Re-reading The Day of the Jackal, Frederick Forsyth's 1972 Edgar winner for Best Novel, was perhaps even more satisfying than reading it for the firstRe-reading The Day of the Jackal, Frederick Forsyth's 1972 Edgar winner for Best Novel, was perhaps even more satisfying than reading it for the first time (can it really have been 36 years ago?) I would never quibble with the committee's choice on this one.
As most people probably know, the book deals with a plot to assassinate Charles de Gaulle, President of France, by a group opposed to his policies on Algeria. Not only does the reasonably well-informed reader know that, historically, de Gaulle was not assassinated, but Forsyth actually makes a point of telling us this early in the book. So, in a most important sense, we know from the outset how the book ends. And yet, it is one of the best examples I've read of page-turning, heart-stopping, breath-holding suspense writing.
Using the third-person omniscient form, Forsyth takes us into the minds and actions of the plotters, the police, and the Jackal himself. As the Jackal's preparations are being made, the French policeman, Lebel, is making his own preparations to foil the hired assassin. The police (including a number of quasi-police agencies with few qualms about methods) are well aware of the plot to assassinate de Gaulle -- several unsuccessful attempts have been made -- and they quickly surmise that the plotters have a hired killer. But finding the Jackal is not so easy, and he always seems to be one step ahead of them until the last shattering moment.
One thing that struck me in this reading of The Day of the Jackal was that, while one part of my brain was firmly on the side of Lebel and his need to stop the assassin, another part of me was admiring the Jackal's ingenuity and cool head, and almost wanted him to "win." And all this with no attempts made by the author to excuse or rationalize the Jackal's career choice -- in fact we are told very little about the Jackal's past beyond one brief reference to his having grown up poor. Forsyth puts the reader in the very unusual position of watching two consummate professionals doing their jobs in opposition to each other; even though we know which is the "good" or "right" side, our inwards groans at a setback for the Jackal are as heartfelt as those for Lebel, at least until the last few chapters.
If you are too young to have read this book when it first came out, or even if you did read it then, do yourself a favor and read or re-read it. ...more
Carl Sandburg said (in another context) "it pays to have a good forgettery." In this case, a good forgettery allowed me to reread Ken Follett's EYE OFCarl Sandburg said (in another context) "it pays to have a good forgettery." In this case, a good forgettery allowed me to reread Ken Follett's EYE OF THE NEEDLE (British title, STORM ISLAND) with every bit as much enjoyment as when I first read it 30 years ago. Also, having recently reread THE DAY OF THE JACKAL, it was fun to compare these two similar, but different, thrillers.
Both books feature multiple points of view -- quite a few of them in Follett's case -- and on both sides of the good guy/bad guy divide. Both involve historical events that we know turned out OK, and ask us to imagine a scenario where things could have gone quite differently. The difference in Follett's book is that nearly all the characters are more fully developed. I still found it difficult to work up much sympathy for The Needle, though, and when I found critics (both film and book) talking about his "falling in love" with Lucy, I thought only that they must have a very different idea of love than I have.
The stronger character development in Follett's book makes a lot of artistic sense, since, unlike JACKAL, EYE OF THE NEEDLE must build suspense over a period of four years, from the period just after the Phoney War in 1940, to just before D-Day in 1944. Without the character interest, this might have made for a less engaging story; and the behavior of The Needle, David, and Lucy in the final chapters would not have been as believable.
Reading this now, when Follett has again been on the bestseller lists with WORLD WITHOUT END, his sequel to THE PILLARS OF THE EARTH (both set in the Middle Ages), one notices how he brings his interest in medieval culture and history even into a World War II thriller. For example, he parallels Godliman the medievalist's search for Henry II's travels with Godliman the intelligence agent's search for The Needle. I haven't seen the movie of this book, but probably will before long. I am reserving judgment on the casting of Donald Sutherland as The Needle -- somehow it just doesn't seem right to me.
In any case, THE EYE OF THE NEEDLE was quite deserving of the Edgar, even though it had some stiff competition, particularly Tony Hillerman's LISTENING WOMAN.
Junkyard Dogs turned out to be a different book than I was expecting, especially since it won the Best Sidekick award at the Left Coast Crime conferenJunkyard Dogs turned out to be a different book than I was expecting, especially since it won the Best Sidekick award at the Left Coast Crime conference. Sheriff Walt Longmire needs all his sidekicks -- Deputies Vic Moretti and Sancho Saizarbitoria, mentor Lucian Connally, his friend Henry Standing Bear, and his dog Dog -- to solve the convoluted mystery in Junkyard Dogs.
