on August 27, 2009
I LOVE this book. I have read several books through the Amazon Vine program, and I always try to pick authors I am not familiar with. Some have been good, some not so much, THIS is a great suspense novel.
I am not one who believes that the opening line of a story is critical, that said, this one is pretty darn good. Title, The Night Monster, opening line, "Cops weren't supposed to get frightened." How great is that, it just conjures up a picture of a police officer encountering something in the line of duty so beyond his comprehension and experience, he is afraid, or as the case develops, terrified by a life altering event.
As a brief summary, the story is presented in the first person by Jack Carpenter, a former detective. Jack works on finding missing people. To characterize Jack as tenacious is really selling him short. He is willing to do anyting to find and save a missing person. The zeal lead to his early departure from the police force.
Jack's story shows us the bare emotional journey that a parent seaching for a missing child can go through. We can feel the pain and anguish. Jack is not a superhuman, he is not robocop, just a driven guy who wants to make a difference.
This is a super page turner, you will not be able to put it down. I recommend this without hesitation or reservation.
Yes, you will be up all night finishing this book if you plan on starting it any time after 8pm. So be forewarned.
From the opening chapter, with the search for a missing elementary school child, the story burns from one moment to the next. Admittedly, the main character's set up is a cliche - the ex-cop turned private eye with a laser-focus on his expertise (in this case, finding missing kids). But as John Gardner once wrote, All American fiction boils down to one of two plot lines - man rides into town or man rides out of town - it's what the author does with that story that counts. And boy does James Swain deliver.
Once you read that first bit of chapter 3 as the main character, Jack Carpenter, is searching for a missing boy, you know this is not your typical hard-boiled ex-cop story: "Water has a magical effect on autistic children. It calls to them like a siren's song. I found this out...."
This is not your standard cliched ex-cop whose life is on a downward slope; he's got good parts of his life (his relationship with his daughter) and some not so good (his relationship with his estranged wife). Throughout the story, Jack tries to reclaim his life. Sometimes it works and sometimes, well the typical "Hollywood story-telling" does not appear, making his frustrations and experiences much more real (like when Jack tries to buy his old house).
The story is fantastically paced, the writing is well done, and the unique twists will definitely catch you a bit off guard. Just an excellent, suspenseful mystery, and extremely well worth your time.
I'd not read any of James Swain's books before this; now I'll be reading them all.
James Carpenter is the classic noir private detective -- a man so obsessed by his profession that he has alienated everyone in his life, including his now-ex wife and his previous employers, the police department. He lives in a room over a bar. His only friend is his dog, Buster, although he maintains a good relationship with his college-aged daughter.
Nearly twenty years ago, he made several rookie mistakes when responding to a domestic violence call, including failing to call for backup. Carpenter was disarmed and beaten by the perpetrator, a monster of a man. He didn't even get the license plate number of the vehicle that took the young woman away. The case was never solved, the kidnap victim never found.
As a way of atoning for his failure, Carpenter joined Missing Persons, until he was drummed out of the Broward County Sheriff's Department two years ago for using excessive force. Though his relationship with the police is strained, they often turn to him when children go missing. His ability to solve those cases borders on the eerie -- or the eerily convenient. Unfortunately, the author James Swain has chosen to make Carpenter virtually infallible when he tackles one of these cases.
Carpenter's daughter, who plays for the Florida State Lady Seminoles basketball team, thinks a stalker may be filming them. At their next game, Carpenter chases away a man with a video camera, and that night one of his daughter's teammates is kidnapped. Once again, Carpenter is unable to prevent the crime, which involves the same gigantic culprit from long ago. Carpenter can wrestle alligators but he can't lay a hand on this monster.
A lot of what happens in The Night Monster is strains credibility. Though Carpenter is low on money, he can pay for valet parking. After being evicted from his room when his Australian Shepherd goes on a rampage and chews up the mattress, the furnishings and even tears a hole through the wall (is that even possible?) he manages to pack up all of his possessions into his aging, decrepit car a matter of minutes.
After Carpenter's latest run in with the kidnapper sends him to the hospital, he engages in light-hearted banter with his daughter about the cute woman who gave him CPR when he wakes up the next morning, despite the fact that her best friend is missing.
The missing girl's father shows up at their next basketball game. It's hard to imagine a distraught parent having any time for sports during such a crisis. The encounter seems orchestrated by the author so the father can have a run-in with a TV reporter.
