Monday, July 24, 2017

The Drifter by Nicholas Petrie

First Sentence: He walked into Harder’s Grange, announced by a chrome-plated bell mounted to the doorjamb.
Iraq and Afghanistan Veteran Peter Ash suffers from PTSD and severe claustrophobia which manifests as a loud buzzing in his head. While helping out the widow of a fellow-Marine he finds a huge, mean dog under her porch, and a suitcase filled with cash and explosives.  Investigating their source could kill him.
From the very outset, there is no question that there’s going to be trouble—“It was dark and musty under the porch, the smell of weeds and forgotten things, with an animal stick on top.  Not a dog smell, but something wilder.  Something feral.  The smell of the monsters in the oldest of fairy tales, the ones where the monsters sometimes won.”  And if that doesn’t catch one’s attention…
There is a good twist right at the beginning.  However, rather too much is made of Peter’s warewolf eyes, constant motion, and feeling of static at the back of his brain.  Although one understands the author trying to convey symptoms of PTSD—“How fucked up was it that walking inside freaked Peter out, but the prospect of a fistfight or shoot-out calmed him down?”—it becomes distracting.  In fact, a better editor was to be desired for several reasons.
Petrie does have a very good, captivating voice.  Within all the suspense and violence, there is also humor, particularly from the dog, Mingus—“He would have a nice bruise tomorrow.  It was traditional to put a steak on it, but Mingus would just eat it, then lick him to death.  A bag of frozen peas would be better.  The dog was not a vegetarian.”
The characters, and there are quite a lot of them, good and bad, do all come to life.  They are interesting and complex.  It is nice always refreshing that they also don’t all play to stereotype.  A word of caution for those to whom it matters, there is also a lot of profanity.  It’s realistic considering the characters, but perhaps not to everyone’s taste.
 “The Drifter” definitely keeps one reading, although the end seemed abrupt.  It is, however, an exciting ride.

THE DRIFTER: A Peter Ash Novel (Susp-Peter Ash-Unk-Contemp) – Good
     Petrie, Nicholas – 1st in series
     G.P. Putnam’s Sons – March 2017

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Outfoxed by David Rosenfelt

First Sentence:  I’ve been enjoying work lately.
Defense attorney Andy Carpenter spends most of his time as partner of a dog rescue group.  When a former white-color-crime client escapes from prison, taking with him his puppy-for-prisoners program dog, and is accused of murdering his soon-to-be-ex-wife and former partner, Andy finds he has no choice but to get back into the legal game.  He just didn’t expect it to be as dangerous as it is.
What an excellent cast of characters with Andy, his wife Laurie, partner Willie, Marcus, and others.  We are easily introduced to each of them and provided their backgrounds in such a way that readers new to the series need not feel lost or confused.  And although there are not nearly as many characters as some authors include, Rosenfelt has a nice way of, within the plot, reminding one of whom some characters are and their role in the story.
Rosenfelt is the master of dry, biting humor—“Sam does not realize it, but he’s two boring sentences away from strangulation.”  Who has not known someone about whom they feel that way? 
One issue with having a wealthy protagonist is his ability to buy information; money is no object.  It does feel a bit too easy at times.  However, the information on online betting is quite interesting.
There are a number of threads to the plot.  Whilst one doesn’t know quite where the author is going with them, one does know to trust the author.  Rosenfelt does an excellent job of taking those seemingly loose threads, making their importance clear, and finally tying them all together.  His courthouse scenes are very well done.  The author does an excellent job of explaining various aspects of the law.
Outfoxed” is a very good read with action, suspense, legal and courtroom drama, a dash of wry humor, and a very satisfactory ending.