What I liked best about this book was that the villains were not obvious from their personalities and actions. I kept being surprised -- and yet, Johnson played fair with the reader since Longmire was just as puzzled as I was for most of the book. He really needed his whole team. Of course, this cast of continuing characters is also one of the delights of this series. Wyoming's landscape and weather are always important in Johnson's books, and this one, set in an early but already hard winter, is no exception. I was glad I was reading it in spring and not a month or two earlier! Highly recommended; can stand alone, but why deny yourself? If you have not read this series before, go back and start at the beginning....more
This was only the second of the Edgar Best Novel winners so far that I knew for certain I had read before. But, I decided it would be worthwhile to reThis was only the second of the Edgar Best Novel winners so far that I knew for certain I had read before. But, I decided it would be worthwhile to reread it, and how right I was. Martin Beck, the protagonist of this series, is the spiritual ancestor of Henning Mankell's Kurt Wallander. He pretty much bears out any stereotype you may have about gloomy Swedes. But he's a heck of a policeman. One thing I don't recall noticing when I first read this book back in the 1970s was how it is set in a definite time -- 1967, with protest demonstrations worldwide about America's involvement in Vietnam. The book opens with such a demonstration in Stockholm, with most police detailed to keep order. Shortly, however, Beck is called to a crime scene -- someone has shot all the passengers and the driver of a city bus. And one of the victims is one of his own homicide detectives. The solution of the case leads to the solution of a "cold case" from the early 50s, and owes more to good, solid, routine police investigation than to any stunning intuitions on the part of Beck or his colleagues. (As is my wont, I had forgotten "whodunnit" long ago so that I enjoyed not only the writing, but the mystery.) I very seldom reread mysteries, but the Sjowall and Wahloo series is well worth a reread, or a first read if you haven't encountered them yet....more
This 1974 Edgar Best Novel winner was a re-read for me -- I've read and enjoyed all of Tony Hillerman's novels featuring Lt. Joe Leaphorn and Sgt. JimThis 1974 Edgar Best Novel winner was a re-read for me -- I've read and enjoyed all of Tony Hillerman's novels featuring Lt. Joe Leaphorn and Sgt. Jim Chee, alone and together. And, by the time I was 7/8 of the way through it, I had remembered the motive and the perpetrator; but Hillerman's writing maintained me in a state of suspense until the last page.
In this, one of the earliest of his Navajo novels, the character of Lt. Joe Leaphorn is just beginning to be developed. We hear nothing at all of his home life, which becomes important in the later books, and his childhood and college experiences are brought in only as they serve to illuminate his ideas and reactions to events in the story. We do learn that Leaphorn is conscientious almost to a fault, and that although he may no longer "believe" in the Navajo religiou in the same way that Jim Chee does, its ideas of harmony and balance still inform his thoughts and way of life, and sometimes bring him into conflict with the rules of his chosen profession.
DANCE HALL OF THE DEAD deals with the Zuni religion, taking place just before and during the major festival of the Zuni year. When the young boy who has been chosen to enact the Little Fire God is brutally murdered, and his Navajo best friend disappears, Leaphorn must join members of a number of other law enforcement agencies who may have jurisdiction or interests in the matter. In the process of finding the missing Navajo boy, he will learn more about the Zuni and about himself. He will also spend a good deal of time outside, giving Hillerman the opportunity to transport the reader to the Four Corners area that is the setting for his books.
It's difficult for me to discuss the plot of this book much without inadvertently adding a spoiler, and I wouldn't want to do that, in case there is anyone reading this who hasn't yet read Hillerman's fine books. If you are one of those (probably rare) people, I'd urge you to find a list and read them in order of publication. I can't recall ever being really disappointed in one of them, and right now I'm tempted to start re-reading them all in spite of my looming TBR shelves and all the other enticing books out there. This was an excellent choice by the Edgar Best Novel judges. It is just as relevant and exciting now as it was 35 years ago. ...more
With three critically-acclaimed standalones ( To the Power of Three, Every Secret Thing and What the Dead Know) now behind her, Laura Lippman returnWith three critically-acclaimed standalones ( To the Power of Three, Every Secret Thing and What the Dead Know) now behind her, Laura Lippman returns to the Tess Monaghan series with Another Thing to Fall. Those of us who have been following Tess's adventures for years should be grateful, and I am, but I wish I could have liked this book more. In it, Tess is brought into the world of television production (with which Lippman is familiar because of her husband's involvement with The Wire). It's a world where no one is quite what s/he seems, and one where most people are so focused on their own concerns as to be fairly clueless outside them. Problems are dogging the set of a Baltimore-location TV series in production, and Tess is hired as a bodyguard for its lead ingenue. This is one of those books with multiple points of view, including perpetrator(s), victims, and not-so-innocent bystanders as well as that of the detective. These are useful in explaining motivations, but can be a little confusing. At the end of the book, it seemed to me, Tess hadn't done all that much detecting, rather she learned much of the truth by having it flung at her,and probably that's why I found the book a little disappointing. On the other hand, although we didn't get to see much of Crow, both his teenage protege Lloyd and Tess's awesome friend Whitney Talbot featured largely in the plot, and that was enjoyable. Even a so-so Laura Lippman book is much better than average, and I also liked her insights into the ambivalence of a troubled city being "invaded" by television and movie crews with their promises of money and fame....more
