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