First Sentence: I spotted the girl even before she knocked on my door.
Tough, street-wise Mattie Sullivan hires Spenser to find her mother’s killer. EvFirst Sentence: I spotted the girl even before she knocked on my door.
Tough, street-wise Mattie Sullivan hires Spenser to find her mother’s killer. Even though a man was convicted, Mattie doesn’t believe he’s the killer. Agreeing on a fee of doughnuts, literally, Spenser is intrigued enough to look into it. When the trail leads to old advisories, drugs, and the FBI, Spenser, with the help of Hawk, know they need to keep Mattie safe and to find the answers.
Atkins does a very good job of capturing Parker. All the elements that should be there; are there. In addition to the standard cast of characters—it is nice that Atkins as made Susan rather more likable—Spenser’s client makes a definite impression as she’s a girl who’s had to grow up way too fast and is handling it. An entire discussion could be held about Mattie in terms of our view of children growing up today, as opposed to how they grew up in the past and their different levels of responsibility.
One can also count on Spenser to trigger your hunger response—“I had envisioned a filet, medium rare, with creamed spinach and mashed potatoes.” He is also the single greatest representative for the Boston Tourist Board possible. You are in the city with him; everyplace from the roughest neighborhoods, to the best. But it’s his inclusion of dining spots that is particularly fun; Locke-Ober, Legal Seafood and, a particularly favorite, Union Oyster House; the oldest restaurant in Boston—“A big steaming bowl of clam chowder arrived with a thick wedge of cornbread. The heavens opened up. The angels reappeared.”—down to Dunkin’ Donuts.
Another retained element is Spenser’s sartorial descriptions—“Vinnie wore a navy cashmere topcoat with a glen plain suit underneath. His dress shirt was a blue-and-white stripe, and his tie a light purple.” Rather than interrupt the flow of the story, or simply seem to be fill, these descriptions serve to tell one a bit about the personality of the character: clothes make the man.
A nice segue in the story is a comparison of Mattie and two other troubled people Spenser helped in the past; Paul and Z. New readers won’t feel lost by these references as sufficient backstory is provided. However, this reference does help to cement Spenser’s image as a knight errant. But he’s no Don Quiote with Sancho Panza, in the form of Hawk, by his side. Spenser’s advisories are very real, and very dangerous. But so can be Spenser, Hawks, and their colleagues. As we move into the recognition that it is territory and drugs that are behind things—“Territory,” she said. “How are men different than dogs.”—and when things turn bad, the tension is palpable and there’s no putting the book down.
“Robert B. Parker’s Lullaby” is very, very good. It’s not an homage or an imitation in any form. Atkins truly captures that which made Parker’s books so successful.
ROBERT B. PARKER’S LULLABY (PI-Spenser-Boston-Contemp) – VG+ Atkins, Ace – 1st in Parker series G.P. Putnam’s Sons – May 2012 ...more
First Sentence: “Before I start, can I ask you to look around at this beautiful building?”
It’s the week before Guy Fawkes, and London’s banks are undeFirst Sentence: “Before I start, can I ask you to look around at this beautiful building?”
It’s the week before Guy Fawkes, and London’s banks are under siege. Although started by the scandal of a corrupt financier, the violence is growing and now includes murder by fire. But the death doesn’t look accidental to the Bryant and May of the PUC, especially not when a second fire also kills.
NOTE: If you read an e-version, please ensure you start with “Excerpt from a Speech…” rather than just at Chapter 1.
Fowler is one author from whom I look forward to reading his prologues as they are always a treat. In this case, with the “Excerpt from a Speech,” we learn a great deal about the history of London and the PUC, and a wonderful internal memo from Raymond Land, who actually think he runs the PUC.
The ensemble cast of characters, led by Arthur Bryant and John May, is one of the most unusual and intriguing one will find. Although we meet them in short order from the beginning, Fowler doesn’t weigh the reader down with background information all at once. Rather, we come to know the characters throughout the story. The interplay amongst them, as well as their physical descriptions, makes them very alive and real to us, causing the reader to truly care about what happens to each of them, including the more secondary characters.
Dialogue makes such a difference, and Fowler knows how to write dialogue—“Even after all these years, your every action remains a mystery to me….And why you had to follow him into a theatre of all places—“ “He was a junkie doing some speed-acquisition of tourists’ wallets, John. I took one look at him and knew he would test positive for stupidity.” And later—“Look at the state of you…” “Do you always boil a saucepan of sprouts for at least two hours?” Bryant asked. “What?” said May, thrown. “No.” “Good, then you’re not my mother.”
At the same time, there are many passages that cause one to stop and consider—“In every decade and generation,…one thing united us: obstinacy. We’re a paradoxical mix of conformity and rebellion, privacy and bravado. We will not do as we are told. That’s how it always was.”
The historic details and information are fascinating and add wonderful depth to the story. One can’t help but respect an author who doesn’t write down to their readers. Rather, there are times when one finds oneself in search of a dictionary; and that’s a nice thing.
There are so many facets to this book: the history of Guy Fawkes, protests by “anonymous” against the 1 percent, a theory about Rembrandt’s painting “The Night Watch,” Jack the Ripper and the importance of honoring the victims, and so much more. Yet it all ties together with the base of a very human story.
“The Burning Man” includes excellent building of suspense, a dramatic climax, and well-executed twists right up to the resolution. In the end, though, it is a story of people, our present society, and relationships.
BRYANT & MAY AND THE BURNING MAN: A PECULIAR CRIMES UNIT MYSTERY (Pol Proc-Bryant and May- London-Contemp) – VG+ Fowler, Christopher – 12th in series Bantam - December 2015 ...more
First Sentence: “Looks as if someone’s sliced her into three,” said Solomon Carter, the police surgeon, chattily.
Two thirds of a female body have beenFirst Sentence: “Looks as if someone’s sliced her into three,” said Solomon Carter, the police surgeon, chattily.
Two thirds of a female body have been found; the head and the legs. Having been a member of “The Magic Men,” a Secret Service team of which he had been part during WWII, leads Edgar to reconnect with fellow member, Max Mephisto, especially after the shocking identify of the victim has been learned. A letter delivered to Edgar with the name of another magic trick, and another death, focuses him, with Max’s help, to find the rest of their old team…and the killer.
It is always interesting to learn the “how” behind magic tricks. And to consider the existence of a team of magicians, each with their own special skill, is particularly intriguing. In addition to Edgar, Griffith’s employs an effective segue to the past, informing us of the significant player, their skills and how they fit together. It is interesting that she chooses to insert this later in the story, but no less effective for so doing.
Griffiths has truly captured the feeling of stagecraft and the world behind the theater curtain. Although it is universal of all cultures, books set in the UK seem often to utilize the theme of a suspicion of forgiveness and hope of the perpetrator of violent crime being a foreigner. This is quite understandable being this soon after the War, but it need also be remembered that this was a time when people doubted television would ever succeed, thus limiting the exposure to those beyond their shores.
On the other hand, the Brits seem to have an ongoing regard for the old beliefs, including an acceptance of ghosts.”Naturally, the police station had its resident ghosts. The site was once a medieval monastery…and it was said that sometimes a monk could be seen moving casually through the thick stone walls of the basement.” But fear not, although this is anything but a paranormal mystery. Such injections do add to the sense of theatrically.
One can appreciate Griffith’s wry humour—“Max had a sudden vision of the Titanic tilting into the sea while the orchestra (hopefully in better tune than this one) played on.”—and her very visual descriptions—“He strolled through the picnicking families like Moses crossing the Red Sea. Moses in Italian shoes.”
“The Zig Zag Girl” very effectively and steadily builds the suspense and tension, throwing in an excellent twist, with another twist upon that, and another upon that. Well done, Ms. Griffiths on a very good start to a new series.
THE ZIG-ZAG GIRL (Pol Proc-Det. Edgar Stephens- England – early 1950s) – VG Griffiths, Elly – 1st in series Houghton Mifflin Harcourt - Sept 2015 ...more
First Sentence: The fishing guide known as Rainbow Sam found the body.
The body of a young man with a Royal Wulff trout fly through his lip is retrieveFirst Sentence: The fishing guide known as Rainbow Sam found the body.
The body of a young man with a Royal Wulff trout fly through his lip is retrieved from a log jam, but that’s not what killed him. Sherriff Martha Ettinger, along with ex-PI, painter, fly-fisher Sean Stranahan, look to find the killer amid the very big-money fly-fishing business of Montana.
From the very beginning, we are made aware of McCafferty’s humour—“The client, whose largest trout to date had been the size of a breakfast sausage.”—and given a strong sense of place—“Twilight was an amber smear on the horizon; the river glitters in the slanted light. In a few minutes the polish would fade from the surface, the current’s mercurial song would slide into bass notes, and the wild night would claim it against further human intrusion.”
