Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The Anatomist's Wife by Anne Lee Huber

First Sentence:  The scream froze me in my tracks, but the shout that followed propelled me out of my indecision and around the hedge line of the maze.
Lady Kiera Darby is staying with her sister and brother-in-law in order to recover public notoriety heaped on her after her husband’s death. Her peace quickly ends with the murder of a house-party guest, and the request by an enquiry agent, and fellow guest, asking for her to help by employing the skills others deemed unnatural.
There’s no peaceful lead-in here. Huber throws the reader directly into the story while very skillfully introducing the characters, their connections.  This is particularly true of the protagonist. 
The thing which differentiates Lady Kierra from other similar protagonists is both that she is a widow and, thus, more experienced in life, and that she has a talent and a previous background which enable her to fulfill the role she is asked to play.  She is someone who has been bruised by life and is wary, but she is also strong, intelligent, independent and resolute in following her instincts, even when others don’t pay them mind.

Some of the attitudes and relationships seem a  bit modern, but not upsettingly so.  Gage, the inquiry agent, is a bit stereotypical, but improves in the end.  One does particularly appreciate the understanding and support of Kierra's sister and brother-in-law.
We also become aware of Huber’s excellent voice, which includes a wry humor in the midst of an otherwise gruesome scene, as well as just enough period flavor to create a sense of time, which introducing us to a second major character in the story—“What made this golden lothario think he should be there?...As far as I could tell, Mr. Gage’s only talents seemed to be charming his way into house-party invitations and underneath ladies’ skirts.” 

There are wonderfully evocative descriptions—“I closed my eyes as he removed the handkerchief.  Taking deep breaths through my mouth, I remained in Gage’s loose embrace until I felt my muscles steadying.  He cupped my elbow to help e rise, and I immediately felt the loss of his comforting hold and heat.”  Interesting observations on the behavior of the wealthy further cements Huber’s attention to detail—“The upper class’s stubborn sense of entitlement could not be curtailed by something so mundane as murder.”        
There were a few failings to the writing – portents, being the first.  Not just a subtle foreshadowing, but literally—“If only I had known then…”  One must question why this is done.  They story had already captivated our imagination, the characters were compelling and there was no possibility of not continuing on with the story.  The use of portents was not only unnecessary, but off-putting and disruptive.  Let us dearly hope the author abandoned this weakness in further books.  The second issue was the weak sense of place. Beside one character speaking with in Scots dialect, there was no sense of the book taking place in Scotland.  And last, it was a bit overwritten.  However, Huber earns points back for although a relationship is brewing, Huber doesn’t overstep the propriety of the time. 

In all, Huber has given us an enjoyable period mystery with nicely-done red herrings and a solid plot.  She takes advantage of a scandalous actual trial of the day and incorporates the protagonist's past into a tangential relationship to it.  
The Anatomist’s Wife” is a quite good read with well-developed characters, a strong sense of time, and effective suspense.

THE ANATOMIST’S WIFE (Hist Mys-Lady Kiera Darby-Scotland-1830) – G+
Huber, Anne Lee – 1st in series
Berkeley Prime Crime – 2012

Saturday, April 16, 2016

London's Glory: The Lost Cases of Bryant & May and the Peculiar Crimes Unit by Christopher Fowler

First Sentence from “About the Book”:  ‘Do you remember that corpse we found in the snow with nobody else’s footprints around it?’ asked Arthur Bryant.
Eleven delightful stories from the case files of London’s Peculiar Crimes Unit have been gathered together into an absolutely delightful, intriguing collection of clever mysteries.
This is one time when the introduction is as interesting as are the stories.  Fowler writes about the history of crime novels, as well as the differences between fiction and reality in crime.  He pays homage to the great, Golden Age writers, some of whom man he Lost Cases of Bryant & May and the Peculiar Crimes Unit y may never have heard or read; i.e., Kyril Bonfiglioli, Joyce Porter, Pamela Branch, R. Austin Freeman, and Gladys Mitchell as well, of course, Allingham, Christie, Doyle and others.
Including a “Dramitis Personae” is something one might wish more authors would do.  Folwer goes a bit beyond the ordinary in that he takes the time to describe a bit about each character—“He’s a sturdy, decent sort, married with a son, although he gets a little overenthusiastic when it comes to discussing crimes scenes and can bore for England on the subject of inefficient internet service providers.” 
The eleven stories include diverse time settings and locales.  Included are a trip to see Santa, a locked room murder in a park, as well as a true locked-room murder, a carnival, swimming pool, receipt of a credit card, a yacht,   The motives and solutions are fascinating and surprising, and not ones one can anticipate.
London's Glory:  The Lost Cases of Bryant & May and the Peculiar Crimes Unit” is a wonderful collection.  Each case and solution is as unique as are Bryant, May and the members of the Peculiar Crimes Unit.   It’s the perfect book for both followers of the series, and as an introduction to new readers.  

