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