While most of the characters, particularly Sean and Martha—“She’d been brought up in the tradition of self-reliance, but had the misfortune of being pretty and had allowed herself to be subjected to the wills of alpha makes ever since high school, losing, most of her self-esteem in the process.”--are interesting and work. These are not ordinary characters. Each is multi-dimensional and realistic in the sense of them being intelligent people who would want to personally know.“
The exception to this is Sean’s “relationship” and interaction, which never quite works. Even the dialogue between them always seems off-balance. The character of “Velvet,” really never comes across as real or dimensional. It’s almost as if McCafferty needed the character for the plot, but never really liked her or knew what do to with her.
Although most people think of fishing simply as simply a sport, we don’t often think of just how big a business it is, and how much revenue it generates from the offshoot business that support it.
“The Royal Wulff Murders” is very much a book for those who fish, but there is a decent mystery there and some very good, layered characters. I am happy to report that the next book shows marked improvement.
THE ROYAL WULFF MURDERS (PI – Sean Stranahan – Montana – Contemp) – Okay McCafferty, Keith – 1st in series Penguin Books - January 201 ...more
First Sentence: Joanne Ross remembered the morning she’d first encountered the name Alice Ramsay.
Newspaper journalist Joanne Ross comes across the stoFirst Sentence: Joanne Ross remembered the morning she’d first encountered the name Alice Ramsay.
Newspaper journalist Joanne Ross comes across the story of a woman who’d recently been tried for witchcraft in a small Scottish town, the first since 1728. Intrigued the contacts the young reporter who wrote the story there, Joanne makes the trip north. Alice Ramsey is less than hospitable, but Joanne finds herself drawn to the woman, and so is shocked to soon learn Alice is dead and pronounced a suicide. Not believing it, Joanne investigates but runs into more layers, and threats, than she could have imagined.
Scott starts off by creating an evocative sense of place with both the description and the language—“March was still winter in these parts—with snow on the hills, and the burns and rivers veins of rolling liquid peat, it was beyond dreary, it was dreich.” While Scottish words and phrases are a bit of a challenge for an American reader, their meaning is easily understood by the context and add context to the story. However, just so you know, dreich is a combination of dull, overcast, drizzly, cold, misty and miserable weather. At least four of the above adjectives must apply before the weather is truly dreich. But nothing solidifies the knowledge that we are not in the U.S., than the description of a house—“Not that it was old, only a hundred years or so since it was built...”
While the book does not include a prologue, it is important to read the passage at the beginning of each chapter as they allow us to know a bit about Alice, and confirm there is more to the events than meet the eye.
It’s an interesting group of characters that Scott has created; Joanna who wants to progress as a writer; her husband, the publisher of the local paper; Colum MacKenzie, the young constable completely cowed by his mother; and his much more independent fiancée. Most fascinating of all, however, is Alice Ramsey, even though she is only physically present in the story for small periods. In many ways, she fits the classic definition of a wise woman, or a crone; attuned to nature and knowledgeable as to the purpose of herbs; and having experienced enough in life to pass wisdom on to others—“The more you search for your place in the world, the more elusive it becomes,” She stood. “My advice is, be content with the little things, and you will make progress.” “We women are always putting off our dreams.” “Just listen to the wind, is my advice.”
Scott conveys emotion very well. You feel Joanna’s frustration at allowing herself to be used and, thus, committing an act of betrayal violating her own principal of “Do as you would be done by.” She also writes very good dialogue, with occasional humor—“But I have to warn you, this is the last time I buy you lemonade. Any self-respecting writer knows it’s the hard stuff you need to be a novelist, ladies included.”
The injection of new players, partway through, considerably and significantly alters the sense of the story and leads a plot twist that is more emotional than shocking. The final revelation, is a wonderful “ah-ha!” moment.
“A Kind of Grief” is a book with a long simmer that takes time to reach its boil, but it is a very compelling pot to watch along the way.
A KIND OF GRIEF (Unl. Invest/Journalist-Joanne Ross-Scotland–beginning of 1960) – G+ Scott, A.D. – 6th in series Atria Books – October 2015 ...more
First Sentence: It as shortly after dawn on a day in the late spring that carried all the promise after summer to come.
When an old French Resistance fFirst Sentence: It as shortly after dawn on a day in the late spring that carried all the promise after summer to come.
When an old French Resistance fighter dies, he is found in possession of old banknotes thought to the robbery of the Neuvic Train during the War thought to be the greatest train robbery of all time. Bruno meets Jacqueline, who is researching a story claiming the US gave clandestine support France’s nuclear program, a fact that would not go over well with upcoming elections. A burglary, committed by thieves who target only items of value, including furniture, art and fine wines, has occurred at the vacation home of British citizen, Jack Crimson. However, this burglary includes murder when the victim’s lover body is found.
While one can appreciate Bruno realistically having more than one case on which to work as it makes it much more realistic and interesting. However, Bruno having a profusion of women in his life can become confusing for him, and for us. Walker is very good about connecting various threads in a rational way. He also maintains the human element by including the personal lives of some of the secondary characters, as well as displays of Bruno’s own empathy and generosity toward others.
Food and wine is a theme throughout the book, and the series. It is France, after all. Once you’ve read even one of the books, you’ll join the legions asking Walker for a cookbook as the descriptions, detailed as they may be, just aren’t enough to satisfy—Pamela had brought a Monbazillac from Clos L’Envège, which would go perfectly with the strawberries…He’d put the marinated duck into the oven, sliced some ham…and put a place of ham and his fresh radishes at each setting on his dining room table. Ah added some unsalted butter to each plate and sliced a big round loaf of bread from the Moulin bakery.”
There is an increasing depth to the case, and that it becomes one with a far-reaching impact. The information on the structure of French law and the manner of conducting investigations is interesting, as is the history of the Resistance fighters. It is also interesting to come across a scene where a Frenchman has never heard of Paul Revere and must have an explanation given. However, it is the point regarding the importance of a free press and fair elections that truly causes one to pause and consider.
There is a very painful scene that might upset animal lovers, yet it is appropriately and humanely done. This is later followed by a scene of a very personal, painful revelation presented Bruno followed by an interesting contemplation of the options. Walker knows how to reach the readers’ heart and has imbued Bruno with depth and dimension with makes him real and appealing. In describing a funeral, one may find it is not only the fictitious mourner’s eyes that well-up with emotion.
“The Resistance Man” is a book of many layers and multiple crimes, with complex, dimensional characters. It’s not so much the crimes, as the people who are the focus and cause this to be a really good read in a wonderful series
THE RESISTANCE MAN (Pol Proc – Comm. Bruno Courrèges – G+ Walker, Martin – 6th in series Knopf – February 2014 ...more
First Sentence: From the doorway I can already smell the scent of old books, a perfume of crumbling pages and time-worn leather.
Violinist Julia AnsdeFirst Sentence: From the doorway I can already smell the scent of old books, a perfume of crumbling pages and time-worn leather.
Violinist Julia Ansdell buys an old book of Gypsy music while visiting a shop in Rome. What really intrigues her is a sheet of handwritten music entitled “The Incendio Waltz.” Returning home and playing it for her daughter incites acts of extreme violence. Convinced the music is the cause, she travels back to Italy, specifically Venice, to track town the story of the composer and the significance of the music.
This is a very different book from Gerritsen as it is the first time she has written something set in two time periods, and which blends the scientific with the concept of past memories and energy embedded into objects. And what a wonderfully intriguing opening she provides. We are immediately fascinated, and horrified. Through Julia, we transition back to pre-war Venice, Lorenzo, romance, how hard it is for people to believe extreme danger is coming and that people can be betrayed by others they trusted …”Beware the ignorant, Lorenzo. They’re the most dangerous enemy of all, because they are everywhere.”
The dialogue is somewhat uncomfortable to the virtual ear, but the story more than makes up for it. It is always good to learn, even when it is something horrible and painful, such as learning about the Polish camps to which Italian Jews were shipped. Gerritsen is able to convey the terror and horror of the camp and La Risiera di San Sabb; aka Stalag 339.
Lest one think this book is completely dark; be assured it is not and the mystery of the music in both the past and the future are wonderfully resolved.
“Playing with Fire” is a powerful, painful story. It is not emotionally easy to read, nor should it be, but it should be read and the facts never forgotten.
PLAYING WITH FIRE (Susp-Julia Ansdel-Italy-Contemp/1943) - VG Gerritsen, Tess – Standalone Ballentine Books – Oct 2015 ...more
First Sentence: A rush-strained fishing trawler glides down the Mississippi river sending a wake across the water, gently rocking the houseboat.
