Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Deck the Hounds by David Rosenfelt

First Sentence:  I've come up with a solution to the homeless problem.
Semi-retired attorney Andy Carpenter can never pass up a dog, especially when it's the companion of a homeless man.  The dog, Zoey, bites a man in defense of an attack on his owner, and the dog is quarantined. Laurie, Andy's former-cop wife, decides they should help by taking Zoey into their kennels and his owner, Don Carrigan into the apartment over their garage.  When Andy accidentally mentions Don's name in an interview, they learn that he is wanted for a murder from two years ago, of which Don has no knowledge.  It's up to Andy to prove Don innocent.
Rosenfelt created an opening which not only touches the heart but makes one wish to be in a position to commit similar acts.  However, it may also cause one to search the internet for corn crème brûlee recipes.  The short summary of Laurie's background is just enough.  Andy's friends and co-workers are a diverse and interesting group who appear throughout the series, although one can become a bit annoyed with a couple of them over time.  Carrigan, however, is a character who reminds one not to make assumptions about people based on their appearance or their situation.  That is very well done.
The story starts fairly low-key.  Then the switch flips and the risk factor becomes higher.  However, an element Rosenfelt uses, often to lighten the mood, is Andy's internal narrative—"The door is opened by a woman who is clearly some kind of housekeeper/maid.  She is wearing a sort of uniform, mostly white with some dark blue trim.  The skirt looks like one enormous doily; I shudder to think how many normal-sized doilies were killed in the making of that garment."
Rosenfelt's plots remind one of complex Venn diagrams with numerous overlapping circles.  What's nice is how well it all works, and the overlaps never feel like coincidences.  That Andy isn't one's usual macho protagonist is a refreshing change.  That Marcus, the muscle, works with Andy's wife Laurie is even better.  As the chain of evidence builds, the center of the diagram becomes clear.  Even the identity of the killer is a very effective twist.
Following the trial is always interesting.  Rosenfelt clearly explains the process along the way, including what can, and cannot, be done.  At the same time, there is a nice balance between the case and Andy's home and family life, which makes the characters more real.
"Deck the Hounds" has plenty of bodies and a very twisty plot which is anything but boring. One will appreciate that the author doesn't do the expected or go for the easy solution.

DECK THE HOUNDS (LegMys-Andy Carpenter-New Jersey -Contemp) – G+    
      Rosenfelt, David – 18th in series
      Minotaur Books – Oct 2018

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Miss Kopp Just Won't Quit by Amy Stewart

First Sentence:  On the day I took Anna Kayser to the insane asylum, I was first obliged to catch a thief.
Deputy Constance Kopp is a target of politicians who don't believe women belong on the police force.  With her boss, Sheriff Heath, running for higher office, she is in a precarious position.  Jumping into a river at night to save a prisoner who escaped from another officer is bad but becoming personally involved in the case of a wife whose husband repeatedly commits her to the local mental asylum puts her at risk of losing her job.
What a wonderful character is Constance Kopp.  At one moment she's chasing down a thief, saving a man from a raging river, making the female prisoners as comfortable as she can, and worried about a woman being taken against her choice, to an insane alyssum for the fourth or fifth time.  However, the most important thing one must know about Constance Kopp is that she was a real person, 6 feet tall, and believed that--"A woman should have the right to do any sort of work she wants to, provided she can do it.” Many other characters in the book were also real people.  [https://www.amystewart.com/characters/]  One may find that this, and that the newspaper stories, too, are real, makes the book even more fascinating.  They are a true look at both life during this period and a woman's life during this time.
How nice to have an opening which makes one smile.  Even better is how distinct is Stewart's voice.  Not every author can give the impression that the story is being told just to one personally, and with such clarity that perfect visual images are created—"…there I happened to be, in my uniform, equipped with a gun, handcuffs, and a badge.  I did what any officer of the law would do:  I tucked my handbag under my arm, gathered my skirts in my hands, and ran him down."  That wonderful combination is further topped by a touch of humor'—"The boy was too engrossed or slow-witted to step out of the way.  I'm sorry to say I shoved him down to the ground, rather roughly.  I hated to do it, but children are sturdy and quick to heal."
One doesn't often think about the women who would be in jail and the various reasons why they would be there.  This was a time of unions and workers' strikes, but it was also a time when a man could have his wife committed for long periods of time, for "nervous hysteria," with only his words and the substantiation of a friendly doctor.    Stewart so captures the sexism and pomposity of some of her characters, it's difficult for one not to be incensed.  This was also the period leading up to World War I with anti-European sentiment, particularly against Germans, Poles and Austrians, and Constance's sister Norma designing a traveling cart for homing pigeons, and Fleurette wanting to entertain the those learning to be soldiers.
Stewart is very good at weaving together the numerous threads of the story.  They mesh beautifully, yet each is distinct, and the finished cloth only adds to the reality of the story. The twist may have been anticipated, but it was nonetheless effective when it came.  It does lead to a very interesting turn of events that is even relevant today.  The use of actual newspaper stories is both interesting to see for the journalistic style of the time, and for the reality it brings to the story.
There really are some brilliant lines—"I wish I could say that we left Mr. Courter speechless, but an incompetent man is never without another terrible idea."  The secondary characters of Constance's family add both veracity and richness to the story.  One can't help but like Bessie, the blunt and pragmatic sister-in-law.
"Miss Kopp Just Won't Quit" is another wonderful book within a fascinating series.  The ending and the promise of the next phase of life for the Kopp sisters is perfect and enticing.  Don't forget to read the Historical Notes and Sources.  

