Saturday, December 24, 2016

Ash Island by Barry Maitland

First Sentence:  On a November night in 2013, two kilometers off the coast of New South Wales, a helicopter rises from the deck of a Chinese bulk carrier ship.
Det. Sgt. Harry Belltree has been reassigned to Newcastle, Australia.  With him is his wife, pregnant and blinded from an auto accident which also killed his parents.  Yet on the job, a corpse has been found, which turns out to be one of many and, Harry suspect, related to the car accident.
Maitland does provide excellent descriptions and analogies—“The boom of the surf rises up to her like the rhythmic chant of some primeval chorus, the chorus of the dead.”
This is definitely the second of a trilogy, as there are a lot of references to past events.  Maitland does try to catch new readers up, but there are times when it is rather frustrating for those who start with this book.
For a cop, Harry certainly plays fast and loose with the law.  However, there is some very good suspense.
By far, the female characters are the strength of the story, particularly Harry’s wife, Jenny.  The journalist, Kelly, is also interesting, even though she does commit the classic TSTL (too stupid to live) act.  Sadly, Harry was a difficult character with whom to connect. And yes, sadly, there is a completely unnecessary portent.
Ash Island” was an okay read.  The dialogue was rather flat, and one felt a bit manipulated knowing it was necessary to read all three books in order to know the full story.

ASH ISLAND (Pol Proc-Sgt. Harry Belltree-Newcastle, Australia-Contemp) – Okay     
      Maitland, Barry – 2nd of Trilogy
Minotaur Books, Nov 2016

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

A Christmas Message by Anne Perry

First Sentence:  Vespasia stood at the long, open window of her hotel bedroom and gazed across the rooftops of the city toward the western sky.

Lady Vespasia and her new husband, Victor Narraway, are traveling to the Holy Land for Christmas.  At their hotel in Jaffa, an elderly man is murdered over an ancient piece of torn parchment.  Vespasia and Narraway feel compelled to finish his mission and deliver the piece to Jerusalem.  On their journey, they meet someone with a second piece of the document and are threatened by a shadowy figure.  Can they complete their journey and reunite the pieces of the document?
There is so much for one to admire about Perry’s writing, but most of all, it is her ability to make one think—“How much is any place seen through the lens of one’s imagination, colored by the dreams one has of it and of the events that have happened there?”  She is one writer where I find myself making note of a huge number of passages—“One should be growing, changing, learning forever.  Ideas in the mind were like the blood in the veins.  The heart that does not beat is dying.”
Vespasia is one of those characters one would love to know, or even better, to be, in real life.  She has an intellect, independence, and strength that is remarkable and admirable—“Because to be alive is risk; to care is to be vulnerable.  The only safety there is lies in doing your best, being the bravest and most generous you can.”  It is nice to learn more of her history.
A Christmas Message” may be one of Perry’s weakest in terms of plot, but is still worth reading for the considerations it inspires in the reader.

A CHRISTMAS MESSAGE (HIST-Vespasia and Narraway- Holy Land – 1900) - Okay
      Perry, Anne – 14th Christmas Novelette
      Ballentine Books, Nov 2016

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Time of Departure by Douglas Schofield

First Sentence:  My darling daughter, This is your mother’s story.
Claire Talbot, Florida state prosecutor, has been newly promoted to Felony Division Chief.  The unearthing of two skeletons by a construction crew reopens a case that happened before she was born; a string of abductions. But who exactly is retired cop Marc Hastings?  Not only did he work the old case, but he seems to know things about Claire that  are beyond a stranger’s knowing.  Can they solve the old case?  What happens when Claire learns the link to her past?
There is nothing quite like starting off with a healthy dose of creepiness, and Schofield definitely provides it.  He also writes, initially, in short, very intriguing chapters that keep one reading way into the late night.
Schofield is good at instilling questions in your mind. He is as good at keeping the reader off-balance, as does one of the protagonists to the other.  Yet, one is completely intrigued by all the characters, particularly Claire.  
The plot is a cracker.  It takes until about half-way through to have even a hint of where you are going.  Rather than being frustrating, one finds oneself smiling, anxious to continue the journey.
There are amazing wrinkles to the plot that are so well done.  One definitely has to pay attention.  On the informative side, there is very interesting information on geographic profiling.
Time of Departure” does have a paranormal factor to it, but it’s also a book that leaves you saying “Wow!”.  It is so well done.  What is amazing is that the author never tries to explain the events, but you don’t care.  The story is so effective you simply keep turning the pages.

TIME OF DEPARTURE (Susp/Para-Claire Talbot-Florida-Contemp) – Ex
      Schofield, Douglas - Standalone
      Minotaur, Nov 2016

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The Angel by M.J. Trow

First Sentence:  It wasn’t often James Batchelor had the house to himself, but just sometimes he could persuade Matthew Grand that the Muse must take precedence over finding lost dogs and other footling pursuits.
Private enquiry agents, Matthew Grand, a former Union Calvary officer, and former British journalist James Batchelor, are approached by well-known journalist George Sala who wishes to employ them.  Author Charles Dickens has died of an alleged stroke.  Sala believes he was murdered.  Is he right?

It is not often one finds oneself chuckling through the beginning of an historical mystery.  Yet the housekeeper of Batchelor, whose recent weight gain is expressed in stones, and Grand, with his weight gain conveyed in pounds, prompts just that reaction—‘He’s a bit…Blobby.’ ‘Mrs Rackstraw! That’s not a polite way to describe our guests.’ ‘No, but you wanted to know…’ 
Trow’s use of language is such a pleasure to read—“…Frederick Chapman came in. No one knew of Emmeline Jone’s passion, except perhaps the post boy; all of the editors, sub- and copy-; the woman who ‘did’ and brought their tea; and Mrs. Chapman, who found it all rather hilarious.”—as well as his inclusion of historic individuals in realistic roles.  And, again, this use of humor makes this delightful to read.
The plot continually builds with the addition of other deaths which keeps the mystery going.  However, it is attention to the social issues of the period which significantly adds to one's interest.  Very Dickens.
The Angel” is an unexpected and delightful tale with twists, turns and intriguing suppositions over the death of Charles Dickens. 

