Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Murder Theory by Andrew Mayne

First Sentence:  The helpless man in the wheelchair thrilled him.
      
Dr. Theo Cray is a computational biologist who has established a reputation with the FBI as a hunter of serial killers and has been called upon to fulfill that role again.  At the site of Cray's previous case, an agent with no history of violence has murdered two of his colleagues.  But this isn't the only incident of violence on the site. As Theo investigates, he recognizes that he's up against someone as talented as he is and finds himself crossing the line to stop a killer.
      
Prologues, even when not so named and no matter how suspenseful, are a device unnecessary to a good book. There is no reason why this book could not have started with the first chapter, which is interesting and makes one suspicious of Q-Tips.
      
One of the attributes of Mayne's writing is his observations about people and human nature—"In parts of Africa even today, "witch children,” boys and girls born with albinism or other uncommon features, are treated as outcasts and killed for their supposed magical powers. … To be sure, it's one thing to murder a child for having different genders and another to make a joke at the expense of someone who is dealing with a handicap, but they're both acts of cruelty and dehumanization.'  The comparison of the two killers in Mayne's previous two Cray books is fascinating and thought-provoking.  It also leads to the age-old question—"Do you believe in evil?".
      
There is quite a lot of geek-speak and scientific information.  One may either focus on it and learn some rather fascinating bits of information, or one may choose to skim through it and still pick up rather fascinating bits of information.  Either way, one must pay attention as these passages can lead to sudden realization and/or twists.
      
Reading Mayne is not for the weak of stomach or heart.  What offsets it, however, is understanding that his character is operating for the greater good and that he has a conscience when he crosses a line—"Um, God, uh, forgive me for not believing. And forgive me for what I'm about to do.  Uh, may they all rest in peace."  We do also get flashes of Mayne's humor—"I look up to the sky as if I'm expecting Morgan Freeman to look down at me and wink, giving me his approval."
      
When Mayne creates a plot twist, it's a serious twist.  Unfortunately, the climax is a bit too fantastical and Theo's co-rescuers are opportune and improbable.  Fortunately, there is a great deal of humor among the suspense.
      
"Murder Theory" is, sadly, not Mayne's best book.  But, between the unnecessary prologue and the nearly wall-banging last sentence, there are very good characters, plot twists, and breath-catching suspense.

MURDER THEORY (Suspense-Theo Cray-Georgia-Contemp) - Okay
      Mayne, Andrew – 3rd in series
      Thomas & Mercer – Feb 2019

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Hot Shot by Sheldon Siegel

First Sentence:  The twinkling Christmas lights strung along the pinewood bar reflected in the gregarious barkeep's eyes.
      
Jeff King is a billionaire, CEO, and founder of the soon-to-go-public high-tech company Y5K and is dead from a hot shot of heroin.  There's no question the shot was injected by Alexa Low.  She admits to administering the shot but claims the heroin had been purchased by King.  Now it's up to Mike to prove Alexa innocent of murder. 
      
It's nice to have a good introduction to each of the characters, in Mike's circle of family and friends.  Even better is the introduction of the suspect Alexa. We learn her background and the circumstances which caused her to be where she is in life.  Siegel makes her a real, three-dimensional person without judging her.  He also paints an ugly, and most likely very realistic, picture of the high-tech wealthy.
      
Although the frequent injections of Mike's thoughts may seem distracting, they also provide a realistic look at the difference between what one, especially an attorney, may say, and what one may think.  Mike is an interesting character; an ex-priest, divorced from Rosie, but with benefits, and a father.  Nady, an associate lawyer, is someone of whom one wants to see more.  She's smart, capable, and no-nonsense.
      
The balance between Mike's personal and professional life is well done.  It makes the characters relatable and provides realism to the story.
     
It's really fascinating to see, step-by-step, the legal process at work.  Siegel makes the process clear and understandable, while still managing to make it exciting.  There is  an interesting observation on our addiction to technology'—"You don't need Google or an iPhone."  "Or ninety-nine percent of the stuff that we buy, Mike.  But we think we do. Technology allows us to do things faster and cheaper, but it hasn't fundamentally changed what we want—things that make our lives easier, enhance our productivity, and entertain us."  And make you a ton of money. In other words, it delights us."
      
