Friday, December 2, 2016

Rogue Island by Bruce DeSilva

First Sentence:  A plow had buried the hydrant under five feet of snow, and it took the crew of Engine Company No. 6 nearly fifteen minutes to find it and dig it out.
Newspaperman Liam Mulligan is a true son on Providence, RI.  His beat isn’t the elite.  It’s the crooks, mobsters, and hookers, as well as the police and fire departments. Now, someone is starting fires in his old neighborhood.  First, it’s just empty buildings.  Until it’s not.  Mulligan wants to know who, and what, is behind it.  Trying to get the answers may cost him his life.
DeSilva’s opening is not only heartbreaking, but the implications are terrifying.  Seven arson fires with a half-mile in three months is no accident. 
It’s hard to tell about other places, but if one is from the East Coast--meaning from New Jersey to Boston’s North Shore--this book is very recognizable, and very effective.  Providence is a small, tight community, especially amongst those who have been there for generations, and you feel that. “When a Rhode Islander needs something he can’t flat out steal, there are two ways to get it.  …Chances are, in a state this small, you know somebody who can help. … No? Then you have the option of offering a small gratuity.  Graft, Rhode Island’s leading service industry, is widely misunderstood by citizens of states you can’t stroll across on your lunch break.  Those of us who live here know that it comes in two varieties, good and bad, just like cholesterol.”  
DeSilva’s characters are very real.  There are good guys, bad guys, and many who are varying shades of gray.  Mulligan, Rosie, the first female fire chief, and Edward Anthony Mason IV, son of the newspaper’s owner and referred to as “Thanks-Dad” by Mulligan, are definitely the good guys.  You enjoy them and worry about them.  DeSilva’s prognostication of the newspaper industry is depressing, yet one we’ve come to see be true. 
The language is what one would expect to find among people of this rank so if one is profanity-adverse, this is not the book for you.  However, if you like sarcasm and well-done narration that occasionally makes you chuckle, one should enjoy this.   A side note is that DeSilva incorporates his wife’s poem and his daughter’s name into the story.  Yes, it does pay to read the author notes.
DeSilva’s descriptions are so effective—“I heard the fire before I felt it, the flames sounding like a thousand flags snapping in the wind.  I felt it before I saw it, the head like a backhand slap from the devil.”  History buffs will appreciate the historical information that runs through the story.
Rogue Island” has humor and a bit of romance, but the underlying crimes are very serious and have heart-breaking consequences.  In the end, it is a story of trust, betrayal and justice, realized in an unorthodox way.

ROGUE ISLAND (Lic Inv/Jour-Liam Mulligan- Providence, RI-Contemp) – G+
      DeSilva, Bruce – 1st in series
      Forge – 2010

Monday, November 28, 2016

A Shameful Murder by Cora Harrison

First Sentence:  It was Reverend Mother Aquinas who found the body of the dead girl.
On the night of the exclusive Merchant’s Ball, the body of a young woman, dressed in satin and seemingly from the upper class, is found washed up by one of the frequent floods of the River Lee.  The Reverend Mother and young Sergeant Cashman believe she has been murdered.  Surprised by how little grief her father and brother show, there are other questions that arise causing the nun, policeman, an enlightened physician, and a journalist for Republican Party to join forces in looking for answers.
Reverend Mother is someone one can’t help but like from the very beginning.  She is in her 70s, and is someone who has lived a life about which one learns throughout the story.  She is sharp, and good at knowing, and managing, people.  Her sister, Lucy, is delightful and plays an important role.
The time setting provides a very interesting look at a time of change.  This is the first year of a very uneasy independence from English rule.  Yet it is also appalling to realize what men, especially those with money and power, could do to wives they no longer wanted—“Yes, it’s easy enough to have someone shut up in an asylum – if you’ve got the money, and got the power.  Do you know two out of three inhabitants of the asylum are women and do you know the diagnosis that is down for most of them - hysteria – and what’s hysteria?  You tell me that. …I can’t because it isn’t a disease.”
The plot is very well done, with very effective twists.  Between the flooding, raids by the Republicans, and the killer, Harrison builds suspense extremely well.  One can really appreciate all the information detail Harrison includes in the story.  Although the frequent references to the rising water and flooding seem tiresome at times, it is an important part of the sense of place, and an integral element to the story.
A Shameful Murder” is well-plotted, has excellent characters, a villain one does not expect and a very gratifying ending.  It’s nice to see Ms. Harrison branch into a new, potentially very good, series.

