Saturday, December 20, 2014

As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust by Alan Bradley

First Sentence:  “Banished!” the wild wind shrieked as it tore at my face.
Falva de Luce has been sent off to boarding school in Toronto; the same school her mother had attended.  On her first night there, down from the chimney in her room drops a charred and mummified body.  It had clearly been there some time and it’s head had separated from the rest.  Flavia is determined both to find out the victim’s identity and who killed her, but also solve the mystery of girls disappearing without a trace from the school
A compelling opening, or hook, is always important to a story.  This had a great hook!
Flavia is now 12, but she is anything but your typical pre-teen.  She is a self-trained chemist, bright beyond her years and accustomed to corpses, this being the seventh she has encountered.  She is a completely fascinating character.  It is not that she is particularly likable, but that she is smart and clever, sympathetic to those who are weak, and vulnerable in her own way.  In a sense, Flavia is a character to whom anyone who grew up feeling different, isolated or alone and easily understand, “No sooner was I safely among the gravestones than a great feeling of warmth and of calm contentment came sweeping over me.”
Although, for series fans, it seems strange for Flavia to not have her usual supporting cast, her new one is more than admirable.  In fact, there are a number of them who are quite delightful. 
There are some references to previous books.  However, if one has not read them, it is not a hindrance, although it does leave open the pleasure awaiting a new reader to start at the beginning of the series.
Bradley has an excellent voice and captures Flavia brilliantly and with soft humor.  She is both very human and a little bit frightening, but never in a cruel way. 
As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust” is a very good, clever mystery with good twists and a more than satisfactory ending.

A CHIMNEY SWEEPERS COME TO DUST (Trad Mys-Flavia de Luce-Canada-Contemp) – VG
Bradley, Alan – 7th in series
Delacorte Press, 2014

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Museum of Literary Souls by John Connolly

First Sentence:  Let us begin with this:  to those looking at his life from without, it would have seemed that Mr. Berger led a dull existence.
Mr. Berger leads a quiet, uneventful life.  An inheritance has allowed him to retire young and move to a small English village, spending most of his time reading and walking.  On one walk, he sees a woman who reminds him greatly of a classic fictional character.  She throws herself in front of a train, but no body, of any evidence of the event, is found.  When Berger encounters her again, he follows her to a place where fiction and reality intermingle.
 Connolly has employed a voice reminiscent of “once upon a time.”  From the moment you start reading, you know you are in for a good story.  He has wonderful, subtle humor, irony and dialogue; great repartee.  ““You may think me mad.”  “My dear fellow, we hardly know each other.  I wouldn’t dare to make such a judgment until we were better acquainted.”  Which seemed fair enough to Mr. Berger.”

This ebook is only 68 pages.  However, within those pages lies magic.  It's a book which tickles one's imagination and makes you smile.

The Museum of Literary Souls” is a story with which every bibliophile and true lover of books will identify.  There’s even a slight nod to Doctor Who.  What a wonderful story.

THE MUSEUM OF LITERARY SOULS (Fantasy/Mystery-Mr. Berger-England-Contemp) – Ex
Connolly, John – Standalone Novelette
Storyfront, 2013 - Amazon Digital Services, Inc.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Laws of Murder by Charles Finch

First Sentence:  A late winter’s night in London:  the city hushed; the revelers half an hour in their beds; a new snow softening every dull shade of gray and brown into angelic whiteness.
Charles Lenox has retired from Parliament and returned to detective work, opening an agency with three others.  Business has fallen off, and unfavorable statements have been made about the agency in the press, one by Inspector Jenkins, a long-time Scotland Yard ally.  When Jenkins is murdered, Inspector Nicholson, with whom Lenox had also worked, comes to hire the agency’s help. Of particular interest to Lenox is that Jenkins body is in front of the house of the Marquess of Wakefield, one of those on Lenox’s list of criminals who have, so far, evaded his capture. 
The first sentence alone provides a sense of the wonderful sense of place created by Finch.  His period details are just as well honed.  Unfortunately, a very fine first chapter is spoiled with the inclusion of a completely unnecessary portent which immediately takes the reader out of the moment the author just spent several pages constructing.  Happily, it was the only portent.
Finch has created a very good, well-rounded cast of characters.  They are fully dimensional and have lives beyond the actual mystery.  He also brings new readers up to speed very quickly.  He writes small children very well and the interludes of domesticity add a charm and sense of reality to the story.  By Lenox having a daughter, it enables him to contemplate the roles of women in present, and in future, society.  Though his friendship with his former butler, we learn a bit about the inner workings of Parliament during that time.
Even though the reader is quite certain the tides of fortune will, at some point, change, it’s nice to see the protagonist realistically going through a difficult time.  That Lenox realizes he is in a situation different from anything he has previously experienced adds a maturity to the character and the story. 
Finch has a wonderful way with words that add a richness to the story; “…big windows overlooking Chancery Lane.  Dozens of raindrops were dawdling down them, moving infinitesimally until one would decide to fall all at once in a split second, as if dashing for a forgotten appointment.”
The Laws of Murder” is a well done historical mystery with a good plot twist and a very satisfactory climax. 