LONDON’S GLORY:  The Lost Cases of Bryant & May and the Peculiar Crimes Unit  (Pol. Proc/SS-Bryant and May-London-Contemp) – VG
      Fowler, Christopher – Short Story Collection
      Alibi, Mar 2016

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Terror in Taffeta by Marla Cooper

First Sentence:  The sea-foam green bridesmaids’ dresses had been a mistake.
Wedding planner Kelsey McKenna tries to prepare for all contingencies.  Having a bridesmaid die, and the mother-of-the-bride insist she “do something” about freeing the person arrested, is a bit out of her usual realm.  Since the local police won’t let them leave the country, and are convinced they have the killer, it is up to Kelsey and her friend, Brody, to find the evidence and identify the actual killer.
One knows one has found a good book when the intention is to read only the first few pages, and four hours later you’ve closed the back cover.  This is just such a book.  Cooper starts the story at the beginning, without a prologue, and takes us immediately into, and through, an absolutely wonderful story.  However, if one has ever thought being a wedding planner would be a glamorous job, Cooper quickly destroys that illusion.    
Cooper has created a very real set of characters, both primary and secondary.  Kelsey is smart, independent, and very capable.  Brody is a perfect sidekick and ideal friend; equally capable and bright, as well as loyal and discreet.  The bride and groom, hotel cook, Kelsey’s occasional love interest Evan, and even the classically annoying Mrs. Abernathy is perfectly drawn and very believable. 
Cooper has a wonderful voice.   Both in dialogue—“What kind of poison?”  Evan held his hands up in the air.  “He didn’t know.  Does it even matter?”  “Yes! I mean, how do they know if it even is poison?  It’s not like they tasted it!”  Okay, so not exactly a great rationale, but it was all I had at the moment”—and the internal narrative--“Maybe I should have been a funeral planner instead.  Your responsibilities are finite, the expectations aren’t as high, and no one’s going to be happy anyway.  …Besides, business seemed to be booming.”—are realistic, and often chuckle-worthy.
This is a book anyone can enjoy.  It contains neither sex nor graphic violence, yet it isn’t silly.  The characters behave in realistic ways, without a single TSTL (too stupid to live) moment.  It really is more of a traditional mystery than a cozy, even with an amateur investigator.  The writing is excellent:  neither a vapid character nor a portent in sight.

Terrorin Taffeta” is a very well done, delightful read.  It is very well plotted with excellent plot twists that keep you guessing to the very end.

TERROR IN TAFFETA (Cozy-Kelsey McKenna-Mexico-Contemp) – Ex
      Cooper, Marla – 1st book
      Minotaur Books, 2016

Saturday, April 9, 2016

The Saints of the Lost and Found by T.M. Causey

First Sentence:  I see lost things.
Avery Broussard’s ability to see lost things—objects, people, people’s own personal loses—led her to working for the FBI.  The tragic outcome of her last case and the public notoriety, and despite the prophecy of her father, has driven her to seek refuge in the small Louisiana town where she grew up with the four boys, now men, including her brother, best friends, and the man she loved.  Unfortunately, there is no peace to be found.  Can Avery save other lives without losing her own?
Wow!  This is a book with a fascinating and, when you really think about it, rather horrifying premise.  But it’s also a story wonderfully written.  It will stay with you long after the back cover is closed.
Causey’s experience as a screenwriter, is immediately apparent as this is one of the most visual books you’ll find.  You are not only in the story, but you’re in Avery’s head.  It’s not always a pleasant place to be, but one you don’t want to leave.  She has a nice way of introducing us to the characters as she goes.  In a very conversational way, we are told who they are, and how they all fit together.  The Saints become real to us, as do all the characters, pleasant and unpleasant, particularly the young boy, Brody.  It’s also nice to have a sympathetic FBI agent, for a change.
Causey has a wonderful voice that draws you immediately into the story.  Told in first person, you want to know Avery, and understand what she experiences.  There is an excellent internal narrative which helps create a strong sense of place—“I’d forgotten how the humidity and the wilting heat of the South in mid-July could make you as irritable as an addict a few days into detox.”—and strong metaphor-file dialogue—“Fine!”…”Fine, she says.  She’ll be fine.”…”There aren’t enough mapmakers in the world to map out how stupid that is.”  Her imagery is exquisite—“In the woods, quiet brushes of branches caressed my aching shoulders.  Misty fog billowed over the creek; bullfrogs sang arias with the crickets, musty smells of moss and earth wound through the canopy to the moon.  I could breathe here, at peace.”  One will definitely appreciate the subtle, wry humor which runs through and is necessary to offset the events as the story progresses.
This is a very visceral book, but it’s not for everyone.  We see what Avery sees; feel what Avery feels.  We realize the unimaginable physical and emotional harm parents can do to their children, the result of obsession, and the incalculable power of the human mind.  And we wouldn’t have the author change a word.  It’s the sort of book where one wants to read passages aloud to someone else; the sort of book you want to put in other people’s hands. 
The Saints of the Lost and Found” is a completely fascinating, terrifying, horrific and, in the end, wonderful, wonderfully written and unique book.  The only thing one can say is “Read it!”

