End Date: September 24th
Author: Brad Parks
Genre: Mystery & Suspense
Pages: 304 (paperback)
Selected By: Lady Esbe
“Carter Ross, investigative reporter for the Newark Eagle-Examiner, is reporting on the latest tragedy to befall Newark, New Jersey, a fast-moving house fire that kills two boys. With the help of the paper’s newest intern, a bubbly blonde known as ‘Sweet Thang,’ Carter finds the victims’ mother, Akilah Harris, who spins a tale of woe about a mortgage rate reset that forced her to work two jobs and leave her boys home alone. Carter turns the story into a front-page feature, but soon discovers Akilah isn’t what she seems. And neither is the fire.
“When Newark councilman Windy Byers is reported missing, it launches Carter into the sordid world of urban house-flipping and Jersey-style political corruption. With his usual mix of humor, compassion, and street smarts, Carter is soon calling on some of his friends for help in tracking down the shadowy figure behind it all.” – from Goodreads.
This is the second installment of the Carter Ross series. I picked this book because I enjoyed the first book so much. However, I was a bit disappointed in this installment. Don’t get me wrong, as with the first, the pace is great. Mr. Parks moves us through the narrative with the efficiency of a print reporter (which he was formerly). Mr. Parks also takes the opportunity to teach, through his investigative reporter skills, of the insidious nature of the subprime mortgage, the not so legitimate practices of the unscrupulous in house flipping, identity theft and even a bit of the “down low” culture. I was also pleased to see the return of Carter, Tommy, and Tee. I welcomed the introduction of Mrs. Jamison, the very forceful wife of Tee. However, I was sorely irritated with the introduction of Lauren a.k.a. Sweet Thang and didn’t necessarily welcome the return of Tina either.
As with the first installment, Parks weaves a conspiracy in the background, only bringing a little into light at a time. You spend much of the book attempting to figure out how certain events connect and that is something I enjoy. I also enjoy how you see the trial and errors of Carter’s investigative process. What I did not appreciate but could completely understand is the ridiculous rigmarole that Carter goes through to appease a basically senile editor’s whims that had nothing to do with his actual job of being an investigative reporter. In fact, said editor hot a wild hair that about space heaters, which sets Carter off to investigate the house fire at the home of one Akilah Harris, and down the rabbit hole he tumbles.
Now as per the original installment, Carter is ever the snarky and funny character. However, this time he is a wee bit more flaky. This is primarily due to the introduction of Sweet Thang. As with any red blooded American male, an attractive younger woman evokes a certain amount of juvenile behavior that is unbecoming. Carter is no exception to this rule. He spends too much time entertaining the notion of hypotheticals by endeavoring to possibly have relations with the young woman. While this is such a part of reality, I would hope to escape it in a novel. Alas, it is not. The woefully shameful, slightly embarrassing way he entertains mentally and outwardly the interest of Sweet Thang detracted from the story for me. I like the serious reporter who is absolutely focused on his job. Granted there were things that Sweet Thang was able to achieve that Carter was inept at handling the situation.
As for Sweet Thang, her ditsy Pollyana way of handling life made me want to chuck the book across the room. Yes, there are women like this in the world. However, she was just too much. From being too talkative, to too sorority girl idiot, to too sugary sweet, I just couldn’t feel anything for Sweet Thang other than contempt. It was evident she obtained her internship through nepotism and her gushing over Carter and anyone else who would pay her a lick of attention, is used to her advantage to get what she wants. However, it is not clear what she wants. Parks attempted to hide her idiocy in good natured Christian kindness. However, what I read was, MORON, MORON, MORON. How does one live in the Tri-state area and not realize that there are less than honorable and shifty individuals in this world? I don’t care how sheltered or rich you are, it is a common knowledge sort of issue. Again, it takes all kinds and Parks just shows that to the extreme with Sweet Thang.
In a not so great contrast, we have Tina. Tina was in the first installment and basically told Carter in that installment she had every intention of using him as a sperm donor with a more direct delivery system (A-HEM). Now, she doesn’t want to date, she doesn’t want him involved in her future child’s life, but she’s all too willing to accept his donation. So, with these parameters, how in the world does she feel she can dictate his love life or possible interest in anyone else. I did not feel the least bit sorry for her when Carter stood her up on a date that she demanded because she felt slighted. Why? You aren’t dating, you barely hang out, yet he can’t look in another direction. Pfft. So ultimately between these two women, I was very anti-women in this novel.
