Monday, September 18, 2017

Secrets in Death by J.D. Robb

First Sentence:  It wouldn’t kill her.
Lt. Eve Dallas investigates homicides, but the victims don’t usually drop dead at her feet.  Larinda Mars is a “social information reporter”; i.e., a gossip columnist who clearly has an enemy since someone slashed one of Mars major arteries causing her to bleed out in the middle of an upscale bar.  Eve and her team are determined to find the killer.
Some readers have an issue with the bedroom scenes in this series.  “Outlander” author, Diana Gabaldon, provided an excellent perspective in her line reminding readers that sex is a normal part of an adult relationship and that “it is much more about emotion than the exchange of bodily fluids.”  That said, the scenes are easy to skip over without losing the thread of the plot.
The slightly futuristic world in which one finds oneself is just enough to provide for fun imaging, yet not so removed from our reality that it seems implausible.  As with much of science fiction, it is not impossible that some of the gadgets and technologies will ultimately be realized.

Robb creates excellent characters, not only in Eve, but the supporting characters of Roark, Galahad the cat, Mira, Peabody, and the rest of Eve's team.  However, it is about Summerset that we receive an interesting, and surprising, revelation.  
The primary attraction to the series is the characters, particularly Eve.  She is an interesting dichotomy between the tough, smart cop who is dedicated to standing in for the dead even when they may not have been good people themselves and the woman who is completely indifferent to her appearance and is unaware of many things outside her job. But she does know baseball.  
Secrets in Death” is an enjoyable read with a couple well-executed twists. It is more of a straight police procedural that some in the series.

 SECRETS IN DEATH (Pol Proc-Lt. Eve Dallas-NYC-Near Future) – G+
      Robb, J.D. – 45th in series
      St. Martin’s Press – Sept 2017

Friday, September 15, 2017

Another Man's Ground by Claire Booth

First Sentence:  The dispatch call said there was stripping going on in the woods, and the property owner was not happy about it.
Sheriff Hank Worth is in the midst of his re-election campaign when called out on a case of an unusual theft, but one of considerable value.  He is successful in keeping a certain aspect of the case quiet from the general populous until a body is found.
A very clever hook definitely captures one’s attention.  Booth then proceeds to provide some very interesting “who knew?” information.
Hank having to go through all the work of a political campaign provides an interesting look at what is involved and how manipulative they are.  There is a religious sensibility which runs through the story, but not in any way that is preachy or should cause anyone of any faith, or no faith, discomfort.
Booth’s depiction of a mother whose child has been missing is very effective and painful.  She conveys the eternal hope one would have even in the face of knowing the case is no longer a priority for law enforcement.
The team of officers is a true ensemble with Hank as its supportive lead, and one officer wanting to be involved—“But, man, was he in some kind of business, where getting handed two homicide cases improved an employee’s morale.”  Sheila, in particular, is a well-crafted character as a detective who is a good team member and one who truly cares about the victim.  All of the characters are very well developed. Hank’s relationships with his wife and with Lovinia, an older woman who shows up at every crime scene and is as wise as she is delightful, are very well presented.
“Another Man’s Ground” has murder, drugs, and politics in a wonderfully unpredictable plot.  This is a book once started won’t be put down until it’s finished.

ANOTHER MAN’S GROUND (Pol Proc-Sheriff Hank Worth-Branson Co., MO-Contemp) - Ex
      Booth, Claire – 2nd in series
      Minotaur Books, July 2017

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

The Quiet Child by John Burley

First Sentence:  Michael McCray squinted into the low-hanging sun as he swung the liberty blue Mercury four-door into the Century Grocery parking log off Gas Point Road.
Danny and Sen McCray are 6- and 10-years-old respectively when they go to the market with their father, Michael.  There have always been rumors about Danny, who doesn’t talk, being the cause of sickness in the town and to his own mother.  When a man steals McCray’s car, with the boys inside, Sheriff Jim Kent ignores those who say the town may be better off with Danny and sets off to help find the boys.
What a wonderfully deceptive story.  There is an oppressive spirit to both the characters and the setting—“Outside, the sun rose further in the sky, but despite the windows and open doorway, little of the light seemed to penetrate the dim interior.  To Jim’s eye, there was no architectural reason for why this should be so, only that this was what he’d come to recognize as a waiting house: a homestead turned inward, sheltering its occupants from crisis or illness, attempting to protect them until the worse of it passed.”    
One doesn’t realize how much technology has impacted even police work until faced with trying to trace a call in the1950s.  Burley makes even that information interesting. 
Jim Kent, the retired plumber turned town sheriff, is such a good character with his determination to find the missing children.  One wouldn’t mind seeing him again.

