Thursday, April 27, 2017

Viper: No Resurrection for Commissario Ricciardi by Maurizio de Giovanni

First Sentence:  So tell me: do you know what love is?
Viper, the most famous prostitute in Naples, is found dead in her room at the Paradiso, a high-class brothel.  Commissario Ricciardi, with Brigadier Mairone and the outspoken Dr. Bruno Modo, is charged with finding the killer in this crime of so many emotions, during a time when Mussolini and the Brown Shirts are in power.
One definitely can’t complain about having to wait for the murder to happen.  From the very start, we know who dies and how, but not the why or by whom.
de Giovanni’s style is interesting in that he sets in books in successive seasons and relates the season to the actions of humanity—“Ricciardi didn’t trust the spring.  There was nothing worse than the mild breeze.  After a winter of silence of icy streets swept by winds out of the north…people’s brooding passions have built up so much of that destructive energy that they can hardly wait to erupt, to sow chaos.” He also enables us to feel Ricciardi’s pain of having to live with the curse/ability he has been given—“Maybe I’m just imaging it all…Maybe it’s just an illusion produced by my sick mind. … Maybe it’s just a way to escape reality, maybe there’s really nothing in front of me.”
It is the wonderful characters who captivate readers and draws them into the story, and into the series as a whole.  It’s not Riccardi’s ability that draws us, but the impact it has on his life and relationships.  It is the loyalty of Brigadier Mairone, and his wife and family, and his relationship with a man/lady of the streets.  It is Dr. Modo, who usually brings a bit of lightness with his teasing of Riccardi, yet adds an element of suspense here, as well as a note on the value of friendship and loyalty.  It is Riccardi’s housekeeper, the woman who has been with him his whole life, and the two very different women who love him.
In a very real sense, Riccardi’s sightings of the dead serve to remind one that death is an ever-present part of life, and often a cruel price that must be paid.  Yet even with death, there is the celebration of Fat Tuesday and Easter, and food.  It is Italy, after all.  The panoply of dishes described leaves one salivating—“…his majesty the lasagna…the ragù and meatballs, sausages and rapni, the fegatini nella rezza, …and most important of all, the sanguinaccio.

We are also reminded, in a very real, way of the time in which the story is set; the power of fascism, the building of fear, and the consequences of defying them.  There is an element of prophesy—“They call it “undermining the image of the head of state,” and they behave as if it’s a serious crime because they claim that it harms the image of Italy as a whole.”
Viper” is so much more than a police procedural, although it is that at its heart.  Understanding the victim’s last words brings a smile to one’s lips, and a tear to one’s heart.  What an excellent series.

VIPER:  No Resurrection for Commissario Ricciardi (Pol Proc-Ricciardi-Naples-1932) – Ex
      de Giovanni, Maurizio – 6th in series
      Europa Editions – March, 2015

Monday, April 24, 2017

A Mystery at Carlton House by Ashley Gardner

First Sentence:  “Sir.” A hand shook me as I dozed fitfully in a chair.
Captain Lacey’s friend Lord Grenville is asked by the Prince Regent to investigate the disappearance of valuable small art items from Carlton.  A Bow Street Runner has arrested someone and wants Captain Lacey to help him prove his case, or he’ll arrest Lacey.  Lacey doesn’t believe they’ve arrested the right man and suspects crime lord James Denis is somehow involved.  Can Lacey and Grenville find the real culprit?
There is a wonderful juxtaposition at the opening which informs us of the protagonist’s past and present.  It also provides readers with a look at the mettle of the man.
The details on the proprietaries involved in Regency daily life are fascinating and a true indication of the period.  The focus on attire, down to the type of knot in a man’s cravat, is a study in the outward indications of one’s position and status.  But this is no book of etiquette.  The contrast to life in the slums of St. Giles gives the story depth as one is quickly moved into danger and action. 
Gardner has created a wonderful ensemble of characters, each of which is fully developed and important in their own right.  They are characters with whom we become involved, and about whom we want to know more.
The story is fast moving and compelling, to the point where this reviewer was so involved, no more notes were made; a bit embarrassing to admit, but a higher compliment to the author I can't imagine. 
 “A Mystery at Carlton House” is a really good read.  Gardner captures the period, and the diversity of characters keeps readers coming back for more.

