Thursday, July 18, 2019

Killing with Confetti by Peter Lovesey

First Sentence:  the two short words Warren doesn't wish to hear: "It's on."
Ben Brace, son of Deputy Chief Constable George Brace, and Caroline Irving, daughter of professional criminal Joe Irving, are getting married as soon as her father is released from prison. Besides their son marrying a criminal's daughter, Brace is worried the rivals may see this as a perfect opportunity to remove Irving.  In order to ensure everyone's safety, Senior Detective Peter Diamond is assigned to see that all goes well.  A missing policeman and a body found in the hypocaust of the Roman baths are not what Brace had in mind. 
Lovesey creates the unexpected.  There is certainly nothing ordinary or predictable about the way the story begins or continues forward. Yes, there is a not-named-as-such prologue set in 2015, but it is a great entry into the story and captives one's interest immediately.  Just hang on, and its purpose does become clear.
Shifting quickly to present day, Lovesey's description of Carolyn's first-ever visit to her father in prison is so well done.  Her emotions are clearly conveyed.  At the same time, Lovesey knows how to start a story slowly, allowing one to become familiar with, and invested in, the characters.  Before one realizes it, the tension begins to mount as the intent becomes clear.
If one has not previously read a Peter Diamond book, he may quickly become a favorite character.  He is curmudgeonly, tight with money, and private about his life.  He is also observant and intelligent.  His wry humor is expressed perfectly—"They finally reached Camden Crescent, built on a slope so steep that parts of the planned structure collapsed at an early stage in the construction and were abandoned, … where another 175 properties collapsed in a landslip in 1881.  Reader, if you ever think of moving to the northern slopes, hire a surveyor."  As well as conversations with his cat, Raffles, there is lovely irony—"'We want their day to pass off peacefully, don't we?' ' Like Romeo and Juliet," Leaman said, 'Lovers from two warring families.'  "Let's hope not,' Ingeborg said. 'Romeo and Juliet ended up dead.'
The plot has very good twists, plenty of suspense and a well-done tie-back to the beginning. 
"Killing with Confetti" is an excellent traditional police procedural.  It is such a pleasure to read.  Lovesey doesn't take one down blind alleys.  He plays fair and brings all the strings together with a great reveal and final twist.

KILLING WITH CONFETTI (PolProc-Peter Diamond-Bath, England-Contemp)- Ex
      Lovesey, Peter – 18th in series
      SOHO Crime – July 2019

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Good Girl, Bad Girl by Michael Robothem

First Sentence: "Which one is she?" I ask, leaning closer to the observation window.
Six years after self-named Evie Comac was found hiding in a secret room, the institution where she is living asks psychologist Cyrus Haven to determine whether she can be released to live on her own.  No one knows, nor has she said, who she really is or what she has experienced, but a determination must be made.  Cyrus has a history of his own with which he must deal, but his job also calls upon him to help investigate the murder of Jodie Sheehan, a popular, talented high-school figure skater. Tasked with these two cases, and his own issues, it is up to Cyrus to do what is right Evie and find justice for Jodie.
Unusual, quirky characters can be intriguing when they are well-written yet still realistic.  Robotham accomplishes that, and much more.  He begins with the very intriguing premise that some few people are "truth wizards," that they can intuitively know whether someone is lying.  That Evie, who is also defined as being--"…dyslexic. Antisocial. Aggressive"-- is one such person adds a dimension beyond everything through which she has been and compels one to want to know more.  Cyrus, too, has a past beyond imaging.  That the author puts these two emotionally damaged characters together demonstrates the strength of the human spirit and determination to survive.  Both characters are unique and fascinating.  Nothing about either of them is what one would expect. 
It's a pleasure when something causes one to stop and consider--"When I run, my thoughts become clearer.  When I run, I imagine that I'm keeping pace with a planet that turns too quickly for me."  Rather than slow down the flow of the story, it adds depth and richness to it. 
The story does alternate between the two lead characters.  Being inside Evie's mind can be painful to read, and all the more so for knowing there are real children who feel as she does about herself.  The descriptions of deaths are brutal but done in a way that is factual and not gratuitous or salacious. Even so, Robotham finds the perfect way to inject just a bit of wry humor—"'Who found her?' 'A woman walking her dog.' Why is it always someone walking a dog?"
The investigation into Jodie's death takes one down a very twisted path filled with surprises.  The only slight criticism is that the resolution seemed over the top.  What one can truly appreciate is that, even at the end, both Evie and Cyrus remain enigmatic.   
"Good Girl, Bad Girl" is a strong, character-driven story.  It is very well-written and filled with well-done twists. One rather hopes this is the start of a new series. Even if it's not, this is a book, and characters, which stay with one long after closing the cover.

