Sunday, August 2, 2015

Blood Foam by Brendan DuBois

First Sentence:  On a Sunday in the third week of November outside my half-burnt home on Tyler Beach, N.H., while attempting to nail a heavy blue tarp on a gaping hole above the shutters front door, I learned quite the important lesson:  The bright decal on folding stepladders that warns you not to step on the very top is there for a reason.
     
Ex-State Department employee turned journalist is asked to do a favor for his friend, and former lover, reporter Paula Quinn.  Her new fiancée has gone missing.  Considering the man is a lawyer and member of the town council, when Cole starts asking question, no one seems very concerned.  What is odd is that a man who supposedly being raised in Vermont has a Wyoming social security number.  With the help of his friend Felix Tinios, he starts following a trail which becomes more dangerous every step of the way, all the while worrying about the fate of his badly fire-damaged house from an impending hurricane heading its way.
     
It is a good bet that more than a few readers will be able to empathize with the opening, in one way or another.  It is also an effective hook.  DuBois has a very good first-person voice… “A couple of weeks ago, however, the routine had been disrupted—which is like saying the Civil War was a bar brawl that got out of hand--…”  He also creates a nice, impending sense of dread with the hurricane moving up the coast.
     
Although there are references to a previous book, new readers will be more intrigued than frustrated by the references.  If they are moved to read the previous book or books, it’s all to the better.
     
DuBois does create an interesting mix of characters.  Cole has an interesting past which makes it clear he wasn’t just pushing papers for the State Department, but he is a man of strong commitment and loyalty.  He believes in doing what is right and not taking shortcuts.  He is definitely someone you’d want to know.  A nice balance is his friend Felix…”originally from the North End of Boston and now residing in North Tyler as a security consultant—which he always manages to say with a straight face—…”  Well dressed and a lover of the finer things, it is clear Felix has less than legal connections.  Add in his friend and injured policewoman Diane, and you have a strong circle of personalities.  In some ways, the least dynamic character is Paula, the friend for whose fiancée Cole searches.  There are times when she seems remarkably naïve for a journalist.
     
In addition to Felix being a particularly interesting character, which he is, he also makes us wish to join him at the table…”Felix placed an order for a filet mignon—medium rare—with a side of two lobster tails, risotto, and house salad.” … “Felix had a veal dish with a side of pasta, while I had lobster fettuccini…”  These, and other instances, provide a nice pause in the action. 
     
For those who live in, or know the area of the book, it is very much as though you are along for the ride.  However, even those who do not can appreciate the observations regarding how the Bush recession impacted small towns…”Lots of powerful things were being closed or being threatened.  It must have been nice to live in a time when powerful things were being built and opened.”
     
Blood Foam” is filled with excellent twists, very good suspense from several sources, and a well-done ending.  One does appreciate a noble protagonist.

BLOOD FOAM (Mys/Jour – Louis Cole – New Hampshire – Contemp) – VG+
DuBois, Brendan – 9th in series
Pegasus Books – June, 2015

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Badlands by C.J. Box

First Sentence:  Twelve-year-old Kyle Westergaard was halfway through his route delivering the Grimstad Tribune when he heard the high whine of car engines on the highway in the dark.
      
Det. Cassie Dewell, working with the FBI, thinks they may finally have caught the Lizard King, an independent long-haul trucker, a serial killer of prostitutes, and the man partially responsible for the murder of her boss.  But do the they enough to hold him.  Leaving her former post behind, Cassie has transferred to be the new deputy sheriff in Grimstad, ND, a town filled with oil money and drugs.  The sheriff suspects the town is about to be flooded with a shipment of meth that came into town is went missing.  A very vicious motorcycle gang is in town looking for them.  Can Cassie find them first?  And what is the role of a young boy on a bicycle?

C.J. Box writes a series with the protagonist of Joe Pickett, a Wyoming game warden.  This book is not part of that series.  "Badlands" is a continuation of a story which started with "Back of Beyond" and continued in "The Highway."  These are decidedly darker and more violent, yet with the same excellence of writing.  
      
