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 first...moreRe-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. (less)
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 OF...moreCarl 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 conferen...moreJunkyard 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.(less)
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. Jim...moreThis 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. (less)
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...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 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. (less)
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 to...moreMy 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. (less)
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,...moreI'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.(less)
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 be...moreThe 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.(less)
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 re...moreNew 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'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...moreI'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.
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-...moreI'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.(less)
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 firs...moreSusan 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.(less)
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 it...moreContinuing 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. (less)
I learned a few weeks ago that Dick Francis had written a fourth Sid Halley novel in 2006. I rushed to the library and found a nice large print versio...moreI learned a few weeks ago that Dick Francis had written a fourth Sid Halley novel in 2006. I rushed to the library and found a nice large print version. I am sorry to say that it was not up to the standard set by the earlier three, perhaps because Francis appears to have been writing it either during or just after his wife's last illness. The plot and climax were a bit far-fetched; the new character (Halley's in love!) was engaging, but what turned me off a bit was two kinds of superfluous verbiage that kept recurring. First, several times during the book Sid Halley (who, as always, tells the story) goes off on a rant about something completely irrelevant to the plot -- for example, traffic jams in London caused by "empty" buses. Second, whatever research Francis or his assistants have done, whether it's on Internet gambling, DNA, or cancer research (Sid's lover is a cancer researcher), is just dumped into the text paragraphs at a time until the reader's head swims. Much of what Francis writes about in the books of his that I've read is new information to me, and I believe it was handled better in earlier novels. Fortunately for me, I still have many earlier works of his that I haven't read yet. I really like the characters of Halley and his ex-father-in-law Charles Rowland, and that kept me reading.(less)
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, s...moreI 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.(less)
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, was...moreI 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.(less)
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'Ne...moreAnother 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.(less)
I'm almost certain I read this book in its first publication under the author's other name, Kathy Hogan Trocheck. So if you, like me, have a little tr...moreI'm almost certain I read this book in its first publication under the author's other name, Kathy Hogan Trocheck. So if you, like me, have a little trouble remembering titles after 10 or more years have gone by, check before buying. However, if you haven't read the Callahan Garrity series by Trocheck, which are now being republished in paperback as by Mary Kay Andrews, you are in for a treat and I highly recommend it. All the great humor and characters you love in Andrews' books, with a little more detective work, and some urban grit since they're set in Atlanta.(less)
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 archivist...moreWhy 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.(less)
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 thei...moreThe 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.(less)
First in a series featuring Warren Ritter, a 60s radical fugitive turned tarot card reader. Great setting in Berkeley, interesting characters and plot...moreFirst in a series featuring Warren Ritter, a 60s radical fugitive turned tarot card reader. Great setting in Berkeley, interesting characters and plot. (less)
I didn't like this quite as well as the earlier books in this series. As nurse Bess Crawford and Sergeant-Major Simon Brandon search a fairly small po...moreI didn't like this quite as well as the earlier books in this series. As nurse Bess Crawford and Sergeant-Major Simon Brandon search a fairly small portion of the English countryside for a wounded soldier who disappeared while in Bess's care, the story tends to drag a bit. The ending was rather complex and didn't exactly play fair with the reader. And the relationship between Bess and Simon continues to perplex. As this book begins, the Great War is beginning to draw to a close. It will be interesting to see what Charles Todd do with Bess after the Armistice -- will the series continue? Despite my disappointment with this entry, I do hope so. Worth reading for fans of the series.(less)
Like Parker’s earlier Edgar winner, Silent Joe, California Girl is set in Orange County and brought home even more than the earlier book that Orange C...moreLike Parker’s earlier Edgar winner, Silent Joe, California Girl is set in Orange County and brought home even more than the earlier book that Orange County is not Los Angeles.
There are a lot of ways one could describe California Girl. It’s a story about two families, the Beckers and the Vonns, and how they intersect and affect each other’s lives. It’s definitely a story of the changes in America, and specifically Orange County, from the 50s through the 60s and onward. Richard Nixon and Charles Manson make brief appearances, as does Timothy Leary. It’s also the story of three brothers – a clergyman, a journalist, and a cop – trying to love and support each other and be honest men in spite of their own human frailties and the compromises they sometimes have to make.
