Tuesday, November 28, 2017

The Devouring by James R. Benn

First Sentence:  Light is faster than sound.
Captain Billy Boyle and Lt. Piotr “Kaz” Kazimierz are headed to Switzerland but crash-land in France, meeting up with Anton Lasho, a Sinti (Gypsy) determined to kill every German he meets.  The three do make it across the border and connect with members of the OSS.  Their task? Investigate Swiss banks that are laundering looted Nazi gold.
From the very start, there is high drama and fast action, and it’s great.  One feels the anxiety of the characters as we are immediately introduced to Billy, “Kaz” and Anton Lasko, who is new to us but who proves to be such a good character, one wouldn’t mind seeing him in the future.  Billy and Kaz are truly wonderful characters.  One can very much appreciate the way in which Benn sprinkles information on their backgrounds throughout the story.  It is through the trio that Benn creates such painful, yet honest scenes that they touch one’s emotions.  That’s the mark of a truly fine writer.
Benn has an excellent voice.  He includes the vernacular of the 1940’s—“You’re all packing, I assume” … “Can you get us shoulder holsters?” I asked. “It’s clumsy carrying these six-shooters around in a coat pocket.”—without overdoing it.  He includes just the right touch of wry humor—“All we had to do was avoid imprisonment and long-range rifle fire.  All in a day’s work.”
This may be Benn’s most complex book so far.  It is filled with historical information. One may find it makes them quite angry.  Not toward the author, but because of the information which one may not have previously known, yet is important to learn.  And that’s what makes this a particularly good book.

The Devouring” is a really well-done tale of duplicity, stolen gold, and a country that wasn't quite as neutral as we thought.  

THE DEVOURING (Hist Mys-Lt. Billy Boyle-France/Switzerland- WWII) – VG
      Benn, James R. – 12th in series
      Soho Crime – Sept 2017

Monday, November 20, 2017

The Seagull by Ann Cleeves

First Sentence:  The woman could see the full sweep of the bay despite the dark and the absence of street lights where she stood.
An old enemy of Insp. Vera Stanhope, John Bruce asks that she visit him in prison where she helped put him.  He wants to cut a deal; information on the whereabouts of the body of Robbie Marshall, a long-missing hustler in exchange to Vera looking out for his daughter and grandchildren.  There is a very personal element to this case for Vera as Bruce, Marshall, and a man known only as “the Prof,” were close friends of her father, Hector Stanhope, bringing back memories Vera would prefer remain buried.
Cleeves creates such a strong sense of emotion—“Sometimes it felt as if her whole live had been spent in the half-light; in her dreams, she was moonlit, neon-lit, or she floated through the first gleam of dawn,”—and place—“The funfair at Spanish City was closed for the day, and quiet.  She could see the silhouettes of the rides, marked by string of coloured bulbs, gaudy in full sunlight, entrancing now.”
Those who follow the BBC television series “Vera” and may be disappointed by the departure of some characters, it’s nice to see that Holly and Joe are still here in the books.  The description of Vera’s team is done in terms of their relationships to Vera.  What is lovely is her understanding of what drives them, each member’s strength and what motivates them.  Vera and Joe’s visit to the mother of a missing man is a sad reminder of the pain through which families go without the closure of knowing what happened.
There is honest police work here.  The investigation is conducted by legwork as well as technology; getting out and talking with people.  The case is worked step-by-step, without flash.
Vera’s self-awareness is admirable—“then she thought she was making a drama of the situation.  She always did.” Yet, to her—“…the law matters.  All those little people you despise so much have to abide by it, and so do you.  So do I.”
The Seagull” is such a good book.  Beyond the excellent plot, what one really cares about is Vera and her team.

THE SEAGULL (Pol Proc-Inspector Vera Stanhope-England-Contemp) – Ex
      Cleeves, Ann – 8th in series
      Minotaur Books – Sept 2017