A MYSTERY AT CARLTON HOUSE (Hist Mys-Captain Lacey-London-1818-19/Regency) – G+
      Gardner, Ashley – 12th in series
      JA/AG Publishing – March, 2017

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Where the Dead Lie by C.S. Harris (aka Candace Proctor)

First Sentence:  The boy hated this part.
Poor street children die all the time in London.  Dr. Paul Gibson calls for his friend, Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, to view the body of Benji Thatcher, a young boy who was tortured and murdered, and whose young sister is missing.  St. Cyr's outrage for this crime leads him to learn how many children are missing, the writings of the Marquis de Sade, and the realization of wealthy men who torture children for pleasure.
There is nothing better than a compelling opening chapter, except when that chapter leads to another, and another, and a complete story all equally good.
While the plot captures one, it is the characters to whom we are most attracted.  With few words and simple descriptions, Harris brings her characters to life.  Harris takes us from the lives of the most wealthy, to the most poor, with Dr. Gibson being the perfect middle note. One of the things that makes St. Cyr such a strong character, is his sense of morality—“Someone’s been killing poor children…” “…Do you know who is responsible?”  We all are, Sebastian wanted to say. You. Me. This city.  This nation. Everyone who ever saw a cold, hungry child alone upon the streets and simply looked away.”
Harris employs the same deft hand in establishing the sense of time and place, as well as transmitting the emotions of each character.  It is painful to read the descriptions of the lives of the poor, especially the women.  She doesn’t shy away from acknowledging man’s capacity for violence--“Any man who has ever gone to war understands only too well the worst of what his fellow men are capable. … He reached the conclusion that this capacity for barbarity actually forms a fundamental and inescapable part of whatever it means to be human, however much we might want to deny it.”  Yet Harris knows how to tug our heartstrings as well.
A really good author educates as well as entertains.  Among the things we learn are about making shot for rifles of the time, and 14th/15th-century building construction.  Additionally, she also provides an accurate assessment of humanity—“With humanity’s capacity for great good comes the capacity for unfathomable evil.”
Where the Dead Lie” is a very good book with plenty of action and suspense.  More importantly, it deals with a very painful theme which still holds true today. Do be sure to read the notes at the end. 

WHERE THE DEAD LIE (Hist Mys-Sebastian St. Cyr-London-1813/Regency) – VG+
      Harris, C.S. – 12th in series
      Berkeley – April 2017

Monday, April 17, 2017

The First Rule of Ten by Gay Hendricks and Tinker Lindsay

First Sentence:  I was just sitting down to a cold beer and hot corn soup, at the end of a long week, when my phone rang.
Half Tibetan, half Caucasian, raised in the Buddhist monastery, Tenzing “Ten” Nurbu always wanted to be Sherlock Holmes.  Now retired from the LAPD, he becomes a private investigator with a high-tech sidekick and his first case. 
It’s always intriguing to have a protagonist with an unusual background and Ten is definitely different.  A very good opening introduces us to the character, his background, outlook, and ambition all within a dangerous situation and very effectively sets him, and us, up for the next step.  Then, for some unexplainable reason, Hendricks falls into the rookie author trap of not one, but two portents.  Happily, he stopped that completely unnecessary device after those two. 
The mix of Buddhism, with descriptions and explanations of the rituals such as a bardo, is nice, but more research for accuracy would have been appreciated.  Still, it’s a nice offset to Ten’s passion for his car and guns.  His alleged telepathic powers with his cat is a bit over the top. I would suggest not reading this while hungry—“Thirty minutes later, we were serving up a cashew-and-vegetable stir-fry with basmati rice.  Expertly chopped cucumber salad on the side.”
There is an interesting mix of philosophy and menace in a verbal dual--“The Buddha himself said we shouldn’t believe his words without question—we must discover the truth for ourselves.”  Brother Eldon saw things a little differently.  “Obey your God, Nehemiah.  Obey me.  Go! Guard God’s Paradise!” I got a sudden urge to “find my own way” out of there, and quick.”—and a simplistic, but adequate definition of karma—“…it is our intention that determines our karma; good intentions produce good karma; bad intentions produce bad karma.”
The story is well-plotted, and a bit painful for those of us who all too well remember Jim Jones and the Peoples Temple, but with a very interesting and effective twist.  There are a few minor inaccuracies related to Buddhism, and rather TSTL move by the protagonist.
The First Rule of Ten” has plenty of action and a good resolution, as well as some minor first-book problems.  Still, it makes for a good airplane read. 
 THE FIRST RULE OF TEN (PI-Tenzing Norbu-LA-Contemp) - Good
      Hendricks, Gay and Tinker Lindsay – 1st in series
      Hay House Visions – January 2012