However, on the bright side, as far as female characters there is Mrs. Jamison. Mrs. Jamison is legendary. Tee is Carter’s major connection to the “hood”. When Carter needs some information and a friendly face, he goes to see his good friend Tee. While Tee is connected, he may not be the actual muscle in the relationship. I think we leave that to Mrs. Jamison. The exchange between Carter and Tee about obtaining Mrs. Jamison’s assistance at a local pawn broker was hilarious to say the least and only reinforced that Tee is whipped and probably a little afraid of his wife. Mrs. Jamison is intimidating to Carter, Tee and probably anyone else she encounters. I can honestly say, without her intervention, Carter would have been going around and around with Maury, the pawnbroker. This character has a big personality and attitude that just makes you chuckle. Where Tee is laidback and confident, she’s confident and overbearing.
As I said, I was happy to see the return of Tommy. I was unhappy about the amount of time we see Tommy. The first installment had Tommy as Carter’s partner in crime. Unfortunately, we are laden with Sweet Thang this time. Tommy’s insight and zingers still hit home and I laugh every time he makes an appearance in the book. Oh, to have him as the primary sidekick again, who’s research skills moves the case forward for Carter when he can’t quite make all the connections.
I’m sad that this is the book that the members were introduced to. No matter the entertainment value of the mishaps of Carter Ross, and the one liners that are slung around, I just didn’t connect to this one as I did the first. Did I laugh, absolutely. Did I find a couple of poignant moments and observations, sure. However, I did not get the umph that I had with the first book. So, anyone wanting to read Brad Parks, please start with The Faces of the Gone.
Esbe’s Favorite Character(s): Tommy.
Lady Esbe read the Minotaur Books hardcover version of this book.
I will preface this review with a quick note to say that I did not read the first book in this series, Faces of the Gone, but I did hear from Esbe that it was a fine and entertaining read with an amusing story – I remember not long after she read it and posted it here at Gigglemug, we were discussing our recent Interim Reviews (at that time) and she couldn’t praise Carter Ross as a character enough. So I was quite looking forward to getting to jump straight into this selection.
… the truth exists, and it’s my job as a reporter to find it. I realize that flies in the face of the moral relativism that has become so popular… where [you will be told to] believe there is no such thing as the truth, only stories told from different perspectives. They’ll spin that marvelous bit of postmodern logic that says there are no absolutes and therefore we cannot possibly judge anyone else’s beliefs… To which I reply: fiddle-faddle.
So, fellow readers, I’m as baffled as you are by this one-cup score. But honestly, I just couldn’t get into it. And it had nothing to do with not having read Book 1 and everything to do with really not caring about Carter Ross or any of his bland cohorts.
Carter Ross as a character has potential: he’s clearly sharp, lucky as hell, and occasionally whips out a clever witticism. But he’s also fairly shallow, he clearly doesn’t think too much of women (except that he just can’t help himself from throwing caution to the winds to save a damsel in distress – garsh!), and his chameleon nature comes across as desperate and sneaky rather than cool, confident, and sly. He is dismissive and derisive of his male counterparts for what he perceives as fairly lecherous conduct around the newest intern: a wide-eyed, busty blonde with less common sense than a banana… but he himself can’t seem to keep his attention on anything north of her bra – if she’s even wearing one, which is a matter of speculation at one point, and he only thinks of her by her name for the briefest flicker of a moment before she is labeled “Sweet Thang” for the rest of the book (as it turns out, this bushy-tailed aspiring journalist prefers to be called “Sweet Thang,” which is just ridiculous). To offset Caricature of a Female #1: The Ditzy Blonde Schoolgirl, there is the ever popular Caricature of a Female #2: The Man-Eating Alpha-Bitch: Tina. This character’s sole purpose appears to be to berate Ross, no matter what he does; she’s the quintessential “stupid bitch”: she is intractable, implacable, illogical, unreasonable, jealous, catty, and irrational. And all the other female characters seem to swing back and forth between these two pendulums, going from dingy to bitchy and back again.