THE ANGEL (Hist Mys-Grant/Batchelor-England-1870) – G+
      Trow, M.J. – 4th in series
      Severn House, Nov 2016

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Skin and Bone by Robin Blake

First Sentence:  It was a day on which the sun was a disc of polished brass, and flocks of  white cloud chased each other cheerfully across a blue field of sky; the perfect September afternoon for a game of bowls.

      When the body of a newborn is found in one of the tannery skinning pits, it is up to Coroner Titus Cragg, and his friend physician Luke Fidelis, to determine if the infant had died before or after birth, who was the mother, and who was responsible.  The first inquest is interrupted by a near-fatal fire, after which Cragg is fired from his post.  It’s clear someone doesn’t want the truth to be known.

      The story begins with a very effective contrast from a pleasant game of bowls, to the rank odor of the tannery, to the pronouncement of finding the body of a newborn.

      Blake provides a fascinating and frightening look at how medicine was practiced by traditional practitioners.  We have the contrast of Dr. Harrod, who believes in astrology—“A thirteenth child born under Virgo.  She is full of dread.”—and judging an illness by the visage of the person—“Touch it?  Certainly not, Titus….Troubled spirits can be transferred in that way.”--, and Dr. Fidelis, who believes in science, and the advances in forensic medicine—“Of course, he would know nothing of the…lung-in-water test. … It is the test for stillbirth that they do at St. Thomas’s Hospital in London.”

      Cragg is a very likable character.  He takes his position very seriously, believes in justice tempered by mercy, and loves literature. The inclusion of literary references from “The Fable of Bees” and “Don Quixote” provide a sense of reality to the characters.  Cragg’s relation with his wife is lovely and adds charm to the story.  One can particularly appreciate Lizzie’s outrage that a woman whose child is stillborn, rather than miscarried, would be tried for murder.  She also provides a woman’s observation and information to events, particularly during a time when men didn’t have casual conversations with females with whom they weren’t well acquainted.

      Although the author does include one completely unnecessary portent, the formality of the dialogue creates a sense of the period without trying to replicate it—“What was an utter triviality a hundred years ago may be an utter gravity now.”  True fans of Agatha Christie might find that Cragg and Fidelis remind them, somewhat, of Harley Quinn and Mr. Satterwaite.  Or not.

      “Skin and Bone” is a well-done historical reminding us that greed and politics are as old as time.  The story does have a surprising climax and a very gratifying ending.

SKIN AND BONE (Hist Mys-Cragg/Fidelis-England-1743/Georgian) – G+
      Blake, Robin – 4th in series
      Minotaur Books – Oct 2016

Friday, December 2, 2016

Rogue Island by Bruce DeSilva

First Sentence:  A plow had buried the hydrant under five feet of snow, and it took the crew of Engine Company No. 6 nearly fifteen minutes to find it and dig it out.
Newspaperman Liam Mulligan is a true son on Providence, RI.  His beat isn’t the elite.  It’s the crooks, mobsters, and hookers, as well as the police and fire departments. Now, someone is starting fires in his old neighborhood.  First, it’s just empty buildings.  Until it’s not.  Mulligan wants to know who, and what, is behind it.  Trying to get the answers may cost him his life.
DeSilva’s opening is not only heartbreaking, but the implications are terrifying.  Seven arson fires with a half-mile in three months is no accident. 
It’s hard to tell about other places, but if one is from the East Coast--meaning from New Jersey to Boston’s North Shore--this book is very recognizable, and very effective.  Providence is a small, tight community, especially amongst those who have been there for generations, and you feel that. “When a Rhode Islander needs something he can’t flat out steal, there are two ways to get it.  …Chances are, in a state this small, you know somebody who can help. … No? Then you have the option of offering a small gratuity.  Graft, Rhode Island’s leading service industry, is widely misunderstood by citizens of states you can’t stroll across on your lunch break.  Those of us who live here know that it comes in two varieties, good and bad, just like cholesterol.”  
DeSilva’s characters are very real.  There are good guys, bad guys, and many who are varying shades of gray.  Mulligan, Rosie, the first female fire chief, and Edward Anthony Mason IV, son of the newspaper’s owner and referred to as “Thanks-Dad” by Mulligan, are definitely the good guys.  You enjoy them and worry about them.  DeSilva’s prognostication of the newspaper industry is depressing, yet one we’ve come to see be true. 
The language is what one would expect to find among people of this rank so if one is profanity-adverse, this is not the book for you.  However, if you like sarcasm and well-done narration that occasionally makes you chuckle, one should enjoy this.   A side note is that DeSilva incorporates his wife’s poem and his daughter’s name into the story.  Yes, it does pay to read the author notes.
DeSilva’s descriptions are so effective—“I heard the fire before I felt it, the flames sounding like a thousand flags snapping in the wind.  I felt it before I saw it, the head like a backhand slap from the devil.”  History buffs will appreciate the historical information that runs through the story.
Rogue Island” has humor and a bit of romance, but the underlying crimes are very serious and have heart-breaking consequences.  In the end, it is a story of trust, betrayal and justice, realized in an unorthodox way.