THE LAWS OF MURDER(Hist Mys/Enquiry Agent-Charles Lenox-London-1876) - VG
Finch, Charles – 8th in series

Minotaur Books, 2014

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Who Buries the Dead by C.S. Harris

First Sentence:  They called it Bloody Bridge.

It’s called Bloody Bridge because of its past.  However, that past has come forward into the present for Sebastian St. Cyr, when a wealthy, prominent plantation owner is found there decapitated.  Near the body is an old coffin strap bearing the name of Charles Stuart, the 17th century king who was beheaded. St. Cyr’s father in law has promised the Prince Regent that he may be the first official witness to the newly uncovered tomb, but there's one problem; someone broken into the Charles coffin and stole his head.

Harris really knows how to write a compelling first chapter.  This one is particularly good.  Better, still, she starts off strong and just keeps going.

There are very good introductions to the various characters and excellent descriptions which create a strong sense of time and place.  She has a wonderful diversity of characters, from those in positions of power and wealth, all the way to the poor and to those who work with the dead.  In each case, Harris gives us a good sense of who they are and who they each relate to the story and to one another. 
Harris has a great voice.  She creates wonderful analogies, “It often seemed to Sebastian that trying to solve a murder was sometimes akin to approaching a figure in the mist.”  Her dialogue, occasionally imbued with a touch of humor,  “Someone cut off his head.”  “Good heavens. How terribly gauche.”  “Frightfully so….” is a pleasure to read.

The story contains fascinating historical references such as those related to England’s slave trade and their attitude toward it.  Such elements add veracity to the story.  Through Hero, Sebastian’s wife, we gain a picture of the period and the live of those just struggling to get by and do for themselves.   “But she knew now that she had never appreciated just how thin the line between survival and starvation was for a vast segment of London’s population.”  The information on the costermongers and the mentality of collectors, as well as that about the deaths of past kings, is informative and educational, yet seamlessly woven into the fabric of the story.

The characters of Sebastian and Hero are rather romanticized and larger-than-life, but the other characters, including Jane Austin and her brother used in a very appropriate manner, balance them out nicely and you’re left truly with a mystery, rather than a romance. 

Who Buries the Dead” is a very good read; with suspense, history, and a touch of romance.  It is a wonderful book in a wonderful series.

(Hist. Mys-Sebastian St. Cyr-London, 1813) – VG
Harris, C.S. – 10th in series
NAL Hardcover - March, 2015

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Star Fall by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles

First Sentence:  Slider went back to the bedroom to say goodbye to Joanna.
The murder of television antiques expert Rowland Egerton brings out Bill Slider and his team.  Egerton’s business partner and friend are found over the body, but is he the killer?  A Faberge box and Impressionist painting are missing.  Was it an interrupted burglary? 
From the very beginning, Cynthia Harrod-Eagles (CHE) takes us into the world of her characters.  She is a wonderfully literate author whose words paint pictures and engages our senses; “What Slider noticed more of all was the look of lightless patience in her face, s though she had long ago accepted that the brightly colored, more pleasant things in life were not meant for her.”
The characters of Slider and Atherton, his friend and bagman, are quickly established, along with the other members of Slider’s team.  It is particularly enjoyable and realistic, to have an ensemble cast; a team that works together, including their boss Porson, who excels at malapropos.  It’s a team that truly investigates.  They follow the clues and the evidence, rather than start with a conclusion and work backward.
The balance of Slider the cop, and Slider the man and husband is perfect.  It is so refreshing to have a protagonist with a normal home life.  It’s not always perfect; but it is normal.
 “Star Fall” is a very good police procedural with excellent characters, a good red herring and a very satisfying ending. 

STAR FALL (Pol Proc-Bill Slider-England-Contemp) – VG+
Harrod-Eagles, Cynthia – 17th in series
Severn Books - March 2015

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Supping with the Devil by Sally Spencer (aka Alan Rustage)

First Sentence: The weathermen said it was going to be the hottest summer for fifty years, and on all the available evidence so far, they were right.
DCI Monika Paniatowski has a boss who is determined to ruin her career.  Her latest assignment takes her away from her team and places her as a security advisor for the rock festival being put on by the Earl of Ridley.  But she’s only allowed in the house, whereas security for the grounds and even are being handled by the Devil’s Disciples motorcycle gang.  Things change when the body of a tabloid journalist is found.
Sally Spencer is a prolific author of three mystery series.  Monika Paniatowski was first introduced to us in the 5th Charlie Woodend book, “The Golden Mile to Murder.”  That said, it’s not necessary to have read that, or any of the previous books in this series as Spencer is very adept at giving us all the background we need to know about the characters within each book.  This is a wonderful skill as new readers don’t feel they’ve missed anything.  It is nice to see the way the series are somewhat blended as Woodend did make an appearance in this book.
Monika is something of a tough character to like, but there are good reasons for that, of which we learn.  Even so, she is respected and appreciated by her team.  All except for DCI Wellbeloved, who is anything but.  That is balanced out by DS Meadows who is sharp, tough and has an interesting background of her own.  If you like a badass, female cop, you’ll love Meadows.
The story has very good plot twists.  Spencer is very good at the unexpected, at the same time presenting a strong, accurate perspective on the issues with which career women have had to deal; both in the 70s and today. 
Supping with the Devil’ is filled with excellent twists, turns and revelations.  Spencer has become one of my favorite authors.