Pritch caught the guy so unawares he actually answered the door to his apartment hideout while eating a piece of jerk chicken – allowing Pritch to deliver the once-in-a-career line, “You’re under arrest, now drop the chicken.”
And I get that he has to blend in. I get that he has to be likeable, because an unfriendly, unapproachable journalist wouldn’t get very far – he needs insiders, and he has to wine and dine them to get it. I get that. What I don’t get is why on earth he doesn’t shut off the I’m-one-of-you routine when he’s not on the job. Ross just tries so hard. So very, very hard. He becomes a sort of caricature himself: Goofy White Dude. In fact, that is exactly what he reminded me of during every interaction he had with his black, Hispanic, and gay friends and informants: the journalist hat would fall to the wayside, and Ross would pick up his Fire Marshall Bill hat. He’d go on with great pride about how white he was, what sort of pants he wore, how his hair was parted… Essentially, his attempt to fit in with everyone else was derailed by his constant need to remind everyone else how different he was from them.
The sad thing is that none of the other characters ever make it off the page. With the exception of “Sweet Thang,” we never really spend enough time with any of the others to know them well enough to care one way or the other about them: Akilah Harris, the mother whose children are killed in the fire that is the catalyst for our story, zips in and out of the story, and the remaining supporting cast are on a revolving door: they come in, speak their lines, and shuffle off the stage. Carter’s great buddies who Esbe had told me so much about are relatively absent: Tommy shows up a couple of times, makes a few remarks about Ross’s fashion sense, then he’s gone like Members Only jackets; Tee and his wife are there just long enough to give you some much-needed laughs before disappearing for good; and Deadline was practically nonexistent.
“I’m a man. My woman do what I tell her to do.” “In other words, you already called her and she already said yes.” “Exactly.”
The pace, however, was mysteriously remarkably good. I say “mysteriously” because the plot itself was fairly plodding: the house burns down at the very beginning of the novel, and for roughly the next two-thirds of the book, that’s all readers have to really go on. Stuffed into those two-hundred pages are a few loaves of banana bread, some missing jewelry, a couple of visits to a pawn shop (run by a guy who is only missing the pimp cane to complete his own caricature ensemble), and, of course, watching “Sweet Thang” jiggle. The end itself, while realistically short on thrilling heroics, was fairly flat for the sudden jolt of momentum we got in the last 10% or so.
All in all, I hate that this is the first impression I got of Carter Ross and wish I had read the first one so I might have a different perspective of this character. Unfortunately, that’s not how things happened, so I have to say that I won’t be reading any additional books in this series.
Elle’s Favorite Character(s): Tee and Mrs. Jamison. They didn’t have much presence overall in this story, but their banter about and to one another was a welcome distraction.
Elle Tea read the Amazon Kindle version of this book.
“I mean, do you smile? Look serious? Stick your eye real close and try to look back? What is proper peephole etiquette anyway?”
I am one to love a strong female character, so let me tell you a little secret: if you also find yourself loving strong women in your books, give this one a pass, will ya? I believe that either our author or whoever Carter Ross is supposed to represent has something against women. There are two female characters in this book: one is a dingbat, pretty, and very, “I don’t get it. Will you explain it to me?” type, while the other seems to be in a terrible mood all the time. Our moody female character Tina confused me very badly; she wanted something from Carter Ross and was very possessive even though they weren’t in a relationship. Ditsy Lauren (who they call Sweet Thang all the time – which was completely awful), was supposed to have graduated from a great school and come from a family with a lot of money. This woman was 22 years old but had absolutely no clue about anything except apparently how to bake banana bread. Carter Ross was also kind of playing both of them thinking he ought to keep all his options open. Aaaaahhhhhhhh! He acted like a high school boy when it came to dealing with women.
“I’m not going to say I loathe local TV newspeople, but if one of them were on fire and I had a full bladder, I’d still run off and find a urinal.”
“Because, matey,” I said, affecting a pirate brogue, “dead men tell no tales.”
And after three-hundred pages of not a lot, you’re suddenly done. It was just dull. I will not be reading any more of this series and probably nothing by this author.
BillMo’s Favorite Character(s): Tee and Mrs. Jamison. They were only in the story for a very short bit. Maybe only a few paragraphs. But he was very funny, and she got things done.
BillMo read the Amazon Kindle version of this book.