One doesn't want to say too much for fear of giving the story away.  It is a story of the actions to which superstition and desperation can lead.  Know, however, that one's astonishment? ...dismay? grows with each page.
“The Quiet Child” is completely engrossing.  It is a disturbing but very good read.

THE QUIET CHILD (Psy Thriller-Michael McCray-Cottonwood, CA-1954) – VG
      Burley, John – Standalone
      William Morrow, 2017

Sunday, September 10, 2017

By My Hand by Maurizio de Giovanni

First Sentence: The murderous hands work unhurriedly in the dim light.

Christmas is coming to Naples, a city now under a fascist regime and where people live in tremendous poverty in contrast to the luxurious apartment in which the bodies of a militia officer and his wife have been found. While searching out the killer, or killers, Commisaario Ricciardi is concerned for his elderly former nurse and torn between two women, while Brigadier Maione is dealing with a crisis of his own.

One does not enter gently into this story. Instead, one is nearly overwhelmed by the visual and narrative contrasts that attract and repel us. However, the one thing one does not do is stop reading.

The two principal characters of Ricciardi and Maione are such wonderful contrasts to one another, yet they balance each other perfectly. Maione provides a bit of light, whereas Ricciardi believes himself to be the dark due to his ability? curse? gift? of the Deed, which causes him to see the final seconds of those who’ve died by violence. What’s nice is that these final seconds don’t help Ricciardi solve the crimes, as the words only make sense in the end.

Supporting them is the always delightful Dr. Moto and his newly adopted dog; Bambinelle, Maione’s informant; Rosa, who has been with Ricciardi since his childhood; and Erica, the object of unrequited (so far) love on both parts. It is the balance between being a police procedural, and being a book about people and their relationships, that helps make this book so compelling.

The thoughts of the killer are chilling. While this is a device that can be intrusive, it works here and provides a frightening look at the dichotomy of the killer’s mind. In complete contrast Livia, the wealthy widow in love with Ricciardi, provide us a sense of place and a view of the people of Naples, “Waking up to the calls of the strolling vendors, the noise rising from the streets, the songs. And the smells, the thousands of pots bubbling busily away, the thousands of frying pans sizzling, the pastry shops competing to present their masterpieces. Everyone had dreamed up a calling, a profession; every one of them was trying to eke out a living.”

There are two principal grounding elements to the story; the crashing of the waves representing conflict, and Christmas with all the emotions surrounding it, which provides wonderful segues to increasingly more serious aspects of the story—“Christmas is an emotion. It’s a strong as a pounding heart, as light as a fluttering eyelash. But it can be swept away by a gust of wind and never come at all.” de Giovanni does a wonderful job of linking traditions of the present to those of the distant past, and of teaching us that about which we may not have known, such as the symbolism of, and meaning behind each figural element of the Nativity.

And, of course, being set in Italy, there is food—“boiling posts of the maccaronari, or macaroni vendors, and the posts of oil for the fried-pizza man, who also fried piping-hot panzarotti turnovers and potato croquettes…” Yet, there is also a wonderful definition of faith—“Our faith wasn’t made to erect barriers, walls, or iron bars between us and love; it was made to increase the presence of love in our lives so that we can give of ourselves and live in a state of communion…”

By My Hand” is a more serious book than its predecessors as it relates to the politics of the time: one senses the changes and coming threat with each book. It is also a very good murder mystery/police procedural. However, at its heart, it is a book about people and relationships, and motives. The motive here is a sad one, yet the resolutions of the conflicts related to the principle characters will warm your heart, and make you anxious to read the next book. It is Christmas, after all.

