Thursday, May 31, 2018

Fall of Angles by Barbara Cleverly

First Sentence: “Hello?  Detective John Redfyre, Cambridge CID here.”
It’s 1923, the age of the women’s suffrage movement, and DI John Redfyre has been invited by his aunt to a Christmas concert.  It is a bit scandalous in that the featured trumpeter is a lovely young woman, Juno Proudfoot.  Is someone so upset they would try to kill her through a triggered fall down stone steps?  When the next attempt on another woman succeeds it’s up to Redfrye to uncover both the motive and the killer.
Cleverly’s voice perfectly reflects that of the 1920s and the Golden Age of mystery writers—“A threepenny bus-ride or a two-bob taxi fare and she could have been with him in person, pouring out her problems while he poured out a London Gin and added a slug of Rose’s Lime Juice.”
Redfrye and his Aunt Henrietta, through whom we learn about his background, boyhood, and the incident which gave him his resolve, are delightful characters.  The introduction of Eadwig Stretton, creates a nice plot twist.  Sargent Thoday is interesting and a character of whom one should like to see more. 
Cleverly’s descriptions are a delight to read—“They looked up silently at the roof-tops of the colleges.  Elegantly frosted by a slight fall of snow, a Gustave Doré landscape of pinnacles, turrets, domes, and cornices unfolded above them, outlined against the dark sky by a three-parts-rounded, hunchbacked moon.”  She uses the story of Jezebel to illustrate the subjection of women through time and as a way of making the point of women fighting against the total control of men over the lives of women such as that it took only the signatures of two men to commit a woman to an asylum.  
There are very good red herrings.  Suspects are presented and dismissed.  Or are they?  With one murder, we have an association, but no apparent motive. It is interesting reading a book set during a time when forensics existed but were still rather rudimentary.
Unfortunately, the story does get a bit lost in the details of the time period and the ending felt rushed.  This is not Cleverly’s best book, but one hopes for better in the future.
The Fall of Angels” is a delightful homage to the Golden Age, with a very relevant theme.

THE FALL OF ANGELS (Hist Mys-DI John Redfyre-Cambridge, England-1923) - Good
      Cleverly, Barbara – 1st of series
      Soho Crime, May 2018

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

A Howl of Wolves by Judith Flanders

First Sentence:  “There are thirteen dead people here.”  Jake was accusing.
Book editor Sam Clair takes her Scotland Yard detective partner, Jake, to a West End play in which her neighbor. Kay, and her son, Bim, have small parts, along with the play’s director, Campbell Davison.  The play is chock full of faux murders, until one is not faux at all.  As Sam learns about Davison, the list of suspects grows.  With another death, the need to find the killer becomes imperative.
This is an opening that will get your attention.  After the first sentence, it’s the author’s voice which draws one in—“’I don’t make up dead people.’  I replayed the sentence in my head.  It sounded worse the second time around.’”—and her protagonist, Sam, is a character with whom many of us can identify—“I spend so much time inside my own head that imperiled animals would have to claw their way up my leg, sit on my shoulder and bat at my nose before I looked up from my book long enough to notice them.”
It is nice to have Sam’s partner be with Scotland Yard as it gives veracity to her being involved in the investigation.  It’s also nice that they clearly have such a good relationship—“He looked me over.  ‘You should be fine.  You’re clean.’ That cut through my exhaustion.  ‘I’m always clean.’  He held up a palm against my outrage. ‘Sorry, I had a man moment. …I like the way you look, and you look the way you always look.  Which I like.’”   
Another wonderful character is Mr. Rudiger, the resident of the top-floor flat in Sam’s building. He’s a former architect who is agoraphobic, but smart, and resourceful.  Sam’s mother isn’t necessarily someone one would want for a mother, but she is an excellent character.
Flanders thoroughly dissuades any thought one might have of a book editor’s job being a glamorous one.  However, she also does a very good job of defining the role of an editor, while providing a clear picture of the misogamy women face every day—“Bruce and I were roughly the same age, in our mid-forties.  When he was angry, he shouted, and people were obliged to listen.  When I raised my voice, however, it was called “being upset,” and people could refuse to listen.  In my twenties, if I’d been angry charmingly enough, I might have got away with being called feisty.  Now I was just a bitch.” 
Her writing is wonderfully visual—“The rain the previous night had diminished to the odd shower, and it was clear now, but still wet enough that Bim could hopscotch his way across the pavement, aiming for the centre of each puddle as we went.”  Her dialogue is a treat—“I snarled, but, being Miranda, she ignored it, concentrating on essentials:  “’Maybe we could set up a pool, have a sweepstake about who you’re going to blast next.’  There was only so much a person could take.  ‘For goodness sake,’ I snapped. ‘Whom. Whom you’re going to blast next.’”
The plot is very well done with plenty of effective twists.  Flanders does an excellent job of taking the story from suspense and dread to lightness and humor, without its ever being forced, but feeling realistic.
A Howl of Wolves” is a wonderfully-written mystery with humor, suspense, twists--including the motive--and an inside look at the world of publishing.

