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Wildcat Play: A Mystery Hardcover – April 24, 2012

3.7 out of 5 stars 23 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"This book is a blast -- a gutsy, funny heroine and a story that's a pulse-pounding thrill ride."-Janet Evanovich

"I fell in love with the people, the place and most of all the words."-Michael Connelly

"Helen Knode's Wildcat Play is one of the freshest mysteries I've read in a long time, and sleuth Ann Whitehead is an original. A fine writer, Knode brings the edgy, colorful, and dangerous world of oil and gas drilling to life for her readers. She also manages to salt in fascinating tidbits of oilfield history without slowing down the action. Get ready to feel as if you've stepped out onto the rig, where you'll meet a set of unforgettable characters facing hard work, long odds, and high risk."-Jan Burke, Edgar-winning author of Bones and Disturbance. “Drawing on her family's history in oil exploration, Helen Knode has created a riveting mystery that blends elements of Upton Sinclair and There Will Be Blood with a hard-edged heroine who isn't afraid to get grease under her fingernails. Best of all, WILDCAT PLAY explores the literary terra incognita of East-Central California, a land of transplanted Okie roughnecks, blue-collar millionaires, wildcat rigs and the scheming, double-crossing and murder that seethes beneath the placid surface.”  -Denise Hamilton, author of Damage Control and the Eve Diamond mystery series

Knode’s ponderous second mystery featuring L.A. movie critic Ann Whitehead (after 2003’s The Ticket Out) takes Ann to oil country. Ann’s family’s business was oil, and her father’s friend Joe Balch is happy to hire her on his wildcat gas drilling operation in the San Joaquin Valley. Despite pressure from her grandmother and Joe’s estranged wife to do something more genteel, Ann is soon enmeshed in the dangerous world of the drilling rig. When a hand is murdered on the rig, Ann investigates, putting herself at risk in a life-and-death situation with big money at stake. Even her LAPD love, Det. Doug Lockwood, eventually becomes involved in the race to find the killer. Conspiracy, murder, and family secrets eventually explode in an exciting conclusion, though some readers may feel they’ve learned more about the down-and-dirty world of the oil fields than they need to along the way. Agent: Nat Sobel, Sobel Weber Associates. (Apr.)--Publishers Weekly

From the Inside Flap

Hipster movie critic Ann Whitehead pushed a Hollywood murder case to a bloody climax and almost died herself. Changed forever—less stupid and more fun—she has moved on to a place she knows well: the San Joaquin Valley, where her grandfather’s closest friend, Joe Balch, owns the oil company that keeps one town alive.

Balch gets Ann a job with the Oklahoma contractor drilling his wildcat well. It’s hard work, but Ann loves both it and her crusty old boss, Emmet. Then a guy on her crew is killed by a falling hammer. Sheriffs rule it an accident but Ann’s LAPD squeeze, Detective Doug Lockwood, says it’s murder. Ann can’t resist the challenge of chasing a killer—and then the killer starts chasing her . . .

From a writer whose first novel was praised as “highly literate, exceptionally action-packed and occasionally harrowing” (Chicago Tribune), this is a wild ride full of bad behavior and laughs, oil-field characters, and small-town atmosphere, starring a heroine who never does anything halfway.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 1 edition (April 24, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0151004293
  • ISBN-13: 978-0151004294
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,672,211 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Sandy Kay VINE VOICE on March 1, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This is the author's second Ann Whitehead novel. The first one is The Ticket Out. It's more of a straight "who done it" mystery; there is more violence and action than in a cozy but much less than in a thriller. I thought it was OK -- it isn't bad but it didn't wow me. I hadn't read the earlier book and, based on this one, am not planning to. But lots of readers might really enjoy it so I'll explain what I did and didn't like about the book and you can decide whether this is the book for you.

The main character is Ann Whitehead, formerly an LA "hipster movie critic" and now working on a drilling rig crew in the San Joaquin Valley and living with friends of her grandparents. Another crew member is killed by a falling hammer. The police treat it as an accident but Ann thinks it might be murder so she starts asking a lot of questions around town. Is this a personal matter, a drug-related crime, or related to something bigger? Those questions lead to more violence until the police (and Ann's LA homicide detective boyfriend) get involved.