ROGUE ISLAND (Lic Inv/Jour-Liam Mulligan- Providence, RI-Contemp) – G+
      DeSilva, Bruce – 1st in series
      Forge – 2010

Monday, November 28, 2016

A Shameful Murder by Cora Harrison

First Sentence:  It was Reverend Mother Aquinas who found the body of the dead girl.
On the night of the exclusive Merchant’s Ball, the body of a young woman, dressed in satin and seemingly from the upper class, is found washed up by one of the frequent floods of the River Lee.  The Reverend Mother and young Sergeant Cashman believe she has been murdered.  Surprised by how little grief her father and brother show, there are other questions that arise causing the nun, policeman, an enlightened physician, and a journalist for Republican Party to join forces in looking for answers.
Reverend Mother is someone one can’t help but like from the very beginning.  She is in her 70s, and is someone who has lived a life about which one learns throughout the story.  She is sharp, and good at knowing, and managing, people.  Her sister, Lucy, is delightful and plays an important role.
The time setting provides a very interesting look at a time of change.  This is the first year of a very uneasy independence from English rule.  Yet it is also appalling to realize what men, especially those with money and power, could do to wives they no longer wanted—“Yes, it’s easy enough to have someone shut up in an asylum – if you’ve got the money, and got the power.  Do you know two out of three inhabitants of the asylum are women and do you know the diagnosis that is down for most of them - hysteria – and what’s hysteria?  You tell me that. …I can’t because it isn’t a disease.”
The plot is very well done, with very effective twists.  Between the flooding, raids by the Republicans, and the killer, Harrison builds suspense extremely well.  One can really appreciate all the information detail Harrison includes in the story.  Although the frequent references to the rising water and flooding seem tiresome at times, it is an important part of the sense of place, and an integral element to the story.
A Shameful Murder” is well-plotted, has excellent characters, a villain one does not expect and a very gratifying ending.  It’s nice to see Ms. Harrison branch into a new, potentially very good, series.

A SHAMEFUL MURDER (Hist Mys-Rev. Mother Aquinas-Cork, Island-1923) - VG
      Harrison, Cora – 1st in series
      Severn House – May 2016

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

The Professionals by Owen Laukkanen

First Sentence:  Martin Warner checked his watch as the train slowed for Highland Park.
Four former college students decide to make their fortunes through kidnapping bankers in a way that the police won’t be involved.  It works well, until they kill one mark, the husband of a mobster.  Now they have both the mob and the FBI hunting them down.
Sometimes a debut book can be enjoyable, yet somewhat painful to read.  This was such a book.
The premise was actually quite clever, although not recommended as an employment opportunity.  The four students were appropriately naive and, as often happen in a group, one makes a disastrous decision that changes the course of everything.  The result is going stupid, but not violent crimes, to the criminals being hunted.  This does increase a drastic increase in the tension and suspense of the story, yet you also know that thinks cannot possibly end well.
There is a nice reversal of roles; the male cop being afraid to fly, while the female calms him down; the male being a local cop—“Police work.  Sometimes it made Stevens want to be a long-haul trucker.”-- the female is an FBI officer; the male having an understanding wife, whereas the female does not. 
One, however, really has to question whether the FBI fly their own agents all around the country, rather than use local agents in each location, as well as a local cop.  And would a local cop really be released from all his other cases—I just don’t believe they only work one case at a time—to fly around with the FBI.  Fiction is great, but some semblance of reality is also nice.
The Professionals” has a plot that really is far-fetched and elements, and actions, which are hard to believe.  I mean, really hard!  Still, it is an exciting book with a twisty plot and action that keeps one reading all the way to the end.  
THE PROFESSIONALS (Pol Proc-Stevens/Windermere-Illinois-Contemp) – Okay
      Laukkanen, Owen – 1st in series
      G.P. Putnam & Sons – Oct 2012

Monday, November 14, 2016

The Racketeer by John Grisham

First Sentence:  I am a lawyer, and I am in prison.
The opening line not only captures our attention, but is a great hook.  How could one not read one from there?           
One of the things that makes reading Grisham so interesting is not only his obvious knowledge of the law, but inclusion of factual people, events and cases.  However, Grisham can also infuriate one, not by his writing, but by the facts he includes—“An audit last year revealed that the Bureau of prisons had purchased, for “administrative use,” four thousands chairs at $800 per chair.  The same manufacturer sold the same chair at wholesale for $79.”
Reading Grisham provides an eye-opening look at our “justice” system, and it’s not pretty. One quickly realizes that is no “justice” in our justice system.
Malcolm is such a well-constructed character.  He is bright, clever, and takes the reader on a very twisty ride.  What is especially interesting is that he’s really neither a good- or bad-guy, and neither are those chasing him.  Malcolm is someone who knows how the system worked and played it like a Stradivarius.  However, he’s not a character one particularly likes even though, in essence, he hasn’t done anything wrong.
The Racketeer” is a very cleverly written puzzle.  One must pay attention to the details, particularly toward the end.  It may not be Grisham’s best book, but it is one that keeps you reading.

THE RACKETEER (Legal Thriller-Malcolm Bannister-Contemp) – Okay
      Grisham, John – Standalone
      Doubleday – Oct 2012

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Blue Madonna by James R. Benn

First Sentence:  It was a nice day for a drive.

