Saturday, August 17, 2019

The Truth Behind the Lie by Sara Lövestam

First Sentence:  The rain was so strange the day they took Julia.
      
Kouplan is a young, very young, Iranian refugee who needs to stay in the shadows.  To earn money, he works as a Private Investigator to those who can't involve the police.  Pernilla, a single mother recently split from her husband, desperately seeks Kouplan's help.  Her daughter has disappeared and, for reasons of her own, fears going to the police.  The deeper Kouplan digs into the case, the more he questions whether things are as he has been told.
      
Lövestam has created a very intriguing opening.  Both the protagonist and the client are as mysterious as is the case.  The author does a very good job of making one want to know more about who these characters are.  Due to Kouplan's background, Iranian proverbs are included which injects realism into the character—Cho istadei, daste oftade gir … As long as you are standing, hold out a hand to those who have fallen." There is also interesting imagery—"As she gets up, she's dizzy and the pajamas fall to the floor.  Janus [her dog] picks them up with his teeth and as she stumbles into the kitchen, he follows her. The pajamas hang from his muzzle like a lifeless, extremely thin child."  One can be secure in the knowledge that no animals are harmed in the story.
      
The descriptions of Kouplans' overwhelming fear of being stopped by the police is almost palpable and it makes the story extremely relevant to today also giving it a universality.  One realizes the issue of refugees and their fears are common to many countries. However, though Lövestam, one is given a view of that country contrary to the idyllic version most hold as being true. 

 Though Lövestam, one is given a view of Sweden which is contrary to the idyllic version most hold as being true.  Both characters are forced to live in the shadows due to the restrictions and rules of governments—"It's unreal how he, born in a hot country to parents with double degrees, is now following a mountain of muscle while avoiding the police like a criminal in this October chill of Stockholm."  There is a lot of focus on food--"There is something special about hunger."  But this isn't the food which comes from indulgence, but from knowing real hunger. 
      
The author provides excellent twists and mysterious trails down which we're led, with a clever and "oh, my" turn of events and realization.  This is not what one usually thinks of as "Scandinavian noir," in that it lacks the usual traits related to some of those characters and contains little violence.  Instead, this is very new and different from what most of us have read before.
      
"The Truth Behind the Lie" is a fascinating book of complex, enigmatic characters where no one and nothing is as it seems. 

THE TRUTH BEHIND THE LIE (Myst-Kouplan-Sweden-Contemp) –VG
      Lövestam, Sara
      Minotaur Books, Aug 2019

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

This Poison Will Remain by Fred Vargas

First Sentence:  Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg, sitting on a rock at the quayside, watched the Grimsey fishermen return with their daily catch as they moored their boats and hauled up their nets.
      
Spider bites can kill.  But three elderly men, living in one area, killed by a small reclusive spider seems more than accidental to a member of Inspector Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg's team.  As information is gathered, Adamsberg decides to investigate, a decision that causes a rift within his team.  Running an unauthorized investigation and possibly losing his best friend and right-hand man is a risk, but seeking justice is worth it.
      
What an interesting opening to have the protagonist, the former commissaire of the Paris Serious Crimes Squad, on a quay in Iceland.  Adamsberg's respite doesn't last long before he is called back to his team who knows him well—"Lieutenant Veyrenc…knew that when the commissaire was in charge, the squad was like a tall sailing ship, sometimes with a brisk wind behind it, other times becalmed and its sails drooping, rather than a powerful speedboat churning up torrents of spray." 
     
For those who have read previous books in the series, there is a feeling of coming home.  For those who have not, Vargas conveys the sense of the team members and their loyalty, from the very start.  And what a quirky team it is, filled with affection and respect, right down to the cat and Mathias, a character from her "The Three Evangelists" series.  It's interesting seeing Adamsberg go through the case and the evidence with the team, which adds veracity to the story.  The verbal exchanges often make one smile—"It's called Le Curé de Tours, The Priest of Tours."  "Thank you,' said Estalère warmly…'Still Balzac didn't bust a gut making up the title, did he?'  'Estalère, one doesn't say of Balzac that "he didn't bust a gut".'
      
