Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Bleeding Heart by Christopher Fowler

First Sentence:  From Raymond Land to All Staff:  So, it’s a new beginning for us.
      
The Peculiar Crimes Unit is now under the jurisdiction of the City of London and, as usual, their new top boss would like to see an end to the group.  However, two crimes are keeping them in the game.  A young man appears to see a body rise from a grave and claims it spoke.  Have Resurrectionists returned?  But what did the young man see that resulted in his murder a few days later?  Someone stole the seven ravens, symbol of the British Empire, from the Tower of London.  Only Bryant could discover a link between the two crimes.
      
How wonderful that Fowler includes a cast of characters, in the form of a staff roster, at the beginning of his books.  And, right from the start, we are treated to the wonderful voice and humor of Flower.  It’s a rare treat when an internal memo can be amusing.
      
It’s nice to have a true ensemble cast of characters, which each playing a significant role in the story and each being fully developed.  Although the primary characters are James May and Arthur Bryant—what a wonderful relationship that is--Bryant took the lead here.  He seems to have mellowed bit and we learn much more about his past, which is quite lovely, but we did not lose any of that which makes him so delightful.  However, all the relationships are so well drawn, the characters transform into being actual people to the reader. 
      
Fowler’s voice, wit and dialogue are such a pleasure to read…”Why have you got a house brick in there [Longbright’s handbag]?’  “Under British law you can’t stop a suspect with a weapon but you might be allowed to hit him with something that would naturally be in your hand at the time,”…. “PC Biggs folded her arms.  No honest citizen should ever do anything that makes a police officer stand back and fold her arms.”  There is also a delightful scene of the pathologist being thrust into a very different role than that to which he is accustomed.  Fowler is very good at doing the unexpected.
      
There is one small criticism and that is the inclusion of portents.  Portents are really, really annoying, unnecessary and, rather than create suspense, have the opposite effect.  They are also somewhat insulting to the reader as it’s as though the author assumes the reader won’t continue otherwise.
      
The Bleeding Heart” is very clever with wonderfully logical explanations of crimes which seem so odd.  It is an absolutely delightful book.

THE BLEEDING HEART (Pol Proc-Bryant and May-London-Contemp) – VG+
Fowler, Christopher – 11th in series
December, 2014 

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Ruth's First Christmas Tree by Elly Griffiths

First Sentence:  “The Spirits are strong in this one,” says the man in the white robe and gumboots.
      
For a woman who didn’t do Christmas, forensic anthropologist Ruth Galloway is challenged by making her 1-year-old daughter’s first Christmas special.  Nothing is quite going to plan, including learning from her druid friend, Cathbad, informing her that a Bronze Age wooden peg is missing.
      
Griffith’s Ruth Galloway is a delight, particularly for those of us who have been known to eschew the accepted sentiments and traditions of the holidays, yet find ourselves attracted to them.  Some may even relate to the “Doctor Who” reference.
      
The story contains delightful humor.  There is the inclusion of the character’s back story, references to previous books and fascinating factual information which is interesting and doesn’t detract from the pace of the story.  Griffith’s provides a very strong sense of place, often using weather to increase suspense. 

Her description of faith is perfectly attuned to the character and can be appreciated by many of us…”It’s enough that someone, somewhere genuinely believes that the magic will work.”  I suspect those of us in our middle years can particularly relate to Ruth and the story.   
     
Ruth’s First ChristmasTree” is not overly sweet, but still provides a warm ending.  It’s a small treat, particularly for those who love this character.

RUTH’S FIRST CHRISTMAS TREE (Short Story-Ruth Galloway-England-Contemp) - G+
Griffiths, Elly – Christmas Short Story
Amazon Kindle Services – Dec 21014

Friday, January 23, 2015

The Moonlit Door by Deryn Lake

First Sentence:  It was an ancient and attractive custom, one enjoyed by music-lovers and the stout-hearted but detested by those who were trying to get ‘a decentngith’s kip’, as Jack Boggis, the local misery, put it.
      
Reverend Nick Lawrence has organized a Medieval Fair to celebrate May Day, complete with Morris Dancers, archery lessons and a maypole.  What isn’t planned is finding the body of a young orphan impaled by an arrow and secured to the maypole via its bright-colored ribbons. 
      
Ms. Lake has created a delightful cast of non-stereotypical characters.  The vicar and subject to both questions of faith and desires, in a good way, of the flesh, but a true Anglican vicar nonetheless, …”I suppose if Christ came and sat on the bench beside you, you would accuse him of being an illegal immigrant.”  The relationship between Det. Tennant and his bagman, Mark Potter, is wonderful.  Daft Dickie, an autistic man with a horrible past, is a character you don’t know whether to pity or fear.  There’s even the Rectory ghost, William.
      
Although the protagonist is a vicar, do not mistake this for a comfortable, English cozy.  Lake addresses all sides of human nature, and she does it well.  If anything, you might think of it as a dark "Midsomer Murders".  The history and mythology of the old ways and legends is woven skillfully into the story. 
      
