Wednesday, July 18, 2018

The King's Justice by E.M. Powell

First Sentence:  Pit or Punishment: Hugo Stanton couldn't tell which excited the folk of these hot, crammed streets more.
With traveling courts established by Henry II having more than enough to handle, the justices send court clerk Aelred Barling, and his young assistant Hugo Stanton, to a village outside York.  Although there were no witnesses, Nicholas Lindley has been imprisoned for the murder of the village smith.  The case seems certain, yet Stanton has his doubts.  The prisoner escapes, more deaths occur, and the two men are tasked with quelling the villagers, dealing with the lord of the manor, and finding the killer.
To Powell's credit, no attempt to pretty-up the period has been made.  Justice is anything but just and the streets are beyond foul.  However, it is interesting to see the early stages of the justice system. 
All the characters have dimension and distinct personalities, pleasant and unpleasant.  Barling is the type of character one likes more as the story progresses.  He is pragmatic—"To dwell on an error is never of benefit."—focused on the details and dedicated to his role and responsibility.  Stanton is observant and deductive.  There is very nice, subtle humor—"And well done, Stanton:  a good evening's work.' But he could believe the next. 'Good,' continued Barling, 'for one who is so new to learning how to exercise their wits.' The clerk carried on to his solar. Stanton mouthed a favourite word at Barling's retreating back.  And for one who was supposedly limited in his wits, it was a fine, fine choice."  Powell does a good job of building the respect and the relationship which develops between the two men.  It's nice to know there will be more books in this series as watching the partnership grow will be interesting.       
There is a very good twist and the introduction of danger to the protagonists, as well as a sad event.  The story has something of "Midsomer Murders" feel about it, except the number of murders surpasses that series usual three.  One does start to wonder whether anyone will be left alive in the village, although it does raise the stakes as to who the murderer could be.  Although revelation by exposition may not be a preferred style, it works in this instance and the killer is unexpected.
One criticism is that the Cast of Characters is at the end of the book rather than the beginning where it would have been more useful.  However, the Historical Note is fascinating and well worth taking the time to read.
"The King's Justice" is much more than it appears when one first starts.  Besides being a very good mystery, this is definitely a book for those who enjoy historicals.

THE KING'S JUSTICE (Hist Mys-Stanton/Barling-England-1176) - VG

      Powell, E.M. – 1st in series
      Thomas & Mercer – June 2018 

Monday, July 16, 2018

Rescued by David Rosenfelt

First Sentence:  It wasn't the presence of the tractor trailer that caused John Paxos to take notice.
Attorney Andy Carpenter keeps trying to retire but when his wife's ex-boyfriend, ex-cop and ex-private investigator Dave Kramer, is accused of murder, he has no choice but to agree to defend him.  It won't be easy since Kramer admits to having killed the victim.  But with no witnesses, other than a truck trailer full of dogs, and no second weapon, how you do prove it was self-defense.
Don't be fooled by the puppies on the cover.  Although the book may appear "light," the bad guys are truly nasty, which is accentuated by not knowing who they are, other than their names, or how they fit into the story until things begin to fall into place.  And if one is looking for a scene which is incredibly chilling, Rosenfelt delivers.  The fact that it is only one page long makes it even more so.
The story is set up very well.  One certainly knows who, what and when.  He then goes on and introduces most of the characters, who are fully-developed and interesting each in their own right, in a very straight-forward, uncomplicated way which immediately draws one in.  It is very nice having a protagonist who is not super-macho—"Laurie believes I would have trouble defending myself in a contentious Girl Scout gather, and while I pretend otherwise, he happens to be right."  The author has a very readable voice and uses humor well—"I hate visiting clients in jail.  Maybe I should have thought of that before I became a criminal attorney, because jail is where most of my clients hang out."
The plot links that are made are clever.  It's a twisty road down which we are led.  Although one hopes elements of the plot are improbable, the author creates well-crafted puzzle pieces, joining them together, one-by-one, so they make sense while still hiding the complete picture from the reader.  His explanation related to the stock market is nicely done and simplifies that which some may not understand.
There are coincidences and connections to conveniently-talented people.  Sometimes the plot does stretch credulity a bit but, it is fiction and it's enjoyable.  And there are dogs.
"Rescued" includes courtroom scenes which are as exciting as are scenes of physical danger.  Although the outcomes of the story's threads were slightly anticlimactic, they were still very satisfactory.