"Hot Shot" is a very good legal thriller.  One will appreciate its very satisfactory yet realistic ending.  

HOT SHOT (LegMys-Mike Daley/Rosie Fernandez-San Francisco-Contemp) - VG
      Siegel, Sheldon – 10th in series
      Sheldon M. Siegel, Inc. – May 2019

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Flowers Over the Inferno by Ilaria Tuti

First Sentence:  There was a legend that haunted that place, the kind that clings like a persistent odor.
     
Inspector Massimo Marini's arrival at the crime scene of his new posting in Northern Italy is less than auspicious, particularly when he mistakes a male officer for his new superior.  In her sixties, Superintendent Teresa Battaglia is overweight, diabetic, and has other health issues, but is known to be an excellent profiler. Teresa and her team have been called to a gruesome scene:  the body of a naked man whose eyes have been removed.  Marini is determined to win his superior's respect, but can Teresa's and Marini's very different styles find the perpetrator?
      
The story's evocative opening, set in 1978, has a very gothic feel to it. Tuti then does an interesting segue to a child in the present, and then to the crime scene and the introduction of Marini, Teresa and the first example of her analytic skills—"She wondered why he had requested a transfer from a big city to this small provincial precinct…We run away from what scares or hurts us—or from what holds us captive."  As opposed to the usual cooperative relationship between the lead and subordinate, this begins very differently but with intent.
      
The story is told from four perspectives: that of Teresa, Marini, members of the group of four young children, and the killer.  Plus, in the background, is the School with its rules of "Observe, record, forget."  Each voice is very clearly differentiated and important to the story.
      
Tuti has a remarkable voice.  It is one which compels one and yet tempts one to draw away from it as it can resonate too clearly at times—”Solitude was an unobtrusive housemate; it took up no room and never touched anything.  It has no smell or color.  It was an absence, an entity defined in contrast to its opposite.  Yet it existed; it was the force that made Teresa's cup of chamomile tea shake on its saucer on those nights when sleep refused to come to her rescue." It is fascinating watching Teresa build her profile while training Marini—"Criminology is an art. … It's not magic; it's interpretation.  Probability, statistics.  Never certainty."  Teresa is truly a complex, compelling character.
Beyond the story being a suspenseful mystery, the plot touches on relevant and important themes.  Among them is the importance of compassionate and empathetic touch along with the instinct to nurture which is contrasted with man's unfathomable ability for cruelty. Yet there are still nice touches of humor—"Ed Kemper would dissect the bodies of his victims to play around with their internal organs."  "Do you mind if I throw up?"  "Not all over my evidence, Inspector."  When one realizes the motive, it's someone one wouldn't expect.  After all, one never expects that learning about the killer can break one's heart.
      
"Flowers Over the Inferno" is an incredible book which will be on my "Best of 2019" list.  It is one which touches on every emotion and leaves a mark on one's soul.  It stays with one long after the final page and leaves one wanting more.  How wonderful to know this is the first of a trilogy.

FLOWERS OVER THE INFERNO (PolProc-Super. Teresa Battaglia-Italy-Contemp) – EX
      Tuti, Ilaria – 1st book
      SOHO – April 2019

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Who Slays the Wicked by C.S. Harris

First Sentence:  Bloodred and splayed wide as if in panic, the dried handprint stood out clearly against the white, freshly painted inside panel of the town house's front door.
            
Stephanie, the niece of Sebastian St. Cyr, is married to Lord Ashworth, a sexually profligate, violent man, whom St. Cyr had suspected of kidnapping and killing children several years ago.  After the birth of their twin sons, Stephanie no longer lives with Ashworth.  Still, she becomes a natural suspect when a small bloody handprint is found in the door to Ashworth's house, and he is found naked, tied to the bedposts, and brutally murdered.
            
Harris is very good at capturing the reader's attention on page one. She then keeps the tension going through the introduction of various suspects, and additional bodies, and a character gone missing.    
            
It's always interesting to see how similar, and yet different, was forensics over 200 years ago.  Harris makes very good use of such information.  The story's setting and the inclusion of historical events adds a nice layer and intrigue to the plot.  It also educates one about the period.
            