MISS KOPP JUST WON'T QUIT (HistMys-Constance Kopp-New Jersey-1916) – VG+
Stewart, Amy – 4th in series
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt – Sept 2018

Thursday, November 29, 2018

BLOOD IS BLOOD: A Barker & Llewelyn Novel by Will Thomas

First Sentence:  I detest Mondays with all my soul. 
Cyrus Barker and his assistant Thomas Llewelyn have become highly successful enquiry agents.  But with success comes enemies.  With only a fortnight before Thomas is to marry Rebecca, a bomb destroys their offices. With Barker in a coma, it is up to Thomas to uncover the villain.  When a contractor goes missing, his wife comes to Barker & Llewelyn for help.  Help appears unexpectedly in the shape of Barker's brother, Caleb who has been in America as a Pinkerton agent.  Can Thomas solve the cases and prevent his fiancée from canceling their wedding?    
What a great opening.  It is one with which anyone who works can identify, and the introduction to Thomas is delightfully self-deprecating and unusual, which is a nice change.  The inclusion of information on Cyrus Barker, Thomas' employer, is neatly done, and very succinct background of Thomas is provided. It is also the calm before the surprising storm which dramatically alters the tenor of the story.  The introduction to Barker's inamorata, Phillipa Ashleigh, certainly makes an impression—"It was the sound of a woman's boots clicking in fury.  Every man on earth is acquainted with the sound, it is instinctual."
Assembling the list of suspects is an effective way of acquainting, or re-acquainting, readers with previous cases in the series.  A delightful reference is made to the address of their new office.  With the case of the missing builder, it is very well done by the author that one is allowed to be suspicious very shortly before Thomas comes to the same realization.  It's a clever way to make the reader feel directly involved in the story, and the first major twist is a corker. 
What an apt description—"Ah, the Wealden murders."  He replied.  "Three men dead in a display of firearms, all Americans.  It is as if they come from the womb with a gun in each hand."  It is not easy to convey the action and danger of hand-to-hand combat in words, yet Thomas does a very credible job of making it real, visual, and with plenty of action.  One certainly doesn't want for excitement or plot twists.  They come one after the next in swift succession.
It's hard not to like the advice Caleb offers Thomas—"'A woman prefers a man who is confident.' 'I hadn't considered that.' 'And when she talks, listen, by god. She feels she has important things to say.  Maybe she does and maybe she doesn't, but listen anyway.'"  And Phillipa is such a wonderful character.  She's the woman one would like to be and offers sage advice to Thomas when trying to win back his fiancée—"Don't shave; it shall make you look desperate.  She'll complain, but she'll like that.  Give her all the control."
The relationship between Thomas and Barker is truly that which draws one to the series.  We know how the two men met, yet much of the appeal is Thomas' desire to grow and please Barker, not in a subservient way, but in the way of one who wants to earn the regard of someone greatly admired.  As for Barker, he respects who Thomas is and who he has become, and that, in spite of everything, Thomas is—"still keen as you ever were."
It's amazing what one may learn—"There are a dozen of types of rain in London…"—and who knew about the difference between a noose with a Marwood ring rather than one without.  One theme which is somewhat unusual for a story such as this is religion and faith.  It is there not in a preachy way but in the best representation of it.
Will Thomas created an excellent reveal of one character's true purpose, the surprising appearance of an historical figure, and a very lovely ending.
"Blood is Blood: A Barker & Llewelyn Novel" is another wonderful read in an excellent historical mystery series filled with humor, suspense, great characters, and a wonderful sense of time and place. It can be read as a standalone, but I recommend reading the books in order.
BLOOD IS BLOOD: A Barker & Llewelyn Novel (HistMys-Barker/Llewelyn-London-1890) –VG+
      Thomas, Will – 10th in series
      Minotaur Books – Nov 2018