FBI agFirst Sentence: A rush-strained fishing trawler glides down the Mississippi river sending a wake across the water, gently rocking the houseboat.
FBI agent Jessica Blackwood is sent off to the Bayou of Louisiana with rookie agent Nadine. An elderly fisherman claims he’d seen the crash of an alien spaceship decades ago.
There’s no question that Jessica is a character about whom one is intrigued. Having her set off against the lightness of Nadine is a wonderful contrast. It also causes Jessica to take a hard look at herself, realize the source of her own, internal darkness and correct it.
“Fire in the Sky” is a very short, delightful story. It’s fun to watch how the mystery is resolved. For those not familiar with the author and protagonist, it is an excellent introduction to a fascinating series.
FIRE IN THE SKY (Pol Proc-Jessica Blackwood-Louisiana-Contemp) – G+ Mayne, Andrew – Short Story Bourbon Street Books – May 2015 ...more
First Sentence: “Pull over, Doug. I want to get a shot of this.”
The body of a Vermont State Senator, with the word “dyke” carved in her chest, is founFirst Sentence: “Pull over, Doug. I want to get a shot of this.”
The body of a Vermont State Senator, with the word “dyke” carved in her chest, is found hanging from a cliff retaining net along the interstate. A close friend and ally of Governor Gail Zigman, she requests that Joe Gunther and the Vermont Bureau of Investigation take the lead on the case. Although this could be a hate crime, Joe and his team aren’t so certain.
Mayor’s use of imagery provides a wonderful sense of place…”Several homes sported thin plumes of woodsmoke from the chimneys, making Doug think of feather quills protruding from toy-sized inkwells.” Not only does the pastoral beauty quickly desert us, but shocks us by the subsequent events.
Mayor is very good at introducing readers to each of the principal characters, providing us with a sense of who they are and how they relate to one another, including equating Willie to the perpetually pessimistic Eeyore from A.A. Milne’s “Winnie the Pooh.” Nothing creates a clearer image. We are also delighted by Joe’s new housemate, Gilbert. That Joe and his team work well as a team, makes them interesting both individually and as a unit. Even though who have been following the series for years will find new insights into Joe, and enjoy watching the relationship between Willie and Sam grow.
Having a strong, distinct voice is so critical for an author and Mayor more than achieves that goal. …”That central hall told the take of the house—wood panels, stained-glass windows, both soaring overhead to a vaulted, coffered ceiling and an enormous chandelier—suspended like a relic caught between the Middle Ages and “Downtown Abbey.”
No matter one’s personal views, Mayor skillfully addresses the roll sex and sexuality has in today’s politics. It is no longer a private issue, but a public one. And yet…”a disclosure like hers should have by now become irrelevant as right- or left-handedness. The ending did seem very abrupt and rather unsatisfying, in spite of the poetic justice.
“The Company She Kept” is a character-driven mystery, with an excellent plot twist, and a case solved by teamwork and following the clues.
THE COMPANY SHE KEPT (Pol Proc-Joe Gunther-Vermont-Contemp) - VG Mayor, Archer – 26th in series Minotaur Books – Sept 2015 ...more
First Sentence: April is a cruel month, if not the cruelest.
Chen Cao was on an upward track within the Shanghai Police Department and the Communist PaFirst Sentence: April is a cruel month, if not the cruelest.
Chen Cao was on an upward track within the Shanghai Police Department and the Communist Party. Now he has been “promoted” to a position with no power and few responsibilities. He suspects, but can’t prove, that he’s being set up for disgrace. Technically, Chen is in charge of a corruption case against a powerful Party figure. But without any support, just because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean they’re not following you.
There are many reasons to read a book by Qiu Xiaolong, but one is how much one learns about a place, history, culture and people many of us will never visit. What’s even better is when the author has a style and voice that brings it all to live and makes us feel as though we are there. Even the occasional awkwardness of the dialogue remind us that this is not a translation, but written by someone for whom Chinese his first language, which simply reinforces the sense of place.
The literary and poetry quotations interspersed within the story, along with descriptions of meals “…crispy fried green onions and shredded port. Qiun ordered plain noodles with peeled shrimp friend with Dragon Well tea leaves, in across-the-bridge style.”...further add to a very clear sense of place and culture. Xiaolong also makes us stop and consider…”To do nothing, it says in the Taoist classic “Dao De Jing,” makes it possible for one to do everything. Chen wanted to make his enemy believe that he was doing nothing, thereby allowing him to do whatever was necessary while they weren’t watching.”
Whilst some in this country may complain about government surveillance, Qui makes it very clear as to what it is like living under a one-party system where surveillance is everywhere and in every form. He also makes learning about Chinese history and tradition fascinating, including that of the ernai, who are similar to concubines but hold a different status and relationship.
Chen is a wonderful character. He is ethical, moral and loyal to his family and friends. He immediately protects someone who is innocent
Just when one thinks Chen truly is paranoid and we are all being led astray, there is a powerful twist that ratchets up the suspense.
“Shanghai Redemption” is a fast-action read and an engrossing one which should be savoured. The ending is very satisfactory and yet elicits an intriguing sense of future uncertainty for Chen, which is always fun.
SHANGHAI REDEMPTION (Lic. Invest-Chen Cao-China-Contemp) - VG Xiaolong, Qiu – 9th in series Minotaur Books – Sept 2015
First Sentence: Some days I just can’t seem to focus.
The body of a young boy is found in Payatas, a massive dump where people, especially young boys,First Sentence: Some days I just can’t seem to focus.
The body of a young boy is found in Payatas, a massive dump where people, especially young boys, scavenge for their existence. The severely mutilated body has been brought to Father Gus Saenz, a Jesuit priest and respected forensic anthropologist. However, this isn’t a singular case and Father Gus, along with his friend, psychologist Father Jerome Lucero, is asked by the Director of the National Bureau of Investigation to help find the killer.
One should not bypass the initial page, or the subsequent transition pages, as these provide insight and a bit of humanity to the killer and, in fact, add to the story’s suspense. However, this is also one of those times when the prologue really works. In the midst of horror, there is note of tenderness and caring which establishes the tone of the story.
Batacan has created a strong cast of characters. Father Gus is frustrated by the Church turning a blind eye to a pedophile priest, Father Jerome who started as Saenz’ student and is now his friend; Director Lastimosa, the elderly head of the NBI, the very egotistic and ambitious Attorney Ben Arcinas, and reporter Joanna Bonifacio who was also a former student of Saenz. The combination works to bring the story truly to life, and the animosity between some of the characters is palpable; a sign of excellent writing.
It is interesting to learn about the culture and policing in the Philippines. One can’t help but notice the focus on bathing and snacks, but we also learn of the complete inadequacy of their record keeping, technology, and inability to deal with missing persons. Much of that goes to explaining why the Director of the NBI would turn to the Father Saenz for help.
The author’s descriptions are so well done yet often difficult to read…”the man’s left shoulder touches the woman’s right one, but the corresponding hops don’t touch, as though they’re used to leaving room there for a child…”, particularly when dealing the sights and smells of the dump as contrasted by the evening at the opera with the elite. The contrast is very well done. Batacan’s inclusion of the meeting with the mothers and families of the child victims lends a poignancy and humanity to the story.
There are three, equally important, threads to the story; the murders, political power-mongering, and the irresponsibility of the Church’s insufficient handling of internal corruption and criminality; particularly pedophilia. The forensic information is fascinating. It also provides a very small look into the dictatorship under which the Philippines had previously lived.
Batacan’s dialogue is so well done. The very natural…”You have to wonder what ones on in people’s heads.” “No, I don’t,” Saenz says, pouring Jerome a cup of coffee. “And I’m a much happier man for it. Come, sit, sit. No use complaining about the world’s free press-we fought for it, we got it, now we have to live with the nonsense that it spews out.”, and often humorous, exchanges between the two priests provides much-needed lightness to a very dark story, and solidifies the close friendship between the two men.
While many may guess the identity of the killer, and the events of the climax are rather unsurprising, it is very powerful, effective, moving and not without a good degree of suspense. The offshoot is sadly common everywhere, yet confirms that we must hope, always hope, for change.
“Smaller and Smaller Circles” is a very good, well-written book, and one which is a very affecting read.
SMALLER AND SMALLER CIRCLES (Myst-FF Saenz and Lucero-Manila-Contemp) - VG+ Batacan, F.H. – 1st book Soho Crime – Aug, 2015 ...more
First Sentence: The intruder stood quite still and listened.
In 1991, a man was convicted of murdering the Reverend Shipbourne during the course of a rFirst Sentence: The intruder stood quite still and listened.