As an historian and an eukaryotic archaeologist Vargas wrote a definitive work on the bubonic plague, and her knowledge certainly contributes to the story's plot.  There is certainly nothing usual or ordinary about this case to which Adamsberg is attracted, as well as the realism of having the squad working more than the one case.  There are very good twists and an escalation in the depth of the crimes involved and in the tension within the team. Yet it is all the characters, which are the core of the story, including Louise Chevier and Adamsberg's brother, a revelation in his own life, and the return of the imagery of a ship, which keeps us immersed in the story. Vargas plays fair with the reader.  As Adamsberg begins to put the pieces together, so may we.
      
It is very difficult to quantify Vargas' work.  She takes one into the world of the best, most unique police squad one will ever find although some similarities may be made to Christopher Fowler's "Bryant and May" team. 
      
With "This Poison Will Remain," Vargas has created a story filled with delightful imagery, a unique plot, and a truly touching ending.  For those who like the unusual and quirky, reading Vargas can be addictive.   

THIS POISON WILL REMAIN (PolProc-Comm. Adamsberg-France-Contemp) - Ex
      Vargas, Fred (translator, Siân Reynolds) – 7th in series
      Harvill Secker – Aug 2019

Monday, August 5, 2019

Almost Midnight by Paul Doiron

First Sentence:  I passed the coroner's meat wagon on the way up the hill to the prison.
      
Maine Warden Investigator Mike Bowditch receives a request from inmate Billy Cronk, a former friend he helped imprison for murder. Billy wants him to investigate a new female prison guard who then suffers a brutal attack.  Another call comes from a mountain community where wolf-hybrid Shadow has been shot by a crossbow and is barely clinging to life. The two investigations endanger Mike's life, as well as his loved ones.
      
Doiron has a wonderful voice—"It was one of those New England hamlets with a full graveyard and an empty schoolhouse.  Half a mile from my place, a crumbling old farm had an actual family plot in its front years. No wonder the dump had scared off potential buyers for the past decade."           
      
One thing which would have helped would be for the author to have explained more about the role of the Maine Warden Investigator, but that could be due to this being the 10th book in the series.  For those interested, there is a good explanation.  That didn't necessarily detract from the plot, but knowing the role provides a bit of clarity.
      
The change of scene from the prison to the situation with the wolf is very effective.  One almost has a sensory reaction to it.  That takes skill, and Doiron has it.
      
What is nice is that this is not the Maine of tourists. This is the Maine of those who live inland, in the parts of the state tourists don't see where life, and the people, can be hard. It's survival country of hunting, fishing, and now, drugs.
      
Doiron characters are strong and interesting, particularly Mike's girlfriend Maine State Trooper Danielle "Dani" Tate, and Alcohol Mary.  He also has a wonderful way of making one truly care about Shadow, the hybrid wolf, and making one feel Mike's emotions.
      
While the plot is exciting, full of twists and danger, it truly is the author's style which keeps one engaged.  Doiron's humor—"Across the room, I could see her children, the four platinum-blond Cronklets, ages five to ten… Someone had tuned the TV station to a financial news network, and the five backwoods ragamuffins were watching it with the intensity of day traders waiting for the next bit earnings report to drop."—is subtle, but it works.  He has an excellent ear for dialogue—"I am required to ask this, Mrs. Gowdie. …I need to know if you own a crossbow."  "Who do you think I am, Maid Fucking Marian?"--, as well as a sense of insight—"When my own heart started to break, I lifted my face to the sky, letting the flakes melt as they landed on warm skin, admitted my own arrogance and ignorance, and surrendered to the mysteries of a universe I knew I would never comprehend."
      
"Almost Midnight" has very good characters and well-done suspense.  Wonderful dialogue, a great turn of phrase, and a nice touch of emotion may make one decide to read the series from the first book, as well as future books to come.

ALMOST MIDNIGHT (WardenInvest-Mike Bowditch-Maine-Contemp) - VG
      Doiron, Paul – 10th in series
      Minotaur Books – July 2019

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Heavy on the Dead by G.M. Ford

First Sentence:  The door burst open and banged against the wall.
      
Private Investigator Leo Waterman destroyed the plans, men, and millions of dollars in materials and equipment of a white supremacist group.  Badly injured, Leo and his androgynous friend and protector Gabe, have taken refuge to recover in Ocean Beach, California, trying to keep a very low profile.  Finding a body on the beach, and being bitten by a homeless man, propels Leo into an investigation which takes the pair into Mexico and the world of sex trafficking, caught between two groups out to kill them.
      
