Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Museum of Literary Souls by John Connolly

First Sentence:  Let us begin with this:  to those looking at his life from without, it would have seemed that Mr. Berger led a dull existence.
Mr. Berger leads a quiet, uneventful life.  An inheritance has allowed him to retire young and move to a small English village, spending most of his time reading and walking.  On one walk, he sees a woman who reminds him greatly of a classic fictional character.  She throws herself in front of a train, but no body, of any evidence of the event, is found.  When Berger encounters her again, he follows her to a place where fiction and reality intermingle.
 Connolly has employed a voice reminiscent of “once upon a time.”  From the moment you start reading, you know you are in for a good story.  He has wonderful, subtle humor, irony and dialogue; great repartee.  ““You may think me mad.”  “My dear fellow, we hardly know each other.  I wouldn’t dare to make such a judgment until we were better acquainted.”  Which seemed fair enough to Mr. Berger.”

This ebook is only 68 pages.  However, within those pages lies magic.  It's a book which tickles one's imagination and makes you smile.

The Museum of Literary Souls” is a story with which every bibliophile and true lover of books will identify.  There’s even a slight nod to Doctor Who.  What a wonderful story.

THE MUSEUM OF LITERARY SOULS (Fantasy/Mystery-Mr. Berger-England-Contemp) – Ex
Connolly, John – Standalone Novelette
Storyfront, 2013 - Amazon Digital Services, Inc.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Laws of Murder by Charles Finch

First Sentence:  A late winter’s night in London:  the city hushed; the revelers half an hour in their beds; a new snow softening every dull shade of gray and brown into angelic whiteness.
Charles Lenox has retired from Parliament and returned to detective work, opening an agency with three others.  Business has fallen off, and unfavorable statements have been made about the agency in the press, one by Inspector Jenkins, a long-time Scotland Yard ally.  When Jenkins is murdered, Inspector Nicholson, with whom Lenox had also worked, comes to hire the agency’s help. Of particular interest to Lenox is that Jenkins body is in front of the house of the Marquess of Wakefield, one of those on Lenox’s list of criminals who have, so far, evaded his capture. 
The first sentence alone provides a sense of the wonderful sense of place created by Finch.  His period details are just as well honed.  Unfortunately, a very fine first chapter is spoiled with the inclusion of a completely unnecessary portent which immediately takes the reader out of the moment the author just spent several pages constructing.  Happily, it was the only portent.
Finch has created a very good, well-rounded cast of characters.  They are fully dimensional and have lives beyond the actual mystery.  He also brings new readers up to speed very quickly.  He writes small children very well and the interludes of domesticity add a charm and sense of reality to the story.  By Lenox having a daughter, it enables him to contemplate the roles of women in present, and in future, society.  Though his friendship with his former butler, we learn a bit about the inner workings of Parliament during that time.
Even though the reader is quite certain the tides of fortune will, at some point, change, it’s nice to see the protagonist realistically going through a difficult time.  That Lenox realizes he is in a situation different from anything he has previously experienced adds a maturity to the character and the story. 
Finch has a wonderful way with words that add a richness to the story; “…big windows overlooking Chancery Lane.  Dozens of raindrops were dawdling down them, moving infinitesimally until one would decide to fall all at once in a split second, as if dashing for a forgotten appointment.”
The Laws of Murder” is a well done historical mystery with a good plot twist and a very satisfactory climax. 

THE LAWS OF MURDER(Hist Mys/Enquiry Agent-Charles Lenox-London-1876) - VG
Finch, Charles – 8th in series

Minotaur Books, 2014

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Who Buries the Dead by C.S. Harris

First Sentence:  They called it Bloody Bridge.

It’s called Bloody Bridge because of its past.  However, that past has come forward into the present for Sebastian St. Cyr, when a wealthy, prominent plantation owner is found there decapitated.  Near the body is an old coffin strap bearing the name of Charles Stuart, the 17th century king who was beheaded. St. Cyr’s father in law has promised the Prince Regent that he may be the first official witness to the newly uncovered tomb, but there's one problem; someone broken into the Charles coffin and stole his head.

Harris really knows how to write a compelling first chapter.  This one is particularly good.  Better, still, she starts off strong and just keeps going.

