Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Cold Florida by Phillip DePoy

First Sentence:  It was two in the morning, the middle of February.
Foggy Moskowitz left Brooklyn rather abruptly, and arrived in Florida working for Child Protective Services.  His boss, Sharon, lands him with a case of a missing infant and an addict mother.  Their trail leads him to the Florida swampland, Seminole Indians, and some unexpected and unusual adventures--all while trying to rescue the baby, and avoid being killed in the process.
We begin with a very good introduction and back story on Foggy, as well as introducing us to the situation.  It’s nice to have a protagonist with a somewhat different profession; in this case, an investigator is CPS.  But how he got there is also very interesting as it's due to a personal Yom Kipper—the tenth day of Tishri; atonement and repentance.  Foggy is a bit of a paradox.  He can clearly handle himself in threatening situations, yet being a Brooklyn boy very much out of his element, he can also be naïve. 
All of the characters are unique and intriguing.  While some are not people you’d necessarily want to meet, DePoy makes them real, and often someone about whom you’d like to know more.  The Seminoles, Phillip, Foggy’s boss, Sharon, and even a killer named McReedy are very much part of the tapestry of the story. 
The story itself is classic DePoy.  There’s a touch of mysticism; or isn’t there.  He creates circles in circles.  Even when the story seems to wander as does a trail through a swamp, one wants to keep following it.  Even when he becomes repetitive, the characters acknowledge that one has already been told the information. 
DePoy as a wonderful, story-teller’s voice—“Behind the bar was a guy called Fat Tuesday.  He was called that because he came from New Orleans and his name was Martin Craw, but he went by Marty, so that his name sounded like Mardi Gras, which anyone would know was the French way of saying ‘Fat Tuesday.  Foggy’s musings often give one pause—“then it occurred to me that a place can hold on to the things that happen in it.  Not exactly like a haunted house, more like an echo.  Just because you can’t hear the echo any more doesn’t mean that the molecules of every sob or sigh or wince of pain don’t hang around…”--, and there’s nothing quite like a good analogy—“In the light of the afternoon, it did not look so good.  Some things – old buildings, semi-romantic landscapes, certain faces – are always best left to moonlight.  The old joint looked very much like a tired hooker asleep on a park bench in the warm afternoon sun.”
Cold Florida” is a wonderful mix of action, philosophy, just the rights about of violence, thoroughly intriguing characters, and a motive, when realized, that makes perfect sense. 

COLD FLORIDA (Lic Inv-Foggy Moskowitz-Florida-Contemp) - G+
DePoy Phillip – 1st in series
Severn House, April 2016 

Thursday, March 24, 2016

A Prisoner in Malta by Phillip dePoy

First Sentence:  Christopher Marlow started at the newly mown lawn, and the tower of St. Benet’s Church reaching sweetly toward God in morning’s light.
Young Oxford student Christopher Marlow is recruited by representatives of Sir Francis Walsingham, spymaster to Queen Elizabeth.  There is a plot brewing against the Queen.  The person with its details is being held in seclusion within a heavily guarded dungeon in Malta.  Against foreign governments, including representatives of the Pope, Marlow must rescue the prisoner, and help to save the Queen from assignation and England from invasion.
Talk about intriguing subterfuge from the very first page!  There is no gentle entry into this story.  No, the excitement begins on the very first page.
DePoy’s dialogue has just the right hint of the period to it, and is always a pleasure to read.  His humor and insightfulness is evident—“How long will this trip take?” “Another two hours, possibly three.”  ”How long if we ask the driver to speed the horses?”  “Five hours.”  “How is it longer,…if we go faster?”  “If your eye is fixed on a destination in the distance,…it’s impossible to watch the road in front of you.”   There is nothing like a bit of cat-and-mouse on the high seas when combined with delightful repartee—“Take the longboat by ourselves, set the sail and manage.”  “Can you sail a boat like that?”  “NO…You’re the one from the proud race of circum-navigating sea folk!”  “I’m a doctor!”  “I’m a student!”  While the dialogue for Marlow is quick and clever, he soon shows himself as someone not to be underestimated.
One will be amused by the references to Shakespeare’s/Marlow’s plays—“What surprised him was how comforting he found the prospect of death.  Dying was only a chance to sleep…”  The way in which Marlow views a situation or location as a scene in a play to gain a clear perspective is very clever.
The history surrounding the plot is critical to the story, and it is included in a way that not only educates us, but intrigues us.  This was a time of tremendous plotting and upheaval, and where women could be as, and occasionally more, capable and powerful than were men.  We are also made aware of how strict and precise the laws of the period could be—“No longer dressed in her gray man’s costume, she wore a plain green linen dress.  …the Queen’s Sumptuary Laws allow both lower and upper classes of women to wear that particularly color.”
A Prisoner in Malta” is filled with high action, plot twists, and double-crosses on double crosses. The history and characters are wonderful and, has one of the best conclusions one can remember reading.

