Question: Can you tell us a little bit about your research process for each profile? How do you reach a point in a relationship with a subject you’re writing about that they feel comfortable talking about all the times they breached personal trust, city and state laws, and military rules?

Photo of Helen Thorpe by Marea Evans

Photo of Helen Thorpe by Marea Evans

Thorpe: I am naturally reluctant to judge. I am a good listener. Mostly I am just curious about people, and their motivations. It matters more to me to understand why a person does a certain action, as opposed to coming to a moral conclusion about whether they should or should not have done something. With Michelle, Desma, and Debbie, I started by asking very basic questions, just to get a sense of the timeline of events. When did they enlist, where did they deploy, how long did they stay, and so forth. I didn’t ask more probing questions for a long time. By the point we began talking about their interpersonal relationships, we had spent many months together. By then I think they knew that I was a careful person who would write about them in a thoughtful way. I also explained to them that the most powerful book would be one in which the readers could relate to them as real people – flawed human beings, just like the rest of us.

Question: You accumulated such a terrific level of detail in the writing that it gives the profiles an extraordinary level of veracity, but again how do you go about gathering detail from daily routines a decade prior?

Thorpe: We started with basic interviews, trying to assemble general facts. From there we did many more in-depth interviews, drilling down into the moments I thought I was likely to write about. Then I asked for any documentary evidence they could share. They gave me photographs, emails, letters, diaries, military records, medical records, and therapy notes. The hard part was rejiggering all of that material to get it into chronological order. I put piles of paper in stacks on the floor and sat down and tried to separate the pages into the right sequence—taking the part of one interview that was about events which occurred in 2001 and putting it to the left, taking another part of the same interview that was about events which occurred in 2004 and putting it to the right, reordering pages until the content was in the right timeline. Then I made three-ringed binders and filed all of that material in the right time-ordered sequence. It was laborious! But worthwhile. I couldn’t have written the book otherwise.

Question: Did you ever feel the urge to provide counsel?

Thorpe: No.

Question: Were you surprised to find someone who was so critical of the war effort and yet who put on a uniform and went to Afghanistan?

Thorpe: I thought that was the key to Michelle’s appeal, for the reader who had been critical of the wars. So many people in this country felt we shouldn’t have invaded Iraq. And some even felt that we shouldn’t have been in Afghanistan. If you had those feelings, then it was tempting to turn away and not pay attention. I wanted to write a book that would entice even people who wished the wars had never happened into reading about them, so that they could have a more informed sense of what had been taking place. And yes, it was surprising to me to meet Michelle and learn how somebody with anti-war views could wind up serving as a soldier in Afghanistan.

Question: Okay, just how difficult was it to ask these women to tell all about their sex lives and their relationships? Did you know going in that this would be such a critical part of the story?

Thorpe: Actually, I didn’t ask. Either they volunteered the information about themselves, or they talked about each others’ relationships in front of me.

It had never occurred to me that intimate relationships would be a big part of the story. When I first started working on the book, I was drawn to the idea of writing about a college student with no kids, a single mom with three kids, and a woman who became a grandmother while they were all deployed together to Afghanistan. I liked that there was thirty years difference in age from the youngest to the oldest of the main characters, and I liked that there was that much difference between the three women in terms of their politics.

But when they did start talking about sex, I thought, well, maybe that will keep the reader engaged!

Question: How has your personal view of the military changed since you began work on Soldier Girls?

Thorpe: I think I understand better how heterogeneous the military actually is. Outsiders tend to view the military as a homogenous group of people, who think and act in lockstep. Actually it’s much more interesting than that, culturally. What’s fascinating about the military is the way it introduces people who might never otherwise meet and sometimes puts them in harm’s way together, where they can go through the kinds of experiences that transform a group into a family.

Question: What’s next?

Thorpe: Still working on that one. Stay tuned!

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Review:

War is hell. It’s also real people transforming themselves—sometimes briefly, sometimes for decades—into soldiers. It’s also equipment, food, supplies and housing. It’s also bureaucracy, codes, lingo, power. It’s killing. War is boredom and routine. War requires that families separate and relationships go on hold—for long stretches of time. War requires induction. The military is its own universe, as a thousand books and movies have made clear.

In highly detailed portraits of three women shipped off to war, Soldier Girls lets us walk in the boots of Michelle Fischer, Debbie Helton and Desma Brooks as they each strike a bargain with the world—and the military—for unique, personal reasons. Soldier Girls transforms the generic term “soldier” into highly specific human beings with hopes, dreams, struggles and reasons to join up.

Thorpe spent four years interviewing these women, covering the details and getting them right. The specifics give Soldier Girls its weight, its three-dimensional insights. Generalities are devoured by the sharp razor teeth of particulars.

“Michelle had saved up $1,300 for an apartment in Bloomington. Instead, she ordered kegs of Killian’s Irish Red and threw a party, took friends out to dinner, bought her mother a new bed. She also took out a large life insurance policy and wrote a will leaving everything to her mother.”

“In her (Debbie’s) civilian life, she managed a beauty salon inside a department store at one end of a shopping mall. The department store was called L.S. Ayres. Debbie lived in Bloomington, Indiana, where she had grown up and was raising her daughters . . . On the morning of September 11, 2001, Debbie left her house around nine, as the drive to Indy took roughly an hour. At about 9:15 a.m. she was heading northeast on Highway 37 in the gold 1990 Cavalier she had bought used after she had enlisted in the Guard, and could finally afford a vehicle, listening to the Bob & Tom Show. A person had to have a sick sense of humor to enjoy the syndicated comedy show, but it was Debbie’s main source of news.”

