Monday, July 31, 2017

The Last Place You Look by Kristen Lepionka

First Sentence:  “Matt said you find things. For a living,” the woman said on the phone.
Roxane—one ‘n’—has a reputation for being good at finding things.  Danielle Stockton’s brother, Bradford, is two months away from his execution date after being convicted for murdering the parents of a girl no one has seen since the crime.  Danielle believes she saw her recently and wants Roxane to find her and prove her brother’s innocence. 
What a pleasure to have a book whose story starts at the beginning and goes straight through to the end.  What a pleasure to have a book you definitely don’t want to put down until the last page is done. 
Lepionka has created a fascinating character in Roxane.  She is a wonderful study in contrasts with a complicated personal life.  A fair amount of time is spent focusing on her family and relationships which lays the foundation for our getting to know this well-drawn, fully-developed character.  It creates a strong enough interest that one really wants to know what will happen to her both in this book and in the future.  Yet, while Roxane takes center stage, those around her hold their own as well.
With every setting, a strong sense of place is created—“The previous tenant had painted spirited colors in every room:  a dark, shiny teal in the office, burnt orange in the bathroom, chocolate-brown walls and red cabinets in the kitchen, cornflower blue in the long hallway that ran the length of the apartment.”—which orients one to the character.  Even better is the author’s well-done, unforced dialogue—“He slid one of the shot glasses to me and held his up.  “Friends don’t let friends order cocktails invented by social-media interns.”
The suspense starts quietly, subtly, and builds at a good pace with red herrings along with way.  The body count also increases and includes a good twist.  The author is very good at having you follow the character down a path only to discover it’s the wrong path.
The Last Place You Look” is a great debut book with an excellent protagonist and a breath-catching climax.  It’s a book one wants to read in one sitting, and an author one may wish to follow.

THE LAST PLACE YOU LOOK (PI-Roxane Weary–Ohio-Contemp) – VG+
      Lepionka, Kristen – 1st book
      Minotaur Books – June 2017

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Some Bitter Taste by Magdeline Nabb

First Sentence:  The young man, Gjergj, just disappeared.
An elderly woman believes a stranger has been in her apartment and asks Marshal Guarnaccia to visit her.  Another case of a wealthy expatriate interferes.  When he does, he discovers she has been murdered.  The two cases involving the past, as well as Albanian and Jewish refugees, causes Guarnaccia to question his own judgment.
For places we’ve not been, one tends to think of the idealized version of them.  Nabb quickly dispels that image of Florence—“There were no words to describe Florence in July.  … Breathing the same soup of evaporating river, car fumes, sweat, and drains day after day made you long to stay indoors where it was cool and clean.”
Nabb gives one a real sense of the marshal.  Without going into specific details, we know how he looks, as well as how he deals with, and is regarded by others.  The types of complaints handled by the marshal seem universal. One also gets a look at his home life—“She held his head and looked down into his big, mournful eyes. ‘What is it, Salva?...’ As long as she kept hold of him and he could feel the vibrations of her voice it was all right.’.  It’s nice to have him referenced as Salva—one assumes short for Salvatore—by his wife, rather than always by his rank. That he is so self-deprecating—‘He’s too clever for me.’  The captain sat back in his chair and looked hard at the marshal.  ‘The prosecutor doesn’t think so, as I said.’  The marshal wanted to say, ‘You shouldn’t give the wrong idea about me, get up people’s hopes. It’s not right’--, while everyone else sees his skill and worth, is both interesting and rather unique.
Although it appears there are two separate cases, the commonalities and the way in which Nabb finally weaves them together is so well done.  While his superiors deal with the procedural aspects of the cases, Guarnaccia follows the actual clues. More than that, however, is his ability to what lies behind the images people present.
Some Bitter Taste” is a true mystery, rather than a book of high action.  It’s a story of flawed people.  The ending is a bit sad, but it’s real.