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Kingdom of the Blind by Louise Penny

First Sentence: Armand Gamache slowed his car to a crawl, then stopped on the snow-covered secondary road.

Armand Gamache, former head of the Sûreté du Quebec, Myrna Landers, a bookseller, and a young builder have been named as liquidators (executors) for the will of an apparent stranger.  But why the three of them, and not the woman's children? And how does a murder play into the disposition?  Of greater concern to Gamache is locating the highly dangerous missing drugs over which Gamache was suspended.  Cadet Amelia Choquet, a former prostitute and drug user, has been kicked out of the Sûreté Academy for possession. What is her connection? One instinctively knows these threads will join; or will they.  One is compelled to find out.  
Reading Louise Penny can be a very personal experience.  It can take one back to childhood with the inclusion of a favourite poem, the memory of meeting a special author and a very kind man before dementia clouded his memories or a lovely, but simple, childhood song.  For those who have read the series from the beginning, it is a reminder as to why these books have become important to us.  For new readers, it is a welcome to, yet a reminder of, life's truth that—"Things sometimes fell apart unexpectedly.  It was not necessarily a reflection of how much they were valued." And haven't we all, at some point, proclaimed that we are FINE, hoping a listener would truly understand.
Although each book stands on its own, much is gained by having read the previous books. Not only do the characters and their relationships become better known, but one then truly feels a part of the Village of Three Pines.  One of the things of which readers may be assured is that Penny's characters don't stagnate.  They evolve and grow, certainly no one's more than Jean-Guy, acting head of homicide, and Gamache's son-in-law

There are so many dynamic, strong characters; characters one comes to know and who become personal and real, such as Myrna, Gabri, Clara, Ruth and Rosa, the duck. A new character, Benedict, is appealing.  The poetry battle between him and Ruth is delightful.  Isabelle Lacoste, now the head of homicide, is the type of person one wants to be; determined, trusted by someone one admires, and wise.  Agent Cloutier is transferred into a department she dislikes and is stuck there by circumstances.  It is the realness of her character which is so appealing, as it is she who brings a touch of humour and veracity to the story, but also an opportunity to witness her growth.  Ruth, who, for all her eccentricities, has a sense of clarity. 

Most of all, there is Armand Gamache, a man guided by a code of conduct—the four statements that lead to wisdom, whose underlying foundation is kindness, but is far from naïve and understands, too well, Matthew 10:36.  Even the title, when one learns the meaning behind it, not only makes perfect sense but is something one may tuck away and remember.
It is the story's balance which makes Penny so remarkable.  This is not a cozy which ignores the hard realities; especially those of Gamache's job and responsibilities, of the losses or injuries, or the often-overlooked fact that—"When a murder was committed, more than one person died."  Penny also acknowledges the importance of being conscious and remembering the good things; the things one loves.  There is wisdom here.  One need only take the time to absorb it.

In case one is concerned about a lack of suspense, fear not.  There is a situation which causes one to catch one's breath and fear for the safety, if not lives, of the characters.  Yet even then, there is the reminder of hope through the explanation of the book's title.

"Kingdom of the Blind" has a well-done twist and a wonderful summation containing humour, love, and is bittersweet.  This is an excellent and somewhat more complex book than those in the past, and it certainly provides an interesting transition for the books to come.