GOOD GIRL, BAD GIRL (PsySusp-Cyrus Haven-England-Contemp) – VG+
      Robotham, Michael - Standalone
      Scribner, July 2019

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Paper Son by S.J. Rozan

First Sentence:  "Mississippi?"
New York City native, with a traditional Chinese mother, PI Lydia Chin is surprised when she learns she has relatives in Mississippi, including a cousin, Jefferson Tam, who has been arrested, and Captain Pete Tam who is asking for help.  It's up to Lydia, with her partner Bill Smith, to prevent her cousin from being tried for murder.
One just can't beat a great opening with a touch of humor, especially when it's done so well.  That's what keeps one reading.
For those who have followed this series, it is wonderful to have a new entry.  For new readers, welcome and never fear.  Starting here, at the 12th book, isn't a problem as Rozen smoothly brings one into the fold.
Rozan does an excellent job of using Lydia's family history to inform one of American history.  Learning the history of Lydia's parents adds dimension to the character and establishes the theme. She also presents a very timely observation—"there's always somebody hatin' on everybody." … "Don't everybody always think their hate is different?"
Rozan paints a clear picture of life in small-town Mississippi.  What is particularly interesting is learning the history of Chinese groceries in black towns which built an economy of its own.  The immigration path of Mississippi is fascinating. 
The characters are well-developed and interesting.  It's fun to see urban Lydia so far out of her comfort zone, and Bill take advantage of his somewhat Southern roots.  Lydia and Bill balance one another perfectly in every way.  They are yin and yang not only in race, but in size, Luddite vs technology, and food choices.  This makes them real and appealing.  Each of the other characters holds their own, as well.  There is one character toward the end that is a particular treat.
The plot is very well done with just the right level of suspense.  The plot does get a bit twisty, but not so much that one can't follow it, and it takes one on a fascinating journey of places and people.
"Paper Son" is an excellent, traditional mystery which includes delightful characters, just enough humor and a wonderful ending.

PAPER SON (PI-Lydia Chin/Bill Smith-Mississippi-Contemp) - Ex
      Rozen, S.J. – 12th in series
      Pegasus Books, July 2019

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Random Act by Gerry Boyle

First Sentence: It was December 5, a Wednesday.
A simple trip to the hardware store leaves reporter Jack McMorrow questioning the randomness of life.  Or is it?  His search for that answer takes him into a very dark side of Maine.  When Jack and his friend Clair go to visit Iraq war veteran Louis, they are stopped by Marta, Russian woman a bag full of money and who's prepared to shoot them.  How much is one willing to risk in the name of friendship?
No prologue, no narrative from a killer, no backflash; how wonderful it is to have an author who begins the story at the beginning and moves it on from there.  The sense of place is established, and an immediate threat and suspense is established as well as a strong introduction to the main characters.
Boyle has an excellent voice—"BBC News, the usual reports from the yawing deck of the Titanic that is our world." and an ear for dialogue that's quick and sharp.  Seeing McMorrow hypothesize the incident at the hardware store is fascinating.  He takes all the pieces and puts them back together into a whole.  Boyle echoes what most would think in this situation—"I didn't want to accept that this was normal." Yet Jack's reaction provides a very powerful explanation as to what motivates journalists.
Boyle is very good at laying a path of subtle breadcrumbs, but it is McMorrow's questioning of life which stands out—"We do the best we can, but sometimes we're still just squirrels crossing the road.  Most of the time you're lucky.  Other times, your luck runs out." One can also appreciate his perception that when a violent crime is committed, it is not only the victim but their family and the family of the perpetrator who suffers the cost.
Boyle understands mental illness.  He makes a point of portraying one of the characters as a man who has a lot of good but is ill rather than evil.  It is exceptionally well done, as are the points he raises about the price of friendship and loyalty.
"Random Act" is a book of two threads, each of which holds its own. This may be the most insightful book Boyle has written.  It may also be his best.