A PRISONER IN MALTA (Hist Mys-Kit Marlow-England/Malta-1583) – VG+
DePoy, Phillip – Standalone
Minotaur, January 2016

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Seeking the Dead by Kate Ellis

First Sentence:  Things that frighten the devil away.
Carmel Hennessy feels as though her small flat has a ghost, and wonders if it’s connected to the Ghost Tour whose leader always stops and points to her bedroom.  When she starts receiving very corporal anonymous threats, She turns to DI Joe Plantagenet, the former partner of her father who was killed.  DI Joe Plantagenet is leading the investigation into the murder of a woman found in the churchyard.  Rather than newly dead, it is realized she had been stunned, stripped, and kept for some time in an place where she suffocated, before being left outside.   It becomes apparent the this is only the victim in a hunt to uncover a killer, and find out what Joe's new boss, DCI Emily Thwaite, is trying to hide.
Ellis immediately captures the reader’s attention with a highly intriguing opening.  So much so, that one may even find oneself adding to the anonymous character’s list.  Even though the town of Eborby is fictional and based mainly on York, we are provided with a sense of the area’s history.  Ellis is so good at establishing a sense of place—“As she emerged from the crazy maze of ancient streets on to the cathedral square, she turned her head to stare up at the towers, intricately carved in pale-gold stone, soaring up to the heaven like arms outstretched I prayer.”
Although one isn’t tempted to let the book go, the writing and dialogue are a bit clunky at times.   Having so many characters, many of whom are not well-developed, one can lose track of who is whom. 
The structure of the plot is interesting as we learn of events from a number of different characters, not the least being the killer.  We are taken along parallel paths until events slowly start to merge and the pace accelerates.  Although there is good tension at the end, one may feel oneself rather separate from it.
Seeking the Dead” is a decent read, and this is the first book in this series.  It does hold you to the end and, in spite of the clues, it wasn’t until very near the end that the killer’s identity is suspected.  Although, not up to the standard set by Ellis’ Wesley Peterson series, Ellis is an author who always deserves another chance.    

SEEKING THE DEAD:  A JOE PLANTAGENET MURDER MYSTERY (Pol Proc-Joe Plantagenet-England-Contemp) – Okay
Ellis, Kate – 1st in series
Piatkus - 2008        

