Thursday, February 26, 2015

Asylum by Jeannette de Beauvoir

First Sentence:  The woman sitting in the backseat shivered and drew the child closer to her side.
Four women have been murdered and left displayed on park benches in Montreal.  With it being an election year, this is not good PR for the tourist season.  The city’s mayor, asks Montreal's publicity director to act as liaison between his office and the police.  Although both agencies would like a quick and easy solution, Martine and Lt. Dec. Julian Fletcher suspect there is much more to this case relating back to a very dark time in Montreal’s past.
The book opens with diary passage from the past.  It is a very good, somewhat heartbreaking, chapter that compels you to keep reading. The diary is a second story line which is tantalizing and intriguing.  We don’t know how it fits, but we are certain we’ll find out.  And do we ever.  In fact, it provides for a very good twist at the end; one we should have seen coming, but didn’t.  It is very well done.
How nice to have characters with professions that are different from what we ordinarily find.  It is also refreshing to have a protagonist who is in a normal married relationship and a stepmother, with all both of those entail.   Martine, is the publicity director for the City of Montreal and her husband, Ivan, is the director of poker operation for the Montreal Casino.  It’s also nice to have a protagonist who decides to solve the murder on her own, but is brought into the investigation because of her job and is a somewhat reluctant investigator.  One can also appreciate that Det-Lt. Julian Fletcher, the young, wealthy, attractive detective with whom Martine works, is not a love interest for her. 
One can’t help but appreciate Martine’s humanity and empathy; worrying about one victim’s cat and, for another, “I wondered if she’d ever gotten her tomatoes, and what recipe she had needed them for.”
The author has a wonderful voice and dry sense of humor; “Every day is a special day for those of us whose professions are to provide fun and frolic to others.”  She is very good about explaining the structure of the Canadian government and its police force in a way that is clear to all readers, as well as translating the French phrases as she goes. 
De Beauvoir creates very good escalation of tension, as the story progresses, and Martine and Fletcher make the link between the victims through investigation, rather than coincidence.  The tension, and a way to bring normality to Martine’s life, is offset through food; and wonderful food it is…”Ivan was pan-frying flounder, I was cooking green beans in garlic butter…pouring some of my glass of Pouilly Fumé into the beans…”  The author also makes you think with excellent passages as to why it is important to seek justice for crimes from the past, Martine’s introspection about her faith, and her description of cemeteries. 
Up to page 263, the book would have received a rating of "Excellent."  It was compelling and exciting, with great characters.  Unfortunately, at that point it felt as though the author realized she only had a certain number of pages left to finish the story and things rather fell apart.  The character committed the sin of being TSTL (too stupid to live), and there were a couple major gaps in logic.  One understands why it was done, but it was still disappointing and could have been reconstructed to have achieved the same goal without the faux-pas.   It also felt there should have been a much stronger final, post-climactic scene. 
Finally, the curse of the portent…”Maybe you’re right, maybe there’s nothing here.”  But, as it turned out, there was.”  There was no need for the last sentence.  Why do authors do that?  Rather than build anticipation—we already know things will get worse; it’s a mystery!—they do just the opposite.  Portents are a quick jolt out of the story; they are unnecessary, and if anything, they are an implied insult to the reader as though we don’t understand the suspense will build and must be teased to continue reading.  There is never a need for portent in a story and de Beauvoir used them as liberally as some use salt on their food. 

Asylum” is, for the most part, a very good read and certainly not one I’d wanted to have missed.  No, it’s not perfect; yes, the author needs to hone her skills but I, for one, am very happy to have read it and look forward to another book, sans the weaknesses, in the future.