OUTFOXED:  An Andy Carpenter Mystery -(Legal Thriller-Sam Carpenter-NJ, Contemp) – VG
      Rosenfelt, David – 14th in series
      Minotaur Books – Reprint Edition June 2017

Monday, July 17, 2017

The Homecoming by Alan Russell

First Sentence:  “Don’t get too near the fire, Stella.”
Seven years ago, a perfect day at the beach became a family’s worst nightmare when young Stella disappears from her home during the night.  Now, a teenaged Stella has reappeared with a story of having been taken by a company of Travelers; extraterrestrials who communicated telepathically.  Detective Cheever, who has been working the case the whole time, searches for answers while another mysterious group is tracking Stella as well.
Russell’s voice is that of a true storyteller, almost simplistic in tone.  But that doesn’t diminish the story we’re being told.  He starts off with a classic summer scene and the telling of a ghost story, giving us a true sense of Stella; who she is and what matters to her.  But placid quickly turns into panicked.
The portrayal of the family is sensitively handled.  The twist is well executed.  But then….there are the seeming villains, or are they?  One is not quite certain, but we do know their code names for everyone becomes rather confusing. One, however, can’t help but like Det. Cheever and his girlfriend psychiatrist Rachel Stern—“Rachel nodded.  “I believe it was Obi-Wan who said, ‘Many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view’” “And that’s what makes you so exceptional,” said Cheever. “Any shrink can quote Freud.  But how many can quote Yoda?”  “It’s not something I typically advertise,” she said.”   How nice it is to have a good cop. 
The information on desert communities and the Salton Sea denotes an author who has done his research.  It’s also a fascinating inclusion.  Aside completely from the story, are gems of truth—“Because nothing is constant.  Because you have to accept the blessing of those people who are part of your life and who make your life special, just as you have to accept their absence.  In the end there is always the hope that you will meet up in some way and at some time in the future.”
The Homecoming" is a wonderfully unpredictable book.  It is a mystery, a fantasy, a love story.  It is fascinating if one can let go and just enjoy it.

THE HOMECOMING (Susp/Pol Proc-Stella/Det. Orson Cheever-SoCal-Contemp) – G+
      Russell, Alan – Standalone
      Thomas & Mercer - June 2017

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Eleventh Hour by M.J. Trow

First Sentence:  The linen stretched over the tenter-grounds like winding sheets, ghostly pale under the Norton Folgate Moon.
Sir Francis Walsingham, spymaster to Queen Elizabeth, is dead.  It is believed by Nicholas Faunt, Walsingham’s right-hand man, that he was poisoned and impeaches playwright and former spymaster Christopher Marlow to uncover the killer.  In order to so do, Marlow seeks the help of leading scientists and thinkers, many of whom are members of the so-called School of the Night.
Trow truly captures the feel and meter of the period but not so much that it is incomprehensible.  In fact, the often writing gives the sense of listening to music.
It is not uncommon for historical mysteries to focus on Kit Marlow as a spymaster.  Here, one can appreciate seeing Marlow the playwright--Marlow had the rare skill of being able to walk and read at the same time.  His boots rang out on the cobbles as he strode, one hand holding the book, the other flinging out to the side placing players and poetry in the air around him.”--and getting a behind-the-scenes look at the state preparation.  The references to “Will Shaxper,” of whom the character of Marlow is quite dismissive while constantly quoting lines now attributed to the Bard, and the fascinating Dr. Dee are enjoyable. 
In fact, Trow truly makes all his characters come to life—“The choirboy in Marlow was never far from the surface, thought he would die rather than admit it and he hummed under his breath the soaring Tallis of his youth.”  There are many characters from history brought to life, but it can also be confusing as many of them are referred to by several different names each.  But stick with it; it is definitely worth it.
Trow’s subtle humor is such a pleasurable aspect of his voice—“It was quite incredible that when you put a perfectly normal, intelligent person on a stage and ask him to walk its length, he suddenly had the gait of an ostrich with ague.”  It comes through in even the most ordinary scene—“Carter was trying to look inconspicuous, to give him credit where it was due, but sitting on one horse and leading another, it was tricky to say the least.” 
One cannot help but be amused by the numerous references about Shakespeare being determined to write a play about Henry the Sixth.  Shakespeare did, in fact, write a trilogy of plays on Henry VI, and they are now credited as having been co-authored by Marlow.
Eleventh Hour” may not be for everyone, but it is delightful for those who love the period and the works of Marlow and Shakespeare.  There is a very clever exposure of the killer wherein “the play’s the thing.”
ELEVENTH HOUR: A Tutor Mystery (Hist. Mys-Kit Marlow-England-1590) - VG
      Trow, M.J. – 8th in series
      Crème de la Crime – First World Publication Edition – July 2017 