A HOWL OF WOLVES (Trad Mys- Sam Clair-London-Contemp) - Ex
      Flanders, Judith - 4th in series
      Minotaur Books – May 2018

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Tagged for Murder by Jack Fredrickson

First Sentence:  Only Keller, of the gamy Argus-Observer, thought to write that the man found dead on top of the railcar, the end of that February, had died in a leap year.
The body of a man in an expensive suit but whose teeth and body indicate someone who has been living on the street is found in a railroad siding on top of a boxcar.  PI Dek Elstrom is hired by a realtor to take photos, ones that the police have already taken, and paid twice as much as they originally agreed.  As people disappear, including the realtor, a tagger becomes important, a building destroyed, and Dek ends up needing the resources of his friend Leo’s large freezer.  Dek also has to stay alive and out of jail.
What an effective description of the problems of violence in Chicago, and in most large cities—“Chicago’s once-mighty gangs crumbled, devolving into smaller and smaller groups, until at last they fragmented into block-based, murderous little boys’ clubs, having nothing much to do except shoot at each other.”
In contrast to that is Dek’s relationship with Amanda, his wealthy ex-wife with benefits. She’s not there just for romance.  She is a character with a purpose who contributes to the plot.  Leo Brumsky, his girlfriend, and his mother with her septuagenarian friends do provide a note of lightness, but Leo is not a character to be underestimated.  

Additionally, Fredrickson has created for Dek an interesting, and unusual assortment of additional supporting characters.  It is so important to have characters who grow and develop, and Fredrickson has done that with his characters.  All the characters series readers have come to know are here, along with their eccentricities.  Some are not the type one necessarily brings home for holiday dinners, although they might make those occasions much more interesting, but they are certainly useful and add colour to the plot.   
That there is the introduction of suspense and danger which comes seemingly out of nowhere is highly effective for that very reason.  Even though the body count rises, the violence is done off page and, therefore, not graphic to the reader.  Fredrickson builds the story well.  The question of who Dek can trust is effective and leaves one guessing along with Dek.  One doesn’t know where the plot is going, but one is definitely going along for the ride.
Fredrickson writes dialogue well, and it’s often tinged with humor—“’I’m at the eastern edge of your marvelous little town, at a place called The Hamburger.  They don’t have hamburgers on the menu.  It’s a fried fish place.’  The place changes hands rapidly, but every new owner keeps the sigh to save costs.  There’s little enthusiasm for fine dining in Rivertown.’  ‘Come by.  I’ll buy you a fish’ he said.  ‘Don’t order until I get there.’  ‘Fish sounds good,’ he said.  ‘There’s concern they snag the slowest of them from the Willahock.’  ‘How slow?’  Some just floating on their sides.’”
Tagged for Murder” has suspense, misdirection, twists, humor, and a plot to which one must pay attention.  This is a more serious book than those which precede it. It is, perhaps, the best in the series so far.