SUPPING WITH THE DEVIL (Pol Proc-DCI Monika Panatowsk-England-Contemp-1976) – G+
Spencer, Sally (aka Alan Rustage) – 8th in series
 Severn House, 2014

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Acts of Faith by Patricia Wynn

It was a quarter to four in the morning when Mrs. Hester Kean, trailed by two liveried footmen, arrived on foot at the Black Swan in Holborn.

Hester Kean, cousin and waiting woman to the Countess of Hawkhurst, has been sent to Yorkshire. There, she is to prepare her young cousin, Mary, for life in London and at Court.  Upon arriving, she learns the father of one of her travelling companions, papist Charles Fairfax, has been murdered.  It is post Reformation, and Catholics live under very strict rules and suspicion still of being Jacobites. However, Hester takes a liking to Charles, and Mary even more so.  Gideon, now outlawed and stripped of his title, follows Hester to Yorkshire. Appearing as “Sir Robert,” his intention is to persuade Hester to flee with him to France.  When a second murder occurs and “Sir Robert” is accused, they must first identify the killer.
From the very first page, we are immersed in the sights and sounds of the 18th century.  Miss Wynn is exactly in every detail from fashion, food, travel, customs and manners and the very strict manners dictated by class.
Hester is a delightful, fully-dimensional character.  Because she falls into the category of a “poor relation,” she is bound by very strict conventions.  At the same time she is education, intelligent, and independent as much as allowed.  Actions which may be permitted, or at least tolerated, in women of the lowest and highest classes, are not for someone of Hester's rank.  Ms Wynn explains this well and uses it to enhance the story.  Hester is tactful and very good at handling people and situations.  We feel for her; her desire for St. Mars, and her insecurity due to the difference in their social and economic levels.  Yet because the story is told in 3rd person, we are able to know what Hester does not.  It’s very gratifying.
Gideon has a strength about him.  Rather than bemoan the situation in which he finds himself, he gets on with things.  He is determined to win Hester, yet isn’t foolish.  Nor does he do anything which might compromise her.  He is gallant in the best sense of the word, and considerate with a kindness toward his groom Tom, and to animals.  How could one not like Gideon.
The mystery may seem, at first, to be secondary, yet the threads are always there, becoming more visible all the time.  When they do come together, it is in a very satisfying manner.  

The history in the book is informative and interesting.  Do read the sections of "Historical Background" and the "Author's Note" for a more complete understanding of the time and why Hester, a spinster, is referred to as "Mrs. Kean."  
 “Acts of Faith” is a very good book.  I do, however, strongly suggest beginning at the start of the series with “The Birth of Blue Satan,” both to truly understand the characters and their relationship, as well as having a better understanding of the time, but also for the pure please of enjoying five wonderful books. 

ACTS OF FAITH (Hist Mys-Hester Kean/Gideon; Viscount St. Mars-England-1716) – VG+
Wynn, Patricia – 5th book in series
Pemberley Press, 2014

Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Birth of Blue Satan by Patricia Wynn

First Sentence: The tall, young gentleman with long, fair hair and aquiline features lounged impatiently before the looking-glass. 

Gideon Fitzsimmons Viscount St. Mars argues with his father over the woman he wants to marry and leaves his father’s house in a temper.  Learning his father was murdered shortly thereafter, he finds himself about to be arrested, and must run to avoid prison.  His unexpected helper is Hester Kean, Isabella’s cousin. 

Wynn’s attention to historic detail of the time, place and social structure, is staggering and adds richness and veracity to the story.   However, the characters and story are what I truly loved. It was one of those books I picked to read just a couple pages, and ended up reading it straight through to the end. 

The characters are wonderful. Gideon accustomed to a life of privilege now on the run.   Hester Kean is the smart, strong, proper daughter of an impoverished minister determined to help Gideon clear his name. The secondary characters are just as strong. Mrs. Mayfield, out to ensure a profitable marriage for her daughter at all cost; Isabella, the beautiful and vacuous daughter, Gideon’s groom Tom; the loyal lifelong servant determined to keep himself ‘clean’ after seeing his father die from pox; Philippe, Gideon’s perfect French valet, and many others who are all so well drawn as to be real. 
Ms. Wynn has a wonderful voice. She is able to bring the period and the people to life with suspense, an element of romance and a dash of humor.  I had one small complaint when Hester did something toward the end that was both incredibly stupid and, I thought, out of character for her. I know it was necessary to the story and series, but felt it should have been handled better by the author
The Birth of Blue Satan” is very well plotted with each suspect being identified and investigated.  The period details are fascinating.  Do take the time to read the author's notes.  I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

THE BIRTH OF BLUE SATAN (Hist. Mys- Gideon Fitzsimmons/Hester Kean-England-1715) – VG+
Wynn, Patricia – 1st in series

Pemberley, 2001

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Blood on the Water by Anne Perry

First Sentence: Monk leaned forward, resting on his oar for a moment as he stared across the water at the Pool of London

William Monk, head of the Thames Police Force, witnesses the explosion and sinking of a pleasure boat which results in the death of nearly 200 people. Almost immediately, as he and his men start their investigation, the case is removed from them and given to the regular land police. A man is accused, tried and found guilty, all on circumstantial evidence and with no motive given. The man’s sentence is stayed due to his illness, which also strikes Monk as questionable. With Hester’s help, Monk regains control of the investigation, with nearly fatal results.