ASYLUM (Trad. Mys – Martine LeDuc – Montreal, Canada – Contemporary) – G+
De Beauvoir, Jeannette – 1st mystery
Minotaur Books; March, 2015

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Everyone in their Place by Maurizio de Giovanni

First Sentence:  The angel of death made its way through the festa, and nobody noticed.
The beautiful Duchess of Camparino has been found dead of a gunshot wound…or was she smothered?   It is up to the solitary Commissario Riccardi and his partner, Brigadier Maione, to solve the crime while dealing with their own personal issues.
There is nothing better than an opening which is both compelling and done with very evocative descriptions.  What is particularly clever is that throughout the story, we have the diary entries of a nameless character.  Just when we think we’ve identified the writer, another hint is dropped and we are sent off in a different direction. 
The cast of characters is extensive, yet each character is distinct.  The most intriguing is Riccardi, who has the gift, or curse, of “the Deed”; the ability to see those who have died by violence—accidents, murder, or suicide—in the last few second of the life and to hear their final words or thoughts. This ability isolates him from all but a few people.  At his side, and ever loyal, is Maione who is married with five children, Doctor Modo the medical examiner, and Rosa, Riccardi’s childhood nanny who still looks after him.
While the story is a police procedural, it is so much more than that.  It is a character-driven novel which is very much about relationships; love, insecurities, passions, and the acts to which one can be driven by love.   The author meshes the characters with the story so skillfully; we feel part of the community.  Each character is fully-developed and we have no desire to by-pass any of them.
Yes, the translation can feel awkward at times, particularly the dialogue, but that is easily forgiven. The quality and complexity of the story overcome any other shortcomings.

EveryoneIn Their Place” is a story of passion and human weaknesses.  There are no perfect characters; but each one is perfectly conveyed.  This is a series I highly recommend.

EVERYONE  IN THEIR PLACE (Pol Proc-Comm Riccardi/Brig. Maione-Naples, Itlay-1931) - VG
de Giovanni, Maurizio – 3rd in series
Europa Editions – Nov. 2013

Friday, February 20, 2015

Hell to Pay by Garry Disher

First Sentence:  On a Monday morning in September, three weeks into the job, the Tiverton policeman took a call from his sergeant:  shots fired on Bitter Wash Road.
Paul Hirschhausen (“Hirsch”) has been demoted to Constable, and sent to
back-of-beyond Australia where he’s mistrusted and berated by his “fellow” officers.  Internal Investigations in Adelaide is still after him, trying to convict him of something and willing to plant evidence to do it.  In the meantime, even in his remote locate, there are crimes to be solved, including the body of a 16-year-old girl found by the side of the road.
If one ever read Rhys Bowen’s “Hamish Macbeth” series, Hirsch’s posting will remind one of that.  However, that is the only similarity.  Disher takes us about as far as possible from Hamish’s Scotland, down to Southern Australia, but acquaints us with the area with wonderfully visual descriptions…”October gathered its skirts and raced past.”
Disher provides very good back story on Hirsch.  The inclusion of his inquest was both interesting, but allows for his speculation as to why some cops go bad.  We also see the frustration of a god cop working for, and with, bad cops; the blindness of “the thin blue line, and how corrupting that can be.  On the other hand, it is interesting to see the diversity of calls to which a rural cop must respond and the relationship he must maintain with the community.
Disher does a wonderful job building up the suspense and tension.  One can’t help but appreciate the source from which Hirsch’s rescue comes.
Hell toPay” is an excellent read; an extremely well-written book dealing with very timely issues.

HELL TO PAY (Pol Proc – Const. Paul Hirschhausen-Adelaide, Australia-Contemp) - Ex
Disher, Garry – Standalone
Soho Crime – June, 2014

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Silence the Dead by Jack Fredrickson