BY MY HAND (Hist Mys-Comm. Ricciardi/Brig. Maione-Naples-1931) – VG+
      de Giovanni, Maurizio – 5th in series
      Europa Editions, Aug 2014

Thursday, September 7, 2017

The Life We Bury by Allen Eskens

First Sentence:  I remember being pestered by a sense of dread as I walked to my car that day, pressed down by a wave of foreboding that swirled around my head and broke against the evening in small ripples.
 Joe Talbot’s college English course writing assignment to write a brief biography leads him to a local nursing home and Carl Iverson. Carl, dying of cancer, had been released from prison after being convicted of the rape and murder of a neighbor girl. Carl’s only condition is that both parties be honest.  As Joe digs into Carl’s conviction, the more he believes Carl.  He also finds there’s someone who doesn’t want that to happen.
Eskens as a wonderful voice which captures, and holds, one’s attention—“Oddly enough, my high-school guidance counsel never mentioned the word “college” in any of our meetings. …--maybe she knew who my mother was and figured that no one can change the sound of an echo.”  His descriptions make the ordinary come alive—“The archive room had the feel of a tabernacle, with millions of souls packed away on microfilm like the incense in tiny jars, waiting for someone to free their essence to be felt, tasted, inhaled again, if only for a moment.”—as does his strong sense of place—“The triplex apartment building I lived in had an ancient cellar that breathed dankness up through the floorboards, filling the structure with a pungency born of wet dirt mixed with the tang of rotting timber.
Eskens’ characters come to life.  They are fully developed and dimensional. As much as Eskens may tell us, one wants to know much more—“Are you talking about killing or murdering? “Is there a difference?” Mr. Iverson looked out the window as he pondered the question…”Yes,” he said. “There is a difference.  I’ve done both, I’ve killed…and I’ve murdered.” What’s the difference?” “It’s the difference between hoping that the sun rises and hoping that it doesn’t.” 
Joe is humanity and the defender.  He is the one who is always there for his autistic brother.  He is the one who doesn’t accept Carl at face value. He is the one willing to ask questions.  He is the one willing to dig into Carl’s case to find the truth.  Lila, Joe’s neighbor, starts out as the prosecutor, the common person who sees the label and judges.  It is to Eskens’ credit that her role changes as the story develops and as she looks beyond her preconceptions. 
There are elements of wisdom—“But we do have control of how much of our soul we leave behind in this mess.”  There is also a metaphorical ticking clock, and actions by Joe which fall into the too-stupid-to-live category, which is rather amusing from a male character, but both elements add tremendous tension.  Unfortunately, there are also a lot of coincidences.  The ending is a bit over the top, but it also makes one smile.
The Life We Bury” is a wonderful read with much to recommend it; the author’s voice, interesting characters, and excellent suspense. One will want to read more by this author.

THE LIFE WE BURY (Trad Mys-Joe Talbert-Minnesota-Contemp) – VG+
      Eskens, Alan -Standalone
       Seventh Street Books, Oct, 2014

Monday, September 4, 2017

Marathon by Brian Freeman

First Sentence:  The backpack is proudly made in the USA.
It is the annual running of the marathon in Duluth but what should be a joyous event becomes deadly when a bomb explodes.  The immediate assumption, promoted by a spectator who swears a Muslim man who bumped into him was the bomber, and an anti-Muslim extremist with a large public following, leads to more deaths.  But what is the truth?  That’s up to Jonathan Stride and his team to find out.
Freeman has given us a book that couldn’t be more relevant.  It is also a book that can be emotionally painful to read.
Each of the characters comes with baggage which often colors their view and informs their actions.  An interesting observation is made as to how young Muslim men can become dissatisfied and, therefore, radicalized—“Drive all day, pray, go to the mosque, share an apartment with four other ex-Pakistanis with similar lives.  Looking back on those days, he understood how young men could go wrong.  He wasn’t starving, but he had no clear purpose, and the purposeless life yearned for any kind of meaning.”  
This is an excellent look at the results of assumptions, ignorance, and prejudice—“A bomb explodes, and Muslims are guilty until proven innocent. …You accuse us of not sharing American values, but at the first sign of trouble, you jettison those values yourself.” As a result, innocent people die. There are lessons to be learned here, including that freedom of speech can be an action with consequences as deadly as a bomb.
Marathon” may be viewed as political but is, in fact, a highly suspenseful, with strong characters and some very good twists.  