Sunday, July 9, 2017

The Night Bird by Brian Freeman

First Sentence:  Like a shiny Christmas display, red brake lights flashed to life across the five westbound lanes of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge.
Psychiatrist Frankie Stein helps her patients deal with phobias resulting from traumatic incidences.  When three of her former patients die after seemingly psychotic breaks, Detective Frost Easton starts investigating her and her methods.  Wanting to know whether her treatment is responsible, Frankie joins Frost to prevent further deaths and find the Night Bird who has been leaving cryptic messages.
Freeman sets the stage with an opening that is a roller coaster of emotions.  The fear is truly palpable. 
Frost is an intriguing character who lives in a house owned by the cat who rides along with him.  He is a character with depth and someone about whom one wants to know more.  His view of psychiatrists is one many people share--“they were happy to pretend they had all the answers, but if one of their patients shot up a movie theater, the finger of blame pointed everywhere except at themselves.”
What a great voice.  Freeman captures one’s interest and keeps it; not only with the pace of the story, but with the inclusion of rather fascinating information on phobias, observations on memories—“People thought memories were fixed, but nothing could be further from the truth.  Every time you pulled a memory off the shelf and put it back, you changed it.  Therapists had a name for the process. Reconsolidation.”—and life in the San Francisco-Bay Area—“Beyond the waters of the small inlet, he could see the brown hills of Tiburon.  This little stretch of paradise north of the Golden Gate Bridge was where you lived if you had more money than God.  Even God couldn’t afford the views here.”
It is always fun to read a book set where one lives.  Freeman’s descriptions are very well done and accurate except for one tiny thing that always makes natives chuckle, but it works well for dramatic effect. 
An author who makes one think about, and even asks, questions is one to be appreciated—“What changes are you willing to take to get what you want?  What dangers do your choices create for other people?”
The suspense is truly creepy, yet subtle.  It builds nicely at an ever-increasing pace.
The Night Bird” is such a good read, with an excellent ruse perpetrated on the reader, and an ending that is as twisted as is Lombard Street.

THE NIGHT BIRD (Pol Proc-Det. Frost Easton-San Francisco-Contemp) – VG
      Freeman, Brian – 1st in series
      Thomas & Mercer – February 2017

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Murder in G Major by Alexia Gordon

First Sentence:  Gethsemane Brown leaned closer to the windshield.
Conductor and violinist Gethsemane Brown has come to Ireland for a dream job.  Her luggage lost, her money gone, the job given to someone else, she has few options but to accept the challenging job of turning a group of school boys into an award-winning orchestra.  The good news is that the job comes with a charming Irish cottage to housesit and the ghost of the former owner who presents her second challenge; provide him innocent of killing his wife and committing suicide.
Before automatically giving this a pass due to being a cozy and/or a paranormal, one might want to stop and reconsider.  In fact, if one is old enough, think a bit on “The Ghost and Mrs. Muir” but also a bit of “Midsomer Murders.”  There are many things with which one can identify in this opening. And that’s just the start.
It’s hard to imagine a better setting or name for a protagonist.  And what a wonderful protagonist is Gethsemane.  Learning the history of her family goes a long way in explaining who she is and her behavior.
The dialogue is wonderful—“Well, which is it?” Eamon frowned down at her. “Ghost? Trick of the light? Or maybe a psychotic break? Or drunk on my bourbon?” enhanced by excellent analogies—“The theater’s Victorian beauty reminded her of Miss Havisham, past her prime but still proud.”—and descriptions—“She closed her eyes and inhaled the almond-vanilla smell of old books, one of her favorite scents.”  There is also a lovely little change up to a classic riff on “The Godfather”—“Remind me why you come to me whenever you need help with something dangerous.”  “Frankie, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”  “Casablanca explains every situation.” 
The only slight criticism was that the ending seemed a bit weak.  It tried a bit too hard to lead one to the next book, but that’s being picky.
Murder in G Major” was an unexpected read, much more of a traditional mystery than a cozy:  delightful characters, excellent sense of place, compelling author’s voice, and well-done pacing and flow to a thoroughly enjoyable story. 
MURDER IN G MAJOR (Para Mys- Gethsemane Brown- Ireland-Contemp) – VG+
      Gordon, Alexia – 1st in series
      Henery Press – September 2016  