TAGGED FOR MURDER (PI-Dek Elstrom-Chicago Area, IL-Contemp) – VG+
      Fredrickson, Jack – 9th in series
      Severn House – May 2018 

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Alter Ego by Brian Freeman

First Sentence: The man in the Australian oilskin coat and black cowboy hat didn’t realize it yet, but fate had already dealt him the thirteenth tarot card.
The auto of a single-car crash is found with the driver dead and without any identifying documents.  In the car is a recently fired gun.  When the report of a missing college student reaches the desk of Lieutenant Jonathan Stride, he’s concerned that the two cases might be related.  But what would link a student and a possible assassin?  The investigation leads to a film set where a movie based on one of Stride’s cases is being made by the son of the man convicted of the murders.  Still, someone doesn’t want Stride to solve this case.
After a very dramatic opening, Freeman does a good job of introducing the primary characters and providing their backgrounds.  He also outlines the details of the case and the perpetrator of the case on which the movie is based.  Both are very helpful readers new and prior. 
Freeman brings back the character Lori Fulkerson, the only survivor of the case on which the movie is being made.  Even if one hadn’t read the book in which she was previously involved, enough information is provided to understand the gist of the plot and have a sense of what the victims experienced—“Two hours.  The docs said I would have been dead in two hours.”  He nodded. “That’s right.”  “I wish you’d been late,” she said.”  The scene of the woman who survived and the actress portraying her in the film is very well done.
Freeman creates an excellent sense of place.  Winter in Minnesota is cold, and Freeman ensures one can “feel” that cold—“Snow dusted his hair and melted down his back like cold fingers.”
There is a cross-over of a character from another of Freeman’s series, Cab Bolton, into this one which is enjoyable even if one hasn’t read the other series.  Yes, procedurally it’s a bit suspect, but fiction allows for it and the character is appealing. 
The story is bang on target with its theme of sex, drugs, and powerful men who are sexual predators—“Every actress has a story about someone in this business.  They swallow it down and smile and pretend it never happened.  It’s what women everywhere do with powerful men.”
Alter Ego” is filled with twists and suspense with a plot that is very relevant to today.  It’s a perfect weekend or airplane read.  

ALTER EGO (Pol Proc-Jonathan Stride-Duluth, MN – Contemp) – G+
      Freeman, Brian – 9th in series
      Quercus – May 2018

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Murder in St. Giles by Ashley Gardner

First Sentence:  I entered the house on South Audley Street one early April morning to hear my wife shouting.
Brewster, bodyguard to Captain Lacey, has found his brother-in-law, Jack Finch, murdered.  Afraid of being accused himself, he applies to Lacey for his help in finding the true killer.  However, Lacey has problems on his own in the form of his wife’s relatives showing up demanding that her young son, heir to the title and estate of her late husband, be turned over to them.  Donata fears for her son’s life knowing how easily “accidents” can happen.
What a terrible time when a woman, by law, is not considered related to her own child.  Upon the husband’s death, the child becomes the property of the husband’s nearest male relative, unless the wife was designated as guardian by the husband.  Still, that could be fought in court and favour given to the man.  Gardner uses Lacey’s attitude toward his daughter as an example of the period and society’s repression of females—“Most gentlemen would ignore a girl child except for an inquiry from afar about her well-being.  Later, the girl would require a dowry so she could be married off into another family who would take over the care of her. I had no intention of ignoring Anne or regarding her as inconvenient.  She was a light in my life…”  
The two threads; the protection of Lacey’s stepson Peter and the search for Finch’s killer work well together.  This was a time when the definition of justice was highly subjective—“I bang up those who might have done a crime because they so often have done it.  Once they’re in Newgate, I know they’re safely stashed while I collect the evidence to convict. … Course, those I arrest are never entirely innocent…. If I can get them on the crime in question, well and good.  …They’re paying for something else as bad they done in the past.  I’ve never thrown a true innocent to the wolves.”  Still, as Gardner points out, and as one well knows from the news today, it’s not just the poor who are criminals—“I’d learned in my brief years in London that Mayfair was only civilized in its veneer.  The beautiful mansions that rose along Piccadilly and the streets leading to the stately squares held plenty of corruption and men capable of violence.”
Brewster and his wife, Emily, are such vibrant characters and an excellent contrast to Lacey and Donata.  One can’t help but love Emily Brewster.  She may not have wealth or title, but she commands respect from those around her.  The relationship between Lacey and Brewster is one that has been built throughout the series but is easily understood by new readers.  Lacey’s concern for the mangy dog is delightful, as is Gardner’s subtle humor—“Oro was already a remarkable beast.  He’d made me bring him home and now decide to keep him.”  There is a strong cast of other secondary characters, as well, that contribute to the story.  One, in particular, provides an excellent surprise at the end. 
The relationship between Lacey and Donata is a wonderful one and honestly put.  It reflects the differences in their positions, and the strength of their feelings—“Donata touched my coat, her fingers over my heart. ‘But you must take care.  If you get yourself run through or shot then…Well, I shall be very cross with you’.” One of the real attributes of the book, and the series, is how well developed are the characters and how one does see the characters grow and change. 
Ashley is very good with plot details.  Just when one thinks a thread has been dropped, she not only picks it up again but does so in a way which adds to the suspense of the story.  She also has a talent for putting forth different scenarios as to what might have happened, thus allowing one to participate in the speculation toward solving the mystery.  There is a rescue which is so very well done.
Murder in St. Giles” is a well-done historical mystery—do read the Author’s Note—conveying the life, manners, and people of the period while containing very good suspense and excellent characters.

