Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Slash and Burn by Colin Cotterill

First Sentence: You know?

Dr. Siri, the nearly 80 year old corner of Laos, wants to retire and spend some time with his wife before he dies; a death predicted by the local transvestite fortuneteller. Yet it agrees to one last job. 

Ten years earlier, during the Vietnam War, a US fighter pilot went down in the jungle. A search party of Americans and Laotian scientists and high-level politicians set out to find the pilots remains. They don’t expect to be trapped in a remote cabin due to smoke. Even less, do they expect one of their party to die.

From the very beginning, it’s clear that this isn’t your usual mystery, unless you read a lot of books where the protagonist embodies a centuries-old shaman and a transvestite fortune teller are among the charters. But the wonderfully quirky cast of characters is only one thing that makes this book a delight to read. However, one thing devotedly to be wished, would be a cast of characters at the beginning of the book, as it did become confusing at times.

Excellent descriptions; “But the setting was idyllic. It wasn’t yet 10:00 A.M. and not all the mist had burned away from the surrounding mountains. The sun was still a fuzzy egg yolk behind a lace curtain. The air was fresh and tingled the back of Siri’s throat. The sound of running stream water provided the soundtrack. The second hands on the watches on the wrists of the Americans began to crawl more slowly around the faces. Time had altered.” 

The book is filled with humor, but there’s pathos as well. We’re presented with a country subjected to war, and a description of a village which has lost an “entire generation of able-bodied young men.” Tucked into this story is the remarkable story of what happened to the people of this area. The title is explained by a tradition of the farming people in this area. However, one also learns about the various ways in which marijuana can be used. 

Some may describe this series as being light and, granted, there is a lot of humor both in the characters and the events. However, there is a deeper layer that, when looked for, provides a real grounding to the story.

Slash and Burn” is a really good read. There is a surprising twist and motive, but one that makes perfect sense in the end. Be assured, however, that Dr. Siri and his crew remain firmly on my “must read” list.

SLASH AND BURN (Lic Invest-Dr. Siri Paiboun-Laos-Contemp) – G+
Cotterill, Colin – 8th in series
Soho Crime, 2011

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Vault by Peter Lovesey

First Sentence: Some weird objects are handed in at Bath Police Stations.

Bones—contemporary bones, not Roman bones--are discovered in a vault below the house in which Mary Shelly wrote most of her book “Frankenstein.” An American academic and Shelly fan, reports that his wife has gone missing at the time he was in an antique shop trying to buy a letterbox said to have belonged to the author. When the owner turns up dead, D.S. Diamond has to question whether the man is guilty of one murder, two…or none.

The book begins with an excellent hook. There’s no question of putting the book down, once one starts it.

It’s hard not to love the characters, particularly with Lovesey’s humor, bad puns…”The bony hand, resting on its pizza box, was deposited on Detective Superintendent Peter diamond’s desk. “What’s this—a finger buffet?”…”…When’s medieval?” “Later than Roman,”… The dialogue, in general, is wonderful… “Where did you find it.?" "At Hay-on-Wye." This was cause for a smile. "Sooner or later everything of no special distinction seems to end up there.” It’s wonderful to have dialogue that is clever and witty enough to make one laugh.

Diamond is a great character and a bit of a contrast. Although he always describes himself as believing other see him as annoying and a curmudgeon, there’s little actual evidence of that from his actions. He helps a young reporter who wants to join the police. He has a wonderful conversation with a 6-year-old girl. He has a good relationship with his wife. And he sings songs by Queen—how can one not like a character that single Queen? As an investigator, he uses logic and questioning, rather than makes assumptions. 

The plot is interesting and contains information on some rather obscure history of Bath, Mary Shelly, and art—including a reference to David Hockney. One intriguing comment was that in all his years as a murder man, the board of crime scene photos had never been of an practical help. There are a couple threads to the plot, as well as some clever twists, and everything is brought together really well at the end. 

The Vault,” although perhaps not my favorite of the series, is a very clever mystery; well written and enjoyable. Lovesey’s Peter Diamond series has become a definite favorite of mine. 