In 1991, a man was convicted of murdering the Reverend Shipbourne during the course of a robbery. Now, many years later, a letter appears at the police station addressed to the former Chief Inspector claiming there is evidence the man was innocent. The police already have one case on their hands of someone placing tampered, poisoned food on the shelves of the local supermarket, and another case where a quite recent body is found during the archaeological dig of a plague pit.
The story does open with a prologue—suspenseful, thrilling, and compelling without giving anything away or having been lifted from the middle of the story. Instead, it sets the stage and carries us willingly forward into the first chapter. At the same time, contrary as this seems, the book also could have done without it as the opening chapter also performs the same function.
Although the book is designated as a “Wesley Peterson murder mystery,” this really is an ensemble cast. What’s nice is that they are individuals, each with their own strengths, weaknesses, personal issues, and habits. In other words, they are very human. How can one not like a pathologist who insists on a cuppa and biscuit before discussing autopsy findings?
Ellis does have a very good ear for dialogue, adding just the right touch of wryness…”Perhaps we should have a word with ex-DCI Norbert, then.” “That’d be difficult unless you’re thinking of holding a séance…”
There are three threads, from three periods of time but all woven together in the present. The historical and archaeological information is fascinating, including the chapter-opening diary excerpts. The plot twists are very well done and the conclusion effective. Ellis has a remarkable ability to establish a feeling of empathy in the reader, even toward those who killed. She doesn’t ask us to excuse their crimes, but to understand them. Yet she then turns that emotion around with an act of complete heartlessness that is like a punch to the gut.
“The Plaque Maiden” is a very good, well plotted mystery of secrets, lies, human weaknesses and regrets.
THE PLAGUE MAIDEN (Pol Proc/Archeo-DI Wesley Peterson-England-Contemp) – VG Ellis, Kate – 8th in series Piatkus, 2004 ...more
A hacker took down an FBI website leaving a mysterious code found to be GPS coordinates which take them to a cemFirst Sentence: “You’re going to die.”
A hacker took down an FBI website leaving a mysterious code found to be GPS coordinates which take them to a cemetery in Michigan where it appears a dead girl crawled out of her own grave. Even more mysterious is that the pathologist declares the woman only died hours before; she is identified by the victim’s parents as someone who died years prior to that. The FBI brings in Agent Jessica Blackwood, formerly a highly-successful third generation magician and illusionist, to tell them how the crime could have been done. Thus begins an exciting, and dangerous, journey of tricks…and more deaths; possibly even Jessica’s.
Mayne has a very powerful, compelling voice that pulls you in and keeps you there, even when you’d rather turn away.
One is immediately drawn to the protagonist; her caring and warmth. Mayne skillfully relates her backstory as an integral part of the story; and her background is intriguing. The flashbacks to the Jessica’s stage career not only provide a look as to what formed her personality and the level of her skills. Jessica’s self-deprecation and resistance to being placed in the foreground is refreshing. She doesn’t want to be seen as heroic and is always questioning the validity of her ideas. Yet it is also nice for a protagonist to be supported, as she is, by her superiors and other team members. The secondary character of Damian Knight—her psychopathic sidekick, as it were—is one who is both compelling and very scary.
Also intriguing is that the story is told in first person so that readers aren’t given the protagonists first name—unless you read the back cover—until quite far into the story. It’s rather too bad the book jacket spoils the sense of mystery.
Mayne provides us with fascinating information on the behind-the scenes look at the practice and methodologies of magicians and illusionists. It’s done in such a way that it is a natural part of the story and serves to move the plot forward. He has a natural ear for dialogue, both internal and spoken, and his wry humor is often a perfect antidote to the tension of the situation…”Nobody needs to know how out of place I am. They’ll figure that out for themselves soon enough.”
The plot is not perfect, thrilling though it is. There is a “tell” that allows readers to see what is coming before the characters do, and there’s one major coincidence. The biggest question, as one supposes it is supposed to be, is Damian’s role. The use of him is a bit too convenient as a way to direct the investigation without the use of real procedural work being done.
“Angel Killer” is engrossing, suspenseful, and very exciting with a wonderful protagonist and a promise of things to come.
ANGEL KILLER (Pol Proc-Agent Jessica Blackwood-US-Contemp) – VG+ Mayne, Andrew – 1st in series Bourbon Street Books - 2012 ...more
First Sentence: Michael, Is there any possible change you could sneak a day or two away from Oxford and take a look at a house for me?
Oxford ProfessorFirst Sentence: Michael, Is there any possible change you could sneak a day or two away from Oxford and take a look at a house for me?
Oxford Professor Michael Flint receives a letter from his American friends asking him to check out an old house in Shropshire that has been empty and derelict for years, but has been found to now belong to his friend’s wife. Charect House is in decidedly poor condition, but it’s more than that which causes Michael to be uncomfortable during his visit. Who is watching him? Why does he hear a clock ticking where there is none, and who is the woman captured at an attic window by his photograph? Things become even more puzzling when Michael meets antique dealer Nell West, a young widow with a daughter the same age as his friends’, and both girls are having the same nightmare, and ocean apart.
Do you like “Ghost Hunters,” a show which tried first to debunk claims, or find a rational explanation for them and if they can’t, then it “might” be paranormal. That is the type of paranormal mystery you’ll find here? There is plenty to raise the hair on your arms, but it is not bloody, gory, and creepy. From the very beginning, and the definition of the house’s name, you know there will be suspense and things that go bump and in the night…and in the day.
Rayne has such a natural voice. By opening with the exchange of letters, we learn quite a bit about Dr. Michael Flint. He is well educated, something of a luddite, and has a cat, Wilberforce, about whom he creates wonderful adventures. It is that sort of detail with does add humor and light to an otherwise eerie situation. Also, with Nell West and her daughter, we are provided their history, the tragedy that befell them, and how Nell rebuilt her life for the two of them.
It is wonderful that the two characters are normal people; neither overly brave, but neither is foolhardy. It is curiosity—a desire for answers—that drives them on and wanting to ensure there will be safety. That there is a bit of a romance doesn’t hurt at all. But Rayne is also a very literary writer occasionally driving one to a dictionary…”welter of jingoism…” or the internet to do research of one’s own.
There is a very strong sense of place and atmosphere…”The scent of age met Michael at once, and it was so strong that for a moment he felt his senses blur. But this was not the musty dankness of damp or rot; this was age at its best and most evocative; a potpourri of old seasons timbers and long-ago fires, and a lingering scent of dried lavender.”
This is a first book and it is not perfect. Although always interesting, there is too much “telling” through letters and diaries, than showing the reader the events. Even so, without the book being set in multiple time periods, I’m not certain that could have been avoided.
“Property of a Lady” is a wonderful paranormal mystery with just the right balance of light and dark that leaves you with a “bump in the night” moment at the very end.
PROPERTY OF A LADY (Par Mys-Michael Flint/Nell West-England-Contemp) – VG Rayne, Sarah – 1st in series Severn House, 2011 ...more
First Sentence: Running, running, stumbling, running.
Armand Gamache, retired from being the former head of homicide for the Sûreté du Québec, and hisFirst Sentence: Running, running, stumbling, running.
Armand Gamache, retired from being the former head of homicide for the Sûreté du Québec, and his wife Reine-Marie are now living in Three Pines. Armand befriends a young boy known to have an overwhelming imagination telling stories of beasts and monsters to the residents of the town. When he claims to have found something that others must see, no one takes him seriously. Until he disappears and it’s found the story was not fiction, but very real, and very dangerous; changing the lives of the residents and potentially impacting far more than the tiny village of Three Pines.
We begin with a situation that is tense and threatening—or is it. Such is the uncertainty to which we are introduced. Never was an author more adept at descriptions, painting verbal pictures that take us from the sublime to the comic. Penny conveys emotion so well. You feel the support of Reine-Marie, Armand’s wife, for her husband, yet her concern as well, the closeness and teasing of the circle of friends and their concern for one another.
Penny has created a cast of characters who become real to us. Even if one has not read previous books in the series, many seem to be as old friends, yet we learn more about some of them, and find some are not as we had previously perceived. Yet, the circle has expanded, as there are new members as well. As with life, all are imperfect people, some with very human phobias; they are, some with character weaknesses; some small, some very large and serious. Some characters accept the responsibilities and results of their weaknesses, while others have buried them away within themselves, and others simply refuse to acknowledge them at all.
The underlying theme of the story and an excellent discussion to all art in general, is whether we can, or should, separate art from its creator…”Do you think a work should be judged by its creator? Or should it stand on its own?” …”Would I want a painting by Jeffrey Dahmer, or to serve a meal from the Stalin family cookbook?...” There is a play within the story, and the point at which Penny anthropomorphizes it, is interesting indeed.
Penny takes the readers from light, to shadow, and into complete blackness; both real and conceptually. Her imagery can break your heart, and both the readers and the characters are thrust into the completely unexpected. The story is remarkable and frightening in that a central element is based on an actual person in history.