The Lizard King is a through thread, and an excellent, unsettling one.  One need not have read previous books in order to catch the thread, although one may be enticed so do to.  That’s not a bad thing.  One thing that was interesting was to learn the difference between independent truckers and company drivers.  At the same time, the focus of this story is criminals cold enough to freeze your blood.  
      
Box is very good at creating a sense of place by painting mental pictures…”December in North Carolina was brown and gray but not white.  Light rain fell from a close granite sky.  The hardwood trees were tall and skeletal and a thick brown carpet of leaves covered the forest floor.”
      
Box presents an interesting and balanced picture of the positive impact from the economic impact of oil companies on previously small, struggling communities, while also focusing on the negative secondary results of money, drugs, guns and crime.  In this instance, those negatives are very dark, and very violent. 
      
Cassie is an excellent protagonist; smart, strong, intelligent yet not without her own issues.  You become involved with her and her life, and sense her frustration at a case gone awry.  What is particularly nice, is that in Sheriff Jon Kirkbride she has a supportive boss.  Kyle proves that no child should be underestimated or disregarded.
      
Badlands” is exciting and gripping with an explosive plot twist.  One becomes completely involved in a story which provides a satisfying conclusion; yet with a continuing thread to the next book.

BADLANDS (Pol. Proc – Det. Cassie Dewell – North Dakota – Contemp) – Ex
Box, C.J. – 3rd in series
Minotaur Books – July 2015

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Evidence Room by Cameron Harvey

First Sentence:  Dr. James Mason was more comfortable with the dead than the living.
      
In 1989, a small girl was brought to the morgue of Dr. James Mason.  She was something of an anomaly as she was alive.  Little Aurora’s mother had been murdered and they were looking for her father.  Now, in 2014, upon the death of her grandfather, Aurora, now an ER nurse in New York, finds she needs to return to her home town of Cooper’s Bayou, Florida and the home of her birth to settle his estate.  Josh Hudson, in looking for his missing sister, has been suspended from his job on the police force and relegated to the evidence warehouse, overseen by Samba, who knows where all the records and secrets are stored.  Can the three of them find the answers they seek?
      
Harvey opens with an excellent hook; touching, interesting and compelling with characters with whom one can identify.  Just as we become involved, we skip forward 25 years.  And are introduced to new, equally compelling characters. 
      
Harvey writes excellent dialogue—“All those blond techs look the same to me.  Good genetic material for a baby, but about as interesting as unflavored oatmeal.”—as well as lines that make us stop and consider—“We all got something that haunts us, Josh.”
      
It is so important to have characters with whom one can emphasize and identify.  Harvey’s characters are fully dimensional, and very interesting; Ruby, Doc Mason, Samba, Josh—but it is Aurora who is smart, independent, and doesn’t depend upon a man to save her, who truly captures our interest.   Only occasionally does the fragmentation of the story make keeping track of them a bit challenging. 
      
The sense of place is strong and visual…”The bayou was wilder here, the water heaving past in an unrelenting torrent the color of strong tea…”  He writes with wonderful imagery…”The graveyard by the state prison was manicured and well-kept, but these people—people whose greatest crime was dying anonymously---were spending eternity in an overgrown dump.”  One can even appreciate the fascinating information on voodoo versus voudon
     
  “The Evidence Room” has an excellent plot, with clever twists, very good suspense yet without overt violence.  It is a wonderful debut by an author one should consider following.

THE EVIDENCE ROOM (Mys-Aurora Atchinson/Josh Hudson-Florida-Contemp) – Ex
Harvey, Cameron – 1st book
Minotaur Books – June 2015

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Down Among the Dead Men by Peter Lovesey

First Sentence:  “Are you sure this thing works?”
    
Det. Peter Diamond has been recruited to work with his boss on a sensitive case out of town.  To say he’s less than excited by this prospect would be an understatement, but needs must.  What he doesn’t know, nor does his boss, is that the case involves someone with whom Peter had worked in the past.  In the same town to which they are traveling, the art teacher at a private girl’s school leaves her position without notice.  While the students are pleased by the very attractive man who replaces her, one student becomes concerned and decides to follow up on her own.
    
