Friday, March 27, 2015

Enter Pale Death by Barbara Cleverly

First Sentence: "You’re sure it was gingerbread she asked for, Gracie?”
Death comes to a country estate when Lady Truelove is killed by a horse known for becoming violent.  Or was she? Scotland Yard Assistant Commissioner Joe Sandiland is asked to investigate but the situation is complicated by Joe’s dislike of Sir James Truelove, who is also patron of Dorcus Jolifee, the woman Joe hopes to marry. 
Cleverly excels at creating a sense of time and place.  Here, we have a very clear picture of the titled/social set in the 1930s from dialogue, which is reflective of the time and suitable to the various classes; to food… “Joe was glad he’d taken the hint and declared for the strawberries; the plump miracles of summer magic were duly served on Delft-patterned dishes with a matching pot of yellow Devon cream so think it had to be spooned from the jug.”; to dress, “Suit is from Monsieur Worth and perfume from Mademoiselle Chanel, Officer.”  One also can’t help but enjoy the inclusion of several literary passages.
This is very much a character/relationship-driven story with wonderful characters.  It is rather nice to learn that the protagonist has shortcomings and to learn more about his background.  However, there is one scene where one might be a bit disappointed by his attitude.   Although Dorcus—known to readers of previous books—only plays a minor role here, the return of Lily Wentworth, former PC now working as a private enquiry agent, is delightful.  Dr. Adelaide Hartest is also a wonderful addition to the story.
Enter Pale Death” lures you in with bucolic descriptions, underlain with tension, escalating to a rather shocking scene. That said, the interesting and unexpected ending could leave one feeling a bit disconcerted.  It will be interesting to see where things progress from here.

ENTER PALE DEATH (Hist Pol Proc-Joe Sandilands-England-1933) – G+
Cleverly, Barbara – 12th in series
Soho Crime - December 2014

Monday, March 23, 2015

The Burning Room by Michael Connelly

First Sentence:  It seemed to Bosch to be a form of torture heaped upon torture.

Retirement is closing in on Harry Bosch, working in the Open-Unsolved Unit.  To provide training to new officers, he has been assigned Lucia (Lucy) Soto, a young officer definitely on the way up.  Their first case is a Mariachi guitarist who was shot 20 years ago, but only recently died from the bullet still lodged near his spine.  Was it a gang shooting, or something different; perhaps even intended for a different target?  That’s not the only case being worked.  When Lucy was young, she was the only survivor of a day-care center fire.  Although it was ruled accidental, that may not have been true at all, and she wants answers.
From the start, we have a sense of who Harry is and a tiny glimpse as to what drives him.  However, it also seems very clear that not only is Harry about to retire, but Connelly is very ready to retire him. 

As always, Connelly’s writing is crisp and spare, but it was also highly repetitive and became mired down in the details.  Yes, the procedural details were interesting and informative, but do we really need to know every road Bosch takes and every detail of every meal?  And let’s not overlook the massive coincidence.  About the only thing that was missed where his bathroom breaks. 

The Burning Room” was a disappointment.  Normally, Connelly's Bosch is a straight-through read.  This time, it was a slog and I couldn’t wait to get through it. 

THE BURNING ROOM (Pol Proc-Harry Bosch-Los Angeles-Contemp) – Okay
Connelly, Michael – 19th in series
Little, Brown and Company – November 2014 

Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Crocodile by Maurizio de Giofanni