Perry is such a fine writer. Her descriptions are wonderfully evocative as we begin with a tranquil scene on the Thames. She then immediately changes the entire mood and secures your involvement in the story with a terrible event. Perry takes us into the environment of every level of society; from the lowest to the highest, and makes each real and understandable.

The characters are each fully drawn and dimensional. In spite of this being the 20th book in the series, new readers are given a clear understanding of the characters, their backgrounds and their interrelationships. Long-time readers see how the characters have developed, grown—some literally—and how their lives have changed. We even have the introduction of a new, young character one hopes will remain in the series. 

Although Monk is the protagonist, there is an excellent balance in the use of characters, drawing upon the strength of each, including Hester’s background as a nurse during the Crimean War, Rathbone as a former barrister and judge, Scruff as a former mudlark, and Crow as an unlicensed doctor. Ms. Perry’s voice is captivating. Her dialogue is natural and, occasionally, humorous. Determining the fate of Worm, an urchin and mudlark found by Scruff, himself a former mudlark who adopted himself to the Monks, is a charming interlude.

The plot is compelling. That Ms. Perry includes the trial into the final resolution of the mystery is something particularly interesting, demonstrating that the mystery isn’t solved until the guilty is brought to justice. 

Blood on the Water” is an excellent book with highs and lows, drama, excitement, and suspense. This is yet another wonderful book by Ms. Perry.

BLOOD ON THE WATER (Hist Mys-William Monk/Hester-London-Victorian) – VG+
Perry, Anne – 20th in series 
Ballantine Book – 2014

Monday, November 10, 2014

Proof Positive by Archer Mayor

First Sentence: It was the time of year when New England wobbles between fall and winter, as prone to Indian summer as to sudden, short-lived snow-storms.

Vietnam vet Ben Kendall suffered from PDST, became a recluse and a hoarder. Yet, there was one person he let into his world; a young photographer Rachel, daughter of medical examiner Beverly Hillstrom and Det. Joe Gunther’s lady love. Rachel has the misfortune to find Ben dead by an apparent accident. Once it’s found to be murder, Joe discovers, thought Rachel, that there are two men very determined to find photos Ben took in Vietnam…and they are willing to kill.

Mayor starts us off with a very good, engrossing, slightly creepy opening. However, it is clear, from the beginning, that Joe is a good guy, in the old-fashioned sense of that word. Major does a very good job of providing back stories for his characters that are concise; so as to neither bore fans of the series nor take one out of the story, yet they provide sufficient introduction to new readers. 

Mayor’s sense of place is excellent; “But Joe was a dyed-in-the-wool new Englander, and had no problem with an environment that could reach out and kill him half of every year. He felt it added to the character of the region—and its inhabitants…” His writer’s voice is engaging… “Frank didn’t respond. Neil’s verbal patter was like background noise to him by now—not much different from distant freeway traffic, or the ticking of a small clock.”

Proof Positive” is a very good read with escalating suspense, surprise plot twists and a satisfying ending. 

PROOF POSITIVE (Pol Proc-Joe Gunther-Vermont- Contemp) – VG+
Mayor, Archer – 25th in series
Minotaur Books, 2014

Friday, November 7, 2014

Broadchurch: A Novel by Erin Kelly, Chris Chibnall

First Sentence: One road in, one road out.

There are no murders in sea-side town of Broadchurch; until now. The body of young Danny Latimer has been found lying on the beach at the bottom a cliff. Rather than DS Ellie receiving the promotion she expected, she returns from vacation to learn DI Alex Hardy has been brought in from the outside. Although she resents it, the Latimers are best friends to her family, so Hardy will lead the investigation. With all the suspects being friends of the boy’s family, this is a case to tear apart a town and uncover all the buried secrets, including that of DI Hardy.

Some people may have seen the BBC series. Whether you have or not, this is still an excellent read.
The prologue immediately provides a sense of place, but also leaves us with a sense of dread. 

The characters are succinctly introduced, giving that sense of a small, close community where people either know one another or they are outsiders. Emotions are very well captured here. 

The story is told in third person. For those who watched the television series, the book gives an greater insight into each of the characters. 

What is wonderful is that “Broadchurch” is truly an old-fashioned who-done-it mystery with plenty of suspects, interesting characters, plenty of red herrings, good suspense and a “wow” climax, yet an epilogue that touches the heart. I highly recommend you read the book and, if you can, watch the UK version of the show. Honesty compels me to admit I’ve not seen the American version renamed “Gracepoint.”

BROADCHURCH (Pol Proc-DI Hardy/DS Miller/England-Contemp) – Ex
Kelly, Erin (Based on the story of series creator Chris Chibnall) – standalone
Minotaur Books, 2014

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Blood Curse by Maurizio De Govanni

First Sentence:  Though no one could possibly know it, the last rains of winter had fallen that afternoon.