I'd read this book soon after it first came out, but my memory was a bit hazy, and in any case my "rules" for the Edgar Best Novel project include re-I'd read this book soon after it first came out, but my memory was a bit hazy, and in any case my "rules" for the Edgar Best Novel project include re-reading the books I've already read. It was a real treat to re-read this one, especially after reading the "prequel" (actually a stand-alone) Bloody Kin. I knew , having kept up with Judge Deborah Knott, that her character had grown and changed a lot over the years, but reading this book reinforced how much that was true. Deborah is 34 in this book (and she seems about 39 in the most recent one I've read -- wish I could age that way!)and running for a district judge-ship -- a semi-partisan post in North Carolina. Her father Kezzie, the (ex-)bootlegger of the title, is 82 and she's having a fuss with him because she thinks he doesn't take her, his only daughter, seriously. A young woman asks Deborah to investigate an 18-year-old murder and danger ensues. Maron's great regional voice, the ins and outs of Deborah's family, and the many changes taking place in the South are constants in this series, and all are present in the first volume. It was edgier than I remembered, and just as good. Highly recommended as are all Maron's books....more
My goodness! I haven't laughed so hard at a book since Hector was a pup! It's difficult to tell much about this book without spoilers, so suffice it toMy goodness! I haven't laughed so hard at a book since Hector was a pup! It's difficult to tell much about this book without spoilers, so suffice it to say that it's more of a "novel of suspense" than a "detective story" and is told in the first person from three points of view -- a cat, a dog, and a vicar are the three main characters. The setting in 1957 helps to make it a wonderful escape. I suppose this book mightn't be everyone's cup of tea but it certainly was mine. ...more
I am engaged in a (slow) project to read all the Edgar Award winning Best Novels, starting with the first in 1954. #4 was Charlotte Armstrong's A DRA I am engaged in a (slow) project to read all the Edgar Award winning Best Novels, starting with the first in 1954. #4 was Charlotte Armstrong's A DRAM OF POISON. I had been seeing Charlotte Armstrong's name on bookshelves since I first got into the adult section of the library, but I don't believe I'd ever read one of her books. Now I think I'll read some more! This was the first of the books that I have really enjoyed, even though it still didn't fit the classic detective story paradigm. The LC subject heading was Romantic Suspense, and my library had the book (enclosed in The Charlotte Armstrong Reader, with two other novels) in the general fiction section, although some of her books are in its mystery section. Based on this sample, Charlotte Armstrong wrote extremely well, was able to create characters with depth of personality that readers can care about, and to create page-turning suspense. Someone commented to me as I was beginning to read the book that it started off slowly, and I would agree, though the quality of the writing kept me going through the set-up part. When the suspense gets going it really takes off, and yet Armstrong managed to include a fair bit of humor, romance, and trenchant philosophy from a bus-driver with it all. I was even surprised by the ending! You'll note that I haven't summarized the plot -- it's a hard one to summarize without giving too much away. Just read it. You won't be sorry. ...more
1968. I was in college near Boston. One of my housemates, a girl I didn't know well, was pregnant. Her roommate learned that the ex-boyfriend and fath1968. I was in college near Boston. One of my housemates, a girl I didn't know well, was pregnant. Her roommate learned that the ex-boyfriend and father, a pre-med student, was planning to perform an amateur abortion. This was 5 years before Roe v. Wade. My housemates, all urban people, were galvanized into action, calling friends and even their mothers to locate a safe abortionist. I really had nothing to contribute except hand-wringing. The girl eventually decided to have the baby, and I think it was given up for adoption as I seem to recall she was back in school during my senior year. The following year, in summer, I found a room in an off-campus house. One of my flatmates had taken some time off from school the previous year. It turned out she had had a legal abortion at one of the best hospitals in Boston. You could get one if a panel of three doctors agreed that it was necessary for your health, and mental health counted. Unfortunately something had gone wrong, and she would now be unable to bear children. Since the abortion took place in a hospital, she didn't die.
For these reasons and a few other stories from women I've known, I was interested immediately in A CASE OF NEED when, looking it up in the library catalog, I saw the tracing "Abortion - Fiction." (I was going to read it anyway as part of my Edgar-winners project.) I brought the book home and started reading it right away. I'm going to give it a rating four stars, because the story certainly pulled me along. But for my tired old eyes, I would have finished it in one sitting.
Why not five stars -- which was evidently the consensus of the Edgar committee? One reason is that there were some definite plot holes. I can't really describe them for fear of spoilers, but since the story centers around doctors and others performing illegal abortions, I will point out that the three-doctor panel option existed at the time of the book, and is not mentioned. There are several more, which I'm sure any of you who read the book will spot.
Another reason is Hudson/Crichton's annoying practice of using medical jargon and abbreviations and then FOOTNOTING them! Yes, footnotes in a mystery thriller! I realize that this book preceded /Chicago Hope/ and /ER/, which made us all so conversant with hospital talk, but after all, it did follow /Dr. Kildare /and /Ben Casey/! I haven't read any of Crichton's other books, so I trust this was just a matter of youthful inexperience. I've read many books set in milieus unfamiliar to me, and nearly all the authors have been able to explain unfamiliar terms without resorting to footnotes. Talk about taking the reader out of the story!
The third reason I have for withholding the fifth star is the evident misogyny of the narrator/protagonist and, I fear, of the author himself. Maybe it's just me, but the way the protagonist interacts with his wife, the nurses, and the other women who come into the story suggested to me that he really didn't believe women were people. Perhaps I'm being unduly harsh and perhaps my view is skewed by having read that Crichton has been married 5 times. I will accept correction if someone believes differently. The character of the narrator is problematic in some other ways as well, again, I can't really explain that without spoilers.
