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

Friday, November 7, 2014

Broadchurch: A Novel by Erin Kelly, Chris Chibnall

First Sentence: One road in, one road out.

There are no murders in sea-side town of Broadchurch; until now. The body of young Danny Latimer has been found lying on the beach at the bottom a cliff. Rather than DS Ellie receiving the promotion she expected, she returns from vacation to learn DI Alex Hardy has been brought in from the outside. Although she resents it, the Latimers are best friends to her family, so Hardy will lead the investigation. With all the suspects being friends of the boy’s family, this is a case to tear apart a town and uncover all the buried secrets, including that of DI Hardy.

Some people may have seen the BBC series. Whether you have or not, this is still an excellent read.
The prologue immediately provides a sense of place, but also leaves us with a sense of dread. 

The characters are succinctly introduced, giving that sense of a small, close community where people either know one another or they are outsiders. Emotions are very well captured here. 

The story is told in third person. For those who watched the television series, the book gives an greater insight into each of the characters. 

What is wonderful is that “Broadchurch” is truly an old-fashioned who-done-it mystery with plenty of suspects, interesting characters, plenty of red herrings, good suspense and a “wow” climax, yet an epilogue that touches the heart. I highly recommend you read the book and, if you can, watch the UK version of the show. Honesty compels me to admit I’ve not seen the American version renamed “Gracepoint.”

BROADCHURCH (Pol Proc-DI Hardy/DS Miller/England-Contemp) – Ex
Kelly, Erin (Based on the story of series creator Chris Chibnall) – standalone
Minotaur Books, 2014

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Blood Curse by Maurizio De Govanni

First Sentence:  Though no one could possibly know it, the last rains of winter had fallen that afternoon.

Responding to a scream head on his way to work, Brigadier Raffaele Maione finds a beautiful woman whose face has been deeply slashed.  It is a case that takes on a very personal interest for him.  Called out on another case, Maione and Riccardi find an old woman who has been brutally beaten to death.  Her final words?  “God Almighty’s not a shopkeeper who pays His debts on Saturday.”   
Although it doesn’t impact my rating, I do not recommend the Kindle version of this book, as the formatting makes reading the story quite confusing.  Eventually, one gets the hang of it, but it’s not easy.  Even so, this is a somewhat challenging book to get into as the beginning is vignettes of numerous characters without our really being told who they are, or how they fit together.           
In the beginning, we are given an interesting lesson on status and title, followed by a captivating introduction to Riccardi.  He is such an unusual and intriguing character.  Ricciardi, is not well liked by his fellow officers or his superior, but he solves his crimes, and more quickly than others.  Ricciardi sees the dead; not those who died peacefully, but those who died suddenly from accident, suicide or murder.  Not only did he see them, he heard them in the last few moments of their lives; thus, referring to them as The Deed.  Maione, his second, is very loyal to him, ever since Ricciardi delivered to Maione a final message from his dead son.
Ricciardi accepts his situation and has even found the one way of making it into a positive.  One cannot help but feel for him and yet be very glad he has Maione by his side.  Yet, for all his solemnity, Riccardi does have a sense of humor. 
One of de Giovanni’s greatest strengths is his descriptions.  Whether it be people, settings or emotions, they are powerfully evocative and visual… “It was the spring:  it danced on tiptoe; it pirouetted daintily, still young, full of joy, not yet aware of what it would bring, but eager to mix things up a bit.  Without any ulterior motives; just for the fun of shuffling the cards.”
The plot is a study of relationships and insecurities.  It is a lesson in human weakness, with observations that cause one to stop and consider.
Blood Curse” is, in the end, a true mystery.  It is refreshing to have a detective who does make assumptions, but relies of evidence and motives to identify the killer.  This is a fascinating book and a series I highly recommend for those with a taste for the unusual.  

BLOOD CURSE (Pol Proc-Comm. Ricciardi/Brig. Maioni-Naples-1931) – VG+
De Giovanni, Mauriizio (Translated by Antony Shugarr) – 2nd in series
Europa Editions, 2013

Monday, August 25, 2014

The Long Way Home by Louise Penny

First Sentence:  As Clara Morrow approached, she wondered if he’d repeat the same small gesture he’d done every morning.     
Chief Inspector Armand Gamache has retired and moved, with his wife Reine-Marie, to the village of Three Pines.  There he is seeking peace and recovery from recent events.  However, he can’t ignore the plea from one of his neighbors and friends.  Clara and her husband Peter decided to separate for one year.  That year has now passed, but Peter has neither returned nor contacted Clara.  The search for Peter sends Gamache, his former second-in-command, Jean-Guy, and other residents, to Montreal and into isolated regions of Quebec.
From the very first, we are as intrigued by the actions of one of the characters as are other characters in the story.  We, too, want an explanation.  At the same time, we are brought into the beauty and seeming tranquility of the Village of Three Pines…”The village had the rhythm, the cadence, of a piece of music.  Perhaps that’s what Henri heard. The music of Three Pines.  It was like a hum, a hymn, a comforting ritual.”           
The reader learns of the characters through their personalities, rather than their backstories. It is particularly clear how close are Gamache and Reine-Marie, and how solid is their marriage. 
One of the many wonderful things about Penny’s writing is that she makes you stop and think, even when it’s a simple phrase easily passed over; ”Surprised by joy.”  There are so many small truths in Penny’s writing; lines and passages that make you stop, think and read again and again.  They don’t interrupt the flow of the story, but enhance it and cause one to savour it.  Yet only Penny could so effectively use a German Shepherd as a vehicle to convey loss and healing.  She puts emotions into words.  And then, she throws you a plot twist.
Penny’s descriptions are so evocative, one can not only envision the scene, place or object, but you yearn to physically be there.  She takes you places you’ve never been and of which you’ve never heard.  This is a story that makes you want to travel; to see and experience places for yourself.  But, at the very least, you find yourself running to the internet.
The characters are wonderful.  They are people you want to know; what to have as friends and neighbors.  You find yourself both wanting to know these people and, in some cases, wanting to be them.  The dialogue is so well done, with an easy, natural flow and, occasionally, delightful humour.
Ms. Penny is an intelligent author who includes poetry, literature, art, mythology and psychology into the story, yet she doesn’t, in any way, write above her readers or seek to demean them.