Responding to a scream head on his way to work, Brigadier Raffaele Maione finds a beautiful woman whose face has been deeply slashed.  It is a case that takes on a very personal interest for him.  Called out on another case, Maione and Riccardi find an old woman who has been brutally beaten to death.  Her final words?  “God Almighty’s not a shopkeeper who pays His debts on Saturday.”   
Although it doesn’t impact my rating, I do not recommend the Kindle version of this book, as the formatting makes reading the story quite confusing.  Eventually, one gets the hang of it, but it’s not easy.  Even so, this is a somewhat challenging book to get into as the beginning is vignettes of numerous characters without our really being told who they are, or how they fit together.           
In the beginning, we are given an interesting lesson on status and title, followed by a captivating introduction to Riccardi.  He is such an unusual and intriguing character.  Ricciardi, is not well liked by his fellow officers or his superior, but he solves his crimes, and more quickly than others.  Ricciardi sees the dead; not those who died peacefully, but those who died suddenly from accident, suicide or murder.  Not only did he see them, he heard them in the last few moments of their lives; thus, referring to them as The Deed.  Maione, his second, is very loyal to him, ever since Ricciardi delivered to Maione a final message from his dead son.
Ricciardi accepts his situation and has even found the one way of making it into a positive.  One cannot help but feel for him and yet be very glad he has Maione by his side.  Yet, for all his solemnity, Riccardi does have a sense of humor. 
One of de Giovanni’s greatest strengths is his descriptions.  Whether it be people, settings or emotions, they are powerfully evocative and visual… “It was the spring:  it danced on tiptoe; it pirouetted daintily, still young, full of joy, not yet aware of what it would bring, but eager to mix things up a bit.  Without any ulterior motives; just for the fun of shuffling the cards.”
The plot is a study of relationships and insecurities.  It is a lesson in human weakness, with observations that cause one to stop and consider.
Blood Curse” is, in the end, a true mystery.  It is refreshing to have a detective who does make assumptions, but relies of evidence and motives to identify the killer.  This is a fascinating book and a series I highly recommend for those with a taste for the unusual.  

BLOOD CURSE (Pol Proc-Comm. Ricciardi/Brig. Maioni-Naples-1931) – VG+
De Giovanni, Mauriizio (Translated by Antony Shugarr) – 2nd in series
Europa Editions, 2013

Monday, August 25, 2014

The Long Way Home by Louise Penny

First Sentence:  As Clara Morrow approached, she wondered if he’d repeat the same small gesture he’d done every morning.     
Chief Inspector Armand Gamache has retired and moved, with his wife Reine-Marie, to the village of Three Pines.  There he is seeking peace and recovery from recent events.  However, he can’t ignore the plea from one of his neighbors and friends.  Clara and her husband Peter decided to separate for one year.  That year has now passed, but Peter has neither returned nor contacted Clara.  The search for Peter sends Gamache, his former second-in-command, Jean-Guy, and other residents, to Montreal and into isolated regions of Quebec.
From the very first, we are as intrigued by the actions of one of the characters as are other characters in the story.  We, too, want an explanation.  At the same time, we are brought into the beauty and seeming tranquility of the Village of Three Pines…”The village had the rhythm, the cadence, of a piece of music.  Perhaps that’s what Henri heard. The music of Three Pines.  It was like a hum, a hymn, a comforting ritual.”           
The reader learns of the characters through their personalities, rather than their backstories. It is particularly clear how close are Gamache and Reine-Marie, and how solid is their marriage. 
One of the many wonderful things about Penny’s writing is that she makes you stop and think, even when it’s a simple phrase easily passed over; ”Surprised by joy.”  There are so many small truths in Penny’s writing; lines and passages that make you stop, think and read again and again.  They don’t interrupt the flow of the story, but enhance it and cause one to savour it.  Yet only Penny could so effectively use a German Shepherd as a vehicle to convey loss and healing.  She puts emotions into words.  And then, she throws you a plot twist.
Penny’s descriptions are so evocative, one can not only envision the scene, place or object, but you yearn to physically be there.  She takes you places you’ve never been and of which you’ve never heard.  This is a story that makes you want to travel; to see and experience places for yourself.  But, at the very least, you find yourself running to the internet.
The characters are wonderful.  They are people you want to know; what to have as friends and neighbors.  You find yourself both wanting to know these people and, in some cases, wanting to be them.  The dialogue is so well done, with an easy, natural flow and, occasionally, delightful humour.
Ms. Penny is an intelligent author who includes poetry, literature, art, mythology and psychology into the story, yet she doesn’t, in any way, write above her readers or seek to demean them.

To say “The Long Way Home” is an excellent book is almost an understatement.  The book certainly has all the elements of a mystery are there, including a plot which is unusual in its structure, but it is also so much more than that that.  It is a journey that keeps drawing us down the road.

If you've not read any of the books in this series, please do start at the beginning with "Still Life."  It is hard for me to restrain myself when talking about the quality of Ms. Penny's writing.  She is an author whose work will stand the test of time.