Friday, March 18, 2016

The Woman in Blue by Elly Griffiths

First Sentence:  Cathbad and the cat look at each other. 
Cathbad is cat sitting for a friend in Walsingham, an old English village with strong connections to both English Catholic and Anglican history and traditions.  It is also the home of a rehabilitation center called “Sanctuary,” when he sees a ghost-like figure standing in the yard.  The next day, the body of a woman is found by the side of the road, and an Anglican priest friend of Ruth's is receiving threatening letters.  Is there a connection?
For those of us who love unusual characters, one can do no better than Cathbad. Add what may, or not, be a ghost, and one is off to a very good start.
This is a lovely change from the previous books in the series.  Although all of the characters are there, and well introduced for those new to the series, the preponderance of the story is truly a police procedural focusing DCI Harry Nelson and his team, and on the investigation and solving the case, or is it cases.   Fear not, Ruth is still there, although playing a more secondary, but still important, role.  Griffiths’ characters are very real.  They all have the normal human traits of insecurity, moods, weaknesses, foibles and failings.  Learning about them is what makes them particularly interesting.
The inclusion of historical information, both secular and religious, is not only fascinating but adds depth and a strong sense of place to the story.  One learns fascinating information regarding relics and cults within the Church. 
Griffiths has such a good story-teller's voice, including excellent dialogue with just the right touch of wry humor—“He gestures at the perfectly tidy room, which has a wheelie suitcase in the centre of it.” ... Nelson despises wheelie suitcases.”—and evocative descriptions—“Ruth hadn’t really been expecting much from the snowdrops but…she actually catches her breath in wonder.  Nothing much is left of the priory at Walsingham, just the arch and a few free-standing walls.  But stretched out between them is a carpet of which, as if the church has risen again in all its finery.  Trees rise up like organ pipes and, far above them, a skylark is singing.”
The Woman in Blue” includes a mystery which keeps going to the end; lots of good, possible suspects to tease the reader, a wonderful building of suspense, and a very solid ending. 

THE WOMAN IN BLUE (Pol Proc-DCI Harry Nelson/Ruth Galloway - England-Contemp) – VGGriffiths, Elly – 8th in series
Minotaur, 2016 

Sunday, March 13, 2016

When Falcons Fall by C.S.Harris

First Sentence:  It was the fly that got to him.
Sebastian St. Cyr, his wife Hero, and infant son, Devlin, have travelled to Ayleswick-on-Teme in order to fulfill a promise to St. Cyr's half-brother, and to find out more about his own background.  The village’s inexperienced magistrate, having heard of St. Cyr, asks his help in investigating the supposed suicide of a young woman visiting their town.  However, it becomes apparent that the suicide was murder, and the woman was not who she said.  Was she associated with village resident Lucien Bonaparte, brother-in-law to Napoleon?
Harris is such a wonderfully visual writer—“A spry middle-aged chambermaid with a leprechaun’s face and wild iron gray hair imperfectly contained by a mobcap opened the door and bobbed a quick curtsey.”  She takes you into the period and places you in the location—“The evening, as the sun slipped toward the western hills and the sky faded from a hard blue to a pink-tinged aquamarine.  The air smelled fresh and clean, a cool breeze rippled through the long grass, and a hawk circled effortlessly overhead.” 
Harris has a remarkable way of humanizing a location and making us wish to be a part of it—“I was sitting here thinking about all the generations of men and women who’ve walked these same lanes, who plowed the same fields century after century and listened to the same church bells toll the hours of their lives, and then buried their dead in the same churchyard.”  This may be particularly poignant for those of us who have lived transitory lives.  At the same time, she reminds us—“most people’s capacity for evil is infinitely greater than we’d like to believe.”
One of the most wonderful things about reading historical mysteries is learning new things in a way that isn’t the author trying to impress upon you how much research they’d done.  Instead, Harris incorporates the information seamlessly into the context of the story.   Among other things, Harris not only tells us about the Enclosure Act, but clearly illustrates the devastating impact it had on the lives of the people.       
The pacing is very well done.  Although the chapters are quite short, the story has an excellent flow that keeping one turning the pages, sometimes way past when one should have been asleep.  Beyond solving the crime, the secondary thread of Devlin tracing his past is engrossing, well done, and increasingly complex. 
Devlin and Hero are refreshing in that although it is Devlin who does the principal investigation, Hero does become involved in ways that are completely appropriate to her position and the period.  That is especially appreciated by those of us who value seeing the period accurately represented.  There are a lot of characters, however; so a cast of characters would have been helpful.
When Falcons Fall" is wonderfully intricate with plot twists that surprise.  The characters are very well done, and the history woven in beautifully. 

