Thursday, April 20, 2017

Where the Dead Lie by C.S. Harris (aka Candace Proctor)

First Sentence:  The boy hated this part.
      
Poor street children die all the time in London.  Dr. Paul Gibson calls for his friend, Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, to view the body of Benji Thatcher, a young boy who was tortured and murdered, and whose young sister is missing.  St. Cyr's outrage for this crime leads him to learn how many children are missing, the writings of the Marquis de Sade, and the realization of wealthy men who torture children for pleasure.
      
There is nothing better than a compelling opening chapter, except when that chapter leads to another, and another, and a complete story all equally good.
      
While the plot captures one, it is the characters to whom we are most attracted.  With few words and simple descriptions, Harris brings her characters to life.  Harris takes us from the lives of the most wealthy, to the most poor, with Dr. Gibson being the perfect middle note. One of the things that makes St. Cyr such a strong character, is his sense of morality—“Someone’s been killing poor children…” “…Do you know who is responsible?”  We all are, Sebastian wanted to say. You. Me. This city.  This nation. Everyone who ever saw a cold, hungry child alone upon the streets and simply looked away.”
      
Harris employs the same deft hand in establishing the sense of time and place, as well as transmitting the emotions of each character.  It is painful to read the descriptions of the lives of the poor, especially the women.  She doesn’t shy away from acknowledging man’s capacity for violence--“Any man who has ever gone to war understands only too well the worst of what his fellow men are capable. … He reached the conclusion that this capacity for barbarity actually forms a fundamental and inescapable part of whatever it means to be human, however much we might want to deny it.”  Yet Harris knows how to tug our heartstrings as well.
      
A really good author educates as well as entertains.  Among the things we learn are about making shot for rifles of the time, and 14th/15th-century building construction.  Additionally, she also provides an accurate assessment of humanity—“With humanity’s capacity for great good comes the capacity for unfathomable evil.”
      
Where the Dead Lie” is a very good book with plenty of action and suspense.  More importantly, it deals with a very painful theme which still holds true today. Do be sure to read the notes at the end. 

WHERE THE DEAD LIE (Hist Mys-Sebastian St. Cyr-London-1813/Regency) – VG+
      Harris, C.S. – 12th in series
      Berkeley – April 2017

Monday, April 17, 2017

The First Rule of Ten by Gay Hendricks and Tinker Lindsay

First Sentence:  I was just sitting down to a cold beer and hot corn soup, at the end of a long week, when my phone rang.
     
Half Tibetan, half Caucasian, raised in the Buddhist monastery, Tenzing “Ten” Nurbu always wanted to be Sherlock Holmes.  Now retired from the LAPD, he becomes a private investigator with a high-tech sidekick and his first case. 
      
It’s always intriguing to have a protagonist with an unusual background and Ten is definitely different.  A very good opening introduces us to the character, his background, outlook, and ambition all within a dangerous situation and very effectively sets him, and us, up for the next step.  Then, for some unexplainable reason, Hendricks falls into the rookie author trap of not one, but two portents.  Happily, he stopped that completely unnecessary device after those two. 
      
The mix of Buddhism, with descriptions and explanations of the rituals such as a bardo, is nice, but more research for accuracy would have been appreciated.  Still, it’s a nice offset to Ten’s passion for his car and guns.  His alleged telepathic powers with his cat is a bit over the top. I would suggest not reading this while hungry—“Thirty minutes later, we were serving up a cashew-and-vegetable stir-fry with basmati rice.  Expertly chopped cucumber salad on the side.”
      
There is an interesting mix of philosophy and menace in a verbal dual--“The Buddha himself said we shouldn’t believe his words without question—we must discover the truth for ourselves.”  Brother Eldon saw things a little differently.  “Obey your God, Nehemiah.  Obey me.  Go! Guard God’s Paradise!” I got a sudden urge to “find my own way” out of there, and quick.”—and a simplistic, but adequate definition of karma—“…it is our intention that determines our karma; good intentions produce good karma; bad intentions produce bad karma.”
      