RESCUED (Legal Thriller-Andy Carpenter-New Jersey-Contemp) – Good
      Rosenfelt, David – 17th in series
      Minotaur Books – July 2018

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Trial on Mount Koya by Susan Spann

First Sentence:  "I question your judgment, Hiro."

Portuguese Jesuit Father Mateo and his protector, and friend, master ninja Hiro Hattori travel to a Buddhist temple at the summit of Mount Koya.  Hiro is carrying a secret message for an Iga spy who is at the temple posing as a priest.  A blizzard moves in preventing anyone from leaving, including a killer who is murdering the priests and posing their bodies.  It is up to the two men to identify the killer and quickly as they come to realize that Father Mateo is slated to be a victim.
Although this book begins immediately where "Betrayal at Iga" ended, it stands on its own with new readers being brought quickly up to date.  And besides, there's a cat. 
Spann's ability to create a mental picture provides a clear sense of place—"Stone lamps positioned around the yard illuminated the space, their flickering light unusually pale and weak beneath the sickly sky."  The simple explanation of the "Manifestations of Buddha" is interesting, as are the explanations of the jusanbutsu and the bodhisattvas.  One of the great gifts of reading is learning about other cultures and beliefs.  Spann does a fine job of both, as well as providing translations for the Japanese used in the story.  
There are wonderful characters including Ana, Hero's housekeeper. She is a beam of light who pushes back the dark—"Ana looked down her nose at Hiro—a significant feat, given her diminutive size."  It's hard to resist a protagonist who has his priorities in order—"…the story was wasting time he could use to find his cat and stop the killer."  There are also basic truths to be found—"I did not choose this life, but I could choose the way I live it."  Hiro and Father Mateo balance one another.  It is a relationship which has developed over time and into one of trust and respect.  Hatsuko, the female samurai, is a very interesting character.  She is someone of whom one would like to see more.
Spann creates a very good sense of urgency and danger which builds to an unexpected revelation. She shows the idiocy of hatred brought about by policies—"If it makes you feel better, I promise to hate you again as soon as safety grants me the luxury of unfounded prejudices."
One very small criticism, which may be more on the publisher than the author.  The book includes a cast of characters and a glossary.  Unfortunately, these have been placed at the end of the book, rather than the beginning where they would have been much more useful.  However, the plot is very well done and gives a nod back to Agatha Christie's "And Then There Were None."
"Trial on Mount Koya" is atmospheric and suspenseful with a highly dramatic ending and an important self-realization for Hiro.

TRIAL ON MOUNT KOYA (Hist Mys-Hiro Hattori/Father Mateo-Japan-1565) – Good
      Spann, Susan – 6th in series
      Seventh Street Books – July 2018

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Matchup by Lee Child and Sandra Brown (Editors)

      Twenty-two of the best contemporary mystery/thriller writers teamed up to write eleven amazing short stories.  Each story is written by a pair consisting of one woman and one man, and each pair brought together one of the protagonists for which they are famous. 

The pairings are:
-Lee Coburn and Joe Pickett in “Honor & …” by Sandra Brown and C.J. Box
-Tony Hill and Roy Grace in “Footloose” by Val McDermid and Peter James
-Temperance Brennan and Jack Reacher in “Faking a Murderer” by Kathy Reichs and Lee Child
-Jamie Fraser and Cotton Malone in “Past Prologue” by Diana Gabaldon and Steve Berry
-Liz Sansborough and Rambo in “Rambo on Their Minds” by Gayle Lynds and David Morrell
-Jeffrey Tolliver and Joe Pritchard in “Short Story” by Karin Slaughter and Michael Koryta
-Harper Connelly and Ty Hauck in “Dig Here” by Charlaine Harris and Andrew Gross
-Regan Pescoli and Virgil Flowers in “Deserves to be Dead” by Lisa Jackson and John Sandford
-Lucan Thorne and Lilliane in “Midnight Flame” by Lara Adrian and Christopher Rice
-Bennie Rosato and John Corey in “Getaway” by Lisa Scottoline and Nelson DeMille
-Ali Reynolds and Bravo Shaw in “Taking the Veil” by J.A. Jance and Eric Van Lustbader
There is so much good to say about this book.  The introduction to each story is almost as fascinating as the story itself as it provides a look into how each team worked. Some of the authors were accustomed to writing short stories; some had never written them before.  It is ever easy to see how much fun they all had writing the stories and putting this book together.
Through this collection, one is provided an opportunity to read something different from authors one may already love, while also being introduced to authors of which one has never read.  Each of the stories is wonderfully done, even the one which may make some rather uncomfortable, but that is a matter of personal taste rather than the authors' skills.
"Matchup" is a delightful break from the ordinary and a perfect book to read when one only has a few minutes here and there.  