KINGDOM OF THE BLIND (Pol Proc-Armand Gamache-Canada-Contemp) – Ex
Penny, Louise – 14th in series
Minotaur Books – Nov 2018

Thursday, October 25, 2018

November Road by Lou Berney

First Sentence:  Behold!
Frank Guidry of New Orleans is a fixer, a loyal lieutenant to mob boss Carlos Marcello.  But loyalty isn't always a two-way street.  Charlotte is a woman with a dream but is stuck in Oklahoma.  Taking her daughters and their dog, Charlotte runs away from Oklahoma hoping to realize her dream.  She didn't plan on meeting Frank along the way.  For Barone, it's nothing personal.  Frank is simply a job to Barone, and Ted is just a driver.  But roads have intersections which can change lives.
This review is going to be very different from those I normally write.  Most of my reviews break down the elements of the book and addresses the strengths, weaknesses, and highpoints I found therein.  Not this one because how does one describe the indescribable?  How does one dissect a book so well written, one's overall reaction is simply "Wow!"? 
Berney has created a compelling set of characters and hardly any of them are quite what one expects.  Dooley, Charlotte's alcoholic husband, isn't a bad guy, just addicted, and Charlotte knows nothing in her life will change as long as she stays—"Charlotte dipped her brush again and not for the first time imagined a tornado dropping from the sky and blowing her far away, into a world full of color."  Sometimes one has to be one's own tornado.  Charlotte becomes the embodiment of who women strive to become.  Some of those who are younger sisters may identify with being the stronger sister of the two.  Frank isn't cruel, but he doesn't mind if others die.  Seraphine is an administrator whose job it is to make certain what mob boss Carlo's Marcello wants to be done, gets done.
The blending of history, real figures, and fictional characters is so well done.  While those involved in the Kennedy assassination are real, so, too, was Carlos Marcello.  Adding "Wizard of Oz" actor Ray Bolger was a nice touch.
One has to admire an author whose character quotes from "Dante's Inferno" by Milton.  In fact, one finds Berney a wonderfully quote-worthy author on his own—"'My philosophy is that guilt is an unhealthy habit,' he said. 'It's what other people try to make you feel so you'll do what they want.  But one life is all we ever get, as far as I know.  Why give it away'."
The 60's were a time of cataclysmic changes in society. "The Negroes, you mean," Guidry said. "Civil rights and all that…"  "Not just the Negroes," she said. "Women, too.  Young people.  Everyone who's been pushed aside for so long that they're sick and tired of it."  Berney captures the feel of the period perfectly, both the uncertainties and the possibilities—"With every decision, we create a new future," Leo said. "We destroy all other futures.  There's nothing quite like traveling down Route 66, listening to Bob Dylan, or looking for a phone booth to anchor one to a sense of time and place.  
"November Road" is an exceptional book.  It is a love story with danger and suspense enough to keep one reading late into the night.  Berney's previous book "The Long and Faraway Gone," was excellent.  "November Road" surpasses even that.  Simply put; read it!

NOVEMBER ROAD (Thriller-Frank/Charlotte-USA-Contemp) - Ex
      Berney, Lou – Standalone
      William Morrow- Sept 2018

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Robert B. Parker's Colorblind by Reed Farrel Coleman