WHEN FALCONS FALL (Hist Mys-Sebastian St. Cyr-England-1813) – VG
Harris, C.S. – 11th in series
Obsidian, March 2016

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

The Waters of Eternal Youth by Donna Leon

First Sentence:  He had always hated formal dinners, and he hated being at this one.
When is a case, not a case?  When it is a favour for the friend of your in-laws, even though the incident happened 15 years ago, with no dead body, and no real police investigation.  A wealthy aristocrat asks Brunetti to look into the supposed suicide attempt by drowning of her granddaughter, now irreparably brain damaged. But to the Contessa, things just don’t add up and, as she ages, she would like the truth.  With a little creativity, Brunetti convinces his boss that Guido should re-open the investigation, and finds things were not quite what they seemed.
Leon has a lovely way of taking us immediately into the story and introducing us to the important characters without even seeming to.  She also provides us a look into Brunetti’s understanding of human nature—“Only someone who knows us well knows how best to flatter us, knows which virtues we’d like to have attributed to us and which not.”  Yet such introspection is also offset by subtle humor—“There was a single cup of coffee, a silver sugar bowl, a spoon, two short glasses of thick cut crystal\al, and a bottle of whisky whose label made Brunetti stare. … ‘To your health,’ she answered and took a sip.  Brunetti did the same and thought he’d sell up everything and move to Scotland.  Paola could find a job teaching, and the children would find something to do with themselves.  Beg, for example.” 
It is two Leon’s great credit that there is a wonderful balance between Brunetti the policeman, and Brunetti the husband and father which makes the book so realistic and the character so identifiable.  His family life is such a wonderful asset to the full development of the character and to the story.  This this is one of the rare times, at least in this reviewer’s memory, that we have a physical description of Brunetti..Yet all the characters work so well.  One cannot help but love and admire the skills of Signorina Elettra, and understand their mutual disdain for Lt. Scarpa and the easily manipulated Patta.
A side story has to do with Italy’s immigrant situation, which is very interesting…”It didn’t matter how he had entered the country; the distinction between legal and illegal immigrants had long since been abandoned by the press….”  With immigrants being such a pivotal issue in so many countries, it is fascinating to learn how Italy deals with it.    But then, there is much in Leon’s writing to make one stop and consider, including about class prejudices.
The plot is fascinating as we really can’t quite tell where we are going, until there is one very well-done plot twist, followed by another.  It is interesting seeing Brunetti switch modes between doing research and investigating a crime scene.  Although there are coincidences and the case-solving clue comes upon us rather abruptly, it is  not the end of the story as we still learn about a superstition, and witness a lovely ending.
The Waters of Eternal Youth” is far more than a mystery.  It is about people, and relationships, and is all the more wonderful for it.

THE WATERS OF ETERNAL YOUTH (Pol Proc-Comm. Guido Brunetti-Venice, Italy- Contemp) – VG
Leon, Donna – 25th in series
Atlantic Monthly Press, March 2016

