Thursday, November 29, 2018

BLOOD IS BLOOD: A Barker & Llewelyn Novel by Will Thomas

First Sentence:  I detest Mondays with all my soul. 
Cyrus Barker and his assistant Thomas Llewelyn have become highly successful enquiry agents.  But with success comes enemies.  With only a fortnight before Thomas is to marry Rebecca, a bomb destroys their offices. With Barker in a coma, it is up to Thomas to uncover the villain.  When a contractor goes missing, his wife comes to Barker & Llewelyn for help.  Help appears unexpectedly in the shape of Barker's brother, Caleb who has been in America as a Pinkerton agent.  Can Thomas solve the cases and prevent his fiancée from canceling their wedding?    
What a great opening.  It is one with which anyone who works can identify, and the introduction to Thomas is delightfully self-deprecating and unusual, which is a nice change.  The inclusion of information on Cyrus Barker, Thomas' employer, is neatly done, and very succinct background of Thomas is provided. It is also the calm before the surprising storm which dramatically alters the tenor of the story.  The introduction to Barker's inamorata, Phillipa Ashleigh, certainly makes an impression—"It was the sound of a woman's boots clicking in fury.  Every man on earth is acquainted with the sound, it is instinctual."
Assembling the list of suspects is an effective way of acquainting, or re-acquainting, readers with previous cases in the series.  A delightful reference is made to the address of their new office.  With the case of the missing builder, it is very well done by the author that one is allowed to be suspicious very shortly before Thomas comes to the same realization.  It's a clever way to make the reader feel directly involved in the story, and the first major twist is a corker. 
What an apt description—"Ah, the Wealden murders."  He replied.  "Three men dead in a display of firearms, all Americans.  It is as if they come from the womb with a gun in each hand."  It is not easy to convey the action and danger of hand-to-hand combat in words, yet Thomas does a very credible job of making it real, visual, and with plenty of action.  One certainly doesn't want for excitement or plot twists.  They come one after the next in swift succession.
It's hard not to like the advice Caleb offers Thomas—"'A woman prefers a man who is confident.' 'I hadn't considered that.' 'And when she talks, listen, by god. She feels she has important things to say.  Maybe she does and maybe she doesn't, but listen anyway.'"  And Phillipa is such a wonderful character.  She's the woman one would like to be and offers sage advice to Thomas when trying to win back his fiancée—"Don't shave; it shall make you look desperate.  She'll complain, but she'll like that.  Give her all the control."
The relationship between Thomas and Barker is truly that which draws one to the series.  We know how the two men met, yet much of the appeal is Thomas' desire to grow and please Barker, not in a subservient way, but in the way of one who wants to earn the regard of someone greatly admired.  As for Barker, he respects who Thomas is and who he has become, and that, in spite of everything, Thomas is—"still keen as you ever were."
It's amazing what one may learn—"There are a dozen of types of rain in London…"—and who knew about the difference between a noose with a Marwood ring rather than one without.  One theme which is somewhat unusual for a story such as this is religion and faith.  It is there not in a preachy way but in the best representation of it.
Will Thomas created an excellent reveal of one character's true purpose, the surprising appearance of an historical figure, and a very lovely ending.
"Blood is Blood: A Barker & Llewelyn Novel" is another wonderful read in an excellent historical mystery series filled with humor, suspense, great characters, and a wonderful sense of time and place. It can be read as a standalone, but I recommend reading the books in order.
BLOOD IS BLOOD: A Barker & Llewelyn Novel (HistMys-Barker/Llewelyn-London-1890) –VG+
      Thomas, Will – 10th in series
      Minotaur Books – Nov 2018

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Kingdom of the Blind by Louise Penny

First Sentence: Armand Gamache slowed his car to a crawl, then stopped on the snow-covered secondary road.

Armand Gamache, former head of the Sûreté du Quebec, Myrna Landers, a bookseller, and a young builder have been named as liquidators (executors) for the will of an apparent stranger.  But why the three of them, and not the woman's children? And how does a murder play into the disposition?  Of greater concern to Gamache is locating the highly dangerous missing drugs over which Gamache was suspended.  Cadet Amelia Choquet, a former prostitute and drug user, has been kicked out of the Sûreté Academy for possession. What is her connection? One instinctively knows these threads will join; or will they.  One is compelled to find out.  
Reading Louise Penny can be a very personal experience.  It can take one back to childhood with the inclusion of a favourite poem, the memory of meeting a special author and a very kind man before dementia clouded his memories or a lovely, but simple, childhood song.  For those who have read the series from the beginning, it is a reminder as to why these books have become important to us.  For new readers, it is a welcome to, yet a reminder of, life's truth that—"Things sometimes fell apart unexpectedly.  It was not necessarily a reflection of how much they were valued." And haven't we all, at some point, proclaimed that we are FINE, hoping a listener would truly understand.
Although each book stands on its own, much is gained by having read the previous books. Not only do the characters and their relationships become better known, but one then truly feels a part of the Village of Three Pines.  One of the things of which readers may be assured is that Penny's characters don't stagnate.  They evolve and grow, certainly no one's more than Jean-Guy, acting head of homicide, and Gamache's son-in-law

There are so many dynamic, strong characters; characters one comes to know and who become personal and real, such as Myrna, Gabri, Clara, Ruth and Rosa, the duck. A new character, Benedict, is appealing.  The poetry battle between him and Ruth is delightful.  Isabelle Lacoste, now the head of homicide, is the type of person one wants to be; determined, trusted by someone one admires, and wise.  Agent Cloutier is transferred into a department she dislikes and is stuck there by circumstances.  It is the realness of her character which is so appealing, as it is she who brings a touch of humour and veracity to the story, but also an opportunity to witness her growth.  Ruth, who, for all her eccentricities, has a sense of clarity. 

Most of all, there is Armand Gamache, a man guided by a code of conduct—the four statements that lead to wisdom, whose underlying foundation is kindness, but is far from naïve and understands, too well, Matthew 10:36.  Even the title, when one learns the meaning behind it, not only makes perfect sense but is something one may tuck away and remember.
It is the story's balance which makes Penny so remarkable.  This is not a cozy which ignores the hard realities; especially those of Gamache's job and responsibilities, of the losses or injuries, or the often-overlooked fact that—"When a murder was committed, more than one person died."  Penny also acknowledges the importance of being conscious and remembering the good things; the things one loves.  There is wisdom here.  One need only take the time to absorb it.

In case one is concerned about a lack of suspense, fear not.  There is a situation which causes one to catch one's breath and fear for the safety, if not lives, of the characters.  Yet even then, there is the reminder of hope through the explanation of the book's title.

"Kingdom of the Blind" has a well-done twist and a wonderful summation containing humour, love, and is bittersweet.  This is an excellent and somewhat more complex book than those in the past, and it certainly provides an interesting transition for the books to come.

KINGDOM OF THE BLIND (Pol Proc-Armand Gamache-Canada-Contemp) – Ex
Penny, Louise – 14th in series
Minotaur Books – Nov 2018