 SOME BITTER TASTE (Pol Proc- Marshal Guarnaccia-Florence, Italy-Contemp) – Good
      Nabb, Magdeline – 12th in series
      Soho Press – October 2002

Monday, July 24, 2017

The Drifter by Nicholas Petrie

First Sentence: He walked into Harder’s Grange, announced by a chrome-plated bell mounted to the doorjamb.
Iraq and Afghanistan Veteran Peter Ash suffers from PTSD and severe claustrophobia which manifests as a loud buzzing in his head. While helping out the widow of a fellow-Marine he finds a huge, mean dog under her porch, and a suitcase filled with cash and explosives.  Investigating their source could kill him.
From the very outset, there is no question that there’s going to be trouble—“It was dark and musty under the porch, the smell of weeds and forgotten things, with an animal stick on top.  Not a dog smell, but something wilder.  Something feral.  The smell of the monsters in the oldest of fairy tales, the ones where the monsters sometimes won.”  And if that doesn’t catch one’s attention…
There is a good twist right at the beginning.  However, rather too much is made of Peter’s warewolf eyes, constant motion, and feeling of static at the back of his brain.  Although one understands the author trying to convey symptoms of PTSD—“How fucked up was it that walking inside freaked Peter out, but the prospect of a fistfight or shoot-out calmed him down?”—it becomes distracting.  In fact, a better editor was to be desired for several reasons.
Petrie does have a very good, captivating voice.  Within all the suspense and violence, there is also humor, particularly from the dog, Mingus—“He would have a nice bruise tomorrow.  It was traditional to put a steak on it, but Mingus would just eat it, then lick him to death.  A bag of frozen peas would be better.  The dog was not a vegetarian.”
The characters, and there are quite a lot of them, good and bad, do all come to life.  They are interesting and complex.  It is nice always refreshing that they also don’t all play to stereotype.  A word of caution for those to whom it matters, there is also a lot of profanity.  It’s realistic considering the characters, but perhaps not to everyone’s taste.
 “The Drifter” definitely keeps one reading, although the end seemed abrupt.  It is, however, an exciting ride.

THE DRIFTER: A Peter Ash Novel (Susp-Peter Ash-Unk-Contemp) – Good
     Petrie, Nicholas – 1st in series
     G.P. Putnam’s Sons – March 2017

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Outfoxed by David Rosenfelt

First Sentence:  I’ve been enjoying work lately.
Defense attorney Andy Carpenter spends most of his time as partner of a dog rescue group.  When a former white-color-crime client escapes from prison, taking with him his puppy-for-prisoners program dog, and is accused of murdering his soon-to-be-ex-wife and former partner, Andy finds he has no choice but to get back into the legal game.  He just didn’t expect it to be as dangerous as it is.
What an excellent cast of characters with Andy, his wife Laurie, partner Willie, Marcus, and others.  We are easily introduced to each of them and provided their backgrounds in such a way that readers new to the series need not feel lost or confused.  And although there are not nearly as many characters as some authors include, Rosenfelt has a nice way of, within the plot, reminding one of whom some characters are and their role in the story.
Rosenfelt is the master of dry, biting humor—“Sam does not realize it, but he’s two boring sentences away from strangulation.”  Who has not known someone about whom they feel that way? 
One issue with having a wealthy protagonist is his ability to buy information; money is no object.  It does feel a bit too easy at times.  However, the information on online betting is quite interesting.
There are a number of threads to the plot.  Whilst one doesn’t know quite where the author is going with them, one does know to trust the author.  Rosenfelt does an excellent job of taking those seemingly loose threads, making their importance clear, and finally tying them all together.  His courthouse scenes are very well done.  The author does an excellent job of explaining various aspects of the law.
Outfoxed” is a very good read with action, suspense, legal and courtroom drama, a dash of wry humor, and a very satisfactory ending.

OUTFOXED:  An Andy Carpenter Mystery -(Legal Thriller-Sam Carpenter-NJ, Contemp) – VG
      Rosenfelt, David – 14th in series
      Minotaur Books – Reprint Edition June 2017