First Sentence:  Betty Jo Dean lay as she had for over thirty years, shrouded in black vinyl, forever seventeen.
In 1982, Jonah Ridy, a reporter for the Chicago Sun Times, is given the chance to restore his reputation as an investigative journalist by travelling to a small town for a follow-up piece about a man who has been shot and whose girlfriend is missing.  In spite of his very cold reception, he perseveres, even though people around him start dying.  One death finally causes him to walk away.  Thirty-years later, the town has a new mayor, an outsider.  The more he learns about the town’s secrets, the more determined he is to find the answers—no matter the cost.
This is a story of three parts, each completely engrossing.  In the first part, we meet Betty Jo Dean.  Fredrickson makes us feel her fear and desperation.  No mater her background, we empathize with her.  In the second part, we come to know Jonah Ridy.  We want him to be redeemed and to solve the mystery, but we greatly fear for him.  In the third, and major section of the story, we have Mayor Mac Bassett who, with the support of his ex-wife, waitress and others, is determined to find the answers.  Fredrickson does a masterful job of introducing us to Mac and establishing his personality, thereby explaining his actions.
The sign of a really good story is when you become so involved and invested in one time period; you are started when there is a shift.  You have to trust that the author will bring the parts together so that it all makes sense.  Frederickson definitely achieved that.
The only very, very slight flaw to the book was having a prologue.  Rather than having that section at the beginning, it would have been better to leave it only within the relevant section of the story.  Having the prologue wasn’t really necessary and diminished the impact of the information when it did appear later.  The second, itty-bitty criticism is that the final status of the main characters was a bit twee, but perhaps that’s more a reaction of jealousy.
There are some authors one discovers, and enjoys, but feels their writing could be so much “more.”  This book is definitely the “more."  This book is the book from Fredrickson for which I’ve been waiting.
Silencethe Dead” is very well plotted, without any reliance on coincidences. Everything is rationally, logically, or emotionally based and appropriate.  The forensic information is critical, well-explained, and fascinating.  The level of suspense is ratcheted up at a steady pace with excellent twists right up to the very end.  Highly Recommended.

SILENCE THE DEAD (Trad Myst – Jonah Ridl/Mac Basset – Illinois – 1982/Contemp) – VG+
Fredrickson, Jack –Standalone
Severn House, January 2015

Monday, February 16, 2015

31 Bond Street by Ellen Horan

First Sentence:  For a boy who watched boats, his room was the perfect perch.

The brutal murder of well-to-do dentist, Dr. Burdell, immediately places his housekeeper, Emma Cunningham as the prime suspect.  Attorney Henry Clinton parts ways with his respected law partner and, with the support of his wife and the help of others, sets out to prove Emma’s innocence. 

From a very good opening which establishes the sense of time place the impact of the weather and the demeanor of the characters, this compelling story proved very difficult to put down, even for meals and life’s necessities.  Horan provides a fascinating look at the justice system and New York City during this period leading up to the Civil War when free blacks in the North were being kidnapped and sold into slavery in the South.  It is always interesting to gain a picture of society live, and the concerns of women; the workings of the house and meals of the period.  But it is as equally interesting look at investigative methods, techniques and forensics of the time.
The story is told in duality; something which can be awkward as one thread is often stronger/more interesting than the other.  That is not the case here.  One thread begins with the crimes and moves through the trial, while the other provides the background of the characters leading up to the crime.  Ms. Horan does a remarkable job of keeping both stories equally fascinating and distinct.  At no point does one wish to get through the current segment into order to return to the other thread.  That is very rare indeed and not only does each thread holds its own, but the suspense contained within each builds at an equal pace.  That exhibits remarkable skill by the writer.
While many legal thrillers today spend more time being thrillers, this really does focus on the legal process of the time, yet it is driven by the characters who are fully developed and alive.  There was not a superfluous character in the story; each added weight and merit.  In some ways, one could say the story has two villains and two victims, both being the same characters at different times.  The heroes, if you will, are quite unexpected and unusual. 
The plot is excellent with very effective twists, plenty of suspense and a dash of tragedy.  The author paints visual pictures that take the reader through all the story’s locals both attractive and foul.  There is an unexpected revelation and even unanticipated motive. 
While I don’t usually care for books based on a true crime, “31 Bond Street” is an excellent book with exceptional writing. 