First Sentence:  Death comes in on track three at 8:qr in the morning, seven minutes behind schedule.
A killer is loose in Naples; anonymous and methodical, yet keeping a diary, known about only to him, of his actions. Insp. Giuseppe Lojancono is mistrusted as a suspected snitch to the Mafia, and has been transferred to an inconsequential post in Naples.  The only thing he is supposed to do is paperwork; no cases.  It’s not his fault that he’s the only one on duty when a call comes in about a murder.  In fact, it is the third execution-style killing of a young person, all within days of each other.  Magistrate Laura Piras quickly learns that Lojancono is the only one to have picked up on clues missed by others and orders he be assigned to the investigation. 
What a wonderfully evocative and compelling opening.  The narrative, which progresses through the story, is chilling for its complete objectivity. 
de Giovanni has excelled at creating an excellent character in Lojancono who is isolated by circumstances outside his own making.  It creates a strong bond of empathy to the reader.  Yet he balances that character with others who form a link to Lojancono, yet have insecurities and failings of their own. 
There are wonderfully descriptive passages throughout…”Dawn on a rainy day.  There’s not a specific moment when you see the dawn.  Suddenly it’s there, sliding into view while you had your mind on other things.”  The one weakness, however, is in the dialogue which often seems awkward, possibly due to issues in translation.
This is definitely a darker book than his “Deed” series, but de Giovanni is such a fine writer, he draws you in and makes you want to know about the people and where the story is going.

Crocodile” is, in an odd way, a story of broken relationships, and includes a very good description of grief.  There is an excellent building of suspense as the pace of the story accelerates.  All the pieces are brought together to a stunning conclusion.  de Giovanni is an author very worth reading.

THE CROCODILE (Pol Proc-Inspet. Giuseppe Lojacono-Italy-Contemp) – VG+
de Giovanni, Maurizio – 1st
Europa Editions; Reprint Edition – July, 2013

Monday, March 9, 2015

Endangered by C.J. Box

First Sentence:  When Wyoming game warden Joe Pickett received the call every parent dreads, he was standing knee-high in thick sagebrush counting the carcasses of sage grouse.
When Joe Pickett receives a call about the body of a girl being found in a ditch by the highway, it is suspected to be his ward, April, who had taken off with rodeo champion Dallas Cates.  Cates’ family gives him an alibi, and there’s evidence pointing to someone else.  But Joe isn’t convenience and is determined to learn the truth…one way or another.
There’s no question but that C.J. Box knows who to write a completely compelling book.  He’s the type of author whose story you start at page one, and find yourself in exactly the same spot several hours later when you’ve finished the book. 
Pickett is such a wonderful, fully-dimensional character.  You know who he is and for what he stands.  He is moral and principled, as well as determined to find the truth, particularly when it impacts his family.  Don’t for a second, however, think that makes him perfect or boring.  He is the sort of person you’d want on your side.  The balance between Joe and his wife, Marybeth, rings absolutely true, with each playing to their strengths.  The same also applies to his relationship with his daughters.  And then there’s Nate.  Followers of the series, fear not.  Nate is there exactly when it matters. 
On the other hand, Box does create some villains who will make your skin crawl.  They’re not over the top, but they are definitely not someone you’d ever what to know.
Endangered” is an excellent plot-driven story, with great characters and nail-biting suspense.  Box has, as always, given us a great read.

"ENDANGERED (Lic Invest/Game Warden – Joe Pickett- Wyoming/Montana-Contemp) -Ex
Box, C.J. – 15th in series
G.P. Putnam’s Sons – March 2015