Yet not all is darkness. The dialogue is easy and natural. At times it is light and teasing, re-affirming the relationships between the characters. Mouth-watering descriptions of meals shared—also helps lighten the mood…”The scallops were large and succulent and grilled golden brown. They lay on a bed of grains and fresh herbs and roasted pine nuts and goat cheese next to a warm grilled apple.” Yet, Penny also understands the relationship of people to their surroundings…”If the topic of conversation was harsh, at least the atmosphere could be gentle.”
One cannot help but enjoy Ms. Penny’s literary and pop-culture references; from Yeats, to “Lord of the Rings,” to old Andy Hardy movies--such things bring us comfort, make us feel safe and add an air of normalcy to the darkness one senses is coming. And yes, darkness is a major theme; the darkness of absolutely grief, physical darkness and the fear it can inspire, the darkness of war, the darkness of men’s souls, and the darkness in our own minds that obscures our perception of what is right and wrong.
This book is no cozy, although it does not contain any graphic violence. Plot twists are used very effectively to cleverly and horribly complete a circle. This is a true traditional mystery with emotional depth demonstrating how something which happens locally can have a far-reaching impact.
“Nature of the Beast” is wonderfully plotted; intricate and compelling. It makes you think and feel. It contains all the best elements of racing against time and against true evil. And finally, it is about having the awareness of having to face oneself, one’s past and one’s actions, and then having the strength to move forward.
THE NATURE OF THE BEAST (Trad/Pol Proc-Armand Gamache-Three Pines, Canada-Contemp) - Ex Penny, Louise Minotaur Books – Aug, 2015 ...more
First Sentence: Amos Decker would forever remember all three of their violent deaths in the most paralyzing shade of blue.
Amos Decker made it to the NFirst Sentence: Amos Decker would forever remember all three of their violent deaths in the most paralyzing shade of blue.
Amos Decker made it to the NFL, but suffered a hit in his first game that killed him; twice. He was revived and forever changed. His second career was as a police detected. That career nearly destroyed his life when his family was murdered, and Amos ended up in the bottle and on the street. Just starting to put himself back together and working as a freelance PI, Decker is called back to help the Police after a man confesses to the murder of his family. Is it a lie, or can Decker finally learn the truth?
The opening chapter is wonderfully written yet excruciatingly difficult to read. Baldacci perfectly balances both the horror and the pain of protagonist, Amos Decker. He draws a painfully accurate picture of a person hitting rock bottom, and then working to survive and rebuild.
Decker is a strong protagonist and a memorable one, both for his perspective…”How can killing so many people ever make sense?” she said hotly. “It doesn’t have to make sense to us. Just to the ones who did it.”…and for the conditions of synesthesia (seeing people as colors) and hyperthymesia (being able to recall almost every day of their lives in near perfect detail, as well as public events that hold some personal significance to them) with which he now must live. Although they help him in solving crimes, it’s hard to imagine trying to live with them.
It is fascinating watching the way Decker tracks the motive of the case back into the past. Baldacci likes plot twists. One finds oneself thinking you know where he’s going, and he may go partway where you expect, but it’s a tease as he doesn’t quite go there. The result of the twist at the end is definitely not expected.
No matter what else, the climax is brutal, yet unexpected and very well done. The final chapter is touching the very gratifying.
“Memory Man” has great characters, well done suspense, excellent plot twists and leaves one anxious for the next book.
MEMORY MAN (PI-Amos Decker-Burlington-Contemp) – VG+ Baldacci, David – 1st in series Grand Central Publishing – April 2015 ...more
First Sentence: The seventh of July was a magnificent summer’s day, one of those majestic Atlantic days that always lifted Commissaire Dupin’s spiritsFirst Sentence: The seventh of July was a magnificent summer’s day, one of those majestic Atlantic days that always lifted Commissaire Dupin’s spirits.
Parisian transplant, Comm. Dupin’s morning coffee is ruined by learning of the murder of Pierre-Louis Pennac, owner of the Central Hotel in Pont-Aven. But who would murder a ninety-one-year-old man. Dupin needs to find out before the crimes also murders the town’s tourist season.
Dupin is a somewhat deceptive protagonist. At first meeting, one might not be that impressed; yet one’s impression quickly changes with the arrival of a murder. He has a slight “Columbo” style of “just one more thing…” that is delightful. LeBar, Dupin’s second, is interesting. He has come to know Dupin’s style, and to anticipate his needs. Nolween, the woman who holds things together at the police station, is wonderfully resourceful. It is through her that we learn the history of Brittany and the Breton.
Set in Pont-Avan, it is interesting to learn the history of the town and its link to the Paul Gaugain and the other artists of his time. Wonderful descriptions provide an evocative sense of place…” Inhale in Concarneau and you tasted sale, iodine, seaweed, mussels in every breath, like a distillation of the entire endless expanse of the Atlantic, brightness and light.” “As evening came on, the light became more and more bewitching. The colours of witchcraft: everything shone brightly, warm soft and golden.” One is tempted to pack their bags and book a flight.
Food features deliciously in the story. Sometimes there are those things which are not so appealing; others times things such as Dupin’s favorite entrecote and chips; aka rib-eye steak and fries. It’s interesting the diversions Bannalec takes in order to provide descriptions of locations. It’s not a bad thing, just an interesting style. It is also interesting the way Dupin will plan to, or say he is going somewhere immediately, but then doesn’t. Bannalec conveys both the satisfaction of solving a case, and the frustration that can come from the actions of the higher-ups afterward. Yet Dupin, as does the ancient town in which he lives, perseveres.
“Death in Brittany” has a plot definitely keeps one involved and the motive, when finally revealed, was interesting. There are excellent, shocking twists, yet it is always a delight when one reaches the “ah ha!” moment.
DEATH IN BRITTANY (Pol Proc-Comm. Georges Dupin-Breton, France-Contemp) - VG Bannalec, Jean-Luc – 1st in series Minotaur Books – June 2015 ...more
First Sentence: I took a walk to clear my head after the long flight and found that it wouldn’t clear.
Contemplating ending his life, former seminarianFirst Sentence: I took a walk to clear my head after the long flight and found that it wouldn’t clear.
Contemplating ending his life, former seminarian Own Keane, now a detective, comes to Kenya in response to the plea of a friend. In the process, he is staying with a local priest, befriended by a young local boy, and becomes involved in the investigation of the murder of a man claiming to be the reincarnation of a long-dead warrior hero.
Faherty does a very good job of introducing us to the protagonist, but we are still left with many questions unfilled, which may be due to this being the 8th books of the series. That does make it challenging for those new to the series, however. Still, Keane is an intriguing protagonist and one can appreciate his references to “Magnum PI” as well as an appropriate quote from Andrew Greeley. In some ways, the supporting characters are even more interesting; young Basil is a delight, and the mystic Mogu particularly stand out.
The dialogue is very well done, with just the right among of humor with references to “Magnum, P.I.” and an exchange relating to Sherlock Holmes…”And then I could have said, ‘But the dog didn’t bark in the night.’ To which you could have replied, ‘That was the curious behavior.’” “There’d have been copyright issues,” I said. One can also appreciate a very interesting conversation of a struggle between those of faith and those without. It is one of those valued elements of a story that makes you pause and consider.
Faherty is better at introducing readers into this new and unfamiliar setting, providing both geographic and political information. Although the story gets off to a rather slow start, he does have a wonderful author’s voice…”A man of my curiosity and spiritual bent. Or curiously bent spirituality.”… and with each page, the story then become more compelling.
“Eastward in Eden” is a short book with slightly inconsistent pacing. However, it does have fascinating characters, excellent twists and is well worth reading.
EASTWARD IN EDEN (Myst-Owen Keane-Kenya-Contemp) – G+ Faherty, Terence – 8th in series The Mystery Company – Oct 2013 ...more
John Rebus is out of retirement, demoted and now reporting to his protégée, Siobhan Clarke. A 30-year-old murderFirst Sentence: “Where are we going?”
John Rebus is out of retirement, demoted and now reporting to his protégée, Siobhan Clarke. A 30-year-old murder case has been reopened and Malcolm Fox, in his last case for Internal Affairs, is working it. A link is made in that that case brings into question the team with whom Rebus first worked, “Saints of the Shadow Bible.”
The opening scene reveals much of Rebus’ personality—he’s tenacious…”like a bloodhound with a scent…”; he never gives up on a case. He is described by a colleague as being “…a breed of cop that wasn’t supposed to exist anymore, are and endangered species.” For those who have followed the series, it is interesting to see how the character, and his life, has changed over time. Enough references to the past are made, however, that even new readers won’t feel lost. Set in the period just prior to vote on Scotland’s referendum for independence, it’s also interesting to see how that affects the case and the transitions it has made to policing in Scotland.