“Desma was extraordinarily bright, and before she finished elementary school, she devoured The Secret Garden and Little Women. Later she raced through Oliver Twist and The Raven. The books spirited her away from her surroundings and shielded her from her mother’s rage.”

Thorpe shows us the politics—or lack thereof. She let us in on their relationships, bank accounts, extended families, and decisions about how each of these three women react to offers and temptations of all kind. We see them re-shape themselves, mentally and physically. War requires transformation. We see them learn new skills, such as learning to repair assault rifles. Thorpe shows us their willingness to toe the line or buck the system. We see the women as they manage sleep, cope with dread and look for love and physical intimacy. We see them manage family business by remote control—from thousands of miles away—via email and telephone. We learn their preferences in music, food and alcohol. We see them feud and we see them figure out ways to make do. And, even though they mostly are assigned to support roles, one hair-raising moment brings one of these women extremely close to losing her life.

If going to war is brutal, the return trip might be worse. And here is where the accumulated minutia of the opening chapters pays off as the women return to the old landscapes and familiar haunts and try to regain their footing in the world.

About the role of women in the military, Thorpe retains her role as reporter and never shifts to dispenser of opinion. Can they handle the work? Can the military culture handle the sexual complications? Thorpe never loses patience. The narrative doesn’t rush to closure. Awkward moments are allowed to be just that. War is hell. Returning requires recalibration. War’s toll is in the dead and wounded. It’s also in the altered psyches of those who appear whole upon return. War builds character? Sure. And if so, Helen Thorpe’s powerful Soldier Girls shows that women—at least these three—are up to the task.

Dark Night of the Soul by Gary Reilly

markhstevens:

Can’t thank David Willson enough for all his kind support of the late, great Gary Reilly.

Originally posted on Books in Review II:

Dark Night of the Soul (Running Meter Press, 226 pp., $14.95, paper) is the sixth book in Gary Reilly’s Asphalt Warrior series. Reilly was drafted into the U. S. Army during the Vietnam War and served two years, one of which was in Vietnam as an MP.

Gary Reilly died of colon cancer in 2011. I’ll always suspect that Agent Orange is the culprit that did him in.

He left twenty-five unpublished books. The ones I have read, all of the Asphalt Warrior series published so far—along with the first novel in his Vietnam War-related series—support the contention of the Denver Post that Reilly is a master wordsmith. All of Reilly’s books provoke me to laugh out loud—and I am not easily provoked.

The hero of this book (and of all those that preceded it in this series), is Murph, a Denver cab driver who grapples with a world that always…

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Warren Hammond – “Kop”

"Kop" is the first of three in the series, including "Ex-Kop" and "Kop Killer."

“Kop” is the first of three in the series, including “Ex-Kop” and “Kop Killer.”

Start “Kop” and you will feel right at home in a dark story of dirty justice, mean streets, creepy thugs and embedded corruption. These streets just happen to be on a planet named Lagarto where the reptiles, both the human and animal variety, tend to get their way. My reading list skews to earthbound mysteries so my credentials at reviewing sci-fi (mash up or straight up) are dubious. But Warren Hammond built a mucky murky world up there on the Lagarto and then imagined a rip-roaring plot with the gravitational pull of Jupiter. I was sucked right in. The clue-finding is as solid as the world building.

Our tour guide is Juno Mozambe and he is part of the force trying to keep order in the sagging civilization, where laws and justice are uncertain commodities. Except Juno Mozambe is no Boy Scout. He’s an enforcer. He’s got a role in one effort to return Lagarto to its glory days and, as such, he’s not opposed to collaborating with a murderous crime lord. Or two. He has found a way to ignore the “flames of hell” licking at his feet. In short, he’s utterly human.

Lagarto was once a thriving little planet. But its status declined when brandy tree saplings were smuggled “offplanet.” Lagarto is now overgrown, quite literally, as a jungle. In the squalid mess that’s left, cartels and crime bosses have moved in. The rivers are sewers. Geckos scurry everywhere. Large lizards abound. (If there is a better action fight sequence out there involving a monitor lizard, I’d like to read it.) You feel sticky and hot just turning the pages. “Kop” might include a pinch of “Apocalypse Now” and a dash of “Chinatown,” but Lagarto is its own blender of Hammond’s nicely warped reality.

Like any good mystery, “Kop” starts with a murder—a throat-slashing attack in a back alley. Juno picks up the blood trail. He also picks up, over his objections, a young and inexperienced female partner. In bits and pieces, we are shown the Lagarto lifestyle. We are given a nifty flashback about Juno’s wife. (As characters, both the rookie female cop Maggie and Juno’s wife Niki neatly toy with standard clichés.)

Juno knows someone is always looking for an angle. In the case of “Kop,” the back-alley murder leads to unravelling a big-picture, planet-sized plot. It’s a doozie. And it works.

“Kop” offers a cool mash-up of heavy noir and calm, clear-eyed sci-fi. “Kop” put Lagarto out there in the universe. And you know what? I’ll be back. (Heard that in a sci-fi movie somewhere.)