To be fair, I'm still impressed that Crichton wrote a book this good while studying at Harvard Medical School. In spite of some very dated attitudes, it's still worth reading. ...more
The year is now 1958, the place is still Texas. Otis Millett and his PI partner, Kristin van Dijk (Baby Shark) are enjoying a rest at the home of theiThe year is now 1958, the place is still Texas. Otis Millett and his PI partner, Kristin van Dijk (Baby Shark) are enjoying a rest at the home of their friend Henry Chin when a phone call takes them back to Fort Worth. Otis has to identify the body of his wife, who has been found shot to death. Dixie and Otis had not been together for 10 years or so, but never divorced. Dixie had been a well-known stripper, but now appears to have been working in a bank -- a bank recently robbed with a moonlighting cop killed in the robbery. It appears Dixie was killed for double-crossing the other bank robbers. Otis wants to find Dixie's killer, and the police want to find the copkiller and the location of the loot from several bank robberies. Kristin agrees to impersonate Dixie's next of kin to draw the killer out. There is danger around every corner, but Kristin can hold her own in a bar fight, a shootout, or a car chase. As usual, the book is not for readers who prefer their violence offstage. I'm usually one of those people, but there's something about Baby Shark -- her voice, her insights into herself, her willingness to give the bad guys a chance to back down before she shoots to kill -- that keeps me coming back even as the body count increases. BABY SHARK'S JUGGLERS AT THE BORDER also gives us more insight into Otis Millett, one of my favorite characters in mystery fiction; and the villain of the piece is one of the more intriguing I've come across. So, go down to the bookstore and pre-order your copy now....more
Frequently, Edgar Best Novel winners are a bit more literary that the usual run of mysteries and thrillers. This doesn't necessarily mean they're bettFrequently, Edgar Best Novel winners are a bit more literary that the usual run of mysteries and thrillers. This doesn't necessarily mean they're better books in terms of writing or entertainment, but that they examine a deeper issue than "whodunit" or "will the good guy escape the bad guy." Such a book is Citizen Vince.
When this book came into the house, my husband read it first. He warned me not to read the jacket copy before beginning it, just to plunge into the story, which was good advice. Therefore, I won't talk about the plot. Citizen Vince takes place mostly in Spokane, Washington in the fall of 1980. There are plenty of suspenseful moments and snappy dialogues, but the book also delves into questions of identity, both external and internal, in the main plot and the subplot. It's also quite well-written and for both the locations used, there's a strong sense of place. It's the character studies, though, that really make this such a good book. Even though there are eleven months left in the year, I'm sure this will be on my Ten Best list for 2013. Very highly recommended....more
I'm enjoying my alphabetical tour of the US, and "meeting" a lot of new-to-me authors. The project should take me well into next year at least, sinceI'm enjoying my alphabetical tour of the US, and "meeting" a lot of new-to-me authors. The project should take me well into next year at least, since I just finished the Idaho book, Ridley Pearson's KILLER WEEKEND.
This excellent thriller, set in the Sun Valley-Ketchum-Hailey area, has some plot and structural elements in common with THE DAY OF THE JACKAL, but it is in no way derivative. A good author can make a fine new book out of an old plot, and that's what Pearson has done here.
Sheriff Walt Fleming has a lot of problems in KILLER WEEKEND, both personal and professional. Professionally, a part-time resident whose life Walt saved some years before is about to announce her candidacy for President. Walt has good reason to believe she may be the target of an assassin, but not all of the many other Federal and private security people around her are willing to believe him. The conference at which she's announcing is also the target of protesters, and cougars seem to be attacking dogs and people. Then there's a murder. Walt's personal life is in shambles too -- he's about to be divorced, his only brother is recently dead, his nephew is in with a bad crowd, and his drunken father is on the scene as a high-up in one of the private security firms.
As in THE DAY OF THE JACKAL, we also get to see the activities and plans of the assassin, but unlike in that book, the identity of those who hired him is part of the mystery, and in addition, he is not at all a sympathetic character.
Pearson is described on the dust jacket as a thriller writer, and this was indeed a thrilling book; it also had some of the hallmarks of the contemporary thriller, such as some very short chapters. But the characters of the sheriff, his team, and his family are more fully realized than in many thrillers, and the story also has many elements of the police procedural.
Of course, one of the main reasons I'm reading these books is for setting. Pearson doesn't go overboard on the nature writing, but you definitely know you're not in Kansas (or Maine) any more. Even more than the natural setting, I was fascinated by the descriptions of the social setting of an area where the super-rich and famous are such an important and visible part of the landscape. We have our rich and famous people in Maine too, but they tend to lie low and not splash money around quite so blatantly as the characters in this book (and from what I've read of the influx of celebrities and big money into the mountain West, it's quite accurate). Sheriff Walt has to walk a fine line when his investigations take him too close to the wealthy power-brokers, but he doesn't back down, and I like that.
I enjoyed KILLER WEEKEND a lot, and look forward to more about Sun Valley from Ridley Pearson.
New Orleans Mourning is one of the relatively rare Edgar Best Novel winners that I had already read, shortly after its publication. I've gone on to reNew Orleans Mourning is one of the relatively rare Edgar Best Novel winners that I had already read, shortly after its publication. I've gone on to read all Smith's New Orleans books; for some reason, I didn't get into her earlier San Francisco-based series.
Rereading the first book in a long-running series is a bit like reconnecting with an old friend, but it's also a bit like time travel. In this first book, Skip Langdon, Smith's protagonist, is still feeling her way as a police officer and as an adult woman. She has a lot of unresolved issues and so do most of the other major characters in the book -- and some very similar issues, at that. Mention is made that Skip has been reading Tennessee Williams, and Williams's theme of dysfunctional Southern families is on nearly every page of New Orleans Mourning.
Skip, who has only recently realized that a cop is what she wants to be when she grows up, is still a uniformed beat cop, detailed to crowd control at the big Mardi Gras Parade on Mardi Gras (Shrove Tuesday) itself. As daughter to a social-climbing doctor and his wife, she knows most of upper-crust N.O., and as she watches the float of Chauncey St. Amant, an acquaintance who's this year's Rex (King of Carnival), she is stunned to see someone in a Dolly Parton costume shoot him dead from a balcony. When her superiors realize she has entree into this world, she's assigned to help with the investigation.