Peter Lovesey is unique in his manner of gently sliding the reader into the story.  One finds oneself intrigued, aware there has been a crime, but really not knowing with certainty the nature of the crime or where the path of the story is leading.    He also provides his character with a wonderful narrative voice and dialogue, replete with wry humour…”When it becomes necessary, you’ll be informed.”  Pompous old trout.  “As you wish.”

One also finds that Peter doesn’t lack for wonderful meals—no grab-and-go here… “They tucked into a char-grilled rib-eye steak with black-pudding butter, fries and salad (his) and vegetarian bake with salad leaves (hers).
    
Peter’s lady-love, Paloma, is delightful.  His boss, ACC Georgina Dallymore—how can you not love that name—may be dismissive of Peter at times, but she can also be observant… “You go in for mind games, don’t you?  Pulling the wool over the eyes of your superior.  Superior in rank, not necessarily in guile…”  And Peter is clever, brilliantly so at times, diplomatically "managing" his boss with tact and guile.  One could envy his skill. 
    
Every step of the way, the plot becomes more fascinating and compelling; complicated and wonderful in the way the threads are finally joined.
    
Down Among the Dead Men” is a wonderful, satisfying read with the unexpected villain brought to justice.  It is also part of a great series.

DOWN AMONG THE DEAD MEN (Pol Proc-Det. Peter Diamond – England – Contemp) – VG
Lovesey, Peter – 15th in series
SOHO Crime – July 2015

Friday, July 10, 2015

Name of the Devil by Andrew Mayne

First Sentence:  “You know what you have to do,” said the distant voice at the other end of the phone.
      
A church in the rural Appalachian town of Hawkton, Virginia explodes, killing five people, although the bodies can’t initially be found.  Lead investigator, Vonda Mitchum, would like to close the case quickly.  Agent Jessica Blackwood, raised in a family of master illusionists and once one herself, has a skill for looking beyond the obvious.  The further she looks, the larger becomes the scope of the case and the more dangerous; not just to her, but to a major figure on the world stage.
      
Reviewing this book is a decided conundrum.  There are so many really positive elements to it, yet a number of negative ones as well.  Where to begin?
      
There is nothing better than a book you pick up thinking you’ll only read a few pages and, before you know it, you’re 10 pages into the story.  There is no question this book begins with a bang; literally.  The opening is dramatic and startling with excellent descriptions… “A mansion that would have looked like a haunted house on a studio back lot if Grandfather hadn’t made sure to keep it well-coated in paint…  With its pointed spires and steepled roof, the mansion was more medieval Disney than tony Beverly Hills.
      
The character of Agent Jessica Blackwood is a particularly intriguing one.  Her past enables her to observe things others may not.  The people in her personal life are unusual, interesting, and often dangerous.  She is a character about whom you want to know more. 
      
The plot contains a fascinating combination of science, technology and mysticism.  Each is interesting and educational.  The story is fragmented in places—both in terms of skips in the plot and due the layout of the text, the latter being the fault of the editor/publisher, rather than the author.  It does, however, make it a bit challenging to follow, at times.  The other issue is that there is a lot of reference to the previous book and its villain.  Although it doesn’t impede the enjoyment of this case, it both makes one curious, yet you feel you know so much about the previous book, it takes away the impetuous to go back and read it for oneself.  That said, it is rather similar to an itch which must, sooner or later, be scratched.
      
Mayne’s observations are fascinating and thought-provoking.  The dialogue is very well done and can, at times, make one smile…”We’re going to offer him the same level of protection irregardless,” replies Ratner.  I bite my tongue at the ‘irregardless,’…Carver points out. “And Dennis, it’s ‘regardless,’ not ‘irregardless.”
      
Name of the Devil” is very cleverly plotted with excellent twists and “wow” moments.  There are some weaknesses, but nothing a stronger editor couldn’t resolve.  Even so, one wants to read the next book by this author.

NAME OF THE DEVIL (Susp-Agent Jessica Blackwood-US/Mexico-Contemp) – G+
Mayne, Andrew – 2nd in series
Bourbon Street Books – July 2015

Monday, July 6, 2015

The Forgotten Girls by Sara Blaedel

First Sentence:  Gone is coming, Gone is coming!
      
