Monday, February 20, 2017

Hidden Graves by Jack Fredrickson

First Sentence:  Three minutes and twenty-three seconds before the skeleton came at him with an axe, the candidate for US Senate stood grim, trim and confident behind a mahogany lectern set on the freshly hacked weeks of an abandoned farm.
After the US Senate candidate publically embarrasses himself, he goes into complete hiding.  An anonymous, heavily disguised woman hires Dek to travel to three Western States looking for men who don’t seem to exist.  And someone is trying very hard to frame him for murder, or make him a victim himself.  Can Dek put the pieces together?
Starting out with a good hook is important, and boy; does this have a good hook! It also has Fredrickson’s voice and wry humor—“‘What’s the matter with your right hand?’ she asked.  ‘I pulled it out to show her the patchwork of Band-aids. ‘It got damaged.’ ‘Your Band-Aids have cartoon characters on them.’ There was nothing wrong with her eyesight.”—and his use of description—“Outside, the setting sun was beginning to gild the waves in the ocean.”
Dek is an interesting, well-drawn character about whose past history we learn as we go.  That he is surrounded by a unique assortment of supporting characters gives him dimension and balance to the drama; occasionally too much so.  Dek’s relationship with his ex-wife Amanda is an interesting one and one that changes/develops with each book.
Fredrickson’s imagery is very well done—“Curbside girls were wobbling home, a few bucks richer, a few hundred years older.”  However, one must, once again, criticize the overuse of chapter-end cliffhangers and portents which are so unnecessary that they become annoying for their predictable presence—“I told her that would be just about right, because at the time I believed it.”  Dropping the second half of that sentence would have been more suspenseful, and more effective.  This is true of every incident. 
Hidden Graves” is a very enjoyable read with an excellent twist.  It’s another good addition to a well-done series.

HIDDEN GRAVES (PI-Dek Elstrom-Illinois-Contemp) – G+
      Fredrickson, Jack – 6th in series
      Severn House – Feb 2017

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Past Crimes by Glen Erik Hamilton

First Sentence:  From the time he was six years old, Van Shaw was raised by his Irish immigrant grandfather Donovan to be a thief—to boost cars, beat security alarms, crack safes, and burglarize businesses.
Army Ranger Van Shaw returns on leave to his home in Seattle only to find his grandfather seriously wounded by a gunshot.  His grandfather was no shining example, except how to live on the wrong side of the law of car theft, burglary, and safe-cracking.  But his grandfather did raise him, and he won’t quit until he finds the shooter and uncovers all the secrets of the past.
Hamilton creates an interesting opening with almost a Jack Reacher feel to it, but not.  He has a good voice—“Even after she died and was buried and long gone, I felt she was still in the hospital, somewhere just out of sight.  The six-year-old me would feel that forever.” However, how nice would it be if authors would stop using the textbook “How to Write a Mystery 101” of short chapters, an arc and a cliff-hanger segue at the end of each chapter. 
On the positive side, Hamilton’s characters are distinctive and interesting, with the elderly neighbor, Addie Proctor, being a particular standout.  Her sangfroid adds just the right touch—“Pieces of the broken chair were strewn around the room.  The breakfast table had fresh gouges exposing raw wood beneath.  A glass salt-and-pepper set had fallen off and shattered.  The spilled contents soaked up the whiskey.  Addy Proctor took it all in and tugged Stanley back from the broken glass. “Redecorating?” she said.”
The ticking clock aspect of Van having only 10-days leave is a very successful element of suspense.  His visual imagery is excellent—“Madrona trees grew in bunches around the pitted shore.  The orange-red trunks twisted and strangled one another for precious space.”
The flashbacks to Van’s youth certainly explain the genesis and development of his character, but they also detract from the flow of the main story and, after a time, seem to be filler which could have been significantly edited down.  A longer book doesn’t necessarily signify a better book. Sadly, the plot didn't really hold together and an event at the end seemed to come completely out of the blue.
 “Past Crimes” is an interesting debut to the noir space.  It makes for a decent airplane book. 