THE LONG WAY HOME (Trad Mys-Armand Gamache-Canada-Contemp) – Ex
Penny, Louise – 10th in series
Minotaur Books, 2014

Saturday, August 23, 2014

The Rest is Silence by James R. Benn

First Sentence:  I knew I was in trouble when the corner wheeled in the body, encased in a rubber sack, on a wobbly gurney with one wheel that wanted to go in any direction but straight.
It is April 1944; plans for D-Day have been made and the different branches of service and nationalities of military are rehearsing for the critical day.  However, an unidentified body has washed up on Slapton Sands, the beach replicating the landing site of Normandy Beach.  General Eisenhower sends Captain Billy Boyle and his partner, Lt. Kaz Kazimierz to investigate.
There are few authors whose voice is such that you aren’t so much reading a story but make you feel as though it is personally being told to you.  Benn has just such a voice.  Add to that his wonderful descriptions…”…Whitewashed stone cottages with thatched roofs sat close to the road, stark and bright beneath the slanting rays of the morning sun.  A pub, a couple of shops, and then we were back in the midst of green fields.” and you become part of the story.
Billy is a great character and one whose history and backstory you learn as a material part of the story.  The author does not assume readers have read previous books in the series, but those who have won’t find it something which slows down the pace of the story.
Although one appreciates the author including an actual historical even within the plot, what happened in this instance was horrible beyond words.  However, Benn is very good at conveying the magnitude of the tragedy without needing to include graphic details.  
Benn writes excellent, and occasionally poignant, dialogue…””Are you sure?” Kaz said,” t could be dangerous.  This man has killed before.”  “So have I, Piotr,” David said. “I have sent men crashing down from the sky in a ball of fire. I am the very fact of death.”  And yet, Benn’s wry humor does, occasionally, shine through…”Captain Boyle, although we are an informal household, that does not mean I make it a practice to socialize with staff.  It simply isn’t done, not in England.  Is it commonplace wherever you come from?”  “That would be Boston, ma’am, and I guess not.”  “Ah, Boston.  And there I thought you had a speech impediment….”
Benn’s character take life under his deft hand—not only Billy and Kaz, but David, the severely wounded pilot; Sir Rupert and Edgar, members of the family at whose house Billy and Kaz are staying, and Peter Wiley, the possible by-blow of Sir Rupert.  All this matters as herein lies the mystery within the mystery.  Benn also does an excellent job of incorporating real historical characters--Yogi Berra and Agatha Christie, including a wonderful scene of Billy discussing the situation with her—who are employed in an historically accurate manner.  He also, sadly, does an excellent job of conveying the staggeringly tragic results of a breakdown in communication. 
The Rest is Silence” is an excellent book, albeit painful to read at times.  Please don’t let that stop you from getting to know this book and series.  Not only are they great mysteries with wonderful characters, but good history lessons as well. 

THE REST IS SILENCE (Hist Mys-Cpt. Billy Boyle-England-1944) – Ex
Benn, James R. – 9th in series
Soho Crime, 2014

Thursday, August 21, 2014

A Dying Fall by Elly Griffiths

First Sentence: At first he isn’t even scared.         
Forensic archeologist Ruth Galloway is shocked to learn that a friend has died in a house fire. Things take on an eerie quality when she receives a letter from him, written days before he died. He talks about an historic archeological discovery but also that he is afraid. With her daughter Katy and Druid friend Cathbad, Kate heads north to Lancashire. What she doesn’t plan on is that DCI Nelson, father to Katy, will also be there, in his former hometown, with his wife and family.       
If a completely compelling, albeit somewhat horrific, hook is what captures your attention; you can’t do better than here. Griffiths immediately draws you into the story and makes you want to keep reading by making each chapter more intriguing than the last. This is not a book you’ll put down.     
Griffiths is very good at creating complicated relationships wherein you have sympathy for each of the characters involved. That takes real skill, and she has it. She also introduces characters very well and If you’ve read previous books, you become reacquainted; if you’re new to the series, you never feel lost wondering who they are and how they fit together. Sadly, not all authors are good at this. There are the favorites, of course; Ruth and Cathbad in particular. Children can be awkward, yet Katy is neither precocious nor annoying, but very realistic. One of the most appealing new characters is Sandy, Nelson’s friend and fellow DCI.       
The atmosphere and tension created are excellent. The history related to the story is fascinating. I’ve always been a fan of Griffiths’ ear for dialogue and her occasional subtle humor.      
A Dying Fall” is a book which broad appeal as it works on so many levels. It may just be my favorite or second favorite, book in this series so far. What most pleases me is to know that there will be more books coming.
A DYING FALL (Trad. Myst-Ruth Galloway-England-Contemp) – VG+
Griffiths, Elly – 5th in series
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013

Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Golden Mile to Murder by Sally Spencer (aka Alan Rustage)

First Sentence:  Behind them shone the bright lights of Blackpool, ahead of them lay the darkness of the Irish Sea.