Monday, March 7, 2016

Entry Island by Peter May

First Sentence:  It is evident from the way the stones are set into the slope of the hill that industrious hands once toiled to make this pathway.
Detective Sime Mackenzie is sent to the small island of Entry Island, where the wealthiest resident has been murdered, and the wife is the obvious suspect.  Mackenzie is absolutely certain he has met her before, which leads to dreams of being in Scotland in the 18th Century and a link to the diary of an ancestor.  Can Mackenzie resolve his obsession, and find the killer?
May does write wonderfully evocative description…lots, and lots, and lots of description. We are provided a interesting history of the islands, and the citizens of Quebec, from the English to the French, resulting in the demise of the Gaelic.  He does a very good job of impressing on the reader just how hard is life living on an isolated island and being a lobsterman. 
We are provided a good introduction to the characters.  That Sime is divorced from one of his fellow officers adds a nice bit of dimension to the story.  However, he comes off as being self-absorbed and rather mysognistic.  
The style is interesting.  The narrative is written third person.  However, Simes' dreams and memories are told in first person.  There are inaccuracies--lobster trap, not a creel which is for fish--inconsistencies--kilometers and miles, centimeters and inches--massive coincidences, and way too many weather reports.   Did I mention the descriptions?  There is a lot of description…really a tremendous amount of description…an annoyingly copious amount of description even for one who likes description. 
The story seems schizophrenic.  Is it a police procedural, or is it an historical novel?  Yes, there is a joining thread, but one really may not care by the time one gets there.
Entry Island” is, unfortunately, an easy book to put down and not bother picking up again.

ENTRY ISLAND (Pol Proc-Sime Mackenzie- Canada/Scotland-Contemp/18th Cent) – Poor
May, Peter – Standalone

Quercus, Sept 2015

Thursday, March 3, 2016

The Child Garden by Catriona McPherson

First Sentence:  It was far from silent in the dark wood.
Gloria Harkness lives in a lonely, rundown house in order to be near the care home housing her son.  The building was once a school called Eden, but was closed due to a student’s suicide.  Or was it?  Gloria’s childhood friend, and son of the school’s founder, turns up asking for help as he is being stalked by one of the former students.  He is to meet her at the site of the suicide.  What they find leads Gloria on a path for the truth and personal risk.
McPherson has a wonderful voice.  She makes you feel as if you’re sitting in her kitchen with a cuppa, being told a story.  Her dialogue is well done and very natural—“Who’s Walter Scott?”  I pointed at the basket. “The dog.  Not the real Walter Scott, obviously.  For one, I don’t believe in ghosts, and for two, I prefer Stevenson.”  “Who?” said Stig.  “Writers,” I told him.
From very early on, a sense of tension is created—“There were footprints. … In the middle though, footprints criss-crossed, leading away from the door to the far side in front of the alcove.  There they were muddled and scraped about, and at one spot the floor was completely clear.  A square with no dust at all….”Why would she clean off that one slab and leave footprints everywhere else?”” he said. 
This is balanced by McPherson’s very evocative descriptions—“The quiet at Rough House had saved my sanity.  Except it wasn’t quiet at all:  it was swifts and tits and wrens… It was the wind streaming over the grass making it whisper… Sometimes, I thought I could hear the stars turning on in the evening and the sun sighing like an old lady when it set.”  Yes; McPherson is one of those special authors who both makes you pause and consider, and makes you wish to read passages aloud to others.
Gloria is a character with whom many may identify.  She’s not given to artifice and is very comfortable in her skin.  She’s the type of person one would want to know, and upon whose loyalty one could depend.  At the same time, it is a pleasure to have a character so realistic; one who becomes exhausted, and overwhelmed to the point of tears.  Her friend Stig is delightful.  No big, brave man is he, unless it’s in the kitchen.  It’s quite lovely to see a reversal of traditional roles.  Yet one may also find oneself questioning and a bit suspicious of him.  Miss Dunn, the owner of Rough House, Gloria’s landlady, and now living in the neighboring room to Gloria’s son, is a delightful character.  She is also the link to the story’s pagan mythology.
The story’s plot is extremely good.  Having Gloria learn about the same events from different perspectives increases, and amplifies, the suspense.  There’s a twist one definitely doesn’t see coming.
The Child Garden” is a very well done, engrossing mystery with great characters, told by an author whose voice makes one want to immediately read another of her books.

THE CHILD GARDEN (Myst-Gloria Harkness-Scotland-Contemp) – Ex
McPherson, Catriona – Standalone
Midnight Ink – Sept, 2015