Death Comes to the Ballets Russes by David Dickinson

First Sentence:  New Year is the season of hope or despair.
London is excited to welcome the Ballets Russes from Russia.  It doesn’t except the murder scene of the lead’s understudy, in one of the ballets, to have been real.  Which man was the intended victim?  Lord Powerscourt is called in to find out.  But members of the ballet are not the only Russians in London. Two you men from very wealthy Russian families stole their mother’s valuable jewels in a fit of pique. They sent them to London with a member of the ballet company to be sold. Also, followers of the revolutionist Lenin are there to change millions of rubles, stolen from a bank in Russia, into pounds.  Can Powerscourt, with the help of his wife Lucy and friend Johnny Fitzgerald, put all the pieces together?
There is much to like in this book, starting with the very chapter headings.  Good chapter headings are always a treat, and Dickinson wisely chose to use ballet terms and their definitions for this book.  What he also illuminates is the world of wealth, connections and protocol Lord Powerscourt inhabits, and the hierarchy of investigating the dead: if one was English, they rate an inspector; if European, a sergeant; Africans only rate a detective constable. 
Dickinson smoothly integrates real historical figures with fictional characters, as well as incorporating historical information into the plot.  One often hears about the Bolsheviks, and their involvement with Lenin and Stalin, but it is nice to learn about them, in a simplified context, and for what they stood.  The story also really makes clear the animosity and distrust between nations. 
All of the characters, are fully-dimensional, particularly Powerscourt.  We know not only about the investigation, but his family life and how that plays into the investigation through the connections both he and his wife have.  At the same time, it is pleasant that he is not a snob, yet quite egalitarian in this treatment of the young sergeant and others of a lower social class.  What is also delightful is the elements of observation and humor…”The answer came in a whisper.  Powerscourt had often remarked how people thought they could minimize the effect of some terrible news by announcing it in the lowest of voices.”
For all the good, however, this is not the best book in the series.  Dickinson is very good at taking a seemingly small stream and adding tributaries until it becomes a wild, rushing, tumbling river, finally opening it up into a wide, flat body of water.  In this case, there were are few too many tributaries and it became a difficult river to navigate.

Death Comes to the Ballets Russes” contains some very effective drama, broken by subtle humor, but the narrative resolution is a bit of an anticlimax.  Still, it is a respectable addition to the series.

DEATH COMES TO THE BALLETS RUSSES (Hist Mys-Lord Francis Powerscourt – England – 1912) – Good
Dickinson, David - 14th in series
Constable – January 2015 

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

The Siege Winder by Ariana Franklin and Samantha Norman

First Sentence:  It is a wood-paneled room of sumptuous size—the abbots of Perton have always done themselves well.
In 1141, England was engulfed in civil war between King Stephen and his cousin, the Empress Matilda over who would wear the crown. It is 1180 and a dying abbot has one last important task to accomplish.  He summons a young scribe in order to document a much more personal story set during that backdrop and occurring during a long, brutal siege winter.
While readers were heartbroken by the death of Ariana Franklin and the incredible cliffhanger left in her last book in the “Mistress of the Art of Death” series, this does not resolve that series. However, prior and new readers, you are in for such a treat.  This book was begun by Ms. Franklin (aka Diana Norman) prior to her death, and has been completed by her daughter, Samantha Norman.  While that is wonderful in itself, what is truly remarkable is that the fusion is absolutely seamless. 
There is no awkward transition between the two authors; it is all one voice.  No, the language is not of the period.  To that, there was the explanation given by Ms. Franklin at the end of “Grave Goods,” …”…in twelfth-century England the common people spoke a form of English even less comprehensive than Chaucer’s.  In the fourteenth; the nobility spoke Normal French, and the clergy spoke Latin.  Since people then sounded contemporary to one another, and since I hate the use of what I call “gadzooks” in historical novels to denote a past age, I insist on making those people sound modern to the reader.”  One can’t argue with that.
For us readers, the story begins with the history given, the stage set, the players assembled and the curtain drawn on what, from the very start, we know will be a wonderful tale.  The narrative is fascinating and, periodically through the story, moves the tale forward while providing historical context. The story provides wonderful details of castle life, and what it takes to run and defend a castle during this period.
What a wonderful assembly of characters.  Each leaps off the page into full life and touches our emotions.  Gwilherm de Vannes, a mercenary soldier, and his conversations with God are a true delight…”And what now, Lord?  Eh?  How can I protect her from herself?”  “That’s a tricky one, Gwil.  That’s the question.  Even I can’t help you there I’m afraid.”  Young Pen, whom he rescues, is a survivor who learns to cope with events in her own way.  Maud, forced into marriage and now finds herself having to defend her castle with the help of Sir Rollo, commander of her troops and protect her son, William.  There is a mystery to the story, and a villain which is as evil as a villain can be.  This is the time of the Plantagenets, and the history is important, but the story is very much a human story. 
However, considering One really doesn’t want to say too much for fear of spoiling what is an absolutely wonderful read. It is a story one would love to see brought to the screen, but only if it included every single page filmed exactly as it is on the page.
The Siege Winter” is exciting, stirring, filled of tension and can bring one to tears but has a conclusion which makes one smile and touches the heart.  Do you know how hard it is to write review notes when one is crying?   It is a story which stays with you long after the last page.  At the bottom of my review notes, I wrote Ex+++++++.  Were it possible to rate a book 10 out of 5 stars, this would be it.  I loved every page; every word.  It doesn’t get better than that.  However, the best news is that this may only be the first in a series.