 PAST CRIMES: A Van Shaw Novel (Susp-Van Shaw-Seattle-Contemp) – Good
      Hamilton, Glen Erik – 2nd in series
      William Morrow – March 2015

Thursday, February 9, 2017

I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh

First Sentence:  Detective Inspector Ray Stevens stood next to the window and contemplated his office chair, on which an arm had been broken for at least a year.
A child, on his way home from school, releases his mother's hand with disastrous results.  Jenna Gray leaves everything behind and moves to a remote cottage in Wales, hiding from her past.  A pair of investigators with the Bristol police are trying to solve the hit-and-run, but are frustrated at every turn.  Can the pieces be put together?
The prologue is the perfect example of a wide-awake nightmare.  It is painful to read, and a definite attention grabber.
The first third/half of the book almost reads more as a romance than suspense.  It is so disappointing when characters fall into predictable, stereotypical situations.  But one wants to keep reading just to see where the story is going.  One thinks one knows, until one finds they are completely wrong. 
Then comes the second and third parts of the story--talk about hugely disappointing.  It is as though Mackintosh watched “Sleeping with the Enemy,” and/or “Jagged Edge” way too many times.  That said, I do give her credit for knowing how to play with the reader’s loyalties and emotions. 
Not only are many of the situations stereotypical, but so are most of the characters.  By far, the best character is Bethan, who has a secondary role, along with Insp. Stevens.   It’s unfortunate there weren’t more characters such as those.    
I Let You Go” had some strengths.  It also had major weaknesses which made it close to a wallbanger due, in part, to its horribly predictable ending.  I recommend letting this one go and moving on to something better.

I LET YOU GO (Psy Susp-Jenna Gray-Wales-Contemp) – Poor
      Clare Mackintosh – 1st Book
      Berkley Reprint, Nov 2016

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Storm Cell by Brendan DuBois

First Sentence:  Testifying inside the third-floor courtroom at the Wentworth County Superior Courthouse was the state's deputy chief medical examiner, a plump balding man with a habit of taking a short intake of breath each time he paused between his sentences.
Lewis Cole’s friend Felix Tinios is one trial for first-degree murder.  Rather than being represented by his usual, top-line attorney, he has a public defender, and refuses to see Lewis.  Felix often dances on the wrong side of the law, but this crime scene is way out of character.  Things become even more strange when the FBI approach Cole and ask he help clear his friend before Felix is murdered in prison.
A good opening with a powerful hook is a beautiful thing, and this book has it; especially for those who follow the series.  The book starts placidly enough, for the first few pages, but then it sucker punches you. 
Literary quotes from an author, via a character, are always welcome as they tell us something about both—“Stalin once said ‘Death solves all problems.  No man, no problem.”—and it’s fun to see how they’re worked into the story. Yes, there are portents, several of them, which are annoying.  Yet, one lives in eternal hope that authors will grow past this unnecessary, very irritating device that actually diminishes the suspense, one day.
Dubois’ ensemble of characters is interesting and diverse.  Not only are they real and developed, but they grow and change through time.  They encourage one to follow the series, partly to maintain a relationship with them.  Felix is particularly interesting, in spite of everything.  His description of the changes which occur in towns with the influx of casinos and all that goes with them is well done and rather poignant. 
DuBois as a very good story-telling voice and ability to combine sense of place with a touch of pathos—“A male jogger and then another male jogger went by, dressed in a nice colorful Spandex and both with white earbuds in their ears.  It made me wonder what digital tunes or words were so compelling that they needed to drown out the sound of the crashing waves, the cry of the birds, and the whistling of the wind through the rocks.”
Storm Cell” has very good characters, twists, suspense, and an exciting ending with a dramatic thread causing one to be eager for the next book.

STORM CELL (Lic Inv/Journ-Lewis Cole-Maine-Contemp) – G+
      DuBois, Brendan -
      Pegasus Crime – Nov 2016  