Monday, November 13, 2017

Desert Remains by Steven Cooper

First Sentence:  Her name is Elizabeth Spears.
The caves in the mountains around Phoenix are known for their petroglyphs, but these are different.  A kill has been carving pictures of his actual murders in each of the caves where the body of a woman is found.  Because the city powers want the case solved immediately, even though there are no clues, Detective Alex Mills calls on the talents of Gus Parker, a psychic he has worked with in the past.  Yet even the images Gus sees don’t seem to relate to these murders.  Or do they?
What an interesting beginning with the gruesomeness of the murder scene, and the bluntness of those at the crime scene contrasted against the beauty of a desert sunset. In the midst of that is an introduction to Det. Alex Mills, which may actually make one smile.  We then meet Gus Parker, a somewhat reluctant medical image technician, and his friend and fellow psychic Beatrice Vossenheimer as the two seek to unmask a fake psychic.  The information involved in their so doing is quite interesting and makes perfect sense.  Cooper establishes credibility for Gus by establishing that he has worked with other law enforcement agencies in the past.  While it is true that they are known to use psychics on occasion, it would have been interesting to learn about the research Cooper undertook about psychics and their role in this milieu.  Unfortunately, that information isn’t provided, even in the author notes.
It is nice to have a protagonist who is married, loves his wife and is faithful, but it is also realistic in that Mills’ home life isn’t idealized.  The situation introduces another plot thread which may seem awkward, and not really necessary.  It is also nice that Mills is a by-the-book cop who not only doesn’t work around the law but doesn’t even bend it.  Gus, too, has issues in his personal life that need addressing.  These aren’t characters who have been prettied up for public consumption.   These are characters who are realistic, including a Sheriff Joe Arpaio-like character. 
Cooper throws in some excellent plot twists.  What’s even more impressive is that he truly takes us along with Gus, with the help of Beatrice, on his search for the suspect.  It’s not a pound-the-pavement search, but one utilizing his research and impressions.  We become as invested as does Gus in truly trying to work things out. 
Once the climax is reached, one realized breadcrumbs had been laid throughout the plot, had we really been paying attention.  Happily, the story is interesting enough that most of us won’t have been.  There are some weaknesses to the writing that may niggle at the back of one’s consciousness, but they are rather like floaters in one’s eye; they’re a bit distracting but don’t destroy the overall enjoyment of the story.
Desert Remains” is Coopers’ first mystery and a very enjoyable read. It will be interesting to watch the series develop.

DESERT REMAINS (Pol Proc-Gus Parker/Alex Mills-Phoenix-Contemp) – G+
      Cooper, Steven – 1st in series
      Seventh Street Books – Oct 2017) 

Saturday, November 4, 2017

The Deep Dark Descending by Allen Eskens

First Sentence:  I raise the ax handle for the third time and my arm disobeys me.
Detective Max Rupert had believed his wife’s death was an accident.  Learning she was murdered sets him on a course of vengeance.  The question is:  How far will he go?
What a powerful and effective opening.  Eskins use of language and imagery is poetic—“After Jenni’s death, those occasions, even the lesser ones, remained my connection to her.  I found her thread woven through almost every part of my existence, a tapestry once vibrant and alive now in danger of fading away.”
The plot jumps back and forth between close-set time periods so one must pay attention.  There is a temptation to take the book apart and reassemble it in a straight timeline.  It’s hard to say whether anything would be lost by so doing.  Either way, one admires Eskens’ ability to pack a serious story with a strong emotional punch in less than 250 pages, following the style of many early masters of crime fiction. 
Even so, one may not find it as satisfying as Eskins’ other books, but it does raise an important question as to whether personal revenge can be justified.  It’s hard not to be reminded of Mark 8:36: “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” In this instance, what does Max gain?  One interesting item was the mention of when Michael Dukakis ran for president and was asked about the death penalty, and of Max’s late-wife Jenni’s position on the issue.
The Deep DarkDescending" is a powerful and emotional book, albeit not necessarily a comfortable one to read.  And that’s not a bad thing. Eskens is a writer one will want to follow.

THE DEEP DARK DESCENDING (Pol Proc-Det. Max Rupert-Minnesota-Contemp) – VG    
      Eskens, Allen - Standalone
      Seventh Street Books – Oct 2017

Saturday, October 28, 2017

The Naturalist by Andrew Mayne

First Sentence:  Red and blue police lights splash off the chipped chrome letters spelling ICE MACHINE.
Professor Theo Cray uses computational science and applies it to biology, including the study of DNA.  On a field trip, staying in a small town in northern Montana, he is taken in for police questioning related to recent deaths of women.  One set of photos stands out.  A young woman, one of Theo’s former students, had been involved.  Theo ends up with a vial of her blood that also contains a strand of hair, and even though the bear has been killed, something doesn’t seem right to Theo.    That instinct ends up putting him in extreme danger.
We begin with a very good, creepy, scary, and ultimately deadly opening.  Mayne is so good at setting the scene and making it dramatic.  He then adds a bit of irony to it, while completely capturing our attention.  He also provides an interesting assessment of grief—“The trouble is we expect the emote part of emotion.  Humans are social primates, and our experiences have to be externalized to be acknowledged by others.”
There is nothing better than an author who entertains and makes one think.  Mayne succeeds at both.  He both makes the science, such as the two types of DNA, comprehensible and interesting but raises other questions that make one stop and consider; did Christians steal the story of creation from the Greeks?
Detective Glenn is an interesting character.  The reversal of roles is nice, where Glenn is the understanding, sympathetic cop, and the woman Sheriff Tyson is hard-nosed, just wants answers.  But it’s Cray who is the focus; a seemingly stereotypical scientist who is brilliant at somethings and completely naïve about others.  Yet, one can’t help but enjoy the bits of humor—“I’m such an idiot.”  “Not everyone can be a rocket scientist.”  “CalTech’s program actually accepted me.  But I turned it down to study biology at M.I.T.”  There is a very good transition, with the help of a friend, that takes Cray beyond his role—“I’m done being the crazy guy showing up in police stations with a wild story about a killer who makes crimes look like animal attacks.”  All the characters are smart, capable, and strong in the best sense.
The story is well plotted.  There are some good twists one should have seen coming but didn’t, which is always good.  Mayne builds the suspense to an almost unbearable pitch, ensuring that one won’t stop reading until the final page.
The Naturalist” is one fascinating, intense, un-put-downable read.  Mayne really knows how to tell a gripping story.  Best of all, it appears to be the start of a new series.