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Black Fall by Andrew Mayne

First Sentence:  When she saw the telephone pole with the yellow plastic base again, Olivia Fletcher slammed on the brakes of her mail truck, bringing it to a skidding halt.
FBI Agent Jessica Blackwood’s boredom on stakeout is irrevocably broken by a woman appearing at the door threatening to kill the baby she’s holding. The same day a major earthquake hits the East Coast, and a video is televised of well-known Peter Devon, dead for eight years, predicting the location and date of the earthquake, promising more predictions to come.  But for Jessica, the critical question becomes who is pulling the strings of the building chaos.
There’s nothing like a really good opening.  An entire town disappearing is a really good opening.
Jessica Blackwood is a fascinating character; as is the author himself—do read his bio.  You know a book about a woman whose father and grandfather were magicians, as she also was before working in law enforcement, is going to be different.  However, it only takes a few pages before you also realize how intense is the action.
Mayne has a wonderfully readable voice; he’s a natural storyteller. He has done an excellent job of having created a completely believable female character.  He moves the story along at a rapid pace, but doesn’t rely on any one device.  Yes, there’s suspense, but the story is also filled with Jessica’s memories, historical information, her observations, and even her insecurities—“I bought this outfit three years ago, and I’m sure I didn’t see a single person with the same lapel style in the entire FBI building in the last twelve months.  It’s stupid stuff like this that drives me nuts.  I’m hung up on it because I think other women may be hung up on it.  It’s a vicious cycle.” It's not easy for authors to write cross gender, but Mayne does it exceptionally well.
More than a mystery, the story is filled with fascinating ideas in information—“Almost five hundred years ago, John Wilkins, a philosopher and bishop, pushed heavily for the written language to adopt an upside-down exclamation point at the end of a sentence to indicate irony.  Think of how many online feuds that could have prevented.”  While some authors cause one to seek a dictionary, Mayne prompts visits to Wikipedia.
Damian is an intriguing character about whom we’d like to know more.  And, we realize we probably won’t.  It is that mystery that keeps him so intriguing.
Mayne is frighteningly spot on with some of the events happening today.  This makes the book both fascinating and terrifying—“The ammunition is rumor, innuendo, misinformation, and leaks. …the delivery vehicles are ordinary citizens, journalists, media personalities, and politicians.”  As much as I tend to dislike prologues, the connection to it is very well done later in the story.  
Good dialogue, natural-sounding dialogue, can make all the difference to a story even when it’s a monologue to a horse perfectly conveying the character's nervousness about the situation—“Alright, boy.  If you don’t hear from me in ten minutes, go get help.” Silverback stares at me blankly. … “And get me a grande latte…um, and a cowboy…blue eyes, independently wealthy, not too rustic….” I pat Silverback on the flank, which he interprets as a signal to start walking.  I chase after him and grab the reins. “Wait! Hold up.  Not yet.”  Silverback stops and gives me another of his looks:  Seriously, lady?”
 “BlackFall” has excellent suspense, and twists; great characters, and very relevant themes.  It is, so far, the best book in the series.  Yes, at times, it’s over-the-top and there are plot holes, but one doesn’t really care.  Once embroiled in the story and the series, it doesn’t let go.  One simply, impatiently, waits for the next book.

BLACK FALL (Pol Thriller-Jessica Blackwood-US- Contemp) – VG+
      Mayne, Andrew – 4th in series
      Harper Perennial – March 2017

Monday, April 10, 2017


First Sentence:  The man stood in front of Thomas Pitt in the untidy office, papers all over the desk from half a dozen cases Pitt was working on.
Queen Victoria summons Commander Thomas Pitt to investigate the murder of her confidant, Sir John Hilberd.  Sir John had been looking into the influence Alan Kendrick, a horse-racing enthusiast might have on Victoria’s son, the Prince of Wales and, perhaps, prove a danger to the monarchy.
Perry so perfectly creates the environment of the time, the constraints and social restrictions on men and women, and the division of the classes—“Aunt Vespasia calls all her maids Gwen, regardless of what their names really are.  I don’t think they mind.”  Perry’s details are exacting, right down to the way we imagine Queen Victoria might sound. 
This is a time when Germany and the Kaiser are looking at expanding their power.  That the Pitt’s son, Daniel, realizes this and wants to study German, looking at a possible career in the diplomatic service, is interesting and a possible bridge to the series’ future.
The Boar War, and that there were actually two Boar Wars, isn’t something about which most know very much.  While this doesn’t go into the war, it focused a bit on the lead up to it.  It deals with the issue of the greed of men, and on trading connections for profit.
For those who follow the series, it is nice to see Charlotte and her sister, Emily, working together again to help Pitt in his investigation.  Perry’s descriptions of fashion and food provide us a true sense of place and time, as do the inclusions of actual historical events and the social issues of the time.
Murder on the Serpentine” is a very good entry into and excellent series.  Redemption is a theme which runs through the series. The manner in which the villain is dealt with is satisfactory and very effective, and the ending particularly gratifying.         