Smith uses changing points of view skillfully to portray the passions, personalities and problems of the St. Amant family and the family friend, Tolliver Albert, from whose balcony the shot was fired. Of course, the family were all at the exclusive Boston Club waiting for the parade -- or were they? Skip's investigation takes her from the mansions of the rich to the most squalid of New Orleans' slums. In the end, she is not sure whether or not justice has been served.
New Orleans Mourning made me think of the novels of Donna Leon, set in Venice, Italy -- a similar city in some ways, strongly influenced by and often menaced by water, with its own language and customs, its Carnival, and its civic corruption. Like those in most of Leon's books, the ending of New Orleans Mourning is somewhat unsatisfying, but sadly believable.
I recommend this highly to anyone who hasn't yet discovered Smith's series. It's only the daunting state of my TBR shelves that's keeping me from going back to reread the whole series.
I've been reading a fair amount about World War I in the past several months, everything from All Quiet on the Western Front to John Keegan's The FirsI've been reading a fair amount about World War I in the past several months, everything from All Quiet on the Western Front to John Keegan's The First World War (which I'm finding slow going and haven't finished yet). I've also watched some films such as A Farewell to Arms (with Gary Cooper and Helen Hayes) and Passchendaele, and of course I've continued to read some of the mysteries set in WWI and its aftermath, by authors such as Jacqueline Winspear, Carola Dunn, Anne Perry, and not least, the mother-son team known as Charles Todd. I've continued to read their Inspector Rutledge series although I'm getting a bit tired of Hamish; but I find myself really looking forward to the next entry in their new Bess Crawford series. Bess, a Colonel's daughter, is a nurse in France for the British Army. Since one of the few World War I veterans I've knowingly met served as a nurse, Bess's war experiences have a special resonance for me. The Todds have made her strong character believable through their descriptions of her childhood and her family, and they also do well in describing the changes wrought by war in England.
I won't attempt to encapsulate the plot, which has a lot of twists and turns. I would recommend this mystery to anyone who likes historical mysteries with strong female protagonists, and who enjoys characters with some depth....more
The fifth in the Chet and Bernie series, the adventures of the Little Detective agency as told by Chet, the partner who happens to be a dog, is the beThe fifth in the Chet and Bernie series, the adventures of the Little Detective agency as told by Chet, the partner who happens to be a dog, is the best yet, but I think that about every new entry in this series. I listened to this book (read by Jim Frangione, who does a great job) while walking my own dog, and likely got a reputation around town as a nut because I so often found myself laughing out loud. I think any dog owner will recognize the traits of dogdom in Chet's "voice."
Although the dog tells the story, he has no special powers beyond those any dog of his size and training might have. We have often noticed how much effort our dog puts into trying to communicate with us -- and how often we probably fail to understand him. Chet is the same, so sometimes he "gets it" before Bernie and can't make him understand. And at other times, like any dog, he just gets distracted or confused.
A Fistful of Collars finds Bernie and Chet hired to make sure all goes smoothly on a film shoot in their area of the San Fernando Valley. The star seems to be wrestling with some private demons which turn out to be connected to a cold case which turns into a hot one. The climax is very scary! As usual, the characters and setting measure up to the plot. I hope Chet and Bernie continue catching perps for a long time to come. Highly recommended....more
I had somehow missed hearing of T. Jefferson Parker until I saw that he had won the Edgar for Best Novel not once, but twice. The first, in 2002, wasI had somehow missed hearing of T. Jefferson Parker until I saw that he had won the Edgar for Best Novel not once, but twice. The first, in 2002, was for Silent Joe. It's a standalone novel of Orange County, California, and one thing that came immediately to mind as I read it was "No wonder they went bankrupt!" The Orange County of Parker's book (and evidently this is his preferred setting) is rife with political corruption, greedy developers, racial tension, gang violence, and people with secrets.
In a way, this is a coming-of-age novel -- a genre I've grown to dislike immensely. But in Parker's hands, with the added attraction of a mystery to solve, it's more than just bearable. Silent Joe Trona, the narrator and protagonist, is a young man who grew up burdened with a horribly disfigured face, the result of his father throwing acid at him when he was a baby. After spending the first five years of his life in a very nice orphanage, Joe is adopted by Will and Mary Ann Trona and learns what a happy childhood can be. Will was originally a sheriff's deputy (with a wealthy wife) and later becomes a county supervisor. Joe has followed in his footsteps and works in the county jail by day, but nearly every night he acts as a combination chauffeur and bodyguard for his father. There is a lot of moral ambiguity involved here as Joe sees money changing hands, evidence that Will is cheating on Mary Ann, and other odd things -- and yet he still hero-worships his father. One night they are trying to retrieve a kidnapped child and things go horribly wrong; Joe spends the rest of the book trying to solve his father's murder and makes some surprising discoveries along the way.
Plot, setting, and character - this book has it all and was richly deserving of its award. It won't be long in my project to read all the Edgar Best Novel winners till I'll be reading Parker's second winner, California Girl and I am looking forward to it. But I must say that, based on this novel, Parker's Orange County is a place I will visit every now and then, but I wouldn't want to read several of his books in quick succession....more
Continuing my self-challenge to read all the Edgar Award winners for Best Novel, I’ve come to 1996’s winner, Dick Francis’s Come to Grief. I’m sure itContinuing my self-challenge to read all the Edgar Award winners for Best Novel, I’ve come to 1996’s winner, Dick Francis’s Come to Grief. I’m sure it will make my 10 Best list for 2009.