The cops are all pigheaded and narrow minded. No matter how much evidence Carpenter presents to them, they stubbornly cling to the first theory of the crime that presents itself. It's hard to understand why Carpenter believes that people will think he's insane if he claims that a 6' 10" / 300 lb man was the kidnapper. It's not like he's claiming it was a space alien or the creature from the black lagoon. Large people exist. In fact, the culprit and his sidekick -- the stalker with the video camera -- are strongly reminiscent of Lenny and George from Of Mice and Men.
Carpenter is relentlessly correct in his theories. He makes some amazing logical leaps based on minimal evidence. Clues persist for decades just waiting for him to find them.
He has a couple of powerful allies -- the wealthy father of the missing basketball player and an FBI agent whose own daughter was taken many years ago. At one point he actually sees the missing girl, but fails to mention that to her father -- something that would have comforted and encouraged the man.
Based on wild speculation, he pursues the serial abductors to a small Central Florida town so weird that it feels like it was lifted straight out of an episode of The X-Files or Fringe. The town's secret strains credibility to the breaking point, as does the motivation for the kidnappings.
The final confrontation, however, is anticlimactic. Carpenter's previous ineptitude when confronted with dangerous situations vanishes and everything falls into place.
This is the first novel by Swain that I have read. Based on this experience, I probably won't seek out any others.
"The Night Monster" is the first James Swain book I have read. I do enjoy mystery/suspense/thrillers though and was looking forward to reading the novel.
Jack Carpenter was the detective who was in charge of the Broward County Sheriff's Department Missing Person Bureau when it was first formed. After heading that department for sixteen years Jack was fired for beating up a suspect. Two years later he is still searching for missing people, only now he does it as a private citizen. There is one particular missing woman that Jack can't get out of his mind because he had a chance to rescue her as she was being abducted. Instead, he made a mistake and the woman has never been heard from again. Carpenter's daughter is a basketball player for the University of Florida Lady Seminoles and she asks him to check out a man who seems to be stalking the team. Jack realizes that one of these stalkers is the same man who was involved in the abduction all those years ago. What follows is a series of near misses in capturing these two men and rescuing the young woman they have just kidnapped.
This book was definitely of the page turner variety as it got closer to the resolution of the mystery. I particularly liked the relationship between Jack and his daughter even though I would have liked for that to have been more detailed. I really liked for Jack to have his dog, Buster, as his helper and sidekick. That made the story very interesting even though it did mean a lot of attention had to be paid to the welfare of the dog. I have to admit that I found myself wondering if he ever fed the poor dog anything other than table scraps and pizza crust.
There were several things I didn't care for very much in the story. It was a really foolish mistake on the part of his lead character while serving as a uniformed patrol officer which led to the first kidnapping. So is that why Swain chose to depict all uniformed officers as unintelligent and poorly trained? There were two instances of missing children which were inserted rather haphazardly into the story. In the first instance of the autistic boy, was there not one single member of the official Missing Persons Bureau who could be sent to cope with that situation? Was Jack Carpenter the only person the department head believed could handle the case? That rescue situation was just a trifle hard for me to swallow and was the cause of my first groan of disbelief while reading this book. In the case of the missing thirteen year old girl, would the police department actually allow such a high profile case to be investigated by an outsider? And he could solve it in a matter of minutes after arriving on the scene? These instances stood out as unbelievable to me, especially with this character and his persona non grata status with the department. I understand that the author was showing the relationship Carpenter had with the current head of the Missing Persons Bureau but it really did seem to be quite a stretch in believability. I doubt very seriously that Swain will make any friends among uniformed officers with this book, they are all shown in a very poor light. Another problem I had was with the situation Carpenter and the FBI agent found in the town of Chatham. Now that was so strange that if fairly made my head spin and I didn't believe the situation could actually happen.
As I said before, this book became a real page turner for me as it neared it's conclusion. I enjoyed it, but not so much that I didn't notice some difficulties.
This book is a great read. It is descriptive to the point of putting you at the scene of the crime. It also creates a tense environment that gets one caught up in all the twists and turns of the story. The story seems a little far fetched, but being possible is not the foremost basis upon which to judge a mystery. All in all it was a very good read, one which I would recommend to anyone who likes mystery novels.