THE NATURALIST (Ama. Sleuth-Prof. Theo Cray-Montana-Contemp) – VG+
      Mayne, Andrew – 1st in series
      Thomas & Mercer (Oct 2017)

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

The Ashes of London by Andrew Taylor

First Sentence:  The noise was the worst.
A raging fire has destroyed part of London, including St. Paul’s Cathedral.  In the remains is found a body.  Not a victim of the fire, but someone who has been mutilated and with his thumbs tied together behind his back:  a sign of those who committed Regicide by signing the death warrant for Charles I.  Richard Marwood, a reluctant government informer and son of those who committed treason, is charged with finding the killer. Cat Lovett, whose missing father was also part of the treasonous group, desires to be an architect but instead is struggling to survive.
The author’s notes at the beginning of the book are not only important to understanding the background of the story but are also quite fascinating.  The story’s opening is evocative, visual and immediately captivating.  Into the midst of it all, we are introduced to our first surprise followed by a revelation about one of our two protagonists.
Taylor creates fascinating characters and intermingles them with actual historical figures, yet without ever allowing the fictional characters to be overshadowed.  As well as carrying the story, they facilitate the conveying of historical facts about which we may never have heard, such as the group known as the Fifth Monarchists.  Still, it is Richard, Cat, Mrs. Alderley, Master Hakesby who play critical roles.  Mrs. Alderly, in particular, is an interesting character.  There is much more to her than we first believe.
There is always the sense that much is going on behind the scenes of which neither we, nor our protagonist, is aware.  Although the fire is not a major focus of the story, the destruction of whole areas, and the impact on people’s lives, as well as the planning of rebuilding does play, in part, an important role.   We are also reminded that some things haven’t really changed in 600 years; women are still held responsible for men’s indiscretions, and that environs of sanctuary are not a new concept.
Taylor moves seemlessly between the storylines of Richard and Cat.  He brings the two tantalizingly close, then separates them, then a bit closer still.  When the two threads do meet, it is tense and very dramatic. 
The Ashes of London” is a very good read filled with “ashes and blood,” history, excellent characters, startling revelations and a twist one doesn’t see coming.

THE ASHES OF LONDON (Hist. Mys-Richard Marwood – London – 1666) - VG
      Taylor, Andrew – 1st of trilogy
      Harper Collins – Jan 2017

Friday, October 20, 2017

Old Scores by Will Thomas

First Sentence:  I suppose it all began with the garden.
A delegation of Japanese diplomats is in London to discuss opening an embassy.  Enquiry Agent Cyrus Barker, who lived in Japan, is asked to show the gentlemen his garden.  When Ambassador Toda is murdered later that night, and Barker found across the street, he is arrested, interrogated, and finally released.  Scotland Yard isn’t convinced of his innocence, but the new Japanese ambassador implores Barker and Llewelyn to find the real killer.
One would be hard-pressed to find a more delightful story narrator than Thomas Llewelyn—“’Is there anything I can do?’ I asked, … ‘I could help with the penjing trees…’  ‘No, no, lad, you just go ahead and read.’  Very well, so I’m not an expert gardener.  Some wag, probably our butler, Max, expressed the belief that bonsai (to give them the Japanese name) Scream at the mention of my name.  England has been called a nation of gardeners, but no one said anything about Wales.”
The author is very good at providing background as one goes and throwing in very effective plot twists.  He also tosses in small bits of philosophy and/or perspective--
Berker gold me once that when someone criticizes you, you must take it to heart, and try to see yourself from his or her point of view.”
We are given a look at Japan’s politics during an interesting time in history, and politics between the traditionalists and the progressives.  As usual, it was the US which threw things into turmoil.
The dialogue is wonderfully done.  One looks forward to the humorous—“’How do we know anything without asking’ “Seen and ye shall find:  knock and the door will be opened unto you.’ Barker smiled. ‘Well, well,’ he said ‘So he can quote scripture.’ ‘As Shakespeare said, ‘The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose.’”
There are a couple of characters those who follow the series will be pleased to see; Rebecca Cowan, Llewelyn’s intended, and Fu Yung, Barker’s ward.  The meeting between the two women is delightful.  Moreover, it’s a pleasant reminder of how well-developed are all of Thomas’ characters, include those who are female.  Barker’s story of his time in Japan is enlightening and tragic.  It explains quite a bit about the character.  Thomas is someone followers of the series have seen grow and change.  This is not a series where the characters stagnate.
Between Barker’s French-trained chef, and his Chinese friends and restaurant owner Ho, food always plays a role.  From eggs in truffle butter, to bacon sandwiches, noodles with prawns, and even fugu, the poisonous puffer fish, it is delectably described.
Just when one may think there is a lot of talk and not a lot of action, one is proven very wrong.  There is a nice twist in that the bad guys don’t always die.  Too, there is a wonderful reference to the Battle of Culloden. 
Old Scores” is a pleasurable balance of well-done characters, dialogue, and suspense along with fascinating lessons of history.