There are very good introductions to the various characters and excellent descriptions which create a strong sense of time and place.  She has a wonderful diversity of characters, from those in positions of power and wealth, all the way to the poor and to those who work with the dead.  In each case, Harris gives us a good sense of who they are and who they each relate to the story and to one another. 
Harris has a great voice.  She creates wonderful analogies, “It often seemed to Sebastian that trying to solve a murder was sometimes akin to approaching a figure in the mist.”  Her dialogue, occasionally imbued with a touch of humor,  “Someone cut off his head.”  “Good heavens. How terribly gauche.”  “Frightfully so….” is a pleasure to read.

The story contains fascinating historical references such as those related to England’s slave trade and their attitude toward it.  Such elements add veracity to the story.  Through Hero, Sebastian’s wife, we gain a picture of the period and the live of those just struggling to get by and do for themselves.   “But she knew now that she had never appreciated just how thin the line between survival and starvation was for a vast segment of London’s population.”  The information on the costermongers and the mentality of collectors, as well as that about the deaths of past kings, is informative and educational, yet seamlessly woven into the fabric of the story.

The characters of Sebastian and Hero are rather romanticized and larger-than-life, but the other characters, including Jane Austin and her brother used in a very appropriate manner, balance them out nicely and you’re left truly with a mystery, rather than a romance. 

Who Buries the Dead” is a very good read; with suspense, history, and a touch of romance.  It is a wonderful book in a wonderful series.

(Hist. Mys-Sebastian St. Cyr-London, 1813) – VG
Harris, C.S. – 10th in series
NAL Hardcover - March, 2015

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Star Fall by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles

First Sentence:  Slider went back to the bedroom to say goodbye to Joanna.
The murder of television antiques expert Rowland Egerton brings out Bill Slider and his team.  Egerton’s business partner and friend are found over the body, but is he the killer?  A Faberge box and Impressionist painting are missing.  Was it an interrupted burglary? 
From the very beginning, Cynthia Harrod-Eagles (CHE) takes us into the world of her characters.  She is a wonderfully literate author whose words paint pictures and engages our senses; “What Slider noticed more of all was the look of lightless patience in her face, s though she had long ago accepted that the brightly colored, more pleasant things in life were not meant for her.”
The characters of Slider and Atherton, his friend and bagman, are quickly established, along with the other members of Slider’s team.  It is particularly enjoyable and realistic, to have an ensemble cast; a team that works together, including their boss Porson, who excels at malapropos.  It’s a team that truly investigates.  They follow the clues and the evidence, rather than start with a conclusion and work backward.
The balance of Slider the cop, and Slider the man and husband is perfect.  It is so refreshing to have a protagonist with a normal home life.  It’s not always perfect; but it is normal.
 “Star Fall” is a very good police procedural with excellent characters, a good red herring and a very satisfying ending. 

STAR FALL (Pol Proc-Bill Slider-England-Contemp) – VG+
Harrod-Eagles, Cynthia – 17th in series
Severn Books - March 2015

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Supping with the Devil by Sally Spencer (aka Alan Rustage)

First Sentence: The weathermen said it was going to be the hottest summer for fifty years, and on all the available evidence so far, they were right.
DCI Monika Paniatowski has a boss who is determined to ruin her career.  Her latest assignment takes her away from her team and places her as a security advisor for the rock festival being put on by the Earl of Ridley.  But she’s only allowed in the house, whereas security for the grounds and even are being handled by the Devil’s Disciples motorcycle gang.  Things change when the body of a tabloid journalist is found.
Sally Spencer is a prolific author of three mystery series.  Monika Paniatowski was first introduced to us in the 5th Charlie Woodend book, “The Golden Mile to Murder.”  That said, it’s not necessary to have read that, or any of the previous books in this series as Spencer is very adept at giving us all the background we need to know about the characters within each book.  This is a wonderful skill as new readers don’t feel they’ve missed anything.  It is nice to see the way the series are somewhat blended as Woodend did make an appearance in this book.
Monika is something of a tough character to like, but there are good reasons for that, of which we learn.  Even so, she is respected and appreciated by her team.  All except for DCI Wellbeloved, who is anything but.  That is balanced out by DS Meadows who is sharp, tough and has an interesting background of her own.  If you like a badass, female cop, you’ll love Meadows.
The story has very good plot twists.  Spencer is very good at the unexpected, at the same time presenting a strong, accurate perspective on the issues with which career women have had to deal; both in the 70s and today. 
Supping with the Devil’ is filled with excellent twists, turns and revelations.  Spencer has become one of my favorite authors.