Captain Billy Boyle is court-marshaled, busted down to Private, and sentenced to three months hard labor.  But it’s all a ruse in order to get Billy behind enemy lines to rescue an Allied soldier currently at a not-so-very “safe house” in France.   Not only do they have to worry about the Germans, but someone is killing the soldiers housed there.
What an effective way to start a story.  Even though you suspect it’s a setup, and you don’t know where the story is going, you definitely want to find out.
Sudden bursts of action keep things exciting, but they are nicely offset by things such things as learning more about the background of Kaz, a wealthy man, who had gone to England to study, whose Polish family had been wiped out by the Nazis, now working with the American Army and living at the Dorchester Hotel in London.
Benn does an excellent job conveying the danger of situation, and the risky and important role women played during the war.  These weren’t clerks in safe offices, but resistance fighters working to defeat the Germans.  Add in a murder into the midst, and Billy’s history as a Boston cop comes into play with time to investigate as we witness the inhumanity of the SS.
Pacing is one of Benn’s many strengths, along with plotting.  You are drawn into the story and kept there, needing to know what happens next.  The balance between the hunt for a killer within their midst, while surviving the danger from the war provides a constant tension with highs and lows. 
The characters are so very real and interesting.  Benn’s voice, through Billy, is so well done—“As I stepped over the threshold, I had a momentary feeling of terror as I recalled a story that had scared the hell out of me as a kid.  “The Cask of Amontillado,” about a guy who was tricked into entering a basement niche and walled up inside.  Thanks a lot, Edgar Allen Poe.”  The Count is a wonderful character brought into this book.  He is very much a representative of that which is good about nobility; a guardian of centuries of history for his family, which region, and his country, but he is also a father.
Blue Madonna” has an excellent triple climax.  The book is suspenseful, dramatic, and a bit terrible.  There are well-done plot twists, and the reader is left with a definite need for the next book.

BLUE MADONNA (Hist Mys-Billy Boyle-France-WWII/1944) - Ex
      Benn, James R. – 11th in series
      Soho Crime – Sept 2016

Monday, November 7, 2016

Daisy in Chains by Sharon Bolton

First Sentence: My love, When I think of the moments that have given me greatest pleasure:  scaling an impossible rock face, watching the moon over the ocean on Christmas morning, the first time my dog saw snow – all of them pale beside the second I looked into your eyes and knew that you loved me.
Maggie Rose is a defense attorney specializing in overturning convictions and writing true-crime books.  Hamish Wolfe is serving time for the deaths of three, possibly four, women.  As do all prisoners, he claims he is innocent, but he, and his supporters, wants Maggie to re-investigate his case, while D.S. Pete Weston, the arresting officer, strongly advises her against it.  Maggie decides to take a look, but does it put her at risk?
It’s interesting that the title doesn’t mean what you’d expect, but that doesn’t mean the opening is any less dramatic. 
Bolton excels at creating strong, independent and unusual protagonists.  These are not perfect women, but women with baggage; their own issues from the past with which they are trying to deal.  They are not characters one would want to emulate, but ones who are compelling, and about whom one wants to know more.
The information as to why women form relationships with prisoners, including those they’ve never met, is fascinating.  It is clear Bolton has done extensive research for this book, including on street fighting.  There is also a very interesting guide on how to disappear, just in case one ever needs it.
There are issues, however, with the structure and the plot, and this criticism comes from one who has really loved Bolton’s previous books.  There was way too much reliance on epistolary information.  The use of letters, manuscript drafts, etc. can be interesting.  However, it can also, as it did in this case, seem as though it’s filler for not being certain how to move the plot forward.  The other problem was projection.  There is nothing more disappointing than figuring out the end when one is half-way through and finding out you are correct. 
Daisy in Chains” is not Bolton’s best work.  That would be “Little Black Lies,” which I highly recommend.  However, it does have an effective plot twist, and the revelation is well-done, even if one does already suspect, but the final ending has become cliché.  Still, it’s interesting enough to read to the end, just to be certain.

DAISY IN CHAINS (Suspense-Maggie Rose-England-Contemp) – Okay
      Bolton, Sharon - Standalone
      Minotaur Books – Sept 2016

Monday, October 31, 2016

Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew'd by Alan Bradley

First Sentence:  The winter rain slashes at my face like icy razor blades, but I don’t care.
Flavia returns from Canada to find her father is in the hospital unable to have visitors, and only Dogger, family employee, to greet her return.   Unable to visit her father, and to keep busy, Flavia runs an errand for the Vicar’s wife, but finds the reclusive woodcarver’s body hanging upside down on the back of his bedroom door, with only a cat to keep him company.
What an intriguing opening.  Even with a sense of threat, one has to smile at the anthropomorphizing of her bicycle—“Gladys’s wheels groan horribly beneath us.  The biting cold has penetrated her steel cones and seized the tendons of her brake cables.” 
It’s also nice to have a brief introduction to the members of her family.  Bradley conveys emotions so well; Flavia’s hopefulness, her restraint and regret, and finally, her concern and guilt.  One can’t help but love Dogger, the family's handyman, as he is the one person who seems to really care for, and understand, Flavia.
Flavia makes one stop, wonder, and research—“The human brain performs more efficiently when taking in humid air than it does in hot or cold dry weather.”  Hmmm.  Twelve-year-old Flavia is unique.  One either loves her, or is terrified and repulsed by her.  She has clearly spent much of her life being bullied, and has found her own way of surviving within her family.  Either way, she is a curious and unique character—“I’m sorry if I seem to digress, but that is what I was thinking at the moment.  It’s the way my mind works.  Things are not the same in real life as they are in, for instance, the fictional world of Sherlock Holmes.”
Bradley has such a wonderful voice and use of language—“I know that there are people who are as barmy about books as Father is about postage stamps.  My sister Daffy, for instance, can prattle on about flyleaves,  colophons, and first editions not only until the cows have come home, but until they have put on their nightcaps, gone to bed, switched off the lights, and begun snoring in their cowsheds.”  The references to actual historical figures provide a sense of time and social strata.       
Flavia is a combination of amazing self-confidence and a audacity, underpinned by her intelligence, imagination and love of learning—“The falling snow and half-light of the low-hanging, leaden sky made the street seems as if it were located in some far-off mythical underground kingdom, and I wouldn’t have been at all surprised to see Dante, or even old Odysseus himself…”  Yet for all her eccentricity, she understands what it is to be bullied, and “adopts” fellow outsiders, not always wisely.
Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew’dhas an excellent twist, and such a clever plot; so much so that we only realize it as it unfolds.  Flavia is, indeed, a unique and wonderful character.