The story is well-plotted, and a bit painful for those of us who all too well remember Jim Jones and the Peoples Temple, but with a very interesting and effective twist.  There are a few minor inaccuracies related to Buddhism, and rather TSTL move by the protagonist.
      
The First Rule of Ten” has plenty of action and a good resolution, as well as some minor first-book problems.  Still, it makes for a good airplane read. 
     
 THE FIRST RULE OF TEN (PI-Tenzing Norbu-LA-Contemp) - Good
      Hendricks, Gay and Tinker Lindsay – 1st in series
      Hay House Visions – January 2012

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Black Fall by Andrew Mayne

First Sentence:  When she saw the telephone pole with the yellow plastic base again, Olivia Fletcher slammed on the brakes of her mail truck, bringing it to a skidding halt.
      
FBI Agent Jessica Blackwood’s boredom on stakeout is irrevocably broken by a woman appearing at the door threatening to kill the baby she’s holding. The same day a major earthquake hits the East Coast, and a video is televised of well-known Peter Devon, dead for eight years, predicting the location and date of the earthquake, promising more predictions to come.  But for Jessica, the critical question becomes who is pulling the strings of the building chaos.
      
There’s nothing like a really good opening.  An entire town disappearing is a really good opening.
      
Jessica Blackwood is a fascinating character; as is the author himself—do read his bio.  You know a book about a woman whose father and grandfather were magicians, as she also was before working in law enforcement, is going to be different.  However, it only takes a few pages before you also realize how intense is the action.
      
Mayne has a wonderfully readable voice; he’s a natural storyteller. He has done an excellent job of having created a completely believable female character.  He moves the story along at a rapid pace, but doesn’t rely on any one device.  Yes, there’s suspense, but the story is also filled with Jessica’s memories, historical information, her observations, and even her insecurities—“I bought this outfit three years ago, and I’m sure I didn’t see a single person with the same lapel style in the entire FBI building in the last twelve months.  It’s stupid stuff like this that drives me nuts.  I’m hung up on it because I think other women may be hung up on it.  It’s a vicious cycle.” It's not easy for authors to write cross gender, but Mayne does it exceptionally well.
      
More than a mystery, the story is filled with fascinating ideas in information—“Almost five hundred years ago, John Wilkins, a philosopher and bishop, pushed heavily for the written language to adopt an upside-down exclamation point at the end of a sentence to indicate irony.  Think of how many online feuds that could have prevented.”  While some authors cause one to seek a dictionary, Mayne prompts visits to Wikipedia.
      
Damian is an intriguing character about whom we’d like to know more.  And, we realize we probably won’t.  It is that mystery that keeps him so intriguing.
      
Mayne is frighteningly spot on with some of the events happening today.  This makes the book both fascinating and terrifying—“The ammunition is rumor, innuendo, misinformation, and leaks. …the delivery vehicles are ordinary citizens, journalists, media personalities, and politicians.”  As much as I tend to dislike prologues, the connection to it is very well done later in the story.  
      
Good dialogue, natural-sounding dialogue, can make all the difference to a story even when it’s a monologue to a horse perfectly conveying the character's nervousness about the situation—“Alright, boy.  If you don’t hear from me in ten minutes, go get help.” Silverback stares at me blankly. … “And get me a grande latte…um, and a cowboy…blue eyes, independently wealthy, not too rustic….” I pat Silverback on the flank, which he interprets as a signal to start walking.  I chase after him and grab the reins. “Wait! Hold up.  Not yet.”  Silverback stops and gives me another of his looks:  Seriously, lady?”
     
 “BlackFall” has excellent suspense, and twists; great characters, and very relevant themes.  It is, so far, the best book in the series.  Yes, at times, it’s over-the-top and there are plot holes, but one doesn’t really care.  Once embroiled in the story and the series, it doesn’t let go.  One simply, impatiently, waits for the next book.

BLACK FALL (Pol Thriller-Jessica Blackwood-US- Contemp) – VG+
      Mayne, Andrew – 4th in series
      Harper Perennial – March 2017

Monday, April 10, 2017

MURDER ON THE SERPENTINE by Anne Perry

First Sentence:  The man stood in front of Thomas Pitt in the untidy office, papers all over the desk from half a dozen cases Pitt was working on.
      
