Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Bones of Paris by Laurie R. King

First Sentence:  The envelope reached Bennett Grey early Wednesday afternoon.
There’s nothing to equal a powerful opening that contains evocative descriptions which paint mental pictures.  We feel a connection to Bennett, even though we know nothing about him.  King has captivated us and ensured our waiting to follow along, even if it is to a sex-scented bedroom in Paris.
Unfortunately, we also soon run into an issue which can be very annoying.  Apparently, there was a prior book with these characters; “Touchstone”.  Without having read the first book, one feels rather lost in understanding the character relationships.  An even greater shortcoming is that neither the back story of the character in the prologue, nor the character himself, appears until much later in this book.  Rather than being intriguing, it starts to leave the reader feeling lost and dissatisfied, particularly as he is one of the most interesting characters of the book and doesn’t reappear until nearly two-thirds of the way into the story.
Harris Stuyvesant is the primary narrator of the story and an interesting one.  He is a perfect reflection of the period, yet not someone you always like.  He is a 1920s noir private eye, yet not so tough he is without vulnerability and self doubt.  The relationship between Harris and Grey’s sister Sarah, and the scenes of them together are some of the most powerful of the story.
King’s dialogue has the feel of the period.  You can almost hear the narrator of a black and white film from the period…”It’s always a shock, when someone cares more about a thing than you do.”  King adeptly plays with the reader’s psyche.  At the same time, she is very good at conveying the persona of whosoever’s POV controls each section of the story, and at conveying emotion…”The list was, in fact, a ringed notebook bulging with anguish and loss.”.
King captures Paris beautifully…”Paris obscured by snow or softened by fog, Paris adrift on fallen blossoms or carpeted in autumn leaves, Paris in the rain, at night, the lights streaking on the pavement….” She creates a very strong sense of place and, as the art and artists of the time--and she does include almost everyone of them who was in Paris during that time--play a significant role to the story, her descriptions may send one to the internet to learn more about the individuals and their art.  This also, however, becomes an issue as some of the narrative sections become so long, the reader may start looking for the actual story wondering where the core of the plot has gone.

I was relieved when we did get back to the story but dismayed when I identified the villain fairly early on.  While the climatic scene was suspenseful and dramatic, it was also a bit over the top with shades of Edgar Allen Poe.
The Bones of Paris” has some great strengths but also some painful weaknesses.  It is an interesting book and one I never considered putting down.  Yet, I can’t help but wonder whether a much stronger editor would have solves some of the issues and made it a much better book.  Please, authors, do use and listen to your editors.  It’s unfortunately, as Ms. King is a very good writer and her book “Folly” will always remain as one of my favorites.

THE BONES OF PARIS (Hist Mys/Susp-Harris Stuyvesant-Paris-1929) – Okay
King, Laurie R.
Bantam, 2013


Suspect by Robert Crais

First Sentence: Maggie stared at Pete with rapt, undivided focus.

Maggie is an 85-lb, black and tan German Shepherd trained by the military. When her partner was killed in Afghanistan, Maggie was wounded and sufferes from PTSD. She’s now with the LAPD, but the head of the unit isn’t certain she’ll ever be able to work. Scott James is a policeman who was shot, and whose partner was killed, in a shootout. The LAPD doesn’t really think Scott should return to duty. Now, in spite of everyone’s, and their own, doubts, they are trying to be partners and to find out who killed Scott’s partner, and nearly killed him.

Crais definitely knows how to tell a story. His experience as a screenwriter is evident on every page. He knows how to establish a scene, create characters, and write dialogue with a natural ear and flow.

What sets this book apart, from others he has written, is the use of first-person point-of-view for Maggie, the Shepherd. There is no question Mr. Crais did his research on both dogs in general, and on military and K-9 dogs in particular. What could have come off as cute, definitely does not. It does humanize Maggie, but most of us know dogs (and cats) are nearly human.

I actually had more problems with the character of James in that he came off a bit too macho, aren’t-I-tough at times; a little too stereotypical for me. Still we did see a couple instances of his more vulnerable side, and that helped.

Suspect” is a little predictable, and somewhat formulaic, but it is also a page-turner. It may not be great literature, but it is a darned good read for a weekend or an airplane trip. There’s nothing wrong with that.

SUSPECT (Pol Prod-Scott James/K-9 Maggie-Los Angeles, CA-Contemp) – Good+
Crais, Robert – Standalone
Putnam, 2013

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Last To Die by Tess Gerritsen

First Sentence:  We called him Icarus.
In Italy, a man is kidnapped and his family accidentally killed in the process.  In Ithaca, NY and in New Hampshire, the foster families of two children are murdered, as were there parents previously.  Then the same happens in Boston with the family of Teddy Clock.  Unaware of the other cases, Detective Jane Rizzoli is the lead with her friend, Dr. Maura Isles the pathologist.  To keep Teddy safe, Maura takes him to Evensong, the secure school run by Anthony Sansone and Jane, with her partner Frost, heads down a very twisty, dangerous road to find a killer.
 Starting with the first sentence of the prologue, you can put the rest of your life on hold until your reach the very last word; Ms. Gerritsen has taken hold.
 Addressing the details, the dialogue is excellent; natural and sharp.  The descriptions create a very strong sense of place; particularly important and the characters move from locale to locale.  The characters are very well drawn and fully developed.  This is the only place where Ms. Gerritsen does lose minor points as someone new to the series might feel a bit lost, particularly when incidents are referred to from the previous two books. 
The great strength of this book is the plot.  There are three, possibly four, story lines.  This only adds veracity to the book as no live runs single path.  What is wonderful is that each is as compelling, and often suspenseful, as the other.  With every page the plot becomes more layered, more engrossing and takes you somewhere you never expected it to go.  There are amazing twists and turns. Even at the very end, we’re left uncertain as to where the series may go next.
On the slightly negative side, I can't say I'm thrilled with the Mephisto Club thread.  Although it's interesting, it seems to be taking the series a bit into the conspiracy theory realm for me. 
“Last to Die” is a gripping, compelling, non-stop, go-away-I’m-reading book.  It may not be great literature--in fact, I'd forgotten the plot a month later--but it is one really great airplane read.