THE SAINTS OF THE LOST AND FOUND (Myst-Avery Broussard-Louisiana-Contemp) – Ex
Causey, T.M. – Standalone
The Road Runner Press – 2015

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Off the Grid by C.J. Box

First Sentence:  Nate Romanoswki knew trouble was on the way when he saw the falcon’s wings suddenly flare in the distance.
Nate Romanoswki’s lover is being watched, and Nate put in a position where he must work for a covert agency of the government to destroy a terrorist cell in the United States.  In return, his record will be cleared so that he and Liz can finally live without threat of Nate being imprisoned.  Joe Pickett’s boss, Governor Rulon, is about to leave office but has one last assignment for Joe.  Find Nate.  But will they both survive?
It is a very good writer who can paint a mental picture of a scene that is both harsh and beautiful—“It was the best time of day, he thought:  the anticipatory moment before the morning light lifted the curtain on the landscape to reveal the reds, pinks, orange, and beiges of the striations in the bone-dry rock formations, and revealed the rugged broken terrain.”—and C.J. Box is one of the best.
The information on the different types of predatory birds is fascinating, and later, we learn that “Not all hawks are falcons, but all falcons are hawks.”  Box skillfully builds the tension and excitement very early in the story, and then throws the reader an excellent twist.  It is safe to say that, at this point, we, as readers, aren’t putting this book down from here until the last page so cancel your plans, and forget about sleep.
Having the story begin with Nate and his lover, Liz, is an interesting change.  Box doesn’t spend a lot of time on Nate’s, Liz’s, Pickett’s, and later Governor Rulon’s back story, yet the writing is skillful enough that, through the story, you have a very strong sense of who these people are and how they became connected.  However, one of the things at which Box truly excels is creating a situation in which there is an immediate threat.
An incident with a grizzly bear is horrific, exciting and a good reminder of what can happen when man encroaches on nature.  One small geographical error was rather amusing.  In describing the route of Interstate 80, he had it starting in Sacramento, going to Oakland, and then back East across the country.  I-80 actually begins in San Francisco, progressing East to Oakland, Sacramento, and on from there.  It’s not something that would stop a reader, but it did make this reader smile.
The story does have just a touch of the paranormal in the form of premonitory dreams and mental links with animals.  Rather than seeming unrealistic, these things work well within the story when one considers the characters and the location.
There are some nice moments of mild humor between Joe and his dog, Daisy, which offsets the ever-increase suspense.  However, there are a couple coincidences one might have preferred not to have been, but which were necessary to make the plot work as effectively as it does.
Box is very good at raising environmental and political issues without preaching.  It is more that he wants you to stop and seriously consider the issues and their impact on man and our world.  He raises the point that for everyone who creates or does something for what they perceive to be the greater good, someone is looks at that same thing as an opportunity for power, profit, or destruction. 
Off the Grid" is one hell of a book.  Yes, it’s exciting and suspenseful to the very last page, but it is much more than that.  It is about power and government, and the people, good and bad, behind it all.  And it is about how little we, the people actually know.  

