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