One does see how with maturity comes clarity and there is a nice balance of Rebus and Malcolm being opposite sides of a coin. Rebus’ actions, while in keeping with the character, are exasperating both to his colleagues, but also to the reader. It diminishes the story, rather than adding to it. I stopped reading Rankin as I became tired of the Rebus' perpetual angst and alcohol. Now, I rather with that Rebus were back. The combination of Rebus, Siobhan, and Malcolm Fox is interesting but does, at times, feel a bit of a mash up.
Rankin is a very spare writer. He tells you what you need to know, but doesn’t waste much of his time on filler. This well suits worth the characters and the story. The fact that shootings are so rare in Scotland makes reading about the attention such an incident generates both interesting and very sad as compared to America.
“Saints of the Shadow Bible” is a good read, but far from Rankin’s best. In the end, it seemed rather flat and uninspired.
SAINTS OF THE SHADOW BIBLE (Pol Proc-Rebus/Fox/Clarke-Scotland-Contem) - Good 19th in series Back Bay Books, Feb 2015 ...more
First Sentence: In the first place, I suppose, it was my parent’s fault for giving me a silly name like Gianetta.
Fashion model Gianetta follows the suFirst Sentence: In the first place, I suppose, it was my parent’s fault for giving me a silly name like Gianetta.
Fashion model Gianetta follows the suggestion of her parents and heads to the Isle of Sky for a restful vacation. Those plans did not include finding her ex-husband, Nicholas Drury, at the same hotel. Nor did they include learning a local girl had recently been murdered and left in a way that suggests a ritual. But the killer isn’t done. Can Gianetta avoid becoming a victim?
Told in first person, past tense, Stewart’s character both provides us with comprehensive information as to her background, and makes the reader welcome into her story. Stewart makes her protagonist very approachable and rather self-deprecating; a lovely trait considering Gianetta’s profession.
With the same clarity of writing, we also know the other characters in the story through their descriptions, mannerisms and speech. It’s nice that she included both certain character’s dialects and Gaelic phrases. What is particularly clever is the use of one of the characters, actress Marcia, who, smoothly and naturally, introduces many of the other characters to both us and to Gianetta.
It’s the small touches that make the time and setting come to life, such as remembering that this was an age when most people smoked, or that some placed still used dip-pens. There were also delightfully British turns-of-phrase…”She wasn’t just hit or stabbed or choked in a fit of human passion. She was deliberately done to death…” At the same time, there are ideas from then that still hold true…”Don’t you know yet that there’s no room for pride in marriage? You have to choose between the two.”…and the age old question of the limits of loyalty. Her descriptions of place are evocative…”And, locked in the great arms of the mountains, the water lay quiet as a burnished shield, reflecting the deeper blue and deeper gold the pageantry of hill and sky.”
Although traditionally regarded as "romantic suspense"--I suspect by the men who ran publishing companies--the emphasis is much more on the mystery than on romance. While there is a touch of romance done in classic 50’s fashion of conversations not shared with the audience, and activities taking place behind closed doors, they story is, at its heart with excellent red herrings and plenty of suspense, an exciting climax and a wonderful ending.
“Wildfire at Midnight” is one of those wonderful books that doesn’t grow old or passé. Much more of a traditional suspense than romantic-suspense, it is as wonderful a read today, as it was when first published, and Ms. Stewart should be considered among the classic authors.
WILDFIRE AT MIDNIGHT (Sups-Gianetta Brooke Drury-Scotland-Contemp) - VG Stewart, Mary – Standalone William Morrow and Company – 1956 ...more
First Sentence: Julia was wild that night, her long blonde hair streaming as she danced like a maenad among the trees.
In 2012, a group of friends formFirst Sentence: Julia was wild that night, her long blonde hair streaming as she danced like a maenad among the trees.
In 2012, a group of friends formed the Cyrenaics, and followed the philosophy of sensual hedonism, until one of their members died of an overdose, another disappeared, one moved to Canada, and another is believed to have committed suicide. When the last turns up, found in a submerged car two years later, Marjory and are team must find out what really happened.
We begin with wonderfully evocative descriptions…”There was an edge of frost tonight and above the angled branches of the trees the black bowl of night sky was studded with diamonds. Tonight you could almost hear the music of the spheres…interwoven with the restless muttering of the trees.” Templeton is a very literary author who uses language very well, and can reference both Baudelaire and the same paragraph, along with quotes from Robert Burns, courtesy of DI Fleming’s sergeant Tam MacNee.
The very effective prologue and first chapter lay the groundwork and compel us into the story. Templeton has an interesting style of creating the setting, introducing the characters and building the story without the reader being certain of where the path will lead. Yet one thing of which one is certain is that mystery lies ahead.
Rather than the police acting as a cohesive team, Templeton places us within an oft-found group of people with their own ambitions and jealousies, making getting things done all the harder. The characters include Marjory who tends to be brusque, are not altogether likable and there seems to be a lot of in-fighting, but give them time. Relationships change and cohesion prevails. Even so, it’s nice to see the personal lives that support many of the characters, including the development of one a new relationship. .
The story is a little hard to get into as there are so many pieces to the puzzle. There is also a thread that was, rather frustratingly, dropped.
Templeton does write good dialogue, sometimes with a bit of wry, Scottish humor…”Never trust those one—“grave, tideless-blooded, calm and cool”,’ MacNee said. “And school teachers—I’ve never been overfond of them either, except my old English teacher—I’d never have heard of Rabbie Burns if it wasn’t for him.” ‘I wondered whose fault it was,’ Fleming said…
“The Third Sin” is a well-done mystery; it is realistic in that mistakes are made, people aren’t all likable, and not all endings are completely satisfactory, yet there is still hope.
THE THIRD SIN (Pol Proc-DI Marjory Fleming-Scotland-Contemp) – G+ Templeton, Aline – 9th in series Allison and Busby – April 2015
First Sentence: Twelve-year-old Kyle Westergaard was halfway through his route delivering the Grimstad Tribune when he heard the high whine of car engFirst Sentence: Twelve-year-old Kyle Westergaard was halfway through his route delivering the Grimstad Tribune when he heard the high whine of car engines on the highway in the dark.
Det. Cassie Dewell, working with the FBI, thinks they may finally have caught the Lizard King, an independent long-haul trucker, a serial killer of prostitutes, and the man partially responsible for the murder of her boss. But do the they enough to hold him. Leaving her former post behind, Cassie has transferred to be the new deputy sheriff in Grimstad, ND, a town filled with oil money and drugs. The sheriff suspects the town is about to be flooded with a shipment of meth that came into town is went missing. A very vicious motorcycle gang is in town looking for them. Can Cassie find them first? And what is the role of a young boy on a bicycle?
The Lizard King is a through thread, and an excellent, unsettling one. One need not have read previous books in order to catch the thread, although one may be enticed so do to. That’s not a bad thing. One thing that was interesting was to learn the difference between independent truckers and company drivers.
Box is very good at creating a sense of place by painting mental pictures…”December in North Carolina was brown and gray but not white. Light rain fell from a close granite sky. The hardwood trees were tall and skeletal and a thick brown carpet of leaves covered the forest floor.”
Box presents an interesting and balanced picture of the positive impact from the economic impact of oil companies on previously small, struggling communities, while also focusing on the negative secondary results of money, drugs, guns and crime. In this instance, those negatives are very dark, and very violent.
Cassie is an excellent protagonist; smart, strong, intelligent yet not without her own issues. You become involved with her and her life. What is particularly nice, is that in Sheriff Jon Kirkbride she has a supportive boss. Kyle proves that no child should be underestimated or disregarded.
“Badlands” is exciting and gripping with an explosive plot twist. One becomes completely involved in a story which provides a satisfying conclusion and a continuing thread to the next book.
BADLANDS (Pol. Proc – Det. Cassie Dewell – North Dakota – Contemp) – Ex Box, C.J. – 3rd in series Minotaur Books – July 2015 ...more
First Sentence: On a Sunday in the third week of November outside my half-burnt home on Tyler Beach, N.H., while attempting to nail a heavy blue tarpFirst Sentence: On a Sunday in the third week of November outside my half-burnt home on Tyler Beach, N.H., while attempting to nail a heavy blue tarp on a gaping hole above the shutters front door, I learned quite the important lesson: The bright decal on folding stepladders that warns you not to step on the very top is there for a reason.