MURDER IN ST. GILES (Hist Mys-Cpt. Gabriel Lacy-London-1819/Regency) – VG
      Gardner, Ashley – 13th in series
      JA/AG Publishing – April, 2018

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

The Dark Angel by Elly Griffiths

First Sentence:  ‘This grave has lain undisturbed for over two thousand years.’
Archeologist Ruth Galloway and her daughter are invited to Italy by fellow archaeologist, and television host, Angelo Morelli to help identify bones found in a hillside town.   Fontana Liri was Angelo’s ancestral home and where his grandfather played an important part during the resistance movement of WWII.  But if the war is over, why are threats, and attempts being made on Angelo’s life?  In England, DI Harry Nelson learns of the impending release of Micky Webb, a man he put in prison. Is Micky now threatening Harry, his family, and pregnant wife?  Still, a natural disaster sends Harry to Italy to ensure the safety of his former lover, Ruth, and the daughter they produced together. 
Author’s notes can provide such fascinating information.  One should always take the time to read them.
There is an interesting juxtaposition of the focus on religion and Catholicism, and relationships involving infidelity.  And infidelity does play a major role in this book, and series.  In fact, it basically dominates the plot of the book. 
Griffiths runs the separate storylines of Ruth and Nelson in parallel and it works. One is never confused as to which plot thread is being addressed.  The story of Samer, the Syrian refugee is sad and typical of that which the Syrian people, many of whom are Catholics, are experiencing. 
The information about the history of the area in Italy is interesting.  The information regarding the positions in which people are buried in the church’s cemetery is even more so.  It also provides an interesting perspective on some Italians’ views toward the Roman evacuations--”There are too many Roman sites in Italy,’ says Angelo. ‘There are only two metro lines in Rome because whenever they start digging, they come up against another damn amphitheater.  The Romans are everywhere.’”
Ruth is a very real, very human character.  In spite of her intelligence and capabilities, she is almost painfully self-critical and self-deprecating.  Cathbad is a character one can’t help but like.  He’s a Druid who—“…views the rules as guidance only, and guidance for other people at that.”
There are a couple of wonderful literary references to make one smile—“Stop it, she tells herself, you’re not Miss Marple, this has nothing to do with you.”—and one which is very Sherlock Holmes—”Nelson tries to cast his mind back.  He remembers bloody Tim talking about something he called a memory house. Apparently, you have to go in and search through the rooms until you find the hidden memory.”  She also makes mention of reading Ian Rankin.
The disposition of the corpses, both in England and in Italy provides one another piece of historical information.  It’s one of those great “Who knew?” moments.
There is suspense, both in Italy and in England, and both are well done and include some good twists. However, one could say the book was primarily on relationships and infidelity, with a small percent on the mysteries, and a tiny percent on archeology.  
The Dark Angel” is not Griffith’s best book by far as the focus on the relationships has become tiresome.  Yes, there is a powerful cliff-hanger ending, but it may not be enough to ensure one will continue with the series. 