Thursday, June 29, 2017

The Chalk Pit by Elly Griffiths

First sentence:  He shouldn’t really be driving:  they all know that.
DCI Harry Nelson has a new boss, with whom he’s not best pleased, and a missing person to find.  Could she have disappeared into one of the many chalk-mining tunnels beneath Norwich.  She wouldn’t be the only thing hidden there.  Anthropologist Ruth Galloway has been asked to investigate a set of human remains.  They’re not old, but they do appear to be the result of the body being boiled.
Griffiths does do a very good job of introducing one to most all of the relevant characters and their personalities.  How can one not love her descriptions—“From his name Ruth expected Quentin Swan to be camp and at least sixty.  In fact, the man who comes bursting in through the Guildhall doors is youngish and dark with horn-rimmed glasses.  He looks like a cross between Harry Potter and Dr. Who (David Tennant era).” [Reviewing from an early ARC, one hopes the correction was made to “Doctor Who”.]
It is nice to have odd bits of history included as it provides those lovely “ah-ha” moments and creates a bit of a pause before the action ramps up. …and then the murders begin.
Relationships play a significant role in the story.  Within the police, it is appreciated that they work as a full team, each with their own responsibilities.
The plotting of the actual mystery is well done.  There are very good connecting threats.  The theme of underground cities is fascinating as they have existed around the world throughout history.   One might, however, wish future stories to focus more on Ruth and her work.
Ruth is an appealing character living a complicated life.  Yet it is her moments of decisiveness and strength that shine through—“Joe decides her.  ‘Stay here,’ she barks at Ruth.  That does it.  Ruth isn’t going to be bossed about by a woman in tight trousers who things she’s Helen Mirren playing Jane Tennison.’ 
The Chalk Pit” is well done, although it spends nearly as much time on the various and complicated relationships as on the case and the resolution seemed very rushed. 

THE CHALK PIT (Pol Proc-Harry Nelson/Ruth Galloway-England-Contemp) – G+
      Griffiths, Elly – 9th in series
      Houghton Mifflin Harcourt – May 2017