MATCHUP (Anthology-Various-Various-Contemp) – VG+
      Child, Lee and Sandra Brown (eds)
      Simon & Schuster – June 2017

Thursday, July 5, 2018

The Mechanical Devil by Kate Ellis

First Sentence:  The car was red, the colour of fresh blood. 
Archeologist Neil Watson uncovers a long-buried mechanical figure in Dartmoor field.  Who made this figure and what was its purpose?  Is there more than one figure?  Neil's friend, DI Wesley Peterson has more important things on his mind.  Town resident Brenda Crillow claims someone is threatening her and wants Wesley to investigate it.  Two people have been killed by rifle shot in Manor Field.  The killings appear to be execution style, yet the bodies are in different locations and no apparent connection between the two individuals can be made.  When the daughter of a local MP has gone missing, a link is made between her and one of the victims.  Are these each separate issues, or is there a thread which ties them all together?
One can't complain of the story getting off to a slow start or of having to wait a long time for the murder to occur.  Ellis gets your attention from the very start, having created multiple threads.
Ellis is very good at summarizing all the characters.  One knows the members of the police, how they fit together, and a bit about their lives.  She includes members of their families, and the victims as well and brings each to life. 
The way in which Wesley and DCI Gerry Heffernan conjecture on the connections of the victims and the missing girl is an interesting and realistic process.  However, Wesley's callousness toward Brenda is disturbing, especially as his attitude changes when the threats extend to his wife—"Pam's had a threatening phone call.  Number withheld.  Whoever it was said they're watching her and they're coming to get her." In contrast, Gerry's low-key response is rather refreshing—"No points for originality." 
Although it may be tempting to some, one should not skip over the medieval letters which serve to demark chapters.  They may not seem relevant, but one can be assured that they are. 
For those who enjoy archeology, this is a fascinating book, as are all of those by Ellis.  Who'd have thought about archeological graffiti on a church roof, yet it makes sense when one remembers that everything, including the roof tiles, would have been handwrought.  As always, the author notes are fascinating and shouldn't be overlooked.
The way in which Ellis slowly makes the connection between the distant past, the recent past, and the present is nicely done, and her ability to creating links between the characters is deft and admirable.  Ellis takes a character who seems initially incidental only later to find they serve as a lynch-pin to the story. 
One storyline is predictable.  However, the identity of the killer was a complete surprise and related to both the past, the present, greed, and jealousy. 
"The Mechanical Devil" is a very good, multi-thread mystery.  Ellis excels at combining archeology and a murder in a police procedural.  

THE MECHANICAL DEVIL (Pol Proc/Arch-DI Peterson/DCI Heffernan/Neil Watson-England-Contemp) – VG
Ellis, Kate – 22nd in series
      Piatkus - April 2018