A SHAMEFUL MURDER (Hist Mys-Rev. Mother Aquinas-Cork, Island-1923) - VG
      Harrison, Cora – 1st in series
      Severn House – May 2016

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

The Professionals by Owen Laukkanen

First Sentence:  Martin Warner checked his watch as the train slowed for Highland Park.
Four former college students decide to make their fortunes through kidnapping bankers in a way that the police won’t be involved.  It works well, until they kill one mark, the husband of a mobster.  Now they have both the mob and the FBI hunting them down.
Sometimes a debut book can be enjoyable, yet somewhat painful to read.  This was such a book.
The premise was actually quite clever, although not recommended as an employment opportunity.  The four students were appropriately naive and, as often happen in a group, one makes a disastrous decision that changes the course of everything.  The result is going stupid, but not violent crimes, to the criminals being hunted.  This does increase a drastic increase in the tension and suspense of the story, yet you also know that thinks cannot possibly end well.
There is a nice reversal of roles; the male cop being afraid to fly, while the female calms him down; the male being a local cop—“Police work.  Sometimes it made Stevens want to be a long-haul trucker.”-- the female is an FBI officer; the male having an understanding wife, whereas the female does not. 
One, however, really has to question whether the FBI fly their own agents all around the country, rather than use local agents in each location, as well as a local cop.  And would a local cop really be released from all his other cases—I just don’t believe they only work one case at a time—to fly around with the FBI.  Fiction is great, but some semblance of reality is also nice.
The Professionals” has a plot that really is far-fetched and elements, and actions, which are hard to believe.  I mean, really hard!  Still, it is an exciting book with a twisty plot and action that keeps one reading all the way to the end.  
THE PROFESSIONALS (Pol Proc-Stevens/Windermere-Illinois-Contemp) – Okay
      Laukkanen, Owen – 1st in series
      G.P. Putnam & Sons – Oct 2012

Monday, November 14, 2016

The Racketeer by John Grisham

First Sentence:  I am a lawyer, and I am in prison.
The opening line not only captures our attention, but is a great hook.  How could one not read one from there?           
One of the things that makes reading Grisham so interesting is not only his obvious knowledge of the law, but inclusion of factual people, events and cases.  However, Grisham can also infuriate one, not by his writing, but by the facts he includes—“An audit last year revealed that the Bureau of prisons had purchased, for “administrative use,” four thousands chairs at $800 per chair.  The same manufacturer sold the same chair at wholesale for $79.”
Reading Grisham provides an eye-opening look at our “justice” system, and it’s not pretty. One quickly realizes that is no “justice” in our justice system.
Malcolm is such a well-constructed character.  He is bright, clever, and takes the reader on a very twisty ride.  What is especially interesting is that he’s really neither a good- or bad-guy, and neither are those chasing him.  Malcolm is someone who knows how the system worked and played it like a Stradivarius.  However, he’s not a character one particularly likes even though, in essence, he hasn’t done anything wrong.
The Racketeer” is a very cleverly written puzzle.  One must pay attention to the details, particularly toward the end.  It may not be Grisham’s best book, but it is one that keeps you reading.

THE RACKETEER (Legal Thriller-Malcolm Bannister-Contemp) – Okay
      Grisham, John – Standalone
      Doubleday – Oct 2012

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Blue Madonna by James R. Benn

First Sentence:  It was a nice day for a drive.

Captain Billy Boyle is court-marshaled, busted down to Private, and sentenced to three months hard labor.  But it’s all a ruse in order to get Billy behind enemy lines to rescue an Allied soldier currently at a not-so-very “safe house” in France.   Not only do they have to worry about the Germans, but someone is killing the soldiers housed there.
What an effective way to start a story.  Even though you suspect it’s a setup, and you don’t know where the story is going, you definitely want to find out.
Sudden bursts of action keep things exciting, but they are nicely offset by things such things as learning more about the background of Kaz, a wealthy man, who had gone to England to study, whose Polish family had been wiped out by the Nazis, now working with the American Army and living at the Dorchester Hotel in London.
Benn does an excellent job conveying the danger of situation, and the risky and important role women played during the war.  These weren’t clerks in safe offices, but resistance fighters working to defeat the Germans.  Add in a murder into the midst, and Billy’s history as a Boston cop comes into play with time to investigate as we witness the inhumanity of the SS.
Pacing is one of Benn’s many strengths, along with plotting.  You are drawn into the story and kept there, needing to know what happens next.  The balance between the hunt for a killer within their midst, while surviving the danger from the war provides a constant tension with highs and lows. 
The characters are so very real and interesting.  Benn’s voice, through Billy, is so well done—“As I stepped over the threshold, I had a momentary feeling of terror as I recalled a story that had scared the hell out of me as a kid.  “The Cask of Amontillado,” about a guy who was tricked into entering a basement niche and walled up inside.  Thanks a lot, Edgar Allen Poe.”  The Count is a wonderful character brought into this book.  He is very much a representative of that which is good about nobility; a guardian of centuries of history for his family, which region, and his country, but he is also a father.
Blue Madonna” has an excellent triple climax.  The book is suspenseful, dramatic, and a bit terrible.  There are well-done plot twists, and the reader is left with a definite need for the next book.