THRICE THE BRINDED CAT HATH MEW’D (Trad Mys-Flava de Luce-England-1950s) – VG
      Bradley, Alan – 8th in series

      Delacorte Press – Sept 2016

Thursday, October 27, 2016

False Positive by Andrew Grant

First Sentence: “I lied.”
Det. Cooper Devereaux has been called back from suspension to partner with relative newcomer Jan Loflin, investigating the disappearance of a 7-year-old boy.  Did the parents murder the boy?  If he was kidnapped, why have there been no ransom demands?  While the case brings up events in Devereaux’s own past, Loflin seems to be investigating both the case, and her partner.
The book starts with very short chapters that jump between characters, and file information meant to discredit Devereaux that has been sent to Loflin. There are also cliff-hanger chapter endings.  Fortunately, the last does improve as we get further into the story.
The characters are interesting; Devereaux who carries a lot of past around with him, Loflin whose motives are suspect.  They are an interesting combination, but somewhat stereotypical.  While Jan seems to be a “by-the-book” cop, Devereaux style is more “what book?”.  However, Jan’s insecurity and gullibility does become a big tiresome until you understand what motivates it.  Each develops and becomes both more complex, and more interesting, as they story progresses.  One can appreciate who Devereaux’ PDST is woven thru the story.

Devereaux is very much in the macho-man, marches to his own drummer, style of protagonist that men might like to be, and women think they'd like to find...but only for a short time if one were honest.  There are aspects of him to be admired, but others at which one is inclined to roll the eyes.  But, hey; that's what fiction's for.  
Grant does have a good voice—“Devereaux had always thought of the fourth floor conference room as the place where enthusiasm went to die.”  He also does do a very good job of conveying the stress under which the parents of a missing child would be.
False Positive” is an exciting read, full of wicked twists all the way to the end, although the final twist was rather predictable.  Still, if you’re looking for an escapist read for a weekend, or airplane trip, here it is. 

 FALSE POSITIVE (Pol Proc-Det. Cooper Devereaux-Alabama-Cont) – G+
      Grant, Andrew – 2nd in series
      Ballantine Books – Jun 2016

Monday, October 24, 2016

An Obvious Fact by Craig Johnson

First Sentence:  I tried to think how many times I’d kneeled down on asphalt to read the signs, but I knew this was the first time I’d done it in Hulett.

Sheriff Walt Longmire and his friend Henry Standing Bear travel to Hulett, Wyoming.  Walt is there to assist in the investigation of a hit-and-run accident.  Henry is there to test himself, and his motorcycle, at the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.  Neither of them planned for the accident victim to be the son of Lola, the very flesh-and-blood woman for whom Henry’s ’59 Thunderbird was named.  Is he more than that?  Biker gangs, the ATF, and a military-grade vehicle all add to the activity.

How can one not like Walt Longmire—“I shrugged and glanced at Dog, the hundred-and-fifty pound security system. “Stay. And don’t bite anybody.”…”Is he mean?” “Absolutely.”  As I said this, he reached his bucket head over the side door and licked her shoulder with his wide tongue, “Well, almost absolutely.”--Henry Standing Bear, Vic Morelli, and Craig Johnson’s crisp dialogue with wonderful wry humor.  However, one does have to pay attention in order to follow who is speaking when.
The interaction between Walt and Henry regarding the danger of motorcycles—“Why do people ride these contraptions, anyway?...T.E. Lawrence died on a motorcycle.  You know what I make of that?”  “He should not have left Arabia?” and Henry’s quoting Walt’s copy of Sherlock Holmes—“The game is afoot.”—speaks to their friendship.  The information Johnson includes on both the area and on motorcycles is quite interesting.
The books are feeling "less than" the original Longmire books, and a bit formulaic.   There's not the same level of intensity as once was.  The plot here is well done, but the book is definitely character-driven and has a lighter sense to it than previous books.  One note that felt off was Henry’s reaction to the victim. 
An Obvious Fact” is an enjoyable read, and would be a perfect airplane book. 

AN OBVIOUS FACT (Pol Proc-Sheriff Walt Longmire-Wyoming/SD-Contemp) – G+
      Johnson, Craig – 12th in series
      Viking – Sept 2016

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Presumption of Guilt by Archer Mayor

First Sentence:  Tony Farnum waited until he saw Barry’s face in the driver’s-side mirror before motioning him to back up, looking over his shoulder to make sure the concrete mixer’s rear wheels didn’t hit the staked wooden form bordering the pour site.
The Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant has been decommissioned and parts, including a large concrete slab, are being dismantled.  Works comes to a halt when a skeleton from 40 years ago is found within the concrete.  First they need to identify him, then Joe Gunther and the Vermont Bureau of Investigation team need to find his killer.  Are we talking the Mafia and money laundering, or something more personal?
Mayor’s dialogue is always real—“How’d we get the call?” he asked.  “Through the state police. …” Joe nodded. “Okay.  Given how that plant’s been a publicity shit-magnet since before it was plugged in, you better call the state’s attorney while I let our esteemed director know at HQ.” 
Introducing us to the investigative team is essentially done in one, very effective and efficient paragraph.  However, we not only know the investigators, but get to know their families and partners as well.  There is even a romance aspect.  Although it is an adult, sexual relationship, it’s behind closed doors so no one’s sensibilities are disturbed.
It is also not very often a police procedural includes a likable, very well spoken, crook.  Plus, we’re given insight into the operation of different sheriff’s departments.
The plot is very much a police procedural; a matter of brainstorming followed by chasing down leads with the occasional injection of suspense and excitement.  It’s an investigation with a lot of possibilities and twists.
“Presumption of Guilt” isn’t a single-man, hot-shot cop story, but a really solid police procedural with an excellent ensemble of characters, and a very good, solid plot that leaves you guessing all the way to the end.