Queen Victoria summons Commander Thomas Pitt to investigate the murder of her confidant, Sir John Hilberd.  Sir John had been looking into the influence Alan Kendrick, a horse-racing enthusiast might have on Victoria’s son, the Prince of Wales and, perhaps, prove a danger to the monarchy.
      
Perry so perfectly creates the environment of the time, the constraints and social restrictions on men and women, and the division of the classes—“Aunt Vespasia calls all her maids Gwen, regardless of what their names really are.  I don’t think they mind.”  Perry’s details are exacting, right down to the way we imagine Queen Victoria might sound. 
      
This is a time when Germany and the Kaiser are looking at expanding their power.  That the Pitt’s son, Daniel, realizes this and wants to study German, looking at a possible career in the diplomatic service, is interesting and a possible bridge to the series’ future.
      
The Boar War, and that there were actually two Boar Wars, isn’t something about which most know very much.  While this doesn’t go into the war, it focused a bit on the lead up to it.  It deals with the issue of the greed of men, and on trading connections for profit.
      
For those who follow the series, it is nice to see Charlotte and her sister, Emily, working together again to help Pitt in his investigation.  Perry’s descriptions of fashion and food provide us a true sense of place and time, as do the inclusions of actual historical events and the social issues of the time.
      
Murder on the Serpentine” is a very good entry into and excellent series.  Redemption is a theme which runs through the series. The manner in which the villain is dealt with is satisfactory and very effective, and the ending particularly gratifying.         

MURDER ON THE SERPENTINE (Pol Proc-Thomas/Charlotte Pitt-England-Victorian)-VG
      Perry, Anne – 32nd in series
      Ballentine Books – March, 2017

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Mission Hill by Pamela Wechsler

First Sentence: I’m in bed, silently reciting their names.

Prosecution attorney Abby Endicott learns a colleague has been killed execution-style by gangbanger Orlando Jones. Abbie takes on the case, in part as she blames him for the murder of her friend many years ago. If she loses, not only does he walk, but she could lose her license to practice law.

Pamela Wechler’s legal and screenwriting background are apparent from the first paragraph. She certainly knows who to capture the reader’s attention, as well as touching one’s emotions. Yet the explanation makes sense, as do the geographic references.

Our introduction into Abby’s background is handled early and quickly. The relationship between Abby and her lover, Ty, is a nice counterpoint to the case. That it’s not a perfect relationship is a refreshing change.

Wechler’s voice is crisp and real—“The sleek, high-tech building offers one-stop shopping; it houses the homicide unit, the crime lab, the ballistics lab, the identification unit, and the fugitive squad. It’s a kind of like a Neiman Marcus for prosecutors.” For those who know, or even want to visit, Boston, Wechler describes the city very well, good and bad, as well as its politics, and the project known as “The Big Dig.”

There are interesting details about which one wouldn’t normally think—“A hospital emergency is a cheater’s purgatory. Spouses and girlfriends rush to be by their man’s side, only to discover that he has another significant other—or others. There’s nothing that a bed-bound patient can do to prevent the encounters.” The author’s wry humor helps offset the drama nicely—“A dirty mop and bucket are in the corner, next to an overflowing trash barrel. The order of grease is so strong I feel like I need to go to Elizabeth Grady and have my pores extracted. I was hungry when I walked in here. I’d planned to get a burger and a bag of fries for the road. Now I’m seriously considering becoming a vegetarian.” However, fewer product placements wouldn’t have gone amiss.

There is a very good escalation in the seriousness of the plot, but it also goes a bit over the top. For being a legal mystery, there could have been time spent in the courtroom.

“Mission Hill” does have some weaknesses, but it’s a very credible first effort. It will be interesting to see how the series progresses.