RANDOM ACT (Reporter-Jack McMorrow-Maine-Contemp) - Ex
      Boyle, Gerry – 12th in series
      Islandport Press – June 2019

Thursday, June 27, 2019

A Man With One of Those Faces by Caimh McDonnell

First Sentence: "You remember Alan, Robert's first cousin from Clare?"
Paul Malchrone has a face that doesn't stand out and that makes elderly people think he's a relative.  When visiting a nursing home, Nurse Brigit Conroy aska that he visit Martin Brown, a patient whose had no visitors since being admitted.  Unfortunately, Brown mistakes Paul for being the nephew of an enemy and nearly kills Paul.  This sets Paul and Brigit down a dangerous path, helped by D.S. Bunny McGarry, Paul's former mentor.  The question is whether they can survive.
Ah, the Irish is thick here and the author's voice plays into what one thinks of as classic perception—"You do realise that just saying 'no offence' does not magically make whatever you say inoffensive?"—and humor—"The fox was now sniffing at the sandwich it had retrieved.  Rather than eating it, it elected to urinate on it instead.  As reviews went, it was pretty damning."
It's the characters who truly drive the story. Paul, the granny whisperer, is delightful and quirky. When joined with Bridgit. Dr. Singh, D.S. Bunny McGarry, the lawyer's secretary, and others, and when combined with the situational humor, one can be assured of laughing through the entire book…almost.  One might even find oneself using the phrase "fair play" on occasion.
The plot moves along at a brisk pace and is one where everything falls brilliantly into place in the end with a wonderful rescue scene.  One should definitely read the epilogues, as well as give the author credit for some well-done self-promotion.

"A Man With One of Those Faces" does get a bit silly at times, but this isn't intended to be a serious book.  Still, McDonald does balance the humor with insight, tension, and suspense.  Happily, there are more books in the series.

A MAN WITH ONE OF THOSE FACES (AmaSleu-Paul Malchrone-Dublin, Ireland-Contemp) - VG
      McDonald, Caimh – 1st of series
      McFoir Ink – Aug 2016

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

The Hallows by Victor Methos

First Sentence:  "Murder."
Tatum Graham is a successful, wealthy defense attorney who has never lost a case.  Discovering his newly acquitted client really was guilty of murder sends Tatum off on the road from Miami without an apparent destination in mind.  Or was there when he ends up in the small Utah town of his birth.  There he finds a father dying of cancer, and an old girlfriend now the town's sheriff, and himself the prosecutor in the murder trial of a young girl.
One can't always judge a character by the opening.  Just when one thinks one has a bead on him, he surprises you.  And isn't it nice when that happens? 
Tatum is something of a study in contrasts.  On one hand, he is the no-holds-barred attorney; abrasive, egotistical, even rude.  Then the man within the shell shows up and draws one in to see what a well-constructed, fully developed character he is.  The excerpts from "The Art of Jury Trial as War," a book only being written in Tatum's head so far, are interesting and thought-provoking.  The occasional flashes of humor, and the dog, are a lovely diversion.
Methos really knows how to twist a plot.  The best part is that the protagonist is as surprised as are we.  And twists and turn there are galore.  Yet there is also an excellent balance between the legal information, which is fascinating, and the personal aspects of the story, which is relatable and can touch one's heart. 
"The Hallows" is an excellent legal mystery filled with great characters which make one almost wish this wasn't a standalone.  However, it also proves Thomas Wolfe wrong. One can go home again.