OLD SCORES (Hist Mys-Barker and Llewelyn – London – VG
      Thomas, Will – 9th in series
      Minotaur Books – October 2017

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

A Casualty of War by Charles Todd

First Sentence:  Lieutenant Morrison died as dawn broke on the Friday morning, a casualty of war.
Field nurse Bess Crawford treats Captain Travis, a patient disoriented from a head wound.  He believes Lt. James Travis, a distant cousin and Englishman, deliberately shot him.  Released, he is brought back, wounded a second time and still insisting on the same story.  Upon Bess’ return to England, she finds the captain strapped to a hospital bed and being treated for a brain injury.  Bess enlists the help of Sgt. Major Simon Brandon to unravel Travis’ story and find the truth.
From the very start, Todd touches one’s emotions.  Although it’s coming to the end of the war, it is still very active and provides an interesting perspective on events and even the attitudes by some regarding providing medical treatment to captured German soldiers.
At first, one may believe one knows where the story is going.  As it progresses, things do change and a twist makes things all the more interesting.  As they say, the plot thickens even more.
Bess is such a strong character.  Her nature is well-explained, as is her dedication. One can’t help being attracted to Sgt. Major Simon Brandon.  He is steady, supportive, and never dismisses or talks down to Bess.  With the war ending, will we finally see something happen between the two of them?
The story does read a bit like a melodrama at times.  However, it turns out there is a very clever, and well-hidden, motive.
A Casualty of War” takes one from the battles of France to London and to a small English town, all in search for truth.  With the war coming to an end, it is going to be interesting to see where the series will go from here.

A CASUALTY OF WAR (Hist Mys – Bess Crawford-France/England-WWI) – G+
      Todd, Charles – 9th in series
      William Morrow – Sept 2017

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Dead Woman Walking by Sharon Bolton

First Sentence:  ‘This woman – Jessica Lane – should have died. …”
Jessica Lane surprises her sister, a Carmelite nun, with a hot air balloon ride for her birthday.  While looking down, the balloon passengers see a man commit murder. Unfortunately, he also sees them, and a woman taking pictures with her cell phone and causes the balloon to crash killing all but one.  Alone and on the run, she is just trying to survive and find help.
This is going to be a short-ish review.  Not because the book isn’t good, but because it is so good one doesn’t want to say too much, but would rather other people read it for themselves. 

When Bolton is on mark, she is such a pleasure to read, and she is truly there with this book. 
What begins with lovely descriptions quickly turns into a horrific experience.  Bolton is very good at conveying terror and the emotions of the events, but she is equally at offsetting the grim with some excellent humor. 
Knowing the villain from the start adds to the sense of menace.  That the danger builds continually throughout the entire book keeps one glued to the story.  Yes, there are scenes that are difficult to read.  However, the story is so fast-paced, one isn’t about to stop. 
The protagonist is a fascinating character.  She’s strong and resourceful.  One of the best characters is Sister Belinda.  Who doesn’t love a nun who addicted to police dramas?
Bolton’s plotting is what truly wins the day.  Talk about a book full of twists and turns.  With each chapter or so, one learns more, yet still isn’t quite certain where the story is going. What one finds is that it is well worth going along for the ride as the story takes one places that can’t be anticipated.
Dead Woman Walking” is a remarkable, “WOW!” of a book.  It is non-stop action filled with suspense, twists, and surprises to the very last page.

