Monday, January 11, 2010

Mystery Book Review: Frag Box by Richard A. Thompson

Mysterious Reviews, mysteries reviewed by the Hidden Staircase Mystery Books, is publishing a new review of Frag Box by Richard A. Thompson. For our blog readers, we are printing it first here in advance of its publication on our website.

Frag Box by Richard A. Thompson

A Herman Jackson Mystery

Poisoned Pen Press (Hardcover)
ISBN-10: 1-59058-678-6 (1590586786)
ISBN-13: 978-1-59058-678-5 (9781590586785)
Publication Date: November 2009
List Price: $24.95

Review: Bail bondsman Herman Jackson seems to be the only person who cares when a homeless man, a Vietnam Vet, is beaten to death in broad daylight, but the attention soon turns to him when he's listed as the man's sole beneficiary of a mysterious box, in Frag Box, the second mystery in this series by Richard A. Thompson.

Herman sometimes misses his exciting days as a bounty hunter (and bookie on the side), but for the most part he enjoys his current, relatively benign life as a bail bondsman in St. Paul. Most of the people he posts bonds for show up in court when required, including a semi-recurring client, one Charlie Victor, who pays Herman's fees with money taken from a "frag box", a holdover from his service in Vietnam. But then Charlie is murdered. The police investigation seems perfunctory at best, and no one comes forward with any information as to why anyone might want to kill Charlie. It comes as something of a surprise to Herman when a lawyer contacts him, telling him he's the beneficiary of Charlie's "estate", which consists solely of his frag box -- current location unknown. Herman quickly concludes that Charlie was killed for his frag box, and discovers someone will go to any length to obtain its contents.

Part of the puzzle presented in Frag Box is whether Charlie's murder is quickly dismissed by the authorities due to the fact that he was homeless -- and a Vietnam Vet -- and therefore unimportant, or because someone is pressuring the police (and media) to close the case quickly for political (or possibly personal) reasons. The story is well-constructed, the characters compelling, the murder mystery itself satisfyingly complex. It's a solid follow-up to the first mystery in this series, Fiddle Game. But where Fiddle Game is more thrilling, Frag Box is more thoughtful, an interesting contrast in this series of just two books (to date) that illustrates the range of this author's talent.

Special thanks to guest reviewer Betty of The Betz Review for contributing her review of Frag Box and to Poisoned Pen Press for providing an ARC of the book for this review.

Review Copyright © 2010 — Hidden Staircase Mystery Books — All Rights Reserved

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Synopsis (from the publisher): Herman Jackson leads a quiet life as a bail bondsman in St. Paul, nicely distanced from his never-to-be-mentioned past as a bookie and numbers man in Detroit. But lately his quiet life is just one damn thing after another. His cash flow is more like a monetary hemorrhage, a mobster is trying to take over his business, and a couple of over-zealous Secret Service agents refuse to believe he does not know the identity of a contracted presidential assassin. To make matters worse, both the mobster and the agents are dangerously close to uncovering his criminal past. He’s been dealt worse hands, but offhand, he can’t remember when.

Charlie Victor is a homeless man, a burnt out Vietnam vet who has no obvious means of support but always has money when he needs it. He claims to have a huge secret stash of money, called his frag box. He keeps it, he says, to hire hit men to kill “bad” public officials. Jackson thinks he’s a harmless nut case, though a reliable regular customer. But when Victor is brutally murdered and both the Secret Service and some mysterious non-uniformed military types tear apart the homeless community looking for the box, he thinks again. Then he learns that he is Victor’s sole legal heir, and the race to find the box suddenly becomes very personal. It will take him from the dark byways of St. Paul’s Railroad Island to the snowbound Minnesota Iron Range and ultimately to a shootout in an abandoned machinery tunnel under the Mississippi River bluffs.

The key to the box and the murder seems to lie somewhere in Victor’s time in the jungles of Vietnam. But the more Jackson probes into that past, the more he keeps running into his own demons from a wasted youth in riot-torn Detroit. And the closer he gets to the box, the more his carefully constructed fa├žade of lies begins to fall apart. Finding it could be more success than he can afford. It could, in fact, be the death of him.

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Lance Wright owns and manages Omnimystery, a Family of Mystery Websites, which had its origin as Hidden Staircase Mystery Books in 1986. As the scope of the business expanded, first into book reviews — Mysterious Reviews — and later into information for and reviews of mystery and suspense television and film, all sites were consolidated under the Omnimystery brand in 2006.

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