Ex-State Department employee turned journalist is asked to do a favor for his friend, and former lover, reporter Paula Quinn. Her new fiancée has gone missing. Considering the man is a lawyer and member of the town council, when Cole starts asking question, no one seems very concerned. What is odd is that a man who supposedly being raised in Vermont has a Wyoming social security number. With the help of his friend Felix Tinios, he starts following a trail which becomes more dangerous every step of the way, all the while worrying about the fate of his badly fire-damaged house from an impending hurricane heading its way.
It is a good bet that more than a few readers will be able to empathize with the opening, in one way or another. It is also an effective hook. DuBois has a very good first-person voice… “A couple of weeks ago, however, the routine had been disrupted—which is like saying the Civil War was a bar brawl that got out of hand--…” He also creates a nice, impending sense of dread with the hurricane moving up the coast.
Although there are references to a previous book, new readers will be more intrigued than frustrated by the references. If they are moved to read the previous book or books, it’s all to the better.
DuBois does create an interesting mix of characters. Cole has an interesting past which makes it clear he wasn’t just pushing papers for the State Department, but he is a man of strong commitment and loyalty. He believes in doing what is right and not taking shortcuts. He is definitely someone you’d want to know. A nice balance is his friend Felix…”originally from the North End of Boston and now residing in North Tyler as a security consultant—which he always manages to say with a straight face—…” Well dressed and a lover of the finer things, it is clear Felix has less than legal connections. Add in his friend and injured policewoman Diane, and you have a strong circle of personalities. In some ways, the least dynamic character is Paula, the friend for whose fiancée Cole searches. There are times when she seems remarkably naive for a journalist.
In addition to Felix being a particularly interesting character, which he is, he also makes us wish to join him at the table…”Felix placed an order for a filet mignon—medium rare—with a side of two lobster tails, risotto, and house salad.” … “Felix had a veal dish with a side of pasta, while I had lobster fettuccine…” These, and other instances, provide a nice pause in the action.
For those who live in, or know the area of the book, it is very much as though you are along for the ride. However, even those who do not can appreciate the observations regarding how the Bush recession impacted small towns…”Lots of powerful things were being closed or being threatened. It must have been nice to live in a time when powerful things were being built and opened.”
“Blood Foam” is filled with excellent twists, very good suspense from several sources, and a well-done ending. One does appreciate a noble protagonist.
BLOOD FOAM (Mys/Jour – Louis Cole – New Hampshire – Contemp) – VG+ DuBois, Brendan – 9th in series Pegasus Books – June, 2015 ...more
First Sentence: Dr. James Mason was more comfortable with the dead than the living.
In 1989, a small girl was brought to the morgue of Dr. James Mason.First Sentence: Dr. James Mason was more comfortable with the dead than the living.
In 1989, a small girl was brought to the morgue of Dr. James Mason. She was something of an anomaly as she was alive. Little Aurora’s mother had been murdered and they were looking for her father. Now, in 2014, upon the death of her grandfather, Aurora, now an ER nurse in New York, finds she needs to return to her home town of Cooper’s Bayou, Florida and the home of her birth to settle his estate. Josh Hudson, in looking for his missing sister, has been suspended from his job on the police force and relegated to the evidence warehouse, overseen by Samba, who knows where all the records and secrets are stored. Can the three of them find the answers they seek?
Harvey opens with an excellent hook; touching, interesting and compelling with characters with whom one can identify. Just as we become involved, we skip forward 25 years. And are introduced to new, equally compelling characters.
Harvey writes excellent dialogue—“All those blond techs look the same to me. Good genetic material for a baby, but about as interesting as unflavored oatmeal.”—as well as lines that make us stop and consider—“We all got something that haunts us, Josh.”
It is so important to have characters with which one can emphasize and identify. Harvey’s character’s are fully dimensional, and very interesting,; Ruby, Doc Mason, Samba, Josh—but it is Aurora who is smart, independent, and doesn’t depend upon a man to save her, who truly captures our interest. Only occasionally does the fragmentation of the story makes keeping track of them a bit challenging.
The sense of place is strong and visual…”The bayou was wilder here, the water heaving past in an unrelenting torrent the color of strong tea…” He writes with wonderful imagery…”The graveyard by the state prison was manicured and well-kept, but these people—people whose greatest crime was dying anonymously---were spending eternity in an overgrown dump.” One can even appreciate the fascinating information on voodoo versus voudon.
“The Evidence Room” has an excellent plot, with clever twists, very good suspense yet without overt violence. It is a wonderful debut by an author one should consider following.
THE EVIDENCE ROOM (Mys-Aurora Atchinson/Josh Hudson-Florida-Contemp) – Ex Harvey, Cameron – 1st book Minotaur Books – June 2015 ...more
Det. Peter Diamond has been recruited to work with his boss on a sensitive case out of town. To say heFirst Sentence: “Are you sure this thing works?”
Det. Peter Diamond has been recruited to work with his boss on a sensitive case out of town. To say he’s less than excited by this prospect would be an understatement, but needs must. What he doesn’t know, nor does his boss, is that the case involves someone with whom Peter had worked in the past. In the same town to which they are traveling, the art teacher at a private girl’s school leaves her position without notice. While the students are pleased by the very attractive man who replaces her, one student becomes concerned and decides to follow up on her own.
Peter Lovesey is unique in his manner of gently sliding the reader into the story. One finds oneself intrigued, aware there has been a crime, but really not knowing with certainty the nature of the crime or where the path of the story is leading. He also provides his character with a wonderful narrative voice and dialogue, replete with wry humour…”When it becomes necessary, you’ll be informed.” Pompous old trout. “As you wish.” One also finds that Peter doesn’t lack for wonderful meals—no grab-and-go here… “They tucked into a char-grilled rib-eye steak with black-pudding butter, fries and salad (his) and vegetarian bake with salad leaves (hers).
Peter’s lady-love, Paloma, is delightful. His boss, ACC Georgina Dallymore—how can you not love that name—may be dismissive of Peter at times, but she can also be observant… “You go in for mind games, don’t you? Pulling the wool over the eyes of your superior. Superior in rank, not necessarily in guile…” And Peter is clever, brilliantly so at times, diplomatically cozying his boss with tact and guile. One could envy his skill.
Every step of the way, the plot becomes more fascinating and compelling; complicated and wonderful in the way the threads are finally joined.
“Down Among the Dead Men” is a wonderful, satisfying read with the unexpected villain brought to justice. It is also part of a great series.
DOWN AMONG THE DEAD MEN (Pol Proc-Det. Peter Diamond – England – Contemp) – VG Lovesey, Peter – 15th in series SOHO Crime – July 2015 ...more
First Sentence: “You know what you have to do,” said the distant voice at the other end of the phone.
A church in rural Hawkton explodes, killing fiveFirst Sentence: “You know what you have to do,” said the distant voice at the other end of the phone.
A church in rural Hawkton explodes, killing five people, although the bodies can’t initially be found. Lead investigator, Vonda Mitchum, would like to close the case quickly. Agent Jessica Blackwood, raised in a family of master illusionists and once one herself, has a skill for looking beyond the obvious. The further she looks, the larger becomes the scope of the case and the more dangerous; not just to her, but to a major figure on the world stage.
Reviewing this book is a decided conundrum. There are so many really positive elements to it, yet quite a number of negative ones as well. Where to begin?
There is nothing better than a book you pick up thinking you’ll only read a few pages and, before you know it, you’re 10 pages into the story. There is no question this book begins with a bang; literally. The opening is dramatic and startling with excellent descriptions… “A mansion that would have looked like a haunted house on a studio back lot if Grandfather hadn’t made sure to keep it well-coated in paint… With its pointed spires and steepled roof, the mansion was more medieval Disney than tony Beverly Hills.
The character of Agent Jessica Blackwood is a particularly intriguing one. Her past enables her to observe things others may not. The people in her personal life are unusual, interesting, and often dangerous. She is a character about whom you want to know more.
The plot contains a fascinating combination of science, technology and mysticism. Each is interesting and educational. The story is fragmented in places—both in terms of skips in the plot and due the layout of the text, the latter being the fault of the editor/publisher, rather than the author. It does, however, make it a bit challenging to follow, at times. The other issue is that there is a lot of reference to the previous book and its villain. Although it doesn’t impede the enjoyment of this case, it both makes one curious, yet you feel you know so much about the previous book, it takes away the impetuous to go back and read it for oneself. That said, it is rather similar to an itch which must, sooner or later, be scratched.
Mayne’s observations are fascinating and thought-provoking. The dialogue is very well done and can, at times, make one smile…”We’re going to offer him the same level of protection irregardless,” replies Ratner. I bite my tongue at the ‘irregardless,’…Carver points out. “And Dennis, it’s ‘regardless,’ not ‘irregardless.”
“Name of the Devil” is very cleverly plotted with excellent twists and “wow” moments. There are some weaknesses, but nothing a stronger editor couldn’t resolve. Even so, one wants to read the next book by this author.