PRESUMPTION OF GUILT:  A JOE GUNTHER NOVEL (Pol Proc-Joe Gunther-Vermont-Contemp) – VG+
      Mayor, Archer – 27th in series
      Minotaur Books – Sept 2016

Monday, October 17, 2016

Blind Sight by Carol O'Connell

First Sentence:  If they knew why he had come here, all these men would turn away.     
A Catholic nun and a young blind boy, Jonah Quill, have gone missing; vanished in front of a sidewalk full of people.  The nun’s body, along with three others, turn up on the front lawn of Gracie Mansion, home to the mayor of New York City.  But where is the boy; a boy who is the younger brother to the nun.  Mallory will dig through all the lies, including those of the mayor, in order to find this lost child.
Carol O’Connell’s use of imagery never fails to impress—“The stall was shallow, sized to fit a narrow sidewalk that was choked with sneakers and sandals as the walking tour walked on.”  Her descriptions of people are immediately recognizable—“The mayor’s aide, Samuel Tucker, was puffed up with all the importance of an entitled far boy from some college of fastidious twits.” Part of what makes Mallory such a captivating character is her complete disdain for artifice. 
Mallory truly is one of those rare, completely unique characters who makes one extremely uncomfortable, but fascinating.  It is the “humanness” of those around her who make her acceptable, even though she forces the world to deal with her on her terms.  It’s not out of cruelty, but because it is the way she can control her world.  Yet, one should not overlook the tiny “easter egg” O’Connell provides.
And then there are those around her who, in a sense, inherited her.  Her partner Riker, her superior Coffee, and all the others; particularly Charles, who is the antithesis is of Mallory.  Although readers would really need to go back to the beginning of the series in order to fully understand these relationships, O’Connell does a good job of allowing new readers to step in and have a good sense of who they all are
The plot is as complex and unique as are the characters, which is what makes this such a strong and compelling read.  The times away from Mallory, and through Jonah, are where one really sees O’Connell’s ability to convey emotion.
With O’Connell, it’s not the crime or the investigation that holds you, although it has suspense that peaks, then levels, then peaks again.  It truly is the characters; both those who are continuing throughout the series, and those who are part only of this story.  But most of all, it has the incomparable Mallory. 
Blind Sight” is an excellent read.  But above all, it is the writing and O’Connell’s ability to create something truly individual that draws one in and keeps one there to the very last word. 

 BLIND SIGHT (Pol Proc-Det. Mallory-New York City-Contemp) - Ex
      O’Connell, Carol – 12th in series
      G.P. Putnam’s Sons – Sept 2016

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death: The Grantchester Mysteries by James Runcie

First Sentence:  Canon Sidney Chambers had never intended to become a detective.
Vicar of Grantchester, Sidney Chambers, is a bachelor and battle-scared veteran of WWII.  With his backgammon-and-pint friend, Insp. Geordie Keating, and others, Sidney becomes involved in much more than baptisms and weddings; sometimes mystery is on the agenda.
What a wonderful collection of six short stories this is.  Although they are “cozy”, as in no profanity, sex, or overt violence, some of the themes are quite serious. 
Because of Sidney’s past in the war, the topic of PTSD, even though not recognized as such then, is addressed, as is racism and prejudice of several kinds.  There is certainly the theme of faith, but rather than blind faith, it is questioning and uncertain.  Sidney questions his vocation, and certainly questions his participation in some of the mysteries with which he becomes involved. 
Beside Sidney and Geordie, Ruskin has created very real supporting characters in Mrs. Maguire, the housekeeper, Curate, Leonard Graham, Sidney’s friend, Amanda Kendall, and the dog, “What the Dickens.”  They add dimension, and occasionally conflict, to the stories.
There is a delightful thread that runs through the stories of everyone assuming—“I had you down as a sherry man.”  “Most people do…but I’d prefer whisky if that’s possible.”
Ruskin‘s wonderful use of language makes this such a treat to read—“I’m not stupid, Canon Chambers.  I know how to keep secrets.  Have you heard of Tupperware?...Nothing gets in; nothing comes out.”  His descriptions are evocative—“Autumn was his favorite time of year, not simply for its changing colours but for the crispness in the air and the sharpness of the light.  And, there are nicely done analogies—“The snow had muffled the once audible cries of the world.  It was like grace, he decided, or the love of God, coming down silently and unexpectedly in the night.”
Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death:  The Grantchester Mysteries” is a collection of mysteries, but it’s also a study of humanity and faith, rather than religion, in general, as well as the question of at what cost comes pride.