The Moonlit Door” is, in the end, a mystery which touches on of the best and worst of humanity.

THE MOONLIT DOOR (Myst – Rev. Nick Lawrence/Det. Dominic Tennant – Lakehurst, England – Contemp) – G+
Lake, Deryn – 3rd in series
Severn House, March 2015

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Wait for Signs by Craig Johnson

First Sentence; First Story:  It’s hard to argue with an old Indian or his tricks.
      
How nice to have collection of Johnson’s annual Christmas, and short stories, all in one place.  There is the added gift of a new story, and a wonderful, personal introduction by Lou Diamond Phillips, the actor who plays Henry Standing Bear in the Longmire television series, which based on the series of books.
      
Phillips introduction expresses so much of what I feel about Johnson’s writing, as well as the pleasure of meeting Craig and his wife Judy. 
      
The stories are of the same, high quality we have come to expect from Johnson.  They are thoughtful and entertaining with each containing a small lesson as well.  From how one should never overlook the basics, to realizing that salvation can come from unexpected sources, to forgiveness and tolerance.  There are also lessons on acceptance, remembering others, giving, priorities, desperation and redemption.  But we also learn the history of the term, “Indian Summer.”

It’s lovely that there is even a small reference to the American actor Robert Taylor, perhaps best known for the Westerns he made in the 1960's, as an homage to the Australian actor currently playing Sheriff Longmire.  
      
Wait for Signs” is a classic example of Johnson’s humor, wisdom and wonderful writing.  As well as a treat for oneself, it is an excellent introduction to those who have not read Johnson before.

WAIT FOR SIGNS (Short Stories – Sheriff Walt Longmire – Wyoming – Contemp) – Ex
Johnson, Craig
Viking Adult, October 2014

Monday, January 19, 2015

Silent Night: A Lady Julia Christmas Novella by Deanna Raybourn

First Sentence:  I tore open the letter and scanned it quickly before brandishing it at my husband. 
      
Lady Julia and her husband, Brisbane, hoped for a quiet Christmas.  However, spending the holidays at her father’s estate with her eccentric family, a myriad of pets and, possibly, a ghost end that thought very quickly. 
      
The full-length books in this series are quite enjoyable, although I’ll admit the first three are the best.  This, however, just didn’t come up to par.
      
Yes, the characters are fun. Julia is delightful and matched by her sister, Portia and Portia’s odorous Pug.  And then there’s Brisbane; that man all women would desire. 
      
The dialogue is charming…”Don’t be cryptic, Plum.  You haven’t the cheekbones for it.”  There is a story about Shakespeare that will make fans of the Bard gasp in horror.
      
However, the story tried to be too much, and none of it worked well.  The mystery was treated almost as an aside.  The relationship between Julia and Banbridge lacked any depth and became somewhat twee.  And, most annoying, several references were made to previous cases which were rather offputting, even if one has read other books in the series.
      
Silent Night” was an acceptable bit of fluff which would probably be enjoyed by true fans of the series, but there are much better Christmas novellas available.

SILENT NIGHT:  A LADY JULIA CHRISTMAS NOVELLA (Hist Mys-Lady Julia – London, 1889) – Okay
Raybourn, Deanna – Christmas Short Story
MIRA – November, 2012 (Amazon Digital Services)

Friday, January 16, 2015

Deadlight Hall by Sarah Rayne

First Sentence:  “I don’t mean to imply the house is haunted,” said Professor Rosendale Firmly.
   
Michael Flight is asked to investigate Deadlight Hall, a building currently being renovated that had been used as an orphanage and hospital during WWII.  At that time, a pair of twin sisters, Jewish refugees, disappeared for the hall.  Going back into the house’s history, Michael and his fiancée Nell, discover another pair of sisters who vanished in the 1880s.  In spite of the fact that no one now lives at the Hall, it quickly becomes clear that the house is not empty.
   
Rayne immediately achieves just the right atmosphere and sense that things could be perfectly fine…or perhaps not.
   
One disadvantage of reading an eGalley, is that one lacks the chapter headings and other breaks which usually indicate a change in scene or time period.  Even so, the device used to convey some of the information is interesting, but it doesn’t really allow to story to unfold page by page.
   
The suspense is very well done; gripping and decidedly creepy, and is enjoyably offset by the inclusion of Flint’s fictional cat, Wilberforce, and his adventures.  The plot leaves one questioning whether things are natural or supernatural and what is motivating them.  There is also a fascinating concept of “The Silent Minute,” quite different here from the historical Silent Minute from WWII where people were asked to devote one minute of prayer for peace at nine o’clock each evening.
   
Rayne’s descriptions are wonderfully atmospheric…”The poison book was in good condition….There was, though, the feeling that the light which fell over the pages was tinged with the flickering radiance of candlelight, wax-scented and dim, or even the bad-smelling gaslight that came later.” 
   