LAST TO DIE (Susp-Rizzol & Isles-Massachusetts/Maine-Contemp) – Good+
Gerritsen, Tess
Ballantine Books, 2012

Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Devil's Cave by Martin Walker

First Sentence:  Bruno Courrèges seldom felt happier about the community he served as chief of police than when standing at the rear of the ancient stone church of St. Denis, listening to rehearsals of the town choir.
The body of a naked woman floating down the river in an old boat is not a common sight in St. Denis.  Marks on her body and items in the boat lead to rumors of Satanism.  Connections begin to be made and other deaths occur and suspicions of fraud arise with people even trying to ensnare Bruno in their net.
Spring has arrived in small community of St. Denis and you are immediately drawn into the story in a way that takes you from the beatific and sacred, to the profane.  Walker’s wonderful descriptions of both the setting and foods—including beer-can chicken, make one feel a part of the scene and the story.
Bruno is such an appealing character; you can’t help but like him.  He is loyal to his community and has become part of it.  It knows its residents and takes a personal interest in them and the challenges they face.  He is ethical and principled with refreshingly good relationships with his boss and his counterparts.  His past gives him strength, skills and toughness.  The fact that he also loves animals, demonstrates his empathy and compassion.  His relationships with women are also interesting, especially as he is a man cast into, what is often, the situation of a woman.
Walker’s plotting has an interesting style.  The story starts off quite simply but, rather like a magnet, other elements are drawn in as the story progresses.  Rather than make the story too complicated, they add depth and interest to the story.  Best of all, the pieces fit together in a logical, occasionally humorous, manner until the full picture is revealed.  His pacing is so well done.  With the introduction of new threads and characters, comes added tension until you reach an exciting climax, with another and another, without it seeming contrived.
The Devil’s Cave” is a wonderful combination of great characters, wonderful descriptions, fascinating historical information, and an excellent police procedural allowing us a look at the way in which the various branches of the French justice system work together.  

THE DEVIL’S CAVE (Pol Proc-Chief of Police Bruno Courrèges-St. Denis, France-Contemp) – VG+
Walker, Martin – 5th in series
Knopf, 2013


Monday, July 8, 2013

Circle of Shadows by Imogen Robertson

First Sentence:  The room is dark, lit by only a single candle on the surface of a rough wooden table.

Widow Harriet Westerman receives a letter from her newly married sister, Rachel.  In Germany, where they are touring, Rachel's husband, Daniel Clode, was found in a locked room with the body of Lady Martesen.  Although very confused, seeming to have attempted suicide and having no memory, Daniel is imprisoned and awaiting execution for murder.  Harriet, with her friends anatomist Gabriel Crowther, Daniel's employer Owen Graves and Michaels, landlord of the local inn who insists on overseeing their travels, travels to the Duchy of Maulbery.  There they find a Duke preparing for his wedding, an enemy, intrigue and several more deaths.

Robertson has a very intriguing style.  The prologue both compels and slightly baffles us.  The wonderfully evocative descriptions of the story's first chapter informs us that a crime has occurred so that the mystery is presented, possible ramifications established, and many of the characters introduced with an overview of their backgrounds established.  It is a very satisfying beginning.

The characters drive the story, and they are characters about who we very much care.  For those of us who are Jane Austen fans, one sees shades of Mrs. Croft (Persuasion) and Colonel Brandon (Sense and Sensibility) and the characters of Harriet and Crowther.  Harriet is very much a person one would like to be.  She has strength, but not false courage.  She is intelligent, traveled and capable.  ..."Harriet tilted her head to one side.  "I was going to stab him with one of Mr. Al-Said's files, but he provided a pistol so I almost shot him instead.  I hate to say it, but I think having the opportunity to do so, and not killing him, has done me a great deal of good."  Each of the characters is memorable and significant to the story and it's hard to say enough about them without this review becoming as long as the book itself.  There isn't a cameo player among them, even if their role is small.

Robertson's voice and style are very special.  There is an elegance to her writing.  Her descriptions are evocative, her ability to convey emotion is visceral.  Her voice is neither modern yet doesn't focus on being of the period.  It is conveyed through scenes and narrative, such as Harriet her musing on the comparison of her beginning an intimate with her late husband, as opposed to what may possibly have been her sister's experience.  Her dialogue is always to be appreciated ..."Are you encouraging me to speculate, Crowther?" ... "I suppose I am to a degree.  I will try not to do so again."

The plot is not a simple one.  Beginning from the first page, we are uncertain as to the road on which we travel.  One must pay attention to the details, and it is very well worth so doing.  As with the characters, every aspect is significant.  This isn't a story to skim, but neither is one tempted so to do as each page is engrossing.

"Circle of Shadows" is an excellent read.  For me, it is the best book, so far, in the series.  That is saying quite a lot as this is a series I truly love. 

Circle of Shadows (Hist Mys-Harriet Westerman/Gabriel Crowther-Germany-1784) Ex
Robertson, Imogen
Pamela Dorman Books/Viking, 2013