SIDNEY CHAMBERS AND THE SHADOW OF DEATH (Trad Mys/Pol Proc-Sidney Chambers/Insp. Geordie Keating-Grantchester, Eng-1953) – G+
      Runcie, James – 1st book of short stories
      Bloomsbury, USA – Apr 2012

Monday, October 10, 2016

Hell Bay by Will Thomas

First Sentence:  Harold Throgmorton’s face was florid.
Cyrus Barker has been asked to provide security for a secret conference being held during the house party of Lord Hargrave on a remote, private island.  Barker travels there with his assistant, Thomas Llewelyn, and his innamorato, Philippa Ashleigh, to join the Hargrave family, guests, and staff.  Almost immediately, there are two murders, the only exit from the island is gone, and the means of signaling for help has been destroyed.  How many more will die before Barker and Llewelyn uncover the killer.
Although the prologue plays into the story much later, it really could have been omitted entirely.  Doing so might have made the first death on the island even more startling and effective. 
The historical information Thomas provides is both interesting and serves to provide a sense of place.  It allows us to feel as though we are standing alongside our protagonists.  In this particular case, it also illustrates the differences in the disposition of the two protagonists.
The plot has decided overtones of Agatha Christie.  However, there is a clear difference with a reference to the danger of inexperienced individuals rushing about with more guns than good sense.
Thomas’ voice, as conveyed through the past-tense, first-person narration, is a perfect balance of often-tense scenes—“I was pressed against the closest shutter reaching across when another bullet came, striking the outside of the shutter.”—offset by occasional wry humor—“As for “Annabel Lee,” one cannot go wrong when reciting Poe.  I’ve always thought the man was one part hack and three parts genius.” 
Thomas Llewelyn is such a wonderfully drawn character.  Not only does he provide the narration, but it is through him we come to know Barker, and observe all the other characters.  He is a character that has experienced the harder side of life, and has a strong moral code. That said, he is not perfect, and one can enjoy his frustrations with Barker.
Where Barker is somewhat enigmatic, Mrs. Ashleigh, a recurring character to the series, is particularly effective here.  Being a widow of independent means, she has more freedom and strength than other women of the time—“I’m not a house of cards, to be blown over by the slightest breeze.”
The plot is very cleverly constructed.  Just when you are led to suspect someone, it becomes very clear that you’re wrong.  There is, however, one hint given one can really wish had not been included.  Conversely, there is a lovely fantasy created that we, the readers, can embrace, only to have it well, and truly smashed in a very dramatic fashion. 
Hell Bay” is a very good book.  It is filled with red herrings, surprises, danger and surprises touches of humor, all of which keep the reader satisfyingly off balance.

HELL BAY (Hist Mys-Baker/Llewellyn-England-1800s/Victorian) – VG
      Thomas, Will – 8th in series
      Minotaur Books – October 2016

Thursday, October 6, 2016

The Homeplace by Kevin Wolf

First Sentence:  If you listen, you will hear the wind.
Chase Ford left the small Colorado town in which he was a basketball star, to play for the NBA.  Injury, divorce and drugs ended his career and now he’s home.  Not all homecomings are joyful; the murder of a present-day basketball star, who was very similar to Chase, causes the law, and Chase, to wonder why now and why him.
There is a very real sense of tension and suspense from the very beginning of the story.  There are grievances and relationships we don’t quite understand, but know will be revealed.  One-by-one, we meet the characters.  And, as if pieces of a puzzle, we begin to see how they fit together. 
Wolf’s characters epitomize people everywhere.  They are a microcosm of humanity; the best and the worst of us.  He makes the observation that while we tend to focus on our shortcomings and sins, other may see the good in us, and the positive things we’ve done.
Wolf has a very lyrical style, almost poetic at times—“Quiet slipped into the room and took the empty chair at their table.”  At other times, it’s understandably real—“Weather coming in.  And, God, the country needed the moisture.  Let it snow.  It was a prayer, not a curse.”
Homeplace” has plenty of suspense, danger and excitement.  Although one may suspect the killer, the resolution is startling and the ending very well done.  Wolf harkens back to classic authors whose books of less than 300 pages—259 in this case—are still complex and engrossing. 

 THE HOMEPLACE (Susp-Chase Ford-Colorado-Contemp) – VG
      Wolf, Kevin – 1st book
      Minotaur Books, Sept 2016

Monday, October 3, 2016

Face Blind by Lance Hawvemale

First Sentence:  No rain has fallen here in four hundred years.
Gabriel Traylin witnesses a murder outside an observatory in Chili’s Adacama desert.  By the time the police arrive, the body has disappeared.  What is found is a bag containing a severely mutilated body.  Due to prospagnosia, a neurological condition which prevents one from being able to differentiate facial features, Gabe can’t describe the killer, or the victim, to the police, making him a suspect.  With the help of three strangers, Gabe sets out to find the killer he thinks of as The Messenger.
How fascinating to be in a setting new to most readers—“Four hundred years, not a single teardrop from the sky.  … Precipitation here was measured in millimeters, and even then it came only as an infrequent fog—and to learn about a neurological condition of which I doubt many readers have heard, let alone trying to imagine living with—“Gabe has grown up recognizing is mother by her clothing, her slender wedding band, and of course by her voice.”
Such unique characters Hawvemale has created; Gabe who can’t recognize faces, Mira and her brother Luke who can only read the words in one book, Ben the author of that one book which is the only book he ever wrote, and Vicente who is Gabe’s friend from the observatory.  Yes, there are a few TSTL (too stupid to live) moments, but they make a weird sense when you consider the characters.
The author has an interesting use of language—“Gabe closed his eyes and wove that name on the loom in his mind.  Alban Olivares. He bound the threads around the soldier’s fallen body, making him into something more than just a runner in the night.  By christening him, Gabe created  him.”—so much so one is inclined to check whether it is a translation.  The plot is highly unpredictable.  You never quite know where it’s going, but it’s filled with excellent twists.  When danger comes, it is as unexpected and shocking to the reader as if it was real.  The story has a good ending, even if a bit unbelievable.
FaceBlind” is hard to describe but completely absorbing.  It may not be the best written book, but it definitely a compelling read.         