SUPPING WITH THE DEVIL (Pol Proc-DCI Monika Panatowsk-England-Contemp-1976) – G+
Spencer, Sally (aka Alan Rustage) – 8th in series
 Severn House, 2014

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Acts of Faith by Patricia Wynn

It was a quarter to four in the morning when Mrs. Hester Kean, trailed by two liveried footmen, arrived on foot at the Black Swan in Holborn.

Hester Kean, cousin and waiting woman to the Countess of Hawkhurst, has been sent to Yorkshire. There, she is to prepare her young cousin, Mary, for life in London and at Court.  Upon arriving, she learns the father of one of her travelling companions, papist Charles Fairfax, has been murdered.  It is post Reformation, and Catholics live under very strict rules and suspicion still of being Jacobites. However, Hester takes a liking to Charles, and Mary even more so.  Gideon, now outlawed and stripped of his title, follows Hester to Yorkshire. Appearing as “Sir Robert,” his intention is to persuade Hester to flee with him to France.  When a second murder occurs and “Sir Robert” is accused, they must first identify the killer.
From the very first page, we are immersed in the sights and sounds of the 18th century.  Miss Wynn is exactly in every detail from fashion, food, travel, customs and manners and the very strict manners dictated by class.
Hester is a delightful, fully-dimensional character.  Because she falls into the category of a “poor relation,” she is bound by very strict conventions.  At the same time she is education, intelligent, and independent as much as allowed.  Actions which may be permitted, or at least tolerated, in women of the lowest and highest classes, are not for someone of Hester's rank.  Ms Wynn explains this well and uses it to enhance the story.  Hester is tactful and very good at handling people and situations.  We feel for her; her desire for St. Mars, and her insecurity due to the difference in their social and economic levels.  Yet because the story is told in 3rd person, we are able to know what Hester does not.  It’s very gratifying.
Gideon has a strength about him.  Rather than bemoan the situation in which he finds himself, he gets on with things.  He is determined to win Hester, yet isn’t foolish.  Nor does he do anything which might compromise her.  He is gallant in the best sense of the word, and considerate with a kindness toward his groom Tom, and to animals.  How could one not like Gideon.
The mystery may seem, at first, to be secondary, yet the threads are always there, becoming more visible all the time.  When they do come together, it is in a very satisfying manner.  

The history in the book is informative and interesting.  Do read the sections of "Historical Background" and the "Author's Note" for a more complete understanding of the time and why Hester, a spinster, is referred to as "Mrs. Kean."  
 “Acts of Faith” is a very good book.  I do, however, strongly suggest beginning at the start of the series with “The Birth of Blue Satan,” both to truly understand the characters and their relationship, as well as having a better understanding of the time, but also for the pure please of enjoying five wonderful books. 

ACTS OF FAITH (Hist Mys-Hester Kean/Gideon; Viscount St. Mars-England-1716) – VG+
Wynn, Patricia – 5th book in series
Pemberley Press, 2014

Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Birth of Blue Satan by Patricia Wynn

First Sentence: The tall, young gentleman with long, fair hair and aquiline features lounged impatiently before the looking-glass. 

Gideon Fitzsimmons Viscount St. Mars argues with his father over the woman he wants to marry and leaves his father’s house in a temper.  Learning his father was murdered shortly thereafter, he finds himself about to be arrested, and must run to avoid prison.  His unexpected helper is Hester Kean, Isabella’s cousin. 

Wynn’s attention to historic detail of the time, place and social structure, is staggering and adds richness and veracity to the story.   However, the characters and story are what I truly loved. It was one of those books I picked to read just a couple pages, and ended up reading it straight through to the end. 