I have a hard time reading Parker’s books. They evoke corruption so well I almost have to hold my nose – even this book, which was not really about corruption, has a character who makes a fortune from a cleaner made of rotten oranges. Parker’s world is not a world I want to visit often. Although his characters enjoy the beauty and good weather of Southern California, they are also surrounded by urban sprawl and commercial ugliness (not to mention some extremely right-wing characters and others who are just generally unpleasant.) In some ways Parker’s books remind me of Donna Leon’s Guido Brunetti novels. But although Brunetti goes on beating his head against the wall of bureaucracy and corruption that confronts him at the end of nearly every book, he has the many compensations of Venice to console him. Parker’s Orange County doesn’t seem like a good place to live, but it’s a place we need to know about, and the stories he tells about it are worth hearing. So even though in many ways I didn’t “like” this book, I would highly recommend it. (less)
This is the best yet in the Ceepak series. Grabenstein is the best author I know at mixing humor with straight-up, scary, mentally challenging detecti...moreThis is the best yet in the Ceepak series. Grabenstein is the best author I know at mixing humor with straight-up, scary, mentally challenging detective fiction.
In HELL HOLE, Sea Haven PD officer Danny Boyle and his partner and mentor John Ceepak investigate the apparent suicide of a returning Iraq war veteran. There are jurisdictional issues, political ramifications, the return of incompetent crime scene investigator "Slobbinsky," and Ceepak's and Danny's lives are endangered more than once. To add to the complications, Ceepak is dealing with some personal problems and there's no chaplain in sight. Also, a new character is introduced: Sam (for Samantha) Starky, a new "summer cop" doing the same job Danny had in TILT-A-WHIRL.
The plot and setting are as well-done as usual in Grabenstein's books, which is to say, excellently well. The description of the restroom at Exit 52 on the Garden State Parkway made me want to buy a gallon jug of Lysol. But what I'll remember longest about HELL HOLE is the continuing character development of Ceepak and Boyle.
Ceepak, as we have seen before, holds himself to a very high personal standard. In HELL HOLE, we are shown, not just told, the circumstances that led him to choose that high standard for himself. As an Army brat and a veteran, I can attest to the truth of Danny Boyle's observation about the motivations behind some of our best soldiers.
Danny Boyle, as one would expect from a 20-something, has changed and grown even more during this (so far) 4-book series. From the good-hearted but clueless young man of the first book, he has become someone who is observant, competent, and takes initiative, without becoming simply a Ceepak clone. Danny will always like to have a good time, but he knows when it's time to get serious. He still tends to think of himself as a bit of a screw-up, but he, too, is holding himself to a high standard.
I can't close without saying something more about Sam Starky. I hope she gets a full-time job with the Sea Haven force. She comes across in this book as a charming combination of Jersey girl and mini-Ceepak, and I'd love to see what Chris Grabenstein does with her character.
I highly recommend this and all the Ceepak novels.