Ford does create unique characters. From those one has met before, such as Gabe and other Seattle characters; to Chub and Lamar—one hopes never to meet them.  Who else would think up a guy with an afro and a barcode tattooed on his forehead?  But then there's SDPD officer, Sergeant Carolyn Saunders.  She is someone of whom one would love to see more in the future.  
      
Ford's perceptiveness—"Borders are lines in the sand.  Bloody lines. Lines that people fought and died for."—is equally effective in dark and light situations—"You know how people like to pretend they're more familiar with places than they really are … That was us. …neither of us wanted to admit we didn't quite remember the way…so we'd …wandered …for half an hour before realizing our mistake and sheepishly asking a truck driver for directions." He takes one places one would like to think don't exist; places one doesn't want to see where life is as one hopes never to experience.  But it is his humor which creates balance—"Take the 5 to the 8 … then over the bridge into Mission Bay." "Ooooh … don't we sound like Californians now," I joked."
      
The plot has a slowly-building flame with a very good intersection between the two threads of the plot.  What's nice is that it's not all action.  Ford also makes one stop and think along the way.  Still, he does take the story from crescendo to crescendo.  When things get serious, they get very serious and uncomfortably relevant to today's issues, which are important and handled extremely well.
      
"Heavy on the Dead" is one cracking good, fast-paced, suspenseful story.  It is exciting, but it's way more than an airplane book due to its focus.  One thing is for certain: one never gets bored reading Ford.


HEAVY ON THE DEAD (PI-Leo Waterman-California/Mexico-Contemp) - Ex
      Ford, G.M. – 12th in series
      Thomas & Mercer – July 2019


Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Deep Dive by Chris Knopf

First sentence:  "I know I should call the police immediately, but I wonder if you wouldn't mind popping over for a moment to discuss before I do."
      
Sam Acquillo, cabinetmaker, part-time private investigator, and full-time resident of Eastern Long Island, used to be part of the one percent and still has some friends who are.  Burton Lewis was a houseguest of Joshua and Rosie Edelston.  Another guest, Elton Darby, a fundraiser for the charity Volunteering with Love, aka the Loventeers, has been found dead with Burton's watch in his hand.  What begins as an investigation to clear his friend, grows to a case involving the FBI, a trip to post-Hurricane Maria Puerto Rico, and a journey back to Long Island to unmask a killer.
      
Knopf provides an excellent short history of Sam which segues nicely into his current relationship with Amanda Anselma and Sam's trusty dog, Eddie Van Halen.  Sam's background is what makes him such an interesting, well-rounded character.  He is fully capable of taking care of himself in a dangerous situation but is just as inclined to toss in the appropriate Latin phrase, and introspection—"You've heard it noted that time is a river, though what is overlooked is all the sediment the river leaves behind, diverting the path, obscuring recollection." Having been part of both sides of the socio-economic spectrum has given him an understanding not found in everyone.  He can even be forgiven, perhaps, for one point where he could be perceived as a bit of an idiot about his relationship with Amanda, but that's up to one's own opinion.
      
Sam's trip to Puerto Rico is a turning point in the plot and presents a hard view, and real understanding, of the conditions there today.  It also takes the plot into a deeper, very serious and relevant issue.  What's nice is that Knopf offsets the serious with occasional well-done, well-placed humor, such as his description of air travel—"…park in a long-term lot about one hundred miles away, ride a tram with nervous, unhappy people, get stripped nearly naked by the TSA, find a bar near your gate, drink too much, but still get on the flight with more nervous, unhappy people…" and it goes on in perfect form.  One of Sam's other attributes is the way in which he applies engineering and design to problem solving.
      
"Deep Dive" has great characters and a good amount of tension.  It is a very well done book, particularly the final chapter.

DEEP DIVE PI-Sam Acquillo-Long Island, NY-Contemp)- VG
      Knopf, Chris – 9th in series
      Permanent Press, July 2019


Thursday, July 18, 2019

Killing with Confetti by Peter Lovesey

First Sentence:  the two short words Warren doesn't wish to hear: "It's on."
      