Saturday, January 14, 2017

The Inheritance by Charles Finch

First Sentence:  London was silent with snow, soft flakes of it dropping evenly into the white streets, nobody outside who had somewhere inside to be.
Private Enquiry Agent receives a rather cryptic request for help from an old boarding school friend whom he has not seen for many years.  It was a private bequest which allowed Gerald Leigh to attend Harrow, and now he has been notified of a second, even more generous entitlement.  Leigh has been attacked once and now when they go to question the attorney, they find him murdered.  Between East End gangs, and members of the Royal Society, Lenox has his hands full keeping his friend alive while solving a mystery.
Finch is a wonderfully evocative writer.  From the opening paragraph, you are in the room with Lenox and a scene eminently relatable to anyone who has lived in a snowy climate.  He then sets the stage for suspense and introduced us to the characters, all in a very concise, economical fashion.  Finch is very good at providing background information on the characters as they enter the story.  If one is a fan of British detective shows, one might smile at the character of “Inspector Frost.”
One of the pleasures of reading historicals, is the small bits of information one learns—the genesis of “cabs,” why the English drive on the left while American drive on the right, and the changes brought about in the Victorian age, including fish and chips.  It is also, sadly, interesting to note the disparity between the salaries of man and women, and the conflict between science and politics. To further establish the sense of time, we have mouth-watering descriptions of food—“Baked mullets came out to the table; rissoles, and roast fowl, and macaroni with parmesan cheese, and sea-kale; for dessert there was a laudably enormous charlotte russe placed at the center of each table, with vanilla hard sauce trickling down its sides.”
Dialogue is a strength of Finch’s, particularly that between Lenox and his brother Edmund—“What shall we do now?” Edmund had asked.  “We could have a look around Truro.”  “Yes, that should be a thrilling eight minutes.”          
The Inheritance” is wonderfully done with excellent arcs to the story, with rises and falls in the suspense, and a delightful ending.

THE INHERITANCE (Hist Mys-Charles Lennox-England-1877) – Ex
      Finch, Charles – 10th in series
      Minotaur Books, Nov 2016

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Inherit the Bones by Emily Littlejohn

First Sentence:  In my dreams, the dead can speak.
Deputy Gemma Monroe is still haunted by two young boys who went missing, and whose skeletons she found, years later.  Now, she is called to a traveling circus, and the murder scene of a young man who was thought to have died three years previously.  What happened back then, and why has he turned up now, having completely altered his looks?  The more Gemma digs, the more she finds links from the present to the past and another death of which they were completely unaware was linked.
What an excellent opening.  It is both poignant and memorable.  It also ensures you want to read on.  And isn’t that the purpose of a well-executed hook?
Littlejohn creates a strong sense of place that impacts all the senses but then makes us smile before taking us into the very serious reality of a crime scene.  Littlejohn's voice is very evocative, which is both good and disconcerting.  It is certainly effective.  You really do find you don’t want to stop reading.  I know I’m being repetitive; it’s hard to avoid it.
From the protagonist of Gemma, down to the secondary characters, each character is well-drawn, realistic and fully developed.  One can’t help but love Tilly, the town’s librarian.  She is the perfect light touch to the story. 
Gemma is a particularly appealing protagonist.  She is 6-months pregnant, strong, smart, very capable, admired by her co-workers—well, all but one—and persistent.  Yet her life isn’t idealized, or perfect.  There are definitely issues with which she is dealing.  She is complicated on her own, and we like her all the better for it.
Littlejohn wonderful paints verbal pictures—“His voice was low and sounded like he’d spent some serious time down in the bayou; I heard in the ebb and flow of his words, days spend on shrimping boats, in swampy wetlands, watching shell-pink and blood-orange sunsets over the Gulf.”
The danger and suspense are carefully introduced and slowly escalated, and the path nicely strewn with red herrings.  It’s nice to read a police procedural that is solved by following the clues.  It’s nice to read a resolution to a case that isn’t a cheat, but on that is realistic in today’s system of ‘justice.”
Inherit the Bones” is a very good book, even more so when you consider it is Littlejohn’s first book.  She is an author one certainly may want to follow. 