MARATHON (Pol Proc-Stride/Dial/Bei-Duluth, MN-Contemp) – VG
      Freeman, Brian – 8th in series
      Quercus – May 2017

Friday, September 1, 2017

I Know a Secret by Tess Gerritsen

First Sentence:  When I was seven years old, I learned how important it is to cry at funerals.
Detective Jane Rizzoli and medical examiner Maura Isles have two murders to investigate.  Although they occurred in separate locations and no connection seems to exist between the two victims, there is a commonality in their wounds.  Maura Isles' biological mother, is an imprisoned serial killer who is dying of cancer.  What is the meaning of her cryptic message to Maura?
Such a well-done beginning.  It is one filled with very intriguing information and leaves one with many questions—“You’ll find another one soon.”-- to which one wants answers.
Third-person, anonymous narration is a writer’s element; i.e., trick, which can be annoying, and disruptive to the flow and tension of the story.  Bear with it, however, as it not only makes sense but leads one down an unexpected path.
Gerritsen really knows how to write natural dialogue.  It serves many purposes, even to indicate the difference in educational backgrounds between Isles and Rizzoli—“Bilateral globe enucleation,” said Mura softly. “Is that some kind of fancy medical talk for someone cut out her eyeballs?” “Yes.”
The dialogue is only one aspect of Gerritsen’s literary voice.  Excellent analogies is another—“Cops were like terrorists.  They tossed devastating bombs into the lives of victims’ friends and families, and then they stood around to watch the damage they’d done.
Learning about the families of the protagonists gives them dimension and life.  It makes them vulnerable and realistic.  If one has a character who is Italian, one can also be ensured of large meals with good food—“The leg of lamb was studded with garlic cloves and roasted to a perfect medium rare.  Surrounding it were bowls of crisp rosemary potatoes, green beans with almonds, three different salads, and homemade dinner rolls.”  Yet one is also reminded that cops don’t get Christmas off.
A fascinating benefit of Gerritsen’s novels, due to her background, is the medical and scientific information one learns.  It takes the investigative information just another step up. 
The plot is so skillfully developed.  The investigation is layers built on layers.  It is refreshing even when theories are developed that don’t prove out…or do they?  There are definitely “Wow!” moments, and the twists keep coming, one of which could not have been more unexpected. What is particularly enjoyable is that they don’t feel contrived, although you know Gerritsen labored long and hard on them, because the logic works.
I Know a Secret” is an excellent book.  It is skillfully plotted with twists that give definite “Wow!” moments.  Gerritsen is a “must read” author.

I KNOW A SECRET (Pol Proc-Rizzoli/Isles-Boston-Contemp) – Ex
      Gerritsen, Tess – 12th in series
      Ballentine Books, Aug 2017