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Look for Me by Lisa Gardner

First Sentence:  A year later, what Sarah remembered most was waking up to the sound of giggling.
Flora Dane is a survivor.  Now she finds other survivors and helps them regain control of their own lives.  A family of four has been brutally murdered in their home.  But where is Roxanne, the 16-year-old daughter?  Is she the killer?  Or did she escape?  Det. Sgt. D.D. Warren is out for answers either way.
Here's an opening which captures one's attention.  Horrible and grim, it nonetheless compels one to continue reading; something Gardner does very well.  Gardner also raises an excellent point about survivors of trauma—"Being a survivor didn't just mean being strong.  It meant being lonely.  Honestly, truly lonely." 
There are truths here—"If there is one thing I've learned these past few years, it's that there's not one right way to deal with trauma.  Each of you will have to find your tricks, just like I did.  And some days will be so impossible, you'll wonder how you can go on.  … we are all just trying to find the light."
Gardner has created such strong characters.  These are not people one would necessarily want in one's life, but they are characters one will remember long after the final page.  Flora Dane returns from the previous book "Find Me" yet those who did not read that book won't feel the miss of it.  Flora is a dynamic character—"It takes a villain to make a hero.  And it took a monster to make me."—with an anything but normal past.  D.D. is a wonderful balance to her; a wife, a mother, a cop who is dedicated to her job but able to keep an open mind rather than take things at face value.  The inclusion of the missing Roxanne's "Personal Narrative; What is the Perfect Family" provides her background, one intriguing bit at a time.
Initially, the switch of POVs can be confusing trying to keep track of who is who.  Fortunately, that does become clearer as one reads on.  The other point is that the sense of place isn't very strong.  Other than the occasional mention, the story could have been set almost anywhere.  The references are there, but one needs to pay attention.
The story does bog down a bit in the middle, but everything is important, and the pace does pick back up.  Gardner's description of the impact the opioid epidemic has had on the demand for foster care is depressing and frightening when one thinks of the impact on the children. 
"Look for Me" has an excellent plot filled with twists and surprises.  There are some books you sit down and read straight through.  This is one such book.

LOOK FOR ME (Susp/Pol Proc-Det. Sgt. D.D. Warren -Boston-Contemp) – G+
      Gardner, Lisa – 9th in series
      Dutton – February 2018

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Like to Die by David Housewright

First Sentence:  "My inner voice screamed at me."
As a favor to his poker buddy, Mac agrees to meet with Erin Peterson, founder and owner of "Salsa Girl Salsa."  Someone has been harassing her business, yet she has refused to report it to the police.  As the harassment grows and becomes dangerous, the threats can no longer be ignored, yet Erin still holds information back.  Can Mac find out what is really going on before people die?
How nice to have a detective story begin with a bit of humor—"'You're like that amateur sleuth on the Hallmark TV channel who finds dead bodies every time she goes to a garage sale.'  'You watch the Hallmark Channel?' Bobby said. 'That's the saddest thing I've ever heard.'"  It is also nice that Housewright provides a short explanation as to how an ex-cop legally became very wealthy, and Mackenzie is anything but the rough ex-cop/investigator, and how can one not like a character who appreciates classical poetry?  His inner voice is both informative and, occasionally, humorous—"This girl has so many angles they should name a new branch of geometry after her, my inner voice said. Like Euclid and Pythagoras."
All the author's characters are well done.  He brings them to life and makes them, and their relationships, real.  Nina, Mac's lover, is the type of woman many of us would like to be.  She has an equanimity which is admirable—"'When the truck exploded, a piece of the frame shot into your shoulder like an arrow,' Nina said.  She held up a thin six-inch-long slide of metal. 'Want to keep it?'  'No,' Nina was staring directly at me while she dropped it into a wastebasket.  'I am really sorry,' I said.  'We've had this discussion before.  You are who you are.'"
The description of what happens when a bomb explodes is very well done.  Plot twists can either be very effective or overused.  In the case of Housewright, they are very effective.  One never sees them coming.  There is a level of realism that is refreshing.  Clues don't always present themselves easily, nor does research always bring reward. It is amazing the things one can learn, such as about high-speed chases and the steps one could take to disappear, and those one should not take.  Well done to the author for being able to turn a reader's opinion of an important character.
The escalation of tension is inclined to keep one reading late into the night.  Despite a somewhat stereotypical climax, it is also rather clever.
"Like to Die" is a step above other books of this type.  It is, by turn, smart, thoughtful, exciting, and a very good read.