Before getting kicked off the police force, Private eye Jack Carpenter served for sixteen years as head of the missing persons department for the Broward County Police Force in Florida. Kicked off the force for being too rough with witnesses, Jack still works with the missing persons department as a consultant. His specialty is finding missing children. He and his Australian Shepherd, Buster, form a team and they have a special sense for locating the missing. Jack is especially good at finding damaged children such as those who have autism, have been abused, or are handicapped in some way.
Eighteen years ago, while he was head of missing persons, he witnessed the abduction of college student Naomi Dunn but was unable to stop it. It has haunted him all this time. Just recently, he received a phone call from his daughter Jesse, a college basketball player. Jesse tells him that a creepy guy has been stalking their team, videotaping them and making them feel uncomfortable. Jack checks this out and finds a small, smelly guy named Mouse wearing a fake reporter's badge videotaping Jesse's team. Shortly afterwards, one of their star players, Sarah Long, is abducted by a six foot ten inch 'monster'. Jack tries to stop the abduction but is no competition for this huge man who has flung Sarah over his shoulder. Jack's worst nightmare has been replayed and he is determined to get to the bottom of this. Jack's search for the abductors and the reasons behind the abductions form the basis of The Night Monster's plot.
Jack lives alone in a single room over a bar. He is separated from his wife, has no money, and his home is in foreclosure. As Jack investigates the abductions, working in tandem with the police force and the FBI, he puts together some interesting clues. Both girls were nursing students and each was tall and very athletic. The same 'giant' took both of them and disappeared, seemingly into nowhere. Linderman is the FBI agent that Jack works with and Linderman's own daughter was abducted five years previously. This case is very personal for him.
Jack gathers evidence from casino tapes where Mouse and the giant have been stalking another woman and develops a dossier showing that five women have been abducted in the same manner over a period of years. All of the woman were nursing students and athletes, and they were abducted from their own apartments. Over time, Jack comes to realize that the police force is on the wrong track and he goes off on his own maverick scent.
Sarah Long's father is one of the wealthiest land developers in Florida and he hires Jack to find his daughter. This puts a large amount of money into Jack's pocket and also puts a helicopter and additional security cops at his disposal. Along with Sarah's father, he begins a long and desperate search that takes him throughout Florida.
His search leads him to an abandoned psychiatric facility for the criminally insane called Daybreak. Daybreak was closed several years ago and the patients placed in other facilities. There were problems with the management of Daybreak and the patients were mistreated. Jack finds out that the giant and Mouse were both patients there and that they escaped the facility nineteen years ago. Lonnie is the giant's name and he was sent to Daybreak when he was a child. Not only was he a giant but he was 'retarded'. When Lonnie was thirteen years old, "he came upstairs when his mother and sisters were eating dinner. Had a sledgehammer in his hand. He bludgeoned his mother and one of his sisters to death." Mouse is described as "crazy like a fox" but not actually criminally insane.
As Jack follows the trail from Daybreak to the present, he ends up in the town of Chatham, Florida where he believes Lonnie and Mouse are hiding. Chatham is surreal. As Jack sits in a restaurant having dinner, he looks outside. "The sidewalk outside The Sweet Lowdown was filled with people out for an evening stroll. Over a third of them were missing an arm, a leg, or a hand, with some even missing two limbs. They all seemed to know each other, and had stopped to chat or have a smoke. It was a parade of the maimed." How is Chatham linked to Lonnie and Mouse? Do the people there know that kidnappers are living among them? Why are there so many maimed people?
While the procedural aspects of this book are interesting, the characters are never well-developed. They are mostly outlines without any depth. Some of the plot seems a bit silly but the book traverses a lot of interesting ground as well. There is also a lot of repetition in the book that a good editor might have reworked. Will Jack find the abductors and be able to save any of the women? This aspect of the book holds the reader's interest and keeps an exciting pace. James Swain writes an interesting mystery and keeps readers guessing until the end.
on November 23, 2009
I have noticed over the last 18 months or so that, within gatherings of mystery and thriller novel fans, the name "James Swain" recurs with some increasing frequency. Swain began his career with a series of six titles featuring the wonderfully named Tony Valentine, a casino security expert with an encyclopedic knowledge of the world of gambling, security and cheats. The Valentine books remain wonderful to read and re-read, even if you possess not the slightest interest in gambling. Swain has more recently introduced Jack Carpenter, a private investigator operating out of South Florida, who specializes in the recovery of child abduction victims. THE NIGHT MONSTER is Swain's fourth Carpenter novel and 10th overall. It is also his best book to date, an imaginative and compelling work that demands a one-sit reading.