There are nicely done snippets of humor—"Why exactly are we here?" "To watch.  And listen.  And leap to wild and probably faulty assumptions." Harris knows how to create atmosphere—"The entire area reeked of overflowing bog houses, rot, disease, and despair." She effectively destroys any illusions one may have about the tranquil, genteel life of the entitled and wealthy, especially as it pertains to a woman.  As she describes the rise and fall of prosperity in various neighborhoods, one does wish for a detailed map.
            
The question as to why one murders has long been given the answer of five human emotions.  To that, Harris adds a sixth, rather frightening motive.  She also reflects on the hypocrisy of those who call themselves Christians and reveals things about which one might not know except for reading historicals. While the story contains a plethora of bodies and suspects, many are ones who seem incidental and don't add significantly to the story, the perpetrator is a well-done surprise.
      
"Who Slays the Wicked" does hold one's interest and effectively demonstrates that it truly is the poor who pay the price while the elite are never brought to justice.     

WHO SLAYS THE WICKED (HistMys-Sebastian St. Cyr-1814- London) - Good
      Harris, C.S. – 14th in series
      Berkeley, April 2019

Thursday, May 2, 2019

A Bouquet of Rue by Wendy Hornsby

First Sentence:  From the butcher to the baker to the café tabac, word spread through the village of Vaucreson that Monsieur John-Paul Bernard had moved a woman into the house he had ever so recently shared with his wife, Marian.
            
Documentary filmmaker Maggie McGowen is settling into her new life in France and her new live-in relationship with Jean-Paul Bernard and his son Dom, and houseman, Syrian refugee Ari.  Trouble arises when Ophelia, the daughter of Jean-Paul's neighbor, disappears, especially as she was last seen in the company of Ahmad Nabi, a fellow refugee being tutored by Ari. Nabi is also missing.  It is important that the teens be found before anti-refugee sentiments get out of control.
            
Isn't one always curious as to what others say about one?  The beginning is a perfect setup for the protagonist to introduce herself and the community in which she now lives, as well as the home in which she now abides.  A very well-done summary brings new readers up to date on Maggie, her life, and career.
            
Set in France, the dialogue includes common French words and phrases.  One needn't be bilingual; however, their meaning is either easily inferred, or they are immediately translated, often for Maggie.
            
Food; one cannot have a story set in France without wonderful food. Ari's fish soup of tomatoes, grilled haddock, onion, garlic, peppers, and fresh oregano sets the juices flowing.  However, meals also serve as a way to learn more about the characters, and Syrian refugees—"Afghans don't have surnames unless they decide to adopt one." …"I had learned that the current wave of refugees pouring out of mid-eastern war zones were, like Ari, more likely to represent their nation's educated urban elite than any other group."
            
The underlying theme of the story couldn't be more relevant; prejudice, fear, and distrust of those who are different while those who are afraid never make the effort to reach out. It is an irrational fear of the "other" based only on the fact that they are different from "us."  This transitions nicely into the equally timely issue of bullying.  Hornsby manages this in a way which is easy and natural to the scene.
            
It is nice to see the character of the police, in this case, a policewoman, go from being an adversary to an ally.  The detective's reference to Maggie as the fictional Inspector Maigret is delightful.
            
Maggie is a wonderful character.  One can't help but admire her for the way she can handle a difficult situation. All of Hornsby's characters are very human and relatable.  This is never truer than when she turns an antagonist into someone for whom we feel true sympathy.  Lest one think everything is dark and grim, rest assured there are interjections of humor-- "Detective Delisle has her eye on you."  … "Tread gently, my friend, … She packs heat."  Those who love Shakespeare may chuckle at the summary of "Hamlet."  Such bits as these add both veracity and a soupçon of relief to the seriousness of the story.
            
"A Bouquet of Rue" is as much a commentary on today's social issues as it is a mystery and it is highly effective in both aspects. It reminds us that schadenfreude—pleasure derived by one at the misfortune of another--and the "domino effect of revenge" is a fascinating, and rather dangerous, principle worth contemplating.  Yet the story also reminds one that life goes on.
           
