Sunday, February 26, 2017

Bryant & May: Strange Tide by Christopher Fowler

First Sentence:  Nothing gave Arthur Bryant greater satisfaction than making his first blotch on a fresh white page.
The body of a woman chained to a stone and left to drown by the Thames isn’t that unusual a crime.  But finding only one set of footprints which lead one direction does make it more unusual.  As more bodies are found, and Arthur Bryant’s mind becomes less stable leaving the team floundering, could this be the end of the Peculiar Crimes Unit? 
Not every contemporary mystery opens with Celtic Queen Boddica sitting on a wall eating a candy bar.  But then, this is Christopher Fowler who has taught readers to expect the unexpected.  His use of a staff memo to the PUC is a wonderful way to introduce readers to both the characters and their functions.
Switching gears to two men trying to escape Libya for England is a perfect example of Fowler’s ability to change from humor to the horror often experienced by refugees.  It is both terrible and compelling—“Many of the passengers had already been made frail by hunger and thirst, and the sea began to swallow them.  They slipped silently beneath the surface like players forfeiting a game.”  We are also given a lesson in how quickly and easily identity theft can take place. 
The history lessons one receives are fascinating and add to the story’s strong sense of place.  There are excellent observations on the wastefulness of Westerners where time and money are concerned.  But it’s the detailed information of London and the Thames that add to the delightful experience of the reader.
Fowler’s voice is such a delight to read—“Longbright and May seated themselves in the cavernous living room opposite Cooper, keeping a distant cordiality, a double act they had finessed over the years until it reached the level of a top-notch production of Waiting for Godot.”  He also really knows how to construct a plot.  One can never predict where he is going to take one next.
Counting this, over the past three books, Bryant’s physical and mental health have been a major plot point—“Bryant released himself back into the vibrancy of the city with relief, for he had come to understand that in the midst of winter there was within him an invincible summer.”  The realization of its cause is brilliant and a bit embarrassing once one realizes the clues have been there all along.
The book is not all cerebral, however.  It is filled with excellent plot twists, a very exciting chase scene, and lots of suspects of various crimes.
Bryant and May: Strange Tide” does not disappoint.  It has an excellent building of danger and suspense, a wonderful ending, and some of the best characters written today.

BRYANT and MAY: STRANGE TIDE (Pol Proc-Bryant/May-London-Contemp) – Ex
      Fowler, Christopher – 13th in series
      Bantum – Dec 2016

Monday, February 20, 2017

Hidden Graves by Jack Fredrickson

First Sentence:  Three minutes and twenty-three seconds before the skeleton came at him with an axe, the candidate for US Senate stood grim, trim and confident behind a mahogany lectern set on the freshly hacked weeks of an abandoned farm.
After the US Senate candidate publically embarrasses himself, he goes into complete hiding.  An anonymous, heavily disguised woman hires Dek to travel to three Western States looking for men who don’t seem to exist.  And someone is trying very hard to frame him for murder, or make him a victim himself.  Can Dek put the pieces together?
Starting out with a good hook is important, and boy; does this have a good hook! It also has Fredrickson’s voice and wry humor—“‘What’s the matter with your right hand?’ she asked.  ‘I pulled it out to show her the patchwork of Band-aids. ‘It got damaged.’ ‘Your Band-Aids have cartoon characters on them.’ There was nothing wrong with her eyesight.”—and his use of description—“Outside, the setting sun was beginning to gild the waves in the ocean.”
Dek is an interesting, well-drawn character about whose past history we learn as we go.  That he is surrounded by a unique assortment of supporting characters gives him dimension and balance to the drama; occasionally too much so.  Dek’s relationship with his ex-wife Amanda is an interesting one and one that changes/develops with each book.
Fredrickson’s imagery is very well done—“Curbside girls were wobbling home, a few bucks richer, a few hundred years older.”  However, one must, once again, criticize the overuse of chapter-end cliffhangers and portents which are so unnecessary that they become annoying for their predictable presence—“I told her that would be just about right, because at the time I believed it.”  Dropping the second half of that sentence would have been more suspenseful, and more effective.  This is true of every incident. 
Hidden Graves” is a very enjoyable read with an excellent twist.  It’s another good addition to a well-done series.

