Thursday, April 16, 2015

Condemned to Death by Cora Harrison

First Sentence:  The body of the man in the boat with no oars had been washed up on to the orange sands of the beach of Fanore.
As Brehon of the Burren and the one who dispenses justice, Mara knows of the punishment for kin-murder, but never seen someone who has been set to sea in a boat without either sail or oars.  Now just such a boat had turned up.  No one in the small fishing community admits to knowing who the victim is, but Mara, with the help of her law students, doesn’t believe them, or that he washed ashore from another location.
Each chapter heading introduces readers to an element of Brehon Law.  It is not only fascinating, but almost makes one long for such a practical system.  Additionally, within the story, it is interesting how Mara considers that a change is needed to the Brehon laws in order to reflect the changing times.
Harrison paints wonderfully descriptive pictures giving us a strong sense of place.  She is also very good at using weather and, in this case, the sea, as an additional character in the story.  There is also a very good reminder as to how brief is life and how “Their silver and their gold shall not be able to deliver them in the day of the wrath of the Lord.” 

Don't, however, mistake this for a book with a religious subtext.  It is more a lesson in the cost of man’s greed.  Still, she does make reference of the shift from the old faith to the “new,” “The priests were trying to call the first of February St. Brigid’s Day, but on the Burren it was still known as Imbolc and was one of the four great festivals in the Celtic calendar."
Harrison’s style does become a bit repetitive in the details giving one the feeling she fears readers might forget something previously told to them.  There is also an issue of flow and pacing as the story seems rather to meander along until the final quarter of the story when it becomes exciting and intense.  It would be nice where there a bit more consistency throughout.

Condemned to Death” contains very vivid characters, and a lesson in humility and priorities brought to bear in a devastating climax.  

CONDEMNED TO DEATH (Hist Mys-Mara-Ireland-16th Century) – Good
Harrison, Cora – 12th book in series
Severn House / First World Publication – Feb 2015

Sunday, April 12, 2015

The Scroll by Anne Perry

First Sentence:  The early winter evening was drawing in. In the antiquarian bookshop well away from the High Street in Cambridge, Monty Danforth sat in his room in the back, working on unpacking and cataloguing the books and papers from the last crate of the Greville Estate.
Monty Danforth’s boss is out sick so it falls on him to unpack the shipment of books received from an estate sale. At the very bottom of the box, is an incredibly old scroll written in a language unknown to Monty.  Thinking to have it translated, he tries both photocopying and photographing it, only to find blank images. Soon, three very different individuals come to the shop insisting he sell the scroll to each of them.  He is also given a warning that the scroll could present great danger.
How delightful to have a contemporary story from Ms. Perry.  Even more delightful is that it is a combination of mystery, supernatural, and spirituality.  As well as the quandary in which Danforth finds himself, there is an increasing level of threat in the story, as well an element of faith, beyond any one religion, that causes one to wonder what they would do.

The Scroll” is yet another example of Ms. Perry’s writing excellence.  It’s a tiny bit Di Vinci Code and a tiny bit Stephen King in the best possible way, with just a touch of philosophical questioning.  The only problem with having it be a bedtime read, is the ending leaves you contemplating long after finishing the story.  And isn’t that the mark of an excellent book? 

THE SCROLL (Novella-Monty Danforth-England-Contemp) - Ex
Perry, Anne - Standalone
The Mysterious Bookshop – 2011 / Amazon Digital Services – 2012

Thursday, April 9, 2015

A Killing at Cotton Hill by Terry Shames

First Sentence:  I watch Loretta Singletary hurry up the steps to my house.
Dora Lee Parjeter wasn’t particularly well liked by her neighbors or her estranged daughter, but that’s no reason to kill her.  When the less-than-conscientious chief of police, who also happens to be the town drunk, immediately arrests Dora’s live-on grandson, Samuel remembers that Dora claimed someone was spying on her, and wants to be certain the real killer is arrested.
Shames has a delightful voice.  She brings her characters to life and perfectly captures life in a small town.  No matter which state someone may be from, anyone from a small town will easily recognize the characters and traits, good and bad, of the characters, including cats…”They are careful to keep their priorities straight.  Feed me, give me a warm dry place to sleep, pet me when I tell you to, then leave me to my own devices.”
Samuel Craddock is a wonderful protagonist; intelligent and capable.  He is very likable, but with just a hint of an edge that keeps him from being a bit too perfect.  I particularly appreciated that he is still grieving for his wife and not looking for a new partner, and the way Shames included that relationship in the explanation as to why a small-town sheriff would have an extremely valuable art collection.
The flow is very; one is never tempted to put the book down. The plot is well done with plenty of suspects, a couple of good red herrings and, unfortunately, one large coincidence.  This is perfect a perfect book for those who like they’re mysteries “squeaky clean,” but don’t mistake it for a cozy.  It is a true traditional mystery and, by no means, insipid or twee.    
A Killing at Cotton Hill” is a very well-done mystery with a solid plot and excellent characters.  There is enough edge to keep the story realistic and compelling.

A KILLING AT COTTON HILL (Trad. Mys-Samuel Craddock-Texas-Contemporary) – VG
Shames, Terry – 1st in series
Seventh Street Books – July 2013

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Midnight Riot by Ben Aaronvitch

First Sentence:  It started at one thirty on a cold Tuesday morning in January when Martin Turner, street performer and, in his own words, apprentice gigolo, tripped over a body in front of the West Portico of St. Paul’s at Covent Garden.
Constable Peter Grant is still on probation and about to be assigned a post where his days will be filled with paper.  It is only by happenstance, that he stumbles on a murder scene and an eyewitness who happens to be a ghost.  This unusual situation brings results in his being assigned to assist Det. CI Thomas Nightingale, head of—in fact, the only member of—a unit which investigates the unusual.  In this case, they’re facing a turf war, not between gangs, but between gods and goddess of the Rivers of the Thames.
One shouldn’t even try to compare this book to anything else.  Although it has elements of many other authors, Aaronvitch is unique, or a brilliant amalgamation, depending upon your viewpoint.  One does look forward to tiny homage’s to other characters, as well as very subtle literary references, but there shall be no spoilers here.  He has a wonderful voice with classic wry humor. 
Told in the first person, we have Constable Grant, who is rather unusual; and Nicholas Wallpenny, who is more unusual still; and DCI Nightingale; most unusual of all…“Nightingale sighed. “No,” he said. “Not like Harry Potter.”  “In what way?”  “I’m not a fictional character,” said Nightingale.  Still, one can’t help but like the completely “normal” DCI Seawall.
The book is an interesting balance of the fanciful and the dark.  However, the further you do go into the story, the deeper you are into the world of the supernatural, and the further still you want to go.  However, it is also a fascinating mix of the procedural, forensic and scientific. “Magic, it turned out, was just like science in that sometimes it was a question of spotting the bleeding obvious.”  Aaronvitch also presents interesting historical and geographic facts in a very non-scholarly manner.  How often does one think about where might be the source of the Thames?
Aaronvitch is very good at conveying the chaos of one climatic scene, yet not allowing the reader to become lost.  There is very good tension and suspense with a style so visual; one feels as if they are watching a film. 
Midnight Riot” is neither Harry Potter, nor Harry Dresden. It is an absolutely delightful, engrossing, marvelous book and, happily, only the first of the series.

MIDNIGHT RIOT (Pol Proc/Para-DI Peter Grant-London-Contemp) - VG
Aaronvitch, Ben – 1st in series
Del Rey – February, 2010 / Kindle Edition – February, 2011

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