31 BOND STREET (Hist Mys-Emma Cunningham-NYC-1857) – Ex
Horan, Ellen – 1st book
Harper Perennial, ©2011

The Necklace Affair by Ashley Gardiner

First Sentence:  On an evening in late March 1917, I climbed to the third floor of Lucius Grenville’s Grosvenor Street house in search of peace, and found a lady weeping instead.
A society matron implores Captain Lacey to locate her missing necklace in order to provide the innocence of her maid.  With the help of his friends, Lady Breckenridge, Lucius Grenville and two of his staff, the path leads them to scandals and secrets from the past, as well as in competition with the dangerous criminal, James Denis.
Followers of this wonderful series will appreciate this ten-chapter novella, set between “The Sudbury School Murders” and “A Body in Berkeley Square.   However, this story is also an excellent introduction for new readers.
Gardner absolutely knows how to capture the reader’s attention from the very beginning.  She does an excellent job of capturing the flavor of speech from the period, without it being overdone, and the wry humor is delightful.  The descriptions of meals are nearly painful to read due to their lusciousness and ability to leave one nearly desperate to partake. 
Gardner is particularly adept at providing background details of each character, almost without seeming to.  We even learn the particulars of Lacey’s past injuries.  The characters are fascinating, particularly with the contrast of light—Granville—and dark—Denis.  One can’t help but enjoy the relationship between Lacy and Lady Breckenridge. Marianne is a treat and adds a wonderful twist to the plot
The Necklace Affair” is so well done with a very good plot twist and justice being served in a most satisfactory manner.

In addition to the stand-alone ebook, you may also obtain the story in the paperback or ebook antohology "The Necklace Affair:  and Other Stories."

THE NECKLACE AFFAIR (Hist Myst – Captain Lacey – London  - 1817/Regency) - Ex
Gardner, Ashley – Early in the series yet only recently published
Amazon Digital Services, Inc. – January 2014

Friday, February 13, 2015

Red Eye by Dennis Lehane and Michael Connelly

First Sentence:  As a practice, Harry Bosch did his best to Stay out of Tunnels but as he came out of Logan Airport, a tunnel was unavoidable—either the Ted Williams or the Sumner, take your pick.
Los Angeles detective Harry Bosch is way outside his patch and finds himself traveling to Boston--Jamaica Plain to be exact--where he is tracking down the suspect in a 15-year-old murder.   He is not alone, however, and finds himself being watched by local P.I. Patrick Kenzie who is looking into the disappearance of a seventh-grade girl.  It only makes sense for LA and Boston to join forces.
It’s hard to beat having two of our finest procedural authors join forces.  They both have such wonderful and distinctive voices.  It’s delightful having Bosch out of his comfort zone…”The passage was wall to wall with cars and trucks—a river of steel under the river of water, only one of them flowing at the moment.”
The meeting of the two characters is a very good exchange of “I’ll show you mine..” with good contracts between the LA and Boston styles.
RedEye” is an excellent collaboration from two very fine authors, with very good suspense and a great last line. 

"Red Eye" is also available as part of the anthology "Face Off" with stories from some of today's best mystery authors.

RED EYE (Pol Proc/PI – Patrick Kenzie/Harry Bosch – Boston – Contemp-2005) – Ex
Lehane, Dennis / Michael Connelly – Original Short eStory available through Amazon Kindle
Simon & Schuster – November, 2014 