DEAD WOMAN WALKING (Susp-Jessica-Scotland-Contemp) – VG+
      Bolton, Sharon – Standalone
      Minotaur Books – Aug 2017

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

The Wrong Side of Goodbye by Michael Connelly

First Sentence:  They charged from the cover of the elephant grass toward the LZ, five of them swarming the slick on both sides, one among them yelling, “Go! Go! Go!”—as if each man needed to be prodded and reminded that these were the most dangerous seconds of their lives.”
Harry Bosch is on leave from the LAPD but has been taken on as a volunteer reserve officer investigating the cold case of a serial rapist for the San Fernando PD.  However, working as a private investigator, Bosch has been hired by an elderly billionaire to find any heirs he may have from when he was a college student.  The man’s company very much wants Harry to fail.
It is interesting that we open with a reminder of the terrible cost of war.  Any war.  All wars. 
Connelly has such a clear and distinctive voice, part of which is the ever-present sarcastic humour—“You can come back now.” “Good. Any longer and I was going to jump.” She didn’t smile. …”It’s impact-resistant glass,” she said. “It can take the force of a category-five hurricane.” “Good to know,” Bosch said. “And I was only joking.”
It’s good that we learn the backstory of Bosch’s situation with the LAPD. One thing one never needs worry about is learning the history and/or backstory of people and places.  Connelly is very good and providing those, often with an interesting perspective—“Working cold cases had made Bosch proficient in time travel.”  However, one does rather wonder what is the normal rate of an officer clearing murder cases.
Another of Connelly’s many skills is outlining police procedures, and describing the impact budget reductions has on solving crimes.  This is not only informative but adds a strong element of realism.  Even so, Bosch is a character who likes to do things very much his own way.
It is nice to have Bosch’s half-brother, Mickey Haller, brought into the story.  However, there are a lot of coincidences, and the interactions with Bosch’s daughter seemed random and didn’t really add anything to the story.  Another rather irritating factor is the constant relating of driving directions. It is rather as if listing to a GPS.  It doesn't really provide a true sense of place and feels like filler. 
The plot is well done.  Connelly balances the two story threads very well.  There are good twists, red herrings, and “ah-ha!” moments.  The buildup of suspense nicely done, as is the exposure of the killer.
The Wrong Side of Goodbye” is classic Connelly.  It’s a satisfying read Connelly fans will enjoy.

THE WRONG SIDE OF GOODBYE (Pol Proc-Bosch/Haller-LA-Contemp) – Good
      Connelly, Michael – 19th in series
      Little, Brown and Company – Nov, 2016

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Wilful Behavior by Donna Leon

First Sentence: The explosion came at breakfast.
A student of Insp. Guido Brunetti’s wife, Paola, visits him inquiring whether someone who had been convicted of a crime and is now dead could be officially cleared if shown innocent. Brunetti is not given enough information initially, but the question peaks his interest. When the student, Claudia Leonardo, is murdered, the question goes from being a matter of curiosity to an investigation.
Leon is a wonderful writer. Her writing is intelligent, literary and thought provoking with cracking good dialogue. She is merciless toward the tempering of historical information, the corruption of the government and American tourists. She imbues her story with an underlying theme; in this case, honour.
Leon gives us such wonderful characters in Brunetti, about whose childhood we learn more, his wife, Paola, and the strength of their 20-year marriage, and the intriguing Signorina Elettra. One cares about her characters; not only the principals but, in this case, Claudia and her grandmother, because of the strength of her central, Brunetti. The city of Venice is almost another character in the story.
The sense of place is so strong as is the obvious love Brunetti has for his city, in spite of its faults. Yet, coming back to the theme of honour, Brunetti would have left his city because of a point of honour.  The descriptions of the family meals make one want to join them.
Under all this, is a well-plotted, fascinating, couldn’t-tell-where-it-was-going story. It is nice that the reader learns the information at the same time as Brunetti. When he is lead down the wrong path, so are we; when he begins to suspect, so do we.
Wilful Behavior” is another excellent book from of Ms. Leon.  The best part is there are many more books that follow.

WILFUL BEHAVIOUR (Pol. Prod.-Ins. Guido Brunetti-Venice, Italy-Cont) - Ex
      Leon, Donna – 11th in series
      Arrow Books, 2003

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Trace by Archer Mayor

First Sentence:  Jayla Robinson looked out across Albany’s Lancaster Street at the three matching brownstones opposite.
Joe Gunther, head of the Vermont Bureau of Investigation, needs to take his elderly mother to a hospital in the Midwest leaving his team with three very different cases; the medical examiner’s daughter’s roommate being murdered in their apartment, a closed double murder where it is now found isn’t as cut-and-dried as it originally appeared, and the discovery of three teeth and a burned-out battery found on a railroad track.
Mayor’s books contain a true ensemble cast of very individual characters.  By removing Gunther from center stage for most of the book, the other characters have a chance to shine.  Mayor’s descriptions tell us much more about each character than just their appearance or even background. 
That we also learn about their personalities plays a major role in the growth in the relationship of two characters. While one may not normally be a fan of a relationship focus in a mystery, it really does work here with growth and realization.  He doesn’t stint on the secondary characters, either.  The relationship Joe has with his brother Leo is very easy and realistic.
One thing about police procedurals is the fascinating things one learns.  In this case it is regarding planted fingerprints and about trains, as well as how the VBI—the Bureau of Criminal Investigations in the real world--interacts with other agencies. But Mayor is also very good about the small details.  Not only are they not boring, but often it’s the sort of thing where one things—“Oh, I’d forgotten about that.”  A lot of the methodologies and technologies employed are very clever.
Trace” contains three cases each of which is interesting and stands on its own with details and suspense building at a nice pace. It also ends with a nice homage to the vast majority of good, honest, hard-working police officers who really do work to protect and serve.