DCI Charlie Woodend is out of Scotland Yard and banished by his new boss, SD Ainsworth to Blackpool—without his right arm, Bob Rutter, to investigate the murder of a Blackpool policeman.  There, he is assigned DS Monika Paniatowski, who has issues of her own, not the least of which is being the first female sergeant in Blackpool.  They are also up against a squad determined to prevent Woodend from finding out too much.
The book opens with a classic scene of a young couple at the beach, but the scene has a very non-classic ending.  At the end of the first chapter, there’s no question that you’ll go on to read the rest.
Spencer provides wonderful descriptions of Woodend’s return to the town in which he grew up and that feeling of both familiarity and foreignness one can have…”So perhaps you never really could go back, he thought—because back wasn’t there any longer.”
The best description of Woodend is given by an officer who’d worked with him previously…”You don’t really know the meaning of the term “bloody-minded” until you’ve worked the Cloggin’-it Charlie.  He’s stubborn, unreasonable, relentless, and possibly the best policeman it’s ever been my privilege to work with.”  He is also a fan of Dickens, hard, but fair and, it turns out, a very good team leader and boss to the young, female, D.S.  Monika’s background is very much incorporated into the story.  Spencer’s representation of a woman who has experienced that which Monika has done, is painfully accurate. 
Spencer’s descriptions can be delightful, particularly that of Woodend’s landlady…”She was a real dragon, Woodend thought admiringly. If Saint George had had to face a creature like Mrs. Bowyer in this quest to free the maiden, he would have abandoned the girl to her fate and gone off in search of the nearest pub.” He also provide an excellent sense of time by including references to books, television shows—Bonanza--and movies—The Guns of Navarone—of the time.
TheGolden Mile to Murder” is an excellent mystery that is so well plotted.  Not only did I not identify the killer, but the epilogue provides a wonderful “WOW” moment.

THE GOLDEN MILE TO MURDER (Pol Proc-DCI Charlie Woodend-Blackpool, England-1960s/Contemp) - Ex
Sally Spencer (aka Alan Rustage) – 5th in series
Severn House, 2001

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Silent Voices by Ann Cleeves

First Sentence:  Vera swam slowly.
It’s not every day a police inspector finds a dead body sharing a sauna with her in a hotel health club, especially when that body is of a murder victim.  Vera and her team work to find a killer in a village filled with people, and their secrets.
 From the very first paragraph, one is caught up in the author’s voice; her dry humor and the character.  By the end of the first chapter, on is also caught up in the story.
There is so much one could say about the characters, particularly Vera.  How nice it is to have a female protagonist such as Vera. She’s a mature woman, overweight and unconcerned about her appearance—except, not totally unconcerned.  She does care about being fair to her team, knows what motivates each of them, and is a very good leader; even though she drives them hard.  She’s respected by her colleagues, even when they frustrate her.  The relationship she has with Joe, her sergeant, is an interesting one…”Sometimes Vera though he represented her feminine side.  He had the empathy, she had the muscle.  Well, the bulk.”  Even with the suspects, she doesn’t just investigate clues, but motivations; what makes people do what they do, what drives them.
Cleeves has a very interesting style.  Although the story is told in 3rd person, when she focuses on Vera, it switches somewhat to first person as we gain insight on her life and character through an internal monologue and her observations…”These days, people expected senior female officers to walk straight out of “Prime Suspect.”
There is a very strong sense of place and wonderful descriptions.  Particularly appealing is the contrast between the town and the desolation of Vera’s home.  It’s very much part of her character.
Although the story is character driven, it certainly doesn’t lack for plot or suspense.  We’re given plenty of characters with motives, nice red herrings and plot twists.  “Vera” is currently a television series done by British ITV, and very well done it is.  The only way I knew the villain in the book was having seen the episode.  Otherwise, it really wasn’t obvious.
SilentVoices” is a thoroughly engrossing read.  It’s not a book you’ll put down and come back to later.  Cleeves is a wonderful author who should be much better known to American readers.

SILENT VOICES (Pol. Proc-Det. Insp. Vera Stanhope-England-Contemp) – VG+
Cleeves, Ann – 1st in series
A Thomas Dunne Book for Minotaur Books, 2011

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Fatal Harbor by Brenden Dubois

First Sentence:  In my home state of New Hampshire, death certificates are a formal-looking document, with a light watermark in the center outlining the shape of our fair state.          
Lewis Cole’s best friend, Police Detective Diane Woods, was on duty at an anti-nuclear demonstration that turned violent.  Diane was singled out by a man who beat her so severely; she now lies in a coma.  Cole, formerly an analyst with the Department of Defense, with the help of his friend, security consultant Felix Tinios, is determined to find the man and mete out his own form of justice.  However, men who are willing to kill are doing their best to stop Cole.
The first chapter starts by tugging at your heart, ends with a bang.   From there, the story rarely lets up.  Dubois definitely knows how to write action.
Dubois does create a strong sense of place.  It’s clear he knows Boston well.  If the reader does, they will smile at his reference to “the People’s Republic of Cambridge.”  West Coasters; think Berkeley.  He does make an interesting, and sobering, point about how fragile is our power grid and the potential impact should it fail.
The protagonist, Louis Cole, is an interesting one.  Yet if one hasn’t read previous books in the series, it’s difficult to see how he went from being a DoD analyst and magazine writer to the character he is here.  It’s nice to think a friend would do anything for you, but this is a bit extreme.  Yet without his actions, we have no story.
Granted, I am reviewing from an Advanced Readers’ copy, but I found there to be a considerably amount of repetitive information.   I shall hope further editing prior to the final publishing will have corrected. 
Fatal Harbor” is suspenseful, exciting, and filled with very effective plot twists.  Although it seemed a bit over the top, it was a non-stop read.