A BOUQUET OF RUE (Mys-Maggie McGowen-France-Contemp) – VG+
      Hornsby, Wendy – 12th in series
      Perseverance Press/John Daniel & Co. – April 2019

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Triple Jeopardy by Anne Perry

First Sentence:  Daniel rang the doorbell, then stepped back.
            
Jemima Pitt has returned to England with her American policeman husband Patrick.  As well as visiting the Pitt family, they’ve come to ask a favor of her brother Daniel, now a lawyer.  British Diplomat Philip Sidney attacked Jemima's friend, Rebecca, in her bedroom and stole a necklace whilst Philip was stationed in Washington, D.C.  Under protection of diplomatic immunity, he returned to England.  Jemima and Patrick want Daniel's help in bringing Sidney to justice.  Brought up on charges of embezzlement, Sidney asks Daniel to represent him.  After a murder back in Washington, and the possibility of the case becoming a major international incident, Daniel, along with forensic scientist Mariam fford Croft, travel to the Channel Island to learn the truth.
            
One often worries as to what an author will do when the protagonist of a long-running series ages.  Ms. Perry solved the problem by having the protagonist's children age as well and now, for the second time, we have Daniel Pitt stepping into the foreground.  So as not to lose readers, new or old, Perry summarizes the backgrounds of the members of the Pitt family.  This is particularly helpful to those who are new to Anne Perry's very well-done historical mysteries.
            
The story, quite appropriately, raises the issue of prejudice against Jews and the Irish, the latter seamlessly incorporated by the fact of Rebecca's husband, and Daniel's brother-in-law, both being of Irish heritage.  That there is a role-reversal between Jemima and Patrick when discussing Rebecca's situation is interesting and very well done.  Penny does a masterful job of presenting both sides of the situation and its possible outcome.  Moreover, she places doubts in one's mind regarding the motives and possible guilt of the characters.  There is so much "here" here.
            
Perry can make even basic English cooking sound delicious—"Lamb chops; the freshest of peas, as mild and delicate as possible, with a little mint and plenty of butter, and boiled potatoes." However, the transition from food to a very astute observation—"Have you noticed how often it is not the crime or the disaster of a scandal that brings down an otherwise great man, but the lies he tells to avoid admitting it?"—is extremely well done.
            
Perry's characters are some of the most fully-developed one will find. Each has complexity and definition.  Even the most severe of them can occasionally make one smile; if not at a bit of dialogue, then at the very human attributes.  Mariam fford Croft is one such character and, true to form, only Perry could create such a strong connection between two characters without its being romantic.
            
The occasional bon mot lightens a scene—"Not another corpse to dig up, I trust?  You're a little early.  We don't do that sort of thing until midnight.  It tends to disturb the locals." Those are balanced by ideas that make one stop and consider—"We all make mistakes, Jem.  It's how we live with them afterward that matters.  Accept that we really were wrong, don't make excuses or blame anyone else.  The moment you say 'I was wrong' you can begin to move on."
      
"Triple Jeopardy" is an extremely well-done story of families, loyalty, and betrayal.  Filled with excellent characters, it is brought to a dramatic and explosive conclusion.

TRIPLE JEOPARDY (HistMys-Daniel Pitt-London-1910) - VG
      Perry, Anne – 2nd in series
      Ballentine Books – April 2019

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Black and Blue by David Rosenfelt

First Sentence:  I feel like a jerk.
            
A single shot to the heart from a high-powered distance made from a distance killed Walter Brookings 18 months ago.  The case, investigated by Doug Brock, remained unsolved and went cold.  Now, there's a second murder; same M.O. and even the forensics match.  The difference is that Brock suffers partial amnesia from a gunshot to the head.  He survived, but not all of his memory did.  With the help of his partner, and girlfriend Jessica, who is also on the force, Brock is not only investigating the new case, but digging back into the previous case as well.
            
Partial amnesia is always an interesting subject and an excellent hook for a protagonist.  However, it takes more than that for a book to be compelling, and Rosenfelt delivers.
            
A very nice cross-over into Rosenlfelt's Carpenter series is done by brining in the characters of police Captain Pete Stanton, as well as attorney Andy Carpenter and Vince Sanders, editor of the local paper.  There is an arrogance to Brock which can be annoying, but it's nicely balanced by self-doubt—"…the two guys that I shot were apparently total scumbags who had themselves committed murder.  But even so, I took their lives, and it somehow seems weirdly disrespectful that I have no recollection of doing so."
            