BLUE MADONNA (Hist Mys-Billy Boyle-France-WWII/1944) - Ex
      Benn, James R. – 11th in series
      Soho Crime – Sept 2016

Monday, November 7, 2016

Daisy in Chains by Sharon Bolton

First Sentence: My love, When I think of the moments that have given me greatest pleasure:  scaling an impossible rock face, watching the moon over the ocean on Christmas morning, the first time my dog saw snow – all of them pale beside the second I looked into your eyes and knew that you loved me.
Maggie Rose is a defense attorney specializing in overturning convictions and writing true-crime books.  Hamish Wolfe is serving time for the deaths of three, possibly four, women.  As do all prisoners, he claims he is innocent, but he, and his supporters, wants Maggie to re-investigate his case, while D.S. Pete Weston, the arresting officer, strongly advises her against it.  Maggie decides to take a look, but does it put her at risk?
It’s interesting that the title doesn’t mean what you’d expect, but that doesn’t mean the opening is any less dramatic. 
Bolton excels at creating strong, independent and unusual protagonists.  These are not perfect women, but women with baggage; their own issues from the past with which they are trying to deal.  They are not characters one would want to emulate, but ones who are compelling, and about whom one wants to know more.
The information as to why women form relationships with prisoners, including those they’ve never met, is fascinating.  It is clear Bolton has done extensive research for this book, including on street fighting.  There is also a very interesting guide on how to disappear, just in case one ever needs it.
There are issues, however, with the structure and the plot, and this criticism comes from one who has really loved Bolton’s previous books.  There was way too much reliance on epistolary information.  The use of letters, manuscript drafts, etc. can be interesting.  However, it can also, as it did in this case, seem as though it’s filler for not being certain how to move the plot forward.  The other problem was projection.  There is nothing more disappointing than figuring out the end when one is half-way through and finding out you are correct. 
Daisy in Chains” is not Bolton’s best work.  That would be “Little Black Lies,” which I highly recommend.  However, it does have an effective plot twist, and the revelation is well-done, even if one does already suspect, but the final ending has become cliché.  Still, it’s interesting enough to read to the end, just to be certain.

DAISY IN CHAINS (Suspense-Maggie Rose-England-Contemp) – Okay
      Bolton, Sharon - Standalone
      Minotaur Books – Sept 2016

Monday, October 31, 2016

Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew'd by Alan Bradley

First Sentence:  The winter rain slashes at my face like icy razor blades, but I don’t care.
Flavia returns from Canada to find her father is in the hospital unable to have visitors, and only Dogger, family employee, to greet her return.   Unable to visit her father, and to keep busy, Flavia runs an errand for the Vicar’s wife, but finds the reclusive woodcarver’s body hanging upside down on the back of his bedroom door, with only a cat to keep him company.
What an intriguing opening.  Even with a sense of threat, one has to smile at the anthropomorphizing of her bicycle—“Gladys’s wheels groan horribly beneath us.  The biting cold has penetrated her steel cones and seized the tendons of her brake cables.” 
It’s also nice to have a brief introduction to the members of her family.  Bradley conveys emotions so well; Flavia’s hopefulness, her restraint and regret, and finally, her concern and guilt.  One can’t help but love Dogger, the family's handyman, as he is the one person who seems to really care for, and understand, Flavia.
Flavia makes one stop, wonder, and research—“The human brain performs more efficiently when taking in humid air than it does in hot or cold dry weather.”  Hmmm.  Twelve-year-old Flavia is unique.  One either loves her, or is terrified and repulsed by her.  She has clearly spent much of her life being bullied, and has found her own way of surviving within her family.  Either way, she is a curious and unique character—“I’m sorry if I seem to digress, but that is what I was thinking at the moment.  It’s the way my mind works.  Things are not the same in real life as they are in, for instance, the fictional world of Sherlock Holmes.”
Bradley has such a wonderful voice and use of language—“I know that there are people who are as barmy about books as Father is about postage stamps.  My sister Daffy, for instance, can prattle on about flyleaves,  colophons, and first editions not only until the cows have come home, but until they have put on their nightcaps, gone to bed, switched off the lights, and begun snoring in their cowsheds.”  The references to actual historical figures provide a sense of time and social strata.       
Flavia is a combination of amazing self-confidence and a audacity, underpinned by her intelligence, imagination and love of learning—“The falling snow and half-light of the low-hanging, leaden sky made the street seems as if it were located in some far-off mythical underground kingdom, and I wouldn’t have been at all surprised to see Dante, or even old Odysseus himself…”  Yet for all her eccentricity, she understands what it is to be bullied, and “adopts” fellow outsiders, not always wisely.
Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew’dhas an excellent twist, and such a clever plot; so much so that we only realize it as it unfolds.  Flavia is, indeed, a unique and wonderful character.