Ben Brace, son of Deputy Chief Constable George Brace, and Caroline Irving, daughter of professional criminal Joe Irving, are getting married as soon as her father is released from prison. Besides their son marrying a criminal's daughter, Brace is worried the rivals may see this as a perfect opportunity to remove Irving.  In order to ensure everyone's safety, Senior Detective Peter Diamond is assigned to see that all goes well.  A missing policeman and a body found in the hypocaust of the Roman baths are not what Brace had in mind. 
      
Lovesey creates the unexpected.  There is certainly nothing ordinary or predictable about the way the story begins or continues forward. Yes, there is a not-named-as-such prologue set in 2015, but it is a great entry into the story and captives one's interest immediately.  Just hang on, and its purpose does become clear.
      
Shifting quickly to present day, Lovesey's description of Carolyn's first-ever visit to her father in prison is so well done.  Her emotions are clearly conveyed.  At the same time, Lovesey knows how to start a story slowly, allowing one to become familiar with, and invested in, the characters.  Before one realizes it, the tension begins to mount as the intent becomes clear.
      
If one has not previously read a Peter Diamond book, he may quickly become a favorite character.  He is curmudgeonly, tight with money, and private about his life.  He is also observant and intelligent.  His wry humor is expressed perfectly—"They finally reached Camden Crescent, built on a slope so steep that parts of the planned structure collapsed at an early stage in the construction and were abandoned, … where another 175 properties collapsed in a landslip in 1881.  Reader, if you ever think of moving to the northern slopes, hire a surveyor."  As well as conversations with his cat, Raffles, there is lovely irony—"'We want their day to pass off peacefully, don't we?' ' Like Romeo and Juliet," Leaman said, 'Lovers from two warring families.'  "Let's hope not,' Ingeborg said. 'Romeo and Juliet ended up dead.'
      
The plot has very good twists, plenty of suspense and a well-done tie-back to the beginning. 
      
"Killing with Confetti" is an excellent traditional police procedural.  It is such a pleasure to read.  Lovesey doesn't take one down blind alleys.  He plays fair and brings all the strings together with a great reveal and final twist.

KILLING WITH CONFETTI (PolProc-Peter Diamond-Bath, England-Contemp)- Ex
      Lovesey, Peter – 18th in series
      SOHO Crime – July 2019

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Good Girl, Bad Girl by Michael Robothem

First Sentence: "Which one is she?" I ask, leaning closer to the observation window.
      
Six years after self-named Evie Comac was found hiding in a secret room, the institution where she is living asks psychologist Cyrus Haven to determine whether she can be released to live on her own.  No one knows, nor has she said, who she really is or what she has experienced, but a determination must be made.  Cyrus has a history of his own with which he must deal, but his job also calls upon him to help investigate the murder of Jodie Sheehan, a popular, talented high-school figure skater. Tasked with these two cases, and his own issues, it is up to Cyrus to do what is right Evie and find justice for Jodie.
      
Unusual, quirky characters can be intriguing when they are well-written yet still realistic.  Robotham accomplishes that, and much more.  He begins with the very intriguing premise that some few people are "truth wizards," that they can intuitively know whether someone is lying.  That Evie, who is also defined as being--"…dyslexic. Antisocial. Aggressive"-- is one such person adds a dimension beyond everything through which she has been and compels one to want to know more.  Cyrus, too, has a past beyond imaging.  That the author puts these two emotionally damaged characters together demonstrates the strength of the human spirit and determination to survive.  Both characters are unique and fascinating.  Nothing about either of them is what one would expect. 
      
It's a pleasure when something causes one to stop and consider--"When I run, my thoughts become clearer.  When I run, I imagine that I'm keeping pace with a planet that turns too quickly for me."  Rather than slow down the flow of the story, it adds depth and richness to it. 
      
The story does alternate between the two lead characters.  Being inside Evie's mind can be painful to read, and all the more so for knowing there are real children who feel as she does about herself.  The descriptions of deaths are brutal but done in a way that is factual and not gratuitous or salacious. Even so, Robotham finds the perfect way to inject just a bit of wry humor—"'Who found her?' 'A woman walking her dog.' Why is it always someone walking a dog?"
      
The investigation into Jodie's death takes one down a very twisted path filled with surprises.  The only slight criticism is that the resolution seemed over the top.  What one can truly appreciate is that, even at the end, both Evie and Cyrus remain enigmatic.   
      