Multiple points of view can be awkward, but Rosenfelt makes them work.  However, one of his greatest skills is the ever-escalating level of suspense and that he keeps one guessing with lots of twists along the way.
      
"Black and Blue" has a cleverly done plot that makes sense once it's all put together.  Rosenfelt takes the suspense right down to the wire and gives one a captivating, gripping read.

BLACK & BLUE (PolProc-Doug Brock-New Jersey-Contemp) - VG
      Rosenfelt, David – 3rd in series
      Minotaur Books, March 2019

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Holy Ghost by John Sandford

First Sentence:  Wardell Holland, the mayor of Wheatfield, Minnesota was sitting in the double-wide he rented from his mother, a Daisy Match Grade pellet rifle in his hands, shooting flies.
            
The population and economy of Wheatfield, Minnesota has seen incredible growth since the floating image of the Virgin Mary began to appear in the Catholic church.  That's not the only thing to appear.  While the apparition brings the town back to life, what they hadn't planned on was a sniper and the arrival of Agent Virgil Flowers from the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.
            
It's an unusual thing for an author to compare and contrast the odors of animal excrement, but it is indicative of Sandford's style and humor. While one is not given a long backstory, there is just enough information to know who are the characters.  There is no prologue, no lamenting past cases; one can start with this, the 11th book in the series, and be just fine.
            
Sandford's characters are a pleasure to read.  They are people--individuals--and it's interesting that there's no obvious bad guy.  Odd as it sounds, some of the most enjoyable characters are the "Nazis."  There is a lot of information on guns—can you say "filler"— than is really needed.             
            
Even if one hasn't read John Connolly, a very good author of horror, one can appreciate Sanford's reference to Connolly's book Every Dead Thing—"Good thing we're going to talk to heavily armed Nazis 'cause now I can quit reading this book.  It's scaring the hell out of me.' Such passages add realism and humor to the story.  Even food becomes an object of humor as it is the antithesis of what may be found in other books.
            
The pace picks up significantly and the question of que bono, who benefits, arises.  The ending was a bit of a cheat, but epilogue is wonderful.
      
"Holy Ghost" is a fun, easy read.  It's a perfect weekend or airplane book.  Overall the book really was enjoyable, and makes one want to read more books in the series.

HOLY GHOST (PolProc-Virgil Flowers-Minnesota-Contemp) - Good
      Sandford, John – 11th in series
      G.P. Putnam's Sons – Oct 2018

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

A Deadly Turn by Clare Booth

First Sentence:  He walked casually up to the car.
      
Branson County Sheriff Hank Worth stops a car with six teens clearly out for a joy ride.  He lets them go with a warning only to receive a call a short time later of a serious traffic accident and arrives to find all six kids dead.  The closer Hank looks at the scene, the more he questions whether it was an accident, or whether foul play was involved.
      
Booth does an excellent job of conveying the devastation and guilt Hank feels, while creating excellent characters to back him up.  Booth does a good job of introducing one character who transforms fairly quickly.  That Booth provides a short biography on each of the victims adds verisimilitude; they aren't characters, they are victims. 
      
This is a book where a cast of characters would have been particularly helpful.  There is a multitude of officers from a multitude of agencies not always working with those in their own agency.  It can have the feel of musical chairs at times, including with the families of the victims and others.  However, one thing is that Booth's characters do ring true in all ways.
      
It's nice how quickly the anomalies begin to appear and give the sense that the accident is more than it first seems.  In the end, it's good, old-fashioned police work, following the clues, and an exciting car chase that solves the crime.  

That there is an unnecessary, unrelated cliffhanger at the end was annoying.  One may also wish to start the series at the beginning rather than with this, the third book, in order to have a better understanding of the characters.
      
"A Deadly Turn" is a good read with plenty of twists and turns.  Sheriff Hank Worth could easily join one's list of favorite characters.  

A DEADLY TURN (PolProc-Sheriff Hank Worth-Missouri-Contemp)-G+
      Booth, Claire – 3rd in series
      Severn House Digital – March 2019