NAME OF THE DEVIL (Susp-Agent Jessica Blackwood-US/Mexico-Contemp) – G+ Mayne, Andrew – 2nd in series Bourbon Street Books – July 2015 ...more
Detective Louise Rick has accepted the position of heading a Special Search Agency, responsible for unsFirst Sentence: Gone is coming, Gone is coming!
Detective Louise Rick has accepted the position of heading a Special Search Agency, responsible for unsolved missing-person cases. Believing she could appoint her own team, she is dismayed to find a partner, Eik Nordsrom, has been assigned to work with her. Their first case involves the body of a woman, with a large burn scar on one side of her face, is found in a local forest. With no way to identify her, the police release her photo to the media asking for the public’s help, only to learn that she was on of a set of twin sisters who were supposed to have died 30 years previously in a sanitarium. Working the case becomes much more involved, and much more personal, than Rick every anticipated.
The story begins with a very intriguing and compelling prologue that is a true prologue. This is not something which is lifted from a later section of the story, but is an introductory chapter that immediately elicits a sense of dread.
Louise Rick is an interesting character and cleverly created. One initially isn’t certain they like her as she is very defensive and prickly in her demeanour. At the same time, there are hints at reasons for her attitudes and a feeling that the author will make these reasons known. Most can, however, also empathize with her frustration of being made to working with someone who has created a negative first impression. Even here, however, one wants to see how things will develop.
It is interesting to see how Louise and her partner do learn to work together and build a trust.
Blaedel includes powerful, and rather depressing information as to the number of people who go missing in Denmark every year—1,600 to 1,700—and brings home the reality of institutions everywhere where people are sent and simply abandoned by their families. Suicide is a very common theme, along with the disappearances.
One small thing, as an American reader, is that it would have been to have known/learned more about Denmark and how property laws function there. Readers might find some of the information related to that a bit confusing, but not enough to severely detract from the story.
“The Forgotten Girls” has a plot which is fascinating with amazing, well-done twists all along the way. What starts as three separate cases are linked by DNA into one case, and ends with startling revelations right up to the very end.
THE FORGOTTEN GIRLS (Pol Proc-Det. Louise Rick/Camilla Lind-Denmark-Contemp) – VG+ Blaedel, Sara – 4th in series Grand Central Publishing – February 2015 ...more
First Sentence: I believe just about anyone can kill in the right circumstances, given enough motivation.
Catrin Quinn, her best friend Rachel, and FauFirst Sentence: I believe just about anyone can kill in the right circumstances, given enough motivation.
Catrin Quinn, her best friend Rachel, and Faulklands war veteran Callum Murphy are have been joined together by the death of Catrin’s two children, but not in a positive way since they were in Rachel’s care when they died. Now, they are joined, with the rest of the island, in a search for three missing children. Resentments, accusations, and distrust are renewed, but can they still find the person who is responsible?
A powerful opening is quickly followed by a highly intriguing first chapter filled with evocative descriptions of both places…”Something is moving. Not the water surrounding me, that seems frozen in time, but the reflection of a bird.”, and of emotions…”Tonight, it seems, my thoughts are determined to stray along the shadowy path, where furtive plans creep like snaring roots across the forest floor, where the darker reaches of our minds run free.”
There is something truly wonderful about an author who makes one pause and consider. Her descriptions of devastating loss, and being haunted by those who have been lost, is truly remarkable and wrenching. Then, to add another layer, the descriptions of a mass beaching of pilot whales only adds to the sense of tragedy. Bolton truly is a master at conveying emotions, and with a very good turn in the plot, another level is added.
The construct of the story is interesting and somewhat unusual. One gets to know the three primary characters well, yet is constantly surprised, while not altogether trusting, by what one learns. Although it may seem a small thing, she is remarkably effective at making animals very important to the plot. What is very well done is that each section of the book avoids being repetitive, and very much has its tone.
It is a pleasure having a book set in a location new to most readers. While one applauds Minotaur for including a map, Bolton brings the Faulkland Islands, its people and history, to life. If there is any criticism, and very small would it be, it is that the first section is so powerful, the other two sections are slightly diminished by comparison. However, that is also a true reflection of each character’s strength of emotion and, thus, appropriate.
“Little Black Lies” is an excellent book with a very powerful, did-NOT-see-that-coming ending. One does love being completely surprised.
LITTLE BLACK LIES (Myst-Catrin/Callum/Rachel-The Falkland Islands-Contemp) – Ex Bolton, Sharon – Standalone Minotaur Books – May 2015 ...more
First Sentence: He bought the wick online from a candle-supply shop in Houston, calling the people up first to ask which type of wick burned the hotteFirst Sentence: He bought the wick online from a candle-supply shop in Houston, calling the people up first to ask which type of wick burned the hottest.
The body of a woman, with a large burn scar on one side of her face, is found in a local forest. With no way to identify her, the police release her photo to the media asking for the public’s help.
Money is tight, in the McMorrow family, now that Jack and Roxanne have a daughter, Roxanne is no longer working as a social worker, and they have to depend on the free-lance stories Jack sells to the New York Times and other outlets. An arson fire in the small town of Sanctuary just might prove the story Jack needs. Rather than being a single incident, it quickly becomes clear that someone has an agenda, and the town is happy to accuse those who are most vulnerable. Roxanne finds she can’t separate from her old job as much as she’d planned when she, and her family, are threatened by the drug-addicted mother whose child died when placed in foster care.
There’s nothing like a strong opening, and Boyle starts us off with a very frightening, yet compelling, prologue, immediately followed by a beginning which guarantees impending disaster.
Boyle has created a cast of characters we what to know on an ongoing basis. As well as Jack and Roxanne, he has also created one of the most appealing, least annoying, children in Sofie. Then there are their neighbors and friends Mary and her husband, Clair, the ex-Marine Commando who always has Jack’s back. Additionally, there are secondary characters who are fully developed and hold their own.
The dialogue is excellent. It flows very naturally and is appropriate to the characters and their relationships. “Are you going to return our firearms?” Clair said. “What if I don’t?” Foley said. “I’ll have to go back to the house and get some more.” Clair said.
There are also good lessons to be learned about how much control one does, and does not, have and where one’s responsibilities ends, as well as providing those moments that cause one to stop and consider…”Every society has a warrior class. Without that we have anarchy. You’d see way more suffering, way more carnage. We fight to keep humanity from going totally crazy. Somebody has to step up.” Even if one may not completely agree with the philosophy, it does cause one to think. It is the inclusion of such moral questions that elevate a book beyond the ordinary to someone about which one thinks long after closing the cover.
Boyle is an author who also knows how to convey emotions and people reactions to tension and stress. That's not an easy thing to do, but he does it extremely well.
“Once Burned” is a very good book that is well-plotted and with excellent tension all the way through.
ONCE BURNED (Lic Invest/Reporter-Jack McMorrow-Maine-Contemp) – VG Boyle, Gerry – 10th in series Islandport Press – May 2015 ...more
First Sentence: I met Jamie Fraser when I was nineteen years old.
Emma Sheridan has had a series of less-than-auspicious jobs and relationships, a factFirst Sentence: I met Jamie Fraser when I was nineteen years old.
Emma Sheridan has had a series of less-than-auspicious jobs and relationships, a fact that her sister is happy to point out. In frustration and depression, she decides to sell everything and travel to Scotland in search of a man who represents her idea—Jamie Fraser from the book “Outlander”—writing a blog along the way.
In Emma, Dyer has created a character whose aspects can be recognized by each of us, at some point of our lives. Many of can us also sympathize with her relationship with her sister. However, what is particularly nice, however, is that the character grows and develops with the story.
Emma has some help along with way from wonderful secondary characters, such Morag with the sheep farm, Katy the librarian, and Ashwin from the café in which Emma worked, and others. There is a lovely cameo/homage to Diana Gabaldon, Herself, which is delightful. And, it’s nice to know that the real Diana Gabaldon approves of this book
The book does have shades of “Julie and Julia,” but that’s okay. One can appreciate that the blog segments are printed in courier; a nice touch, and it’s delightful to see her following grow. It also becomes a lesson in distinguishing those are fans, and those who are truly supportive fans. There is even a bit of a mystery to the plot.
An exceptional aspect to the story is Ms. Dyers ability to convey the beauty, power and history of Scotland, along with descriptions of Edinburgh Castle, and references to Braveheart and Canterbury Tales. Dyers genuinely makes one feel her love for the country and its people.
“Finding Fraser” is an absolutely delightful read, particularly for those of us who love the series “Outlander.”
FINDING FRASER (Novel-Emma Sheridan-Scotland-Contemp) – Ex Dyer, KC - Standalone Lions Mountain Literary – May, 2015 ...more