INHERIT THE BONES (Pol Proc-Deputy Gemma – Colorado-Contemp) – VG+
      Littlejohn, Emily – 1st book
      Minotaur Books, Nov 2016 

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Ash Island by Barry Maitland

First Sentence:  On a November night in 2013, two kilometers off the coast of New South Wales, a helicopter rises from the deck of a Chinese bulk carrier ship.
Det. Sgt. Harry Belltree has been reassigned to Newcastle, Australia.  With him is his wife, pregnant and blinded from an auto accident which also killed his parents.  Yet on the job, a corpse has been found, which turns out to be one of many and, Harry suspect, related to the car accident.
Maitland does provide excellent descriptions and analogies—“The boom of the surf rises up to her like the rhythmic chant of some primeval chorus, the chorus of the dead.”
This is definitely the second of a trilogy, as there are a lot of references to past events.  Maitland does try to catch new readers up, but there are times when it is rather frustrating for those who start with this book.
For a cop, Harry certainly plays fast and loose with the law.  However, there is some very good suspense.
By far, the female characters are the strength of the story, particularly Harry’s wife, Jenny.  The journalist, Kelly, is also interesting, even though she does commit the classic TSTL (too stupid to live) act.  Sadly, Harry was a difficult character with whom to connect. And yes, sadly, there is a completely unnecessary portent.
Ash Island” was an okay read.  The dialogue was rather flat, and one felt a bit manipulated knowing it was necessary to read all three books in order to know the full story.

ASH ISLAND (Pol Proc-Sgt. Harry Belltree-Newcastle, Australia-Contemp) – Okay     
      Maitland, Barry – 2nd of Trilogy
Minotaur Books, Nov 2016

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

A Christmas Message by Anne Perry

First Sentence:  Vespasia stood at the long, open window of her hotel bedroom and gazed across the rooftops of the city toward the western sky.

Lady Vespasia and her new husband, Victor Narraway, are traveling to the Holy Land for Christmas.  At their hotel in Jaffa, an elderly man is murdered over an ancient piece of torn parchment.  Vespasia and Narraway feel compelled to finish his mission and deliver the piece to Jerusalem.  On their journey, they meet someone with a second piece of the document and are threatened by a shadowy figure.  Can they complete their journey and reunite the pieces of the document?
There is so much for one to admire about Perry’s writing, but most of all, it is her ability to make one think—“How much is any place seen through the lens of one’s imagination, colored by the dreams one has of it and of the events that have happened there?”  She is one writer where I find myself making note of a huge number of passages—“One should be growing, changing, learning forever.  Ideas in the mind were like the blood in the veins.  The heart that does not beat is dying.”
Vespasia is one of those characters one would love to know, or even better, to be, in real life.  She has an intellect, independence, and strength that is remarkable and admirable—“Because to be alive is risk; to care is to be vulnerable.  The only safety there is lies in doing your best, being the bravest and most generous you can.”  It is nice to learn more of her history.
A Christmas Message” may be one of Perry’s weakest in terms of plot, but is still worth reading for the considerations it inspires in the reader.

A CHRISTMAS MESSAGE (HIST-Vespasia and Narraway- Holy Land – 1900) - Okay
      Perry, Anne – 14th Christmas Novelette
      Ballentine Books, Nov 2016

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Time of Departure by Douglas Schofield

First Sentence:  My darling daughter, This is your mother’s story.
Claire Talbot, Florida state prosecutor, has been newly promoted to Felony Division Chief.  The unearthing of two skeletons by a construction crew reopens a case that happened before she was born; a string of abductions. But who exactly is retired cop Marc Hastings?  Not only did he work the old case, but he seems to know things about Claire that  are beyond a stranger’s knowing.  Can they solve the old case?  What happens when Claire learns the link to her past?
There is nothing quite like starting off with a healthy dose of creepiness, and Schofield definitely provides it.  He also writes, initially, in short, very intriguing chapters that keep one reading way into the late night.
Schofield is good at instilling questions in your mind. He is as good at keeping the reader off-balance, as does one of the protagonists to the other.  Yet, one is completely intrigued by all the characters, particularly Claire.  
The plot is a cracker.  It takes until about half-way through to have even a hint of where you are going.  Rather than being frustrating, one finds oneself smiling, anxious to continue the journey.
There are amazing wrinkles to the plot that are so well done.  One definitely has to pay attention.  On the informative side, there is very interesting information on geographic profiling.
Time of Departure” does have a paranormal factor to it, but it’s also a book that leaves you saying “Wow!”.  It is so well done.  What is amazing is that the author never tries to explain the events, but you don’t care.  The story is so effective you simply keep turning the pages.

TIME OF DEPARTURE (Susp/Para-Claire Talbot-Florida-Contemp) – Ex
      Schofield, Douglas - Standalone
      Minotaur, Nov 2016