TRACE (Pol Proc-VBI Team-Vermont-Contemp) – G+
      Mayor, Archer – 28th in series
      Minotaur Books, Sept 2017

Sunday, September 24, 2017

An Echo of Murder by Anne Perry

First Sentence:  “It’s A bad one, sir.”
Comm. William Monk is called to the gruesome murder scene of a Hungarian warehouse owner who has been impaled with a bayonet-fixed rifle, his body surrounded by blood-dipped candles.  To assist his work with the Hungarian émigrés, Monk turns to a local bi-lingual pharmacist.  Young Scuff, an orphan taken in by the Monk’s, is studying to be a doctor.  A patient, who is English but knows Hungarian, comes in who knew Hester during the Crimea War. With more bodies found, fear and accusations grow.
Perry always creates a strong sense of place—“…the Pool of London was already busy.  Huge cranes lifted loads of bales from ships’ holds and swung them ponderously over to the docks. The water was congested with boats at anchor, waiting their turn; barges loading; ferries going back and forth from one side of the river to the other.”
While it may seem shocking to us now, one must remember that our opioids of today were the morphine and laudanum of the period and were commonly used.  What is hard is to read about some of the medical procedures of the time.  On the other hand, it is nice to be reminded of the tremendous contribution Florence Nightingale made to medicine. 
Perry excels at taking current issues and reminding us that plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose (the more things change, the more they stay the same).  In this instance, the issue is bigotry and the fear of those who are different from ourselves—“Some animals will kick to death the ones that are different,” he said very quietly. “a different color, a slightly different shape. Slower, perhaps.  There is something primal in us that fears anything unlike. … I would like to think we are better than the animals, but perhaps some of us are not.”—and the tendency for those who’ve come from somewhere else to establish communities—“There was a natural closeness they felt to those who shared their roots and memories and, above all, who understood the complicated nature of a hope for a new life in a new country.” 
A secondary element to the story is PTSD, although it wasn’t known as that at the time.  Perry doesn’t deal with it in an abstract way but delves into what those who suffer are subjected to such as flashbacks and nightmares. 
With all the drama of the killings and the medical issues, there is a lovely balance of the relationships; Monk’s with his second, Hooper—“Monk had seen it in extraordinary loyalty.  When everyone else had considered Monk guilty of error, and worse, Hooper had risked his own life to save him, not to mention his career to defend him.”; the Monk’s with Scruff, and certainly Monk with Hester—“The only thing Monk could think about was hot, fresh tea.  Hester had no need to ask.  “Cold beef and bubble and squeak for dinner?” she asked. “And I’ve got apple pie.” It was exactly what he wanted, especially the pie.”
It is the strength of the characters that brings everything together, and there is a very strong cast.  Many of the characters are recurring and well known to those who follow the series.  However, it is also very nice that she brought two wonderful characters from a recent Christmas novella forward into this book.
An Echo of Murder” is a very well done story that addresses important issues, is filled with strong characters, fascinating details, and a good twist at the end.  

 AN ECHO OF MURDER (Hist Mys-Thomas/Hester Monk-London-Victorian) – VG+
      Perry, Anne – 23rd in series
      Ballantine Books-Sept 2017

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Even Dogs in the Wild by Ian Rankin

First Sentence:  Eventually the passenger ejected the tape and tossed it on to the back seat.