First Sentence:  She thought she might pass out from the ache in the side or that her heart might explode in her chest as she ran barefoot along the dunes.
Police Chief Jesse Stone is back at his job after spending two months in rehab for alcoholism and is called to a neighboring town by the state's chief homicide investigator, Captain Brian Lundquist, to help with a murder investigation.  Officer Drake Daniels made an association between the condition of a current victim and a murder that was Jessie's first case in Paradise.  The so-called "Saviors of Society" have set up shop and are targeting interracial couples.  Do they have a bigger plan?  And who is the troubled young man with the huge chip on his shoulder?
Could the themes of a book be any more relevant?  It's a painful first chapter, but it sets the stage.
Although this book is well into the series, Coleman does a very good job of fleshing out the characters, particularly Jesse, so that new readers don't feel lost.  There is a real sense of who he is, what he has been through, and for what he stands.  The definition of police work is nicely done—"Cops rode the wave or followed the wave onto the beach.  It wasn't their job to get ahead of it.  Cops were really like the guys who followed the parade with brooms and shovels, cleaning up the mess the horses and the spectators left behind." 
Coleman's reference to Shakespeare and the Old Testament can make one smile. The interesting observation that—"Some forms of evil don't just appear in your house.  They have to be invited in."—is an interesting subject for debate.  One should never underestimate the determination of evil. 
The portrayal of Jessi's struggle with sobriety is very well done.  As anyone who has ever been down that road, or been close to someone who has, it is such a difficult path of constant temptation, and the inner devil is loud. In contrast to this is food; not fancy food, but good food and how to prepare it, such as an omelet with onion and sausage.  Such scenes help defuse the tension and add just the right touch of normalcy.
The story is filled with interesting characters who come to life from the page.  Some have been part of the series for a long time, such as Molly and Healy, while some, such as Alisha, who are more recent.  They give substance and depth to the story.  As for the antagonists, they, too, are well done and very effective.  One may not wish to believe such people exist, but one knows they do.
Following Jesse, as he starts to put the pieces together is filled with excitement.  The tension increases nicely as the pieces fall into place and build to a nail-biting conclusion.  The story is told in short chapters and very fast moving.
"Robert B. Parker's Colorblind" deals with issues that are timely wrapped within a very exciting police procedural.  The development in Jesse's life is a lovely touch. 

 ROBERT B. PARKER'S COLORBLIND (PolProc-Jesse Stone-Paradise, MA-contemp) - VG
      Coleman, Reed Farrel – 17th in series
      Putnam – Sept 2018

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Faerie Tale by Raymond E Feist

First Sentence: Barney Doyle sat at his cluttered workbench, attempting to fix Olaf Andersen’s ancient power mower for the fourth time in seven years. 

Phil Hastings, his wife Gloria, his daughter Gabbie and their twin boys Patrick and Sean move from Sunny California to an old farmhouse in upstate New York whose land includes virgin forest. They soon find they have more to contend with than they expected. Unexpected, and unexplainable, encounters with strange creatures, the boy’s acknowledgment of “the Bad Thing” living under a bridge and Gabbie’s almost sexual encounter with a farrier who died over a hundred years ago are only some of the strange goings on which threaten the family.

This is a book to read every year or so on Midsummer’s Eve or All Hollow’s Eve. However, this is not one's child’s faerie tale even though it involves brotherly love and courage. It is fantasy; it is horror. It is creepy, dark, at times violent, at times sexual and always a page-turner.

Those who love Celtic myth and Shakespeare will recognize magical elements of The Fool, elf-shot, Trooping Faeires, and more. It is one of those rare books that makes one feel as though it “could” be possible.  It may even cause even non-Catholics to wish for a vial of holy water, a silver sword, and a true faerie stone.

One may find oneself researching the legends and faerie folk involved, looking for erl-king hills and avoiding faeire rings at midnight. It's wise to remember to start earlier in the day so one is not up until midnight finishing it. Staying out of the woods is also a good idea.

"Faerie Tale" is the perfect blending of fantasy in contemporary life which makes this book so compelling, frightening and memorable. 

FAERIE TALE (Suspense/Fantasy-Hasting Family-Pennsylvania-Cont) – VG+
      Feist, Raymond, E. –Standalone
      Doubleday, 1988