HIDDEN GRAVES (PI-Dek Elstrom-Illinois-Contemp) – G+
      Fredrickson, Jack – 6th in series
      Severn House – Feb 2017

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Past Crimes by Glen Erik Hamilton

First Sentence:  From the time he was six years old, Van Shaw was raised by his Irish immigrant grandfather Donovan to be a thief—to boost cars, beat security alarms, crack safes, and burglarize businesses.
Army Ranger Van Shaw returns on leave to his home in Seattle only to find his grandfather seriously wounded by a gunshot.  His grandfather was no shining example, except how to live on the wrong side of the law of car theft, burglary, and safe-cracking.  But his grandfather did raise him, and he won’t quit until he finds the shooter and uncovers all the secrets of the past.
Hamilton creates an interesting opening with almost a Jack Reacher feel to it, but not.  He has a good voice—“Even after she died and was buried and long gone, I felt she was still in the hospital, somewhere just out of sight.  The six-year-old me would feel that forever.” However, how nice would it be if authors would stop using the textbook “How to Write a Mystery 101” of short chapters, an arc and a cliff-hanger segue at the end of each chapter. 
On the positive side, Hamilton’s characters are distinctive and interesting, with the elderly neighbor, Addie Proctor, being a particular standout.  Her sangfroid adds just the right touch—“Pieces of the broken chair were strewn around the room.  The breakfast table had fresh gouges exposing raw wood beneath.  A glass salt-and-pepper set had fallen off and shattered.  The spilled contents soaked up the whiskey.  Addy Proctor took it all in and tugged Stanley back from the broken glass. “Redecorating?” she said.”
The ticking clock aspect of Van having only 10-days leave is a very successful element of suspense.  His visual imagery is excellent—“Madrona trees grew in bunches around the pitted shore.  The orange-red trunks twisted and strangled one another for precious space.”
The flashbacks to Van’s youth certainly explain the genesis and development of his character, but they also detract from the flow of the main story and, after a time, seem to be filler which could have been significantly edited down.  A longer book doesn’t necessarily signify a better book. Sadly, the plot didn't really hold together and an event at the end seemed to come completely out of the blue.
 “Past Crimes” is an interesting debut to the noir space.  It makes for a decent airplane book. 

 PAST CRIMES: A Van Shaw Novel (Susp-Van Shaw-Seattle-Contemp) – Good
      Hamilton, Glen Erik – 2nd in series
      William Morrow – March 2015

Thursday, February 9, 2017

I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh

First Sentence:  Detective Inspector Ray Stevens stood next to the window and contemplated his office chair, on which an arm had been broken for at least a year.
A child, on his way home from school, releases his mother's hand with disastrous results.  Jenna Gray leaves everything behind and moves to a remote cottage in Wales, hiding from her past.  A pair of investigators with the Bristol police are trying to solve the hit-and-run, but are frustrated at every turn.  Can the pieces be put together?
The prologue is the perfect example of a wide-awake nightmare.  It is painful to read, and a definite attention grabber.
The first third/half of the book almost reads more as a romance than suspense.  It is so disappointing when characters fall into predictable, stereotypical situations.  But one wants to keep reading just to see where the story is going.  One thinks one knows, until one finds they are completely wrong. 
Then comes the second and third parts of the story--talk about hugely disappointing.  It is as though Mackintosh watched “Sleeping with the Enemy,” and/or “Jagged Edge” way too many times.  That said, I do give her credit for knowing how to play with the reader’s loyalties and emotions. 
Not only are many of the situations stereotypical, but so are most of the characters.  By far, the best character is Bethan, who has a secondary role, along with Insp. Stevens.   It’s unfortunate there weren’t more characters such as those.    
I Let You Go” had some strengths.  It also had major weaknesses which made it close to a wallbanger due, in part, to its horribly predictable ending.  I recommend letting this one go and moving on to something better.

I LET YOU GO (Psy Susp-Jenna Gray-Wales-Contemp) – Poor
      Clare Mackintosh – 1st Book
      Berkley Reprint, Nov 2016