Monday, August 28, 2017

Glass Houses by Louise Penny

First  Sentence:  “State your name, please.”
It is a very hot July day in Montreal and Chief Inspector Gamache is testifying in a murder trial.  The previous Halloween, a figure in a black robe and mask has stood for several days on the green.  It didn’t speak, rarely moved, and finally disappeared.  The decisions and actions of Chief Superintendent Armand Gamache will impact far more than the people in the courtroom. 
The story opens in a courtroom.  What is interesting is that we have no idea as to who is on trial or for what crime they are being tried.  Yes, there is a murder, but not until we are a fair way into the story.  What we do know is that more is happening than what seems to be—“Maureen Corriveau was new to the bench.  … She could have absolutely no idea that she’d drawn the short straw. That a whole lot of unpleasantness was about to come her way.”  The courtroom scenes are very well done and have a tension of their own.
The more we learn of Gamache, one realizes he is the person one should aspire to be.  He is one willing to take great risks that may result in him paying a high price, but necessary to achieve a goal—“Never lose sight of the goal,” he said, returning his gaze to his subordinates “Never.” The relationship with his second-in-command and son-in-law, Jean-Guy, is strong and enviable, hasn’t always been smooth, and neither is it here.  What it is, is real; human.
With the story moving back to Three Pines, we meet/are reacquainted with so many wonderful characters.  Penny’s characters become real; individuals we would like to know, with whom we’d like to spend time. With each book, we learn a bit more about them and their perspective on life. We come to realize how multi-layered they are.  Ruth, for example, for all her eccentricity, is a crone; a sage in the best sense.  We are also made aware of the robed figure which projects a decided menace with the imagery of a bell jar being particularly effective—“I thought it was Death,” said Armand Gamache.”
 Managing two different time periods can be challenging, and often irritating for the reader.  Penny manages it flawlessly.  Her writing is so visual, it is as though they are film cutaway shots, leaving the reader with no question as to where they are when. 
If one is going to have realistic characters, one must also have excellent, natural-sounding dialogue.  Penny often catches one completely off guard with her humor making us laugh such as with the running joke about Jean-Guy’s glasses, or the unexpected comparison—“Jean-Guy and Ruth were much alike, actually, though he’d never, ever tell his son-in-law that he resembled a drunken old woman.” One of the best instances is also with Jean-Guy regretting not learning meditation.  But one should discover his mantra for one’s self. 
The plot is compelling and very current, the story keeps one so involved that losing sleep in order to finish the book is quite likely, and the originality in the story’s structure only adds to the overall quality.  There are twists and important questions which are raised.
Penny’s books are psychological studies, lessons in philosophy, and labyrinths of courage and the human spirit. They are also civics lessons in the causes of bigotry and the human cost of the drugs trade. Penny reminds us of lessons we should have learned but that we are inclined to apply to others rather than ourselves.  Her understanding of humankind, its strengths and weaknesses, only adds to the remarkable nature of her writing—“And a conscience is something one cannot escape.”
Penny’s writing is so good there are times one literally finds one has stopped breathing and must consciously catch one’s breath.  Even so, Penny never loses sight of the fact that the book is also an excellent, and ultimately highly suspenseful, expertly crafted mystery with twist upon twist upon twist. 
With “Glass Houses,” Ms. Penny has taken another step forward as one of today’s most remarkable writers.  Just when you think she can’t get any better, she does.  Just when you think her new book can’t be better than the last, it is.  If you’ve not read her before, you really should.

GLASS HOUSES (Pol Proc-Armand Gamache-Montreal/Three Pines, Canada-Contemp) - Ex
      Penny, Louise – 13th in series
      Minotaur Books – Aug 2017

Friday, August 25, 2017

Sulfur Springs by William Kent Krueger

First Sentence:  In the balance of who we are and what we do, the weight of history is immeasurable.
Cork O’Connor and his bride Rainy are about to celebrate the Fourth of July when Rainy receives a frantic and disturbing voice message from her son Peter, who is in Southern Arizona working at a drug rehab center.  Being unable to reach him, Cork and Rainy fly to Arizona only to learn that Peter hasn’t worked at the center in months and no one knows where he is.  On the message, Peter gave the name Rodriguez, head of a drug cartel.  In what danger is Peter, and is he still alive?
It is a well-done opening that provides a succinct, yet surprisingly emotional, summary of Cork and his history.  This will be appreciated by both new and returning readers of the series.
Krueger is one of a special group of writers who impart small truths and wisdom that fits the story, but also make one take note wanting to remember them—“I understood that the past is never really past.  We live our history over and over, the worst of our memories right there alongside us, step by step, our companions to the grave.”  It is doubtful anyone has ever defined better the concept of trust—“Trust.  An easy word to say. … But putting it into practice?  … You hold a place inside that’s only for you and that you never let anyone else into.  Hell, after she died, we found out even Mother Teresa had secrets too dark to share.”
Krueger makes us think, too, of important issues of today such as bigotry.  Yet the manner isn’t one of preaching or berating, but of opening our eyes and being educated.  His use of language and imagery is always a joy to read—“The demons that plague you are patient horrors. …They are always with you. And why? Because they’re not things separate from you.  They are you.”
The way in which the author constructs his characters makes them real to us.  Although Cork and Rainy take center stage, there are several excellent supporting characters, particularly Jocko, the old miner.  We feel their emotions.  We have a real sense of who they are. 
Just as strong is the sense of place.  Those who have been to the high desert will recognize it.  Those who have not will feel as though they’ve been there.  Krueger’s description of monsoons in the desert is vivid and real.  The threat is as if another character.
Sulfur Springs” has a beginning which seems straightforward, and then builds the sense of danger and suspense layer upon layer, with twists and a bad guy you don’t see coming.

SULFUR SPRINGS (Unl Invest-Cork O’Connor-Arizona-Contemp) - Ex
      Krueger, William Kent – 16th in series
      Atria – Aug 2017