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Ghosts by Ed McBain

First Sentence: They might have been ghosts themselves, the detectives who stood in the falling snow around the body of the woman on the sidewalk.
The body of a woman is found in front of her apartment building.  Very quickly, a second call comes to the police from a woman who has found ghost-story author Gregory Craig murdered in his apartment in the same building.  The case leads Detective Steve Carella, with the help of psychic Hillary Scott, to a summer cottage in Massachusetts and an experience unlike any Carella has ever known.
McBain creates the perfect opening.  It's visual and evocative, yet with writing which is spare and tight.  It's classic McBain.  The dialogue has the same crispness, but it never sounds stilted.  Although the story starts off quite simply, it takes several twists almost immediately, including the introduction of a doppleganger. 
Remembering that the story was both written and set in 1980, reading it now reminds us how much has changed.  Many will never have heard of comedian Henny Youngman, yet his humor remains timeless such as—"…the joke about the man who wants to buy a new car and his wife who wants to buy a mink cost.  The compromise.  The wife buys a mink coat and keeps it in the garage."  The difference in technology, or lack thereof, is marked, yet the forensic and crime-scene details give the story a present-day realism which hasn't changed.
McBain does a very good middle section describing other members of the 87th and how the team works together, such as deciding on coverage over the holidays.  He provides a good sense of realism in that no police department works only one case, and so includes secondary cases such as the theft of an actual street.  Even the series location is interesting in that Isola is essentially New York City turned on its side.
The link between the murders in Isola and a death in Massachusetts provides an opportunity not only to introduce a new location—"The town seemed to have crawled up out of the Atlantic like some prehistoric thing seeking the sun, finding instead a rocky, inhospitable coastline and collapsing upon it in disappointment and exhaustion."-- but add weather almost as a new character, and address the issue of fidelity.  The introduction of the very un-McBain-like scene of the paranormal works incredibly well when set against the normalcy and matter-of-factness of that which preceded it. 
McBain created an interesting motive; one that seems very timely—"Adolf Hitler must have thought of himself as a hero; Richard Nixon probably still thinks of himself as one; every man and woman in the world is the hero or heroine of a personal scenario."  The takedown of the bad buy is a final, brilliant twist.
"Ghosts" isn't usual McBain, in terms of its plot, but all the classic, elements are there in a completely engrossing, brilliantly crafted 212-page story.  However, starting with his first book "Cop Hater," McBain should be required reading for anyone who loves detective fiction.

GHOSTS (PolProd-87th Precinct-FicCity of Isola-Contemp) - EX
      McBain, Ed – 34th in series
      Viking Press – May 1980

Thursday, October 11, 2018

The Shotgun Lawyer by Victor Methos

First Sentence:  This was it.
Peter Game is an ambulance chaser, a personal injury lawyer who takes the cases no one else will in order to make a quick buck, but who dreams of the big score.  Melissa Bell is the mother of a 7-year-old school-shooting victim.  In spite of the law, Bell wants Peter to sue the manufacturer of the gun used to kill her son, six other children, and a teacher.  Standing against Peter are the opposing attorney, Brennen Garvin, the gun lobbies, and the entire legal system.   
Those who follow the discussions on gun laws and the rights of those, directly or indirectly, harmed by guns may know--"The law was clear:  gun manufacturers were in no way responsible for what people did with their guns."  Yet Game begins with the assertion that cases against gun manufacturers can be won—"These gun guys, what they're scared of is publicity, not having to pay out money.  … if a lawyer goes to them and signs and NDS and keeps everything quiet, they'd rather settle than have another case in the papers.  Even if they win."
Methos walks one down the path of how things happen, including the way in which those who shouldn't be able to buy guns are able to obtain them.  He explains the whole process of strawmen, or scarecrows—people who go into stores and buy quantities of guns for people who can't legally purchase them. 
Stories which deal with the law are fascinating but can also be confusing for non-lawyers.  Methos explains each of the terms and aspects in a way which can be easily understood without slowing down the pace of the story. 
This is such a wonderfully current book.  It is one some people won't like and possibly may not read.  But others will read it and cheer for the characters and the subject.  The gamesmanship, from both sides of the aisle, that goes on is rather astonishing and not something about which the average person would even consider or be aware.  If one is called to serve on a jury, which is a fascinating experience, one may look at it with different eyes.
Methos clearly conveys the nerves a lawyer may experience the night before a jury case.  At the same time, he offsets it well with the complications in Peter's life.  The situation with Peter's son provides a good balance to the focus on the legal case. 
There is a very well-done scene of Peter hitting bottom, surging to a "Rocky" moment, and being knocked down again. Things such as that truly humanize the character.
"The Shotgun Lawyer" is a terrific read with an ending which is realistic.  The next time one is considering reading legal suspense, consider walking past the usual names and try Methos instead.  He doesn't disappoint.
THE SHOTGUN LAWYER (LegalSusp-Peter Game (née James)-Utah-Contemp - VG
      Methos, Victor - Standalone
      Thomas & Mercer – Oct 2018