My first issue involves Ann. The book is written in first person narrative but I never got a good sense of Ann's personality or "voice" and especially not that she'd been a "hipster" in LA other than some occasional mentions of wearing hipster clothes. She appears to have made the change from LA movie critic to living in a dying small town in rural California and working on a drilling crew with no culture shock. And even though she is the narrator, the reader doesn't really "feel" what she says she is feeling. Ann gets attacked a couple times in the book, but I didn't feel her anxiety or fear.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I tried with this book, I really did. I loved Knode's first book and I was excited to get this but I miss the old Ann Whitehead.Part of the charm of her first book was the LA noir feel to it and this has none of that. It's clear Knode knows of which she writes-the oil business- but this mystery just lost me with the minutiae about the wells, drilling, wildcating etc. And then there's the premise, that the main character left her job as a hip LA film critic to....go work on a well for a family friend. It's well written and there's lots of information about working in oil fields, especially from a female pov and working with men. If you are looking for a mystery with the background of California oil and want to go learn what it's like in the field and on a rig, read on! If you like LA noir, try her first one The Ticket Out and skip this one.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This is a hard call. There are things that I very much like about this novel, but also things that proved to be major impediments for me. The problem may well be with me, with my reading habits and with my memory. Others have praised the novel enthusiastically but others have had the same problems with the book that I experienced.

Wildcat Play reprises Helen Knode's character Ann Whitehead from The Ticket Out (2003). Ann's people (like Helen Knode's) have worked in the oil industry and she leaves her job as an LA film critic for a roughneck gig in the San Joaquin Valley. The lease is operated by her grandfather's best friend, Joe Balch, who looks on Ann as a member of the family. When one of the oilworkers is found dead on the site (from a falling hammer?--not likely), Ann becomes an amateur investigator, checking out the local players and their possible motives. In this she is occasionally aided by Doug Lockwood, her LAPD boyfriend.

So what's to like: the setting and the oil industry lore. Knode knows the territory and the terms and she gives us a rich sense of what it is like (how it sounds, how it smells, how it's described) to dig for black gold and natural gas. Even when the terms are vague we can usually tease out the nouns' and verbs' referents. She also talks money. And petroleum geology. And the differences between California locals and Oklahoma crews. This is all great fun, deeply informative and relatively unique. There aren't many (any?) mystery writers who work this turf and work it this well.

So what's the problem? The characters and their impact on the plot. There are many, many characters and with few exceptions they are hard to identify. In addition to their names they also have nicknames.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
To begin this review , I must say I found the story a drag. I couldn't fathom a woman giving up her job as a reporter for a chance to work on an oil rig. Her job was mostly scrubbing and keeping the area clean. It would have been better if she had gone to visit Joe the owner of the rig and got involved after the murder of Mills took place. Also she supposedly was from a very old wealthy family. Just because my grandfather was a fisherman , would not be reason enough for me to want to work on a fishing trawller.
The murder itself was unreal. They were able to keep the rig drilling after the murder because the police didn't follow up on the supposed accident? A hammer fell from atop the rig and hit the fellow in the head? Supposedly they swallowed this but her boyfriend being a detective figured from just speaking with her about it that it was definitely murder. What do you think? I'd like to have that guy working here.
Ann our oil rig cleaner spent alot of time shadowing and interrogating people to discover who the real murderer was. Some of the characters that she worked with on the rig were funny and interesting especially Emmet who was usually found in the trailer in his stocking feet. He reminded me of an old codger, but he knew his job.
Joe's personal life was a mess as he married a b---h who wanted prestege and money. Joe's mistress was far more likeable and of course in the end the killers and there reason why Mills was killed came to light. Oh and by the way oil was not found, they hit natural gas. This all took place on U.S. soil, but don't get excited I'm sure when the politicians and stock holders get through you still won't find any bargain.
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