Detective Louise Rick has accepted the position of heading a Special Search Agency, responsible for unsolved missing-person cases.  Believing she could appoint her own team, she is dismayed to find a partner, Eik Nordsrom, has been assigned to work with her.  Their first case involves the body of a woman, with a large burn scar on one side of her face, is found in a local forest. With no way to identify her, the police release her photo to the media asking for the public’s help, only to learn that she was on of a set of twin sisters who were supposed to have died 30 years previously in a sanitarium.  Working the case becomes much more involved, and much more personal, than Rick every anticipated.
      
The story begins with a very intriguing and compelling prologue that is a true prologue.  This is not something which is lifted from a later section of the story, but is an introductory chapter that immediately elicits a sense of dread.
      
Louise Rick is an interesting character and cleverly created. One initially isn’t certain they like her as she is very defensive and prickly in her demeanour.  At the same time, there are hints at reasons for her attitudes and a feeling that the author will make these reasons known.  Most can, however, also empathize with her frustration of being made to working with someone who has created a negative first impression.  Even here, however, one wants to see how things will develop and it is interesting to see how Louise and her partner do learn to work together and build a trust. 
      
Blaedel includes powerful, and rather depressing information as to the number of people who go missing in Denmark every year—1,600 to 1,700—and brings home the reality of institutions everywhere where people are sent and simply abandoned by their families. Suicide is a very common theme, along with the disappearances. 
      
One small thing, as an American reader, is that it would have been to have helpful to have known/learned more about Denmark and how property laws function there.  Readers might find some of the information related to that a bit confusing, but not enough to severely detract from the story.
      
The Forgotten Girls” has a plot which is fascinating with amazing, well-done twists all along the way.  What starts as three separate cases are linked by DNA into one case, and ends with startling revelations right up to the very end.  

THE FORGOTTEN GIRLS (Pol Proc-Det. Louise Rick/Camilla Lind-Denmark-Contemp) – VG+
Blaedel, Sara – 4th in series
Grand Central Publishing – February 2015

Monday, June 29, 2015

Little Black Lies by Sharon (S.J.) Bolton

First Sentence:  I believe just about anyone can kill in the right circumstances, given enough motivation.
      
Catrin Quinn, her best friend Rachel, and Faulklands war veteran Callum Murphy are have been joined together by the death of Catrin’s two children, but not in a positive way since they were in Rachel’s care when they died.  Now, they are joined, with the rest of the island, in a search for three missing children.  Resentments, accusations, and distrust are renewed, but can they still find the person who is responsible?
       
A powerful opening is quickly followed by a highly intriguing first chapter filled with evocative descriptions of both places…”Something is moving.  Not the water surrounding me, that seems frozen in time, but the reflection of a bird.”, and of emotions…”Tonight, it seems, my thoughts are determined to stray along the shadowy path, where furtive plans creep like snaring roots across the forest floor, where the darker reaches of our minds run free.” 
      
There is something truly wonderful about an author who makes one pause and consider.  Her descriptions of devastating loss, and being haunted by those who have been lost, is truly remarkable and wrenching.  Then, to add another layer, the descriptions of a mass beaching of pilot whales only adds to the sense of tragedy.  Bolton truly is a master at conveying emotions, and with a very good turn in the plot, another level is added.
      
The construct of the story is interesting and somewhat unusual.  One gets to know the three primary characters well, yet is constantly surprised, while not altogether trusting, by what one learns.  Although it may seem a small thing, she is remarkably effective at making animals very important to the plot.  What is very well done is that each section of the book avoids being repetitive, and very much has its tone.
      
It is a pleasure having a book set in a location new to most readers.  While one applauds Minotaur for including a map, Bolton brings the Faulkland Islands, its people and history, to life.  If there is any criticism, and very small would it be, it is that the first section is so powerful, the other two sections are slightly diminished by comparison.  However, that is also a true reflection of each character’s strength of emotion and, thus, appropriate.
      
Little Black Lies” is an excellent book with a very powerful, did-NOT-see-that-coming ending.  One does love being completely surprised.