DI Siobhan (Shiv-awn) Clark and Malcolm Fox, formerly with the Complaints bureau, have been assigned to investigate the death of, David Minton, a man with friends in high places.  It was clearly not an interrupted robbery since nothing is missing, but something was left behind; a threatening note.  Retirement doesn’t suit John Rebus and is happy to help Clark and Fox.  What he didn’t expect is a call from “Big Ger” Cafferty, a man Rebus would dearly love to put in prison.  Someone shot at Cafferty and left him a note with the same message that Minton received.
Although prologues can be an extremely annoying element, in this case, it does provide a rather intriguing opening. 
Rebus, as with most series, is best read in order as it allows one to show how the relationships have developed over time, such as the friendship between Clarke and Fox, and the new twist in the highly adverbial relationship between Rebus and Cafferty. That said, it is a credit to Rankin that he provides sufficient backstory on his characters that the books can be read as standalones without new readers feeling lost.
It is the characters who draw us in.  There is a sense of a moral code driving Rebus, Malcolm, and Clarke that makes them so strong and compelling.  They provide a good balance, one to the another, as well.  Where Rebus might be willing to bend the rules, Malcolm will not.  The addition of something as mundane as—“…a cardboard cup of scalding tea and a cling-film-tuna sandwich…” adds an element of normalcy and veracity.
Rankin’s dialogue is wonderful, particularly with his inclusion of wry humor—“Now, is there any chance you can get Jackie Stewart here to put the foot down?” His voice, in general, makes his books a real pleasure to read—“No detective wanted a lawyer to think they were more stupid than most lawyers already considered them to be.”  His descriptions are both evocative and pause-worthy—“Edinburgh had always seemed to Rebus a city that liked to keep its counsel and its secrets.”
“Even Dogs in the Wild” is such a good book filled with excellent characters and very good twists.  Rankin is an author who never disappoints.
EVEN DOGS IN THE WILD (Pol Proc-Rebus/Clarke/Fox-Scotland-Contemp) – VG+
      Rankin, Ian – 20th in series
      Little, Brown and Company, Jan 2016     

Monday, September 18, 2017

Secrets in Death by J.D. Robb

First Sentence:  It wouldn’t kill her.
Lt. Eve Dallas investigates homicides, but the victims don’t usually drop dead at her feet.  Larinda Mars is a “social information reporter”; i.e., a gossip columnist who clearly has an enemy since someone slashed one of Mars major arteries causing her to bleed out in the middle of an upscale bar.  Eve and her team are determined to find the killer.
Some readers have an issue with the bedroom scenes in this series.  “Outlander” author, Diana Gabaldon, provided an excellent perspective in her line reminding readers that sex is a normal part of an adult relationship and that “it is much more about emotion than the exchange of bodily fluids.”  That said, the scenes are easy to skip over without losing the thread of the plot.
The slightly futuristic world in which one finds oneself is just enough to provide for fun imaging, yet not so removed from our reality that it seems implausible.  As with much of science fiction, it is not impossible that some of the gadgets and technologies will ultimately be realized.

Robb creates excellent characters, not only in Eve, but the supporting characters of Roark, Galahad the cat, Mira, Peabody, and the rest of Eve's team.  However, it is about Summerset that we receive an interesting, and surprising, revelation.  
The primary attraction to the series is the characters, particularly Eve.  She is an interesting dichotomy between the tough, smart cop who is dedicated to standing in for the dead even when they may not have been good people themselves and the woman who is completely indifferent to her appearance and is unaware of many things outside her job. But she does know baseball.  
Secrets in Death” is an enjoyable read with a couple well-executed twists. It is more of a straight police procedural that some in the series.

NOTE:  If you read the hardcover edition, made certain to look at the back side of the paper dust cover.

 SECRETS IN DEATH (Pol Proc-Lt. Eve Dallas-NYC-Near Future) – G+
      Robb, J.D. – 45th in series
      St. Martin’s Press – Sept 2017

Friday, September 15, 2017

Another Man's Ground by Claire Booth

First Sentence:  The dispatch call said there was stripping going on in the woods, and the property owner was not happy about it.
Sheriff Hank Worth is in the midst of his re-election campaign when called out on a case of an unusual theft, but one of considerable value.  He is successful in keeping a certain aspect of the case quiet from the general populous until a body is found.
A very clever hook definitely captures one’s attention.  Booth then proceeds to provide some very interesting “who knew?” information.
Hank having to go through all the work of a political campaign provides an interesting look at what is involved and how manipulative they are.  There is a religious sensibility which runs through the story, but not in any way that is preachy or should cause anyone of any faith, or no faith, discomfort.
Booth’s depiction of a mother whose child has been missing is very effective and painful.  She conveys the eternal hope one would have even in the face of knowing the case is no longer a priority for law enforcement.
The team of officers is a true ensemble with Hank as its supportive lead, and one officer wanting to be involved—“But, man, was he in some kind of business, where getting handed two homicide cases improved an employee’s morale.”  Sheila, in particular, is a well-crafted character as a detective who is a good team member and one who truly cares about the victim.  All of the characters are very well developed. Hank’s relationships with his wife and with Lovinia, an older woman who shows up at every crime scene and is as wise as she is delightful, are very well presented.
“Another Man’s Ground” has murder, drugs, and politics in a wonderfully unpredictable plot.  This is a book once started won’t be put down until it’s finished.