MISSION HILL (Legal Thriller-Abby Endicott-Boston-Cont) - Good
Wechsler, Pamela – 1st in series
Minotaur Books – Mar 2017

Monday, April 3, 2017

A Darkness Absolute by Kelley Armstrong

First Sentence:  We’ve been tracking Shawn Sutherland for almost two hours when the blizzard strikes.
      
The Yukon Canadian town of Rockton is completely off the grid and its residents, those running from their past/past crimes, are controlled by a remote town council.  The unapproved departure of one of those residents leads to the discovery of a woman who has been held captive in a cave for over a year, as well as the bodies of two other women. The town’s sheriff, Eric Dalton, and homicide detective, Casey Duncan, need to find the person responsible.
      
No easy, gentle opening here.  Instead, the story begins with a strike to the senses and continues on to the end with a story that keeps you totally off balance.
     
 The town of Rockton is as unique as its residents.  Each has a history of which only parts are revealed as the story progresses.  And as with any small town, there are rivalries, jealousy, and mistrust, heightened in Rockton by the resident’s pasts.  Then there are the “outsiders,” those who don’t live in the town, but with whom some of the residents have contact; and the “hostiles,” with whom no one deals.  The relationship between these characters, as well as the characters who live with Rockton, is what gives humanity and dimension to the story.
      
There is an interesting analysis of a serial kidnapper/rapist.  In fact, although much of the book focuses on action and suspense, there is a fair amount of psychology included, along with an appropriate reference to “Lord of the Flies,” as well as a line that can make one smile—“Do you ever look back on your younger self and just want to slap her?”. 
      
A Darkness Absolute” is a fascinating book dealing with the complexities of what are considered we humans.  It’s also highly suspenseful and very well done.

A DARKNESS ABSOLUTE (Susp-Casey Duncan-Canada-Cont) – VG
      Armstrong, Kelley – 2nd in series
      Minotaur Books– February, 2017

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Old Bones by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles

First Sentence:  There comes a point in the life of a balloon when it has lost so much air that it's taut, festive body becomes sagging, wrinkled and—well, frankly, sad.
      
DCI Bill Slider is decidedly unpopular at HQ due to those implicated in his last cast.  A young couple discovers a skeleton in their back garden.  It’s thought to be that of a young girl who disappeared from that garden two decades ago.  Slider’s boss, DS Porson, hope this case will be simple and will keep Slider out of harm’s way.  But does it?
      
Harrod-Eagles never disappoints.  Her use of language, Britishisms notwithstanding, is always a delight, including her chapter headings.  Her descriptions of people makes them immediately recognizable—“Carver was a miserable bastard, who had raised resentment to an art form, and his leaving do was appropriately cheerless.” and—“It was time that Atherton, the serial romancer, settled down.  He was tall, handsome, elegant, and irresistible to females.  Pure catnip.  He could commit sexual harassment by sitting quietly in another room.  Really, the world needed him to be taken out of circulation.”
      
How lovely to have the protagonist be in a marriage that has suffered its rocky patches, but that works.  There is an excellent comparison between Slider being a cop, and his wife Joanna being a professional musician.  There is also a moving and painful description of a mother learning of her daughter’s body being found years often her disappearance.  It is this ability to convey both light and dark equally well that makes CHE such a fine writer.
      
Slider and his team truly are a team.  They are an ensemble cast, each with their own parts to play and backgrounds about which we learn.  The case is a jigsaw puzzle, put together piece-by-piece, following the clues. But don’t make the mistake of thinking the cases are clichéd or the ending pat.  They are far from so being.
     
 “Old Bones” is a very well-done police procedural with excellent characters.  It is so well written; no prologue, no tricks, no portents or cliff hangers, just 256 pages of solid writing.

OLD BONES (Pol Proc-Insp. Bill Slider-England-Contemp) – Ex
      Harrod Eagles, Cynthia – 19th in series
      Severn House, Feb 2017

Monday, March 27, 2017

The Long and Faraway Gone by Lou Berney

First Sentence:  In summer, the season of the Hollywood blockbuster, Bingham, got to work at eight in the morning and didn’t leave until long after midnight.
      