It seems odd to me that Dick Francis, who normally sticks to standalones, has won two of his three Edgars for Best Novel with books in his all-too-brief Sid Halley series. Come to Grief is the last of them, an unusually-structured book which, while losing none of the suspense Francis excels at, also adds new depth to the character of steeplechase-jockey-turned-private-eye Halley.
As the book opens, a trial is about to begin -- the trial of Halley's longtime friend and fellow jockey Ellis Quint, now a TV presenter, for a series of horrifying and unusual crimes. Sid Halley is one of the chief witnesses for the prosecution. In the rest of the book, we see how Halley reached his conclusions (in flashback) and then learn along with him why there is more to the story than he at first realized.
Come to Grief has several elements that suggest Francis may have planned to continue the series with some new twists and some new continuing characters, but so far, sadly, he has not done so. Highly recommended. ...more
I've read a few of George Pelecanos's more recent novels and liked them very much, so I decided to go back to the beginning. This was his first book,I've read a few of George Pelecanos's more recent novels and liked them very much, so I decided to go back to the beginning. This was his first book, published in 1992, and while one can see the seeds of greatness in it, one can also see how much he has learned in the intervening years. The protagonist, Nick Stefanos, is Greek-American like so many of Pelecanos's main characters. He works in a discount electronics chain (as Pelecanos himself did, according to the dust jacket). He's thirty years old but hasn't really grown up yet, and that was the main problem I had with the book. In the last Pelecanos I read, his most recent,(The Cut) the protagonist has some similarities to Nick Stefanos but is a much more likable and admirable character. I was never much interested in the details of drunken binges even when I was younger, and still less now; and there's way too much of that in A Firing Offense. The plot is fairly complicated and at least I didn't figure it all out before the end. Pelecanos loves his details. He wants the reader to know exactly what music the character has on the car's cassette player and what streets of D.C. and environs he's driving on; he also uses a lot of retail sales and restaurant jargon, though it's not difficult to pick up on. In this book, that got a bit tedious, unlike the more recent ones in which this style is still noticeable but doesn't detract from the story. I'm glad someone saw something in this story and published it so that Pelecanos could keep writing and become the fine writer he is today....more
I've always thought of Masons as a fairly innocuous (not to say slightly silly) group. My grandfather and some of my uncles were Masons, and, with theI've always thought of Masons as a fairly innocuous (not to say slightly silly) group. My grandfather and some of my uncles were Masons, and, with their wives, members of the Order of the Eastern Star as well. It does not appear to have brought them any worldly success or advantage -- it was a social outlet with no alcohol. The lodges, as with other fraternal orders, seem to be consolidating or dying out. No menace to anyone.
Phil Rickman's THE FABRIC OF SIN is not the only British mystery I've read that has a different view of Freemasonry, but it is the one that delves deepest. In this view, the Masonic Lodge is a version of the Inner Circle in Anne Perry's Thomas Pitt novels -- a group in which secrecy, the quest for power, and the need to help a fellow member no matter what, placing loyalty to the group above any other loyalty, are paramount values.
In THE FABRIC OF SIN, the ninth Merrily Watkins book, the Diocesan Exorcist is asked to look into a report of a possible haunting at a property recently purchased by the Duchy of Cornwall -- i.e., the Prince of Wales. At first Merrily is skeptical, but then she finds her investigations blocked, deaths take place, and once again she discovers that people can surprise you in ways both good and bad.
Meanwhile, she has a new parishioner who's a bit of a Fundie; her lover, Lol Robinson, is enjoying a renewed musical success which takes him out of Ledwardine on gigs rather more often than either of them would prefer; and daughter Jane seems to be having long-distance relationship problems since her boyfriend Eirion is at Uni in Cardiff.
I've read several comments over the years that some readers intensely dislike Jane, and may even have given up on the books because of her. I feel she's almost my favorite character, with all the changes she goes through during the course of the series. Of course, I once had a pagan daughter, too. She graduated from a Christian seminary last week and is awaiting a call. I love Jane because she reminds me of my own children -- passionate, intelligent, aware of the world around them, and always changing. I'm blessed, and so is Merrily Watkins.
There is so much more to this book than I can discuss here -- Rickman brings in M. R. James, Nick Drake, and a woman who has modernized the "family business" in a nearly unique way. Although Gomer Parry appears only briefly, it's good to see that he's still going strong, and several other recurring characters make sometimes-surprising appearances. Although Rickman says on his website that he tries to make each book readable as a stand-alone, I think it would be much more satisfying to go back to the beginning of the series, if you are a newcomer. The tenth (and NOT final, hurrah!) Merrily Watkins book is due this fall. I'll be eagerly awaiting it. ...more
Sadly, the last in the Lloyd and Hill series, because the author died. The books kept getting better and better and I will always wonder what would haSadly, the last in the Lloyd and Hill series, because the author died. The books kept getting better and better and I will always wonder what would have happened next....more
Sheriff Walt Longmire is a lawman in rural Wyoming. He's a widower, a Vietnam vet, and his best friend is an Indian; his only daughter lives in PhiladSheriff Walt Longmire is a lawman in rural Wyoming. He's a widower, a Vietnam vet, and his best friend is an Indian; his only daughter lives in Philadelphia. This, the third of the series, finds Walt visiting Philadelphia and investigating the death of his daughter's ex-boyfriend. He is aided in his investigations by the family of his salty deputy, Vic (for Victoria) Moretti, and the family dynamics are fascinating. This was one of my Best Reads for 2007....more
Susan Hill's Simon Serailler novels are shelved as mysteries in libraries and bookstores, and here on my virtual shelves as well. Having read the firsSusan Hill's Simon Serailler novels are shelved as mysteries in libraries and bookstores, and here on my virtual shelves as well. Having read the first (The Various Haunts of Men) and the fourth (this one), and some reviews, I think they are actually domestic fiction about a family, one of whose members happens to be a policeman.