THE HALLOWS (LegalMys-Tatum Graham-Florida/Utah-Contemp) – Ex
      Methos, Victor - Standalone
      Thomas & Mercer – July 2019

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Water-Blue Eyes by Domingo Villar

First Sentence:  The line of lights on the coast, the glimmer of the city, the white spray where the waves broke… It made no difference that it was dark and the rain was lashing against the windows.
Police Inspector Leo Caldas is best known for his radio show Patrol on the Air, although very few of the calls are actual police matters.  One cryptic call seems to make no sense, however. Luis Regosa, a professional musician, has been murdered in a particularly brutal fashion.  Police Inspector Leo Caldaas, and his second, Rafael Estévez, are sent to the crime scene.  Within jazz clubs, the wealthy, and the work of forensics, it is up to them to find the killer.
One may appreciate that one of the two books on the victim's nightstand is "The Terracotta Dog" by Andrea Camilleri, as well as other authors. However, this is offset by a method of death which is unusual and particularly grim, especially for the victim—"This is worthy of Caligula."        
The author creates a wonderful sense of atmosphere—"In Galicia, however, swaths of green land gave way here and there to rias of varying colours, shielded from the pounding of the Atlantic by streamlined, white-sand islands." The restaurant, "Eligio's" is just the sort of place where one should love to dine--"...a small dish of beef stewed on a low heat, with potatoes seasoned with olive oil and a mixture of paprika and cayenne pepper, and a good portion of scallop quiche..." and "The Grial" for classic jazz.
Good characters can make or break a book.  Leo, Estévez, and even Superintendent make this book.  No great buddies, here.  Leo and Estevez couldn't be more different, nor could Estévez be more out of his element—'Is Estévez with you?' 'Yes,' ratified Caldas. 'Shouldn't he have come?' 'He shouldn't have been born.' Replied Soto and rang off. It's the contrast of the two which makes them entertaining. 

Although not mentioned in the story, Galicia is a unique area in the northwest corner of Spain and has strong Celtic connections.  That does help to explain why Estévez, who came from Argon, Zaragoza in northeastern Spain, felt so out of place--"To Rafael Estévez's stern Aragonese mind, things were this way or that, got done or didn't, so it was only with considerable effort that he managed to decipher the ambiguous expressions of his new fellow citizens.  The interview of a teenager by Estévez which follows is delightful. 
The humor is subtle and well done. Caldas is constantly being recognized from the radio show which is something of a running gag. Estévez encounter in the gay bar after injuring his foot is visual and makes one laugh.  Caldas is an intriguing character about whom we learn a bit, but not everything.  One slight issue in other books which are translated, it that while most of the text rings true, anger, or rage, often comes across over the top. 
Beneath it all, this truly is a book where procedure and forensic details are not overlooked. The clues are revealed as the mystery unfolds. "The most difficult cases were often solved after a seemingly insignificant point was brought to attention."
"Water-Blue Eyes" is a succinct, tightly plotted mystery with good twists and an excellent red herring.  The author's style is intriguing and invites one to read more of his books.

WATER-BLUE EYES (Police Proc-Leo Caldas-Vigo, Galicia, Spain-Contemp) – VG+
      Villar, Domingo – 1st of series
      Arcadia Books, Ltd. – Apr 2009

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Body in the Castle Well by Martin Walker

First Sentence:  Bruno was still glowing from his morning canter at Pamela's riding school as he sipped his first coffee of the day at Fauguet's café and scanned the headlines of Sud Ouest.