LITTLE BLACK LIES (Myst-Catrin/Callum/Rachel-The Falkland Islands-Contemp) – Ex
Bolton, Sharon – Standalone
Minotaur Books – May 2015

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Once Burned by Gerry Boyle

First Sentence: He bought the wick online from a candle-supply shop in Houston, calling the people up first to ask which type of wick burned the hottest.
             
Money is tight, in the McMorrow family, now that Jack and Roxanne have a daughter, Roxanne is no longer working as a social worker, and they have to depend on the free-lance stories Jack sells to the New York Times and other outlets.  An arson fire in the small town of Sanctuary just might prove the story Jack needs.  Rather than being a single incident, it quickly becomes clear that someone has an agenda, and the town is happy to accuse those who are most vulnerable.  Roxanne finds she can’t separate from her old job as much as she’d planned when she, and her family, are threatened by the drug-addicted mother whose child died when placed in foster care.
      
There’s nothing like a strong opening, and Boyle starts us off with a very frightening, yet compelling, prologue, immediately followed by a beginning which guarantees impending disaster.
      
Boyle has created a cast of characters we what to know on an ongoing basis.  As well as Jack and Roxanne, he has also created one of the most appealing, least annoying, children in Sofie.  Then there are their neighbors and friends Mary and her husband, Clair, the ex-Marine Commando who always has Jack’s back. Additionally, there are secondary characters who are fully developed and hold their own.
      
The dialogue is excellent.  It flows very naturally and is appropriate to the characters and their relationships.  “Are you going to return our firearms?” Clair said.  “What if I don’t?” Foley said.  “I’ll have to back to the house and get some more.”  Clair said. 

There are also good lessons to be learned about how much control one does, and does not, have and where one’s responsibilities ends, as well as providing those moments that cause one to stop and consider…”Every society has a warrior class.  Without that we have anarchy.  You’d see way more suffering, way more carnage.  We fight to keep humanity from going totally crazy.  Somebody has to step up.”  Even if one may not completely agree with the philosophy, it does cause one to think.  It is the inclusion of such moral questions that elevate a book beyond the ordinary to someone about which one thinks long after closing the cover.

Boyle is an author who also knows how to convey emotions and people reactions to tension and stress.  That's not an easy thing to do, but he does it extremely well.
   
Once Burned” is a very good book that is well-plotted and with excellent tension all the way through. 

ONCE BURNED (Lic Invest/Reporter-Jack McMorrow-Maine-Contemp) – VG
Boyle, Gerry – 10th in series
Islandport Press – May 2015

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Finding Fraser by kc dyer

First Sentence:  I met Jamie Fraser when I was nineteen years old.
      
Emma Sheridan has had a series of less-than-auspicious jobs and relationships, a fact that her sister is happy to point out.  In frustration and depression, she decides to sell everything and travel to Scotland in search of a man who represents her ideal—Jamie Fraser from the book “Outlander”—writing a blog along the way. 
      
In Emma, Dyer has created a character with aspects which can be recognized by each of us, at some point of our lives.  Many of can us also sympathize with her relationship with her sister.  However, what is particularly nice, however, is that the character grows and develops with the story. 
      
Emma has some help along with way from wonderful secondary characters, such Morag with the sheep farm, Katy the librarian, and Ashwin from the café in which Emma worked, and others.  There is a lovely cameo/homage to Diana Gabaldon, Herself, which is delightful.  And, it’s nice to know that the real Diana Gabaldon approves of this book
      
The book does have shades of “Julie and Julia,” but that’s okay.  One can appreciate that the blog segments are printed in courier; a nice touch, and it’s delightful to see her following grow.  It also becomes a lesson in distinguishing those who are fans, and those who are truly supportive fans.  There is even a bit of a mystery to the plot.
      
An exceptional aspect to the story is Ms. Dyers ability to convey the beauty, power and history of Scotland, along with descriptions of Edinburgh Castle, and references to Braveheart and Canterbury Tales.  Dyers genuinely makes one feel her love for the country and its people.
     
Finding Fraser” is an absolutely delightful read, particularly for those of us who love the series “Outlander.” 

FINDING FRASER (Novel-Emma Sheridan-Scotland-Contemp) – Ex
Dyer, KC - Standalone
Lions Mountain Literary – May, 2015