I enjoyed both books, and will probably seek out the middle two and any sequels. But I enjoyed them as domestic fiction more than for the mystery. I learned from some of the other Goodreads reviews that each of the four books has Simon dealing with a serial killer, which stretches credulity given that the series is set in a relatively small cathedral town. I read a lot of police procedurals, and serial killers seem to crop up a lot, partly because in most real-life homicides the police know more or less "whodunnit." The need for proof can make tales of homicides which are domestic, gang-related, or committed during the commission of another felony interesting; but it's still a little more difficult to come up with plausible scenarios for detective work under those circumstances. So, nearly every writer of police procedurals has to have an occasional serial killer to deal with. But I'm just tired of them.
In a sense, though, the serial killer is not really the focus of The Vows of Silence. In fact, more people die in the book from accident, suicide and natural causes than by the hand of the killer. Although some chapters put us inside the killer's head, the victims are given equal time and their deaths are described more empathetically than is sometimes the case. Serailler seems to take a long time to come to a solution, but he has a lot of personal concerns to deal with, and in the end, those are the portions of the book I will remember. Recommended, but not as a mystery....more
I recently responded to an offer of an ARC of Warning Signsfor review, and I'm glad I did. The medical thriller is not a subgenre I've read much of, sI recently responded to an offer of an ARC of Warning Signsfor review, and I'm glad I did. The medical thriller is not a subgenre I've read much of, so this book broadened my reading horizons and I'll certainly check out Ms. Lyons' first book, Lifelines.
Reading this book is much like watching a really good episode of ER or Chicago Hope, without the annoying commercials and with a lot more character development. Four women who work at Angels of Mercy, a teaching hospital in Pittsburgh, are the central characters; one is an ER doctor, one a nurse, one a resident and the last a medical student. Each has her own past conflicts and present demons, including both personal and professional concerns. The story is told in third person with the point of view shifting among the characters, which helps build suspense.
The main focus of Warning Signs is a series of unexplained illnesses and deaths of young, healthy women who enter the hospital with disturbing neurological symptoms and die before a diagnosis is made. What's worse, Amanda, the medical student, is experiencing some of the same symptoms. I thought I had the mystery figured out fairly early, only to find at the end that Ms. Lyons had another twist in store.
Warning Signs is due to be published January 27 in mass-market paperback. I would definitely recommend looking for it if you enjoy a fast-paced story with engaging characters and great hospital atmosphere....more
Why have I not encountered Sally Wright's writing before? I recently got a copy of Watches of the Night, her fifth mystery featuring college archivistWhy have I not encountered Sally Wright's writing before? I recently got a copy of Watches of the Night, her fifth mystery featuring college archivist and ex-WWII scout Ben Reese, and I'll definitely be seeking out the first four and hoping for more.
The time setting of this book is one that is not often encountered. The "contemporary" section is set in 1961 and 1962, with the flashbacks going back to 1945. Each segment is given a date, which prevents confusion. The geographical settings range from southern Ohio and Kentucky to Scotland, England and Italy, with side trips to NYC and the Hudson Valley, in the "present" day, and along the front lines in Belgium and Germany during the war. Each setting is evocatively described, with a feeling for the history of a place as well as its climate, topography, and flora.
The protagonist, Ben Reese, and his friend and co-investigator, Kate Lindsay, are just the sort of people one would like to know in real life. Other characters (helpfully listed in the front of the book, along with a drawing of a pivotal location in the story)are also well drawn, and even the villain has a believable backstory.
The story begins when Ben's friend Kate receives a shocking package, delivered by a conscientious employee of the Dead Letter Office. Sixteen years after his death, her husband's eye has been sent to her in a bottle of alcohol. Who could have sent it? She enlists Ben's help in finding out. This is one of those books where the reader knows what the villain is up to before the detectives do, but that in no way detracts from the suspense. Ben's WWII training stands him in good stead as the book reaches its thrilling climax. I highly recommend Watches of the Night....more
First in a series featuring Warren Ritter, a 60s radical fugitive turned tarot card reader. Great setting in Berkeley, interesting characters and plotFirst in a series featuring Warren Ritter, a 60s radical fugitive turned tarot card reader. Great setting in Berkeley, interesting characters and plot. ...more
I've now read twenty-eight of the Edgar Best Novel Award winners, and one thing I've noticed is that the selection committee seems to favor the stand-I've now read twenty-eight of the Edgar Best Novel Award winners, and one thing I've noticed is that the selection committee seems to favor the stand-alone novel over the series entry. Out of the 28 there have been 17 stand-alones as against 11 series novels (one of which, Ed Lacy's ROOM TO SWING, probably shouldn 't count as it did not become part of a two-book series until several years after the award). After what seemed like a zillion international thrillers all in a row, it was fun to read Dick Francis's series book, WHIP HAND, and to know that there are three more books in the Sid Halley series for me to enjoy.