THE NIGHT MONSTER provides a bit of Carpenter's backstory, consisting of an explanation as to how and why he became involved in the recovery of missing children. One of his first calls as a rookie cop concerned the abduction of a young woman. Despite encountering the kidnapper, Carpenter was unable to prevent the crime. The culprit escaped and the victim was never found. The experience affected him to the extent that, after becoming a detective, he began running the Broward County Sheriff's Office Missing Persons Unit and continued to do so right up to the point where he was fired from the force.
Now regarded as an expert in such matters by both the public and private sectors, Carpenter suddenly finds himself confronting his oldest and worst nightmare when another young woman, Sara Long --- a college basketball player who is a teammate of Carpenter's daughter --- is kidnapped despite Carpenter's best efforts. Although the Broward County Sheriff's Office almost immediately arrests a likely suspect, Carpenter knows they have the wrong man. This time around, however, he has two very determined allies. One is Sara's father, a wealthy if extremely abrasive individual who is willing to throw every resource at his disposal for the goal of recovering his daughter alive and unharmed. The other is Ken Linderman, an FBI special agent whose own daughter was kidnapped under similar, though not identical, circumstances years before and is willing to assist Carpenter off the books in order to obtain some clue as to the final fate of his daughter.
These two men (and an unexpected assist from a source that will delight long-time Swain fans) provide Carpenter with the first rough clues that lead back through time, demonstrating a series of abductions throughout South Florida that ultimately take them to a rural town where a nightmarish scenario awaits them. This provides most if not all of the answers the three of them seek, and discloses how multiple abductions over the course of two decades could take place throughout South Florida under the noses of law enforcement.
Swain's plotting and characterization here are unforgettable. Carpenter is driven and obsessed but never loses his core humanity, and the vignettes played out between himself and his dog, Buster, are realistic and alternate between humorous and heartwarming. However, it is the over-the-shoulder look into how missing persons, particularly children, are found, combined with Swain's addicting narrative, that make THE NIGHT MONSTER a must-read.
--- Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub
First off: I am a James Swain fan. His Tony Valentine novels are the cat's meow. Valentine, a former detective in Atlantic City, now makes his living as a consultant to casinos catching cheaters. Valentine and, often enough, his ne'er do well son - are engaging.
Jack Carpenter is another Swain character. Tossed off the police force a few years back for beating up a suspect, Carpenter headed up Ft. Lauderdale's Missing Persons Unit. Broke now, his home lost, his wife estranged, Carpenter lives in a rented room above shore side bar, borrows a similar room atop another bar as his office, drives a 15 year old car and ekes out a living hunting for missing children and working, on the sly, for the same department that fired him. His best friend is a dog.
Carpenter entirely lacks the easy-going charisma of Tony Valentine. He is somewhat gritty, vaguely reminiscent of a Phillip Marlowe character, smart-lipped, disrespectful and always ready to insult or offend.
He's called by his replacement to help solve the disappearance of Sarah Long, daughter of a wealthy real estate developer who is as nasty a person as Carpenter. Sarah has been abducted from her motel room. Not inconveniently, Sarah also happens to be the friend and teammate of Jack's daughter, Jessie, who had that same day asked him to look into a possible stalker who had been videotaping the girl's college basketball team. Ironically, we learn that Carpenter is haunted by a similar abduction that occurred 18 years earlier when a "giant" carried off a young woman and brushed young cop Carpenter aside.
The plot goes downhill from there.
The villains are utterly unbelievable. Serial abductors who have been traversing Florida for almost two decades abducting young women. One of them happens to be 6' 10" tall and built like Goliath. But there is no apparent criminal record for him.
James Swain is a great mystery writer and that is the only thing that saves this book. His writing is compelling enough to keep you reading through a forest of totally unbelievable characters and plot devices.
His description of a particular Florida town had me laughing - and that was not the author's intent. Coincidences pop up so fast and so often, it seems like a bag of microwave popcorn. At one point in the novel, I was reminded of a Kermit the Frog movie. In short, the plot is a total disaster, but Swain's writing skills save him.
"The Night Monster" is a good choice for a long flight, a vacation, a rainy day or free evening. It is not Swain's best by a long shot, but it is entertaining in its own writing - and the awful plot is so bad, you won't want to miss it.
