Book: Candy from Strangers
Author: Mark Coggins
Type of Book: Fiction, Mystery
Why Did I Read This Book: A couple of reasons. One, the cover is sexy, featuring the torso and neck of a shapely woman in various poses. Second, the premise of the book – women getting harmed as a result of “cam-whoring” (my term, not the author’s) – was a new one, something I could imagine Andrew Vachss writing about, and it intrigued me.
Availability: Published by Bleak House Books in 2007, you can get a copy here:
Comments: I am a voracious and indiscriminate reader, and buy books for a variety of reasons and seldom think twice when the urge to buy a book hits me, so were I less a book whore, I would have read the blurbs closer and realized I was reading the third book in a series. August Riordan, the private investigator in this book, is featured in two other other books by Coggins, but thankfully, the plot for the third novel stands independently from the other two. There are small elements that clearly are set up in previous novels, like Riordan’s relationships with women, his friendship with an old jazz and blues performer, and similar, but ultimately, no one would get lost reading this book before the others.
This book is a bag of potato chips. It really offers nothing new, but as you eat, you don’t really think, “My god, I am eating potato chips for the thousandth time in my life. I really need to get some of those wasabi rice crackers and mix it up a little.” For snack food is snack food and regardless of the form it takes, you enjoy it and sort of forget about it until the next time you need a snack. This is no slam of this book, calling it snack food. I would never turn up my nose at a competent mystery, and this is a competent mystery. There is a lot going on in this book, so much that it is almost impossible for me to give one of my regular, encompassing synopses, but here’s the lowdown:
A disgraced cop’s daughter goes missing. Her mother contacts Riordan to find her, and in the process of the investigation, he discovers the girl has a shared camgirl site with another girl, a fellow art school student. Much happens and Riordan solves the case, and in the process, plays a jazz gig or two, finds a dead body, annoys the denizens of an art school, interacts with and punishes a skeevy psychiatrist (best scenes of the book, in my opinion) and engages in pulp detective clichés that I ordinarily would snert at, but he does it competently enough that I don’t in this case.
Here’s one of the clichés in the book: In one of the side stories, the grandson of a famous but impecunious musician steals his grandfather’s bass, an instrument that has a lot of sentimental value. Riordan helps get the bass back and in the process finds out the grandson has musical talent and is a hoot on the old horn. So Riordan gets him a place in a gig and the misunderstood, strung out youth accepts and BOOM! It all seems right in the world. Jazz gigs, not drugs, kids. Just say blow (on the horn, not up your nose, yo!).
But this snert aside, a book doesn’t have to necessarily have something new under the sun. It is, at times, enough for a book to be entertaining. This book was entertaining. The characters, though at times caricatures (like the flamboyant cross-dressing Chris), engage the reader. At no point did any character bore me or alienate me and sometimes this is all I need from a good thriller. Patricia Cornwell’s Scarpetta series used to be a lot of fun until Scarpetta became more strident, brittle and preachy as the plots became more and more outrageous. Neither of these are problems with Candy from Strangers. The plot makes sense, the characters are believable and likable, even Riordan’s snaptastic sarcastic rejoinders ring true when you read them. Riordan also has a good sense of humor, or at least his sense of humor resonated with me.
The only real unrealistic plot element in the book was this: The book involves female characters getting huge tattoos on their bodies. One of the women is an art model and when the photographer for whom she is a muse discovers she got the tattoo, he asks her to remove it and she does. The way the tattoo is described is that it is very large. Not only would it take several sessions to get such a tattoo, to remove it would be expensive as well and would take a long, long time and would leave scarring, even with the best laser technology. The time frame in the book does not allow this character the time she would need to get the tattoo and to later get it removed. One wonders where she, a struggling camgirl and student, would get the money for the extremely expensive laser treatments. And even if all of that were not problematic, traces of the original tattoo or the resulting scarring would remain and mar her nude photographs. Laser removal does not work like an eraser on the flesh. Small plot point but the only real issue I had with the book.
So know this book for what it is, common snack food for the mystery reader, and you’ll enjoy it well enough. If I ever see any of Coggins’ other works, I would be tempted to buy them. I might not seek him out actively, but I would definitely buy the two preceding August Riordan books if I stumble across them in a book store.