LIKE TO DIE (Unlic. Invest-Rushmore "Mac" MacKenzie-Twin Cities-Contemp) – VG+
      Housewright, David – 15th in series
      Minotaur Books – June 2018

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

What You Want to See by Kristen Lepionka

First Sentence:  Urban renewal was in the air on Bryden Road.
Who is Marin Strasser?  PI Roxane Weary job is to find the answer to that question.  Her client, who hired her suspecting his wife, Marin, was having an affair, is charged with murder after Marin was seen arguing with a man that resulted in her being shot.  Roxane doesn't believe her client is guilty.  The more she digs into Marin's background, the more she finds Marin was not who she appeared to be.
What a great opening which establishes the author's very matter-of-fact voice and a strong sense of place.  Her imagery is equally strong—"Surveillance work was nothing but an odd, shaded view into someone's life, like watching television with the sound off."  Lepionka's wry humor is nicely done—"…my mother, Genevieve, was saying while she poked at something in the oven.  I stood at the counter with a cutting board and a jumbo Vidalia in front of me, because she was an eternal optimist and still thought I'd learned how to chop an onion properly at some point in my life."
The nice thing about Roxane's family is its normalcy.  Some members get on better than others.  There are squabbles and insecurities, support and love. Her family even extends to her friend, and former lover, Tom, about whose new girlfriend Roxane is conflicted—"She was girlfriend material, but she wasn't a partner. …She wasn't bone-deep loyal.  She wasn't ride-or-die.  Or maybe I just didn't want to like her after all."  Although Roxane is independent, smart, and capable, she is also vulnerable which makes her even more human.  A question provides a revealing statement about her—"Do you like being a detective?" …It almost didn't matter if I liked it, because it was the only thing I could do.  I needed to do it, whether I wanted to or not."—and the self-justification of one who drinks too much—"I liked whiskey. … I didn't have a problem with drinking, I told myself, but with everything else.  I had an unhappiness problem."
What an interesting trail the plot leads us down.  It has a strong sense of reality in that, although there is a mystery, it's also about relationships which have highs and lows, which work and don't work.  Lepionka is very good at shifting gears in the level of intensity and it's very effective.  The story builds on itself, layer-upon-layer, even though there is a questionable procedural detail of having the police cross jurisdictions without notifying the other department, but that's a very small point.
"What You Want to See" is very well done with complex characters, and dramatic climax followed by an unexpected twist.

WHAT YOU WANT TO SEE:  A Roxane Weary Novel (PI-Roxane Weary-Ohio-Contemp) - VG
      Lepionka, Kristen – 2nd in series
      Minotaur Books – May 2018

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Bum Deal by Paul Levine

First Sentence:  The surgeon laced his fingers and cracked his knuckles, a concert pianist preparing to tackle Tchaikovsky. 
 Defense Attorney Jack Lassiter is switching sides.  The state attorney, who has political ambitions, cannot serve as prosecutor on the case of a very high-profile cosmetic surgeon who is accused of murdering his wife.  Jake is taking on a huge challenge as the defense attorneys are his best friends, he quite possibly may be dying from CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy) as a result of his NFL days and, oh yes, there's no body.
One always appreciates an author who uses humor well—"when my cell phone rang, I figured someone was dead.  Nah, I don't have EPS.  I have caller ID."—creates a strong sense of place—" easterly breeze kicked up sand from the beach and ruffled the palm trees a few feet from my table."—and make one stop and consider—"Who's to say why we choose our friends?  Just as with lovers, there's a certain mystery to the chemistry of friendship."—all within a very short space.  It also helps in creating an intriguing protagonist.  These things add up to a book of real promise and, if one has never before read Paul Levine, there is also the question of "why not?". 
All of Levine's characters are fully-developed and none are caricatures.  Dr. Melissa Gold, neuropathologist and Jake's lover and doctor, is the means by which we learn about CTE, the symptoms, indicators, and treatments including medications and eudaimonia, a philosophy of Aristotle's related to virtue ethics. 
Levin reminds one exactly how dirty and self-serving are politics and politicians.  He also makes a fair assessment about being a lawyer—"I just wanted to do good work defending the wrongfully accused.  Surprise! Turns out there were far more people rightfully accused."  There is also a reminder that legal cases take time—"This isn't an hour TV show where a clue falls into your lap after the third commercial."
Although there is an element that may have been predicted, there is a very good twist and a story which is well executed and occasionally makes one smile.  Right up until the final page.
"Bum Deal" is remarkable for the level of suspense that can be achieved by a well-done courtroom scene.  Levin definitely delivers.

BUM DEAL (Legal Thriller-Jake Lassiter-Florida-Contemp) – G+
      Levine, Paul – 13th in series
      Thomas & Mercer – June 2018