FATAL HARBOR (Non-licen. Invest-Lewis Cole-East Coast-Contemp) - Good
Dubois, Brendan – 8th in series
Pegasus, 2014

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Baklava Club by Jason Goodwin

First Sentence:  The man lives, or the man dies.
A group of young Italians, spending much of their time with Yashim’s friend Ambassador Palewski, are part of the revolutionaries striving for the reform and unification of Italy.  At the moment, they are exiled in Istanbul with instructions to kill a Polish Prince.  The assignation becomes kidnapping and the wounding of Palweski, causing him to become involved.
The book has an excellent opening with wonderful descriptions…”the sea is smooth like watered silk beneath a crescent moon, the ship’s wake fanning out like a tear.”  At the same time, we are left with a sense of dread.  However, it is the descriptions of food and dishes prepared by Yashim that are particularly wonderful.  One hopes a cookbook might be in the author’s future.
The two principal characters, Yashim, a eunuch in the service of the valide—queen mother of the ruling sultan--and his friend Palewski, the Polish Ambassador without a country or embassy, are wonderful contrasts to one another, yet we feel their friendship. Natasha is one of the most complex characters.  We get to know her through the story, as does Yashim.  The other characters are much less developed.
Goodwin writes wonderful dialogue.  When viewing Palewski’s library, a priest comments, “It’s not a collection you have, Palewski. It’s a disease.”  At the same time, having a dictionary handy is useful…”I palliate the torment, Palewski, by a strict diet of incunabula…”
One thing that does help is to have a good overview of the history of this period.  An Advanced Reader’s Copy unfortunately does not include any “Author’s Notes” which may be in the final publication.  One is, instead, thankful for the internet.  Without it, the motives can be a bit difficult to grasp.  Credit where due, however, is that Goodwin does do a decent job of providing the information within the text.

The Baklava Club” has humor, suspense, interesting characters and wonderful descriptions.  It’s not, perhaps, the best of the series, but it’s still worth taking the time to read.

THE BAKLAVA CLUB (Hist Mys-Insp. Yashim-Istanbul-1842) – G+
Goodwin, Jason – 5th in series
Sarah Crichton Books/Macmillan, 2014

Friday, July 18, 2014

Any Other Name by Craig Johnson

First Sentence: Joseph Conrad said that if you wanted to know the age of the earth, look upon the sea in a storm; if you want to know the age of the Powder River country just be on the wrong side of a coal train.

Sheriff Walt Longmire is about to be a grandfather—very soon. He has promised his daughter, Cady, that he will be in Philadelphia for the baby’s birth. His old friend and former boss, Lucian Connally, asks him for a favor of going with him to an adjacent county and visit a woman whose daughter is missing. One missing woman leads to secrets, corruption and possible death.

Johnson is the epitome of a story teller. You are not a viewer; you are a participant. How does he do it? He starts by hooking you into the story from the very beginning by his strong voice and the ability to create a very visual sense of place. He makes you feel and see what he describes. His inclusion of spiritualism adds to the sense of place, the strength of the character and the story.

Part of that voice is his humor. It’s not situational, but dry and natural. His dialogue is among the best being written. Most of it is his characters. Walt is such an engaging character. He is truly the “long arm of the law” and well-liked by his colleagues. But he’s not infallible nor is he superman. 

The supporting characters of Henry Standing Bear and Undersheriff Vic Moretti, Lucian and Dog are significant to the story. Best of all, even the secondary characters are well developed. None of Johnson’s characters are flat or stereotypes. They all have a part to play in the effectiveness of the story. Even the weather becomes a character within the story.

Any Other Name” is an excellent book. It’s filled with tension and breath-catching suspense, but the pacing is perfect with enough pauses in the action for balance. Johnson is an author who both entertains you and educates you. There’s not a single criticism to be made. 

ANY OTHER NAME (Pol Proc-Sheriff Walt Longmire-Wyoming, Contemp) - Ex
Johnson, Craig – 10th in series
Viking, 2014

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Dark Winter by David Mark

First Sentence: The old man looks up, and for a moment it feels as though he is staring through the wrong end of a telescope.

An old man is telling a journalist the story of how he survived the sinking of a trawler thirty years ago. They take a break and he disappears only to be found dead later in a lifeboat off the coast of Finland. Det. Sgt. McAvoy is sitting at an outdoor café with his son when they hear panicked screaming from the church across the way. As he arrives, he barely being struck by a blade carried by a man all in black. What he does find is a young woman, hacked to death. 

It’s always a bit sad to be introduced to a character one likes only to have him be the first victim. We then segue to our protagonist is peacefully sitting in the town square only to have total chaos. 

McAvoy is an interesting character whose personality belies his physical appearance. He has a past with the force, resulting in some bitterness. He’s a wonderfully complex character. He’s a cop who really cares about his job… “…And he knows that the reason he has to catch the right man…It’s because somebody has to give a damn about the rules. Idealistic? Perhaps; but it makes him an interesting character. 

Mark provides some wonderfully evocative descriptions which provide a strong sense of place. “There are still proud homeowners here and there. Amid the black teeth and rotted gums of the burned-out and vandalized houses stands the occasional white-painted molar.”

The story had an excellent plot. As the pieces started fitting together, the pace increased and uncovering the villain and the motive keep the pace moving forward at a fast pace, but not without some introspection.

The Dark Water” is a very good debut book with an unusual protagonist who is interesting enough to what to know more.

THE DARK WINTER (Pol Proc-Det. Sgt. Aector McAvoy-Hull, England-Contemp) – VG+
Mark, David – 1st in series
A Plume Book, 2012

Saturday, July 12, 2014

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 intrigue 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 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