There were two unsolved crimes in the summer of 1986; six movie theater workers were murdered, and a teenaged girl vanished from the state fair.  Now, 25-years later, two people are trying to find answers to those two mysteries. But now there’s a third mystery. Wyatt, now a P.I. in Las Vegas, has been hired to return to the small Oklahoma town where he grew up in order to find out who is trying to destroy the owner's music club. Are the three cases linked?
      
Berney creates a very good sense of time and place, immediately drawing one into the story.  He then tops that off by also creating a palpable aura of fear, but without graphic detail.
      
All three primary characters—Wyatt, the PI; Candice, who is being harassed; and Julianne, whose sister disappeared—are well developed and interesting.  Yet it is Wyatt, in particular, who draws one in and makes one care.  He makes the reader want the answer to this question as much as he does—“One of the toughest things about being a detective, Wyatt supposed, was that you never really stopped detecting.”  Wyatt makes us contemplate.  Don’t we all, at times, wonder about those from our past?—“He tried to remember the line from Lear.  “That way madness lies.”"  
      
The plot keeps one turning page after page.  The threat against Candice is real and absolutely chilling.  What is more effective than a plot that has definite “Wow!” moments as does the mystery involving Julianne’s sister.
      
The Long and Faraway Gone” is not your average mystery.  Yes, there are mysteries, and there are resolutions; however, it is more about people who were once lost, but now are found.  It truly deserves every award it was given.
     
THE LONG AND FARAWAY GONE (Novel-Wyatt-Oklahoma City-Contemp) - Ex
      Berney, Lou - Standalone
      William Morrow Paperbacks-Feb 2015 

Thursday, March 23, 2017

The Unquiet Dead by Ausma Zehanat Kahn

First Sentence:  Esa Khattak turned his head to the right, offering the universal salaam at the conclusion of the evening prayer.
      
Esa Khattak and Det. Rachel Getty are members of the Canadian Community Policing Section which handles minority-sensitive investigation.  At first glance, it doesn’t seem that the death of Christopher Drayton, who is believed to have fallen from a cliff, fits their charter.  Or does it? And is that Drayton’s real name? Was he really Canadian, or did he have a much darker past?
        
During this time in which we live, learning about other cultures and religions is not only informative but vital.  The very humanizing aspect of Khattak’s rug being made by his ancestors, and that we learn of his wife’s death, are good indications of the man.  It is also an excellent introduction to the character’s history and that of the unit he heads up; the Community Policing Station.
     
How refreshing when an author with eschews chapter-ending cliff hangers, but with uses clues instead.  Good chapter headings; some mild, others disturbing, are also much appreciated and can add so much—“Father, take care of my children, look after my children.”  It is only much later one realizes the significance of these passages. There are many passages within the text that cause us to pause and consider—“Because friendship was more than a source of comfort, or a place of belonging.  It was a source of responsibility.”
      
Although this is the first book in the series, there are constant references to a past time where Rachel and Khattack worked together.  One may find this more annoying than informative.  However, learning of Rachel’s background and present concerns does bring her to life.  What is interesting is how Rachel actually becomes the lead character after Khattack becomes too personally invested in the events.  She is a wonderful character and one of whom one would like to see more.
      
Best of all, we are provided with so many examples of such fine writing—“She scorned those who genuflected at the temple of nonviolence, their voices ringing with praise of the defenseless victims of butchery while they sat on their hands when the gods of carnage came calling.”  So much of the book’s theme is relevant today—“It was a compelling history lesson:  how quickly the violent ideals of ultra-nationalism led to hate, how quickly hate to blood.”
     
 “An Unquiet Dead” is more a novel and a warning—“Everywhere the radical right was rising:  Sweden, France, Belgium, Denmark, Holland.  While a steady stream of vitriol drifted north of the US border.”--rather than a mystery.  Either way, it is disturbing and painful, and excellent.
      
THE UNQUIET DEAD (Crime Novel-Rachel Getty/Esa Khattak-Canada-Contemp-) – Ex
      Kahn, Ausma Zehanat – 1st in series
      Severn House – Feb 2017