ANOTHER MAN’S GROUND (Pol Proc-Sheriff Hank Worth-Branson Co., MO-Contemp) - Ex
      Booth, Claire – 2nd in series
      Minotaur Books, July 2017

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

The Quiet Child by John Burley

First Sentence:  Michael McCray squinted into the low-hanging sun as he swung the liberty blue Mercury four-door into the Century Grocery parking log off Gas Point Road.
Danny and Sen McCray are 6- and 10-years-old respectively when they go to the market with their father, Michael.  There have always been rumors about Danny, who doesn’t talk, being the cause of sickness in the town and to his own mother.  When a man steals McCray’s car, with the boys inside, Sheriff Jim Kent ignores those who say the town may be better off with Danny and sets off to help find the boys.
What a wonderfully deceptive story.  There is an oppressive spirit to both the characters and the setting—“Outside, the sun rose further in the sky, but despite the windows and open doorway, little of the light seemed to penetrate the dim interior.  To Jim’s eye, there was no architectural reason for why this should be so, only that this was what he’d come to recognize as a waiting house: a homestead turned inward, sheltering its occupants from crisis or illness, attempting to protect them until the worse of it passed.”    
One doesn’t realize how much technology has impacted even police work until faced with trying to trace a call in the1950s.  Burley makes even that information interesting. 
Jim Kent, the retired plumber turned town sheriff, is such a good character with his determination to find the missing children.  One wouldn’t mind seeing him again.

One doesn't want to say too much for fear of giving the story away.  It is a story of the actions to which superstition and desperation can lead.  Know, however, that one's astonishment? ...dismay? grows with each page.
“The Quiet Child” is completely engrossing.  It is a disturbing but very good read.

THE QUIET CHILD (Psy Thriller-Michael McCray-Cottonwood, CA-1954) – VG
      Burley, John – Standalone
      William Morrow, 2017

Sunday, September 10, 2017

By My Hand by Maurizio de Giovanni

First Sentence: The murderous hands work unhurriedly in the dim light.

Christmas is coming to Naples, a city now under a fascist regime and where people live in tremendous poverty in contrast to the luxurious apartment in which the bodies of a militia officer and his wife have been found. While searching out the killer, or killers, Commisaario Ricciardi is concerned for his elderly former nurse and torn between two women, while Brigadier Maione is dealing with a crisis of his own.

One does not enter gently into this story. Instead, one is nearly overwhelmed by the visual and narrative contrasts that attract and repel us. However, the one thing one does not do is stop reading.

The two principal characters of Ricciardi and Maione are such wonderful contrasts to one another, yet they balance each other perfectly. Maione provides a bit of light, whereas Ricciardi believes himself to be the dark due to his ability? curse? gift? of the Deed, which causes him to see the final seconds of those who’ve died by violence. What’s nice is that these final seconds don’t help Ricciardi solve the crimes, as the words only make sense in the end.

Supporting them is the always delightful Dr. Moto and his newly adopted dog; Bambinelle, Maione’s informant; Rosa, who has been with Ricciardi since his childhood; and Erica, the object of unrequited (so far) love on both parts. It is the balance between being a police procedural, and being a book about people and their relationships, that helps make this book so compelling.

The thoughts of the killer are chilling. While this is a device that can be intrusive, it works here and provides a frightening look at the dichotomy of the killer’s mind. In complete contrast Livia, the wealthy widow in love with Ricciardi, provide us a sense of place and a view of the people of Naples, “Waking up to the calls of the strolling vendors, the noise rising from the streets, the songs. And the smells, the thousands of pots bubbling busily away, the thousands of frying pans sizzling, the pastry shops competing to present their masterpieces. Everyone had dreamed up a calling, a profession; every one of them was trying to eke out a living.”

There are two principal grounding elements to the story; the crashing of the waves representing conflict, and Christmas with all the emotions surrounding it, which provides wonderful segues to increasingly more serious aspects of the story—“Christmas is an emotion. It’s a strong as a pounding heart, as light as a fluttering eyelash. But it can be swept away by a gust of wind and never come at all.” de Giovanni does a wonderful job of linking traditions of the present to those of the distant past, and of teaching us that about which we may not have known, such as the symbolism of, and meaning behind each figural element of the Nativity.

And, of course, being set in Italy, there is food—“boiling posts of the maccaronari, or macaroni vendors, and the posts of oil for the fried-pizza man, who also fried piping-hot panzarotti turnovers and potato croquettes…” Yet, there is also a wonderful definition of faith—“Our faith wasn’t made to erect barriers, walls, or iron bars between us and love; it was made to increase the presence of love in our lives so that we can give of ourselves and live in a state of communion…”

By My Hand” is a more serious book than its predecessors as it relates to the politics of the time: one senses the changes and coming threat with each book. It is also a very good murder mystery/police procedural. However, at its heart, it is a book about people and relationships, and motives. The motive here is a sad one, yet the resolutions of the conflicts related to the principle characters will warm your heart, and make you anxious to read the next book. It is Christmas, after all.

BY MY HAND (Hist Mys-Comm. Ricciardi/Brig. Maione-Naples-1931) – VG+
      de Giovanni, Maurizio – 5th in series
      Europa Editions, Aug 2014