THE DARK ANGEL (Pol Proc-Ruth Galloway/Harry Nelson-Italy/England-Contemp) - Okay
      Griffiths, Elly – 10th in series
      Houghton Mifflin Harcourt – May 2018

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Why Kill the Innocent by C.S. Harris

First Sentence:  A howling wind flung icy snow crystals into Hero Devlin’s face, stinging her cold cheeks and stealing her breath.
London is experiencing one of its most severe winters.  Returning to her carriage along with midwife Alexi Sauvage, Hero Devlin falls onto the body of a woman buried in the snow.  This is no pauper frozen to death, but a well-dressed woman who had been killed and dumped.  This is Jane Ambrose, music teacher to Princess Charlotte, the Regent’s daughter.  Entangled in politics and lies, Hero and her husband, Sebastian seek to find Jane’s killer.
The weather can be a powerful element for creating a sense of place.  In this case, it also serves as an effective backdrop for meeting our two main protagonists, Hero and Sebastian, and their two friends, Paul Gibson and Alexi.  The four are very strong and effective characters, but not without flaws.  This makes them also seem more real. 
One issue, however, is that when one becomes involved with the British Royal family, particularly in past times, there are so many connections, lines, and political machinations, the author is required to spend considerable time, and repetition, helping the reader keep it all straight.  In the process, it is easy to lose focus of the plot.  Still, the plot is effective in which Harris lays a pathway of clues with each character laying a step to each clue along the way. Part of the fun of the story is that Harris has created a garden of historical figures. 
Another area in which the plot, and indeed, the series, becomes mired, is in Devlin’s question of his birth, and the hatred between Devlin and Hero’s father.  Harris does do a good job of conveying the enmity and difference in viewpoints between the latter of these two—“Justice.”  Jarvis rolled the word with distaste off his tongue.  “This maudlin obsession of yours with vague and essentially useless philosophical constructs is beyond tiresome.  Justice comes from God.”  They are also issues for which resolution in the near future would be desirable.         
Much is made of the weather as the book is set during the winter of the Great Freeze.  It is nice that the time can also provide a lovely image which lightens the mood of the story—“An older man and a little girl sailed past on the ice, the man skating, the grinning child simply holding on to the tails of his coat and gliding along in his wake.”  Harris also ensures one understands that this is a period of tremendous poverty and suffering—“It’s just that I have the most lowering reflection that I’m doing this simply as a pitiful sop to my own conscience.  In the grand scheme of things, what does it matter if I help one desperate mother and her children when thousands more are starving to death?”—and later—“She’s in Newgate.  She was arrested before Christmas trying to steal a ham and is scheduled to hang on Tuesday.”
Harris also raises the issue of press gangs and the futility of war—“This blasted war.  Sometimes I think it will never end.  For how many years can the nations of Europe continue fighting each other?  Some of the men dying today must be the grandsons of those who fell two decades ago.”  She also reflects on the—“differences in attitude and posture that distinguished the men from the women, the boys from the girls.”

Why Kill the Innocent” is a story of duplicity.  The plot is way overcomplicated yet, when stripped of the overabundance of historical detail, the story is quite good.

WHY KILL THE INNOCENT (Hist May-Sebastian/Hero St. Cyr-England-1814) Good
      Harris, C.S. – 13th in series
      Berkeley – April 2018

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Hard Aground by Brendan DuBois

First Sentence:  From the vantage point of my bed, I looked out the near window to a cluster of rocks and boulders, which had been tossed and turned over the years by storms and long-ago glaciers.
Recovering from surgery, magazine journalist Lewis Cole is housebound and in pain.  When a couple shows up on his doorstep wanting to tour the inside of his home for its historical significance, it is initially annoying, but their persistent visits escalate.  Cole believes he hears someone in his house at night but can’t find evidence of it during the day. Is it related to the couple?  Lewis’ friend Felix Tinios had taken a silver bowl to Maggie Tyler Branch, a descendant of the town’s founder, for her to appraise.  When Maggie is murdered and the bowl missing, Felix is committed to finding both his bowl and the killer.
Dubois’ opening is twinge-worthy.  It is also informative.  The author does a nice job of introducing the protagonist and providing new readers with his background as well as reminding series readers as to why he is in his present situation.  Felix is one of those wonderful characters you’re almost glad isn’t the primary protagonist as that would remove some of the mystique about him.  He is also someone one would be glad to have as a friend, particularly if he’d cook for you—“Dinner is fettuccini Alfredo with lobster and salad…,” and would never want as an enemy. 
Dubois does write characters who are interesting and believable.  The women are smart, strong, and very capable; journalist Paula Woods, Cole’s lover, and Det. Sgt. Diane Woods who is about to marry her partner, Kara, are women one would want to know.
There are delightful touches of humor—“Fortune sometimes favors the brave, the lucky, and those too dumb to know what they have.”—but also moments which touch your emotions—“Alice moved in with a niece over in Worcester…and got Alzheimer’s, that nasty bitch of a disease.  Suffered with that for years, and died two years back.  By then, it was a mercy.” Lewis has experienced his own tragedy.  Anyone who has lost someone they truly loved can associate with Lewis.    
Dubois’ writing captures people, places, and emotions well.  There is one very effective scene which serves to remind us that everyone is a human, and everyone has their own story and problems.  On the negative side, there are also some really annoying portents.  The third, which is late in the book, is not only completely unnecessary—after all, it’s not as though one wouldn’t keep reading at this point—but it vastly diminished the suspense of what was to follow.  On the plus side, there is also very good, escalating suspense.
Hard Aground” with a protagonist unable to leave his house is clever and engrossing.  There are twists, suspense, a wonderful rescue, and an all-around excellent ending. 