The characters are wonderful. Gideon accustomed to a life of privilege now on the run.   Hester Kean is the smart, strong, proper daughter of an impoverished minister determined to help Gideon clear his name. The secondary characters are just as strong. Mrs. Mayfield, out to ensure a profitable marriage for her daughter at all cost; Isabella, the beautiful and vacuous daughter, Gideon’s groom Tom; the loyal lifelong servant determined to keep himself ‘clean’ after seeing his father die from pox; Philippe, Gideon’s perfect French valet, and many others who are all so well drawn as to be real. 
Ms. Wynn has a wonderful voice. She is able to bring the period and the people to life with suspense, an element of romance and a dash of humor.  I had one small complaint when Hester did something toward the end that was both incredibly stupid and, I thought, out of character for her. I know it was necessary to the story and series, but felt it should have been handled better by the author
The Birth of Blue Satan” is very well plotted with each suspect being identified and investigated.  The period details are fascinating.  Do take the time to read the author's notes.  I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

THE BIRTH OF BLUE SATAN (Hist. Mys- Gideon Fitzsimmons/Hester Kean-England-1715) – VG+
Wynn, Patricia – 1st in series

Pemberley, 2001

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Blood on the Water by Anne Perry

First Sentence: Monk leaned forward, resting on his oar for a moment as he stared across the water at the Pool of London

William Monk, head of the Thames Police Force, witnesses the explosion and sinking of a pleasure boat which results in the death of nearly 200 people. Almost immediately, as he and his men start their investigation, the case is removed from them and given to the regular land police. A man is accused, tried and found guilty, all on circumstantial evidence and with no motive given. The man’s sentence is stayed due to his illness, which also strikes Monk as questionable. With Hester’s help, Monk regains control of the investigation, with nearly fatal results.

Perry is such a fine writer. Her descriptions are wonderfully evocative as we begin with a tranquil scene on the Thames. She then immediately changes the entire mood and secures your involvement in the story with a terrible event. Perry takes us into the environment of every level of society; from the lowest to the highest, and makes each real and understandable.

The characters are each fully drawn and dimensional. In spite of this being the 20th book in the series, new readers are given a clear understanding of the characters, their backgrounds and their interrelationships. Long-time readers see how the characters have developed, grown—some literally—and how their lives have changed. We even have the introduction of a new, young character one hopes will remain in the series. 

Although Monk is the protagonist, there is an excellent balance in the use of characters, drawing upon the strength of each, including Hester’s background as a nurse during the Crimean War, Rathbone as a former barrister and judge, Scruff as a former mudlark, and Crow as an unlicensed doctor. Ms. Perry’s voice is captivating. Her dialogue is natural and, occasionally, humorous. Determining the fate of Worm, an urchin and mudlark found by Scruff, himself a former mudlark who adopted himself to the Monks, is a charming interlude.

The plot is compelling. That Ms. Perry includes the trial into the final resolution of the mystery is something particularly interesting, demonstrating that the mystery isn’t solved until the guilty is brought to justice. 

Blood on the Water” is an excellent book with highs and lows, drama, excitement, and suspense. This is yet another wonderful book by Ms. Perry.

BLOOD ON THE WATER (Hist Mys-William Monk/Hester-London-Victorian) – VG+
Perry, Anne – 20th in series 
Ballantine Book – 2014

Monday, November 10, 2014

Proof Positive by Archer Mayor

First Sentence: It was the time of year when New England wobbles between fall and winter, as prone to Indian summer as to sudden, short-lived snow-storms.

Vietnam vet Ben Kendall suffered from PDST, became a recluse and a hoarder. Yet, there was one person he let into his world; a young photographer Rachel, daughter of medical examiner Beverly Hillstrom and Det. Joe Gunther’s lady love. Rachel has the misfortune to find Ben dead by an apparent accident. Once it’s found to be murder, Joe discovers, thought Rachel, that there are two men very determined to find photos Ben took in Vietnam…and they are willing to kill.

Mayor starts us off with a very good, engrossing, slightly creepy opening. However, it is clear, from the beginning, that Joe is a good guy, in the old-fashioned sense of that word. Major does a very good job of providing back stories for his characters that are concise; so as to neither bore fans of the series nor take one out of the story, yet they provide sufficient introduction to new readers. 

Mayor’s sense of place is excellent; “But Joe was a dyed-in-the-wool new Englander, and had no problem with an environment that could reach out and kill him half of every year. He felt it added to the character of the region—and its inhabitants…” His writer’s voice is engaging… “Frank didn’t respond. Neil’s verbal patter was like background noise to him by now—not much different from distant freeway traffic, or the ticking of a small clock.”

Proof Positive” is a very good read with escalating suspense, surprise plot twists and a satisfying ending. 

PROOF POSITIVE (Pol Proc-Joe Gunther-Vermont- Contemp) – VG+
Mayor, Archer – 25th in series
Minotaur Books, 2014