      The body of Claudia, an American art history student Claudia, is found at the bottom of a well.  Initially, drugs are suspected. Or is it related to Claudia's digging into the past of the art historian and scholar with whom she had been studying.  And what about the young falconer, recently released from jail, who had become friends with Claudia.  It's up to Bruno to find the answers.

      Walker creates characters one would want to know.  While Bruno is the central character, those around him are fully developed and interesting.  The victim's mother is a good example of that.  There does always seem to be someone floating around Bruno's romantic life. 

      Beginning the story with a search and discovery of a body determined to have been murdered is an interesting approach and provided some of the best suspense of the book.  There is good police work done, and a very nicely done plot twist. The actual mystery is very good. but one wishes there had been more focus on it.  Instead, the mystery becomes rather lost among all the information on the resistance, wine, art, falconry, jazz, and Josephine Baker.  It is interesting, but after a while, one begins to feel as though one were Clara from the old Wendy's commercials wondering "Where's the beef?".

      Bruno is such a strong character with an interesting background.  One hopes to see more of that in the next book.

      "The Body in the Castle Well" does have very good moments and a solid mystery at its heart, but the resolution was somewhat disappointing. This is not Walker's best book. Significant editing would have helped tighten the plot and made the story more effective.  

THE BODY IN THE CASTLE WELL (PolProc-Comm. Bruno Courregés-France-Contemp) - Good
      Walker, Martin – 14th in series
      Knopf – June 2019

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Traitor's Codes (A Crispin Guest Mystery) by Jeri Westerson

First Sentence:  Crispin Guest eyed the room.
Rather being hired to find a missing person or item as he usually is, Tracker of London, Crispin Guest, is given a package and told he'll know what to do with it. Inside is an ancient book written in a language he's never seen but learns is Coptic. It is an unpublished book of the Bible which could challenge the very doctrine of Christian faith.   The danger of possessing this book becomes real when people to whom Guest shows it are murdered. Someone very much wants the book, and all who know of it, destroyed.
It is always a pleasure to start a new Crispin novel.  Westerson excels at acquainting one with the characters, setting, the scene, and drawing one immediately into the story.  She creates a wonderful sense of place providing information and bits of history along the way, as well as establishing the mystery almost from the start. She creates a sense of normalcy and timelessness that supersedes the period.
Part of the joy of reading historical novels is in the things one learns, and there are numerous "who knew" moments included.  Special touches are the Glossary provided at the beginning and the Afterword at the end. One small criticism is that while the dialogue provides the feel of the period, there are times it seems to try too hard and ends up being awkward.
No matter what else, it's the characters which draw one into the book, and repeatedly back to the series.  Crispin is a character who has grown and, dare one say, mellowed over the years while still being someone on whom one can always depend.  The meetings with those Crispin loved and was loyal in the past, are real and touching, particularly that with King Richard II.  Jack, his "bagman" if one will, has undergone the most change; aging, growing and maturing while being ever loyal and dedicated.  The changes in his circumstances through the series have added dimension to all the characters and the stories.
Westerson makes one think—'You cannot stomp on an idea.  Excellency.  Once the idea is out in the world, it is like the bee that flits from flower to flower.  It cannot be stopped.  Ideas are what keep mankind from stagnating in a rotten pool.  It is not once nor twice but times without number that the same ideas make the appearance in the world.'  Some of those insights are particularly relevant today—'Character.  Character does not only belong to those with breeding, my lord. Good character is conferred on the lowliest of peasants.  God grants certain men and women this character and no trial of Job will see them change their minds on it.'
"Traitor's Codex" is a very good book.  There is much about the plot which can't be said without giving things away.  While there are several threads, each holds its own, and our attention without ever becoming confusing, yet coming together in a strong cloth.
TRAITOR'S CODEX (HistMys-Crispin Guest-England-1394) – VG+
      Westerson, Jeri
      Severn House – June 2019