“Deadlight Hall” is an intriguing, creepy story with lots of twists and is sure to entertain anyone who appreciates things that go bump in the night.

DEADLIGHT HALL (Susp/Myst/Para – Dr. Michael Flint – England – Contemp/1940s) – VG
Rayne, Sarah – 5th in series
Severn House – April 2015

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The Blue and the Gray by M.J. Trow

First Sentence:  “I don’t believe it!” Arlette Ross McKintyre’s eyes flashed fire as she looked up at the Presidential box.”
      
Captain Matthew Grand happened to be attending the play at Ford’s Theater when Lincoln is shot.  He attempted to apprehend Booth, but failed and is sent to London undercover to track down one of the co-conspirators.  In London, newspaper report Jim Batchelor has been investigating a series of garrottings by the Haymarket Strangler but is hired to do an article on Grand and the assassination.  The unlikely pair team up when there are signs the two cases may be related.
      
The story begins with an opening which starts out light but quickly turns much darker and tragic.  What is interesting is that one never thinks of Lincoln’s assassination from the perspective of a bystander, yet Trow does an excellent job of making you feel as though you were there. 
      
The characters are fully drawn.  Grand’s fiancée is catty, ambitious and highly annoying; yet her butler is delightful. Grand has the confidence of a former military captain, yet you feel his overwhelm in coming to London.  Batchelor is canny and a survivor who believes in what he does. The interchanges between Grand and Batchelor are wonderful and the characters are an interesting mix.
      
Trow provides fascinating references to historical characters and events, most of which may have been previously unknown to readers, yet their inclusion adds extra dimension to the story.  For all the grimness of the situations, Trow’s voice and touches humor, of situations and the dialogue.
      
The Blue and the Gray” is a very good read introducing two wonderful characters.  How delightful to find a new series to follow.

THE BLUE AND THE GRAY (Hist Mys – Capatin Matthew Grand/James Batchelor – Washington D.C., London – 1865) - VG
Trow, M.J. – 1st in series
Severn House – April 2015

Saturday, January 10, 2015

An Unmarked Grave by Charles Todd

First Sentence:  I stopped just outside the ward and leaned my head against the cool wood of the doorframe.
      
WWI is raging but it is influenza that battlefield nurse, Bess Crawford, and others which is killing off soldiers.  In the midst of the dead is a man whose death isn’t from either war or illness; he’s been murdered and Bess recognizes him.  Those who’ve seen the body start to die in ways that seem natural.  Before Bess can do anything, she also succumbs to the flu and is sent back to England, but that doesn’t stop her determination to find out who killed the man and why.
      
The story begins with a powerful and effective opening relating to the impact of the influenza epidemic in the midst of war.  What sets the Todds apart is the ability to describe an horrific scene, conveying all the impact, but without going into graphic detail.  By contrast, you truly can feel the love and caring that Bess and her family have for one another.  It’s also nice to see the progression, albeit very slow progression, of the relationship between Bess and Simon, her father’s bagman.
      
There is a large collection of characters, but they weren’t confusing.  The Todds have truly captured the dedication of the war-time nurses and the contrast of their lives from being on the battlefield and when they return to England, remember that most of the nurses came from the upper classes           
      
An Unmarked Grave” may be the best in the series, so far.  There is drama, intensity and some excellent red herrings. 

AN UNMARKED GRAVE (Hist Mys-Bess Crawford-France/England-1918) – VG+
Todd, Charles – 4th in series
William Morrow, June 2012 

Thursday, January 8, 2015

A Market Tale by Martin Walker

First Sentence:  Like so many events in the small Périgord town of St. Denis, deep in the gastronomic heartland of France, this story begins in the market that takes place each week in the square between the seventeenth-century mairie and the old stone bridge that crosses the Rover Vézère. 
            
When Kati, a Swiss tourist, catches the eye of Marcel, a young widower and friend to Bruno, the town’s police chief, everyone is delighted. Everyone, that is, except Marcel’s overbearing sister, Nadette.  When her schemes against Kati escalate to the attention of the law, it’s time for Bruno to step in.
            
Walker’s descriptions are evocative and sensory…”It was like tasting perfume:  a sweetness that was intense without being sickly, and with a sparkling zest that seemed both full of energy and deeply comforting.”  What a wonderful description conveying the taste of a fine strawberry.  He places you in the environment of the story of sights, sounds, smells and even tastes.  One cannot read Walker without wishing for the wonderful foods he describes.
            
In Bruno, Walker has created a character who believes in maintaining the law, but using finesse over force, and he does that to perfection here with a resolution satisfactory to everyone.
            
A MarketTale” is a delightfully charming story that leaves you smiling…and hungry.

A MARKET TALE (Short Story-Bruno-St. Denis, France-Contemp) – VG
Walker, Martin – Short Story
Random House / A Vintage Short (Kindle eBook), December 2014