Tuesday, August 30, 2016

A Great Reckoning by Louise Penny

First Sentence:  Armand Gamache sat in the little room and closed the dossier with care, squeezing it shut, trapping the words inside.
No longer the head of homicide for the Sûreté du Quebec, Armand Gamache has finally decided on his next position, and the people with whom he wants to work.  It's a position where he feels he can made a difference and a correction to something gone very wrong.  When one person dies, the situation becomes even more dire then simply uncovering the facts behind the crime.  Yet even before beginning, the ladies of Three Pines investigate the contents of a chest; document found in the walls of the bistro during renovation.  Among them is a most unusual map with all roads leading to Three Pines, a town which doesn’t exist on any official maps.  Can this map lead everyone to their own sense of home, including Gamache?
Penny is a remarkable visual writer—“The curtains of his study fluttered and he could feel a cold draft coming in through the slightly open window.  And he knew if he draw back the curtains and turned on the  porch light, he would see the first snow of the season swirling in the light.  Falling softly and landing on the roofs of the homes in this tiny village of Three Pines.”  She doesn’t just tell you, she brings you into the story and allows you to see alongside her characters.  
Penny enables you to see her characters as well—“It was a care-worn face.  But most of the lines, if followed back like a trail, would lead to happiness.  To the face a face made when laughing or smiling, or sitting quietly enjoying the day.  Though some of those lines led elsewhere.  Into a wilderness, into the wild.   Where terrible things had happened.  Some of the lines of his face led to evens inhuman and abominable.  To horrific sights.  To unspeakable acts.  Some of them his.”  It's that descriptiveness that truly brings everything to life.
Her characters, particularly Gamache, surprise you, but they are real, flesh and blood, and nuanced.  The circle of friends in Three Pines, are those among whom you want to be, even the irascible Ruth.  Their friendship is loyal, strong and insightful.  The wonderful meals they share are a part of that bond—“They’d gathered at Clara’s place this wintery night for a dinner of bouillabaisse, with fresh baguette from Sarah’s boulangerie.  Clara and Gabri were in the kitchen just putting the final ingredients into the broth….A delicate aroma of garlic and fennel drifted into the living room and mingled with the scent of wood smoke from the hearth.”  Penny's dialogue is as real as her characters, particularly those scenes involving Ruth.  She makes you smile, but she makes you think.
Penny is an author with a beautifully lyrical style who causes you to pause and consider; to see things, and people, in a new way, sometimes through the scene, and sometimes through literary references—“Don’t believe everything you think.”  The dialogue is realistic, and occasionally humorous—“Through the kitchen window, they saw Commander Gamache supporting Ruth, Keeping her upright on the icy road….”Alzheimer’s?” asked Huifen. “Reine-Marie shook her head. “Poetry.””  She is an author whose work one finds oneself re-reading as in the end, her stories are about love, trust, and redemption.  
A Great Reckoning” is a wonderful story that touches all the emotions.  The plot that is layered and puzzled; not in a way which is difficult to follow, but in a way such that one can’t help but admire the thinking that created it.  As with life, there are numerous situations and threads, involving different characters in different ways, yet all roads lead us back to Three Pines.  

A GREAT RECKONING (Pol Proc-Armand Gamache-Canada-Contemp) – Ex
     Penny, Louise – 12th in series
     Minotaur Books – Aug 2016

Friday, August 26, 2016

The Weight of Blood by Laura McHugh

First Sentence:  That Cheri Stoddard was found at all was the thing that set people on edge, even more so than the condition of her body.
Lucy Dane’s friend has been found murdered and dismembered.  This is the second person Lucy has lost; the first being her mother who vanished years ago from Henbane, in the Ozark Mountains.  Her search for answers leads her to dark, family secrets and grave danger.
There's nothing better than an author with a real story-teller’s voice, and McHugh has that. She doesn't just describe, she makes you see--and feel, and make us consider things for ourselves.
The first chapter really draws the reader in.  The second chapter has one even more intrigued. Although it can be confusing to have a story told from multiple points of view; that is not the case here, as each chapter clearly indicates the narrator.  However, there is an initial confusion related to two of the characters which was quite cleverly done, and only makes the story more compelling.
McHugh perfectly conveys the atmosphere of a very small, Ozark community, or any small community, where everyone knows everyone else’s' business and superstitions are part of life. "If I didn't find out what had happened to her, she would always be drifting somewhere in the ether, a life that never quite materialized."
There is a very good, nasty twist and something is made clear that wasn't quite--or this reader completely missed it—and there is a very good build up of tension.  However, there are also a few too many TSTL (too stupid to live) moments, and a climax that was rather cliché.     
The Weight of Blood,” is not perfect, but it is definitely a book you don't want to stop reading once you've started.  

The Weight of Blood (Susp-Lucy/Lila Dane_Henbane, MO_Contemp) - Good
      McHugh, Laura – 1st book
      Random House, March 2014