Monday, July 17, 2017

The Homecoming by Alan Russell

First Sentence:  “Don’t get too near the fire, Stella.”
Seven years ago, a perfect day at the beach became a family’s worst nightmare when young Stella disappears from her home during the night.  Now, a teenaged Stella has reappeared with a story of having been taken by a company of Travelers; extraterrestrials who communicated telepathically.  Detective Cheever, who has been working the case the whole time, searches for answers while another mysterious group is tracking Stella as well.
Russell’s voice is that of a true storyteller, almost simplistic in tone.  But that doesn’t diminish the story we’re being told.  He starts off with a classic summer scene and the telling of a ghost story, giving us a true sense of Stella; who she is and what matters to her.  But placid quickly turns into panicked.
The portrayal of the family is sensitively handled.  The twist is well executed.  But then….there are the seeming villains, or are they?  One is not quite certain, but we do know their code names for everyone becomes rather confusing. One, however, can’t help but like Det. Cheever and his girlfriend psychiatrist Rachel Stern—“Rachel nodded.  “I believe it was Obi-Wan who said, ‘Many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view’” “And that’s what makes you so exceptional,” said Cheever. “Any shrink can quote Freud.  But how many can quote Yoda?”  “It’s not something I typically advertise,” she said.”   How nice it is to have a good cop. 
The information on desert communities and the Salton Sea denotes an author who has done his research.  It’s also a fascinating inclusion.  Aside completely from the story, are gems of truth—“Because nothing is constant.  Because you have to accept the blessing of those people who are part of your life and who make your life special, just as you have to accept their absence.  In the end there is always the hope that you will meet up in some way and at some time in the future.”
The Homecoming" is a wonderfully unpredictable book.  It is a mystery, a fantasy, a love story.  It is fascinating if one can let go and just enjoy it.

THE HOMECOMING (Susp/Pol Proc-Stella/Det. Orson Cheever-SoCal-Contemp) – G+
      Russell, Alan – Standalone
      Thomas & Mercer - June 2017

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Eleventh Hour by M.J. Trow

First Sentence:  The linen stretched over the tenter-grounds like winding sheets, ghostly pale under the Norton Folgate Moon.
Sir Francis Walsingham, spymaster to Queen Elizabeth, is dead.  It is believed by Nicholas Faunt, Walsingham’s right-hand man, that he was poisoned and impeaches playwright and former spymaster Christopher Marlow to uncover the killer.  In order to so do, Marlow seeks the help of leading scientists and thinkers, many of whom are members of the so-called School of the Night.
Trow truly captures the feel and meter of the period but not so much that it is incomprehensible.  In fact, the often writing gives the sense of listening to music.
It is not uncommon for historical mysteries to focus on Kit Marlow as a spymaster.  Here, one can appreciate seeing Marlow the playwright--Marlow had the rare skill of being able to walk and read at the same time.  His boots rang out on the cobbles as he strode, one hand holding the book, the other flinging out to the side placing players and poetry in the air around him.”--and getting a behind-the-scenes look at the state preparation.  The references to “Will Shaxper,” of whom the character of Marlow is quite dismissive while constantly quoting lines now attributed to the Bard, and the fascinating Dr. Dee are enjoyable. 
In fact, Trow truly makes all his characters come to life—“The choirboy in Marlow was never far from the surface, thought he would die rather than admit it and he hummed under his breath the soaring Tallis of his youth.”  There are many characters from history brought to life, but it can also be confusing as many of them are referred to by several different names each.  But stick with it; it is definitely worth it.
Trow’s subtle humor is such a pleasurable aspect of his voice—“It was quite incredible that when you put a perfectly normal, intelligent person on a stage and ask him to walk its length, he suddenly had the gait of an ostrich with ague.”  It comes through in even the most ordinary scene—“Carter was trying to look inconspicuous, to give him credit where it was due, but sitting on one horse and leading another, it was tricky to say the least.” 
One cannot help but be amused by the numerous references about Shakespeare being determined to write a play about Henry the Sixth.  Shakespeare did, in fact, write a trilogy of plays on Henry VI, and they are now credited as having been co-authored by Marlow.
Eleventh Hour” may not be for everyone, but it is delightful for those who love the period and the works of Marlow and Shakespeare.  There is a very clever exposure of the killer wherein “the play’s the thing.”
ELEVENTH HOUR: A Tutor Mystery (Hist. Mys-Kit Marlow-England-1590) - VG
      Trow, M.J. – 8th in series
      Crème de la Crime – First World Publication Edition – July 2017 