OFF THE GRID (Lic Invest-Joe Pickett/Nate Romanowski-Wyoming-Cont) – VG+
Box, C.J.
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2016

Saturday, April 2, 2016

The Crossing by Michael Connelly

First Sentence:  Ellis and Long were four car lengths behind the motorcycle on Ventura Boulevard
Currently on unpaid suspension, Harry Bosch has little to do except work to restore his vintage motorcycle.  Mickey Heller wants to change that by having Bosch unofficially investigate a murder case where Heller is convinced his client is innocent.  Bosch reluctantly agrees, taking the case further into finding the real killer…very much at his own peril.
Although the prologue is certainly dramatic, it doesn’t seem to provide a sense of connection to where the story may be going.  All it takes is a few more pages for the penny to drop, the connection be made, and an early sense of danger established.
There is nothing better than a good courtroom scene to captures a reader’s interest and Connelly writes them very well.  Bosch and Heller are very interesting characters.  In addition to being half-brothers, they are opposite sides of the legal coin with Bosch representing the often necessary skepticism of law enforcement, and Heller representing the always-necessary belief in legal defense—“…it must be hard to be like that.”  “Like what?”  “Not believing in rehabilitation and redemption that people can change.  With you it’s ‘once a con always a con.’”
Connelly provides very enlightening, and distressing, information on how police prepare the murder book for review discovery by attorneys, as well as how Bosch works through the book and pieces the case together.  One issue I do have, however, is that Connelly tends to substitute map directions for sense of place.  It may be interesting to those who know the area well, but others don’t really need to know on to what street he turned.  It would be better to have had a feel of the environment; how did the air feel/smell, what was the day like, was the street tree lined and fragrant, or barren and dusty; etc.  As far as food, this is a real “cops” book of beers and burgers; no gourmet here, although that does define the character. 
It is nice to see a bit of Bosch’s home life with his daughter, and Connelly does a very good job of providing the background to their relationship.  He does the same with another character, and that is to be appreciated.  Although it was significant toward moving the plot forward, Bosch makes a TSTL (too-stupid-to-live) mistake, which seemed completely out of character for him.  A bit lazy, that., although one could argue that everyone makes dumb mistakes.   Still, one expects better of Connelly.
The Crossing” has a good sense of danger which builds, a well-done resolution, and no significant loose ends.

THE CROSSING (Pol/Legal Proc-Bosch/Heller-Los Angeles, CA-Contemp) - Good
Connelly, Michael – 20th Bosch/6th Heller
Little Brown and Company – Nov 2015 

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Cold Florida by Phillip DePoy

First Sentence:  It was two in the morning, the middle of February.
Foggy Moskowitz left Brooklyn rather abruptly, and arrived in Florida working for Child Protective Services.  His boss, Sharon, lands him with a case of a missing infant and an addict mother.  Their trail leads him to the Florida swampland, Seminole Indians, and some unexpected and unusual adventures--all while trying to rescue the baby, and avoid being killed in the process.
We begin with a very good introduction and back story on Foggy, as well as introducing us to the situation.  It’s nice to have a protagonist with a somewhat different profession; in this case, an investigator is CPS.  But how he got there is also very interesting as it's due to a personal Yom Kipper—the tenth day of Tishri; atonement and repentance.  Foggy is a bit of a paradox.  He can clearly handle himself in threatening situations, yet being a Brooklyn boy very much out of his element, he can also be naïve. 
All of the characters are unique and intriguing.  While some are not people you’d necessarily want to meet, DePoy makes them real, and often someone about whom you’d like to know more.  The Seminoles, Phillip, Foggy’s boss, Sharon, and even a killer named McReedy are very much part of the tapestry of the story. 
The story itself is classic DePoy.  There’s a touch of mysticism; or isn’t there.  He creates circles in circles.  Even when the story seems to wander as does a trail through a swamp, one wants to keep following it.  Even when he becomes repetitive, the characters acknowledge that one has already been told the information. 
DePoy as a wonderful, story-teller’s voice—“Behind the bar was a guy called Fat Tuesday.  He was called that because he came from New Orleans and his name was Martin Craw, but he went by Marty, so that his name sounded like Mardi Gras, which anyone would know was the French way of saying ‘Fat Tuesday.  Foggy’s musings often give one pause—“then it occurred to me that a place can hold on to the things that happen in it.  Not exactly like a haunted house, more like an echo.  Just because you can’t hear the echo any more doesn’t mean that the molecules of every sob or sigh or wince of pain don’t hang around…”--, and there’s nothing quite like a good analogy—“In the light of the afternoon, it did not look so good.  Some things – old buildings, semi-romantic landscapes, certain faces – are always best left to moonlight.  The old joint looked very much like a tired hooker asleep on a park bench in the warm afternoon sun.”
Cold Florida” is a wonderful mix of action, philosophy, just the rights about of violence, thoroughly intriguing characters, and a motive, when realized, that makes perfect sense. 