Jack Carpenter responded to a call that would forever change his life and haunt him his entire career. He witnessed the abduction of a young woman (Naomi Dunn) who was never found (dead or alive). And the only description that Jack can give of the kidnapper is that of a "crazed giant". Following his promotion to Missing Persons Detective, Jack dedicates his life to locating those who have gone missing. Years later, Jack leaves the department under a cloud of shame (after brandishing his own sense of justice against a defendant). So after losing his job, his home and his wife, he is forced to use his talents to locate people in the private sector. And things only heat up when his daughter Jessie, a member of the Lady Seminoles basketball team, notices someone following the team. Encountering the same "giant" that took Naomi several years prior, Jack is determined to get to the bottom of both adductions. Following various clues, and with the help of his trusted dog "Buster", Jack risks his life to find the missing girl and determine the identities of those who are responsible.
There are several things that I look for in a good read and "The Night Monster" had all of them. There were some great storylines which made this a riveting story. There were crazed serial abductors, missing nursing students, a town of misfits, and a creepy closed mental institution (Daybreak). And then there is the flow of the novel. Although there were several mini-plots, they all worked together and intersected into a cohesive plot. The chapters were easy to read, and the story easy to understand. And finally, I invested in the character of Jack. He was valiant, courageous and also not perfect. He was extremely vulnerable and you want nothing but for him to succeed. You want him to find the girl and save the day. You also want him to repair his broken marriage and get everything he lost. But what I like the most about Jack's character, was that he was vulnerable "good guy", who may have done something stupid but for the right reason. And so, you don't want to see him fail and cheer when he solves the mystery. So while this was my first Swain novel, I am sure that it won't be my last.
The Night Monster, by James Swain
This is one time when I wish Amazon had more than 5 stars. Or maybe I need to learn to give other books fewer stars so 5 stars could be the rating equivalinet of, "Wow! I loved this!"
Needless to say, "Wow! I loved this!" In fact, after I started reading it, I actually had to exert a great deal of will power and put the book aside and stop reading it during the week, because I was in the middle of a huge project at work with lots of overtime and I was already short of sleep. When I started reading this book at bedtime, as my usual habit, I got caught in that "just one more chapter, they're short" problem.
I could not put this book down, which shows just how cruel Swain really is. And I feel completely justified in blaming Swain for a serious lack of sleep and my subsequent inability to think clearly.
So. You've been warned. If you read before bed, you might want to reconsider picking this book to fill that niche unless you're retired or can live without sleep.
What¡¦s the deal with "The Night Monster"? It's a suspense about criminals, cops, South Florida, and kidnapping. The hero, P.I. Jack Carpenter, is an underdog you can't help liking. In the prolog, he's a newly-minted cop and goes on a call about a young woman getting beaten up. Unfortunately, he doesn't have the experience to deal with the situation with the result being that he gets knocked out and the girl is kidnapped. And the incident haunts him for the next 18 years. He was never able to solve it, despite trying on/off all that time.
When the story starts, he is no longer a cop. He left the force "under a cloud" and now finds lost kids, obviously still bothered by that incident in his past. And despite his mistakes, Jack is worthy of respect and perhaps even quietly heroic when he finds wrestles an alligator to save a lost child.
It's hard not to like a guy like that. And he's got a dog, too. :-) As if you needed another reason to like him.
Unfortunately for Jack, the alligator wrestling was about the easiest thing to happen to him for the next few hundred years. Jack's daughter, Jessie, asks him to come to see her college basketball team play, and check out a creep stalking her teammates and taking pictures. And once again, despite his efforts to prevent an abduction, a girl gets kidnapped by the same guy who beat the heck out of him 18 years ago. And since it was so successful the first time around, the kidnapper beats the heck out of him this time, too.
As if this wasn't bad enough, when he gets to his apartment, he finds his dog has torn the place apart. He and his dog are tossed out on their ears, but he doesn't have time to worry about it. He's determined to rescue the abducted girl this time, no matter what happens to him. Once again, nothing is going to be easy. The cops are convinced the girl's old boyfriend kidnapped her when she refused to go back to him. They don't believe Jack's tales of a huge, powerful (but slow-witted) man who beat the heck out of him, slung the girl over his shoulder and stumped off with her.
There was a bizarre twist toward the final fourth of the book that was a little over-the-top. But then folks do a lot of weird things, so maybe it wasn't so unbelievable, after all.
In the end, this was a terrific book with a story that grips you by the throat an won't let you go. You won't be able to put it down until the nail-biting end.
And I can't wait for another tale by James Swain.