MURDER ON THE SERPENTINE (Pol Proc-Thomas/Charlotte Pitt-England-Victorian)-VG
      Perry, Anne – 32nd in series
      Ballentine Books – March, 2017

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Mission Hill by Pamela Wechsler

First Sentence: I’m in bed, silently reciting their names.

Prosecution attorney Abby Endicott learns a colleague has been killed execution-style by gangbanger Orlando Jones. Abbie takes on the case, in part as she blames him for the murder of her friend many years ago. If she loses, not only does he walk, but she could lose her license to practice law.

Pamela Wechler’s legal and screenwriting background are apparent from the first paragraph. She certainly knows who to capture the reader’s attention, as well as touching one’s emotions. Yet the explanation makes sense, as do the geographic references.

Our introduction into Abby’s background is handled early and quickly. The relationship between Abby and her lover, Ty, is a nice counterpoint to the case. That it’s not a perfect relationship is a refreshing change.

Wechler’s voice is crisp and real—“The sleek, high-tech building offers one-stop shopping; it houses the homicide unit, the crime lab, the ballistics lab, the identification unit, and the fugitive squad. It’s a kind of like a Neiman Marcus for prosecutors.” For those who know, or even want to visit, Boston, Wechler describes the city very well, good and bad, as well as its politics, and the project known as “The Big Dig.”

There are interesting details about which one wouldn’t normally think—“A hospital emergency is a cheater’s purgatory. Spouses and girlfriends rush to be by their man’s side, only to discover that he has another significant other—or others. There’s nothing that a bed-bound patient can do to prevent the encounters.” The author’s wry humor helps offset the drama nicely—“A dirty mop and bucket are in the corner, next to an overflowing trash barrel. The order of grease is so strong I feel like I need to go to Elizabeth Grady and have my pores extracted. I was hungry when I walked in here. I’d planned to get a burger and a bag of fries for the road. Now I’m seriously considering becoming a vegetarian.” However, fewer product placements wouldn’t have gone amiss.

There is a very good escalation in the seriousness of the plot, but it also goes a bit over the top. For being a legal mystery, there could have been time spent in the courtroom.

“Mission Hill” does have some weaknesses, but it’s a very credible first effort. It will be interesting to see how the series progresses.

MISSION HILL (Legal Thriller-Abby Endicott-Boston-Cont) - Good
Wechsler, Pamela – 1st in series
Minotaur Books – Mar 2017

Monday, April 3, 2017

A Darkness Absolute by Kelley Armstrong

First Sentence:  We’ve been tracking Shawn Sutherland for almost two hours when the blizzard strikes.
The Yukon Canadian town of Rockton is completely off the grid and its residents, those running from their past/past crimes, are controlled by a remote town council.  The unapproved departure of one of those residents leads to the discovery of a woman who has been held captive in a cave for over a year, as well as the bodies of two other women. The town’s sheriff, Eric Dalton, and homicide detective, Casey Duncan, need to find the person responsible.
No easy, gentle opening here.  Instead, the story begins with a strike to the senses and continues on to the end with a story that keeps you totally off balance.
 The town of Rockton is as unique as its residents.  Each has a history of which only parts are revealed as the story progresses.  And as with any small town, there are rivalries, jealousy, and mistrust, heightened in Rockton by the resident’s pasts.  Then there are the “outsiders,” those who don’t live in the town, but with whom some of the residents have contact; and the “hostiles,” with whom no one deals.  The relationship between these characters, as well as the characters who live with Rockton, is what gives humanity and dimension to the story.
There is an interesting analysis of a serial kidnapper/rapist.  In fact, although much of the book focuses on action and suspense, there is a fair amount of psychology included, along with an appropriate reference to “Lord of the Flies,” as well as a line that can make one smile—“Do you ever look back on your younger self and just want to slap her?”. 
A Darkness Absolute” is a fascinating book dealing with the complexities of what are considered we humans.  It’s also highly suspenseful and very well done.

A DARKNESS ABSOLUTE (Susp-Casey Duncan-Canada-Cont) – VG
      Armstrong, Kelley – 2nd in series
      Minotaur Books– February, 2017