COLD FLORIDA (Lic Inv-Foggy Moskowitz-Florida-Contemp) - G+
DePoy Phillip – 1st in series
Severn House, April 2016 

Thursday, March 24, 2016

A Prisoner in Malta by Phillip dePoy

First Sentence:  Christopher Marlow started at the newly mown lawn, and the tower of St. Benet’s Church reaching sweetly toward God in morning’s light.
Young Oxford student Christopher Marlow is recruited by representatives of Sir Francis Walsingham, spymaster to Queen Elizabeth.  There is a plot brewing against the Queen.  The person with its details is being held in seclusion within a heavily guarded dungeon in Malta.  Against foreign governments, including representatives of the Pope, Marlow must rescue the prisoner, and help to save the Queen from assignation and England from invasion.
Talk about intriguing subterfuge from the very first page!  There is no gentle entry into this story.  No, the excitement begins on the very first page.
DePoy’s dialogue has just the right hint of the period to it, and is always a pleasure to read.  His humor and insightfulness is evident—“How long will this trip take?” “Another two hours, possibly three.”  ”How long if we ask the driver to speed the horses?”  “Five hours.”  “How is it longer,…if we go faster?”  “If your eye is fixed on a destination in the distance,…it’s impossible to watch the road in front of you.”   There is nothing like a bit of cat-and-mouse on the high seas when combined with delightful repartee—“Take the longboat by ourselves, set the sail and manage.”  “Can you sail a boat like that?”  “NO…You’re the one from the proud race of circum-navigating sea folk!”  “I’m a doctor!”  “I’m a student!”  While the dialogue for Marlow is quick and clever, he soon shows himself as someone not to be underestimated.
One will be amused by the references to Shakespeare’s/Marlow’s plays—“What surprised him was how comforting he found the prospect of death.  Dying was only a chance to sleep…”  The way in which Marlow views a situation or location as a scene in a play to gain a clear perspective is very clever.
The history surrounding the plot is critical to the story, and it is included in a way that not only educates us, but intrigues us.  This was a time of tremendous plotting and upheaval, and where women could be as, and occasionally more, capable and powerful than were men.  We are also made aware of how strict and precise the laws of the period could be—“No longer dressed in her gray man’s costume, she wore a plain green linen dress.  …the Queen’s Sumptuary Laws allow both lower and upper classes of women to wear that particularly color.”
A Prisoner in Malta” is filled with high action, plot twists, and double-crosses on double crosses. The history and characters are wonderful and, has one of the best conclusions one can remember reading.

A PRISONER IN MALTA (Hist Mys-Kit Marlow-England/Malta-1583) – VG+
DePoy, Phillip – Standalone
Minotaur, January 2016

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Seeking the Dead by Kate Ellis

First Sentence:  Things that frighten the devil away.
Carmel Hennessy feels as though her small flat has a ghost, and wonders if it’s connected to the Ghost Tour whose leader always stops and points to her bedroom.  When she starts receiving very corporal anonymous threats, She turns to DI Joe Plantagenet, the former partner of her father who was killed.  DI Joe Plantagenet is leading the investigation into the murder of a woman found in the churchyard.  Rather than newly dead, it is realized she had been stunned, stripped, and kept for some time in an place where she suffocated, before being left outside.   It becomes apparent the this is only the victim in a hunt to uncover a killer, and find out what Joe's new boss, DCI Emily Thwaite, is trying to hide.
Ellis immediately captures the reader’s attention with a highly intriguing opening.  So much so, that one may even find oneself adding to the anonymous character’s list.  Even though the town of Eborby is fictional and based mainly on York, we are provided with a sense of the area’s history.  Ellis is so good at establishing a sense of place—“As she emerged from the crazy maze of ancient streets on to the cathedral square, she turned her head to stare up at the towers, intricately carved in pale-gold stone, soaring up to the heaven like arms outstretched I prayer.”
Although one isn’t tempted to let the book go, the writing and dialogue are a bit clunky at times.   Having so many characters, many of whom are not well-developed, one can lose track of who is whom. 
The structure of the plot is interesting as we learn of events from a number of different characters, not the least being the killer.  We are taken along parallel paths until events slowly start to merge and the pace accelerates.  Although there is good tension at the end, one may feel oneself rather separate from it.
Seeking the Dead” is a decent read, and this is the first book in this series.  It does hold you to the end and, in spite of the clues, it wasn’t until very near the end that the killer’s identity is suspected.  Although, not up to the standard set by Ellis’ Wesley Peterson series, Ellis is an author who always deserves another chance.    

SEEKING THE DEAD:  A JOE PLANTAGENET MURDER MYSTERY (Pol Proc-Joe Plantagenet-England-Contemp) – Okay
Ellis, Kate – 1st in series
Piatkus - 2008