THRICE THE BRINDED CAT HATH MEW’D (Trad Mys-Flava de Luce-England-1950s) – VG
      Bradley, Alan – 8th in series

      Delacorte Press – Sept 2016

Thursday, October 27, 2016

False Positive by Andrew Grant

First Sentence: “I lied.”
Det. Cooper Devereaux has been called back from suspension to partner with relative newcomer Jan Loflin, investigating the disappearance of a 7-year-old boy.  Did the parents murder the boy?  If he was kidnapped, why have there been no ransom demands?  While the case brings up events in Devereaux’s own past, Loflin seems to be investigating both the case, and her partner.
The book starts with very short chapters that jump between characters, and file information meant to discredit Devereaux that has been sent to Loflin. There are also cliff-hanger chapter endings.  Fortunately, the last does improve as we get further into the story.
The characters are interesting; Devereaux who carries a lot of past around with him, Loflin whose motives are suspect.  They are an interesting combination, but somewhat stereotypical.  While Jan seems to be a “by-the-book” cop, Devereaux style is more “what book?”.  However, Jan’s insecurity and gullibility does become a big tiresome until you understand what motivates it.  Each develops and becomes both more complex, and more interesting, as they story progresses.  One can appreciate who Devereaux’ PDST is woven thru the story.

Devereaux is very much in the macho-man, marches to his own drummer, style of protagonist that men might like to be, and women think they'd like to find...but only for a short time if one were honest.  There are aspects of him to be admired, but others at which one is inclined to roll the eyes.  But, hey; that's what fiction's for.  
Grant does have a good voice—“Devereaux had always thought of the fourth floor conference room as the place where enthusiasm went to die.”  He also does do a very good job of conveying the stress under which the parents of a missing child would be.
False Positive” is an exciting read, full of wicked twists all the way to the end, although the final twist was rather predictable.  Still, if you’re looking for an escapist read for a weekend, or airplane trip, here it is. 

 FALSE POSITIVE (Pol Proc-Det. Cooper Devereaux-Alabama-Cont) – G+
      Grant, Andrew – 2nd in series
      Ballantine Books – Jun 2016

Monday, October 24, 2016

An Obvious Fact by Craig Johnson

First Sentence:  I tried to think how many times I’d kneeled down on asphalt to read the signs, but I knew this was the first time I’d done it in Hulett.

Sheriff Walt Longmire and his friend Henry Standing Bear travel to Hulett, Wyoming.  Walt is there to assist in the investigation of a hit-and-run accident.  Henry is there to test himself, and his motorcycle, at the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.  Neither of them planned for the accident victim to be the son of Lola, the very flesh-and-blood woman for whom Henry’s ’59 Thunderbird was named.  Is he more than that?  Biker gangs, the ATF, and a military-grade vehicle all add to the activity.

How can one not like Walt Longmire—“I shrugged and glanced at Dog, the hundred-and-fifty pound security system. “Stay. And don’t bite anybody.”…”Is he mean?” “Absolutely.”  As I said this, he reached his bucket head over the side door and licked her shoulder with his wide tongue, “Well, almost absolutely.”--Henry Standing Bear, Vic Morelli, and Craig Johnson’s crisp dialogue with wonderful wry humor.  However, one does have to pay attention in order to follow who is speaking when.
The interaction between Walt and Henry regarding the danger of motorcycles—“Why do people ride these contraptions, anyway?...T.E. Lawrence died on a motorcycle.  You know what I make of that?”  “He should not have left Arabia?” and Henry’s quoting Walt’s copy of Sherlock Holmes—“The game is afoot.”—speaks to their friendship.  The information Johnson includes on both the area and on motorcycles is quite interesting.
The books are feeling "less than" the original Longmire books, and a bit formulaic.   There's not the same level of intensity as once was.  The plot here is well done, but the book is definitely character-driven and has a lighter sense to it than previous books.  One note that felt off was Henry’s reaction to the victim. 
An Obvious Fact” is an enjoyable read, and would be a perfect airplane book. 

AN OBVIOUS FACT (Pol Proc-Sheriff Walt Longmire-Wyoming/SD-Contemp) – G+
      Johnson, Craig – 12th in series
      Viking – Sept 2016