"Good Girl, Bad Girl" is a strong, character-driven story.  It is very well-written and filled with well-done twists. One rather hopes this is the start of a new series. Even if it's not, this is a book, and characters, which stay with one long after closing the cover.

GOOD GIRL, BAD GIRL (PsySusp-Cyrus Haven-England-Contemp) – VG+
      Robotham, Michael - Standalone
      Scribner, July 2019

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Paper Son by S.J. Rozan

First Sentence:  "Mississippi?"
      
New York City native, with a traditional Chinese mother, PI Lydia Chin is surprised when she learns she has relatives in Mississippi, including a cousin, Jefferson Tam, who has been arrested, and Captain Pete Tam who is asking for help.  It's up to Lydia, with her partner Bill Smith, to prevent her cousin from being tried for murder.
      
One just can't beat a great opening with a touch of humor, especially when it's done so well.  That's what keeps one reading.
      
For those who have followed this series, it is wonderful to have a new entry.  For new readers, welcome and never fear.  Starting here, at the 12th book, isn't a problem as Rozen smoothly brings one into the fold.
      
Rozan does an excellent job of using Lydia's family history to inform one of American history.  Learning the history of Lydia's parents adds dimension to the character and establishes the theme. She also presents a very timely observation—"there's always somebody hatin' on everybody." … "Don't everybody always think their hate is different?"
      
Rozan paints a clear picture of life in small-town Mississippi.  What is particularly interesting is learning the history of Chinese groceries in black towns which built an economy of its own.  The immigration path of Mississippi is fascinating. 
      
The characters are well-developed and interesting.  It's fun to see urban Lydia so far out of her comfort zone, and Bill take advantage of his somewhat Southern roots.  Lydia and Bill balance one another perfectly in every way.  They are yin and yang not only in race, but in size, Luddite vs technology, and food choices.  This makes them real and appealing.  Each of the other characters holds their own, as well.  There is one character toward the end that is a particular treat.
      
The plot is very well done with just the right level of suspense.  The plot does get a bit twisty, but not so much that one can't follow it, and it takes one on a fascinating journey of places and people.
      
"Paper Son" is an excellent, traditional mystery which includes delightful characters, just enough humor and a wonderful ending.

PAPER SON (PI-Lydia Chin/Bill Smith-Mississippi-Contemp) - Ex
      Rozen, S.J. – 12th in series
      Pegasus Books, July 2019

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Random Act by Gerry Boyle

First Sentence: It was December 5, a Wednesday.
      
A simple trip to the hardware store leaves reporter Jack McMorrow questioning the randomness of life.  Or is it?  His search for that answer takes him into a very dark side of Maine.  When Jack and his friend Clair go to visit Iraq war veteran Louis, they are stopped by Marta, Russian woman a bag full of money and who's prepared to shoot them.  How much is one willing to risk in the name of friendship?
      
No prologue, no narrative from a killer, no backflash; how wonderful it is to have an author who begins the story at the beginning and moves it on from there.  The sense of place is established, and an immediate threat and suspense is established as well as a strong introduction to the main characters.
      
Boyle has an excellent voice—"BBC News, the usual reports from the yawing deck of the Titanic that is our world." and an ear for dialogue that's quick and sharp.  Seeing McMorrow hypothesize the incident at the hardware store is fascinating.  He takes all the pieces and puts them back together into a whole.  Boyle echoes what most would think in this situation—"I didn't want to accept that this was normal." Yet Jack's reaction provides a very powerful explanation as to what motivates journalists.
      
Boyle is very good at laying a path of subtle breadcrumbs, but it is McMorrow's questioning of life which stands out—"We do the best we can, but sometimes we're still just squirrels crossing the road.  Most of the time you're lucky.  Other times, your luck runs out." One can also appreciate his perception that when a violent crime is committed, it is not only the victim but their family and the family of the perpetrator who suffers the cost.
      
Boyle understands mental illness.  He makes a point of portraying one of the characters as a man who has a lot of good but is ill rather than evil.  It is exceptionally well done, as are the points he raises about the price of friendship and loyalty.
      
"Random Act" is a book of two threads, each of which holds its own. This may be the most insightful book Boyle has written.  It may also be his best.

RANDOM ACT (Reporter-Jack McMorrow-Maine-Contemp) - Ex
      Boyle, Gerry – 12th in series
      Islandport Press – June 2019