Sunday, July 9, 2017

The Night Bird by Brian Freeman

First Sentence:  Like a shiny Christmas display, red brake lights flashed to life across the five westbound lanes of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge.
Psychiatrist Frankie Stein helps her patients deal with phobias resulting from traumatic incidences.  When three of her former patients die after seemingly psychotic breaks, Detective Frost Easton starts investigating her and her methods.  Wanting to know whether her treatment is responsible, Frankie joins Frost to prevent further deaths and find the Night Bird who has been leaving cryptic messages.
Freeman sets the stage with an opening that is a roller coaster of emotions.  The fear is truly palpable. 
Frost is an intriguing character who lives in a house owned by the cat who rides along with him.  He is a character with depth and someone about whom one wants to know more.  His view of psychiatrists is one many people share--“they were happy to pretend they had all the answers, but if one of their patients shot up a movie theater, the finger of blame pointed everywhere except at themselves.”
What a great voice.  Freeman captures one’s interest and keeps it; not only with the pace of the story, but with the inclusion of rather fascinating information on phobias, observations on memories—“People thought memories were fixed, but nothing could be further from the truth.  Every time you pulled a memory off the shelf and put it back, you changed it.  Therapists had a name for the process. Reconsolidation.”—and life in the San Francisco-Bay Area—“Beyond the waters of the small inlet, he could see the brown hills of Tiburon.  This little stretch of paradise north of the Golden Gate Bridge was where you lived if you had more money than God.  Even God couldn’t afford the views here.”
It is always fun to read a book set where one lives.  Freeman’s descriptions are very well done and accurate except for one tiny thing that always makes natives chuckle, but it works well for dramatic effect. 
An author who makes one think about, and even asks, questions is one to be appreciated—“What changes are you willing to take to get what you want?  What dangers do your choices create for other people?”
The suspense is truly creepy, yet subtle.  It builds nicely at an ever-increasing pace.
The Night Bird” is such a good read, with an excellent ruse perpetrated on the reader, and an ending that is as twisted as is Lombard Street.

THE NIGHT BIRD (Pol Proc-Det. Frost Easton-San Francisco-Contemp) – VG
      Freeman, Brian – 1st in series
      Thomas & Mercer – February 2017

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Murder in G Major by Alexia Gordon

First Sentence:  Gethsemane Brown leaned closer to the windshield.
Conductor and violinist Gethsemane Brown has come to Ireland for a dream job.  Her luggage lost, her money gone, the job given to someone else, she has few options but to accept the challenging job of turning a group of school boys into an award-winning orchestra.  The good news is that the job comes with a charming Irish cottage to housesit and the ghost of the former owner who presents her second challenge; provide him innocent of killing his wife and committing suicide.
Before automatically giving this a pass due to being a cozy and/or a paranormal, one might want to stop and reconsider.  In fact, if one is old enough, think a bit on “The Ghost and Mrs. Muir” but also a bit of “Midsomer Murders.”  There are many things with which one can identify in this opening. And that’s just the start.
It’s hard to imagine a better setting or name for a protagonist.  And what a wonderful protagonist is Gethsemane.  Learning the history of her family goes a long way in explaining who she is and her behavior.
The dialogue is wonderful—“Well, which is it?” Eamon frowned down at her. “Ghost? Trick of the light? Or maybe a psychotic break? Or drunk on my bourbon?” enhanced by excellent analogies—“The theater’s Victorian beauty reminded her of Miss Havisham, past her prime but still proud.”—and descriptions—“She closed her eyes and inhaled the almond-vanilla smell of old books, one of her favorite scents.”  There is also a lovely little change up to a classic riff on “The Godfather”—“Remind me why you come to me whenever you need help with something dangerous.”  “Frankie, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”  “Casablanca explains every situation.” 
The only slight criticism was that the ending seemed a bit weak.  It tried a bit too hard to lead one to the next book, but that’s being picky.
Murder in G Major” was an unexpected read, much more of a traditional mystery than a cozy:  delightful characters, excellent sense of place, compelling author’s voice, and well-done pacing and flow to a thoroughly enjoyable story. 
MURDER IN G MAJOR (Para Mys- Gethsemane Brown- Ireland-Contemp) – VG+
      Gordon, Alexia – 1st in series
      Henery Press – September 2016