Monday, June 26, 2017

She Rides Shotgun by Jordan Harper

First Sentence:  His skin told his history in tattoos and knife scars.
Nate McClusky is about to be released from prison.  Rather than being forced to be a soldier on the outside for the Aryan Steel, he ends up killing a high-ranking member and having a warrant to greenlight his murder, as well as that of his ex-wife, her new husband, and his 11-year-old daughter Polly. He is too late to save the first two, but he is determined to do everything possible to save Polly even if it means putting her in extreme danger.
Polly is one of those characters one can’t help but like from the very beginning.  Everything about her is unique and special—“She moved the bear with practiced hands so he stood on her lap and looked around.  She had practiced with him for hours and hours so he moved with a liquid sort of grace, like a true and living thing.”… “Poly read about this pearl planet with a storm inside it and the thought burped full-formed out of Polly’s brain:  I’m from Venus. That was the way Poly felt, that outside she was quiet and calm, but inside her acid winds roared.  She’d never known why she’d been that way, so quiet on the outside but inside so scream loud, but now she knew. I’m from Venus.”  Yes, she did make me think a bit of Flavia from Alan Bradley's series, but only in the sense that both characters are the same age, and both have found ways to cope with being different from those around them.
Nate, too, is unusual.  Rooting for the anti-hero, the ex-con, isn’t a position in which one usually finds oneself.  Yet here, one does.  He knows who, and what, he is.  He has a true awareness of self, and a focused determination.  Detective Park is equally rare; a cop who is willing to change his focus and is committed to the case even after everyone else has lost interest—“The media has lost interest the second week.  A starlet found floating facedown in a Hollywood Hills home had grabbed the spotlight.  The media was a living organism, and it ate beautiful dead things.”
With each character, especially Polly, one can’t help but feel a bit of sorrow and regret, no matter what happens.  Harper takes one into a world you know exists, but not in detail and one hoped never to be known personally.  He shows you the details so one will never be able to quite forget them—“That soon as you found something to live for, you found something to die for too.  But he guessed in the end it was a good trade.”
There are simple statements of truth—“Some things get replaced, she thought, and some things never will.”—and bits of information; i.e., how felons communicate with the outside, and bullet wounds.  These are things, thankfully, outside most people’s lives, but are part of reality.
Harper has such a fine writer’s voice.  He conveys both actions and emotions in simple sentences—“Park hit the apartment complex at speed. … He left the car in the fire zone, fuck-you-I’m-a-cop style.  He double-timed the stairs to Carla’s apartment.  Bam bam bam on the door, fuck-you-I’m-a-cop style.” Harper doesn’t rely on cliché tricks or even on plot twists.  Instead, there are small surprises that alter the trajectory just slightly.  There is violence and brutality, but it is never gratuitous.
She Rode Shotgun” is not an emotionally easy or comfortable book to read.  One is acutely aware of the “what if’s” associated with each character, especially Polly.  It is, however, an exceptional book with remarkable characters.

SHE RIDES SHOTGUN (Susp-Polly/Nate McClusky-California-Contemp) - Ex
      Harper, Jordan – 1st book
      ECCO – June, 2017 

Thursday, June 22, 2017

What the Dead Leave Behind by David Housewright

First Sentence:  The way he paced recklessly in front of me, bouncing off the furniture, tripping on the throw rug/ the way he looked at me with unblinking eyes—I decided the kid was messed up.
Former police detective, now unlicensed investigator, Rushmore McKenzie is asked for a special favour; find out her killed the father of a friend.  But nothing is simple and one case leads to another unsolved murder and a particular group of friends.
Housewright is very good at the concise; from the very beginning, we know who are the primary characters.  We also have background on McKenzie and, through his internal voice, how he thinks and who matters to him. Knowing these things is of particular advantage to those jumping into this series for the first time.  

In addition to MaKenzie's investigative talents; he cooks—“braised boneless pork ribs simmering in gravy laced with chili powder; mashed potatoes seasoned with onion salt, black pepper, butter, cream cheese, sour cream, and chives; plus green beans and pecans sautéed in chicken broth and maple syrup.”—cautions one to not read when hungry and reminds one a bit of Robert Parker’s Spencer.  
Housewright’s dialogue is easy, natural, and, at times, quite delightful—“Do you think that the killer might be at the party?” she asked. “That is so Agatha Christie.”

The plot is very well done.  There are plenty of twists to keep one off guard and surprised.  The unexpected is always a very good thing.
What the Dead Leave Behind” has an excellent protagonist and a very well done plot that goes unexpected places.  Learning where everyone ends up is very refreshing.

WHAT THE DEAD LEAVE BEHIND (Unl. PI-Rushmore McKenzie-St. Paul, MN–Contemp) - VG
      Housewright, David – 14th in series
      Minotaur Books – June 2017