To say “The Long Way Home” is an excellent book is almost an understatement.  The book certainly has all the elements of a mystery are there, including a plot which is unusual in its structure, but it is also so much more than that that.  It is a journey that keeps drawing us down the road.

If you've not read any of the books in this series, please do start at the beginning with "Still Life."  It is hard for me to restrain myself when talking about the quality of Ms. Penny's writing.  She is an author whose work will stand the test of time.

THE LONG WAY HOME (Trad Mys-Armand Gamache-Canada-Contemp) – Ex
Penny, Louise – 10th in series
Minotaur Books, 2014

Saturday, August 23, 2014

The Rest is Silence by James R. Benn

First Sentence:  I knew I was in trouble when the corner wheeled in the body, encased in a rubber sack, on a wobbly gurney with one wheel that wanted to go in any direction but straight.
It is April 1944; plans for D-Day have been made and the different branches of service and nationalities of military are rehearsing for the critical day.  However, an unidentified body has washed up on Slapton Sands, the beach replicating the landing site of Normandy Beach.  General Eisenhower sends Captain Billy Boyle and his partner, Lt. Kaz Kazimierz to investigate.
There are few authors whose voice is such that you aren’t so much reading a story but make you feel as though it is personally being told to you.  Benn has just such a voice.  Add to that his wonderful descriptions…”…Whitewashed stone cottages with thatched roofs sat close to the road, stark and bright beneath the slanting rays of the morning sun.  A pub, a couple of shops, and then we were back in the midst of green fields.” and you become part of the story.
Billy is a great character and one whose history and backstory you learn as a material part of the story.  The author does not assume readers have read previous books in the series, but those who have won’t find it something which slows down the pace of the story.
Although one appreciates the author including an actual historical even within the plot, what happened in this instance was horrible beyond words.  However, Benn is very good at conveying the magnitude of the tragedy without needing to include graphic details.  
Benn writes excellent, and occasionally poignant, dialogue…””Are you sure?” Kaz said,” t could be dangerous.  This man has killed before.”  “So have I, Piotr,” David said. “I have sent men crashing down from the sky in a ball of fire. I am the very fact of death.”  And yet, Benn’s wry humor does, occasionally, shine through…”Captain Boyle, although we are an informal household, that does not mean I make it a practice to socialize with staff.  It simply isn’t done, not in England.  Is it commonplace wherever you come from?”  “That would be Boston, ma’am, and I guess not.”  “Ah, Boston.  And there I thought you had a speech impediment….”
Benn’s character take life under his deft hand—not only Billy and Kaz, but David, the severely wounded pilot; Sir Rupert and Edgar, members of the family at whose house Billy and Kaz are staying, and Peter Wiley, the possible by-blow of Sir Rupert.  All this matters as herein lies the mystery within the mystery.  Benn also does an excellent job of incorporating real historical characters--Yogi Berra and Agatha Christie, including a wonderful scene of Billy discussing the situation with her—who are employed in an historically accurate manner.  He also, sadly, does an excellent job of conveying the staggeringly tragic results of a breakdown in communication. 
The Rest is Silence” is an excellent book, albeit painful to read at times.  Please don’t let that stop you from getting to know this book and series.  Not only are they great mysteries with wonderful characters, but good history lessons as well. 

THE REST IS SILENCE (Hist Mys-Cpt. Billy Boyle-England-1944) – Ex
Benn, James R. – 9th in series
Soho Crime, 2014

Thursday, August 21, 2014

A Dying Fall by Elly Griffiths

First Sentence: At first he isn’t even scared.         
Forensic archeologist Ruth Galloway is shocked to learn that a friend has died in a house fire. Things take on an eerie quality when she receives a letter from him, written days before he died. He talks about an historic archeological discovery but also that he is afraid. With her daughter Katy and Druid friend Cathbad, Kate heads north to Lancashire. What she doesn’t plan on is that DCI Nelson, father to Katy, will also be there, in his former hometown, with his wife and family.       
If a completely compelling, albeit somewhat horrific, hook is what captures your attention; you can’t do better than here. Griffiths immediately draws you into the story and makes you want to keep reading by making each chapter more intriguing than the last. This is not a book you’ll put down.     
Griffiths is very good at creating complicated relationships wherein you have sympathy for each of the characters involved. That takes real skill, and she has it. She also introduces characters very well and If you’ve read previous books, you become reacquainted; if you’re new to the series, you never feel lost wondering who they are and how they fit together. Sadly, not all authors are good at this. There are the favorites, of course; Ruth and Cathbad in particular. Children can be awkward, yet Katy is neither precocious nor annoying, but very realistic. One of the most appealing new characters is Sandy, Nelson’s friend and fellow DCI.       
The atmosphere and tension created are excellent. The history related to the story is fascinating. I’ve always been a fan of Griffiths’ ear for dialogue and her occasional subtle humor.      
A Dying Fall” is a book which broad appeal as it works on so many levels. It may just be my favorite or second favorite, book in this series so far. What most pleases me is to know that there will be more books coming.
A DYING FALL (Trad. Myst-Ruth Galloway-England-Contemp) – VG+
Griffiths, Elly – 5th in series
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013