HARD AGROUND (Unl Invest–Lewis Cole–Maine–Contemp) – VG+
      DuBois, Brendan – 11th in series
      Pegasis Crime – April 2018


Thursday, May 3, 2018

Number 7, Rue Jacob by Wendy Hornsby

First Sentence:  I rang the bell at Number 7, Rue Jacob a third time. 
What should have been a relaxing, romantic reunion between documentary journalist Maggie MacGowen and her fiancée Jean-Paul Bernard is anything but.  Beginning with an urgent call from Jean-Paul for Maggie, using only cash, burner phones and staying off the internet, to join him in Venice where he’d come after nearly being murdered in Greece.  Together, they flee across Italy and back to Paris trying to evade cyber-stalkers and the two men trying to kill them all the while not knowing why they are being targeted.
A cast of characters!  How wonderful it is to have a book contain a cast of characters! 
Who, at some point, hasn’t had an experience similar to Maggie being home from a trip, tired, hungry and desperate for a shower.  Hornsby conveys the feeling perfectly. However, few of us are so lucky as to be in Paris at the time.  It is clear this is not going to be a romantic look at Paris as the mystery and suspense kick off immediately. 
Never read a book set in France when hungry.  Even the most simple of meals sounds delectable—"French ham and cheese in a length of baguette with tomato and fresh basil”—and if one  has been to France, one knows Hornsby has perfectly captured the French view of Americans—"With a broad American smile, the sort that makes the more restrained French think we might be half wits…” and yet are not put off by us.  There are a number of French, and some Italian, phrases used, but even when they are not translated, their meaning is easy to understand through the context.
Maggie is the woman most of us would love to be.  She’s smart, independent, capable, has travelled the world, and is respected in her profession.  Her fiancé, Jean-Paul, is someone we are just getting to know.  There is a very nice recap of how Maggie and Jean-Paul met. 
That the story pays homage to Médicins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) is a bonus and sets the scene for danger and suspense which follows.  She balances the tension nicely with scenes of Maggie and Jean-Paul alone, or with members of their families.  Hornsby is such a visual writer it is, at times, as though one is watching a film. 
There are a number of fascinating topics interwoven into the story, and the author has clearly done her research. The threat and capabilities of cyber-stalkers is eye-opening.  There are a lot of coincidences in the story but, for the most part, they work.  It is wonderfully convenient having two protagonists who are so well connected, but it does make sense considering the professions of characters, and it stays true to them.   
There is humor sprinkled throughout.  It’s subtle, but it’s there—“Is that blood, sir?”  “It is,” he said.  “Whether it’s mine or my colleague’s, I can’t say.”  “Have you law enforcement or justice department credentials?”  “I have a national health card and a membership card for an American store called COSTCO,” he said.  “Which I would be happy to lend you if you should want to buy a new television or a gross of frozen buffalo wings.”  

Although there are hints, the motive and villain are rather a surprise. It's so nice when that happens.
Number 7, Rue Jacob” provides danger, food, a hidden door, a bit of romance, and a very satisfying ending.

NUMBER 7, RUE JACOB (Trad Mys-Maggie MacGowen-France-Contemp) – VG
      Hornsby, Wendy – 11th in series
      Perseverance Press – April 2018