THE VAULT (Pol Proc-DS Peter Diamond-Bath, England-Contemp) - VG
Lovesey, Peter – 5th in series
Soho, 1999

Monday, June 9, 2014

Property of Blood by Magdalen Nabb

First Sentence: I’ll do my best to tell you everything but the things I remember are perhaps not what you need.

Kidnap is big business in Italy. An American-born model who married an Italian aristocrat worked for years to rebuild the family’s fortune and reputation after her husband squandered it all away. Now, she has been kidnapped and the crime reported to Marshal Guarnaccia by the daughter. Having established first contact, Guarnaccia is to act as liaison to the family. He soon realizes all is not as it should be and he also quietly works with his counterpart in the Tuscan hills, home of the Sardinian sheep families who are often involved in such kidnappings.

What a powerful, painful and scary opening! Yet at no point do you want to stop or turn away. As much as anything else, this is the story of a family and a strong woman. Much of the story takes us through her experience through a monologue that is as interesting as the investigation. It becomes easy to see how and why the “Stockholm Syndrome” comes to be. The story is also a condemnation of Italy’s kidnap laws and the judicial system.

The book has  a very strong sense of place and of proprietary. At one point, the Marshal doesn’t feel it is his place to question some people.

The Marshal, which is his rank within the Carabinieri—the law enforcement branch which is part of the army yet concerned with criminal investigation, serious crime and organized crime—is a fascinating character. By his rank, he is a non-commissioned officer, somewhat equivalent to a sergeant. He is something of a plodder; a thinker and an observer…”The Marshal pursued his usual policy of interrogation. That is, he kept quiet.” He doesn’t rush about, but mulls the tiny details. He isn’t a Colombo who wants people to underestimate him. He truly downplays his own intellect and significance. Although he is married with two sons, the focus is not on his family, but on him and the investigation.

Property of Blood” is a very good book with intriguing twists. More than a mystery, it is a character study. Sadly, I’ve only three books left to read in this series.

PROPERTY OF BLOOD (Pol Proc-Marshal Salvatore Guarnaccia, Florence, Italy, Contemp) – VG+
Nabb, Magdalen – 11th in series
Soho, 1999

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Mr. Campion's Farewell by Mike Ripley

First Sentence:  “I find it shocking,” said Clarissa Webster.
Albert Campion is now married and not as young as he once was, and even the butler Lugg is now retired.  Yet Albert goes off to the picture-postcard village of Lindsay Carfax for a visit with his niece.  

Fairfax is an odd town with nothing to draw people there.  The main fact of interest is what they call “the nine days wonderful” with odd things happening that relate to the number nine and that the town is controlled by a group called “the Carders.”
The story begins with a caution and intriguing talk of what happens to those who doesn’t listen.  The stage is set, and Campion is perfectly described.  However, this is a case where having a cast of characters would have been very helpful. 
There isn’t a slow moment in the story.  Events happen one-after-another.  Even though some are in the past, the re-telling of them adds to the mystery of the present.  Yet learning how all these things connect is the mystery.
It’s a hard task for a new author to pick up a well-known series written by someone else, yet Ripley does a more-than-credible job of it.  Having the gap in time of the story and the age of the character does help quite a bit.  Even so, he portrayed Campion well.  The voice, both in the narrative and dialogue, were true to character.  Even the exchange with Campion’s wife, Lady Amanda, is classic…”And I distinctly remember thinking “Zounds! I’ve been shot.” But after that it all goes rather dim.”  ““Zounds”?  Anyone who thinks that ought to be shot and “dim” is a particularly apt description for your predicament…”
  “Mr.Campion’s Farewell” is a delightful read and an intriguing mystery.  There’s a lot happening and it all ties up quite satisfactorily in the end.   For those who love the golden-age British classics, Ripley does an excellent job of portraying the characters, style and charm with the same flair.  The original books by Margery Allingham are still the best, but this is a rare exception to my conviction that characters should die with their authors.  Bravo, Mr. Ripley. 

MR. CAMPION’S FAREWELL (Mys-Albert Campion-England-Contemp/1969) – VG+
Ripley, Mike -
Severn House, 2014