The first winner of the Edgar for Best Novel, this book by an Australian writer is set in Papua New Guinea shortly after WWII. Although it has an exce...moreThe first winner of the Edgar for Best Novel, this book by an Australian writer is set in Papua New Guinea shortly after WWII. Although it has an excellent sense of atmosphere and setting, I found the psychological thriller to be far less than thrilling, and couldn't begin to care about the characters. As they say in Minnesota..."That was different!" Although the book contains a mystery, which is solved by the end of the book (although with a loose end or two left hanging), it is primarily a psychological and to some extent, an anthropological study. Set in Papua New Guinea shortly after WWII, when it was evidently an Australian protectorate, the book can shock the contemporary reader with the assumptions and prejudices the white characters display. The difference in attitudes toward the natives between the best and worst of the white men (for it is they who wield the power) is slight. Only a very few characters seem to be able to think of the Papuans as adult human beings with a worthwhile culture. To the rest, they are either "the white man's burden" or simply the denizens of a country which is to be exploited, and if they are wiped out in the process, so be it. The protagonist, Stella Warwick, has lived an incredibly sheltered life with an invalid father, but has somehow been courted and married by David Warwick, an anthropologist who was employed in Papua New Guinea. She did not join him immediately because of her father's illness, and after a mysterious letter from David causes her father's death by stroke, she learns that David has committed suicide. Or has he? Stella travels to Papua New Guinea to find out the truth, and her growing independence of thought and action is really the central feature of the book. The setting is masterfully done, as is the portrait of a colonial society. I was reminded (dimly, as I read it over 40 years ago) of Joseph Conrad's HEART OF DARKNESS. But I must confess that this book did not meet my criteria for a mystery novel; for one thing, I found it rather slow going, and somehow the mystery of David Warwick's death did not seem to be central to the plot. Since the MWA does not list nominees for this award until 1956, I don't know what the competition may have been.(less)
I continue my project of reading a mystery set in every state. The other requirement is that it be by an author I haven't read before. I chose the first...moreI continue my project of reading a mystery set in every state. The other requirement is that it be by an author I haven't read before. I chose the first in Carolyn Haines' series set in the Mississippi Delta, THEM BONES. What an enjoyable book, and it also reinforced my understanding that every region of our country (and our world) has its beauty and those who love it, even if that place sounds like hell on earth to me! (I don't like heat and humidity.) Actually, THEM BONES is set about this time of year, when the Delta sounds quite pleasant to this unregenerate Yankee. Protagonist Sarah Booth Delaney is broke, the last of her line, and trying to hold on to the family plantation. She's tried life elsewhere, but she really loves her home even as she can see the problems in the culture in which she was raised. Complications for Sarah Booth include Jitty, the ghost of her great-grandma's nanny, who keeps showing up to give her advice -- some good, some not so good. There is a touch of Southern Gothic to the plot, a little romance, and a lot of local color. This is exactly the kind of book I was looking for when I began this project, and I will certainly keep reading this series, which I'm happy to see continues to this day.(less)
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 the...moreI'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. (less)
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 re...moreThis 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.(less)
In my project of reading all the Edgar winners for Best Novel (in chronological order), I've reached 1973. (The Edgars are awarded in May each year fo...moreIn my project of reading all the Edgar winners for Best Novel (in chronological order), I've reached 1973. (The Edgars are awarded in May each year for books published the preceding year, so this book came out in 1972.) It's interesting how many of the winners in the 60s and early 70s dealt in some way with espionage. The Lingala Code is one of those. Author Warren Kiefer is a bit mysterious himself. Under the name of Lorenzo Sabatini, he directed Castle of the Living Dead, which gave Donald Sutherland his first big break and resulted in Sutherland's naming his son Kiefer. He directed and wrote screenplays for several other forgettable movies, and wrote 5 more novels after this one. It's tempting to think that he may have been a CIA agent like his protagonist, since there is so little information available about him. The Lingala Code is set in what was then (the book is set in the early 60s) known as Congo-Leopoldville; earlier the Belgian Congo, later Zaire, and now the Democratic Republic of Congo. At the time the book takes place, the Belgians have departed, Katanga Province has seceded, and all is in flux. Michel Vernon, a French-speaking CIA agent, is attached to the US Embassy in Leopoldville (now Kinshasa) as is his dearest friend, an air attache. When the friend is killed in what appears to be a robbery attempt, Vernon is suspicious and begins his own investigation. The book is a story about a murder, but it is also about espionage, cultures clashing, the birth pangs of a new African nation emerging from colonialism, and even a little romance. Kiefer tells all these stories very well, keeping the reader guessing until the last pages. A major theme in the book is that in Congo, things which at first appear normal and straightforward are really anything but. This is brought out not only in major plot elements but also in atmospheric asides, such as the descriptions of a beauty pageant of prostitutes and Sunday afternoon zoo outings where parents and children enjoy taunting and teasing the starving animals. It was not easy to lay hands on this book despite its award-winning status. You may have to go to interlibrary loan or pay $17 for a used copy online. Still, highly recommended. (less)
With three critically-acclaimed standalones ( To the Power of Three, Every Secret Thing and What the Dead Know) now behind her, Laura Lippman return...moreWith 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.(less)