WHIP HAND is the series' second book, continuing the story of Sid Halley, an ex-jockey turned PI with an artificial left hand. With the help of his judo-instructor friend Chico Barnes, Halley investigates primarily racing-related questions, at least in this book. However, he also goes after a conman who has involved Halley's ex-wife in a scheme that might send her to prison if the true perpetrator isn't found. By the end of the book, Halley has not only solved all the mysteries, but has learned a good deal about himself.
WHIP HAND is told in the first person by Halley. A lot of people don't like this POV and even say they won't read a book that uses it. I can't really imagine this book told any other way being as effective as it was. We learn so much about Halley's psyche that helps to illumine the character changes he goes through during the course of the book. Having the story told in third-person omniscient, for example, would just not be as powerful. I did find it difficult to read the portions in which violence is directed at the narrator, but they too were necessary to show the character's feelings.
As this is only the second Dick Francis book I've read, I'm still learning some of the ins and outs of British horseracing. I'm happy that Francis is so good at slipping bits of information into the story without stopping the flow of the plot. I expect I'll know a lot more before I'm done reading Francis. ...more
As if I didn't have enough projects, I've set myself another. I'm going to read a mystery set in each of the states of the Union, and to make it moreAs if I didn't have enough projects, I've set myself another. I'm going to read a mystery set in each of the states of the Union, and to make it more interesting, it has to be a book by an author who's new to me.
So, to start with Alabama, I couldn't count the Anne George book I read recently. Fortunately, I had THISTLE AND TWIGG by Mary Saums waiting on the TBR shelf. The motto for this book, and the series to come, might be "Never underestimate the power of a woman -- especially two women." The much-traveled Thistle and the small-town, trusting Twigg each have hidden strengths that become apparent as they battle murderers and despoilers of the environment. There is a supernatural element to the story as well, which is not a problem for me, especially as it is tied in so well with the local history and love for the land that infuse this book.
I've spent all of 9 weeks in Alabama in my life, in WAC basic training at Fort McLellan near Anniston. Saums' fictional Tullulah is set in northwest Alabama, but since it and Anniston both lie near National Forests, I had a memory of red clay soil and pine trees that is probably fairly accurate. Mary Saums filled in the picture with evocative description of the land. It is not surprising that she is also a published poet. I'll be looking forward to more of Thistle and Twigg.
Out of 50+ winners of the Edgar Award for Best Novel, I had only read 13 before beginning my challenge to myself to read all of them. The Sculptress Out of 50+ winners of the Edgar Award for Best Novel, I had only read 13 before beginning my challenge to myself to read all of them. The Sculptress was one of them. I had read the first three or four of Walters' novels, and then stopped keeping up with them for some reason or no reason. I may have to rethink that decision.
Walters' books are characterized as psychological thrillers, and they certainly do have many of the traits of that subgenre. Unlike some, though, Walters has said that there is always some love, some redemption in her books, and I think that's why I find them easier to take than some of the other authors who focus on deviance.
In The Sculptress a non-fiction writer, still reeling from the death of her young daughter, is being pressed by her agent to get busy and write another book. She decides to interview a woman known as The Sculptress who is in prison for the murder and dismemberment of her mother and sister several years before. As she gets to know the prisoner, she begins to doubt the guilt of the self-confessed murderer. Her investigations lead her down unexpected paths and also introduce her to a former policeman who worked on the case, with romantic consequences.
Although I gave this book five stars, I wasn't really completely happy with the ending, specifically the epilogue. Still, the writing, plot, characters and setting were all excellent. Highly recommended for anyone who missed it the first time around....more
Another tour de force from Tana French, whose In the Woods was a stunning first novel. This one I listened to on Audible, and the reader (Heather O'NeAnother tour de force from Tana French, whose In the Woods was a stunning first novel. This one I listened to on Audible, and the reader (Heather O'Neill) was excellent, enhancing my experience of the book and characters with the appropriate Irish accents.
Cassie Maddox, a secondary character in In the Woods, is dating Sam, another Murder Squad cop, but is herself working in Domestic Violence. (She's recovering from the traumatic events of In the Woods.) One day she gets a call from Frank Mackey, a previous boss, to come to a rural crime scene. Arriving, she finds that the victim is herself -- or at least, someone who looks almost exactly like her and is using an identity that Cassie herself had used when working undercover years before. Frank, who was the head of that undercover operation, comes up with a crazy scheme. Cassie will go undercover again as Lexie Madison, and, after a period of "convalescence," will move in with the dead woman's four housemates and try to discover who the murderer is. Over Sam's objections, Cassie, who's rather bored in Domestic Violence, agrees.
This scenario is fascinating enough, but the characters make it even more so. The housemates, all graduate students at Dublin, have formed a sort of family to replace their own unsatisfactory ones, living in the house inherited by Daniel and making it into a real home. At first it seems like paradise to Cassie. But Daniel has a scheming cousin with designs on the property, and the locals have a mysterious hatred for Anglo-Irish Daniel's family. And who was Lexie Madison, really?
The story moves on to a surprising and devastating conclusion -- which, like that in In the Woods, is not the absolute finale we usually look for in crime novels. I look forward to listening to the next in the Dublin Murder Squad series.
Note: my husband didn't care for In the Woods, and after a short while gave up on The Likeness as well. So you may not enjoy this book as much as I did; but give it a try, at least....more