FACE BLIND (Susp-Gabe Traylin-Chile-Contemp) – G+
      Hawvemale, Lance – 1st in series
      Minotaur Books – August 2016

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Dead Angler by Victoria Houston

First Sentence:  Dr. Osborne struggled for balance in the waist-high waters of the roiling Prairie River.
Retired dentist and widower Doc Osborn decides to rekindle his love of fly fishing with the help of fishing instructor, and the town's first female sheriff, “Lew” Ferris.  What they don’t expect to find is the body of a well-dressed woman who has had all her dental fillings removed.  Enlisting Doc, and his friend Roy, to help, Lew is determined to find the killer.
Houston perfectly describes fly fishing and the nature of those who love it—“No sport, except fly fishing, can take you so close to the heart of the water.”—or the inherent sexism—“Sure, she held a man’s job but still…learning to fish from a woman? He couldn’t get over it.”
The author’s voice brings her characters to life—“Why am I doing this? He had badgered himself as he hurried to keep up.  Isn’t a 63-year-old retired dentist entitled to a life of grace and dignity?   Dignity was out of the question as he plopped around in his boxy waders...”  Each of the characters is introduced in such a way that we have a feel for who they are and their backgrounds.  The one rather unfortunate aspect is that the author chose to present the late wife in such a negative fashion.  In fact, one has the sense that the author doesn’t seem to like many of her characters.
One rather unusual, yet important, point in the plot is the existence of the telephone party line.  Yes, a few do still exist in rural and/or isolated communities.  It does add an amusing element to the story.  And, on another element, what book focused on fishing would be complete without a recipe for cooking fish?
Good twists add a more serious note to the plot, and one introduces an element very relevant to current affairs. 
Dead Angler” is a very enjoyable read with increasing suspense.  The ending is a bit pat, but the story definitely holds one's interest.

DEAD ANGLER (Trad Mys-Paul Osborn/Lewellyn Ferris-WI-Contemp) – Good
      Houston, Victoria – 1st in series
      Berkeley – April 2000

Monday, September 26, 2016

Manitou Canyon by William Kent Krueger

First Sentence:  In the gray of early afternoon, the canoes drew up to the shoreline of the island.
Two years ago, John Harris disappeared at while fishing with his son and daughter.  Although an exhaustive search was done, of which PI Cork O’Connor was a part, nothing was found.  Now Harris’ children are back, claiming the grown son had a vision which involved Cork’s son Stephen, and want Cork to help them search again.  In spite of it being only days before Cork’s daughter’s wedding, he agrees, and Cork and the daughter head into the Boundary Waters where they encounter danger that risks not only their lives, but the lives of countless others.
No prologue here.  Instead, we have an opening that extremely effective, and very worrying, before switching to introducing Cork, and explaining why the month of November is one which Cork dreads—“She knew his history with that month…”Ghosts,” she said.  “You need to let them go.” 
Krueger has established a wonderful community of characters which includes Henry Meloux who brings an element of wisdom and a strong metaphysical aspect into the story—“The heart knows much that the head ignores.  If we pay attention, our hearts speak to us.  Stephen O’Connor as always listened.”—as well as a look into the culture of the Objibwe Indians.  The use of the native language, followed by translations, adds realism and is very effective.  Cork’s sister-in-law, being Catholic, does bring an aspect of religion to the story, but it doesn’t overwhelm the plot, nor become too preachy but is simply an aspect of the character.
The action is split between locations, which heightens the tension and suspense as well as the sense of threat.  There are several, well-placed and very effective plot twists.  The climax is exciting, even though the logic of it working seemed improbable.  However, it is, in many ways, a very spiritual book which causes one to stop and consider.
Manitou Canyon” is an exciting, engrossing story with excellent characters, and a wonderful ending.  

MANITOU CANYON (Pol Proc-Cork O’Connor-Minnesota-Cont) – VG+
      Krueger, William Kent – 15th in series
      Atria Books – Sept 2016

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Revenge in a Cold River by Anne Perry

First Sentence:  William Monk stepped out of the boat and climbed up the stone steps from the river, leaving Hopper to tie the vessel to the bollard and follow him.
Only a few people know that Insp. William Monk lost his memory in an accident years ago.  One who apparently knows seems determined to use Monk’s past against him. When a man dies while Monk was trying to save him from drowning, can a jury be convinced it was actually murder?  It’s going to take his colleagues, friends and family to save Monk from being hanged.
Even before finishing the first section, the tension is palpable. Perry’s plots and characters draw you in so completely.  Her writing keeps you reading until the wee small hours, unable to book down.  Her observations are so astute –“Monk…never wanted power other than that which gave him safety for work and let him owe no one. …Great wealth tied you to its service, whether it was land, trade, or gold.”
Perry makes painfully clear how powerless women could be, especially those married to powerful men.  Her depiction of this time is exacting, down to the customs, food, and dress—“She dressed in black, of course… She wore the traditional jet jewelry.”  Her descriptions of California during the Gold Rush days are an excellent contrast from the London setting.
What a wonderful cast of characters.  From Monk and Hester, to Scruff, a street orphan who adopted the Monks; from the lawyer Rathbone to the widow Beata York, we find ourselves invested in their lives and feeling as though we know them, or would like to.
One thing that has been a mystery through all the previous books is finally being revealed.  Both the method of revelation, and the result are fascinating.  The trial, and the process due to the period, is engrossing; Grisham couldn’t do better.

"Revenge in a Cold River" is yet another masterful book by Anne Perry, filled with excitement, suspense, twists, and an exciting ending.

REVENGE IN A COLD RIVER (Hist Mys/Pol Proc-William/Hester Monk-London-1800s) - Ex
      Perry, Anne – 22nd in Monk series
      Ballantine Books – July 2016