THE SIEGE WINTER (Hist Novel – Gwil / Pendra – England – 1100s) – EX
Franklin, Ariana and Samantha Norman – 1st book
Harper Collins – February 2015 

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Asylum by Jeannette de Beauvoir

First Sentence:  The woman sitting in the backseat shivered and drew the child closer to her side.
Four women have been murdered and left displayed on park benches in Montreal.  With it being an election year, this is not good PR for the tourist season.  The city’s mayor, asks Montreal's publicity director to act as liaison between his office and the police.  Although both agencies would like a quick and easy solution, Martine and Lt. Dec. Julian Fletcher suspect there is much more to this case relating back to a very dark time in Montreal’s past.
The book opens with diary passage from the past.  It is a very good, somewhat heartbreaking, chapter that compels you to keep reading. The diary is a second story line which is tantalizing and intriguing.  We don’t know how it fits, but we are certain we’ll find out.  And do we ever.  In fact, it provides for a very good twist at the end; one we should have seen coming, but didn’t.  It is very well done.
How nice to have characters with professions that are different from what we ordinarily find.  It is also refreshing to have a protagonist who is in a normal married relationship and a stepmother, with all both of those entail.   Martine, is the publicity director for the City of Montreal and her husband, Ivan, is the director of poker operation for the Montreal Casino.  It’s also nice to have a protagonist who decides to solve the murder on her own, but is brought into the investigation because of her job and is a somewhat reluctant investigator.  One can also appreciate that Det-Lt. Julian Fletcher, the young, wealthy, attractive detective with whom Martine works, is not a love interest for her. 
One can’t help but appreciate Martine’s humanity and empathy; worrying about one victim’s cat and, for another, “I wondered if she’d ever gotten her tomatoes, and what recipe she had needed them for.”
The author has a wonderful voice and dry sense of humor; “Every day is a special day for those of us whose professions are to provide fun and frolic to others.”  She is very good about explaining the structure of the Canadian government and its police force in a way that is clear to all readers, as well as translating the French phrases as she goes. 
De Beauvoir creates very good escalation of tension, as the story progresses, and Martine and Fletcher make the link between the victims through investigation, rather than coincidence.  The tension, and a way to bring normality to Martine’s life, is offset through food; and wonderful food it is…”Ivan was pan-frying flounder, I was cooking green beans in garlic butter…pouring some of my glass of Pouilly Fumé into the beans…”  The author also makes you think with excellent passages as to why it is important to seek justice for crimes from the past, Martine’s introspection about her faith, and her description of cemeteries. 
Up to page 263, the book would have received a rating of "Excellent."  It was compelling and exciting, with great characters.  Unfortunately, at that point it felt as though the author realized she only had a certain number of pages left to finish the story and things rather fell apart.  The character committed the sin of being TSTL (too stupid to live), and there were a couple major gaps in logic.  One understands why it was done, but it was still disappointing and could have been reconstructed to have achieved the same goal without the faux-pas.   It also felt there should have been a much stronger final, post-climactic scene. 
Finally, the curse of the portent…”Maybe you’re right, maybe there’s nothing here.”  But, as it turned out, there was.”  There was no need for the last sentence.  Why do authors do that?  Rather than build anticipation—we already know things will get worse; it’s a mystery!—they do just the opposite.  Portents are a quick jolt out of the story; they are unnecessary, and if anything, they are an implied insult to the reader as though we don’t understand the suspense will build and must be teased to continue reading.  There is never a need for portent in a story and de Beauvoir used them as liberally as some use salt on their food. 

