Tuesday, January 9, 2024

California Bear by Duane Swierczynski

California Bear by twice Edgar-nominated Duane Swierczynski is my first of Swierczynski’s books, but it won't be my last. I can't wait to read everything he’s written. The mystery begins when Jack Queen, who’s served ten years in prison for a supposed revenge killing of running over a man implicated in Queen’s wife's death, is released from prison. Cato Hightower, a wild ex-cop, spearheaded the effort to overturn Jack’s conviction and Hightower expects Queen to reward him by helping him blackmail the infamous “California Bear.”

The book begins with the Bear himself ruminating: 

“The California Bear, a serial torturer-murderer who had eluded justice for close to four decades, wanted a cookie.

He really shouldn't. Not with the diabetes and all. And he knew his wife would kill him if she found out he had raided her secret stash. But what was life without the little indulgences?

The man was seventy-two years old. Back when he was the Bear, he liked to bind his victims with ligatures he found around their homes (extension cords, shoe laces, medical tubing) and beat them senseless with his meaty fists. But right now, all this man cared about was pushing aside the rows of grease-flecked cookbooks on the top shelf over the fridge to gain access to the motherlode: a family-size package of Nutter Butters—his wife’s favorite.”

Jack Queen’s only desire is to see his fourteen-year-old daughter Matilda who’s in the hospital after recently being diagnosed with leukemia. Matilda, a genius who refers to herself as “The Girl Detective,” doesn't know if her dad is a killer:

“And when the Girl Detective looked him in the eyes in a couple of days, she would ask him the question she’d been too young (and too frightened) to ask at the time of his trial:

Did you do it?

To truly believe him, however, and repair their fractured relationship, the Girl Detective would have to discover the truth for herself.”

Queen and Hightower are inept blackmailers and the California Bear seems likely to escape their “gang that can't shoot straight” attempts to get the money Hightower thinks the Bear possesses until a twist that only someone with Swierczynski’s talent and creativity could imagine takes place. 

Summing it Up:

Each character in this tour de force is unique, entertaining, and like no other you've encountered. This phenomenal, intelligent mystery has enough plot twists, engaging characters, and “aha” moments filled with both compassion and desert-dry humor to please even the most discerning reader. And that ending: it's clever, kind, and exceptional. I’m begging Mr. Swierczynski for a sequel with Matilda in the starring role. 

Rating: 5 Stars 

Publication Date: January 9, 2024

Category: Fiction, Five Stars, Mysteries and Thrillers, Sushi with Green Tea Sorbet, Book Club

Author Blog: http://secretdead.blogspot.com/

What Others are Saying:

Library Journal: https://www.libraryjournal.com/review/california-bear-1802499 

Publishers Weekly: http://www.publishersweekly.com/9780316382977

“This book was written straight from the heart and I won't ever forget it.” Eli Cranor, author of Don’t Know Tough and Ozark Dogs 

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