Monday, August 22, 2016

Inspector Singh Investigates: A Calamitous Chinese Killing by Shamini Flint

First sentence: Justin Tan stood at the main junction of the old hutong, a neighborhood of old courtyards dating from Imperial times, and stared down narrow alleyways that disappeared quickly into Darkness.
Justin Chan the 23-year old son of the first secretary at the Singapore Embassy in China has been murdered. Chinese security believes it was a robbery gone wrong.  The young man’s mother isn’t satisfied.  Inspector Singh has been sent to solve the crime hopefully without causing an international incident. 
We open with fear, danger, and many questions. The contrast from that, to meeting Inspector Singh and his wife is very well executed.  Still another shift leaves one impressed by how effectively Flint changes both the scene and the tone of the story.
Finch has such a captivating voice one finds oneself wanting to read and share passages with someone else - "A murder investigation was not laser-like in its intensity, following a certain path to the truth. It was a bright white beam that lit up hidden corners and dark where the family skeletons where hidden." She also adds just the right touch of the metaphysical--"She flinched at his words and the hairs on Singh’s neck stood up along the base of his turban. Suddenly, it was as if was a presence in the room, erase come to demand did the policeman from Singapore do his duty and not be so keen to accept the official version of the events."
Injections of subtle humor, often as part of Singh's narrative, are a delightful offset to the story—“Singh's stomach growled its concurrence before he had a chance to speak... He decided that, remarkably, he was prepared to eat more Chinese food. What was happening to him? Next, have to call himself a food tourist and write a travel book." It is also interesting to learn some of the elements of being a Sikh even though inspector Singh is a very poor example of a practicing Sikh. Yet, for all his foibles, it's hard not to admire him-- "It might be the Chinese way to label a person - terrorist, communist capitalist, a government activist - and then forget about his essential humanity, his inalienable rights. He wouldn't fall into that trap."  The story is also a stark reminder of the system of oppression and injustice which exists in many countries today.
The suspense, danger, intrigue escalate at a nice pace. As it grows it's a pleasure to watch Singh put together the pieces of the puzzle one by one. The inclusion of a very good plot twist makes things more fascinating still. Yet we also feel Singh’s frustration at not being able to put all the pieces together in a way he could initially prove.
A Calamitous Chinese Killing” is yet another good read in an excellent series with an ending that is satisfactory and yet rather sad.

Inspector Singh Investigates:  A Calamitous Chinese Killing (Pol Proc-Insp. Singh-China-Cont) - G+
            Flint, Shamini – 6th in series
            Virago - 2013

Monday, August 15, 2016

Another One Goes Tonight by Peter Lovesey

First sentence: Another one goes tonight.
A traffic accident involving two policemen, one fatally injured, results in Peter Diamond being assigned to investigate his fellow officers to find whether the policeman were at fault. At the site, Peter finds an elderly man seriously injured and saves his life.  However, the investigation raises more questions than answers and causes Peter to wonder whether the man whose life he saved is, in fact, a serial killer.
Lovesey provides us a wonderful description of giving someone CPR, not just from a technical standpoint, but the emotional connection that is created.
The information on Railway fanatics, as well as for Courtney dresses, adds interest to the story, as we watch Diamond build the case, clue by clue, but not always by himself; he brainstorms with his seconds, Ingeborg and Hallawell; and with his friend, and sometimes lover, Paloma.  Those things add veracity to the story, as well as watching Diamond have to change his perspective and beliefs in a person's innocence, while Halliwell raises the question as to whether what they believe has been murdered could, in fact, have been accidents or natural deaths.
Diamond does like to play outside the rules just a bit, but one has to admire his philosophy--"One thing Diamond had learned in life was not to feel sorry for himself. Rage against the gods by all means, but don't have anything to do with self-pity. It's toxic."  It is refreshing to have a detective admit his case isn't holding up "and you say there are problems with your original theory?" "Large holes."
For those who have not read the previous books about Peter's wife, it is nice to have a brief summary included. Details about the city of Bath provide a sense of history, local color, and a strong sense of place--"Bath has many amusing ironies. The best is the fact that thousands of tourists arrive because of the Jane Austen connection while the author herself could hardly wait to quit the place with "happy feelings of escape."
"Another One Goes Tonight" is a wonderfully complex mystery-- perhaps a bit too complex--with a killer one doesn't spot, and plenty of twists galore.  It's perhaps not the best of the Diamond series, but it's still a very enjoyable read.

Another One Goes Tonight (Pol Proc-CDI Peter Lovesey-Bath, England-Cont) – G+
            Lovesey, Peter – 16th in series
            Soho crime - July 2016 

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

A Maiden Weeping by Jeri Westerson

First Sentence: His head snapped up for the second time.
Well into drink, an unknown man sits next to former knight Crispin Guest, gives him a pouch of silver and the address of a woman he is to murder, and disappears.  Although drunk, Guest tries to warn the woman, Elizabeth le Porter, with whom he becomes intimate before passing out, and finds murdered upon awaking.  However, upon being attacked by the brothers Norey, one brother ends up dead, Guest is arrested, and it's now up to Chrispin’s apprentice, Jack, with the help of newly certified barrister Nigellus Cobmartin, to free Guest.  Can they prove Guest's innocence and find the true killer?
It's always nice when authors, particularly those who write historical mysteries, include a forward which provides background and information about the period in which the story is set, as well as how they may have diverted from historical fact to serve the needs of the story. Having a glossary of terms is also a welcome addition.
Westerson doesn't ease one into the story.  As with her characters, she throws the audience into mystery and danger from the outset, while also giving us a sense as to the nature of the protagonist--"It was time for the Tracker to do his moral duty.  Sometimes, he really hated that sense of honor."
The characters, fully dimensional, are brought to life.  The dialogue has the flavour of the period without being heavy-handed--"I am no saint, sir, and, hopefully, no martyr.  "Crispin" I am.  You may have my leave, Master Nigellus."
Westerson is very good at creating wonderful twists while adding layer upon layer to the plot. Beyond the suspense and excitement, it is also a very human story about honor, trust, and commitment that can touch the emotions. There are also plenty of really well-done plot twists.
 “A Maiden Weeping” is a wonderful read, filled with delightful characters, and a story this rather similar to a child's dancing button toy, but with many more threads that start out separate, become much more intertwined as you go, and resolve themselves nicely in the end.

A Maiden Weeping (Hist Mys-Crispen Guest/Jack Tucker- England-1389/Medieval) - VG
      Westerson, Jeri - 8th in publishing order (9th in series order)
      Severn House, August 2016