Asylum” is, for the most part, a very good read and certainly not one I’d wanted to have missed.  No, it’s not perfect; yes, the author needs to hone her skills but I, for one, am very happy to have read it and look forward to another book, sans the weaknesses, in the future.

ASYLUM (Trad. Mys – Martine LeDuc – Montreal, Canada – Contemporary) – G+
De Beauvoir, Jeannette – 1st mystery
Minotaur Books; March, 2015

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Everyone in their Place by Maurizio de Giovanni

First Sentence:  The angel of death made its way through the festa, and nobody noticed.
The beautiful Duchess of Camparino has been found dead of a gunshot wound…or was she smothered?   It is up to the solitary Commissario Riccardi and his partner, Brigadier Maione, to solve the crime while dealing with their own personal issues.
There is nothing better than an opening which is both compelling and done with very evocative descriptions.  What is particularly clever is that throughout the story, we have the diary entries of a nameless character.  Just when we think we’ve identified the writer, another hint is dropped and we are sent off in a different direction. 
The cast of characters is extensive, yet each character is distinct.  The most intriguing is Riccardi, who has the gift, or curse, of “the Deed”; the ability to see those who have died by violence—accidents, murder, or suicide—in the last few second of the life and to hear their final words or thoughts. This ability isolates him from all but a few people.  At his side, and ever loyal, is Maione who is married with five children, Doctor Modo the medical examiner, and Rosa, Riccardi’s childhood nanny who still looks after him.
While the story is a police procedural, it is so much more than that.  It is a character-driven novel which is very much about relationships; love, insecurities, passions, and the acts to which one can be driven by love.   The author meshes the characters with the story so skillfully; we feel part of the community.  Each character is fully-developed and we have no desire to by-pass any of them.
Yes, the translation can feel awkward at times, particularly the dialogue, but that is easily forgiven. The quality and complexity of the story overcome any other shortcomings.

EveryoneIn Their Place” is a story of passion and human weaknesses.  There are no perfect characters; but each one is perfectly conveyed.  This is a series I highly recommend.

EVERYONE  IN THEIR PLACE (Pol Proc-Comm Riccardi/Brig. Maione-Naples, Itlay-1931) - VG
de Giovanni, Maurizio – 3rd in series
Europa Editions – Nov. 2013

Friday, February 20, 2015

Hell to Pay by Garry Disher

First Sentence:  On a Monday morning in September, three weeks into the job, the Tiverton policeman took a call from his sergeant:  shots fired on Bitter Wash Road.
Paul Hirschhausen (“Hirsch”) has been demoted to Constable, and sent to
back-of-beyond Australia where he’s mistrusted and berated by his “fellow” officers.  Internal Investigations in Adelaide is still after him, trying to convict him of something and willing to plant evidence to do it.  In the meantime, even in his remote locate, there are crimes to be solved, including the body of a 16-year-old girl found by the side of the road.
If one ever read Rhys Bowen’s “Hamish Macbeth” series, Hirsch’s posting will remind one of that.  However, that is the only similarity.  Disher takes us about as far as possible from Hamish’s Scotland, down to Southern Australia, but acquaints us with the area with wonderfully visual descriptions…”October gathered its skirts and raced past.”
Disher provides very good back story on Hirsch.  The inclusion of his inquest was both interesting, but allows for his speculation as to why some cops go bad.  We also see the frustration of a god cop working for, and with, bad cops; the blindness of “the thin blue line, and how corrupting that can be.  On the other hand, it is interesting to see the diversity of calls to which a rural cop must respond and the relationship he must maintain with the community.
Disher does a wonderful job building up the suspense and tension.  One can’t help but appreciate the source from which Hirsch’s rescue comes.
Hell toPay” is an excellent read; an extremely well-written book dealing with very timely issues.

HELL TO PAY (Pol Proc – Const. Paul Hirschhausen-Adelaide, Australia-Contemp) - Ex
Disher, Garry – Standalone
Soho Crime – June, 2014