Monday, February 9, 2015

Falling in Love by Donna Leon

First Sentence:  The woman knelt over her lover, her face, her entire body, stiff with terror, staring at the blood on her hand.
Flavia Petrelli, the operatic soprano from “Death at La Fenice” has returned to Venice, singing the lead in “Tosca.”  Although is it usually flattering to receive flowers, an anonymous fan seems to be following Flavia around Europe, sending her increasing quantities of yellow roses.  Although it’s disturbing, things change when a young singer, with whom Flavia spoke, is brutally attacked.
Leon opens the story in a way that conveys drama and excitement and, without an obvious portent, quickly establishes that sense of “something wicked this way comes.”
Leon has such a wonderful voice and subtle humor.  When referring to Brunetti’s mother-in-law … ”The fact that she did not mention the year of that debut only reminded Brunetti that the Contessa’s family had contributed a large number of diplomats to both the Vatican and the Italian state.”
The characters come alive.  One cannot help but admire, and perhaps envy a bit, the relationship Brunetti has with his family.  Not only is it enjoyable to have him be happily married, but scenes with his family are always natural and delightful.  One also sees his pride at being a Venetian.  On the other hand, Signorina Elettra, secretary to Brunetti’s boss, is intriguing and enigmatic which only adds to her appeal.  For those who read Leon’s first book, “Death at La Fenice,” it is nice to see one of the characters return.  For those who did not, there is no feeling of information missing. 
The plot is well-paced and fascinating in its addressing the subject of fans, particularly obsessive fans; the physiology of fandom and the effect being stalked has on the victim. 
Falling in Love” is yet another excellent book from Ms. Leon.  The sense of threat and danger is subtle, but very well done.

FALLING IN LOVE (Pol. Proc – Comm. Guido Brunetti – Venice, Italy – Contemp) – VG+
Leon, Donna - 24th in series
Atlantic Monthly Press – April, 2015

Thursday, February 5, 2015

The Circle by Peter Lovesey

First Sentence:  The night of the first murder.   
At the urging of his daughter, amateur poet Bob Naylor joins a local writers circle.  At the previous meeting, the group was addressed by a vanity-press publisher who’d come to  critique their work; some favorably, most not.  The publisher is killed in an arson fire and  Maurice, the group’s leader, becomes the prime suspect.  Because Bob is new and not a suspect, he is recruited to prove Maurice’s innocence, almost losing his own life in the  process.  Because the local police aren’t making any progress, Inspector Henrietta Mallin is sent in to solve the case.
Now here’s an opening to capture one’s attention.  It definitely compels you to read on. Lovesey writes wonderful dialogue with a very natural flow and a fine element of subtle humor…”Come and meet the chair.”  “Why?  Is it special?”  “Chairman.”  “Ah.”
The members of the writing circle are a true delight and so recognizable.  One can’t help but like Bob and he holds the first portion of the story together very well.  One does appreciate the cameo of Peter Diamond as a segue to introducing Insp. Mallin.  That said, “Hen” Mallin is a very memorable protagonist being a cigar-smoking, no-nonsense character. 
The Circle” is an unusual police procedural, but very cleverly plotted with plot twists, plenty of suspects and very good red herrings.  It’s somewhat reminiscent of “Midsomer Murders” and definitely keeps one involved right to the end.

THE CIRCLE (Pol Proc - Insp. Henrietta Mallin - Chichester, England - Contemp) - VG
Lovesey, Peter – 1st in series
Soho Crime – June 2005

Monday, February 2, 2015

The Curious Case of the Copper Corpse by Alan Bradley

First Sentence:  I was peering through the microscope at the tooth of an adder I had captured behind the coach house that very morning after church, when there came a light knock at the laboratory door.
It’s not every day Flavia is summoned to her father’s old school.  Upon arriving, she finds a terrified boy and a bathtub containing a naked man covered in copper.  It’s time for Flavia to get to work.
Bradley’s wonderful descriptions and excellent dialogue explain exactly why one can’t help but love Flavia.  From her anthropomorphism of her bicycle, to her brilliance and logic, there is something truly wonderful about this character.  She may be a fictional character, but Flavia represents that to which a young girl can aspire…without the poisons and bodies, however.
The Curious Case of the Copper Corpse” is a delightful, perfect amuse bouche until the next full installment of Flavia is available.

THE CURIOUS CASE OF THE COPPER CORPSE (Myst/SS – Flavia de Luce – England – Contemp) – Ex
Bradley, Alan – ebook Short Story
Bantam, Dec, 2014